Saturday, October 22, 2011

return to Ghibli

The boys have been off school this past week, and with no family travel plans, we've been hitting our favorite spots in and around Tokyo. On the Monday, it was the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. We've been to this place -- a wonderful homage to Hayao Miyazaki and his studio's animated works -- before, but that was a couple years ago, so it was nice to return for another view of the robot on the roof (a soldier from "Laputo: Castle in the Sky," see pic below). The kids were also happy to climb on the beloved cat bus (after queuing and being briefed by staff on the rules, of course), and throw plush soot sprites at each other. And who can ever get tired of looking at the zoetrope (spinning figures illuminated by strobe light as to appear animated) featuring characters from My Neighbor Totoro.

It's easy to combine a visit to Ghibli with a day out in Kichijoji. We took the Keio Inokashira express train from Shibuya so it took no time at all -- maybe 20 minutes -- and walked down Nanaibashi shopping street, a pleasant pedestrian friendly corridor, though we did not stop in any of the cute shops or cafes but instead bounded straight into Inokashira park.
Immediately, a sign to guide us

Get that chin up over that bar! Many thanks to Russell (straw hat) for getting us the Ghibli tickets. You have to buy them in advance, which you can do at any Lawson's convenient store; you're only admitted at your appointed time -- ours was 2pm -- but can stay until closing; the cost is 1000 yen for an adult, 400 yen per child. For more ticket info, click here.

The first thing you see when you reach the museum from the park side is a giant Totoro in a glass booth.

You have to climb a spiral staircase to reach the roof. A little girl we didn't know watched my friend's kid climb while my 9-year-old posed next to another fellow museum visitor whose boyfriend probably figured, might as well take it, these kids are never gonna get out of the picture!

Taking photographs is prohibited indoors, so it's amazing I was able to snap a sharp one, seeing as it was done on the sly, and with an iPhone, no less. (See Russell's cat bus pic, below, marred by haste and bad lighting. Sorry, R!)

This here cat bus -- a second one, big enough for adults to lounge in (no soot sprites to throw around, though) is part of a special exhibit going on right now. Read more about that on the museum's own website.

All in all a grand day out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

marvelous joe

My friend Anna took me to this wonderful little coffee shop on Aoyama dori, in a nondescript building just north of the Omotesando crossing, east side of the street. (I would tell you more precisely how to get there if I could read the address on the meishi.) The man making the coffee (above) is the proprietor, Dai-Bo. A fastidious gentleman, he seemed genuinely pleased to see my friend, who frequents the place and can speak Japanese well enough to maintain lively chitchat with both the kohi master himself and the other customers.

Upon entering I felt like I had been let in on one of the best kept secrets in Japan. There is such a love affair with coffee going on in this joint, such commitment to serving a high-quality cup -- even before we arrived, we caught the smell of beans roasting from the street.

The coffee was served in charmingly mismatched ceramic bowls that reminded me of my visit to Sicily, when my grandmother's cousin served us some really strong Italian brew with lots of hot milk in the same kind of bowl every morning for breakfast.

If you order the set, you get coffee and dessert. That day it was cheesecake. In typical Japanese fashion, it was only faintly sweet.

Dai-Bo's is a cozy space that stays open into the evening. Whiskey also available.

There's a long shelf of books that runs the perimeter of the place, just below the ceiling. When we asked about them, Dai-Bo pulled down a hardcover about jazz musicians written by one of his regular customers -- the one and only Haruki Murakami, who, before he achieved world fame as a writer, ran a jazz club in Tokyo. The author's autograph was scribbled on the inside cover (how cool!). Dai-Bo then took out his scrapbook to show us a yellowed copy of a newspaper article about his shop that ran in the New York Times travel section, complete with a photograph of himself, when he was much younger, with a head of thick dark hair.

Anna, leading me in.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

where you can stick it to the famous guy...?

spotted in Udagawa-cho near Shibuya station

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Smile, it's art!

Sculptures by Ugo Rondinone, outside the Yokohama museum of art, now through Nov. 6:

Altogether, there are 12 heads currently keeping watch outside the museum, part of the Yokohama Triennale 2011 exhibition, "Our Magic Hour: How Much of the World Can We Know?" I went to see this show the other day with three other moms from the British School ("A Spaniard, an American, a Brit and a Norwegian board a train...") and we all thought it was worthwhile, if a bit puzzling in parts (that's ahht, for me at least).

We took the Tokyu-Toyoko line from Shibuya to Minatomirai, a few stops past Yokohama (where you can switch from an express to a local train if you're not already on one) and the museum is a short walk from there. The 12 works that make up Rondinone's "Moonrise" series, according to Art Agenda, were modeled in brown clay, then cast in aluminum and lacquered to match the color of the original material. Their surfaces are finger-stroked, mottled, soft to the touch. We couldn't help but push gently into the surface grooves with our fingertips before noticing the sign saying keep off - oops.

The rest of the show was a bit hit or miss for me. My favorite video work was a short film by Romanian artist Mircea Cantor called "Tracking Happiness," featuring seven women dressed in white, walking barefoot in sand, each silently sweeping away the footprints left by the person in front of them. It's shot from various angles and there's a certain pattern to their movements. We were all a bit mesmerized by it. Apparently it's a commentary on "the creation and revision of history, and the state of information in the computer age." (Audio tours available in English or Japanese.)

We hopped on a free shuttle bus to get to the second venue, BankART Studio NYK, a.k.a. NYK waterfront warehouse, near the Bashamichi metro station (where we later caught our train back to Shibuya -- it's about a half hour's journey).

In one room inside the warehouse you could relax on one of a half dozen upholstered sofas and watch a bit of "The Clock" by Christian Marclay, a 24 hr.-long film comprised of thousands of video clips (it won the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Biennale). Each segment makes some reference, specifically or obliquely, to time - a snatch of dialogue here ("You're late," "It's five to two") a wordless action sequence there (a stressed-out cowboy gets up to go to a window and pull back the curtains). Next there's an Italian family sitting around a table talking and eating dinner, a grandfather clock tick-ticking nearby. And on and on it goes, a continuous string of non-sequiturs culled from a variety of movies and television programs, old and new, obscure and mainstream, dramatic, comedic, in English and other languages. It's a video clock, telling time minute by minute, only the museum can only show the 11 am to 6pm portion (the hours it opens to the public). Glenn Close, in a scene from the 1994 American movie The Paper, looks at her wristwatch and complains about the way her skin "bunches." Spider-Man's boss warns him that if he doesn't deliver those pizzas in 9 minutes, he's out of a job -- cut to a wall clock showing 1:51 pm, and it's 1:51 pm in real life! You get the idea. What an enormous undertaking this must have been, to find all that footage and put it in order, with the timing just right...

Tickets to the Triennale cost 1,600 yen per adult and cover admission to both venues. You need at least 90 minutes at each place if you like to take your time at these sorts of things. You can grab a bite to eat in the cafe at the Yokohama Museum of Art's own cafe (I had the egg salad and tomato sandwich) or take advantage of the many restaurants in the Landmark Tower or nearby Queen's Towers. For 1,000 yen you can ride the superfast elevator up to Landmark's 69th floor "Sky Garden" observatory. Here's the view overlooking the Minato Mirai Shinko district and Cosmo World amusement park, with its giant ferris wheel:

Yokohama Triennale 2011 runs through Sunday, Nov. 6. For information including some useful maps, click here. For more information about that whole area, see