Kid art is cool anywhere in the world:
Isn’t that neat?
This sign basically says that employees are not allowed to work past 6pm.
They also shut off all the lights from noon until 1pm to discourage people from working during lunch.
Obviously this was not inside the Designory’s building.
I’m sure at some point in my life I’ll once again be faced with a bilingual menu that I cannot read, but I’m not sure those languages will be Japanese and Swedish. Thankfully, they had an English menu. This also meant that she must’ve thought at first that I was Swedish.
Cute little hole-in-the-wall place. Seats a total of 18 people.
The food was clearly more gourmet than any Swedish food I had ever had. In our family, we eat the common people’s food: meatballs and sausage and herring and pickled stuff and smelly stuff. Sometimes pickled smelly stuff. So I couldn’t resist trying the meatballs, because the only meatballs I’ve ever had are ones my family makes, and of course the ones from Ikea.
Meatballs and veggies and mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce. Can’t get much better than that! This meal was absolutely delicious — the spices in the meatballs, the gravy, potatoes, all of it. Even the broccoli was perfectly cooked and not drenched in other flavoring.
And, apparently, real Swedish people from Sweden have been here, too.
Not exactly a great album cover, but it’ll do. A white snake supposedly brings good luck.
Here’s where you light a couple of candles, and then light the incense and fan some of it on you.
I wasted so much time in the shops that we didn’t have time to visit the biggest shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, or visit the Great Buddha, who is so large that he won’t fit inside a temple. We nicknamed him “Homeless Buddha,” and maybe the nickname is why we didn’t get a chance to see him — karma, baby!
We also got to see a type of craft that is specific to Kamakura. It’s called kamakura-bori, or laquerware with wood carving. Intricate designs carved into this heavy, hard wood. They make plates, serving trays, spoons, charms, you name it.
Despite the weather (I’m exaggerating about the weather, btw. Not bad for around freezing), I had a fantastic time. Takeda-san and Eri-san were so gracious and helpful with explaining everything that we were seeing. They were great tour guides.
Last weekend, Takeda-san was so kind to take me and his friend Eri-san on a day trip to the coastal city of Kamakura, around an hour’s drive from Tokyo. Kamakura used to be the capital of Japan and have the 4th largest population of any city in the world, but that was about 750 years ago — around the same time the Dodgers last won a World Series.
Our first stop, however, was to Enoshima, a quaint island connected by a short bridge to the mainland. We strolled through the narrow streets and window-shopped.
Oh yeah, did I mention it was snowing? Bone-jarringly cold, if you ask me. So we took a break from the freezing wind and light snow/rain to have a snack.
We decided it was too windblown and cold to walk around the little island, so we headed for Kamakura proper.
Known for its myriad temples and shrines, Kamakura gave me a chance to experience my first visit to either, as well as my second and third and fourth visits. We checked out a number of them.
This is Hase-dera Temple.
It is home to a 30-ft statue of Kannon, the Buddhist god of mercy. You can’t photograph Kannon.
Before you enter the temple grounds, it’s customary to wash your hands at a small well, which of course was awesome because it was below freezing outside. Nothing like staying snug and mostly warm in a thick winter coat, only to wash your hands in cold water and have to dry them on your jeans. But the sights were well worth it.
In the above photo you see a place where the devout light incense and waft it around their heads to cleanse them before they walk into the temple.
This is where folks write their wishes and dreams on thin pieces of wood. They almost look like those wooden postcards you’d find at Cracker Barrel, but why in the world would I mention such a silly place? I apologize.
Amazing Japanese gardens.
Parking was getting way too expensive, so we decided to hoof it, even though it was really really cold. The small streets of the residential area showed interestingly designed homes with well-manicured trees and shrubs.
If it were summer, I could see this being a delightful way to spend the afternoon, just strolling through a beautiful neighborhood on a sunny day. But when your snot is dripping and freezing to your cheek, you walk a bit more swiftly to reach your destination.
I learned that the easiest way to visually tell the difference between a shrine and a temple is that shrines have a gateway arch at the entrance.
Like in a lot of places in Japan, I had to duck my head to get in and out of there.
I think I got the point that this is a shrine, and not a temple.
The god of this temple is a fox, and he helps bring success in business.
A very tiny shrine, but beautiful.
This post is way too long, so I’ll continue in parts.
One night, some of my co-workers and I went out to dinner. We tried to find shabu-shabu, but they were all full. While on our way to another place, we came across a restaurant named Goma Dining (“Sesame Seed Dining”). We decided to give it a try.
Apparently they take their name quite seriously, because EVERYTHING they served came with sesame seeds on it. Jumbo shrimp? Topped with sesame. Mashed potatoes? Topped with sesame. Soy sauce? Infused with sesame. It kept getting funnier and funnier the more plates they brought out that were topped with sesame seeds. I think they took grilled shrimp and pasted it with some kind of sticky sauce simply so they could dip it in sesame seeds and coat it like a Balboa Bar.
I haven’t been to a Swedish restaurant since Villa Sweden closed down in the late 1980s. But on my way back home from Azabu-Juban, I came across this:
This restaurant is called Lilla Dalarna.
Do I dare eat Swedish food in Tokyo? There are no Scandinavian restaurants left in Southern California, but this place is a five-minute walk away from my apartment in Tokyo. Hey Mormor, come on by!
Boy, do the Japanese love their vending machines.
They’re everywhere, on every corner, on every street. Sometimes between streets. Often close to other machines. This is in the area of Azabu-Juban, a short walk from Roppongi.
They have funny ads. (“Wild Health” sounds like the name of an ’80s movie.)
And they have cool ads. (Every baseball fan I’ve met here happens to be a Hideki Matsui fan, and they all profess to now be Angels fans. Excellent! You’ll notice that Matsui is tipping the coffee drink into Godzilla’s mouth, because Matsui and Godzilla are one in the same.)
This is where I live.
This is the view just inside the front door. There’s a small entryway here where you put your shoes. Yes, I leave my shoes here — I’m in Japan, my man! Directly ahead is the door to the tiny bathroom (really, it’s a toilet room: no sink or shower, just a toilet). Through the door on the right is the studio.
After you come in, look left to see the TV, chair and table. There’s a closet around the corner from the TV. That’s a full-length window there behind the chair and table (views of the alley walkway, so I usually keep the drapes closed). There’s not a lot of insulation in the room, so I’ve had to keep the heater on most of the time.
To the right of the door is the kitchen area, desk area, and door to the shower/sink/laundry room.
(Housekeeping service comes on Thursdays.)
Lots of instructions for things. Sometimes they’re more confusing than the technology itself.
That’s it! It’s small, but so is everything else here. Let’s call it “efficient.” I’m just glad I haven’t hit my head.