Friday, February 29, 2008

it will be mine. Oh, yes...

I want this carpet. I need this carpet. I can't tell you where it is or what it represents (prolly a restaurant) as my husband snapped this photo with his cell phone and emailed it to me last night...he was out late with work people and I haven't had a chance to grill him for details. We are meeting later for a BST "Mums and Dads Night Out" (organized by the Year One Rhubarbs' class mum). I promise a full report...there may be karaoke involved. I can only hope...

Update on 3/1:
T informs me that "Brooklyn Tokyo" sells fine (expensive) leather goods and is in Marunuchi. I still want that rug!

after school

O.K., so the public playground next to the British School is small, worn and probably dangerous (those dang monkey bars) but the boys like it, and it's a chance to bond with other BST kids. Here D is doing exactly what he used to do on the playground slides at home: sit at the bottom so that the whole line gets backed up and everybody who comes after him gets a good squishing. I think he used to call it lemon squeezer...

octopus playground in winter

We consider this "our" playground, as it is a five-minute walk from our apartment and a favorite stop on our way to and from the Ebisu train station. Last week we saw two 20-somethings there rehearsing a scene, scripts in hand. Another time some high-school kids had gathered on top of one of the concrete culverts that's painted to look like a choo-choo train, but the place mainly draws moms and littler kids. Can't wait to see what kinds of flowers and plants (and people) appear when the weather turns warm.

This mom (in photo below) is wearing a miniskirt, tights, thigh-high socks and furry boots, a very common outfit among women of all ages here (though the boots are not always furry). Those are my kids hanging on the (scary) monkey bars in the background.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

interesting outfits

Tokyo has more than its share of Elvis impersonators, Goth types and girls who dress like Little Bo Peep. The outrageously-dressed youths who hang in parks and hip shopping areas of the funkier neighborhoods have been well-documented online and in books. Here I thought I'd show more of the everyday sartorial choices that I've seen around town (like the mom at the park, see photo in next post). These aren't even the greatest examples, necessarily, just the few that I managed to document. Hey, it's hard to take pictures of people on the fly with my phone without it being too obvious.

Except, of course, when they're sleeping....
The double-breasted coat has a faux fur collar, tapering seam cuts across his calf, but my favorite is the shiny metallic briefcase. We see him on a Sunday afternoon train to Hamamatsucho.

It was the yellow Chuck Taylors with blue-and-black striped tights that caught my eye on the JR train platform, Yamanote line, Ebisu station.

This lady standing in line in front of C at the bus stop outside Shibuya station seems to know how to work the white leather platform boots, pairing them with a white hooded parka.

Leopard-print coat, fringy-swishy skirt and Nike hightops, spotted on Meiji-Dori in Shibuya, while I was on my way to the British School to pick up the boys.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

street sign

According to my Japanese teacher, this sign, posted on a quiet residential street that leads from our apartment building to the Hiroo shopping district, reads, "We don't accept any molester and violence" and "We save our children by our power!"

It was the mask that threw me. People here wear masks when they are sick or trying not to get sick (some people, anyway...) so at first I thought the dude wearing sunglasses was whisking a child to safety during some sort of emergency evacuation. But I guess he's the molester.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

what we're reading now

"Asterix and the Goths" is so good, apparently, that my son, upon arriving home from school on Monday, couldn't be bothered to take off his coat, shoes or even his backpack before sitting down to read it. I'm pretty sure the two furniture store delivery guys, who had come to adjust two faulty dresser drawers and a poorly positioned mirror, and had propped the door open, had to step over him to leave.

On loan from the British School's library, this is the third volume in the Asterix comic book series (originally published in French in the '60s, translated into English in the '70s) that T collected when he was a kid.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sunday at the movies in Roppongi Hills

Earth, a feature film version of the BBC documentary/mini-series Planet Earth, is really, really good, with some of the best footage I've ever seen of animals in their native habitats. Thankfully the narration (voiced by Patrick Stewart) is reasonably straightforward and spare (the cinematography carries the picture) and it's not overly preachy about global warming. I had already seen the clip of a shark swallowing a seal on YouTube, but to see it on the big screen as part of this movie was a real treat. (More extensive footage, taken from the original series, is definitely worth a look. I tried to embed the link but it wouldn't work, so click here and plug in the search term "Great White Sharks" and then click on the video uploaded by "dodgowan".) In Earth we also see a leopard run down a gazelle, and an entire pride of lions gang up on an elephant, but each time a predators move in for the kill the segment ends before there's any blood. So the movie, to its credit, while capturing the drama (and outcome) of these hunts, is reasonably child-friendly. Other highlights include mallard ducklings jumping out of a tree hollow and the birds of paradise puffing themselves up to attract a mate. Here's a shot of my guys outside the entrance to the theater (they are reflected in the glass).

In the theater's enormous lobby there is a giant billboard ad for a new thriller starring Anakin Skywalker. Water cascades down a glass wall behind the ad, I presume for dramatic effect:

Before the feature presentation begins, they show a short cartoon in Japanese with superheroes explaining the rules of the theater. No talking, no smoking, turn your cell phone off, and don't kick the chair in front of you. Sure enough nobody did any of these things. In fact, it's dead quiet throughout the film. Only our kids would break the silence from time to time ("Is the polar bear really going to attack that walrus??" and "What is that/What's he doing/Where's he going?")

Sunday, February 24, 2008

bookstore scene on a Saturday afternoon

The Tsutaya in Roppongi Hills is loaded with art books, design books, travel books, etc., plus stacks and stacks of magazines (Esquire, U.S. edition, $18). It also has a great children's section with play area, plus a cafe and lounge, all on the same floor. Yesterday there was live entertainment, two guys playing jazz (the dude on acoustic guitar is obscured from view), and D was into it. That's him sitting on the floor...
We left the place with a bag full of books: the hefty Lonely Planet guide to Japan, the much slimmer Must-See in Kyoto, and for the coffee table, Japan: A Pictorial Portrait. We also picked up The Rough Guide's pocket-size Japanese phrasebook, which offers a handy list of colloquialisms, e.g., subarashi! (fantastic!), chotto! (hey!), uso! (that's a lie!) and baka! (you fool!). Chikusho-o (emphasis on the u, long o sound at the end) literally means "beast," but is used as a swear word, along the lines of "damn" or "hell." 

the movies

On Saturday we decided to take the kids to the movies for the first time since moving here. We showed up at the theater in Roppongi Hills about 30 minutes before showtime only to find out that Earth (film version of the BBC documentary/mini-series Planet Earth) was sold out, so we bought tickets to see it today. It was 1,800 yen per adult, 1,000 yen per kid. ($52!) The upside is that there's assigned seating, and the ticket counter clerks have seating charts. The other cool thing is that the digital board in the theater lobby that posts movie titles and showtimes for that day also includes a status report for each film, so people know what's what before they waste time on line. Elizabeth: The Golden Age had "few seats left," The Golden Compass was "crowded" and American Gangster had "only first row available." The concession sells popcorn flavored salty or sweet, and movies are typically shown in the original language with Japanese subtitles, rather than dubbed. I will have to wait until April 12 to see Michael Clayton. 

Saturday, February 23, 2008

he's everywhere

On our way to Tsutaya, a great bookstore in Roppongi Hills, the wind kicked up and nearly blew us away so we ducked into the lobby of TV Asahi Corp. headquarters, a shrine to the station's shows. Here's D posing with our favorite manga hero/gadget cat from the future, Doraemon. He's got his own cartoon, but we don't get to watch it because we don't have TV. I mean, we have a television set, but we only use it to play games or DVDs on the Xbox 360. I want to get the Wii too so we can get the Wii Fit, which comes with a balance board and has you doing step aerobics, pushups, yoga poses, hula hooping, tightrope walking, ski jumping and heading soccer balls -- you know, all those things that help you stay fit. Wikipedia's page on the matter says the Wii Fit will be released in the U.S. in late May. It started selling in Japan on Dec. 1, 2007, and sales topped 1 million in less than six weeks.

star fruit

D was named Star Fruit of Year One this past week. (Not just the star of his own class, the Rhubarbs, mind you, but star of all the other fruit groups as well -- Grapes, Bananas and Pineapples. Year Two classes are all named after types of berries...)
The official certificate congratulates him for "settling into BST so well." It further states: "You have tried very hard to finish your work and smile every day! Well done!"
The sunglasses are to be returned to school after the weekend so they can be passed on to next week's star.
For the record, C was named Star of Blackberries back in January, for "making an excellent start to school life at BST." His teacher wrote: "We really enjoy hearing your ideas in our class discussions."


My kids say they're "weird," but I love these yellow-tipped shrubs (identified by a plaque posted nearby as Thuja occidentalis, or "Europe Gold") that are planted along the walkway outside the Sportsplex gym near our apartment. No, I don't go to this gym, but it does have a nice pool, and we often see people swimming laps and doing water aerobics when we pass by the big picture window on our way to and from the bus stop.

music room, Children's Hall

Friday, February 22, 2008

good stuff

The Japanese Sweets Deli in Meguro sells mochi creams, small scoops of ice cream, with a white creamy middle, wrapped in mochi (a chewy, stretchy rice mixture, sometimes called rice taffy; it's a traditional Japanese treat). The thing about the sweets here is that they're really not terribly sweet, just sweet enough, and they are everywhere, and available in tiny portions (you can eat one of these in four bites). I had the black sesame, pictured here in the display case, fifth flavor from the right, next to green tea. Yum!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

who says boys don't play with dolls

Tonight D called me in from the kitchen to show me what he had done with one of our new toys, a ninja doll we bought in Singapore, at a stall in Chinatown. D's ninja seemed calm, almost yogi-like. I gave him the camera so he could take pictures.

Me: Hey, look at that.
D: He's meditating.
C: Now what's he doing?
D: He's going whaaaah, and he's tearing out his hair out because he has lots of bug bites.
D: Now he's bowing.

I'd never seen a ninja dressed in white before, but according to, some ninja wore white while operating in snowy conditions. 

tea shop

I am not knowledgeable about green tea, but this little place, on the Hiroo shopping street near our apartment, sells dozens of loose leaf varieties, all labeled in Japanese, so I am just going to have to buy random samples and copy the characters or letters that spell out the names so that I can keep track of the ones we like and know what to ask for when I go back. Yesterday, though, I didn't buy any tea, but I did buy these little cups. Baby steps.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

can't I get a keitai?

This SoftBank store, which is on the way to the Shibuya station bus stop, has dozens of sample phones on a display stand outside, in every conceivable color: metallic lime green, metallic ruby red, Pepto-Bismol pink, yellow, turquoise, white, etc. The boys like to flip them open, pretend to call each other, and then ask me why they don't have their own cell phones. Some of the more expensive handsets have screens that slide open and rotate 90 degrees for watching TV.
T and I both have the Nokia N73, which packs a 3.2 megapixel Carl Zeiss lens, makes video calls, and does a lot of other things I will probably never bother with (like Web browsing). Though I just read on the Nokia website that it will upload photos straight to Flickr! Must figure out how to do that...

seltzer, now that's a tough beverage

I never thought cream soda was edgy, but Cream Soda, the clothing store, certainly thinks it is.

The shop is on Cat Street, around the corner from the British School. When I stopped to take these pictures, C sat down to read his Doraemon comic book.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

video clip!

Click here to watch the boys ride trikes on the rooftop of the Children's Castle. What a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon (especially when your husband is away on business!). After they pedaled around for a bit, we moved on to the rooftop climbing gym/ball pit area, then hit the music room where they joined an ongoing jam session, taking turns on piano, drums, tamborine, spoons, you name it. Next we went to the video library, where the boys watched an episode of Pokemon in Japanese while I rested (ok, dozed) on a pile of our coats in the corner of our viewing booth.

Monday, February 18, 2008

we're back!

Singapore was great: colorful, tropical, a nice break from chilly Tokyo. I ate too much, the kids went swimming every day, we hit the Singapore Zoo and the Botanic Gardens (both terrific) and took a bumboat river cruise.

On Tuesday, our first full day there, we went to Sentosa, an island resort, which was a bit cheesy, just as my friend and host had warned me it would be, but perfect for us, with its sandy beach, lush flower beds, an elaborate stone mosaic fountain, a 7Eleven with a working slushie machine, and, of course, the LUGE. For this you have to ride a chairlift up to the top of a steep hill, which, by the way, nearly gave me a panic attack. (When he saw that I was nervous, my 7-year-old said, "Mom, just imagine you are on a park bench" and my 5-year-old added, "Yeah, one that moves." It never occurred to them that I was afraid for their safety.) When you get off the lift at the top, you strap on a helmet, get into a bobsled/go-kart thing and speed back down the hill; you control the steering and the brakes, and gravity takes care of the rest. C handled himself like a champ, while D and I doubled up and then I had a go solo.

After the Luge we had pizza on the beach, on the south side of the island, on what I think is the Singapore Strait (cross it and you're in Indonesia). We didn't bring the kids' suits but they stripped down to their shorts and waded in anyway. The monorail that took us back across Marina Bay and to the garage where we parked ran us right past an enormous construction site, where a Las Vegas-style casino and Universal theme park are to be built and open by 2010.

Wednesday: Chinatown and lunch at Yum Cha, in an upstairs space on one of the shopping streets and across the road from a big Buddhist temple. The boys ate plain broiled chicken (as fast as I could cut it), but they skipped the fried whole fish and prawn and mango dumplings. Afterward we shopped the stalls and bought T-shirts, bendable ninja dolls (one of them has its own cute little pair of numchuks!) and a cheap embroidered-silk mobile for the boys' room featuring the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, with rat on the top as 2008 is his year.

Later that evening we left the kids at home with J's helper (who's Indonesian and makes killer satay and spring rolls) and went to dinner in Little India, where I picked up a snake ring and some beaded sandals. On our way to the restaurant we wandered into a Hindi temple, leaving our shoes at the door, and found ourselves in the middle of a ceremony, with torches burning, people chanting, etc. I spotted one man dressed in a loincloth, cheeks streaked with white paint, throwing flowers into a fire pit. (If anybody knows what this is about, do tell...) We felt a little conspicuous so we left.

On Thursday we took a bumboat ride up and down the Singapore River, getting a good look at the Merlion, the city-state's official greeter, positioned at the old entrance to the port. Apparently some locals gripe that the Merlion has been overexposed as a national icon, so much so that it borders on the cliche, but hey, it's half-lion, half-fish and spits water -- for tourists under 10, what could be better than that?

Friday was zoo day, then a half-hearted attempt to catch the Chingay parade, which is sort of in celebration of Chinese New Year, which happened the week before, but it started late so we bailed after the intro, which featured Darth Vader and a legion of stormtroopers marching to the theme song from Star Wars, followed by some race cars and then a dance troupe wearing big yellow and green sleeves, which they swished for effect. There was a line of floats down the block promising more of the same, but we didn't stick around long enough to figure out what they were....the kids were beat. (Tickets to the bleacher seats included a bottle of water and emergency rain poncho, so I didn't leave without stashing four in my bag. Score!)

Next post will have photos...

Singapore snaps

Here are some of my favorite pictures from our trip. To see more, please click here.

We had so much fun staying with our friends (thanks guys!). Here are the boys playing soccer in the driveway. D had a blast until he skinned his knee. It was nothing ice cream couldn't cure.

There's some mighty tall bamboo in the front yard...

View of Sentosa from the Luge chairlift (looking over my shoulder on the way up)

This go-kart/toboggan is called the Luge, and it's (reasonably) safe. Drivers have to be able to steer and brake around the turns.
Heading to Sentosa beach
D in Chinatown. ("Well hello there, little boy...")
Hitting the stalls in Chinatown. Check out the pretty shophouses at the far end of the block. The boys are wearing their souvenir shirts that they picked out themselves, and that's my friend distracting them while I shop and snap pictures.
This 'Guardian of the Buddha' statue stands right outside the front entrance...
...of this Buddhist temple in Chinatown known as the Tooth Relic.
Back at the house: these parrot plants are growing in the backyard. Or are they Birds of Paradise? Not sure.
These lovely ladies live under the piano.
This is "First Generation," a bronze sculpture by Singaporean artist Chong Fah Cheong that shows five boys in the buff jumping into the river for a swim. We spotted it during our bumboat cruise. It's next to the Cavenagh Bridge near the Fullerton Hotel.
Me and my kid on a bumboat on the Singapore River.
There's no monkey house at the Singapore Zoo. These orangutans are not in a cage or enclosed in any way, they're just hanging out in their tree house. We passed under them on the way to Cat Country.
The ball pit at the zoo's playground is located in its own pavilion, with a lake view. Glorious!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

we are Singapore bound...

I'm taking the boys to Singapore tomorrow to visit friends, and I may not be able to post until I return (though I will certainly try). Have a good week! and I'll be back soon with pictures from our trip. -M

what we're reading now

C has discovered Doraemon, Gadget Cat from the Future, manga star and Japanese cultural icon. Images of the character, first introduced in 1969, are about as ubiquitous in this town as Hello Kitty. A series of 10 comic books are available (translated into English, but running back to front, right to left) at the big Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku. It was there on the foreign books floor that we also found manga versions of Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke, and a bunch of children's books (Where is Little Toko by Kyoko Matsuoka, Blackie, the Crayon by Miwa Nakaya, and Little Mouse Wants an Apple by Yoshio Nakae, all translated).
The story with Doraemon is that he is a robot created in 2012 who travels back in time with the great-great-grandchild of a Japanese schoolboy, Nobita, to save Nobita from the bad luck he creates for himself and his family. Although he always means well, usually the gadgets that Doraemon pulls out of a storage compartment in his tummy only make things worse. He's supposed to be Nobita's protector, but he's more like a best friend. He has a paralyzing fear of mice and dorayaki (bean-filled jam cake) is his favorite food. Read more about him here.