Sunday, May 24, 2015

Coffee Jelly in the Ancient City

Next month (really, in less than two weeks...) I head for Japan for a research trip.

My son (for blogging purposes, "The Sophomore") has been living and studying in Kyoto for the last three months, and will be joining me on my travels.

Ironically, I've spent the last three months receiving odd and unexpected previews of things to come, which arrive by text message--usually in the middle of the night.

Sometimes, the messages make the historian in me smile, because they come with explanations about the significance of the object shown:

Imperial palace gardens, Kyoto, Japan
Toured the Imperial palace grounds in Kyoto--they're open to the public a couple of days a year, and we happened to be here. Since the Imperial family wasn't in residence, even more of the gardens are open. Check out the bridge!

Other times, the texts look more like this:


(My Starbucks doesn't serve waffles, and now I feel gypped. And hungry for waffles.)

I've received pictures of everything from ancient fortresses:

Originally constructed by Oda Nobunaga - one of the oldest castle keeps in Japan
To cherry blossoms along the Kamo River:

Sakura in bloom, by the river, Kyoto, Japan.

And even the Sea of Japan:

Cliffs along the sea of Japan

I have traveled along, via text, to enlightened places:

Past this gate is a place of training. Only those who seek the wisdom of the Bodhisattvas may enter.

The gate which bears the plaque above.

This image actually made me burst into tears--of joy, at seeing my son in front of one of my all-time favorite Japanese landmarks:

The Sophomore at the Golden Pavilion: Kinkakuji

This accidental travelogue of my son's adventures has not only prepared me for my own trip to Japan, but led me to think about why I write fiction set in a "foreign" time and place. Through stories, we offer a window to the other--a glimpse of our differences, and also... our similarities.

At its root, mystery offers a look at the universal struggle between good and evil, right and wrong--the heroic qualities of a detective who places his (or her) own safety aside to bring justice to those who cannot speak for themselves. We can drop those themes into any place, and any time, and they resonate as true, because as humans we share good and evil across all aspects of time, and space, and culture.

Yet we do choose to drop them in places and cultures other than our own because of the beauty we find in the exotic, the lure of the "other" -- the details that inspire the writer's imagination as well as the reader's.

Next month, I head for Japan to find more inspiration to share through stories, blogs, and photographs. I'm excited to see the things I've written about and studied for so many years. I'm also glad my son's unexpected texts brought the point so sharply into focus. It helps me see not only Japan, but also my fellow MIE bloggers' lands, with new and curious eyes.

And, just in case that got too deep... I'll close with the most recent set of photos and messages from my son (unaltered, and exactly as sent last night):

Coffee jelly...comes with cream.

Coffee jelly (with cream added)

Coffee Delicious!
Coffee jelly (was delicious).

Consider it a preview of delicious things to come....

-- Susan, on Sunday--whose next installment will come to you from Japan.


  1. I so enjoy reading your posts, Susan. My visits to Japan have all been wonderful and memorable. Once, as a thank you for something unexpected I had done for the company I was consulting for, my work group took me out for sushi (which I love) - but the real reason was to treat me to fugu - which did make my adrenalin flow strongly despite the itamae tasting it first.

    1. What fun, Stan - and thank you for the lovely compliment! I'm so excited about Japan - even though I won't be eating sushi myself, I love watching other people eat it. (Regrettably, the aquarium lover is...allergic to fish. Oh, the irony!)

  2. That looks like a caffeine bomb to me! Just the thing to get a crime writer through the night....

    1. Exactly! My son said it tasted just like espresso...and had a similar effect.

  3. I'm also off to Japan this week, Susan. Unfortunately a very short trip based around a conference in Tokyo. But I'm looking forward to it enormously! Even more after your post!

    1. Have a wonderful time Michael - and definitely grab some coffee jelly if you can find it. From what I understand, it's really refreshing and quite common.

  4. Bravo, the Sophomore! What lovely pictures. Like, Stan, my visits to Japan were as a consultant, so I never got to see many of the beautiful monuments. I always wanted to stay some extra days and go to Kyoto, but the trips, which also included other Asian destinations, never allowed for that. Have a WONDERFUL time on your trip, dear friend. Bring us back some stories and LOTS of photos.

    I wish you could also bring us back some coffee jelly for the hangovers at Bouchercon :)!

    1. I would absolutely bring you coffee jelly if I could! Instead, I promise to eat plenty on your behalf. :) And take tons of photos to share!

  5. Ooooh I want some coffee jelly! Please try some for me!

    1. Will do! It's supposed to be one of the best ways to stay cool in the heat of summer, and since my trip is timed to coincide with the arrival of the summer heat, I have no doubt there will be plenty of jellies and flavored ices on the menu.

  6. I think there's a groundswell consumer response evident here that Starbucks should take note of, courtesy of Sophomore's prodigious research skills.

    1. I agree. We need some of these cool things in the US, too!