Friday, May 28, 2021

The Japan Foundation Toronto Library is Digital

Huge news for Torontonians looking to stay connected to Japan!

Kobo and Libby
working in harmony to help me devour books

The Japan Foundation, Toronto launched a brand-new digital library last month via Overdrive, the popular library-lending app.

Since the pandemic has closed their physical JFT location, this is huge news for library lovers. It goes without saying that without regular borrowers, the library could find itself in a serious dilemma, and pivoting to a digital platform in the meantime is a great move. (Unfortunately for me as an author, Edokko is a Kindle exclusive, so you won't find it in the JFT catalogue - but maybe they'll pick up Meet You By Hachiko at some point, who knows!?)

Considering that they started from zero, I'm impressed at the collection that's been put together so far - as of this writing, just shy of 500 books, with a good mix of fiction and non-fiction, manga, and Japanese-language materials. Kudos to the library staff for their hard work, here!

JFT library card holders can borrow instantly by visiting JFT OverDrive and logging in with their library card number and PIN (last four-digits of phone number). If you're new to the Japan Foundation Toronto or haven't been in in a while, the staff will need to help you renew your card first, but it's easy and quick, and so worth it.

For me, the timing of the Overdrive launch couldn't be better, as we've almost fully packed up for a move, and all my books are currently in boxes. My Kobo Libre has been saving me with access to tons of ebooks via the Toronto Public Library, and the minute I saw the JFT had gone live with theirs, I immediately headed over on the Android app Libby to get hooked up and browse the selection. My only regret is that I can only borrow five books at a time, and I'm continually running up against that 5-book limit and having to return things I didn't actually get to read yet in favour of the holds I wanted more. 😂 What to read next!?⁠

⁠I still prefer the real-paper feel, but pandemic + moving has finally gotten me aboard the ebook train. How many of you read ebooks as well as physical...?⁠

Tuesday, May 25, 2021


 Yikes, it's been a while! I'm so sorry not to have much to share these last few months - or rather, I have tons, but have been so caught up I haven't written any of it!

Last Monday, my second novel launched in paperback and as a Kindle Unlimited exclusive.

I began working on Edokko when I was newly back in Canada and truly felt the sting of leaving Japan behind. It's a joy to see it finally in print, and the publishing process brought me back to those early days (don't miss the cameo of the Japan Foundation's Japanese-Language Institute Kansai, where incoming Osaka JETs gathered for language lessons when we first arrived!) and the ups and downs of expat life. I still miss it very much.

Edokko YA contemporary novel by Loren Greene
Available now in paperback and ebook format


Lily Jennings is Going. To. Japan.

Sixteen and on top of the world, she's beyond excited to be setting off for an entire year as an exchange student in Tokyo. Fashion and fun are foremost on her mind as she arrives ready to meet her new host family and embark on a grand adventure, livestreaming all the way.

What Lily isn't expecting, however, is for her urban host family to cancel at the last moment and leave her hanging with nowhere to live. She's shipped off to the small town of Ajimu (sorry, where!?), a billion miles from anywhere cool and exciting, with a neurotic host sister, no chances for romance, straight-up-vile classmates and a microscopic community watching over her every move.

Too bad for the people of this small town—nothing's going to hold Lily back when she wants something!

Find it on Amazon or your favourite retailer via!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Pandemic Melon Pan

An acceptable substitute, given the situation

Hello blog, it’s been awhile!

Like most of you, I’ve had little chance to be out and about in town recently, even though I’ve heard about new Japanese restaurants opening up, places closing down, changing hours, etc.

One thing I have noticed, in my neighbourhood at least, is the plethora of options for Japanese food available via delivery services that I had absolutely no idea existed. Normally I’m a bit meh on these apps, because I know a lot of them don’t give a fair cut to the restaurants, and when possible I want to support the restaurant directly. However, in the time of COVID, that’s harder than it used to be. Especially here in Toronto, where we’re under a state of emergency and all dine in options are completely closed.

I want to hope that the restaurants getting on board with DD or UE is helping spread the word that those restaurants exist and therefore are doing them at least a bit of service. I know I’ve found a couple new options in the neighbourhood and beyond that I never knew were even here.

Which brings me to the focus of today’s post!

A couple of weeks ago I started having intense cravings for melon pan. It’s been quite a while since I could get back to my regular source (....Japan), but my baking attempts in the past have also failed. I really just wanted to buy some and be done with it. I used up all my creative cooking/baking karma with the Dalgona phase (and subsequently a lot of Vietnamese egg coffees, steam milks and Thai iced tea batches) back at the beginning of the pandemic.

Muahaha, bring those tasty baked goods right to my door
In Toronto, traditional melon pan is harder to come by, and the only place I could think of that had it was Nakamura Bakery at J-Town in Markham. I thought to myself, well, I’m not willing to drive an hour for melon pan; not today, anyway. But surely something else more local must have popped up in the last 5 years!? Surely someone is making melon pan closer to downtown by this point!?

So I turned to the food delivery apps.

I did a couple of searches for Japanese food, and a couple of searches for melon pan, and I didn’t really find the traditional type that I was looking for, but I found something else of interest. Not too long ago in Baldwin Village (and two other locations), a new shop called Hattendo appeared selling cream pan, originally from Hiroshima. I’d seen their shop in Japan a couple of times; I used to walk by one when I was passing through Yokohama station. But I’d never actually tried their bread. I thought, well, they have cream pan with a melon pan top on it, and black sesame lattes, and they deliver to my house, so let’s give it a go. Ooh! Seasonal flavours!!

Turns out they don't really photograph too well, though

Hattendo’s “melon pan” is a pretty distant cousin of traditional melon pan - what I was really getting was cream pan with a melon pan top, so the interior was unlike melon pan at all. However, it did scratch that itch a little for me. And it definitely opened my eyes to the fact that there are a lot of good Japanese options that have surfaced in Toronto over the past few years.

Since melon pan day, we’ve also ordered in from Little Pebbles, a Japanese bakery in Kensington market, and I have several tasty looking izakaya dinner options marked for the next time we order in. There’s also a new ramen shop in the west end (an area that is sorely lacking in ramen at this point) called Musoshin, and they make shokupan! haven’t tried it yet, but looking forward to getting out there sometime and checking them out. Must be tough to open during this pandemic, so they probably need all the props they can get.

So the next time you’re craving Japanese food in Toronto, even if you want to go pick it up yourself to support the businesses, the delivery apps are actually excellent resources to find out what’s new around town.

In fact, I just discovered that I can get mochi donuts delivered to my house. Be right back...

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Meet You By Hachiko

Meet Yo By Hachiko paperback with sticker
Now available in stores

What would you do if your best friend lived half a world away—and suddenly vanished?

Loner Grace Ryan feels completely invisible. Awkward and shy, she can't seem to get ahead in her studies, social circle, or new relationship with her childhood best friend. But discovering Tokyo street fashion ignites her creativity and leads her into an unlikely online friendship with a Japanese high schooler.

Beautiful and fashionable Kana eats, sleeps and breathes English in order to pass her university entrance exam, but she's tired of sacrificing her own happiness for everyone else's high expectations. Kana finds a friend and conversation partner in Grace, relieved to distract herself with someone else's problems for a change.

Just when things are finally going right, Grace's best friend abandons her, her relationship falls apart, and Kana disappears without saying goodbye. Fearing for her friend's safety, Grace boards a flight to Japan... only to realize that she is completely unprepared for the bright lights and confusing streets of the real Tokyo.

Finding one lost girl among twelve million is much more than she bargained for.

Meet You By Hachiko is now available to purchase online in paperback and ebook formats, or contact your favourite independent bookstore to support local! 


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Can I Learn Japanese As An ALT?

Tokyo is a foreigner-friendly city - but that doesn't mean that everything is in English
Tokyo is a foreigner-friendly city -
but that doesn't mean everything is in English
You might already know that the December iteration of this year's Japanese Language Proficiency Test (aka the JLPT) was cancelled. It would have been an ideal year for me to test, to be honest, since until a short while ago when I started working on my writing full-time, I had a lot of time on my hands. I did a couple of months of Japanese lessons over Zoom, went full-tilt into watching Kansai-based J-dramas to help get my dialect back after 4 years of speaking 東京方言 at work, broke out all my materials last seen at the time of passing N3 in 2015. 

There was a time when I really thought I would come back from Japan completely fluent in Japanese. That would have been nice!

It does actually work for some people, especially those out in the sticks. Or if you're naturally gifted with languages! At one point I thought I was, because I'm very good at imitating correct pronunciation, and I even started my BA with a linguistics minor. Big surprise when I discovered my language talent was only for pronunciation and I am more than useless when it comes to grammar.

There's an inaccurate belief that if you move to another country to live, you will magically pick up the language via exposure, and it's a great way to become fluent. Well, unfortunately for me, there is no magic osmosis method of learning Japanese. That isn't to say that I don't think immersion is the best way - it absolutely is. I very frequently tell potential exchange students how useful a method immersion is to learn. However, the city JET experience (and, as you well know, ESID!) frequently does not lend itself well to this. There's too much opportunity to just stay in your native language, especially now when we have Google Translate at our fingertips. Every day, I went to work; in my classroom, we used English 98% of the time. Spoke English in the English Department, spoke English after school at English Club, went home to read books in English to combat homesickness, and either hung out with my English-speaking JET neighbour or chatted in English online with my friends back home. 

It was not quite what I envisioned when I moved to Japan.

It goes without saying that I did try. I socialized with my Japanese friends, took aikido classes in Japanese, went out with my co-workers, sang karaoke, attended conversation classes or struggled through translations in my spare time. I like Japanese. I wanted to learn it - I wouldn't have even been there if not for starting my linguistics minor with that first Japanese class. What I actually needed was study, and lots of dedication, and that was tough. I did all my own lesson plans and we did not use Japanese in the classroom

Hit those books!

It shouldn't have been such a big a shock to me, but I was incredibly disappointed when I got home from Japan and immediately failed N3 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I knew I hadn't worked hard enough. Not enough study, not enough reading, not enough repetition, and most importantly, I had assumed that I would just pick things up. I certainly did - but I didn't have enough grammatical foundation and reading skills to build on. 

I had the interest and drive, and I had 2.5 years of university classes under my belt before I arrived. If I'd received a placement in, say, Shikoku rather than Osaka (not that I would ever have given up my precious placement!), I would probably have achieved my goals with fewer distractions. Most JETs request urban placements, and Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto are right at the top. If you receive such an assignment, however, and you do want to become fluent, you need to have an incredible drive to learn in a limited amount of time. The former ALTs I know who are N1 or N2 fluent started out as country JETs, went to Japan on a student exchange program, or stayed on in Japan after finishing their placement - or all three!

So can you learn Japanese while teaching English in Japan as an ALT? The short answer is yes; you're in a prime position to pick up at least N5 level just by existing there for a year. If you want to become fluent, however, you need to work for it, as with anything - remember that it won't just come to you!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Hachiko Paperback Is Coming

Well, it's been a tumultuous 8 months, and with the absolute tanking of my industry, yours truly is back at her computer full-time. 

Doing what? Well...I've decided to turn all my attention to my writing, going forward. 

I never expected this, after more than a decade away from my freelancing career, but in that decade I happen to have completed or partially-written 4 novels (two of them Japan-centric), so it felt like the universe was giving me a boost. A boost in which I am stuck in my apartment with 800+ COVID cases popping up in Ontario daily, no job, and the very helpful support of my partner telling me he'd rather I not be working in any job where I have to leave the house. So here's a trial period; for the next eight months, working on these novels is my job. Taking them from unfinished to finished, and doing all the necessary polishing and marketing, is my main focus right now, starting with Meet You By Hachiko

So what's new? Well, after 8 months on the Kindle Store, Hachiko is finally getting a paperback copy!

There were definitely points in time when I honestly didn't think this book would ever be on anyone's bookshelf. It was originally a project in my free time leading up to Christmas 2009. I thought that a story about two teen girls, Canadian and Japanese, bonding over their interest in early-2000s Harajuku street style was a touch too niche for most mainstream North American publishers, and teen fiction is well out of the usual scope for the Japan-centric publishers. 

Thanks to progress, though, of the kind I never could have imagined in 2009, here we finally are! Within the next six weeks, the paperback will be on Amazon. After that, who knows what's next!? You can find it on Amazon Canada, or

 Expect this blog to be coming back in some capacity as well, when I need a break from the editing drudgery. 

 It's a tough time to be missing Japan (when I was last there, in no way did I ever think I would be away from it this long!) and blogging about that probably isn't going to help much, but maybe I can make it a little easier on those of you who are missing it, too. 

 Thanks for sticking with me!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

It Finally Happened

Something was holding me back for a long time, but you know what? I decided, a ridiculous ten years later, that I was going to put this out there.

Thanks all, for your support!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

TOKYO CITY 憶えているかい ホームの片隅で

So I've been fairly busy with a lot of things lately, and while I tried (and will continue) to keep work-related things off the blog, I thought I'd check in and note that I recently finished my job in one local Japan-related field and moved to another. I'm sad to have left my office and the great people there, but my contract was ending, and an opportunity came up that I couldn't refuse. So what this does mean for me...?

As it turns out, it means a lot of travel to Japan.

I'm so excited to have already been back to Tokyo (and eventually I want to take a vacation to my true second home Osaka, of course) and the first visit was really and truly surreal. Maybe it sounds really silly, but I think anyone who has had their heart in two countries at once can relate. It's not about Japan itself but the feeling of being immersed again in a place that was once "home" that I missed very much. 

I took the train from Narita out to Azabu-Juuban, and on the long ride, it was hard to do anything but wax nostalgic! It was early, but even on a Saturday at 8 AM, students in uniforms were taking up most of the train car. On their way to their club practices, I'd imagine. One high school-aged boy sat beside me and I immediately recognized his cologne or body spray as a familiar scent from my own classroom at 〇〇 High School. I'd never been on that train line before or seen that scenery, but just being there on that train, sitting with the Saturday shoppers and the schoolkids and breathing the air and seeing the signs fly past the window, I was feeling so natsukashii

I wasn't meeting my friend until 9:30, so I strolled through Azabu-Juuban for a time, a little wowed from how it had changed since I last visited, with Ami-chan years before. Ichinohashi Park was completely gone, and a construction site was in its place. Azabu-Juuban's main station entrace, outside the Shotengai, had also been spruced up a bit. Funny, but I never visited Azabu again after taking Ami-chan there, even when I had lots of time to kill in Tokyo in the past. I guess I felt that as a pop-culture location, most of the places I would have liked to see had already been gone for years by the time I moved to Japan. 

It was really nice walking through there though, and after a stunning only-in-Japan Cantaloupe Melon and Cream Frappuccino at Starbucks and a melon pan run, I eventually ended up in Roppongi Hills to meet my friend. We saw the Sailor Moon exhibition and had lunch at CoCo Ichiban, which I really still don't have the recipe nailed down for yet. Then we were out of time, and I had to head to work.

I was trying to pretend that this was a normal Tokyo trip like the many ones I'd taken before, but as on the visit to Japan a year ago, I couldn't shake the sense of "limited-time" urgency. I probably never will be able to manage that totally, given that when you're on a company trip, the clock is ticking. On the bright side, the next trip is already in the calendar.

See you soon.

Friday, November 20, 2015

If You're Happy And You Know It

Ride a bike!

(But not in Toronto, in winter.)

It really is unapologetically pink...I guess I see why M was so dismayed when they opened this sucker up at Calgary Airport!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Young and the Chariotless

When I landed back on Canadian soil in August of 2010, the first thing I did was purchase a bicycle. Having a new bike right away, I hoped, would take away the sting of leaving behind my mama-chari in Osaka, at the very last minute, as I hastily dropped the keys with a Post-It note on my co-worker's desk on the final day. I needed the bike right up until that day, and I didn't have time to deal with boxing it up for transport across the Pacific. I thought that at least if I left it at school, it would be used by someone, and perhaps someday I would see it again. I took the second key home with me, just in case.

The first week home, I bought a cheap Wal-Mart bicycle. I needed to get to work, and I'd become accustomed to the independence of travelling by bike. I also bought a helmet, because unlike in Japan, I was significantly more concerned about being hit by a car. It was a Raleigh five-speed cruiser, and not an expensive one; it did have a partial chain guard, which was the main thing I was missing about my mama-chari at the time, as I remembered ripping up a few pairs of jeans on my mountain bike as a youth. It also had the curved handlebars I liked on cruisers. 

I have to assume the Japanese adapted their bicycles from European ones, as they were trading with the Netherlands as early as the 1600s; Japanese bikes bear strong similarities to Dutch ones. The covered chain guard and skirt guard are very uncommon in North America. Fender mudflaps and rear racks occasionally show up on American-made bikes, but are considered standard in Japan, along with the rear wheel lock and ubiquitous front basket. I would have liked to go for a bike with all the trimmings, but I had to settle for what Wal-Mart had in their inventory at the time. In retrospect, I was actually lucky to get a bike that had two out of the six features I wanted. I installed a rear rack and basket myself.

Eventually, as all Wal-Mart bikes are wont to do, my bike began losing steam in its 4th year, and during a particularly rough trip down into the Nordheimer Ravine one autumn, my jacket bounced out of my rear basket and twirled itself around the derailleur, which fortunately did not end in my dying in the ravine. The bike was never particularly good at switching gears again.

Dutch in action at Casa Loma
But we're going off on a tangent now. As I searched for a replacement to my bike (I had taken that cheap Wal-Mart bike with me on the plane to Toronto, wrapped in a tarp - can you believe it?) I decided that it had to be Dutch or nothing. I wanted a skirt guard; I wanted a proper rear rack. I wanted a mama-chari. I walked down Bloor Street taking photos of bikes I liked and jotting down their make and model to Google later. I never walked by a bike without giving it a once-over. To my surprise, the premium to get such luxuries as full chain guards required paying CAD $600+ for the bike. As I looked at bike shop after bike shop, almost buying a Giant-brand Liv Simple, I realized that I would never be able to tick all the boxes affordably. I finally settled for a step-through Beater Bike, with a partial chain, and a rear rack. What I hadn't bargained on was how much less hill-friendly the Beater was going to be compared to my Raleigh, with its fat tires and five speeds. The Beater, gorgeous though it was, was useless on hills, and the tires were the perfect size for getting caught in streetcar tracks. Riding it was exhausting. So I went back to the drawing board, formulating a plan for my trip to Japan in February to just buy a cheap mama-chari, have them box it up right in the shop, walk it to the post office and pay to have it sent home. I figured I'd be out $150 for the bike, $50 for domestic, $100 for the international shipping. Maybe a bit from customs on the other side. That sounded a lot better than the $600-ish I was pricing for Dutch-style bikes with gears in Toronto.

I think you guys already know this is going to go downhill.

I left the job of actually buying one until the last moments of our trip. I looked at bikes at Asahi Cycle in Rinku Town and Tokyo, but I never spotted one close to a post office (an essential for this plan to work). Eventually, when I was on my own in Tokyo with just one day left in the trip, I realized this wasn't going to work. I went on Rakuten and found a seller that did international shipping for Daiwa bikes, and I bought a cute pink Nana+ bike. No need to drag anything to the post office myself! They shipped to Canada!

...except that they only shipped to Canada through their proxy service. I had used Tenso before, but not in a few years, and the hoops they had me jump through just to get the bike shipped anywhere were out of this world. I waited two weeks without seeing my item appear on the "my page" section, even though the domestic shipping said it'd been delivered. I emailed them, and had no response for days. I started to worry that maybe this company was less reputable than I originally thought. I sent a third help request, which got a response at last, and was informed since it was oversized, they hadn't yet connected the purchase to my account, oh, and also it was too oversized to be shipped abroad. It had arrived fully assembled. I learned later that this is the standard for bike shops in Japan. Tenso said they were unable to downsize it for me by removing the pedals/turning the handlebars, as they weren't trained to do so.

From there we began the lengthy process of finding a solution, any solution. Tenso offered to ship it elsewhere in Japan for me, but in order to do that, I had to verify my address in Canada. Mind you, I'd already done that when I bought things through Tenso in the past, but it had to be done again, including scans of my driver's license and the receipt of a postcard at my mailing address in Canada. That's right, I had to wait for a physical postcard to arrive by postal mail at my apartment. Only when they were satisfied that I really did live at my address in Toronto would they allow me to redirect the bike somewhere else, but obviously, not to Toronto! They urged me to let them courier it to a friend.

I don't have tons of friends in Japan whom I'd be comfortable asking for a favour so large as "can you receive this bike in the mail, bring it to a bike shop to take it apart, and put it back in the mail?" and even fewer that I wouldn't mind being laughed at by. (As genuinely fond as I am of my co-workers at 〇〇 High School, and as much as they already knew I was quirky, I prefer not to be remembered as "that one that asked me to ship a bike to her".) In the end, I asked my friend Nicole, of Irish Chocolate fame. She returned to Japan after leaving 〇〇 University and is now an English teacher in Chiba. She saved me from a separate mishap involving buying Mister Donut cups on Yahoo! Auctions, and so I thought she might be able to intervene again. Luckily for me, Nicole agreed, and some time later my bike appeared, fully formed, at her apartment.

Nicole, bless her, bought a bike-sized cardboard box online and wheeled it all down to her local shop, where they took it apart and packed it up. Then she brought it back to her place (how!?!?) and called Japan Post for an at-home pickup. it didn't fall within Japan Post's size guidelines. The JP Post guys returned to Nicole's apartment two hours later with the box in tow. It was too big! She told me it would have to be done via a commercial shipping company like FedEx. Now we were getting way, way too expensive, and I wasn't sure what to do next. I'd already sunk more money into the box and the domestic shipping to Nicole, and the losses were too big for me to cut now. We decided to Frankenstein the box to make it smaller, since that approach worked for Emily when she sent her kotatsu home, but after some measuring, it literally needed to be half the size. Nicole promised to look up some options when she got home from her vacation in Europe.

I decided to take a different tactic. My roommate, M, made plans to go to Japan for a concert in October. I decided to ask her if she'd check the bike as her second piece of luggage (oversized). She agreed without too much protest, to my relief, and so I asked Nicole to have the bike couriered to Narita Airport instead. Surprise - the luggage shipping company that we usually use for the airport, doesn't accept bikes. Nothing about the size, never mind that it was in a cardboard box and disassembled, they just don't do bicycles. Nicole had to call JAL ABC, because apparently Sagawa thought we were asking them to ship some expensive French racing bike worth $8,000 and not the little steel mama-chari I bought at Daiwa Cycle for under two hundred bucks. Luckily JAL ABC agreed to take it (after warning me about a COD fee) and it was delivered to Narita on the day M was scheduled to return to Canada.

Ah, but it's not over yet! As I gallivanted through Montreal on a rainy Saturday night, just before midnight, my cell phone alarm went off, reminding me that "M Is At The Airport Right Now." And then there's an email in my inbox dated 30 minutes prior, saying "Does your bike have suspension? Because if it does, I can't take it with me." Followed by, "If you don't answer soon, I have to leave." Oh noooooooo--

I emailed back as quickly as my thumbs would function, NO, NO SUSPENSION


After all, what was the next step if the bike got stranded at the airport? Call ABC and try to convince them to ship it back to Nicole (I really wanted to stop bugging her) or to another friend? Jes kindly agreed to receive it when I sent a desperate-sounding email asking for her address, but I didn't want to face the phone call where I explained that I, an uninvolved third party, wanted to use a foreign credit card to have this package sent not back to the sender or recipient but to someone else altogether. Also, what was Jes going to do when she got it? It was just too big!

Luckily, M hadn't checked in for her flight just yet, and decided to forge ahead. Air Canada, bless them, accepted the box without complaint, and it was successfully on its way to Canada at last. I waited until 2:30 AM for the inevitable email about something going wrong, before finally dropping off to sleep. In the morning I called for an airport van cab, and then I called The Bike Joint down on Harbord Street to arrange assembly, and then I recruited a friend with a car to drive it down there with me. BIKE BIKE BIKE BIKE BIKE.

It wasn't until she arrived in Calgary and they opened the box for inspection that M realized the extent to which I had thrown her under the bus.

I found this note written on the whiteboard when I got home, after M was safely sleeping off the jet lag:

...but at least I have my bike.