Traditional and Affordable Japanese Food in the Middle of Nowhere

A group of my students sometimes take me out for lunch. They’re a sweet bunch who love English and like to treat me sometimes. I’m very lucky for that.

Today we took a taxi somewhere in Kanagawa from Mizonokuchi, waited in an elevator, and suddenly came upon this traditional restaurant where the staff members wore kimonos and a scent of soy sauce based cooking filled the air.

We all ordered the special set lunch, which had several delicious courses including a dessert.

1. Sweet Cod, Egg, And Daikon Radish

This was yummy. The fish was sweet, boneless, and easy to eat. The daikon was crunchy and refreshing.

2. Sashimi

Next was maguro sashimi (raw fish) with some vegetables and soy sauce for dipping. As a huge fan of maguro (tuna), this was a great bonus! There was just enough to get your appetite going.

3. Tomato Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki is a special hotpot dish. It bubbled on its own mini stove while we are everything else. We took bits out to mix with the half-boiled egg. Sukiyaki isn’t usually served with tomatoes in it but it was delicious.

4. Chawan Mushi

Chawan mushi is sort of like soup but thicker. It has the consistency of soft boiled egg and inside I found a mushroom and a single soy bean!

5. Tempura

We also had tempura, which is deep fried vegetables and prawn. Tempura is a popular dish in Japan and this one, served with sauce and grated radish, did not disappoint.

6. Rice and Soup

There was also miso soup and “Mugi rice” with barley and bits of plum inside, making for a healthier option than just plain white rice. It was an excellent palette cleanser. At the back you can also see “tsukemono” or pickled vegetables.

7. “Azuki” Red Bean Dessert And Green Tea Served with Coffee

We chose coffee as an after-meal drink, and it was served at the same time as the green tea and dessert, which was unusual. As per many Japanese desserts, this sweet bean treat was very sweet so that the bitter taste of the green tea complements it.

I was very full and satisfied afterwards! Can you believe all this food cost just 2000 yen? If you go for dinner, the price will probably double, but going for lunch means you’ll get a real bargain.

(I’m going to check on the restaurant’s name). It’s about a ten-minute walk from Miyamaedaira Station on the Den en Toshi line, which is a bit of a trek if you’re staying in Tokyo. Going here was an inexpensive way to enjoy real Japanese food, so if you find yourself in Kanagawa, give it a try for lunch!

An Indie Writer Gave Me Their Book and it Sucks. What Do I Do?

If you know any indie writers, there is a possibility that you have been stuck in this awkward position: they self-publish their sparkling new novel, and excitedly send it to all their friends and family members for feedback, reviews, and free word-of-mouth news spreading.

The cover might be good, it might not; some new writers wing their own design to save a couple of hundred bucks, and some pay for a cover. You open it and read the first page.

First lines are important, of course; it’s their job to suck you in and urge you forward into the story. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the writer is genuinely talented, giving you a pleasant reading experience that transforms you from friend to fan.

However, this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the book might, well… suck. Several pages in and you’re already tired of the clumsy prose, unlikable characters, eye-rolling cliches, and whatever else that puts you off entirely.

Out come the excuses, and you pop it on a shelf where it gathers dust for the next few months. You get on with your life, and hope and pray that your writer friend has forgotten all about it.

Let me tell you this right now: they almost always haven’t.

They won’t ever mention it, because who wants to be badgered with “have you finished it yet?” But the crushing realization comes after several months of nothing, zero, zilch, possibly hurting even more when we come over and see said book on the shelf, serving no more purpose than being some light decoration.

But what’s the alternative? You can’t just say to your friend “hey, I read some of your novel and… it’s just terrible. You aren’t a good writer.” It’s better to avoid such uncomfortable conversations and just let the book sit quietly in some forgotten corner of the bookshelf.

You might have some idea of the time, energy, and money that is spent on producing a book. You might feel bad for them or you might even be able to convince yourself that there’s nothing really wrong with the book, it’s just not to your taste.

I used to be that writer. At 22 years old and with a sparkling publishing contract from a new company, I thought I’d written something really special and I wanted the whole world to see it. I paid for postage and packaging of several paperbacks, sending it to friends, family members, and other writers. I waited for feedback. Probably ten percent of those who I sent it to ever spoke to me about it again.

Excuses

If you find yourself on the other end of this situation, do yourself (and us) a favour by avoiding these excuses, all of which I’ve heard before. We aren’t stupid, and we know what they really mean.

  • “I’m a slow reader.” Give me a break. There’s slow, taking a month to read a novel, and then there’s “I never intend to read it and I’m going to blame my reading speed.”
  • “I’m too busy to read.” Well then, why did you accept the book? If you dislike reading, that’s one thing, but if you claim to love books, you’ll make time. We all make time for the things we enjoy.
  • My personal favourite I’ve heard is “I loved it so much I didn’t want it to end!” Apparently they loved it so much that two years later, they still feel the same way. Uh-huh.

So what can you do in the painful situation of having received a free book, but not being able to read it? Here are some things you can do that will help the writer but not destroy your friendship.

1. Identify What You Didn’t Like

It’s not easy to just say “I didn’t like it” and it’s even harder for the writer to hear it. To make this constructive, identify WHAT you didn’t like.

I’m not telling you to become an editor or offer advice. Absolutely not. But if you see a crummy film and turn it off or walk out of the cinema, you can probably explain why: bad acting, horrible directing, clumsy dialogue, a silly story.

The same goes with the book. Here are some ideas.

  • “I couldn’t identify with the characters.” Characters are the pillars of a story and if you don’t care about them when reading a book, you won’t care what happens to them. Is their main character unrealistic, too perfect, too selfish, or just plain unlikable? Let the writer know.
  • “There is too much description.” It’s easy for writers to get caught up in paragraph-long descriptions of everything. Whereas writers from a few decades past such as Stephen King could get away with this, times change. This kind of feedback can be really useful for writers. If you find yourself skipping paragraphs to get beyond detailed descriptions and back to the action, be sure to tell them.
  • “It’s difficult to follow.” Some stories just don’t make sense! If the story itself is confusing, don’t keep quiet about it. Point out things that you don’t understand; it’s likely other readers feel the same.
  • “There are too many typos.” One thing that happens a lot with indie writing is the amount of grammatical mistakes and spelling errors and other errors. Don’t feel obligated to point out every single one – that is what proofreaders are for – but feel free to tell them that’s why you couldn’t carry on. Typos interrupt the flow of writing and

2. Be Honest but Constructive

Easier said than done – absolutely. Avoid vague things like “it wasn’t my cup of tea” (though this is MUCH more preferable to the aforementioned excuses) and give reasons why.

3. Say What You Did Like (But Only if it’s True)

If possible, start with something you did like about the book. It’s a lot easier to hear negative feedback when it’s accompanied by the positive. Were there some good ideas hiding among the mistakes? A certain character you genuinely loved? Let the writer know. Give them the ol’ compliment sandwich.

4. Give the Book Back

You might think that giving back an unread paperback is the ultimate insult, but I personally don’t think so.

Getting a book back when they haven’t read it provides a bit of closure to me – now I won’t be waiting and waiting for the feedback that will never come.

The financial aspect is also relevant here; if I get back the book, I can offer it to someone else.

5. Assure Them Nothing Has Changed in Your Relationship

Artists can be quite, well… fragile when it comes to their work. The writer might take your feedback on board and use it to become better, and some writers might fall apart. Worst case scenario, the writer might even get angry.

I was extremely embarrassed after getting some negative feedback. I remembered sending my book to dozens of people and realized that they were probably all laughing at me, shaking their heads and thinking “poor, naive Poppy. Don’t tell her she’s untalented and her book belongs in the trash.”

Have you ever watched X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent (America’s Got Talent if you’re across the pond)? When people go on thinking they can sing only to be shot down and heartbroken by the judges?

That’s what it feels like when you don’t bother letting someone know their book needs work. Thankfully, our version doesn’t include humiliation on national TV, for which I’m grateful.

Please, please, please be honest! Otherwise we cannot grow.

Tell them that you love them all the same and you’re excited to see them improve. Assure them that they will get better – great writers become great only after plenty of practice, after all.

A Note to Writers

If you’re on the other side of this situation – the eager writer waiting on feedback – then here is some advice for you, too.

  • Don’t get emotional. Getting upset or even angry is a big mistake when dealing with feedback.
  • Be grateful. People are taking time out of their day to provide honest, free feedback. It isn’t easy for them, especially if you’re both close, so be sure to say “thank you” (even if you’re picking up the broken shards of your heart as you do so.)
  • Take their feedback on board. A Taylor Swift-esque shake it off, haters gonna hate attitude works in some cases, but if this person has given you honest, specific feedback, be sure to listen to it. It’ll make you a better writer.
  • Look for patterns. If you’re lucky enough that several people have talked to you about your book, look for patterns in their feedback. If three people have told you that the main character is too wooden, it might be time for some rewriting. If four have said there are too many typos, hire a proofreader. Feedback is extremely valuable.

Writers adore people who give real feedback! A potentially awkward situation can be a big opportunity for struggling indie writers. Don’t be a “someday” reader who lets their friend’s book sit, untouched, on the shelf forever.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Gerald’s Game” by Stephen King

Unless you’ve been deprived of all movies and books your whole life, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of the man, the legend, the award-winning and best-selling American author, Stephen King. Even if you’ve never read any of his novels, it’s likely you’ve seen, or at least heard of, films based off his works such as The Green Mile, The Mist, or The Shawshank Redemption.

It’s a bit embarrassing for me to admit, but Gerald’s Game is actually the first Stephen King book I’ve read. As a twenty-five-year-old supposed book lover, this isn’t what you might call ideal, but there you go.

Many authors who are supposed to be geniuses are really difficult to read; I bought a Hemingway book not too long ago and really struggled to get through the first few pages. I suppose I felt that any of King’s books would be the same. I was wrong, of course; King’s writing is beautifully smooth and I zoomed through the 468-page paperback in a couple of days.

First, the cover.

I’ve no idea if this is the first edition from 1992, though I’ve a feeling it isn’t. I love this cover. By today’s standards, some may say it’s too garish, too simple, but it perfectly covers the glaring horrors that lie with in along with 1960s nostalgia that becomes relevant once you know the story. I actually adore this cover.

“Once again, Jessie Burlingame has been talked into submitting to her husband Gerald’s kinky sex games – something that she’s frankly had enough of, and they never held much charm for her to begin with. So much for a “romantic getaway” at their secluded summer home. After Jessie is handcuffed to the bedposts – and Gerald crosses a line with his wife – the day ends with deadly consequences. Now Jessie is utterly trapped in an isolated lakeside house that has become her prison – and comes face-to-face with her deepest, darkest fears and memories. Her only company is that of various voices filling her mind . . . as well as the shadows of nightfall that may conceal either an imagined or very real threat right there with her . . .”

This psychological horror is the nightmare of “what-if” scenarios. The laughably unlikely happens, leaving Jessie in a terrible situation, her own thoughts and suppressed memories only making her experience more dire.

The story has layers upon layers, making it much more than a simple survival horror story: deep and dark memories which she is forced to relive and may ultimately help her in its own twisted way; events that make us question Jessie’s reality itself, and events that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. King delivers an expertly crafted exploration of mental and physical anguish and unlocks Jessie’s sad and horrific past, which despite being a long time ago, still clings to her in the present day.

There is a great movie based on this book, though there are several big differences. It’s a Netflix original, much faster paced than its book equivalent but still great. I won’t go into the differences right now as this review is spoiler-free. I recommend reading the book first for the full effect; you’ll feel your stomach dropping like a stone at the last few pages.

After reading Gerald’s Game, which thrilled and legitimately terrified me, I now consider myself a Stephen King fan! Better late than never, yes? An easy five stars for this fantastic novel.

Recommendations of more great King books are welcome! I’ll definitely get round to reading 1408 and The Mist, since I love both of those movies.

(Links aren’t working right now for some reason, but I’ll provide a link to the book on Amazon when I can.)

Thank you for reading! Please recommend your favourite Stephen King novel on my Twitter or in the comments below.