One Leaf Rides the Wind

Picture books about different cultures and places around the world are hot in our house (those, and world music on both YouTube and now Spotify). Recently we checked out the lovely picture book, One Leaf Rides the Wind, written by Celeste Davidson Mannis and illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hurtung. The gently illustrated book is not only a wonderful counting book for kids; it’s also a lovely introduction to Japanese culture via a haiku on each page.

Like other counting books, One Leaf does not really have a central plot. It’s filled with the simple descriptions of a Japanese girl in a garden, and all of the things she encounters there. All of the text is written as haiku, making more meaningful both symbolically as well as in introducing children to haiku. The text will be very different for children used to Western picture books, and will surely make them ask questions about it. If kids are old enough to understand counting syllables, you might want to try having them create their own haiku after reading the book.

The book counts various things in the Japanese garden, from a single leaf to a pair of temple dogs to tea ceremony treats. Many of these concepts, from koi fish to the pagoda, will be brand new to children. They will surely get excited over the gorgeous pictures and Siamese cat. Maybe they’ll want to look up lotus blossoms, or ask why you take your shoes off before entering the teahouse. For such a simple book, it really does introduce many different concepts in a fitting way for children to understand.

What’s even better is that at the bottom of each page, there is a description of what the haiku either means or is related to. For example, children probably don’t know what temple dogs are. In fact, many adults—including yours truly—don’t know, either! So beneath the haiku about the temple dogs that guard the garden, at the bottom of the page there is a little description about how Buddhist monks used to train shih tzu dogs to guard their temples. That was very interesting to my daughter and me—as are the rest of the tidbits about Japan in the book. So many of these concepts differ from Western life, yet they are so simple and elegant that we’d love to have them in our lives just the same.

At the end of the book, all of the different elements introduced meet together in one large picture, along with the beginning text that is repeated, completing the circle. It really is a beautiful and thoughtful way to wrap up the book—something that most counting books fail to do. At the very end of the book, there is a bit more text explaining about the restful nature of the Japanese garden, as well as a bit of history and information about haiku poetry. For another brilliant haiku picture book, by the way, you might want to check out Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth, it is one of my five-year-old’s favorites.

First Book of Sushi

Fans of Amy Wilson Singer are already familiar with her adorable, poetry-filled picture books that are perfect for introducing young children to foreign food concepts. With chunky, colorful images and fun, lyrical text, First Book of Sushi is a wonderful way to show children what to expect when it comes to the Japanese food.

Phrases like “tekka maki” and “kappa maki” are explored, as are concepts such as eating with chopsticks. The contents of a California roll, the texture of tofu, and miso soup are just some of the many foods that children will have a chance to explore in this fun little book.

Though you might not want to introduce little ones to something like wasabi just yet, heading to the sushi bar after reading this book could still be an exciting and educational culinary adventure. You wouldn’t have to spend a fortune; just get your child a simple roll to explore and dissect. He or she may not eat it; I, for one, maintain that sushi is an acquired taste! But the simple act of seeing what it’s all about would be fun enough, and it would help put the contents of the book into perspective. Who knows, you might have a little sushi lover on your hands.

Banana Yoshimoto Examines Death in "Kitchen"

"Kitchen" is much darker than most American contemporary fiction.

Even though Kitchen is a highly acclaimed slim novel and was originally written in Japanese in 1988 and was a big hit when it was published in the United States, it took me a long time to pick up a copy. I’m glad I finally did. Kitchen is darker in nature than most of the American novels that I’ve read, but was one of the best novels I’ve read lately.




Kitchen starts out with two deaths—one the timely and expected death of a grandmother and an unexpected and rather shocking murder of one of the protagonists' mother/father a few chapters later. The two mourners, Mikage and Yuichi, are kind of in love, but are afraid to admit it to each other or to anyone else. The plot may sound fairly traditional at this point, but if you consider that the murder victim was Yuichi’s biological father who later became his mother, you start to understand how unconventional Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen really is.



The most striking aspect of Kitchen was the originality of the characters. Words of wisdom in the novel come from every person in the book; you can expect as much wisdom from the transvestite who has newly inherited a bar as you can from the owner of a restaurant where Mikage, the main character, is working.


The narrative is told from Yuichi’s point of view. Reading Kitchen was like having a conversation with Yuichi; I learned about her love for all kitchens—even those with crumbs on the floor—and her complicated feelings for Yuichi after the death of his mother. Although Kitchen is a dark novel, there are moments of light shining through in the novel; through learning how to cook, Yuichi is able to find her own personal joy, but has a hard time dealing with the deaths around her at such a young age.


Banana Yoshimoto wrote the Kitchen while she was working as a waitress; in the edition I have, there is an afterword in which she apologizes to her employer for taking writing breaks while on the clock.  After the success of Kitchen and the outstanding writing in the book, I’m thinking that Banana Yoshimoto really shouldn’t have to apologize to anyone.


The edition I have also contains a novelette entitled Moonlight Shadow. Although the title Moonlight Shadow sounds like something Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame may have written, the novelette is a serious work also exploring life and death.



Friction: The Straighter Side of Rock's Avant Gard

While most folks understand No Wave as a momentary and fleeting off shoot from New York’s punk scene – and it pretty much was – the cohort of players included a number of international figures. Reck, whose wife performed in DNA, was a bassist who began performing during the early seventies with a group called Friction. Presaging not just No Wave, but punk as well, the group dealt in a wide variety of aggressive musics.

Unlike most like-minded ensembles from the New York scene, Friction played in a traditional rock and roll set up, eschewing keyboards and noisome sax accompaniment. Of course, the fact that the band’s first recorded document didn’t arrive until 1980 might explain Atsureki’s lack of aural continuity. But what the album lacked in that particular department, it made up for in its simplistic song structures and delivery.

“Automatic Fru,” like so much of Friction, sports a pretty traditional rock opening, a normal chorus, but then brief sections in which instrumentalists are granted the freedom to explore the more absurd aspects of its craft. The songs were all relatively short, making for only brief rave ups, but the results were engaging, nonetheless.

Albums continued over the next decades, some were compilations. But it seems as if Friction is set to remain a relatively obscure group in the States despite DNA’s relative acclaim from underground afficianados. Recognition wasn’t necessarily the point of any of this, though. So, no great loss. At least Friction remains a pretty astute distillation of the straighter side of rock’s avant garde.

Groupon: Donate to Earthquake Emergency Relief Efforts - $5 (or more)

Good Karma is always a good deal.

Groupon is making it easy to donate money for the victims of the tragic 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan recently. This is a great opportunity to Donate $5, $10, or $25 to Support International Medical Corps' Emergency Relief Efforts in Japan and Other Affected Areas

This special Groupon will continue through the next 3 days, so make sure to pass it around!

Beginner’s Japanese - $19.76

ISBN13: 9780781811415, ISBN: 0781811414

Get this book from for only $19.76 and start learning today!

This popular instruction book, ideal for both individual and classroom use, is now accompanied by 2 audio CDs! The 25 lessons combine dialogues with easy-to-follow grammatical explanations. Sidebars feature vocabulary, cultural information, and helpful tips for travellers and businesspeople. Other features include an introduction to hiragana and katakana writing systems, and a Japanese-English/English-Japanese glossary. The aduio CDs complement the dialogue and vocabulary sections of each lesson, helping the reader to understand the language as spoken.

Crime Thriller

Has anyone ever heard of a book called, The Scar, written by Michael Weiner (  My friend gave me the book. It was a quick read, but I thought the story was really intense and such a good crime thriller. Does anyone know if he has written anything else?

Japan in Colors

Whether you are discussing colors with a toddler, introducing a preschooler to the country of Japan, or simply looking for some beautiful Japanese photos to mull over or draw, Japan in Colors by Sara Louise Kras is a wonderful book to begin with. From pagoda buildings to monks in prayer to gorgeous cherry blossoms, it features a lovely variety of Japanese culture that will delight both children and adults.

Each two-page spread in the book features large, detailed photos of real places, people, and animals from Japan, along with a small paragraph about them. Within the paragraph, the colors in the photo are detailed to help explain the nuances of each photo, since they may not be so obvious. It is also, of course, a book about colors!

The first spread, for example, features three beautiful Japanese macaques. The caption explains that the monkeys have golden fur and red faces—though we might consider them a brownish color with pink faces without the description. This will help older children who already know their colors learn how colors are often displayed in varying shades when it comes to real-life scenarios.

Other beautiful images that parents can expect to encounter in the book include Mount Fuji, a Japanese rock garden, pieces of sushi, and green tea growing. These things are so wonderful because while the book gives you a great introduction to each of them, they inspire projects, lengthy conversation, and more reading afterward. For example, the photo and description of sushi led to us drawing sushi and then making it ourselves out of play-dough—then pretending to eat it with “chopsticks” (which were actually clay sculpting sticks that happened to be the perfect shape and size). She also wanted to go to a real rock garden (I promised to find one), to look up more photos of macaques (which we did; she remembered seeing them on the program Life), and have a long discussion about the tea. She just couldn’t believe it was “growing like tomatoes” and wanted to know exactly how it “got to be wet to drink.”

The book also displays Japanese characters, which children are sure to find amazing—particularly if they are already learning or know the alphabet. Geisha performers, origami animals, and a robot (which freaked my daughter out a little!) are also described, as well as cherry trees, the red Tokyo Tower, Buddhist priests, and a baseball game. At the end of the book, you can find a few Japanese phrases, a map of Japan, and photos of the Japanese flag and yen.

Kaoru Abe - Live Improv (Video)

Playing free, especially in a solo setting, presents innumerable pratfalls. Kaoru Abe, though, is somehow able to hold a listeners attention while flying off into seemingly unrelated skronkings. Top shelf...

The Art of Making Lunch

I love to look at food. I’m now addicted to the Food Network, and am known to grab everyday food items—like frozen pizzas or macaroni and cheese—and spice them up with various fruits, veggies, spices, and whatever I have on hand. I even had some party platters that I made from scratch become “all the rave” at a party I threw for my mother’s 50th birthday—something that I would have never been known for only a year ago. In short, I’m embracing my love of food rather than trying to suppress it, while still making healthy meals. I have Herb from The Next Food Network Star to thank for this new philosophy!

One thing I’m also becoming addicted to is the idea of bento boxes and creating art out of lunch foods. I’ve been subscribing to a bunch of lunch blogs and am just amazed at what some moms are coming up with. While my husband says they have too much time on their hands, I beg to differ. These women are taking pleasure and pride in making food for their loved ones—and most of it isn’t cooked, so that saves time rather than adds it. Also, if this is their creative outlet—much like sketching, doodling, or crafting might be for other parents—all the more power to them, since this is something they get to do daily. Bonus!

If you’re interested in making some artful lunches for yourself and your family, here are some awesome blogs you might want to check out. Feel free to share others you subscribe to in the comment section.

What’s For Lunch at Our House: Shannon comes up with some of the most amazing, creative lunches you’ll ever find. If you head to her website today, for example, you’ll see a football themed Longhorn sandwich for her husband. She comes up with some great snack ideas for her kids, too.

Another Lunch: Melissa’s ideas are nothing short of incredible. Her Little Bunny Foo Foo lunch is the most creative I’ve ever come across. (Can you believe those adorable strawberry mice?!) Her site also happens to be adorable, presented in soft colors and cute characters.

Weelicious: Not only are the recipes on this site creative—they are also delicious. Jazz up some boring peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, for example, with the Weelicious PB&J Panini! The ideas on this site are not always as adorable as the others—and typically involve more cooking—but they’re still perfect for daily use.

Muffin Tin Mom: If serving up meals in bento boxes weren’t cool enough—or if your kids are at home and you don’t need to pack up their lunches—why not serve them in a muffin tin? These ideas, from spelling out kids’ names in cheese to using alphabet themes, are fun, easy, and cute as can be.