Monday, 23 May 2011

Friday Night

On friday night our friend Tatsuya took us to a great little eatery in Ebisu. I couldn't tell you the name of it and I would only just about recognise it from the outside, but it was a rabbit warren of lots of different little restaurants under one roof, where most of the seats were made of crates and the tables were makeshift boards on crates. There was a great atmosphere and a tasty selection of food from okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes), to yakitori (food on skewers), to beef sashimi. It was all washed down with nama birru (draft beer) served in tin cups.

Afterwards we trotted down the road to an ice cream shop called Ouca that specialises in Japanese ices, with flavours such as green tea, sweet beans or miso. With this you also get a cup of hot wheat tea which has a wonderful roasted flavour, and a pinch of salted seaweed flakes to cleanse the palette after the sugar intake.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Japanese Cut Paper Class

Last week I did a taster class in Japanese cut paper art. This is a traditional Japanese technique where layers of paper (usually washi paper) are cut into to create a picture. Most of them tend to be very involved and intricate, and take years to master. Luckily we started with a relatively easy piece and our lovely teacher had set it all up ahead of time for us, so that we just followed exactly what she told us to do. She had chosen an image from a piece of art by the artist Sharaku and she had drawn out the template of where we should cut, so that there was little room to go wrong. The template is placed over about 5 layers of paper which are stapled together and then we cut out sections of the image, depending on what colour we want and where. I have shown the steps below. I was rather pleased with the result!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Taking it too far?!

We went to a friend's apartment for dinner the other night and as we were waiting for the lift, we were bemused to see a lift button with a dog picture on it. When we got in the lift, there was another button with a dog on it and a sign saying "Please press the pet button first when you are with pets". When we asked our friend what this meant, she said that if you get in the lift with a dog, you have to press the dog button which then alerts fellow lift riders that you are "with dog". They can then choose whether to get in or let the lift ride on by!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Naughty Trousers

I found these trousers yesterday and had to share them. The idea is great - the back pocket, when lined in a fab pink colour, becomes a smiling mouth. Then turn the pocket inside out and it becomes quite rude!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Glorious Geta

There appear to many forms of flip flop here in Japan, the most famous one being the geta that resemble both clogs and flip flops.
The geta are a kind of sandal with an elevated wooden base held onto the foot with a fabric thong. This keeps the foot well of the ground and helps to keep the foot dry in wet or snowy weather.
Zori are flat flip flops and can be made of cloth, lacquered wood, leather or rubber and the thong is attached centrally so that the shoe can be worn on either foot. They are usually worn with the more formal kimono, although many women wear them in the summer with yukata (cotton kimonos). The men wear more casual zori and they are often just black or white thongs on a plastic or cork sole. I love the way that the men "slop around" in their zori. At first I thought this was just laziness, but apparently it is a sign of strength and "cool" if you do that!
There are also cloth zori which you often see - a rather more ecological approach.
I have to say, my favourite geta were the ones we saw in a museum recently, attached to some ice skate blades. I can't imagine how you even begin to get your balance on these!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Yurakucho Antique Market

Today I went on, what seems to have become, my monthly pilgrimage to the Yurakucho Antique market at the International Forum. It was another stunningly sunny day and a lovely way to spend a few hours when you are a fabric junkie and in need of a fix. I went with my friend Becky and we did a good bit of foraging and came back with some wonderful finds.

A Day At The Races

On saturday we went to the races! After a pretty terrible week weather-wise, the sun came out and it was a glorious day. We got dressed up and went with a group of friends who had organised the trip, with a coach to take us there and back. When we got there we found we had our own room on the top floor of a very grand stadium that overlooked the stunning green of the track below. We had lunch and afternoon tea laid out for us, and we even won enough money for a taxi ride home at the end of the day!


I have always been intrigued by Ikebana - the Japanese art of flower arranging. Flower arranging has never majorly grabbed me, but the Japanese way of doing it is so beautifully minimalistic that I was intrigued to try it out. I did a one hour lesson on tuesday and have to say, it's definitely not my forte.......

The teacher was a lovely Japanese lady called Mrs Matsudaira who deftly demonstrated the floral arrangement we were going to do in seconds flat. Irises were the main flowers used as they are traditionally associated with the boys festival that was just celebrated on 5th May. We also had white blossom, and some Pinks to add a bit of bright colour.

With Ikebana, there are strict rules as to which angle the flowers have to be placed at and what lengths each flower has to be. Traditionally the flower arrangement was only seen from the front as it was placed on a tatami mat in front of a scroll painting in the Japanese home. But this one was a table arrangement , so had to look good from every angle. The teacher explained that you had to start with three flower stalks (the Irises) as the main points of interest. The flowers were placed in oasis and the first and longest one had to be facing out at 15 degrees, the second one was slightly shorter and at 45 degrees, and the third was the shortest and had to be at 75 degrees, all forming a triangle shape in the oasis. You could then fill your arrangement around these three stalks, using the other flowers and the leafy foliage provided, constantly turning the pot so that you made sure that it always looked good from every angle......mine didn't.

I felt like I came home with a rather scrabby Easter basket, that looked even more sorry for itself once it had been on a journey through the rainy streets of Tokyo to home. I'm really glad I tried it out, but I think from now on I'll just admire the masters!

Giant Pandas

On tuesday, after having a cultural morning of seeing a Rembrandt Exhibition in Ueno Park (which I was pleasantly surprised about and really enjoyed), my friend Ali and I decided to head to Ueno zoo and join the crowds of children and tourists to view the giant pandas. They are wonderful animals and quite unreal looking with their big black eyes and baggy bottoms. There were two pandas and, while one looked rather unhappy and that was a bit upsetting to see, the other was thoroughly wallowing in his endless supply of bamboo shoots, lying on his back and letting his big brown stomach hang out!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

May Morality Poster

I often wait with anticipation to see what the month's subway morality poster will be. For months and months (in fact the whole time we've been in Tokyo) the posters used somewhat disconcerting cartoon characters with googly eyes as their mascots. Last month I was very thrown off to find the googly-eyed people had been replaced with a cutesy photo of a lounging cat! This month's was no exception and we now have the cutest dog possible, running at top speed. The caption below him says "Please Take Your Time When You Ride The Train". Love it!

I recently read a book called "Confucious Lives Next Door", a very interesting insight into the lives of Japanese people and what we Westerners could learn from them. The morality posters were actually mentioned in this book and it turns out they are actually called "Manner Posters" and have been going for years. Every now and then Tokyo Metro commissions an artist, illustrator, or photographer to portray their view on the etiquette of subway riding. Apparently they even have exhibitions of past posters every now and then - I must look out for the next one!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Cheeky Monkeys

While we were in Kamikochi, we saw many monkeys who happily live in the wild around that area, but seem very happy and comfortable with humans around. They were often hidden up a tree, scavenging for tasty morsels, but we were lucky to see some up close too. I have always wanted to go and see the snow monkeys. You can check out some images of them here. They really are amazing and obviously love to wallow in the hot waters when it's cold outside! I am hoping to do a trip to visit them in the winter.....

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Golden Week - Kamikochi

This last week has been Golden Week, one week of the year where the whole country takes time off to travel to see relatives, see other parts of the country, or just chill out at home. We decided to head to Kamikochi, a beautiful mountainous area of Japan that has been called the Japanese Alps. We decided to break up the journey and spend a night in Matsumoto first. It is a small town with a big castle and was nice to spend a night in. We sampled the local delicacies - soba noodles for lunch, which are served cold, as well as sushi and some sake that evening.

Kamikochi was a small train ride and then a one hour bus ride from Matsumoto and is only open during the summer months. Even then, it is closed to private cars, so the only way to get there is by bus or taxi. Our hotel was right in the centre and was overlooked by the stunning surrounding snow-capped mountains. During the day, the hoards of hikers and day trippers seemed to descend on the small village and it was rather chaotic, but as the last bus left at 6pm, the locals (and local monkeys) and over-nighters breathed a sigh of relief and silence overcame the area. We spent each day walking and passed through some gorgeous countryside. We also passed a lot of very serious hikers, with crampons and ice picks etc. We later realised that most of these people had literally been mountain climbing and made their way to the top. Pretty impressive! We took it easy and did day hikes (none of that camping milarkey for me) followed by a wallow in the onsen and then a 7 course tasting menu at our hotel each evening.......
Matsumoto Castle was a rather awesome building and I would have loved to see the beautiful wooden interior, but it was a 90 minute wait to get in, so we just enjoyed the grounds instead.
Soba noodles have never majorly appealed to me as they are served cold, but we felt we should try them as they were one of Matsumoto's local delicacies. It was beautifully presented on a wicker tray and tasted amazing!
That evening we sampled some beautifully fresh sushi at Kura, a 90 year old Meiji-era warehouse converted into a restaurant. It was all washed down with some lovely sake.
One of the walks we did in Kamikochi took us through leafy forests and much of it was decked out in a wooden walkway that took you through the trees.

Wherever you looked, the surrounding mountains were always in view. At one point we passed w oman with a telescope and she pointed out some hikers at the top of the mountain. That was when we realised why the people we saw were so heavily kitted out - they were actually mountain climbing!