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Archive for November, 2008

Today is a travel day, and a day off from sightseeing. It was beginning to get to me. I left the hotel before 10, got to the train station fairly quickly, then spent the next hour getting my train ticket and trying to find something to eat. Breakfast had been a banana and tea. I had plenty of time, which I needed, then the train at 12:11 took 45 minutes from Nagoya to Kyoto. I spent another hour at the tourist information office arranging for a hotel in Okayama. I have to leave Kyoto on December 1 and remain elsewhere for six nights. I still have to arrange for four more nights and I am undecided about where to go.

When I spoke to Robin earlier and mentioned I didn’t know what to do if I didn’t sightsee, she said, “Read a book.” Of course, great idea, but I didn’t have one. I spend most of my time reading about where I am going next. Haven’t read a book since I left home, and it’s not easy to find English language books here. While I was at the tourist office I asked about a bookstore that would carry such books. My query produced a map with English notations about things we might want, including bookstores. Great!

I took my suitcase to the hotel, sat and watched CNN and had a cup of tea, then went to the map area and began walking. A number of things on the map interested me: a fabric store, a paper store, and those bookstores. The paper store was not where the map showed it, but I happened on it anyway. It will get another visit before I leave Japan. The fabric store wasn’t very interesting. The bookstore was very satisfying. I spent a lot of time looking and finally settled on Khaled Hosseini’s second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Raja recommended it; her recommendations are always great.

I chose a place to eat that serves Okonomiyaki. I’ve decided I have to eat better than i’ve been doing. Okonomiya is a kind of fritatta. I’ve had tastes of some that were wonderful in department stores. Maybe I just ordered the wrong thing. Although they had an English menu it wasn’t really helpful. I chose something that was supposed to have mushrooms and corn. It did. What they didn’t say was it also had a mayonaise based sauce.

Two western women were standing outside the restaurant as I left. They asked me how it was and I hesitated. We started talking and found out we all had a Chicago connection. They chose a different place and I went with them and had coffee while they ate. One of the women is a food historian. Her website about her latest book is here. I wish I had thought of doing what she is doing while I was still working. It’s great. The other woman is living here and working as a missionary. She gave me some good suggestions about where to go to see more of Mt. Fuji. It was fun having a real American conversation.

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I am in Nagoya at the Hotel Wing International. The hotel is new; I have a nice room; the location is horrible. It’s only about 2 km. From the train station. The tourist information office told me to just take the subway two stops, get out at exit 6, and it’s a short walk. What they didn’t say, and probably don’t know, is there are about 50 steps up to ground level from exit 6, no elevator, and to cross the street you have to go over a pedestrian overpass, at least two stories high. I don’t know how many steps up and down that was, but I was exhausted when I finally got here. No guardian angel in disguise appeared to help me this time.

I was so happy to get connected again I spent about two hours on the computer and resting. I finally decided I hadn’t had enough exercise so I walked back to the train station. By this time it was dark and Nagoya was much more interesting looking than the gray overcast of the afternoon.

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Pachinko and slots, always the most over-the-top places

Pachinko and slots, always the most over-the-top places

Happy! Merry Christmas, from Matsuzakaya

Happy! Merry Christmas, from Matsuzakaya

Can anyone help me understand this?

Mode Hal Isen: Can anyone help me understand this?

Originally I planned to go to Ise for the day. I felt I hadn’t seen enough of it last year. But the weather forecast wasn’t promising so I looked at alternatives in Nagoya.. I began the day at the Osa Kannon “antiques” market. I think the most antique things I saw were some of the vendors. There were a lot of people selling kimonos, obis and fabric by the meter, more than I had seen in other antique markets. I was very tempted but wasn’t sure about bargaining. Nothing was really hugely attractive, or I would have figured it out. I tried to watch some of the transactions, but there weren’t very many. In fact there were many more vendors than buyers.

Osa Kannon Temple

Osa Kannon Temple

The Market

The Market

I finally watched the beginning of a transaction. Evidently the vendor knew the buyer and had called her about a vest, which was priced at 5000 yen, about 55 dollars. I don’t know what made it so expensive; it didn’t look like much to me, but it was probably an example of a special dying technique and may have been a real antique. The two women talked for a long time, with the vendor doing most of the talking and the buyer looking not too impressed. Either they were bargaining or the customer didn’t really want the item. I finally got tired of hanging around. After I had looked at everything I returned to find the vest still hanging up and the customer gone.

The vest

The vest

After the market I went to Atsuta Shrine. Nagoya PR called it the second largest shrine after Ise. It is home to one of the three Sacred Imperial Treasures, the sword. These treasures, the mirror of Ameratsu, held at Ise, and the comma shaped bead magatama, which may be at Izumo or at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, are presented to the emperor on his enthronement. I didn’t see the sword; there was no English on any of the signage and I couldn’t fine the treasure house. But there was this wonderful tree, making the visit amazingly satisfactory. I watched a number of people praying to the kami of the tree. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I have to admit to being totally awestruck by these trees.

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Roosters are also considered sacred and can often be seen at shrines.

Roosters are also considered sacred and can often be seen at shrines.

Near the shrine is the Shirotori Garden. Each time I visit a garden I’m sure it’s the best place I’ve ever visited. This was no exception. Unlike many of the other gardens, this one was opened in 1991. There are no huge trees, but the whole thing is beautifully planned and executed. It is a representation of the Kiso River and the Ontake Mountain with paths meandering along the riverbanks and a pond and fountains representing the sea and the tides. There is also a beautiful tea house.

They also use Yukizuri to protect the trees from snow.

They also use Yukizuri to protect the trees from snow.

There were lots of beautiful maples.

There were lots of beautiful maples.

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Waterfall coming from the mountain

Waterfall coming from the mountain

This was a day of clouds and sunshine, getting quite cold when the clouds prevailed. I was very cold as I neared the tea house and had decided to stop and warm up. A tall, older Japanese man with a fancy camera, approached me, talked about the cold weather and invited me to have coffee with him. He had been to the States twice, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York and spoke a little English. It was fun talking to him, although I’m not sure either of us fully understood what the other was saying. It was also very flattering. I can’t remember the last time any man tried to pick me up. Certainly not since I became a single woman eleven years ago. This didn’t go any further than the cup of coffee; maybe the next time will be a real pickup.

Teahouse

Teahouse

I wanted some place indoors after the garden so took the subway to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts outpost in Nagoya. This is the second time I found something from the MFA. They seem to be very active here. I know the museum has a huge collection of objects from China and Japan, and I think it’s interesting that they are being so active here. This exhibit was about the opening of Japan to American traders and diplomats in the nineteenth century, concentrating on Matthew Perry, the naval commander and Townsend Harris, the diplomat. I needed more English labeling to make me happy, but I found it interesting. A large part of the exhibit was comprised of many oil paintings by Wilhelm Heine, a German national, who traveled with the Perry as resident artist. His paintings, in black and shades of gray, depict Japanese scenes is such a totally western style it’s hard to see them as Japanese. Also, they are almost photographic. Why didn’t Perry take a photographer with him. Photography had been around thirty-some years by then.

Back to the station area, I found an almost adequate salad for dinner. I am getting very unhappy with the food. This happened to me last year, also. There are just not enough vegetables to satisfy me, at least in the prepared stuff.

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Jan, I had pizza for breakfast this morning. It’s not as good as having butter pecan ice cream, but for me it’s as far out. I left the hotel for the train station about 8:30 and spent almost a half hour looking at pictures and those plastic models, trying to find something I wanted to eat. I am certain I could get something decent if I spoke the language, people are very accommodating, but it’s really difficult deterrming what you are actually going to get from the images. An egg would have been a good thing, but eggs are often served raw.. I have to learn to say cook it. Bread is the Japanese version of Wonder Bread. For breakfast you can get a double thick slice toasted. Omelets look good but are served with some kind of brown sauce, lots of it. It’s not just on the models; I’ve seen it on the real thing. How do you say, “hold the goop?”

I’m on the train to Nagoya and wireless access, I hope, and thinking about Thanksgiving Day. It’s one of my favorite holidays and I can’t believe I’m missing it. As I write this it’s Wednesday night for you, and I will sleep through the holiday, making it a little easier. By the time you read this Thanksgiving will be finished. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday.

Friday is Robin and Steve’s anniversary. I wish them many more happy years.

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Just as the man at the tourist information office predicted, it was a beautiful day. I spent most of the morning at Kenrokuen Garden. This is why I came to Kanazawa, and it was worth it. A gorgeous garden made even more interesting by the yukizuri, the bamboo and rope structures erected each November to protect the trees from heavy snow. The only thing I didn’t see was the snow, for which I am half grateful and half sad. It would have made the garden more difficult to walk in, but it would have been exciting to see. There is no way I can show you everything in this garden. Here are a few of the highligts.

Huge, old pine tree. Four of those structures were holding its branches.

Huge, old pine tree. Four of those structures were holding its branches.

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Autumn leaves were still there

Autumn leaves were still there

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Kanazawa Castle is next to Kenrokuen. I walked through the garden but didn’t go into the castle. There were other things to see and I didn’t want to do more climbing. Castles always involve climbing. Looking for the bus stop I walked into Oyama Jinja Shrine, which had a wonderful garden. Much smaller than Kenrokuen, but complex and very interesting.

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With the help of a passerby, who knew I was lost, I got to Omi-cho Market. If gardens are my favorite places, markets have to be my second favorite. While gardens seem to be thriving here, I don’t know how long some of these markets will continue. I think supermarkets and other kinds of food stores have made deep inroads into how people shop for food. This market was primarily for fish. Kanazawa, being right near the Sea of Japan, gets a large share of fresh fish and seafood. Prices also seemed astronomical. Imagine paying $50 for a crab.

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Would you pay $50 for a crab?

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Soup with everything. The glove is used for selecting which things you want to buy.

Soup with everything. The glove is used for selecting which things you want to buy.

Vegetables to go with your fish.

Vegetables to go with your fish.

After lunch I went back to the hotel to get the computer in the vain hope I would find wireless access provided by the prefecture. It turned out they provided computers in the library, just as we do in many places. I am really addicted to having online access. I like being in contact with home, and I like the ease of obtaining information. I now have a long list of things I want to look up as soon as I reconnect. This has been a tough two days for me.

I got back on the bus and went to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s a huge place near the castle and Kenrokuen. There are a number of sculptures outside on the lawn and several galleries with “citizen art” showing work created by local artists. There was also a special exhibition, which I had already seen in New York.

art for participation

Table soccer: art for participation

Back to the bus I went to an area designated as having the homes of samurai. It was a nice place but no different than some parts of Kyoto.

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Kanazawa is an interesting city. Parts of it, especially the area around the bus terminal, are very 21st century. Much of it is still old. I think there is an interesting urban renewal story there. Another thing I want to look up.

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I am posting this from the hotel computer in Kanazawa. Come back tomorrow for photos and more.


For the next two weeks I will be traveling every few days, taking advantage of my railpass. I still haven’t decided whether it’s worthwhile. Right now I am sitting on the top deck of a double decker train going mostly north and somewhat west to Kanazawa, which is on the Sea of Japan. I’ll be staying two nights. Evidently it rains a lot there. It’s a beautiful day again here in Tokyo but there are gray clouds in the distance over the mountains. I would be happy if it snowed in Kanazawa. I am going to see a famous garden. It would be nice to see it with snow.

From the train window

From the train window

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I gave a lot of thought to trash disposal this morning. It’s very clean here. For the most part littering seems only to be accidental. Someone always seems to be cleaning, but much of the time they are just sweeping leaves. Unlike our cities there aren’t many trash disposal cans. I had an empty green tea bottle and a plastic bag I wanted to get rid of, which is why I started thing about it. There are places to recycle cans and bottles, usually placed near vending machines. I was finally able to get rid of my trash on the station platform.


An army of cleaning people met the train and collected trash from the passengers getting off. Then they boarded the train and spent about ten minutes cleaning and removing more trash. When they were finished they all got off at the same time, lined up and bowed to the passengers waiting to get on, and then left. I’ve never seen anyone clean our trains, and they look it.

There was a snow-covered mountain that looked like Mt. Fuji as we arrived at Takasaki, but looking at a map, I think Fuji is too far away. But just imagine living where you could see Fuji whenever it came out of the clouds.


The other thing I’ve been thinking about are those little girl dresses I saw at Harajuku. Tokyo Five, in a comment, called them goth-lolita. I didn’t know the name, but I find them very disturbing. Japanese women have come a long way since I first came here. I remember one of the women who was working for the company Richard was negotiating with. She was lovely and smart and also made good coffee. But I was appalled when her voice rose an octave as she answered the phone. And under certain other circumstances the little girl persona would come out again. I thought they were finished with it. Women look and act competently today. I’ve seen them doing many of the things men do and I’ve even seen many women tourists carrying serious cameras and taking serious pictures. I am delighted for them and disgusted that the fashionistas are bringing back the little girl-women.


Going to Kanazawa involved a change of trains. I was on the first one, a shinkansen, for about an hour. Now I am on a slower train for almost four hours, but it’s in the mountains and just beautiful. I am content to ride this train just to look. Now we have mountains on the left, and what has to be the Sea of Japan on the right. I’m seated on the left, but the train is relatively empty and I’ve felt free to move. We have also been going through a lot of tunnels. Too bad; I’ll never know what I am missing.


Again, I have so many questions: are the flooded fields rice fields? How do you grow rice when it snows? I suppose you do. I have to find out about it. I think we grow rice only in warmer areas. I saw some snow here tucked away in obvious shady spots. I just spotted what looked like an escalator going up a mountain; another thing I’ll never know about. Maybe, if I can figure out what stop we were at, I can find something. Stop after is Uozu. When I search online here I often get lots of Japanese entries even though I’ve told Google I want English. It knows I’m in Japan.


We are about 45 minutes from Kanazawa, stopping at Toyama, and the sky has become gray with only little bits of sun peeking through. No snow; except on the mountains. The sun was shining when I got to Kanazawa; it was raining by the time I walked to the hotel, but it’s warmer than it was in Tokyo. I have one of the nicer rooms I’ve been in, but no internet access. So you may not be reading this until I get to Nagoya on Thursday.

Outside Kanazawa Station

Outside Kanazawa Station

The entrance is a futuristic temple gate.

The entrance is a futuristic temple gate.

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My beautiful weather ended; although the weather bug thing on the computer told me it would be nice today. Not the first time it’s been completely wrong. I left my cave dressed for this warm weather and immediately returned for more clothing. Stupidly, I did not take an umbrella; after all, the sun was shining.

I had already decided I would go to the Kabuki today. Performances can last about four hours, with intermissions for food. You can also opt to see only one or two acts. Tickets are very cheap and you sit up in the sky. At ten o’clock the line had already formed for the first tickets that go on sale at 10:30. I got my ticket, climbed to the fourth level very quickly (for me) and got a seat. They will sell more tickets than there are seats and people stand. Then I got the English translator that whispered in my ear, a bottle of green tea, and I was ready.

The story is complicated and having opted for only one performance I never saw the whole thing. That’s not the point anyway. It’s more that the scenes and the movements are beautiful. I did this last year, also. I can’t say I really appreciate it as an art form, but it is intimately connected with those woodblock prints I love so much. I feel like I should know much more about it.

There was a man standing behind me who yelled things at the end of some of the vignettes. Maybe this was akin to “Bravo.” Another thing I’ll never know.

The Kabuki theater is in the Ginza district. After the show I walked down the Ginza, which was closed to traffic today, I think because it is a holiday. The stores are filled with Christmas stuff, decorations and merchandise. It’s a big holiday here, where there is no Christ in Christmas. I don’t remember the percentage of Christians, but I know it’s not very large. There actually weren’t very many people on the street, considering how crowded most events can be. I don’t know if it was the weather, or the economy. It started to rain as I walked. I went into Mitsukoshi and bought some bread in the Johan section. I don’t know who Johan is, never met him when I was in Paris, but he makes better bread than most places.

My next stop was the Paperium at Itoya where I got the paper to bind my book last year. Things change, and seldom for the better. I wasn’t serious about buying more paper. I still have five days of travel before I return to Kyoto and I didn’t want to carry it, but they no longer have those lovely papers. They are only carrying printed papers. The beautiful textured sheets are gone.

I began to feel cold drops of rain and started walking to the train station. Next to it is a place called Muji, the Japanese Ikea, only a more manageable size. If I lived here, I would buy all of my home furnishings from them. I had trouble finding the entrance to the train station and walked in to the International Forum to get out of the rain. It’s a huge building with exhibition halls, meeting rooms and passages to several train and subway stations and other buildings in the area. I was able to stay dry until I left Ueno Station to walk back to the hotel.

I stayed in the hotel the rest of the afternoon working on the last post. Putting in all of the pictures takes a long time. I went out for dinner to an Indian place around the corner. It’s the closest to the hotel, but I’m happy I won’t have to do that again.

Now I am sitting on my futon listening to the raindrops hitting something hard outside—a veritable symphony of drips. And it is time to pack. Tomorrow I leave Tokyo for Kanazawa.

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Amazingly warm and beautiful day. I’m just rubbing it in for all my Pittsburgh and Chicago friends. And even Kentucky had snow. I picked a good year to be away.

Today I planned to go to a flea market. Things never seem to work out for me as planned, at least not here. Have you noticed that? I read that Togo shrine had a flea market on the fourth Sunday of the month. I counted, and this seemed like the fourth Sunday. Togo shrine was obviously set up for some kind of an affair but certainly not a flea market. However, the garden was lovely, In order to get there I walked through one of those streets where young people gather to show off their costumes. Fortunately it was early and not too crowded.

Garden at Togo Shrine

Garden at Togo Shrine

Fashion in Harajuku

Fashion in Harajuku

Before it got crowded

Before it got crowded

Meiji shrine is nearby, so I decided to go there, hoping maybe they would have a market. Years ago, when I was in Tokyo the first time I bought the cat, whose picture is here, at a flea market in Tokyo. I thought it was at one of these shrines, but I can’t say I recognized either place.

Meiji Shrine was filled with people, tourists and Japanese worshipers bringing beautifully dressed children, and lots of other people. There were also many wedding processions; about one every half hour. Each time the procession had to pass lines of paparazzi. I kept wondering how I would feel if I had to have my picture taken by so many strangers.

Bride and groom

Bride and groom

Another bride and groom

Another bride and groom

Bridal party

Bridal party

This is the labor thanksgiving holiday. The shrine had many displays of fruit and vegetables and some manufactured goods, like packaged food, tea and rice. It made me think this was really a harvest festival.

Vegetable boat

Vegetable boat

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I had a lot of questions about what I saw today, and I got answers from an American living here in Tokyo who recently commented on my blog. He keeps a blog called Tokyo Five, which has lots of explanations about Japanese culture. I’m quoting my questions and his answers. I’m really delighted to have a source of information about some of the mysteries of Japan

>I kept wondering how I would feel if I had to have my picture taken by so many strangers.

When people decide to have their wedding, “shichi-go-san”, etc. at a popular shrine like the “Meiji Grand Shrine”, they know there will be people photographing them.

> Were these displays of food part of the holiday?

As you guessed, it was a “Harvest Festival”. Every year on kinrou-kansha-no-hi(Labor Gratitude Day), the Meiji-Jinguu(Meiji Grand Shrine) has a harvest festival. This is because Nov 23 used to be a harvest festival holiday in Japan…it was changed to the current labor day after WW2, but Meiji Shrine still celebrates the harvest festival.

> Were these things donated to the shrine, or were they just on display?

Donated from local farmers, I believe.

> Was this a special day for weddings, or does this go on all the time?

Well, Meiji Shrine is always popular for weddings…but weekends (especially 3-day weekends like this one) are more popular. Even more popular are days on the Shinto calendar that are considered lucky.

> What were the children doing there?

November 15 is a holiday called “Shichi-Go-San” (7-5-3). It’s for girls aged 3 & 7 and boys aged 5. Parents bring kids those ages to a shrine for a blessing ceremony.
The holiday is officially Nov 15…but the shrines will do the ceremony anytime in Oct and Nov.

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Grandmother and grandchild sharing

Grandmother and grandchild sharing

Sometimes it's just too much

Sometimes it's just too much

>They all seemed to have ribbons holding a medal around their necks after they left the shrine.

Yes, every shrine gives a special bag of candy (I’m sure they had that too) and Meiji Shrine gives that special medal as well. (I took my kids to a smaller shrine when they were 3 and 7. So I’ve never actually seen the medal from Meiji Shrine…only heard of it).

Candy and medals

Candy and medals

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I didn’t have the picture downloaded when I sent him the questions. I’m hoping he’ll have an answer for this also. Only one display had them, but it had a number of them. I’ve never seen anything like it before. I assume it is food, possible some kind of squash, but that’s just a guess.

I walked through the Inner garden before I left the shrine precinct, but it was a disappointment. It’s pretty much just a forest with a few cultivated areas and a couple of tea houses. It wasn’t enough for me that I was walking where the last Emperor Meiji may have walked.

Back at the Harajuku train station I found a tiny ledge to perch on and took some pictures, below. Tokyo Five has photos and videos of the kids and something I missed: rock-a-billy bands playing in Yoyogi Park.

Harajuku train station, where they come pouring in

Harajuku train station, where they come pouring in

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Still pouring in at the station

Still pouring in at the station

Those fashions are for sale

Those fashions are for sale

Going home

Going home

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