Here and There Japan

A. Donwerth-Chikamatsu

July 10, 2023
by anniedc

High Hopes


I followed our neighborhood farmer, Toida-san, for years. With his permission, I photographed him, his vegetables, and his fields next to our west Tokyo house. He retired at 90 and passed away at 99 in 2021. I was in Texas taking care of my mother at the time. In this 2012 photo, he’s transplanting edamame.

His fields have been rented to another farmer from another neighborhood. I never see him around, but I keep an eye on the fields. This farmer does things differently.


On May 25, I was surprised to see this. Quite a haphazard planting. This isn’t careful rows of edamame. So what is it?


Zoomed in. Had an idea. Hoped.


June 24. Taro leaves in the background. Mystery plants in the foreground are revealing their true identity.


July 1. My hopes revealed! Sunflowers!


On July 4, I went out to view chestnut trees across the street and around the corner. I discovered the field beside them is planted in sunflowers too!

In past summers, we’ve driven miles to see fields of sunflowers. This summer there are two in the neighborhood. One across the street, but we don’t even have to go that far. We have a bird’s eye view of a field of them from the roof garden, over the fence, and Son’s childhood window.

This is even sweeter since I recently missed a season of harvesting sunflower seeds from my garden and lost the lineage. They were seeds Papa got when he ran a marathon in 2013 for 3-11 earthquake recovery. I haven’t planted sunflowers in a while. Maybe if I keep an eye out I’ll see the farmer in the field and ask for or buy some of his seeds.



July 10. Walked to the grocery store on the hottest afternoon yet. The first bloom! And it faces our house! Cannot see from our house.

July 12. The fields are blooming now. Papa and I walked to both yesterday. The farmer of the one close to the train tracks told us the city office rented her field to plant them to fertilize the soil. They are not going to sell them. The farmer  gave us two. I felt like a “Nature Thief” walking home. I gave one to my sister-in-law.

July 14. Most are blooming. Most are facing our house. East. Even in the evening. Their fragrance is wonderful.

July 14th. Zoomed in to the other end of the field.

Farther afield. Sunflowers? Out to take a look.

No, not another field of sunflowers. Common Purslane.

July 14. Across the street near the train tracks. They’re blooming too.


November 28, 2022
by anniedc

Christmas Treats

At Parco, the department store at our station, there are lots of Christmas cookies, chocolates, cakes and puddings. And these Christmasy Japanese treats. In the baskets on the left, there are small packages of rice crackers. A sample in a clear package shows what is inside.

July 18, 2022
by anniedc

Sea Day & World Oceans Day 2022

Sea Day or Ocean Day was originally on July 20th  in Japan. It is now held on the third Monday of July because of the “Happy Monday” reforms that created three day weekends from some of the public holidays in Japan. This year it is July 18th.

World Oceans Day is June 8th. From this year, the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica will be recognized as the world’s fifth ocean. Scientists have known that the Southern Ocean has different characteristics from the other oceans. Now there is an international official agreement to acknowledge the Southern ocean.

February 10, 2021
by anniedc

Beyond Honored


My second middle grade novel, Beyond Me, set in west Tokyo during the aftershocks of The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, has been awarded a Freeman Award honorable mention for Young Adult/Middle School Literature by The National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA), the Committee on Teaching about Asia (CTA) of the
I appreciate the work they do to promote teaching about and books about Asia.
See the other 2020 honorees here.
My debut novel Somewhere Among was awarded the Freeman Award for Young Adult/Middle School Literature  in 2016.
See past honorees here.

September 15, 2020
by anniedc

International Dot Day

On September 15, 2009, Terry Shay introduced his class to Peter H. Reynolds’ book THE DOT. This was the day International Dot Day was born. Every year since, this global celebration of creativity has grown. It is celebrated September 15-ish, so get started. We need to nourish “creativity, courage and collaboration.”
Everyone can make a mark. Start with a dot. There is actually a guide Start with a Dot.
Find out more here.
Educators register and receive the free handbook, certificate and multi-language posters.
Facebook page International Dot Day
In September 2016, I got to meet agent Holly McGhee in person at Pippin Properties. Peter H. Reynolds was there! We made dots together. We started with a dot in water color. Peter and I exchanged papers to embellish each other’s dots. It was his idea.
I embellished a bit but was having a bad hand day. Rheumatoid arthritis sometimes makes it hard to hold a pencil or, in this case, a brush. RA doesn’t affect my mouth though. In fact, it makes it rattle. I talked their ears off and watched Holly McGhee do her own wonderful thing and Peter Reynolds embellish my blue spiral and his brown dot. 
I now have a signed Peter H. Reynolds! Thank you both for this experience!

Embellished and signed by Peter H. Reynolds!!! I only did the blue spiral. He asked me to sign it.

Peter Reynolds also graciously signed books I bought at Books of Wonder for my grandnieces and grandnephew. You can get his signed books at The Dot Central. He holds READ & DRAW sessions on his Facebook page, Peter H. Reynolds.
I made a dot for SOMEWHERE AMONG, my middle grade novel published in 2016. They posted it on Celebri-dots!

The dot for SOMEWHERE AMONG 2016. I cut and pasted all these words for “peace.” Thank you author-illustrator Daniel Schallau for clearing away all the lines around the cutouts.

Today on International Dot Day, I am working on a dot for BEYOND ME. It will most likely be a collage too.

September 7, 2020
by anniedc

Garden Cat(s)

A year ago this cat came to our neighbor’s garden. I noticed his ear was clipped which meant that he was a male and he had been neutered. So, it was okay (legal) to feed him.

We named him Milo. He eats and sleeps in our garden but also sleeps in the neighbor’s garden. He stays away from us when we come near, but he has made himself at home. Look how happy he is.

Here’s Milo relaxing in the neighbor’s garden.

I thought Milo would keep other cats away, but this yellow cat has come twice this summer wanting something to eat. Milo shares.

Both ears are clipped. Here he/she is sitting in the neighbor’s garden. I am inviting him to eat.

I don’t think Milo will share his winter house.

House and “porch” covered with artificial grass. Have plans to redo.

Here is Our History with Kittens and Cats

On 9-11-07, we rescued four little kittens in a neighbor’s garden. The neighbor couldn’t handle it. And the mother hadn’t been around. I had never had a cat in my life before. I was the one who was rescued.

September 13, 2007  Cat and Kitten Rescue

October 21, 2007  A Forever Home for Kittens

January 17, 2008  Kitty Bandages

October 21, 2008  Fish Heads and Cages!

April 23, 2009  Another Stray Cat!

October 15, 2009  Cat in the Bean Field

November 6, 2009  Another Rescued Kitty

September 7, 2020  The Garden Cat(s)

 The Cat in Beyond Me, a middle grade novel set in March 2011

June 30, 2020
by anniedc

Book Birthday for BEYOND ME



Last February, I was so thankful to have finished the final galleys of my second verse novel, Beyond Me, based on our experience of the aftershocks in west Tokyo from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of 2011. After 3 years of remembering, researching and writing it, we were advised to self-isolate for COVID before being quarantined in March.

After these 4+ months of going only to the grocery and hardware store, walking twice to the Botanical Gardens and riding up Mt. Fuji yesterday (for our 30th anniversary) I can still hold strong to the things I wrote about and what got me through Tokyo’s month of aftershocks; family, friends and pets, and tending Earth (for me gardening).

Here as in the Acknowledgements, I would like to thank my children for skyping me away from the manuscript, to Papa and friends Mari Boyle, Kathy Schmitz, Kristin Ormiston and Cam Sato for pulling me away to do fun things; to SCBWI Japan’s advisors Holly Thompson, Naomi Kojima, Mariko Nagai, Avery Fischer Udagawa for always organizing an active calendar of events for us; to Mariko Nagai, Mari Boyle, Avery Fischer Udagawa, Emina Udagawa, and Cam Sato for reading and commenting on the story, to Mr. and Mrs. Toida for feeding our neighborhood and allowing me to photograph their work, fields and vegetables over the years, to the Chikamatsu family for guiding me through ups and downs, to our dogs for grounding me and to our rescued cats for teaching me cat culture. Letters and conversations about Somewhere Among from readers, family and friends, especially Nancy Rinehart, The Austin Kirwans, and my mother kept me going back to the table to finish Beyond Me.

I am grateful to editor Caitlyn Dlouhy, Atheneum Simon & Schuster, the S&S design team, and to agent Holly McGhee for making it all possible.

I had been afraid the subject might be too heavy for COVID19 times. Then in May 2020, Booklist said it was “an essential read” for tweens. These are different times.

My hope is that there will be future middle grade novels and translations centered on the hardest hit areas of the disasters of March 2011. There’s so much to learn.

Beyond Me is my second published love letter to Japan, to my American-Japanese children and their father, and to my Japanese in-laws. I can envision writing only one more book set in Japan, a memoir for adult readers. But that might take a while. I am pulled to write children’s stories set in a faraway land, the United States prior to 1984.

description of Beyond Me

Set in west Tokyo during The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011. Maya, 11, is finishing fifth grade, preparing for choir performances and going to cram school when the earthquake knocks Japan off its feet. She and her family are unharmed. Earth keeps moving, but life comes to a halt.

Everything is up in the air. Maya grounds herself by watching and helping her Great-grandfather farm. She finds other ways to calm herself and to help others. Based on our experience of the aftershocks in west Tokyo.

Simon & Schuster, Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, Atheneum, June 2020.

reviews of Beyond Me



June 9, 2020
by anniedc

Birds of BEYOND ME

I see birds everywhere in west Tokyo. They are in my garden and in the farmer’s fields outside our windows. Before the pandemic, I walked to the grocery store or to the station every day so I would see them in the trees along the street, in garden trees, and on buildings. I would take the camera with me (before cellphones) and I would take walks just to photograph them. So naturally, birds have shown up in my writing. My middle grade novels are set in my neighborhood in west Tokyo.

Here are the birds of my second novel,  BEYOND ME, coming out on June 30, 2020. Click on my photos to look more closely, but also click on the link below each photo to see photos at Cornell Lab’s eBird. Be sure to click on “Listen” on their page. You can hear what I hear almost every day.


White-cheeked Starling, Mukudori ムクドリ May 8, 2012

This is our retired farmer following a White-cheeked Starling. April 19, 2012

White-cheeked Starlings (Spodiopsar cineraceus) come to the fields to forage for insects. One starling always followed or led our neighborhood farmer as he tilled his field. Was it the same one every day? Every year? I am not sure. The farmer has retired. I still see starlings. But none follow the farmer who rents the field. Big flocks of them sit on the wires every fall. White-cheeked Starling on eBird.


Chinese Hwamei, Gabichou ガビチョウ Mogusen Park, March 8, 2016

I was thinking of Chinese Hwamei (Garrulax canorus) for the bird that disrupts Maya’s class choir practice. I hear them but have only seen one. High in a tree at sunset, this bird sang its heart out. (Made my heart sing.) Sadly, this photo is not good. Chinese Hwamei on eBird.


Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Suzume スズメ
park, April 12, 2012

Eurasian Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus) are here through all the seasons. They are hard to photograph. They move fast in a flock. Eurasian Tree Sparrow on eBird.


Brown-eared Bulbuls, Hiyodori ひよどり farmer’s field, February 18, 2011

Brown-eared Bulbuls (Hypsipetes amaurotis) visit our garden in the winter and eat the mikan or apple I put in the tree. They eat the last of the farmer’s broccoli.


Brown-eared Bulbul, Hiyodori ひよどり Magnolia tree, March 11, 2013

They also shred the blossoms of the magnolia trees along the main street. Brown-eared Bulbul on eBird, in Japan Times.


Rock Pigeon or Common Pigeon, Kawarabato カワラバト neighborhood, November 22, 2018

Rock Pigeons (Columba livia) are also called Common Pigeons. Our neighborhood barber’s wife fed a flock of about ten before they closed their shop. The Rock Pigeons used to spend their days in the tree in a tree lot next to the barber shop. I miss them. Here is one sitting on an air conditioning unit. Rock Pigeon on eBird.


White Wagtail, Hakusekirei ハクセキレイ farmer’s field, March 22, 2014

White Wagtails (Motacilla alba lugens) zig and zag and wag through the farmer’s fields every season. In a recent interview with the Audubon Society, Jane Goodall said she liked Robins and Wagtails. I like them too. Wagtails are fun to watch. There is another wagtail that visits the fields called the Japanese Wagtail (Motacilla grandis). I don’t see them as often. White Wagtail on eBird.


Oriental Turtle Dove, Kiji-bato キジバト garden fence, April 10, 2014

Oriental Turtle Doves (Streptopelia orientalis) never come to our garden anymore after a crow got a turtle dove nest. They sit on fences or in trees. There are usually two turtle doves together. This one is always along. On the day of this photo, a Eurasian Sparrow was sitting on the fence nearby. Oriental Turtle Dove on eBird.


Japanese Bush Warbler, Uguisu うぐいす

Japanese Bush Warblers (Horornis diphone) are heard but rarely seen. They are a sign of spring. I don’t have a photo of one! Here is a photo of a wagashi dessert shaped like a Japanese Bush Warbler.  Japanese Bush Warbler on eBird.


Barn Swallows, Tsubame ツバメ nest platform neighborhood barbershop, April 25, 2007

Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) nest on houses and store fronts. We’ve never had a barn swallow on our house. As I walk to the grocery store in April to July, barn swallows might duck under the awning of the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, the laundromat and  the florist and the bank near the station. The skies above the shopping street get busy!

Here is a description from The Japan Times by Rowan Hooper.  Barn Swallows on eBird.


Large-billed Crow, Hashibuto-garasu ハシブトガラス Most people call them Karasu カラス. field of trees December 17, 2014

Large-billed Crows (Corvus macrorhynchos japonensis) come to the fields. Families come at the end of summer and stay until the beginning of summer. I love watching them. They don’t always come or stay in a group. Mostly they come alone or with another to scout for food. This one posed for me in a tree across from the farmer’s field. I have many videos of them. Large-billed Crow on eBird.

I have many photos of birds dating back to 2006. Recently, I started uploading them with the time, date and details to Cornell  Lab’s online database, e-Bird. The data may help scientists know bird populations and  bird patterns.

(My list isn’t public yet. I am still working on it.)


March 16, 2020
by anniedc

In Your Own Backyard (or House) & Beyond


This morning a group of children from a nearby daycare center in west Tokyo was out enjoying a walk. Some schools have closed. Check and follow the guidelines from your country’s department of health or its center of disease control. (U.S.)

We’re all told not to touch our faces and eyes and mouth without washing our hands first. And to keep distance from humans.

Many of us are self-isolating and most of us are social distancing. But we can still get out in nature. Run and play. Or sit and watch. Take note. Draw pictures. Write poems. Or read some.

In your own backyard. Watch out for bugs. It’s spring and they’re waking up. Identify them here. Trees are blooming and leafing. Birds are on the move. Set up an account at the U.S.A. National Phenology Network’s Nature’s Notebook or these international sites; iNaturalist or Budburst or Cornell’s eBird. Take photos to upload to help scientists’ research. Celebrate Urban Birds.

Plan a garden. Plant seeds. Check The Old Farmer’s Almanac Kids.

Walk through nature. Through the neighborhood. Through a park.

Too crowded? Don’t feel you want to venture out? Observe nature from the window. What birds visit? Don’t know, check All About Birds or Audobon Bird Guide App.

Look up. Observe clouds. Take photos. Join a cloudspotter group at The Cloud Appreciation Society.

Chart time by the movement of the sun through the house. Where’s morning light? Afternoon? Sunset? You may get hooked and want to track it through the seasons. You may want to follow your shadow outside. Or make a sun clock.

Want a change in weather? Listen here.  Or a change in scenery?

Prepare for Earth Hour on March 28 and Earth Day on April 22.

Connect with the world through Nature for All.

Take virtual trips to botanical gardens or national parks near and far. Follow them on Instagram or Facebook. Sign up for their newsletters.

Stay well.

Update: This came out the day after I posted on Here and There Japan. From Children & Nature Network (C&NN.) I’ve been following this site for years. Richard Louv offers 10 Nature Activities to Help Get Your Family through the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Children & Nature Network C&NN

C&NN Finding Nature

further update of resources: Share your ideas using the hashtag #findingnature

Check out activities for National Park Week 2020

C&NN’s The Ecologist School


Skip to toolbar