Conor's class showed off their taiko drumming skills during a special performance for parents last week. Everybody wore headbands and "happy suits." After donning their robes and sashes, the Year 2 Blackberries head downstairs to the gym. Conor is thrilled to see that Terry has ducked out of work to catch the act! The kids wait for the signal from the teacher... "Yaaah!"
The kids chanted while they thumped: "So-day-so-day-so-day, yes-say, yes-say, so-day-so-day-so-day, yes-say-yaah!"
It's not easy to play tennis here in Tokyo. Private clubs are expensive and you need sponsors to join. The public courts are impossible to book; you have to enter a lottery to get a court time, and they're all assigned months in advance. So when I was invited to play at the British embassy, to join a group lesson there, I jumped at it, and then I was asked to join a Friday group that plays round robin-style doubles in Yoyogi park, starting in September (hooray!).
And now the boys are taking tennis lessons at Sacred Heart, an all-girls international school down the road from where we live. It's just a 3-week mini camp, but it's something, and they seem to be picking it up pretty well; at least the coach, who's from Sydney, says so...
Last weekend Terry and I went to see the new Indy movie, and, sorry to say, it put me to sleep (or was it the wine I had with dinner?). I did stay awake long enough to film a portion of the pre-show, ads for credit cards and Coke and some other stuff. I can't tell if this guy in the first spot is angry or just giving us the hard sell.
I took the boys to the Ueno park zoo recently. The tigers there are surprisingly tame.Ha ha.... but seriously, the Ueno zoo is great, in some ways. It covers all the bases --hippos, giraffes, polar bears, tigers, etc etc., and there are loads of exotic birds. The place is clean and the newer parts are very nicely landscaped. Ice cream is widely available. And yet, and yet...the animals have no space! They are seriously hemmed in. I did not have to zoom in to take this picture of a lioness on a rock, she was so close to the glass wall (see the reflection of the two ladies standing to my left?).
I should note that this lioness does not seem at all disturbed by her situation. She is calm, serene, regal. But, but...I just don't know.
The gorillas have the same deal. Again, no zooming in here:
The zoo's giant panda, Ling Ling, died in late April from chronic heart failure, so we missed our chance to see her. But apparently China is going to send over two replacements, though the matter is somewhat controversial, as the Japanese government must pay some hefty fees to lease the animals -- $1 million per year per panda. The Asia-Pacific branch of PETA, for its part, is lobbying against the deal, saying pandas are miserable in confinement and that the money, which is supposed to help preserve their natural habitat, does no such thing. The Beijing zoo, meanwhile, has 8 new pandas, evacuees from the Wolong Nature Reserve, which was damaged by last month's earthquake. In other panda news, Chinese nationalists are calling for a ban on Spielberg's movie Kung Fu Panda, to get back at him for ditching the Olympics.
I thought I could wait until August for my next haircut, when I would be visiting the old 'hood and could go see the fantastic Jessica at Van Sickel, on Middaugh St. But it's been almost seven months since I saw her last, and the 'do was getting quite shaggy, so I reluctantly made an appointment at Sin Den in Jingumae, a place recommended by a few of the British mums here, perhaps because everybody in the place speaks English and it's near the British school.
From the look of the place you'd think it would be easy to find, but the building is tucked around a corner of an alley down a side street off a busier road with no name. (To find anything here in Tokyo you need a detailed map -- most businesses will post one online, but it's not always available in English -- and ideally turn-by-turn instructions that say things like "head toward the Geox" and "you'll see two red brick houses" and "follow the stone wall" -- and even then it's still a good idea to leave extra time for getting lost. As Dave Barry explains, "Tokyo is huge. Something like 15 million people live there, and my estimate is that at any given moment, 14.7 million of them are lost. This is because the Tokyo street system holds the world outdoor record for randomness. A map of Tokyo looks like a tub of hyperactive bait. There is virtually no street that goes directly from anywhere to anywhere." He's right.)
Sin Den has signs posted in the area, like this one that tells me to turn around and go the other way... Anyway, I eventually found it, and the pretty young Japanese girl who shampooed my hair massaged by head too, which felt great, and then a stylist named Risa, also Japanese but fluent in English, talked about the various ways to drink umeshu (she recommends mixing it with oolong tea) while she took three inches off and put in some long layers and added product and used the diffuser to dry it all wavy, blah blah blah, and so I'm happy. I can check "haircut" off my list and move on to other things (like where can I go in this town for a bikini wax when the locals don't appear to suffer from so much unwanted body hair?). Except now I want to call Jessica, confess all and beg forgiveness.
When we booked a beach house in Ocean Grove, NJ, for a few weeks of "home leave" this summer, we didn't know it was "God's Square Mile." What luck! Fortunately Time Out New York provides this guide on how to "get your heathen on" while the kids are at Bible Study. Note to those visiting: be sure to purchase your alcohol before crossing the village line, as you won't find any liquor stores in town...
One recent lazy Saturday, while wandering around the neighborhood after brunch at Good Honest Grub -- where I expected to see a short-order cook literally slinging hash, but this being Japan, even the French toast from the kids' menu came with a delicate dusting of confectionery sugar and fresh fruit, meticulously arranged on the plate -- we came upon this shop, called Jelly Beans, run by this dude wearing a Ramones T-shirt: We found something for Dylan in one of the yellow bargain bins sitting outside on the sidewalk (I almost fell off my bike taking this picture). "The Future Meets the Robot" is our new family slogan. Easy Rider...
Folks of all ages flock to the massive, multi-hilled, shiny-smooth white trampoline at Showa Kinen park known as the Bouncing Dome. We saw big kids, little kids, teenagers, one gray-haired dude, lots of moms and dads (one was jumping with an infant in his arms)...Has anybody seen anything like this anywhere else? Seriously, I wanna know. I'm not sure it would fly in the U.S. (the liability! the lawsuits!).
We are Ebisu station regulars, so the boys are comfortable navigating the place. We set off for Showa Kinen park on Saturday, determined to get Dylan back on a two-wheeler, to make sure the previous ride at Yoyogi park was no fluke.
Turns out we had nothing to worry about. He's doin' it for real!
'Dylan, no off-roading!' The park's cycling route seemed to go for miles and miles... ...and the directional markers helped keep us oriented. Conor frequently zoomed ahead and would have to pull over and wait for us slowpokes to catch up.
Shamelessly stealing from The New Yorker, I would like to ask you, dear reader, to submit a caption for Terry's brilliant stick-figure cartoon, below. (Click "Comments" at the bottom of this post, type your caption into the "leave your comment" box then click "publish your comment.") I'll ask the boys to pick a favorite and declare a winner in a follow up post. Game on!
Last week we took the boys to the Tokyo Disney Sea theme park, to celebrate Dylan's 6th birthday. Why "Sea"? It's not Sea World. But many attractions have some water-related theme, like the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea thing and the Blowfish Balloon Race, while others don't (see Floral Hedge Fairy, above). Alas, no Splash Mountain.
We took the train there. The Nintendo DS helped pass the time...Across the street from the Maihama JR stop, about an hour from Ebisu (one transfer), is the Disney monorail, which takes you straight to the park. Our decision not to get a car: validated once again!
Thankfully the crowds stayed away. It was a Wednesday, the skies were overcast and Japanese schools were in session (as was the British School...ssshh) so it was the perfect day to do it, really. Never more than a few minutes' wait for a ride!
A significant number of those who did turn up were young couples (it's a popular place to take dates). Many were decked out in souvenir-shop attire, the ladies especially (note the black knee-socks -- or in many cases thigh-socks -- which are a popular spring look here in Tokyo, and not specific to the Disney uniform):
We saw lots of young women too, typically in pairs or in groups of three or four, almost invariably sporting the mouse ears or a Minnie Mouse bow, or both. A few had on the Jasmine headpiece with veil. I figured this group pictured below (that's a gondolier snapping their photo) had to be a bachelorette party until Terry reminded me about the Disney princess from Aladdin:
These gal-pals were behind us on line for the Flying Fish Coaster:I think we rode this coaster five times before the day was through.
Terry took the boys on the Caravan Carousel Here I am with Conor on some other ride I can't remember the name of; Terry and Dylan are in the car across from us, well within camera-phone range...We saw many dudes with commemorative Lilo-and-Stitch popcorn tubs dangling from their necks (see below, right)And there were quite a few stuffed Stitches about. Ariel's Playground (indoors) was surprisingly boy-friendly (lots of rope bridges to scamper across, snails to climb...)Popsicle break!
This is the pyramid outside the Indiana Jones Adventure/Temple of the Crystal Skull, known to locals as simply, "Ind-ee Jo-n-zu." It was the boys' idea to pose this way. (Are they mocking their yoga-practicing mom?)Dylan just made the height requirement for the Indiana Jones ride. That should've told us something...Because he was silent for most of it, and kept his eyes squeezed shut, then burst into tears when it was all over and demanded to know why I had to tell him about the spiders. After lurching through a dark tunnel, suddenly there are spotlights shining on the walls and they look like they are covered with tarantulas; I must have said something like, Ohmygod, spiders! Sorry, Dyl.
He recovered quickly though.
It's starting already: Conor often shoots this sort of "Boy, are you clueless!" look that I thought we wouldn't see until at least age 12. In this case it was directed at his Dad.
Moments later, he's back to the Conor I know!The boys balked at posing with Goofy. Not I! Photographing Strangers, Take 27: Quick, to the footbridge! Minnie Mice approaching! (That's the Tower of Terror in the background.) While Terry and Conor did the free fall in that terrible tower, Dylan and I took in a show. The dialogue was in Japanese but at one point couples were ballroom dancing to Flashdance's "She's a Maniac" and Madonna's "Express Yourself." There were lots of smallish acts doing their thing around the park. Maintenance men were trained mimes; a trio of "chefs" did a whole steel-drum bit with whisks and spatulas. But the topper was the fire and water show on the lake, after dark, featuring a flame-throwing mechanical Godzilla/Loch Ness Monster that rises out of the water and does some sort of battle against a water-blasting vessel, all to a dramatic score. Dylan fell asleep right after that, having been at the park for nearly 10 hours.