From YouTube Drama to Shibuya 109 Mall, the Top 5 Posts of 2015

Tokyo Skytree and the Asahi Beer headquarters - Tokyo, Japan

Wow! What an eventful year it's been! In 2015, I earned my Master's degree in TESOL, moved back to the States, and most of all, did more writing and blogging than I have in years. In total, I have written 110 posts on this blog; including this one, I posted 67 this year! Furthermore, I've recently started writing freelance, which has given me more opportunities to write, share information, and interact with awesome people. Additionally, I started the Black Women Thrive series here on my blog. Although it's taken a backseat recently, I am going to start sharing stories for the series again once the new year starts!

Before moving forward into the next year, it's fun to look back and review what occurred in the year we'll be saying "goodbye" to soon. Therefore, I'd like to review the top five posts on my blog from this year!
Shibuya 109 mall.

Back in February, I treated myself to a trip to Tokyo for my 25th birthday. In less than a week, I was able to visit most of the major parts of the city, including Asakusa, Odaiba, Ueno, Akihabara, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro. It was an exhausting whirlwind of a trip, and my first time alone in a foreign country (aside from living in Taiwan).

Nevertheless, it was life-changing in a way I can't describe because of the autonomy I had. I was able to take in all the sites without being distracted, make my own decisions about where to go and what to eat, and enjoy the city at my own pace. Not only did I fall in love with Tokyo, but I realized that it's okay—even beneficial—to experience a trip solo. I look forward to writing more about my trip to Tokyo next year. Perhaps I will find myself in the city again in 2016!


Christmastime at Home

These decorations are my mom's doing,
aren't they grand?
I apologize for the sporadic updates these days. As it's holiday season, I have been spending quite a bit of time with my family as well as working on other projects. I will restore my regular update schedule after the New Year.

Like Thanksgiving, this year marks my first Christmas with family since 2011. My actual Christmas day was pretty quiet with just me and my parents. We stayed in casual clothes, opened the couple of gifts we gave each other in the morning, then enjoyed Nigerian food for our main meal. Later that evening, my dad and I took a drive around our neighborhood, looked at the Christmas lights, and had a great discussion. 

I suppose our real Christmas was the day after. We had a few family friends over and ate a great meal—more Nigerian food! A great thing about being home right now is eating all the awesome food my mom makes although it threatens my waistline!


Xuanmiao Temple: Suzhou's Old Centerpiece

Xuanmiao Temple's San Qing Hall seen from the side.
The temple's main paifang or
decorative gate.
The Taoist Xuanmiao Temple(xuanmiao guan; 玄妙館)—"Mysterious Sublimity Temple" or "Mysterious Essence Temple"—dominates the center of Suzhou. Even so, it was not on my class' itinerary! Had I not decided to explore the city center with some classmates, I would have never visited this charming temple. 

Located on Guanqian Street(觀前街), a famous pedestrian lane, Xuanmiao Temple's bright gold paint and predominant gate are difficult to miss. Initially built in 276 AD and named Zhen Qing Dao Yuan(真慶道院), the temple was destroyed during the Song Dynasty, and then rebuilt and renamed in 1264. It was damaged yet again in the 18th century and repaired in 1775. 

玄妙館: 蘇州的老核心




Music Musings: Chara (1998-2005)

Strange Fruits (1999)
Music Musings: Chara (1990-1997) can be found here.

7th Album: Strange Fruits ストレンジ・フルーツ (1999)

Produced completely by Chara, Strange Fruits is a noticeable about-face when compared with its predecessor Junior Sweet (1997).  It's a melancholic, moody album. Nevertheless, it is my favorite album of this time period.

"Atashi wa Koko yo (I'm Here)" and "Duca", the two high tempo tracks of the record, are deceivingly positive. Rather than the simple music box pop tune, I feel the creativity behind "Atashi wa Koko yo" lies in the irony of the lyrics against the positive-sounding music; the chorus goes "I am here [for you], I want to cry forever." Chara likens the inability to grab the sun and sky to the unreachability of a lost love.

Like several of Chara's tracks, "Duca" has a kiddish tone. To the beat of fun, bouncy music, a little girl (the role Chara takes for this song) talks about walking with her father, "new" (step?) mother, and pet (dog?) Duca. As most children wonder, the girl contemplates whether the happiness will fade in adulthood while she enjoys ice cream.

Of the remaining slow, somewhat gloomy songs, "70% Yuugure no Uta (70% Evening Song)"; "Hikari to Watashi (The Light and Me)"; and "Oburaato (Oblate)" are the winners. "70% Yuugure no Uta" was one of the first songs of Chara's that I heard years ago, and I still love how relaxing it is, as its title suggests. The image of contemplation under the rain is depressing, but it's a lovely listen.

"Hikari to Watashi" is a gorgeous, touching song that, like most of the songs on this album, relies heavily on Chara's voice, a musical representation of different forms of pain, losing the "magical" spark of life in this case. It's a difficult song to put into words as, more than music, it's lyrical emotion. I highly recommend giving the music video a watch if you can find it.

"Oburaato" is somewhat of an acquired taste for those unacquainted with Chara's occasional extreme vocals. Her voice winds up to a near whine and falls deep, close to her speaking voice, in a short time spans throughout this track with minimal music. The turbinate nature of the song is a beautiful match to the turbulent nature of the love she describes. 

Top picks: It's a beautiful album as a whole.

Chara Live 97-99 Mood
1st Live Album: Live 97-99 Mood ライブ・97−99・ムゥド (2000)

With the birth of her son in late 1999, 2000 was a somewhat calm year for Chara, albeit not without releases. 

The tracks on this 2-disc album were taken from two concerts: Chara Junior Sweet Tour (1997) and Chara Concert Tour Duca & the Aurora Band (1998). Although I love all the songs on this one, the Junior Sweet tour was amazing; therefore, I'm quite partial to those songs.

Naturally, the songs take on a different flavor in concert form. Many of my favorites like "Happy Toy"; "Watashi wa Kawaii Hito to Iwaretai (I Wanna Be Called Cute)"; and "Time Machine" got a super soulful facelift.

Top picks: "Happy Toy"; "Watashi wa Kawaii Hito to Iwaretai (I Wanna Be Called Cute)"; "Time Machine"


Thanksgiving 2015: The First at Home in Years!

Turkey, the grand centerpiece, ready to be attacked!
This week I got to enjoy my first Thanksgiving at home since 2011! I can't believe I spent three Thanksgivings and Christmases in a row away from home. I didn't think I'd be able to stand it as those are my two favorite holidays, but over the years I suppose built a Teflon will, was able to focus on school and work, and by 2014, I had completely forgotten what the holiday season felt like in the States.

While I was living in Taiwan, my dad visited me twice and brought me frozen turkey from Thanksgiving both times. Nonetheless, as delicious as it was, it couldn't compare to sitting around the dinner table and having discussions with family and friends. And, of course, being thankful for all that we have. I had some great times in Taiwan, and some extremely dark times, especially during the past year. I think it's fair that I was throughly tested there, and it was a period of my life that encouraged me to grow up and reevaluate what and who are important to me. 


The 26th Annual Houston Native American Championship Pow-Wow

Gorgeous Jingle Dance competitors at the conclusion of their event.
A man with intricate adornments and tattoos.
During Thanksgiving time, many of us ironically forget about the native people of the United States. We won't recognize their culture or the pain the aforementioned upcoming holiday will trigger for those whose ancestors were marginalized and nearly made extinct in their own land. 

The Native American people are not simply Indians. They are a rightfully proud people with a rich culture. They have a variety of traditions, awesome stories to tell, gorgeous regalia, and intriguing dances. 

The pow-wow, the Narragansett word for "spiritual leader", is a meeting of Native American people which typically involves dancing. Within the pow-wow Circle, men, women, and children move their bodies in an impressive, rhythmic manner to the beat of drums and singing, the physical representation of stories passed down over hundreds of years. 
Couples taking part in the "two-step" dance where two lines are formed
behind lead dancers of each gender.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to attend the first day of the two-day 26th Annual Houston Native American Championship Pow-Wow last week. It was a gorgeous, clear day for a pow-wow with cool weather and generous sunshine. Native American dancers from several tribes exhibited many traditional dances for the crowd as well as for competition. There was also plenty of opportunity for attendees to dance and make monetary donations to the tribes. 


Opinion: The Taiwanese Man on the MRT was wrong, but...


Recently, an expat in Taiwan, Christopher Raymond Hall, was riding the Taipei MRT with his Taiwanese girlfriend when he was accosted by a local man who apparently disliked their interracial relationship, and generally, the involvement of White men with Taiwanese women. He approached them with harsh, insulting words as Hall's girlfriend recorded the incident on her phone. The video was posted onto YouTube, and has since received over two million views—whew! Additionally, the instigator was summoned by the Taipei police, and due to his foolishness, has lost his job.

Without a doubt, the instigator is not only foulmouthed, but is dangerous and possibly has anger issues. He and others like him would do well to keep their mouths shut next time they see strangers they dislike for any unreasonable reason in their backwards minds. 

On the same vein, I respect that all cultures are different, but I wish bystanders would stop ignoring negative situations happening around them in Taiwan when Taiwanese people and foreigners alike are under distress and need assistance. Regarding this particular situation, I believe a comment or two would have sufficiently embarrassed the instigator to the point where he probably would have either kept his mouth shot and gotten off the train earlier in shame.

That all being said, when you compare the treatment between White foreigners and POC expats in Taiwan, the man's belligerence toward Hall is, in my opinion, child's play. Furthermore, it is not an incident of racism.

No, I am not saying the attack was justified. Yes, I will adequately explain why my opinion is such below.


最近,在台灣的外國人(Christopher Raymond Hall)和他的台灣女朋友坐捷運的時候,有一個台灣男子對他們說了一些進攻的東西。Hall的女朋友做了一部影片,然後Hall放了在他的YT頻道。今天,有兩百萬多意見。台北警察召喚了那個激進男人來派出所,再說他丟了工作。





Black Women Thrive: Interview with Teacher and Freelance Writer Carla Bruce-Eddings

English teacher and freelance writer
Carla Bruce-Eddings.
According to the current social constructs of America, being an introverted Black woman is simply a contradiction. Silent introspection, social anxiety, and and general shyness are attributes not within the borders of the canvas which illustrates the average Black woman. Instead, many—including Black women and men—use images of the stereotypical Black female to gauge the "normalcy" of her realistic counterparts. 

As English teacher and freelance writer Carla Bruce-Eddings knows too well, the farther you are from the stereotype, the harder it is to connect with many of those in the Black community.

"I've definitely gotten the 'you're not like other [B]lack girls' thing multiple times. It was meant as a compliment, and I took it as one because that was the world I lived in...Respectability was the name of the game."

Bruce-Eddings' shyness manifested itself when she was a child. She was made to attend only private Christian schools until college although she pleaded with her parents to let her go to public schools; she was hyperaware of her presence as the one of the only Black students in many of her classes. Similarly, she found it difficult to connect with others in the majority-Black church her family regularly attended since she was used to being "in majority white settings" and found small talk to be not unlike a root canal.

"My parents would want to stay and chat it up with every...person in the building and it was the worst...it wouldn't have been as interminable if they had just let me sit in the car and read my book while they talked. But they dragged me from conversation to conversation so I could be asked the same questions, forced to smile and respond and be 'nice'."

Simply put, she found it hard to play the silent social games created to make conversations go smoothly, "For me, it was literally 'talk to people, and smile more often than you scowl'."

Her difficulties connecting with fellow members of the Black community continued when she entered college at Rutgers University. As a large, public university, Rutgers has several clubs and organizations geared toward the wide array of minority students. Nevertheless, due to her upbringing outside typical African American culture, Bruce-Eddings felt excluded from her Black peers. She didn't have the same mannerisms or points of reference as they did; she felt like an interloper. 

"I was distinctly aware that there was a coolness factor and sort of ease that I lacked...this feeling was compounded when I got to college...and tried to assimilate into various groups of [B]lack people. It just never really worked."


Ueno(上野): Culture + Commerce

A girl walking under a striking series of gates in Ueno Park.
A map of my Day 1 walking tour.
I only went to Ueno(上野)once during my Tokyo trip, yet I wish I had made time to go again and more thoroughly explore the area. There's plenty to see in the district; most of the sites like the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Ueno Zoo, and Shinobazu Pond are situated within Ueno Park(上野公園).

I spent most of my time at Ameyoko(アメ横), arguably the commercial center of Ueno, but I wish I had focused more on Ueno Park. However, by the time I reached Ueno, it was already late afternoon. Visiting Tokyo in late winter has its perks as it's not peak tourist season. Nevertheless, you have to accept the much shorter days. I think visiting the park in the morning would be a great compromise.


Music Musings: Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (1997-2003)

Moods for Ska ~We Don't Know
What Ska Is!~ (1997)
Music Musings: Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (1990-1996) can be found here.

4th Compilation Album: Moods for Ska ~We Don't Know What Ska Is!~ ムース・フォー・トーキョー・スカ 〜ウィ・ドント・ノウ・ワット・スカ・イズ!〜 (1997)

Nope, I did not review TSPO's first three compilation albums as they are rare and quite difficult to locate. I believe this one, although their fourth, is the first worth noting. This album is a hodgepodge of live and studio tracks, and contains many fan favorites like "Pedorazu" and "Monster Rock".

I see this album as a good intro to TSPO; although it's nearly two decades old, many of the songs on this record are played by the band at nearly every concert they play these days, like "Shot in the Dark", "Burning Scale", and "Skadon", all extremely lively songs. 

"Mr. Mystery Shuffle" is my favorite track with vocals on the album. It sticks to the traditional definition of a shuffle beat wise, yet is anything but mundane. Cleanhead Gimura is responsible for the vocals on this one, a posthumous release. If you read part one of this series, you already know I'm a sucker for his unique vocals, and he sounds borderline evil on this song, so it's particularly delicious to my ears! 

Top picks: There's not a track I don't like!

Arkestra (1998)
8th Album: Arkestra アーケストラ(1998)

Arkestra was the first of two albums which included the late Cleanhead Gimura's younger brother Rui Sugimura on vocals. Sugimura was far from his older brother's convenient replacement; his singing and personal style are much different from the elder Sugimura's. Rui Sugimura has a lighter, more pop-oriented voice which also goes well with traditional jazz tunes. Nevertheless, I prefer Cleanhead.

Out of the instrumental tracks, "the PIRATES" is my hands-down favorite. It has a comical, sinisterly nature to it as it sounds like the theme song of a cartoon villain—in a good way, of course. Bassist Tsuyoshi Kawakami is the star on this number. While the bass line is simple, it's harmony with Tatsuyuki Aoki's surgical drumming is extremely catchy and addicting.

The majority of the songs on this record include vocals, a few of which are unfortunately on the generic side. However, Sugimura shines on the last three tracks: "Funade no Machi (Sailing Town)"; "Hikari (Light)"; and "Dear My Sister". The harmonica solo close to the beginning of "Funade no Machi", reminiscent of country music, might initially seem out of place. Nevertheless, one of my favorite aspects of this track is the arrangement; I especially like the radio-like filter over the bridge portions. On the foundation of a simple, slow beat, the musical style of the foreground instruments changes. For instance, when Sugimura sings of a "symphony in the sky" the music turns symphonic.

Generally, "Hikari" is driven by Sugimura's melancholic vocals. It's a slower track about saying goodbye, but I find it more soothing than sad. The music is minimalistic to an extent at the beginning, similar to the sound of midi music files, yet the saxophones pick up toward the end

"Dear My Sister" is a favorite of mine because of the lyrics; there's nothing too remarkable about it musically. It's a fun, inspirational song essentially about leaving loneliness behind, and the upbeat tempo makes it fit nicely on my workout playlist. Sugimura's fast, almost rapping vocals adds to the positive mood the song evokes. 

During the Arkestra tour, drummer Tatsuyuki Aoki died after an apparent suicide and was replaced by Kinichi Motegi. Naturally, this marked a significant change in TSPO's music in the drumming department. Motegi is skilled with amazing singing abilities to boot, but lacks the flair and precision Aoki had in my opinion.

Additionally, this was the first album including guitarist Takashi Kato, who I consider to be more talented than the previous Toru Terashi.

Top picks: "the PIRATES"; "Funade no Machi (Boating Town)"; "Hikari (Light)"; "Dear My Sister"


Anchorage Farmer's Market

The Anchorage Farmer's Market grounds.
My mom buying fresh fruit.
The Anchorage Farmer's Market is located in the downtown area of the city and is open every Saturday between 9 am and 2 pm. Although the market isn't large, there are a wide variety of goods available, especially food and crafts.

On the day my parents and I visited, it was warm out by Alaska standards, but certainly not ours. It was kind of awkward being the only people in long sleeves and scarfs, but Alaskans seem to be acclimated to temperatures below 60F (15C) in the summer.


Black Women Thrive: Interview with Jewelry Marker and English Teacher Breann White

Jewelry maker and English teacher Breann White.
(Cross-posted on The Blasian Narrative).

Becoming a professional artist takes determination, dedication, an indefinite ride on the daily grind train. Additionally, more times than not, to pay the bills an artist must hold down a solid job, which may or may not fall in the realm of their interests. 

This isn't the case for Breann White. She loves arts and crafts and is able to use her talents as a preschool teacher at an international school in Tokyo. "[B]eing a preschool teacher fits my personality," she says.

While working during the week, she is growing her jewelry business, Rozen Stones. She makes her wares at her apartment work desk.

"My dad really got me into music and I loved writing and drawing...I dabbled in crochet, sewing, painting, and I love them all...I love making things so...I decided to start making fashion jewelry...I wish I could do it all day."

Although working with children is quite a vocal job, growing up White was on the quieter side.

"I was...[a] shy girl. I loved to...read all the time. My first 'job' was volunteering at a library...I kept getting in trouble for reading and not shelving [the books]."

Nevertheless, she never felt isolated as an only child.

White's workstation.
"I never felt lonely, my parents were always very loving and I had my friends who were like sisters to me. I was pretty active in school activities as well."

White's reason for relocating to Japan three years ago after obtaining a degree in English was, like many, motivated by her interest in the culture. Aside from her love for the anime Sailor Moon, White's contact with an exchange student from Tokyo at her high school was a major impetus for her choice to see Japan for herself.

"She taught me all about Japan and the culture, and I knew I had to visit one day...after high school we stayed in contact and I decided my Sophomore year [of college] to study abroad in Tokyo. I got a chance to reunite with her again when I was studying, and I just fell in love with the city."


The Summer Palace: A World of Color

The gorgeous Marble Boat, also known as the Boat of Purity and Ease,
which sits on Kunming Lake.
A map of the Summer Palace
(click to enlarge).
The Summer Palace(Yiheyuan; 頤和園)is a 1.1 square mile (2.9 square meter) compound of temples, residences, and gardens formerly occupied by Chinese nobility. Longevity Hill(wanshoushan; 萬壽山)and Kunming Lake(kunminghu; 昆明湖)dominate most of the land. Like many antiquated areas of Beijing, nature is the focal point of the Summer Palace, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. However, I didn't find this to be the case in the Forbidden City, which has a more solemn feel in my opinion. 

People taking a rest.
While the location of the Summer Palace goes back as far as the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), the palace as it's known now was established during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). After part of it was destroyed during the Second Opium War (1856-1860), the infamous Empress Dowager Cixi used money allocated for the navy to rebuilt it for her 60th birthday.

In regards to ancient sites, the Summer Palace was my favorite stop in China. Unfortunately, my class suffered time restraints like we did when visited the Forbidden City. As a result, we only had about two hours to explore the massive palace. Nevertheless, my classmates and I somehow made it work and we were able to see several of the main temples and halls in the palace.







4 Ways I Use Chinese to Study Japanese

Chinese Foreign Minister Jiechi Yang shakes hands with
Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura.
While I am not a Chinese or Japanese language expert (far from it), I did commit almost three years of my life to the study of language learning, specifically cognitive linguistics (CL). Accordingly, when I teach English or engage in language learning myself, I tend to use cognition-based techniques; they are logical as they relate to how the mind works. I also love that CL centers around semantics; meaning is the focus, not syntax or grammar rules.

Nevertheless, although it is CL-based, this post is not meant to be an exploration of CL. I'd simply like to share my thought process and some of the methods I use now that I am trying to reinforce and learn more Mandarin while acquiring the basics of Japanese.

Naturally, I've written this post as a person who studied Mandarin first, then Japanese. However, if you're only studying Chinese or Japanese, you might find some of these methods useful as well. Hopefully, this will encourage you to pursue both languages. As ancient Japanese was derived from Chinese, if you're currently learning one of those languages, you have already built a great foundation for the other.

1. Pay attention to on-yomi readings of kanji, they will be easier to memorize

As anyone studying Japanese should know, kanji(漢字)are identified as either on-yomi(音読み)or kun-yomi(訓読み)readings. The former are extracted from Chinese (not just Mandarin, but the many regional dialects in China), while the latter are derived from Japanese meanings. Thus katakana, the writing system for foreign words and onomatopoeia, is used to write the pronunciation of on-yomi because they're not from Japanese. Of course, there are sub-classifications under each, but they're not important to know in order to understand how to read kanji.

Chinese learners know there is a Simplified and Traditional writing system. Simplified as its known now began its development in the 1930s as a response to illiteracy (some Chinese characters are so elaborate they have over 10 strokes). It's used primarily in Mainland China and the Chinese departments of Western universities. Unfortunately, much of the meaning behind Chinese characters are stripped away in Simplified, but luckily, the two systems of writing have an overlap of over 50%; there are several characters that look the same in both scripts.

Now, for those of us who'd like to learn both languages, we get to be utterly confused as Japanese kanji uses both Simplified and Traditional Chinese writing. Well, perhaps I'm exaggerating. I actually find this double-dipping as a reinforcement to my Chinese as I learned Simplified in college and Traditional in Taiwan.

Still, when studying, you have to be conscious of the differences. On-yomi sticks in my brain almost immediately because of its closeness to the original Chinese words. However, not all on-yomi is Mandarin-derived, so there's more brainpower needed to remember the ones formed from other Chinese dialects.

Take a look at the chart I made below:

(ya.mu, -ya.mi, yamai)

(byõ, hei)
ill; sick; sickness/disease
(kokoro.miru, tame.su)

 test; try; attempt; experiment; ordeal (Japanese); 
fit (Chinese)


study; learning; science (Japanese); subject/-logy (Chinese)
(fu, bu)

 negative; non-; not; bad (Japanese); ugly (Japanese); clumsy (Japanese); neg. prefixes (e.g., "ir-"; "im-"; "in-") (Chinese)


Black Women Thrive: Interview with Freelance Writer Dara Tafakari

Freelance writer Dara Tafakari.
Imagine ditching the structured nature of the corporate world in order to blog and write freelance full time in the midst of supporting your husband's journey toward earning a Ph.D. and moving cross country. Sounds pretty hectic, right? Now, add being a mother of a three-year-old while expecting a second child to the mix! It's a lot to juggle at once, but freelance writer Dara Tafakari is currently handling these events rather gracefully.

"I'm somewhat unable to post publicly because [of] relocation, pregnancy [etc.]...But I can still write without posting."

Tafakari also handles the occasional confusion regarding the pronunciation (Tah-fuh-kah-ree) and origins of her last name quite well. Interestingly, Tafakari was born into a Pan African Christian community in Houston which stressed the assimilation of various African cultures into daily life. Therefore, members created and adopted African names and raised their children as a community rather than in rigid family unit structures.

"The Pan African Orthodox Christian Church was started in the 1960s by Rev. Albert B. Cleage in Detroit, very much a response to the Civil Right Movement[,] what he perceived as a wrongheaded approach to organizing the Black community...[The community] sought to live communally and share goods, services, wealth, and child rearing amongst themselves."

The church still exists in cities like Detroit, Atlanta, and Houston. Several community members changed their names and gave their children names from African tribes or languages. While her unique beginnings were harmless, Tafakari left the community at around age two after her parents split and her mother joined the army.  At the age of five, Dara’s mother changed her name from "Tafakari Tumaini" to "Dara Tafakari" as a tangible steps toward assimilating back into mainstream American culture.

Tafakari's experiences growing up give her an interesting vantage point regarding current debates about whether African Americans can appropriate African cultures. She feels African Americans have a strong desire to connect with their roots; however, they have the responsibility to learn about the different cultures across the continent.

"As an African American, I do not know much about my roots or my ancestry beyond maybe two generations. There's a very real pain from that, especially since I understand the violence underscoring this separation. Accordingly, I understand acts of reclamation from other Black Americans. I also think there is a way that the African Diaspora...can educate and share cultures, because there is so much we already do have in common that has been passed down, despite colonialist and white supremacist efforts to prevent that."


Walking Across Rainbow Bridge

Rainbow Bridge, as seen from Odaiba.

A map of the major points in Odaiba.
Odaiba(お台場)began as a collection of islands created during the Edo Period (1603-1868) as a place to build forts to protect Tokyo. Now, it's one of the largest leisure centers of the city with several entertainment complexes (i.e., Decks Tokyo Beach, Aquacity Odaba, DiverCity Tokyo Plaza). Odaiba is the perfect place to spend an entire day. Between playing games in Tokyo Joypolis, catching a 3D movie, chowing down at the ramen food theme park, relaxing at the hot springs (onsen; 温泉), and posing for the perfect selfie in front of the life-sized Gundam robot, you won't need to leave Odaiba for hours once you get there.

Part of the Odaiba skyline.
Fuji TV headquarters as seen from
Rainbow Bridge.
One of the biggest attractions in Odaba is Rainbow Bridge (reinbo burijji; レインボーブリッジ), the link between Tokyo-proper and the island. During the daytime, why it's called Rainbow Bridge might boggle the mind, but at night the 798 meter (2,618 ft) long suspension bridge lights up with the colors of the rainbow. 

The base of the bridge can be reached from Shibaura-futõ or "Shibaura Pier" Station(芝浦ふ頭駅)on the Yurikamome Line or Tamachi Station(田町駅)on the Japan Railway Company's East Line. I chose the former station. From the station exit the base of the tower, which leads to the bridge's walkway, is only about a five minute walk. 


Music Musings: Chara (1990-1997)

Chara with her children Himi and Sumire
in the background, 2015
Music Musings: Chara (1998-2005) can be found here.

My love for songstress and actress Miwa Watabiki—also known as Chara—began when I heard "Yasashii Kimochi" over a decade ago. As I've lightly recapped her history before, there's no need for me to gush too much about her here. 

After her school days, a time when she was a well-known chatterbox or charachara (ちゃらちゃら), Watabiki left for the big city. After working as a rollerskating waitress and backing musician in the 80's, she gave her first solo live performance in 1990 and released her debut album in 1991 as Chara, the shortened form of her old nickname "Charabiki". 

This post chronicles Chara's main releases between her debut and 1997, the undisputed peak of her career in terms of popularity.

1st Album: Sweet スウィート (1991)
Sweet (1991)

Chara's debut album barely sold over 10,000 copies. Nevertheless, I personally consider this album to a be a diamond in the rough and rank it as one of her best. From the beginning of her career, Chara has played a major role in the formation of her songs, especially the lyrics. Similar to many of her future albums, Chara had a hand in writing the lyrics for all the songs on this record.

Although her early 20-something cheekiness peaks through, this album also marks the establishment of her trademark contemplative, heart-wrenching love songs.

"Rainbow Gossip" is a strong opener with a funky tune which talks about the power of love and female confidence (I used it for my Character Street video). Aside from "No Toy"—the weak link of this record—its fast-paced nature contrasts the majority of the tracks on this album. The rest are slower tempo songs or ballads.

"Sweet", the title track, has a distinctly 90's pop sound and funny lyrics about a girl who loves a guy even though he's ridiculously arrogant and obnoxious. I believe everyone can relate to puppy love; it's a cute, peppy song.

Although they're all wonderful, out of the ballads "Usotsuku no ni Narenaide (Don't Get Used to Lying)"; "X-Mas"; and "Break These Chain" (yes, the grammar of the title is incorrect) are my favorite. The title of "Usotsuku no ni Narenaide" is pretty clear. The song speaks of the pain of being lied to by a lover, but loving them anyway. Chara's childlike voice brings home the emotion and makes the song all the more painful. Similarly, "X-mas" is a saccharine balled which speaks of heartache in the form of unrequited love.

"Break These Chain", about a painful relationship, is a fan favorite and the star of the record for me. Chara's voice switches from babylike to raspy without transition on this track, so its an acquired taste. Nevertheless, I love the emotion in the song, which truly transcends language. 

Top picks: With the exception of "No Toy", I love all the tracks on this album. 

Soul Kiss (1992)

2nd Album: Soul Kiss ソウルキス (1992)

Despite the innocent look of the album jacket, Chara ditched the innocent exterior she presented in Sweet for an edgier, almost risque vibe by the release of Soul Kiss. At this point, she was well-known for her skimpy outfits and onstage grinding.

This album was considerably more successful than Chara's debut, but I have less favorites from this record. Still, its a solid album with a good balance between soft rock songs and ballads.

"Are wa ne (Is that right)" and "Soul Kiss xxx" are my favorite ballads. To me, "Are wa ne" sounds like the voice of a girl who's been led on a number of times. It's a sombre song, but the music is lovely. Like many of Chara's songs, "Soul Kiss xxx" refers to uncertainty in regards to relationships, namely the difficulty of finding the right person.

"Ai no Jibaku Souchi (Love Suicide Bombing Gear)" is the crazy number of album (if not apparent by its title). The song features famous Japanese guitarist Rolly Teranishi (Suicide Club) who also lends his vocals on the track. Everyone wants to be in the sweet "strawberry land" of love, but sometimes we self destruct on the way there or soon after we arrive!

Top picks: "Are wa ne (Is that right)"; "Ai no Jibaku Souchi (Love Suicide Bombing Gear)"; "Soul Kiss xxx"


Black Women Thrive: Interview with English Teacher Melissa Da Costa

Da Costa (left) at the summit of Mt. Fuji with friends.
Without a doubt, Fujisan (富士山)or Mount Fuji is the most salient symbol of Japan. It dominates a large area of Honshu, the nation's "Main Island", and at 12,888 ft (3,776 m) it is the highest point in the country. Unsurprisingly, the majestic mountain was designated a UNESCO Worth Heritage Site in 2013.

Many dream of climbing Mt. Fuji and reaching its summit, and the Japanese believe reaching the top of Fujisan will bring the climber good luck. But despite the sacred nature of the climb and its popularity, Melissa Da Costa, an expat English teacher in Japan, wasn't that interested in the climb, "It was never something that I considered doing."

Nevertheless, she went on the trip to Fuji, and despite the difficulties on the way, made it to the top.

The climb to the summit of Mt. Fuji is just one of many adventures Da Costa has experienced since moving from the UK to Japan. She come to Japan in 2013 since she was interested in the culture. Like many, her introduction to Japan came through anime; however, her interests eventually began to revolve around Japanese history rather than pop culture. 

The majestic Fujisan with vibrant flowers.
"I like my [H]istory; I've been to various sites in Japan and do like my castles...Nagoya Castle was pretty nice."

After visiting the blogs of people who have taught English abroad, Da Costa decided relocate to Japan and do the same. She is currently based in the small city of Odawara, yet previously lived in Hiroshima.

"My favorite city will always be Hiroshima. I lived there for one year. I like that [al]though it was a city, it wasn't crazy like Tokyo. It's a kind of charming place and if I could go back I would."

During her Hiroshima days, she used to travel to a different prefecture nearly every month. So far, she's been to several places in Kyushu (i.e., Kagoshima, Oita, Fukuoka) and Chugoku (i.e., Yamaguchi, Okayama).

"I realise that I've travelled to more places in Japan than I have in England," Da Costa says.


Hawaii State Art Museum

"Hanauma Bay Series: Ronin Samurai" (1982), a watercolor by Masami Teraoka (1936-).
This piece is done in Japanese Ukiyo-e influenced style and is my favorite piece in the museum. 
The Hawaii State Art Museum is comprised of four galleries—the Diamond Head Gallery, the Ewa Gallery, the Sculpture Lobby, and the Sculpture Garden—and features the work of over 100 Hawaiian artists, most of which are Asian American (i.e., Chinese or Japanese), or who moved to Hawaii and spent a significant time in the state. Although the majority of the pieces were created in the 1960s, there are a few newer works of art. 

The history of the museum is quite interesting. The building began as a hotel in 1872, which was converted into a YMCA in 1917, then subsequently used as a military outpost during WWI. Since then, it has became the Hawaii State Art Museum and the home of the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. It is also a popular wedding venue, likely because of the gorgeous scenery.

Patrons can visit the museum for free; therefore, there is no excuse not to stop by if you're in downtown Hawaii! While the gallery is small, the artwork is beautiful and rich.


Yingge Ceramic Town

A ceramic street sign in Yingge.
The huge ceramic dishes!
When I lived in Taiwan, one of my favorite activities was tour biking. Almost every week, I logged over 100 miles on my bike, visiting interesting parts of Taipei and New Taipei City, some of which are somewhat inaccessible by public transportation. One of my favorite places was Yingge District(鶯歌區)in New Taipei City, also known as "Ceramic Town" because the area produces the most ceramics in Taiwan. There are over 800 ceramic shops in there!

Yingge literally means "Golden oriole". As the legend goes, there was a Golden oriole rock that used to spit a miasma at travelers. One day, a General Koxinga ordered his army to shoot at the rock which allowed his men to pass by. Every since, the town has been called Yingge.

While it's easy to get to Yingge by train from Taipei Main Station, you might miss some of the interesting things in the outskirts of the city. Biking to the area is a cool way to enjoy everything. At some points the trail can become rough, but there are clear signs that direct riders to the "family trails" which are safer, especially if you're riding with children.

One of my favorite aspects of Yingge's outskirts are the large ceramics. To give a reference, I'm almost 5'7" and the plates are nearly twice my height! I really wanted to sit in the spoon and take pictures, but unfortunately there was no one around to take one for me because I came on a weekday when it isn't busy at all.






Black Women Thrive: Interview with Photographer Ashley "AshB" Badie

Photographer AshB cosplaying as
Super Sonico, the mascot of Nitroplus.
Although they might oblige their request for a new Playstation game or to watch just one more episode of Dragonball before dinner, most parents simply don't understand their children's love for video games or anime, Japanese animated shows.

However, photographer Ashley "AshB" Badie's parents certainly don't fit that mold. Seriously, she has two of the coolest parents ever. If it weren't for them, AshB and her three brothers—whom she admits influenced her tomboyish nature—probably wouldn't have discovered their passion for anime and games. When they were growing up, their parents, while not too keen on video games, weren't above watching their favorite shows with them.

"The first anime I got into was Dragonball Z...my parents would rush me and my little brother home from daycare so that they could watch it with us. And if we had to miss an episode, they used a VHS player to record it...One of my older brothers even drew a huge picture of Super Sayian 2 Trunks on his bedroom wall. My parents were upset, but couldn't stay mad because they knew it looked cool."

Not only did they encourage their children to pursue everything awesome and nerdy, but they have kind, loving hearts as well.

"After I became an adult my parents adopted four more kids so now I have all together five brothers and two sisters."

AshB with a crew of
Eevee (Pokemon) cosplayers.
Naturally, AshB wasn't beyond sharing her love for anime and gaming with one of her younger siblings, "I'm passing on my [hobbies] to my 13-year-old sister who is working on watching every anime available on Netflix."

YuYu Hakusho, Sekirei, FairyTail, and Death Note are some of AshB's favorite anime shows; she's working on rewatching the last title. As for video games, her interest in them began during the winter of 1996.

"I got hooked on games when I got my N64 for Christmas...Super Mario 64, Banjo and Kazooie, Kirby and the Chrystal Shards, Smash Bros 64, and Mario Kart 64 are my favorite[s] on that console."

Nonetheless, she admits she no longer has the patience for some titles and prefers mobile platform games.

"I tried to play Super Mario Sunshine again [recently] and...I am not as good as I used to be...I just got bored with it."

AshB in civilian clothing.
She is especially looking forward to Pokemon GO, a Pokemon game, expected to be released in 2016, where players can catch "real" Pokemon on their smart phones while they're out and about. AshB's favorite Pokemon are Vaporeon and Squirtle; both creatures are under the "water-type" classification. "I am 100% a water trainer," she says.

In 2012, AshB attended Katsucon, one of many anime conventions in the country for anime, gaming, and Japanese pop culture lovers; they usually span over two to four days. It was her first "con" as many anime convention goers call them. Aside from being surrounded by like-minded people, AshB was extremely impressed by the cosplayers in attendance.

"I was just amazed at all the kick-ass costumes and beautiful people. I felt at home with fellow nerds but out of place because I wasn't in a costume."

Cosplay—a term developed in Japan from the combination of the words "costume" and "play"—involves the creation or purchase of a costume, representative of a fan's favorite character, to wear at a con. Cosplayers have helped AshB meld two of her biggest passions—anime and photography—into one. She began shooting in 2009, but cosplay has been her inspiration since the past couple of years, and she has become well-known in the New England area.

"[At first] I actually felt really shy going up to cosplayers to ask to take their photo. I['ve] definitely grew[n] a lot since then."

And it goes without saying that her super-cool parents support her, "When I started getting into cosplay photography, my family thought it was really cool! I'm thankful I have their support and interest in what I do."