Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Opera City

Day 28 (-2) Tea and coffee.
While I love the iced tea, hot tea, green tea, coffee in its varied forms it is important to keep an eye on the price.Today was the first time I got caught out with a price (must have been the distraction of Celia's company,) Celia and I stopped for a break and shared a lovely fruit topped slice (428y) and two iced teas When we left the bill was 1,728y!! Turns out the iced tea were 650y each!! Usually they are 400y at their most excessive.


We did some shopping today, having a great time in the stationery store buying all sorts of Japanese design post-it notes, cards and Celia got a new diary; their designs are so pretty and appealing. The Artre Centre at Meguro station is a collection of stores in an open space and has some nice clothes, shops as well as the the stationery,book shop, records, bakery and cosmetics.
We went on to the Tokyo Opera City building to see a Photography exhibition of Japanese and Australian stuff. It was fascinating, but a bit too 'different' for my liking; I mean some photos you couldn't see what you were looking at!!
But adjacent to that was an exhibition of paintings of ASADA Hiroshi (1931-1997),whose family were renowned nihonga (Japanese-style paintings) artists. Asada's work is very different 'a world of serene imagined scenery that can be described as figurative poetry through the medium of painting". Not quite how I describe it! but we really enjoyed that so it was worth the trip and entrance fee.
The Opera city building has a wide open courtyard (L) for small concerts, I've seen people there in good weather, and other artistic installations (below).
The foyer of the centre is a huge pink marble area with two life size statues of an artist placed 50 meters from each other.
We also visited the NTT Intercommunication Centre (ICC) that is an innovative facility opened in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of telephone service in Japan (1990), and has interesting sound displays.
The white skittle shape (r) has a screen on the other side and is aimed at the stairs. As someone walks by it snaps images and plays them back in random order so you see the person (yourself) in a staccato sort of dance. There was also a table with small white and black rectangle and as you moved past they moved and emitted sound and turned towards you. A bit like walking in a field of triffids!!
For lunch we went down to the food court, and had lunch at a Korean restaurant, avoiding the Kim-chi (hot chilli) and had this delicious noodle dish, in a delicate broth with sort of prosciutto.
We also booked on the Shinkansen to go to Kyoto and stop in Hamamatsu on the way back. It's a tight schedule. but we got the seats we wanted and have it down to the fine minute. Trains leaving at 9:07 and arriving 11:48.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Tochomae

Day 28 (-4) PETS.
In Japan pets seem to be substitute children. They are indulged pampered and whole shops dealing with food treats and clothes, including rain wear and ear muffs. The most popular dog is the Chihuahua, and all other breeds of small dogs including the Papillon of which I have never heard. Cocker spaniels are large! but I have seen a few golden retrievers. A popular purchase is a carrier sling or pram for pooch, and this parlor at Mid-town for the pampered pooch was what was called a "Hotel,Short Stay"

Today it started to rain and predicted to continue for the next 3 days!, and temperature down to 18 degrees. Definitely cool!
So we went to Tokyo Mid Town to check out the shops and the outdoor art space. The place is full of brand named stuff, I'm not a brand name person myself (bargain shops rather) but a lot of Japanese seem to be brand name slaves. The centre is very luxurious and a shop, that I thought was a cafe, and I hesitated to take a photo, as I could see the waiter at the door. After he walked out I studied it for a few minutes and I realised it was smoking room, in keeping with teh plush centre. (L)
There is a design centre there, but we only toured the outdoor sculptures including this set of ?skittles?
We then went off to Tochomae, the Government buildings; Sounds boring but it is a great architectural space. Designed by Kenzo Tange, one of Japan's top architects, the monumental twin towers are said to be inspired by Notre Dame, but the curved design seems unique. The skyscraper has an observation deck, but a nearby building of about half the height was covered in mist so we left that for another day. The huge open space is surrounded by statues of women, and the curved buildings ringing the courtyard are stunning.



Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shinagawa

Day 27 (-5) The Buzz.
It can be an amazing experience to be in the midst of the crowds at the busy areas of Tokyo. Shibuya crossing is a mass of people at any time you are there, and looking at the crowd heading for you can be intimidating. It is noisy with the screens on the building running advertisements for concerts, CD releases or just products, but all noise and raucous sounds. I'm not sure that they actually turn off. Not a place I'd like to live next to! But then I'm nearly 60!!

Celia arrived to day, so I was in the Shinagawa area to meet her and went to a flea market at the City space, but it was mainly clothes new and used, with nothing of appeal to me. The building was lots of wide open spaces with fountains and a stage. Kids were having a great time jumping and climbing around.
When I went back to the station area there was a music ensemble playing 30 minute concert X 4 times between 3.30 and 6pm. So I stopped to listen to them for a while. The second group was a great wind group, flute, oboe, french horn, clarinet and saxaphone.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Itabashi and Hokusai

Day 26 (-6) Ukiyoe which means "pictures of the floating world", is the name for Japanese woodblock prints woodcut and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries, featuring motifs of landscapes, tales from history, the theatre and pleasure quarters of Edo. Ukiyo-e were affordable because they could be mass produced. They were meant for mainly townsmen, not wealthy enough to afford an original painting. The original subject of ukiyo-e was city life, in particular activities and scenes from the entertainment district. Beautiful courtesans bulky sumo wrestlers and popular actors would be portrayed while engaged in appealing activities. Later on landscape also became popular.
The most well known is probably Hiroshige and his 53 stations of the Tokaido (road from Kyoto to Edo) and Hokusai and his 36 Views of Mt Fuji.
Discovered by the west in the late 1800's originals are now worth a small fortune ,a far cry form the day to day production of 100 years ago.
My favourite is Utamaro whose specialty was portraits of women. His work reachedEurope in the mid 19th century, where it was very popular, enjoying particular acclaim inFrance. He influenced the European Impressionists, particularly with his use of partial views, with an emphasis on light and shade.

Good news last night was that Sakurako had her baby on Thursday, a boy named Takumi 2.8 Kg. His timing is perfect as we can see them both when we go to Kyoto next weekend.
What inspired my subject for today was that I went to Itabashi, the last stop on the Mita line, to see a show Hokusai and his Disciples at the local area Art Museum. The show was really good , but no English translations, (not uncommon) but some good catalogues with translation so I read them in the lounge.
The area is out in the suburbs, the station Nishi Takashimadae is the last stop and surrounded by freeways, overpasses and high rise. A depressing looking spot!
But I followed my (inadequate) map, which showed this complex of freeway as a line, presumably a road that I kept to my left. After some imaginative interpretation I found the park wherein lay the Museum. My first sight was of a water fountain in the middle of the lake then into view came the local men at Saturday's activity! There was a beautiful set up for one man with sun screen umbrella and all.
Not sure if they caught anything, but I gather with fishing the gaol is not necessarily to get results.
On my way back home after some shopping I stopped in at the local Book Off for a cool drink and found they had live music from 3.30 so stayed there for a while with the crowd then walked on home just before the rain came. So a well timed day really.
Also read the last bit of the Grand final, (can't get live streaming or radio) so pleased with the Hawks , my choice for the final
Celia here tomorrow!


Friday, September 26, 2008

Azabu Juban

Day 24 (-7) Drain access covers You may have seen my photos of these over the years, but I love the decoration of this mundane item. The photos I took initially were ones where the cover denotes some logo or historic aspect of the town. And each new city had a different one, my photo file grew. This one is in Shinagawa and denotes the local fire brigade which was at the street corner.


Azabu Juban is prime rental area with many embassies in the area, hence lots of foreign residents. They must be on living allowances I think to live there! Monasteries are traditional places of hospitality so it is not surprising that the first Europeans and Americans who came to Japan to establish diplomatic relations, were housed in temples. The first American Consul General Townsend Harris, took up residence in Zenoukuji temple in Azabu when the first diplomatic representatives moved to Edo (Tokyo).
1859 was not a nice time to be in Japan as a fore
igner. Because of the unequal treaties the foreign powers had used to break their way into the country, anti-foreign sentiment was running high. After arduous negotiations, the United States was the first country to establish such a treaty with Japan. Ironically, it was called the Treaty of Amity and Friendship. Under this treaty, Harris was allowed to settle in the Shogun’s capital, but the same Shogun was finally losing his grip on the country. Ronin, masterless samurai, would make sudden attacks on both the foreigners and representatives of the Bakufu government, and the atmosphere was tense.
When we were in Yokohama there as a lot about a young girl and "red shoes."
This statue in A
zabu-Jûban is modeled after a real girl named Kimi-chan, who was featured in a well known children’s song called “The Girl in Red Shoes.” In the song a young girl accompanies a foreigner by ship from Yokohama to America. The real Kimi-chan was supposed to have done the same—or so her mother thought. Kimi was adopted at the age of three by American missionary Charles Huit and his wife. Kimi’s mother, Kayo, had given her up for adoption to work in Hokkaido, believing she had done the best for her daughter. But Kimi-chan had a weak constitution and developed tuberculosis (which was incurable at the time) just before she was supposed to leave for America. Her adopted parents left her in a church orphanage in Azabu-Jûban, where Kimi passed away at the age of nine. Her mother found out later of her death. A sad story.
Azabu Juban's merchants, fiercely shitamachi (old downtown) in spirit, once banded together to protest the development of subway stops in their area
. Bowing to the inevitable, however, "the Juban" finally welcomed passengers from both the Oedo and Namboku lines. Foreign chain stores and sidewalk bars then sprang up, irrevocably altering the atmosphere. While some old establishments have closed, others have grown with the crowds. Mamegen, traditional soybean snacks since 1865, does a brisk trade. I could smell the aroma of okaki (deep-fried rice crackers) from a few shops away and saw they sold them fresh,piping hot, so I indulged with a crowd of elderly and young alike.
As well as many ol
d style shops there is a collection of statues along the street commissioned by the City to express its international affinities.

Here are the few I captured.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pachinko

Day 23 (-8) Pachinko is the Japanese game machine, a cross between pinball and a slot machine. Players buy metal balls, at 4 yen per ball that's 250 balls for every 1000 yen. These balls are then shot into the machine from a ball tray with the purpose of attempting to win more balls. Sounds riveting eh? Under Japanese law, cash cannot be paid out directly for pachinko balls, rather they get prizes, but there is usually a small exchange center located nearby where players can conveniently exchange their winnings for cash. Winning strategies abound, same as poker machines in OZ. Stay at the same machine , find ones that pay out more etc. As a gambling activity, pachinko is widely held to have links to organised crime (specifically the Yakusa)."Official" figures put the sum of remittances from the parlours at 3 billion to 10 billion yen.
The pachinko parlors share the reputation of slot machine dens and casinos the world over — garish decoration; over-the-top architecture; a low-hanging haze of cigarette smoke; the constant din of the machines, music, and announcements; and flashing lights. You can tell when you are approaching one by the noise of the steel balls, and the garish displays. There is also a queue of men outside in the morning before opening. Not being a gambler of any persuasion I have never played them!

Another beautiful day, but the Matsuoka museum I walked up to see was closed for a new exhibition; but I peered in the door anyway (lovely glass) and as I walked away a woman came running out to give me a flyer for the next exhibition of Japanese ceramics opening on Tuesday.
I was in a coffee shop later, but saw it was busy and no empty seats. As I was walking out I was checking out the area off to the right, and walked slap bang into a solid plate glass door! A bruise, small lump and a headache later I am fine!
That was the sum of any action today.

Koban

Day 22 (-9) A kōban is a police box. In addition to central police stations, Japanese uniformed police work is done from small buildings located within the community, a form of community policing. The box is literally that; a small room with a desk and room for the two men to work. Police officers in these buildings can keep watch, respond to emergencies, give directions, and otherwise interact with citizens on a more intimate basis than they could from a more distant station. There are usually two men there (never seen women) and I have used them for directions. This is a busy job as addresses in Japan are an art form that would appeal to the greatest puzzle creators!
This one (taken in March) looks like a choice posting with your own personal cherry tree in front!
I have never not been able to see one nearby when I needed it.



Today was PERFECT weather, 27 degrees, light breeze and some fluffy clouds. So I spent most of it outside, after getting my hair cut. I went down to Tokyo Mid town a new complex at Roppongi that also has a garden, as well as courtyard spaces.
The Galleria, the main attraction of Tokyo Midtown, consists of five floors of stores and restaurants. The new Suntory Museum is also located here (see Blog Kosode), in addition to Design Sight 21_21 - an exhibition gallery (free) and research workshop. Fuji Film / Fuji Xerox have two photography galleries (also free) with often changing exhibitions, but I did not venture in today.
Once part of the Japanese Self Defence Agency, Midtown Garden contains over 140 trees from the former site. The garden contains huge grassy lawns, a playground, walking paths, fountains, sculptures, and even a mini basketball court.Hinokicho Park was once a garden attached to the residence of the Mori family, part of the Hagi Clan of the Edo Period. Hinoki means 'cypress tree', and there are many on the grounds. The trees and greenery surround a small pond fed by a bubbling stream, which is overlooked by a traditional Japanese teahouse.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Salt and Tobacco

Day 21 (-10) Japlish
I'm sure I make mistakes in my Japanese language, but I love seeing the interpretation of things English into quaint Japanese. As well as this shop (good cheap household products, hopefully giving you more than 3 minutes of happiness), my hair salon advertises "hair make" (cuts and make up).
I'm not sure what smell is about, but the store looked OK.


Today I went to an unusual Museum that originally I had not thought of visiting . At an exhibit of leisure time in old Edo, they had some beautiful exhibits that were listed as being at the Salt and Tobacco Museum so I headed there today near Shibuya Station.
The combination of the two products is related to the huge commerce and tax on these over the years.Though I must admit I have never really thought about where salt came from the process I mean. Japan had no natural source of salt, no rock salt or salt plains, but this deficit led to innovative technology.
Japan Tobacco
, (company) 50% of whose stock is held by the government, with the other 50% traded on the Japanese stock exchanges has origins dating back to Japan’s tobacco monopoly introduced in the 16th century. They were organized as a company in 1898 and also given a monopoly on salt. They’re still a cash cow today.
The percentage of smoking adults in Japan is the fourth highest in the world, behind South Korea, China, and Russia. JT manufactures foreign brands for sale in Japan through licensing agreements and controls 80% of the market. Cigarettes are sold through vending machines,placed in the streets, and I read a recent article (May 08) about a new vending machine that can detect if the purchaser is a minor. This newly developed machine has a built-in camera that measures facial wrinkles, pupil size and other features. But I think people said you could hold a picture in front of it and it accepted that. Seems simpler to have them only sold by people in shops.
In Japan, introduced around 1600, the plant's leaves were shredded into strands as thin as individual hairs -- a practice not found in other parts of the world. While there is no clear reason for this method of utilizing tobacco, it led to the development of unique long thin pipes and other smoking paraphernalia that evolved into sophisticated art objects, incorporating engravings and embroidery. The Netsuke was the ivory or bone bead on these pouches and are now collectors items.

As well the museum has a collection of about 1,700 ukiyo-e woodblock prints portraying tobacco and salt use during the Edo period, many of which were incorporated into the display.
As well as their general exhibits on Salt and Tobacco they had a special exhibition of Shiko-hin culture. This is the term used to describe products and items that we feel bring enjoyment to everyday life. Sake, Green tea ,coffee and tobacco were the items in this display. It was really well done with tea room, coffee shop and sake shop set up, and diorama of tobacco. preparation. Lots of beautiful pipes, bowls, tobacco pouches, enameled smoking set of bowl and pipes,tea caddies, samovars, china cups and saucers etc

Monday, September 22, 2008

Stationery

Day 20 (-11) Stationery
Wandering around a card shop or other stationery shop in Japan is a treat. The detail of the cards is a reflection of the paper folding design and skills of the Japanese.
Behold this simple card!

Some of the most
interesting racks of cards are the style of envelope called Goshugifukuro that is used to give a gift of money to an individual, couple or family. There are envelopes for happy occasions, such as the birth of a new child, or for sad occasions, such as funerals (in Japan you give money for a funeral). The money is placed inside an envelope that is then wrapped in a decorative “envelope” or piece of paper folded in a certain way around the inner (money bearing) envelope. The final touch is a bow or decoration wrapped around the outer paper.






I was up early to see Gerry off. We avoided rain on our 5 minute walk to the station, and managed to get on to the full train at Meguro with suitcase and bag. Thankfully some people got off as we waited to board, but we just kept getting squished back and back. Lots of people got off at Shinagawa so that was OK. After we got her ticket at the very helpful JR ticket office, we waited for a while chatting and looking at the crowd as it streamed endlessly by. Looking at the photo you can see why we missed each other last week!
And this flow was still going when I came back into the terminal 30 minutes later!
I am amazed at the (generally) patient Japanese. We passed a cafe yesterday where people were waiting for a seat; popular places have some seats available outside for the wait. It is a sign of a good restaurant seeing the queue, and they are usually ramen or soba shops where you eat and leave.
No one really hangs around in restaurants; very different to the cafe life style.
It started raining heavily as I left the station and continued for about an hour. As well it got decidedly cooler When I went out later to the Post Office (forgot on my way home) I added a long sleeve shirt!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tokyo

19 (-12)
Not everything I love about Japan is ancient history. I love it's modern look as well, especially some of the stunning architecture. My favourite building is the Tokyo International Forum. Designed by Rafael Vinoly it was the winning design for a conference and exhibition centre, and built in 1996, and been poetically described as a ship ploughing the urban waters of Tokyo!! It is a glass and steel structure that does look like a ship.


Today was my last day with Gerry so we did a range of things that we had on a short list. we started off on the Yamanote train line (circular) to Nippori. Gerry by now kno
ws her way round the route and is a fan of the ticketing system. It started to spit rain as we left and we foolishly did not return for our big umbrellas; small fold up ones were not up to the downpours we experienced.
Nippori is the stop in the Yanaka district of Tokyo (see blog Temples and Jizo) and as we left the station there were dozens of people streaming out we thought we may
have hit on some event but realised as we followed some, that it is the day to visit the cemetery and place flowers and clean up the family tomb.
At the heart of Yanaka is
the huge Yanaka Cemetery. Once the burial grounds of Kanei-ji and Tennoji temples and opened to the public in 1874, this is one of Tokyo's largest cemeteries. Among its more than 7,000 tombstones are graves belonging to famous public figures, artists, and writers, some of whom lived in the area. Among the most famous writers buried here are Soseki Natsume (1867-1916) and Ogai Mori (1862-1922), both novelists of the Meiji Era and longtime Yanaka residents. Natsume, whose portrait is featured on the 1,000-yen note, became famous after writing I am a Cat, a humorous look at the follies of human society as seen through the eyes of a cat. Ogai, who at 19 was the youngest graduate ever from the medical school at Tokyo University and who later became surgeon general, was a foremost figure of modern Japanese literature. His works tried to bridge the gap between the traditional and the modern, as Japan moved away from its feudal agrarian past.
We have seen them often but I have been unable to find out (yet) what the 'poles' are on tombs in Japan. but they add to the different atmosphere of Japanese Cemeteries.
On our tour of the area we stopped in to the Asakura Choso Museum to see the stunning sculpture (above) Asakura, who died in 1964 at age of 84 was one of the first to move away from wooden sculpture to the use of bronze and went on to teach art and sculpture working from his studio in the building that is now the gallery. A great space in itself!
After this we went on to the Tokyo International forum and took pictures from the top levels and all angles, then walked in the rain to Ginza.