Posts Tagged ‘Niigata’

More Views of Niigata

March 8, 2011

Gather ’round and see a few more pictures of Niigata! In case there’s any confusion, my explanations appear under the photos they’re about, not above.

Niigata Station

Not a lot of explanation needed here that the caption doesn’t provide. It’s the main train station in Niigata.

Bus boarding area in front of Niigata Station

Likewise here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that crosswalk without a crowd of people on it.

The type of bus I typically ride

This is in the area between the station and Bandai City. (Bandai City is a section of Niigata, not a separate city. I was confused about that when I first arrived.) The buses I ride to and from the university are that color.

Looking toward the station

I’m going to get fired as a commentator! No “color” to add on this one, either! It will be more interesting when Chris adds the monsters with his digital vandalism.

Bandai Bashi: "The Bridge of Ten Thousand Generations"

Okay. Back in the early sixties, during the Great Niigata Earthquake, all the other bridges collapsed, but Bandai Bridge stayed intact, ever standing astride the flood of the Shinano. This is one symbol of Niigata. Tourists come to see this bridge. There used to be a fantastic pub, the Kirin Bandai Beer Hall, diagonally opposite (across the river) from where I stood to take this picture. It had ivy-framed windows overlooking the river, and you could gaze out on the night view of the bridge, lighted with golden lights, as you quaffed your Kirin or your Guinness. Closing that place down is one of the five worst things the city has ever done. Now an apartment building stands there.

I more often see it from this side.

This is looking across from the Okura Hotel side toward the Bandai City side.

The Anastasia

Sightseers can ride this boat up and down the river on dinner cruises. I always find it somehow comforting when the Anastasia chugs past me. (Its name, you know, means “Resurrection” in Greek.) I’ve always fantasized about jumping off one of the bridges onto its roof as it passes beneath me. I’ve never done it, because I’m not sure what the next step would be. Rescuing the girl, I suppose. But what if there wasn’t a girl on board?

Yasuragi-Tei, a park on the bank of the Shinano River

In my younger days, I spent a LOT of time on this riverbank — reading, writing, viewing cherry blossoms in season, playing catch with friends, lighting fireworks (which are perfectly legal here!), practicing my trombone . . . I even set up a tent one night and camped here! (I was only 23 or so — the age at which you do stuff like that.) I remember a few curious senior citizens peering in through the mosquito mesh early the next morning. I only did that once . . .

Little waterfall in Hakusan Park

Very peaceful place. In this park, there is a cage full of big grayish-brown monkeys of the type that inhabit the mountains of Japan and sometimes compete with guests for space in the outdoor hot-spring baths. Well, once about ten or fifteen years back, the monkeys escaped and climbed high up into the park’s trees. Just at that time, Niigata City’s official monkey-wrangler was away in Africa. So it fell to the city employees to deal with the situation. There were a lot of guys from the city hall, all in conservative suits, ties, and wingtip shoes, clambering around through the park, trying to coax the monkeys down from the trees. The monkeys sat up there laughing for about three days, beaning their pursuers on the heads with pine cones. Eventually they came down to eat and went back into their cage.

Pond in Hakusan Park

My parents visited this park. I remember reading a lot of the book Shiokari Pass here, and it was one of my haunts during my first few years in Niigata. The park was another place I came to think of writing ideas and to write. The glimpse of bright red you see is the main front torii gate of the park and shrine.

Directions and hours

This stone bench has a central dial engraved with the ancient Chinese symbols for the compass directions. Here are also the hours of the day. I always liked hearing of the Hour of the Ox, the darkest, deepest part of the night, when ghosts appear.

Scenic footbridge over the pond

This bridge is covered with wisteria vines. When the pale purple flowers bloom, the bridge has a living, fragrant ceiling and walls.

Famous tree (I think)

I’ve heard that this tree is a national treasure of Japan, being of profound age. I think I have the right tree.

Guardian dogs at Hakusan Shrine

These dogs guard the entrances of Shinto shrines. Notice the mouths of the dogs. This one is open, forming the syllable “a.”

"A" and "N"

His companion has a closed mouth, forming the sound “n.” In the Japanese syllabary, “a” is the first sound and “n” is the last. So the dogs are mouthing the equivalent of alpha and omega, an all-encompassing circle.


The shimenawa is the woven grass rope that hangs on the torii. And smaller versions hang in the entranceways of the homes of Shinto practitioners. The shimenawa prevents evil from entering. On New Year’s Eve, a great bonfire is built here at the shrine, and people bring their old shimenawa and toss them into the flames. People skewer dried squid on long sticks and roast them over the fire, then gnaw on them (it’s like beef jerky, only squid-flavored). And new shimenawa are hung to replace the old.

First plum blossoms, Hakusan Park

Here’s a stone lantern, or tourou. The monkey cage is just behind me and to my left. The monkeys were hiding up on the roof of their inner sanctum that day, and I couldn’t get a decent picture.

First plum blossoms, Hakusan Park

The first plum (ume) blossoms are a sign that spring is indeed coming.

Site of Dead Poets Society meetings

Yes! The first few years I was in Niigata, I convinced a group of friends (church members and adult students) to come with me out into the pine woods on Midsummer’s Eve, and by flashlight beam, we each read aloud a poem or two we’d chosen for the occasion. This is the actual site of one of our meetings. (We also did that on a camping trip to Sado Island one summer, in a spider-haunted grove.)

The Matsubayashi

Maybe you remember that my friends had a black cat named Pucca. This is where we found Pucca as a newborn kitten, alone and abandoned in the brush, crying and crying. Pucca had a long and happy cat life, but we always wondered about her . . . a jet-black cat, found in the dark woods on Midsummer’s Eve. And she would attack the Bible, biting its pages, but not other books. (Her name was chosen because I had read a poem that night featuring the pooka or pucca from Irish folklore. The name stuck.) We found her near the top of this staircase.

My first apartment, Mezon Matsunami

This is where I lived when I first came to Niigata. That was my place on the corner, where that sign is, just above the garage. If anyone remembers the first newsletters of mine — this is where they were written. I was still living here when I started Dragonfly, though much of it was also written at my friends’ place and in Taylorville. Across the street are some houses, then the pine woods, and then the sea. I remember when there would be a storm at sea with high winds, afterwards there would be sand in my apartment.

Niigata City Hall

Niigata City Hall.

A castle near the sea

I hung out in this park, too, back in 1989-92 or so. It’s between the pine woods and the sea.

Historic stairway

This stairway is historic only to me — on it, and in the park and woods around it, I read Algernon Blackwood, Ambrose Bierce, H.P. Lovecraft, and wrote most of A Green and Ancient Light.

The violent Sea of Japan

It was cold the day I took this picture. Somewhere over there is mainland Asia.

Nozomi Lutheran Church

This is where I served as a lay missionary for my first few years in Japan, through the Overseas Volunteer Youth Ministry program, teaching English in classrooms on the second floor. I also taught one day a week at Niigata High School and one day a week at Niigata University. The church’s appearance has hardly changed a bit in all these interposing years.

Niigata High School

Niigata High School. My task was to come into the classroom and correct any mistakes I found in the English sentences the students had written on the chalkboards before class. That was one of my favorite jobs in all the years. It was regimented like a military unit — the boys all in black uniforms with gold buttons, though the girls were allowed to dress however they wanted (because when the school began, it was only for boys . . . so the dress code was never added for the girls, although in my day, it was about half boys and half girls). At various times I would privately ask a student, “Doesn’t it . . . you know . . . bother you that the boys have to wear uniforms and the girls don’t?” Invariably the student, whether male or female, would blink in confusion and say, “Well, no.”

The desks were all in rows, and the teacher stood on a raised platform. At the beginning of class, all the students would stand up, and at the command of their class leader, would all bow to the teacher (and I would bow back). They worked very, very hard. It was probably the best high school in the prefecture then (may still be), and the students were striving to pass the rigorous college entrance exams which have an enormous influence on the future of a person in Japan.

The room was packed with desks and people — no place to stand except on the platform. When they would have a space cleared for the arrival of the heating stove in the late fall, before the stove got there, I would always joke “Oh! You’ve finally made a space for me to stand! Thank you!” The students loved that. I wasn’t that much older than the kids in those days, so the girls would blush and whisper and giggle and drop pencils when I came into the room or passed nearby.

Part of my job, too, was to suggest alternative ways to say certain parts of the sentences, and the students would eagerly copy those down. But I always had to watch the Japanese teacher, who stood at the back. There were ways that we actually say things in the States that would have been marked wrong on a Japanese college entrance exam. If the teacher gave me a shake of the head, I would say “Wait! Cancel that!” and the students would smile and note that they’d just learned some “forbidden” English.

Finally, trees

There’s just one thing left to say in this post. You may have been wondering about the nostalgic tone of the last couple entries here. There’s a reason for that. After twenty-two years in Japan, I have made the decision to relocate to my homeland.

There’s no calamity, no scandal — it’s just time. Nor is it sudden: this is a decision I’ve been feeling my way toward for close to ten years. The little signs and “nudges” have been steadily accumulating, and . . . well, it’s just, as I said, time. Leaving here is extremely difficult, but I am convinced I’m doing the right thing.

I am returning to the States two days from now. It may be a little while before I can post again, so please be patient. And be assured that, Lord willing and I have safe travels, the blog will most certainly continue. There will be new adventures to chronicle, new points to discuss as the writing life goes on!

I appreciate your prayers for fair winds and happy journeys.


Some Views of Niigata (And a Couple of Tokyo)

March 1, 2011

The prefecture office here in Niigata has a great observation deck on its highest floor. I took my camera up there on a sunny morning last week.

Chitose Great Bridge

That part of Niigata surrounded by water — the river, the canal, and the sea — is referred to as “Niigata Island.” That’s the part I lived and worked in when I first came as a volunteer with the Lutheran church. Here, you can see the heli-pad in the foreground. When dignitaries visit Niigata, they are often flown in by helicopters that land here. I cross this bridge a lot in my daily life.

Looking across the Shinano River toward the Sea of Japan

Niigata Island again. Can you make out the faint bluish outline of Sado Island on the horizon? I’m not sure if I can, or if it’s wishful thinking. Obscured by buildings in the left half of the picture, the Sekiya Canal connects the river with the sea. The sea-mouth is in about the top center of the photo.

Facing downstream; the Shinano flowing toward the sea

My stomping grounds. The Furumachi area is to the left of the river, and Bandai City is straight ahead on the right side.

Sado Island in the hazy distance

Or else wishful thinking. Sado is really clear on some days and invisible on others. Maybe it’s not always there!

The little holt at the foot of the prefecture office

When I take the bus to the university, I walk right through the middle of this little woods and then cross the bridge you saw in the first photo. Although this was taken in late February, the trees are vibrant in the warmer seasons. I always think of the path through them as “the Shire.”

A green and ancient corner -- idea place

Down there where the driveway makes a corner against the woods is one of my old places from my first couple years here. For some reason, I chose that spot to park my bicycle, and I remember scribbling notes there for what become A Green and Ancient Light, which I conceived as a dictionary cataloguing my childhood, including things that really were and things that were imagined, and making no distinctions between them. I’d like to re-do that book someday and get it into a form that’s actually publishable. It has possibilities.

Looking toward my place

See the distant tower in the top center? Okay, just beneath that is the line of the bullet train tracks. And just below those, straight down from the tower, see the next big building? That’s the movie theater complex I go to, about a five-minute walk from my apartment. On the horizon to the left of the tower, see the thing that looks like a giant clam or a landed alien spacecraft? That’s Big Swan, the soccer stadium.

Mt. Yahiko and Mt. Kakuda

We’re looking more or less south here. I’ve climbed both those mountains: Kakuda once, Yahiko many times.

The idea corner again

This is a closeup of that woody corner beneath the prefecture office.

Niigata Prefecture Office

And this is looking up from there at the office building.

From beyond the holt

This reminds me of a medieval castle rising from the woods.

Near my place

Here’s a street I pass along every day. The green building on the right is the veterinary clinic where I took the injured duck that time. The Cupid supermarket is just to the left. The big building right behind the clinic is where my good friends live.

Very significant table

No other table is more important to the writing and all other projects I’ve done in the past two decades plus! Hallowe’en jack-o’-lanterns were perennially carved here (until I started going to World Fantasy Conventions at that time of year). D&D metal figures were painted here, and D&D was played. Uncounted lessons have been prepared here. And stories and books, from the first to the most recent — this has been the primary writing place. I always seem to work better at a kitchen table than at a desk. The chair where I typically sit is that one closest to the coffeepot.

Post office at the West Gate

Here’s the little post office outside the West Gate of Niigata University. I always think of it as my “lucky post office,” since manuscripts sent from there seem to fare better with editors than those sent from other places. But that may simply be my imagination . . . the fact is, I’ve used this post office more than any other over the years. I’ve lived in different parts of the city, near other post offices, but mailing things from the university has been more or less a constant.

Approach to the building where I teach

I love this gap in the trees between the parking lot and the building where my classes are taught.

Sunny bank of the parking lot

Nice setting, huh? The trees are often full of crows that caw loudly, ransack the garbage, and will try to mooch food from anyone eating outdoors. I had one hop up and stick his beak into the top of my tote bag one day to see what was inside. Also, these trees rain down a brown powder at a certain time of year that coats all the cars in the lot.

Niigata University, very early spring

Sometimes I take the path through these trees; sometimes I take the path that goes around them.

Plastic food

Japan abounds with highly realistic-looking plastic food. These are models in the showcase outside a restaurant.

"My" bench in Eleven Park

Eleven Park is a tiny park tucked between houses and buildings near my place. I’ve written many a letter from this concrete bench. I sat there this past summer to write most of “Someplace Cool and Dark” on my AlphaSmart Neo.

Yotsuya Station, Tokyo

This photo was taken last year. Back in my Tokyo days (1988-89), there weren’t convenient signs in English letters (romaji). We had to learn hiragana well enough to decipher the station names in time to know whether to get off or not before the doors closed. Yotsuya was the place where I and my two fellow volunteers who lived out my way would transfer from the long-distance orange train to the local yellow one.

Train station in Tokyo

I forget where precisely I took this picture, but it’s a station on the Chuo Line. I remember being the last person to squeeze into a packed train one day during rush hour. I was so close to the doors that, when they closed, the front of my coat was caught and held fast between them. I couldn’t pull it out — couldn’t retreat at all, because the train behind me was full of people. I was worried that the doors on the opposite side would open at the next station, and I’d be left dangling there. But fortunately, they opened on my side next.

A friend told me the story of getting onto a rush-hour train with a dingy, dirty tote bag. When he got off the train, it was all shiny and clean. All the passengers around him unwittingly rubbed off a little of the dirt with their backs and fronts and elbows and briefcases and manga covers.


Look at all the bilingual signs nowadays! Not so back in my day, let me tell you . . . Also, now these wickets are all automated. When I lived in Tokyo 22 years ago, station employees stood at every entrance gate and punched the edge of your ticket with a hand-held punch. Most of them kept up a constant rhythm, clicking all the time, even between moments when passengers thrust tickets at them. Clickety clickety clickety click.

Tokyo, March 1989

There I am, newly arrived in Japan, doing my six-month homestay in Musashi Koganei on the Chuo Line. I was reading Stephen King’s It then, I remember. I had been using a Smith Corona word processor in the States and had not yet bought my Ricoh “My Riport” N-10 word processor. I remember having hair. I’m still using those black PaperMate pens, the best pens made. Yes, that was my first kotatsu experience (the low table, heated beneath with electric coils that glow bright red). I shared this room most of the time with my host family’s poodle, Ringo.

This has been fun! I’ll try to take a few more pictures of city landmarks soon.

World Fantasy Convention 2009, Part 1

November 6, 2009

I once saw Valery Gergiev conduct the Kirov Orchestra here in Niigata (we’re not that far from Russia, so they do a Japan tour now and then). A friend and I had seats right back up behind the orchestra, so it was almost like being in the group, and we had a perfect view of Gergiev’s face, close enough to see his expressions. Gergiev is one of the most prominent and best conductors in the world; at least over here, the classical section of the music store is filled with his CDs. And watching him, one truly gets the sense of being in the presence of greatness. I can honestly apply the term “larger than life” to perhaps three or four people I’ve encountered in my forty-odd [VERY odd] years, and Gergiev is one of them. I had the sense that he was chiseled from something other than flesh and bone — a great, moving statue, whose baton seemed more a liquid than a solid.

Why do I tell this story now? Well, the final thing he did that deeply impressed me was that on the final encore, he put down his baton, got the orchestra started on a Christmas medley with a few beats of his hand, and then he walked away from the podium and leaned against a side wall, just listening, basking in the music, and letting the Kirov Orchestra shine forth. The clear message was, “It’s all about them. They’re the group you’re here to hear, and they’re awesome.”

My point is, this blog is all about you! You’ve proven this week that you can all carry on just fine when I’m away in San Jose. What we have here is a community. My role is to get things started with a wave of my hand, and then I’m just reading along. A “Table Round,” as we’ve talked about before! Thank you all for those fantastic Hallowe’en stories and movie comments. The rambling house was plenty lived in while I was away, and it’s so good to see lights on when I come home!

Anyway, I know you’re waiting to hear about World Fantasy. I’ve been incredibly busy since getting back (I finally just unpacked today, Friday, after getting back on Tuesday night!) — had to jump right back into teaching on Wednesday. I’m correcting student compositions, and I’ve got homework to do from my agent — which is a good thing — a very good thing — but being away for a week has its costs!

So what I think will happen is that this convention report will be spread out over several posts. That will work out well, actually, because there are several discrete topics to address. (I mean “discrete,” not “discreet” — don’t get all disappointed when I don’t bring up any scandals!)

It was a wonderful time — beyond wonderful! I can’t say enough about how important these conventions are in keeping things in perspective for me. Seeing the reality of the fantasy publishing world firsthand is both good and potentially terrible. On the one hand, it’s enormously uplifting to be among one’s own people — all those engaged in doing the same thing, valuing most of the same things, etc. On the other hand, for the faint of heart, that could be extremely daunting. The WFC always reminds me of just what a lot of incredibly wise, smart, erudite, brilliant, talented, experienced people are working in the field. It’s humbling — who am I to think I can write books among such company? But then again, the conventions reaffirm just what a wide and diverse family we are. The World Fantasy Award judges said that, too: their judging experience revealed what a vast assortment of books and tastes the fantasy field embraces. We’re a family with young and old folks, hopefuls and successful and streetwise and weary, ambitious and lazy, charismatic and unbelievably eccentric members . . . we’re a family with skeletons in the closet. But we are a family, and it’s good to reconnect in person every year.

When I came back to Japan, the first class I taught on that Wednesday was my writing class, and it went the best it’s gone this year. I think there’s something about that reaffirmation of my identity that supercharged me.

I have two sets of notes to work through here: my daily journal, and my WFC notebook, which I take to the convention each year. Of course I won’t bore you with every detail, but I guess I’ll start by hitting the highlights more or less chronologically. Then, in later posts, we’ll get into more of the content of the panels.

I noted that I do not like LAX, the Los Angeles airport. The security there is the most stressful of any I’ve encountered. If you can avoid flying through there, do so. I flew into there from Tokyo on October 28th, and then took a connecting flight up to San Jose. The scenery was quite interesting as I soared northward over California — so different from either Japan or Illinois — lots of low, brown mountains, and fields of various colors. In the Midwest, we plant vast amounts of things that are the same color. In California, they seem to plant little fields of different hues. Crayons, perhaps? Is that where crayons are grown?

I was proud of myself for doing the economic thing and taking public transportation from the airport to the hotel, instead of springing for a taxi. There was a free bus to the Light Rail system, and then I bought a $2.00 ticket at a vending machine and took the Light Rail to the back door of the Fairmont Hotel. I chatted with Peter, a writer who was going to the same place. I checked in, received my name badge and


Every year, attendees of the World Fantasy Convention receive a bag of new books and magazines that publishers wish to promote; and the bag itself bears the convention logo.

massive bag of books, and explored the hotel. The Wednesday-evenings-before-the-conventions are among my favorite times: it’s all still ahead of you, and people are just beginning to arrive, and you can get a feel for the place and venture out into the neighborhood for supper.

In the convention literature, I’d read that there was an O’Flaherty’s Irish pub nearby. So that’s where I went for dinner: the Smithwick’s was okay, the Harp was great, and the shepherd’s pie was out of this world! They had a really cool Hallowe’en decor: giant spiders dangling from the rafters, cobwebs strewn over the walls, and a bizarre skeletal bat near my table. I wrote a couple postcards and just soaked in the ambience.

Back at the hotel that evening, I took a nap, practiced my reading (for


The contents of the freebie bag are worth considerably more than the price of the convention membership!

Thursday night), and ventured down into the lobby late at night to see if anyone I knew was there yet. The first person I saw was John Joseph Adams of Fantasy & Science Fiction. We passed near the elevators and said hi to each other.

Okay: I think I’ll stop there for right now, but be advised that this will be a week of postings — I may not post every single night, but I’ll be back tomorrow night, and quite often until I’ve told the whole story of this convention. So if you’re at all interested, stop by often!

I’ll close with a couple tidbits from my WFC notes:

For one thing, one panel raved about Stephen King’s It, about how well constructed it is. Master craftsmanship, etc. I concur. For awhile back in 1988/1989, I was going around saying It was the second-best book I’d ever read. It impressed me that much.

Another fascinating thought that was brought up: The human condition is always being on the edge of survival. That’s why the true literature has always been about what’s out there in the dark.


My room in the Fairmont Hotel, San Jose.



World Fantasy Convention, 2009



Early morning view from the 18th floor of the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose.





Isn't this cool? My room looked right down at the pool. It was warm enough that I actually saw people swimming now and then! California is definitely sunnier and warmer than Niigata in October/November!


April 30, 2009
The time of the lilacs is here.

The time of the lilacs is here.

Yes, the title of this post is supposed to be loaded with meaning — spring-loaded with meaning, if you will: because this post is about spring, and it’s about first lines of stories — which are the spring-boards into the tales.

Before I get into all that and before I forget, just last night I re-watched the movie Hero, starring Jet Li. This is one of those movies that I think highly enough of to endorse here, and it’s one I like enough to own. That’s my highest recommendation. It’s a movie I wanted on my shelf, so that I can periodically re-watch it. Don’t let the casting mislead you: this is no mere martial arts escapism flick. It’s a beautiful and mythic work of art from beginning to end, like a painting that moves. The musical score is haunting, and the film’s theme is epic and of consequence; it’s one of those stories that makes you reflect on how you want to live your life.

Just before rice-planting: sluice-ditches gurgle, the fields are flooded, and frogs begin to sing.

Just before rice-planting: sluice-ditches gurgle, the fields are flooded, and frogs begin to sing.

 It’s not a very long film, and it’s not hard to watch. If you feel like a foray into Chinese history and thought — and into an exploration of patriotism, loyalty, love, and the question of what defines a hero, check this one out.

A couple notes: the Emperor in this film, the King of Qin, is that same real-life historical Emperor who had all the Terra-Cotta Warriors made to be buried with him in his tomb.

In one single day and night -- with the flooding of the paddies -- the frogs appear: they gather like black cats to October, and our nights are full of frog music.

In one single day and night -- with the flooding of the paddies -- the frogs appear: they gather like black cats to October, and our nights are full of frog music.

Also, pay attention to the opening quotation on the screen. Also, the English translation of the character’s name “Broken Sword” is a bit misleading. His name is made of the kanji for “break” and the one for “sword” — so “Broken Sword” is one rendering, but it can also be understood as “Breaks the Sword” or some such. The idea is that he’s a man who has come to, as the film asserts, the warrior’s ultimate epiphany: that Peace is the best way. So this character has “surpassed” or “overcome” the sword. He has broken the sword and put it away.

Anyway, Hero, presented by Quentin Tarantino, starring Jet Li, Tony

Tulips, ready for May.

Tulips, ready for May.

Leung, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Chen Dao Ming, and Donnie Yen is an artful masterpiece. Two thumbs up.

Oh! — This is sort of explained in the movie, but when the candle flames whoosh and waver between Nameless and the Emperor, that indicates the waves of fury and hatred that are rushing out of Nameless toward his enemy.

Well, now, on to our main topic!

"I am looking at lilacs, and I see / Shapes of dreams in a ghost-light sea...."

"I am looking at lilacs, and I see / Shapes of dreams in a ghost-light sea...."

Spring is always the season when I yearn to do more reading and more writing. It’s a time of burgeoning creativity, with blazing summer just appearing in the distance, trundling down the road under a golden haze. So I thought it would be fun to roust out all the first sentences from my stories and line them up here for our mutual entertainment and especially inspiration.

"Secret sunlight and shadows near, / Unfolding, untold in the new of the year."

"Secret sunlight and shadows near, / Unfolding, untold in the new of the year."

Look at all these spring-boards into stories! Stories all begin (for readers) with a little string of words that gives us our first glimpse of the things to come. Here are mine, from nearly every one of my stories that I could remember, with a very few exceptions. They’re (almost) all here, published and unpublished.

If any of these stories catches your interest, remember that you can

 always go over to my website ( and see the specifics: when and where it was published, and if you click on the story title there, you can even read a little thumbnail blurb about it.

"Unwritten tales in their hollows, and me / Traveling fernwise the whispering hedge, / Finding dream paths at the shadow's edge."

"Unwritten tales in their hollows, and me / Traveling fernwise the whispering hedge, / Finding dream paths at the shadow's edge."

If a story isn’t there, that usually (but not always) means it’s not published yet. If you have any trouble, questions, etc., please feel most free to write to me personally, and we’ll talk it over. In some cases I may be able to provide you with the story or direct you to where you can find it.

Ready? Here we gooooo!


Bad things were starting to happen again in Uncle Henry’s basement.

“The Fool Who Fished for a King”:

Alaric, the fisherman’s nephew, was a fool.





"I am looking at lilacs, and I see / All things wild, forever, free...."

"I am looking at lilacs, and I see / All things wild, forever, free...."








The old barn sang to Timothy.

“Ren and the Shadow Imps”:

Ren clutched his vest closed at the neck and shivered, although it was a summer night.

“Murik and the Magic Sack”:

Murik trudged deep into the forest, where roots twisted like slimy stairways.

“The Guardian Tree, Part 2”:

Far beyond the city, where birds still


"Seasons remembered, and Eternity...."

"Seasons remembered, and Eternity...."


sang ancient songs, the fey folk listened.

“The Gift”:

The winding stairway had never seemed so dark.

“The Place of Roots”:

Kirith had not been meant to ride the wind: I was sure of it.





"Where I have been, / And what I must be."

"Where I have been, / And what I must be."

“The Bone Man”:







It was hunger that made Conlin turn off the route.

“The Star Shard”:

Cymbril sang.

Corin Booknose:

Everything changed when the Wall of our world broke; the life we had known ended with the splitting of rock.

The Fires of the Deep:

Grape hyacinths!

Grape hyacinths!

Strange, Loft thought in the years afterward, that such a day could begin with the calm voice of water, a changeless voice on the day that everything changed.

A Green and Ancient Light:

As the American frontier moved westward, new homesteads blossomed in the clearings of the forests and among the prairie grasses.

100_0330“The Enchanted Mountain: A Tale of Long-Ago Japan”:

Another landslide had struck the village of Takakura.

“A Tale of Silences”:

Jii turned the carving in his weathered hands, pursing his lips to blow away a runnel of wood.

The Threshold of Twilight:100_0332

Trees outside the white frame house filled the kitchen with a lazy glow of sunlight and dancing green shadows.


Aunt Estelle wasn’t as bad as Shan had dreaded; it was her house that bothered him.


Faint moonlight glowed in the room, though the curtains were drawn.

“The Giant”:

Wind shrieked over the bleak rise, driving snow that swirled and stung the men’s faces.


The courthouse in Fillmore smelled old.

“Under the Tower of Valk”:100_0334

The garrison commander nudged the pale corpse with his steel-toed boot.

“Here About to Die”:

This is the day I am to die.

“The Bones of Oron-Dha”:

Red light flickers on the basalt blocks of the walls, the ceiling, and the floor of this temple of the dread god Arhazh.





"It'll be spring soon in the Shire, Mr. Frodo. They'll be plantin' the rice in the lower paddies! Do you remember rice, Mr. Frodo?"

"It'll be spring soon in the Shire, Mr. Frodo. They'll be plantin' the rice in the lower paddies! Do you remember rice, Mr. Frodo?"

“A Fire in Shandria”:







A grand and fearful thing it is to be summoned into the presence of Azanah the Queen: grand, for I am a mere sword-maiden of the Fifth Heilon, those who guard the city’s west wall, specifically the Gate of the Moon; fearful, for all know the Queen’s severity.

“The Last A’Hanti”:



"Um . . . no, Sam." Seriously, this is a rice-planting tractor. Little mechanical hands on the back stick each seedling down into the mud.

"Um . . . no, Sam." Seriously, this is a rice-planting tractor. Little mechanical hands on the back stick each seedling down into the mud.

“The Heir of Agondria”:

Fire sang as it surged through the wood-heap, the brilliant flames flowing, consuming, leaping high in the autumnal night air.

“Lucia’s Quest”:

‘We are here!’ called Iloni over the ringing of swords.


Drums pounded in the night, the drums of the horse-clans of Hemath.

Rice-planting in Niigata.

Rice-planting in Niigata.

Quite a whirlwind tour, huh? I hope it’s had the effect of making you want to run to your bookshelf and dive into a good story — or maybe write one — and to enjoy the gifts of this season, when the world is trembling with ancient enchantment and nascent abundance. Petals are opening out there, and tales are to be born! Nurture them! Live them! As Garrison Keillor says: “Don’t sleep. You can sleep in the winter.”

I’m going to steal shamelessly a great concept I heard from Tandemcat

Seedlings in trays on the back of a truck, brought from the greenhouse and ready to be loaded onto the planting tractor.

Seedlings in trays on the back of a truck, brought from the greenhouse and ready to be loaded onto the planting tractor.

just now: we may write with ink on paper, but we also write in people’s lives, through our interactions with them. I like to use this quote in my classes from Tennyson’s The Princess:

“Our echoes roll from soul to soul,

And grow for ever and for ever.”

A finished field: this field is planted.

A finished field: this field is planted.

I know this is anticlimactic, but an urgent message needs to be conveyed: I continue to hear from readers who have just recently discovered the “comments” aspect of this blog. If you don’t know about the fact that you can read other readers’ comments and leave your own (if you want to — no obligation!), then I’m happy to tell you that your enjoyment of this blog can easily double or triple! At the end of every posting or entry, you’ll

Sing, frogs! Grow, rice! (This is within a block of my apartment.)

Sing, frogs! Grow, rice! (This is within a block of my apartment.)

 find the word “comments.” Click on that, and you can read what others have said. Leave your own if you feel so inclined! (If you’re doing it for the first time, your comment comes to me for approval, so there may be a slight delay before it appears.) I tell you the truth: if you’re only reading my entries, you’re missing out! You’re only sailing on the ocean’s surface, and you have all the wonders of snorkeling and SCUBA diving ahead of you! Come join us on the seamy underside of the blog. . . .

Happy May Day!

The straw "casa" hats are still used in Japan, equally efficacious against sun and rain.

The straw "casa" hats are still used in Japan, equally efficacious against sun and rain.

Rice-planting, Golden Week 2009, less than a block from my place.

Rice-planting, Golden Week 2009, less than a block from my place.

Rice-planting tractor. Niigata is famous for its pure water, delicious rice, and delicious rice wine, or "sake."

Rice-planting tractor. Niigata is famous for its pure water, delicious rice, and delicious rice wine, or "sake."

A very cool vine-covered house in my neighborhood. In the fall, these leaves turn a brilliant red.

A very cool vine-covered house in my neighborhood. In the fall, these leaves turn a brilliant red.

“When That April. . . .”

April 7, 2009

Here we are again in the month that, according to Chaucer, makes people want to go on pilgrimages! A friend over there in the States was just commenting today on how appropriate it is that, at this time of year when we finally begin to see and feel the sun again, when new life is bursting out all over, that we’re also in Holy Week. We’re about to celebrate again the Resurrection. In the words of the hymn:

“I know that my Redeemer lives.

What comfort this sweet sentence gives!”

Anyway, for me here, it’s been a week of getting organized for the new

My new file cabinet

My new file cabinet

 school year, which gets underway next week. I’d always wanted a file cabinet, and I finally found a store here that specializes in used office furniture. They had file cabinets in all shapes and sizes, and I finally decided on this one.

So I’ve just spent several days sorting things, labeling the hanging folders, and filling it up with stuff that used to be in cardboard boxes and drawers. It now holds:

1. All my important correspondence since 1997, in order and filed by year;

2. My writing projects and some works-in-progress of writer friends;

3. My teaching materials — years and years of handouts and ideas, gleaned from here and there or my own originals — all categorized for easy location now in folders with such labels as “reading homework,” “listening,” “pronunciation,” “grammar,” “games,” etc. This should make class preparation easier.

My apartment in Niigata

My apartment in Niigata

Oh — here’s also a picture of my apartment. That’s my place on the ground floor: my little verandah where I hang out my laundry — my office is right inside there — and my tatami-mat sleeping room on the left, behind the paper shouji window — the one that shows my silhouette to the neighborhood if I’m not careful. The building was sparsely-populated last year, but it’s completely filled up in the last couple weeks. This is the time of year when people move around, when the fiscal year begins.

What’s the universal writerly application of this posting? Am I skirting dangerously close to a “what-I-had-for-breakfast” posting here? Far be it from me! The universal application is: I commend to you spring organization, spring cleaning, and the opening of windows. It’s the time of year to sweep up the dust, clean off the tables, cast out the piles of paper you’ll never ever need again — and begin something new. Go on a pilgrimage! Tell tales with your fellow travelers, and be glad for their company.

Know that your Redeemer lives, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the Earth; and that though worms destroy these bodies, yet in our flesh we shall see God!

Oh — semi-groink! — Issue #13 of Black Gate came in yesterday’s mail. And I see by the enclosed ad for what’s coming soon that my story “World’s End” is slated to appear sometime during the next four issues. That’s the first Agondria story — not the first one written, but the first in the intended order — and editor John O’Neill also bought my cousin Steve’s illustration for it. Don’t start holding your breath yet: we may be celebrating Easter two or three more times before the story finally appears, because BG comes out on an irregular schedule — Mr. O’Neill gives quality the priority over speed. When issues do come out, they are, for all practical purpose, high-quality books, like big, soft-cover trade paperbacks, slick and glossy and thick. But anyway, that story is coming eventually, and I was thrilled to see my name on a list of what people “won’t want to miss, so don’t let your subscription run out”!

As to the header of this blog: yes, I thought I’d put away the skeletons for awhile — how could I have skeletons up for Easter? — but they’re not gone, they’re just in the closet. What you see there are the first cherry blossoms of this year in Niigata, the photo just taken today. By the weekend, the city will probably be in full bloom!

May your projects and your work and your life bloom, too, to the glory of God!