I look like a movie star… when I’m in Japan


My sons are in Tokyo at the moment, which got me thinking about my years in Japan. I adore the place. Here’s a piece I wrote during my time there…

I look like Marlene Deitrich and Jodie Foster…sometimes one, sometimes the other…or perhaps a cross of both. I know I look like these two Hollywood stars because I have been told so. Constantly. So many times over the course of five years in Japan that I was tempted to start working as a celebrity double. Fortunately two factors stop me from completely believing my own press: I have eyes and I own a mirror. While I would love to resemble either of these great beauties (especially Marlene and preferably before she died) I don’t. I know I don’t. Not even on a good day, or when I’m roaring drunk. I simply understand that the Japanese need to connect you in some way to a Hollywood star.

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Four boxes of stuff: Working out what’s really important.

Four boxes of stuff: Working out what’s really important.

My ex-hubster just sold his house. I still had some things stored in his garage, so spent an afternoon clearing them out. It was an interesting experience.

Stored on a high shelf were four medium sized boxes filled with things that I hadn’t seen for years. They were from my “Japan life.”

When I left Japan, I moved to Austria. I went through the stuff that had built up in my Tokyo apartment (positively minimal by today’s standards) and shipped a box of things to Vienna.

These were the things I thought I couldn’t live without.

I’d settled into an apartment owned by my in-laws by the time the box arrived in Vienna. Six-months later, I moved to London. I packed up my things, added a few more treasures from the Vienna stay, and stored the boxes at the in-laws’ house. I figured I’d get them soon.

Years passed.

I visited Vienna but kept telling myself I’d get those boxes later. My life was so transient. I had nowhere to put them.

Fifteen years after I left Tokyo, I had the boxes shipped to my new house in Sydney.

I didn’t have time to open them. I stored them in the garage.

More time passed. My marriage ended. I moved a few times. The shape of my family changed. And then recently my ex put our old home on the market.

And I found myself in his garage going through the things I couldn’t live without… but clearly had.

Four boxes of STUFF. Four boxes of things and bits and pieces and books and memorabilia. And I realised, none of it meant anything to me any more.

I spent the afternoon searching through those four boxes looking for one thing. The final letter my grandmother ever sent me. I knew it was there. I’d placed it in one box after her death.

I searched and searched. I began to panic as each box was emptied and nothing important could be found. I barely glanced at most of the stuff. The one thing that was important was missing.

Finally I found it. The letter was tucked into the back of an old address book. The paper is so fragile now, the ink faded. I sobbed as I read it. She’d died while I was overseas. The one thing she’d left for me disappeared, taken by other family members. This letter is what I have now.

I could still hear her voice, her laugh as she wrote it, pretending to scold me over my previous letter to her. “I’m sure we brought the wrong baby home from the hospital when we got you. But don’t worry, we love you anyway.”

And signing off… “You are my first thought in the morning, my last thought at night. I love you.”

There are things… and then there are things. That letter is a treasure to me. It is the one thing I’m keeping from four boxes of stuff. It has made me re-evaluate what things are important. What things I hold dear.

There are very few things really.


It’s all Japanese to me!!!!


I once told an eighty-year-old Japanese woman that I had a full vagina. I was a guest in her home, which was tucked away in a tiny village on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. She offered me a third helping of Okonomiyaki, and I waved my hand in front of my face and said, “Oh no, thank you, my vagina is full.”

I meant stomach.

I more than stumble and struggle through foreign languages. I destroy them. Seriously. My mouth is a linguistic flame-thrower. But I at least try. I truly believe that when in Rome, you should speak… er… Japanese.

At lease that’s what I speak.

You see Japanese was the first foreign language I butchered… I mean learnt. But before long I discovered that wherever I was in the world, no matter how I tried to learn the local language, I’d open my mouth and out came Japanese.

It didn’t go down well in Hong Kong, let me tell you.

Or Taiwan.

Although the French seemed to at least appreciate that I spoke something other than English.

I actually went to language school while I was living in Vienna. I passed numerous German exams, and on paper did exceptionally well. But whenever I tried to converse at a party…


Not even good Japanese.

I once went to a dentist in Tokyo. I was a bit nervous, and tried to express my nerves (utter fear).

“I think dentists are scary” was the sentence I managed to piece together.

The dentist looked thrilled and his nurse giggled into her hand. Perhaps they didn’t hear me… so again.

“I think dentists are scary.”

The dentist puffed out his chest and strutted around the room, while the nurse giggled even more. It was only later when I recounted the story to a friend that she pointed out that “scary” and “cute” are similar in Japanese, and I’d been saying the latter. “I think dentists are cute.”

Although I’ve got to say it was the most painless filling I’d ever had.

I wish I spoke more than one language. However, I have always managed to meet, converse with, and connect with people around the world. As Thoreau said, “The language of friendship is not words but meanings.”

I always mean well… I just didn’t mean vagina!


5 great places to search for Fairies


I’m up to my eyeballs in Fey folk at the moment, as I write my new book. I do love all things magical, and Fairies are right at the top of that list. I’ve travelled the world and seen some very strange things … Here are 5 great places to search for Fairies.

  1. Lake Bled, Slovenia: Bled’s tiny island, the only island in Slovenia, is steeped in magic. One legend says the lake was originally a meadow until the fairies called up the forces of nature and flooded the whole region, leaving only the hill where they danced jutting out of the water. Drifting across the lake towards it, it’s easy to believe that the island is still home to all sorts of mythical creatures.
  2. St Andra, Austria: This tiny town in eastern Carinthia is a favourite of mine. The woods that surround it are filled all sorts of magic, from Witch burning circles, to stone circles and fairy houses—mostly found if you step off the walking tracks. Locals told me that the “Mother Goddess” is still revered, and you’ll find evidence of this all over the fields and forests.
  3. Monhegan Island, USA: This small, rustic island 10-miles from the coast of Maine has always been a haven for artists… and fairies. Scatted throughout the forest and underdeveloped hiking trails are fairy houses. This is an absolute jewel of a place, and a must-visit for any fairy-loving family.
  4. Japan: Japan’s forests and mountains are filled with all sorts of nature spirits. I love their mythical creatures, especially the tanuki, which isn’t a fairy, but certainly magical. Elementals and fey folk are hidden in every rock, every tree in Japan… but you can also see some incredible fairy creatures on the streets of Tokyo. “Fairy Kei” fashion has been popular for years. The Japanese have an amazing street fashion culture, the Fairy Kei style being just one of the many “tribes” found in Harajuku.
  5. Cornwall, UK: No Fairy World Tour would be complete without a trip to Cornwall. There are countless places to search for little people here—the whole county is steeped in magic. My favorite is St Nectan’s Glen near Tintagel. You won’t see fairy houses, but you might just see orbs of light, so have your camera ready!

Want to read more about St Nectan’s Glen and Cornwall? Read my novel Trouble Brewing, which is set in many fabulous places, Cornwall included.

I look like a movie star … when I’m in Japan


A piece I wrote during my Japan years…

I look like Marlene Deitrich and Jodie Foster…sometimes one, sometimes the other…or perhaps a cross of both. I know I look like these two Hollywood stars because I have been told so. Constantly. So many times over the course of five years in Japan that I was tempted to start working as a celebrity double. Fortunately two factors stop me from completely believing my own press: I have eyes and I own a mirror. While I would love to resemble either of these great beauties (especially Marlene and preferably before she died) I don’t. I know I don’t. Not even on a good day, or when I’m roaring drunk. I simply understand that the Japanese need to connect you in some way to a Hollywood star. They search for a resemblance to someone, anyone famous. It makes them feel like they know you. So anyone famous with whom you share a similarity, however vague, suddenly becomes your identical twin. For example, Marlene had long blonde hair, I have long blonde hair, there, we have a connection. Marlene and I are twins. As for Jodie Foster, I’m still not quite certain… she once played a women who had an unusual relationship with a cannibal and I am a vegetarian. Slight connection; YES, we have a match.

Sitting around with a bunch of inebriated Japanese as they desperately try to work out who you resemble can be great fun. If they are really stumped you can help them out with a subtle, “Well I have been told I look like Marlene Deitrich.” But usually it is best to sit back and wait. You may discover that you look like a new, completely different star. One who’s beauty is so renowned that you will ride high on the flattery for weeks… or at least another jug of Asahi. But like any game of Russian Roulette, this technique can backfire, leaving you scarred for life.

My friend Lynne and I were out one night with a bunch of rather delectable college boys whom we had met on the train, about an hour before hand. We were in an izakaya, guzzling back booze and flirting like crazy.

“Jane San, you look like… what’s her name is…you know, Taxi driver,” bellowed Top-Of-The-Range-Delectable-College Boy (known from here on as TOTRDCB)

“What? I slurred in mock horror. “I look like a taxi driver? Thanks a lot.”

“No, no, no, not taxi driver, man… you know, America-jin…Jodie Foster!!!” Bingo, he got it.

I looked suitably flattered… at least I felt I did. In reality I probably looked like a drooling drunken mess but this is my memory, not an objective version of events.

“Now me, now me, who do I look like?” squealed Lynne almost climbing on top of the table in anticipation. She flicked back her hair and tilted one shoulder forward as I had seen her do countless times before. It was her on heat look. Her lips and teeth were stained dark red from the wine she was drinking. A compact package of blonde hair, brown eyes and tanned skin, Lynne was still being asked for ID at clubs eons after she farewelled her twenties.

The Rather-Delectable-College-Boys moved in towards each other, their faces bowed in serious discussion. They nodded and murmured, obviously all in agreement.

“I’ve been told I look like Holly Hunter,” yelled Lynne. For someone so small, the girl packed an auditory punch. Loud doesn’t cover it. Every movement was under an acoustic magnifying glass. At night I could hear her coming home from work… when she was three blocks away. I would listen to the stomping clamour of her obligatory platform shoes making their way down the neighbourhood’s side streets. Finally she would stomp, stomp, stomp up the stairs of our little wooden house in a manner that registered a 6.3 on the Richter scale.

“And I think I have Sharon Stone’s nose,” she screeched. You had to give the girl 10 points for healthy self-esteem.

An air of excitement enveloped the Rather-Delectable-College-Boys. It was obvious that they had made a decision, one that they all agreed on. They turned to Lynne who was licking her wine-stained lips like an over-excited vampire. TOTRDCB cleared his throat. He was the obvious choice to deliver the final decree.

“Lynne San, you look like very famous person.”

Lynne nodded and fluttered her heavily glazed eyes. She knew it.

“You look like Kevin Costner.”

Almost five years have passed but Lynne still brings this up when she’s drunk.

Every geijin I know has at some stage or another, and quite often on a regular basis, been told that they look like someone famous. Most of my western male friends resemble Arnold Schwarznegger, which is strange seeing as, in my highly sought after opinion, the majority wouldn’t even pass for him in the dark, whilst sitting in a box singing Edelweiss. I dated a guy who was constantly told he was Johnny Depp’s twin… but if that was true we’d still be together. So obviously while being told you look like someone hugely famous, beautiful and successful is nice, if the bearer of this news is Japanese then it’s best to ignore it. A point that was driven home beautifully to me one day at the movies. A friend and I had been to see Braveheart and were sitting watching the credits roll as two women in their twenties stood up in front of us to leave.

“Did you understand what that was about?” asked the first.

The second girl shook her head in frustration. “No. All foreigners look alike to me.”

Love it!