Archive for the ‘Tokyo’ Tag

asakusa: kappabashi-dori plastic foods & another buddhist temple {walking tour 8: part 3}   15 comments

Sunday, June 11: After leaving Senso-ji, I continue my walk toward Kappabashi-dori, a street full of shops supplying the restaurant trade. These shops sell everything from knives and other kitchen utensils to mass-produced crockery, restaurant furniture, ovens and decor, such as lanterns and signs. The street also has some shops that sell plastic display foods (sampuru, derived from English sample) found outside Japanese restaurants.

“Shop Planing & Antique” on Kappabashi-dori

I drop into one shop that actually sells the plastic food items to tourists.

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

desserts: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

ice cream: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

pizza: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

sushi: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

snacks: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

I don’t buy any of these enticing but oddly unsatisfying plastic foods, although in retrospect, they might have made for some interesting gifts. 🙂

I continue my walk to the train station, stopping in briefly at Honzan Higashi Hongan-ji along the way.

Approximately 400 years ago, in 1651, the Tokyo Hongan-ji Temple was established in the city of Edo (modern Tokyo) under the patronage of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu by Kyonyo Shonin (1558-1614). It was then known as the Edo Gobo Kozuiji Temple. After a fire in 1657, Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple was moved to its current site in Asakusa and was called Asakusa Hongan-ji Temple. Then in 1965, Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple changed its name again to Tokyo Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple.

It is presently the headquarters of the Jodo Shinshu Higashi Honganji Sect with a following of some 400 temples.  The door to this living Buddhist temple is open to all races, nationalities and people of the world.

Higashi Hongan-ji

Higashi Hongan-ji

I continue my walk to the train station, admiring all the offerings of plates and crockery along the way.

dishes for sale

Total steps: 11,834 (5.02 miles) 🙂

tokyo’s oldest buddhist temple: sensō-ji {walking tour 8: part 2}   6 comments

Sunday, June 11:  After enjoying my conveyor belt sushi lunch, I head to Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s oldest and most popular temple.

According to legend, in the year 628, two Hamanari brothers, Hinokuma and Takenari, fished a statue of the Buddhist deity Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River, and even though they put the statue back into the river, it kept returning to them. Consequently, Sensō-ji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in 645, although most of its main buildings were rebuilt with concrete after they were burned down in World War II.

The temple’s first gate, the vermillion Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate), boasts a huge paper lantern, or Chochin, which is illuminated at night.  Chochin are Japanese lanterns traditionally made with a bamboo frame covered in silk or paper;  that have been crafted in Japan since 1085.

Kaminarimon Gate

After the Kaminarimon Gate is a long shopping street called Nakamise-dori, the Inside Shops Street.  This shopping street is within the temple compound.  Lots of people come here dressed in yukata, mainly to take pictures of themselves on the temple grounds.

the yukata stroll

Nakamise Dori

Nakamise Dori

Nakamise Dori

Every sort of thing can be bought in the 150 shops that line this 984-foot-long street: masks, fans, Buddhist scrolls, combs, traditional sweets, woodblock prints, kimono and other robes, sandal socks, mobile phone straps, traditional sweets and meals.

masks on Nakamise Dori

fans on Nakamise Dori

fans on Nakamise Dori

what-nots on Nakamise Dori

socks on Nakamise Dori

Down one of the side streets, the Tokyo Sky Tree is visible, an ever-present reminder of a modern city encroaching on a traditional temple.

Nakamise Dori

painting at Senso-ji

At the far end of Nakamise-dori is the Hozomon Gate, the Treasury Gate, of the temple.  The upper level still stores some 14th century Chinese sutras (Buddhist scriptures).  A large paper lantern hangs in this impressive gate.

the Hozomon

the Hozomon & the crowds

To the Hozomon’s left is the five-story Asakusa Pagoda, which was rebuilt in 1973. The pagoda contains bits of Buddha’s bones, a gift from Sri Lanka.

the Goju no To five-storied pagoda and a corner of the Hozomon

the Hozomon

lantern in the Hozomon

I encounter a couple of monks playing tourist on the temple grounds.

monk at Senso-ji

lantern in the Hozomon

Between the Hozomon and the Hondo (Main Hall) is a large bronze incense burner.  People stand around the incense sticks burning in the burner and, with their hands, waft the smoke toward afflicted parts of their bodies.  The smoke from the incense is said to have curative powers.

The Hondo (Main Hall of Senso-ji

Bronze incense burner with curative powers

I even do some wafting of the incense smoke, even though I don’t have any ailing parts to my body. 🙂

The Hondo

lantern in the Hondo

The temple is also known as the Kinryusan Senso-ji, the Golden Dragon Mountain Asakusa Temple, due to the legend of the dragon’s descent on the finding of the small golden Kannon.  Because of this, a dragon has been painted on the ceiling of the Hondo, the work of Kawabata Ryushi, while the angels and lotus flowers surrounding it are by Domoto Insho.

Dragon painting by Kawabata Ryushi

Angels and lotus flowers on the ceiling of Senso-ji, by Domoto Insho

The Hondo (Main Hall) of Senso-ji

Honda of Senso-ji

the five-story Asakusa Pagoda

Hozomon Gate

the yukata stroll

On the backside of the Hozomon Gate are two oversized straw sandals, a gift from a provincial village to the temple.

giant straw sandals made to fit Deva Kings

monks in front of the pagoda

the Hondo

It’s fun to watch all the Japanese men and women here who are wearing the yukata, a casual summer kimono usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric, and unlined.  Yukata are worn by both men and women.

beautiful yukata in front of a food vendor

Yogodo Hall is where Buddhist divinities who support Kannon Bosatsu are enshrined.

grounds of Yogodo Hall at Senso-ji

Yogodo Hall at Senso-ji

Little shrine

Inside Yogodo Hall

Yakushido Hall, built in 1649, is dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, a Buddhist divinity of medicine.

Yakushido Hall

Awashima-do is the shrine of the guardian deity of women; this deity attends to female ailments.  Women often bring dolls to shrines such as this, which have proliferated all over Japan, so their dolls can serve as substitutes, taking on the donor’s ailment.  Eventually the dolls are burned in a religious ceremony in order to offer up prayers for relief from the ailment that has been transferred to the doll (Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City).

another small shrine

a yukata gathering

colorful yukata

Tokyo Sky Tree

the five-story Asakusa Pagoda

The Asakusa Shrine is dedicated to the two fishermen brothers, Hinokuma and Takenari Hamanari, and their master, Hajo-no-Nakatomo.  The Honden, or Spirit Hall, is said to hold the spirits of the two brothers who found the Kannon image and their master, who enshrined the image.

Asakusa Shrine

ema at Senso-ji

Shafu are seen dashing down roadways pulling large carts behind them, usually with a tourist or two along for the ride. These rickshaw-pullers in Japan, usually slim muscular men who have to run long distances each day with passengers in tow, are considered appealing by many young Japanese women, according to the Japanator: Japanese ladies love them some rickshaw-pullers.

Shafu, rickshaw pullers in Japan

In front of Asakusa Shrine, a young lady in a hat and yukata is selling some fruity gelato bars.  I help myself to one of them and sit on a bench to enjoy.

ice cream for sale near Asakusa Shrine

the Hondo of Senso-ji

the Hozomon at Senso-ji

Two large bronze images of Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings who postpone entering nirvana so as to help those still living) sit on the temple grounds near the end of the Nakamise shops.  They were a gift from a rice merchant in honor of his deceased master in 1687.

Two Bodhisattvas

I am in awe of this shrine and the people who have flocked here to visit. Though it is one of Tokyo’s major tourist sites, it also seems to be a place of active worship and a symbol of tradition.

I leave the temple to explore a bit more of Asakusa, stopping at Kappabashi-dori and the street’s purveyors of plastic foods. 🙂

asakusa & a conveyor belt sushi lunch {walking tour 8: part 1}   6 comments

Sunday, June 11:  On this dreary Sunday, after my long Saturday at Enojima and Hasedera, I have just enough energy to attempt Walking Tour 8: Asakusa, Kappabashi and Minowa from my much-used book: Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City. The main sight to see in this area is the ancient Buddhist temple Senso-ji; other than that the walk doesn’t cover much territory.  I don’t intend to cover the Minowa part of the walk.  I figure I can handle a limited stroll today, especially as it’s cloudy and not too hot.

As soon as I take exit #1 from Asakusa Station onto Kaminarimon-dori, I see a typical Tokyo street scene.

first view of Asakusa

I walk toward the Sumida River and onto the bridge, where I can see two of Tokyo’s iconic landmarks: The Asahi Beer Hall and the Tokyo Sky Tree.  I’m glad to see the Asahi Breweries offices, as Asahi has become my go-to beer while in Japan.  I love it!

The Asahi Beer Hall, one of the buildings of the Asahi Breweries, is also known as Super Dry Hall or Flame d’Or.  Designed by French designer Philippe Starck, it was completed in 1989.  The shape of the building is that of a beer glass, designed to complement the neighboring golden beer mug-shaped building housing the Asahi Breweries offices.  It is noted for the Asahi Flame, an enormous golden structure at the top, said to represent both the ‘burning heart of Asahi beer’ and a frothy head (Wikipedia: Asahi Beer Hall).

The Asahi Flame is often colloquially referred to as “the golden turd” (kin no unko). Kin no unko (金のうんこ) or “golden poo” is a symbol of good luck, as the name is a pun meaning “golden poo” and “good luck” in Japanese (Wikipedia: kin no unko).

The Asahi Beer Hall itself is fondly known as “poo building” (unko-biru, うんこビル) by many Tokyo residents (Wikipedia: Asahi Beer Hall).

Asahi Breweries, Ltd. is a leading brewery and soft drink company in Tokyo. As of January 2014, Asahi, with a 38% market share, was the largest of the four major beer producers in Japan followed by Kirin Beer with 35% and Suntory with 15% (Wikipedia: Asahi Breweries).

view across the Sumida River to the 1989 Super Dry Hall, aka the Asahi Brewery Building and the Tokyo Sky Tree

The Sumida River

boat on the Sumida River

I’d have to get on the train again to visit the Tokyo Sky Tree, which looks closer than it is. Its observation deck is also quite expensive and it’s too cloudy to get a decent view today anyway.  So I’ll have to admire it from afar.

parting shot of two Tokyo landmarks

On the corner near the bridge, I find this Sushi go-round restaurant, where sushi is served on a conveyor belt.  No one speaks English so it takes me a while to figure out the system and the cost, but when I do, I enjoy a great lunch before going on my way to Senso-ji.

a conveyor belt sushi restaurant

inside the conveyor belt sushi restaurant

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street in Asakusa

Below is my route to Asakusa this morning. As you can see, it’s always quite convoluted to get anywhere in Tokyo, since I live on the outskirts.

I’m now on my way to Senso-ji.

a june cocktail hour at the family mart   5 comments

Friday, June 30:  Cheers!  Welcome to my third cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart again tonight. I find it hilarious to meet here because it’s so ridiculous and unexpected.  Who would have thought of having a happy hour sitting out in front of a Family Mart (like a 7-11)?  Of course, I give credit to my Brit friend, Graham, because he’s the one who started the ritual. We always have a grand time here, so I think you’ll enjoy. 🙂

I only have three more weeks and one day of teaching, and four weeks on my contract. But… who’s counting?  After August 1, I’ll travel around Japan for one week, then I’ll head back to the USA on August 8.  If I have time for a July cocktail hour, I’ll be sure to send out an invite!

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?

June here was a long and tedious month, teaching 5 days a week with nary a break in sight.  At least in May, we had the Golden Week break, but in June, it was just work, work, work. On the weekends in June, I went to Fuji Five Lakes, Enoshima and Hasadera, Asakusa and Senso-ji, The Big Buddha in Kamakura and Hasadera again, and back to a neighborhood near Ueno.  I also went on a couple of shopping sprees because June is the rainy season and some of the weekend days were tainted by drizzle and downpours.

The biggest challenges I had to deal with at work this month were:  1) the tedious marking of 55 poorly written academic essays; 2) long and stifling days in the office because the university wouldn’t turn on the air-conditioning until after June 9, and then only when the temperature was over 28C; 3) general lack of motivation and ability of the students, 4) the infernal dust in my apartment, hard to get rid of because I have carpet and no vacuum cleaner.

Work is drudgery, not at all rewarding except in rare moments.  I feel like I have reached the end of my teaching-abroad career.  Though my teaching gigs abroad have given me many opportunities to live and travel in a country, to delve deep and to experience a culture, I simply no longer enjoy teaching non-motivated students who have little reason to learn English. As miserable as the adjunct teaching jobs in America are, at least the students want to study abroad in America and are motivated to succeed.  This is not the case for the students I teach when I’m abroad.

Monday, June 5:  Walking to work this morning, I had to take a picture of my favorite pink house with laundry hanging on the balcony.  My half-hour walks to work have generally been fine, but now that it’s getting hotter and more humid, I’m not thrilled to be dripping with sweat by the time I arrive at the office; as the office is not generally air-conditioned, I’m in misery even after I get to work.  Oh, how I hate the summer heat.  I am a cold-weather girl through and through.

laundry at the pink house

Thursday, June 8: I made my weekly stop at Kiyariya.  This time, the server presented me with a poorly translated English menu in addition to Kenji’s beautifully hand-written and changeable menu. I ordered the gyoza from the English menu. Of course I had the delectable eggplant and my draft beer. 🙂 Everything Kenji prepares is fabulous. 🙂  Not only that, but the atmosphere, the service and the music are delightful.

Gyoza at Kiyariya

As I left the restaurant this time, the server, who speaks a smattering of English, walked me to the front door and said, “See you next week!”

Tuesday, June 13: Tuesdays and Thursdays are my nights to eat out because I get off at 5:40.  On M-W-F, I get off at 6:30.  I never feel like going out on those late work nights.  This evening, I stopped again at Curry Naan and enjoyed the same meal I always have: vegetable curry and a huge piece of naan.  And of course my 100 yen beer. 🙂

I love listening to the music in both of the restaurants I frequent.  I don’t recognize most of the songs I hear at Kenji’s, but I like them very much.  Here, at Curry Naan, you won’t find Indian music of any kind.  Here it’s all classic rock, especially the Beatles. A favorite here seems to be Paul McCartney’s “Listen to What the Man Said:”

That people will find a way to go
No matter what the man said
And love is fine for all we know
For all we know, our love will grow – that’s what the man said

There’s John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Stand by Me,”  along with his version of “Happy Xmas (War is over).” Then there’s a whistling song I’ve heard before; sadly, I don’t recall the name of it. What an interesting array of music for an Indian restaurant.

Vegetable curry at Curry Naan

Thursday, June 15:  This evening, Graham and I headed to the Family Mart for a couple of beers.  We found it hard to believe, but some Japanese guys were occupying our chairs!  We ended up going to a park on the other side of Fuchinobe Station.  I had never been there before, but it had a nice pond with three swans in it.  There was only one bench with a back, and we sat there and talked for quite a long while.  He’s of the same political beliefs as I am, so we had quite an involved political discussion – of course, it was an agreeable one. 🙂

Friday, June 16:  June has been all about the hydrangeas. I’ve made several weekend outings in search of them, and here are some I see on my way to work.

hydrangeas in the neighborhood

Sunday, June 18:  A month or so ago, I went to a Meetup in Hashimoto and met a nice Japanese lady named Reiko.  She added me on Facebook and we’ve been in touch through Facebook chat.  As we were chatting on Sunday morning, I mentioned that I planned to go shopping; after all it was forecast to rain that afternoon.  She said she’d meet me one metro stop away at Kobuchi, and she’d take me to her favorite discount stores.  We did just that, walking quite a distance to get from one place to another, and enjoying lunch together at one of the shopping malls. I had worn my favorite sandals with heels, but with all the walking, I regretted that decision.  My feet were killing me! Total steps while shopping: 10,326 (4.38 miles).  It was a fun day and I came away with too many tops and one pair of pants. 🙂

Monday, June 19:  Our lecture topic this week was Cultural Expectations in the Classroom.  To give the students a feel for American classrooms, I showed them the Key & Peele Substitute Teacher video from Comedy Central:

I reminded the students of my first days in class with them, when I couldn’t pronounce any of their names. I’m not sure the students got the humor, but I certainly enjoyed it. 🙂

Earlier I said I don’t generally go out to eat on Mon-Wed-Fri because of my late work hours.  However, this Monday, I felt like a treat so I stopped at Kiyariya.  Once again, I enjoyed the wonderful eggplant, and this time I ordered grilled fresh barracuda.  It was delicious!

my favorite eggplant dish at Kiyariya

Kiyariya

Kiyariya

Kenji’s artistic menu

Tuesday, June 20:  We continued the theme of Cultural Expectations in the Classroom, with today’s lesson focusing on discussions about the topic.  I promised the students I’d show some classroom scenes from great American movies, so I showed several episodes from The Dead Poet’s Society. After showing two preliminary videos for context, I showed my favorite scene.  My students laughed as I wiped away the tears in my eyes and told them I always cry at this scene.

Thursday, June 22: Thursday night seems to have become our night to stop at the Family Mart.  This time, Dee joined us.  You can see our cozy little spot below.

Dee and Graham at Family Mart

Friday, June 23: Today was a special Yukata day on campus.  Many of the girl and boy students wore yakuta on campus.  Yukata comes in cotton fabric and is worn during the summer season. On the contrary, a kimono comes in silk fabric. I took some photos of my rambunctious “I” class.

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my students from I class on yukata day

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my students from I class on yukata day

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my students from I class on yukata day

Thursday, June 29:  Today we had debates in class where the students had to prepare for opposing sides on the topic:  Single-sex schools are better than mixed-sex (co-educational) schools. I divided the class in two and gave them time to prepare.

It’s difficult to get Japanese students to speak aloud under any circumstances, but this was an exercise in futility.  For one, even though they had plenty of time to prepare, you’d think I just asked them a question on the spot, for as long as it took them to formulate and speak their arguments. Then, when they spoke, they all, without exception, spoke in katakana English; in this botched English pronunciation, they add an “o” sound to the end of words.  Even my best students, whose English pronunciation one-on-one with me is great, resorted to this botched English, which is typically spoken between Japanese students.  Sometimes, I think the good students don’t want to appear too smart or too capable of speaking English, and in a whole-class speaking session, they resort to katakana to fit in with their classmates. It drove me absolutely crazy, and I wanted to jump into the middle of the debate and call them on it right away.  I restrained myself during the debate session but resolved that I would speak to them about it the next day.

After work, Graham and I headed to the Family Mart, but again, we found our plastic chairs occupied by a couple of Japanese guys. Graham said that he has never found people occupying those seats except when he’s been with me; he said I’m jinxing our Family Mart gatherings!  Haha.  Anyway, we had no choice but to go to the park and sit on our bench.  We had a very enjoyable conversation about a variety of subjects from politics to books to relationships to everything bizarre and wonderful about Japan.  A cool front must have been moving in because it was breezy and comfortable, though still a little humid.

After one beer, I went to use the public bathroom at the end of the pond.  Japanese toilets have all kinds of flush mechanisms.  Some are buttons on the wall and others are on the back of the toilet.  There are also other buttons of unknown purpose; they are actually to call for assistance, but it’s hard to tell which is which.  Tonight I accidentally pushed the wrong button and a loud beep burst forth from the toilet stall, and it kept going and going!  As I hurriedly walked out of the stall, trying to be inconspicuous, a man from the office nearby came running toward the bathroom to see what the ruckus was about.  I bowed and said, I’m sorry!  I pushed the wrong button!!  I’m so sorry!  He probably had a good story to tell his kids that night. 🙂

Friday, June 30: When I asked a couple of my strong students why on earth they were speaking in katakana English during yesterday’s debate, they said they wanted to make sure their classmates could understand them.  I told them they are perfectly capable of speaking correct English and they should not cater to their classmates, but instead be an inspiration and a role model for correct English pronunciation. They apologized profusely.  Speaking to the whole class, I told them all to STOP with the katakana!!!  I said I’m going to be on them from now till the end of the semester because if they go on their study abroad in the fall and are speaking like that, no one will have a clue what they’re saying!

Happy July!  I hope to hear from you all soon. 🙂

a may cocktail hour at the family mart   5 comments

Wednesday, May 31:  Cheers!  Welcome to my second cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart tonight.  We’ll sit out front on the plastic chairs.  It happened quite by accident that I began stopping by this Family Mart on my way home from work. I’ll tell you about it after I get you a drink.

It’s either beer or wine here at the Family Mart, so take your choice.  My favorites are the Japanese beers, of course: Sapporo, Kirin, and Asahi.  Asahi and Kirin are my favorites. I’ll be happy to treat; just tell me what you’d like.

Please do tell me about your May.  Have you done anything unusual or just followed your normal routine?  Have you traveled anywhere?  Have you read any good books or watched any good movies or TV shows? Have you visited any gardens?  I took weekend or day trips to: Meiji Shrine and Harajuku, Sankei-en in Yokohama, Mt. Takao, Kameido Tenjin Shrine and the Nezu Museum, the Imperial Palace East Garden, Kawasaki, Odawara Castle and Hakone. Here are a few tidbits about my May.

Monday, May 1:  I went with my colleagues to an Izakaya, above the Pachinko parlor near Fuchinobe Train Station.  An Izakaya is an informal Japanese gastropub, a casual place for after-work drinking. Izakayas have been compared to Irish pubs, tapas bars and early American saloons and taverns.

We drank a couple of mugs of a delicious ale and I ordered an avocado topped with a kind of wasabi-gel, along with some sushi. My friend Graham ordered a kind of pickled mackerel. The whole evening was planned by our Aussie colleague Rob in order to celebrate our only holiday this semester, coming up on Wednesday: Golden Week.

The funniest part of the evening was when our Irish colleague Deirdre told us about these “uraynals” in London that pop up from the ground to allow men to pee after they’ve been drinking at the pub. She kept referring to “uraynal” this and “uraynal” that, and I admit that at first I had no idea what she was talking about.  Finally it dawned on me that she was saying “urinal.”  I said, “That’s so funny you keep referring to them as “uraynals,” because we call them “urinals” in America.”  My American colleague Joe said, “It’s like when we used to say Ur-anus and now we say Uran-us.”

Later, after the conversation turned to other things, I complained that if I kept drinking all this beer, I’d have to pee on the way home; and there was nowhere to do so. Deirdre said, “Oh, that’s never a problem in Japan.  There’s a 7-11 on every corner, so you can pop into one and use the toilet.”  “No,” I replied. “There is not one 7-11 between here and our apartment.  There is NOTHING on that long walk home.”

Joe said, “Don’t worry, maybe you can find a “uraynal.”  Just don’t forget to wipe Uranus.” It was hilarious, and we all laughed long and hard at that one. 🙂

Tuesday, May 2: After work, I stopped at a place called “Beauty” for a haircut. The stylist, Atsushi Matsunaga, wearing makeup and tiny-checkered pants, and sporting a helter-skelter haircut, tried to understand my desired haircut. I showed him the picture I always show everyone.  I pointed to the shaggy bottom of the model’s hair. He said, “Oh… shaggy!”  When he started cutting, I told him to make it shorter; he said, “Oh… short and shaggy.”

He started cutting the sides of my hair with thinning shears, but it wasn’t getting rid of enough of my hair. I always hate it when people use those scissors on my hair because it shows they’re going to be timid in their haircut.  I have very thick and unruly hair, and I often have trouble getting stylists to cut enough of it. I drew Atsushi a set of pictures to show I wanted the bottom straight and not angled at the bottom.  When he finished and they dried my hair, my hair looked like a helmet-head.  I knew it was because he didn’t put enough layers in the sides.

I drew another set of pictures showing a helmet head, thick and straight at the bottom, and another picture with a more rounded profile, sharp at the bottom.  He said “Oh, sharp! – Short, shaggy, sharp!”

That’s the haircut I got, though without enough layers.  When I came home, I stood in front of the mirror with my pair of dull scissors and butchered it some more, chopping more layers into the sides of my hair. 🙂

Tuesday, May 9:  My apartment was getting dusty, but as it’s carpeted and I don’t have a vacuum cleaner, I wasn’t sure how to clean it. One of my colleagues, Dennis, told me I could buy a roller with adhesive on the outside that I could roll over the carpet to pick up dust.  After the roller gets filled with dust and hair, you can peel it off and use the fresh piece of adhesive underneath. Tonight, I stopped at the 100 Yen store on my way home from work and bought one of these rollers, along with a Swiffer mop.  When I told Mike about the roller, he said it sounded like a large lint roller with a handle.  That’s about right.  Using it on my dusty carpet, after blow drying my hair every day for over a month, the roller picked up a lot of dust after just a couple of sweeps over the carpet.  I had to keep unpeeling the dusty adhesive tape, and using successive layers underneath.  It was quite a project.  I wish I were in a ground floor apartment as those have wood floors, easier to keep clean.

Thursday, May 18:  On Thursday night, I walked down a different street than normal to get home and I saw a cozy restaurant that enticed me inside.  The owner, Kenji, who speaks a little English, graciously welcomed me.  His fabulous restaurant is called Kiyariya.  Kenji is a talented and artistic chef, and he has created a lovely little place that I have decided will become one of my regular dinner stops.

You can see Kenji in the picture below with his thumbs up.

Kiyariya

Kenji handwrites all his menus daily in beautiful calligraphy.  I couldn’t read this Thursday menu, but somehow I was able to ask Kenji if he made shrimp tempura; he told me he did. He also served me his fabulous eggplant soaked in olive oil and herbs and topped with grated radish.  It was delectable; I wanted to linger over every bite. My meal of course was accompanied by a draft beer.

This is his large platter of marinated eggplant from which he serves small dishes garnished with herbs and grated radish.

eggplant at Kiyariya

Kenji on the right at Kiyariya

When he brought my shrimp, okra and potato tempura, it was artistically presented.

Shrimp tempura, artistically displayed, at Kiyariya

I sat at the bar at Kiyariya; a fabulous selection of music was piped in.  It was dark, with a cozy atmosphere, just the kind of restaurant I love.  Immediately, this became my new favorite place.

I took a picture of the menu and showed it to some of my students on Friday, and they told me most of the dishes were fish.  I love fish, so that only reinforces my love of this place. 🙂

Friday, May 19: On Friday night, I ran into Dennis next to a billboard right outside the campus gate. He was taking a picture of a QR Code and trying to pull up a map to an Indian restaurant called Curry Naan.  I asked if I could tag along because I love Indian food, so we tried to follow the map to the restaurant.  After losing our internet connection and the map many times, and going around in circles on the confusing streets of Fuchinobe, we finally found the restaurant on a side road off the route to our apartment building.

I was so excited to have found this place, and not that far from home.  Since this first visit, I have also adopted the habit of eating here at least once a week.  My meal is always the same: vegetable curry with a huge piece of naan, a small salad and a 100 yen beer. 🙂

Curry Naan

Tuesday, May 23: I had told some of my colleagues about Kiyariya, and this evening after work Tobi asked if he could come along with me to eat there.  We took our place at the bar, where Kenji showed us his fresh arrangement of fish choices for tonight.  The neatly lined-up array of fish stared at us from the tray, and Tobi and I each picked one to try.

Below is my favorite eggplant dish, Kenji’s menu and my beer.

Kiyariya

After dinner, as Tobi and I walked a couple of blocks down the street, we ran into Graham and Paul outside the Family Mart.  There were only three chairs outside, but one of the Family Mart employees brought us out another chair.  We enjoyed a nice long and boisterous cocktail hour right outside the Family Mart.  This has become another weekly event, except when we find someone else occupying our chairs!  It’s a blast!

Tobi, Graham and Paul at Family Mart

me, Graham and Paul at Family Mart

Wednesday, May 24: Tonight I went out of my way to the Gourmet City for a big grocery shop.  After loading up my basket, I remembered that I had forgotten to get cash, so I checked my wallet to see how much I had.  I had only 1,000 yen (less than $10).  As you can’t use the Japan Post debit card at stores in Japan, only at ATM machines, and my card didn’t work in the ATM at the supermarket, I had to go around and put everything in my basket back on the shelves.  What a bummer!

Thursday, May 25: Tonight Paul and Graham took me to one of their favorite restaurants, Jonathan’s, on the other side of the Fuchinobe train station.  It was sort of like a Denny’s in America.  I ordered a pizza and I told Graham to help himself to a piece.  He said he’d wait to see what I didn’t want.  As we talked and drank beer, without thinking, I gobbled down my entire pizza. I felt bad because I’d offered Graham a slice, and I think he was waiting, mouth-watering for a piece.  What kind of friend am I?

This month, I finally finished The Color of Our Sky (it was just okay) and started reading The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.  I also got involved in watching The Good Wife, which I’m enjoying immensely.  I tried to watch Amelie for about the millionth time on Netflix, but it only had Japanese subtitles. 😦  I feel like I’ve done a lot of exploring of Japan this month, mostly because we had that five-day holiday for Golden Week.  In June, the rainy season is supposed to be upon us, so I fear that will curtail my adventures. 🙂

 

otemachi, the imperial palace east garden & a shrine to warriors {walking tour 2}   9 comments

Sunday, May 14:  After spending all day Saturday stuck in my rabbit hut apartment because of a steady deluge of rain, I’m ready to get out on Sunday.  The forecast is for plenty of clouds but no rain, so off I go to explore the Otemachi area and Imperial Palace East Gardens, as well as the Yasukuni Shrine.

My first stop is Masakado-zuka, or Masakado’s Tomb. It doesn’t look like much, stuck as it is in the midst of high-rise buildings and construction projects, but apparently it has great cultural significance. It enshrines the decapitated head of Taira no Masakado (903?-940 AD), a well-known hero of the eastern region of Japan. A precursor of the samurai warriors, he carried out political reforms in the Kanto area (the area around Tokyo) and became immensely popular among the common people for helping the weak and poor and fighting against oppressors. In 940, Taira no Masakado was defeated and killed in a struggle with the government and his decapitated head was put on display in Kyoto.  Legend has it his head flew all the way back to the Kanto area as a vengeful spirit and finally landed in this spot. People believed that vengeful spirits, who were thought to cause plagues, could be appeased by worshipping them as guardian deities. Thus it was that in 1309, Taira no Masakado was enshrined as one of the deities of Kanda Shrine, which was originally located here.

Hill of Masakado’s Head

Hill of Masakado’s Head

Today, I’m following Walking Tour 2 of Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City: Otemachi, Imperial Palace Gardens, and Yasukuni Shrine.  I already went to Marunouchi, the Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park on April 30, so this walk is a sort of continuation of that one.  I won’t feel that I’ve done the area justice until I’ve completed the whole circuit.

On the city streets in Otemachi, my eye is caught by a fire station with its gleaming red fire engines.

fire station in Otemachi district

random sculpture on the street in Otemachi

I must cross the moat again, as I did last time, but on this walk, I’m on the northeast corner of the palace complex.

Ote-bori – the moat around the Imperial Palace East Garden

The Ote-mon Gate was the main gate of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s Edo Castle. Daimyos (feudal lords) attending ceremonies held inside the palace entered through this gate. A smaller gate and larger gate form a right angle, to slow advancing intruders. Trapped between the two gates, intruders came under attack from firing points on the larger gate. The larger gate was destroyed in an air raid in 1945 during WWII, and was rebuilt in 1967.

Ote-mon Gate

Ote-mon Gate

door at Ote-mon Gate

fish sculpture at Ote-mon Gate

Ote-mon Gate

The Hyakunin-bansho Guardhouse was positioned at the most critical point to guard the entrance to the Honmaru, the main compound, of the Edo Castle. Hyakunin means 100 persons.  Four teams, each consisting of 120 guards, worked in the guard-house in shifts, day and night. This is one of three remaining guard-houses of the castle.

Hyakunin-bansho Guardhouse

I continue walking into the grounds and come to a small forest, the Ninomaru Grove, where deciduous trees are maintained to allow undergrowth plants to expand their leaves and bloom in spring before the area is covered in tree leaves.

The grove was created from 1983-85, at the suggestion of Emperor Showa, the father of His Majesty the Emperor.

Ninomaru Grove

The East Garden includes the Hon-maru (Central Keep), the Nino-maru (Second Keep), and the San-no-maru (Third Keep).  The Imperial East Garden was the former castle site, but the buildings and fortifications were mostly destroyed by fire.  Today it is primarily a garden site.

The Nino-maru Area (the Second Keep) lies at the foot of the Hon-maru; before 1868 it was the residence for the retired shogun.  Its gardens were originally planted in 1630 by Kobori Enshu, a famed landscape artist of the 17th century. Today’s garden, a reconstruction, contains the elements of a traditional Japanese garden: a pond, stone lanterns, a waterfall and a bridge.

Nino-Maru Area

Eighty-four varieties of iris grow in this garden.  These varieties have been carefully maintained since they were donated  by the Iris Garden of Meiji Jingo Shrine in 1966, when the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace were being created.

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

white blossoms

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

wisteria trellis

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

tiny flowers

Nino-Maru Area

carp in the pond

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

wildly shaped pine trees

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

waterfall at the Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

peas in a pod

Nino-Maru Area

At the far side of the Nino-Maru Area is the early 19th century Suwa-no-chaya tea ceremony pavilion.

Suwa-no-chaya tea ceremony pavilion in the Nino-maru Gardens

Suwa-no-chaya tea ceremony pavilion in the Nino-maru Gardens

Heading west, I come to the wall of massive granite stones brought from the Izu Peninsula in the early 1600s; it supports the Hon-maru.  The Hakucho-bori, the Moat of Swans, is at its base.  Germany gave the gift of 24 swans in 1953 when the East Gardens were open to the public.

the wall to the Hon-maru Area

delicacies

The Hon-maru is much flatter and less interesting than the Nino-Maru Area. It originally contained the Audience Hall, the residence, and other official buildings of the reigning shogun.  At its southwest corner is the Fujimi Yagura, which I saw from the Outer Garden on my last walk. It is one of three towers out of the original 21 that topped the castle walls. Though destroyed in the Long Sleeves Fire of 1657, it was reconstructed two years later.

The Long Sleeves Fire was said to have been started accidentally by a priest who was cremating an allegedly cursed kimono. The kimono had been owned in succession by three teenage girls who all died before ever being able to wear it. When the garment was being burned, a large gust of wind fanned the flames causing the wooden temple to ignite.  The fire burned 60-70% of Edo, lasted 3 days, and claimed over 100,000 lives (Wikipedia: Great fire of Meireki).

Fujimi-Yagura

flower garden in the Hon-Maru Area

flower garden in the Hon-Maru Area

trellis in the Hon-Maru Area

roses in the Hon-Maru Area

roses in the Hon-Maru Area

flowers in the Hon-Maru Area

tea bushes in the Hon-Maru Area

roses in the Hon-Maru Area

bamboo in the Hon-Maru Area

bamboo in the Hon-Maru Area

The octagonal Tokagakudo Concert Hall was built in 1966 to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Empress Kojun, His Majesty The Emperor’s mother.  The roof is in the shape of a clematis flower.  The mosaic images on the wall include birds, the sun, moon and stars, pine, bamboo and plum trees, and musical notes. Though the hall is not open to the public, it hosts concerts performed by the Music Department Orchestra, distinguished graduates of music universities, and others in the presence of the Imperial Family.

Imperial Toka Music Hall

The pride of the castle was its 5-story Donjon (Tenshukaku), or tower, which loomed over Edo. The tower, like much of Edo, was destroyed by the Long Sleeves Fire.  Today, nothing but the base of the Donjon survives.

the base of the Donjon

Imperial Toka Music Hall

From the Hon-Maru area, a drawbridge leads into Kita-no-maru, the North Keep.  It became a public park in 1969 to celebrate the birthday of the Showa emperor, Hirohito.

Kita-no-maru Park

unknown memorial at Kita-no-maru Park

I leave this park through the north gate onto Yasukuni-dori.  Strangely, I find a lighthouse, which is no longer used. Built in 1871, before much of Tokyo Bay was filled in and before tall buildings were erected, the beacon lit the way for boats on Tokyo Bay.

lighthouse near Yasukuni Shrine

man on horse near Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni-dori

Yasukuni Jinja, a Shinto Shrine, was established by the will of the Meiji Emperor as Tokyo Shokonsha in 1869, but it was renamed Yasukuni Jinja in 1879. It was built to comfort the souls of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, especially those who died in battles for the Meiji Imperial Restoration and the extinguishing of Tokugawa rule. The name Yasukuni, given by the Meiji Emperor represents a wish to establish the peace of the nation.

First Torii (Daiichi Torii) at Yasukuni Shrine

The shrine was run by the army until 1945 and became the center of fevered nationalism. It still attracts right-wing militarists and extreme nationalists today, according to Tokyo: 29 Walks.

First Torii (Daiichi Torii) at Yasukuni Shrine

This statue of Ōmura Masujirō (1824 – 1869) was a Japanese military leader and theorist in the Bakumatsu period in Japan; this period encompasses the final years of the Edo period when the Tokugawa shogunate ended. He is regarded as the “Father of the Modern Japanese Army,” according to Wikipedia.

Statue to Masujiro Omura

sake barrels

Third Torii

Haiden, the Hall for Worship, at Yasukuni Shrine

gold-plated gate

ema at Yasukuni Shrine

Haiden of Yasukuni Shrine

Yushu-kan (Military Exhibition Hall)

Statue honoring horses

Memorial Monument to Patrol Boat Crew Members

Statue of War Widow with Children

Japanese umbrella

Shinchi (Divine Pond)

Shinchi (Divine Pond)

Shinchi (Divine Pond)

Seinsentei Teahouse

carp in Shinchi (Divine Pond)

I continue my walk along the Chidorigafuchi Water Park, the pond that existed before the Imperial Palace was built and was included in the moat structure of the palace grounds. It’s called a “water park” not only because of the moat, but also because people can rent paddle boats here for a “leisurely activity.” The path is lined with cherry trees, which sadly are no longer in bloom.

This must be a bit like our Embassy Row in Washington, because I pass the Embassy of India on my right.

Embassy of India

red building along the Chidorigafuchi Water Park

path along the Chidorigafuchi Water Park

Eventually, I come to the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, where I walk in briefly.

cemetery

A hexagonal pavilion with a light green roof has served since 1959 as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a sacred spot memorializing the 90,000 unknown dead of Japan’s wars. Every August 15, the anniversary of the end of WWII, the emperor pays respects here to those who died, regardless of their religion (unlike Yasukuni Shrine, which is Shinto), according to Tokyo: 29 Walks.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

After quite a bit more walking, I pass the British Embassy before starting to look for the metro to make my way home.

British Embassy

After arriving back in Fuchinobe, I stop at a lively restaurant near the metro station.  I’ve eaten here before and the food is good, so I sit at the bar and order some sushi.  I’m told, however, that I must wait an hour before I can have sushi.  I guess the sushi isn’t served until 6:30 or so, because it’s 5:30 now.

sushi restaurant in Fuchinobe

There’s a lot of hustle and bustle at this restaurant, with servers calling out orders in sing-song voices and running to and fro.

a wild and crazy place

Next to me at the bar is a single Japanese woman, drinking a beer and smoking up a storm. I haven’t encountered many smokers in restaurants here yet, but I’ve heard smoking is quite common in bars here.

I end up ordering a tofu soup with tiny shrimp that I slurp up, shells and all, accompanied by a draft beer.  It’s not my favorite dish; I would have preferred the sushi.  Either way, the beer is a nice top off to a busy day.  When I’m finished, I “write” with my finger on my palm and say “Bill?”  The next thing I know, the server is bringing two beers, one for me and one for my smoking companion.  I say,”Oh, no, no!  I’m sorry I didn’t order a beer, I said ‘bill!'”  As the letters “r” and “l” are often confused in Japanese, I should have known better than to say “bill,” which they mistake for “beer.” Luckily, they take the beer away.  I reiterate: “check” and the matter is settled! 🙂

Steps today: 18,850 (7.99 miles)

an afternoon at the nezu museum: irises & the rinpa collection   10 comments

Sunday, May 7:  Though I intend to go straight home after Kameido Tenjin’s Wisteria Festival, I see while I’m on the Hanzomon Line that if I hop off the train at Omote-sando Station, it’s only a 7-minute walk to the Nezu Museum.  I also see that a special exhibition, Irises and Mountain Stream in Summer and Autumn, is due to end next Sunday.  My Japanese Instagram friend Yukie several days ago visited and posted beautiful pictures of the rabbit-ear irises that bloom earlier than other irises.  With all these enticements, I couldn’t resist disembarking at Omote-sando.  Though I am tired, I don’t regret stopping at this fabulous museum.

The Nezu Museum has one of the most delightful gardens I’ve encountered in Tokyo. Strolling through it, I find a teahouse as well as a variety of stone lanterns and other objects.

According to the museum’s website, Nezu Kaichirō I purchased this land, which he liked for its hills and dales, in 1906. The original garden, designed in the shinzan-yūkoku, “deep mountains and mysterious valleys style,” included rustic buildings and a teahouse. It burned during the bombing of Tokyo in World War II. Since then, it has been restored, little by little, to reach its present state. The goal of the museum is to create garden scenes of nature.

stone face at Nezu Museum Garden

elephant lantern at Nezu Museum Garden

an artist at work

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

reflections

reflections in the pond

a lady in kimono at Nezu Museum Garden

stone figure

stone lantern

stone lantern

stone lantern

a peek through the maples

another stone lantern

ponds at Nezu

moss-covered lantern

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

tea house at Nezu Museum Garden

pretty pond

boat at Nezu Museum Garden

Buddha

Kitano Tenjin enshrined at Hibaishi

maple leaves

lantern

The special exhibit inside the museum is the Rinpa Collection.  The Rinpa school of painting refers to a range of artists who spanned the 17th to 19th centuries. According to the exhibition catalog, the period begins with Hon’ami Kōetsu and Tawaraya Sōtatsu, two artists active in Kyoto’s merchant class culture during the first half of the 17th century, then follows with Ogata Kōrin and his younger brother, the potter Kenzan, who were born of high-ranking clothing merchants in Kyoto.  They were succeeded in 19th century Edo by Sakai Hōitsu, who created his own elegant painterly world from his longing for Kōrin’s aesthetic, and then Hōitsu’s principle student, Suzuki Kiitsu.

The Rinpa Collection

I’m told by Yukie that photography is not usually allowed in Japanese museums.  That of course is a bummer for me, but at least I can buy the postcards or the exhibition catalog.  This time, I buy both.  And, since necessity is the mother of invention, I take photos of the postcards to share!

postcards from the Rinpa Collection

Rinpa artists worked in various formats, notably screens, fans and hanging scrolls, woodblock printed books, lacquerware, ceramics, and kimono textiles. Many Rinpa paintings were used on the sliding doors and walls of noble homes.  The stereotypical standard painting in the Rinpa style involves simple natural subjects such as birds, plants and flowers, with the background filled in with gold leaf. (Wikipedia: Rinpa school)

One of my favorites in this exhibition is Mountain Streams in Summer and Autumn by Suzuki Kiitsu. A stream flowing between boulders set in a Japanese cypress grove links two six-panel screens, ranging from a summer scene of mountain lilies to an autumn scene of a few lingering red leaves on cherry trees.

Mountain Stream in Summer and Autumn (detail) by Suzuki Kiitsu

Of course the postcards and the photos from the exhibition catalog don’t do justice to these magnificent and huge screen paintings; seeing them in person actually brings tears to my eyes as they are so vivid and stunning.

Mountain Streams in Summer and Autumn by Suzuki Kiitsu

Mountain Streams in Summer and Autumn by Suzuki Kiitsu

National Treasure Irises by Ogata Kōrin is another amazing painting.  Clumps of irises, painted solely in shade of blue and green against an overall gold ground, conjure the Yatsuhashi (eight-plank bridge) of Mikawa, a famous site for irises described in The Tales of Ise.

National Treasure Irises (detail) by Ogata Kōrin

National Treasure Irises by Ogata Korin

Summer Flowers by Ogata Kōrin features close to 30 varieties of flowers and grasses of late spring to summer.

Summer Flowers (detail) by Ogata Kōrin

Summer Flowers by Ogata Kōrin

Flowers in Four Seasons by I’nen Seal features about 70 varieties of plants and grasses arranged in bouquet-like groupings with their upper sections fanned out in a wide array.  The flower groups work from right to left across the two screens in a spring, summer, autumn, winter progression.

Flowers in Four Seasons by I’nen Seal

Poet Bo Juyi (Hakurakuten) by Ogata Korin was inspired by the Noh play Hakurakuten, based on the legend of the Chinese Tang dynasty poet Bo Juyi (Japanese: Hakurakuten) who encountered an old fisherman manifestation of the Shinto deity Sumiyoshi-Myojin upon his arrival in Japan.  Sumiyoshi informed Bo Juyi that Japanese waka poetry was superior to that of the Chinese and summoned divine winds to blow the poet’s boat back to China.

Poet Bo Juyi (Hakurakuten) by Ogata Kōrin

Wisteria by Maruyama Okyo

The Tale of the Heike Painting Album Kogo

Cherry blossoms at Yoshino and Maple Leaves at Tatsuta (detail) Japan 17th century

All information about the Rinpa collection is from the exhibition catalog, unless otherwise stated.

This is one of the most fabulous museums I’ve visited in all my travels.  Between the breathtaking exhibition of Rinpa paintings and the museum’s garden with its blooming irises, ponds, hilly terrain and stone features, it ranks near the top of my most moving and satisfying travel experiences.  I highly recommend visiting this museum when traveling in Tokyo. 🙂

Total steps today: 11,669 steps (4.95 miles).

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