Mulan

When Disney rolled out Mulan in 1998, I finally had my princess. Sure, I was 18 and headed to college a few months later, but Mulan resonated with me in a way that no other princess ever had.

Ariel hit the big screen when I was nine. And nine-year-old me had some issues with ‘Kiss the Girl’ regarding consent. Go on and kiss the girl? Hmm, nope. You gotta ask her first.

Belle came along a few years later. I do relate to the girl who wanders around town, headstrong and desperate to go out and see the world. But … a girl who would fall in love so easily? Pshaw.

Jasmine may have been a little more my speed – but the movie wasn’t about Jasmine. It was centered around Aladdin.

The next few years brought Nala, Pocahontas, Esmerelda and Megara. All fine additions to the princess lineup, to be sure … but, still, they didn’t quite represent me.

Enter Mulan. I was super excited to see a story from Asia! But I had no idea what the movie really held for me.

Mulan is a girl who does all the girl things wrong. Her heart isn’t really in them, and when she tries – when she really, really tries – she messes everything up and is just a huge disappointment to her family and community.

And then she goes and has an adventure! Not a journey to find a man – but a journey to go be a thing that no one thinks she can be. She has her struggles, but, ultimately, she comes out on top.

And in the cartoon, at least: a man follows her home.

The cartoon does have some great songs! But: it’s not a musical. I made the mistake of buying the soundtrack when I got to college and … well … it’s mostly instrumental background stuff.

There’s been a big kerfuffle about the new live-action movie not living up to the cartoon: it’s not as funny! They took the songs out!

But for me: this movie’s soul is the same as the cartoon. When Mulan’s father sat her down to tell her to hide her talents: I was five years old again, my dad telling me I couldn’t be a Cub Scout. That this thing that I saw my big brother do, that I was so excited about! I couldn’t do that. I shouldn’t want that.

Mulan is a girl who wants all the wrong things. Who is good at the wrong things. Who is so very bad at the things she is supposed to excel at. The things that will bring honor to her family.

But those things that are so wrong? They wouldn’t be wrong if she had been a boy.

So off she goes, has an adventure, saves the world. All by pushing aside the expectations society put on her, and embracing who it is she wants to be.

So this live-action Mulan? It was everything I wanted it to be.

What’s in a name?

Dr. Akemi  Togawa

This weekend, the husband and I had a monster movie double feature of a couple of childhood favorites: The War of the Gargantuas and Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend.

I was really impressed this time around with our childhood tastes! Both of these movies are actually a decently good time, even if you aren’t 5 years old.

So the War of the Gargantuas: I remember watching this movie as a child. This is where I learned that monsters live in the mountains. This is also the first and only time I saw someone with my own name in a real-life movie. My parents tell me that I was very worried about Dr. Akemi Togawa. Apparently, I was glued to the tv until I knew she made it out ok.

This time around, as I settled into the movie, I found it odd that they don’t mention the lady doctor’s name during the first half of the movie. It’s all just a bunch of “Dr? Dr.”

And then! And then she falls off a cliff and is hanging on for dear life when the American doctor finally says her name.

As someone who never randomly hears my name unless someone is talking to me: it’s jarring. It’s jarring to hear ‘Akemi!’ yelled from the tv.

And from then on out, it was constant yelling of her name. Pronounced a myriad of ways, but all very recognizable as, well, my name. It caught me off guard every time. Every time!

I have to say, I really am quite used to being an almost-only. It used to bother me, as a kid, when I could never find my name on a keychain. But now? Now, I couldn’t be happier to be one of a few. It’s a small club, but it’s a good one.

Japan: What we Wore in the Fall

Ok, so what did we pack for 16 days in Japan? The 16 days were spread across Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Okinawa in October. The first 3 cities: average 56-73 degrees during the month of October. Okinawa? The stats say 72-81 during October but … it’s a HOT 81 degrees. High humidity and unrelenting sun make it unbearably warm during the day, if you are out and about trying to see as much as you possibly can. Which is kind of our thing.

So we had to pack for pleasant tourist weather and also a few days of seriously hot and humid weather.

First up: the husband packed every single item of clothing he owns into a bag.

But for me, I spent a long time putting together the perfect trip wardrobe. This list is based off of memory, photographs, and my packing list. I wish I had taken pictures of myself every day, but, alas, I didn’t. So this is close-ish:

Bottoms:
2 pairs of jeans
1 pair of Eddie Bauer travel pants
1 skirt/swimsuit coverup

Tops:
1 blouse
3 3/4 sleeve shirts
5 t-shirts
1 hand-knitted sweater (that required a t-shirt underneath)

Shoes:
Flip-flops (Clarks: so super comfy)
Casual ballet flats + Gekks inside (Clarks again: super comfy)
Ankle boots (Earth: again, super comfy, great support)

Outer:
Hat
Eddie Bauer windbreaker
Multi-way cardigan (Love, love, love this thing)
Travel scarf/dress (Have not yet gone on a trip where I’ve made serious use of it; but I love the multi-use idea of it – I do LOVE this for wearing on the plane, it makes a great wearable blanket, that you can quickly turn into an infinity scarf or cardigan)

Other:
Bathing Suit
Yoga pants (for lounging around the hotels)
Jewelry
Purse (Love, love, love this bag! I love Baggallini bags for their practicality, but this one might be my favorite. This isn’t my favorite color, but I like it well enough: I jump on their site every couple of months to see if they’ve added something more my speed. But still: 8 months later, this is STILL the bag I am using.)

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Japan: A Collection of Hopefully Helpful Tips and Observations

Osaka

Ok, so maybe you want to go to Japan and don’t care about all my hilarious anecdotes? Here’s a collection of random tips:

If you have an unlocked phone, order a sim card and swap it out! You’ll have internet everywhere.

If you are going to use the local trains, get a Suica card. (You may be able to order a card online before you get there, if you really want to hit the ground running.) We used ours on different lines in Tokyo, and in Osaka. If we had taken the train anywhere in Kyoto, it would have worked there, too. We found the trains fairly easy to navigate. You can trade in your Suica card at the end of the trip to get any remaining money back. They can also be used at some vending machines? We did not try that.

Google translate is a lifesaver! Not sure what the menu says or what you are buying in a conbini? Aim your phone at it (internet required, see the tip above), and it will translate enough bits of things that you can sort of tell what it is you’re considering.

Need cash? Conbinis have ATMs.

Oh, you’ll need cash. Weirdly, not all places take credit cards.

Hungry? Conbinis have surprisingly good food!

What’s a conbini? A convenience store. Family Mart, Lawson, 7-Eleven. Yes. 7-Eleven. I have no idea why they all have ‘L’s in the name, but … they do.

Wendy’s First Kitchens have machines to order at, so you don’t have to interact with other humans (for ordering at least) if you don’t want to.

McDonald’s has handy laminated menus at the counter so you can point at what you want.

No eating and walking on the street. It’s rude, I guess? No one will stop you, but if you pay attention, anyone eating on the street has stopped walking and is standing off to the side.

There are drink vending machines everywhere, but food vending machines are few and far between.

The Japanese are all about the seasons! Including in their snack foods. We managed to get Apple Coke and White Peach Fanta because we were there in the fall. If you are a junk foodie, keep an eye open and you’ll get to try all kinds of weird stuff. (But Apple Coke and White Peach Fanta? So good.)

Japan (and Malaysia, too, so maybe it’s in all of Asia? Unsure) is all about random flavored Kit Kats. We tried all kinds of flavors. All kinds of flavors – many of them probably seasonal.

Stop in at a Don Quijote store. You’re welcome.

Also, check out the Robot Restaurant if you are in Tokyo. No locals attend the show, so it’s not really an authentic Japanese experience in that regard. But it is something unlike anything you’ve ever done, I can almost guarantee that.

Tokyo: The End of our Adventure

My new tshirt! And a furoshiki full of snacks

Our last day in Tokyo, we rode the Airport Limousine Bus to the Narita airport. It picked us up right in front of our hotel, made a couple of stops to pick up other passengers, and then we were on our way.

At the airport, we spent the last of our cash in gift shops and vending machines. The husband had been considering trying Coolish and he finally took the plunge. And then he was so sad he missed out on 16 days of coolish fun: It’s soft-serve ice cream in a toddler applesauce pouch. So … the presentation leaves a little to be desired, but I understand the actual product is quite delightful.

I loaded up the snacks I wanted easy access to on the plane in my furoshiki, all flipped and folded and knotted up as a bag. And I wore my new shirt!! (First time I washed the shirt … it shrank. A LOT. Turned into a belly shirt. I guess Japanese ladies aren’t generally as tall as I am … so they don’t need shirts as long as I need them? It’s a shame, though, I really loved the color.)

And then we got on a plane and made it home, and were so sad to not be in Japan anymore. But … super happy be back in our not futon-mattress bed. The end!

Tokyo: One Last Day

Frosted flakes!

Our last full day in Tokyo started off with our standard Shinjuku breakfast: cornflakes for me (these guys are frosted, a very nice surprise for the lady who eats butter-sugar-rice), and a protein bar and coke for the husband. I opted out of the breakfast buffet when I booked this last hotel because it was like an extra $20 per person. And, well, I can eat quite well out of a conbini, thank you very much, for less than $20. Maybe not bacon and butter-sugar-rice well, but, ya know, well enough.

On our way out for the day, we bought our Airport Limousine Bus tickets in the lobby of our hotel for the next day. We opted for the bus this time around because our departing flights were out of Narita, which is much further away than Haneda, and a taxi would have been … very expensive. It was incredibly convenient, and they helped us by making sure we picked a bus that would get us to the airport in plenty of time for our flights. With a paper time table. Most technologically advanced country in the world ($3000 robot dogs, man) and they used a paper time table.

This last day was wandering around Shibuya to catch the famous Shibuya crossing (the in-laws saw it in its true madness on Saturday night: in the middle of a Monday, it’s less manic) and to check out some malls. We also wandered around the Shinjuku train station malls, which there seem to be no end of.

Once we were sure we were done with the trains for the day (it was a sad moment, to be sure), we traded in our Suica cards to get our remaining money back. We played around with one of the automated machines for awhile, but couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. As we were struggling, a local stopped and asked us if we needed some help, and walked us to the customer service line. As it turns out, you cannot return your Suica cards to the machines. At customer service, we traded our cards in and got our $15 back or whatever. Not a ton of money, so it wouldn’t have been the worst thing if we hadn’t been able to figure out how to cash them out, but, still, it was nice to get back.

As we were packing up that night, I realized I had no clean shirt to wear the next day. I had lost a shirt to a toiletries mishap on the flight over, and had just figured I’d pick up a t-shirt in my shopping adventures, but I never quite did. “So just wear a dirty one?” I hear you think to yourself. But: one does not simply wear a dirty shirt on a 12 hour flight. That is too much, even for me.

So I did some googling, and found a department store at the more affordable range of the spectrum: Uniqlo. So off we went, across the street from our hotel to … Times Square? Where we ran into a Shake Shack! If we had known that was there, then maybe we wouldn’t have eaten so much Wendy’s First Kitchen! Next time. We’ll know for next time.

So we found the mall, and rode the escalator up and up and up and up till we found Uniqlo. (Seriously, it was on the 12th floor. At like floor 8 I made us get off the escalator and pick up a paper mall-map from a stand, I was beginning to think we were in the wrong building.)

And then we found it! So crazy thing about this store: there are no cashiers. There are rfid tags on all the items. When you check out, you just put all your stuff in a bag, then a machine tells you what you owe, and you pay it. It was magic! A far-cry from the paper time table of busses we saw that morning.

I picked up a beautiful blue t-shirt, we paid for it without talking to or interacting with a soul, and then we were on our way back to packing for the trip home.

The fitbit tells me this was our day of the mostest steps: we passed the 20,000 mark. It was our last day, and we wanted to make the most of it! Besides, we had a 12 hour flight coming up, we could recover on the plane.

Tokyo: Harajuku Style

Shopping in Harajuku

So another stop on the husband’s list: Harajuku! I really wanted to pick up some new duds, but they seemed to only have size medium out on display.

(In America that would work pretty well for me … but I am no Japanese medium. I’m a large or more? Unsure.)

I did find some “pants” that looked like they may have been long enough for me! If I extended the buckles fully. Though, maybe shorts plus … leg tubes? Don’t quite qualify as pants? Again: unsure.

There were plenty of crepe and sweet shops to be found, but the husband knew there was something even better to be had: freshly made potato chips with ice cream. So good.

Calbee shop in Harajuku. WORTH IT.

We got there pretty early in the day, before crowds got too insane, but it was already pretty crowded. Fun shopping – mostly window shopping, really. There are some odd finds, to be sure. But, I did come out ahead with a giant hair claw for my giant hair! Really, I should have picked up a few more. I guess I’ll just have to go back.

One thing of note: there don’t seem to be public bathrooms on that main shopping street. So we headed to the Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku mall nearby: where I waited in a really. long. line. And the husband was in and out quickly. We did a little more window shopping (this place had … regular stuff) and enjoyed some time on the rooftop.

That evening we had “tickets” for the Robot Restaurant, so we made sure to make it back to the hotel for a break before our wild night out.

So: Robot Restaurant. We had seen an Anthony Bourdain where he was in Tokyo and he made a stop at the Robot Restaurant. He … had trouble finding words, for what, exactly, this place was. And so, of course, we put it on the list.

Before we left for Japan, the husband found their website. The … apparently geocities website. And filled out a form. And got an email, with confirmation of our tickets! That we would pick up and pay for before the show. Because, ya know, Japan and e-commerce? Not quite a thing. (Except for the Hip Hop Bus! Those guys figured it out!)

We read everything we could about the show from their website, and found a cryptic note about a dress code … but not what the dress code actually was. So I asked b2 to take a look at the Japanese version of the site, and he also found nothing about the dress code. So I asked him what the typical Japanese dress code for restaurants was. He thought long and hard and came back with: “Don’t be naked?”

So we decided to not go naked! Which is what everyone else also went with! So we made the right call. Disaster averted.

Night of the show, we found the ticket place and picked up our tickets, then headed down the street for the show. Right in Shinjuku! We were able to walk from our hotel.

One thing to know: this isn’t really a restaurant, per se. It’s a show. You are paying to see a show. You can reserve a sushi dinner box when you order your tickets, if you so desire. And they do have a cash-only snack stand before you enter the show. (We got sodas and fried chicken … bites? Actually pretty good.) And during the show, they roll snack stands in during intermissions. We got more drinks and popcorn during the show itself.

But the show! I don’t know if I have the words.

What I do know: It’s a really, really good time. We all walked out smiling. It is bright and loud and above all cheerful and fun. My FB post after walking out of it: “Pretty sure I was just some molly away from a rave.”

I’ll just let these pictures speak for themselves.

Back to Tokyo: Shinjuku

I had grand plans for our last morning in Okinawa: a walk to some gardens (Naha Fukushūen) and a beach (Naminoue Beach), as they were close to our hotel.

But we were just so tired. And so we slept in! Had a late breakfast. Shared a cab with the in-laws to the airport. And thus our Okinawan adventures were over.

We all made it safely to Tokyo. The husband and I were meeting an old exchange student of mine for dinner, so we were too short on time to take the Limousine Bus to our hotel. Luckily for us, it was a domestic flight so we had flown into Haneda airport, much closer to the city. And so we got a taxi! Er, two taxis. We waited a few rounds for a taxi large enough for the four of us, but eventually gave up and took two regular cabs. And then we raced each other to the hotel! (Ok, or maybe we both just eventually made it there.)

We checked into the Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku, a recommendation from the dad because: the hotel is on the Limousine Bus route, it is affordablish, and it’s in Shinjuku, right near the train station. And again: it’s in Shinjuku!

This was perhaps our smallest room on the trip, and the futoniest of beds. (The mattress was very firm. So very firm. Laying on my side meant my arms fell asleep.) The bed was against one wall, which meant once I was in, I was in for the night! There’s a fridge under that tv, we made good use of that!

This is pulled from their website, but this was our room!! Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku

But the location! The dad was so right about the location: right at the edge of all the Shinjuku action, super close to the train station. Busiest station in the world (millions of people go through it every day. EVERY DAY.) And also it’s a massive mall and has tons of restaurants. And outside it, there is so much shopping, and so many restaurants.

If you want to go to Tokyo but don’t know where to stay, stay in Shinjuku. You’re welcome.

So, anyway, we got all checked in, and met Miyuki with her family in the lobby. I made sure to give her a description of us (me: purple hair; the husband: big guy, red beard), and she spotted us right away.

They had picked out a restaurant for us that matched the husband’s specifications (meat! not fish … not vegetables), The Old Station Bar and Grill. Miyuki ordered family style, and they all (including her 8-year-old daughter) put the husband and I to serious shame with their chopstick skills. But we tried!

Looking at the menu online, I recall that she ordered us the dynamic grill (a giant platter of meat), grilled cheese curry (it was soooo good), neapolitan spaghetti (the husband quite enjoyed it, I was low-gluten at the time so I opted out), and the “Melt! Cheese dumplings!” and simple pepper dumplings (which I totally had, I figured that wasn’t that much wheat? I didn’t die or anything, so it’s fine).

It was all soooo good. I’m so glad we had a local doing the ordering, it made the whole restaurant experience way less scary.

And it was a really fun time! It’d been over 20 years since Miyuki had been my exchange student, and it was fun to catch up. Her English is flawless (thanks to an NPR habit) so it made for easy conversation. If you ever have a local offer to take you out to dinner, do it! They are so accommodating, she really went out of her way to find a place the husband would love. He liked it so much, it was kind of a bummer the rest of our days were too busy to make it back.

They walked us back to our hotel (good thing, too! Shinjuku is a big place) and we bid farewell.

And so started our second round of Tokyo adventures!

Okinawa World

Okinawa world

After a sobering start of the day at the WWII Peace Memorial, we caught a taxi over to Okinawa World.

First up, we walked through some caves: cooler than the outside. But also: they were damp. Lots of places submerged in water. Beautiful to walk through, but not exactly the kind of place I’d want to grow up in.

There was an impressive gift shop that the husband and I raced through: we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the, ah, important stuff. We thought we’d have a chance to circle back if there was time, but, alas, Okinawa World is set up in a sort of linear fashion.

There were a few shows that we just happened to miss, but the craft village was fun. The mother-in-law and I wove our own bookmarks! The father-in-law tried his hand at some leatherwork.

We had a very late lunch: the husband had a wagyu pizza and I had some wagyu skewers. Very possibly the best beef I have ever put into my face. The in-laws were there, too … I … think I stole one of the mother-in-law’s beef skewers. Because, again: the best beef I have ever put into my face.

The husband and I watched a snake show … there was a race between a snake and a mongoose? But the animals didn’t cooperate, I think they were kind of over the whole performing for an audience thing. As we were leaving the show, we saw that they had headsets that would have explained the show to us in English. I guess we’ll know for next time!

I wish we had been able to spend more time in Okinawa World, it’s another one I’d add to the list! It’s a fun tourist trap that’s got a little bit of everything: natural wonders, cultural shows, hands-on craft workshops, museums, food, souvenir shopping and even a zoo. (Snakes. Mongooses. Giant Okinawan bats!) Japan, man. Something for everyone!

From there, we caught a taxi back to the hotel. I think that may have been the night we got “room service”: which was very cheap, but also turned out to be microwave dinners. I’d recommend running down to the corner for some conbini food, if you’ve got any energy left.

Okinawa: WWII Peace Memorial

WWII Peace Memorial Museum in Okinawa

The thing on my Okinawa must-see list was the WWII Peace Memorial Museum. WWII, very specifically in Okinawa, is central to my very existence, and so I wanted to pay proper respects.

I was not prepared.

In the US, we learn about WWII from the European perspective. The Asian front is just a footnote.

Growing up, I had learned that my Okinawan grandmother was raised by an older step-brother in a cave. I had assumed that they were just really poor, and that it was happenstance that they were orphaned.

In the time leading up to WWII, and during the war, every Okinawan lived in a cave. All of them. Before the war, the Japanese military ruthlessly stripped all the resources from their Okinawan territory in order to support their own expansion efforts into Korea and China. There was no food. There was no peace. There was no safety.

If you were an Okinawan in that time period, you sought refuge in the caves.

And then WWII arrived. Japanese soldiers learned that if they also sought refuge in the caves, the Allied forces were less likely to attack if they knew there were civilians there.

If the Japanese soldiers felt that there was no way they could win, they committed ritual suicide. After first ensuring that all of the Okinawans first committed ritual suicide. Women. Children.

So this was my grandmother’s reality: she grew up in a cave. And she survived.

I had always been amazed that my grandmother would marry an American soldier and move across the world, not knowing English. But now, I get it. If you’ve lived through hell on earth? That’s not scary. Not even a tiny bit.

It was a heavy morning, for sure. Incredibly hot (sensing a theme, here?) so we didn’t see all the various memorials on the grounds. We did walk through the walls of names (like the Vietnam memorial, but so. many. more. names). There’s a computer, to look up names to find on the walls. I wanted to see if there were Tokumotos represented, but … you have to pick a language to search for names in, and once you pick English, you can only search for English names. Aaaand I don’t read Japanese. So that was a bust.

I would highly, highly recommend a stop at the WWII Peace Memorial sites. It is a sobering experience: it showcases the horrors that humans are able to inflict on each other. But it’s also a reminder that we can come back from that. We can heal. And, hopefully, we can learn from our past so that we aren’t doomed to repeat it.