The ExPat Returneth

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Japanese Horror Films

Looking for a horror flick to watch for Halloween? Consider a Japanese version this year.

Horror stories and haunted houses are very popular in Japan, particularly around Obon, a time in August when the spirits of your ancestors are supposed to return to earth for a visit. Not too different than the origins of our Halloween. However, Japanese ghost stories are very different than our own, so their haunted houses don't rely on zombies and serial killers bearing chain saws. You're more likely to see obake, supernatural creatures that shapeshift into creatures like a one-eyed boy or a woman with long hair and a blackened mouth. Ghosts are often depicted as having white skin; long, disheveled black hair; and floating because of their lack of legs.

Years ago we rented the movie KWAIDAN, an anthology of four Edo-era Japanese folktales. Made in 1964, the movie literally means "Ghost Story" and won Special Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival in 1965. This classic is a great Halloween movie to watch if you're looking for something more arty than "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" but still want some goosebumps.

Many Japanese ghost stories (Kaidan) are based on the ideas of revenge, wrath, and curses. According to Wikipedia, Japanese ghosts are more powerful in death than in life and you often see particularly powerless people, like women and servants, becoming vengeful ghosts. Hence, the abundance of female spirits with the bad hair. Sometimes they want revenge against the people who tormented them in life, sometimes they're so ticked off they'll kill everyone. Often times, there's also a water element involved because of the religious symbolism of water as a pathway to the underworld.

Modern Japanese horror (J-horror) movies still have these elements. I think because the horror motifs are very Eastern, unfortunately they don't always translate to a Western screen. IGN rated many of these movies in their Top Ten Worst and Best Asian Remakes. However, the original Japanese movies remain popular and much better than the Hollywood remakes.

Four popular Japanese movies remade for Hollywood, (three of these made IGN's worst Asian remakes) all carry these vengeful ghost and curse motifs. You can also find water symbolism in them. Skip the remakes, though, and go for the original.

Another horror film about a girl with bad hair
THE RING (RINGU, 1-3): After watching an evil video tape, the viewer mysteriously dies seven days later. (An interesting list of Ringu facts can be found at Geordie Japan).

DARK WATER (DARK WATER): When a divorced mother and her child move into a rundown apartment, a mysterious leak reveals a haunting.

3. THE GRUDGE (JU-ON, 1-2): A haunted house with a vengeful ghost.

4. ONE MISSED CALL (CHAKUSHIN ARI, 1-3): A group of college students die mysteriously after receiving voicemail from their future selves.

If you're more into serial killers than ghosts, there's plenty of those in J-Horror, too. Revolver Magazine described 2011's COLD FISH as a "totally bent Asia extreme serial-killer cinema at its best–equal parts disturbing and blackly comic." (They also recommend the Korean serial killer film, I SAW THE DEVIL).

Tofugu has a Top 10 Japanese Horror Film list that's fun to check out. DARK WATER, ONE MISSED CALL 1 and 2, and THE GRUDGE all made their list.

Do you have a favorite Japanese Horror Film? What scary Asian movies would you put in your top ten horror films?

Friday, October 26, 2012


My author buddy LynDee Walker tagged me in this interview game about upcoming novels (her debut, FRONT PAGE FATALITY, is an humorous mystery launching in January), and I thought it would be fun to share a few tidbits from PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY. I tagged some other authors at the bottom, so be sure to check out their answers (and their books!).

What is the title of your book?
PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY. Amazingly, the book started and ended with the same title. 

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was living in Japan at the time and working on another manuscript, but wanting to write something about small town Georgia. During my long drives to and from taking my children to school, Cherry Tucker spoke to me. The idea of the coffin portait came to me after my father's funeral.

What genre does your book fall under?
Mystery. Specifically "amateur detective mystery," although some call it a cozy. I feel Cherry Tucker is very amateur and not a very cozy gal, so I like amateur detective mystery. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I'm horrible at this kind of thing, because in my brain, my characters are amorphous, like in a dream. So I cheated and hopped on Facebook and asked my readers. Here's what they said:
Cherry Tucker: Kristin Chenoweth, Jaime Presley, Emma Stone
Luke: Adrien Grenier, Gilles Marini, Shia Labouf
Todd: Michael Pitt (Jimmy from Boardwalk Empire), Ryan Reynolds
Max: James Gandolfini, Bobby Cannavale (Rosetti from Boardwalk Empire)
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Cherry Tucker competes for a portrait commission of a local family’s murdered son, she doesn’t realize the project includes an old flame that might be her subject’s killer.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It was published by Henery Press on August 28, 2012. The second Cherry Tucker mystery, STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW, releases May 2013.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About three months over a six month period. I was moving from Japan to the US while writing, so there were about three months between where nothing but thinking happened as I packed and unpacked.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A redneck Stephanie Plum or a white trash version of Nancy Martin's Blackbird Sisters Mystery series. It also fits so well with two other mystery series from my publishing house — Terri L. Austin's The Rose Strickland Mysteries and LynDee Walker's Nichelle Clarke's Headlines in Heels series -- that we're doing a anthology of novellas together.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Cherry Tucker's loud mouth, country music, and my father's funeral.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I've got an obnoxious goat, if you're into that sort of thing. And beer.

Tag! You’re it!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Asian Supermarkets in the United States

Because we cook Asian food, mostly Japanese, we shop at Asian supermarkets fairly often. I can get my basic Japanese ingredients -- rice, tofu, soy sauce, mirin, sake, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, some noodles -- at my local Kroger, but I can get bigger sizes and better prices at an Asian store. Other ingredients like miso, dashi, prepared sauces, dried foods, and condiments can be harder to find, and I have to go to an Asian specific store. I can also get prepared items, snacks, meat, and vegetables there, too.

Even better, for vegetables, meat, and certain staples these Asian supermarkets are cheap!
Japanese Staples & Sauces at Tomato, Atlanta
Sliced meat ready for various Asian dishes
We go to these stores to grocery shop, but also because they're fun. Looking at familiar foods from your host country is stepping into nostalgia. The kids spot snacks and drinks they used to enjoy. The people shopping with us are a mixture of races and cultures. Various languages mix with English. And most people are like us, excited to find their favorite foods and not in a rush to snatch Monday night dinner ingredients.

In Atlanta, we're lucky to have a wide variety of shopping options. There are a few, small groceries specific to Japanese stores we enjoy, particularly Tomato (one in Smyrna and another in Norcross). There are numerous, tiny Asian food store, even one down in Newnan called Oriental Market
The rice cracker & snack aisle at Tomato

We have gone to the massive Buford Highway Farmer's Market since the mid-90's. This kind of international supermarket has food from all over the world, including Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean as well as central Asia, but they specialize in Hispanic and Asian foods. I recently brought a friend from Puerto Rico there and she was delighted to find certain fruits and vegetables that she normally could only find in Miami. 

H-Mart is another Atlanta chain that can be found in other cities in the U.S. This is a Korean owned chain that primarily sells Asian foods, but my local one also has quite a bit of Hispanic food because of the large Latino community. H-Mart can be found in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania  Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Texas, California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Georgia. 

AND, if they don't have a store near you, they do offer on-line shopping. 
Produce at H-Mart
For a list of other large Asian supermarkets in the U.S., I turned to Wikipedia (use this list to find stores in your state) and found a Chinese grocery chain, Great Wall Supermarket, located in Atlanta. A quick google search for this store revealed an article lauding its praises, particularly for the Asian food court. 

They had me at food court. I am so there.
Variety of greens at H-Mart
In reading the article I discovered a few more stores I hadn't explored. Try a quick google check for Asian groceries in your closest city. The tiny ones probably don't have web sites, but there may be reviews or at least a yellow pages listing. Even the Consulate-General of Japan in Atlanta has a list for the region they serve.  

The rice curry aisle at Tomato
Take a shopping list, but go for pleasure. If you really want an international experience, try a weekend mid-day and enjoy the bustle and crush of what it's like shopping in another country.

Are there international groceries in your area? Do you have shopping recommendations that would help others find these stores?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tag, You're It: STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW, A Cherry Tucker Mystery

I was tagged by Judy Alter, author of the Kelly O'Connell mysteries and other novels. Her TROUBLE IN BIG BOX released about the same time as my mystery, and I had the pleasure of "meeting" Judy online to talk about her newest Kelly O'Connell mystery. Check out Judy's books at her website:

She tagged me to answer these questions about my newest Cherry Tucker mystery, STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW, which comes out in May.

What is the working title of your book? 

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The second time we lived in Japan, there had been a major poisoning incident the previous year. Because there's so little crime in Japan, particularly this kind of murder, the posioning made headlines far into the next year as the trial went underway. I was intrigued by the curry poisoning incident and gave me an idea for a murder mystery. 

What genre does your book fall under?
Mystery, specifically amateur detective, although some call it a cozy mystery.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This time, I'm choosing actors from the Cast of Game of Thrones. I'd like to see them do Southern accents. 
Cherry: Emilia Clarke, who plays the ethereal mother of dragons, Daenerys Targaryen.
Luke: Kitt Harington, who plays Night Watch soldier Jon Snow.
Todd: Nikolaj Coster-Waldeu who plays bad boy Jamie Lanister.
Max: Sean Bean, who played Ned Stark.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Cherry Tucker is in a stew when her friend is poisoned and her cop boyfriend tries to prevent Cherry from serving the killer a hot bowl of justice.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
STILL LIFE is published by Henery Press, the publisher of all the Cherry Tucker mysteries.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote some scenes during NaNoWriMo last year, but it was a different manuscript. In total about three months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Nancy Martin's Blackbird Sisters mysteries, if they were Southern and trashier. Some readers compared the first Cherry Tucker, PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY, with the Stephanie Plum novels.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Cherry Tucker, my main character from the first book in the series. She's very demanding.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There's more goats, hot men, and dead bodies than in PORTRAIT. I'm a giver.

Thanks Judy for tagging me! 
And tag you're it--
Connie Gillam. Check out her books at Her newest, a young adult paranormal THE 5th REALM has just been published!

LynDee Walker, whose FRONT PAGE FATALITY comes to life in January! 

Kellie Kamryn, whose TUMBLING HEARTS, a gymnast's romance, is now available.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Expat Recipe: Curry Noodle

This Curry Noodle recipe was sent to me by an expat friend, Cheryl Crowder, whom I met while living in Nagoya, Japan. Curry noodle is one of her Japanese go-to meals, although I had never eaten it before making it here in the States. We often eat Curry Rice at home and noodles soups, but not this yummy concoction. The recipe uses udon noodles, a thick, white noodle made from wheat and a common soup noodle in Japan. However, Curry Noodle is not a soup. It's actually a curry. A curry for noodles instead of rice.


It is delicious. And not hard to make. Don't let the roux fool you. I often see butter and flour and think myeh, don't want to deal. I confess to being an extremely lazy cook.

Dry Udon noodles
Boiled Udon noodles
Here's the other thing. This is truly a recipe that can be adapted for the American kitchen. I decided to make this on a whim and went to my local Kroger for ingredients. At home, I had the staples to make the sauce: curry powder, soy sauce, sake, and rice wine vinegar. My Kroger did not have hakusai cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, or Japanese peppers. I used plain old green cabbage, portobello mushrooms, and a bell pepper as substitutes  If you can't find udon noodles (my Kroger did have them in the tiny Asian section), any thick noodle will work. You should be able to find curry powder in your spice section. This is not spicy, by the way.

One other note. You may find it strange that instead of chicken stock, the recipe calls for bouillon. In Japanese and Chinese recipes, I often use bouillon dissolved in hot water. In fact, in Japan you can't find canned chicken stock easily. I use powdered bouillon or a Chinese chicken stock paste you dissolve in water, much more convenient than the canned stuff.
Adding veg to the curry soup mixture


Seasoning Sauce

2/3 c soy sauce
1/3 c vinegar
2 TB sake
1 tsp chopped garlic 
1 tsp chopped ginger
2 TB minced onion
Mix together and keep in a separate bowl

5 TB butter
7 TB flour
3 TB curry powder
the equivalent of 4 chicken bouillon cubes dissolved in 5 cups of water
2 cup milk

200 grams (1/2 lb) pork cut in small pieces or sliced thinly
1 onion, chopped
3 Japanese small green peppers (or 1 US sized pepper); in bite sized pieces
4 leaves of Chinese hakusai cabbage (I used regular green cabbage, worked fine); sliced
2 green onion; sliced
4 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced (I used portobello)
3 packs of boiled udon noodles 

1. Set your noodles to boil. Udon noodles take about 12-13 minutes.

2. Make the seasoning sauce and set aside

Cooking the roux
adding the noodles
3. Melt butter in a pot. (I used a wok, but a stew pot or deep pan would work). Add flour and saute. Be careful not to let it brown. Add curry powder. Add the milk and mix well to get out the lumps.

4. Add the bouillon soup and stir. Add veggies and meat and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer. Continue to stir because the sauce will thicken. (I waited to add my meat until the simmer because I used thinly sliced pork and wanted it to stay tender).

5. When the veggies are softened and meat is cooked through, add the boiled noodles.

6. Add seasoning sauce, stir well, and heat through before serving.

Enjoy! My family did. Thanks to Cheryl Crowder, we've got a new go-to meal!

Feel free to send me your expat recipes to share on the Expat Returneth. If it's not too difficult for me to make, I'd love to try them!

Friday, October 12, 2012

2012 Mystery We Write Tour Giveaway Alert!

All mystery lovers mark your calendars for 16 days of 16 authors and the chance to win free books and prizes! The fourth Mystery We Write blog tour will begin Monday, November 26 and run through Wednesday, December 11. I will be hosting fifteen authors on my blog and will be visiting their blogs as well.

By following the various author's blogs on the tour and leaving comments, you will automatically be entered to win free books. Winners will be announced at the end of the tour. 

Stay tuned for more details! I'll be giving away an e-book of PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY the first book in the Cherry Tucker mystery series. Winner announced here on December 11!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Flying Evil Monkeys & Japanese Stories on the Displaced Nation

Come visit me today on the Displaced Nation's Random Nomad interview. I had some fun chatting about our experiences in Japan and what led me to becoming a "displaced" person. Don't miss my horror story that explains my deathly fear of monkeys! Read about it by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Expat Movie Review: JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI

In the entertaining documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"(2011) we are ushered into the rarefied world of a sushi master where one perhaps suspects zen-like secrets of perfect sushi preparation will be conveyed in hushed tones and somber declarations. What we get is a portrait of a very typical Japanese man devoted to the old virtues of hard work, perfection, and simplicity. 

Jiro Ono began working when he was 7 because he had to. His parents basically abdicated responsibility to support him and so he was forced into the world of work where he has remained to this day at the ripe old age of 85. He loves work so much he hates holidays and would rather be at his little sushi shop near a Tokyo subway station than anywhere else, including and especially his home, it seems. 

And yet he has a decent, if somewhat distant, relationship with his two sons, who have both followed him into the sushi business. But in this as in so many other ways he is a typical Japanese working man, if more of the old school than the current generation. 

His work is his life and it is what defines him, period. His devotion to his craft is admirable and, at the same time, ordinary in its Japanese-ness. He completely eschews the lofty pretensions and indulgent idiosyncrasies of the modern chef-cum-celebrity. He just loves making sushi and thinks incessantly of how to improve his product and how it is consumed (even to the point of dreaming about it).

Of course there is ample coverage on how he carefully selects fish and other ocean creatures, his rice, and how all of this is prepared. Most of the work is now done by his older son or his staff, but he still acts as a sort of master quality control engineer. One of my favorite tidbits was how he prepares octopus, which is notoriously rubbery. He solves that deficiency by having some poor apprentice knead and knurl the octopus for at least 45 minutes, by hand. My fingers cramped at the thought but my mind marveled at the elegant, if tedious, solution to the problem. 

The heart of the story for this man devoted to work is the relationship with his sons, especially his eldest, who has the heavy burden of taking over for Jiro after he leaves the scene. Their relationship is rooted in the business, but in Japan this affords them more time together than is typical. And they really seem to enjoy being with each other, exhibiting a comfortable ease with one another even as they know that the older son will be hard-pressed to successfully maintain his father's legacy.

I really enjoyed seeing the mundane aspects of Japanese everyday life and culture as experienced in Jiro's restaurant and was inspired by his commitment to perfection, quality, and giving joy to his customers.  I hope you enjoy it, too. 

Trey Hoffman 
After getting his M.A. in Japanese Art History, Trey Hoffman eschewed university life for Japanese business. He's worked for four Japanese companies in the U.S.; for a U.S. state office in Japan; and for a Japanese City Hall in the JET program. A father and husband, Trey enjoys teaching his kids about other cultures and introducing them to bizarre foods.