Thursday, May 26, 2011


I discovered this website when somebody who calls himself Goemon commented on my "Super Cool Biz" post and included a link about chilled undergarments:

Tofugu. It's fun, it's light, it's a mixed bag of observations about Japanese culture, plus jokey advice on learning the language. While digging around in the archives, I came upon this little gem, about a Holographic Vocaloid Rock Star (filed under In Japan/Characters). Particularly handy: Japanese Cheatsheet for Travelers.

I love the Tofugu name and the logo and -- what do you call that? a brand icon? -- the blowfish (i.e. fugu) shaped like a soy protein square (the tofu). So very kawaii. I want to be a brand too. I want a cutesy cartoon character to represent my blog. Better come up with a better name for it then, huh. Somebody out there with a marketing background: help!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cooler than Cool Biz: Super Cool Biz

Sandra Barron's latest piece in Japan Pulse gives the lowdown on local setsuden (energy-saving) measures that, she writes, are at once an attempt to stave off power reductions and a taste of what they would entail.

One example: employees of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Ministry of Environment will be permitted to wear jeans (without rips or holes), T-shirts (solid colors only) and Hawaiian shirts to work as part of its own campaign, which kicks off June 1 and aims to reduce peak usage during summer by 15%. Hopefully private companies to follow its lead (Tokyo and the rest of the Kanto region is serviced by TEPCO).

"Where last year the most that a hot-under-the-collar salaryman could get away with was ditching the coat and tie, this year he can lose the collar altogether," Barron writes.

I hope for my husband's sake that his employer is similarly inspired to at least allow the T-shirts, if not the cabana-wear. He can always try the Tsumetai backpack, from, as seen in TimeOutTokyo (yes those are ice packs and I believe they're meant to be positioned between your shoulder blades):

There's also a USB necktie cooler from Thanko -- an awful looking tie with fan hidden behind the knot. Only 3,000 yen!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Who wants to grow one on MY balcony?

A woman checks the growth of goya and "togan" winter melons on a green curtain at her home in Kasugai, Aichi Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Japan's largest daily newspaper reported today that nonprofit groups and local governments, in order to encourage more businesses and households to conserve energy, are distributing free vine seeds and plants for growing natural sun shades for windows and exterior walls. These 'green curtains' are not a new concept, but recent events (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear disaster, power shortages) appear to have heightened interest. (It gets beastly hot here in the summer, and it has become, shall we say, unfashionable to blast the aircon.)

As a testament to the effectiveness of the practice, toilet manufacturer TOTO Ltd. reports that its own swath of "goya" (bitter gourd), "hechima" (sponge cucumber) and morning glories planted outside its Oita plant helped reduce indoor temperatures by an average 2 degrees and at times as much as 5 degrees last year. Not bad, I say -- not bad at all.

Read the Asahi Shimbun article online here.

photoElementary schoolchildren in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, harvest gourds and goya from a green curtain covering their school last fall. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

photoForeign ministers from Latin American countries study a green curtain covering a wall at the ward office building in Tokyo's Suginami Ward in September 2010. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

first impressions

On Jan. 12, 2008, I sent the following in an email to myself, probably intending to post it on this blog, but apparently never got around to it. (I came across it while attempting to clear out my gmail inbox -- which is currently holding more than 8,600 messages, the oldest one dated March 13, 2006...!)


In T's office it is acceptable to nap at your desk. It's okay to nap
anywhere, really. Taxi drivers nap in their cars; I've seem some
people asleep on the bus and on the subway. As long as you remain
sitting up or standing, it is socially acceptable to snooze.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

combini, open for business


Take a look at this 7-Eleven operating in Minami Sanriku, a former charming resort town on a coastline of wooded islands and mountainous inlets (wikipedia) in Miyagi Prefecture that was obliterated by the recent earthquake-tsunami. (ABC News reported shortly after 3/11 that 10,000 of the town's 17,000-plus residents were lost and 95% of the town's buildings were destroyed.)

Some folks I follow on Twitter (TokyoReporter, SandraJapandra) were tweeting/retweeting about this on May 12, but I'm not sure of the date of the photograph. Click here to get to the page where a short video clip is posted on the Asahi Shimbun (Japan's largest daily newspaper)'s website. The article is in Japanese but the footage speaks for itself. Our neighbor, who recently spent a week in Ishinomaki clearing debris, shoveling mud and so on, told us he saw several vendors setting up shop out of the backs of tiny trucks, selling sustenance to the teams of volunteers. I will be posting more about his experience soon.

Update, 18 May: I had my husband ask someone in his office to translate the article for me and here's the gist: The 7-Eleven store's clerk, after making sure his family and employees' families were OK, decided to reopen using cardboard signs and a refrigeration truck. He has promised to rebuild there.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


The 'My Japan' exhibition ends Saturday!

It's a charitable fundraiser going on at Studio Lily, a lovely little photo gallery right in my neighborhood.

3-5-25 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku
(it's down a sidestreet off Komzawa dori, not far from Roppongi dori or Niseki dori)

Time Out Tokyo wrote a little item about it this week and provides a map to help you find the place.

Read more about the project on the official website here, or on the My Japan Facebook page.

If you buy a mounted print of one of these fabulous photos, all proceeds go straight to JEN, an NGO working to help clean up some of the hardest hit areas up north. (According to the organization's blog, volunteers are concentrating efforts in Ishinomaki at the moment, removing sludge and clearing debris, among other arduous tasks.)

The "Top 50 Voted by You" album is also on Facebook. Click here to view.

I ordered this one, by E K Snowden
The image is also posted on the My Japan website, along with several others that didn't make the top 50 but are still well worth a look. Go to
(my pick, above, is on the Outdoor/Nature2 page)

As I said, lots of great stuff. Like this one by Alfie Goodrich, part of his Shibuya in the Snow series, posted here on

This shot is the star of the studio show.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

retail therapy

I have been meaning to buy a gas burner for our table so that we can have proper shabu shabu (boiled meats and veg) at home for the longest time. Better late than never...

Tonight we ate our first dinner cooked using our new portable flame. Drop sliced pork into the pot of broth, fish it out a minute later, dip in ponzu or sesame sauce and eat. Yum. (I flavored the water with a little soy sauce... no dashi in the house... surely there are other better ideas out there... must research.)

All directions for hooking up the gas canister were in Japanese, yet somehow I managed not to blow up the joint.

I have my friend Katy H. to thank for this. It was she who suggested this week that we go to Kappabashi, a.k.a. Kitchenware Town, which is chock full of restaurant-supply stores selling everything and anything to cook and eat with. I've been there a few times before but always on a different mission. Giant lacquered salad bowl, check. Pack of 100 paper placemats, check. Random assortment of tiny plates from sales basket outside the pottery shop, check. Fake gyoza fridge magnet from the plastic food sample store, check...

This time I would also be investing in another fancy knife from Kamata.

The friendly salesman oiled it for me before taking my money.
My pick: 4th from the right. Pretty bad-ass, no?

Katy bought this paper lantern (adorned with the three characters that spell out the phrase eigyo chu, as in, we're open for business, come in and we'll give you a menu). I told her to hang it next to her side of the bed. (Naw she di-int...)

"Kappa" sprite (Japanese mythical sea creature) for which the 'hood is named.

high alert

I tell everybody who asks that life is "pretty much back to normal" here in Tokyo, except for the fact that I am almost constantly wondering when the earth is going to start shaking again and with how much force, and will it be enough to topple the fish tank?

I think about these things almost constantly as I walk the city streets, taking kids to/from school and running errands and going about my usual business. It's spring, we're all healthy, life is relatively good where we are, radiation scares have subsided (at least they're off the front page) and yet I can't help feeling like some giant thing is about to happen. Any moment. That nobody can control, or even predict with any accuracy. It's a strange way to live. I wouldn't say I'm on 'high alert' but I am hyper-aware. Conscious of the peace and quiet. It all seems so, I dunno, misleading. I'll think, hey, listen to that hush and calm here in the supermarket or on the sidewalk outside the coffee shop (have I mentioned how relatively subdued Tokyo as a city was even before 3/11? no shouting or honking horns, the hustle and bustle almost on mute). I'll be walking here, or headed there, on a bus with the boys or in a yoga class (failing yet again to manage "crow" but doing one heck of a headstand) or puttering around the house or taking the recycling out and I just think, any time now...

The other day, as I approached the four-way pedestrian bridge that is Shibuya-bashi, the intersection of Komozawa and Meiji streets near Ebisu station and down the hill from our building, I thought about the freaky bounce of those elevated walkways whenever my kids scamper across them (an engineering marvel, really) and then wondered what it would take to make them snap.

Experts say there's an 87% percent chance that a quake of magnitude-8.0 or higher will hit the Tokai region (in Central Honshu west of Tokyo) sometime in the next 30 years. So I'm not talking the crazy talk. Not really.

Shibuya-bashi pedestrian bridge in Ebisu/Hiroo, Shibuya-ku, on a beautiful spring day in May

Monday, May 9, 2011

for serious collectors

Astronaut Barbie, available now at Kiddyland

Many thanks to Tara for sharing this little treasure..

Friday, May 6, 2011

something fun to follow on Twitter

Harajuku, Japan
Daily Japanese fashion news and Tokyo street fashion pictures from Harajuku, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and other areas.

sample tweet:

Photo: Lady Gaga Girls of Harajuku - 4 Japanese Little Monsters I met in Tokyo yesterday!
4 May