Books I Read About Japan While In Japan

Underground is a collection of interviews of the victims of 1995 sarin attacks in the Tokyo subway system. The interviews don’t just provide information about the attacks from the perspective of those impacted, but also paint a picture of the daily lives and priorities that were interrupted on that day.

Geisha, A Life is the memoir of Mineko Iwasaki, who lived in Kyoto’s Gion Kobu district during the 1960s and 70s and was a highly successful geisha through her retirement at age 29. Iwasaki was a chief informant for Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of Geisha which (somewhat confusingly) is a novel, not a memoir. Geisha, A Life is a less sensational (but still fascinating) peek into the daily life of Iwasaki from childhood through her retirement.

I also read and enjoyed two novels this month, both of which unfolded slowly as they explored the quirks of their characters.  The Lake is a novel set in modern-day Tokyo that slowly reveals the past of its two main characters as they grow closer. Norwegian Wood is a coming-of-age novel set in Tokyo in the 1960s with themes of love, sex, and death.

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Candy (and Kisses) from Strangers

Last Saturday, within the span of about two hours, Theo received seven kisses and two lollipops, all from people we’d never previously met.

We mentioned the attention to a Rabat resident, who told us that this was typical in Morocco. When he was visits Europe, it feels strange to not pick up and play with random children. Even further on that extreme: the United States*, where he found that mothers would look concerned if he simply smiled at their children.

Cultural norms – they vary. Brian and I acknowledge this, and understand that in some countries (well, Turkey) strangers will find it very natural to spend an extended period of time petting our child’s blondish hair, even though it feels odd to us. And that in most parts of the world, people just give candy to children. This is in stark contrast to the United States, where we actually have a saying about candy from strangers. (For anybody from outside the US, the saying is: “Don’t take candy from strangers.” Pretty simple.)

Continue reading “Candy (and Kisses) from Strangers”


We spent a month in Istanbul last year.

I fell once while trying to get onto a bus while carrying Theo and a stroller, and half a dozen people rushed to help us.

We saw political marches, almost daily. Even though the government is often not kind to dissidents in Turkey, people are still willing to march.

Theo and Brian were once ushered into a bank to warm up, where Theo was provided with hot milk, chocolate, and a book. Unsatisfied that Theo was really warm enough, a bank employee went out to buy Theo soup.

If you sit between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, then you can hear the call to prayer echo between them.

I try to not dwell too much on terrorism, but after the recent airport bombing, my heart goes out to this welcoming, vibrant city, especially since it’s already struggling economically because of similar attacks.

The narrative of terrorism as “Muslims against the rest of the world,” fails to look widely enough to see who suffers the most because of terror.

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