Daniel in Japaniel

Archive for November 2008

Thanksgiving in Tokyo (part 3)

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Japan’s public transport is a beautiful thing. No more than three hours ago, I was eating at KEIO’s Hiyoshi campus south of Tokyo, talking about the smell-exhibit my friend co-curated. Now, I am listening to The Bird and the Bee’s “My Love” back at Ryukoku’s Omiya campus next to Nishi-honganji temple in Kyoto. There is only a bullet train ride with Charlie separating me from these two places.

Although my time here really holds: catching up with ABS people, Ryudai folk and co-workers from Long Island Cafe; for the next few minutes I will detail the final part of my Thanksgiving in Tokyo.

The last post is a video of what I saw. Nothing special, just another holiday shopping season, with Peace on Earth playing behind me. That’s all, just the spirit of things really. After window shopping (which is the same word in Japanese), I reunited with Julian for a spur of the moment trip to the Tokyo dome.

In the background you can see a ferris wheel and a rollercoaster. Originally we wanted to ride the rollercoast, which spits you through the very mall adjacent to “Tokyo Dome City”.

While, yes, TDC is home to the renowned Tokyo Giants (the Yankee-esque rivals of Osaka’s Hasshin Tigers). This little capitalist’s wet dream hosts a variety of American style restaurants, including Bubba Gump Shrimp. T-day didn’t have this chain in mind.

Instead, I went for what I always go when depressed in the holiday season, a giant burger. The “largest” Tokyo offers, the “Chu-Ri-Pu-Ru Baa-Gaa” *CAUTION: Vegetarian/Vegan readers beware. Gratuitous Images*

In the Thanksgiving spirit I shared this moment with a new family.

And then went next door for a sundae at Baskin Robbins.

At this point you must really envy my decadent life. Compared to a feast with family, who could want more? Of course this binge eating wasn’t spurred by any lack of the emotion comfort of something called home.

How do you explain this picture?

Really, what would Thanksgiving be without emotional eating.

In other news, the ATMs at convenience stores here only accept transactions from Japanese banks and Citibank. Is this happening back home?

My tactic to wait until December to exchange my US dollars, hoping for a minor jump in the dollar to yen, seems so far, so pitiful. I traded 100 dollars for 9200 yen. The conversation about the economy with the clerk was worth the eight dollars I lost. And, yes, of course my losses are only marginal.

Spent the bullet ride back catching up with Charlie, who coincidentally was on the same return train (a testament to Japan’s size), sleeping, and re-reading the Tenzo-Kyokun (instructions to zen chefs).

As my research on Zen vegetarian cooking to contemporary Japanese food, it is only natural to cap my experiences with the indulgence of an “American” burger.

I turned to the last pages of Dogen’s work and a few of his words registered a little different this time around,

Be very clear about this. A fool sees himself as another, but a wise man sees others as himself.”

Suddenly we were passing Mt. Fuji. The first time I’ve seen this mountain, with wisps of snow like dust clearing off it’s cold peak.

Then as quick as we saw it, the bullet was back in the dark of the tunneled out mountain bases.

If there is anything I want you, reader to take away from this, it’s, as Japanese college students smell glass vials of tree smells and old clothes, while writing down their most hated and loved scents of all time, (fig. 1)

Australians are selling canned wine to FamilyMart convenience stores all across this island nation. (fig. 2)


Written by Daniel

November 28, 2008 at 10:49 am

Posted in food

Thanksgiving in Tokyo (part 2)

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Part 3, the meal, coming soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Written by Daniel

November 28, 2008 at 1:08 am

Posted in wandering

Thanksgiving in Tokyo (part 1)

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Japan, rising sun and all, would of course make me a day ahead (in case you haven’t caught on yet). With that it’s the proud holiday of turkey giving already.

I’m writing from Wired 360, an internet cafe sitting on the top floor of the Au Design building. This sort of semi-spherical glass covered structure is at the intersection of “Harajuku St.” capital of high school girls, frost highlighted business men and the tired “bohemian” types looking to meet up with their friends at Starbucks.

From the 360 view you can see the cue for the new H&M of Harajuku. This is where I would make a facetious comment about H&M in the fashion trend-spot Japan, but I really can’t. I went in and bought a green sweater. It was eighteen bucks, and I am happy.

And on this Thanksgiving day, although I found some dozen turkey serving, American catering establishments, I am somehow in Harajuku, 15 stops from the hostel, getting text messages about working when I return to Kyoto and calls apologizing for not coming out tonight.

All is well, of course, Julian is still in the vicinity, and I am sure we’ll end up eating. It looks though to be a rather quiet night.

Last night was spent in the “Red Light” district of Shinjuku, which was relatively tame really. It was Wednesday after all. There were several chances meetings that perked up the night (Julian has been down that he missed out on the take over of Thailand’s airport… which happened 2 hours after he departed for Japan). 1, ran into a couple sales people for an Italian watch or eyeglass whatever whatever and enjoyed some Sho-Chu and Cow tongue and heart at a standing bar (a perfect marriage, remarked one of the guys). 2, looking for a club or bar or something that wasn’t dead, we got picked up by Sayo and her friend Harumi, she invited us to join them for drinks at a VIP bar, which was really this charming fourth floor suite with a professional-hipster clientele.

We all ended up hanging out, bar to bar until the morning trains started up. Julian and I got back to New Koyo at 6 or so in the morning.

As for Thanksgiving, it would be fantastic to be home, with family or with any one friend from home, really. Holiday seasons have that tendency to make you want to love something. It’s hard to really get into the mindset of November and turkey however, while “Thank God it’s Christmas” blares out of technicolored aluminum trees.

To quote a good friend though, “hunger is the best chef”, and if anything, being away from everything creates an even greater sense of graciousness.

To everyone reading this, Happy Thanksgiving! Give someone a hug, eat some Tofurkey, drink some SoyNog, and pass out with family.

Written by Daniel

November 27, 2008 at 9:48 am

Posted in food, shopping, wandering

Just Melt

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It’s hard not to brag when it comes to Tokyo, the “wet dream of Americans”, as “What White People Like” describe it as.

Suffice it to say, I am relieved to relax in the hands of my friends and get paraded around the sites as a visitor, not obscurely guessing at what may be fun.

Truly I have gotten the royal treatment in this taste of Tokyo. A friend of mine, Momo-chan, that I met over the W&M CCC program this past summer, has been kind enough to host me at his house. Sitting on the roof top terrace of a 28 story building, this family has a terrific view of Tokyo University and the surrounding city skyline. His father, a Japanese George Clooney in terms of looks, runs every day (training for a marathon) in the odd hours not lecturing at Todai or practicing at the Maternity Ward of the same hospital; while his mother, an anesthesiologist, works on her upcoming Herbology book and practices plastic surgery in her family business clinic.

I was just treated to a dinner of Shabu Shabu (the sound effect of stirring). Shabu Shabu is a crock-pot family meal invented during the Meiji Period, as Japanese chefs reconciled the influx of livestock into their cooking. Pretty much, plate after plate of rare pork and beef are brought to the table as they are flash boiled in salt or soy-milk broth and dipped in a daikon radish or ground goma (sesame) base and enjoyed over rice, as you enjoy glass after glass of Asahi beer or Whiskey-sours.

Before that though, my friends Yuki and Marie (below), have been linked in arms with me as they’ve taken me through Ginza (Tokyo’s 5th avenue), Shibuya (the grundgy Tokyo, described as Bucha-Bucha the sound of chaos in Japanese), Shinjuku (Central Park feel), Harajuku (T’s Soho), Reppongi (T’s Greenich Village) and Asakusa (T’s Kyoto) in all less than two days.

Truly time is hyper-realized in Tokyo. Compared to the 5 AM- 12 AM days of Kyoto, Tokyo seems like 1 minute a day, yet somehow my waist size doubles with each second.

Meanwhile, this “taste” has only excited me for the more time to come in this city as December falls upon Japan, and the year of the OX materializes.

There is of course plenty more to be done. So far, as I said, I have been pointed in the right direction. Starting tomorrow however, with the return of Julian from Thailand, we shall really see if I have the feet to manage.

So far I have been averaging 8 hours of walking in Tokyo, but as Thanksgiving in Tokyo, a day of day care, and some modern art museum hopping approach, I think time on my feet will outlast any sleep I ever hope to have.

Tokyo will exhaust me for the rest of my life.

Written by Daniel

November 24, 2008 at 1:30 pm

Posted in shopping, wandering

Nagasaki, Fukuoaka, Kanazawa and Shirakawago

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Almost embarrassingly so, I listen to Regina Spektor’s Hotel Song as I connect to the world through Manten’s lan access. Many sites, few people, just a handful of places visited, but many beautiful sites they’ve been.

Thinking about my original plans before departing Kyoto, maybe I’ve let myself get taken by the travels than forcing them myself.

Nagasaki was more than I bargained for in terms of solitude.

Riding down on the limited express, the orange of Sanda vanished, the harbors opened up. Bamboo stalks, like cat tails fanned out against the horizon and I could see unrecognizable islands on the left and right. Often I had to push down the urge to hop out, a la Eternal Sunshine, at the next dilapidated train stop. Figure out the landscape, see every hidden place, eat everything in the process. These thoughts came to and out as I faded between reading “How to Cook Your Life”, napping, and pining after a rural life.

The suburb of Urakami appears fast. Suburb is a tough word to describe the Nagasaki area. Like most of Japan, the houses scale the edges of the mountain sides, however travel guides insist Urakami, the hippocenter of the Nagasaki Atomic bomb, is a serene suburb with even love hotels minutes from the Peace Park.

As I mentioned, originally the trip to Nagasaki came from my friend. Since her grandparent’s own a sushi restaurant, and I was looking for food to eat, she pointed me towards the island of Kyushu. The Nagasaki Peace Park came as an afterthought, unfortunately. For, like most people, when I think of the bomb I think of Hiroshima and FatMan.

Sadly things with the restaurant didn’t quite work out. Aki’s grandmother is feeling ill and they’ve temporarily shut down the place.

So, as I passed Urakami station, I thought, “I should get off here, I shouldn’t be selfish, I deserve to lug my bags around the tragic sight” I did check into my accommodations though. On my way, I passed by the sight of the crucifixion of 26 Japanese-Christians from the 1600s. Back in the day, the days of isolation, Nagasaki was the only open port to foreigners. Foreigners at the time included, the Chinese, Koreans, Dutch traders, and Portuguese Christians.

With the Chinese came the Obaku Zen tradition and the first stone bridges of Japan.

Anyway, following the romanized signs of sites (thank you Japan), I found my way to the Peace Park. Now the Peace Park consists of three things, the Atomic Bomb Museum, the Nagasaki Bomb Victims Memorial, and the Park itself. I started with the Memorial.

This is a terrible picture. I put it up so you get an idea of how large it is. In Japanese fashion, you are to walk around this basin, collecting your thoughts, calming yourself. The water itself, that trickles over the edge represents the water the victims cried for, but could not drink. At night, at each corner of the tiles a small light shines. The 70,000 total represent those that died instantly when the bomb fell. Standing tall off center of the fountain are twelve pillars in two rows. When you look down the center of it, a sign tells you, you are facing the hippocenter.

Assuming this was the extent, feeling already drained from thoughts, a red arrow with “Suggested Route” written in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese, pointed me down marble stairs. The walk down is flanked by the pressed-cedar walls. Following this route, you come into several darkened rooms, each with their own testimony of the bomb. There I tried to read the aged pages of journals. A long corridor separates each room.

In the sub-basement, you see the reach of the 12 pillars. A open rectangular room, with now the white of the twelve against the cedar, the memorial hall is a lexicon of those lost to the bomb. A growing tome, each volume is edited when another atomic bomb survivor passes away.

Laid against the plastic picnic tables are several branches of Thousand Paper cranes. At the end of this rainbow collection are name tags. They say different school names, elementary, junior and high school, each with own date, each date today.

Drained, I left thinking I would visit the Peace Park now and return to Nagasaki. Instead, I went inside the Atomic Bomb musuem. Though I was a little turned off from the mass of school children running around the outside of the museum, the interior was actually incredibly educating. Though most of it were relics from Urakami, a warped clock hands stuck on 11:02 the time of impact, glass bottles fused into meteorite jade, or burned money and laquerware, there was a great deal of history on the atomic bomb itself. As the museum is funded by the Nagasaki Peace committee, it is a living museum that continually sees renovations and updates on Nuclear Disarmament.

By a Mother Theresa quote “All world leaders must see these pictures” are lined photos, black and white, of charred remains, white teeth stark contrast against their blackened babies’ bodies, while families stand eyes lost.

In the following room is a time line of the bomb next to a globe that represents the amount of nuclear testing each country has done through baron craters of varying sizes. The United States has an enormous volcano jutting out of the Nevada area, while North Korea has a blemish and France has a black island.

I left the museum for the site of the hippocenter. A black prism stands with a table for incense and flowers. Like a drop of water, ripples of grassy and concrete in concentric circles radiate from this monument. Adjacent is the half standing church walls of the Urakami Cathedral. Even though the B-29 was searching for the Mitsubishi Arms Factory that day, the pilot had mistaken the spires of Japan’s first Catholic Church for the factory’s exhaust stacks.

Half of the entrance still remains. Behind that, an alcove filled with Thousand Paper cranes.

Although I had planned on visiting a few bars a tourist book had recommended, I spent the rest of the day to night walking. From about three to ten at night, I was walking. First I walked back to Nagasaki, then to the Dutch slopes by the harbor. Eventually I got tired of the circles I had been making and made a trip back to my room.

The next day I walked back into the downtown area and stopped at a few temples along Nagasaki’s Teramachi-dori. I definitely enjoyed the view from the riverside though. For each street there is a stone arch bridge that connects these two sides. They were made by the donations a Chinese Zen monk received while doing Takahatsu. The bridges are by no means large or extravagant. They are simple and practical. Later I would see the largest rice pot ever. This iron bowl was used during a famine in the 1600s to feed a few thousand Nagisakians. It’s housed at the Sofukuji temple, a temple built and shipped from China.

After lunch in their China-town, I got on the limited express to Fukuoka.

Fukuoka is by far one of the more glamorous cities I have been in before. From the station the streets fan out like spokes on a wheel. Surrounding Hakata-eki are massive business hotels, and luxury malls.

That night my accommodation was at the Hakata Riverside Hotel. It sits right next to this Pinocchio-esque island, that I could only wander around in for a good minute. Nakasu island is filled corner to corner with glitsy bars and strip clubs. It is inhabited by drunken salarymen who try to speak English to me. It’s a place beautiful in it’s marginal excess, and set customers. By far a place I will never really know.

Past the island, though, is the downtown area. It’s more or less concentrated around the two train stops and subway stops: Tenjin, and Tenjin-minami. Each business building has its own trademark designer architect, and have abstract metal Christmas trees lit in purple and baby-blue. There are Starbucks and Starbuck’s babies, Tully’s, Cafe Velloce and Seattle’s Best, around every corner. And in between are more Hermes, Fendi and Louis Vuitton stores you have ever seen.

But the true gem of Fukuoka are the yatai. Food carts, though more like the world’s tiniest bars. They sit askew on the main streets. You can see the silhouettes of their customers through the plastic curtains. Underneath they are eating the best Ramen of their lives.

Perhaps I’ve missed this about cities. Back home, a grundgy local spot is expected, it colors the town, chains and clean floors are the things of suburbs. Fukuoka excels though, giving the extremes fashion expenses next to the bargain bowls of street vendors.

Eventually I gathered enough courage to pull back the curtain and sit on a stool at this one yatai. Out of random I picked a 41 year old place and sat next to a doctor of cancer cell biology who received his Ph.D in America. We talked for a little bit. The owner’s son in law insisted on being translated by the doctor, while his wife asked me to translate some spam she received on her cell phone to her.

As soon as I ordered a bowl, it started pouring outside. Although I went to Kyushu to escape the cold of Honshu, it seemed I timed my arrival with a cold front. Drops of rain would occasionally make their way through the cardboard ceiling, while wind would blow up the curtains. This made for all the more enjoyable meal. The doctor poured me a glass of Kirin beer and I drank in the warm broth of the famous soup.

I got back a little after one and collapsed on my tiny bed.

My hundred yen breakfast woke me up. The owner of the place knocked on my door a little before eight thirty, and placed down a little basket with three potato sandwiches in it and some “Instant-French-Drip-Coffee”.

After eating, I took the next Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka and met up with Sachi, my co-worker, who would act as my travel buddy for the next few days in Kanazawa and Shirakawago.

Kanazawa is Boston with castles. The gingkos are a brilliant yellow at this point. I arrived just after a snow storm, so there was still a little remaining. With a little time before my bus ride to Shirakawago, I stopped by a nearby castle/garden to get a view of the city. Despite how beautifully sculpted the area was, bonsai outfitted, reflecting green ponds etc. it was no match for the end to end rainbow that spread over the downtown area.

At around one, I got aboard the bus to Shirakawago. About an hour away, Shirakawago of Toyoma prefecture is just west of the Japanese Alps. Just west doesn’t equate no snow, however. The area is famous for it’s “Gassho Zukuri” a type of mountain cabin known for it’s “gassho” (hands in prayer) shape.

Fortunate enough for me, the zukuris rent out rooms. With dinner and breakfast, a night stay comes out to 8,000 yen, or about 80 bucks. Not to bad, considering…

Fantastic. It made for a tough return to Kanazawa. Definitely a place to return to. I desperately wished I had hiking gear to explore, or perhaps cj to ice climb with. As neither were possible, yes return trip, in store.

The next day, I visited the acclaimed 21st Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa. This glorious, white circle is quickly gathering quite a collection. Currently they have a grassroots collection of 9 popular Kanazawan artists, including Nara Yoshitomo.

Most of the stuff was regrettably off limits for my camera, but free for me to purchase in the gift shop.

I did manage a shot of Leandro’s piece “Leandro’s Pool”

Specializing in installation art, Leandro Erlich deals with optical illusions, etc. etc.

After the trip to the museum, Sachi was kind enough to introduce me to Izumi, who has an 8 month old baby called Ko-chan (refer to the previous post for a video).

Before arriving, Sachi warned me of Izumi’s beauty, but I can’t for the life of me remember what she looks like. From the moment I entered her apartment, I was won over by Ko-chan.

The next morning, I started typing this entry and continued it on the double-decker bullet train to Tokyo.

Tokyo, yes finally Tokyo. I have slowly my approach to the city synonymous to Japan back home. I can’t even imagine the time it would take to learn a city like this. My KEIO friend Momo has been kind enough to put me up at his parent’s apartment that overlooks Tokyo from the top 27th floor of this gorgeous complex. Tokyo University at it’s feet and mountains in the horizon, I can’t fathom what people do here.

Hopefully over the next six days, I will experience the prelude to December and January here. For now I will play the dumb foreigner and touch, taste, smell everything I see.

Written by Daniel

November 22, 2008 at 3:02 pm

Posted in wandering

Bouncing Ko-Chan

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Big update on the last four places I have been, coming soon.

Written by Daniel

November 22, 2008 at 12:50 am

Posted in japanese babies

So Far

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As I have swapped bullet trains for beds, the constant access to the internet has been limited. Luckily I am in Fukuoka now, a town that doesn’t start-up until 9 or 10 PM. Home of the best Ramen, I have a tough night ahead of me.

Until the morning post, let’s have a photo re-cap of the past few days, while my rust colored bath (unintentional) fills up.

I was sleeping here for awhile, during the Marathon of Reading 2008. Will was lovely enough to let me apartment sit. He would have checked with his roomate if it was okay- however, he has never met him.

(note the pillow I made. Ingredients: 3 jackets, a snagged United Air blanket, and a cashmere scarf wrapped up in a black hoody.)

Ate this beauty in Uji. Afterward, my friend toured me around the sites.

The sites:

We then returned to Kyoto for Christmas decorations. Christmas starts with November, as there are no pilgrims to celebrate in a country full of decendents from the Sun Goddess.

Not to be confused with-

Fast forward, two days later, I am in Sanda eating delicious forever and ever. My host Midori-san (Buddhist name, Renshu) put me up for three nights. After eating my weight in tofu and Ginko nuts, I tagged out with Paul and Alex.

Like the maple leaf touch? I had more pictures, but as soon as I pulled out my camera, Okura-san ran from a hot pot to the table, throwing maple leafs from her stockpile on to each of the plates.

Her workspace:

After this, I hung out with her husband. He sat like the Buddha, as he took his time painting dozens of plates that he would only have to repaint again the next day.

Like I said, Paul and Alex joined me in Sanda. There we were filled with Sho-chu and Calorie saving cocktail drinks to our hearts content. I made a pretentious comment that I felt like Odysseus when he is on that one island, with all that food, and that beautiful woman. Sadly I left the next morning on the first train to Shin-Osaka (to transfer to a Bullet to Hakata, then an express to Nagasaki).

Paul in wedding gift futons.

My day in Nagasaki. From the moment I left the train, my guilt filled me. Of course! I mean, even if there are no residual hard feelings. Oh god, the guilt was tough. The few American tourists I ran into echoed similar feelings. This is part of it thought.

Naturally, I have photos of this experience. But, my photo uploading failed. So maybe I will knock out an explanation of Fukuoka and Nagasaki tomorrow morning. Is this okay with you?

Tomorrow afternoon, I take the bullet back to Shin-Osaka. There I meet up with Sachi to take another bullet to Kanazawa.

This is my room by the way. And it’s view. Not much. I like their yukata though. It is a going-commando’s dream.

Okay, more predictable river shots and random temple pictures to come later, it’s 9:30 and time to get my Ramen on.

Written by Daniel

November 18, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Posted in wandering