Sam in Japan


…is a Daruma. Once you start to notice them you’ll see their determined expressions all over Japan – in murals

…on buses

…even wielding spatulas outside monjayaki restaurants.

Of all Japan’s denizens the Daruma might just be the most powerful. This is because they help make wishes come true. Here’s how:

A new Daruma has blanks where their eyes should be. I was confused by this at first because I think that eyeless Daruma look a bit frightening, but in fact it’s part of their power. What you do is, when you make your wish you paint on one of their eyes.

You then place your Daruma somewhere you can always see it, so it reminds you of your wish, helping you to focus on the steps you need to take towards making it happen. When the wish comes true you paint on the other eye.

After what followers of my blogs might know has been a bumpy couple of years for it, my writing is back on track: I’ve now written nearly ninety thousand words of a brand new book, I’ve got ideas for two more, and I have various other exciting pieces of story news that I hope to announce in due course. So my wish came true. Here’s another new Daruma, for yours:

On Monday my time as a guest in this wonderful, fascinating country comes to an end for now. Although I’m ready to come home I’ll be sorry to leave.

Thank you, Japan.


In Japan anything can be kawaii – ‘cute’.

Cuddly kappa who would never dream of drowning you…

Seafood you want to make friends with as well as eat…

From a pamphlet about recycling and waste reduction, look at our poor planet! Let’s save it!

I want to make trees happy!

This ink cartridge isn’t just going back to its manufacturers to be recycled: like me, it’s coming home!

And – aww – look at these builders on this sign about roadworks! 😀

I like the way the Japanglish words on this Shimokitazawa building sign go together:

On a related note, here’s a pic I took of my latest favourite Japanese band as of Saturday night – the wonderful and terrifying Zibanchinka.

This week on Trapped By Monsters I recommend Kamikaze Girls by Novala Takemoto.

Of the many things I’m going to miss when I leave Japan, the one I miss most might well be Noh.

I knew next to nothing about Noh when I arrived and had never seen any before, but over the last six months I’ve become something of an addict.

What I love about Noh is hard to explain. It’s partly the stories, but they aren’t really the main point. Nor – individually – are the music, the dancing, the costumes, the masks, the staging or Noh’s deliberate, ritualistic pace. It’s the way all these things combine.

There’s a Noh play called Michimori. It concerns an old man and an old woman who are ghosts. In life, married and very much in love, the couple were reluctantly parted on the eve of a battle. The man died in combat. The woman, consumed by grief, drowned herself. Now they spend eternity reliving the final, miserable hours of their earthly existence – again, and again, and again.

Their story is told and sung in a mesmerising, slow vibrato. Accompanying the characters and chorus are a pair of drummers who make eerie whoops and groans and howls throughout and a flautist whose instrument mourns, keens and stabs like an icicle through your heart. The costumes are gorgeous; the movements are hypnotic; the masks are, frankly, bloody weird. The overall effect, on me anyway, was a creeping miasma of gloom, a quintessence of dismal – a delicate, dreamy ecstasy of dread.

My words don’t do it justice. Photos during Noh performances are forbidden, so all I’ve got to show here now are flyers.

This is a wonderful, unique artform and I feel very lucky to have experienced it.

Look at this:

It’s from the shop window display of a family portrait photographer. But it made me think of this:

And what would the sashimi be like? Perhaps like the best tuna: tender, fatty-

Ahem. I think I’d better stop there. ;p

On Trapped By Monsters this week, a manga gateway to one of the most amazing things about this amazing country: I recommend Oishinbo, by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki.

Here, in case you wanted one, is a clue as to what the book I’m currently writing is partly about.

Over the last couple of months…

…I’ve been to see more bands

…than I’d seen in my


…life before I came to Japan.

This, below, is a pic of the best live act I’ve seen so far this trip: the jaw-droppingly unhinged, tighter-than-a-gnat’s-spats Hosome.

Tokyo has been good to me. 😀

Sanrio Puroland is a fairytale realm outside of time and space.

It’s quite pink

…and sometimes, I thought, a little sinister

…but it’s also romantic, sweet, strangely glorious, and much to my surprise I loved it.

We’d come to see Hello Kitty’s house, which was full of furniture and objects in the shape of her own silhouette.

Amazingly we also got the chance to meet Hello Kitty herself, who kindly posed for this pic.

I have to confess that I found myself getting a little bit shy and flustered. But she charmed me completely with her delicate hand gestures, gave me a hug and waved as we left, keeping with her a small piece of my heart.

Back to Asakusa on Friday night, to see a bit of the Sanja Matsuri.

The big crowds hadn’t formed yet, so we caught all the close-up portable shrine action we could wish for…

…plus a bit of traditional music.

I hear each shrine weighs about a ton. Carrying them…

…is clearly a deeply serious business.

Just posted to TBM: a yokai warning.

Next Page »