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Yuki Kawauchi, the Marathon Rock Star

October 26, 2015 KUMIKO MAKIHARA Runner’s World Others may run faster, but no one runs as frequently fast as this manga-loving salaryman. The boy is running hard, his breathing loud and choppy. He sees his mother up ahead, standing at the spot on the asphalt path that marks the end of the lap. She’s looking […]

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Running With Perseverance

March 2, 2012 KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — I got a lot of kudos recently for finishing the Tokyo Marathon, my first long race. But I feel a bit guilty receiving any praise. For me, the run was a self-centered goal to keep motivated to stay fit. I was […]

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Kimono Lessons

March 3, 2011 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times A few weeks ago, I casually agreed to join a group of mothers who wanted to wear kimonos to our children’s elementary school graduation ceremony. It sounded like a fine occasion to let one of our family robes out of the storage […]

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Toilet Worship

February 1, 201 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO “There’s a beautiful, beautiful goddess in the toilet. Clean it every day, and you’ll be beautiful like the goddess.” So sings Kana Uemura, her rich, melodious voice soaring in the ode to her deceased grandmother. In a nearly 10-minute-long ballad, Uemura […]

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Too Tall for Japan?

July 7, 2010 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — Racial profiling had never struck me as a personal issue. I am a Japanese woman living in Japan after all, where less than 2 percent of the population is foreign. And even among that sliver of a share, the majority […]

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Imperial Adjustments

May 27, 2010 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — The drizzly weather didn’t dampen the excitement at the annual spring imperial party last month as the royal family strolled along Tokyo’s Akasaka Palace grounds. Mao Asada, the Olympic figure skating silver medalist, was so overwhelmed when Emperor Akihito spoke […]

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The Right Amount of Modesty

February 26, 2010 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — When I e-mailed a school mother to congratulate her on her daughter’s prize-winning report, she wrote back that she didn’t know anything about it. “My daughter did it all by herself,” the mother replied. I was so impressed that a […]

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Hand-To-Hand Combat

January 29, 2010 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — As I gazed up enthralled at the ornate, pink columns in the ancient city of Petra, I heard the annoying chant again: “Chi chi no cement.” My 10-year-old son and his cousins were shouting the words to a Japanese hand […]

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Tokyo’s Rush Hour Madness

December 1, 2009 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times Clean, fast and punctual, Japan’s rail system is normally a pleasure to ride. But rush hour is grueling and leads people to shed their polite facade. What a great vantage point the packed cars offer for a glimpse into the raw Japan. […]

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Identically Distinctive

December 1, 2008 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — I witnessed a bizarre scene at my son’s primary school earlier this year. A dozen or so school mothers had encircled a teacher and were bowing deeply. They were apologizing after being scolded for chatting too noisily at a field […]

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Japan’s Subtle Etiquette Code

July 10, 2007 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — Every day in Japan I face etiquette dilemmas. My son returns from camp with another child’s clothes. Do I ship them back dirty, which seems sort of mean, or do I launder them, which would cause the owner to lose […]

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How I got a Certificate in Common Sense

June 6, 2007 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — When I picked up my son Yataro last spring after his ski camp, the train station was abuzz with children talking about who got which certificate. “Yataro didn’t get the bronze pin,” one girl ran up to inform me. I […]

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The Comfort of Courtesy

October 7, 2011   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times The woman at the lost baggage counter at the Portland, Oregon, airport took down my information matter-of-factly and told me my luggage would be delivered overnight. The bag never came. I retrieved it myself the following morning on my way to […]

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Acclimating From Tokyo to New York City

August 10, 2011   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times NEW YORK — “Is it dangerous here?” my 12-year-old son asks me as we walk down a street in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, passing the assortment of residents ranging from the fit-looking woman walking a dog to a deranged […]

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Afraid of Dying Alone

April 9, 2012   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times NEW YORK — My friends in New York City laugh at me when I tell them of my latest fear: dying alone and not being discovered for weeks. It doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched possibility to me. I have high-blood […]

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Look Who’s Teaching Smartphone

July 4, 2013 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — My 77-year-old mother taps out e-mails on her iPhone no sweat, but she still asks me, “Will my e-mail address work on that computer?” Instead of admiring her resolve to master the smartphone, I become snarly as I try to […]

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Changing Tongues

June 26, 2012 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times NEW YORK — My son is on an English language high. After 10 months at a U.S. boarding school, it’s as if the Japanese words stored in his brain have been replaced with English ones that flow forth freely every time he […]

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Character Values

December 13, 2011   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times The letters on my nails have nearly grown out, but I can still read them. One is the Chinese character for the first syllable of my son’s name, and the other means perseverance. I had asked a manicurist in Tokyo to […]

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One Son, Four Characters

March 20, 2010   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times The postcard-sized paper my son brought home from school had four imposing Chinese characters written vertically down the middle. It was from a school assignment where the fifth graders each selected a yoji-jukugo, or four-character idiom, that best suited another classmate. […]

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Japan’s Year in Words

December 15, 2009   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — “Herbivorous men,” “fast fashion” and a “change of government.” Those were among the top 10 phrases that best captured the spirit of Japan in 2009 according to the publishing house Jiyu Kokuminsha, which produces the annual list. Not quite […]

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The only warmth in my life is the heated toilet seat

March 26, 2007   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — Pity the lonely Japanese salaryman, or white-collar worker, who wrote that ode to his electrically warmed commode. The poem was an entry to this year’s annual Salaryman Senryu Contest (senryu is a form of Japanese short poetry). I had […]

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The Boy in the Mirror

July 19, 2011   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — “What are you going to say if I don’t make it?” my son asked me before he left for a long-distance ocean swim required by his school. “I’ll say, ‘Can’t you even do that? What a waste of tuition!”‘ […]

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The Legacy of Human Torpedoes

November 3, 2010   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times I was blown away when my son told me he wanted to do his sixth grade research project on Japan’s human torpedoes, the manned missiles that crashed themselves into enemy ships toward the end of World War II. Since then I’ve […]

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