Thursday, April 30, 2009

shop awning

Japan Sword in Toranomon

celebrity watch

It's not news that A-list Hollywood stars do big billboard ads here in Tokyo that they'd never deign to do in the home country, because, well, that would be selling out!

But I still do a double-take whenever I spot a new one, like this ad on the side of the Tag Heuer building on posh Omotesando street:

"What are you made of?"

(That's the Japanese Nursing Association office next door, in case you were wondering.)

tee time

This shop on Gaien-Nishi Dori in Hiroo sells some pretty swanky sportswear and accessories.

Friday, April 24, 2009

pink lace frightens child

Walking up Meiji-dori into Harajuku after school today, the boys and I spotted a young Japanese girl with two braids of hair dyed purple and pink, wearing a red beret, wingtip style brown and white Doc Martins, orange patterned tights and a nose ring. (It's not polite to point, boys. Why?'s just not.)

Somewhere between TopShop and H&M, Conor sighs and says, "You know, Mommy, when I see people dressed like that, I think they look scary. But not scary scary. Disturbing scary."

We pass two Harajuku girls. They are full-on pink lace and frilly, flouncy skirts, bows on cascading blonde curls. "Like those two," Conor says. "Now that is scary."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

big red torii Part II: high tide

Miyajima's famous shrine gate was surrounded by water when we arrived on the island around 10:30 am on Saturday, April 11. When we went back for a second look later on in the afternoon, the tide was out and people were digging for oysters.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

archers on horseback

, originally uploaded by MaryanneB.

whoah, horsey

whoah, originally uploaded by MaryanneB.
On Sunday we went to Kamakura to see horseback archery (yabusame). There was a huge crowd on both sides of the course, a dirt path running across the grounds of the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine. We were watching from a spot close to the finish line, so in most of our photos, the samurai have already taken their shots at two (or is it three?) separate targets, while galloping at top speed, and are trying to grab hold of the reins to slow down the horse. Lots of "aah"s and "OH!"s from spectators as many arrows missed their mark. (We wondered how the participants would handle the shame...) Before the event began, an announcer advised the crowd not to use flash photography, because the flash could "agitate the horses" and cause them to "stray into the crowd." Hmm. Think she meant "stampede." In any case, there was no straying. The horses stayed the course, though in some cases they came to an abrupt stop at the far end, right in front of a shrine gate, which was covered by a big white sheet. We kept expecting one of them to break through but none did. It was all very dramatic.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mount Misen, Miyajima

on the rocks 4, originally uploaded by MaryanneB.

We took the ropeway partway up the island's highest peak, then hiked the rest of the way to the summit, where there was a small shrine and these cool rocks, and a very nice view of the Seto inland sea, and a few wild monkeys.

big red torii

, originally uploaded by MaryanneB.

The famous shrine gate on Miyajima, an island off the coast of Hiroshima, 10 minutes by ferry...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Storming the Castle

Sometimes the only way to visit a 400-year-old international treasure like Himeji Castle is to go in a big group, so the kids are so busy playing out some sort of ninja fantasy that they forget to whine about being bored and tired.

Charge! (I think Tilly lying there is part of the game. Right?)

Cool stone wall

Samurai defending the castle would shoot arrows or guns through those little windows. That's half our group (including Dylan, doing Rocky-fists in the air) milling about down there.

Terry, standing outside the main tower, enjoys a rare moment when the boys are not climbing all over him or demanding ice cream. The yellow rope chains around him marked a very long, very snake-like path that we would've had to travel had there been a queue to get in, but no waiting today!

Once inside, it was difficult to keep up with the little ninjas

Scrambling down some very steep steps

If you squint you will see Dylan and his pals Charlie and Rupert posing in front of this small gate just outside the main tower

Roof detail

The Hishi Gate (I think), one of the main ones

Some sort of sacred ground, no doubt, just outside the exit gate. Unsure whether the romp was kosher -- but not willing to intercede, because when sight-seeing kids aren't whining, you let 'em be! -- we ultimately decided to go with the easier-to-beg-forgiveness-than-to-ask-permission approach. (That's Conor in blue, leaping.) P.S. The guards took note and didn't care.

Dylan, left, chases the girls (in a game of tag)

To paraphrase myself: If you want gum, you will go over there, turn around, and then run toward me while I take your picture.

Fun facts about the Himeji Castle: First there was just a fort on that hill, built in 1333 by Norimura Akamatsu, then ruler of the Himeji region. A three-story castle was built on the site in 1581; it was rebuilt in 1601 by Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa's son-in-law, who added two stories to the main tower and three small towers to beef up its defenses. The castle has never been destroyed by war, which makes it exceptional for a landmark structure in Japan.

It's made of wood, covered in white plaster (a fire-proofing reinforcement).

Named UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.

You can walk there from the Himeji JR train station in about 15 minutes. The bullet train from Tokyo takes 3 and a half hours. You could do it in a day!

The main tower will undergo a 5-year-plus restoration beginning fall 2009 and will be boarded up during this time. Hurry!

7 out of the 8 kids who stormed the castle that day (the majority of them in Crocs)

While eating lunch on a blue tarp we commandeered in Sannomaru Square, a big open space ringed with cherry trees (pictured above) where people gather to gaze up at the castle, we spotted a young bride and groom, having their photographer snap a few with the same view we were all there to see.

Baby's first hanami

weekend away

The zoo next to the Himeji Castle was a great way to kill an afternoon -- after you've toured the castle, hanami'ed in full view of the castle, then said goodbye to your friends who caught an earlier train out of town -- but, man! The animals at this zoo are kept in some seriously small quarters. Makes the Ueno zoo in Tokyo look modern.

Check out the polar bears:

And here's the elephant:


On a more positive note, the zoo is also an amusement park for kids. And the place was deserted last Friday when we were there, so it all worked out. For us, I mean. Not the polar bears.

Last stop: the sad little penguin exhibit.

A heron stopped in for a drink before taking off again.

They say the Himeji Castle, a.k.a. Shirasagi-jo, looks like a big white heron in flight. What do you think?

maybe we've been playing too much Xbox

Conor: Is Dr. Seuss dead?

Me: Yes.

Dylan: How did he die?

Me: He died of old age.

Dylan: Oh. I thought he got shot.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


On Tuesday I took the boys to a sumo stable to watch a morning training session, but by the time we got there, a little after 9 a.m., training was already over. (Oh, man!)

We decided to stick around anyway.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Spring break is here. The boys had a half day today, so we went to the Children's Castle for a bit, then caught a cab on Kotto dori for home. (Sign of the times: boarded up storefront and graffiti on this no-longer-quite-so-chic shopping street.)

Conor's friend Edmund is sleeping over....let the Xbox games begin!
I never tire of the white lace seat cushion covers in Tokyo taxis.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Chewy fruit-flavored Japanese candy, toothpick included

new pet

Dylan made this stuffed lion cub -- "Lionie" -- in after-school sewing club.