July 25, 2010

Japan 2010, Day 8

Museums museums museums.
Our first day in Kyoto was action-packed.

Mrguy had sussed out a lovely tea house where you could get traditional-style tea in a modern setting. This is where we had breakfast.


I don't really recall what I ate, but it was beautiful and peaceful and there was a pretty garden outside the window and reproductions of mid-century designer furniture inside. 

It left me purring like a cat. Had we turned around and gone back to the hotel, this would have been enough.

The teas came with specific instructions on how long to steep and what to do.

Upstairs was a shop and gallery with kimono and other things in vitrines. As if they were *expecting* an archivist to visit, they listed their target temperature and humidity and displayed their thermohygrometer and its readings prominantly.

After this we went to a museum of Kyoto crafts that was, in fact a museum of crafts. Skilled tradespeople (lacquerers, silver workers) worked at public areas within the museum. The materials and their results were lovely. Upstairs the silence was broken by politicians wearing sashes who stood on top of a van and shouting into microphones in the street below.

On to another museum.

This is the nondescript street where the Raku Museum resides. It is run by the family of the man who, in the 1500s, developed the raku firing process. His work and that of his descendants, is really lovely.

You need to wear slippers inside.

We also went to the Japanese Confectionary Museum. No english-language signage that I recall, but the exhibits were nice. They displayed not only examples of Japanese candies alongside the molds that made them, but they also displayed gorgeous hand-tinted recipe books from the 1800s. The museum was small and jewel-like.

About this time in the day I realized that I felt a little off-kilter in Kyoto. Bicyclists ride on the sidewalk everywhere, and the local college crowd seems to like to give tourists a scare. This sign is not only a warning, it's an eventuality!

The pedestrians got on a train and ended up at Kyoto Station and the Kyoto Tower. 

It's a much-maligned piece of architecture, which means that we like it. And its noodle shop.

After another stop at Nishiki Market, we were super super hot. I had a hankering for a gin and tonic to cool off, and it turns out that our hotel's Libary Bar makes one of the best gin and tonics I've ever had in my life. Check out the frosty copper mugs!

Japan 2010, Day 7

Day 7. We're half the way through our trip. This was the day we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto.

Our hotel was interesting. It seemed to have taken a page out of the Hudson Hotel handbook, with its incongruous chandeliers and Library Bar. Unlike the Hudson, it features a tiny faux chapel on the first floor for weddings.

After we checked in in the afternoon, mrguy guided us to a food market he'd heard of. It ended up being one of those places that you want to go to every day. Nishiki Market is like Pike's Place Market without the fire marshal's supervision. A few covered streets with vendors selling yummy local treats and ingredients you never see unpackaged at home. We ate beautiful jelly candies and grilled fish paste on a stick:
We had arrived just as many businesses were closing, so we backtracked toward the hotel. Something caught my eye. Was that a keg? Sure enough! We bought local draft beer at the market and walked around happily sipping it. Now I was sure I wanted to come back every day. This was the best beer we had outside of Beer Club Popeye the whole trip.

Dinner found us at Honke Owariya, a noodle house. The flagship restaurant, in another part of Kyoto, is 540 years old and serves the Emperor's household when they're in town. They also make delicious fish dishes.

Here's an article from Kyoto Foodie about Honke Owariya.

Japan 2010, Day 6

We saw our friends in Yokohama on this day.

I loved watching the view disappear behind us on the way to see them.

They met us at the station, and we walked to the Ramen Museum. I loved this place but it was impossible for me to take a good picture in it because the light was so dim. At street level are dioramas of life in a section of Tokyo in 1958. What's not to like?

Below are restaurants selling various regional variations. When I asked Mr. H which was his favorite. "The one with the shortest line". Brilliant man, that Mr. H.

After eating his favorite ramen, we went across the street to a coffee shop for dessert. I had brought my 45s along to show them. Away from the bustle of the ramen museum we could have a little better chat. They thought the records were pretty funny. I asked them to translate the names and when they got to the guy named Frank, we all just about cried laughing.

Ms. S had to go back home to work (insert sad my face here), so it was the guys and I for the rest of the afternoon. They showed us the harbor, which was just beautiful. A wine festival was happening, so there were improbable tunes in the air (do I remember salsa?). We bought a few beers and walked to the water. It was windy and bright and cozy.

We broke up the party, went back to Tokyo to go shopping at Tokyu Hand, then home to Akasaka. Wandered around looking for a good place to eat and ended up at An-An, which was expensive and filled with tourists. I did manage to have ginko nuts, which I'd wanted to try for many years.

I don't need to ever do that again, and that is a great thing to know.

Japan 2010, Day 5

We got our wires crossed with friends, so instead of going to a festival in town we ran around and did other things.

We saw the Lucie Rie retrospective at the National Art Center, which was fabulous.

I went in search of the Comme des Garcons store and bought more of my favorite perfume (Incense Jaisalmer) and a bottle of a new favorite (Incense Kyoto).

Before we went to Japan I looked at my parents' old Japan 1984 travel guide. It listed a print shop called Yoseido Gallery. I looked it up, and we went to visit. They have a nice selection of prints on display and when I saw a man looking through a portfolio of unframed prints, I knew what to do. I asked to see all of their prints by Hashimoto. They kindly brought out two thick portfolios of prints, and we spent about twenty minutes looking at all of them. Several were ones that we'd only seen on the Web. We also saw examples of prints we own. Most, however, were prints we'd never seen. One of them "spoke to" mrguy and we bought it.

I caused the family to nearly starve to death in the streets of Ginza after that. Have you ever been so hungry that you can't make up your mind about where to eat? That was me. We found soba because I chickened out about a place whose plastic food looked like slop. I want to know what's in my slop before I eat it. The soba hit the spot.

Since we were still in the Ginza, we went to the Sony store and looked at cameras. Food blogging is so popular that the Sony store has a fake cafe with fake food in it that you can photograph.

Then we went to Akibahara an enormous electronics store that was louder than loud. The cacophony included people enticing you to buy things and the sound of thundering commercials, including one that featured the melody of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. We found the televisions and surprised some locals watching the last few sumo matches of the day when we started rooting for Tochinoshin by name.

mrguy made a total score that night: a Nintendo card that lets you compose electronic music on your DS. He was hoping to find it because it is only available in Japan. Happy boy.

After we got back to Akasaka, we padded down the street toward a Hawaiian restaurant we'd heard about (o.k. it was recommended by Akebono on his blog), called Ogo Ono-Loa Hawaiian. At this point in our vacation it was nice to chill, drink a few Kona Longboards and eat poke. The teri poke was delicious. A little heavy on the shoyu, but it was incredible. Small chunks of diced apple add an interesting twist to their version of the dish. And their guacamole was also delish.

Mrguy could not wait to start playing with his new toy. I fell asleep that night and many others during the trip to mrguy making me bleeps and bloops on his DS.

Japan 2010, Day 4

This was a big day. Mrguy and I went to see sumo at the sumo stadium in Tokyo.

But first, the Tokyo Edo museum. We had wanted to go there because it has dioramas of early Tokyo, and that sounded interesting to see. It was, but lack of much English signage made it harder to appreciate. There were tour guides who would give you a full tour in English, but I didn't want to commit. The best sight of the day in the museum was school girls in uniform giggling and taking pictures as each one of them got inside a reproduction of a litter. And I was proud of myself later when a display about the Tokyo earthquake of 1855 showed various namazu-e and I knew what they were despite lack of translation.

From there we walked over to the sumo stadium. I wanted to walk briskly but mrguy held my pace, warning me not to make any quick moves because there were "seriously old people all around". True that! I didn't want to knock anyone over, so I moved slowly.

We paused at the corner just in time to see Aminishiki and Kakuryu light from their taxis and enter the stadium. Aminishki is one of our favorites. We call him the Japananese mrguy because he reminds us of the *other* mrguy, mrguy south.

We had our picture taken with the sumo mascot, as these people did.

Then we entered the stadium. I didn't know what to do first. Shop? Find our seats? The matches for the lower ranks were in progress, so anything we did would mean missing sumo. Argh. We checked out our seats and then saw people with vanilla soft-serve cones coming from upstairs. Suddenly that was my focus. The soft-serve was so weirdly delicious. Dairy tastes different in Japan, and these cones tasted somewhat like evaporated milk. I tried to be very cool and not stare at the young sumo wrestlers in summer kimonos lapping at their cones nearby. Awesome.

More shopping, beer purchasing and then off to our seats. We splurged on a 4-person box seat. It would have been perfect were it not for the ugly American two boxes away. He was being treated by business colleagues, it seems, and this guy had a voice like Caruso. I didn't need to hear him flirting with local girls and making hundred yen bets on matches based on which wrestler is fattest. At one point I looked his way and yelled "Dude! Do you mind?" and mrguy asked him to hold it down. Eventually we moved to empty seats farther away and closer to the ring (many people do this, btw). We could still hear this guy, but not as much.

I find it hard to concentrate while watching live sumo. It was so much fun just to be there and eat a rice bowl and some beer and cheer for our favorites. That was the best. Toward the end of the day we heard women cheering for Kisenosato in a way that told me that at least one of them was American. I looked in that direction and recognized someone from the sumo forums. No way. I introduced myself after the last match of the day. She was extremely kind and friendly and helped us buy some swag we wouldn't have known about otherwise.

After sumo we went to Beer Club Popeye to sample beers and eat hop shoot pizza. My notebook is full of scribbles that say "green tea and potato" and "floral on back end" and cardamom.

Japan 2010, Day 3

On Thursday I introduced mrguy to Kappabashi, the kitchenwares section of town. I left with a few pedestrian items, but nothing fabulous. We did see some great stuff in our wanderings, though. This building must have once housed an insect shop. I'm not sure why you'd have a giant hercules beetle glommed onto your building otherwise. It is now a craft shop.

This building has a mascot on top and I don't know what she represents.

We also saw this anthropomorphic hotdog, who was anointing himself with ketchup in a shop of curiosities. Wow.

Then we made our way over to Ueno, so that mrguy could shop for denim. He loves it so.

Our first stop in Ueno was an alleged museum of local handicrafts, which was something else, actually. Across the arcade from it, however, was a little restaurant where we ate lunch (pea shoots and big bowls of udon). I loved the view in this spot, so I took some blurry pictures to share. Mrguy wishes his eyes were cameras, because he was facing some sort of local soap opera at the table behind me that had him riveted.

Sustained, we went to the warren of shops tucked underneath the train tracks at the Ueno train station. It's just chaos there.

Music blares out of all corners and tauts bark loudly at you to try to get your business, or at least your attention. We had the customary feeling of not knowing where our destination was just as Americaya appeared in front of us. Whew. I hung out in the aloha shirt section while mrguy tried on jeans.

This was primarily a shopping trip for mrguy. Although my favorite purse came from Ueno two years ago, nothing really called out to me this time. Until...in the photo above you can just make out a rack of 45s to the right. This is the place where I found my singing sumotori.

After Ueno we took a train to Mitaka to see jazz at Club Unamas. We'd met the owner at a conference a few years ago, and he'd given us a live recording made at his club. We enjoyed it so much that we decided to make a pilgrimage to the club when we came back to Japan. It was well worth the trip, and an amazing night.

Accustomed to local clubs, where you might not get in if you don't have advance tickets, we hopped an early-ish train to Mitaka. We needn't have worried. Mrguy and I were the sum total of the crush of jazz lovers at the door. We sat on the steps outside the club, listening to someone inside practicing the drums. It was Koda, the son of the owner, who's a fabulous drummer. And the bartender.

When he opened up the club, we had a beer and waited for something to happen. The band filtered in. A woman and her adult daughter came in. Now the four of us were the full audience for a really wonderful night of music. The unnamed band was a pickup band for the night. Standard jazz drummer, a woman on standup bass. The singer, heavily influenced by Chet Baker, sang smooth standards. He rarely faced the audience, suspended notes in mid-air and multi-tasked while singing flawlessly. Between phrases he'd open the lid of the baby grand and prepare to play it, or take off his knitted hat and use it as a mute for his trumpet. It was good. All of it. We sat through two sets.

And we were starving. I thought there'd be food at the club, and there was not. We ran across the street after leaving the club and foraged among the half-price sushi with the locals at the supermarket before closing time, leaving with a bizarre assortment of food to eat in bed after the train ride home.

July 10, 2010

Japan 2010, Day 2

I planned a relatively slow start to our vacation.

We ate breakfast at the hotel, and tried to see the Suntory Museum, which was very near our hotel. At least it used to be. It has moved to Roppongi. 

Instead, we headed to the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. The exhibition called Where Is Architecture was mind-blowing -- a series of installations within (and one wrapping around) the museum.
Hiroshi Kikuchi's one day inside a museum was riveting. We sat inside one small gallery while mechanical devices churned in another room and a distorted black and white projector captured their shadows and smeared them across the wall of the gallery. Ryoji Suzuki's Experience in Material No.50 is like a 3D picket fence made of matchstick-width metal. You can walk beside it and look over your shoulder to play with the strobe effect. Hiroshi Naito's Red Stripes is a series of red lasers that point toward the floor in a darkened room. Scarves sat in a lucite box near the entrance. I took a scarf, tossed it in the air, and it was shot through with stripes. This room was so magical that I danced in it and played with the scarf for about fifteen minutes.

After this, we looked at the permanent collection. I remember liking Iwane Sumiya's Daily Task of Love in a Factory. They also had an awesome Robert Delaunay.

There wasn't a good place to eat nearby, so we headed back to our neighborhood and Jingu Stadium. We walked and walked and walked and finally found the Fiat Cafe. Hilarious. It was like being stuck in the video for Michael Jackson's "Scream", only in red and white, happy, and with food. There was a real Fiat in the lobby downstairs.

Fueled, we were ready to go find baseball. We walked the rest of the way to the ballpark. Stadium is an overstatement. Although baseball teams we've seen on television seem to have American big-league style parks, Jingu Stadium, home of the Yakult Swallows, is quite modest. It's down home and intimate. The concessions are housed in a few tents in the parking lot. You can stand around and watch the baseball players arrive. The ticket vendor asks you, basically, if you're want tickets on the bride or the groom's side, because you sit on the side you're rooting for. For us, it was the Swallows.

Out in the stands, there are nice ladies who wear sandwich boards that warn that foul balls are a possibility. Who wants that job? And they blow a whistle during the game when a foul ball has been hit. So thoughtful! Perhaps this is a local custom. The food at the park is awesome, of course. I had a nice rice bowl and mrguy had a bento. One of us had this amazing ball of tempura with crazy stuff in it -- the Rat King of tempura. And sembei. Rice crackers are the perfect food for baseball watching. Who knew?

I'm sorry to go on about this, but the game was so fun. The YS mascot is a jaunty little bird.

He has a wife and children, and an alter ego that is a breakdancing pickle. No really. And there are cheerleaders, too, in the most modest uniforms you can imagine. At Jingu they will sell you a mixed drink in the stands in the tenth inning, and the beer vendors wear the beer in canisters on their back and pour you a draft. Yum!

I wish I had recorded the sound in the ballpark. The Orix Buffaloes' cheering section made a joyful noise the entire game. They had a large brass band, whose sound was similar to Klezmer. The local team had no band, but they played funny songs on the loudspeaker for every player. When the Canadian guy came to bat they played Happy Birthday one time, and the Canadian national anthem another time. What's next? Turkey in the Straw?

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows lost in extra innings. They're kind of the Toronto Bluejays of Japan in that way. Tired but entirely satisfied, we made our way home and decided to try to catch a game later in our stay, when we came back to Tokyo.
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