Experience Japan Unlayered at Fairmont Pacific Rim

I was in Vancouver this week to see the Japan Unlayered, an exhibition on Japanese Art, Architecture and Culture happening at Fairmont Pacific Rim. The event features brands like MUJI, BEAMS JAPAN, Waketokuyama, ACURA and Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience as well as architecture by Kengo Kuma and designs from Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garcons) and Yoji Yamamoto.

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5 Must-Do Things to do in Japan with kids

This is an updated version of a post I originally contributed for YummyMummyClub.

I grew up in a small town in Japan. It’s been almost 20 years since we moved to Canada, so my children were pretty much raised as Canadians. We try to go back to Japan as often as possible, and it’s great to see my kids get so fascinated with my home country. Here are 5 Must-Do Things in Japan with your children.

1. Visit a Family Restaurant

Photo credit: Osamu Iwasaki
Photo credit: Osamu Iwasaki

Family restaurants(FAMIRESU for short) are everywhere in Japan. They are reasonably priced and kid friendly. For some reason, Kids Meals are called “OKOSAMA(Child) LUNCH” And yes, they are served all day, not just at lunch time. It usually consists of little bit of everything (spaghetti, meatballs, etc.) and a little mountain of rice with a flag on top. When my son first saw it, he thought that was the greatest thing! Make sure you take a photo.

2. Visit a Shrine or Temple

Zojo-ji temple in the rain
Zojo-ji temple in the rain

3. Check Out a Festival or Two

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Some festivals are huge and happen annually, so be sure to check the local event schedule of where you are headed. But if you are lucky, you might just come across a small fair near the shrine. Unlike North American fairs, there won’t be any rides, but usually a strip is lined with all kinds of different vendors selling snacks (candy apple, cotton candy, OKONOMIYAKI savory pancakes, etc.), toys and masks, or have a game booth. My favourite is KINGYO SUKUI -“scoop the goldfish” game!

4. Character Goods Store

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If you have a daughter, (no, scratch that, boys will love it too) you must go to “Character Goods Store”—such as Sanrio and Kiddy Land. You’ll be overwhelmed by the number of character goods (most famous of all is Hello Kitty). From underwear, handkerchief, hair clips, note books, bento boxes,stationery,stuffed animals to chopsticks, you can find all kinds of wacky fun things with your favourite character on it. There are plenty of fun things for boys as well (my son loved Cup Noodle shaped erasers), and these tiny things make great souvenirs for friends back home.

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My favourite, Rilakkuma

5. Ride on a Bullet Train

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A New Moon Over Tohoku

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Yesterday, I attended a screening of a documentary film, A New Moon Over Tohoku by Japanese Canadian Filmmaker, Linda Ohama. Linda is a third generation (Sansei) Japanese Canadian known for her film, Obachan’s Garden.

A New Moon Over Tohoku is about the people who suffered from the Great East Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, in the Tohoku area of Japan.

Linda said it all started because of her granddaughter. When they first found out about the earthquake and tsunami, the granddaughter, then 7 years-old, asked her what they could do for them. Eventually, Linda flew to Japan to volunteer in Tohoku area.

As she got to know the people in Tohoku, they asked her to create a film to tell their stories. Initially, she turned it down. This changed when she first visited the “No-Go” zone near Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Seeing the traffic lights still working and changing the lights in a ghost town, she cried. Linda then decided to interview the people in Tohoku, specifically, in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. Two and half years later, the film is being presented here in Canada. A New Moon Over Tohoku premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival late last month (September 2016).

Linda has brought guests from Japan for the Canadian tour. Inlcluding, Mrs. Kanako Sasaki, an acupuncturist who appears in the film and tells us her survival story. She was treating a patient when the earthquake hit. The film tells the story of how she got her patient out and then tried to locate her own family. Then the Tsunami hit her town of Otsuchi.

Kanako described the scene after she got scooped up in Tsunami “Hell”, as people, houses, and vehicles swam by her. She tells of how the tanks on boats exploded, floating by, and setting fires to homes with people still trapped inside. Kanako herself was swept up and carried by the rising waters flowing through the streets of her village. Finally, she was rescued by friends and neighbours. Once rescued, and despite being injured herself and still soaked in cold, wet clothes, she continued on through the night helping others. Her story is so powerful, it made my cry.

Soma Nomaoi Samurais
Soma Nomaoi Samurais

The film introduces the stories of many other people and places, such as the people who have homes and businesses in the “No-Go” zone. Included is a Samurai family who are determined to continue their tradition of Soma Nomaoi (Samurai festival with horses). Other powerful and movies stories include those of mothers concerned with radiation and how they feel guilty about letting their children be exposed to radiation, and how they feel oppressed for not being able to speak their mind honestly about their fear of radiation and at the same time not wanting to isolate themselves for speaking out… All the complexities, fears, and concerns of the people affected in the “No-Go” zone are expressed and examined.

I personally visited the Tohoku area back in 2013. All the places I went to were hard to visit, but Okawa Elementary School that had lost 70% of their children, was particularly heartbreaking. Yesterday at lunch before the screening, Linda told me about a father from Okawa area. This father had lost his only child, a 12 year old girl who was at Okawa Elementary School. Linda said, “He said he was so lucky.”

“I thought I misunderstood at first. He lost his only child. How can he be lucky? But he said he was so lucky he got to be a father.”

I couldn’t hold back my tears.

Linda says many people in Tohoku turned negatives into positives like this. I think they have no choice, in order to continue forward.

But it’s not all sad. The film also features brave, happy, and optimistic people.

The screening in Victoria was a success. It is an emotional film. There were not many dry eyes in the theatre, but I was particularly grateful for Kanako (with her daughter, Sera, who is also in the film) for coming all the way to Canada to share her story. Her wish was for this film to be seen by as many people as possible, not just in Canada and overseas, but also in Japan. She also asked us to remember to be grateful for what we have, as you never know when it might be gone.

As I said my goodbye to Kanako, I offered my help in any way I can. She said, “We have just only begun.” I am grateful for this new friendship.

There will be more screenings in Japan starting in December. If you want to book a screening for your community or organization, please check out the film website.

TelTell Tohoku Tour (2) Minami Sanriku, Ohara and Ishinomaki

(Read part 1 of this trip here.)

After Kesennnuma, we headed to Minami Sanriku cho. The population of the town before the disaster was 17,378. Now they report 614 deaths and 226 people are still missing. The video below is shot in front of the remains of the town’s Department of Disaster Prevention. About 30 people climbed up on to the roof of the building, but only 10 people survived. The story of a young woman who kept announcing to the town folk to evacuate to the higher ground is utterly tragic. I lost it reporting it here.

We drove by Kitakami river toward Ishinomaki city. Population as of March 2011 was 160,394. Number of deaths 3,490.

I could not believe how stunningly beautiful it was around the river. Green mountains and blue water…Cali and I talked about how such breathtakingly beautiful nature can be so devastating.

Kitakami riverKitakami river 2

Then we arrived at Okawa Elementary school. They lost 70% of students due to Tsunami.

Okawa schoolThere were a lot of people praying here. Heartbreaking. There was also a newly built memorial.

Okawa school2

After that we drove to Ohara to see my friend Caroline. She is from UK but volunteers at Ohara. When we got there she was painting a shed. We met online and I love her pragmatic attitude towards rebuilding. If you wait for people to come help, you would be waiting for a long time. So, she fundraises on her own and does what needs to be done. Ohara is a small town of population around 120, but with Tsunami they lost about 50 people. Please consider supporting this small community by donating directly on her site.

Caroline

Next we headed to Ishinomaki city for Yahoo! Japan Fukko Base. Fukko means Reconstruction in English. Here we did a Ustream show and interviewed Mr. Sunaga from Yahoo! Japan.

Yahoo ustreamAt Yahoo Fukko Base, they are offering the space for different creative project to support reconstruction of Ishinomaki area. I did a quick video here as well:

That was it for the Tohoku tour. I know what we saw was the tip of the iceberg, and there are so many people still living in temporary housings. It is such a huge disaster, many people almost feel helpless, not knowing where to begin. At the same time I got to see many people volunteering their time to make at least a little progress a day. This was one of the few positive things I saw.

We headed back to Tokyo. And the next day, we met with several Japanese alpha bloggers – Japanese term for widely read bloggers – to discuss TelTell app and also how we can contribute to Tohoku reconstruction. It was great to meet all the bloggers! John said we needed to do something big if we wanted people’s attention back to 311 reconstruction. I agree; since 311, there was Hurricane Sandy and other natural disasters;  economy is bad and people in other parts of the world are too busy worrying about their own problems. I also suggested TelTell can be the app for people around the world to directly communicate with people in Tsunami affected areas. It was a meaningful discussion and I feel we planted seeds for next projects here.

Japan/US Blogger Summit

Thank you TelTell and Tasukeai Japan for this incredible opportunity to visit Tohoku.

Special thanks to Yuuki from Tasukeai Japan. We took a photo with same order as last year. I hope to be back in Japan soon!