Archive for the ‘Tokyo’ Tag

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)

tokyo: harmonica yokocho & koishikawa korakuen gardens   2 comments

Saturday, July 22:  Today, I have quite an ambitious schedule.  This is my last weekend before classes end, although my contract with Westgate goes through the Tuesday after next, to August 1. Next weekend, before I move out of my apartment on that Tuesday, I’ll go north of Tokyo to stay two nights in Nikko.  Thus, today and tomorrow are the last days to see everything I want to see in the Tokyo area.

My goal for today is to visit the shopping arcade Harmonica Yokocho, then go to Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens.  From there, I’ll go to the Mori Art Museum and then I’m supposed to meet Graham for drinks at the Aldgate British Pub near Shibuya. None of these places are next to each other, so I’ll be on the metro and walking quite a bit.

Harmonica Yokocho in Kichijōji is one of the few shopping arcades left in the face of rampant development. Built as a flea market in the early postwar years, so many stores were crammed into the arcade that it was nicknamed “harmonica” because these stores were like harmonica reeds.  Today, as many as 98 stores are open for business. Many are restaurants where a person can enjoy lunch or dinner, and souvenir, or omiyage, shops (Tokyoing: Harmonica Yokocho).

In addition, the alleys are lined with grocery and clothing stores, along with specialty shops for goodies like yokan (sweet bean jelly), pork cutlet and taiyaki (fish-shaped pancakes filled with anko bean paste) (Justgola.com: Harmonica Alley).

Harmonica Yokocho

The arcade is very colorful — with flower shops, red lanterns, plastic food displays, vibrant signs, vending machines, bars, street art and quirky statues.

Of course, as I’ve arrived at 11:40 a.m., I immediately begin to check out all the restaurants in Harmonica Yokocho for a lunchtime spot.

Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

food displays at Harmonica Yokocho

restaurant at Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

I enjoy all the odd and even risqué sights as I stroll around Harmonica Yokocho. 🙂

At about 12:15, I come across a Thai restaurant in a basement, Krung Siam, where I stop to enjoy the air-conditioning and a shrimp pad thai.

After lunch, I leave Harmonica Yokocho and head for the train station. From Kichijōji Station, I have to travel about 25 minutes on two different lines to reach Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens.  I take the Chuo-Sobu line to Nakano Station, switch to the Tozai Line and go to Iidabashi Station.  Then I have to walk some distance to the garden, crossing over an elevated walkway over a huge intersection.  I finally get to the garden at 1:45, an hour after leaving Krung Siam.

Koishikawa Korakuen Garden was originally built by Yorifusa, the founder of the Mito branch of the Tokugawa clan, as a second residence. In 1629, it became his main residence.  Later, it was completed as a garden during the reign of the second clan ruler, Mitsukuni.  Its style is kaiyu-style (circuit style) with ponds and man-made hills around the pond.

When Mitsukuni set about constructing the garden, he incorporated some concepts of the Chinese Confucian scholar Shushunsui of the Ming dynasty, including a garden reproduction of Seiko Lake in China, a “Full Moon Bridge” and other features with cultural origins in China (Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association: Koishikawa Korakuen Garden).

The name “Korakuen” was derived from a Chinese text “Gakuyo-ki,” meaning “Worry before all worries in the world, and enjoy after all enjoyments of the world.” Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens is designated as the Special Place of Scenic Beauty and Special Historic Site of the country by the Cultural Assets Preservation Act.  This double designation is quite rare in Japan (from the garden’s English pamphlet).

The central pond in the park is called Dai-Sensui.

Dai-Sensui at Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

bridge near the lotus pond

Lotus pond at Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

Lotus pond at Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

Oigawa is a river named after a river that ran through Kyoto, Arashiyama region.

Oigawa

Seiko-no-tsutsumi bank was made to resemble the bank of Lake Seiko (Xi Hu) in Hangzhou (present-day Zhejiang province) in China.

Seiko-no-tsutsumi

Seiko-no-tsutsumi

This rock was called Byobu-iwa, or picture screen rock, because it rose vertically like a picture screen. It is said the 3rd shogun, Iemitsu, often visited this place and sat on the stone by the river.

Byobu-iwa

This vermillion bridge is one of the special features of the garden.

Tsuten-kyo

Tsuten-kyo

Tsuten-kyo

As I hop across the stepping-stones in the river to get pictures of the bridge, a swarm of mosquitoes alights on my ankles in full attack mode.  I hop off the rocks and am scratching furiously for the rest of my time in the garden.  Between my profuse sweating in the sticky heat, and the mosquito bites, this is quite a miserable visit.

Tokujin-do is the oldest building in the garden. When Mitsukuni, an earnest Confucianist, was 18 years old, he was deeply moved by reading Shiki (Record of Great Historians) “Biographies of Boyi and Shuqi.”  Wooden figures of Boyi and Shuqi used to be enshrined in this small temple.

Tokujin-do

door of Tokujin-do

Maro-ya created the cozy atmosphere of a tea house; it was rebuilt in 1966 after being burned down in the air raids.

Maro-ya

Engetsu-kyo (Full Moon Bridge) was named so because of the reflected shape of the bridge on the water surface that appeared like a full moon.

steps over Engetsu-kyo (Full Moon Bridge)

Engetsu-kyo (Full Moon Bridge)

Walking up a hill past the Full Moon Bridge, I have sweeping views of the Inada, or Paddy Field.  It was created by Mitsukuni with the motive of teaching the hardship of farming to the wife of his heir, Tsunaeda.  Today, primary school children in the local Bunkyo ward participate in rice-planting in May and harvesting in autumn.

view of Inada (Paddy field)

When Mitsukuni, the 2nd lord of the Mito-Tokugawa family, met the third shogun, Iemitsu, he was given a statue of a patron saint of literature. Later, he built a small shrine called Hakke-do to enshrine the statue in. The shrine was burned down in a big fire after the Great Earthquake of 1923.  All that remains are the Hakke-do traces.

Hakke-do traces

The Ume Grove blooms with 30 different types of plum blossoms in early February.

Ume Grove

Wisteria trellises

As is typical with gardens in Tokyo, modern-day buildings surround the garden.  Here, Tokyo Dome reminds one that the garden is in the midst of urban Tokyo.

pond in the garden

Engetsu-kyo (Full Moon Bridge)

wisteria trellises

Kuhachi-ya is a model of a “Sake house” found in the countryside during the Edo period.  The original structure was destroyed by air raid in 1945 and was rebuilt in 1959.

Kuhachi-ya

stone lantern

pond in the garden

some glimpses of autumn in July 🙂

By 2:40, I’m heading back over the elevated walkway to the train station, where I’ll go to Azabu-juban Station to visit the Mori Art Museum.

elevated walkway on the way to Iidabashi Station

elevated walkway on the way to Iidabashi Station

elevated walkway on the way to Iidabashi Station

I debate whether I even have time to visit the Mori Art Museum, as I’m supposed to meet Graham at Shibuya Station at 5:00 to go to the Aldgate British Pub for beers and dinner.  I’ll have to rush!

 

shinjuku: kabukichō, hanazono-jinja, and golden gai — topped off by a gelato at isetan :-)   3 comments

Sunday, July 16:  After Yukie and I leave Omoide Yokocho, we head toward Kabukichō, walking through an underpass.  On the walls is a large colorful and whimsical mural painted by schoolchildren.

Street art on the way to Kabukicho

Yukie with street art on the way to Kabukicho

Street art on the way to Kabukicho

Street art on the way to Kabukicho

We walk through the boisterous Shinjuku area a little after noon.  We’re both getting hungry; Yukie has in mind a particular okonomiyaki restaurant where we plan to eat savory pancakes.

on the way to Kabukicho

on the way to Kabukichō

Kabukichō is Tokyo’s notorious entertainment district, established in 1948 as part of the World War II reconstruction effort. Originally a swamp, a duck sanctuary, and then a residential area, Kabukichō has transformed since it was destroyed during the war to a world-famous red-light district housing over three thousand bars, nightclubs, love hotels, massage parlors, hostess clubs, peep shows, cabarets and the like.  Tourists can be seen in Kabukichō even during daytime (Wikipedia: Kabukichō, Tokyo).

Kabukicho

Often called the “Sleepless Town” (眠らない街), the district’s name comes from late 1940s plans to build a kabuki theater. Kabuki (歌舞伎) is a classical Japanese dance-drama, known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers. Although the theater was never built, the name stuck (Wikipedia: Kabukichō, Tokyo).

Kabukichō

The place is somewhat deserted on this hot summer day, but I can imagine it is quite lively at night.

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

We finally find our lunchtime spot in Kabukichō and enjoy our okonomiyaki in a dark, cool atmosphere. Okonomiyaki, found throughout most of Japan, is made of a batter of flour, grated Chinese yam, water or dashi (a Japanese cooking stock), eggs and shredded cabbage; in addition, it often contains other ingredients such as green onion, meat (generally thin pork belly, often mistaken for bacon), octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, konjac (yam cake), mochi (Japanese rice cake), or cheese. Okonomiyaki is sometimes compared to an omelette or pancake and may be referred to as a “Japanese pizza”(Wikipedia: Okonomiyaki).

I enjoy a shrimp pancake and Yukie gets pork. It’s too dark inside to get any decent pictures of them, but they are filling and delicious.

Lunchtime

After lunch, we continue our walk around Kabukichō.  It’s so loud here, with abrasive music blaring out of the various establishments. Plus we are dripping in sweat from the sweltering city air.

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

I can imagine it must be very lively here at night with all the sex shops, bars, neon lights and robot restaurants.

Robot bar in Kabukichō

Robot bar in Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

We dip into the Hanazono-jinja Shrine, which I’ve visited before (the shinjuku skyscraper district and a vermillion shrine {walking tour 17: part 2}).   It houses the guardian deity of Shinjuku.  Every Sunday, the Aozora-Kotto-Ichi (antique open air flea market) is held on the grounds.

Hanazono-jinja Shrine

Hanazono-jinja Shrine

Hanazono-jinja Shrine

Hanazono-jinja Shrine

ema at Hanazono-jinja Shrine

At the flea market, I buy a kokeshi doll for 1,200 yen (($11.15). These dolls are handmade from wood, have a simple trunk and an enlarged head with a few thin, painted lines to define the face. The body has a floral design painted in red, black, and sometimes yellow, and covered with a layer of wax. One characteristic of kokeshi dolls is their lack of arms or legs (Wikipedia: kokeshi). I’m so excited to finally buy one of these adorable dolls. 🙂

We finally decide to take a stroll through Golden Gai, an area of six narrow alleys connected by even narrower passageways.  Typically, the buildings are just a few feet wide and are built so close to the ones next door that they nearly touch. Most are two-story, having a small bar at street level and either another bar or a tiny flat upstairs, reached by a steep set of stairs. None of the bars are very large; some are so small that they can only fit five or so customers at one time.  The buildings are generally ramshackle, and the alleys are dimly lit, giving the area a very scruffy appearance. However, Golden Gai is not a cheap place to drink, and the clientele that it attracts is generally well off (Wikipedia: Golden Gai).

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

As we walk through the nearly deserted alleyways, we’re surprised by a lion bicycling quickly down the alley.  He or she is certainly a colorful character.

lion on a bicycle at Golden Gai

bicycling lion at Golden Gai

We leave Golden Gai and Yukie suggests that we should visit Isetan Department Store’s basement for a gelato.  What amazing places these department store food courts are! Everything is so painstakingly and artistically presented.  If I had endless time and money, and a bottomless stomach, I could walk around for hours on end, sampling everything in sight. 🙂

Isetan Department Store

Sweets at Isetan Department Store

Isetan Department Store

sweets at Isetan Department Store

macaroons at Isetan Department Store

We finally find our gelato place, and we squeeze in to a crowded seating area to enjoy the cool air and the frozen treat.

gelato at Isetan Department Store

What a fun way to end our time together.  After our gelato, we walk around looking at the gorgeous scarves and clothing in the store.  The store is much too expensive for my taste, but later, Yukie admits to returning for one of the scarves.  We both love scarves and have huge collections.  What fun for me to find someone like Yukie who shares my love of travel, photography, food and textiles.  🙂

Total steps today: 11,957 (5.07 miles)

 

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.

 

 

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: the quirky neighborhood of shimo-kitazawa   2 comments

Saturday, July 15:  As my time in Japan is winding down, I’m slowly but surely marking places off my go-to list.  This hot summer Saturday, I’ll cross off two places, the neighborhood of Shimo-kitazawa and the Yamatane Museum; the museum features an exhibit by Japanese artist Kawabata Ryushi. I’ve decided I’m going to try to do one museum during each of my remaining outings, the main reason being to escape from the heat and humidity into an air-conditioned environment, at least for part of the day.

Shimo-kitazawa is a bohemian neighborhood of narrow streets that has been a favorite hang-out for students, musicians and artists. Although there is an active underground bar, music and theater scene, I’m interested mainly in the quirky boutiques, secondhand shops, and cafes. It turns out I am surprised by the colorful street art and delightful vibe of the neighborhood.

Shimo-kitazawa

It seems I’m always arriving in places right around lunchtime, so I immediately begin looking for a place to eat.  I’m not in a rush, as it’s only 11:40, so I can wait until the right place calls to me.

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

One of the nicest attributes of Shimo-kitazawa is its lack of cars. Despite being on the intersection of two major train lines, there are no proper roads – only narrow lanes barely wide enough to drive down.  Riding bicycles and walking are the main modes of transportation.

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

At a few minutes after noon, I stop into a small family restaurant where the woman speaks perfect English.  I order a salad, asparagus soup, and fresh bread.  It’s also a nice escape from Tokyo’s relentless heat.

lunch stop

After lunch and feeling refreshed, I continue on my merry way through the colorful streets.

Shimo-kitazawa

fashionable street art in Shimo-kitazawa

I love the street art, the funky store windows, the laundry hanging on balconies, and the container gardens I pass in the neighborhood.

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

In one area of Shimo-kitazawa, I stop in at several women’s clothing boutiques, where I buy a couple of cute tops. 🙂  Now my bag is heavier, and I have more places to go!

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Always drawn to vibrant colors, I find myself enticed by a wild sticker-covered table sitting outside of a shop called B-side Label; the entire shops sells stickers.

sticker shop in Shimo-kitazawa

sticker shop in Shimo-kitazawa

The salesgirls are easy-going and welcoming and I ask them if I can take pictures of the stickers.  They’re quite expensive but very cool.  For example, there is a sticker of Tokyo Tower shown in different colors, at sunrise, mid-day, sunset and night-time.  Each sticker has several different versions.  Besides the vast array of fun stickers, the shop offers respite from the heat, so I linger for some time.  I find souvenir stickers of Tokyo sights, plus I get stickers for my three children, based on their interests (food, exercise and surfing).  In the end, I spend about 2,120 yen ($19.50) on stickers, which luckily don’t add any weight to my bag. 🙂

Just before getting on the metro, I see this pretty flower shop.  If I lived permanently in Japan, I’d love to live in this neighborhood and take home a potted plant, even though I’d probably kill it before long (I usually do, quite by accident). 🙂

Flower shop in Shimo-kitazawa

I get on the metro at Shimo-kitazawa Station heading to Shibuya.  Then I’ll change to the Yamanote line to Ebisu Station; from there I’ll walk to the Yamatane Museum. Little do I know how hot and exhausted I’ll be after that! 🙂

 

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