Instead of sharing stuff after the matter, for those in Tokyo, I'll be at SUI this Saturday. Here is the flyer. Kojo-san (Space Walker) will be spinning.
I had to be discreet and ended up hanging out in the changing room for quite a while until I got a moment to sneak up and take these. They don't reveal much anyway, but still. Didn't want to freak out anyone.
What I enjoy most is seeing the social interaction. I sat next to 2 women who were friendly neighbors:
"So how is your health? It's been cold lately so we have to be careful, don't we?"
"Yes, indeed. How is your husband? Didn't he have a cold?"
Then later, I saw them washing each other's backs. And I could tell from their conversations that these ladies were just neighbors...not necessarily close friends. But meeting each other and discussing daily events at the public bath is, well, just normal.
My parents are bath freaks. Seriously, they go around exploring various Tokyo neighborhoods and take their bath stuff so if they find an interesting Sento, they take a bath! During random conversations, you may hear them say, "oh yeah, the sento in Takadanobaba has a good outdoor bath, but the sauna wasn't up to par..." Anyway, I remember going to their local bath once, and as I was minding my own business soaking in hot water, a lady came up to me, squinting at my face (since she apparently usually wears glasses) and said, "are you Kennedy's daughter?" She was 'bath buddies' with my mom (meaning they only meet at the bath) and wanted to introduce herself.
Oh yeah. My bath must have problems with 外人 (gaijin, 'foreigners') because I found a poster about how to properly take a bath. For example, don't wash your clothes (!) The poster's title is Enjoy Bath With Manners.
The changing room has a huge mirror so I took advantage to take a picture of post-bath me and my faithful phone.
We're getting to the coldest month of the year and although it may 'look' nice outside, the temperature bites. And there's nothing better than soaking in hot water to warm your soul. Last night, I went to the public bath...a one minute walk from my apartment. Real regulars take their stuff in their wash bucket...but I just have a plastic basket and I roll my PJs in a towel. There's something very comforting about walking to the sento and seeing neighbors heading to/from there with their bathing paraphernalia.
So you walk in, park your shoes in one of the lockers (that have beautiful wooden 'keys'), and pay 400 yen.
Not much exciting stuff going on at the moment, so I thought I'd share my lunch with you. The basement of my building has quite an array of restaurants, but I like to get little dishes at Salad Bag, located right next to McDonald's and its 59 yen hamburgers. Today, for a total of 750 yen, I got a salad with little fishies in it (they are fried; Japanese version of croutons?), shirae konyaku, and a shrimp/ broccoli stir-fry.
On my way back up to the office, myoga (Japanese ginger, 'Zingiber mioga')producers from Kochi prefecture were giving out free samples. I have no idea why they thought giving a bunch of office workers their produce would be a smart promotional gig. Most workers are men. I bet there will be a lot of forgotten myoga in desk drawers today...
As I ate, I found a little snippet in the paper about mobster-related “fatal knifings” in MIE prefecture. I’ve never been to this area that I share a name with and actually never hear much about it. Not sure this mobster business is the enticement I've been needing.
Another article was about how money offerings by JR commuters to a 2.5 meter replica of Nara’s Todaiji Buddha hand had been stolen. The thief took 1,000 yen and an envelope of beer coupons. Here are some quotes from the public:
“What a stupid thing to do – I can’t believe it.” (70 year old man)
“It is so thoughtless – to steal offerings from a deity.” (44-year-old company worker)
“If money was left like that, I think anyone would have been tempted. He probably needed it...It would make you worried later, you know, bad deeds catching up with you? Maybe that’s why no one usually takes the money.” (Vocational school student)
By the way, my phone can only email 5 pictures at a time. The first photo here continues from the house party...of Cameo and I.
On Sunday, I met with Mom and Dad at Ebisu for brunch at Good Honest Grub. They serve American style eggs benedict sort of dishes. I had a vege burger with hummus and kabocha paste. I can't live without Japanese food, but I also crave American style breakfasts! Soy lattes, smoothies, wheat bread...
Then walking home, we passed the famous Hinomaru Driving School - the one with that big round red ball sticking out of the building. But I'd never seen the building from this side angle. I swear, this IS a building.
And on the train home, I noticed a woman with crazy pointed cowboy/fashion boots that made her feet look twice as long. Looked uncomfortable as hell. And the woman standing close by had pretty insane heels too. I enjoy wearing heels, especially since I'm short, but only comfortable ones. Most of my shoes have thick soles...good for stomping around Tokyo. Alas, I'll never be one of those dainty ballerinas...
At times I wonder about my sanity for the rent I pay. I could squeeze myself into a closet space and save for world travel (although what my cats would 'say' would be another matter). On the other hand, I love having enough space to invite friends over for dinner and hanging out. Most times, to meet anyone in Tokyo, you have to go to some restaurant, bar, or coffee house. But I love chillin' out at home with good company, so every once in a while I have a little party. Mind you, this is a big deal in Japanese apartments with no insulation where you can hear neighbors sneeze. I've been lucky with flexible neighbors so far though.
So I invited the Nu Balance folks and Cameo over for pasta. It's all so worth it when I see my friends lying around saying, "ahhh, it feels so good here..." I even caught Tatsuo snoozing a bit...which in my mind is a good sign that he is truly relaxed. We celebrated the new year with champagne and strawberries. Yum!
I usually try and balance the language issue and had tried to invite English speaking friends too, but everyone was busy. Cameo was on her own while I cooked. I saw my Japanese-English dictionary get pulled out and lots of hand gestures.
I was also very touched that Kei and Kenji took the time to find my hiding cats and work their way up to petting them. I found them lying on the floor in my bedroom with half their bodies in my closet trying to reach shy shy Wakame. And they succeeded in petting her, bless their hearts. I really love this group. Cool, creative, into music, AND very real. I was also happy to see Izumi. Since Mieko and Noriko left back for SF, I've been having a hard time finding female friends I can relate to. Although I don't want to be limiting, it really does make a difference whether someone has lived outside of Japan..even for a little bit. Otherwise, I seem to come off as too overwhelming.
I spotted someone preparing for Setsubun no hi (special day to get rid of the bad devil and bring in good luck; this link explains it pretty well - http://www2.gol.com/users/stever/setsubun.htm ). You need a devil mask and a good luck mask (to be played by family members in the ritual on February 3rd), but I guess Mr. Snowman is extending his work season and filling in for the devil too.
I've always wondered who drives these cars. Is it a couple? Does the husband drive the sports car and his wife go shopping in the tiny one? Or, if we use traditional color codes, does the wife zip around in the hot red one while her husband uses the blue one for practical errands on the weekends?
Glorious day... Mt. Fuji isn't hiding today!
I used to jog regularly but with the cold, it's been too hard to get out of bed in the morning. I have to use an electric blanket at night to stay warm (there's a reason you find so many foreigners commenting on how houses have no insulation here...). By morning, my body feels like lead. I get so lethargic and I really should do a little something to get my blood moving.
Well, I just figured out a perfect way to get myself out of bed. You see, my cats have nothing else to do but sleep all day and I've noticed some extra rolls on their tummies. Part of this is b/c I used to leave food out for them all the time figuring they'd eat only what they need. Now I'm filling their bowls twice a day only. By morning, they are quite hungry and they sure let me know. Even after the alarm went off, I used to snuggle up to half an hour in bed. This morning though, Wakame came up close and stared at me, and believe me, you can feel a cat's stare. Katsuo was a bit more physical; he came up to my face and kept patting me with his paw. Needless to say, I got up, fed the cats, and went for a jog.
And of course, I took my camera phone:
- 2 school girls in the uniforms with their ランドセル (randoseru), backpacks from an old German design (I used to have one in red)
- The shrine I run to and the surrounding area that is swept everyday. Not a leaf in sight.
- Someone's yard with a big tanuki (raccoon known for its magical ability to transform itself...like Ponpoco in my favorite Miyazaki Hayao movie).
I'm not a fan of buying/selling pets. There are enough needing homes as it is. But I was blown away when this TV show introduced the currently most popular dog breed. This bug-eyed ugly duckling costs 1 million yen! You can buy a car, travel around the world, or go to back to school for that. One couple recently purchased one of these by taking out a loan, claiming that the joy their little one brings to them (all decked out in doggy clothes) is beyond a price. That's why it's so hard to figure out this recession deal here. There are people really struggling, yet you keep hearing about crazy prices that people still fall for...or is everyone in denial and compensating by buying fantasy pets?
Personally, I like my cats...picked them up at the San Diego pound and they're my best friends now : )
I know, I'm probably just as crazy for having brought them all the way over here...but there's another story behind all that.
Once every couple of months, our office windows get washed. They go by rather slowly doing their work very meticulously. I can't help but feel like I'm in a fishbowl. I usually continue working for the sake of not bothering them, but once I didn't know they were there and jumped in my seat when I looked out the window. They saw me and laughed; I ended up waving at them.
The food pic is of a tiny 惣菜屋 (souzaiya). Two friendly women cook all day and have a delicious variety to choose from by evening. Living on my own, it is cheaper to buy my dinner there and I get to have a taste of several dishes instead of being stuck with one for 3 days. And it's totally healthy. Love it!
Lastly, if you look REAL carefully, you can see the tip of Fuji-san in the background. It's one reason I got my apartment. There's something about Fuji-san that continues to take my breath away every time...
I also met Kato-chan who is a self-proclaimed "densha otaku"...meaning he's into trains. We had a lively discussion about the Bay Area BART system. I won't say much here, but after being spoiled in Tokyo, let's just say I used to get a bit frustrated with BART (and the attitude of some of its employees). I'm going to put him in touch with my ex-roommate who is working on a public transportation project.
And the sign you see looking out of Ruby Room which is located in a slightly suggestive area...several love hotels are around the corner. The characters on this sign mean "adult woman."
I'm beginning to enjoy the new space at Ruby Room. More places to sit and I like the lighting and color. Best of all, it wasn't too crowded so it felt like a private party...dancing all I wanted with friends.
And DJ Kojo's music was awesome. Strong beats with playful variations in the background. I totally enjoyed myself. Oh yeah, I have to make a correction; I mentioned before that he was going to play in Miami. He wanted me to let you know that he'll be there participating in an event, but not actually playing. BUT, thanks to Kojo-san, DJ Jonah from San Francisco will be playing here. As Mieko said, "kojo-san, cho- sugoiyo-. such a hero."
As you can see, we all got into the music : )
Monday's are "Honpou" nights...the name of the event Kei and his friends put on.
Inspired by Tatsuo's santa fun last time, I decided to experiment with a new wig. I couldn't resist trying to capture the big round eyes of my cats...they knew it was me, but I could almost hear them say, "something fishy is going on..." Felt strange to wear the wig. I wondered how obvious it might look that I had this fake hair on when I was riding on the train to Shibuya. But it kept my head warm! I was a tad disappointed that everyone at Ruby Room immediately recognized me though.
Last time, my pics were too dark so I tried again to get Kei and I, and Tatsuo and I.
I live in Nishi Koyama. It's a very small station that you really wouldn't get off at unless you live there. Lots of jiichan & baachan (grandpas and grandmas), a shotengai (traditional shopping arcade), and a community feel (although it's already changed in the year I've been there: McDonald's pushed its way in, 3 new big apartments went up, my pharmacy totally remodeled into a place I'd rather not visit now...).
BUT, there is "Gekko," a super cool Booze&Vinyl bar tucked away in the back alley. I poked my head in for the first time during summer because the door was open and I was attracted to the gentle candle light inside. It's like a home for me now. I particularly like going alone and meeting whoever happens to be there. For some reason, quite a few actors stop by (although I don't watch much tv so I really don't know who they are).
Here is the entrance. Just a simple light on top with sliding doors. It would be easy to mistake it for someone's personal home except for the laughter and music you can hear from the outside. Still learning new stuff: I just discoverd he has a really cool selection of Reggae records (I dig Reggae). And I hadn't noticed before, but there is an "A" on the door light. In Okinawa, that signified that the bar served foreigners. Master recently glued a gecko on too, but when he tried to show me, we discovered it had fallen. He glued it back on. And, the bar 'just' celebrated its first year anniversary so he gave me a commemorative T-shirt. I love it!
Totally new world for me, but many very interesting people. I'm excited to meet people in such a different circle than my work. Here is Hunkabutta Mike (my banner comes from his amazing photo selection on his site) and Nadine who runs tokyoshoes.com. They talked of organizing a blog gathering. I'll definitely join. It was good to hear how they got involved in all this. Then there is Ben and Mina Trott making a speech and a closer photo of them. They are super friendly and sincere. I told them how I had not even heard of a blog until a couple months ago and how I use my phone to send pictures to mine. They were planning to visit Disney Sea while here! The last pic is Sen Nagata. We were in the same grade at ASIJ. Such a small small world. Sounds like he is involved in some pretty interesting projects. I hope to catch up more and hear about his plans. I also met Cameo Wood but I didn't get a picture of us. We should be meeting up later though...
Met several bicultural folks and heard about this site:
I know this makes sense for a lot of people too, but chanpon is my most comfortable language. English だけ or Japanese だけは 何か ものたりないよね。
I attended a social event hosted by my office for various media related people. Rather formal, but I always enjoy letting people know that a person like me also exists/works in my office AND that I do something other than crunch numbers and make policy recommendations. Most people I meet have studied economics or have been working in the government for a long time. Then I come along and blurt out that, 'nah, I studied history and basically stumbled over here last year from San Francisco...'
And with everyone being so polite, there was a ton of food leftover so I got some free sushi and shumai. Wish I had dogs instead of cats since I can't eat that many shumai (and I wasn't about to share the sushi with my cats!).
While I was eating the sushi, I watched a rather strange food show on TV. There are way too many food shows now. My mom says its b/c they are cheap to produce, but it's insane how every other show seems to be about finding the best ramen shop, or a competition on who can make a specified entree in 3 minutes, or whatever crazy idea they come up with. This show here invites actors or 'talents' to eat 4 dishes each. One of the dishes is something that person totally can't stand and the show is about trying to guess which dish that is. They take turns eating the dishes and through the conversations, the guests try to find out which dish is the 'bad' one while they 'act' to hide from the other which dish they don't like themselves. So they ask each other questions (like when they last had the dish or how they like it prepared otherwise) and they both pretend to absolutely love each dish while studying the facial expressions of the other while they eat. In the end, they ask each other to 'jisshoku' (eat for real) each dish one by one. As they both bite into each dish, they stare at each other and one will say "ha ha, I actually love this for real" while the loser might say, "Ugh, I tried to fake it but I hate walnuts..." This night, one guy had onion soup, lobster, walnut ice cream, and mangoes (he lost with the walnuts). The other had papaya, lamb, celery sticks, and truffles.
Went out to meet some friends last night in Shinjuku. I rarely go to Shinjuku, and I definitely notice a difference from, say, the Shibuya/Ebisu area. I should explore Shinjuku more since there is more of the nitty gritty, homelessness, and Blade Runner-esque modernity. Not as polished as other parts of town which is why it'd be worth knowing more...
Anyway, I came with Tatsuo, who works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He used to be in charge of a program that provides aid to countries to preserve cultural artifacts. Every 2 years or so, government officials get rotated to another position and now Tatsuo is in charge of trade negotiations for tuna. He's going to San Diego in March for a conference on tuna. Right now, he spends most of his time studying about tuna since this is a new specialization for him.
I think it's great to be rotated like this and experience so much, but it also means that every 2 years, most officials are totally new on the job.
I experienced this when my counter-part at the Ministry of Finance changed. The new person and I had to go over my budget and we both had tons of questions (it was my first time too). Luckily he was very flexible and we both slogged through the details albeit with a lot of head scratching and going through old files...
By the way, I met Tatsuo through my nursery school friend Amy. He met Amy on a train in Tokyo one day and she was the first foreigner he ever spoke to. Amy, being so gentle and patient, and he became close friends. Tatsuo speaks Russian now and spent several years in Moscow as a diplomat. Through his work, he has travelled extensively. We gathered yesterday b/c Tatsuo's friend, Buttchan, is on break from his MBA program in Los Angeles. Amazing people! Little did we know the direction we'd all be taking when we first met over 10 years ago...
Yup, I'm pointing at "Mie Gyoren"... which, eh hem, is the fishermen's union lead by Mr. Mie....
And some drying fishies...
Here is a photo of our dinner...can't even begin to count all the dishes. All fresh fish...mmmmmm. Then there's a picture of a fire we woke up to. There was a huge bamboo decoration for Adult Day, and this morning at 6 am was the moment to burn it...all the village people brought their New Year's decorations (kadomatsu) to burn for good luck...they also brought the New Year's mochi (kagami mochi) to bake in the fire for breakfast along with some squid and a mikan to boot. The village firemen were out in force to make sure all went well (thus the cute little truck), but by the time we walked by (after our sunrise bath), they were all pretty drunk...
And the bonus of visiting such small villages is that you find things that have more or less disappeared from Tokyo...like this round post box (vs. the square ones they have now). Although this one is overwhelmed by the high tech cigarette vending machine. In the bathroom at the ryokan, there were instructions on how to use the toilet. I swear...there was a diagram of how you should raise the seat if you are a male and lower the seat to sit if you are female or have to, um, do your business sitting...
EZ Movie file (.amc)
Back in Tokyo...a 5 hour+ drive...partly because I missed a highway section and we got sucked into a long long tunnel that was basically a parking lot for a good hour. It was fun taking photos while there, but I forgot to take my recharger and after a few movie shots, I had very very little juice left. The onsen (Hokkawa Onsen in Izu) was fantastic. Off from the main tourist dump, this was a real little fishing village. You'll see me pointing to fish drying in the sun, or a boat that brought in our breakfast...literally, we had to wait until the boat got in and the hotel folks made their daily purchase. Fresh fish for breakfast...ahhh.
The best was that we had access to a hot tub RIGHT on the ocean. Several hotels share this so we'd walk along the sidewalk in our yukata and share the water, view, and wave sounds with total strangers. I think it's natural and actually healthy to be able to get naked for the sake of a good soak and not be all embarassed in front of strangers (and men/women were mixed...no one cares at this point).
to enjoy onsen...one of the baths is literaly on the pacific ocean...
This is the internet cafe I'm using to type right now. Quite a different look to the wood and stove picture that I took this morning, eh?
Groggily woke up this morning and decided I'd get my hair trimmed. Local place for 1,000 yen! (Compared to 4,000 yen for other places that give you tea and a neck massage, but I can't tell the difference regarding the actual cut.) It's cold and here is the cute stove they had out for us waiting patrons. Next to it is a cute little plum tree.
OK OK. So I love SF. Really and truly and deeply. But I ALSO love the little details like the plum tree that you bump into on a daily basis in Tokyo. Humble, delicate, and so tasteful. Just there because...it's nice.
I'm so aware of seasons here not just because it's so freaking cold in the winter and so mind boggling hot in the summer, but because there are so many subtle seasonal references, like the plum tree, throughout the year. Festivals, rituals, foods, decorations, dress codes...Anyway, I'm off to a cafe to read a book. Need to ease my way back into the city...
Just a little snippet of Berkeley color. I used to walk through this park on my way home from selling Cashmere sweaters to eager Japanese tourists in Union Square. I loved feeling the more laid back air, seeing the various people who played and/or lived in the park, making my way to where I was staying with my brother at the Toad House where a group of 6 or so people lived together. It was called the Toad House cuz the phone number was spelled T-O-A-D. Of course, I never remembered the phone number and when asked (like at job interviews), I'd have to say, "uh, it's whatever TOAD is..."
And another hideaway fun thing I had no idea existed - in the Berkeley hills is this cute little choo choo steam train you can ride on. Pretty decent ride too. Dav and I got the bonus version cuz a dog ran along the train most of the time...even through tunnels and all. Must have belonged to one of the workers since the dog sure seemed to know what he was doing. I just couldn't get over how beautiful everything was. To be so close to a fun city like SF, but get to ride around on the hills through fresh air and trees...you don't realize what you miss until you live in a concrete jungle with people people and people. I'm having a hard time adjusting to the immense difference b/w SF and Tokyo. It's too weird to be able to hop on a plane for 10 hours and voila! Now I'm back and as I type here in this internet cafe, I can hear the traffic, construction, and techno music that I suppose is to keep my energy up up up so I can go go go...I want a choo choo train in Nishi Koyama!
I'm back in Tokyo...very strange since being in SF felt so normal and very much like home. Went to work yesterday and today am very mellow with jetlag really kicking in. Anyway, got just a few photos from SF...or here, it's actually Berkeley. Didn't even know about this even though I used to live quite close by, but every Sunday, there's this amazing Thai brunch gathering for the community. $5 for more than enough food and really good. I got my fix wit hot peppers and was in bliss all morning. (My cell phone obviously couldn't upload photos while in SF, but I was able to take a few shots here and there). I realize I didn't take any shots of the food though! Trust me; it hit the spot.
Had a hectic week before, and 'just' made it to the Narita Express to take me to the airport in time...but I'm in San Francisco. And it feels goooood to be back. While I'm here, I hope to learn more about setting up a blog so I can start giving more background about myself, but I lived in SF before moving to Tokyo and although I love Tokyo in its own way, my heart is very much tied to SF. Tonight is NYE and I'm going with Dav to what I am sure will be a splendid party with a bunch of Burning Man friends. I'll try to somehow get pics for that (I'm really excited about the outfit I will be wearing)...but I can't use my phone camera now so I'll be posting later...
Happy New Year - Akemashite Omedeto! Kotoshimo dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.