Giving Notice

pandemic wave

As much as I don’t want to see a second or third wave happen, I am holding my breath, hoping that WE ARE HERE.

I’ve heard three ambulances pass by today, sirens wailing, and hoped that the poor soul inside had been in a car crash or some other accident, just not…the other thing.

What a world.

And yet we packed our bags and will go to the airport like we have done so many times before.

Except that this time we’ll be wearing masks. And I have requested wheelchair assistance.


And nestled inside my carry-on, under the laptop and toothbrush and extra pair of undies, are a six month supply of insulin and four boxes of alcohol wipes, more precious than gold, not to be entrusted to baggage handlers.

alcohol wipes

Wish us luck, bon voyage, and many happy returns. I have ruby slippers and fairy dust. I will salute the sun in the morning and send chocolate covered namaste to all beings everywhere if we can just…get….home………last.

Update from Snoot Central

Nasa earth

With so many people staying home and having little to do besides cook and eat, significant weight gain has been noted across the globe. Beyond the obvious health concerns and ill-fitting garments, scientists have begun to express concern about the most threatening effects of this phenomenon. A noted Cal Tech astrophysicist said, “With many people having gained an average of five pounds each over the past few months, the Earth itself has grown significantly heavier. The global population is currently hovering at around 7.6 billion people. At five pounds each, we’re talking close to 40 billion pounds. Our main concern now is that all the extra weight is going to throw the Earth off it’s orbital path and we could end up catapulted somewhere past Jupiter. It’s really cold out there.”

More immediate health concerns are exemplified by the case of an American woman currently residing in an AirBnb in Shoot Central, Tokyo. While confined to the apartment for the past several weeks, the woman has been inhaling the scent of frying pork wafting in her windows from the tonkatsu (pork cutlet) restaurant located directly beneath the apartment.

Inhalation of the scent of fried foods over an extended period of time leads to over-stimulation of the salivary glands, causing a condition called ptyalism, more commonly known as bulldog slobber syndrome.


Reached for comment, the owner of the AirBnb said, “We have certain standards of behaviour (such as pretentious spelling) in Snoot Central and it’s a shame about the drool stains on the carpets, but we’re grateful to have any bookings at all this year.”

The woman’s comments were unintelligible as she spoke to us through a mouthful of pizza.

Unmasked Truth

baby with uzi

Picture this: An unmasked two-year-old sits on the floor in the middle of an aisle at Walmart. He is wearing nothing but a diaper and is cradling an Uzi on his outstretched legs. His lower lip juts out as he cries, “I don’t want to and you can’t make me!”

The constitution may grant the right to bear arms, but keep in mind that it was written at a time when people used muskets to defend themselves from wolves and red coats. It did not grant the right to scare the shit out of other Walmart shoppers. The dreadful little virus may not be quite as lethal as an Uzi, but it is equally frightening.

A very important aspect of the mask rule is one that is very difficult for Americans to grasp. When I wear a mask, I am protecting myself from you, of course, but at the same time, I am protecting you from me. It’s a two way street that helps ensure the safety of traffic in both directions. Americans tend to think along the lines of “I take care of me. You aren’t my problem.” This teaches self-reliance and can build character but can also lead to armed toddlers laying siege to Walmart.

To go a step farther, one of the things it was hard to get my American head around when I first came to Japan was the group concept. Whereas Americans believe in individual thought and movement, Japanese believe that the group takes precedent over the individual. Both systems have merit, but both can easily devolve. Americans can too easily slide toward childish selfishness and Japanese toward herd mentality. Both tend to favor whoever carries the bigger stick. Where do we draw the line between what I want and what you need? Who can put a value on the relative merits of freedom and harmony?






We sit at home, as we did yesterday and as we will do tomorrow. We have sat at home, in a series of homes that are not home, waiting to go home while knowing that our real home is sitting at home waiting for us.

And so we have hope that AirBnb #5, our current Tokyo home, will be our last. Assuming no new disaster leaps out of the shadows and wraps is oily fingers around our necks, we will be out of here in two weeks.

I would have to say that #5 has been a good nest. It has its dings and dents, but so do we. A floorboard under the kitchen linoleum gives an alarming squawk when you step on it; my wonky knee inspires a similar noise from me when I get up in the morning. The nicks in the paint and wallpaper are reflections of the scars and wrinkles on our skin. In age and temperament, perhaps we have found our match.

Rochi’s recovery seems to demand nothing more than food and sleep. He’s out for a good 18 hours each day–the comatose sleep of a toddler splayed in a stroller, muscles lax, his mouth hanging open, head bobbing as the stroller bumps along the uneven pavement.

My toddler is oblivious to the noise from buses and trucks rumbling past the apartment. My room is at the back, which is much quieter as my neighbors, nestled in their graves, are quite subdued. I go to sleep between the sleep of the dead and the dead asleep, as it were. There is an odd comfort in that.

The doctors have done what they can do so now we watch and wait. Each time the toddler wakes up, he looks just a tiny bit better. And we are comfortable here, so the decision to leave was a difficult one. What sort of a lunatic travels 8000 miles with a near invalid during a pandemic? Know that I am full of worry and fear, but there are other factors to weigh.

  • The Japanese, at least around here, are becoming complacent. There are more people out on the streets, fewer of them wearing masks. Are we past the worst or has it not yet come?
  • With numbers of travelers so drastically decreased, might we not feel safer in empty airports and planes?
  • We are both facing legal hurdles; my visa is not renewable and US passports are banned from entry to Japan. If I leave, I can’t come back. If Rochi is gone from the US for more than a year, he loses his green card and the US government has placed a moratorium on issuing new ones. Do we want to end up separated?
  • There is no knowing how many weeks or months this virus will continue to hold us hostage. The Spanish flu (which originated in Kansas) lasted two years.

Enough. We will return home, to our forever home, as they say of strays like us. Fingers crossed and with due homage to Madame Pele, it’s time to go.

Flying mouse


All five of our AirBnbs have been “self check-in” meaning they leave the key either in the mailbox or a lockbox. This one has a lockbox on the front door.

Azabu lockbox

The one near Ikebukuro, AirBnb #3, had a lockbox inside a mailbox but not the mailbox that went with the apartment. It was in a separate mailbox next to the house next door, nestled behind a bush behind the garage. Fortunately, some neighborhood ladies were hanging around when I went there the first time. One of them noted my foreign face and asked, “Key?” I smiled and nodded. She pointed. I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t been there. I might still be wandering around the neighborhood, peering into startled faces and asking, “Key?”

AirBnb #2 also had a lockbox. When I asked for the combination to the mailbox so I could receive mail, at first they pretended they had never heard of a mailbox so I sent them a picture. Then they were adamant that I was not allowed to have things delivered there. “Language issues,” they said. It didn’t matter that I told them, in Japanese, that I speak Japanese.

Lesson learned: Don’t ask. Just do it.

When I was a kid, I had a toy safe. I didn’t have anything valuable enough to put in it, but thought it was cool anyway. I don’t think I ever knew the combination, but opening it was simple: Pull on the dial and turn left until it clicks, then keep pulling and turn right until it opens. Easy peasy.

toy safe

This building is very old. The mailboxes are even older, although I think we may have moved ahead from 1976 to the early 80’s. It’s hard to say for sure. The front room is decorated in timeless traditional Japanese and the back room is equally timeless Motel 6 contemporary.

Azabu mailboxes

The mail slot is actually big enough–or my hands are small enough–that I can reach inside to retrieve things, but just for giggles, I tried the toy safe trick. It worked. You should have seen Rochi’s face when I opened it. “Yes, it’s true. I was a sophisticated thief in a previous life. I liberated many a pizza delivery ad in my day,” I said. Then I told him about the toy safe.

Open mailbox

So now I have access to mail, not that I expect any, but lock-down is pretty boring. Opening the mailbox was the high point of my day yesterday. I don’t know how I can possibly live up to it today. Maybe I’ll lift some pizza ads from the other boxes.

AirBnb #5, Day 3

Most AirBnbs are pretty stark. They provide towels, shampoo and conditioner, body soap, dish soap and basic kitchen and eating utensils. There’s nary a scrap in the fridge, right down to the empty ice cube tray in the freezer. The perks at the last one were a nearly empty bottle of salt and some watered down laundry soap.

This place, on the other hand, is filled with nice touches. In addition to the masks (see previous post), we discovered a shoe horn, paper towels, pretty wine glasses, a pasta pot, a non-Japan-centric world map, and a tea ceremony service.

Tea ceremony service

And there are condiments in the fridge, including ketchup, mayonnaise, two kinds of salad dressing and soy sauce (low salt!) In general, each new tenant buys all of that and when they leave, it gets tossed. The next tenant does the same and on and on. This no doubt makes Kagome and Kewpie very happy but it offends my Scots upbringing. I mean, no one hesitates to use the ketchup bottle on the table on a restaurant. Why not use the one in the fridge that someone else left behind? People are no more likely to stick that one up their noses. At least I’ve never done that. Let me know if I’m being naive about that.

Outside our little nest, this neighborhood is fascinating. Azabu Juban translates directly as Snoot Central. Ask anybody. It’s an older neighborhood, mostly an unnoticed backwater until the Oedo and Namboku subway lines opened in the 1990’s. It’s still adjusting to its relatively newfound accessibility. We had lunch yesterday at an okonomiyaki place that had centuries of grease encrusted in its walls and floors; there are traditional sweets shops that boast 100 year histories of selling pretty but tasteless treats; the “old lady” store caters to all double knit polyester needs; the scowling man at the hardware store will gladly sharpen your knives…and scythes…and harpoons. Newer stuff includes an absurd number of cafes (How much coffee can one neighborhood drink?), a Dean and Deluca, the impressively expensive Nissin supermarket and the ubiquitous McD’s. The side streets are littered with tiny, overpriced, mediocre restaurants offering both snoot set menus and snoot a la carte.

But far and away my favorite spot is El Jewel, the interior decorator on the corner.

El Jewel

While I don’t think my senses could handle going inside, I can’t pass by without goggling. The interior is a festival of glitz. The ceiling is festooned with ornate chandeliers; enormous glass diadems rest on cut crystal pedestals, delicate china flowers sprout from pots so adorable they make Laura Ashley look frumpy. And the piece de resistance is a rhinestone encrusted chihuahua nestled on the sill in the center of the large display window, its sightless eyes staring blankly into the abyss, an eternal victim of bling.

Bling chihuahua

I gawk and wonder. Who buys this stuff? Crazy rich people, I guess. People with limited taste and unlimited credit. I may never know. It’s closed, of course. Not essential.

I go home and listen gratefully to the gentle ticking of the Mickey Mouse wall clock hanging above our kitchen table. Never have I appreciated the Mouse so much.

Mickey clock

AirBnb Part 4

On Thursday, wishing a plague of foul tempered locusts on its managers, I bade farewell to the Sendagaya apartment and moved yet again. Nothing like the spacious but forlorn place I just moved out of, this is a cozy two bedroom just a couple of blocks west of Snoot Central and a short walk from the hospital. It’s amazingly affordable considering the location. An added plus: the manager seems to be an actual human being. He left us three masks, a gift worth more than the square watermelons and albino strawberries sold at the fruit shop in Tokyo Midtown.

Azabu front room 2


Looking out the front window, one sees an ordinary city street, its rumbling trucks and buses welcome after the silence and isolation of Sendagaya. The back window overlooks a cemetery. Upon closer inspection, I discovered it’s a cemetery connected to a crematorium. I suppose that explains the low rent. But it is, after all, a Buddhist cemetery. Unlike pesky Christian ghosts who hang around and haunt, these folks have most likely moved on to whatever they deserve to be in the next life, be it daffodil or bedbug or somewhere in between.

Azabu cemetery


Despite it’s venerable age, this place has everything we need and is perfectly comfortable. I have only noted two downsides so far. First, there is a tonkatsu restaurant next door. Its exhaust fan vents onto the alley between our two buildings, which fills our front rooms with the enticing aroma of sizzling pork and leaves us drooling all over our grilled fish and vegetables. Second, the guy upstairs. The first night I was here, he spent the evening dropping bowling balls on the floor every now and then. Today, he seems to be practicing the rumba with a couple of left-footed elephants. Ah, well. As long as he knocks it off at a reasonable hour, we’ve got no beef with him. Pork, though, is another story.

Wish us luck. We really, really hope this is our last landing in Tokyo and we will soon be back flying back to our island nest.

Meiji Shrine

I walked to Meiji Jingu today, the emperor’s official shrine, since it’s about the only public facility that’s still open and I am unlikely ever to live this close again.

Meiji Jingu avenue

I strolled slowly along the wide avenues laid out around the grounds, carefully avoiding the few other people there, who carefully avoided me.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of the shrine, which was dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. There was a big spread of billboards all about her, her charity work and support for women’s education, the red cross fund she founded that still does good works today. She must have been a pretty peachy lady.

Normally, I might have found some inspiration in learning about her. Normally, the shrine’s silence and lush greenery would have been balm for my soul. But today, even the big kitty I saw prowling through the fallen leaves didn’t lift my spirits. Instead, I felt slightly nauseated with fear and worry.

Meiji Jingu big kitty

Just a few minutes ago, my phone dinged, a message from my next Airbnb host. My heart stopped for a moment as I wondered what new disaster was coming. But I opened the message. It said my host had left a light on in the entrance for my safety as well as three masks on the table and I was to feel free to use them.

I burst into tears. Thank you, infinite universe. That’s much better.

Meiji Jingu lantern

AirBnb Part 3

A friend once suggested that it’s best not to have any expectations because then you can’t be disappointed. Those wise words have stuck with me and grown in importance as I discover just how painful disappointment can be.

Case in point: 2020 has been a very disappointing year, exemplified by AirBnb #4.

We keep trying to make plans, to move forward, but karmic vagaries keep hopping off the seesaw when we are at the top and we come tumbling down, snapping our necks and bruising our bottoms.

AirBnb #4 was meant to be something of a celebration. It’s extremely spacious by Tokyo standards. I have room #201, which has a large living/dining area with two dining tables and four sofa beds. The main bedroom has both a double and a single bed and a large closet. There is also a tatami room, plenty of space for yoga.

My first impression of this apartment was charming in a slightly tattered way, as if it had been left in 1976 when the rest of the world moved on. I thought the green tile in the kitchen was hideous in a nostalgic, avocado Frigidaire kind of way.

ugly kitchen

I only use the sofa beds as places to leave luggage because they are all shabby, lumpy and wholly uncomfortable. One reminds me very much of the back seat of a 1976 VW bus. There may be critters living in them. I don’t want to know.

Still, I was tired and stressed and very pleased to see that the bruises on my shins were finally healing. I slept well, until one night I stood by the bed looking at the linens and realized they had probably been designed in–you guessed it–1976.

ugly linens

The longer I stay here, the more I sense that this apartment has lived too long, seen too much. Even the toilet seat is cracked. It pinched my tender skin a couple of times before I gently bandaged its wounds.

Broken toilet seat

I chose this place for its size but also because it sits right next to Shinjuku Gyoen, one of Tokyo’s few pay-to-enter parks, but I would gladly have paid. I imagined Rochi and me, hand in hand, healing walks in gentle sunshine, spring blossoms and tea houses, the silly faces of koi in the ponds, maybe even taking off our shoes and feeling grass between our toes. Alas, Rochi went back into the hospital before I even moved here and I will be moving again before he gets out. And Shinjuku Gyoen is closed until further notice.

When I realized we wouldn’t be able to go home before my visa would expire, I hired a lawyer to help me get an extension and contacted the AirBnb people about this place. “Sure,” they said. “You can stay another month. But we’re going to triple the rent because of Golden Week. Hope you’re all right with that.”

I was flabbergasted. “Please reconsider. There’s not going to be any Golden Week this year.”

“No,” they said. “It’s on the calendar. Shoganai. (Nothing can be done.) Thank you for your kind understanding.”

Kind? They know my husband is sick. They know I can’t leave. KIND? The mist of willing ignorance I had allowed myself fell away, this quiet neighborhood suddenly seemed isolated and  indifferent, this apartment haunted by a thousand disappointments and broken hearts of the past.

There are few things that horrify me more than unnecessary cruelty in the face of vulnerability. Especially when it’s excused as “just following the rules.” This is common in Japan and one of the things I dislike most about this culture.

This was meant to be a funny post but it didn’t turn out that way. I am boiling with anger and resentment, not just at the unspeakable attitude of the property managers but also at the dithering doctors who have, again, changed their minds about Rochi’s diagnosis. And I am furious at the nasty little virus that has shut down the entire world, its voracious appetite a mocking mirror image of the worst of human nature.

If we’re going to survive the unthinkable, we’re going to need kindness, real kindness, empathy, caring, open-hearted generosity, not “kindness” with obsequious smiles and cups of lukewarm green tea.

Omotenashi my ass.

AirBnb Part 2

Airbnb #3

Rochi was at long last going to be released from the hospital so, having learned from my mistakes, I found AirBnb #3. It had two rooms, clean and modern, and separate bath and toilet rooms, full-sized. It was the penthouse of a five story building, plenty of light and a view of a bunch of nondescript boxy buildings, a vast improvement over the concrete wall outside #2. The elevator worked, the station was only a block away. There was a supermarket just down the street, reasonable rent. Our only complaint was the extra bed in the living area, another shin buster that took up a lot of space. I managed to spill strawberry smoothie all over it the very first day.

Another thing I liked about it was the location. It was just outside Ikebukuro, not an area I particularly like but that is where I landed when I first arrived here so many years ago, illiterate and clueless. Not much has changed.

My first Tokyo apartment, written in 2012

We had 10 good days there and then the doctors said Rochi had to go back into the hospital. And I had to move again; the nice little apartment was already rented by someone else. So I went back to AirBnb and found #4.

Ah, #4.

Number four deserves an entry of its very own. Here’s a taste, or lack of taste.

202 toilet wallpaper

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