Monday, 30 November 2009
I had my fourth pottery class today and this time we went to the teacher's house as she has a pottery room set up there with two kilns! I met Susan at Ebisu station and it was a short journey on the train to Oimachi where our teacher, Eriko, met us. It was really nice to see a different part of Tokyo and also to see a typical Japanese house. She even has the tatami mats in her dining room and her family sits cross legged round the table to eat dinner. I made a nabe pot today, which I was quite proud of, even if it is a tad wobbly round the edges! I'm hoping it will survive the firing and then we can make our own nabe (casserole-type dish that you boil on the hob) at home.
As we were heading home, we trotted through the Tokyo Midtown Building and came across this dog shop called "Dog Day" where there is also a beauty salon for your dog. We were intrigued by how the dogs were so patient and really seemed to be enjoying their spa day. Mind you, if you have it done every week......
Yesterday we headed to the National Art Centre for a bit of culture. The building is pretty stunning and looks like a massive ripple from the outside. The inside is a winning combination of natural wood and manmade concrete that the Japanese seem to do so well and so tastefully. I love the space-age 'cones' that rise grandly out of the floor with a restaurant balanced on top. We saw an exhibition on portraiture, mostly from the 16th century. It's not really my cup of tea and such a contrast to the interior of the gallery, but I'll be heading back to see other exhibitions in the future.
We had been to a very interesting talk a few weeks ago about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. I have been a fan of his work for a long time and the woman who gave the talk was very passionate about what he has worked on, and focused mainly on how Japanese design influenced a lot of his work. He eventually came to build the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo in the early 20th century, and it was obviously quite an awesome building and even survived the giant earthquake in the 1920s. But it was sadly torn down a long time ago and replaced by a pretty nondescript glass structure. Even though the building now is pretty horrendous, we had heard that the bar was an homage to Frank, so decided it was a good excuse to head there and have a cocktail. Neil had a Gin Fizz and I had a very tasty Cosmopolitan! We then headed on for dinner at a Belgian restaurant in Marunouchi and ate too much sausage and drank too much Belgian beer...
The stroll through the Imperial Palace grounds then led us through Hibya park, a lovely garden with people playing tennis in the dusky light and others meandering along the paths, enjoying the evening. We came across a little chalet-style restaurant and decided to sit outside and have a beer in the twilight. It felt so strange sitting outside drinking beer whilst surrounded by christmas lights!
Saturday was a beautifully mild day so, after a trip to the gym and lunch there, we decided to head to the Imperial Palace for a wander around. We had heard that there wasn't much to see as the grounds and palace are actually closed to the public for most of the year, but we felt we should at least pay a visit, and we're glad we went as there was still a lot to see, and we also enjoyed the people watching. It's obviously a popular place for people to go for a run (apparently the loop around the grounds is about 3 miles), but we were intrigued to know where all these people had come from. They had obviously made the journey especially on the subway, which we found quite strange. The grounds surrounding the palace were also strange in their design, as most of the trees had been heavily pruned into space age shapes and were all very regimented. We caught a glimpse of the palace across the water and over the bridge, and took the obligatory photos to show that we'd been there.
Saturday, 28 November 2009
I went to a stunning exhibition last night at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. It was organised by a Meetup group that I just joined, and I met them (a group of about 12 people) in the lobby of the museum. The photographer, Sebastiao Salgado, uses a documentary style to show workers, but also refugees of less developed nations and in this case, Africa which he started photographing in the 1970s. The images were all in black and white and very moving in their composition, contrast, subject matter. In a lot of cases they almost took on a religious theme, using horrific human circumstances. There was one photograph of a man dying of cholera in the arms of a woman. It was a startling subject and upsetting to look at, but at the same time a moment captured in time that evoked the image of Madonna and Christ. It was one of the most moving exhibitions I have seen for a while and a nice thing to do with other people. We also got to talk about it afterwards and share ideas about what we thought. I am now inspired to buy myself a proper camera and get photographing!
I went Scottish dancing on thursday evening, as you do! It was recommended by Joy, who I met through Stitch and Bitch, and the last time I did anything like that was when I was about 7 and at junior school! I thought it was good to give it a go at least once, so trotted along to the ANA hotel in Akasaka, where it was being held. They rent out a large room in the basement and a good selection of people turned up, including quite a few Japanese. I ended up having a fab time and did a lot of laughing and getting things wrong, but am hoping to go again in two weeks time. That's if my legs recover! At the moment I am limping round like an 90 year old woman - I did some serious damage to the poor legs. Must have been all that nimble prancing on my toes for two hours!
Monday, 23 November 2009
It was another public holiday today, but Neil had to work, so I decided to head off to Ginza to have a mooch around. I hadn't been there before, but it is the area where all the high-end shops are, as well as many big department stores, and the streets are closed to traffic at the weekend so that shoppers can stroll freely. There is also a fab stationary shop there called Itoya, which was my main reason for going, and I was not disappointed! It is a massive shop on 9 floors, and heaven for anyone who likes a good forage through gorgeous cards, papers, art materials etc. It's sign is a large red paperclip and I could see it in the distance as I forced myself through the crowds. Needless to say, I spent a pretty penny there and emerged hours later with bags full of gorgeous bits - not sure what I will do with them yet, but they are very satisfying to have. I then decided to go on a hunt for some nice knee length winter boots and ended up getting very upset and frazzled as it turns out that I have big hooves for feet and nothing fits me! One guy even laughed at me when I told him what size I required! I scurried away and have come to the conclusion that it is something to buy when I am back in England along with half my winter wardrobe...
Neil was sadly working yesterday, so I decided to get out of the house and meet some new people and see a film at the same time. It was organised by the Tokyo Movie Lovers group and we met at the Picadilly Cinema in Shinjuku at 2.30pm. I was one of the first ones there and not really sure who to look out for. The guy who organises it, Wye-Khe, said to look out for him, he'll be wearing a cap... I almost accosted the wrong guy! But soon people started to gather and apparently there were 35 of us by the time the film began. We found our seats (the cinema was very comfy) and settled down for the two and a half hour film. I had read bad reviews about it and was actually expecting the worst, but ended up really enjoying it! Apart from the scalping scenes which were pretty graphic! Afterwards we all descended on a local Irish bar called the Dubliners and had a drink and talked about the film. I met some nice people and am hoping to go to another event.
Sunday, 22 November 2009
To finish off a lovely day, we went to a lovely restaurant called Higashi-Yama. I'd read about it in the Wallpaper City Guide and had realised that it was close to where we live. I went down there during the week to book a table and, as it seems like many restaurants here, was very hard to find. Even when I did find it, it was tucked away and looked like it had shut down. Anyway, it ended up being a wonderful experience in a lovely setting - very modern rustic, if there is such a thing! The photos don't do it justice - the mood lighting was so moody, that nothing came out properly! After ordering a bottle of white Californian wine, which we were told was actually grown by a Japanese man who lives there, we were given the menu. It was in Japanese, but we were pointed to the set menu by the waiter and he was able to tell us a bit about what each dish consisted of. It was all modern Japanese food, and done in a beautiful way. I think we ended up having about ten courses, each one completely different to each other. Most of it was fab, although I did find the fish intestines, slightly hard to gulp down. They were amazingly rich and tasty, but came in a large lump that couldn't be broken down.... Having said that, I highly recommend going here and am dying to have friends and family to visit so that I can take them there.
Along with everything else that was going on, there were also preparations for a harvest festival, that starts next week. This involved, for some reason, making lots of galleons out of giant sized (real) vegetables! We were lucky to catch some men in the process of making one - they were very fast and industrious. Note the sail made from leeks!
As we were watching the children in their kimonos, we were told to step aside as there was a wedding procession coming through. We were so lucky to see it and I actually got quite emotional watching it. It was such a sombre, serene affair. I had never seen an outfit like that before and all the guests were wearing black. We went round the back afterwards and watched them having a group photo done. It was like any wedding around the world where the photographer is fussing around getting everyone in the right position and stressing about it all looking right. At one point he asked one of the male guests to stand up so that he could pull his trousers and straighten them, with the crease at the front.
As we got closer to the temple, we started to see lots of children dressed in brightly coloured kimonos, all heading for the same place. I realised that it was the Shichi-go-san festival (or 7, 5, 3 festival), a rite of passage for girls of that age, and boys of 3 or 5. The odd numbers are thought to be lucky and generally involves visiting a shrine to drive out evil spirits and wish for a long and healthy life. Chitose ame (thousand year candy) is given to the children. It is a long, thin, red and white candy which sybolises healthy growth and longevity. I just found it a magical experience and kept imagining how gorgeous Flo would look in one of those brightly designed kimonos.
It is a long weekend this weekend, but sadly Neil has to work sunday and monday, so we decided to make the most of our saturday together. We were really lucky with the weather, so decided to head to Yoyogi park, which I have been meaning to go to since I got here. It has a famous temple there, so we decided to head for that and see what was going on. It was a beautiful sunny day with a bright blue sky and we sauntered along the long avenues, with the sun's rays filtering through the trees.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
I've just got back from my yoga class and feel very relaxed and rejuvenated - I have such a lovely teacher. She's Japanese and does the class in English and Japanese, so my first grasps of the Japanese language could be interesting - inhale/exhale/right/left/downward dog.....
I now have a routine where I stop at my coffee guy on the way home and have started practicing my Japanese on him, poor thing. My main problem is mastering how to say numbers, so he gets a very slow interpretation of 260yen, which is how much my latte costs - a bargain and very good coffee. As I was waiting for him to lovingly make it, and sheltering from the relentless rain, a boxer dog sauntered by wearing a spotty raincoat, looking a tad embarrassed with his getup. I didn't have time to take a photo, but have found a version online. Check out the website, it's intriguing.
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
I went to my third pottery class yesterday and made four 'slab bowls'! They are very easy to make and perfect for serving nibbles and dips - I'll have to arrange a cocktail party now so that I can use them.... I was also given my own pottery tool set, which is so pleasing! I just love the look of them, even if I don't know what they all do.
Sunday, 15 November 2009
I went to my first book club on friday and wasn't sure what to expect. The chosen book was 'Lush Life' by Richard Price and I had spent the last few weeks ploughing through it, so that I would be done before the meeting. It is a murder mystery, which I am not normally interested in, but was set in the Lower East Side in Manhattan, which is close to my heart, and I was interested to see how the author portrayed it. I struggled with it at first and found the language difficult to understand - the author has written for The Wire and a lot of the book is dialogue. But the story pulled me in and before long I was thumbing the pages and eager to find out what happened next.
The book club was held at the Tokyo American Club from 12 til 2pm in the Vineyard restaurant - very 'ladies who lunch'! There were about 9 of us and we sat at a table and ate lunch as we talked about the book. It was great to have just read something and to then be able to talk to people who had all just read the same book and all had a slightly different take on it, or were able to explain something that I may have overlooked. I met some nice people, and it was a pleasant way to spend a friday lunch!
PS On friday night we had an earthquake! It must have been at about 3am, so we were in bed. It feels a lot more scarey when you are lying down! Some people I know have emergency earthquake bags with torch, hard hat, cereal bars etc. It did cross my mind that maybe I should get one. Also, you are supposed to leave your bedroom door open at night so that you have a way out if the building subsides. Oooo errr!
Sunday, 8 November 2009
I was in cat heaven on saturday. We found out that there was a cafe in Kichijoji called Cat Cafe Calico and was described as a place where you could "enjoy the company of this cafe's 15 cats as you sip your coffee or tea". We didn't know what to expect, and after a bit of trial and error to find it, ended up on the fourth floor of a non-descript building. We went through the door, where there was a reception area. We were given slippers and lockers to keep our stuff in and then ushered into a light-filled room full of cats padding around or slumbering in appointed beds around the room! We were allowed to spend however long we wanted there, but were charged by the hour. It is basically an outlet for cat lovers who don't, or can't, keep cats at home! I was very tempted to slip on in my bag as I left....
Saturday was another balmy, sunny day, so we decided to head to Kichijoji which is a western suburb of Tokyo. The highlight is Inokashira Park, which has a lake and temple in the middle of it, and is great for an autumn stroll and to people-watch. It is reached along a pedestrianised road flanked with lots of boutiques and restaurants, and perfect for a saturday of meandering. There were dogs of all shapes and sizes, people selling crafts, runners, cyclists and paddle boats on the lake (although beware if your lover offers to take you on one as it's reputed to be the way to tell them that you want to break up with them!).
Chris had invited us out for food on friday night with a group of people he knew, but sadly Neil couldn't make it as he had to work late. So I trotted down to meet them all at a gorgeous Italian restaurant called Cujorl, a short walk from where we live. The others included two American women, Hope and Suzy, as well as Peter who we had met before at the jazz session. It was a fab evening with lovely people and delicious food and wine. We were especially impressed with the owner's mushrooms - they had been flown in that day and were artfully displayed on a shelf next to our table. Me and hope asked for a "bespoke" risotto with the said mushrooms, whilst others had steak topped with foie gras etc. Mmmmmmmm!
Friday, 6 November 2009
I have just discovered this lovely house and grounds and it's just around the corner from where we live! I popped out to buy some bread to have with my soup, and stumbled across it on my way back. It was only 100 yen to get in (about 75p) and is a peaceful oasis in true Japanese style. I think it will be my new place to go and hang out and I may even be inspired to do some sketching...
Well, I have now been stitching and bitching four times and it's becoming a really nice thing to do every few weeks and means that I am getting to know a few of the fellow stitchers, as well as eat and drink well - note many empty beer glasses! Last night we even had two blokes turn up, but they looked a bit startled when they saw all us girls stitching away and meekly sat at one end. They fitted in quickly enough and were soon on their way to knitting their first piece. It turns out that they thought they were coming to a sewing group (or sueing group, as they pronounced it) - who would have thought.....
Thursday, 5 November 2009
As I was leaving the museum, I caught sight of these plates embedded in the wall surrounding a normal looking apartment block. I'm not sure who put them there (perhaps a guerilla plate maker), but maybe they were inspired by the craft museum down the road and decided to do their own version...
I went to this lovely little folk craft museum today, only a short hop from Shibuya on the Inokashira line. It is housed in a traditional-style building of stone and stucco in a quiet suburb of Tokyo. It was opened by Soetsu Yanagi, a philosopher, who wanted to show works done by anonymous craftsmen who produced handmade, inexpensive pieces to be used by the masses. In this way, Yanagi theorised that the repetition of the work disengaged the craftsmen from what they were doing, thus producing a piece of work that was not laboured over. He saw it as being able "to produce work of astonishing merit with the utmost ease". I wish I could be more like that!
There was an amazing calmness to the museum (helped by the fact that you had to put slippers on when you arrived!) and the building itself was quite awesome, with its heavy wooden beams and stone floors. There was a mixed collection of wooden items, garments and pottery and, of course now that I am a "potter", I got very inspired. There were obviously other aspiring potters there. One guy was taking notes (which is what I should have done) and the next minute he was sticking his head right inside a massive pot. Obviously an interesting glaze that needed to be examined up close!
Monday, 2 November 2009
The weather has been so bloomin' gorgeous recently and we spent most of the weekend out and about, soaking it all up. On sunday we went for a stroll to Ebisu Garden Place for a spot of lunch and to watch the world go by. We came across this little set-up organised by the local fire brigade. People were treating it like a mini fairground ride, but it was really to demonstrate what an earthquake would feel like. People climb up into the makeshift room (after taking their shoes off of course), and then it starts shaking as if an earthquake were happening. One family really got into the spirit of it and all climbed under the table!
Well, we hadn't planned anything scarey for Halloween, but Neil had his own terrors to deal with. During the week his tooth cracked in half and on saturday he had to have the whole thing pulled out! Luckily we had managed to find an English speaking dentist who was very nice and pulled it out and sewed up the hole very well. I got to hear all the sound effects from the waiting room, so can only imagine what it must have been like for Neil. He's now got a gaping hole, which I was tempted to take a photo of and put on the blog, but decided to put some truly gorey ones on instead! These were taken at the department store Tokyo Hands where people were queuing up to have enormous screws fixed into their heads, or a dogs snout, in one case!
After a fab pizza and beer at our new local restaurant on friday evening, we headed out to Jiyugaoka, a few stops away on the Toyoko line, to meet up with Suzy and Roger at an Irish bar called The Clann. A band called Mutiny were playing there, and it was a fab night of Guinness and music with some lovely people!