Monday, 29 March 2010
Well finally the Sakura (cherry blossom) is starting to come out and it really is quite spectacular. We live near the Meguro river where there are hundreds of sakura trees that run along each side of the river and every year people flock there to take photos and soak up the atmosphere. There are loads of people with food stalls selling amazing smelling food, and beer to wash it down with, and there are lanterns strung up along the river to really enhance the beautiful blossom. I was there at twilight on saturday and it was pretty stunning. There was also a jazz band set up and they were playing smooth jazz as the sun went down. Not bad!
Saturday, 27 March 2010
Well, March is almost over and I thought I'd better include the March version of the "morality posters" you see around the Tokyo subway system. This one seems to be trying to include several no-nos in one go - boozing on the train, curling one's eyelashes whilst on the train, being greedy with your newspaper space, and talking on the phone whilst hunched on the floor. What is the world coming to?! Please note the alien google-eyed people in the bottom left corner. I'm pretty sure they're the ones we should be worried about....
I went to my pottery class on thursday night. It had been a really horrible rainy day and the last thing I felt like doing was heading out into the dark, damp night. But I was so glad I managed to go to the class as I learnt to make a handle and spout! The handle-making is actually harder than it looks and involves making a carrot shape out of the clay, making the hands very wet and then squeezing the carrot shape through a gripped hand to lengthen and streamline the "carrot" into an aesthetic shape. The trick is to not do it too hard, other wise the lengthened bit breaks off - as I discovered too many times. There is a fine art to the timing as well, as you need it hard enough to be able to attach to your pot, but not too hard. While it was drying, we then worked on our spout. This involves pinching the outside edge with two fingers whilst rubbing the top edge with the forefinger of the other hand - a rather therapeutic movement. I came out with a rather primitive pot, but am strangely proud of it!
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
On monday night Linda invited me to a Japanese lounge night and I really wasn't sure what to expect. It was held at the club where I went to do the Burlesque life drawing, so was expecting all sorts. It turned out to be an evening of people playing traditional Japanese musical instruments - not something that I would have thought I'd enjoy, but it was actually a great evening and great to get a feel for what is out there. My favourites were the Japanese flute made out of bamboo and the Koto, a beautiful wood and string instrument which sounded like a combination of the guitar and the harp.
On monday I had my first lesson on a pottery wheel and it was fab! Our teacher had organised a lunch party for all her pupils and before we ate, she taught us how to throw (ie make a pot on the wheel). It was very messy and there were a few duds, but I managed to make two pots that I liked and I've decided to do more classes and try and hone my skills. I love the immediacy of it all, compared to doing a coil pot where the process is a lot slower. We then we had to display our favourite pot which was then judged by everyone else while we drank wine and ate lunch.
On sunday, Garth and I headed to Yoyogi park. We wanted to check out the Harajuku girls that hang out there on a sunday afternoon, but they were pretty tame and there wasn't much going on, so we headed to Yoyogi park where the Rockabillies hang out. I remember reading about them years ago and they are still going, but looking somewhat....tired. It was actually a bit cringeful to watch as it felt like watching a rather sad school disco, but we got some fab photos.
Friday, 19 March 2010
Last night Garth and I went for okonomiyaki, a japanese savoury pancake associated with Hiroshima that is grilled on a hotplate in front of you. We decided to sit at the bar for the free show as the chefs ingeniously concocted these amazing structures out of batter (made of flour, grated yam and water, with egg and grated cabbage), and then a meat of your choice. I had shrimp and Garth had pork and we sat there in awe (drinking a thirst-quenching frozen beer) as they went through the steps. First they mix up the cabbage and batter and place it on the hot plate. They let it sit there for quite a while, sizzling and getting crispy - we were told it would be a 20 min wait. They then top it off with an amazing sauce and a big old squirt of mayonnaise, and then hand it to you, where you eat it directly off the hot plate. Yummy!
There was a celebration going on at Senso-ji temple yesterday and I met up with Linda and Susan to go and sample it. It is a performance to celebrate the founding of Senso-ji temple and involved a dragon and lots of men "steering" it round the temple grounds. It was a beautiful sunny day and lovely to watch this old tradition that has been going for years. I was also intrigued by the amount of people that had come out to witness it and the extent that some people had gone to to take photos. Note the man with the tripod above. He was one of many hardcore photographers who's extended "limb" would jump up in the air as the dragon passed by, so as not to miss a good shot.
Garth is staying with us again after some fab travels around Japan - it has made me very inspired to go out there and experience more of this lovely country. We've had a great time exploring the city together, but I'm afraid I subjected him to a session of Stitch and Bitch on tuesday night. He did amazingly well (and got a bit of attention from the stitch and bitch ladies too!) and he managed to do a bit of crochet! Here is his first piece.
Thursday, 18 March 2010
On the day we were leaving, the cloud started to clear and the sun came out! We collected Neil's suit, which looks good, and then headed down to the waterfront to see the view before heading off to the airport. It is a stunning place! We headed home feeling knackered, but really glad to have visited the exciting city of Hong Kong. Maybe next time we'll head back there when the weather is supposed to be a bit better.....
With full stomachs and tired legs, we decided to make the trip up to Victoria Peak. We knew it wouldn't be the best view with the weather being so foggy, but felt the need to go. We took the tram up the steep hill and tried to imagine what the view may have looked like through the clouds. I even bought a postcard to show what we should have seen. Miraculously, the sun came out while we were up there, so we were able to enjoy a drink on the terrace at the lovely cafe there, surrounded by tropical trees and birds.
Our lunch choice was recommended by several people as a fun place to go and obviously a well established eatery. It is called Maxims and is a dim sum restaurant in city hall. It was absolute mayhem, but organised too and we were greeted by a crowd of people all waiting for tables and a scarey maitre d' who was a slight, beautiful woman with a very scarey attitude. She was calling out the numbers like an auctioneer and if you didn't respond within seconds, your table was gone. It was a bit of a stressful experience, but once we got our table we were happy and loaded up with lots of wonderful dim sum, taken from the trolleys that were constantly patrolling the room. It was well worth the wait.
Sunday was a day of intense sightseeing. We had been saving the Victoria Peak day for one that was hopefully more clear, but that didn't happen! We started off by taking a manic bus trip to the other side of Hong Kong island where Stanley market is. The best bit was the bus ride, which was like taking an out of control rollercoaster ride, round narrow, steep streets in a double decker bus. We had the best seats at the front on the top, and loved the careening around, while taking in the the new environs. It was much sunnier on the other side and there were loads of little beaches that we passed. Quite different to the mayhem of central Hong Kong. Stanley market is pretty tacky, but we strolled along the waters edge and took in the atmosphere, before heading back on the roller coaster ride to central Hong Kong.
To get to the Soho area, you can take the escalator. I know, sounds strange and we weren't sure what to expect as everyone kept telling us it was an escalator that went up the side of the hill and kept going and going. It was hard to imagine, but was just that. You can basically go from the Central ferry terminal, through a mall (of course, you can't go to Hong Kong without seeing a mall at some point - it's difficult to avoid) and on the other side you join this escalator and it just keeps going and going. There are points to get off when you want to, and it basically ploughs through all these buzzing areas full of restaurants and bars where people are spilling out onto the streets and generally enjoying life! We were amazed at how many expats there were. Once we had ridden the escalator most of the way, we decided to hop off and find some food. There was almost too much choice, but we went for a scrummy Vietnamese place and stuffed our faces with curry and beer.
After a rest and another stop for a cocktail at the hotel, we headed back out to get some food and decided to head to the Soho area to try out some restaurants there. We got the ferry back over and were on the water just in time to see the light show. Every night at 8pm, all the big skyscrapers put on a laser light show. The fog marred it a bit, but made it pretty atmospheric too.
After the first suit fitting, we decided to head over to Hong Kong island and took the lovely old Star ferry across the bay. It is such a romantic way to travel, but a shame that most of the dramatic skyline was hidden behind a foggy cloud! We had lunch at a stylish restaurant overlooking the busy streets, took a rickety tram ride to Central, and then walked up the narrow, steep slopes to the Soho area, where there are lots of antique shops as well as stalls selling wares. One had a stall full of Mao statues of all shapes and sizes. It was really nice to be in an area that was slightly less frenetic and away from all the skyscrapers and noise of the traffic.
The final market was the bird market. On our way there, we had seen lots of men each carrying a single cage with a bird in it. At first we thought they were going to the bird market to sell them, but when we got there we realised that they were just showing them off to their mates! All these old blokes would turn up with their birds, in beautiful cages, and hang them on a tree and then have a ciggie and a cup of coffee while they chatted to their friends and showed off their bird. It is a small market, but intriguing to take in al the different types of bird and all the accessories that go with it. We also watched a woman delving her hand into a cage of grasshoppers and stuff them into a bag which was then sold to one of the men. All we could think was that they were food for the birds.....
We'd been at the market for a little while, when I suddenly started feeling a tad skittish. The closeness of it and the proximity to the birds made me start to feel a bit itchy and it was only then that I thought it may not have been a good idea to trot round a bird market in Hong Kong. Luckily I don't seem to be showing any signs of bird flu.....
The next market was the flower market, which was ablaze with colour and full of lots of exotic foliage. I kept wanting to sweep things up and bring them back to Tokyo with us. Our balcony is looking very bare and it could do with a blast of colour to brighten it up.
The next day, we had to go back for the suit fitting at noon, so we decided to stay on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong and kill some time by visiting some of the markets. We started off at the goldfish market. This was a street full of goldfish shops, just selling goldfish. Oh, and the odd one selling hamsters and rabbits..... We never figured out why there were so many goldfish shops and why there was such a big market for them, but deduced that because people live in such small places that it's the only pet that would fit!
After a trot around, we decided it was time to get brave and find somewhere interesting to eat. We had come armed with a list of places to go, partly from the guide book , but also from friends and friends of friends, which was fab. We found a street that had a host of eateries and we dived into a chinese restaurant to sample their delights. There were quite a few fish tanks outside with dinner swimming around in them, but we decided to play it safe and go for shrimp and pork. It was all very good and tasty, served up in a brightly lit establishment with brusque waiters. I love the no-frills attitude there! For pudding we were given a brown concoction, on the house. It looked like mud and really wasn't very appetising-looking, but we had to gulp it down as the owner was standing there staring at us. It was surprisingly tasty (a kind of bean-based rice pudding type thing) and we ended up eating it all!
After a rest at the hotel and a free cocktail at the bar (oh, and we had afternoon tea there as well!) we trotted off to find some food and see Hong Kong by night. Needless to say, it was a feast for the eyes with noises and smells from the sublime to the slightly scarey! There were neon lights everywhere you looked advertising tailoring, foot massage, herbal remedies etc, horns honking and people everywhere. We also came across a night market, which was fun to look around, even if most of it was a lot of tat.
After the suit measuring we decided to wander the streets around where we were staying and get our bearings and soak in the atmosphere. We were staying on the Kowloon side (Hong Kong spreads across the bay, with half of it being on the mainland and the other half being on Hong Kong island). Kowloon is on the mainland. We were struck by the energy of the place and the fact that it was a lot more "rough around the edges" and slightly more cosmopolitan than Tokyo. I love the fact that you pick up on all the little things when you first arrive in a new place. A little "shrine" with incense etc on any of the side roads, and classic Chinese artwork, brightly coloured and used on all sorts of advertising.
I'm afraid it's taken me a while to get my act together to put the Hong Kong excursion on the blog. It's mainly because there were a lot of photos to plough through, but I have finally done it and it's been a lot of fun. We headed off on friday morning, bright and early. We took the Narita express, a very organised train (or so we thought) from near where we live. But our expectations were thwarted when we found ourselves stuck in a train tunnel for an hour!!!!! Needless to say it was a tad stressful and when we finally got to the airport it was a mad dash to the check in, where we just about made our flight. Phew! Didn't fancy trotting back to Tokyo with our tails between our legs....
After a four hour flight, we landed at Hong Kong airport and got the very efficient airport train into the centre where we checked into our hotel. The first port of call was Sam's tailor, as we wanted to get a suit made for Neil for the wedding. We had the details of how to get there and crossed through Kowloon park which our hotel overlooked. It was a very foggy day, but warm and mild and we were struck by the tropical feel to the whole place. The park had beautiful foliage all around with exotic birds singing in the trees and a "flock" of flamingos all preening themselves by a pond! It was quite a surreal experience to see them all there, clucking away, with massive skyscrapers looming up behind them.
We managed to find Sam's tailor (while being accosted by several other "tailors" en route, all with cheap suites or watched to flog) without too much problem, and they took all of Neil's measurements, asking us to return the next day at noon for his first fitting.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
I had another sumi-e class yesterday and this time I was recreating the plum blossom, which is quite apt as they are supposed to be in bloom at the moment. Mind you, it snowed here yesterday, so the poor flowers may be in shock! My teacher also had my own personal stamp made for me - hand carved out of marble - so now my paintings have a bit more of a professional edge to them...
As you will see, I have hand painted my first name which literally translates as "Ke-Te" and then the stamp follows with the family name "Go Don". My teacher was telling me that "Go" means "strong" and "Don" is the word for a heavily embroidered curtain used in the Kabuki theatre. So my last name translates as "strong embroidered curtain"! It somehow lacks finesse!
Saturday, 6 March 2010
After having posh drinks, we decided to head to the other end of the scale and go for slummy dinner in an Izakaya - beer hall - in Roppongi. Neil and I had been taken there a few months ago by friends and I was worried about being able to find it again as it was down many back streets and very hidden away. By some miracle, I remembered the way and we were shown to a table where we were squashed in next to other diners in a noisy, smokey atmosphere. Of course, none of the menu was in English so after a bit of looking around and seeing what other people were eating, and fumbling our way through with the use of Dairina's phrasebook, we actually managed to order some items and to cobble together quite an interesting, tasty meal. Washed down with cheap beer, it was perfect!
After a long day on our feet, a drink with a view was in order, so we decided to head to the famous Park Hyatt hotel in Shinjuku for a view. It is mostly famous for being the location of Lost in Translation and I was intrigued to see what it was like. It's a rather sumptuous hotel and the view was absolutely stunning. A beer was in order (and also the cheapest thing on the menu at 1,100 yen, about 7 quid), so we spent a good hour there soaking in the atmosphere....and checking out the toilet facilities. The toilets all have various "washing" options in Japan, but these ones also had a massage option. Sadly, none of us were brave enough to try it out!
After visiting the temple, we then headed down to Omotesando (stopping into the 100 yen shop, another mecca on four floors, en route) to find somewhere to have lunch. I had read about a cheap and tasty gyoza restaurant called "Gyoza Lou" so we decided to seek it out. After a bit of jigging around and going back on ourselves (and asking directions) we found the "hole in the wall" restaurant, which was a real find. We sat at the bar and watched the cooks perform their simple, yet effective art of steaming the dumplings in special mesh "pouches" and then frying them up to a scrumptious crispy consistency. This is definitely somewhere I will be heading back to.
On thursday, me and Garth met up with Dairina, a friend of Sarah's who was in town for work. First we decided to head for the Harajuku area and start with Yoyogi park and the famous Meiji Jingu shrine. It was a cold day, but we soaked up the atmosphere and got some great photos of sake vats, old wooden doors and prayer boards. Most were praying for good health etc, but there seemed to be quite a few praying for a nice cheap apartment and job promotions! As we were leaving the park we noticed a long queue of people waiting to get into the area where the lake is. We almost joined the queue to find out what was going on, but I'm glad we didn't in the end. I later asked my Japanese teacher what it was all about and she said that there is supposed to be a lucky area around the lake with strong energy (only for this year) and people want to have their picture taken there for good luck....very strange!
Garth, a friend of the family came to stay for a few days and we spent a fab time exploring the city together. I love having people to come and stay as you see the city from a completely different angle and with fresh eyes. Garth is an artist/sculptor, lives in France and has spent the last few years renovating an old barn into a beautiful living space. Luckily he is into mooching around art shops for hours on end, so we headed to the mecca that is Sekaido in Shinjuku, an enormous art shop on four floors. Garth wanted to get some boards to paint onto and while we were there, we checked out the amazing selection of brushes, ranging from bamboo sticks with a "withered" end, that produces the brush effect, to stunningly delicate peacock feather brushes, which, I have to say, I would never want to use for fear of ruining....and the fact that they were about £100 each!
It seems that blog postings are like buses, you don't see any for ages and then a few come along at once. So here goes.....
I had two pottery classes this week, to make up for not doing any last week. On the second day, we went back to the teacher's house to do extruding. It involves putting a big lump of clay in a tube and squeezing it through and out the other side using a big pump-like action. It sounds dodgy and looks rather "interesting" and I thought it would be a doddle, but it's actually quite difficult and can end up with disasterous results. My first one was sent to the dud pile after getting a hole in it - to create interesting shapes, you carve into the clay and I got a bit over zealous. When I started the class, I had visions of coming out with a beautiful tall, elegant vase for the dining table. Instead I came out with some rather short, clumpy items which I am calling candle holders for want of a better word!
Monday, 1 March 2010
We had a fab night on saturday night, celebrating the birthday of Robbie Burns, of all people! I know it was about a month too late, but it was a lot of fun and the Scottish dancing classes paid off! Neil and I scrubbed up pretty well, especially Neil in his sharp tuxedo. It was held in a big function room at the ANA Hotel in Akasaka, with a massive dance floor and lots of tartan-draped dining table around it. After a special highland dancing demonstration done by the Tokyo Bluebells, a slap up meal of haggis and whiskey, and lots of toasts to the lads and lassies, we flung our hearts out until 1am - Strip the Willow, and the Dashing White Sargeant were among them. Needless to say, we had aching limbs and feet by the end of it, but a fab night was had by all.