TOMARE–Have Mat, Will Travel

Tomare Yoga Mat, anywhere you go

(or, Home is Where the Mat Is)

This summer I came to the multi-culti realization that, for me, home is where the mat is.

After living in Oita City the same number of years (past the decade mark) as New York City (where I resided before Japan), I realize that home is no longer a country or a town.

I found that a 60 cm X 180 cm space that I can roll up and carry with me does the trick to let me find my center, and to be at home wherever I am.

Stop and find your center.  Let your energy radiate out from the heart,

is the motto of a yoga mat I designed this year, based on the Japanese kanji,, (tomare, pronounced toe-ma-ray),which means STOP.

I was attracted to this stop sign since I moved to Japan eleven years ago.  Over the years I drew Tomare, painted Tomare, and made a 3-D Tomare bench as a stopping place.  The yoga mat is a medium which finally brought the message home for me.

The radiant sun in the center of the design represents the heart.

When I STOP long enough I can watch my breath, and slow down into yoga postures that help me connect to the world around me— standing in front of my favorite tree in a field in Yufuin, or in front of an abstract square sculpture in the middle of New York City; looking up to the sky, watching as buildings touch the clouds, or staring at a clear blue expanse of sea.

To STOP is to connect to a stillness which at the same time is always in movement.

It took me a long time to pause on my journey long enough to feel this.  “TOMARE” continues to teach me and point me in the way to new “Starts”.

Where do you feel most at home?



To order a Tomare Yoga Mat,

For interest in collaborating on “Tomare’s around the World” or sponsor this project-in-the-planning, please ‘stop’ by.

It’s All “Cho-co”

This season you can find sushi, beer, curry, green tea, shochu, and baseball in their chocolate incarnations.

A variety of Japan’s tastes and trends are made into “cho-co” versions for the Valentines Day boom.

Check the label on your favorite beer, curry or sushi package before purchasing to make sure if it’s the ‘real’ thing or the chocolate version!

beer chocolate

Curry Chocolate

If you hear this music playing in the background at the shop, you’re most probably looking at the cho-co.

Crush, crush I’ve got a crush on you,

Sweet, sweet I’ve got a thing for you.

Boom, boom my heart is beating for you…

You know I can’t stop Love.*

*(lyrics and photos from the “LOFT” Valentines Day display)


Aikawarazu Life in Japan

Space Beer – Sapporo Hops Minus the Gravity

Japan, always has it’s sights in the future, and has also with every leap been able to hold on to a little of its past. In this tradition, Sapporo has created yet another scientific innovation that’s guaranteed to change what we crave from a beer with SPACE BEER! This new product, developed by Sapporo Breweries Limited, was brewed with hops cultivated in microgravity on the International Space Station. Tasters say the beer is delicious, and scientists say it demonstrates the viability of crop cultivation outside the Earth’s biosphere. Space beer is paving the way for humanity’s journey to the stars!

Unfortunately, only 1500 bottles of space beer are being made, meaning a taste of the final frontier will cost you a cool ¥10,000 ($110) per six-pack. If you feel like buying some, Sapporo is taking orders online. Two hundred and fifty successful customers will be selected from among the applicants by lottery.

Everything is better IN SPACE!


Source: Japan Times

Changing Colors of the Season: look for the red in Ji-do-han-bai-ki

There are two signs of fall where changing colors let you know you are entering into the colder seasons in Japan. One  is  Ko–yo (pronounced ko-u yo-u,紅葉), the glorious changing colors of the fall leaves; and the other is the changing of  the colors on the  Ji-do-han-bai-ki (自動販売機), the ubiquitous vending machines which are now announcing the addition of hot drinks.

The former can be seen subtly as the famous leaf-peeping areas from Hokkaido to Kyushuu are anywhere from zero to 100 percent at their peak.  The latter are not tracked on television news so it is not clear what percent of the vending machines have already changed, but certainly by now they too are at their  peak– you should be able to see the red strips which say either “attatakai” or “HOT” taking over the amount of blue “tsumetai” or “COLD” strips on most machines.

The leaves changing color can seem to happen overnight.  One day the leaves are green and the next you notice autumn reds, oranges and rusty browns.  In the case of the drink machines, it truly must happen overnight.  I mean, have you ever seen the strips being changed?  One day the cans are all cold, marked by blue strips and then suddenly, just as the first chill sets in, there are the strips of red,  letting us know that from now there will be hot drinks to warm our hands and our hearts.  Until, of course, spring approaches and of course the two signs of spring in Japan are…

You guessed it– pink cherry blossoms, and the abundance of blue coming back to the ji-do-han-bai-ki.

But lets enjoy those reds while they are here, after all ’tis the season to savor a freshly vended hot can of your favorite drink.Japan Vending Machine


Found in Japan

Red Bean Flavored Pepsi – Azuki Pepsi

Azuki means red bean in Japanese and of all the sweet flavors of Japan you would have thought that this one would be the first to come from the creatives in the flavor factory, but no it’s only coming now and it’s so late in 2009. So who’s going to care?

Try it and let us know if the wait has been worth it! Or you can always try it the old-fashioned way…

White Tai-Yaki!

White Tai-Yaki
White Tai-Yaki

Down in the south of Japan, in Oita, white tai-yaki is BIG news.

Is this happening where you live?  New stands, stalls, and small shops are opening up all over advertising the sweet yet fishy phenomenon.

The traditional style tai-yaki are waffle-like golden brown  fish shaped treats filled with red or white bean paste.

The new white tai-yaki are made from tapioca and have a mochi-like consistency.

You can find white tai-yaki filled with anything from the traditional red beans to custard, chocolate, and even mentaiko.

The real fish eggs (mentaiko) inside of a fish-shaped sweet can be startling at first bite.  It is  an unusual gastronomic moment where the boundary between food types becomes blurred.   It is one of those inventive and rare juxtapositions of taste found only in Japan.

Make your own tai-yaki at home.



Trash or treasure? Finding Gray in the Pink

When I found pages and pages torn from ‘pink’ magazines littered and spread out and open wide for all to see on the side of the main road this morning, I was led to ask the above question. I didn’t know whether to pick them all up to keep the streets ‘clean’ for the packs of Jr. High School students that I eyed further up ahead. But then, if they saw me getting off my bike to collect up these revealing pages, would I be exposing myself as an object of the typical gai-jin, giving them some laughs to add to their image of an unusual foreigner?

I picked up a few, in time to stuff them in my pocket un-noticed. I remembered when the big “Man’s Omocha-ya”(man’s toystore) opened across the street from where I live, and how I thought I’d have to move. Then somehow, the bright yellow billboard-sized sign advertising toys for men just blended in with the rest of the convenient stores and chains that have been on the rise in our residential neighborhood.

A few years ago, Don Quixote opened. The first time I walked in I couldn’t help noticing how the cosplay costumes and colorful tiny lingerie at discount prices were lined up next to the children’s pajamas. I swore I’d never take my daughter, who was then in kindergarten, there. Meanwhile, now she is ten years old and “Don-key” is her favorite place to buy stationary and shampoo items.

In Japan, adult items and magzines can be readily found in places where children and young adults can easily see them. I am beginning to get used to this, and find myself judging it less. Is it that when we are exposed to something long enough, we get used to it? Or, am I beginning to see that having things out in the open and incorporated into mass culture is a freedom that doesn’t necessarily need to be un-healthy.

I un-crumple those torn pages, pretty sure that what may be trash to one person is most probably considered to be another man or woman’s treasure.

What do you think about the open display of adult graphic materials in Japan?


Hello Kitty is the cute girl’s status symbol.

Hello Kitty, the leader of Japanese Kawaii (Cute) culture, became 35 years old this year.
Sanrio Company created her just that long ago.

She had been for little girls for a while. But, a Japanese popular singer said that she loved Hello Kitty’s goods, and then the lid was off and she got popular among broader generations. Kitty’s simple face and pink color are good accents in girls’ chic fashions everywhere. A lot of celebrities have Hello Kitty wares adorning them around town.

You will see Hello Kitty goods like pens and straps for cell phones at souvenir shops in every prefecture you go in Japan.

By the way, do you know why Hello Kitty doesn’t have a mouth? The reason is because it makes her face not specify her facial expression and so she shares the same feelings with you all the time. Mona Lisa can eat her heart out.

Get something cute: Hello Kitty Chic Goods and Wares

Read more about it:

Green Tea Flavored Coke hits Japan

Green Tea Coca-Cola is out just in time to start that new carbonated diet plan. It contains tea antioxidants called catechins, leaves a slight green tea aftertaste and is mainly targeted at health-conscious women in their 20s and 30s. So, I guess it’s not just for when you have company over to the house.

The taste?

According to Food For Thought:

“Diet Coke with extra aspartame is what comes to mind. Although green tea extract is listed in the ingredients, my tastebuds strained themselves to the limit of their powers to detect some a hint of tea flavor, and failed. To be fair, it’s not bad tasting, but even though it supposedly has catechin in it (like anyone is really going to switch from tea to Coke to get their antioxidants), Green Tea Coke seems to be pretty green tea-less.”

Rival Pepsi Cola is countering with another exotic cola – Japanese basil-flavored “Pepsi Shiso,” which hits stores in late June. Can’t wait.


Food For Thought – Green Tea Coke…

Daruma Dolls and Daruma Kids

We Love Daruma has put some more fun into the Daruma tradition and their own little twist with Daruma Kids. If you don’t know what Daruma is…

Daruma is a guardian of our hopes, dreams, and wishes. As he focuses on your goal, Daruma’s eye never blinks. He reminds us not to, either.

Dear to the hearts of the Japanese people, Daruma reflects their determined spirit and peaceful
outlook on life. Daruma’s Zen roots go back 1500 years, to Bodhidharma, founder of Zen Buddhism.
The traditional Daruma doll represents the silhouette of Bodhidharma in deep meditation. Today,
Daruma dolls are exchanged as gifts to mark occasions of all kinds, and millions keep a Daruma on
hand for its motivational power and as a symbol of love and hope.

While the Daruma tradition is deep-rooted in Japan, it is still not well-known outside of it. We created
the We Love Daruma brand and website to spread Daruma’s optimistic and inspiring energy around
the world. The timing, we feel, could not be more pertinent. Daruma’s positive force is just as valuable
in good times as in difficult ones, but our current economic climate has made the need to focus our
energies all the more essential. The tools of success are within all of us, but as we go about our hectic
lives, we could all use a little encouragement and support. Daruma urges us to remain determined, to
never give up on our dreams, and to achieve what we’ve set out to do.

How It Works
The centuries-old Daruma tradition is positive, constructive, and simple. First, think of something
special you wish to achieve. Next, draw or paint one of your Daruma doll’s blank eyes. Place Daruma
someplace visible, so that while he focuses on your objective, you’ll be reminded to do the same.
Once your goal is realized, signify your accomplishment by drawing Daruma’s other eye.

On’s “Tradition” page, viewers are encouraged to browse the five different colors our Daruma dolls come in, as well as learn about the meanings behind each one.

Red | Luck and Good Fortune | Great for students taking exams or athletes facing new seasons
Yellow | Security and Protection | Many people feel safer with a Yellow Daruma in the home
Purple | Health and Longevity | A silent but persuasive partner in a weight loss challenge
Gold | Wealth and Prosperity | Mark the beginning of a new venture or kick off a charity drive
White | Love and Harmony | Ideal wedding gift, starts newlyweds off in the right direction

“Roll With Your Heart”
Unlike any other Daruma doll, each We Love Daruma doll features a trademark hand-painted heart on
its back. Users may inscribe their goal or wish in this special spot. And, a sticker describing the
meaning of the Daruma doll’s color can be found on the underside of the doll.

Eco friendly
We Love Daruma dolls are handmade with recycled paper and only water-based paints in Takasaki
City, Japan under healthy and fair conditions.

We Love Daruma gives back
We’d like everyone’s wishes to have a chance to come true, so every time we sell a Daruma, we give
a portion of the proceeds to Children’s HeartLink, a non-profit organization that helps enhance
existing pediatric cardiac programs to support life-saving treatment for needy children.
( We believe charitable contributions are an essential component to any
business and are proud to make it a priority for ours.

Introducing…Daruma Kids
Inspired by the traditional Daruma, Daruma Kids are five friends who bring the adventure of
childhood to life with fun and stimulating stories. These original characters were developed with
modern kids and parents in mind, providing families with conversation-inspiring stories and mini
movies. Like grownup Darumas, the Daruma Kids present a positive and constructive message.
Through their actions, they champion principles like cooperation, friendship, perseverance, and

Be sure to watch the Daruma Kids pilot animation entitled “Blaze goes to Camp”, which can be
accessed from

Each of the five Daruma Kids not only has a distinctive personality to call their own, but a color, too!
Hailing from different regions of Japan, Blaze, Carly, Rich, and the twins Dharma and Ollie come
together to help each other’s dreams come true.