a shinjuku kind of day: yoshida hiroshi at the seji togo memorial sompo japan nipponka museum of art & a stroll through omoide yokocho   9 comments

Sunday, July 16:  Today I am finally meeting my Japanese friend Yukie from Instagram!  We’ve followed each other for a number of years, but I think it must have been when I posted pictures of my trip to Portugal in 2013 that she found me, or I found her.  Ever since I arrived in Japan, she’s been direct messaging me on Instagram to check in with me, to see what my plans are each weekend, to find out what I think of the places I visit, to suggest places I should see, to tell me things about herself.   Her messages to me have been helpful, super friendly and caring.  They have made me feel like I belong, that I have a friend here, that I’m not alone in this sprawling and unfamiliar world.

Yukie goes by the name of @mondechiara on Instagram.  I highly recommend you check out her photos. She’s an enthusiastic lover of art and travel, and she holds a special place in her heart for Portugal. On her Instagram page, she posts pictures of Portuguese laundry (which she adores!), Lisbon streetcars, building facades and azulejos, rooftops and balconies, street art and coastlines.  She also posts pictures of her cats, as well as pictures of Kamakura (with plenty of hydrangeas) and the greater Tokyo area. She has a 14-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter and works full-time in Tokyo.  Though she works hard, she always finds time to attend her children’s extracurricular events, to go out to tea or dinner with friends, to visit art galleries, or to go on photo outings.

Not only has she been a friend to me, but she is an inspiration as well. 🙂

She suggested we meet in Shinjuku to visit the Yoshida Hiroshi exhibit at the Seji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponka Museum of Art.  She had recommended the exhibit to me some time back.  When I sent her a list of all the things I wanted to see in Tokyo before I left, she chose the exhibit (which I’d included on my list) as the place she’d like us to visit together.

I meet her at 10:00 at the Shinjuku Station West Ground Gate.  She normally doesn’t post pictures of herself on Instagram, so I’m not sure how I’ll find her, but we somehow recognize each other by the looks of anticipation on our faces!  We walk to the museum and join the queue to get in; of course, as is the case with most Japanese museums, no photography is allowed.  I’m disappointed about this because the exhibit is fabulous.

At least, we are able to take pictures of Shinjuku from the 42nd floor museum windows.

view of Shinjuku from the Seji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponka Museum of Art

Out the window of the museum, we also get a view of the Rainbow Bridge, Roppongi Hills, Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, and Shinjuku Station.

view of Shinjuku from the Seji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponka Museum of Art

Hiroshi Yoshida (1876-1950) was a leading landscape painter during the Meiji and Showa eras. Born in Kurume, Fukoka Prefecture, he studied Western-style painting at a private school in Tokyo.

This expansive retrospective exhibition commemorates the artist’s life and work, featuring over 200 carefully-selected watercolors, oil paintings, and woodblock prints ranging from early in his career until his later years.

Hiroshi Yoshida’s uncompromising attitude led his colleagues to dub him the “demon of painting.”  He traveled to the United States in 1899 where he held several exhibitions and won acclaim for his watercolor painting technique and the high quality of his work. He later traveled around Europe and the United States, where he presented oil paintings and woodblock prints of various landscapes around the world and Japan, according to the museum’s website.

Since we can’t take pictures, I buy a couple of postcards of the artist’s woodblock prints, which I’ve photographed below.  The first one, of the wisteria over Kameido Bridge, is a great keepsake, as I visited Kameido Tenjin Shrine on May 7: the wisteria festival at kameido tenjin.  The main difference is that the drum bridge is not red in the woodblock print.  The bridges are now painted a cheerful red color, but they must not have been painted so in 1927.

Postcard by Yoshida Hiroshi – Kameido Bridge, 1927

Yoshida painted a myriad of landscapes capturing natural beauty and is known for being particularly fond of capturing mountain peaks in his works; he even made a point of climbing the Japanese Alps every year. There is a rich expressiveness present throughout his works, underpinned by his careful attention to nature and assured technique, which has captivated people both in Japan and around the world.  The artist has left an indelible impression on the history of contemporary Japanese painting, according to the exhibit write-up.

Sailing Boats – Morning, 1926
From the series The Inland Sea by Yoshida Hiroshi

Hirosaki Castle, 1935
From the series Eight Scenes of Cherry Blossoms –
Japanese woodblock print

Mt. Rainier, 1925
From the series The United States
Woodblock Print

Yukie and I are both in awe of the artist’s amazing talent, so much so that we spend a long time enjoying the exhibit and then linger for quite some time in the museum shop.  Not only do we buy postcards, but we both buy different exhibit catalogs  I spend 3,240 yen ($30) on mine. 🙂

Two hours after meeting and visiting the museum, we take a walk through Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho, a shopping area near Shinjuku’s West Gate that rose up after World War II’s devastation. Before the war, stalls sold clothes, shoes, and personal products such as soaps.  In addition, 30 to 40 booths sheltered with reed screens sold oden (various foods cooked in Japanese style broth), boiled potatoes, boiled red beans, tempura, tsukudani (seaweed boiled in soy sauce), and used books, but all were destroyed by fire.  After the disaster, “Lucky Street,” a black market consisting of stalls divided by boards, appeared.  People who had suffered the upheaval of war gathered in Shinjuku, and started to run their own businesses (Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho: History).

Omoide Yokocho

Around 1947, flour for making ramen noodles, Imagawa-yaki (Japanese sweets made from flour and red bean curd), and udon were controlled goods, and thus were severely restricted by the government. People thus created businesses using uncontrolled goods, so they used entrails of cows and pigs brought by occupation troops.  These “Motsu-yaki” shops, stalls selling roasted giblets with beef and pork, soon became prosperous (Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho: History).  The fact that many bars today serve skewered chicken and roasted giblets is a remnant of this past. Apart from bars, the alley also has many set-meal diners and second-hand ticket shops (Go Tokyo: Yokocho Alleys)

Omoide Yokocho

In the 1960s, Metro extension plans and terminal buildings were rebuilt due to redevelopment.  Some 300 shops from Koshu-Way to Oume-Way were deemed as illegal occupants and forced to leave, and shops from the current “Palette Building,” also as known as Shinjuku West Gate Hall, to Oume-Way were able to survive.  Since then and until now, Omoide Yokocho, “Corner of Memories,” at Shinjuku West gate has continued to develop, offering a taste of bygone times and reasonable prices. (Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho: History)

Omoide Yokocho

Omoide Yokocho

Here is Yukie in front of a wall of colorful stickers at Omoide Yokocho. 🙂

Yukie at Omoide Yokocho

Omoide Yokocho

Omoide Yokocho

Did I mention that, once again, it is sweltering hot here in Tokyo on this July day?  I told Yukie I was going to explore the area around Kabukicho after our visit to the museum, and that of course I’d love to have her come along, but that she shouldn’t feel obligated. I’m happy she decides to come along. When we arranged our meeting, she told me she wanted to take me to an okonomiyaki restaurant.  I have been hesitant to try okonomiyaki because it is often made with squid; as I hate squid I haven’t trusted my ability to order it without that tough chewy creature. Now, as we head toward Kabukicho and the restaurant, I’m looking forward to finally trying the famous savory pancakes.



9 responses to “a shinjuku kind of day: yoshida hiroshi at the seji togo memorial sompo japan nipponka museum of art & a stroll through omoide yokocho

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. What gorgeous artwork! Wow! Very unusual and so full of emotion and insight!!! I wish you had been my friend when I lived in Tokyo for five whole years!!!! You know that city so well and its environs!!! I worked in Shinjuku not far from the station, there were no English signs when I arrived, not one hardly and not in that station! We had to memorize kanji to get around as you know there is an entire city underneath Tokyo connected by the subway stations.

    What memories!!

    Okomiyaki can be made without squid as you now know for sure!! I hate squid too but it is such an amazing type of omelette but so difficult to make because of the number of ingredients!! My exhusband was great at making it though he rarely did. And he never used squid and I never had to eat it with squid! My favourite food though was natto and rice with a raw egg! I still eat it when I can get it here, but not with the raw egg, not worth the risk. I took a Japanese cooking class this summer and learned how to make tempura veggies, gyoza, and sushi rolls. It was 100% authentic and while I have not made them yet at home, my plan this weekend is to make a huge batch of gyoza (vegetarian of course) because the way we were taught made it so easy.

    Really super photos, how great you could meet this wonderful lady!! How different the world was when I was there! We did not even have satellite TV then, so no English anywhere, no computers, just a marginal English language newspaper (Yomiuri Shinbun)! How we craved the outside world! We really lived in such a bubble back then, it was a different time and a different world before the Internet, I miss it!

    Cannot wait to hear about your walk around Kabukicho! Fun place and so noisy and crazy!


    • I know you knew this area inside and out since you lived here. I only visited this part of Tokyo a couple of times, and that was plenty for me; I’m glad I was able to live further out of the city. I liked the more quiet atmosphere of the suburbs. You’d be surprised now by all the English signs.

      The okomiyaki was delicious when Yukie was able to help me order it without squid. Squid always makes me want to gag. Once I could be assured there would be no squid, then I could finally enjoy it. I bet your Japanese cooking class was fabulous. I’m glad you took it, so you can cook up your own memories of Japan. 🙂

      I’m so glad I was able to meet Yukie before I left. She’s a very busy lady, so, even though she was constantly in touch with me throughout my stay, I was worried we wouldn’t find time to meet.

      It’s a shame you didn’t explore more around the Tokyo area when you lived there. There is so much to see and do. I was able to cross off nearly everything on my list that I really wanted to do, except for a few things. It’s unlikely I’ll ever return to the Tokyo area again, though I’d like to visit more of the other areas of Japan: Hokkaido, Okinawa, the Japan Alps, and especially the 88-temple walk in Shikoku. It’s doubtful I will ever teach there again though. 🙂

  2. How lovely to meet a special friend and then have such a wonderful day together. The paintings you saw are beautiful.

    • Thanks, Carol. It was a fabulous day, though very hot! I loved the art exhibit. Too bad I only had the postcards of the woodblock prints. The exhibition was so much more extensive than what those postcards show, and very enjoyable. And Yukie is great! I’m so glad I had the chance to meet her. 🙂

  3. SEIXAL – Portugal
    Merci chère Yukie 🙏🏻 Je vais lire attentivement . Happy saturday

    PASIOT PROUST Françouse
  4. It’s always lovely to transfer an internet friendship to real life.

  5. Nice to meet Yukie, Cathy 🙂 🙂 I had a quick trip to her Instagram too (and approved, of course 🙂 ). Good company was rare for you on your travels so I’m happy you got to spend time together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: