January 2005 Archives

One pixel

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I’m feeling some existential angst. As my eyes opened this morning, my mind wondered, “How am I going to waste my dissipated life today?” Ugh. I crawled back into bed and slept until two so I wouldn’t have to think about it.

After I rolled out of bed and had some coffee, I tried to make a graphic of me as a pixel in a square that represents the world’s population. 6.5 billion pixels is a lot. One pixel is invisible. Even a thousand pixels---me and all the people I’ve ever known—are barely visible.

Although I accept that I’m just a mote, I would still like to make a positive difference or create something that’s remembered or used beyond my demise. But as time passes, that seems less and less likely.

Mainly that’s because I’m not creative enough to conceive anything truly novel and the older I get, the less I seem to invent. Or I imagine things I can't execute. Mostly I riff and spin on other people’s ideas. That’s OK--certainly better than watching TV or blindly consuming (or staying in bed all day)--but it’s not going to win me a lifetime achievement award.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m beginning to envy parents. On their bleak days, they can fall back on the hope that their offspring will achieve something. “I’m doing diddly-squat, but my little Suzie might grow up to make a difference. My contribution to humanity is to be a good parent to her.”

I have no comforting fallback. My contribution to humanity is probably nothing more than not fucking up the planet any worse than anyone else. Maybe I should go back to bed.

Tea Shoot

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For the last six months or so, I've been working on a cookbook with Jonathan, Sachiko, Narumi and Jeremy--a Japanese cookbook on how to throw Western-style parties at home.

Today we're working on our British Tea chapter. I've unearthed and ironed all my spring-colored linens found some pale pink tulips to decorate the table. Jonathan and Sachiko will bake scones and cakes while I assemble crustless sandwiches and make copious notes. Jeremy gets to work his magic behind the lens and make the food look beautiful.

When we've finished documenting the food, we will sit together and enjoy the feast. Nothing beats cookbook writing as an excuse to cook new foods and throw a party.

Gala frockery

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Tod made me take my high heels off for this photo that MJ snapped.

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(l) Yes, I look like the bassist in Duran Duran. Damn this growing-in stage hair!
(r) Jo puts her coat on as we leave for the gala. What fab hair she has!

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(l)Tod sports the bowtie he biked all over town to find.
(r) MJ looked retro glam in her black velvet and feathers

Creativity cards, set 2

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creative perspectivesDid you do any of last week's creative activities? I baked a pie--the coconut cheesecake featured in yesterday's Recipe Thursday.

Here is a new set of five more short, fun things to do on printable cards. If you have ideas to share, pass them along and I'll include them in upcoming sets.

Creativity cards, set 2 48K PDF

  • Jump Rope
  • Three Things
  • Fix Something
  • Pants!
  • Have a Bath

Coconut Cheesecakes

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recipe thursday These individual cheesecakes are almost effortless if you remember to take the cream cheese out to soften. A quick mix, a short bake and you have a creamy underlayer for a topping of fresh fruit. Plus, they satisfy the guidelines of South Beach and Atkins (if you use isomalt and not sugar) You could substitute low-fat cream cheese, though I didn't bother.

Coconut Cheesecakes
makes 12

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup unsweetend coconut flakes
1 egg
1/2 cup cream
3 Tbsp sugar or isomalt
1/2 tsp vanilla

With a fork, mix the coconut, egg and cream cheese until the cheese is smooth. Pour in the cream and vanilla and stir well. Spoon into 12 muffin tins or papers. Bake at 160 for about 17 minutes or until the tops are just golden. Serve with sliced fresh fruit. Store in an airtight container.

Found in the mail

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I was surprised by a summons from the front door this morning. "Yuuubin kyoku desu..." The mailman? Wasn't expecting anything but I buzzed him in.

He struggled to the door under the weight of an obviously heavy box which bore my mother's familiar, distinctive handwriting. Oooooo. Our Christmas presents had been lost in transit almost two months ago. I wondered if she had claimed the insurance and sent us replacement holiday cheer.

But no. It was the long-lost Christmas box! Mailed December 6th, delivered January 26th. There is no indication what caused the delay--customs didn't open it, the box is only beat up in the usual way, it's correctly addressed, and it has no rubber stamps hinting where it's been all this time.

I guess we'll have a bit of Christmas tonight. Thanks, Mom!

Nude arms

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In anticipation of wearing a sleeveless gown on Friday, I went to Boudoir last week to have my arms waxed.

"It's going to hurt, isn't it?" I whinged to T.

"Not at all," she replied. "Of course my pain tolerance is high..."

"Well, my arms are nervous."

But it hardly hurt a bit, just as T said. Marilyn chattered away to me while she smoothed on the warm and sticky wax, smoothed a gauze strip over it and ripped the hairs from their sockets.

My arms were a mass of tiny red prickles for a couple of hours, then subsided into normal looking--but completely denuded--skin. Now, a few days later, I can see new hairs just beginning to peek into the air.

Why wax? Japanese women often shave their arms; there are special-purpose safety straight razors sold at every drugstore in the country. As I've aged, my body hair has darkened and gotten denser, so my usually furry arms seemed too bushy for polite company. The gala is a good excuse for a personal hygiene experiment.

Will I do it again? Maybe in the summer...

Diet, Phase Two

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We successfully reached the end of the "strict" part of our diet. I didn't lose as much as I'd hoped--only 1.6 kg, but I slimmed 3 cm off my hips and my clothes fit better, so I suppose that's just fine.

Now begins a more lenient phase until we reach our goal weight. This goal is a bit amorphous as I'm not sure what I want to weigh, exactly. Should I diet down to the weight I was when I married (that would be 137 lbs / 62.2 kg) or should I allow myself a little softness and go for 141 lb / 64 kg? I'm at 145/66 now, so there's not all that much to lose, regardless. I'll see where I am in a couple of weeks, I guess, and call it quits.

To celebrate the start of the next phase, I've created another fridge-friendly printout of the allowed foods and when you can consume them.

South Beach Phase Two List 80 K PDF (2 pages, A4).

In this phase, you can eat fruits (but not bananas, pineapple, raisins or fruit juice) and whole-grain starches (still no potatoes). Also more milk products and...red wine! I'm really happy about the wine.

This is such an easy diet to follow and it makes so much sense. Tod & I have conversations about nutrition now. We spent 20 minutes in the supermarket this evening looking at the high-fiber cereals. In the end, we decided they all had too much sugar. I'm going to make my own museli.

Bridge Bolts

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Iidabashi, Tokyo

Prong modifications

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I found a necklace the other day that was close to what I want for the gala ball--sparkly rhinestones with pearls set in silver colored metal. The design was perfect, but a handful of the rhinestones were baby blue. Wrong color.

It was not a very cheap piece of costume jewelry (but neither was it too expensive compared to some I saw) so debated a bit, but in the end I bought it. I also picked up nine clear crystal rhinstones.

This afernoon I customised the necklace. It took about an hour and a half to carefully pry up the prongs, slip out the blue stones, set the clear ones in and attach them. I chipped most of the blue stone taking them out, but none of the prongs broke. And now I have exactly the necklace that I wanted.

Creativity cards

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creative perspectivesI think my year in school was labeled Grand Guinea Pig Class. It seemed that every year there was some new textbook or learning tool that we had to try. Most were a bust, but I really loved the SRA reading lab. It was a box full of slick colored cards with independent study exercises to improve reading, writing and other language arts skills. My favorite series asked you to finish a story that they started with a half a paragraph or so.

Today I decided to do a set of "creative cards" to help improve our creative skills, kick start our senses, and develop our sense of whimsy. I'll do five a week until I run out of ideas. You are, of course, invited to suggest some activities.

Creative Cards, set 1 (52K PDF)

  • Bake a Pie
  • Tie a Knot
  • Match a Color
  • Write a Song
  • Create a Hat

You can print these out onto cards, so get yourself some plain 3x5s and a box to keep them in.

Lamb Saag

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recipe thursdayI love Indian food but my successrate on INdian recipes is rather low. However, I did this one the other night and it was easy and cmae out tasting just right. The trick is to let it cook a long time--just like a pot roast.

Lamb Saag
serves 4

1 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
500 gr lamb, trimmed of fat & cubed
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground corriander
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp chili powder
2 large bunches spinach, sliced thin
3 Tbsp plain yogurt
1 tsp grainy mustard

In a lidded skillet, saute the onion in oil. When the onion is soft, add lamb and dry spices. Brown meat, then stir in spinach, yogurt and mustard. Cover and cook until lamb is fork-tender--about 30 minutes. Add water as needed to keep the dish moist.

From the crowd

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It's the 3rd Wednesday of the month and the Japan Bloggers meetup. Always fun to catch up with everyone, even though we read one another's weblogs. `A big crowd tonight but people are starting to pack up and leave to make their trains home. It's an early night in Tokyo, as usual.

I'm trying my first ever bluetooth file transfer with Andy even as I write this. I will have some nice jazz for my collection in just a few minutes.

I brought my iSight, but nobody else has theirs, so we can't videoconference around the table. Maybe next month...

Dieting

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I haven't been on a diet in 18 years, but after the excesses of the festive season my pants felt tight, my thighs rubbed together and something needed to be done before I have to wiggle into the bias-cut dress I bought for the gala at the end of the month. I was still well within the acceptable BMI range, but I felt fat.

So a diet. MJ recommended South Beach and loaned me the book. In the first two weeks you break your dependency on carbohydrates and level out your blood sugar. So no bread, pastas or fruits. But as much low-fat meat, cheese and soy as you wish and all the vegetables you can eat (except for potatoes and carrots). No alcohol, no sweets. It's a restrictive but livable list of allowed foods.

And sorting out your blood sugar is wise for people like me who have Type 2 diabetes in their family history. I've learned all about the glycemic index, which is a measurement of how quickly your body converts foods to sugar. Unless you've been exerting yourself, you want to stick to low GI foods. These two resources to help me determine the GI of the foods I'm eating:

FormulaZone Search
Glycemic Index Database

Here's a printable list of the allowed foods, along with a 14-day check off chart. I posted one on my fridge. South Beach Phase One List 80K PDF (2 pages, A4)

After the first two weeks of the diet, you can start to phase in "good for you" carbohydrates like full-grain breads and fruits. You still should avoid processed flours and sweets, but that's true all the time, isn't it?

I've never thought dieting was a good way of losing weight. I prefer a sensible approach of "eating a little less and exercising a little more." The problem for me is that I get lazy and stop paying attention to what I'm eating. South Beach has increased my awareness of my meal planning and as a benefit I am losing weight--it's nutritional education with a two-week boot camp to improve eating habits.

It's working pretty well. In the first three days, I dropped 0.8 kg (about a pound and 3/4)--I'll weigh in again on Saturday, the last day of the two weeks. I measured myself this morning and have lost 3 cm from my hips and one from my waist. My pants fit better already.

All new wardrobe

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Today I acquired an entirely new wardrobe.

A woman on Being A Broad was selling off some of her clothes. I picked up 2 suits, 3 dresses and 8 skirts for a bargain price. Everything fits, is in great condition and will be ideal for working at client offices or running around town.

And yesterday at "Sewing Sunday" with Jo & Tracey, I was given two pairs of unfinished trousers that Jo couldn't bear to look at any more. I finished the first pair this afternoon and they fit like a dream.

Most of these items I'd never have selected for myself. But they suit me nicely. I ought to have other people shop for me.

Now I need to get more hangers.

No Recording

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In the still of this blustery, wet morning, I thought I'd do a bit of storytelling--an audio recording of one of Grimm's fairytales. I've been reading them again with delight over the last week and have found a few I'd like to perform.

I plugged in my headphone mic and fired up Audacity to record. No luck. The microphone does not work. Tried it with the iMic and directly into the computer. Nope, not happening.

Of course, I have a backup plan: record onto video and toss the picture. It's a tried and true fail-safe method. I set up the camera and read the story. But when I capture...flat line audio. The capture settings check out OK, so I play back the tape on the camera. No audio was recorded. Well, maybe my gun/zoom mic is faulty.

I remove it and shoot a couple of tests with the internal. No audio on those either. OK, fine, my DV camera is busted. I guess this is my excuse to buy a new camera. But I still want to record the fairytale.

So I dig around in my draw of lumps and wires to find the little stand microphone that's served me well all these years. It's out of juice.

At this point I'm taking the hint. I will record on a more auspicious day.

Titan

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titan.jpgBack when I was an irascible teenager, a ticked off classmate asked me "Where did you come from?" in response to one of my snarky remarks.

"Titan," I shot back.

I proceeded to detail my home planet. Orange skies, austere landscapes. Our cities are contained in bubbles just like you see on the covers of pulp SF novels. It is a beautiful place. Remote. Not many people turn up there and that's fine. It's not a moon that can support a whole lot of life.

Fortunately, Huygens landed in one of the remote parts of the moon. Unlikely that it will notice our cities and infrastructure. If it did, I bet Virgin would offer annual round-trip service for holidaymakers.

Finishing things

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creative perspectivesLast year, I set my self up with a new year's resolution to "Do More." And I did quite a bit in 2004. I learned to knit, created over a dozen short films, wrote tens of thousands of words, sewed some clothes, invented a scores of recipes. When listed out, it's quite impressive.

But it would be more impressive still, if I had finished everything I started. By the end of the year, I had so many loose ends that I couldn't keep track of what I was supposed to be doing. I was flailing and felt like I was failing, too.

This year's resolution is Finish More.

My list of unfinished projects includes things from as far back as 1999. There are a few new projects that are just-born, and a lot of stuff in between.

I'm allowing myself an hour a day to work on them. It's effective! This week I finished up some small things and I'm making excellent progress on a bigger project. This positive action fires my enthusiasm to finish even more. Some days, I sneak in another hour or two to get things done.

It's 8 am now, and time for "Finishing Hour" so I'm off. Hope you'll find some time to finish a creative project today.

Chickpea Chili

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recipe thursdayChili is a wonderful cold weather food. I love the balance of beans and meat in this recipe and the spicing is perfect--not too hot, but not at all bland, either. If you're serving it to folks who like flaming-hot chili, offer some habanero sauce on the side. Chipotle sauce is also a nice touch. As a bonus, this is a low-carbohydrate recipe appropriate for phase one of the South Beach Diet.

Chickpea Chili
serves 4

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp garlic, roughly chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 shiitake mushroom, thinly sliced
3 nasu (Japanese eggplant), 1" dice
200 gr ground beef
200 gr sirloin steak, 1" cubes
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1/2 cup red lentils, uncooked
1 can Italian tomatoes, whole
2 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Heat the oil in a deep pot, briefly fry the onion and garlic then add meat, browning well. Add the eggplant and mushroom. Cook for a few minutes until the eggplant just starts to soften. Reduce heat. Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans until the water stops bubbling; add to pot. Run the tomatoes through your fingers to break them up as you put them into the mix. Toss in the lentils and one can of water. Season with chili, cumin, salt and black pepper. Allow to simmer for about 40 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Serve topped with grated cheddar cheese.

Genkin Futo

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Even after seven years here, there are new things to learn. Yesterday I sent cash in the mail using the post office's registered cash envelope.

A genkin futo is a double envelope made of kraft paper; it costs 20 yen at the postal counter. You slip your cash into the inner envelope, which is attached to the outer envelope so robbers can't exchange it for another one. For additional security, you seal the outer envelope and stamp your hanko (or sign your initials) along the seam of the seal.

The front of the envelope has a carbon form on it. You fill in the recipient's address at the top, your address at the bottom and the middle part is used to note how much money is inside. The postal worker calculates the registration fee, stamps it up, gives you a section of the carbon form and your money is safely on its way.

As I went through the process, I saw three other people using genkin futo. As always, things become evident all around you once you know about them.

Walking softly

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Following diplomatic advice with a branch of cinnamon camphor. Koishikawa Botanical Garden, January 10.

What Theodore Roosevelt said was not "walk softly but carry a big stick" as is often mis-quoted. He gave his famous quote during a speech in 1903:

There is a homely old adage which runs: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." If the American nation will speak softly, and yet build and keep at a pitch of the highest training a thoroughly efficient navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far.

Winter is over

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Plum blossoms herald the start of spring. They usually appear at the beginning of February. January 10th is too early.

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The scent of ume flowers is intoxicating and each variety is different--fruity, spicy, heavily floral.

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The colors of these buds charmed me with their old-fashioned combination of brown toned colors

Taxi Jiko

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Taxis safely parked. (photo by Tod)

On the way home this evening we hopped in a taxi that was promptly rear-ended. It was a classic low-speed collision--we were stopped at a traffic light and the car behind us didn't brake soon enough. It made a loud bang.

The cars pulled over and the taxi driver checked to make sure we were OK. No bumps or bruises noted. The driver of the other car, a 20-something woman in an orange scarf, ran over to check on us, too. Her eyes got a little bigger when she saw we weren't Japanese, but she trotted out her best English for us and said she was very sorry.

The taxi driver handed the phone number of the taxi company on it so we can call if we discover any injuries later on. The next taxi driver, who was conveniently at the ready for us, said that if we're going to get whiplash, we'll feel it in the next three days.

Yutampo

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This is my new friend, the hot water bottle that Tod gave me for Christmas. It's called yutampo (湯湯婆) in Japanese. The three kanji mean hot water, hot water, and old woman. So fitting.

I love the old-fashioned design rendered in pressed tin. It looks like a cicada exoskeleton or a metal pastry.

Every night, Tod fills it with boiling water, zips it into a terrycloth case and slides it into the bed to warm me up. Although it seems like a sweet and loving gesture, I think he uses it to protect himself from my icy feet.

Dreaming

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creative perspectivesThis new year is bringing a series of vivid dreams that make me want to act on them. Here are three memorable dreams and what I'm doing (or might do) to make them come true.

Book Dream: I bought a graphic design book, marked down from $1,600 to only $1,000. I purchased it even though it was an advance release copy and the typesetting was bad, but it was stolen from me by a teenaged girl who shape shifted into a middle-aged woman who denied the theft.

Creative connection: Write that book. I paged through it before I bought it--I know what it was! Or if the book doesn't work, I could turn the strange story into a screenplay.

Clothes Dream: I pulled things out of my closet to pack them for a trip but none of the clothes were familiar. I particularly remember a black skirt with red flowers done in a 1950s French style.

Creative connection: Sew that skirt and some of the other things I saw in my closet. Yesterday, I searched for the fabric to make the skirt. No luck, but I'll try again.

Food Dream: I arrived (maybe from the trip I was preparing for in the previous dream) just in time to attend a cast party for a show that all my friends had been in. Everyone was off buying wine and supplies, so I spent most of the dream babysitting big slabs of beef that were being marinated and talking to a the wife of a friend about the show and cooking.

Creative connection: Needless to say, I'll marinate steaks in the near future and invite my friend's wife to dinner. The real message for me in this dream is to produce a play. I have a script written that I'd like to see on stage, and have been thinking about hosting some dramatic readings of plays and scripts just for fun.

Bagna Cauda

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recipe thursdayIt's difficult to go wrong with garlic and anchovies and if you warm them up with a bunch of good olive oil, you've got a winning dip. Banga cauda is perfect for winter parties or those evenings when you want to graze your way through dinner.

Bagna Cauda
makes a bit more than a cup

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp butter
10 cloves garlic
2 tins anchovies

Mince the garlic and cook on low heat in the butter and olive oil until soft. Add the anchovy and cook until everything is smushy. Remove from heat and allow to cool for two hours or more to allow the flavors to mellow. Reheat, whisking to incorporate the oil and solids. Serve the bagna cauda hot with a variety of vegetables (lightly steamed) and breadsticks for dipping.

Teapot

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Allow me to introduce you to my teapot. It's not quite as lopsided as it appears; I need to learn to keep my head still when I draw.

Tod bought me a lovely set of watercolor pencils to replace the ones I gave away in Fiji. I've been using them to draw one or two little sketches every day. Practice makes perfect--or at least improves the perspective.

Where are the mice?

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I thought it would be fun to go to a gala ball. It probably will be, but shopping for a dress is not.

I spent part of the morning running around the city looking for dresses. First of all, my hips are too small for my waist compared to Japanese women, so anything I even think of trying on has to come in a huge size to accomodate my curves. And secondly the dresses are dreadful--expensive and ugly.

So I spent the rest of the day looking online with slightly more success. The dress I really want is 70 years old, silk chiffon, and $1800 dollars (and not my size), so I think I will settle for a more modern, modest dress from some random retailer called sweatshoppromdresses or firesaleweddinggowns or fancyclothes4u. I just hope whatever I choose fits and arrives in time.

Otherwise I'm going to be wearing a sheet in the toga style. I wonder if I can drape it to look like classic 1970s Halston?

Tired of holidays

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Today's the last day of the new year festivities. To be honest, I'm sick of it already. I've eaten too many chocolates, indulged in too much triple-fat French cheese, moved too little. I'm getting fat and bored.

I want to get back to work, to dig into the list of unfinished things and get a few of them crossed off. I want my pool to open so that I can swim every day. I want a regular bedtime that's not interrupted by late-night merrymaking.

明日から、ね。Ashita kara, ne.

Snow samurai robot

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Snow samurai robot. Korakuen station, 31 December 2004

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Snowfolks in the park.

Welcome 2005

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Edo bayashi entertainer. Genjinmeigu shrine, Minato-ku.

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