Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Does Hallmark know?

Tomorrow is the first day of April. Hooray!

Here's a list of important days you may have missed in March, as reported in a recent issue of Metropolis:

Stewardess Day
March 5th
JAL posted the results of its first flight-attendant exam on this day in 1931. Of the 140 women who took the test, hoping to become an "air girl," only three passed.

Escalator Day
March 8th
This country's first escalator was installed in Ueno on this day in 1914. It moved at a speed of 1.08km/h (the current max is 2.196km/h).

Mannequin Memorial Day
March 24th
Takashimaya became Japan's first retailer to use a mannequin to display its products at a clothing expo in 1928. The word "mannequin" was seen as auspicious, because it combined mane (to beckon) and kin (money).

Moss Ball Day
March 29th
Marimo, a species of filamentous green algae, was included in the list of Japan's Natural Monuments on this day in 1952. These fuzzy green balls are known to form only in Japan, Estonia, Iceland and Scotland.

Monday, March 29, 2010

they're out!

The cherry blossoms really pretty up this ordinarily all-too-gray city. Bursts of pink and white everywhere! This weekend should be great for hanami (literally, "flower viewing") parties in the parks...if it ever warms up.
The road behind our apartment building in Hiroo, 2chome, Shibuya-ku

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Tokyo Sea Life Park is an amazing aquarium at Kasai Rinkai Park, a sprawling waterfront green space not far from Tokyo Disney and a great place to take kids for the day. It's a 5-min walk from the JR Kasai Rinkai Koen station on the Keiyo line, which is 15 minutes from the Tokyo JR Station. (We got a ride with friends and in traffic it can take an hour to drive from Shibuya-ku.)

Pizza of Death

fashionable couple at Kasai Rinkai Park one fine Saturday in March...


Icky metro train advert featuring "Mr. Contac."

I would think that this kind of remedy -- a pill that turns off your runny nose -- would be particularly useful here in Japan, not just because sakura season brings wicked hay fever to many people, but also because it's considered impolite to blow your nose in public, though apparently you are permitted to quietly dab at the drips with a tissue, and to sniffle, all day long if necessary. And if you are seated next to me on a plane, go ahead and sniff like a coke addict for the entire 13-hour flight, just do not, God forbid, honk into a hankie.

This reminds me of a little fun fact about the free Kleenex that's regularly handed out near train stations and outside shops. My understanding (and someone correct me if I'm wrong) is that this practice of distributing coupons and ads tucked inside packs of tissue became popular because public restrooms didn't have toilet paper, hence, few would refuse -- gotta have something in your purse just in case, right? But nowadays, many public facilities if not most do make the loo roll available, and yet the free tissues are still out there for the taking. If you're in the market for some, try the busy corners near Shibuya station and outside Docomo and Softbank stores.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Mister Minit repairs shoes while you wait.

One afternoon the boys and I went to the one on Meiji dori, about a half block up from the Bic camera (and the great glass elevator) on the corner across from Shibuya station, near Bunkyodo book store and Family Mart. It took about 10 minits for the guy to reglue the sole of Conor's school shoe, which had been flapping free, like an overheated dog's tongue, for who knows how long before I noticed (or did Conor finally mention it?). Anyway it only cost us 420 yen to fix. A few days later we returned to have a little stray nail removed from one of Terry's shoes. The pointy bit was sticking straight up, near the arch of his foot. (Ouch!) The guy snipped off the end with some big industrial clipper thing, handed it back and didn't charge us a thing.


You will see Mister Minits all over town, and in train stations too. Really handy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mt. Takao's Lucky 7

Toward the end of our hike back down Mt. Takao on Monday, we passed this little shrine, so charming with the Jizo statues positioned around it.... But wait, what's this? Seven statues representing the 7 Buddhist gods. Or is it the Seven Dwarves? (gasp -- only an American would say that! Sorry, two years here is not enough to undo a Disney-fied childhood).

Ahem. And now, to redeem myself, here are a few fun facts about the Shichifukujin (literally, "Seven Lucky Gods"), for your cultural edification and mine (totally cribbed from this website):

The Shichifukujin 七福神 are an eclectic group of deities from Japan, India, and China. Only one is native to Japan (Ebisu) and Japan's indigenous Shinto tradition. Three are from the Hindu-Buddhist pantheon of India (Daikokuten, Bishamonten, and Benzaiten) and three from Chinese Taoist-Buddhist traditions (Hotei, Juroujin, and Fukurokuju).

In Japan, they travel together on their treasure ship (takara bune 宝船) and dispense happiness to believers. Each deity existed independently before Japan's "artificial" creation of the group in the 17th century by a monk named Tenkai, aiming to represent the essential virtues of man, in order to please the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (1623-1650 AD).

The virtues (and gods they represent) are:
CANDOR: Ebisu (God of Fishermen, Good Fortune, Commerce and Honest Labor)
FORTUNE: Daikoku (God of Earth, Wealth, Prosperity)
AMIABILITY: Benzaiten (God of Music, Fine Arts, Literature)
MAGNANIMITY: Hotei (God of Contentment and Happiness)
POPULARITY: Fukurokuju (God of Wisdom, Virility and Fertility)
LONGEVITY: Juroujin (God of Longevity) and
DIGNITY: Bishamonten (God of Treasure, War, Warriors)

I'm pretty sure the one in the middle, with the stringed instrument, is Benzaiten, so I don't think the arrangement here is in the same order as above. Can you match each statue with its corresponding god/virtue?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day

There was a parade here on Sunday -- and we marched in it! (We have connections...). Luckily our friend Gabrielle let us borrow her Guinness pint hats from 2004.

As the parade looped around Omotesando dori (the posh shopping street in the Harajuku/Jingumae area) we had a great view of everybody else who was marching in it.

A strong showing by the Tokyo Irish Setter Club!

Check out the dude with the Irish wolfhounds

We walked with the folks from Enterprise Ireland (working to promote Irish businesses in Japan). Terry's friend Tristan hooked us up.

The Shamrock Ladies fell in behind us
...and so we bonded.

The sideline crowds were pretty thin, considering how big this city is. And calm. These onlookers were the most enthusiastic, with their frog hand puppets.

We ran into lots of school mates afterward

Our family's not Irish, per se, as in, from Ireland, though we do come from Irish stock. Terry's maternal great grandfather is allegedly from Connemara, near Galway. And my paternal great grandfather was from Dublin. Or at least that's where he hopped on a boat bound for America after selling his uncle's goat and deciding not to return to life on the farm. Also, Terry and I did spend our honeymoon in 1997 driving through the Irish countryside, stopping in Kilkenny and Cork and Dingle and seeing the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands and lots of points in between. Surely that counts.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

eye candy

on the Marunouchi line, bound for Tokyo station

where am I...?

Tokyo streets are notoriously nameless, though a few popular thoroughfares take on monikers because how else are you supposed to explain where you are? Seriously it's one of the most frustrating things about living here. You have to give directions like "walk up that hill where there's a Starbucks on your left and the Clarks shoe store across the street on your right." Apparently, though, that hill is on "Fire Dori," so named because, you guessed it, the Shibuya fire station is located there. This Shibuya City Office webpage has a whole list of these de facto street names, including Sandwich Road, Penguin Street and Finger Avenue. To be fair, some of these nicknames are for streets that actually do have official names, such as Inokashira dori. My favorite example is Hands Street, which is the stretch from Seibu Parts A and B leading to my favorite store in the whole wide world, Tokyu Hands.

So how's it hangin'?

Why, from a belt of course.
outside Tower Record, in Jinnan, Shibuya-ku

for the children

I often see (and hear) trucks like this one rolling through Shibuya, promoting new releases from J-pop stars, like Love Nation, "a gift for the children" on sale now. You can hear music blaring from the roof mounted speakers.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Japanese art of returning lost property

When we left the Dorling Kindersley Science Encyclopedia -- an enormous tome that Dylan had borrowed from the school library -- in a Tokyo taxi, it set off a chain of events that says a lot about how things are done here.

I assume that, first off, when he didn't receive a call from me, the cab driver turned the book over to the police, declaring it lost property. Had I noticed we had left the book behind, I could've called the phone number printed on the receipt and had the driver bring it back to me -- that's why you always take your receipt after paying cab fare, because it is time stamped and has all the info you need to get back in touch with the driver and schedule a rendezvous to recover your laptop or purse or mobile phone or whatever. We once retrieved Conor's backpack by calling the driver and arranging to meet him at the Korean bbq joint down the street, where he had dropped us just a couple of hours earlier. It was amazing. The driver was very gracious about it.

But in this case I didn't notice we had left the book behind, and so it became a police matter. That is, someone from the police station phoned the school to report that it had the book in custody.

Mr. Richie Steven, BST Librarian, returned the call, identified himself and confirmed that the book did in fact belong in his library.

The police then mailed some forms for Richie to fill out, papers that requested proof of his identity and his professional training.

So Mr. Steven photocopied his passport, alien registration card and master's degree certificate and mailed the forms and photocopies back to the police in a prepaid return envelope.

He then received a follow up call from a policeman who wanted to know how it happened that a Swede, trained in Australia, ended up working for the British School in Tokyo. Apparently he convinced them that all was on the up and up. Mr. Steven speaks Japanese, by the way.

The police also wanted to know if Mr. Steven cared to go to the lost property depot, which was somewhere outside the city, to pick up the book in person, or if he preferred to have the book shipped.

Mr. Steven opted for the latter, of course. He paid the postman 600 yen cash on delivery. He then checked his computer to find out which student was responsible, and then approached said student's parent (me) to request reimbursement. With a smile, I might add.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Japanese Day

Look, it's that famous Hokusai woodblock print (from the ukiyo-e master's "36 Views of Mt. Fuji" series). Each of the lower primary classes worked on a section -- Dylan's class's panel is in the top row, second from the right -- during Japanese Day, when students get to go to school in costume, eat Japanese food (like onigiri, sweet red bean cakes and carrots carved to look like cherry blossoms) and try origami and calligraphy.

On the morning of this special day (our third since we moved here) we arrived at school to find this guy playing the koto in the lobby.

Waiting with the carp to go upstairs (we're always early because Conor has to catch the bus to the other campus, where the upper primary school kids go)

Up in his classroom, Dylan gets into character. He had a few of those ninja stars, or shuriken, strapped to his belt (made of foam rubber), along with a small plastic dagger, which I wasn't so sure about until I saw how much more heavily armed some of the other boys were.

Parents were invited to the opening ceremony, which included a lion dance (think Chinese New Year) and these fine ladies dancing.

I managed to catch a glimpse of some of the other kids' costumes as the classes filed in and out of assembly:

I think sumo boy is my favorite.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Japanese Day tomorrow!

The preparations:

Mary uses a hairdryer to smooth out the lanterns

I helped Akemi hang this red and white banner from the staircase handrail. Red and white, she explains, means happiness. (Black and white is for funerals.) The koinobori (carp streamers) represent courage and strength (and are usually found flying all over town in honor of Boy's Day in May).

Tomoko, armed and ready with the power tools

All hands on deck to assemble the bamboo arch that will grace the main entrance to the school

Students gets a sneak peek as they leave for the day

Cha ma mo -- the Return

Dylan and I went back to our new favorite cat room in Harajuku for a second visit the other day, where the nice staff lady had on these fuzzy slippers.

And this time there was a Maine Coon out on the floor, and she looked a heck of a lot like Lucy, our own late great cat, back when she was a young thing.
The resemblance is uncanny, really...

The first time we stopped in at Cha ma mo, Dylan was his usual amiable self, checking things out and dangling fuzzy things and shining flashlights for the cats to chase, until he suddenly remembered that his old cat Lucy was dead and started to sob, much to the alarm of everyone else in the room. He recovered quickly and later said he had enjoyed himself (which is why I was willing to go back!). Strangely, and mercifully, this time he didn't get upset, even when faced with his beloved Lucy's doppelganger. (Kids, I tell you -- who can explain them...)

Btw, in case you were wondering, we left Lucy -- who had predated not just the kids but my marriage too -- behind when we moved to Tokyo more than 2 years ago, thinking she was too old and frail to travel such a far way and risk being quarantined and all that. We were right. She got sick and died a few months after we left. (And no I don't believe she died of a broken heart. She was a diva til the end, and any human slave would do.) Finnegan, on the other hand, our neurotic orange tabby who turns 14 this spring, continues to haunt Nonna's cellar in St. Louis.

the Shonan-Shinjuku line

Dylan was not happy heading off to Conor's rugby match last Sunday morning -- it was sooooo cold and wet. I think at one point it was sleeting. Who wouldn't want to be back home in bed?

snack time

My boys sure love the yakitori. And there's plenty of it at the Tokyu Food Show in Shibuya station...
I bought one with the chicken wrapped in shiso (Japanese mint) because I knew the boys wouldn't touch it... they were so hungry that day I think they ate about a dozen sticks in less than a minute!