Miyako Manhole Cover 

A pair of salmon dance on the Miyako manhole cover design.

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But... Is It Clean? 

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Sea Urchin Paradise 

We spent a weekend at the coast, and found a large number of sea urchins hanging out in some shallow water at a rocky beach.
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Six Steps to Self-Actualization 

As difficult as some aspects of expatriating have been, they've had one primary redeeming value: we've only had to do them once. Repetition is annoying to me, especially repeating things that seem arbitrary or pointless. But, we learn to accept things by working through them, so it's only fitting that I've achieved inner peace through taking the Japanese driving test.

I knew I was likely to fail the driving test the first time. Reportedly, most people do. What I did not expect was to fail it a second time, and then a third time. The examiners gave the same reason every time: "Deibisu-san, you need to slow down on the turns." No other comments, only that I turned too fast. I slowed down each time, until I felt like I was crawling around the corners, but to no avail. "Deibisu-san, next time, go more slowly in the turns." Man, was that frustrating. All this effort I put into fixing what they said was wrong, and they kept failing me for the same reason. Was there nothing I could do to pass?

Somewhere between Attempt #3 and Attempt #4, I entered a state of acceptance about the whole thing. I could only drive the course to the best of my ability. Passing was out of my hands. It was a good development because then I wasn't fazed by Attempt #4. I failed, even though the examiner praised the way I drove a tricky part of the course by drawing a big flower around that point on her map with a red pen, the way Japanese schoolteachers do. Passing is out of my hands.

One week later came Attempt #5. Attempt #5 had the added bonus of the examiner being the one guy at the driving center who I simply could not understand. I went, I drove, I failed for reasons I couldn't make out. And yet, I still felt content I'd done the best I could, but with no success. I realized that by this point, I'd run through all of the driving center personnel who do the foreign test. It was guaranteed that the next examiner would be someone who had already failed me. Not that it mattered with my track record, they could replace the whole staff and the results would be the same. Passing is out of my hands.

So the guy I couldn't understand was my examiner again for Attempt #6. I went, I drove, I returned to the starting point, I listened to his incomprehensible comments. But this time, he was asking questions rather than scribbling on his map. That was different, but was it significant? I finally asked him whether I had passed, and he confirmed that I had by sending me inside to wait for the license to be issued. Success! I could drive in Japan again!

Or I could have if I'd had the car. My international driver's permit expired in June, so returning home meant one more thing that was out of my hands — a long ride by bus and train.

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Looks Like Autumn 

Masses of variously colored cosmos flowers are very common around Kitakami in the fall.

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The I-O Distinction 

This is definitely not the kind of pepperoncini I ran around town looking for back in May:

As it turns out, this kind of pasta is actually called peperoncino. This batch is from a mix, consisting of a liquid sauce packet (olive oil, garlic oil, soy sauce, and some other stuff) and a separate toppings packet (toasted garlic, parsley, and sliced dried togarashi). It's quite delicious.

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Akita Manhole Covers 

Here are some more manhole covers. These ones are from Akita prefecture.

These racks of lanterns feature prominently in Akita City's largest festival, Kanto Matsuri. The manhole cover is in the city's downtown area.

Kamakurando, a tourist destination in Yokote City, has its own manhole cover design. The dog is Kamakurando's mascot, Nobu. Of course, he's an Akita dog.

Omagari is a city famous for fireworks, and the site of Japan's largest fireworks competition.
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Summer Caterpillar 

Battari-mura was full of these caterpillars when we were there in July.

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Mourning in Japan 

The air smells like incense. It has almost every day for the last week. One of our neighbors died on Tuesday, so the family's house has been draped in mourning since then. It's a very haunting scene.

A black-and-white banner hangs above the front door to the home. A small stand holding two basins, one of water and one of salt (considered purifying agents), stands between the front door and a sheltered wooden sign announcing the name of the deceased, birth and death dates, and information about the proceedings. The name and dates also appear on signs on the nearest major road. The funerary accoutrements will remain in place for approximately seven days, the duration of the initial period of mourning. After that, they will come down, leaving the family to mourn in a less public manner — save for the smell of incense in the air.
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Black on White 

A friend gave me a bag of satoimo today.

Satoimo are probably better known in America as taro root, the basis of the Hawaiian food poi. Here, they're most often boiled, peeled, and served in miso soup. I have a new Japanese-language cookbook that rather conveniently has a bunch of satoimo recipes in it, so I made one of them tonight.

This is satoimo no kurogoma miso ae, taro with black sesame and miso dressing. It was quite tasty the satoimo themselves have a mild flavor that went nicely with the stronger black sesame. And a Manhattan.
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