Here's a cool shot published by The Wall Street Journal showing folks in Wakayama, Japan, receiving fire from special torchbearers at a festival there on Thursday. Once the torches are lighted, temple gates are opened
and participants run down hundreds of stone steps to the bottom of a
mountain - an ancient ritual and part of the annual New Year's celebration.
Today I learned the following while listening to a podcast of my favorite NPR program, the news quiz show, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!. It came up during Lightning Fill In the Blank. Host Peter Sagal: "Japan has introduced the Love Bra, which has a clasp that will only unlock if the wearer's heart rate elevates to a certain level. Meaning that the bra can only be removed if the user is in love. Or... jogging." Panelist Mo Rocca: "Or... had a lot of coffee." Sagal: "Or...thinking about her bra suddenly popping open."
You can watch the ad from Japanese lingerie brand Ravijour here. In it, a man in a white coat explains that when we're excited, the adrenal medulla secretes catecholamine; this affects the autonomic nerve, which stimulates the heart rate. (It's science!) Then the company's technical director chimes in with a bit about the bra's built-in sensor detecting that heart rate, and using Bluetooth to transmit the data to a smartphone app for analysis.
"Like a chastity belt for the social network age, the bra remains firmly locked shut most of the time, to defend its wearer from hordes of sleazy menfolk," The Guardian's culture blog reports. When it's true love, the bra "dutifully bursts open with a gleeful spring."
I am hoping to have a close encounter-by-proxy with Japan's Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko. They're in Lima this week, staying in the same hotel as my husband, who's there on a consulting gig. The purpose of the royal couple's visit is to commemorate 140 years of diplomatic ties between Japan and Peru. (Prince Akishino is second in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne - his older brother, Crown Prince Naruhito, has one child, a daughter, so it is Akishino's son who is third in line.)
So far no confirmed sighting, though Terry has noticed an unusual number of Japanese moving through the hotel lobby - the security detail, or other members of the royal entourage, perhaps. In the meantime, this photo will have to do.
My friend Anna grew up in Arkansas, spent a decade of her adult life in Asia (Hong Kong and Tokyo mostly) and now lives in the UK. She writes:
10 Things I Miss Most About Tokyo
1. Needing sunglasses. Ever.
The vegetables. Even if they were radioactive. Oxfordshire's can be
quite repetitive: broccoli, broccoli, broccoli, broccoli, broccoli,
broccoli, oooh! a carrot!
3. Ian's commute lasting 20 minutes, not 2 hours: file under ‘trains that run on time.’
Seasons - although last summer almost made up from the gloomy spring.
Oxford is colder than London, and Ian & I joke that Tolkien wrote
from life (Laura has a teacher who is a proper hobbit) and I know
exactly where C. S. Lewis came up with the White Witch's Endless Winter.
5. Ito-ya and Tokyu Hands. Remember that room with all the little screws & bolts?
6. Other expatriates & my Japanese friends. (Maybe this # should have been first?) Monica Anstey!
7. Groovy shops. Plus the vending machines…
8. Weird signboards in English (although "Bellyful of Tasty" in Oxford's train station almost counts).
9. Skiing in powder, not ice crystals.
10. Dressing up. I spend my entire life here in mud-spattered cords & Wellies.
This story was posted all over the place last week but I think Tokyo Desu put it best:
"Luckily, popular burger chain Freshness Burger has introduced the “Liberation Wrapper” – an oversized burger diaper with a cute face painted on it so women can clandestinely mow down and finish their burgers in two enormous bites without even tasting it, like the good lord intended."
Read their full coverage here.
Thank you, Tokyo Reporter, for tweeting the link to this story published today by The Asahi Shimbun: “Pillow talk” can provide a soothing experience, even for people alone in bed. A group of Japanese researchers said that embracing a “dakimakura” (hug pillow) while talking on a cellphone installed inside can significantly reduce mental stress levels. The researchers are from Osaka University and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR), an organization jointly operated by the public and private sectors based in Seika, Kyoto Prefecture. ATR last year developed “Hugvie,” a human-shaped huggable cushion with a cellphone in the head portion, that was used in the experiment. Eighteen women around 65 years old volunteered for the study. Nine had a phone conversation through Hugvie while nine used conventional cellphones. Each of them talked for 15 minutes with a same male student on the same topics, including, “What was interesting last year?” After the conversations ended, the researchers tested the women’s blood and saliva to record changes in the amount of hormone called cortisol, which increases when the person has high stress levels. They found that cortisol levels in the women who talked through Hugvie decreased much more drastically than in the women who used conventional cellphones. “The effects from hugging are higher than those previously thought,” said group leader Hiroshi Ishiguro, professor of robot engineering at Osaka University’s Graduate School of Engineering Science. The results of their experiment were recently announced in a British science magazine. The group plans to continue the research to confirm the effects.
A very dear friend of mine is Tokyo bound later this month, staying at the Cerulean Tower, a classy place in the Sakura-gaokacho neighborhood of Shibuya ward (ku). Because this places her southeast of Dogenzaka, right on the 246, my friend will be reasonably close to some prime places to visit, like the Shibuya Crossing, one of the busiest intersections in the world (and terrific for people watching), and the Tokyu Food Show, a noisy hall of gourmet vendors in the basement of the Tokyu Department Store at Shibuya Station. (One of the entry stairwells to the food show is right by the statue of Hachiko, the world-famous dog.)
If you like Japanese woodblock prints, I told my friend, you're in luck, because you won't be far from the Ota Museum, located at 1-10-10 Jingumae, just off Omotesando dori, the popular shopping street (follow the alley around the corner from the large Softbank). Below the gallery, down a back stairwell, is a fantastic shop selling
tenegui, traditional Japanese dyed cloths that make lovely dish towels, dust covers, wall hangings, curtain ties, kerchiefs and head wraps.
The Meiji Shrine is a definite must-see, and would be worth its own taxi ride from the Cerulean hotel, but also quite convenient from the Ota museum. Walk outside the gallery and back onto Omotesando, turn right and head uphill in the direction of the Harajuku station; cross the bridge that spans the train tracks (a famous hangout for various costumed youth) and enter
the complex from the east end of Yoyogi park. From there it's another 10-minute walk along the gravel path, through the giant cypress torii gates, to the shrine complex.
If she chose a stroll down Omotesando instead, some highlights would be Kiddyland, an delightful toy and novelty store, and Oriental Bazaar, offering antiques, vintage
kimono, plates and bowls and more kitschy souvenirs
too (because who doesn't want a Hokusai "wave" mouse pad?). A good coffee stop would be Anniversaire Cafe.
For dinner I recommended a traditional kaiseki meal at Akasaka Kikunoi, located at 6-13-8 Akasaka in Minato-ku. I had a memorable lunch there with friends Mizuho, Sandra and Anna back in June 2012; the chef's bento - listed on the menu as a Kodaiji Feast (and priced at about a third to a quarter of what the place charges for an evening meal) had us all swooning. Some pics:
Where did they get these umbrella sake cups?!
The cooks escorted us out down the pretty garden path -
even wiping rainwater off Sandra's bicycle seat!
If your friend had 36 hrs in Tokyo - and was staying in Shibuya-ku - what would you recommend?
My fearless street photographer friend Kathleen Paulsson snapped these fine pics last week in and around Yoyogi, Omotesando and Harajuku -areas she aptly calls the city's fashion trifecta. Many of her shots were taken at the intersection of Omotesando dori and Meiji dori, a.k.a. "Omohara," site of the shiny new Tokyu mall with the rooftop Starbucks and arguably one of the best corners for people watching in all of Tokyo. Thanks for sharing Kathleen! And keep 'em coming.
Click to enlarge...
A friend planning a trip to Japan had asked me how she might best entertain her children, 2 girls in middle school, while in Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. (Osaka was also on her list, but I've never been.) She's on my mind today because she is probably in Japan right now... Here were my recommendations, in no particular order:
If you like aquariums, visit the Tokyo Sea Life Park in Kasai Rinkai Koen (don't know the one in Osaka);
Spend a day at Tokyo DisneySea. Nobody does Disney like the Japanese. The Tokyo
Disney Resort has two big parks: Disneyland and DisneySea. Go to Sea.
Less crowded, just as good, if not better. Do not try to go on a weekend
though. Resort is in Urayasu, Chiba, just outside Tokyo - an easy day
trip. Take the train to Maihama, then ride the Disney monorail to the
DisneySea park. (A helpful map can be found here.) Don't miss the Indiana Jones ride. Enjoy the people
you're a fan of Miyazaki films (My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke,
etc.) you'll love the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, next to Inokashira
park in Kichijoji, a suburb west of Tokyo, I think it's 20 min west of
Shibuya station on Inokashira line. You'll have to get tickets to Ghibli
ahead of time, and choose an arrival time on a specific day; maybe ask
your friend to get the tickets for you, at a kiosk inside any Lawson's
convenient store in Tokyo. Sounds complicated but it's really not!
While in Tokyo you could do a spa day with the girls in Odaiba, at
Oedo Onsen Monogatari, an indoor/outdoor hot springs spa, featuring "doctor fish" for your feet. You can have lunch there and load up on
kitschy souvenirs in between spa treatments. Campy, fun. Also in Odaiba: the Sony ExploraScience Museum
Do you and your girls like cats? Go to a neko cafe! There are quite a few, but I enjoyed two in particular, JaLaLa in Akihabara and Cha Ma Mo cat room on Meiji-dori near Omotesando-dori.
Also in Tokyo: KidZania. It's, um, different. Shy uncertain kids
will be overwhelmed. Lots going on. Not a lot of English being spoken.
But kids who are motivated and adventurous seem to get a lot of out it.
You, however, might get a headache.
Showa Kinen park - a great big amazing place just outside Tokyo,
west of Shinjuku. Enter at Nishi Tachikawa gate for easier access to the
best parts: Rainbow Hammocks, Bouncing domes, Dragon Dunes, Misty
Forest, Bonsai garden. Grab an English map when you get there. This one
doesn't point out everything.
Need a zoo? the Ueno park zoo has pandas again, but Japanese zoos in general are depressing - big animals in tiny spaces, etc. The Tama zoo west of the city is an exception, I think. If you go, be sure to ride the Lion Bus.
While in Kyoto, don't miss the Fushimi Inari shrine, on Mt. Inari,
just outside the city. A nice trek through some 10,000 torii gates, lots
of statues of foxes (representing Inari, a fox deity, Shinto god of
rice, I think). One of the local train lines takes you right to it. View this slideshow of pics or read the rave reviews posted on Tripadvisor.
Also from Kyoto, you could spend a day in Arashiyama (bamboo forest,
monkey park) and/or a day in Nara, where at the famous temple Toda-ji,
the kids can crawl through Buddha's nose for enlightenment.
While in Hiroshima, take a commuter ferry out to Miyajima island, if the weather is good. There's a famous big red torii - try to be there to see it during both high and low tide.
Almost forgot - the Hakone Open-Air Museum! It's terrific. One big
sprawling sculpture garden. Climbing ropes for the kids inside the
"castle of nets." A foot bath at the end, to soak your tired feet. This is a day or overnight trip from Tokyo. A few other things to do in Hakone (there's lots) mentioned in the Tokyo city guide side trips piece I wrote awhile back.
Some time ago you asked me for my advice: what were my "best tips" for a family with young children relocating to Tokyo? My boys were 5 and 7, around the same ages as yours, when we arrived at the tail end of 2007. So here's what I suggest:
1. Don't drive everywhere. Take advantage of Tokyo's superior mass transit system. Not just the Metro and JR trains, but the buses too. They're clean, safe, and reliable, and will take you virtually anywhere you want to go. Study the maps and play around with Hyperdia.com to figure out the different lines. (Apparently there is a Hyperdia by voice app now, and Hyperdia Lite for Android phones.)
The system is extensive, to be sure - you will be amazed at how many suggested routes Hyperdia will give you between the same two points - but in time you will learn the best ways to get yourself from here to there. Most importantly, you will feel more connected to your new city, and you'll gain a deeper appreciation for the local culture. There's nothing quite like emerging from Shibuya station on a glorious sunny day and crossing that big intersection, immersed in the colorful-yet-always courteous crowd, squeezing your kids' hands tight. It's a rush. You may think ohmigod what if I lose them in the crush but you won't because if you do get separated all they have to do is shout "MOM?!" and you will hear them, because here's the thing about Tokyo: the streets and sidewalks may be jam packed with people - the sardine can metaphor is appropriate above ground too - but they are also almost supernaturally quiet. Like somebody hit the mute button.
Bottom line is, time in the car is like time in a bubble. Which brings me to my next tip:
2. Don't dwell in the expat bubble! It's a trap many expats fall into, sometimes by default but often by choice. It's a missed opportunity. Don't make the Tokyo American Club your second home. Go to coffee morning - a great opportunity to pick the brains of those who've come before you - but don't lose whole mornings at Starbucks. Be adventurous. Leave the comfort zone. Make Japanese friends! Find one or two other curious, open-minded, ballsy people whose kids are also in school all day and plan day trips with them.
3. Try to learn Japanese. Even a few words are better than nothing (Hello, How are you?, See you later, etc.). Learn how to give directions to a taxi driver. (Turn right/left please, go straight, you can drop me off here, how much? Thanks). Learn how to order coffee and beer, and how to say Do you have an English menu? You may never be able to carry on a real conversation, but it's nice to be able to exchange a few pleasantries with folks.
I've seen my share of latte foam designs but this one blows all previous away. Thank you, my friend Nikki, formerly of Tokyo and now of Singapore, for sharing. (I still hate you for having just spent two weeks in Tokyo at the height of hanami season ;)
Nikki tells me she found Kenji, coffee purveyor/artiste responsible for the absurdly adorable design featured above, in Nakameguro - a prime spot for vendors this time of year due to the spectacular display of cherry blossoms along the canal and the pedestrian-friendliness of the neighborhood.