Bathing in Japan

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Living in Japan from my earliest memory into childhood, and then returning when I was an early teen, included one of the most important and pleasurable events of most Japanese peoples’ daily and monthly life— bathing.  In Japan, bathing is not only a way to wash ourselves, and not only an individual pleasure, but a way of healing, relaxing, conversing with friend(s) and/or family, and ritual.

Many people are familiar with the Japanese bath in the home, which resembles what the Americans call a “hot tub.”  The tradition of bathing is not exclusive to Japan, of course.  While I was doing research in Turkey, it was a pleasure to learn of the Turkish bath traditions and to partake in its histories and pleasures there, and to think of the similarities and differences.

The private bath, in the home, is called お風呂 — Ofuro, in Japan, and is the most familiar to people who do not make their lives in Japan.

But in addition to this, I want to mention some other bathing traditions in Japan, mainly the public baths.

When I was growing up in Japan, once a month, my mother and I would visit a neighborhood public bath — 銭湯 Sentō. In addition, once a year or two years, when my mother could afford it, she would take us to the hot springs baths ­­­—  温泉 Onsen.   The neighborhood public baths have been losing business and there are fewer and fewer in Japan nowadays, as people individualize and the tradition of bathing is becoming increasingly private and preferred. Also, public baths are getting expensive as well as Japanese people having less leisure time. Many corporations in Japan sponsor their workers’ public bathing. Even so, these remain important cultural traditions that would most likely never die out in Japan, and remain one of the special Japanese traditions of healing, cleaning, and relaxation.


Hilarious video for Mixed-Race Asians – bishop cd miller

This is a hilarious video (I think) regarding our ethnic, racial, national, cultural labels. Bishop CD says: “Am I a Hapa? Am I too old to re-frame myself!” Hilarious!! What’s ‘Hapa?’  Why ‘re-frame?’

The term ‘Hapa‘ is a newly-circulating label for mixed-race Asian-Americans and perhaps, nowadays, including all mixed-race and multi-ethnic Asian identities. It is an old Hawaiian term for mixed-race Hawaiian Asians. However, this term is increasingly becoming popular to note this very diverse group. As most of us understand identity in the present, the old categories have become increasingly irrelevant in many ways, as we delve into the politics of identity and the re-positionings of power toward justice.  So as we discover terms that are new that circulate, that touch upon ourselves, we may struggle.

Further commentary follows the video!

Miller say’s “I’m too old to re-frame myself!” Heard that!! But in seriousness, we must and we shall……or we cling to the old words that are no longer useful in some ways. However, I feel that all labels, making us into objects, are tools for some kind of jockeying for power, control. Having ‘no identity’ is also a label and stinks of dominant privilege and disconnectedness. So we must re-frame, if not for ourselves, then for others who necessarily suffer because of the bodies that are marked by territory, social class, nation-state hierarchies, gendered norms, sexual orientation secrets and revelations, words that define but never grasp, yet tear our bodies into pieces. Go on Bishop CD Miller! I’m of your generation too! Continual re-frame!! How many frickin’ times do we have to question how others view us, define us and label us? And then what do we do to ourselves? and to our ancestors? What of them? Who were they? How do they live in us and through us today? However, labels will never define us. Labels, however, if we must use them, must be for social justice in this cruel, cold, fiery world full of secrets and displacements, torture and loneliness, ecstasy and understandings. Well….I’m almost too old…….. Bishop CD Miller says often that she is ‘White, Black and Filippino.” My own father says he is African-American, but we are aware of his Cherokee heritage. My mother’s mother was Austrian-Chinese mixed. Between the three of us, we have been through many continents, cultures. But what has been the label? Is there a need? It depends.  As Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, and others help us to think into our words and the structures of reality, they also ask us to understand the play of power and justice, disempowerment, ignorance, and the making of objects through labels, through which our world is largely organized.

Preservation Movements & Memory: New York’s Grand Railroad Stations

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In 1963, the originally magnificent, but then ignored Pennsylvania Railroad Station in New York City, was demolished.  Although, by then, more  US Americans were driving and riding the new automobiles and flying in airplanes, the railroad held a significance to memory for Americans during this time.  When parts of the station were slowly dismantled, rail service was still continuing and it has been told in many stories and biographies, that people could not imagine that the station would disappear so there was no public outcry at the time.

However, after the building had been destroyed, there was a huge public outcry from across the country, including Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy and several movie stars and music stars who became stars virtually by television and traveling on trains throughout the country, who loved traveling on trains.  The managers and owners of the Pennsylvania Railroad, along with the New York Central Railroad–who owns the Grand Central Station in New York City, were thinking of new ways to make money and at that time, could only think about tearing down in order to build new things.

After Penn Central was built and the public began to question the corporate actions of demolition, a huge movement helped to create more intense legislation regarding the preservation of architectural sites in the US.  Although some historians and writers credit this moment of Penn Central’s demise as the ‘creation’ of the architectural preservation movement in the US, there have been several preservation actions and initiatives throughout history, whereby certain grounds and buildings have been preserved.  But the Penn Central one, was perhaps the more intense, which carried news across the country rapidly through the medium of radio and television, as well as the national newspapers.

Although many complained of the noise and the general dingy and poverty-bringing aspects of some of the railroad track and terminal areas in New York City, most admired the beauty and grandeur of Penn Station.  For some, it was the memory of the glory days when cities and nations were building themselves and moving their identities out into the world through imagery and stature.  Many, apparently, could not believe that the owners who had built these magnificent buildings, would tear their own creations down.  What was forgotten was that for many of the corporate owners, the buildings themselves were not loved by these owners.  What they loved was the money and power they brought to themselves.  If it meant tearing down to make more……..well then??  Why not?   Even as the public, including important public figures, were protesting the idea of the future plan of  demolishing Grand Central Station in New York City, the owners were thinking of going ahead with it.  In the end, Grand Central was saved and is considered a national architectural treasure.

What, today,  is standing where Penn Central Station used to be?  Madison Square Garden.  Some have called Madison Square Garden an ugly monstrosity that would hardly be somethings that should’ve replaced Penn Central.

But such is progress and modernization.  We would work to preserve buildings of nations.  But we destroyed native american lives by the millions, and destroyed the lives of the poor of every ethnicity and race, including  European, in order to build what we have today in our cities.  Life is always contradictory.  Without preservation movements and people who have learned to follow laws, there would be ultimate chaos.  What new things need to be in life?  How will these ‘new’ ideas or things live?  Does there need to be destruction?  If so, who decides and how?  Who is marginalized and what is lost in a destruction?  How do we learn to care about such decision-making processes that may be built into our systems?  Remember, these are not new things.  There are many people and organizations today who bring ethics and democratizing processes in decision-making.  There have been many who continued to be destroyed, but that is not the point.  Just because it has happened over and over, does not mean it is universal or eternal.  Humans have a capacity to reflect on sustainability, the transformation of certain violences into useful possibilities infused with justice and care.

In an October 1963 editorial in the New York Times, it was said by an author who was saying ‘farewell’ to Penn Central Station:  “we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed”  “Farewell to Penn Station”The New York Times. October 30, 1963.

Penn Central history – wikipedia :

Grand Central  photos: evening front:  Trodel (; Rooftop sculpture: Javier Saenz (; Windows: Klingon65 (

Penn Central photos: courtesy of

Books on Penn Station:

Books on Grand Central Station:

For those readers interested in Railroad culture, trains, and steam trains, including galleries of stations, etc., please visit my new site blog on World Steam:

Train Stations – London

When I traveled to the UK in the fall of 2009, it was my second time in Europe and my first time in the UK (besides a layover in Heathrow airport the previous year when I traveled to the Netherlands and Turkey).

In October of 2009, I was happy to see the UK for my first time as I have always wanted to visit.  For my visit, I made sure that I visited two railroad stations in London, as they were world famous for their historical significance and architectural beauty.  Most of my stay was in Wales, but for one week, I was able to visit London and I spent a little time at the huge and great St. Pancras Station for few hours, then I did spend one almost entire half-day at Victoria Station.  Both of these stations are quite impressive and I, of course, being a train fan, was thrilled.

When I was a child, growing up in Japan, train travel was the most important way for Japanese to get around.  Even today, it is the primary mode of travel.  Trains were immaculate, impressive, beautiful and fast.  Steam trains were thrilling in their energy, smoke, steam, and sounds but by the time the late 70s came, steam trains in Japan had disappeared except for special excursion trips.  When our family moved to the United States in 1962, my father was loving enough and wanted me to experience steam trains in the US but was told that they were all gone and that we would ride the new modern diesel-powered ‘El Capitan’ of the Santa Fe Railroad from Los Angeles to Albuquerque.

I, of course wanted to see and ride behind a steam locomotive, but was nevertheless thrilled to ride on the beautiful ‘war bonnet’ red, gold, white diesel-powered streamliner, double-decked throughout.

Today, even that mode of travel is gone in the US.  In the 1970s, the railroads increasingly became financially strapped and the conglomerate Amtrak was formed.  Rail travel continues its downward spiral in the US, with a very few people in the US who even know that people can travel by train.  Most train stations are torn down, empty and dirty, abandoned and un-cared for, and people could really care less.   Trains and airlines are the way to go.  However, with the airlines in trouble and the economy on a down-turn, there has been a slight renewed interest in rail passenger travel.  President Obama has announced plans and wishes for a new high-speed rail system in the US with certain regions receiving major financial backing.  Where this will lead we will see.

Along with the trains themselves, the train station has played an important part in national histories around the world.  As mentioned earlier, the train station is where passengers come to ride the rails.  When rail was in its heyday, the train stations were more than places to get onto trains.  They were meeting places, places to eat and drink and spend time, to shop.  They played an important part in urban and rural community identity, when train stations and their surroundings were most often the first place that passengers would see when getting off the train.  First impressions played a major role in business and economic growth.  The more attractive the stations and surroundings were, along with the train itself and its ride, the more lucrative your community (town, village, city) would become.

There are notably three types of hubs for passenger travel stops.  For rural places, the buildings were called stations.  Stations would have station-masters, who were in charge of the ambience of the station, the passengers and the workers’ relationship with the town itself.  The station-masters kept these small stations going and provided the friendly and professional face and also the lead in making sure the employees of the station did their jobs in providing out-of-towners a good welcoming experience.  Comfort, safety, and pleasantries were the mode of operation, while making sure the details of baggage handling, mail, schedules, hotels, land transportation, and other aspects of traveling were taken care of.  It was very true that in most of the small towns, the entire population would know the train schedule at heart.  This was because the train station was usually the most intense and powerful communication with the world outside of the station.  Sometimes there was only one phone in the town and the telegraph machines.  They would be at the train station.  No one had personal phones in many of these towns in the early days.   Also, packages from relatives and loved ones would arrive at the station.  Indeed, the train station was the most important place in town next to the markets and banks.

Union stations, as they were called, were usually in large cities and were the centerpiece of individual railroad companies.  Union stations were often owned by one railroad, along with the smaller stations in the rural areas.  Usually, these union stations were designed by some of the top architects in the country and were the pride of the city.

Terminals are usually huge, and represented a meeting of several railroads in one building.  Some terminals had several hundred trains of four to ten or more railroad companies’ trains departing and arriving, transporting a hundreds of thousands of passengers a day.

In Europe, Eastern and South Asia and most parts of the Middle East, railroads still carry a primary importance in passenger travel.  In the US, privatization has created different ideas on the preservation and/or destruction of rail service.  In Europe and Asia, the governments view railroad station and rail service, as a public service.  This creates a special feeling towards pride and care.  In Japan, privatization has taken over.  However, rail service is the primary way people are mobile in Japan and its maintenance is of continued importance.

The two videos below are of the two London train terminals I visited.  These are not my videos and I thank these great video artists in providing beautiful images of these great buildings.  I am transported back to my visit when seeing these videos.  I want my visit to the UK to be longer next time!!!!!

For readers interested in Stations and railroads, steam trains and rail history, please visit my new blog site, always in progress:

Cha-han 炒飯 : Fried Rice: Chow-han & Omu-Rice (omelette rice)

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If  I were on my deathbed, coherent and in my right mind (hopefully), and I was asked to order one last food before I passed on, I would definitely say CHAHAN.  Fried Rice.

Some people, I bet, are thinking:  ‘HUH???”

Fried rice has many different ways it is presented.  Most of what I’ve tasted is FANTASTIC.  Some are just too greasy and too much.

I grew up in Japan and grew up eating Chinese, Japanese, and Korean style fried rice.  They are all different.  And within each nation/culture are differences by region, class, heritage, neighborhood/ecology, and personal tastes.  In Japan, for instance, the thrown-together style and slightly burned for crisp and charcoal taste (cooked over an original Japanese grill) kind of fried rice, is called: Yaki-meshi (literally Fried-meal).  It is usually made in the more traditionally impoverished neighborhoods, although it is enjoyed as a fried rice type all over Japan. It is distinctly different in approach and taste, than Chahan, which is the more elite version from the Chinese style of making fried rice.  If you order Yakimeshi, it will be different from Chahan, even though they are both ‘fried rice.’  There is a class and regional difference.

In Japan, too much taste takes away from what it is.  the RICE of the ‘fried rice’ is supposed to be tasted.  It is not covered over.  So when preparing, the ingredients work together harmoniously.   EACH BITE that you take of fried rice, should taste differently according to what has entered your mouth and taste buds.

I found that in the US, you just ‘mix things together’ and it tastes like ONE THING.  It doesn’t matter anyway–most US people are reading or talking at restaurants or with their family and friends, to taste anything anyway, right?   For those of you who truly LOVE FOOD, then we must appreciate Fried Rice.

Fried Rice, as is Chow Mein, has been a dish that is used from LEFTOVER RICE.  Chow mein, the noodle counterpart, is from LEFTOVER NOODLES.  I’m always smiling when I see gringos making fried rice with freshly made rice and wondering why their rice is so gunky.   Hmmmm…… hint…..make fried rice after it has been in the fridge overnight.  Same goes for leftover Asian noodles for your chow mein!  Chow Han (fried rice) and Chow mein (fried nooodles) are both exoticized Asian dishes in Europe, Australia/New Zealand, the US and elsewhere.  In traditional Asian homes, it was a way to use leftover rice or noodles from the previous day, mixing it with whatever vegetables and meats were around so as not to waste food.  Of course, it has also been developed into a ‘dish.’

Fried Rice comes in many kinds of flavors and meats and combos.

Tomato/ketchup fried rice with chicken and onions and scallions with peas, covered by an EGG, or wrapped into an OMELETTE is quite popular in Japan and China.  In Japan, this is called OMU-RICE (omelette-rice).  Of course, the rice dish is red.  USUALLY in Asia, we DO NOT DROWN the fried rice in Sauce.  The sauce should compliment everything.  It is more than subtle, but not overpowering.

Worcestershire sauce, chili sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, char-siu sauce, are other sauces are also great as flavoring.

In Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and in Hawaii, fried rice is frequently made with pineapple chunks, and/or mangoes, green bananas, papaya, mint leaves, etc.   Often you may find SPICY fried rice too.  This can be done with just putting TABASCO sauce over the fried rice at the table or wherever you’re eating, or it can be cooked with chili sauce, peppers, etc.  One can use cashew nuts, almonds and other things in a subtle manner, enhancing the pacific/tropical flavorings too.

Korean fried rice is awesome too!  Often, Koreans may use Kimchi, which gives it a KICK!  and then topped with a fried egg (instead of scrambled within the fried rice itself–which is the usual way).

In making CHAHAN (fried rice)– remember– DON’T load more ingredients than the RICE.  It’s fried RICE– NOT fried other things WITH RICE.

And for all you ORIENTALISTS out there—Fried Rice is NOT eaten with CHOPSTICKS!!!!!    Usually in East and Southeast Asia, FRIED RICE  is EATEN WITH A SPOON!  In East Asia, Fried rice is a main course, and is served with soup that is not overpowering.

Please, if you see me by the roadside on my deathbed, bring me FRIED RICE!  🙂