Wayne In Japan

Kid Art

February 19, 2010

Kid art is cool anywhere in the world:

Isn’t that neat?

Now that I feel nice and wholesome, I’m fully prepared to go in a different direction for my last night out in Tokyo. I learned a new word from my colleagues last night: Yabai!

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You May Not Work Late

February 18, 2010

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.

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Mission Accomplished

February 17, 2010
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The people voted, and I do what Gene Simmons always says and give the people what they want. So I went to Lilla Dalarna, the Swedish restaurant just down the street from my apartment.

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.

No hard bread, but some rye and other fresh breads.

First course: Salmon and a few different kinds of herring, I think.

Salmon, caper, bread, butter. Yes, I ate it. And yes, I enjoyed it.

Tiny shrimp and avocado salad, with salmon eggs and cucumber.

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.

The shelves were stuffed with real Swedish ingredients.

There was real Swedish writing.

And, apparently, real Swedish people from Sweden have been here, too.

Come on back, now, y’hear!

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Kamakura, Part 2

February 16, 2010
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When Takeda-san told me we were going to visit a shrine called Zeniarai Bentzaiten, whose god is a white snake, of course I immediately thought of one thing: Whitesnake.

Not exactly a great album cover, but it’ll do. A white snake supposedly brings good luck.

The entrance.

Here’s where you light a couple of candles, and then light the incense and fan some of it on you.

This is a special cave where you wash your money in order to increase your wealth.

After I got home I went to the ATM, so in a sense you could say it worked.

Air-dry only. No blow-drying.

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.

On the way home, we crossed the Rainbow Bridge with Odaiba in the background.

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Kamakura, Part 1

February 16, 2010
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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.

More Goma Dining!!! This is called goma dango. We also had mitarashi dango, which is covered in syrup made of sugar and soy sauce.

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.

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Sesame Seed Dining

February 16, 2010
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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.

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Tokyo Smörgåsbord?!?

February 11, 2010
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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!

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Feed the Machine

February 11, 2010
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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.

Don’t like the selection? No worries, there’s more across the street.

I took this photo because of the funny store sign. Only later did I realize that a couple of vending machines snuck their way into the picture.

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.)

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February 11, 2010
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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.

The bed is right there in the middle of the room as you walk in. To the left is a sliding glass door to a small patio, and behind the bed is a window out onto a small street.

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.)

This is the sink/shower/laundry room. The door to the shower is on the right, and if you turned left your knees would hit a washer/dryer combo unit.

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.

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Lunch Vacation

February 11, 2010
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I never thought of it that way.

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