Sunday, 30 August 2009
It is my last night tonight and was a lovely one with Neil's work colleague, Asako, coming round for dinner. Neil cooked us a lovely meal (still a novelty for a bloke to cook dinner in Japan, but very nice) and Asako brought some interesting bubbly sake and a lovely handpainted tea set as a house warming present. Off to bed now x.
Friday, 28 August 2009
Well, I really feel like I am winding down to leaving Tokyo now and it feels a bit too soon - I'm just getting into the swing of things. I went to the gym again today (went to yoga yesterday with Dale the Aussie bloke) but no sign of sveltness yet. I am getting to know the faces of people in the yoga class, and of the coffee guy I get an iced latte from on my way home. He has a set up in an old VW-type van and sits huddled in there, making coffees all day with music blaring out. He even knows what I want now, and has given me a points card (7th coffee free!) which is always a good sign that you are starting to fit in. I had to return our neighbour's wine carafe to them earlier (as you do!) and she gave us a big bag of beautiful grapes - so sweet of her. The grapes here seem to be either really tiny, or really massive - almost like plums - and you have to peel them as the skins are quite tough. But they are very juicy inside. I also met one of our neighbours on the ground floor. She is French and she and her husband moved in two weeks ago so even newer than us. She was v friendly and has suggested we meet up when I am back in October. Neil and I went out to a local restaurant tonight and decided to be brave and try a place with a completely Japanese menu - ie we couldn't understand anything on it. It is called Aguri Meguri and we liked the look of the place, so decided to give it a go. The guys there were very accommodating and even though they couldn't understand English, worked out we needed an English menu and printed one out from online. The food was great and we washed it down with beer, and then went on to a buzzing place called Frames for cocktails and pudding. Then, to round it off we sauntered to the local coffee guy - another one selling from a vehicle, this time a 2CV. See photo. Wonderful coffee!
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
I've been doing a lot of fabric research in the last two days. I went to a fab shop yesterday in Shinjuku, recommended by Joy. She met me at the station, which is a good thing as it's one of the busiest in the world and pretty scarey to find yourself around in. I was even proud of the fact that I managed to find the right exit! We had lunch at Starbucks and then we headed to the heaven that is Okadaya - seven floors of every kind of crafty thing you can imagine. Not everyone's cup of tea, of course! They had a floor just of buttons, another of all kinds of wool, embroidery threads, leather, ribbons, appliques, beads and even one floor dedicated to making bras! I was drooling as we trotted from floor to floor and will definitely be heading back to load up my basket. Suzy and Lisa took me fabric shopping today, to an area where there are hundreds of fabric shops. We spent hours trawling through each one. I may need to expand my office onto the balcony to allow for all the extra stuff!
Monday, 24 August 2009
The weekend was nice and relaxed, and a bit sad as we realised it was my last full weekend until I headed back to England! I can't believe how quickly it's gone and we've done so many fab things. On saturday night we had our neighbour Brian round for spag bol. He brought the wine - has been living in Aus for the past two years and has a great stash of Aus and NZ wine that he shipped over with him. His wife and kids were visiting her parents in southern Japan (she's Japanese), so we thought it would be nice to meet him and have him round. He is English, but hasn't lived there for 16 years! It was a lovely evening, finished off with way too many yummy sweet things. On sunday we headed off on our bikes to go to an embroidery exhibition that was nearby - Neil was very patient as it's not every blokes cup of tea! The museum was at the Teien Art Museum, which is in an Art Deco house. It was built in 1933 and still has a lot of its original features which set off the exhibition really well. After a wander round the gardens, we headed home. It was a gorgeous balmy evening on sunday, and seemed much cooler than it has been for a while, so we decided to head out and have a drink at our local Mexican bar and perused the menus of local restaurants en route to find somewhere nice to eat next friday. Most of the menus still completely befuddle us but, as Brian said, we just have to be brave and go in, and most of the waiters are pretty helpful. As we said, we haven't had a bad food experience yet!
Saturday, 22 August 2009
After I had met up with Joy, I had a bit of time to kill before meeting Neil to go to the gym (god we're good!), so decided to head to the lovely 21-21 design sight gallery at Tokyo Midtown, a cultural centre designed by Issey Miyake and Tadao Ando. The exhibition was all about bones - skeletons of animals, but also of mechanical objects and how they are the core elements of a design. It was beautifully presented and I spent an hour taking it all in. I even managed to be brave and take a photo of a larger-than-life "spider", before the security guard told me off - all done in a very polite way, of course. The artist had designed it to look like the imagined skeleton of a spider.
Yesterday I met up for coffee with Joy, one of the knitting ladies I met the other night. She kindly said she would teach me a new stitch - purl - so I met her at the Starbucks at Ark Hills for a coffee and a knit, as you do! Not sure what the other people around us thought, but then there are always strange things going on here. The woman opposite us, smartly dressed, was having a quiet snooze! Joy was very patient with me as I sat there, tongue out and heavy concentration, as my claw hands formed the first few new stitches. I now know how to purl and the "scarf" has come on leaps and bounds, if a tad wobbly at the sides. See pic.
PS I think Neil is getting a bit worried about my knitting addiction!
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Well, I went to my first Stitch and Bitch last night! I found it through a meet up website, that organises loads of different events around Tokyo, and this one popped out at me. I have always wanted to learn to knit and this seemed like a perfect way to learn something new and meet some new people at the same time. The first hurdle was to find some knitting needles and wool! I googled knitting shops in Tokyo and few came up, including the fab Tokyo Hands Store - a mecca for anyone wanting anything. Anything you can think of, they have, on 6 floors and a rabbit warren of different departments. I could have foraged there all day, but that can be done on another day - heh heh! I got what I wanted and then, with map in hand, trotted to Respekt, the cafe where the meeting had been set up. I was quite nervous and didn't know what to expect, but as soon as I got there, met two English women (Joy and Suzy) and an American woman (Christen), all with bags of knitting and sewing at the ready! Others arrived soon after me - Japanese, Americans and English, and after introducing ourselves, having a great natter, good food ... and some wine... we got down to knitting. Joy started me off and after a v slow start, and lots of help, I managed to knit my first line, and then two! It was a fab night and I am hoping to keep in touch with some of them and head to the next meeting. Hopefully by then I may have the beginnings of a scarf - a bit wobbly and with holes in - but a scarf nonetheless. I may even have it ready for winter! Watch this space....
Monday, 17 August 2009
I have seen this guy and his poodle a few times since we have moved here, strutting around the neighbourhood like a pair of peacocks, both as preened as each other! Yesterday, they were taking in the surroundings at the local cafe. Pooch obviously likes to sit high and enjoy the view! I have just discovered a fab poochie gadget called the "bowlingual voice dog translator", a gadget that allows you and your dog to get closer to conversing (need one of those for my Japanese!). I have also discovered a local meeting up group called Save the Kitty. Would I look weird if I joined without owning a cat?!
Sunday, 16 August 2009
Well, we didn't get to bed til about 2 this morning, after waving Keiko off on a wobbly journey home on her bike! My head was hurting today! We took it easy, went for a wander locally and lazed about. This afternoon, Neil took me for afternoon tea at the Mandarin Oriental hotel! It was bloomin' gorgeous and we had a window seat on the 38th floor looking over Tokyo, as we were fed endless courses of mini sandwiches, scones and dainty cakes, all washed down by an endless supply of flavoured teas from around the world. Definitely the antidote to a hurting head!
Saturday was a gorgeously hot, sunny day and after doing food shopping in our local supermarket, we decided to head out to Shimokitzawa to check it out. It is only four stops on the Keio Inokashira line and has a great laid back feel to it with tiny roads to meander down and take in. There are loads of independent cafes and bars, shops selling vintage clothes and furniture, as well as the 100 yen shops - just like the pound stores in England! It was great to spend a few hours there and we are thinking of heading back there for brunch some time, to try out some of the cafes. Saturday evening was fun as we had our first guest round for dinner - miss Keiko! She brought a gorgeous chocolate cake with her, welcoming us to Japan. We had a fab time, and it was even cool enough to sit out on the balcony, but we drank too much wine and my head was hurting today!
We spent friday pootling about and decided to get the ferry up the river to the Senso-ji temple. It was another hot day and nice to be out on the water, where there was a slight breeze. The views from the boat weren't as outstanding as we expected, and most of the buildings were residential, but it was nice to see people getting on with everyday life though - jogging, walking and generally hanging out. We were pretty hungry when we got to Asakusa, and headed to a sweet little restaurant that we found in the Rough Guide. It is a very touristy area, with the temple being one of the most popular in Tokyo, so it was good to find a place off the beaten track, Gallery ef where we could hide away. It was in an old warehouse that was built in 1868, made of wood, without nails, and the walls were lime and flax. It had survived earthquakes and the war and was now an art gallery and music space. We then braved the crowds at the temple and spent a little time taking it all in before heading back on the boat, tired and weary, with our heads lolling as we snoozed. We are becoming like the Japanese who manage to sleep anywhere! From there we went to the Tokyo American club for our first workout and then a fab burger and fries in one of their restaurants.
Thursday, 13 August 2009
I LOVE the area we live in! And it really comes alive at night time with gorgeous little boutiques, restaurants and bars all lit up in the steamy evening light, flanking the Meguro river. Each building is unique and so tastefully designed, and there are going to be endless places to try out. We headed out at about 7pm for drinks at a lounge bar I had seen a few times on passing and wanted to try out. It is on the banks of the river and has a restaurant downstairs and a bar upstairs - all v tastefully done in old dark wood and vintage black leather chairs. After a rather expensive beer and our first successful attempt at asking for the bill in Japanese, we headed on to a place that serves shabu-shabu and similar dishes - basically cook your own food. It was in a simple restaurant, where even the chopsticks stands were simple, yet effective. They were basically made of an un-shelled peanut! We chose tomato nabe - a spicey, stew-like broth with lots of veggies floating in it. Each table has a tube-like air vent above it and they bring you a big stew pot which bubbles on a mini stove next to you, and you ladle it into bowls as you want it. Washed down with sake, it was the best combination!
There is a national holiday going on in Japan this week, where most people get wed, thurs and fri off work. A lot of people seem to leave the city to see family and escape the heat! Yesterday Neil and I decided to head to Ueno Park, which seems to be the Central Park, or Regents Park equivalent in Tokyo. It was another steaming hot day and the cicadas seemed to be chirping even louder than normal, sometimes it builds to a crescendo. We got the subway to the park (even the trains have blinds to block out the heat - thus making it even harder to know what station we were at!). It was great to get to the relative calmness of the park and walk along tree-covered paths, taking in the sights and people-watching. I decided to get like the locals and take my "parasol" for cover - just a brolly, but so needed in the heat. There are several museums (as well as temples, and a zoo) in the park and we decided to head to the Tokyo National Museum to dip into it's permanent collection, which was very inspiring. After a fab lunch of tempura prawns and rice in their restaurant, and a flavoured ice from a local street vendor, we pootled around the nearby streets of the Yanaka District. This area survived major earthquakes and WW2 bombings and consists of narrow roads with tightly packed houses. Nearly every one found room for an arrangement of beautifully kept foliage in the area outside their front doors - like most homes in Tokyo. Very pleasing!
We then decided to head to the Tokyo American club, to get me signed up and to have a cold beer in their bar. Who would have thought I would have become a member of a "club"! I now have my own membership card with a rather fetching photo of me sweaty-faced and ruddy after walking up the hill to get there - goodo!
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
First of all, we had another earthquake last night! I woke up in the middle of the night and thought I was dreaming about it, and then suddenly realised that the bedroom was shaking! I heard from Keiko and she said that she had to hold onto her bookshelf in case it toppled over! She also said that it was a pretty long one, so now we have something to guage it on. Apparently the one on sunday was pretty big too. Hopefully this won't be too much of a regular thing!
Today I decided to try out my first yoga class at a local place called Yoga-Jaya. I was a bit nervous about it as I haven't done yoga for about a year, but it was fab and just what I needed. It was great to stretch the muscles, but also good to get out and meet new people, and I have decided to make it a regular thing. I have a feeling the body will be in shock tomorrow!
This afternoon I went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and saw two interesting exhibitions - one was mostly lithographs and watercolours by a french artist in the late 1800s (see image above) and the other was a collection of photographs by different Japanese photographers with the common theme being travel. Both exhibitions were inspiring and have encouraged me to get the sketchbook out.
Monday, 10 August 2009
On friday I wrote about the typhoon alert. Apart from heavy rain and a bit of thunder, it didn't seem to materialise. This morning we had more very heavy rain and Neil had to head off with semi-waterproofs on. But the most exciting/scarey thing was that last night we experienced our first earthquake!!!!!!! It was in the evening, and we were sitting relaxing on the sofa. At first I thought Neil was shaking his foot and making the sofa rock and then, just as I was asking him if he was shaking his foot, we realised that the whole apartment was shaking!!!!!! It was such a strange sensation and we didn't really know what to do with ourselves. We just sat there until it passed, feeling pretty "shaken up". We just had to laugh about it as it was such a surreal experience...
On sunday we went to Rikugi-en, a quintessential Japanese-style "stroll" garden for a stroll. It was a boiling day, but lovely to be somewhere so green and tranquil. There are lots of paths to meander down, with hidden arbours in sun-dappled glades and a central lake surrounded by manicured lawns. As a contrast to the serenity, there are the killer Koi and terrapins that rush like torpedos at any sign of food! We were kindly offered some bread pieces to feed the fish by a man and his little boy, and it was gone within seconds.
After quite a hard day on friday - of feeling a bit lonely - the weekend was fun and it was great to have Neil around and to spend the time pottering around together. On saturday we spent quite a bit of time in the morning buying more things for the apartment - there seems to be an endless stream of things we need. In the afternoon we went to the Tokyo American Club as there was a Bon Odori festival on there. We are planning to become members of the club, so that we can use the gym etc, and Neil has to go along on tuesday for an interview! We're hoping he doesn't say the wrong thing and get blacklisted! Anyway, it was fun to trot along and there was a nice mixture of western and Japanese people there, with some Taiko drummers and kimono-dressed dancers performing. I have found a drumming class locally which strangely appeals - is it the massive drums, or the fetching outfits that draw me to it. It looks very satisfying to do!
Friday, 7 August 2009
Keiko invited me and Neil to go and see some fireworks last night. Sadly Neil couldn't make it, so I decided to go on my own. I met Keiko after work and after stocking up on some cans of beer, we pedaled off on our bikes. It was fab to be out and about with the wind in my hair (even though it was boiling hot and humid - note big red ruddy face in picture!) and great to be seeing more of the city. It is so vibrant and alive and we were racing through all these manic areas on our bikes. My main concern was keeping up with Keiko who obviously knows the streets like the back of her hand and was weaving through the crowds with great finesse. Most people cycle on the pavements here, which I found hard and had some near collisions with some pedestrians, while trying to keep an eye out for where Keiko was heading. We found a spot on a side road and set up camp with a load of other people who were waiting for the fireworks to begin. The beers and nibbles came out, and then the fireworks began. They were spectacular and lasted for a full hour! It turns out that they weren't for any specific celebration, the Japanese just like to let them off because they enjoy it. Apparently there will be more on the 22nd, so I will have to take Neil along to those. Some of Keiko's friends came and joined us, and they were all really nice. Afterwards we went back to Keiko's apartment and had coffee. She lives in a lovely place and a stones throw away from all the mayhem. I was worried about finding my way home alone, but Keiko showed me the way and I managed to cycle home on my own with no problem!
I worked with the lovely miss Keiko over ten years ago in New York and it was through facebook that I contacted her to let her know that I would be moving to Tokyo. It turns out that she works almost opposite where we live, so we decided to meet up for lunch in the local area. It was great to meet up and she still looks the same as she did ten years ago! She first took me to a gorgeous organic food stall which is only there every two weeks and held in the lobby of a lovely gourmet deli. It was already getting pretty busy when we got there and I could imagine things sell out pretty quickly. The vegetables are lovely and fresh and I have selected a few to experiment with. We then went on to a local french restaurant and had a slap up meal. Keiko had a curry and I had a pork dish - neither typically french, but very nice!
Thursday, 6 August 2009
Yesterday I went to Roppongi Hills to mooch around and go to the Mori Tower where there is an exhibition space on the 52nd floor. The view alone was stunning, and the exhibition was of work by a Chinese man called Ai Weiwei, who is from Beijing but lived in New York for 10 years during the 90s. His works range from sculpture and photography, to video and installations, with a lot of his work linking the past with the present. He uses typical Chinese materials like beautiful woods and ceramics, but often incorporates them with modern ideas.
I then trotted down to see Okuba-san, the lovely lady who helped us to find our flat. I needed to collect the spare key from her, but also wanted to give her a present from me and Neil to say thankyou for her help. I think I commited a faux pas, as I immediately went to shake her hand and kiss her cheek. I only realised this was probably the wrong thing to do in Japan, once the act was in motion and it was too late! I am sure she was in shock as she saw my grubby hand and sweaty cheek lurching towards her, poor love! Must learn some more etiquette!
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
The Japanese love their dogs and it seems that the smaller and more made up they are, the better! This is my first photo of some typical Tokyo dogs, but I am sure there are many more to come and I intend to make an album of the weird and wonderful ones. I have a feeling these ones were freshly out of the grooming parlour and their owners had set them up for a photo session in the local park. We have several grooming parlours around where we live and even a dog hotel - I'm intrigued to see inside it. Yesterday, I found myself at the Tokyo Midtown Building - a big glitzy shopping arcade - and there was a shop there dedicated to keeping your dog spruced to within an inch of it's life. This includes t-shirts, hair clips, toothpaste, organic pasta (?!) and, the ultimate in luxury, a buggy for your pooch! At the back of the shop was a grooming parlour where a long haired dacshund was happily standing on a plinth while a young woman gently styled his belly fur. The floor was covered in tufts of white hair, the aftermath of a scottie dog's trip to the salon. He was patiently waiting in a pen for his owner to collect him. Maybe I should start designing bags for dogs....
Quite a few people have asked to see photos of our apartment, so here are some of our living/dining room. As you can see, we have quite a lot of space - I am very tempted to do cartwheels down the corridor, but that could cause some serious damage! We are slowly getting used to it all. At first I kept losing Neil and wandering from room to room to find him. It's not surprising when you realise that our bedroom and ensuite bathroom alone are the size of my entire flat in Teddington! We are still getting used to the gadgets, or lack of. The other night we almost burnt the flat down as we don't have an electric kettle. We have one that goes on the hob, but no whistle. We put it on to make a cuppa, retired to the living room and promptly fell asleep! We woke up to see billowing smoke and a blackened kettle. It could have been a lot worse. Needless to say I trotted off, back to Labi to get us a slightly unusual electric kettle which slowly warms the water up and then keeps it warm for you....
Tuesday, 4 August 2009
Well, yesterday was my first day in the city on my own and I decided to be brave and head to Shibuya for some retail therapy. We still needed lots of things for the flat and I love a bit of a shopping spree. First stop was the electronics giant called Labi - five floors of every kind of electrical equipment you can think of. My main necessity was a plug extension so that we could start using the computer etc. Needless to say, my Japanese doesn't extend far beyond "Konichiwa" and the thought of sign language was too mind boggling, so I got out my pad and started drawing. It was a very simple sketch, but the sales assistant got it and I was on my way! This is the way to go! This morning I had to find a bike shop that could fix a punctured tyre, so the pad came out again and it worked! The bike is going in on thursday and will be fixed and ready to go for the weekend! Somehow I think that this version of conversing won't get me far in the long run, so I'd better be brave and start my Japanese lessons soon....