The World Wide Wakayama Chronicles; Day Three


This gallery contains 30 photos.

10-28-13; MONDAY Makeup and hair prep isn’t until 7:20 this morning, so we get to sleep in a bit. Good thing since Elsa had stayed up past 1:00 am Skyping and D&D adventuring with friends. Mama is not too happy about this. … Continue reading

The World Wide Wakayama Chronicles; Day Two

10-27-13; SUNDAY

The alarm rings at 5:00 am and we scurry to get ourselves to the make-up and hair room. The stylist is there waiting and Elsa goes first. He starts in trimming Elsa’s unruly mop and I go back to our room to pack since we will have to leave right after breakfast. When I get back to Elsa, I see that the “trim” is turning into a real hair cut, but it looks very nice.CIMG8297

The stylist apparently has cut the hair of some famous folks here in Japan, including the actress, Aoi Yu, who has a name like someone saying all the vowels in the alphabet. Arai-san says that he has just returned from Hawaii and the temperature difference is quite a shock. While he finishes with Elsa, I decide to do some of my morning sit-ups on the tatami which turns out to be not such a bright idea as the friction results in raw spots in the skin near my tailbone which I don’t discover until later.

The stylist re-braids my hair into the French braid I arrived with, brushes on a touch of makeup, and I am done. After a quick breakfast, we pile into the vans and drive to the famous temple at Koyasan for the first modeling shots of the trip. CIMG8300

For a listing of all of the temple lodgings available in the area, go to the following website: or click on the embedded link: Welcome to Koyasan

When we arrive, the photographer has already set up the shot. The temple grounds are almost deserted in the early morning and we are able to get in lots of shots in a patch of warm sunshine before the crowds arrive. CIMG8309

After the shooting session, we follow the sounds of monotone chanting and find a large group of saffron-robed monks doing their morning obeisance at the various shrines throughout the temple grounds. They walk in formation with wooden geta-sandals clattering on the ground, then stop, turn, chant, bow and then continue to the next station.




After shooting at Koyasan, we take a long drive over twisty mountain roads to an ancient onsen inn called Ryujin Onsen, or “Dragon-God Onsen.” When we arrive, we are met by the bowing, smiling owner. Two girls clad in onsen yukata with over-jackets are set in place, holding towels in their laps for the background scene while Elsa and I walk in front of the ryokan towards the camera while they take shot after shot in the cool morning air. I feel sorry for the girls who sit on the front porch with bare feet and geta, so Elsa and I hand them our kairo hand-warmers. Guess there will be no time to actually soak in the “Dragon-god” onsen. Maybe next time.


Photo from Kumano Travel; click photo for link

Back into the vans we pile and on the way back to Koyasan for more photos, we stop at a little restaurant and have lunch. I order tsukimi soba or “moon viewing” soba. It comes with a raw egg floating on top of the noodles looking like a yellow moon in the dark soba sky.

Yojimansan from Flickr

After lunch, Elsa and I run over the the nearby suspension bridge to run out over the water, the wooden slats bouncing under our footsteps.CIMG8326

The lunch location turns out to be a poor choice as several people, myself included, experience stomach pain and digestive problems after eating the soba. The drive through the mountains to our hotel is a bit miserable and I try to keep my eyes up and looking out the window to ease the nausea.

We finally make it to the hotel, drop off our bags and head out for dinner. The restaurant is run by a sweet old mom-and-pop couple and it is quite good. I really appreciate the salads and the amazingly tender beef that practically melts in one’s mouth. Elsa and I get to leave early so that we can shower and get to bed at a decent hour. We happily discover that we can get internet access in our rooms. I check my email and Elsa settles in to chat with her friends. It’s been a good day overall. CIMG8317

I am working on learning the names of some of the hard-working support staff: Misaki-san and Sayaka-san, Miyuki-san (who is my age), Arai-san; (makeup); Morikawa-san; (photographer).

The World Wide Wakayama Chronicles; Day One

A Paid Paid Vacation

10-26-13; SATURDAY


Our adventure starts at an audition. Japan Railways West is looking for a normal, average-looking middle-aged woman who will act out the role of an archaeologist traveling with her daughter through the World Heritage Sites in the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture. They especially want to highlight the ancient pilgrimage routes. It sounds intriguing, so I go to the audition. They wonder if one of my daughters is also available for this job… and before we know it, my 17-yr. old and I have been hired. Yeah, they are still thinking we are normal, so we’ll just play along.

Link to UNESCO’s page on the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.”

We beg for a few days off of work and school and off we go. Saturday morning, Oct. 26, we are up at 5:00 am and out the door by 6:15, splashing to Tama station under a downpour ‘cuz taxis are for wimps… and people who plan ahead. We are dressed for the mountain trails, so I get to wear comfy clothes and my hiking boots.CIMG8245

The modeling agent meets us by the Shinkansen station at Shinagawa and makes sure we get to the right platform. She is very sweet and helpful and wishes she could go on this adventure with us. We take some photos but realize that we won’t be able to make anything public until after the JR West ad campaign launches sometime next year. The agent says that they will give us an ad poster when they launch. I suddenly realize that this is not going to be images just for the website… we may run into our photos on the walls of train stations; which is kind of a creepy thought.

JR West operates the trains in and around the Wakayama Peninsula:


Now, as I write this, we are on a high-speed Shinkansen that is zipping us along under cloudy skies towards Kyoto. Flooded rice fields, swollen rivers and thickets of bamboo flash by the windows of the train. Elsa is napping with her head on the tray in front of her. We both travel light with just a few items. Most of the weight in Elsa’s bag is taken up with art supplies. I think she packed some clothes too.

Here is a link to a detailed PDF map of the area where we will be traveling in Wakayama, Nara and Mie Prefectures.

Wakayama Map Detail
Wakayama Map Detail


After a yummy lunch at Gusto where we eat with gusto, we pile back into the three vans that are carrying 13 people in order to shoot photos of 2. I don’t quite understand why this would take that many people. Later we learn that more are arriving. Huh? How are they going to find enough work for that many people, I’d like to know.

Before starting the climb into the mountains of Koyasan in Wakayama, we stop at a grocery store and stock up on fruits and nuts… and lots of bottled water. Maybe they will finally start making Elsa and me do some real work. So far, we have just been sitting and eating and practicing our Japanese skills. We’ve actually been learning a lot. Elsa is “e ni muchuu” which means “crazy about drawing.” She shows her sketch books to the stylists in the van and they are very impressed, and they know all of the manga references that Elsa gushes about. CIMG8258

We arrive at a lovely ancient temple ryokan where we will spend the night in traditional Japanese-style rooms. After a quick fitting for the clothing we are wearing tomorrow for the shoot, we are given time to relax.

Interior Garden of Ryokan
Interior Garden of Ryokan
Ryokan Room Interior
Ryokan Room Interior

Since I’ve had more than enough relaxing for one day, I go for a walk and watch the glow of the setting sun light up the turning leaves above the tops of temples that line the streets. My attempt to find a trail into the forest is stymied by fallen logs, no trail and sopping wet undergrowth. I give up and stick to walking the charming tourist town streets. CIMG8275CIMG8274


I arrive back in time for a vegetarian feast. This meal is really amazing with many beautifully arranged dishes. Each diner has a miniature nabe pot of veggies and savory mushroom bubbling over a little flame. Inside the little pot is a beautiful autumn leaf shaped out of rice flour paste. Sigh.  IMG_0296

We share stories about Japan cuisine attempts… like the time one of our friends sat down to a meal of soba and drank the dipping sauce (tsuyu) straight down. He apparently thought it was Coke. And the time our elderly friend, Alma, came to visit Japan and encountered wasabi for the first time. Not knowing what it was, she scooping up the mound of potent green horseradish and popped it in her mouth. Despite this shock to her system, she did live for many, many years after this surprise.


After a soak in the onsen bath I am ready to sleep. It’s only 8:00 pm, but we need to be up by 5:00 am tomorrow and out the door by 6:30 am. Elsa has shut herself in the futon closet with cozy blankets and is chatting away on her phone. Hopefully she will emerge soon so that we can get some sleep.

Rosemary Wells’ Wisdom for Writers

Rosemary_and_RuthIt was on a very Good Friday, just a couple days before Easter, when I attended a Master Class taught by children’s book creator, Rosemary Wells and sponsored by our local Tokyo SCBWI chapter. The evening was well worth the trip downtown riding sardine-packed trains on a raw April evening.

From our opening introductions to the final story of the evening, Rosemary Wells gave the Tokyo SCBWI participants practical and pithy advice. Although I will not be able to distill the evening into three sentences (as we were required to do in our self-introductions), I will do my best to “omit needless words.” (Strunk and White) Rosemary’s advice was to be “preçis” or precise, because “no one wants to slog through endless wittering in a children’s book.”


Cut your picture book text down to four sentences per page at most. Leave some story exposition to the illustrator. Write what you know and find out what you don’t. “The art of writing for children is like being a contra-alto,” said Rosemary. “It requires unique talents.” We listened carefully, as this “off the cuff” talk struck a chord in all of us and should help us perfect our pitch in story creation.

“My stories are non-fiction,” began the author who creates beloved stories with bunnies and kittens as the protagonists. “They are based on life experiences.” As a writer, one has to have a sieve in the brain to collect memories and feelings. Max and Ruby are characters drawn from her own children. She described hearing her older child, the “Ruby” of the pair, attempting to instruct her younger nine-month old sibling, upon whom “Max” is modeled. “Table… T-A-B-L-E… TABLE. Say it!” To which the nine-month old would respond, “Bang.” Max’s dragon shirt and general countenance was drawn from a toddler with a withering glare wearing a shirt that glared as well, sitting in the heaping shopping basket ahead of her while she waited and waited one chilly raw night to bring one carton of milk home. The character, Yoko, began with a group of three girls from Osaka who attended Rosemary’s daughter’s school. They were teased about the sushi and seaweed in their traditional Japanese lunches which her daughter thought was totally unfair. Family memories and personal memories are the story starters for the author’s books. “Go back to your childhood,” advised Rosemary, “and remember.” Max and teenager2

“The art of illustration is a challenge,” explained Wells. “Try not to repeat in pictures what the text says.” The artist should look for elements that the text does not overtly mention. Find humor in the text. Marry the text without being the same as the text. Rosemary prefers the word “illumination” to the the word “illustration” harking back to the time of the beautifully, gold-leaf enhanced drawings with which scribes would enhance the scriptures. The pictures should make the story glow with deeper meaning and draw the reader further into the story’s embrace.

Rosemary Wells has been in the business since she was twenty. Now, at age seventy, she has seen publishing rise and fall. Publishing is “in the trenches now,” she explained. “Publishers grab for too much and authors cannot make a living. Publishers have wrecked things a bit,” she said. Rosemary has seen her own royalty percentages cut in half over the years. It is especially difficult for new authors. Still, she gave us hope by encouraging us to write what is true and deep. “Present it simply,” she advised, “with no affectation.” “Write for yourself,” she said, despite our protestations that editors ask writers to categorize themselves. On the other hand, she said, “You may not argue with your editor. Work without ego; listen to your editor and do it better. Only after you have produced 10 starred review books can you go at it with the editor.”


And while a trained and experienced editor will have valid criticism, Wells did warn against listening to all the advice that one might hear in a writer’s group. “Advice given from a reader’s perspective is valid,” she admitted, “but amateurs may not know what they are talking about when giving publishing advice.” This is not to say that Wells does not encounter any friction with her own editors. She sometimes disagrees with their choices, but they are the ones paying to have the book printed, after all. She sent around a recently published book along with its original “dummy” so that we could note the changes that were made. She also mentioned that she does not illustrate for other authors as she will inevitably end up changing the original text and make changes all the way up until the deadline, and sometimes, even afterwards. The advantage of being both author and illustrator is that the two always agree on the finished product.

max could not relax

The importance of authenticity in writing for children was emphasized again and again. Children are dealing with life issues and they know they have to handle it on their own. “School is like a big bus. You get on with a bunch of people you don’t know and then they lock the doors of the bus and you can’t escape. You are stuck with these people for years.” Parents and teachers do what they can to help, of course, but Rosemary explained that it is as if they are on the outside of a thick Lucite bubble. They can see the struggles the child is going through, but in the end, the child must find his or her own solution. It is an author’s job to write about the person and the true emotions. The story should be about an individual, not about a problem or a conflict; “the person, not the peanut allergy.” Adult agendas have no place in children’s books. Children love stories that show characters overcoming obstacles with humor and grit. Be authentic and write simply. Young readers will love you for it.

Thank you, Rosemary, for sharing yourself with us.

– Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud

Princess Ramona, Beloved of Beasts

Princess Ramona, Beloved of Beasts; by Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud, illustrated by Therese Larsson





A Monster Calls; Book Review

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book will rend your heart and then heal it.

If you have ever had to watch helplessly as someone you love is slowly taken away from you by a long-term sickness or health issue, then this book will resonate deeply with you. It is not a difficult read and can be finished in a day or two, but the message is deep. How do you forgive yourself when you simply want to let go… when you have hung onto the hope of recovery for so long that it has exhausted the last morsel of strength from your soul and you have to admit that you are ready to move on to the last chapter.

This book speaks to the exhaustion of caregivers, their resilience and pain, and the stages of grief that they begin to endure even before the one that they love has passed away.

Note: The illustrated version is excellent with evocative, expressive drawings throughout.

View all my reviews

Eyeball and Skull

“I have asked you to move that eyeball and skull for TWO WEEKS now,” I sigh with exasperation as I set the offending items on my daughter’s messy desk. Of course, I finally have to move the nasty things myself. Maybe I am exaggerating just a bit, since it has been only one week since Halloween. But I’ve had to look at that ghastly fox skull and its accompanying sticky glow-in-the-dark eyeball every morning since then, when it was left by the bathroom sink where I brush my teeth. Does anyone else have to put up with this type of stuff? An animal skull gaping at you from under your hair accessories while you snatch a barrette off of its hard cranium. As if it needed that barrette. But now it’s looking at you as if you just stole something from him. Or maybe it was a her. Can’t tell at this point.
There is a story behind the skull… (isn’t there always?) It was rescued from the bottom of Lake Nojiri up in the mountains of Japan where we go most summers on vacation. Merely the bones were rescued, unfortunately not the fox, and Elsa had spent many happy hours diving for every bit of bone that she could to piece together a complete fox skeleton. She was proud to be able to point out to the other bone divers that the skull (which was the first part brought up) was certainly not a bird because birds did not have teeth and especially not long canines as this skull definitely did. The skeleton was lovingly assembled on the dock and then bundled home in a bag to be soaked in bleach and scrubbed clean. (No I did not agree to do that.)
The fox skull ended up decorated with dramatic black lines and attached to my daughter’s hair as the crowning touch to a creepy roadkill-Goth ensemble that she pulled together for her last year of trick-or-treating. She will be in high school next year after all, so of course she won’t go dressing up next year… So this year’s costume was her last hurrah. It was quite the deal. She even had the added chill of red contact lenses. Lovely.
Very dramatic, but now do I have to look at a skull everyday? And what about those dead beetles and the occasion insect leg that I find laying around when she hasn’t been very conscientious about her insect collection. And there was that extremely long hair worm that lived in a jar for I don’t know how long. You will never imagine where that came from. Do a search on “Hair Worm” if you really want to know. The one she collected came from a praying mantis. Why can’t she just decorate her room with stuffed animals like other normal kids? I like stuffed animals and the live ones are nice too. I’m just not too fond of the unstuffed ones. I guess what we really need is a creepy lab out in the back yard to hold all of these wonderful treasures. As long as it was far away from my toothbrush. Then I think I would feel much better.

Panties in the Postbox

So the other day, my husband brings in the mail as he gets home from work in the evening. “Who put these panties in the mailbox?” he asks. Good question. I didn’t know about any skivvies being posted to our address. “Whose are they?” I ask, eager to solve the mystery. He describes them and I realize, with a sinking feeling, that they are mine. “What were they doing in the mailbox?” I ask accusingly, as I glance over at my daughter. At 13, she does some unusual things occasionally, like crouching quietly, an animated gargoyle, unseen on the foyer roof directly above her daddy as he exits the front door to depart on a weekend bike ride, while a bewildered neighbor looks on from across the street.
Elsa quickly defends herself. “I didn’t put them there!” So, if I didn’t, and Joel didn’t, and Elsa didn’t… Oh great. A helpful neighbor must have found them and placed our “wasuremono” or “forgotten item” in our mailbox for us. But how could a pair of underwear have found their way out onto the street?

I do remember one time, when I was in a hurry to get dressed, that I pulled on the same pants I had worn the day before (they were still clean after all!) and started down the hall to the stairs, only to feel something slide down my leg and drop to the floor. Yes, indeed. The bloomers of yesterday were hiding in my pant leg, just waiting to embarrass me at some point in the day. Luckily it was only myself and one of my daughters who witnessed this faux pas, and when we had finished hyperventilating from laughter, I calmly consolidated my laundry, making a mental note to always check my pant legs in the future. And I always do check those pant legs now, so I know that I didn’t accidentally “drop my drawers” on the way to work.

This leaves only one remaining possibility: our always-eager-to-carry-things-in-his-mouth Golden Retriever, Bjorn. He has the irrepressible habit of padding around the house in the morning, looking for items which have been carelessly left on the floor. And the first person to get up in the morning is proudly presented with whatever he has eagerly retrieved. Often, the item is, appropriately enough, a slipper. He can sometimes be encouraged to drop the first bedroom slipper at your feet and on command, “go get the other one.” Occasionally, the next item of footwear delivered is actually the other slipper, whereupon Bjorn is declared a genius dog and we rush to contact the local news station. Usually not, though. Sometimes the item proudly delivered to our morning-eyed bleariness is a not-so-appropriate item.

After his morning delivery, Bjorn knows that he will soon be let out into the small field near the house where he can relieve himself. We have found the occasional slipper in that field before, but we had never before inadvertently let him out of the house with panties in his maw. Thinking back now, I remember him exiting the house in the morning with his mouth firmly closed and his tail wagging. I should have searched him for contraband before letting him past the front gate.

The truth begins to sink in. The kindly old couple next door must have found Bjorn’s early morning retrieval item near the field, and thoughtfully placed it in our mailbox. The conclusion that follows is obvious and inescapable. We have to move. This is just too embarrassing. And to top it off, he had to pick the ones decorated with cherries. That dog is definitely in the dog house… for a long time too.