Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Acrobats, etc.

Back from Beijing... it's way too hot there this time of year. Just like Tokyo, only worse, because of the air pollution. But I'm not complaining, we saw some great things. The Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Bird's Nest in Olympic Park, the Great Wall in Mutianyu... But most astonishing, I have to say, was the acrobatic show, the National Troupe performing all kinds of crazy insane gymnastics and death-defying tricks, on a stage with various props, over an hour and a half. You wouldn't believe what these kids could do. And by "kids" I mean children, as in young enough to be in elementary school. Middle school maybe. Some tiny bendy girls were thrown through the air, landing onto someone's shoulders without breaking pose; human chains would break apart and reform, almost in constant motion. The bicyclists were something else too-- balancing on the handlebars, on their heads, then crowding onto a single bike, first 3, then 6, then 12. I wish I could speak Chinese so I could talk to them, ask them to dinner and grill them about their lives. How many hours a day do you train? I would ask. Do you live with your family, you mom and dad? Or do you live in a dorm with the other athletes? Do you go to school? Are you treated well? How did you end up in this life? Do you choose your specialty -- plate spinner, yoyo thrower, vertical pole climber, slack wire artist, umbrella juggler, contortionist -- or does it choose you?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Bye, bye counselors!

Camp is over; now it's off to Beijing...!

misty mountain stop

Ahhhh....a refreshing mist cools the air outside the entrance to Tokyo Metro's Hibiya line, Roppongi Hills

summer day trip!

Last Sunday we had a great day at the beach in Chigasaki. The boys spent ages in the water, played an elaborate game of "war" with little green plastic army guys in the fine volcanic-dirt brown colored sand, and then headed back into the surf with the plastic floaty things we were wise to rent. Happily occupied for an entire day, they were -- without a TV, computer or videogame screen in sight. (Sure it was spitting rain and I had to huddle under a beach umbrella and wear my towel like a burqa, but I was left alone with a magazine, so who's complaining?)

Ultimately we were forced to take shelter at one of the beach side bars, where we managed to kill another hour while Terry taught the boys how to play darts. A 5-min cab ride, two trains and 50 minutes later, we were back in Ebisu, hunching over steaming bowls of tonkotsu ramen at Ippudo.

How to get to Chigasaki: From Ebisu, take the Shonan Shinjuku line to Yokohama and transfer to the JR Tokaido line to Chigasaki. (You can also catch the Tokaido line at Shinagawa.) There's a bus that runs between Chigasaki station and the beach, but a taxi costs about the same as 4 bus fares.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

day out with Mizuho & Co.

Paid a visit to Hie shrine with Mizuho and her kids the other day. Hie shrines have been built and rebuilt since the 15th century, by various rulers seeking to enshrine their guardian deities. This particular one -- "constructed in the Gongen-Zukuri style with vermilion-lacquered finishings" -- was built in 1958 (replacing the previous Hie shrine which burned down during WWII, in 1945.) It's in Nagatacho 2-chome, west of the National Diet building, not far from the Imperial Palace.

The stairs we took back out to the main road (Sotobori ave., which separates Nagatacho from Akasaka, where Mizuho lives, and eventually runs into Roppongi dori) reminded me the Inari shrine outside Kyoto, the one famous for its 10,000 torii gates.

Hie shrine, July 2010
Inari shrine, December 2008

boy on a train

doing chores


Designer duds from Kiri No Hana
4-1-6 Roppongi, Minato-ku
The shirts are one-offs, each a patchwork of old kimono fabrics, the designer told me, and they are half price. I don't know too many men who could pull of this look, aside from Rupert Rucker (below, rockin' a strawberry print). Mr. Rucker, you have until July 22 to snap one of these up! That's the day the shop closes (for the summer? for good? not sure..)

Toy Story 3!

Might be the best movie I've seen in years.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Well Hello, Betty

Gaien-Nishi Dori, Jingumae

Pee Free

The boys are in all-day camp this week and next -- which is great, except for the fact that it brings me to Roppongi every morning and afternoon for drop off and pickup. Roppongi, except for the odd bright spots (Midtown, you get a pass, and Cavern Club, I still love ya), has got to be the most inconvenient, unpleasant, least pedestrian friendly part of town. But I was pleasantly surprised this morning to walk through an underground passageway -- the only way to get from one side of Roppongi to the other, at least where I was -- and NOT encounter a rank smell. It was positively odorless. The kind of tunnel that's supposed to be, almost by definition, urine-soaked and foul. Either nobody pees in public in Tokyo or city workers really scrub things down on a regular basis. Either way, I was impressed.

I still hate Roppongi though.

Except the movie theater at Roppongi Hills, of course.

Monday, July 5, 2010

a lovely gesture

We have new neighbors, a Japanese couple and their new baby girl, who looks to be about three weeks old. The wife rang our doorbell earlier this evening, said hello, gestured over to her own front door across the way and said something in Japanese, which I took to be along the lines of, we live over there now, and handed me a gift in a cute little 'Wa-Bi-Sa' shopping bag.

Accompanying her was the baby's grandmother, and she was carrying the little thing, with her black spiky hair, all swaddled in a pink blanket. Kawaii desu, I said (she's cute), thus giving the false impression that I could actually converse in Japanese. The women started chatting away and I shook my head and gave them my standard line, Nihongo sukoshi hanashimasu, gomen nasai (I only understand a little Japanese, so very sorry) but then managed to convey that I had futari otokonoko (two boys), and they were hachi-sai and kyu-sai (ages 8 and 9), and then I gave her our card with our names and phone numbers and she wrote their names and digits down on a scrap of paper for me. Hajimeimashite!

Inside the bag was a wrapped box; we removed the wrapping paper to reveal a box tied up with string; we untied the string, removed the lid on the box, and lifted the delicate layer of tissue paper to uncover six individually wrapped packages of "Kahoron" cookies, said to "combine finest European confectionery with Japanese ingredients." Here's a picture:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Miraikan, robots and the Gadget Cat from the Future

The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) out in Odaiba has an exhibit going on right now that begs the question: "Doraemon's magical gadgets -- can the current science and technology realize the dream?"

I think of Doraemon as the Winnie-the-Pooh of Japan, because he's this much beloved, ubiquitious illustrated character that started out as the star of a series of books (in D's case, manga) published a few decades back and is still going strong on TV, in movies, and as various forms of branded merchandise. I've posted about Doraemon before as my kids love the original series, which you can buy (translated into English) at Maruzen near Tokyo Station and Kinokuniya book store in Shinjuku and probably elsewhere...

Anyway, the exhibit. The museum website explains the objective: "We will introduce today's science and technology together with the world of dreams created by the magical gadgets such as the "Takecopter" and the "Invisible Cape." The exhibition can be enjoyed with the entire family and will teach you the importance of continuing to dream."

When we got in there, Terry wasn't too impressed -- he tells the kids that it's pointless to dream, because dreams don't come true (I'm kidding) -- but I kinda liked it and the kids loved it. Here's Dylan talking to some plants. "These plant-shaped robots predict the pauses of talk and nod accordingly"... They can't talk, but they nod as if they were saying 'I am listening to your conversation'..." a sign posted nearby explained.

And there's Conor comparing his height to that of the various robots whose inventors were apparently inspired in one way or another by Japan's Anime Ambassador. (Click here to read Lisa Katayama's post on that details Doraemon's best tricks.)
I recognized quite a few of the robots pictured (or even present) at the museum as I seem to have written about them all at one time or another, for Time mag's Best Inventions of the Year issue (back when I still freelanced for them... seems a lifetime ago). I seem to recall that most were designed to help the elderly or otherwise infirm. My favorite, though, was the crossing guard robot who had briefly managed the foot traffic outside a Tokyo elementary school. Reportedly, anyway. Someone had blogged about it or something. We put a stinger on the case (I was in New York at the time), but the article didn't run. I think it was because we couldn't get a good picture. That or the robot was a total gimmick (aren't they all?).

There are some really wacky robots here though. This is old news but I think this is one of the weirdest: Saya, the robot teacher. Read about the 18 motors hidden behind her latex face here.

I should look up old Saya, see if she's still standing in front of a blackboard somewhere...