About Me

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California born by a Cuban mother, married to a Japanese man, and have lived in Japan since 2004, minus one year living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I have friends and family in many places in the world. I dreamed of traveling to many distant lands, creating music and dancing to it, meeting interesting people, and discovering treasures in the most unlikely of places.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

This was our first present from Shinpei's coworker's family! We were very surprised and happy.

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Students' writings

My students, Yoshiki Tsuchimochi and Taichirio Hidaka wrote some pieces for a journal which comes out once a year. The journal is of writings of students all over Miyazaki Prefecture. I would like to write a translation of each one for my readers.

Taichiro wrote about his father, who loves fishing in the river and sea. He is, by the way, the teacher who sits three seats from me at the Junior High. His mother is in charge of the English lessons at the elementary. She is the fifth grade teacher. Mr. Hidaka is a very good father. He loves his three sons very much, and spends a great deal of time with his family. Here is an excerpt from "My father, A Man of the River":
"When the float goes under, quickly reel in," was my father's advice. Even with my father's advice, I couldn't easily do a very good job.
I went carrying the net with my father, down to the river. "Its my first time, so I'm nervous. I wonder if there are snakes swimming in there..." I thought to myself. Many fish were swimming that evening at the river.
"Wow," said my father.
"Yeah," I responded.

Yoshiki is another fourth grader. He wrote about the ritual dances, called the "Kagura", 神楽, which are passed down through generations here in Nishimera. The dances call the gods and goddesses to a center in the dead of winter. They bring the energy of the other world into this world, and move it into position to prepare for a new year. The dances are like fertility dances, and dances for luck. I myself had the opportunity to practice with my Junior High Schoolers and it is an amazing feeling to do the dances. The music is very rhythmic and trance like. It reminds me of the Pow Wow drums of the Miwuk Tribe in Tuolumne, California. The instruments used are very ancient. The Japanese Taiko drum, The Bamboo Flute, and a stick of bells called a "Suzu" is used during the dance. Seated musicians make drum and flute music, and the dancers use the bells and sometimes a fan while dancing. The setup reminds me of when I studied belly dance, with the seated drummers and musicians, and the dancer using the zills(a small, two faced bell) to add to the music. I have only had the opportunity to see the dance a few times, but I hope to see more of it next winter.
The Kagura lasts from 7PM until 7AM, and is danced at many different holy places in the area during the month of December, to call on the gods. During the dance, the audience often becomes very quiet. They fall into a kind of trance, I think. That's the way I feel, anyway, for the music is very trance like and the dance seems repetitive (But don't be fooled! This dance is VERY difficult to do!)The audience has some opportunities to interact with the dancers as well. If audience members wrap coins in tissue paper, they can try to toss the coins into a crown on the head of the dancer, or into the dancer's kimono sleeve, whichever gives very good luck. My husband, Shinpei, was the first to toss a coin right into the crown of the dancer at the last Kagura. Everyone cheered, and it was very fun. People were very kind as well, and shared food and drink to make friends. This last time, Shipei and I watched the Kagura for about three hours with Yoshiki, and his big brother Yohei.
Yoshiki's excerpt is about his Kagura experience last year, when he became of age to perform in it. He trained for a month and a half, about 2 hours every day.
The winter performance day came. My performance begins. At first, I was nervous, but little by little, my nervousness ebbed away. As I performed, I noticed all the audience members who had come to watch. I noticed my grandfather's smiling face watching over me. Beside him, sat relatives who had come to watch.
I match the movement of the fan, the suzu, and my body to the rhythm of the Taiko drum. Although its winter, I am sweating. The sound of the taiko and the movement of my body ended. Afterwards, my father said, "Your father also began to do the Kagura when he was in third grade" "But I didn't do as well as you," he praised. This time I think that I did a good job at the Kagura. The sweat upon me cooled.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Upie, our pet axolotle

Upie is a Mexican Axolotle. Shinpei won him in August out of a machine at an amusement center (He's really good at those games...) Upie was small when we first got him, he was about 5cm long, but now he is about 20 cm long and he is pretty wide. He is really cute, and his earlike gills go down when he swims. He looks clumsy when he swims, but he can be very fast. Axolotle is Oopaloopa in Japanese.

Winter Holidays

Mmmmm...The weather is getting colder. In the states, we all look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas with family, and then a nice New Year's party to blast in a New Year, but in Japan, there is no Thanksgiving of course, and then Christmas and New Years are celebrated in reverse, spending time with your bf or gf on Christmas, and then spending time with family on New Years.
Christmas is decorated with lights and some families buy a tree, but I've been giving lessons on the winter holidays, and no one knew about mistletoe or gingerbread houses, which everyone got very excited about. I am looking forward to baking one soon. Maybe I will take it to school as a display. I have decorated the townhouse in lights and made a display of fall leaves made of recycled paper for the front. People really seem to get a kick out of it. Its pretty cute; when I turn on the lights, whole families will smile brightly and point, or slow their cars down to look. It makes me happy that I am brightening their day.
Today is Shinpei's birthday. I bought him a jacket which he looks very good in. Next week is Christmas, but I still haven't gotten him anything. He has gotten me two things, one of which he is being very secretive about. Tehehehe.
We started working on our New Year's postcards, which I will probably be sending instead of Christmas cards this year to the States and Mexico, too. We were handed down a printer, so we will print out a design for the year of the Tiger.
The day after Christmas we will head over to Nagasaki to see his family. That day for lunch, we will eat at a renound steakhouse. The next day I believe we are going to go to a themepark copy of a Dutch village called Haustenbos with his brother and his brother's girlfriend. At some point, we will go to a new Aquarium exhibit in Sasebo with his dad. Finally, New Years will come and we will spend three days eating with family, visting family, and staying in or driving around, because all the shops are closed. I miss the holiday decorations abroad, but the same feeling of people getting together with family is there. There is one decoration that is pretty common, and that is the combination of Pine, Baboo and Plum into an arrangement, and placed outside the front door.
The mountains have been lovely, bathed in mist and fog, brightening into sunny days.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving with students

Last weekend I had a very nice Thanksgiving. The 5th and 6th graders came to my house. We made pumpkin pie. It reminded me of my Grandma's delicious pumpkin pie. When I ate it with the kids, it was not nearly as delicious; the spices were too strong and the filling was too fluffy. But after chilling it, it tasted much better. Still, I have afeeling that it is too strong of a flavor for the Japanese palate. I guess I'll try gingerbread next...
That night, I put up Christmas lights and made a lovely display of paper fall leaves for the sliding glass door.
I planted some spinach last week, and noticed that my plants are beginning to flourish and adjust to their home. It is beginning to feel more like home here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It gets colder everyday now. At night we use heavy blankets and an electric carpet undeneath our futons. It gets more difficult to air out the futons in the winter, with the rain and cloudy, cold weather. The futons, light mattresses, are very easy to clean. After removing the bedding to be washed, they are taken outside and pounded on for a few minutes to get rid of dust and mites, and then left in the sun for a few hours to air out. It feels so good to sleep in a clean futon! I will never forget what it looks like underneath a traditional western mattress when I've moved them after months...

In the winter, it also becomes more difficult to wash clothes, because we, like most people in Japan, do not have a clothes dryer, instead hang them up in the sun. It is much better for the clothes, and saves on electricity, but is not a very good technique in the winter.

Hmm... I guess while I'm at it, I'll mention some things I like about my Japanese home. This is not a conclusive list; there are a lot of differences, some I like, some I don't like.

The toilet. When you flush, the clean water comes out of a spout on the top as the tank empties, so you can wash your hands after flushing. As you wash, it runs into the tank. I have a bar of soap on the corner, and a clean towel there.

The hot water heater. You push a button on a controller, and the water heater turns on. It takes seconds to get hot water anywhere in the house, and you can select the temperature from the controller. On top of that, it uses kerosene which is really cheap.

Tatami and hard wood floors only. This is pretty standard in Japan. If people want carpets, they buy a carpet to lay down. The tatami is used in the bedroom. It is a grass mat. It stays cool in the summer, just cool in the winter, and is very easy to clean. Liquids don't easily permeate it, and suface dust is easily vaccuumed. Hard wood floors can be found all over the states, but it seems that usually they are so expensive, although I did see some bamboo HdWd floors that are much cheaper, on exhibit at the Green Festival in San Francisco some years ago.

Thinking of houses and the way they are built reminds me of all the houses that I've lived in over the years. They were all great. I can't think of one that I didn't like at all. They all had their own special layout, and the places fit into their surroundings as though they were trees that had grown their, in some odd way. And best of all, they all inspired some experience or another to look back on. Where have you lived? What did you like about that place?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Well... my grandma passed away last week. She was suffering a lot, she had a nother stroke, and couldn't take in nutrients, so she quickly faded away. There are a lot of people who will miss her. I am going to bake a pumkin pie and think of her, thank her, while I bake it. She was a WONDERFUL cook. She would make huge feasts, and the whole family would come and enjoy Christmas and Thanksgiving at her and Grandpa's house. Their house smelled so good... like roses, and when it didn't smell like roses, it smelled like good food cooking. She made huge, yummy breakfasts. She and the family had a successful family business, a rose garden where they sold roses to the whole world. My grandpa and grandma loved to travel, too. One time, I was about 8, and my mother used to lead me on guided meditations, after which I would meditate by myself for about 45 minutes. That time, I was meditating, and I guess I suddenly told my mother, ' Grandma and Grandpa are on the airplane and they are coming back from Europe.'I had no way of knowing this, but that evening we got a call from Grandma, and she said that they had just arrived from Europe. Another of their travel memories is when they came to Japan. They came a few times, I think. They liked it very much. They went to visit Hiroshima, and when they came back, they gave me a souvenir. It was a book of bonsai. It was one of the things that brought me to this country in the first place.
Thank you Grandma and Grandpa, for many wonderful memories and including me in your lives. I hope that you are both happy and together. Rest in peace. With love, Sofia.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Festival of Art and Music

I somehow pulled through not being able to talk on Friday to singing onstage on Saturday.
Last week and the previous, I had a horrible cold, but I had put a lot of effort into translating the school song and memorizing it so that I could sing it in the Music and Art Festival on Saturday. I went to the doctor on Friday, he gave me medicine and the miracle of modern science laid its blessed hands upon my destiny. On Saturday I could talk!
I had also been working on a huge painting of my grandma and I, and for about a week, had not been able to paint her face. It eluded me. How to paint her face?? With what technique? What lighting? 15 minutes before leaving the house, I worked on her face, and was able to finish it.

My students were waiting at the event. We were to sing the Phonics ABC song that I composed and recorded for their lessons. Then I would sing the school song, and then I would do live painting to a song that Shinpei produced for me the night before, and to another song.

It was the fifth and sixth graders waiting there. They were so cute and excited. We went onstage and they sang. I felt bad because when they were done, they asked me what to do, and I didn't clearly know, so I suggested that they get off stage so the show could continue. I didn't tell them to bow, so I felt bad. I am wondering how I can apologize to them...

Anyway, the show moved on to me singing the school song. I had painted a painting for the song, since I didn't think I could sing it. The painting portrayed the elements of the song.

Finally, the last song came on. I was ready, Japanese paintbrush in hand, to do the watercolor. It was a nice live-paint session. This is the 3rd time that I have done live-painting, and it was really relaxing. I really love the song that Shinpei made. He used a voice sample of mine to make it. The second song was one that I recorded ad-lib in Kurume with a guy named Masato. He palyed the guitar and I sang, and we recorded it. I really love that song. It was so nice to paint to those pieces, and I got a lot of positive comments about the painting and about how it made people feel at peace. I was also told it had a healing effect. I am so glad that things worked out.

The rest of the festival lasted until 12 midnight. There were all sorts of musical performers. Rock bands, folk guitar, classical guitar with vocals, karaoke with no words cover songs, and more. There was a duo from another town who will have a play in a month. There was a guy from Takanabe who played the Jamisen, an okinawan instrument, and the flute. And finally, there was a Kagura performance. It was very beautiful.

Cheers to everyone and thank you Ogawa-san for putting together a great event!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Past, Present and Future

My stepmother, Lidija, called me last night. She said that my grandma had a stroke. She can't move half of her body, and she can't talk.
My mother's mother and father I often worry about. They have been getting older.
Lidija recently had a baby.
My brother's wife is pregnant.
He and his wife just got married.
I just got married a year ago.
I miss my family.
I feel like at this time, past and present and future are at a crossroads.
There are many people being born. People getting married. People near death.

I am painting a painting for the Geijitsusai, an art and music exhibit.
It is called memories. It is a memory of my mother's mother when she used to rock me, and all the memories of her life behind her, like a map. We are being watched over by a sparrow.
She loves sparrows, and so do I. When I was a baby,I used to sleep at her house. Early in the morning, the sparrows would come to play in her driveway and the roses below the window. They would wake me up with their joyful chatter. So at 5 AM in the morning, I would wake up and run to her bed and say,
"Mama Nene, Mama Nene! Los pio pios estan cantando!!" which means Mama Nene, Mama Nene! The pio pios are singing! (Time to wake up) To which she would sleepily respond, "Go back to sleep, Sofia! Its 5:00 in the morning..." I would go back and watch the birdies for hours until she woke up.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It is so nice to hear the music during preparation for lunch. It is very pleasant classical music, the from the movie "New Cinema Paradise". It reminds me... I have to go and eat lunch with the students! Yum!!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Retelling what we have learned

The students are prepairing for their Gakushu Happyou Kai or, literally, the meeting for telling what they have learned in school. They practice almost every day for a few hours.
One of the things they are learning is a traditional dance of the village, the Kagura. The dance is a call to the Goddess Amaterasu, calling her to a beam of light that they create through the dance. Its a pretty cool idea, and the dance itself, although it looks easy, is actually pretty hard to master.
This dance and music remind me very much of an indian Pow Wow. There is a drum, a banging board, and a bamboo flute. The dancers hold a sword in one hand, and a bells on a stick in another. The dancers cut the air or do complicated foot movements while shaking the bells. It is an interesting dance to learn, and it makes me want to know more about Native American dances, and other native dances, in order to compare what is similar or what is different.
I am looking forward to winter, when the Kagura is danced every Saturday in December, from night until morning.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Today the wind rushed over themountains, as if chasing its big brother, the typhoon. It brought the smell of the ocean from far away to this mountain village and my junior high school. I miss the smell of the ocean in the mornings.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sports Day Preparation

These past few weeks have been very busy at school! We are preparing for the annual Sports Day Festival, something that happens at every school in Japan. The students are put through rigoruos, sometimes dangerous, always trying, training. In the hot sun, they train themselves for weeks to compete in teams in the "Undokai". It always gives me new respect for the Japanese. Their patience and endurance is tested begining at an early age.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

getting ready for sports day

Sports Day is an important part of Japanese school life. The school faculty and students prepare for about two months in advance, practicing how each team will make an intrance, what activities they will do, preparing the grounds by weeding the field, practicing the dances, beautifying the school, and practicing the activities. Schools are divided into 2 or three teams. Each team has a color. This year, the teams are red and white. Students are randomly assigned a team. The elementary and JHS students are treated as one school, but the activities will be different. The elementary school students will dance the Kagura. JHS students will play the horse game, leg ties, etc.
Today we weeded the field together.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reforestation Worldwide

The problem of deforestation (loss of trees => desert) is occurring worldwide at a rapid rate.
In developing countries, people cut down trees to sustain their own lives, but in the end are worse off than before, because nothing will grow in a desert.
When people remove the trees from an area, the area becomes dry, and seed dispersing animals dissappear.
The plants that are there already cannot live in a dry environment and die under the dry heat.

There are two inspiring stories I'd like to share, one that I learned about for the first time today, and the other I learned about several years ago.

I heard about the story of Toyama many years ago. He is an old Japanese man who is planting trees in the Gobi Desert of China and Mongolia. He has been doing it for 15 years, since he was 80. He is now 96, but is still trucking. You can read Toyamasan's story here.

The other story is of Jane Wynne, at Wynne Farm in Haiti. I first read the article on Haiti today on NPR. Haiti is suffering from severe environmental degradation. She is one of few people who is preventing it at her farm. She also educates Haitian children about how to prevent deforestation, and teaches them how to plant. Here is the Wynne Farm story.

Related to the issues that face rural areas, is the heat issue that faces cities. Cities are technically deserts, more or less. There is an ocean of rooftops reflecting the sun. Something called the "Heat Island Effect" affects cities where there are not enough trees. These cities are very hot. For a long time, I was really interested in becoming an architect, and designing "Green Roofs" to help with the environmental issues that face cities. You can read more about Green Roofs at my website, http://www.spaz.org/~sofia/greenroof.html

Recently my JHS students have been studying about Mother Theresa. She was like Wynne and Toyama. She focused her energy on helping, and was successful in saving the lives of many homeless children in Culcatta.

Today I realized that anyone can help with global problems if they try.
I also realized that most people don't want to step out of their little lives to help the world. They feel too busy, there are too many issues in their own lives.
But there are problems everywhere, even in our own towns, like homeless issues and orphaned children, and hot, dry asphalt in our cities. If I think about myself, I don't really do anything to help, I have dreams, but I don't act upon them. How to plan, donating time, and other issues get in the way...but really...

If everyone stepped out and acted like Lynne and Toyama, we would have a wonderful world.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nishimera Mountains

We have been landlocked for a month now... there was a landslide and we can only leave one way. But these mountains are so beautiful.

We have been taking ane extra hour detour to go to Hitoyoshi, but finally, on Thursday night, the road will open up.
Friday is my birthday, I will be 33!
Many fruits of Summer we have been enjoying...
From June 2009

Cute and various mushrooms!
From June 2009

From June 2009

Abandoned buildings!
From June 2009

From June 2009

The bunnies at the elementary school!
From June 2009

"Kuagata mushi" and "Kabuto mushi"

I wanted to share my favorite bugs with you, and give you a little background, too.
When I lived in Mexico, when I was 12, we had to do a horrible homework task, for which I got a "0" because I didn't do it. I have never done anything that involved extreme animal cruelty for school, and I consider this to be cruel. Each student had to find 30+ bugs, freeze them, and pin them to a cardboard and identify them. I didn't want to hurt the bugs, so I didn't do it. But other kids did, and they came back with some huge beetles, with horns and fangs.

At the time, I thought that they were really strange, but now that I live in Japan, I know that they are the most popular pet in this country. Every little 5 yo boy has at least one. They fight them, the one that gets the other one out of the circular area wins. At least, this is legendary, but I haven't ever actually seen them fight them. Mostly they jst hold the bugs and play with them. There are two kinds, Kuagata mushi(Stag Beetles, in English), with jaws, and Kabuto mushi (Rhinoceros Beetles), with big horns. I like Kuagata best.
From June 2009

They eat nutritious jelly that you can buy at the store here in Japan... in other countries you could feed them watered down maple syrup or honey maybe soaked in a paper towel. In the wild they eat sap, nectar and fruit as adults, and wood chips as larvae.
Here is more information about Stag Beetles, or Kuagata Mushi.
They are kept in plastic containers, in woody soil, with their jelly, over the summer.
They are found all over the world.

I don't recommend keeping them as pets (for more than a few days),
because they only have a few months to mate, after having been underground as larvae for a long time, one to three years. They die if you touch them too much, too.
So I keep my beetles for a few hours, and then let them go. They are fun to play with.
The last time I let one go, I put her in one of my planters outside, and she came back the next night for me to feed her some more jelly!
It was cute.
From June 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cleaning up the Topiary at JHS

Lately I've been working in the garden at the Junior High School, cutting away at the topiary and bushes. They are like big bonsai, and I have been having a lot of fun.
The driveway.
From June 2009

The courtyard...
*Photo deleted to protect those involved*
and after (the Principal helped me remove the trees)
From June 2009

Its so green around here, and it rains so much... I think that they do this every year and it grows back....

Friday, July 10, 2009


From Sofia's Myriad of Colors

The cicadas have been singing...
"meee, meeee, meeee..." late into the evening.
They are so pretty, with their delicate wings, and their three ruby eyes on their heads.
I really love them.

Cicadas spend one, passionate week flying around, mating, and making a lot of noise. Then they die.
But before that week, they have been underground for a number of YEARS! Depending on the species, 3, 7, even 14...
These cicadas were acting shy...
From Sofia's Myriad of Colors

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Moths and other bugs

I have a theory about the bugs around here. It is that they have cycles of 2 weeks.
Every two weeks we have a new huge population of bugs of a new species, and the prior one has quickly faded in number. Recently it has been cute little green bugs with waggy tails and perky wings. Of course, there are always the fewer odd bugs: moths, flies, others, plus spiders. It gets very lively at night here by the river.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pruning At Nishimera Junior High School

Today I pruned some bushes at the top of the school driveway. I really like pruning. It reminded me of when I used to work for an older couple in Sonora, California, when I was ging to Columbia Junior College. I used to prune his apple and pear trees, and take care of his garden. I also made me miss having a garden of my own. But its nice that I can help to take care of the school grounds!