Kumiko Makihara

Nota: Este archivo abarca los artículos publicados por el autor desde el 1 de febrero de 2009. Para fechas anteriores realice una búsqueda entrecomillando su nombre.

The deserted white apartment building tells its story floor by floor. The street level has only gaping open spaces where there were once floor-to-ceiling windows. On the second story, pieces of aluminum protrude across some of those gaps. More metal appears on the third floor, delineating parts of window frames. The fourth floor has horizontal and vertical metal bars in the gaps, but no glass. The fifth and top floor reveals what each level of this 40-unit structure used to look like: a parapet of white panels encloses a row of identical apartments with sliding glass doors that open up to balconies.…  Seguir leyendo »

The traditional inn nestled amid the mountainous countryside offered all the luxurious comforts for which these old-style hotels are famous. An elegant and eye-pleasing eight-course dinner was served in our room. The outdoor hot-spring bath had a view of lush foliage covering a steep cliff, lit up to highlight the diverse shades of green. A soothing sound emanated from a river flowing below. I could have been anywhere in Japan enjoying the typically understated royal treatment.

Only this time, when I checked out, instead of a parting gift of a box of local confectionaries or a hand towel with the hotel’s name on it, the owner handed me a plastic bag containing a vinyl raincoat, cotton gloves and a gauze mask.…  Seguir leyendo »

My friends in New York City laugh at me when I tell them of my latest fear: dying alone and not being discovered for weeks.

It doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched possibility to me. I have high-blood pressure and thus a greater chance than normal of having a stroke. I live alone in a large high-rise and don’t know my neighbors. I moved here recently and am only beginning to create a network of friends who could be on the lookout for me.

Admittedly, it’s a silly worry. I should take what precautions I can, and move on. Besides, what difference would anything make to me once I am gone?…  Seguir leyendo »

“What are you going to say if I don’t make it?” my son asked me before he left for a long-distance ocean swim required by his school.

“I’ll say, ‘Can’t you even do that? What a waste of tuition!”’ We both laughed as I continued, “What did you want me to say? ‘Nice try?”’

That such words of encouragement would be relegated to sarcasm reflects my son’s experience of six years in an elite Japanese elementary school. All 122 of the sixth graders, except for two who had been out sick or injured, swam one or two kilometers that summer. From the relief of the parents and children I saw after the event, it was clear that what mattered was not how hard the students tried but whether they actually went the distance.…  Seguir leyendo »

A surreal chorus of clipped buzzing noises pierced the silence on my rush hour commuter train one morning this week. It was the earthquake warning alarms of the passengers’ cellphones indicating that another temblor was imminent.

Everyone grabbed their phones, fearful that it could be Tokyo. The epicenter was Fukushima Prefecture. We would be spared. But who knows about those troubled nuclear power plants that line that prefecture’s coast?

Our train was delayed, so I messaged the friend I was to meet, whom I know from when we both lived in Russia: “Life more unpredictable than Moscow!”

In fact, just as in those days, I had stocked up on some basics during a recent overseas vacation.…  Seguir leyendo »

As I sat down with my laptop that evening, some hours after the massive earthquake had struck Japan, my cellphone emitted a grating squeal. It was a signal from the National Meteorological Agency warning that a large aftershock was about to hit the Kanto area, which includes Tokyo. Luckily, I had made it back home and was sitting in my sturdy apartment building; my 12-year-old son nearby in our living room. There wasn’t much more I could do except wait for Mother Nature to take her course.

That particular temblor didn’t strike Tokyo hard, but the city shook intermittently throughout the night, prompting my son and me to cross our fingers and hope that the shaking wouldn’t grow stronger.…  Seguir leyendo »

“There’s a beautiful, beautiful goddess in the toilet. Clean it every day, and you’ll be beautiful like the goddess.”

So sings Kana Uemura, her rich, melodious voice soaring in the ode to her deceased grandmother. In a nearly 10-minute-long ballad, Uemura describes her regret over drifting apart from the old woman who encouraged her to overcome a reluctance to scrub the bowl.

Despite the scatological subject matter, that song was one of the biggest hits in Japan last year. Or perhaps I should say, because of the subject matter.

Toilets hold a special place for the Japanese. They are pinnacles of high technology, personal comfort and even national pride.…  Seguir leyendo »

I was blown away when my son told me he wanted to do his sixth grade research project on Japan’s human torpedoes, the manned missiles that crashed themselves into enemy ships toward the end of World War II.

Since then I’ve been watching to see if an 11-year-old boy growing up in an officially pacifist country — Japan’s Constitution renounces war and the country only has forces for defense — can fathom a time when thousands of frenzied young men signed up to ride torpedoes, or planes in the case of the better known kamikaze pilots, to meet certain death in the name of the emperor and their country.…  Seguir leyendo »

Racial profiling had never struck me as a personal issue. I am a Japanese woman living in Japan after all, where less than 2 percent of the population is foreign. And even among that sliver of a share, the majority is Asian. How could racial profiling exist if most everyone looks the same?

I was awakened from such naïveté a few years ago when I started getting pulled aside by police, apparently to see if I was an illegal immigrant. On three occasions, officers sidled up to me at busy train stations, flashing their badges and asking me where I was headed.…  Seguir leyendo »

The drizzly weather didn’t dampen the excitement at the annual spring imperial party last month as the royal family strolled along Tokyo’s Akasaka Palace grounds. Mao Asada, the Olympic figure skating silver medalist, was so overwhelmed when Emperor Akihito spoke to her that she managed only to repeatedly reply “yes,” and “thank you very much.”

It was a typical reaction that shows the magnetic hold the emperor and empress have over the Japanese people.

Missing as usual from the festivities was Crown Princess Masako who suffers from a stress-related disorder that causes anxiety and distress and only occasionally attends official functions.…  Seguir leyendo »