Thursday, 25 February 2010


It is another gorgeously sunny day today, so I decided to head to the local Japanese garden and house (that I mentioned in my blog back in November) and do a spot of drawing. Here is my clunky attempt. I have to say, I spent most of the time I was there basking in the sun!

Kaiten sushi

I met up with Susan yesterday on a glorious sunny day and we headed to the National Art Centre to see a Renoir exhibition. His work is not usually my cup of tea and the gallery was heaving, full of old, pushy Japanese folk who felt the need to elbow to the front and peer closely at the paintings. Having said that, I'm really glad I went. His colours are amazing and a lot of the still lives were very inspiring. I may feel the need to get the paints out...

After that, we trotted round the corner to Tokyo Midtown where there are a host of restaurants to choose from. We decided on a kaiten sushi place - conveyor belt sushi. The food was great and I loved the fact that each place sitting had a bowl of green tea bags and a tap of hot water to fill yourself up whenever you needed it!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Skiing at Naeba

Well, we tried skiing properly for the first time this weekend at a lovely resort called Naeba, which is about 4 hours drive from Tokyo. I learnt to snowboard about 15 years ago (was it really that long ago?! Where did the time go?!) and decided to try skiing this time. Neil had never tried either sport, so I thought it would be nice for both of us to learn something new together. The trip was organised through the Tokyo Gaijins and there were about 45 of us trotting up there on the bus, organised by a lovely guy called Ricky. We checked into the guesthouse (our rooms were traditional Japanese style with tatami mats and futons on the floor) and got our gear - all very organised, as you can imagine, with boots, skis etc and clothing as well. Note my fetching bright yellow jacket - not very tasteful, but easily seen on the slopes, I can tell you!

We had our lesson with Ricky in the afternoon and started off on the bunny slopes. We must have looked pretty awful at first, but we managed to come down the mountain at a slow pace, in pretty much one piece. After a few hours of that, we headed back to the hotel for an onsen-type shower and bath. Onsens are Japanese public baths and they have them all over the place here. They are separated for men and women, and it involves being naked and bathing in a communal bath area. First of all you have to crouch down at a very low shower which is not far off the ground. You have to scrub yourself clean whilst sitting on a very little plastic stool. It is not until you are scrubbed clean that you can then plunge yourself into the gorgeous hot tub which is full of mineral-infused waters. Heaven!

That evening we had dinner at the hotel and then headed to the resort to drink too much beer. A lot of people did night skiing as the slopes are kept open and lit up until 9pm. But we decided to stay in the warm! The next day was pretty fruitful and I felt like I really began to get the hang of the skiing lark and am quite liking it. Will have to head back soon for another stint!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Sumi-e plate

I went to my pottery class on monday and got some more items back that have been glazed. Most of them look like caveman pots, but I was happy with one of them. I decided to use a painting technique I had used in my sumi-e class, and painted some bamboo leaves onto it. Now my two crafts have joined and become one! I have to warn you that I am getting quite a collection of caveman pots and will have nowhere to put them soon, so beware anyone who has a birthday coming up.....

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


We had another earthquake this morning, at about 5am - why do they always happen when we are in bed?! It always feels a lot stronger when you are lying down. Apparently it was about 4.7 on the richter scale. Every time it happens I think I must get my survival kit sorted out, just in case! Apparently most people have one in their homes - a bag containing a torch, water, food, etc.

Monday, 15 February 2010


Yesterday we went on a wonderful hike up mount Mitake, which is about 1.5 hours out of Tokyo on the train. We went with Chris and his daughter Sophie, and also Anna and Hope, two friends of his. We spent most of the journey there talking about our karaoke attempts on friday night. We'd had dinner at Chris' house and then he'd rolled out the karaoke machine for a quick sing song. As usual, we were all pretty timid at first, but after a few glasses of wine and some dutch courage, we couldn't be stopped! I dread to think what the neighbours thought...

Anyway, we got to Mitake station at about 9.30am and slowly made our way up the steep slope to the top. There was a lot of snow around (which was quite surprising when we had come from a snow-less Tokyo) and it was stunning. Everything was covered in a light blanket of snow, the twigs on the trees were enveloped in ice and there were regal pine trees all around us. The nice thing was that we were the few people who were walking up. I think most of the Japanese had chosen to get the cable car. We were pretty hungry when we got to the top and found a basic cafe selling hearty fare. After a big plate of curry and rice, we headed on up to the temple - a beautiful structure perched atop the mountain overlooking a stunning view. It was so serene. By this time it was getting pretty cold (note my fetching "tea cosy" hat!), so we decided to head back down the mountain and got the cable car as a treat. There were a lot of snoozy people on the train back to Tokyo.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Floral arrangements

It seems to be the thing to do here that when a new shop opens friends, family, random acquaintances send flowers to congratulate the new owners. But they are not any old flower arrangement. I think they are the biggest, most extravagant things I have ever seen and each one seems to be trying to out-do the other. This photo was taken around the corner from where we live and looks like it should be a flower shop, but is actually a clothes shop!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Museum of Contemporary Art

I had heard of the Rebecca Horn exhibition and have been wanting to see it before it closed, so Michiko said she would come along with me. The Museum of Modern Art is a stunning modern building in a very "local" area and I loved walking along the quiet suburban streets and then coming across this gorgeous modern space with an interesting selection of exhibitions. I was only able to sneak a few photos before I was told off by a very nice security guard. It was interesting seeing the Rebecca Horn exhibition, although I don't have a lot to say about it! I knew that she used a lot of feathers, horns and mirrors in her work, and there were a lot of mechanical pieces and projections onto water. I wish that I could have got more of an explanation as to her thoughts behind some of the pieces, but it has made me want to research her work a bit more now.

Kiyosumi Gardens

After my painting class, I met up with the lovely Michiko who I met through one of my book clubs. We had decided to go to an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and went to a nearby park first of all as the weather was absolutely gorgeous! Apparently it was 17 degrees and felt like a spring day! Some of the plum blossom has started coming out and you can actually smell the plum aroma in the blossom petals.


I had my second sumi-e class yesterday and spent the whole time painting different sized bamboo stalks! It could have got a tad boring, but I think patience is part of doing sumi-e! Anyway, I managed to paint a "picture" and was even shown how to write my name in Chinese script.

Monday, 8 February 2010


We had a good weekend of relaxing. On saturday we went to the gym and then headed up to Maranouchi for Linda's birthday. She wanted to have cocktails at sunset and we got to the Imperial Lounge bar at The Imperial Hotel, just in time to see a beautiful sunset over the Palace grounds. It was a stunning view over the tree tops and then the gorgeous cityscape beyond that of Tokyo, as it's buildings lit up for the night.

On sunday we went to our first Sumo wrestling tournament, which was a lot of fun. It started at 11am. We new it was ending at 5.30pm, so decided to head there later and see it when it got a bit more "juicy". It was in a massive stadium with normal seating on the upper levels, but more bed-like seating near the front. Some people were stretched out, and one was even asleep. We had no idea what the rules were, but it was great fun to watch the drama of it all and the build up to each match - the lifting of the legs, the stamping of the feet and throwing of the rice - even if the actual match was over in seconds. Unfortunately my camera battery ran out, so I don't have any photos. I will just have to go back at a later date and get some then...

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Sumi-e class

I started my first Sumi-e class yesterday at the Tokyo American Club, which was a lot of fun. Sumi-e is a traditional style of Japanese painting, often done in black ink on a white ground, using a big tapered brush to get stunningly beautiful effects. I was given a whole bag of kit, which included a scroll of practice paper, brush, pots to mix the ink in, a solid piece of ink (which you have to spend about 10 minutes grinding down at the beginning of the class) and boards to paint on when you are feeling a bit more confident. Needless to say, mine weren't stunning or beautiful, but my teacher was lovely and patient (and came wearing a beautiful kimono). She made me do two hours of endless practice, painting bamboo leaves over and over again. It was surprisingly therapeutic and I think I got the hang of it by the end of the class. I decided to take a photo of my efforts by rolling it out in the corridor of our apartment - see above.


Well, after smugly writing about the fact that we were basking in the sun on the beach on sunday, it snowed on monday! How crazy is that?! It started on monday night and had been going for quite a while until I even realised. Even then, Neil had to point it out to me and I stuck my head out the window to see it billowing down and covering the road and paths with a good layer of snow. By tuesday morning a lot of it had cleared up and now it seems like it never happened!

Monday, 1 February 2010


Yesterday we decided to head out of the city for the day, to experience some culture and be out in the "countryside". We headed for Kamakura, which is about 50 mins on the train from Ebisu station and has many temples to visit as well as a giant Buddha, and it's near the sea! It was a stunning day, with bright sun and a gorgeous blue sky. We decided to get off one stop early and then walk to the temples that way, as there were some smaller ones en route which we wanted to see. One of them, Shokozan-Tokeiji Temple, was a nunnery and is nicknamed the "Divorce Temple". This was because in the days when women had no right to a divorce, they could seek refuge in the nunnery and if they managed to stay there for three years, could obtain a divorce from their husband. It had a very serene feel to it and we were amazed to see blossom already blooming on some of the trees. They must be very confused by all the sunny weather we're having, or maybe this is just normal...

We then headed on to the main temples, which were much busier and more impressive. There is always a lot to see and, above all, I love to people watch! We saw the large buddha, which was very impressive, and after sitting on the beach with a cup of coffee soaking in the rays, and watching the surfers trotting into the water with their boards, we went for lunch at a nearby restaurant. It was really lovely to be out and about and I think we even came back with sun-redend faces as a souvenir, along with our bird biscuits - a local delicacy and very tasty.