A work colleague is visiting from Washington. We discovered last year during a different visit that we enjoy checking out funky eateries in Tokyo together, so when he's in town, he calls me up and I get to try out a new place. Last night we went to Little Okinawa in Ginza. We were told we'd have to wait an hour to get in, but it looked well worth it, so we signed up and headed for the nearby toy store, Hakuhinkan, to pass time.
The entrance was packed with White Day chocolates. It's a totally commercial, totally Japanese obligation day: if you receive chocolate on Valentine's Day, you should give back on White Day (March 14). Now it's kind of divided that women give on Valentine's Day and men give back on White Day. But it's to the point where it's like a ritual; my mom dutifully prepares a bag of White Day goodies for my dad to take to work come March 14.
It reminds me of the various complicated gift-giving 'rules.' Like the Oseibo and Ochugen gift sending rush people endure twice a year to send soap or cooking oil to basically anyone they are indebt to ( お世話になった人). Or like wedding gift money where the receiver must then give back a gift of exactly half the monetary value of something that is enduring (like dishes or useless gaudy towels), a tradition so developed that you can go to department stores and they have sections of 'appropriate' gifts in all the monetary value ranges you'd need.
Anyway, I digress. The main point is we went to Little Okinawa and first ordered
Awamori. I was all into taking pictures to record the evening and traditional Okinawan dishes, but uh, I somehow got distracted after the Awamori was served. Good conversations and mighty good Awamori!
I know I talk a lot about my cats so I've been trying to spare you all, but upon looking at other people's blogs, I discovered some are devoted entirely to their pet(s)...some even in the voice of their pet(s). So, let me indulge myself and share with you MY cats.
First pic is Katsuo, then the next two are of his sister Wakame. They really are brother and sister and act like it too (lots of fighting recently). The first 5 years of their lives, they had free reign to outside space, trees, and little critters to hunt. Not only did they endure the awful plane trip over here from San Francisco and quarantine (bless their hearts), but now they find themselves living in a very urban, very small apartment. How can I explain that concrete is all they got? I do plan to move to a more cat friendly area some time, but for now, I've trained them to venture out and explore what little there is to explore.
This is how it works: Late at night when there is little traffic and people around to spook them (and the land lady won't bump into us), I open the door and let them out. I used to have to sit and read on the stairs until they got the courage to follow me down floor by floor. They are used to the routine now, but still don't go all the way down unless I go with them - and as you can see, Wakame is very cautious all the way down. But once they get to the ground floor, they disappear into the tiny dark alley way between my apartment building and the next one. Then I walk back up and hang out inside until they come back on their own. They do seem a bit refreshed when they come back although this really isn't a permanent solution.
Katsuo has picked up this strange habit of licking the condensation off the windows. I rarely see him use the bowl anymore and he'll lick for a good 10 minutes (with his tail sticking out from the curtains). The last pic. is of the cats in the morning eagerly waiting for me to get up and feed them.
They certainly color my life and I love them dearly.
OK. Got that out of my system. Thanks!
Nishi Koyama, the station where I live, is old and cute. Yep, those are the adjectives I'd use. Here is the cutest fruit stand which doubles as a "Fruit Parlor." Here you can have fruit desserts, sundaes, and ice cream...The door looks like it's from the 50s. Nearby is the milk shop. I'm not sure who are the customers, but this place delivers little glass bottles of milk...I remember getting them during lunch when I was in elementary school. We usually got normal milk, but twice a month or so we'd get either strawberry milk or coffee milk. The last photo is of a shoe shop. The window is full of slip on black shoes...more grandpa style than trendy. But that's why I like my neighborhood.
Here is my mom buried in rice. She introduced me to this AMAZING experience. It's a wooden box full of the outer layer of rice mixed in with special bacteria that does what bacteria does and produces major heat. You basically strip down and get covered in this stuff for 15 minutes...and that must be the maximum because when you get out, your body is jeeeellllooooo. The rice and bacteria combined with the heat open your pores, suck out bad stuff, and infuse you with good stuff (minerals?). Sorry I can't be more specific, but there's something phenomenal going on: you get heated to the core in a very different way than a hot bath.
Apparently it's good for a variety of ailments. The place was packed with both the young and old, male and female. Some people go twice a day and have purchased the 'super discount deal' which costs a million yen for a bunch of tickets at 1,000 yen. The usual price is 2,500.
Table for two by the traffic?
2 of the narrowest houses I've ever seen. I know it's hard to tell, but there ARE 2 houses stuck between the outer houses!
I couldn't help it...it was freezing and this woman wanted to wear shorts. Whatever...
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Around 6:00 pm, I met Cameo at Shibuya and found a lot more protesters. The meeting spot was Hachiko (the famous dog) so it was hard to tell who was there for protesting and who was there to meet their date. A good gimmick on the part of the protest organizers to inspire people to join. It’s like having a protest on a train station platform (BTW, I read that in Osaka, some protesters rode the subways to display their signs). After some speeches, we all (I have no idea how many) walked towards Miyashita Park. There, people came and came and came. People played music, distributed flyers, and began talking to each other. The more we hung around, the more excited I got. This was a real protest!
The movies show the main organizers making some more speeches, the third one is of a group who wore Bush face masks and did a song/dance ridiculing him to dust, and the final movie shows us all walking around right smack in the middle of Shibuya. To see the faces of young teenagers who were busy shopping or drinking Starbuck’s coffee, and to (hopefully) make the drivers of the ridiculously huge SUV’s at least a bit uncomfortable, and to receive waves from grandma’s in the public buses stuck in the middle of the march, was so worth it. I came away from the whole event high and happy...relatively speaking that is. My heart was heavy to have seen several people who left that night for Iraq to be human shields...
The main protest/peace march was to begin in Shibuya around 6:30 pm, so I went to visit an art gallery showing pieces by the artists who hang out at Shanghai Club (in Aoyama). I really liked one of Junko’s works and took a cheesy picture of ‘artist in front of her painting,’ but you get a feel for the large colorful painting of hers. It made me feel like spring was in the air and inspired me to get some color on my apartment walls. The gallery theme was timely: Love & Peace. I found one interesting installation with a clock stopped between 9:11 and 9:15 and a crossed out Bush picture. Unrelated, but what also caught my eye, was a pile of torn up paper. Upon closer inspection, it was a torn up Ph.D. thesis...Interpret that in whatever way you wish, but I rather liked it : )
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Saturday early afternoon, I went to the US Embassy to check out anti-war protests going on. There were roughly 150 people there. To be honest, I felt disheartened...for a city like Tokyo, only 150? Nevertheless, the people there did a damn good job at making noise and getting their point across. The police and quite a lot of media people were there too. The movies you see here are of the protest itself and of an exchange of letters from activist groups to a representative of the embassy. The newspapers say 400 showed up, so it must have grown after I left. Good news!
Friday, after a hard week of work. No other place I'd rather be than winding down at Enoki. Ayako joined me and we had a nice bottle of red wine. Chizuru had her various amazing Japanese dishes, but to match our wine, she prepared a nice meat dish with French bread to soak up the wine sauce. I mean, we were at Nonbeiyokocho (Drunkard's Alley) where salarymen hang out and here we were wining and dining as if we were in a Parisian bistro. Ayako and I met 2 Canadians, one a lawyer working in Tokyo, the other his visiting cousin. Lively conversations about politics, the Japanese economy, and whether Japan would have a revolution if things got really really bad...we don't think so, unfortunately.
A few nights ago, there was a one-man theater show at my favorite bar Gekko. I had met the actor, Takayama Hiroshi, at Gekko before and Master said that his acts were based on becoming 'things' and were funny. So I thought it'd be a simple cute sort of show. But by the end, this guy had us all in tears and even HE had watery eyes as he was acting. He played totally different characters that were very Japanese, but deeply human at the same time. And because the space was so intimate, at the end, we all felt like we had just experienced something very unique. It took a while for us to digest it and begin talking.
One character was of a macho guy who ran 'How to be Manly' workshops (男塾) and the act was about his last show of the season. He summarized the topics they had covered, such as how to have a manly posture, how to behave in certain situations, or what especially manly words should be used (all mocking the Japanese macho stereotype). He was dressed as a low level yakuza dude (チンピラ, chinpira) with a loud shirt and 70s style sunglasses. He read letters from his participants that included real issues you hear about in society nowadays - husband who doesn't feel he has a place at home, girlfriend who might leave although boyfriend spends tons of money on her, children not respecting father - and this macho character went on to scold them that such problems are actually not serious at all...because it turns out this macho man is actually a woman. S/he goes on to explain that he is a man, but by birth was female. Thus his/her problems are significantly larger: he legally can't marry his current girlfriend, can't physically have children, etc. His point being, at least those who ‘think’ they have problems are at least a man! The act was done is such a humorous way, but gave you goose bumps when you understood the character's truth, and how limiting/damaging gender roles can be.
Another act was of a whacked out taxi driver who drove his taxi like those train conductors...the ones who yell out every single movement they do ("green light OK, 10 mph, 20 mph, stopping soon"...etc.). In addition, it was a special service taxi so he served beer to his customer and read haikus. The act was basically mocking some of the weird habits of the Japanese service industry.
The 'things' that this actor became was in one act, an old copy machine that was being replaced by a high tech new one. The 'moral' was that new is not necessarily good...that doing your job correctly and with pride was just as important as being the new gadget (that would be replaced soon with the next new gadget). The last act was of a pachinko ball (whose name was Tamao, 玉男)...who rebelled against being 'just a ball' among thousands aimlessly being played around. He escapes and meets various characters (a lost ACE from a card deck and a lost puzzle piece) and the ending was about how even if we feel unimportant, we all have a unique space to fill. This last act in particular had us all sniffling, hoping the lost pachinko ball would find his way home to his worried mom and dad, a seemingly resigned and bored pachinko ball himself, but one who loves his son and fulfills his proper role.
For each act, Mr. Takayama wrote the title on a paper...since he wasn’t sure which acts he was going to do until he got a feel for us 8 customers at Gekko. I was so touched by the pachinko ball story that I got him to sign the title paper and I have it up at home...By the way, he has a website, although it’s only in Japanese.
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So last Saturday, the Kennedys, Yaginumas, and Tanakas gathered to have sushi together. 4 generations and 2 cultures. The occasion was to see Ian, Izumi, Tyler, and Julia visiting from New Jersey. It's amazing to see them grow. In addition to the normal, "oh, he's looking more like his dad or mom" conversation, there were lots of discussions about how Japanese or Caucasian looking they were/are/will be.
It's also interesting to take a step back and observe the gathering. My grandparents have come a long way from when my mom first brought home my dad. My dad got approval after stating he intended to live in Japan forever...which is true now, but shortly after that statement, my parents moved to NY for the next 13 years. Quite a trip for everyone. I think my grandparents never quite fathom the experiences my brother and I have had, but that's OK, as long as we show up for sushi and update them about the little things. Of course the main concern always has and will be about marriage, kids, and health.
My cousin Kiyomichi just went to Arizona for, um, 2 days! He works at an exotic pet shop that specializes in lizards, snakes, and colorful fish. He went there for purchasing. He never uttered English before, but now he seems more or less comfortable experimenting. Tyler was sitting on his lap and Kiyomichi asked in English, "do you know me?" Tyler clearly knew he was family (thus the lounging around on his lap), but doesn't quite get 'uncle'...especially such a far away uncle. I don't want to be a far away aunt either...what to do? Maybe I should hook Tyler up with a cell phone like mine with pics!
Anyway, enjoy a snippet of my family gang.
I feel a cold invading my body so I'm gonna let you figure out who is who : )
My brother Ian, who lives in New Jersey, is in Tokyo for business. We had yakiniku with his colleagues from Factiva. Great bunch of people and delicious yakiniku that we cooked by ourselves at the table. (Factiva graciously footed the bill; thank you!! ご馳走様でした。)
The pic is of Ian and Stephen (my brother-in-law). Now HERE is a story:
Ian met his wife Izumi in Tokyo. They soon discovered that they had attended the same nursery school in New York way back when. Turns out our parents knew each other, lost touch over the years, and BY COINCIDENCE, Ian and Izumi bumped into each other. Talk about fate! It gets better - if we flip through family albums, we find Stephen and I in diapers hanging out in the same crib!
Tomorrow, there will be a sort of family reunion at a sushi restaurant. Izumi and their 2 kids, Tyler and Julia, came along this time, and everyone is dying to see them! I last saw Tyler and Julia in summer so it'll be a surprise to see Julia taking steps now or hear the many stories I hope Tyler will tell me.
I don't meet many Japanese women I can really relate to. Probably a cultural thing, an age thing, and just personality. And although Yuki and I actually don't hang out that much since we're both really busy (and she works weekend and nights), I like her and admire her. She's got spunk.
She recently teamed up with a friend of hers, Ayana Inoue, who is a jewelry designer. Ayana makes jewelry and Yuki does everything involved in selling it. Here is an example of one of their rings.
I visited their store because I'm going to help translate some sections of their website. The store actually houses 3 jewelry artists and the owner of the store works with leather in addition to metal. He has traveled all around the U.S. and basically taught himself a lot of southwestern crafts. The store is full of beautiful Native American style bags and rings.
I enjoyed hanging out there not so much because I'm interested in jewelry making per se. It's just cool to see a bunch of people doing whatever they're really into. I'm so used to meeting your average 'salary man' or 'office lady' so it was nice to see that this group could make a living pursuing their art.
OK, to explain the photos:
1) A map of the major subway lines. Note that it's ONLY subways and doesn't include all the trains. Personally, with a system like this, I think it's crazy to have a car...
2) A portable ashtray my friend carries around. I've seen various versions. Women have them too, but they are cuter with bright colors. A way to personalize your smoking habits, I suppose.
3) Dried fishies and shrimpies for cats. But you can buy very similar stuff for human consumption too, particularly as 'drinking snacks.' Frankly, I can't tell the difference, but I haven't been tempted to dig into my cats' snack bag...yet...
4) This is wild; I found this poster article about this electronic gadget suit you can wear that will give you extra strength. The example of how this suit can be used is a small woman lifting an elderly man. With the aging population, maybe this will be a reality? If I had such a suit, I'd certainly use it next time I have to lug my suitcase on the train to get to Narita airport (it's a long haul and just getting to and from the airport to Tokyo is the most exhausting part of any trip!)
There ya have it!
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A high school friend is taking off for Thailand and we had a 送別会 (sobetsukai; farewell party) on a 屋形船 (yakatabune). We boated around Tokyo Bay out by Odaiba for 2.5 hours with lots to drink, tempura galore, and a karaoke machine. When I think of yakatabune, I think of summer and watching the fireworks from the boat. But there we were in the middle of winter, climbing to the top of the boat for the amazing scenery (of the intense lights and activity of Odaiba), testing each other how long we could stay out there. Inside, those who liked karaoke belted away (the movie is a fine example of karaoke entertainment...for both those singing and observing). I find karaoke kind of cheesy, mainly because the song selections are so pop...and sure enough, most of the tunes I heard made me feel I was 15. I thought it was hilariously cute that although most of us were non-Japanese, we were partying in a very traditional Japanese manner.
The 3rd pic is Tomas, the one off to Thailand, giving a speech while tipping his head since he's too tall for the boat. The 5th picture is me with a boiling pot of fish and veges in the back. Then there is my dear friend Dan and Yuko who are getting married very soon, a close-up of Ayako and I, and lastly, the shy son of one of the boat people. Cute!
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I frequently pass through Meguro to go home, but never really stop there. Meguro hasn't quite found its identity yet. To me, it used to have a nondescript feeling to it...precisely why I've only passed through it thus far. Used to have small office buildings and ho-hum sort of eateries. Lots of construction going on now though and they seem to be trying to make it into a destination place. However, the stores/restaurants I see opening are just chains or obvious stores that other stations have too. But I wanted to have dinner at Aviland, a small French Mediterranean restaurant about a 10 minute walk from Meguro station. Kenji joined me and we had a very nice dinner with a bottle of wine for a total of 5,000 yen...That's cheap for the quality of what we had. Anyway, on our way back to the station, there was a jazz group playing. It was a particularly cold night, but Meguro had it happening. I will start paying more attention to Meguro now...
Before going to the SUI party at Aoyama-Hachi, I stopped by Shanghai Club which is just around the corner. It's a tiny tiny bar run by Junko-san. She does Hanga (wood block printing) and also displays local artists' work. If you want to meet creative funky people in a totally friendly atmosphere, this is the place. I walked in (down the narrow spiraling staircase...I tried to capture it on my phone) by myself and squeezed in next to a photographer and his friend. It really is small, and just by where I was sitting, by default, I joined their conversation. This is not the place to come for an intimate time with your lover. Everyone butts in to your conversations, jokes around, and eats each other's food. It got so crowded that one of the rickety stools someone was sitting on collapsed and it took a good 15 minutes to rearrange bodies and bags to find enough space to bang the thing back together.
SUI at Aoyama-Hachi was, as Mu-lan envisioned, totally chill. It was my first time there, but the 1st floor is a cheerful bar (pics) with music and lots of talking, the 2nd floor is a darker standing room bar where the DJ music played on the 3rd floor is also heard, the 3rd floor is where you can see the DJ and dance, the 4th floor is a retro lounge with velvet seats and really chill music. Unlike some spiffy renovated concrete building, this place has a more lovingly used feel to it. The windows didn't match, it's a mostly wooden structure (thus quite cold...most of us kept our layers on!), and like I said, each room has developed its own personality. I rather liked the space and will go back soon.