Friday, April 01, 2005

The dog stays in the picture.

I'm in Japan, in Tokushima, visiting my sister, Meg. It's about six a.m. and I am up and everyone else is sleeping. I've been in Japan five days now and I'm still not totally adjusted to the time change. Although, actually I am, since my preferred time to go to bed is nine thirty or ten and I love to get up early. So, maybe I have adjusted, I'm just in my unusual off-schedule with everyone else in spite of time changes.

In any case, here I am. Meg lives with her husband, Tsuyoshi, in a small, traditional Japanese house on the outskirts of Tokushima on Shikoku Island, south of Osaka. Most of the houses in her little area have small gardens and the streets are really narrow. There is a school down the street from her and that means in the mornings school children usually run by in their blue sailor uniforms and red backpacks. But we are here during their spring break, so I am missing the usual morning throng. But this is the first time I’m here for the cherry blossoms to bloom. Every morning we take a walk with my sister’s dog, Blue, a small black pug. And we look at the cherry blossom trees and see if they are about to bloom. Yesterday we saw several trees where a few flowers were open. We are thinking that today it’s going to be a burst of color.

I believe Mulan will be a good traveling companion. Here’s what’s great about her. She’s pretty good at spending a long time traveling. She can occupy herself with her drawing and all her dolls. She’s a fantastic eater. Oh boy, am I lucky. I have a lot of friends whose kids are really particular about their food. And Mulan is so game! We are eating spinach and toasted sesame seeds for breakfast along with a fish, tofu and pickle salad and she’s eating all of it and likes it. (It does taste fantastic!) She dives into food she hasn’t tried and genuinely gives it a chance. She doesn’t like everything (yesterday at the Udon noodle house she didn’t want the squid appetizers, but all in all, she’s really good. A zillion times better than I would have been at her age.

And she’s learned how to pack! I traveled for up to six months at a time with a small backpack – okay that’s an exaggeration, a medium sized backpack and a small extra bag. And since I adopted Mulan, we’ve had to lug so much stuff around to travel anywhere. At first it was bottles and diapers and then we just got a bit lazy. But this time we packed in advance, we packed our bags several days before and we kept trying to make it smaller. We decided we could have four outfits max and they had to be things that could generally be washed easily. We did pretty well. We could have gone down even farther. But we did it, we got ourselves into carry on luggage only. At the last minute, I threw in my computer and Meg’s house has Airport, so I’m really glad I took it.

And Mulan is pretty good at meeting other kids and falling in with them. We went to a bar last night and there were a lot of kids there (bars here are like they are in Ireland, a family affair) and she was shy at first – I mean, it is hard since she only knows about five words in Japanese. But after about an hour of hesitation, she was gone and playing for another two hours and then she didn’t want to leave.

Today we are driving up into the Iya mountains and staying at a Ryo-kan, a traditional Japanese hotel. Then we’re back here tomorrow night and then we fly up to Tokyo. I’ve been to Japan four times, but never to Tokyo. Then we head back to L.A. and I have shows next weekend again.

Here’s what I love about Japan: I love how precise each and every movement is. I love how they pour you a drink with both hands on the vessel. I love the bowing to each other. I love the emphasis on fresh vegetables and the near obsession with gardening. I love the public baths. We all went to their neighborhood bathhouse the other night and there we all were in the natural hot spring baths, naked and toasty, cheeks red and kids rushing around. Tsuyoshi was in the other side with the men and when we left we all met up with each other in the entryway, many people from the neighborhood saying hello, people we would see again the next morning on our walk. Talk about getting to know your neighbors! But the social security here, and I mean this in the sense that everyone looks out for each other and looks in on each other, is really comforting and impressive. Also, the food and the talk about food. Neighbors come by with extra vegetables from their gardens and share recipes all the time. I love how small their cars are and how precious energy is, it’s not at all squandered.

Okay, here’s what I don’t like about Japan. I hate how the cities are not zoned in any way and that means that there are vending machines with garish fluorescent lights at every corner and industry spewing filth next to rice paddies and restaurants. I hate the look of the advertising. I mean, I hate this in America too, but here it seems worse to me. It’s all bright colors, loud cartoon characters vying for your eye’s attention and it ends up being a mishmash of intense screaming at your attention. I hate how there’s electrical poles everywhere and they dominate the scenery, all the wires and lines and it seems like they must be antiquated because it’s about ten times more equipment than in Los Angeles, and it already bothers me in Los Angeles! And I hate the social conformity, the dark side of everyone knowing each other so well. There is huge pressure to conform to and subvert your individual desires to maintain social harmony. Spirited debate is absolutely frowned upon. Their conversations seem to be mostly about everyone agreeing on something benign like the weather or the new sewer system. And I have to say, I even hate the chronic unstoppable gift giving. Everywhere you go, someone is giving you something, something valuable! And you can’t refuse it and then you sort of owe that person. These women came over and gave me these vintage kimonos, I mean, really nice kimono jackets, called Haori from the forties and it was so embarrassing. I had brought them books on vernacular architecture in Los Angeles and I think it was odd and confusing to them. AGH. Also, I have to say I hate the flimsy nature of the Japanese homes. They are absolutely freezing! My sister has a kotatsu, which is a small square low coffee table in the middle of the living room and there’s a heater in it and a blanket over the top of it and we all just sit there all the time trying to keep warm. In fact, that’s what I’m typing this on right now, and Mulan said she wanted to sleep underneath it last night.

So there you go, Japan.

Also, it’s sort of hard for me here with Meg’s friends. They are all so nice, really really sweet. And they all want to practice their English on me and I cannot understand them and I wish they would just speak in Japanese and have Meg translate. But Meg tells me that it’s very impressive for them to be able to speak English with a native English speaker and so I have to be in endless conversations where I smiling say over and over again, “What?” And here I am, I don't speak any other language and I'm so impressed that they even try to talk to me, but still.... AGH!!!

And then there’s the matter of celebrity on top of it. Many of them want to meet a Hollywood actress (I won’t even try to explain how they butcher the name “Hollywood” – that took me days to understand what they were saying) and they just want to…basically…stare at me. It’s weird. I’m like a funny animal from a zoo and they are all gaping at me. And none of them have even seen anything that I’ve done. And I’m sure they are wondering why I’m not more beautiful and ingénue-like, Meg’s actress sister is here from Hollywood! But Meg has been so good at limiting this and last night was the last night we will be the case, but oh! If I never have to be in a bar again with a bunch of people who want to meet me, that would be just fine with me.

Okay, that makes me seem so surly. I guess it depends on who the people were. I mean, if people see my show, for example, or know anything about what I do, then of course I am thrilled to meet them and talk to them. But this…is just…difficult.

But all in all, I am really enjoying this trip. I feel relaxed and Meg is relaxed too. I really like her husband, Tsuyoshi. He’s the sweetest man, really caring and notices the smallest things. She is so happy with him and that makes me so happy for her. Meg has afforded me the experience of getting to see what it’s really like to live in a couple of countries – she used to live for a short time in Italy and speaks Italian as well as Japanese. And this has been such a great boon, such a gift. She is overwhelmingly giving and she has orchestrated all of these visits and sight seeing and it would just be impossible to do this as a single tourist without assistance. Plus, we have our shared history and we get to laugh about family members and remember things. This is really lovely. All because of Meg.

We have CNN on right now and Terri Shciavo has just died. I mean, don’t all those Christians who are praying for her, don’t they think she’s going to heaven? You would think it would be the non-believers who would be so hell-bent on keeping someone alive at all costs. But no, it’s the people who fully believe that she will spend an eternity in bliss who are so adamant that she be kept in a vegetative state with no cerebral cortex function. It’s such a gross exposure of the lack of biological understanding.

And now the Pope. It’s all Pope all the time on TV. I am so curious to see what happens, who the next Pope is. That’s something I would think was worth watching 24/7, the picking of the next Pope. I suppose Ratzinger can’t be chosen simply because of his name. Pope Ratzinger. Then he could strip away even the smallest gains women have made in the church at all, and all in the name of “honoring” them.

So. I’m not going to give my dog, Arden, away. I spoke on the phone to a cattle farmer and a sheep farmer about him and both of them convinced me that I should keep him and get him used to an exercise schedule that conforms better to my ability to exercise him. Plus, I have to admit, I love the dog. I mean, I do, I do. I wish he could live with our cat better, but… I think I’m going to make some new rules when I get home. It’ll be a good time to rethink our attitudes towards the dog after we haven’t been around him for a while. I am getting much better with him and I think I can enforce even more rules than I have in the past. He’s even all right the way he is except for his determined effort to protect me from the danger of our mail carrier. And the UPS guy. And the squirrels, which are of great danger to us as well.

Now everyone is up and we are watching Japanese TV. It’s 24/7 about the cherry blossoms blossoming. Except it rained last night and that means the blossoms might all be swept away in the rain and wind. And then there will be nothing left to do but think about next year’s cherry blossoms and their potential.


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