More Than a Book Review, a Way to Shine Hope

The calendar page has flipped. We are now in February, speedily making plans into March. This brings up the painful realization that we are approaching the sad anniversary of The Great East Japan Earthquake, a magnitude 9, which brought the 40.5 meter-high (133 ft) tsunami and a whole host of devastating effects, including Level 7 nuclear reactor meltdowns. March can feel heavy in Japan.  


Japan continues to hurt; after all, families were ripped apart. The national police agency accounts a staggering 15,893 deaths, 6,152 injured persons, and 2,572 people missing across twenty prefectures. Buildings collapsed in the hundreds of thousands, with approximately 228,870 people living away from their home in either temporary housing or permanent relocation. Even now. Many schools need basic materials. Mothers need sturdy walls and blankets for their babies. 

We are nearing five years and still, assistance is needed for the survivors.

I marvel at those who help, those who give selflessly and with all that they have. This is where the goodness of people shows. Teams, corporations, countries invested and showed up in our Japan to build hospitals, to ladle soup into shocked, saddened mouths. They cleared away muck and rubble, working to restore that which remained. 

These are the people we should join with physically, to lend aid or support.

We use of our gifts, talents, and resources in different ways. At the time of the March 11 crisis, I was away from Japan. Upon returning, I was busy nursing my infant daughter and longed to go and just be with those hurting and those helping. I still long to hear what those who went say. I want to see the people through their eyes, hear all they wish to share and learn what still must be done.

Leza Lowitz, writer, and owner of a Tokyo yoga studio, has taken part in the physical, bringing massage and help to the people of Tohoku. She saw where homes had been, saw stacks of cars and boats, piled high by tsunami waves.

Leza touched the shoulders and necks of those who suffered trauma. Her very yoga studio made it so a library was built, a place of respite and comfort, complete with a garden. However, she couldn’t continue to make trips there, being a mother with certain responsibilities. Leza decided to use her gift and desire to help in another way—by writing.

“I felt that the bigger contribution I could make was by writing a book….others could perhaps do more hands-on volunteering. I could use my time and skills to write a book while still being able to stay home to care for my son”, says the author.

And so her journey towards Up From the Sea began.

Up From the Sea 03.23 (1)

Leza writes from the perspective of a seventeen-year-old boy in his classroom when the shaking begins. We see, through Kai, what we could not see from the news. We see into his day-to-day, into his relationships with his mom, grandparents, and friends at school. We see his principal and teacher, the actions they took to make it to safety, and all that was left behind. 

Through Lowitz’s novel in verse, a format built like unrhyming poetry, unencumbered and free to tell with emotion, we walk through grief with Kai. We see disrepair and fear.

                                                       RUNNING THROUGH MY RUINED TOWN,                                                         pack flapping winglike against my back.

Plowing through blocks
strewn with heaps of
in a marshland

We climb through tsunami wreckage with him and see Tohoku, see the world, really, on and post-March 11, after the tragedy. Through this form of verse, and through the authors’ own experience meeting a boy in a village who had lost his mother, the reader feels each phrase, each verse like a puncture or a wave. It is experiential and visual, in a way the traditional novel cannot live or tread. It is a deep work, appealing to young adults in being fast-paced and highly visual. This book is really for everyone.

 It is poetry in the form of a novel and it is beautiful. 

We are invited to join Lowitz and Kai in rebuilding, in coming Up From the Sea with a real semblance of hope. 

Leza Lowitz adds, “As you know, next month will be the fifth anniversary of the disaster. It is hard to believe that five years have passed. There is so much work still to be done in the affected areas. I hope my novel might help shine the light there still”.

Shine, it shall. This book, her first novel-in-verse, has been named BUZZFEED’s #1 of 5 Young Adult books you should be reading.

The Japan Times calls it “A powerful, deeply moving book.”

Leza is a prolific, award-winning writer. This is her first solo book aimed at the YA audience (her prior YA novel was co-written with her husband). She also has books of poetry, short-stories, and a memoir. 

Another nod:

“Up from the Sea touched me deeply with its beautiful message of hope and the resilience of humanity. Bravo.”  –Ellen Oh, author of The Prophecy series


Visit Leza Lowitz’ website to read more of the accolades this book continues to collect.

Visit this Melibelle blog post of How to Stay Cool in Tokyo, featuring Leza!

It is the author’s hope that Up From the Sea become translated into Japanese. She would love to give away many copies to honor and strengthen the people of Tohoku. May it be so!


Leza Lowitz will be speaking at the Tokyo American Club Thursday, Feb. 4th!

Non-members also welcome!

Thank you to Leza & to all who make it their life-long goal to shine brightly & always help.

My Birthday, Her Birthday and All That Collective Age

My daughter knows I’m in my thirties and now says she’s in her “fivees”. We’ve been celebrating our birthdays for a month strong now, both of us wanting to keep celebrating and acknowledging and revving up for the next big part of being older (Okay, maybe just her).


I’m an end of August birthday; hers is mid-September. We’ve been going on, colliding like this for a while, both of us clamoring for a piece of the proverbial cake. She says, August 23, day before my birthday, that she ought to get the bigger slice of pizza, or taller glass of water, or first pick at a candy, to honor her approaching birthday. Even though mine was the very next day. That little shmoo even beat me to blowing out my own candle.


Looking a bit haggard at Disney

We’re a little bit competitive.

I never just let it go, but point out these things and say, “And by the way, where is my card?” and “Sing me my birthday song!” We chase each and I am realizing that I’m a bit of a child! (Snort, ya think?) Maybe my inner child is six.

Now that my birthday is sadly, officially over, I’m fashioning giant cardboard FIVES  into piñatas. I’ve got the whole couch littered with great big piles of birthday. There are pink and purple polka dot napkins, cups, tablecloths, mini canvases for her friends to squash their chubby little hands down in a FIVE with paint. It is a house of loot.


Turns out our Sunday party in the park will most likely be rained-out which bring us to our Plan B: the house. Hello, cleaning. Hello, 24 hours of Kon Mari and stashing every odd thing in the dog’s room. (Maybe not Kon Mari at all. Nope). It will be a house crawling with five year olds and soon to be five year olds, plus baby and big kid siblings, and parents, too. If it’s really raining hard, we will bust open that FIVE piñata in our living room. Because we love birthdays and hitting stuff. And stuff flying out.

It will be a house ringing with the sounds and squeals of Japanese, the parents from our children’s hoikuen, or preschool, asking me to answer questions I still cannot articulate, all to celebrate our girl. I am bracing myself, trying to clear shelves and feign organization. I’m bracing myself for upper thirties and a five year old girl, all of the changes that come and make me want to just sing over her in the night, make me want to take out all those baby pictures and pregnant belly photos and even her dried-up umbilical cord they preserve here as a gift when a family goes home with their newborn infant.

My International Birth in Japan Post on Best of Baby

Here we go. I’m already seeing her taller, leaner from riding her new training-wheeled bike. She is already parting her own hair, making her own pigtails and braids. Her new thing is voluntarily bringing us glasses of ice water with each together meal. She already launched into a talk about how she should be able to marry her preschool friend, because “It is my life, why should you care or get to decide”, she has already said, at still four years of age. She is a sweetie and a pistol. A Pippi Longstocking, Punky Brewster, me, and my husband, all braided up in one strong, hilarious, sometimes, mouthy thing.



Here we are, at what already feels like a precipice. She is almost 5 years old, going on twelve or fifteen.

Does that make me 30-something going on fifty? I don’t know, but it’s not a bad thing to like birthdays. Not in this house, anyway. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Air France et Moi!

Air France selected me, along with a cadre of bloggers, to highlight the multitude of exciting international destinations Air France flies, nonstop!

I feel like an honorary Audrey Tautou meets tour guide!

Mel Willms Photography-75

At our beloved Tokyo Garden, Rikugien. Photo taken by

A flight can be life-changing. My mother treated me to Paris to celebrate high school graduation, fabulous after the French I’d studied! We flew Air France and I could not have been more struck with the inherent style found in every component of the flight.

Is it possible for Air France to be anything but glamorous over land and sea? French over the intercom, alone! Flight attendants in silk scarves, hair perfectly coiffed! Every moment of sailing insinuates, excites you for your destination.

The travel bug hit me then and it still strikes now! Actually, I did pretty well, flinging myself across the globe to Tokyo, where I reside.

Without further ado, here is my Tokyo, map curtesy of Air France, complete with pins and descriptions of some of my most favorite Tokyo spots! It is just a small smattering, but you shall see life between skyscrapers, cafés hidden in gardens, and art, so much art. View my Tokyo Map

To further celebrate the relationship between Paris and Tokyo, take a peek at this wonderfully sweet documentary! (Okay, more like a few minutes to peer back in time). Remarkable.

Tokyo is not a city to which anyone needs cajoling. It is one of those destinations, much like Paris or Madrid; you just know you’ll love. Tokyo is old. It is modern. It is frighteningly, refreshingly different and yet, the soul of the people, the life of the place just settles in your bones. It’s hard not to be a poet when writing about a home, a port, or a vacation you absolutely love.

Book your own trip-of-a-lifetime to fall in love with Tokyo or any city under the sun;

Air France is here to help.

J’adore Tokyo. Tokyo, aishteru! 

Et merci, Air France!

-Melissa and Kariin Jan 2013 WEB-39

I’ve Awakened Something

Something really bizarre happened today and I’m responsible.

Background you should know: My psychologist Dad has this story from when he and a head of the state hospital mental facility took a group of patients to the Phoenix Zoo. This worker launched into his best silverback imitation. Well, the unamused gorilla looked him square in the eyes, picked up a pile of his poop, and chucked it at the guy.

I  am pretty fabulous at imitating monkey, particularly chimp sounds, but this story highlights my keen bird-whistling skills.

I’m a good bird whistler, let’s just say. In this story, I am that worker, horrified and scared. But I caused a different kind of poop-storm.


Just before dusk, my son and I took our doxxies for their evening walk. We walked past the temple, past juniper trees, and azalea. Two large crows sat expectantly just above us on telephone lines. Tokyo is still largely “wires and lines above ground”, and it can feel a bit unsightly, but generally becomes landscape, just like our many train lines.

The crows here are quite gargantuan, more like thick ravens, their beaks gawky and toucan-ish, as if they tied it on with strings. Thick beaky toucans, shiny in black. They are first responders to trash bags, raiding and looting on garbage days. I used to feel quite paranoid walking home with grocery bags, sensing their aggressive tendencies. Hitchcock doesn’t help, either.


However, in the name of trust and respecting a creature of beauty and inky thick wings, we stop to admire the raven-crow-hybrid-terradactyls. I bellow, “CAAAAAAW!  CAAAAAAAW!” The crow nearest us ruffls its feathers and hops tentatively. An unseen crackle of energy, like knuckles cracking. Something has shifted.

My son and I quickly offer up a “hello” each, and moved forward. Supplication, like when robbers try saying, “Good boy, good dog” at a riled-up Doberman. They won’t attack him, will they?

I have no trust in wild beasts. It is like assuming the gator on the opposite bank will not swim out to eat your cat. Just what might two weird birds do to my dogs? I push my boy in his red tricycle, and tug the dogs’ lead. Let’s get out of here. My “CAAAAW” stirred something. It did. They both seemed instantly agitated. Tddduhhh tduhhh tduhh. Their legs hop toward us, birdy-knees straight, unbending.

We are not more than twelve steps when a woman (in her late twenties, I’d say), is attacked. ATTACKED. The same crows take turns crashing near her. At her. Contact. She screams and flees to a teeny alley. My boy and I stand still, barely breathing. There is no breath, just our lips parted, eyes round in worry!

We wait for her to emerge, hope her eyes are alright, that she is okay, walking out on the other side!

My gore-side envisions irreparable damage on the nightly news, first-priority on Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, NHK, like Japan’s PBS, that I neither subscribe to or would understand. I hunt for any crow-related news from our area later on Google.

We barely pivot when a man on his bicycle peels up, all of us on this narrow main street of a small neighborhood, two blocks from a Buddhist temple. Life is quiet. Life is pecking. He heads to the main road, approaching the hill that spills perpendicular to the street.

He is flanked by two midnight beasts. One crashes to his back. He wildly looks around in alarm, exactly when the other bird tag-teams him. A jettison of black, a beak, and the bird has tipped the man’s hat, from back to front. Like if you slapped your brother upside the head, hard. For zero reason. That kind of humor and mean streak. The man is quickly approaching the perpendicular traffic, hat off, arms splashing, bike in terror.

Two perfect curses leave my lips. My arms have loosened; I may not even be holding the dogs’ double lead. My boy gapes similarly atop his trike. What have we done. It was my “CAAAAAW”.

I turn us opposite. We walk away from crows. We walk and keep going. There is a young office lady clattering down our street in black pumps. She adjusts lip gloss, pushing soft black waves from her eyes. She is coiffing even in 5:48 pm summer heat. She will pass us and enter crow-territory. I don’t know what to say, between my lack of sturdy Japanese, and the absurdity of what I would say. “Don’t go that way. The crows are scary.” My boy and I exchange a look and move our dogs deeper into the neighborhood, lips sealed against any desire for bird-call.


Out With the Old Love: A Study on Response

I used to tell people my heart was with them and really mean it. I’d spend time, intentionally, making a prayer, making a card, a daisy chain, looping my hear’s-cry and their earnest desire. Now? Now it is a dash of thought as quick as sprinkling salt on a plate of potatoes. It’s a throw, a clicked-out reply on Facebook; I’m sick of it.


Really, I miss the integrity, the depth of time spent in quiet-tude, sometimes an hour or hours long. Such was my passion in meeting with G-d, in speaking out psalms and meditations. And the deluge of love. My, I’d sometimes make my voice hoarse and husky from such time spent with such passion towards G-d and so many people. Kids I’d be teaching, parents in trouble, the latest international need or devastation. Any pregnant friend, anyone seeking wisdom, a job, steering in her life; no need was insignificant. I was lit. Moving home? Father sick? I’d head straight to the King and very often, expect some kind of contextual, tangible followup. There’d be a blueprint already, called investment.


And now? Seems my responses to honest and urgent needs are merely cursory. It is the sign of a hasty, impatient generation, or all of us, across ages, so accustomed to the snapchats of social media. All of us with good intentions, responding to the rising toll of dead families in Kathmandu, but then blinking past muffins, through organizational ideas and spotlighted homes, a virtual gallery of kids’ crafts, celeb-interviews, and even a board on Pinterest for trending summer shorts and ways to braid hair.

It’s all so much, because where does that leave our friend who needs an extra line of reassurance as she prepares for the waves of labor? Where does that put Nepal and our care for the medics arriving on the ground to very quickly try and try and try to recover the living and patch them up, somehow? How does my lack of real care, real passion for the lost and missing and fearing and dying and crushed stack-up against all the pretty visuals of succulents and flashy ways to make breakfast more stimulating and “Pinnable”? Who am I as a friend?


I know we can’t make a dent in much of what goes on in the world, much less our own lives, it can feel. The news is hopeless. My heart can’t take another shooting or terrorist attack on students, Christians, Arabs, or Jews. I cannot stomach hearing of another child abused. But if I tell someone I’m thinking of them, let me do better. Let me know that I silenced all of the voices of media and fashion and perfect-mothering-teaching-baking-shopping-recipe-planning-laundering-E! mentioning-Bruce-Jenner-gabbing-every-celeb-&-their-kid-whatever…let me get clear so I can hear the sound of change I can affect, if only by being still and asking, agreeing with the very King of the Universe, the One who founded life and change, forgiveness, and strength.


At the very least, even if these habits of prayer and listening and all don’t amount to much, at least let me know I am a friend. I will not be distracted from the urgency of need, won’t be so easily fooled, dormant, or disengaged. Or worse–I won’t scroll past a picture of hurting students in Kenya and think I’m onto something good simply because I clicked “like” and felt something akin to “bad” or “sad” for a sec. I, we, are called, to move big. To give our time and energy, our resources, big. I want more of this kind of engagement in the world, wanna be more with the movers and shakers of supplying, sharing, and standing in concordance. So long, stagnancy and false promises. From now on, I align myself with tenacity and emotion that gets stuff done. I’ll be a friend to the hurting, or at least plan towards that specific end.

I’ve also got my daughter on the job. So that’s good, right? We discuss who’s hurting or doing well or even visiting this Friday, and she’s already half-way out of her breakfast seat and running for lead and paper. She makes the card, a new drawing special, just for them. And after dinner, too, while I’m picking up scattered rice bits and dribbles of juice, she’s creating evidence of caring for these friends. She means every scratch, every mark, and word.

Whatever it is, do it in love. Whatever it is, feel it, and make some good spring out of it, joining love with the words, “hope”, “love”, “decency”. Let my attention span find a quiet and hold.

How Do You Say, “Foodbaby” in Japanese?

My girl at dinner pointed out that if I ate any more, then more parents, teachers, and fish-shop owners would congratulate me on at least LOOKING pregnant. Because, every couple weeks or so, someone pats my tummy and says, “Congratulations! Omedetou!”

I have taught my daughter’s preschool teacher the term, “foodbaby”. I have taught my neighbor, the fishmonger, organic grocer, and countless clerks that I must be pregnant with dinner or my lunch, just smiling like, ha, isn’t it the most awesome, funnest thing? 


This is a culture that has no qualms about pointing-out someone’s fluctuations in weight, when they’ve gotten fatter. Maybe it’s like noticing a haircut. You either got one or you didn’t. Except that in calling-out such an inward, loaded happening out, paying congrats to a woman with some very normal tum, one needs some extra-thick skin. Also, I am sensitive to this thing, for my fellow-sister who may be grieving her baby, may be dealing with a miscarriage. Please, people. Wait until you see the “I’m pregnant, now let me sit on the train” pass. Wait until you spot her rubbing her tummy or protectively, instinctively caressing this round tummy, pulling her sweater a bit over to tuck in a little one. She is a mother, already. Wait until you see some evidence, please! Don’t just look for what is fat.

I am light about this, I am. I smile and imagine a third child at the table. I shake my head as they ask when I’m due! What??! Of course, I could simply take the hint and go work out. It’s just funny–I truly don’t believe this would be happening in the US–this situation where every week, every three weeks, I’ve got another funny story about the latest person who asked me if the baby is coming soon and how great for my children!

Asia is a pretty skinny place. Most Japanese pregnant women don’t look pregnant from the back, at all. Some women truly even diet, afraid what any “extra” weight will do to effect their delivery and/or the conversations with their doctor.

It’s not like the nation is suffering from an overeating obesity problem; a little tummy stands-out. I guess I stand out? (I’m shaking my head. I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter, does it).


It’s called being over thirty-three people; it’s called, “backoff!”, and I really like snacks! It’s also a bit of “I’ve had two children”. I walk, run, and bike everywhere, so leave me alone. Also, being that it is now the tail-end of winter, some of the pudge they mistake for a last-trimester baby is really sweater-under-jacket-bulge; they must really be looking for it. (Some of the pudge may also be pancakes, short stacks, crepes, cake, whatever. I’m holding-on to being petite).

Oh well. At least they’re excited for me. For my food baby and all these sweaters and jackets with stupid thick wool ties bulking-up my silhouette. Of course, this is all assuming that in warmer weather, they don’t just swear they saw the baby kick from under there, under my seemingly-maternity shirt.

Listen, maybe it will give me a seat on the train and some sweet gifts. Maybe it earns me the “right” to seconds. Or fifths.



Yesterday We Fought & Made Up

Yesterday, we fought, morning of our big date. It was carry-over from a silly argument the night before. The kind that made us go to bed without making up, without “sorries” or any goodnight kiss and it was there in the morning hiding behind some sort of old, nagging curtains. The kind that need to be ripped- down anyway, to let in more light.

The retched, unresolved thing was still there, though tempered by rest and my husband taking kiddos upstairs to eat while I slept a full hour more. I walked upstairs to coffee and an “I love you”. And something still persisted, resisted, and got bigger and nastier, threatening disaster. And all we could do was set the record straight, remembering our great big solid awesome love which made me sniffle. And then we finally kicked it out, finally ripped down those seventies window treatments and flung ’em out the door.

And then? We let our kids know the big date was ON; we both wanted to look great for the other, asked our girl for tips and suggestions–what to wear and where to eat (a dress, she said for me–something special, and suit and necktie for Daddy, handsome and with cologne, even).



It was powerful for a family, gladdening to our marriage, big daughter helping. It wasn’t stifling, those kids in our room while we prepared, even when she poked my scalp with an uninvited headband. She helped her Daddy choose a shirt that wasn’t boring and even wove the pearl cufflinks through his sleeves’ button holes. The twisty bit was tricky–they did that together.

Also wonderful, her seeing my nailed painted Tahitian pink, shimmering eyelids and earrings she selected–blue gray river pearl, smoothed by years of currents, the movement of wearing-away which makes a stone, makes minerals into gems, micro-organisms into resplendent objects, even better.

I saw me, daughter of divorce, daughter of being a bit afraid of fights and what if they don’t get worked out and not everyone comes through, hands held together. I need to see change. Stagnance, tension makes me worry. Need the closure snapping, locking to hold tight the beads. Need the bear hugs and tender kisses, the promises renewed, the husband not going anywhere except closer.

It was, for all of us, dramatic–kids taking part in the process of love and forgiveness, since they had already heard the fighting, sensed the sarcasm. She had already stumbled into judging which of us was right, and who was mean. I know…

Getting dolled-up had to be public, a sending-off for something special.


That’s not even touching on the actual time out and the mystical city night of shooting upwards to a destination the height of stars, los mariachis framing love. It was all there. The margaritas held their salt on rims and you and I seemed to renew vows under the painting of green, swirling, serenading hills, Las Colinas.

Out of all of the Valentine’s Days, with your incredible-know-me-so-well-gifts, it was this one. Even when you surprised me with buying our Delray Beach home, out of jewelry, all of the languages of love, it was this one that got caught in my throat. On this one date, in this conversation, I most admire you. It is all a gorgeous, lush song, this life of ours, the life we’ve made–and then the getting home, fierce wind gusting, flapping windows and scarves to get in and make us cold. Holding hands, though, fingers in gloves, we took off our shoes and looked in love, came in to our children and pulling the covers up on their little necks. You examine and love a life that gets tucked-in, sit stronger knowing your marriage is a gate, the gate, that will receive attention. You sleep in the comfort of growing up into such steady promises of faith.



And in the morning, you share with your daughter, the menu and magic of their house flan, the berries and cream that dotted the plate, drink with an umbrella, the wonder that is rich, salty mole sauce, smothered over the most tender chicken. You convey solidity, affection for her father. You want to live a life examined, video-tape your speak, to really learn how it is you talk, how the bitter teenage tendencies can ripple through your four-year-old daughter, ripple through lips and make shoulders shrug tight.

There is wisdom in looking-in at love’s place. You wouldn’t keep prize-koi fish in the kitchen sink, wouldn’t place your newborn baby on a rock or swing; so, too, these loves, these prizes I’ve helped grow and win. I’m learning, this Valentine’s Day, to keep track of the heart and let it sing.