Campaign Cards Are Coming

There’s no official moment when it happens, but I think it’s happened all the same. We’ve passed into the Pit of Winter. All days in the pit are cold, as in well below freezing, but they come in varieties: cold sunny days, cold overcast days, cold snowy days. With the potential for a blizzard thrown in for grins.

We can only fondly recall High Summer days, or imagine ones to come, at the remote opposite end of the calendar. They looked like this, at least from my deck.
The first political postcard of ’18 came in the mail a few days ago, sent by a candidate for a relatively minor local office. Not particularly creative: a touch of “next to of course god america i,” a dash of tough on crime, a serving of motherhood (in this case, the candidate is a woman. For a male candidate, a serving of loving family man.)

It’s easy to be cynical about that sort of advertising, as you can see, but it’s the formula that inspires contempt. I don’t really know anything about the candidate. In any case, I expect I’ll be seeing more soon, since the primary is March 20.

YouTube ads for Illinois governor have already started appearing. But at least we won’t hear campaign trucks making noise with loudspeakers, as you do before parliamentary elections in Japan.

Hida-Takayama 1991

While my friend Steve stayed with me in Osaka in October 1991, we took a weekend trip to Takayama in Gifu Prefecture, in the Japanese Alps. (All the pictures below are dated October 26, 1991.) The small city is better known as Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), since takayama simply means “tall mountain,” which describes a fair number of places in Japan. It used to be in Hida Province, in the pre-Meiji era way of dividing the country.

I’ve posted about the trip before. But nothing about the statues on the Kajibashi Bridge over the Miyagawa River in Takayama. Steve and I posed with different ones.

Statues on the Kajibashi Bridge over the Miyagawa River in Takayama. Statues on the Kajibashi Bridge over the Miyagawa River in Takayama. One source, clearly written in English by a Japanese writer — but not too bad a job, all sic — says: “Extremely long-arm goblin, Tenaga and long-leg goblin, Ashi-naga are displayed on the railing of Kaji-bashi bridge. Te-naga and Ashi-naga folklore is handed down in Japan, which represents the god of immortal.

“There is another folk tale about the creature. This creature was regarded as a hobgoblin, a ghostly apparition, Yokai in Japanese. The creatures with their weird long arms and long legs are said to do wrong to people.

“So, two different traditions about Te-naga and Ashi-naga. There is a shrine to dedicate the creatures in Nagano prefecture.”

We also spent some time at the Hida Folk Village (飛騨民俗村), which is an open-air museum with about 30 farmhouses from this part of Japan.

Hida Folk Village (飛騨民俗村)Hida Folk Village (飛騨民俗村)Complete with a bell to ring. Ring bells if you can.

Hida Folk Village (飛騨民俗村) bell“We saw a man and a woman fashioning hemp sandals from stacks of cord,” I wrote. Here’s the man.
Hida Folk Village (飛騨民俗村)I don’t believe this was in the Folk Village.
Cemetery, Hida-Takayama 1991Rather, it’s a good example of an urban Japanese cemetery. Since cremation is the norm in Japan, burial space isn’t necessary. Rather, the memorial stones can be fit into a tight space. In a city, even a small one like Takayama, that’s often an irregular or otherwise hard to develop plot of land.

Fish Heads, Fish Heads

The main course of this evening’s dinner, still in its packaging, before it became dinner.

Snapper Supper

We didn’t eat the fish head. I was told long ago — I think by an elementary school teacher — that fish heads were eaten in Japan. I later discovered that wasn’t universally true, just more likely than in this country.

At least one writer argues that stubborn Westerners ought to eat ’em up, yum. I’m not persuaded.

The Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden

There are a surprising number of Japanese gardens in the United States, as illustrated by this Wiki list of them, though it’s probably incomplete. It had never occurred to me that there might be one in Springfield, Mo., until I spied it on a map: the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden.

The garden is part of the larger Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center, which also includes an azelea garden, dogwood garden, iris garden, butterfly garden, hosta garden, dwarf conifer garden, and more. All that sounds nice, but on the road sometimes you have to focus. The stroll garden it was.

It had everything you’d expect, trees and shrubs and flowers and lanterns and other structures along a winding path, along with water features.

Mizumoto Japanese Stroll GardenA zigzag bridge.

Mizumoto Japanese Stroll GardenAccording to one web site anyway, the notion such bridges were designed to prevent dimwitted evil spirits from being able to cross them is baloney.

THE MYTH: Some misguided Westerners claim that evil spirits can only travel in straight lines and that Japanese gardens have zig-zag bridges to prevent evil spirits from moving through them.

THE FACT: Japanese gardens do sometimes feature zig-zag bridges, but the evil spirit story is complete nonsense. Zig-zag bridges are featured in Japanese gardens partially because they are attractive and because they are interesting to walk over. There is also a charming story that links zig-zag bridges to Japanese literature and culture. [?] The zig-zag bridge motif is a natural fit for many of the Japanese arts including gardening.

A moon bridge.
Mizumoto Japanese Stroll GardenExpanses of lawn.
Mizumoto Japanese Stroll GardenNot all the foliage is green in the spring.
Mizumoto Japanese Stroll GardenA trellis.

Mizumoto Stroll Garden 2017A zen garden. But of course.
Mizumoto Stroll Garden 2017And some droopy pines, the likes of which I once saw in Rockford.
Mizumoto Stroll Garden 2017According to, the 7.5-acre Stroll Garden is the oldest attraction at the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center, now a little more than 30 years old. “The plan was inspired by a Fort Worth, Texas copy of the Garden of the Abbot’s Quarters in Kyoto,” it says. Probably that means Tofukuji Temple, which is indeed stunning.

“The garden was initiated by the superintendent of park operations, Bill Payne, in the early 1980s and supported with partnerships from the Springfield Sister Cities Association, The Southwest District of Federated Garden Clubs, The Botanical Society of Southwest Missouri and the Friends of the Garden.

“The garden was given the name Mizumoto in 2004, in honor of Yuriko Mizumoto Scott. She generously acts as a bridge between her native Japan and her home in the Ozarks. As the first Japanese War bride brought back to the United States, her insight has the breadth of a bi-cultural history.” First war bride brought to the Ozarks? Not to be pedantic, but I think they mean postwar bride. Or occupation bride.

“Mrs. Mizumoto Scott spent many years as a volunteer in garden maintenance and hosting tour groups. She has also conducted hundreds of tea ceremonies and explained the customs of Japan. The gardens are maintained by the Friends of the Garden Japanese Gardening Group and Park staff. Gardens are supported by the Springfield Sister Cities Association Isesaki Committee.”

Well worth the stop in Springfield, a town I’d only ever known before as the turn off to Branson.

Thursday Trifles

My wooden back scratcher — one of earliest inventions of mankind, for sure, and still one of the best — still has its label attached. I just noticed that. A product of Daiso Japan, it was acquired in Japan early this year and brought to me as o-miyagi.

The label is in Japanese and English. The English WARNING says:

Please understand that there is a risk of having mold and bugs since this is made of natural material.
Please do not use this for any other purpose than what it should be.
Please follow the garbage segregation rules imposed by local municipality.

Here’s a picture from Lou Mitchell’s last month. “A Millennial Couple at Breakfast.”


The flag between them is a Cubs W flag. They were all over when the Cubs were in the World Series, and you still see them sometimes. Ann asked me what it stood for. I said, Win. She said, couldn’t that be for any team anywhere? I assured her that that kind of reasoning has no place in sports fandom.

Here’s an article about Carvana. That’s a company that develops automobile vending machines. Or rather, mechanical towers that dispense cars previously acquired online. I’d never heard of it before. They’re in Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, among other places, so maybe I ought to take a look at one.

A few weeks ago, there was a thing going around Facebook: List 10 musical acts, nine of which you’ve seen, one you haven’t. Others are invited to guess which is the one you haven’t seen. Pointless but harmless. I refuse to do it on Facebook, but I will here. Alphabetically.

The Bobs
Chubby Checker
Irwin Hepplewhite & the Terrifying Papoose Jockeys
Gustav Leonhardt
Bob Marley
Natalie Merchant
Bill Monroe
Taj Mahal
They Might Be Giants
Francis Xavier & the Holy Roman Empire

The Snowballs of Fuji-san

Some sunny days lately, and longer ones too, but they’ve all been cold. If the weather had volition, I’d say it wanted to make up for the strangely warm days that northern Illinois experienced in mid-February.

After 24 years, I don’t remember exactly where we visited in the environs of Mt. Fuji, though we got fairly close. Considering that it was mid-March, it was effectively still winter. We were able to see the mountain from one vantage point — not as easy as you’d think — and we visited a cave nearby.

We also tossed around some snowballs.

NearFuji1993Either my sister-in-law (to be) or her husband took the shots. I scanned them together for better effect.


I had lunch with an old friend on Friday at the food court of Mitsuwa, a small Japanese-oriented mall anchored by the grocery store of that name in northwest suburban Arlington Heights. We had a good visit. The food is quite good there. I had some katsudon, a Japanese creation with pork cutlet and egg and a small amount of vegetables on rice, and long a favorite of mine among Japanese eats.

There’s a tiny restaurant off an alley in the Namba district of Osaka simply called Katsudon (or rather, カツ丼). It seated maybe eight at a counter looking straight into the small area in which two cooks made katsudon, the only thing on the menu, in gleaming copper-bottomed vessels. It wasn’t especially expensive and it tasted like heaven.

In fact, the place offered up the Platonic Ideal of the katsudon, as far as I’m concerned. All katsudon of the material sphere yearn to be that form. They inch toward it, but never quite make it. In short, the one at Mitsuwa was very good, but not as good as Katsudon, at least as it was 25 years ago. Hope the quality’s been maintained.

I had to look around to make the sure that the restaurant is still in business. I found some pictures, and it even looks like I remember it. Seems like the joint now also offers the related dishes of tonkatsu — cutlet on a bed of chopped lettuce — katsucurry, which is the cutlet on top of curry rice. Bet those are top-drawer, too.

I also noticed that the name of the alley is Hozenjiyokocho. I’m not sure I knew that back then. According to one source, the alley is a “collection of 60 small izakaya, bars and eateries in an alleyway behind Hozenji Temple in Osaka. The street has been filled with nightlife since the 17th century, when the area was a theater district.”

As for the nearby image of the kami Fudo Myo-o, which is covered with moss, I must have seen that. That’s the kind of thing I would notice. But I don’t remember.

What I need now is a specialized Tardis, one that takes you to your favorite restaurants, past or present, closed or still operating. Katsudon in Hozenjiyokocho would be such one place, since my tastes run to the inexpensive.

Off the top of my head, other destinations would include O-Sho, also in Osaka, which made wonderful gyoza; River Kwai in Chicago; Mack’s Country Cooking and Loveless Cafe as they used to be in Nashville; the Daily Catch in Boston; Viet Nam in San Antonio; that place in Apalachicola; that other place in New Orleans; the Cuban place in Tampa; Pizza Rustica and Mario’s in Rome; that fish-and-chips spot on Cleveland Street in London; halbes Hähnchen mit Pommes frites in Lüneburg; and yet other establishments whose names I’ve forgotten in New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali and other places.

Kyoeido Import Store, 1992

It occurs to me that if I lived in Japan now as a fairly youthful expat, instead of 25 years ago, I probably could order anything I wanted on Amazon or Alibaba, maybe, though I don’t know how much purchase the latter site has in Japan. It would be expensive, of course, but what isn’t in Japan?

Those online retailers might be one of the marvels of the age, but essential to the experience of being an expatiate is going out and finding things you need or want, by design or chance, using scraps of information from native and non-native sources (gaijin lore, I used to call the latter). Or so I believe. Amazon and Alibaba aside, the hunt for consumer goods among non-Japanese in Japan must also be facilitated by smartphones these days. It must be a wholly different experience, and I’m not persuaded it’s a better one.

I thought of all this looking at bits of letters I wrote in early 1992.

Feb. 1
I went to Kyoeido import store yesterday, a place I discovered by chance about a year ago. It’s a wonderful place. You never know what they’re going to have. Yesterday I notice a bottle of Egri Bikavér in a bin of ¥1000 wines. Good value, that.

[To save a trip to the wine-speak in Wiki: Egri Bikavér, in English Bull’s Blood, “is a red blend produced in Eger. It is the true essence of the red wines of Eger, a terroir wine, which carries the flavour of the soils of local production sites, the mezzo-climate unique to the region and the traditions and mores of local residents, from the selection of varieties to choosing the period and method of grape processing and mellowing.”

I discovered the wine when I lived in Nashville. I probably bought it for the first time because of the novelty of a vintage from still-behind-the-Iron-Curtain Hungary.]

I asked the shopkeeper if he always had Bull’s Blood on hand. Actually I said, “Here, in this place, this thing is always here?” in my rudimentary Japanese. I didn’t fully understand the answer, but caught enough to know that wine imports from Hungary are an iffy proposition. He showed me a second bottle that I hadn’t seen, and I bought that too.

Feb. 20
Like a fool, I went to Kyoeido today. I always drop more money there than I intend. I saw a big stack of big jam jars, maybe containing half a kilo each. On closer inspection, the jam turned out to be from Russia, though labeled from the CIS. (That still sounds like a microchip manufacturer.)

The jam sure was cheap. I had to wonder what was wrong with it. In the end, I bought a slightly more expensive, smaller jar of Bulgarian jam instead, which is reputed to be good, and maybe not too radioactive.

Tsūtenkaku and Billiken

At some point during their recent visit to Osaka, Yuriko and Ann made their way to the Tsūtenkaku, a tower rising above the Shinsekai neighborhood.


I hadn’t thought about the tower in years. I visited it very early during my time in Osaka. The present tower dates from 1956, probably counting as part of the postwar reconstruction. An earlier tower, built in 1912 and which supposedly took inspiration from the Eiffel Tower, stood until a wartime need for steel spelled its end in 1943.

I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that the current structure is the work of one Tachu Naito (1886-1970), Japan’s “Father of Towers.” He had a talent for designing towers that can withstand earthquakes, so he did a fair number of them.

Tsūtenkaku — fancifully translated as “tower reaching toward heaven” — has a mascot, Billiken. The same charm doll that’s the mascot of Saint Louis University, it seems, a creation and fad item of the very early 20th century in the United States.

How exactly Billiken made the transition to Japan isn’t clear to me, and I refuse to go down the rabbit hole looking for the story right now. Wiki says, without a footnote: “The Billiken made its Japanese debut in 1908. A statue was installed in the uppermost level of the original Tsutenkaku Tower as it was opened to the public in 1912. When the nearby Luna Park was closed in 1925, the tower’s Billiken statue disappeared. In 1980, a replacement statue made its appearance in a new Tsutenkaku Tower that was built in 1956.”

He comes in a number of guises near the tower, too.

Billiken Osakadscn8284I can see the appeal, actually. He looks like something that the Japanese would have created. They didn’t happen to, but no matter. He fits right in. The real question is why is he associated with the tower?

Speaking of Billiken, if you listen to the “Billiken Rag,” you might be the only person you know ever to have hear it.

Nipponese Debris

Yuriko and Ann are back from Japan, no worse for trip except for the usual jet lag. They brought back various things, including some printed items and small packaging material. Japanese aesthetics, known the world over, are present on every surface.

The only request I had for them to bring me some postcards. Here’s an Osaka-specific one.
Osaka postcard 2017Osaka has a sobriquet: The Kitchen of Japan. Specialty regional items include butaman, okonomiyaki, kushikata, and takoyaki. Delicious indeed.

Disposable chopsticks. Or rather, the paper wrapper for the chopsticks.
Disposable chopsticksSometimes even disposable items are too cute for words. Too cute is a running theme in Japanese design.

A nice brochure picked up at Nara Palace (Heijō Palace).
Nara Palace brochureHeijō Palace was the imperial residence in the Japanese capital city Heijō-kyō (Nara) during most of the Nara period, which essentially spans the 8th century AD. Things tend to get lost or kicked around after 12 centuries, so what visitors see on the site now are 21st-century reconstructions. Good ones, Yuriko said. Yet another thing for me to see, since they weren’t there in the 1990s.

Back to food packaging: Sakuma Drops hard candy.
Sakuma Drops Something a bit softer: Morinaga’s Milk Caramels.

Morinaga's Milk CaramelsThat’s the front of the box, plus one side. Each piece is wrapped in a yellow wrapper whose design is the same as the box.