tokyo: a japanese hair straightening and a walk through kagurazaka   Leave a comment

Saturday, July 1:  My main goal this Saturday is to get my hair straightened because, in this Tokyo-area humidity, it’s misbehaving shamelessly. Sadly, the hair salon in Machida doesn’t open until 10:00, so I can’t get an early start. I take the train to Machida and stand outside the multi-story mall, waiting for the doors to open with other Japanese consumer wannabes. We wait patiently, watching two men in standard white shirts stand at attention inside the mall doors.  I know there is no chance they’ll open the doors early because Japan is a punctual country and everything will be done just at the minute it’s supposed to be done. Of course I’m right; at exactly 10:00, the men bow in unison to the people standing outside and unlock the doors.

This is the first time I’ve entered a Japanese mall at opening time, and I find it funny that every shopkeeper is standing at attention at the entrances of their shops.  They bow politely as we walk past, and sing out their welcome message of “Irasshaimase,” or “welcome.”  I smile.  It’s all so adorable.

Up to the fourth floor I go to HAIR SALON SOCIÉ, where I meet Kei for my appointment. In his limited English, he tells me I have a nice shaped head and that my hair is difficult. I agree with him on the hair being difficult, but not on the nice-shaped head!  He begins the straightening process at about 10:30.  Normally a chemical hair straightening takes about 3 hours; by the time he’s finished today, it’s about noon, only 1 1/2 hours.  Of course it worries me that the process is considerably shorter than normal; I wonder if it will “take.” Luckily the process only costs me $115; in the U.S., hair straightening costs me $250!

At noon, I hop on the train, or rather a series of trains, for the long ride to Iidabashi Station.  Sleeping on the seat across from me is an older woman dressed like a Raggedy-Ann doll.  She’s wearing a red plaid gathered skirt and a white blouse with eyelet trim.  White eyelet ruffles bloom out from beneath the plaid skirt. Thick white tights are bunched up around her ankles above a worn pair of brown loafers. Her magenta ruffled hat is pulled down over her forehead, which keeps bobbing back and forth with the train’s movement. I don’t know if she’s just weirdly dressed like this, or if she’s wearing a costume for an unconventional job.  On the streets of Tokyo, I see many, mostly young, girls wearing silly costumes, calling out advertisements for businesses.  Maybe she’s dressed for something like this.  During the entire train ride, I never see her wake up from her slumbers.

Also, on the train, where I’m always seeing interesting people, a young lady gets on with bright turquoise helmet-head shaped hair and bright pink tennis shoes.  Oh the strange things I see in Tokyo. 🙂

Once at Iidabashi Station, I follow the crowds to the neighborhood of Kagurazaka, once famous as Japan’s premier pleasure quarter, or hanamachi (literally “flower town”), abundant with geisha houses. The geisha disappeared after World War II, but a charming atmosphere remains with its quirky shops and cozy cafes.  Kagurazaka was popular with artists and writers, including the Japanese author Soseki Natsume (1867-1916), whose face featured on the 1000 yen bill between 1984 and 2004 and whose birthplace is marked by a stone monument in Okubo, Tokyo’s most famous Korean town.

As my arrival is late and I haven’t eaten, my first goal is to find a place to eat.  I find an Italian restaurant called Trattoria Azzurri.  I know that the area is especially known for its French restaurants, but I’m afraid they’ll all be closed shortly.  It’s nearly 2:00 and I see from the sign that the last order for lunchtime is 2:00. So I pop in and sit at the bar, ordering a vegetable pasta dish.  Though colorful, it’s way too much food and not very good.

trattoria Azzurri

Feeling stuffed, I leave the restaurant at 3:00 and walk down the main street in Kagurazaka.  Red lanterns and charming shops line the road.  It’s hot and humid as usual, but at least my hair is in control. 🙂  I have to pull out my umbrella several times when the sky starts spitting rain, but it clears periodically.

Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

I walk down the street, dipping into shops along the way, mainly to have some relief from the heat.

At one point I come to the Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple (Go Tokyo: Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple), built in 1595 by the first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. In 1792, it was relocated from Chiyoda-ku to its current home.  Originally a Hindu god, Bishamonten was absorbed into Buddhism and evolved into a deity known to grant the people’s wishes. He is one of the Four Heavenly Kings and the protector of the north. In Japan, he is also one of the Seven Gods of Fortune.

Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Here I find omikuji, white paper fortunes, tied to a rack, along with a couple of ema.

wishes and ema at Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Back on the streets of Kagurazaka, I find some pretty hydrangeas.  The season hasn’t yet ended, giving me hope for my third and last try to do the Hasedera Hydrangea Walk tomorrow.

hydrangeas in Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

Foods and flowers are prettily displayed along the road.  I wish I could tell you what these foods are.

Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

French details in Kagurazaka

cafe in Kagurazaka

street art in Kagurazaka

Before leaving the neighborhood, I drop in to the historical Akagi Shrine, which was completely renewed in 2010 under the direction of renowned architect Kengo Kuma, resulting in an impressive, modern version of a Shinto holy site.  (Time Out Tokyo: Akagi Shrine)

red torri to Akagi Shrine

There are some instructions for walking through the circle of grass (?) at the shrine. Though all in Japanese, a chart demonstrates that you walk through the circle and then around to the left and back to the beginning, then through again and to the right, then again through and to the left. Repeating the three circular motions is said to bring good luck.

Akagi Shrine

ema at Akagi Shrine

The shrine is very modern, with glass walls and warm wood, unusual for shrines in Japan.

Akagi Shrine

Akagi Shrine

Akagi Shrine

Akagi Shrine

By 4:00, I’m ready to try to squeeze in one more destination for the day: Akihabara, the shopping district for video games, anime, manga, and computer goods.  Though it’s not my cup of tea, I’ve heard it’s one of those places in Tokyo you have to experience.  So, off I go!

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