tokyo food and friends or friends and food?

as completely pumped as i was to be reunited with all my wonderful friends in japan, i may even have been more excited about the food.  there is a lot of food pride in japan so i think my friends understood.  the whole week i was in tokyo i got to enjoy great company and great meals.  here’s a little smattering of photos, when i remembered to take them before digging into delicious food and of course, the ubiquitous memory lane:)



shabu shabu with my tokyo gang.


making tempura with momoru’s mama.


my favorite ramen in tokyo, rasuta ramen.


followed by dessert and coffee at mr. donut with masa.


delicious dinner with my japanese teacher and her family.


i was so lucky to chat with them about life and art and our old friends.  and chiba-sensei gave me some homemade umeboshi plums to take home.


okonomiyaki and monjayaki with masa, mariko, and


surprise!  yuki and blair all the way from australia.

fun times in harajuky with kiyomi, who brought us delicious japanese bakery lunch, sorry no photo!

interview with a public health maven.

back in 2003, right after undergrad,  i started working for this awesome women’s health center.  one of the amazing people i worked with there was this wonderful public health masters student, we’ll call her j.  j was working on a project for the cdc to find out more about the social and emotional aspects of the hpv diagnosis.  for those who don’t know hpv is the virus that causes cervical cancer, but more about that in a minute.

so cut to 2007 or so.  while i was in japan i realized that a lot of the foreign women i interacted were (like me) apt to let there healthcare needs go unmet. healthcare in japan was affordable but it was difficult at times to find the resources you needed.  also, i think that being out of the country at a time when all of this information was coming to the forefront of healthcare allowed women to feel a false sense of security.  cases of young women fighting aggressive cervical cancer were not making the english language papers.  i decided to put this interview together to see if i could get it published one of tokyo’s english language magazines.  unfortunately it did not go to print and i eventually lost touch with j.

tonight i was sorting through some old papers and i came across the original interview and decided to post it.  information presented here is minimal, certainly less than you would get from some of the stellar coverage of hpv and gardasil that i’ve heard recently on npr, but definitely worth a look.  of course, if you have questions or concerns about anything you might be experiencing you should go to your doctor or a reputable health center like planned parenthood immediately.  but you know that:)

this awesome mph student went on to medical school and i’m not totally sure what she’s up to now but i’m sure whatever she’s doing she’s kicking some serious butt!

Nicole:  So, what was your research at our health clinic about?  How did the project come about?

J:  While the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, was in its final stages of development and approval, the US CDC/NIH became interested in how the public, and women in particular, would respond to understanding more about what HPV is and what that means for their overall health and self-image.  More specifically, they were interested in the effects of receiving an HPV diagnosis on the social (how women would interact with or tell others), emotional (how a woman would adjust her self-image and react emotionally) and behavioral effects (how a woman would act, or not act, after getting the diagnosis).

The project was funded by the CDC/NIH and 5 universities were chosen to fulfill the mandate as they saw fit.  University of South Florida College of Public Health decided to recruit women from health clinics, like Planned Parenthood, and pay for their annual pap smears and an HPV DNA test, and the women who had abnormal pap smears and tested positive for HPV DNA were invited to participate in an interview or survey to discuss the diagnosis.
Nicole:  What exactly is HPV and how is it connected to cervical cancer?

J:  HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus, and yes, that means that there are papillomaviruses for other species.  It is the virus that causes all warts.  Everything from the tiny bumpy ones on your feet to the ones that cause cervical cancer.  There are over 100 types, and all are transmitted through skin contact (which is why people tell you if you touch a frog you’ll get warts, though that is NOT TRUE).

About thirty types of HPV are transmitted through genital contact, that means they can be passed without intercourse with penetration; all you need is skin to skin contact.  Condoms help because they prevent some skin contact by covering the skin on the penis, but they cannot prevent all skin contact during intercourse.  So wear a condom, it will prevent spreading other sexually transmitted infections as well.
There are two types of HPV that are spread through genital contact.  One type causes genital warts.  Though they are unsightly, they do NOT cause cervical cancer.  The type that causes cervical cancer you CANNOT SEE.  The virus attacks the skin cells and is more harmful to the cells on the cervix because the cervix is a thin, very vulnerable mucous tissue, like the skin inside your mouth.  It is easier for the virus to harm those cells and make them cancerous.  And the younger you are the more vulnerable your cervical cells are.
It is very important to understand that HPV is EXTREMELY COMMON.  Approximately 20 million people in the US currently have HPV, and about 6.2 million get a new HPV infection each year.  If you are not in a mutually monogamous relationship where you were each other’s first sexual partner for ANY genital contact, it is statistically very likely that you have been exposed.  However, the human body is very good at fighting the virus off.  Most women who are infected manage to fight off the infection before there are any effects.  The body’s ability to repair cell damage, and kill viral infection is amazing.  However, sometimes the body must work harder and an infection can establish itself in the cells.  This is why you get your pap smear yearly if you are a sexually active woman who still has a cervix.  You are getting screened to see if an HPV infection has managed to actually harm the cells of your cervix which is how we prevent cervical cancer.  Pap smear screening is one of the most effective prevention screenings available today.
Nicole:  Can you tell us a little about the HPV test?
J:  The HPV test takes a small sample of the cells collected from your pap smear and tests their DNA for signs of HPV viral DNA.  Virus injects its own DNA into cells and then the cells reproduce the virus, which spreads to neighboring cells and continues the cycle.  That is how cells start to grow out of control and become cancerous.  The DNA test is looking to see if the virus DNA is present in the cells which indicates an active infection.
HPV DNA testing is only recommended for women who have an abnormal pap smear, but the presence of HPV DNA does not mean that a woman will develop cervical cancer.  As I mentioned previously, the body is very good at fighting off infection, and an active infection should be monitored, not always immediately treated.  That is a decision a woman must make with her physician depending on her health and risk factors, like whether or not she is smoking, whether she is in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship, etc.
Nicole:  What is Gardasil and how does it work?
J:  GARDASIL is a new vaccine made by Merck & Co., Inc. and has been approved by the US FDA to prevent cervical cancer in females by administering the vaccine to women between the ages of 9 and 26.

The vaccine protects against 4 types of HPV, two that are associated with causing cervical cancer, and two that are associated with causing genital warts.  It will not prevent all genital HPV infections, nor all genital warts, but it is highly effective in preventing infection by the 4 types of HPV it guards against.  Vaccines work by teaching the immune system how to recognize viral proteins and DNA thereby starting the defense against the virus more quickly and preventing an infection from establishing in cells long enough to cause any symptoms.

soda firing with fireworks.

friday.  my day was made complex by the fact that the minivan had a minor melt down on thursday.  conking out on 22nd st. literally in front of a automotive shop which burned down about three months ago was funny, having n- from the clay co behind me at the light was lucky. she was kind enough to lend me her aaa service and found a car shop.  s- came by and helped us move the car out of traffic.  we had some fun mosquito infested converstaion while we waited by the  burned out auto shop for the tow truck to arrive.  i had to commute the next day to sarasota so my parents came and got me and i so i could drive their car to work the next day.  my luck seemed to continue because the problem was minimal, fixed on friday and i was able to get out of work early to go and pick it up.  definitely best case scenario.  with a little help from friends and family what could have been a real mess was made bearable.

friday night loading with j- ended up taking a little longer than originally planned.  when we finished up at 2:30 am we decided NOT to start at 6 am.  first turn up was at 9 am.  s- and r-sensei were firing rudy inside.  they had started at  6.  we had taken good notes during the last firing and this time everything seemed to stay on a similiar schedule.  around 6 pm s- and r- headed out.  it started to get dark.  i knew that we were looking at an estimated soda time of 1 am and though i was looking forward to the fireworks we would see after the sun went down i was starting to feel a little clausterphobic.  i’ve never been a big fan of dusk.  day is great, night is awesome.  dusk is clasuterphobic.  but once the sun fell i started to get my second wind.

once the fireworks started going we climbed out a second story window to the roof where i could see fireworks going off for 360 degrees.  the best show in my line of sight was coming from down town st. petersburg.  seeing fireworks definitely makes me nostalgic for tokyo.  there’s no fourth there of course, fireworks are a summer long thing with different areas hosting shows.  most are free, some you can pay a fee for good seating (ash and debris falling on your head good) and some you have to brave psychotic crowds to see.  in the event listings each event has a number next to it, so and so thousand for example.  knowing that the sumida river event was the biggest of the year i incorrectly thought that the number was the amount of folks in attendence.  i felt very silly when i finally realized the number was the amount of fireworks being fired off.  sumida river, the last time i went boasted 20,000 fireworks.  crazy.  regardless of the numbers thoug there is something about all that sparkly light in the night sky.  it’s breath taking.  j- said she’d considered becoming a pyrotechnician.  that would have been awesome.  just like judy chicago.

around 12:30 am we got everything ready to soda.  shot in some soda/sawdust chalupas, sprayed and then added some wood for good measure, let it burn and then shut her down.  i finally made it home around 2.

just as the exhaustion threatens to settle in, it’s time to soda and just as you think you’re going to drop from the heat, and dehydration you’re done and it’s time to start wondering what’s going to come out.

christmas or halloween??


can you see the cones?  rough, since it was taken with my cell phone.

can you see the cones? rough, since it was taken with my cell phone.

last stop.

friday after work i went to visit s-.  we walked around her neighborhood for awhile looking for apartments for me.  after my lease is up here in st. pete i am thinking i’ll move to sarasota.  i had entertained some sweet thoughts about screened in porches and tomato plants but i have recently decided that i am only looking for temporary sublets.  i love my life here in st. pete/sarasota but i am ready for another adventure.  in january of 2010 or so i am gonna roll on from these parts.  my clay co. residency ends in september, my contract with creative clay in december.  yeah, the economy is in a downward spiral, and i don’t know what that will mean in another 6 months or a year, but i know i have to keep moving forward.  there are so many good reasons to stay in one place but one thing i learned in tokyo is that it’s even when it’s easy and comfortable to stay in one place it’s not always the right thing to do.  i might have multiple jobs and a studio here, and in tokyo i had the ultimate good thing (l.o.v.e.) but there’s something bigger than all that.

getting on your train tracks and staying on them and taking them to the last stop.

new year, new life.

today is 2009.  it’s been a long year.  i started the year in tokyo, with a long term romantic partner and a job at rbr art center and even though things seemed to be in place i wasn’t happy, one year later, here i am, working at a great job and creative clay, partnerless, in residence at st. pete clay and feeling pretty good.  (i don’t miss tokyo or rbr, but i certainly miss my former partner masa, who is the best person you could ever meet.  geography is a harsh factor sometimes)  but it just goes to show you that life isn’t perfect and pretty all the time, sometimes you have to give up something you like the best for things to move forward. 

finally, after of a week of turtle life i moved my stuff into the new place with the help of my brother.  i’ll be living with on of the girls from the studio in a big place (a couple of blocks away from the old).  we’ll each be on a different side of the house with the kitchen and living room in between and we even have our own bathrooms.  A LOT more space then my little garage apartment! 

speaking of turtles, this month i’ve been working at a turtle’s pace in the studio.  i’ve completed another set of wall hangings, but that’s about it.

so new year, new life and more time in the studio starting now with the help of my favorite christmas gift, the hand built sculpture stands from my brother.  he built three, sized so that they nest together when not in use.  (pictures coming soon).

and of course some obligatory new year’s resolutions:

1.  get my etsy shop up.

2.  start taking some yoga classes or JAZZERCISE!

3.  if it’s in st. pete, bike there ALWAYS and bike the pinellas trail.

happy new year and akemashite omedetou!

here’s to staying on your path.


compass necklace

last february i visited the u.s. briefly, in an attempt to decide what my next move in life would be.  after being super broke for months and months i scraped up every last dime i could to get that ticket.  i knew i needed to get out of tokyo to figure out what i wanted to do.  i made plans to see friends one on one, to meet with old professors and art world friends and to stay with my sister in brooklyn for the first week i was in the states.  outside of whole foods in the city a women had a table of jewelry set up.  jackie said she’d bought something from her before and we went over to check it out.  renee, the artist, encouraged us to look all we liked, and to not worry about buying anything.  i don’t know if that was her tactic but i was sure that i wanted to support her work and also to own one of her necklaces.

after A LOT of decision making my sister and i bought each other compass necklaces, to help us find and stay on our paths.

i wore mine everyday until i left tokyo and i wear it nearly everyday now, to remind myself that everything i do today is building a bridge to what i will do tomorrow.

thanks sister.

why i blog.

just a note on what it is i’m trying to do here.  just saw some nice comments from someone who’s blogging i really respect and which has continually inspired me for the last couple of years.  when i was abroad i checked regularly mindfully mothering blog.  if you know me, you know that i’m not motherly inclined (at least not in the last 29 years.) but mindfully mothering, in addition to updating me on my great friend and her partner and 2 of the most awesome kids i’ve ever met (and i’m really not a kid person, meaning that i’m not good at pretending, or particularly fun, and kids just generally aren’t into me, but around max and bella i always feel like an awesome adult) has something special about it.  that’s michelle’s awesome writing style, and her ability to always be authentic. it might be hard to see the connection but mm gave me permission to live in tokyo and not LOVE every moment of it, which was really helpful, since i wasn’t.

now i’m back, and feeling like i am taking some significant steps towards my goals, living my life in a way that feels really productive and right and i’d like to record a bit of that, for myself as well as my friends and other artists.  because becoming an awesome artist is amazing but it also sucks my ass sometimes.

as i write this i am thinking about the shower i’m about to get in to wash off all the grime from a day spent hauling and stacking 10 cords (a whole freaking lot) of wood with 7 other awesome folks who are on a similiar path to mine.

i’m going to rest for awhile then head back to the studio because i’m really into it right now.  there’s a 50 pound sculpture there that needs my attention because it’s going to dry out and crack up if it doesn’t get it, or parts that i’ve wetted down will turn to mush if they sit too long.  it’s like a living thing and shit is coming out of my mind, my compost heap of images, experiences and knowledge to grow it.

it sounds woo woo, but i’m often, these days, experiencing “good job nicole” moments which is a little woo woo for me too.

life is not easy but it’s interesting.

it’s been a long time since i’ve written.  since i last wrote i’ve returned to the u.s. for the foreseeable future, started working again, got a second job teaching art part time, was accepted as an artist in residence at st. pete clay company.  in two weeks i’ll move to a small apartment in st. pete down the street from the studio.  i guess that’s the good stuff, in a nut shell.  it was hard to leave tokyo.  there was a moment where i knew i had to do it but it never felt easy.  it felt like getting torn out.  like a norplant stuck in scar tissue.  it sucked.  the hardest part was leaving masa, my partner of three years.  he understood, i guess.  it sounds cliche, but it would have been easier if he had been angry.  i had gotten so far away from knowing what it was that i wanted and he was the best thing in my life.  but unfortunately for me, having an awesome, kind, good hearted, respectful partner wasn’t enough for me. 

i got to the point in january or february where i thought my head was going to explode.  when i started crying at a saizarya in roppongi, my friend kiyomi wasn’t fazed.  she just told me i needed to stop thinking and just listen to my heart.  and that whatever i decided my friends and partner would support me.  that was exactly what i needed to hear.  i had gone over the facts a million times.  the people, relationships, money.  but at the end of the day, i couldn’t DEDUCE the right answer.  the answer was what it was and the facts were beside the point.   thanks for that kiyomi.

i went into a kind of hibrination when i got back.  i was totally broke, so i didn’t call anyone, didn’t visit the east coast, just concentrated all my efforts on getting back to work and making money.  i also forced myself to keep my nose to the grindstone in creating the best application and support materials i could for st. pete clay and following up on ads i saw online for arty jobs, and checked craigslist everyday. 

in tokyo, i don’t think i ever stopped trying.  but somehow, despite the energy i put in, none of it seemed to come back to me.  my game seemed to be off.  there were good times and good things but i couldn’t seem to get the big picture together. 

suddenly, the energy i’d been putting out in florida all summer came back to me to the extreme.  life is messy and imperfect but right now i have the opportunity to work on many things i am interested in and a chance to follow my passion.  and i am able to make some money doing it. 


it’s complicated.  but in my heart, it feels good.