Tag Archives: Freshly Pressed

More than Japan

blur{A row of lifeguards-in-training at Ohama Beach, Shimoda.}

A thing that is a blessing at one point in your life can end up holding you back.

In March of 2012, I was Freshly Pressed for the first time. This is a very big deal among WordPress users as it means that an editor digs your work and wants to share it with the WordPress community. Suddenly, my little blog, which I have tended with love since 2006 was flooded with thousands of visitors who wrote lovely comments and left my blog-world forever altered.

The post was called How to be a Japanographer and so I thought, “Aha! This is what people like… so I’ll write more of that.” And it worked. Which is to say that I was Freshly Pressed again (twice, more) for The Problem with Foreigners (May 2012) and When a Place becomes Home (February 2014).

If you know me or if you have read my blog for a while, you’ll know that it’s no hardship for me to write about Japan. I feel so fortunate to live here. I receive all the gorgeous benefits of living in an efficient, well-organized and harmonious country without the rigorous expectations and obligations that I would experience were I  Japanese. We foreigners call this relative freedom the “Gaijin license” which means that we have permission to screw up from time to time.

I love Japan.

None of us, however, should be defined by one interest. We don’t love only one thing. Humans are, by and large, multi-passionate creatures.

Here’s my Twitter profile:
twitter me

A short list of what most rocks my world:
1. Loving your life @ home. Being an explorer in your own back yard whether you live in Ottawa or Yokohama.
2. Creativity: writing, photography, visual-storytelling and interior design.
3. Thriving emotionally, physically and spiritually. Being + becoming truly well and healthy. Yup… I am a Counselor. 🙂
4. Travel. Choose your adventure… from little trips to Shimoda to close-to-perfect weeks in Paris.

To honour and further explore these passions, I have created a new set of categories for my site: At home, Create, Thrive and Wander. These four words are like a road map for my site, life and future business. My own personal constellation of yummy goodness.

I’ll be writing more about all of these passions and plan, in particular, to spend more time writing about writing. As Austin Kleon would say, I’m going to “show my work”. I am also going to play with formats… skinny prose for some posts and prose for others.

My plan is to publish new posts three times a week including a new photography project that I’ll be sharing here. This makes me VERY happy!

The lovely DP even made a new header (on his birthday, no less) to help celebrate the changes on my website.

I’m also jumping into the deep end of the pool with the creation of an online course, The Geography of Now. The six week course begins on Monday 15 September and includes lessons on basic photography and the writing of skinny prose (my nickname for my blogging style). Two important themes that run throughout the course are noticing and gratitude. There are lots of fun activities and exercises; these are opportunities for you to practice your photography and writing in a very safe and supportive environment.

If this course sounds interesting to you and you would like more information about signing up, please subscribe to my newsletter here. {You simply fill in your name and email address in the little box. You will then be directed to check your email account for a message that asks you to confirm this subscription.} The newsletter will arrive in your inbox every two weeks.

So this is my gentle way of saying that the blog-house is going to change a bit over the next few weeks. If it’s not your thing, I will totally understand. Really! I’m not just saying that. A blog house, like an actual house, should be filled with people who really want to be there.


Freshly Pressed Yummy Goodness

Welcome to the lovely visitors who have headed over from Freshly Pressed to read The Problem with Foreigners. (If you’ve already read the post, you know that the “problem” may not be the same as the one you anticipated!)

I’m really grateful that you’ve stopped by… and am encouraged by your comments!

As an international educator, I write quite a bit about culture. Here are some posts I have written about my life in Japan where I have been living for a year now:
The Story of Japan and Me
Following Happiness Home
An Ode to Transparent Umbrellas
How to be a Japanographer
What the world whispered
In the Middle
The Walk Home

Thanks again for your visits and your kind words.

The problem with foreigners

She and I enter the elevator.
As always,
in Japan,
we move to the back
and slide like shoji*
into our respective spaces,
giving each other room
while saving the other
the embarrassment
of eye contact
in such a tiny space.
She then slides closer to the handrail
and places her hand over her bag.

I look around
but there is nobody else.
Just her and me
in our little pulley-boat.
I am the danger?
In my 40’s, a {mostly} sweet Canadian woman.
A Counselor.
A person who cares for others
for a living.

The metal doors open.
The woman explodes
out of the elevator.
Not very Japanese, I think.

An epiphany lands lightly.

The problem with foreigners
in Japan
is that there is no way
for the Japanese to know if
(and to what extent) we:
1. know the rules
2. understand them
3. are committed to following them.

This is not your garden-variety
about the foreigners.

In Barcelona,
locals would hush happy groups
of English speakers
even though the hushers themselves
were speaking much more loudly
in Catalan or Spanish.
They found us
(and our habit of speaking English in public)
To them,
we seemed like children.
Entirely too happy,
we were
seen as simple.
(And very poorly dressed.)
What I felt was disdain or contempt
at worst.


The bottom line is that we
(strangers, quite literally)
did not change the fabric
of daily life in Barcelona
for the Catalans.

The sweet life…
as embodied by tapas and cava
and the reverence for a long lunch
as well as the not so sweet…
bureaucracy and bad service,
these things
continue to thrive
in spite of
the arrivals and departures
of foreigners in Gaudi-landia.

In Japan,
I never feel contempt.
(The Japanese are much better
than Catalans
and Canadians
at keeping their thoughts
to themselves.)

What I feel
from the Japanese
is genuine concern
about the way they live their lives.
Japan didn’t get to be
the safest, most secure and courteous
nation in the world
by accident.

There is a code for behaviour for every occasion.
How to…
Enter and get off the metro. (Walk on the left, please.)
Greet people. (With deference. Bowing.)
Give money. (In an envelope. Always.)
Carry your umbrella when entering a restaurant. (Wrap it in plastic.)
Stand when waiting to use the ATM. (On the green foot prints)

At first,
I found these rules
A dirty, brown albatross around my neck.
(As an order-loving, type A Canadian,
I was actually surprised to feel this way.)

But the abundance of rules
brought out the rebel in me.
I channeled my inner James Dean.

Now it’s been ten months
(sometimes it takes months
or years to get the rhythm of a place)
and I am starting to get it.

They like Japan the way it is.
They don’t want it to change.
I get how they feel.

When DP lost his wallet
in a taxi,
it came back
with all the cash.
When I left my computer in a restaurant
my little silver machina was right there
30 minutes later
when I returned
wild-eyed and breathless.
The order and restraint
shown by of millions
of Tokyo train commuters
every day
is a miracle.
(The Pope
should show up
to see it.)

Most of us
love these things about Japan.
We appreciate
the Japanese way of life
and try to emulate
this behaviour
as best we can.
We also want Japan
to stay
and courteous.

But the Japanese are right.
Foreigners have different
We weren’t raised the same way.
We may not have been taught
to spot the dropped glove
and place it on the closest bench
where the owner of just one glove
will return and find the mate
waiting patiently.

Not very good at hiding our emotions.
So fixated on placing our own needs
before the collective.

We are unpredictable
in a country that depends
on predictability.

Please know that so many of us are trying.

*In traditional Japanese architecture, a shōji (障子) is a door, window or room divider consisting of translucent paper over a frame of wood which holds together a lattice of wood or bamboo.

Freshly Pressed Gratitude


If you are new here,
sent over from Freshly Pressed,
I’d like to welcome you!
Pull up a comfy chair
and stay a while.

If you liked
how to be a japanographer
I think you’ll enjoy:
The Tale of the Charming Sale and the Sun.

a heartfelt thanks
to those of you
who “liked” a post,
left a comment,
re-blogged a post
or followed MonnaMcDiarmid.com

You’ve made my day
(even) lovelier.

how to be a japanographer

a long time ago
in mexico
my teacher-friend heather dowd
spoke of her time in japan
in a quiet voice
as if we were in church.

“it’s not possible”
she said,
“to take
a bad photo
in japan.”

i loved
that she thought that.

i confess
to a box full of bad shots
of japan.

i took them when we first arrived.

after two years in bangkok
(an extrovert’s city
where people never stop
we moved to japan.

our arrival
was not a gentle
touching down
but the crash-landing
of foreigners
who don’t yet know their way.

the first english we heard
a message on the airport shuttle
“please do not annoy your neighbours.”
too late.
we were cymbals and horns honking
while japan looked politely away.

time passed
in that gracious way
that time has.

we still can’t tell a taxi driver
how to get to our house
but we’re acclimating.

to really live in japan
one must learn
to slow down.

& listen.

like little kids
crossing the street,
we learn
to pay attention.

at the early learning centre
at our school
one student reminds another,
“cuddle soft like a feather.”
gentle hugs only.

in japan, we cuddle soft
like a feather.

i want you to know
that it’s hard
to take a bad photo
in japan.

even in the grey
concrete corners
of too-big cities
or in the jumble of things
co-existing in a too-small space,
japan is beautiful.

like a pink umbrella
on a winter’s day.

like most women,
likes to have her photo taken.

especially by someone
who loves her.