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How we met

Izumi and I have told this story countless times so it’s ironic that I have never posted anything about it here, this place where I post stories to share. When people ask either of us, “So how did you two meet?” This is that story.

When I was living in Tokyo I worked at a Japanese company, Kyodo. My division was with a joint-venture Kyodo had with Dow Jones called Kyodo Tsushin. We sold financial news and market data to banks and financial firms. I was with a group that served Western financial firms so in our group there were some native English speakers as well as Japanese that spoke excellent English.

One evening our group went out for drinks and I struck up a conversation with Izumi who had recently joined our team. I was struck with how she had no trace of an accent and asked her where she learned English.

“Oh, I was born in Brooklyn and went to Montessori school there. English was actually my first language but my parents moved back to Japan when I was seven so I grew up in Japan.”

Thinking that was quite specific but also surprised because her experience matched my circumstances. I mentioned that I too was born in Brooklyn and I too went to Montessori school. We also discovered we were both discovered that we were both about the same age but left it at that.

The next day Izumi came in to tell me that there was a good chance we went to the same nursery school in Brooklyn. She told me that she went home and told her mother that she had “met a Mr. Kennedy who also went to Montessori school in Brooklyn” and her mom immediately asked, “Do you mean Ian? Did he have curly hair?” Izumi’s mom remembered my name, after all those years!

A couple of days later Izumi brought in an old, faded photo of me at her house for her birthday party.

Check out the clip-on ties!

Floored to see this old photo, I then went to visit my parents who live in Japan now and went thru the shoe box that is our family photo album and found this photo of Izumi, at the same birthday party, from a different camera.

White stockings were all the rage in the 70s.

Our two parents knew each other in Brooklyn.

The Japanese have a phrase called “the red thread” ( 赤い糸) which is like this invisible thread that was strung between us, over all these years since we’ve been apart. Within a year of the photos taken above Izumi and her parents moved back to Japan where she grew up and I stayed on the East Coast and grew up there. It was only after 25 years that we came together again, halfway around the world from Brooklyn.

I went back to the photo box at my parent’s house and later found this, our class photo from that Montessori school in Brooklyn. Can you spot us below?

Try now.

Epilogue

We discovered later that there were several other connections between our two families. My father, a restaurant critic, was a huge fan of Izumi’s aunt’s restaurant Marie Claude and had included one of his reviews of her restaurants in his book, Good Tokyo Restaurants.

Furthermore, my parents were eating at an izakaya in Jiyugaoka and sat next to Izumi’s parents. When they struck up a conversation, they made the connection that Izumi’s mom was the sister of Kazuko, the chef behind Marie Claude. While they celebrated making that connection, they did not realize the deeper connection, that they knew each other from Brooklyn at the time.

One final note of symmetry. My father was born on the longest day of the year, Izumi’s on the shortest. I have a younger sister and am the oldest of two siblings. Izumi has a younger brother and is the oldest of two siblings. Both our younger siblings are the same number of years apart from us.

I guess you could say the connection is strong 💪 Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

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Tommy Lee Jones in Japan

The actor Tommy Lee Jones has been the celebrity spokesperson for Suntory’s Boss canned coffee since 2006. Many Western celebrities do commercials in Japan, it’s a quick way to make a buck. But TLJ has been doing it for so long he has become synonymous with Boss coffee and his face firmly part of Japanese popular culture.

In all his commercials he is cast as an outsider, watching Japanese society as a melancholy observer. Over time, we discover he is an alien, sent to investigate the Japanese. He takes a series of odd jobs to get closer to his subjects but he is always removed, watching, alone, with his can of coffee. Stoic.

Last week the Emperor of Japan voluntarily stepped down and a younger generation took his place. It was the end of the Heisei era and the beginning of the next. Everyone in Japan was given 10 days off to reflect and, while I’m not there, I can imagine it must be a time of great retrospection as people look back on the past 30 years and how the country has changed.

The Tommy Lee Jones character is no different so in celebration, Suntory ran this 2 minute super cut of TLJ’s greatest hits as a nostalgia piece.

Further Reading

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Mr. Jimmy

One of the highlights of SXSW 2019 that I want to expand on a bit was seeing the premier of Mr. Jimmy, a documentary film about the Jimmy Page tribute artist, Akio Sakurai.

The film is a loving appreciation of Japanese attention to detail and craft. In much the same way that Jiro Dreams of Sushi introduced the world to the lengthy apprenticeship and dedication of the world’s best sushi chefs, Mr. Jimmy dives into Sakurai’s singular 35-year devotion to replicating the lead guitarist of Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page.

Sakurai’s intimate knowledge of all phases of Led Zeppelin’s musicology allows him to recreate any song from any era exactly matching the phrasing, pace and tone. He can even play entire solos from specific concerts that he has collected in the bootleg CD shops of Tokyo’s Shinjuku 7-chome neighborhood.

If you want to hear the famous 30-minute version of No Quarter played on June 21, 1977 in Los Angeles, Sakurai can play it for you, note-for-note. In order to capture the exact sound, Sakurai insists on using the same (now vintage) equipment that Jimmy Page used. The same guitars, amps, cables and even pick-ups. He plays the acoustic portions of Stairway to Heaven on the same guitar used by Mr. Page. The exact same one. He spares no expense in his pursuit.

Before the screening of the film, the director (Peter Michael Dowd) told a story of when he first heard Sakurai play. As a Led Zeppelin fan himself, he understood the time it must have taken to get the sound just right. Sakurai told him it took him 30-years to learn that particular song to his satisfaction. Dowd could tell from the look in Sakurai’s eyes that this was not just a term of expression. It really did take Sakurai thirty years.

There are wonderful snippets of dialog with the constellation of craftspeople who support Sakurai’s quest for perfection. They each have a gleam in their eyes as they know they are working for someone who notices every detail they put into their work. From Shinji Kishimoto makes Sakurai’s pickups to Rie Nakahara, the costume designer, who pours over concert footage with Sakurai in order to capture and recreate the stitching and creasing of the custom shirts worn by Jimmy Page.

It’s this pursuit of the pure experience that has attracted a devoted fanbase in Japan that is equally obsessed with the church of Zeppelin. His fans in Japan study his every move as if they are experiencing the band for the first time. Most of them have never seen the original band so a Mr. Jimmy concert is their only experience of a live Led Zeppelin show. It all comes full circle when Jimmy Page attends one of Sakurai’s concerts while visiting Japan. After the show, Page compliments Sakurai and they exchange a moment when Page recognizes a telltale lick that reveals which era’s style he was playing. The master giving an approving nod to the apprentice.

The film follows Sakurai as he leaves his family and steady job (at a kimono maker) in Japan for the United States to follow his dream. We see him struggle with his Western bandmates who are more realistic about playing the hits, selling tickets, and having fun. “No one wants to hear an 8-minute guitar solo, even if it is faithful to the time period.” they say to Sakurai. They are not used to getting post-show pages of feedback on their performances – criticisms about how they sang or placed their hands. Sakurai and Led Zeppagain eventually went their separate ways and Sakurai seems happy to leave the “jukebox band” behind.

But true artists eventually find each other and we see Sakurai form another band, joining together with Jason Bonham, the son of the late-John Bonham (drummer for Led Zeppelin) for a world tour. It’s a dream come true.

Please see this movie. It was a labor of love (the director sold his car to make a second trip to Japan) that investigates Japanese otaku culture through one person’s journey, a hero journey but with a twist. Sakurai can never truly become Jimmy Page but instead the audience has internalized a bit of Sakurai’s obsession. I have been listening to old Led Zeppelin bootlegs for the past week.

After the movie, we were treated to a few songs played by Sakurai himself who was in the audiences. Here’s a clip I filmed of him playing The Rain Song which we were told was written on a dare by George Harrison who complained that Led Zeppelin never wrote any ballads!

Jimmy Sakurai plays for the audience after the premiere of Mr. Jimmy

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octopus!

Feeling a bit overwhelmed from the events of the day? At SmartNews we try very hard to keep the number of times we interrupt users of our app to only the “whoa!” type news events but today those types of stories just kept breaking. Here’s a rundown of the day’s events:

Just when we thought we were done for the day – another tidbit would cross the wire. There were other stories too that would have normally qualified but we were getting numb. Tomorrow’s Kavanaugh hearing is bound to bring more fireworks.

In preparation, I’ve remixed a video posted by Taiyo Masuda, a kayaker in New Zealand, that basically summarizes how I felt today and share it here for all to use when you feel it just can’t get any stranger.

via GIPHY

Yes, that’s a seal slapping someone in the face with an octopus. Enjoy!

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Alameda and the Egg Spoon Wars

My island home plays a bit part in this lovely story of the “spoon wars” in the Times earlier this week. Read the story, appreciate the spoon, and smile when you learn it was hand-forged in Alameda.

The 16-inch iron spoon is hand-forged to Ms. Waters’s specifications by Shawn Lovell, whom Ms. Singer described in an email as “an incredible female blacksmith in Alameda, CA.

From the catalog entry on Permanent Collection.

‘Alice’s Egg Spoon’ is a hand-forged iron spoon perfectly calibrated for frying an egg in the fireplace or over a gas flame. In 2004, when Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters (Permanent Collection co-founder, Fanny’s mother) read William Rubel’s The Magic of Fire: Hearth Cooking, she asked a blacksmith friend named Angelo Garro to make a spoon to cook an egg in the coals. The iconic spoon quickly became one of the items most identified with Alice’s kitchen and cuisine.

 

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Alameda and the Tsunami

A large earthquake off the coast of Alaska last night set off tsunami warnings (that were later cancelled) up and down the West Coast of the United States. Residents on Alameda, the island in the San Francisco Bay where I live, were all curious why we never got any warning waking us out of our beds. The answer was that there never was enough of a threat but I was curious enough to do a little research and found that others had asked in the past so I’d thought I’d summarize and post what I found for future reference.

As you can see in the simulation of a 16 foot tsunami in the video above, most of the energy of the of the wave is absorbed by the Pacific coastline and dissipates as it tries to squeeze through the Golden Gate. A more detailed video can be found here.

By the time the wave reaches Alameda, most of the energy is gone but there is still some danger from flooding. California has posted a full set of Tsunami Inundation Maps that are a useful resource. I pulled together the relevant section for Alameda.

Alameda Tsunami Inundation Map (2009)

Luckily, there’s a lengthy study published in 2016 on tsunami evacuations that used Alameda as case study.  The study looks at three types of tsunami events with the most severe being one in which the waters would cover the island as in the illustration above. While the advance does cover much of the island, the study concludes,

One mitigating factor is that potential sources associated with a Zone 3 evacuation are likely distant earthquakes only and expected tsunami arrival times of 4 h or more should provide sufficient time to implement a successful evacuation before wave arrival.

This has to do with the geologic faults that are off the coast of California. Back again to the Bay Curious post linked at the top.

Tsunamis are caused when one tectonic plate slides underneath another — a process called subduction. This slow movement is happening all the time, but sometimes a plate will get stuck and pressure starts to build. When it finally lets go, there’s an underwater earthquake that can move the seafloor up and down, sending a wave to the surface of the ocean.

But the San Andreas Fault is different. It’s called a slip-strike fault because the two plates slide past each other horizontally. Of course, whenever plates move, the ground shakes. But here, there is no subduction and little displaced ocean.

Meaning no killer tsunamis. Even San Francisco’s infamous 1906 earthquake generated only a 4-inch wave at the Presidio gauge station.

So there you have it. If you get a tsunami warning that is something to worry about, you’ll have a couple of hours to make your way to Park Street or the Alameda Theatre parking structure where you can get a view and watch the wave come in.

References:
Intra-community implications of implementing multiple tsunami-evacuation zones in Alameda, California

City of Alameda Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (pdf)

What Would Really Happen if a Tsunami Hit the Bay Area?

UPDATE:

Wired put out a story on March 7th about a new study that used LIDAR to conclude that some areas of the SF Bay are sinking. Alameda main island seems ok but areas of Harbor Bay are in danger.

Global climate change and local land subsidence exacerbate inundation risk to the San Francisco Bay Area

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Tyler’s Graduation

Tyler’s first day of school

(cross-posted from Facebook)

Indulge me in a bit of wistful sappiness on the day of Tyler’s graduation from high school. Two photos, one taken on the first day of kindergarten and another graduating from high school. In between,  the Surly you Know letter his 7th grade teacher had each parent write (thx, Ms. Moody !) for safekeeping.


Surely You Know
for Tyler Kennedy

Surely you know what it’s like to be the parent of a seventh grader. It means cajoling, prodding, poking, tickling, then finally pleading to wake the boy from his slumber. Each morning.

It’s the sudden realization that the young boy with the easy smile and laugh is growing into a man. It means that the clock is ticking and that, before long, he will be out the door, asking for the car keys.

Surely you know that the questions that he asks no longer have black or white answers, that you now need to teach nuance, perspective, and circumstance.

Surely you know that seventh grade has lots and lots of homework. That you can no longer be spontaneous with family events and must first check with the your busy scholar.

Surely you know that homework these days is now done on a computer and that resources such as the internet are required to complete assignments. This being the case, you would then know that one of the hardest things to teach your seventh grader is how to focus on their assignments, that Minecraft, YouTube, or the latest distraction of the month needs to stay off the screen until they are done.

Surely you know it means backing off and trusting that he’ll manage his own schedule, his own free time, and his own free will. It means that you need to take your hand off the stick and trust that the lessons you’ve taught him will guide him. As you did when teaching him to walk, it means letting him stumble, and sometimes fall. But always looking from afar.

Surely you know that being the parent of a seventh grader means that it’s time to begin to let go. That you can no longer tell him what to do, that he needs to start telling that to himself.

You know, surely.

Tyler’s last day of school

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The best thing on the Internet today

I’ve already shared this multiple times today but am adding it here so I can refer back when needed.

Media coverage was thick and fast as it was a slow news day in Trumpland and everyone was looking for a bit of comic relief on a Friday after a busy week. Taiwan-based expat Ben Thompson has the best scene-by-scene breakdown.

It had me in tears.

UPDATE: Here’s an interview with the analyst Robert Kelly and his wife Kim Jung-A on the chaos that lead to the “comedy of errors”  and how their life changed when the video received 84 million views

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Kindness and Tact

One of the local sushi restaurants, Kamakura, suffered a fire a few weeks ago and people have been writing letters to the local paper in support of the restaurant, it’s staff, and the beloved owner, the 92-year old Faith Yamato.

Today’s Alameda Journal has the following story which gives you a sense of Faith and the spirit of the place.

Faith Yamato is a beloved figure in our neighborhood and our lives, and, if I might, I want to share a story: We moved to Alameda six years ago, and my 84-year-old father was already unwell. We lived with him and wouldn’t know until a year later that we would have him in home hospice and he would be gone a few weeks after that. We took him out to Kamakura with some relatives who were visiting and Ms. Yamato was in her usual station, dispensing Botan candy for the kids, writing her signature birthday cards for the evening.

Dad had had a fairly crippling stroke some years earlier, and though he was always brave and positive about it, he had never fully regained the use of his right hand. As you might imagine, this made using chopsticks pretty challenging for him. But being the man he was, he wasn’t going to complain or ask for help, and we knew better than to bring it up in a way that would embarrass him.

Halfway through the meal, a waitress came out to my dad and said: “Excuse me sir, we have a new salad we would like you to try, and this is complements of the house.” She put a plate in front of him of the fine seaweed salad that was a Kamakura favorite. I was confused for a minute, until I saw what was discreetly placed on the dish. It was a fork.

I learned a lot about service that night, that it’s essence is giving someone what they need without their having to ask you for it and without needing credit for your action.

I looked inquiringly at Faith, and she never looked up from her colored pens and birthday cards. I knew she was behind it.

Gren Coffee
Alameda
“Kamakura’s Faith Yamato showed kindness and tact”

Kamakura is closed indefinitely while they rebuild. The restaurant is insured but they estimate the damage to the over $250k and while the restaurant is closed, the staff are obviously not being paid. If you’d like to pitch in to support Faith and the staff of Kamakura, there’s a Go Fund Me page set up by another businessman in Alameda.

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Father Christmas 2016

Each year the guys on my block take turns dressing up as Father Christmas and sit out on a sled in the median on our street asking kids who line up each night between 6:30 and 8 chatting about their hopes and dreams for Christmas morning. It’s a tradition that goes back to the 30’s and one that allows for me to take the pulse of the in toys for the season.

Here’s my unofficial survey of what’s popular in 2016.

Pokemon cards are back! Several kids asked for specific decks of this old school game which is experiencing a comeback no doubt due to their older siblings who are playing it again on their phones. Pikachu stuffed dolls and other characters from the game were a close runner up. Props to the kid that insisted (much to the frustration of his mother) on posing for his Santa photo with his poke-ball.

Playstation 4 beats out the XBox. There was also one mention of a Nintendo DS.

iPhones were mentioned a few times with one girl asking specifically for the iPhone 7. One kid also asked for a GoPro. No mention of any Android devices or Apple Watches.

One kid asked for a Nerf Gun and the parent’s and I did a double-take when we heard his younger sister say she wanted a, “shotgun” but she later clarified that it was a ShurikenBest to stay clear of that house on Christmas morning.

There were several wishes for a dog and one boy that wanted a swimming frog while his sister hoped for “birds in a cage” but the prize for the best wish goes to the little girl who is wishing for a flying turtle.  The father and I exchanged a panicked look and I said something about “seeing what I could do” – maybe her dad can rig up a drone or something, he’s got his work cut out for him.