Happy Feet, Japanese Style: Arashiyama Station Foot Bath

“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Jody enjoys the Arashiyama Station Foot Bath

Jody enjoys the Arashiyama Station Foot Bath

Foot bath at Arashiyama Station

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Arashiyama, Jody relaxing her feet in the train station footbathKyoto Japan Winter 2014, Arashiyama, hot springs foot bath in the train station!The foot bath hot thermal springs at Keifuku Railway’s Arashiyama Station is certainly a popular tourist spot where locals and tourists alike use it to relieve their aching feet after a day spent hiking the temples and nearby beautifully extensive bamboo forest. Taking advantage of a local onsen (“hot spring”), the bath is at first rather difficult to find in the well-appointed transit station, appearing near the end of a track platform only as a board fence of a machiya house.  Easily warming everything from your ankles down in ~40C water (~104F), a ten minute dip in the bath is said to give the best results.  We spent much longer waiting for our next train!  Large wooden tables in the middle of the springs’ bench-style comfortable seating for up to 16 are provided, which became especially convenient for our tourist maps! A small personalized towel is provided for your feet once relieved, and in true Japanese charm and style, small plastic bags are provided so that you may take the towel home as a souvenir.  Onsen water is believed to have healing powers derived from its mineral content; the Japanese claim this very spring is particularly effective at treating nerve pain, digestive problems, and general fatigue, the latter to which I certainly can attest!  The outdoor bath tubs are most often made from Japanese cypress, giving it a congruently earthy feel which enhances relaxation. In order to utilize these springs, a ticket must first be purchased at the station’s information center.

Location: Arashiyama Station Hannari-Hokkori Square (in Arashiyama Station on the Keihuku Line); phone 075-873-2121; address Saga Tenruji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 616-8394 , Japan

Entrance Fees: ¥150/person (including an original towel)

Open year-round from 9:00-20:00 (9:00-18:00 in winter)

Ranked #84 of 417 attractions in Kyoto 118 reviews

Ah, Japanese video games.  Who's about to "score" here?

Ah, Japanese video games. Who’s about to “score” in this onsen?


Onsen in Japan

An onsen (温泉) is a term for “hot springs” in Japanese, though the term can also be used to describe bathing facilities and inns around various hot springs. By definition, they must use naturally hot water from geothremally heated springs. As a volcanically active country sitting on the very rim of the Ring of Fire (see my related blog about here), Japan has thousands of onsen scattered throughout its many islands. Onsen have long been traditionally used as public bathing places, but it’s important to differentiate them from sentō, indoor public bath houses which used heated tap water.

Yep.  One for the monkeys.  Look it up.

Yep. One for the monkeys. Look it up.

As major domestic tourist attractions, onsen and Japanese baths in general stray far away from their western counterparts in the Far East. The Japanese in this sense have a culture of “naked communion” (裸の付き合い hadaka no tsukiai) when bathing in a community setting, which for them helps to break down social and formal barriers so that people may become more relaxed and sociable. Lucky for us, only our feet were naked during our coed experience…although Jody does like to drive Naked all throughout Okinawa.

This onsen apparently lets you prepare lunch at the same time.

This onsen apparently lets you prepare lunch at the same time.

At an onsen guests are expected to wash and rinse thoroughly before entering the hot water. Bathing stations are well-equipped for such purposes, complete with stools, faucets, wooden buckets, and toiletries such as soap and shampoo. Entering the onsen while still dirty or with traces of soap on the body is socially unacceptable.  Of course shoes in the entire establishment are a no-no as well.

I wouldn't want to take a bath with them, either....

I wouldn’t want to take a bath with them, either….

Except for that ink that keeps your feet out of the hot springs!

Except for that ink that keeps your feet out of the hot springs!

Probably doesn't qualify as "peaceful."

Probably doesn’t qualify as “peaceful.”

Although many onsen continue to ban bathers with tattoos, that didn’t seem to be the case at this particular foot bath. I guess unless you had ink’d feet! In a rather regressive rut of modern Japanese society, tats are still taken as a badge of criminality, particularly of the Yakuza criminal enterprise. However, there is a tremendous gulf between the socially acceptable tattoos of today, set against the backdrop of the traditionally massive and elaborate tattoos of yesteryear’s Japanese gangs. In many Japanese baths, although there remains little linkage between ink and the Yakuza, such rules are often strictly enforced, especially against foreigners, women, and even when tattoos are small, discreet, and “peaceful.” Sorry: no hot springs swim call for the “peaceful” dolphins you might have lamely tattooed on your ankle.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Arashiyama, Arashiyama Train Station photo-collage

Onsen are often indicated on signs and depicted on maps by the symbol ♨ or the kanji 湯 (yu, “hot water” – find it on the sign below!), although the simpler hiragana character ゆ (yu) is used for wider comprehension, especially for younger children.  However you find one, I can highly recommend this little break while touring the outer areas of Kyoto.  At the very least, your happy feet will thank you for it, and you’ll have a most interesting story to share with our friends and family!

Arashiyama Station Foot Bath Signage

Arashiyama Station Foot Bath Signage

2nd Class Shopping: Living in spite of the Military Postal System

“I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.”  ~ Rosa Parks

“I get mail; therefore I am.”  ~Scott Adams

“The constitution does not provide for first and second class citizens.”  ~ Wendell L. Willkie


Anime mail delivery in Japan

Anime mail delivery in Japan


“So how long will it take to get that special order,” I eagerly ask the Base Exchange (BX) supervisor, thinking that I had found a solution to my growing outdoor storage needs.  After trying various staff and two stores, I finally found an employee who seemed to be able to talk with some knowledge and authority.

“Six months.”

I double over laughing, literally, in the man’s face.  “S I X   M O N T H S!?!?!” I say incredulously, but with a look of total disdain for this the military’s inertia-driven, bureaucratically-burdened attempt at providing commercial shopping services….

“That’s what we’re supposed to say.  I have seen it take as little as 3 months,” came a completely serious response.  While smiling, he wasn’t sharing in the ridiculousness of the situation.

Okay, I understand a large plastic outdoor storage shed is large and heavy, and even bulky.  I understand that it is going to take some time to be shipped overseas…maybe even coming by ship.  But I never assumed that ox-driven, covered-wagons of the 1800s Oregon Trail would be a faster mode of transport than dealing with the Military Postal System….

I would prefer the time-tested method of Trebuchet, but we are unfortunately out of range....

I would prefer the time-tested method of Trebuchet, but we are unfortunately out of range….

I have written about mail before, particularly about the magic that receiving snail mail can illicit (read Snail Mail).  However, after having resided on Okinawa now for seven months, it’s time to re-address (get it – re-address?!?) my conclusions….

You see, we have an overseas military address here in Okinawa, even though we live out in town.  That means that our mail is handled and delivered by the Military Postal System (MPS).  The MPS is designed to handle the mail between America and the military, but at no additional cost to the service member.  In other words, when we mail a package here, we are only paying the coast to ship from San Francisco (where our mail goes) to its ultimate destination stateside.

With a process diagram like this, what on earth could go wrong?

With a detailed process flow diagram like this, what on earth could go wrong?

Except that the MPS doesn’t deliver, rain or shine.  In fact, it doesn’t deliver at all.  We have to go to a base and check our (Military) Post Office box.  And even though Jody – the military member in our case – works on one base (Camp Foster) in a brand-new hospital, apparently no one thought about including a mailroom or mail center to support this rather large command.  So, our mailbox is located on another base, and while on Jody’s way home from work, it’s on the wrong side of a very busy road (requiring a right turn, equivalent to our left), and, of course, it seems to be closed as often as the petroleum industry raises oil prices, and much for the same reasons.  “Unrest in Syria?  Shit, let’s close and do some ‘training’.”  “More terror attacks in the Middle East?  Well, let’s close for Force Protection.  And those uniforms just make us stand out like sore thumbs….”

Exactly how I feel when we visit our MPS Post Office

Exactly how I feel when we visit our MPS Post Office

Oh, and besides being complete inconvenient for me (it’s the other way from where I work and most places I habitually go), we were initially only issued ONE KEY to our PO Box.  Fother-muckers.  This is where the government fails the most:  claiming “too expensive” and “accountability issues” at the complete discomfort of the customer and failure in their very mission of getting us our mail!  Yes, like Rosa Park’s opening quote, I too tire of being treated like a 2nd Class Citizen.  Maybe I could stage a sit-down on a delivery truck.

If they would only focus on actually delivering our mail, instead of obsessing over its packaging….

Stop focusing on DOD and focus on, say, THE MAIL!

Stop focusing on DOD and focus on, say, THE MAIL!

PO-box-fullThat’s not enough though.  The thugs and hooligans working at the Navy’s Post Office on Camp Lester are, in a thin-slicing of their capability, undependable at best, and downright negligent at their worst.  While it’s not their fault we have a tiny mail box designed to hold only normal-sized letter mail, such restrictions shouldn’t challenge them to creatively bend, fold, and otherwise mutilate our oversized mail and literally stuff it so tightly in the slot that it’s hard to remove.  No, they don’t want to take the extra step of filling out a package notice and placing oversized mail aside for reasonable pickup.  They are never in uniform, at least when I’m there, although I’m told that they are Active Duty Navy enlisted.  They certainly don’t act like it; on more than one occasion, I’ve had to ask an “employee” there to take off his oversized headphones in order to conduct business with me.  Oh, and our address isn’t hard:  last name “KING” and “BOX 46;” from the amount of erroneously “delivered” mail we get, I’m unsure that basic math was part of their ASVAB testing.  While getting mail for another “King” in Box 14 can be understandable, getting mail for “Kong” in box 1032 is not, unless you really stretch and connect our names as, wait for it:  King-Kong.  I actually feel so strongly about the First Class mess that is this 3rd Rate Post Office where I’m treated as a 2nd Class Citizen for actually wanting my mail delivered, correctly and without damage, that I no longer go to pick up mail.  I love to get mail, but the experience of this MPS negates any such joy or comfort.

Our "postal" clerks (and they are postal) would be great at this old game....

Our “postal” clerks (and they are postal) would be great at this old game….

Now, to be fair, this is – thank goodness – NOT the case on the Air Force Base here.  The Air Force’s Post Office is really every bit as good as any USPS back home, if not better.  It’s full service, clean, organized, well-lit and professionally staffed.  Oh, and looky-see, the military members are actually in uniform and provide courteous and efficient service…all without the aid of headphones!  We have not had an issue using this post office, and this is the only one I will use…although the Marine Corps post office on Camp Foster is well-run too.


BUT, the core issue of our 2nd Class Citizenry is a problem shared by any and all military members stationed outside of “CONUS” (the continental United States):  we have military addresses.  What does that mean?  That means that large swaths of commercial America do not or cannot service us at our military FPO or APO addresses….

Fleet Post Offices (FPO, for the Navy and Marine Corps) and Army Post Offices (APO, for the Army and Air Force) serve in place of the city in our address.  The state block of addresses is replaced, in our case, with an AP, referring to “Armed Forces Pacific.”  There are other codes, such as “AE” if you live in Europe, and so on.  So, if we want something shipped to us here to be picked up with our normal military mail, we enter “FPO, AP” for city and state.  While most vendors’ online ordering and shipping systems will allow “FPO” to be typed in for city, many systems do no offer “AP” in their pull-down menus, which negates us from ordering.  While the situation is MUCH better than it was in 1991 during my first deployment, it still creeps up too many times to brush away.  It’s really shameful in my opinion that so many companies and businesses fail to account for a sizeable portion of Americans living overseas – especially the ones that talk about “supporting the troops.”  It makes us (or at least me) feel like 2nd Class Citizens, or at least 2nd Class postage.

lost mail cartoon

I ran into this recently with my dive organization, PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors).  The subcontractor they use for online commercial transactions decided to upgrade PADI’s web portal for shopping, but in their upgrade, failed to account for overseas military addresses.  Compounding the problem, PADI has decided to use only FEDEX and UPS for shipping, while MPS addresses can only receive mail from the USPS.  That’s double jeopardy for people like us overseas.  Believe me, I have expressed my concerns as a 2nd Class citizen via both email and phone, but with little effect.

Mail-topia, our dream.  Except for the bullet bra.

Mail-topia, our dream. Except for the bullet bra.

I still hope that we receive mail often in Japan.  Although the letter dance I so happily wrote about previously in Snail Mail results in stepped-on toes here in Okinawa, snail mail – and packages – are certainly no less emotionally comforting.

As for the 6-month “Special Order” from the Base Exchange?  I’ll save our MPS thugs and hooligans the challenge (and pleasure) of attempting to stuff that gigantic package into our PO Box.

~ Far East Fling, PSC 482 Box 46, FPO AP 96362-0100

I would prefer this delivery method....

I would prefer this delivery method….

Catppucino? Cat Cafés in Japan

“What greater gift than the love of a cat.”  ~ Charles Dickens

“Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a purpose.”  ~ Garrison Keillor

“Of all God’s creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the leash.  That one is the cat.  If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”  ~ Mark Twain

How ‘bout this idea for a business plan:  the public paying for the opportunity to just sit in a room full of cats, while hazarding cat hair in their “catpuccino”??

Nekokaigi in Kyoto

Nekokaigi in Kyoto

Probably seems like a non-starter to most of us in the West, but “Cat Cafés” are actually quite popular in Japan.  In short, most apartments and condos in Japan do not allow such mousers, and many young Japanese adults continue to live with their parents until late in the twenties, where there may not be a family feline.  The Japanese people love cats no less than anyone else in the world, and thus, cat lovers here need places to go to visit temporary tabbies, all the while enjoying a favorite drink or two.  Hence, the birth and popularity of Cat Cafés in Japan.

If the cats don't like you, you can buy treats and bribe them....

If the cats don’t like you, you can buy treats and bribe them….

“The cuteness of cats is common to the whole world!”  ~ from the Nekokaigi website


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Kevin making new cat friendsKyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, high perched catNekokaigi (neko translates as cat 猫), located in Kyoto, is one of the more famous Japanese Cat Cafés, having been featured in many TV programs and newspapers since opening.  Although I swear that I had mentioned Cat Cafes to Jody sometime a few months ago, for some reason, I happened to mention it again during our recent winter holiday in Kyoto, Japan.  Probably as a joke.  However, when I merely touched on the concept, Jody quickly became utterly consumed with the idea.  Like in searching the internet, reading various articles, and finally, localizing Nekokaigi in Kyoto over the course of about three hours.  Of course we had to go!  Or at least one of us did.  I had to admit though, that after almost a week of walking the many tourist attractions throughout Kyoto and the surrounding areas, all the while missing our own personal feline friend back home in Okinawa, we were in need of just this kind of respite from our vacation.


Uh, she might look sad ’cause she has to wear clothes!

The concept behind a Cat Café is deceptively simple:  found only in Asia, it is a space designed primarily for the creature comfort and amusement of cats, but which also can serve to host humans, so that both can touch and play with each other at will…while only one side enjoys a beverage or two.  Is it you playing with the cat, or the cat playing with you?


Foxy Lady. Who wouldn’t like to rest on a cat??


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, cat staring contest go! 2Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, cat mommaNekokaigi, located in the center of Kyoto, would be a great place to cool off during a hot and humid summer’s day, and we can attest that it’s a wonderfully warm abode to reinvigorate oneself on a cold winter’s day.  In either case, it’s ideally situated and serves as a pleasant spot to rest your feet during a breather from the day’s trek through the city’s many temples, shrines, and parks.  It has even become a popular spot for first dates and dating in the city, allowing the cats to help break the ice and facilitate displays of emotion and affection for the traditionally shy Japanese.  In our case, it afforded Jody her feline fix to help makeup for her time away from Cleo back home.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, sleepy cats and Japanese visitor

Where’s the furniture for the humans??

After literally an afternoon of researching and reading aloud about each non-human resident of Nekokaigi, we were ready to head out and make some new furry friends.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Jody finds the sign!Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, sleepy clothed catHowever, be forewarned:  this cat café is fairly hard to find.  The café is not easy to spot so make sure to check the website if you do not read any Japanese. While there is a sign on the sidewalk, it is small and non-descript.  Oh, and it’s in Japanese.  According to the maps on the web and their Facebook site, we knew we were in the right area, within even a block (or two).  We initially couldn’t find the café, and searched for a good while, to the point where I began to question if there really was a cat café…while we were walking right by the place!  Only by looking at some of the photos posted from inside the café in the previous 30 minutes could we confirm that indeed they were open…and nearby.  And upon viewing the photos taken from within the café looking out of their storefront, we could then triangulate its position by finding the objects (in this case some uniquely Asian inspired rooflines) visible in their view shed by looking across the street.  We required multiple passes in front of the café before actually finding it.  Oh, and it’s on the 2nd floor as well.

Tortoiseshell Cat

As advertised, she was asleep the whole time.


Not my scrawl mind you. A professional produced graphic from the shop’s own website. This photo WILL help you locate the café!

nk2Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, peakaboo with new feline friendsAfter finally finding the cat cafe, we did notice a cat drawn on their small portable sign along the sidewalk, but it’s just too easy to miss.  Admission for one hour is 900 yen (it has increased this spring) and 30 minutes extensions are 450 yen; drink purchases are not required, but are extra.  The website calls attention to just how busy the café can be on the weekends and holidays, and the proprietors therefore endorse visiting on the weekdays.  There is a list of “rules,” but they are nothing awkward or unreasonable, except they don’t allow guests under 13 years of age.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, sleepy crotch cat friend

There aren’t many pictures of Jody with the cats…(wink).

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Japanese bath bathing cat 5

Japanese Bath

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Japanese bath bathing cat 2Although the staff – called “submanagers” in Japanese – at Nekokaigi don’t speak much English, they certainly try their best to communicate.  There are English guides available, and they attempt to corral the cats in your direction if you remain embarrassing lonely for an extended period, and make sure that your refreshment needs are well attended.  When we were there on a Friday afternoon, there was a staff of two, two young Japanese girls, a Japanese woman (who seemed to be working and totally ignored the cats), and then only one other male-female (human) couple.  There was plenty of room for all of us – human and cats, and, in fact, the cats outnumbered the humans during our entire stay.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Kevin playing ball with his new feline friends

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Kevin making new cat friends 2Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, sleepy clothed catWe arrived in the afternoon, which if you know anything about cats, is probably not the best time to expect any meaningful interaction.  Rather, it was lazy afternoon nap time.  Still, we had our share of friends for the afternoon, or at least one of us did.  For someone who was so taken by this idea, let’s just say Jody was lucky to have me there to be her friend.  Even though catnaps seemed to be the rule, we paid for two extensions of our stay anyway, enjoying our hot tea along with matching up the online cat characterizations (posted throughout this blog) with the actual citizenry.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, my new cat friend is a crotch snuggler

Cleo didn’t meow at me for a WEEK after seeing this photo, the cat-equivalent of lipstick on the collar….

If you find yourself with some idle time in a major Japanese city, and want to experience something truly different and totally Asian, check if there is a local cat café at your particular destination.  It’s well worth the few dollars you’ll spend for a coffee or tea…but the new friends you will make remain priceless.

Saying "Sayonara" at Nekokaigi

Sadly Saying “Sayonara” at Nekokaigi

The details on the Nekokaigi are below:

MapOikekano bldg 2F, 590, Oikedaitocho, Nakagyo-ku Kyoto, Japan

(京都市中京区御池通麩屋町西入ル 御池大東町590御池加納ビル2F)

Phone:  075-212-0577 (Japanese only)

Email:  kyoto@nekokaigi.com

Hours:  11:00~20:00 (Last admission 19:00)

Closed on Tuesdays


*** No children under 13 years old ***

Zen Rock Gardens: You just don’t get it, do ya?

蓼食う虫も好き好き, Tade kuu mushi mo sukizuki, literally, there are even bugs that eat knotweed, or, there’s no accounting for taste; to each his own.

“Zen…does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes.  Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”  ~ Alan Watts, The Way of Zen

Ryoanji Temple's World-Infamous Rock Garden

Ryoanji Temple’s World-Infamous Rock Garden

The most famous Zen garden in Japan is found in Kyoto at the 15th-century Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺, Ryōanji), the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon, where for the first time the Zen garden became purely abstract.  For some reason, unbeknownst to the writer after recently visiting the temple, Ryoan-ji remains THE über example of Zen gardens— a powerful, yet wholly abstract Zen Buddhist landscape designed to invoke deep meditation.  Hey, did I mention yet just how abstract the rock “garden” actually is?  It encompasses a rectangle of 340 square meters (about the size of tennis court), and within it are (can I insert “randomly here) placed fifteen stones of different sizes, composed in five (quite possibly “random”) groups; one group of five, two groups of three, and two groups of two.  The only vegetation in the garden is some moss around the stones, and the stone groupings are surrounded by white gravel, which is carefully raked each day by the resident monks of the Temple.

Diagram-of-Ryoanji2rockgarden02Ryōan-ji’s rock garden resists easy interpretation, or quite possibly any interpretation.  And in a simple non-abstract phrase, no, I just don’t get it.  Theories differ and are many, and include simple islands in a stream (oaky, I can buy this one), to river-crossing mother and baby tigers (Uhm, sure, I see’em, right there!  Nope, that’s just a rock….), to the peaks of mountains rising above the clouds (plausible), to theories about secrets of geometry or of the rules of equilibrium of odd numbers (which speaks kindly to the math-lete residing within me).  Then there is some very odd and totally abstract (there’s that word again) analyses on-line, with about the only missing explanation being that of “Ancient Aliens” UFO-origin.  However, I prefer the explanation of the garden provided by the historian Gunter Nitschke: “The garden at Ryōan-ji does not symbolize anything, or more precisely, to avoid any misunderstanding, the garden of Ryōan-ji does not symbolize, nor does it have the value of reproducing a natural beauty that one can find in the real or mythical world.  I consider it to be an abstract composition of ‘natural’ objects in space, a composition whose function is to incite meditation.”  That seems just about right.  I certainly just can’t seem to find, no matter how hard I try, a mother tiger helping her babies to cross a stream….

I can assure you what my cat sees....

I can assure you what my cat sees….

Modern scientific analysis shows there's a tree in the garden after all.   Riiiiigggghhhhttttt....

Modern scientific analysis shows there’s a tree in the garden after all. Riiiiigggghhhhttttt….

zen-catsA young monk raking the famous Japanese rock garden of Ryoanji TempleThe Japanese rock garden (枯山水 karesansui, “dry-water landscape”), often called a Zen garden, creates a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and raked gravel or sand.  They originated in medieval Japan and are renowned for their simplicity and serenity.  Zen gardens are usually small, surrounded by a wall, and, in contrast to gardens of the West which are designed to be viewed from within, Zen rock gardens are meant to be seen from outside, usually seated, and best from a single viewpoint, most commonly located on the veranda of the hojo, the abbot’s temple residence.  Zen gardens imitate the intimate essence of nature, not its actual appearance, and serve as an aid to meditation.  White sand and gravel are prominent features of these gardens.  In Shinto, they symbolize purity, while in Zen (Buddhist) gardens they represent water or emptiness and distance.  The very act of raking the gravel into intricate patterns assists Zen priests in their concentration.  Achieving perfection of lines in the present is not easy and requires strict focus; and even if achieved, the garden does not remain static, but requires careful and constant attention, just as many of the more important aspects of our lives do.  Stone arrangements and other miniature elements (shaped shrubs) are used to represent mountains and natural water elements and scenes, islands, rivers and waterfalls.  In some gardens moss is used as a ground cover to create “land” covered by forest.

Not a Zen rock garden

Not a Zen rock garden

The gardens of Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Silver Pavilion,” include a traditional Zen “pond” garden (made of raked gravel, mind you), but includes a perfectly shaped mountain of white gravel, resembling Mount Fuji.  The scene is referred to as ginshanada, literally, “sand of silver and open sea”.

Fuji and the sea of gravel at the Silver Pavilion

Fuji and the sea of gravel at the Silver Pavilion

ZenCrosswordzen-bdayLike the opening quote of this blog, I believe that we, who habitually struggle with the human condition with which we find ourselves confronted, much too often look for “more.”  More meaning, more connection, more complex relationships that maybe just maybe begin to answer the queries that burn within us all.  But, like a Zen Buddha Abbot told us, Zen focuses on “no mind” and not what we in the West assume as “empty mind;” minds cannot be emptied.  However, Zen strives for a mind-state where one accepts cerebral notions, thoughts and imagery, except without judgment, value, or emotion, and devoid of stress or reaction.  In this way, one can develop the eyes necessary to see and the ears necessary to hear truth, which helps us to understand and accept answers of life that could otherwise make us feel very uncomfortable.  In the end, I believe the rock gardens – including that at Ryōan-ji – are simply a physical reflection of the same:  an empty plot, devoid of those things normally associated with western gardens designed to excite our senses, an abstract meaningless void which assists its viewers, in a sense, to loose their minds…to better see and understand the miracles of life, shared by all.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, tranquil bamboo water supply

Ryōan-ji’s tsukubai (蹲踞), the basin provided for ritual washing of the hands and mouth

Say Hello Kitty to My Little Friend: Okinawa’s Scarface??


“Of all injustice, that is the greatest which goes under the name of law; and of all sorts of tyranny the forcing of the letter of the law against the equity, is the most insupportable.”  ~ L Estrange

“Say HELLO (KITTY) to my little friends!!!!” says Scarface Sally to the Japanese Customs and Law Enforcement officials.  Of course the assault weapon of choice in Japan simply shoots peaceful love and hearts….

One of Jody’s coworkers recently received in the mail, without asking and quite by accident, a package of toiletries from their home, sent to Okinawa by her husband since he is getting ready to join her here.  The package consisted of the remnants of the medicine cabinet…which for most of us, is a perfectly normal thing to pack and send.

They should have read the script closer.  Seems harmless.

They should have read the script closer. Seems harmless.

Yes, these few pills, consisting of over-the-counter legal (in the United States, at least) Sudafed, and legally prescribed Percocet and Vicodin, in Japan makes one a drug trafficker.  A Drug Kingpin of sorts.  The head of a cartel no doubt.  Or at least that’s how Japanese officials treat such circumstance…and people…in a darker – but no less humorous – episode of the Far East Fling.

If AMC had ships to move people to Okinawa, they would be just like this one.

If AMC had ships to move people to Okinawa, they would be just like this one.

Scarface_Al-Pacino-wedding-suit-full_image-credit-Universal-Pictures-494x325sideshow-scarface-tony-montana-12-inch-figureImage Okinawa just like Florida during the height of the Mariel Boatlift.  They both share many similarities:  palms, climate, and latitude (if not attitude), and it suffers a continual flood of clearly criminalized Americans – if you believe the hype, that is.  And from our treatment by and actions of the military leadership we’ve experienced thus far, island- and service-wide, but particularly at my wife’s new duty station, it seems the American military flushed their own personnel toilet back home in the states, one which drains directly to Okinawa, much as Castro did between Cuba and Florida back in 1980.  In a concerted effort to elude the unavoidably resulting drug culture, Japan uses a “zero-tolerance” policy for most drug-related crimes, complete with hefty penalties.  And thank goodness, because the fashion associated with an emergence of Scarface Sally would be a HUGE step backwards for the esthetics of the population here…already borderline with their sense of style of hair color as it were.

The 80s live on permanently here in hair coloring & styles.

The 80s live on permanently here in hair coloring & styles.

Bad Broken

Just one Sudafed package away....

Just one Sudafed package away….

Japan, in a somewhat overly paranoid and uncharacteristic culture of fear, has a much different notion of what is considered an illicit drug.  For example, in order to stop Breaking Bad-inspired meth labs from spontaneously breaking out among the well-educated, homogeneous, and basically law-abiding Japanese citizenry, common over-the-counter medications for sinus and allergy problems are here downright banned.  Yes, I’m talking about the gateway drug of choice:  Sudafed!  No, you can’t even slink back to the Rx window of the local drugstore, wearing your dark sunglasses, looking wearily over your shoulder, just to get your fix…and clear your sinuses.  Nope – you might as well be the figurehead of a South American drug cartel if you neglected those ubiquitous pills left idly in your shower bag over the last three years.

Not Touring in Japan.

Not Touring in Japan.

And don’t even think about running your old prescription narcotic painkillers…even codeine is banned.  Have a valid prescription from a licensed medical doctor, and the pill bottle script matches your name to the letter?  Sorry, still not good enough.  Obviously if one went to all that trouble to get the drugs, one has certainly begun their slide down the slippery mucus-covered slope – ‘cause you can’t take Sudafed here – of a budding criminal enterprise.

Like Mustang Sally, but different.

Like Mustang Sally, but different.

When caught red-handed, and while the gravity of the situation started sinking in, Scarface Sally reached out to one of her Cartel Captains, my wife.  “Jody I need your help…this could be an all day and possibly most of the evening interrogation.  I don’t feel okay about our leadership…. [Scarface Sally’s command deserted here completely, not even providing a command rep or even checking in on her during her trial and tribulation].”

How Scarface Sally probably imagined herself in Japanese Jail.

How Scarface Sally probably imagined herself in Japanese Jail.

The ignorance of the law excuse provides no efficacy against character assassination once you, a nascent Scarface, are in-country.  No matter the circumstance, you can still be fined or jailed for bringing in illegal substances to Japan.  Simply received a package?  GUILTY!!  You can be held liable for such drugs that are mailed to you, much to your surprise and chagrin.  Hell, if I had known this is all it took to cause BIG trouble, I would’ve been sending multiple “special car packages” to my ex-wife all along, who remained in Okinawa for six months after my departure back in 2005 when we were then only separated.  While it still may be a man’s world and a woman’s court, I would assume that our legal system would not show so much compassion or deference to an international drug Kingpin.


“When it’s over, let us know your prisoner and cell number so we can come visit you,” Jody writes Scarface Sally, in a clearly supportive and serious manner.  “Ha!!  Thanks for the loving support!!  Bring curry, dammit,” answered an upbeat Scarface Sally.  Curry here can be used as currency in the slammer, it appears.

Who polices cartoons???

Who polices cartoons???

Papers, please....

Papers, please….

Generally in Japan, a two month supply of over-the-counter meds and vitamins are okay, and a one month stash of Rx scripts are okay…but to a point:  any drug must first be allowed by Japanese law.  Even then, the “allowed” prescription drugs have to be permitted, and then a copy of the Rx must be included, along with a letter from your Doc stating the purpose of the drug.  Oh, and as our very own Scarface Sally found, you cannot mail prescription medicines without obtaining first a Yakkan-Syoumei import certification from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.  I’m sure that quite a simple and quick process (wink).  See, it’s like the Japanese government is pushing innocent and naive Americans into a dramatic life of crime.

I'm positive that this is a quick and easy process to navigate.

I’m positive that this is a quick and easy process to navigate.

“I have been temporarily released from questioning.  I have one more appointment to sign relinquishment paperwork for Vicodin and, oh yeah, the Sudafed that turned out to be in the box!  Yeah, that too is contraband here,” lamented Scarface Sally after spending all morning with Japanese customs.  Her afternoon with the Japanese police was yet to come.


She was, in fact and in all seriousness, facing Jail time on the order of 14 years.  Getting out of her penal pickle turned out to be quite tricky, emotionally exhausting, and downright personally embarrassing.  Police interviews in Japan are long, drawn-out affairs, where legal representation is not allowed, and which are recorded only in written format.  For Scarface Sally, this meant an all-afternoon interrogation (after spending all morning with Customs), complete with a “translator” that much too often referred to his Japanese-to-English dictionary, and where, at the end of the day, Scarface Sally was mandated to sign her “confession,” which was totally written in Japanese and for which no translation was provided.  And in Japan, there is a 99% conviction rate for cases brought to court; putting your signature on a confession automatically leads to guilty verdicts….  Yikes.

I'm pretty sure the JNP - or Scarface Sally - were playing any games.

I’m pretty sure the JNP – or Scarface Sally – were playing any games.

So, this brings us to the idea of “Fair” versus “Right.”  Fair: Having or exhibiting a disposition that is free of favoritism or bias; impartial.  Right: That which is just, morally good, legal, proper, or fitting.  Both terms are rather easy to understand and easier still to recognize, no?

Following the letter of the law.  The cat no doubt sees this as completely "FAIR."

Following the letter of the law. The cat no doubt sees this as completely “FAIR.”

No, they actually aren’t.  In the real world, things are much more complex.


Ask yourself this:  what is more important, the literal letter of the law, or its central spirit?  When obeying the letter of the law but not the spirit, one is in keeping with the law but not its intent.  Conversely, when following the law’s spirit but not its letter, appropriate legal intent is upheld, but the literal wording may be broken.  Most of us would hypothesize that it’s “unfair” for anyone to violate the law’s spirit, regardless of whether or not the letter of the law has been fully followed.  In other words, there has to be a realistic and pragmatic way to apply accepted social norms in the application of law, rule, or regulation.

If all this had been mailed to Scarface Sally, then interrogate her all you want....

If all this had been mailed to Scarface Sally, then interrogate her all you want….

A great example is this:  when is it “fair” for law enforcement to ticket speeders?  We all would be PISSED if we got ticketed for going 1 mph over the limit, and then there’s a point where almost no one would argue speeding as a ticketable offense – like for those traveling recklessly at 100 mph on a crowded highway.  The real rub, though, lies somewhere in the middle, where enforcement should be designed and tailored to have the most effect.  And that effect, I argue, should be to shape and mold behavior so that the SPIRIT of the law – regardless of what the literal reading of the law may be – is maintained.  So, using this example, on American highways, this number is somewhere around 82 mph.

Shots are not treated as drugs.

Shots are not treated as drugs.

Neither is beer.

Neither is beer.

Halfway through her police interrogation, Scarface Sally writes, “OMG, you would not believe everything they go through!!  It’s like a top secret security clearance questionnaire, only the Japanese guy is saying it in Japanese, and then the interpreter is interpreting into English after he consults a Japanese-to-English dictionary.  Then I have to sign the damn paper written completely in Japanese!  I even got questioned about John’s [her husband and chief drug mule] college major and the classes he took….”

What about all that South American coffee??

What about all that South American coffee??

So, rather than prosecute harmless Americans for mistakenly mailing prescription meds when moving overseas, perhaps the Japanese could focus their efforts in a better on the sizeable American community resident on Okinawa.  For instance, an aggressive – and anonymous “Drug Turn In” program, conducted jointly with US and Japanese customs and law enforcement officials, along with a robust education initiative to better educated us stupid Americans about what we can’t bring into the country, could fetch most “illicit” drugs, getting them off the mean streets of Okinawa, and out of Japanese communities, which is EXACTLY the spirit of the strict Japanese laws on drugs.  While the military hospital on the island does offer a drug turn-in program, it’s more focused on helping to keep the water clean, rather than keep poor American sailors out of Japanese jails.  Oh, and let’s not forget the many thousands of household goods deliveries that happen every year here, which go almost completely unscreened.  I’m sure none of those shipments had medicines from back home; I know that ours did not (wink!).

I don't see Scarface's mule trail to Okinawa.

I don’t see Scarface’s mule trail to Okinawa.

“OMFG Jody, they have made me recount my entire life history, including all my kids names, dates of birth, addresses, parents vitals…EVERYTHING….  This is nerve wrecking, but at least they are nice to me.”  The demure Japanese police were probably scared of Scarface Sally.  I know I am.  “I just feel like a criminal.”

Some anime should be against the law.

Some anime should be against the law.

Spending this amount of effort on an American commissioned office, with a clean record, who recently just moved to Okinawa, is silly.  Focusing these many resources on an ignorant American who had nothing to do with her husband innocently mailing some meds to her after packing up their house is just frackin’ silly.  The whole scenario is not, in a word, “fair.”  And it certainly misses the mark, the very spirit of the Japanese law.  Good news for our starring villainess though; after apologizing profusely, batting her long eye-lashes, and shedding shameful tears, she was finally released.  Japan got their pound of emotional flesh, and what do they have to show for it?


Scarface Sally’s personal stash of decongestants and painkillers.  Which she can refill at work anytime she wants….


Read more about the law and fairness here:  Social Norms and Fairness.

Love and the Ring of Fire: Earthquakes in Okinawa

6.7 this morning; Mother Nature was really getting her "rocks" off!!

6.7 this morning; Mother Nature was really getting her “rocks” off!!

“Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.”  ~Voltaire

“I used to sleep nude – until the earthquake.”  ~Alyssa Milano

“Love is a burning thing, And it makes a fiery ring, Bound by wild desire, I fell into a ring of fire….” ~Johnny Cash, Ring of Fire




There’s nothing more I like than when Jody tells me that I made the earth move for her.  Mr. Cash was right about love and his ring of fire – although in our case, it’s more akin to being bound…oh yeah, in wild desire.  Thankfully, such playful physical restraint actually can help inhibit someone from falling unexpectedly, quite literally.  Say, like when terra non-firma actually does move during a quake.  And when it moves significantly enough to move us soundly out of sleep in the middle of the night to thoughts of immediate shelter and exclamations of “Oh Shit!,” it is quite surprising…and surprisingly frightening.

Every bit as exciting as Universal Studios...with the threat of actual dismemberment or death.

Every bit as exciting as Universal Studios…with the added threat of actual dismemberment or death.

379233-382883-350x350Actually, in a nod to Ms. Milano’s quote above, my immediate thought was of putting some pants on.  I might revisit the idea of sleeping nude, and certainly will consider more expanded and pragmatic uses of our bondage gear (wink)!



It is easily said that earthquakes are a fact of life here in Okinawa, but experiencing a moderately powerful earthquake in person is quite a different thing.  Okinawa sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the earth’s surface is fractured and the island is surround by 13 different fault lines, volcanoes are plentiful, and the ground literally shakes, rattles and rolls from time to time.

Our island chain has it's own named major fault!  Wait, that's bad....

Our island chain – the Ryukyus – has its own named major fault! Wait, that’s bad….

jssiart4This is my 5th year living on the island, however, and I honestly don’t remember anything other than the slightest of movement from my four previous years here.  Since returning this past August, we have now experienced at least three of what I will characterize as moderate quakes, with the one this morning certainly rating on the higher, more extreme end of “moderate.”  It was enough to rattle not only our condo’s furnishing and fixtures, along with the entire building, but our psyches as well.

I was never any good at the 400-meter-dash in school....  Perhaps I lacked the proper motivation.

I was never any good at the 400-meter-dash in school…. Perhaps I lacked the proper motivation.

220px-Earthquake-protectorWe live immediately on the coast.  I’m not sure if our building’s foundation is on reclaimed land, as much of the coastline is in Japan and Okinawa.  That would be bad for us.  What I do know is that while Japanese domestic building code isn’t up to American standards in many respects, such as NOT requiring an elevator large enough to fit a gurney to evacuate us in the case of injury from…well…an earthquake, the code here has, for a long time (much longer than in the states even), required buildings to be “seismically isolated.”


Our building is of the “menshin” flavor of quake resistance….

So what the hell does that mean?


Foundational rollers for seismic isolation.

img_antiseismic_rubber_10It means, in quite unembellished terms, that our building is shock-mounted (using large rubber pad-like dampeners, like a Harley’s engine, or most large floor-mounted machinery), and is on rollers.  “Ludicrous!” I hear you say!  But it’s true.  Between these two systems, the ground’s motion during an earthquake is nearly isolated from the building.  Nearly so.  Not enough, however, to keep us from really feeling those strong “s waves” this morning during the final 2 seconds of what was about a 6 second event.  A corny yet effective building “seismic isolation simulation,” something you mathletes and engineers will greatly appreciate can be found here.

Isolation simulator, for you geeks and nerds is self-imposed, non-simulated social isolation.

Isolation simulator, for you geeks and nerds in self-imposed, non-simulated social isolation.

What does it all mean?  It means that even though our building’s integrity wasn’t threatened, we still got quite a ride being on top of Mother Nature.  Now she can really make the earth move…for everyone!!


106157e47ea703c91cdf21ab67b5af41e4cb5925b7ac17c3afbc84bfbc0d05a8Major earthquakes are followed by aftershocks:  the main shock of the earthquake doesn’t always discharge all that stress from the earth’s crust, unlike when the earth moves in more passionate but not necessarily more interesting “affairs,” for the guys at least (read in your inner voice using Austin Power’s accent:  “And I’m spent!”).  Aftershocks, some as powerful as the main earthquake, happen as the earth settles into a new equilibrium, which often cause buildings which were only initially damaged, to submit and collapse.  We had a powerful aftershock…or simply another quake at 11:00 am, strong enough to actually take some hanging art off our walls.

Eye-witness testimony.  Rather than running for my phone, I went back to bed....

Eye-witness testimony. Rather than running for my phone, I went back to bed….

It’s hard to describe the experience.  The noise this morning was most surprising to me.  You often hear of the train-engine descriptions of tornadoes, and we’ve all seen and heard the howling wind of hurricanes on TV as some dumbass weather reporter is looking for his big break by pitting his ego against Mother Nature’s.  But the loud rumble and higher-pitched rattles commingled into a growing roar this morning of tired ground and rock giving way to fatigued buildings complaining in their brick and mortar rendition of “don’t shake the baby.”

Little chance of shaking death, except for those irresponsible American parents' babies....

Little chance of shaking death, except for those irresponsible American parents’ babies….

Sedhigi Earthquake

See, dressing modestly CAN decreases earthquakes!

Of course my GI Joe militaristic training kicked in and I heeded the military’s advice:  panic!!  What a tick, that’s the first thing they tell us not to do.  Seriously, here’s their advice, straight from the Emergency Action Plan of Kadena AFB:  “DON’T PANIC!  STAY PUT.  TAKE COVER.  HOLD ON.”  There is nothing there about putting clothes on.  There should be.  I had only one leg in my jammies when the quake ended.  And, sadly, I didn’t even have time get to see if any of Jody’s womanly jigglely parts were resonating with the earth.

I have always said these would make a killing in Japan.  On 2nd thought, they would, literally so....

I have always said these would make a killing in Japan. On 2nd thought, they would, literally so….

What the scientists don't realize is that THIS is all Mother Nature needs to cool her jets.

What the scientists don’t realize is that THIS is all Mother Nature needs to cool her jets.

This all has me thinking.  Yes, of jiggling, but also about the future and fate of Okinawa.  Scientists, like all scientists like to do, are warning that the island is “overdue” for a mega-earthquake that could send a tsunami over coastal communities where we live and U.S. bases where thousands of Americans live and work.  A major quake here is “well overdue and can happen at any time,” said Takeshi Matsumoto, professor of earth science and disaster prevention at the University of the Ryukyus.  Matsumoto sits on a panel of six university seismic experts who re-evaluated the tsunami danger for the Okinawa prefectural government following the 2011 disaster on mainland Japan.  “At some point…a massive earthquake is inevitable,” he continues, speaking of a 1,000-year event, and goes on to point out that the island of Okinawa has no record of a large tsunami during the past millennium.

These "Rings of Fire" can make the earth move...in all good ways!

These “Rings of Fire” can make the earth move…in all good ways!

Like I said, any chance I get to make the earth move for Jody, I’ll take the credit!  While our interpersonal Ring of Fire is always looking to get more intense, let’s just hope that Mother Nature’s sex life doesn’t get intensely out of control over the next 2.5 years.  And just think, typhoon season is just a couple of months away…read about that here: Typhoons – A Divinely Okinawan Experience.