Archive for the ‘Tokyo Metro’ Category

the july cocktail hour: farewell to sagamihara :-)   25 comments

Monday, July 31:  Cheers and welcome to my fourth and final cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart again tonight. A few of us have already made a stop at Dai Trattoria (see below – at the end), so we’re slightly looped already.  I apologize for getting a head start without you.  Sadly, the second plastic chair here has broken; all that’s left is one plastic chair, a small lopsided stool, and a metal chair with the seat falling apart.  No matter.  We can simply stand and mingle; that makes for a better party anyway. 🙂

Please do tell me about your summer.  Have you traveled anywhere exciting over the summer months? Have you seen any good movies?  Watched any good TV shows or read any good books? Have you eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, or visited any pretty gardens?  Have you done anything exciting, or even anything quietly enjoyable?  I love how we can slow down in summer without making any excuses.  I don’t care for summer in general because of the heat and humidity, but I do like the laid-back vibe of a summer vacation.

I finished my semester teaching at the university.  On August 1, I’ll have my apartment inspection, get the 50,000 yen that was withheld from my last paycheck, and then I’ll be on the Shinkansen for Hiroshima.  I’ll travel around Japan for one week, then I’ll head back to the USA on August 8.

The biggest challenges I had to deal with my last month of teaching in Japan were: 1) marking 55 final essays; 2) dealing with the heat; 3) planning my one week trip around Japan from August 1-8; 4) trying to see all the things in the Tokyo  area I wanted to see before leaving Japan; and 5) wrapping up everything so I can leave Japan on August 8.

Here are some of the tidbits of my last month in Japan, as well as a few observations about Japanese culture.

Tuesday, July 4:  I love the Japanese postal system.  If the post office has a letter to deliver that needs a signature, or if they have a package to deliver, they leave a postal slip in your door slot and you can call them on an English-only number to arrange a time for them to try again.  They will schedule the delivery at a time that’s convenient for you.  They’ll deliver as late as 6-8 pm on a weeknight, or any time on Saturdays or Sundays, giving you a two-hour time slot.  The other thing they’ll do is come to your house to pick up a box you have to send.  Today, I arranged with the post office to pick up my first box to send back home by surface.  It’s outrageously expensive to send a package by air+sea, and even more expensive to send one by air, so I chose to send it by surface (11.5 kg) for 7,450 yen (~$68).  Add about $100 for air+sea and about $200 by air!  It’s so convenient, but then of course, the Japanese are all about convenience. 🙂

Wednesday, July 5: I have become quite a regular at Kenji’s fish restaurant, Kiyariya, which I pass as I walk my 30-minute walk home each night.  It’s not cheap, usually costing me about $16, but the food is so good that I’m happy to splurge at least once a week.  I love the eggplant dish soaked in oil with fresh grated radishes.  Tonight I get the grilled salmon and eggplant, accompanied by a cold beer. Every time I leave the restaurant, Natsumi, the server, or Kenji, the owner, walk out with me and say, “See you next week!”

Thursday, July 6: Thursday nights seem to be our nights for cocktail hours at the Family Mart.  Tonight Graham and I go; as always we enjoy ourselves over cold beer and talk of teaching and politics. 🙂  I love these nights because they’re easygoing, not at all pretentious, and cheap.  As we sit outside the Family Mart in our plastic chairs, students often walk past and stop for a chat.

Friday, July 7: My other regular place is the Indian restaurant Curry Naan, where I always enjoy vegetable curry, a HUGE naan, a salad, and cold beer that, when bought with the meal, costs only 100 yen (less than $1!). As always, Beatles music is playing on the sound system.  Tonight, it’s:

Jojo was a man who thought he was a loner
But he knew it wouldn’t last
Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona
For some California grass

Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged

I enjoy my meal in the cool dark atmosphere while listening to “Eleanor Rigby,” “I am the Walrus,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Something,” “Help,” “Yesterday,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “Lucy in the Sky with the Diamonds.”

Who would ever imagine an Indian restaurant in a Japanese city with a Japanese chef playing non-stop Beatles music?

Dinner at Curry Naan

Tuesday, July 11: One of the projects I assigned my students was to create inventions.  They were to come up with a product, create a poster, and then do a sales pitch in front of the class.  Below are the products they created, which I thought were quite fun and original. 🙂

Inventions

Click on any of the following pictures for a full-sized slide show.

 

All my students had to turn in their final essays (after one revision) by Friday, July 7.  I have had a rule while teaching in Japan that I would get all my work done, both marking and planning, during our 9-hour workdays.  I rarely take work home with me. I figure if I have to be in the office 9 hours every day, I should be able to manage my time effectively enough to do this.  As of Tuesday, July 11, I have finished marking class G essays (18).  I celebrate by having dinner at Kiyariya once again. 🙂

Wednesday, July 12: Most days, I eat lunch in the student cafeteria, where we can get cheap hot meals.  I tend to go for the soba topped with vegetable tempura for 290 yen ($2.63). The process is to go to a ticket machine where we pay for a ticket for whatever meal we want.  Then we take the ticket to the window, shown below, where we lay the ticket on the counter and wait to be served our steaming bowl of noodles. I always feel like I am in line for the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, although the ladies are always perfectly nice, unlike the actual Soup Nazi.  Usually I ask for “skoshi,” which apparently means a small amount of liquid (i.e., mostly noodles).  The ladies always know what we mean and serve us our soup accordingly.

Waiting in line for my soba with vegetable tempura

Thursday, July 13: Yet another fun Thursday happy hour at the Family Mart with Graham and Paul.

Monday, July 17: On this Monday night, which is actually a national holiday (we don’t get it off), Graham and Paul try to take me to their favorite izakaya, or Japanese gastropub.  Sadly, maybe because of the holiday, or maybe because it’s a Monday, the place is closed, so we go instead to Jonathan’s for dinner.  Jonathan’s is a lot like a Denny’s in the U.S.A.  As always, we have a fabulous time.

Tuesday, July 18: Today, I send a second box home to USA by surface.  I have to get a box from the post office, using the following Google translate message. This time it costs me 7,800 yen (~$71) for a 13kg box.

Google translation

Wednesday, July 19: My time in Japan is winding down.  I go to dinner at Kiyariya, where I enjoy grilled salmon, eggplant and beer.  I tell Kenji and Natsumi I’ll only be back in one more time.  Once again, Natsumi walks out with me and tells me they are going to miss me. 🙂

Thursday, July 20: Graham and Paul have to attend a meeting with Reiko, our curriculum adviser, about the fall semester.  The meeting goes on for quite a long time. Tobi and I wait and wait for them at the Family Mart; after a while, we give up waiting, leave, and end up having dinner at Curry Naan.  While waiting at the Family Mart, we wonder about this very strange poster on the Family Mart window.

strange sign at the Family Mart

One of my favorite snacks in Japan is onigiri; the snack is made from white rice formed into triangular or cylindrical shapes and often wrapped in nori (seaweed). My favorite onigiri are filled with salted salmon, shrimp or tuna with mayonnaise. Because of onigiri’s popularity in Japan, most convenience stores stock their onigiri with various fillings and flavors.  This is a picture of one of my favorites, shrimp with mayonnaise.

one of my favorite snacks – shrimp with mayonnaise

Friday, July 21:  On my last Friday when walking to the university, I finally stop to take a photo of these colorful houses I have passed every day. I’ve been thinking about doing this all semester, and I finally get around to it on my next to the last day of teaching.  I love the laundry hanging outside.

colorful houses I pass everyday on my way to work

Today, my “I” class wants to start taking pictures, even though it’s not even our last day.  In case you don’t remember, my “I” class is my most rambunctious and difficult to control class, the one that gives me too many challenges to count. Taken individually, they are each great, but as a group, they are out of control.

 

While Graham, Tobi and I are having lunch out at the picnic table, my two students Emiko and Rena, from my “I” class, stop by to join us and take some pictures.  These two girls were Graham’s students last year and mine this year.

 

Monday, July 24: Today is our last day of classes!  I am so excited that I never again have to walk 30 minutes to the university on steamy days, only to arrive at work to find there is little to no air-conditioning.  My classroom is always an oven upon my arrival. We have been told throughout the semester that the university must save money on energy costs since the tsunami and earthquake of 2011, which damaged the Fukushima Daiichi plant and caused a nuclear emergency. Thus, our office is always warm, and the university doesn’t turn on the air-conditioning in the classrooms until class begins.   We’re told they’re supposed to turn it on automatically at the minute class starts, and turn it off the minute class ends. However, they never do, and I always have to ask one of my students to call using the classroom phone.

For some reason the students find it really funny that I’m always hot and want the air conditioning on.  That despite them coming in dripping in sweat, fanning themselves frantically, and complaining about the heat.  As the person at the other end of the line is Japanese, I always ask my students to call.  However, we are told in one of our staff meetings that the administrative people have complained about students calling.  They say students call asking for the air-conditioning to be turned on, and then call again to ask for it to be turned off, all within the same classroom and period.  So, our program coordinator tells us we must call ourselves.  She tells us to say, “Air con mo skoshi suyoi shitte onagaishimus.” The problem with this is that the person on the other end starts rattling off some long sentences in Japanese, and I never know what they’re saying.  So I end up putting my students on the phone after all.  What a ridiculous rule!

Below are 6 of the 8 boys from Class “I” with me, pretending to make the ridiculous air-con call!

I class boys and me calling about the air conditioning

I gave each class a choice as to what we would do on our last day of class. My “I” class chose to play games and to bring their own snacks.  We played several rounds of crazy Pictionary, where team members chose mismatched slips of paper, such as “alligator — does jumping jacks.”  It’s fun, but after a while the students just want to take pictures, which they do.

 

My H class is always super organized and responsible, and they show their personality in our end-of-semester party.  They bring in a large pizza order, collect money, set up a group of tables and organize the chairs around it.  They are totally in charge, and I don’t have to lift a finger.  We all eat, laugh, and talk while they play their favorite music.  It’s my last class of the day and we have a great time.

 

My G class is my quiet class, and they plan their day in the typical “quiet” fashion that reveals their group personality. They order several pizzas which they place at the front of the class.  They also bring the movie, Frozen, which they watch quietly for the entire 90 minute class.

G class

Tuesday, July 25: On Tuesday, we go into the office to clean up all of our stuff.  After cleanup, some of us have lunch together at Jonathan’s: Rob, Tobi, Joe and me.  The others have to attend a meeting about next fall semester, but we don’t have to go as we won’t be returning to AGU.

Wednesday, July 26: On Wednesday morning I take a walk in the rain with Graham in the forest at Aihara.  In the evening, I enjoy my last meal at Kiyariya — eggplant, beer and barracuda.

 

Thursday, July 27: Today, we have individual meetings with our Program Coordinator and Curriculum Advisor near Ueno in Tokyo.  Here, we discuss the grades of individual students.  After our separate meetings, Paul and I walk to the tapas bar, Vinul’s.  On our way, we pass through Ueno Park, where we admire the lotuses blooming at Shinobazu Pond.

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

We get a table outside at Vinul’s and snack on tapas and drink wine. Since Graham’s meeting follows ours, he joins us later.  We enjoy our fabulous farewell dinner.  Sadly, I won’t see Paul again, but I’ll see Graham on Tuesday, when I give him my bicycle.

Graham and Paul at Vinul’s

Graham, me and Paul at Vinul’s

walking to the station after Vinul’s

Monday, July 31:  One thing I haven’t written about was an encounter I had on May 6, when I went to a Meetup at the Knight’s Club in Sagamihara.  It was run by a Californian who has an English school upstairs and a bar downstairs.  There I met a fantastic Japanese lady, Reiko, who speaks perfect English and who has traveled all over the world.  She immediately added me on Facebook and we started chatting with each other.  We even spent a day shopping together on a rainy Sunday in late June.

My colleague Tobi is a single guy and I thought he and Reiko might enjoy meeting each other.  After many failed attempts to introduce them to each other, I finally gave up and just gave each of them each other’s contact information.  They finally started chatting and then met for dinner.

Tonight, I meet them at Dai Trattoria, where we enjoy a fun evening eating pizza, drinking wine, laughing and chatting.  Sadly, though I have pictures, they won’t allow me to post them. 😦

Later, Reiko takes one of the pictures she took of me and dolls me up with a silly photo app.  These are the photos she sends me.

 

Tomorrow, August 1, I’ll have my apartment inspection, leave the apartment for good, and take my first Shinkansen to Hiroshima.  I’m going to miss so much about Japan, but not my tiny rabbit hut and not my job.

Here are a few observations about Japan:

  1.  Japan has the best public transportation system I’ve ever encountered.  The trains are always on time, to the minute, so much so that you can set your clock by them.  I love how, in Tokyo, white-gloved train conductors stand on the platform, pointing left and right to check that the platform is clear as the train pulls into the station.  After the doors to the train close, they do the same routine again, followed by blowing a whistle to signal to the person driving the train.  It’s amazing to watch.
  2.  As much as I like the trains, however, I hate the crowded trains and will do almost anything to avoid them.  For example, there’s a Rapid Express Odakyu train from Machida to Shinjuku, which makes only a few stops as it makes its way to the center of Tokyo.  That train is so crowded that people almost always have to stand.  I try to avoid that train as it makes me claustrophobic.  Sometimes I pay extra for the Romancecar, which travels the same route, has reserved seats and makes no stops.  Or, I take the Yokohama Line to Nagatsuta Station, where I take the Tokyu-Den-entoshi Line to Shibuya.  I almost always get a seat on this line.
  3.  I love how Japan is so clean everywhere.  Rarely does one see a piece of trash on the street.  Everything is neat and orderly.  However, the one thing that baffles me is why there are no trash cans anywhere!  If I get a snack when I’m out and about, there is no place to throw the wrapping.  Or if I get a plastic bottle of water, there is no place to toss the bottle when I’m finished.  I must schlep my trash around with me all day.  I’ve resorted to tossing my trash in the tiny trash cans in the ladies’ restrooms.  When I told my students about my frustrations regarding this, they told me that the Japanese government worries about bombs being left in trash cans.  Thus they don’t put trash cans anywhere.  I don’t know if this is true, or if the government just doesn’t want to pay people to empty trash cans.  It’s very frustrating.
  4.  The bathrooms in Japan are fantastic.  Even public bathrooms are generally clean and well-maintained.  Rarely have I come to a dirty toilet or one without full rolls of toilet paper.  Many toilets are of the electronic variety — bidet toilets, commonly called washlets — in many places.  These offer warmed seats, as well as deodorizing and bidet washings.  Sometimes when you sit on a toilet, a sound system plays bird songs and flowing stream sounds, as if you’re out in nature.  Besides the cleanliness and fancy toilet gadgetry, the toilets are ubiquitous.  At every metro station, both inside and outside the gate, is a public toilet.  Also, 7-11s or Family Marts are on many street corners, where bathrooms are readily available for public use. Especially at tourist spots and temples, toilets are abundant.  Why is it that other countries, most notably the U.S.A., seem embarrassed to admit the need for human beings to use a toilet?? I know that on the Washington metro, there are no toilets inside or outside the gate of a station.  If a person has to go to the bathroom when riding the metro, he/she has to leave the station and find a Starbucks, a McDonald’s or some other kind of restaurant; since restaurants near the metro don’t want people using their toilets willy-nilly, they often require the patrons to buy something to get a code to open the bathroom door.  It’s utterly ridiculous not to openly recognize that human beings need to relieve themselves periodically!
  5.  I love how shopkeepers always greet people with a sing-song welcome and a bow.  The bowing continues in perpetuity, that is until the customer walks out the door of the shop.  It’s such respectful behavior toward one’s fellow human beings.  We certainly don’t have that level of kindness in the U.S. these days.
  6.  Here’s a sign I found on one of the trains in Japan: “Please move to the other side of the door immediately after alighting.”  I love it – “alighting.” 🙂
  7.  In every country where I’ve lived so far, it’s been a simple and straightforward thing to wire money home to my bank account in the U.S.A.  However, it’s quite an ordeal in Japan, at least at Japan Post, where I have my account.  They take forever to get the wire transfer set up, and then they tell you that they will need 6 or 7 days to complete the transfer.  This is unbelievable in a developed country like Japan.  I never had any problem transferring money in Oman or China (not considered developed countries), or even in Korea; in all of these countries the money was in my account within hours after I sent it.  I thought Japan Post was possibly exaggerating the time to protect themselves, but in fact, the process did take seven days!
  8.  I don’t like the workaholic nature of Japanese society.  Most people seem to commute long hours and work long hours, with little complaint.  I found my students don’t envision this life for themselves. I hated the expectations placed on us as teachers.  That’s why I was determined to keep a work-life balance, never taking work home with me.  Most of my colleagues worked during week, plus took work home with them.  I simply refused to do it, and I still managed to get all my work done.
  9. Though I generally managed to eat healthy while in Japan, I found the array of available unhealthy snacks confounding, and tempting.  I developed some bad snacking habits, especially with ice cream or pudding.  My students often acted like our classroom was a cafeteria.  They’d bring snacks, Bento boxes, ramen noodles, anything a person could eat, into the classroom, and ravenously gobble down their food throughout the class session.  I’ve never seen anything like it!

It was a short but fantastic experience living in Japan. I hope someday to return as a tourist, as there is so much to see and do.  I’m sure I barely touched the country and the culture in my four-month stay.  In addition to simply traveling around, I hope one day to do the 88-temple walk in Shikoku. 🙂

 

tokyo: mori art museum, tokyo city view, and the aldgate british pub   13 comments

Saturday, July 22:  I arrive at Azabu-juban Station and I know I need to walk quite some distance, but I have no idea in what direction to go.  Instead of wasting a lot of time, I take a taxi, and it’s a good thing I do.  It’s quite a long ride to the Mori Art Museum. I’m rushed for time since I need to meet Graham at 5:00, and it’s 3:30 when I arrive at the museum.  I need to finish seeing everything by 4:30, at which time I need to catch a train to Shibuya.  The Mori Art Museum is on the 53rd floor, so I head upstairs, where I find a monstrous mammoth hanging over the entrance.

Entrance to the Mori Art Museum

The special exhibit at the museum is SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now. The exhibit runs from July 5 – October 23, 2017. According to the museum’s website:  With its total population counting around 600 million, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-faith Southeast Asia has nurtured a truly dynamic and diverse culture. Contemporary art from the emerging economic powerhouse of Southeast Asia is currently earning widespread international attention. The “sunshower” – rain falling from clear skies – is an intriguing yet frequently seen meteorological phenomenon in Southeast Asia, and serves as a metaphor for the vicissitudes of the region. This exhibition, the largest-ever in scale, seeks to explore the many practices of contemporary art in Southeast Asia since 1980s from 9 different perspectives. It aims to showcase its inconceivable dynamism of Southeast Asia that is somewhat nostalgic yet extraordinarily new (Mori Art Museum: About the Exhibition).

I only have the names of some of the installations and pieces, and only some of the artists, because I simply don’t have enough time to note all the details.  I’m in a rush, so I take pictures and move along.  This is the first museum I’ve visited in Japan where photography is allowed.

metal rods

montage of signs

sign montage

dwelling

Below is a “large-scale collage of overwhelming density that fixes its gaze on what is made, what is destroyed, and what is preserved in Malaysia, thereby questioning the ways of the nation-state” (SUNSHOWER: Highlights).

Liew Kung Yu (b.1960) Malaysia
City of Towering Columns (from the series “Proposals for My Country”)
2009
Photo Montage 213 x 575 cm (This photograph is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan.”)

Liew Kung Yu (b.1960) Malaysia
City of Towering Columns (from the series “Proposals for My Country”)
2009
Photo Montage 213 x 575 cm (This photograph is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan.”)

Liew Kung Yu (b.1960) Malaysia
City of Towering Columns (from the series “Proposals for My Country”)
2009
Photo Montage 213 x 575 cm (This photograph is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan.”)

Liew Kung Yu (b.1960) Malaysia
City of Towering Columns (from the series “Proposals for My Country”)
2009
Photo Montage 213 x 575 cm (This photograph is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan.”)

Liew Kung Yu (b.1960) Malaysia
City of Towering Columns (from the series “Proposals for My Country”)
2009
Photo Montage 213 x 575 cm (This photograph is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan.”)

Liew Kung Yu (b.1960) Malaysia
City of Towering Columns (from the series “Proposals for My Country”)
2009
Photo Montage 213 x 575 cm (This photograph is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan.”)

Since I’ve traveled extensively in Southeast Asia, I am captivated by these photos of Asian dwellings.

I’m not really sure of the significance of this exhibit of building tools.

I’m sorry I can’t give any details about these fascinating collages made from newspapers and magazines.

This installation, called “Words and Possible Movement” is by Jompet Kuswidananto (2013).

Words and Possible Movement – Jompet Kuswidananto 2013 (This photograph is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan.”)

I saw something like these mesh shapes in the Renwick Gallery in Washington.

shapes

amorphous shapes

ping-pong table

According to SUNSHOWER: Highlights: “More than 1,000 wind chimes jangle in the gallery space.  These colorful plastic decorations speak of the festive nature of Southeast Asia and a global economy supported by mass production, as they deliver a palpable vibration from which we sense signs of change.”

Stormy Weather by Felix Bacolor of The Philippines 2009 (This photograph is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan.”)

Stormy Weather by Felix Bacolor of The Philippines 2009 (This photograph is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan.”)

Stormy Weather by Felix Bacolor of The Philippines 2009 (This photograph is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan.”)

Stormy Weather by Felix Bacolor of The Philippines 2009 (This photograph is licensed under “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivative Works 2.1 Japan.”)

It’s a shame I have to be in such a rush, but I’m worried about meeting Graham on time.  Neither of us have phones that work in Japan, so it will be impossible to contact each other if we are running late. It turns out after I rush through the exhibit, it’s 4:04.  I debate whether I should do it, but I decide I can just squeeze in a visit to the Tokyo City View Observation Deck, which is on the 52nd floor.  I’m so glad I do as these are the finest, and only, views I experience while I’m in Tokyo.

Here are the views to the east.  Tokyo Tower is the red and white tower.

Tokyo City View

Tokyo City View

Tokyo City View

Tokyo City View

Tokyo City View

Tokyo City View

Tokyo City View

The observation deck seems to have a helicopter landing pad.

Tokyo City View Observation Deck

The views to the west are more hazy, as I’m facing into the sun on a hot summer day.

Tokyo City View

Tokyo City View

Tokyo City View

It’s about time for me to leave, so I take one last shot to the east and then I head downstairs.

Tokyo City View

I ask at the museum desk about the fastest way to get to the train station and the woman tells me I should catch a bus to Shibuya that takes a half-hour. I do this, and am panicking when the bus becomes stuck in a slow-moving traffic jam.  Finally, I’m let out at Shibuya Station and I am walking across Shibuya Crossing with all the crowds at 5:02, only a few minutes late!

Shibuya Crossing

Graham got to our meeting spot early, so he is starting to wonder if I’m lost, but we finally find each other and head through the streets to the Aldgate Traditional British Pub.

Shibuya

Shibuya

Shibuya

The Aldgate Traditional British Pub

At the pub, we enjoy a meal of fish and chips, draft beers, and lots of laughs, as always. Graham was supposed to bring his partner, Ako, with him this evening, but she backed out at the last-minute because she didn’t feel good. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to meet her.  Graham wanted to reschedule our meeting for next weekend, but as I’ll be in Nikko next weekend, we couldn’t find a time that would work.

When we leave the pub in the dark, we’re accosted by the bright lights of Shibuya.

I had never managed to see the Hachiko statue in all the times I’ve been to Shibuya, and quite by accident, I stumble upon the famous statue.  If you don’t already know the story, you can find it here.

Hachiko Statue

It’s been a long but productive day, topped off by an enjoyable evening with my good friend Graham.  I’ll certainly miss him when I go home. 🙂

Total steps today: 17,653 (7.48 miles)

shibuya & the yamatane museum of art   4 comments

Saturday, July 15:  Back at Shibuya Station, I finally see the famous “Myth of Tomorrow,” Okamoto Taro’s 1967 mural commissioned by a Mexican luxury hotel.  It disappeared two years after its creation, but was finally found in 2003.  In 2008, the 30-meter long work, which depicts the atomic bomb exploding over Hiroshima, was installed inside Shibuya Station.

Myth of Tomorrow at Shibuya Station

Myth of Tomorrow at Shibuya Station

At the far end of the 2nd floor, on the way to the Inokashira line, is this pretty tile mural.  I don’t know much about it, but it’s very colorful.

Colorful tile art at Shibuya Station

Colorful tile art at Shibuya Station

Shibuya Station has a lot for which it’s famous.  Shibuya Crossing is rumored to be the world’s busiest, and is nicknamed “The Scramble.” People cross in all directions at once.  I’ve crossed here before, but until today, I’d never had a high-up vantage point. It’s fun to watch from Shibuya Station’s second floor, near the “Myth of Tomorrow” mural.

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

From Shibuya Station, I get on the Yamanote line and go one stop to Ebisu Station.  When I get out, I need to walk some distance to the Yamatane Museum of Art, but I have no idea in which direction to walk.  I normally try NOT to turn on my cellular data while I’m in Japan, but here I’m so hopelessly lost, that I must turn it on to follow Google Maps to the destination.  I finally get to the museum at 3:30, an hour after leaving Shibuya Station.  It’s a long hot walk up and down hills to get to the museum, and I am soaked in sweat by the time I arrive!  How I hate this Tokyo weather!

Kawabata Ryūshi at The Yamatane Museum

The Yamantane Museum of Art is featuring an exhibit by Kawabata Ryūshi (川端 龍子, June 6, 1885 – April 10, 1966).  The artist’s name was the pseudonym of a Japanese painter in the Nihonga style, active during the Taishō  (July 30, 1912 – December 25, 1926) and the Shōwa (December 25, 1926 – January 7, 1989) eras. His real name was Kawabata Shotarō.

While working as a magazine illustrator, Kawabata Shotarō studied Western-style painting at various studios.  In 1913, he traveled to America.  After returning to Japan, he switched to creating Nihonga.  The Nihonga style refers to paintings that have been made following traditional Japanese artistic conventions, techniques and materials, according to Wikipedia: Nihonga.

He became an advocate of art created for large public spaces and his works stood out for their immense, dynamically charged expression.  In 1959, he was designated a Person of Cultural Merit and awarded the Order of Culture.

Yamatane Museum

I am interested to find out that in 1950, after the death of his wife and son, Kawabata Ryūshi went on the 88-temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, something I want to do sometime.  He took a total of six years to make the circuit, sketching extensively along the way. I don’t plan to take that long to do the pilgrimage, if I’m able to do it! 🙂

As is usually the case in Japanese museums, visitors are not allowed to take photographs. The only photo that is allowed is of this panel, Pearl Divers, painted by the artist.  You can see some of the artist’s work on this link: Kawabata Ryūshi.  Also, I bought several postcards from the museum and took pictures of those, shown below.

Pearl Divers, Kawabata Ryūshi

Pearl Divers, Kawabata Ryūshi

Ryūshi was known for his love of family, his devotion to Buddhism, and his passion for haiku poetry. He composed haiku, one verse a day, throughout his life.

Three cranes by Kawabata Ryūshi

Japanese Irises by Kawabata Ryūshi

Bomb Exploding by Kawabata Ryūshi

After spending a half hour at the rather small exhibit, I make my way back to Shibuya, where I’ll take the train home. At Shibuya Station, I still don’t see the famous Hachikō statue, but I do find this mural of the legendary loyal dog.

Hachikō the dog was a golden brown male Akita Inu (a Japanese breed from the mountains of northern Japan) who arrived every afternoon at Shibuya Station to wait for the return of his master, Professor Hidesaburo Ueno. This pattern went on for just over a year, until one May day in 1925, the Professor suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while away at work and died. Each day, for the next nine years, nine months and fifteen days, Hachikō awaited Ueno’s return, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station. Over these nine years, the fame of Hachikō grew with several articles in the newspapers (GoJapanGo.com: Hachiko Statue and Wikipedia: Hachikō).

Hachikō mural at Shibuya Station

The story of Hachikō is often told as an example of great loyalty.  The story of Hachikō has also been told in the British-American drama film Hachi: A Dog’s Tale in 2009, which starred Richard Gere, Joan Allen and Sarah Roemer. This film was remake of the Japanese film, Hachikō, released in 1987.

Hachikō mural at Shibuya Station

Hachikō mural at Shibuya Station

Two hours after leaving Shibuya Station, I’m sitting at the bar at Dai Trattoria Pizzeria, enjoying a glass of chilled white wine, a pizza, and the cool air conditioning. 🙂

Dai

Dai

Tomorrow, I’m excited because I finally get to spend the day with my Instagram friend Yukie.  This will be the first and only time I will meet her in Japan, but I do hope to meet her some other time in the future!

Total steps today: 16,955 (7.19 miles).

 

tokyo: a stroll from yanaka to ueno   4 comments

Saturday, June 24: I can never resist a walk that’s all mapped out, a route just begging to be followed.  Today, I set out to explore a neighborhood I missed when I went to the Ueno area of Tokyo soon after I arrived in Japan.   The City Walk comes straight from the pages of Lonely Planet Japan: ‘Strolling Yanaka,”  and I opt to do it in reverse from the way it’s laid out in the book.

I start by going to Sendagi Station and looking for Yanaka Ginza, a mid-20th century shopping street. It’s easy to find; I simply follow the crowds. Soon, I’m walking under the archway at the street entrance.

Yanaka Ginza

At 175 meters long and 5-6 meters wide, the street is packed with 70 shops (Go Tokyo: Yanaka Ginza Shopping District).

Though compact, the district is chock-full of restaurants and shops selling yukata, souvenirs, flowers, fans, Hello Kitty paraphernalia, fruits and vegetables, flip-flops, baskets, pillows, housewares, and anything else a person could want.  Jovial folks snack and drink beer while sitting on overturned milk crates.  It’s quite a festive atmosphere.

shops in Yanaka Ginza

Yukata in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

produce for sale in Yanaka

produce in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

straw sandals

menus in Yanaka

Yanaka archway

bicycles in Yanaka

cute shop with bicycle in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

Yanaka Ginza

shop in Yanaka

At one point along the street, I find a small hole-in-the-wall that sells okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients.  I haven’t yet tried one yet, because I’ve read that most of them contain squid, which I despise. I type into my Google translate app on my phone: “Can I get one without squid?” and show it to the shopkeeper.  He shakes his head no, so I move on.  Instead, I stop at a little bakery that sells slices of pizza and get one to carry with me.  I munch on it as I walk down the road, even though I know it’s considered rude to eat while walking in Japan.  I have no choice, however, as all the milk crates are occupied. 🙂

Yanaka Ginza

exotic merchandise in Yanaka

At the far end of the street, I climb the Yuyake Dande, literally “Sunset Stairs,” until I approach Nippori Station.

Yuyake Dande, literally the “Sunset Stairs”

baskets for sale

shopfront in Yanaka

I take a sharp right at the train tracks and walk along them until I reach the entrance to Yanaka-reien, or Yanaka Cemetery. Here, the paths are well-manicured and wide, presenting a good trail for a tranquil stroll. The grave of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of the Edo period, is located within the cemetery, according to Japan-guide.com.

Yanaka-reien

According to Lonely Planet Japan, Yanaka-reien is “one of Tokyo’s most atmospheric and prestigious cemeteries.”

Yanaka-reien

gate at Yanaka-reien

small shrine at Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

hydrangea in the temple area of Yanaka

I continue on my walk toward Ueno Park, taking several detours to visit some of the temples in the Yanaka area.  It’s hot and humid today, so I’m sticky with sweat and my mouth is dry.  Thank goodness for all the vending machines on street corners. I buy one of my favorite flavored waters and continue walking, dipping into the various temples along the way.

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

hydrangeas in Yanaka

temple area of Yanaka

After leaving the temple area, I cross over Kototoi-dori and continue my walk through neighborhoods on Sakura-dori until I reach Ueno Park.

pink house on the way to Ueno

I pass by the Tokyo National Museum thinking that if I have time while I’m in Japan, I really ought to visit the museum.  I also walk past Rinnoji Temple, also known as Rinno-ji Ryodaishi-do, a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Ueno Park Tokyo; it was originally a part of the cathedral of Kaneiji Temple and was called Kaizan-do or Jigen-do, according to GoJapanGo.com.

Rinno-ji

Within minutes I’m on an overpass looking down on the extensive rail tracks converging on Ueno Station.   My goal is to get to Ueno Station and find a tapas restaurant my friend Graham has told me about.  I don’t know the name of the restaurant, so I put “tapas restaurant” into Yelp and find one called Vinuls. The app says it’s near Ueno Station, which is where Graham said it was.  I then put the name into Google Maps and let the app lead me to the restaurant.

Ueno Station

I find Vinuls Spanish Bar & Restaurant right outside Ueno Station.  It is so easy!  It’s hot, so I sit inside at the bar and order a glass of cold wine and two small plates, one with prawns and one with tomatoes topped with garlic and olive oil.

Vinul’s

Vinul’s

Vinul’s

My young Japanese waiter, who is attending high school in Tokyo, tells me in perfect English that he lived for a long while in Barcelona and so also speaks fluent Spanish.  He’s friendly and confident; I find when I encounter Japanese people with a command of English, they seem very confident; whereas those with little English ability are very shy in the face of a foreigner.

tapas at Vinul’s

Vinul’s

After enjoying my wine and tapas, I walk across the street to Uniqlo, a discount fashion store much like Zara or H&M.  This is only a small branch of the store, but the clerk tells me they have a big store at the end of the adjacent shopping street, Ameya-yokocho.  Purely by accident, I thus find one of Tokyo’s popular open-air markets. This market got its start as a black market after WWII, when American goods were sold here.

Ameya-yokocho

These days, the market is crammed with vendors selling fresh seafood and produce, Hawaiian shirts, jeans and camouflage clothing.  There are also small restaurants and watch shops.

Ameya-yokocho

I’m surprised at these small markets to find so many Hawaiian shirts being sold.  I think they are so passé, but I find many Japanese young men, and even young women, wearing them.  Even some of my students wear them to class.

Hawaiian shirts at Ameya-yokocho

seafood at Ameya-yokocho

Ameya-yokocho

fresh seafood at Ameya-yokocho

seafood for sale at Ameya-yokocho

produce at Ameya-yokocho

produce at Ameya-yokocho

At the end of the shopping street, I see the huge Uniqlo store across a major intersection, so I wait until the traffic passes and cross over.

Tokyo taxi

At Uniqlo, I get in a bit of trouble buying a couple of shirts, although they’re not very expensive, about $15 each. However, right after leaving Vinuls, I also stopped into another more expensive shop and bought two other tops.  I won’ t say how much those cost. 🙂

One thing I can say about Japan is that it’s a very consumer-driven society, and as a person who has a weakness for shopping, I have a hard time resisting the enticing goods for sale! 🙂

Total steps today: 15,754 (6.68 miles)

the shinjuku skyscraper district and a vermillion shrine {walking tour 17: part 2}   21 comments

Sunday, April 9:  After leaving Shinjuku Gyoen and taking the metro back to Shinjuku Station, I walk out the west side of the station to see the Skyscraper District.  Shinjuku is the world’s busiest train station, handling over 3.6 million passengers a day. With over 200 exits and numerous platforms spread out over a large area, it serves as an essential transit hub for the Tokyo rail and subway network as well as rail links throughout the greater Kanto region.  Department stores cover nearly all sides, according to the Shinjuku Station website.

I’m so confused, I’m not really sure where to exit, but I just see a random west exit and emerge from the depths.  This is my view when I first exit.

the view west of Shinjuku Station

Below is one exit, but not the one from which I came. It’s still raining like the devil.

One of Shinjuku’s 200 exits

Rainy day in Shinjuku

It’s such a drab day, I have to stop to take a picture of a colorful florist.

One of my colleagues had on a cute outfit at work the other day and she said she bought it at Uni Qlo.  I find one here in Shinjuku, so of course I have to go in to explore.  Sadly, I come out empty-handed.

Shopping street in Shinjuku

JUMBO

I have a hard time getting oriented.  There are roads going out into all directions and walkways over the roads.  I wander around and it’s raining so hard, I can’t even get my map out to find my bearings.  I wander around randomly for a while until I find someplace to eat.

Shinjuku Sompo building

streets of Shinjuku

Paloma

Skyscraper District of Shinjuku

There are several restaurants around the area, including one conveyor belt sushi restaurant that is packed with people.  I decide on 3rd Burger.

I’m not too happy with my lunch, as the hamburger “with vegetables” is rather chewy.  However, it is a pleasant place to find relief from the rain and to study my map, rather than continue to wander around haphazardly.

Road construction in Shinjuku

The most noteworthy skyscraper I see first is the Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Head Office Building, corporate headquarters for Sompo Japan Insurance.  At 200 metres (656 ft), the building is the 28th tallest building in Tokyo and the 33rd tallest in Japan.  Inside this building is the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art. It’s named for the Japanese artist who is known for his paintings of young women.  It sounds appealing, and I try to go in but sadly find it is closed today.  It would have been a great way to stay dry for an hour or two.

Sompo Japan Building

The 54-story Shinjuku Center Building has a free observation deck on its 53rd floor, but I don’t bother going up since I won’t be able to see anything anyway.  It serves as the headquarters of the Taisei Corporation and is the workplace for 10,000 people, with 25,000 visitors.  It was featured in the 1984 film, The Return of Godzilla.

Shinjuku Center Building

The most fabulous building in my eyes is the 50-story, 204-meter (669 feet), Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower. The building is home to three educational institutions: Tokyo Mode Gakuen (fashion vocational school), HAL Tokyo (special technology and design college), and Shuto Ikō (medical college). Completed in October 2008, the tower is the second-tallest educational building in the world and is the 17th-tallest building in Tokyo.

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

Shinjuku Sompo building

Shinjuku Center Building

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

I’m surprised to find the LOVE sculpture that originates in Philadelphia.

LOVE at Shinjuku

While walking around in Shinjuku, a gust of wind catches my umbrella and turns it inside out, breaking one of the ribs.  One of the metal pieces is sticking out dangerously, and I can’t help but think it might poke my eye out. As I head to the Family Mart to buy a new one, it stops raining. I put my umbrella in the umbrella stand and go inside the Family Mart to check out what’s available.  Since I already spent an outrageous sum of 2,800 yen (~$26) to buy my umbrella at Tokyu Hands, I’m not keen to spend another 1,280 (~$12) today if I no longer need to.  I only brought a certain amount of money to hold me until pay-day on April 26, and I need to make my money last. I forego the new umbrella and leave my broken one in the rack.  I would have just trashed it, but as Tokyo has such strict rules about what you can put in the trash, I wasn’t sure of how to dispose of it.

Shinjuku

karaoke at Shinjuku

Shinjuku

Busy crossing at Shinjuku

I return to Shinjuku Station to walk over to the east side of the station.  As soon as I exit the station on the east side, two nice Japanese ladies standing near an information area ask me where I’m going.  I tell them I’m in search of Hanazono Shrine. They kindly direct me, and as I make my way there, it starts to rain again.  It’s a light drizzle at first, so I think I might be okay.

eastern portion of Shinjuku

Shopping street east of Shinjuku Station

However, as soon as I get to the Hanazono-jinja Shrine, it starts to pour.  I’m going to get drenched without an umbrella.  I remember seeing another Family Mart near the shrine, so I backtrack and buy the 1,280 yen umbrella, which is much sturdier than my expensive Tokyu Hands one.  I walk back to the shrine, still brilliantly vermillion even in the rain.  It houses the guardian deity of Shinjuku.

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono-jinji Shrine dates back to before the founding of the city of Edo, the former name of Tokyo and seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate,which ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868.  The shrine sits on the site of a garden that belonged to the Hanazono branch of the Tokugawa clan, which is why the name of this Inari Shrine is also that of a daimyō family; these were powerful Japanese feudal lords who, until their decline in the early Meiji period, ruled most of Japan from their vast, hereditary land holdings.  Inari is responsible for many things, one of which is the welfare of merchants.  This leads many local shopkeepers to pray here for financial success.

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

vermillion torii at Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

large torii gate at the entrance to Hanazono Shrine

It’s feeling pretty desolate here at Hanazono, as even the vendors from the Sunday flea market are almost packed up. It’s 3:00 p.m. now, and I am tired of the day and of the rain, so I head back to Shinjuku Station to make my way home.  Before I descend, I see this colorfully painted metal utility box.  It makes me smile before I weave through the crowds at Shinjuku to get back on the train.

a utilitarian metal box turned to art

This time, I take the Rapid Express Odakyu line for Machida, and then to Fuchinobe, where I ride my bicycle home in the rain. Upon returning home, I enjoy a glass of wine and actually cook myself a meal of salmon with some prepared asparagus and a vegetable rice patty.  I’ve been watching the newest season of Grace & Frankie; soon after I settle in to watch, I drift off to sleep, exhausted from the day.

Steps on this walk: 19,560 (8.29 miles).  I didn’t do the entire walk today as I wasn’t that interested in all the skyscrapers and was feeling defeated by the rain. 😦

 

hanami: shinobazu pond, house of taikan yokoyama, ameyoko shopping street {walking tour 9, part 1}   4 comments

Sunday, April 2:  I’ve still not adjusted to Japan time, so I am awake a couple of hours in the middle of the night.  Because of that, I sleep in till 8:00.  It feels so good once I go back to sleep, I don’t want to climb out from under my cozy futon.

When I finally get up, I make myself some fried eggs, a bit difficult without a spatula.  I use a fork, and it is a mess. I also have a carton of cold milk tea from 7-11 which I heat up, but I resolve not to drink tea again.  I’m a coffee person, through and through.

I have been undecided about doing a big outing today because the weather forecast is cloudy and cold. We also have off Monday, and the forecast is better for Monday.  However, the skies have hints of blue this morning, so I rethink my plans. Today is supposed to be the peak of cherry blossoms in Tokyo and I’ve been told THE place to see them is Ueno Park. Cherry-blossom viewing is called hanami in Japanese, and as it’s Sunday and peak time, I expect there will be huge crowds.  Still, I guess that’s what hanami is all about – the whole festive atmosphere and mingling with millions of Japanese all at once.  Walking Tour 9 in my book, Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City, covers Ueno, so I figure I’ll do that. Ueno Park has a bunch of museums within it, and since they all seem to be closed on Mondays, I’ll be limited in my choices if I wait till Monday. Also, for my first solo outing negotiating the Tokyo metro, it won’t be too intimidating as it’s the exact route I took yesterday for our orientation.

All this figuring and rethinking leads me to a very late start, which I’ll come to regret later.

I debate whether to ride my bicycle to metro (a 20-minute walk) because I hadn’t seen a bicycle parking area.  If I rode my bike all the way there and couldn’t find a place to park, I’d have to ride back home and then walk.  I ask a couple of Japanese people along the way, including the bicycle shop man and his mother, but no one understands me.  Finally, a young Japanese woman points me to the left of the station, a couple of blocks down.  I see people disappearing into a garage opening pushing their bikes, so, voila, I follow them.  There are steps bordered by ramps leading to a second level and I’ve found the bicycle parking lot. I find a less crowded area toward the back, so I park there, but when I ask a man in business attire if I need to pay, he tells me in his limited English that the back area is for yearly pass holders.  He says because it’s Sunday, I don’t have to pay, but I would have to pay Monday-Friday.  At first he tells me 1,000 yen, and when I look shocked, he corrects himself and says 100 yen.  He motions that I should park near the front of the parking lot.

After the long metro ride, which I won’t cover in detail as it’s the same one I took yesterday, I arrive at Yushima Station and walk toward Ueno Park, right past our ramen shop where we had lunch yesterday.  A long line of about 10 people stands outside.  I follow the path to the left of Shinobazu Pond, using my Walk 9 as my guide.

First view of cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

The cherry blossoms seem a little past their prime, but that doesn’t stop the hordes of people who have come for hanami.  Every inch of grass is covered by groups of Japanese picnicking and laughing and talking.  The path is packed with people as well.

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

The second portion of the pond is full of people skittering about in swan-shaped pink paddle boats and row boats. At this point, I’m to cross Shinobazu-dori and visit the House of Taikan Yokoyama.

paddle boats on Shinobazu Pond

sculpture at Shinobazu Pond

I debate whether to enter the House of Taikan Yokoyama as no photos are allowed inside and it cost 800 yen. After walking away once, I decide to go in anyway, and I’m glad I do.  The artist’s traditional wooden house is in the sukiya style found often in Kyoto. I’m allowed to take pictures in the entry area, shown below.

Stone lantern at House of Taikan Yokoyama

Entryway to House of Taikan Yokoyama

House of Taikan Yokoyama

House of Taikan Yokoyama

After removing my shoes, I go inside the house to see the tea room, with 15 windows looking out upon the artist’s garden, and a brazier in the middle of the floor with a teapot hanging over it.  The adjacent studio workroom contains the artist’s working tools.  I go into the upstairs bedroom, which also has a view of the garden.

Since I can’t take pictures of the house, I buy a postcard showing a view of the house from the back of the garden, shown below.  The garden is lovely, with its little stream, rocks, carp in the pond, and stone lanterns.

Taikan Yokoyama (1868-1958) spent much of his life in this house, painting in the traditional Japanese Nihonga style, but adding Western approaches to painting later.

postcard of house of Taikan Yokoyama

I also buy some postcards of the artist’s work.  I pick out three, plus the one above picturing the house, and the clerk holds up five fingers, but I’m not sure what she means.  Finally, she gets her co-worker to explain to me in English that I should buy 5 for 500 yen.  Once the woman finds out I am a teacher in a university, she loads me up with 4 booklets about the museum to hand out to fellow teachers, which I now have to carry around the rest of the day!

postcard of Taikan Yokoyama’s art

Below are more postcards of Taikan Yokoyama’s art.  Click on any of the photos for a full-sized slide show.

 

I follow the walk back down Shinobazu-dori to the metro stop where I started, and take a left at Kasuga-dori, and go down a ways until I make another left onto Ameyoko Shopping Street.  More than 500 shops crowd this quarter-mile bazaar under the elevated rail line for the Ueno rail station.

Ameyoko Shopping Street

The name Ameyoko combines two words, Ameya Yokocho, or “Confectioner’s Alley.”  After the Korean War, a pun evolved from the contraction of American Market, since the area sold black market goods from American military Post Exchanges during those years.

Ameyoko Shopping Street

The small shops here now continue the tradition of the Shitamachi, in which small-scale vendors have always operated, selling a wide variety of goods.

Food sign on Ameyoko Shopping Street

Ameyoko Shopping Street

Ameyoko Shopping Street

After this, I continue back into the main part of Ueno Park, where the real fun begins!

two orientations in tokyo … and little kindnesses   11 comments

Friday, March 31:  We have a full day orientation in Tokyo today, so two of my colleagues and I leave our apartment building at 6 a.m. to negotiate the Yokohama and Tokyo metro system.  We walk 20 minutes to Fuchinobe, where we take the JR Yokohama line (local) and get off at Nagatsuta.  We then switch to the Tokyo Denentoshi Line (Semi-Express) for Minami Kurihashi, getting off at Shibuya, Tokyo’s busiest station.  However, we don’t leave the station, as we switch to the Tokyo Metro Hanzoumon (Express) line, getting off finally at Kudanshita.  All of this takes 2 hours, door-to-door. Much of the time, the trains are packed, with standing room only.  We figured this would be the case on a Friday morning, and we were right.

The Tokyo metro is like nothing I’ve ever seen.  Below is a photo of the map.  We are on the outskirts, indicated by the circle around Fuchinobe on the lower left quadrant of the map.  Yokohama is further south and to the right on the lower left quadrant.

One thing I love so far about the Tokyo metro is that every station has a restroom!  I wish the Washington, D.C. metro had the same.  It is so civilized!  It’s always a relief to know I can stop if I need to.

We don’t see this on the Yokohama line, but on the Tokyo line, white-gloved uniformed conductors with hats stand evenly spaced on the platform edge; they whistle and wave yellow cloths or red plastic batons to signal the platform is clear and the doors can be closed. It’s a delight to watch.

The Tokyo Metro system

At Kudanshita’s Exit 5, we’re to turn left at the Starbucks on the left and go straight to Bellesalle Kudan, a large building, possibly a conference center.  Since we’re an hour early for orientation, which begins at 9:00, we get coffee at a McDonald’s near the metro instead.

The morning session is for new teachers to Westgate.  In the afternoon, the returning teachers join us.  All of us are teaching in the accredited program.  Westgate’s other university program is called the extra-curricular program.  I believe that starts later in the month.  There are nine teachers at our university in Westgate’s accredited program.

At lunchtime, I go with two of my colleagues to an Indian restaurant and have an impressive airplane-shaped naan, dal curry and a mango lassi.  Some of us wish it wasn’t lunchtime so we could enjoy a beer.

After orientation ends at 5:00, and we are back on metro, we’re on the lookout for the Nagatsuta stop. We think we are going in the right direction but we’re not certain. A tall thin Japanese man with gleaming brown Oxfords, longish straight black hair and glasses which give him a nerdy-smart look, overhears us discussing this conundrum.  I notice him inclining his ear toward us and then checking the metro map and counting stops on his fingers. I say to my colleagues “He’s helping us,” and he turns to us and tells us we have four more stops, saying Nagatsuta and putting up 4 fingers.  When we get to the station, he says, “Here.”  He is so kind to help us out without speaking any English and without us asking.  I say “arigato” and bow to him.

It is rainy and cold as we leave the station and the guys are walking so fast I am practically running to keep up with them.  Tobias doesn’t have an umbrella and wonders whether he should go out of his way to the big pink superstore to buy one.  He decides against it, and on one long stretch on the way home, a man suddenly appears and offers a bright green umbrella to him.  Two kindnesses in one day.  I say, “All we need is a little kindness in the world.”  I feel especially happy for these gifts, and relieved to be far away from the U.S.A., where kindness is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

Joe and I go to the 7-11 for a few things.  Suddenly, Tobias, who had gone straight back to his apartment, comes to the 7-11 to warn us that the guy selling television subscriptions is hanging around the apartment building.  I don’t want to pay for using the television in my apartment as I never watch it.  Everything on it is in Japanese, except maybe a couple of stations, and I watch everything I need on my computer.  We have been advised not to answer the door to this guy.  Later, he returns, close to 8:30 p.m., knocking and ringing the doorbell, but I pretend I’m not home and don’t answer the door.

Today’s dictionary word of the day is Weltschmerz (Velt-shmerts), which is German.  It means: sorrow that one feels and accepts as one’s necessary portion in life; sentimental pessimism.  The word makes me think of the Japanese man on the train, who seemed a little sad and resigned, and Mary MacKenzie’s complicated and doomed love affair with a Japanese nobleman in The Ginger Tree, and the line from the novel: “There is nothing like living in a country as an enemy alien to really thin down the roster of your friends.”

I was happy to get home to my warm apartment (well, it took a while to warm it up after such a cold and rainy day), especially after the long walk in the rain in my flimsy clothes.  I enjoyed a prepared dinner from 7-11 of tiny mussels with veggies on rice, spicy cucumbers, and an Asahi beer.

Saturday, April 1:  Luckily we don’t have to go into Tokyo for our campus-specific orientation until 10:00, so I have a bit of a leisurely morning.  I prepare my first breakfast in my tiny frying pan: scrambled eggs with grape tomatoes – except without a spatula. Another thing to add to my list. Now that I’ve bought a few things and my suitcases have been unpacked, my apartment is starting to look a little cozier.

I meet my colleagues by the vending machine at 10:00 a.m. and we’re on our way to a different location in Tokyo, the Westgate Corporation office.  This time we walk 20 minutes, take the Yokohama Line to Machida (7 min), then get on the Odakyu Line Rapid Express for Shinjuku (26 min), which is standing room only.  At Yoyogi-Uehara we transfer to the Tokyo-Metro Chiyoda Line (23 minutes).  We get off this line at Yushima.  All told it’s about an hour and 20 minutes.

As soon as we exit the Yushima Station, we go in search of a ramen restaurant.  One of my colleagues has lived off and on in Japan for eight years, so he knows exactly what to look for.  We find a cozy little spot where we order from a machine covered in pictures.  I have no idea what I am going to get, but the picture looks enticing and a young man informs me that it has baby shrimp in it (always a selling point!), as well as some minced pork.  We sit at the bar and soon the waitress brings three steaming bowls.  I have ordered #2 spicy (out of 5), and it is perfect.  I could have eaten a bottomless bowl of this soup.  This is the best meal I’ve eaten in Japan so far.  I guess since most of my meals have come from 7-11, that’s not surprising!

ramen noodles with pork and shrimp and #2 spicy broth

During lunch, I talk with a young Japanese man who works in quality control at a machine parts factory.  He is heading to work after lunch. He’s very friendly and I really appreciate him for making an effort to speak English with us despite it being a struggle for him.

It turns out the Westgate office looks somewhat like an apartment made into office space.  It’s a warm and inviting place for a small group meeting.  Reiko, CDT (Curriculum Development and Training), is very organized and has a laid-back demeanor. We get our schedule and it looks like I’ll be teaching three classes a day on M, Th, and F, 90 minutes each, around 20 students in each class.  Each of the three classes will be the same lesson, much like what I had in China, except I had four of the same class in China. That means one prepared lesson plan per day.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ll also be teaching the three classes, but spread over two days.  It’s good, because it looks like we have planning time built into the schedule.  I will also have an English Camp class to lead, which is conversation where students can just drop in.  It seems I’ll be teaching until 6:30 three nights at week on M, Th and F.  As a morning person, that isn’t ideal.

After our orientation, we backtrack to Fuchinobe by metro, and I peel off to visit the pink superstore, where I buy a bedside lamp (it’s really a desk lamp, but it works), a 3-drawer plastic container for my jewelry, and more hangers.  When I return home, I hang up the rest of my clothes and store my suitcases in the loft.  I’m feeling pretty organized. 🙂

For dinner, since I had a big lunch and am tired from our day and from lugging stuff home, I eat half of a shrimp and pasta dish I got, again from my trusty 7-11, accompanied by a slice of bread and an Asahi beer.

We have the next two days off, so I plan tomorrow to take the same metro route I took today, and visit Ueno Park to see the cherry blossoms; the peak is supposed to be this weekend. I’m using Walk #9 from my Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City book.  The main problem with this book is that it doesn’t tell you the distance or the time.  The walk looks pretty exhaustive.  We’ll see how that goes. 🙂

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