starlady: (run)
After eight years, a long night bus ride, and a rather poky JR service to a ferry sailing beneath a bona fide double rainbow, I've made it to Naoshima, the chief of the art islands of the inland sea. After some folderol with internet service and missing the previous ferry by all of two minutes, Spike & I wound up eating out of a conbini for dinner last night, and this morning we took a late start, with the advantage that we had our hostel (a residence so recently converted it still has the former owner's nameplate on the doorpost and their family altar behind a curtain in the alcove) mostly to ourselves.

We hiked out (well actually, took the bus, since it is hot and I am attempting to not walk my knee to death, as I have done twice now this year already) to the Chichu Art Museum at the top of the hill, and I thought it was pretty cool. Like most of the major galleries on the art islands it was done by Ando Tadao, who is possibly my favorite living architect, and it uses almost entirely natural light and is also almost entirely underground--you'd hardly know it, since it's done so cleverly to let in as much natural light as possible, which also makes the entire museum itself a site-specific installation that changes with daily conditions. The weather was changeable today, though not drastically so, but enough to get something of a sense.

The museum only has works by three artists: Monet, Walter De Maria, and James Turrell. It was, as far as I can remember, my first encounter with De Maria and Turrell's stuff, of which more anon, but Monet was probably the first artist I learned to appreciate and like as an individual, and I've always loved his works; it helps that just about every one of them is a gem. The gallery has five Monets, all late period, all water lilies, one monumental, two square, two smaller and rectangular, designed to evoke the Musee de l'Orangerie of which they were a part. You have to put on slippers before you can walk into the gallery, which is floored in tumbled cubes of Italian marble (we were informed), and frankly, more art should be contemplated while wearing slippers. It was quiet, and that quiet really added to the experience.

The Walter De Maria piece was set in a two-story gallery, much like a church, with a 2.2m-diameter sphere of marble in the center between two flights of stairs and 27 wooden, gold-leafed sculptures of geometric shapes. I'm totally stealing it for a Stargate fanfic at some point--it was more than a little otherworldly, and very cool, to walk up those steps and then back down again, past the smooth, reflective marble sphere, in which you could always see the skylight. We walked past another Walter De Maria piece outside using some of the same elements, and it was also cool, but witty, in that it was tucked into the side of a staircase built into a hill. I was reminded a little of the scene at the end of the Sesame Street movie set in the Met, where the kid has to climb the stairs so that Osiris can weigh his heart in the scales.

The James Turrell pieces were, quite simply, stunning, particularly "Open Field," which played with light and space to alter viewers' perceptions, and then alter them further by allowing us to go, guided, inside the artwork, which didn't make it any less trippy or brain-bending: quite the opposite, in fact. Later in the afternoon we saw another Turrell artwork in the Minamidera art house, which also played with our perceptions, but instead of using light to do so, used darkness. Both times, walking back out into the world was like a revelation. I was reminded a little of LaMonte Young's Dream House, in all the best ways. I am an instant Turrell fan.

After that we trekked back down the hill--Yayoi Kusama's yellow pumpkin sculpture, ahoy!--and then into Honmura town, where we had a lovely vegetarian lunch in a tiny house cafe and set about seeing five of the six parts of the art house project (actually there are seven, but I failed to book the seventh in advance) in just under an hour. The aforementioned Minamidera, housed in an Ando-designed house, was the best, but I also really liked Kadoya, which has a number of counters appearing to float inside a darkened traditional house--again, I had a lot of thoughts about the sea of time and other notions. Haisha, which has a partial Statue of Liberty replica in it, was also a hoot, and the Go'o Shrine, which included an underground chamber with a glass staircase uniting heaven and earth, was also pretty cool, and very Old Kingdom, as Spike remarked. Gokaido was a bit subtle--the camellia tree element is key, but I suspect much is gained from knowing that the camellia tree has long associations as a Buddhist symbol of the transience of life. The rock garden was lovely, though. We missed Ishibashi and Kinza; next time.

Spike was generally less impressed by all of this than I was, and in fact we are now going to cut short our art island excursion and go to Takamatsu for udon on Friday, rather than hitting Teshima as I had originally planned. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the art islands are a scam--I have been very satisfied with all this so far, but I won't deny that the Benesse Foundation's orchestration of all this is a bit…not quite heavy-handed, but definitely institutional. We noticed while wandering around Honmura a series of witty yarn artworks, which turned out to be done by one Ishikawa Kazuhara, who just started doing his art here in 2006 after someone told him he should. (I suspect this isn't quite yarn-bombing; he visits to maintain the art once a year.) Despite the fact that there is now a brochure with a map of all his pieces, there is something much more charming about their extreme site specificity and spontaneity that the Benesse-brokered art simply can't match.

I would love to get out here for the Setouchi Triennale next year, when even more of the islands will be transformed into art; I would love to come back; I'm really looking forward to Inujima tomorrow. Still, the contrast between my own unconscious expectations and the reality continues to intrigue me.

starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
The Bridgestone Museum
This is the favorite Tokyo museum of the father-in-law of a good friend of mine, and my friend B and I more or less randomly glommed onto a line of old ladies who were queueing to get in on the Monday of Golden Week, since it closed for renovation last Monday for a period of several years. The farewell exhibit was "The Best of the Best" and was more or less the collection's greatest hits. They had a few very fine Monets, some really interesting contemporary Asian art, and two really great Meiji-era Art Nouveau paintings, Aoki Shigeru's Paradise under the Sea and Fujishima Takeji's Reminiscence of the Tenpyo Era. I wish more Japanese Western-style art of the period had taken on that sort of approach. Female artist count: two works (two different women) out of 161.

Pola Museum Annex
It was totally by chance that I realized that this museum is in the same building as one of my favorite cafes in all of Tokyo. I'd wanted to go because it's free and it's currently hosting a series of paper sculptures by Su Blackwell, who does amazing art made out of books. The level of detail and the sheer craftsmanship that went into each of her pieces is amazing, and both B and I were, it's fair to say, enchanted. Even better, there were some of our favorite books in the exhibit, including The Dark Is Rising and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I'm considering going to the actual Pola Museum, except it's in Hakone, which has that whole volcano thing going on right now. (Also I really dislike Cezanne, the current main exhibition.) We'll see.

The Ghibli Museum
It's been seven years (goodness) since my one and only prior visit to the Ghibli Museum, and they still won't let adults go on the Cat Bus. That sadness was offset by the fact that they now make Ghibli Museum beer, available in the cafe for quite a reasonable price. As much of a pain as it is to buy tickets for the museum (crucial realization: you can use the Lawson tickets website to scope out which days and times are available before going to the actual Lawson, or maybe your web browser will let you actually buy tickets online), they're quite reasonably priced for a few hours of being totally enchanted by the museum itself. I understood much more of the exhibits on the principles of animation this time around (funny how being literate will help with that) but I was, overall, just as pleased by the experience, which is still utterly charming. Miyazaki couldn't buy his pseudo-European palace house, so he built it himself in Mitaka. Also this time the movie playing in the theater was "Mei and the Kitten Bus," which is a vignette follow-up to My Neighbor Totoro and was vast improvement on the sexist "Whale Hunt" short that was on offer the last time I visited. The kitten bus was adorable, to no one's surprise.
starlady: Hana of Gate 7 (hanamachi of kyoto)
I went back to Kyoto with my friends S and J last Thursday, via the Seishun 18 ticket (i.e. a 9.5-hour local train ride) for maximum nostalgia. Kyoto is lovely as usual, albeit a little cold and rainy, and kind of melancholy, because I like it so much better here than in Tokyo, but I don't live here anymore.

In an attempt to make the best of it, however, I went up the hill with J on Monday to Kiyomizu-dera, the main halls of which are under major restoration but which is of course still lovely, particularly at the tale end of sakura season when the petals are falling like spring snow. We went through a gate in the fence that was unlocked for the first time in my nearly two dozen visits to the temple and found ourselves walking through temple land, past a bamboo grove, beneath two imperial mausolea, and to a little temple in the pass called Seikan-ji, site of a famous episode form the Tale of the Heike. It was lovely and we were almost the only people there besides a toothless (literally) fellow traveler from Tokyo and the temple attendant, with whom we made conversation and who chased us down as we were on the steps to leave to give us our correct change as well as Kiyomizu-yaki sake cups. In the continuing adventures of "people in Japan give me things," tonight at Gontaro we got free matcha warabi mochi, because I don't even know why, but they were delicious.

I have a long list of random temples I want to visit and/or revisit, but instead I went to the Manga Museum today and will be going back on Friday as well, because doing research soothes my soul and my incipient panic about not doing enough research. Tomorrow we're seeing Jupiter Ascending, AT LAST.

starlady: Carl's house floating above the fields (always an adventure)
I continued my habit of turning up places gaijin really don't usually go by hiking out to the Morishita Cultural Center in Koto-ku, which has a "Norakuro hall" with lots of stuff about Norakuro and his creator Tagawa Suiho, who lived in the area until he was 28. I have a huge soft spot for Tagawa and Norakura, and I wound up buying a Norakuro T-shirt and Norakuro rice crackers on my way back. I'm finding that there are a lot of little kinenkan for manga-ka all over; Wikipedia is a good way of finding them. Next on my list is Hasegawa Machiko's art museum--and she was one of Tagawa's students! 

It was a nice day today, and I wound up in the Kiyosumi gardens nearby, which are Meiji-era and quite nice. I've been missing Kyoto a lot lately, but even wandering around for half an hour made me feel like I'd managed to find a bit of what I love about Kyoto here in Tokyo (I'd actually had a conversation about Tokyo vs Kyoto with the nice lady at the stationery store where I bought my T-shirt; she agreed with me about the relative merits of each). It seems that drag queens dressing up to the nines and taking pictures of themselves at gardens and shrines is a nationwide habit, not just a thing in Kyoto.

Then when I got home I was perusing this month's issue of Casa Brutus, which is all about cafes, and I realized that there are literally like four good ones on the south side of the gardens, including the first of the Japanese Blue Bottles. Well, now I have an excuse to go back.

starlady: Remy from the movie Ratatouille sniffing herbs for a stew (cooking)
I went to the Setagaya Boroichi both times it was held this past lunar year (i.e. December and January), and the first time round I met a lady selling huge yuzu in plastic containers for hella cheap, particularly considering the price of fruit in this country. We had a conversation about how it was actually possible for yuzu to get within striking range of the size of cultivated oranges, which I hadn't known, and what one does with them when they're that big--one of her suggestions which I regretfully couldn't take was to poke holes in it, as with a potato before microwaving, and put it in the bath. I don't have a bath. What I wound up doing was attempting to make ponzu with them, only to find that I'd let them go a bit too long and they were mostly seeds anyway, so my juice yield was rather low even though the apartment smelled delicious. (Yuzu sort of tastes like lemon and juniper, except delicious.) Being a Kyotoite at heart, I love me some yudofu, and I ate the ponzu with that. It was great.

One of my walks to my train station takes me past two trees that I have always assumed to be either yuzu (big ones) or tachibana, another variety of citrus. Last week I saw a huge fruit lying on the ground on the road side of the household wall, and without pausing too much to think about it, I scooped it off the ground and into my bag. I assumed it was a big yuzu and made the same preparations for yudofu, only to find when I cut into it tonight that it was clearly much more like an orange…except wildly bitter. Further googling has convinced me that this is probably a hassaku, which I have never heard of before, much less eaten. With soy sauce and mirin, it's not too bad, though my froofy seasonal ponzu from the fancy store in Tokyo Midtown is definitely better balanced as a sauce. Still, all in all, I think this is a win.
starlady: Uryuu & Ichigo reenact Scott Pilgrim (that doesn't even rhyme)
A friend of mine who's coming to visit in a few months linked me to an interesting article in the New York Times magazine, Meet the Unlikely AirBNB Hosts of Japan. I had more than a few good laughs, but there's also quite a few home truths in the article.

# It is 200% true that people in Japan with foreign experience of some kind are much, much more likely to be open to interacting with foreigners. Not coincidentally, they can also understand irony. Most of the people I've developed more than a passing acquaintance with fall firmly into this category.

# The Orange Sweater thing is a metaphor as well as a literal truth. Everyone here wears grey or black overcoats, for example (with young women also holding out for pale pink or cream). Me, I tend to take the attitude that since I'm going to stand out anyway, I might as well work it; my winter coat this season has been a red/orange/blue/purple sweater coat thing. But in a typical day's circuit around Tokyo I will see one or fewer other people wearing brightly-colored outerwear.

# I would also connect "uncertainty-avoidance" to efficiency and the desire not to inconvenience other people. One of the things that's really struck me this time is just how information-dense an environment Tokyo is; I think this is part of what foreigners tend to find so disorienting, since I'm not sure it's really equaled in any other place I can think of off the top of my head, except maybe the London transport system. But the point of offering signs everywhere is so that a) everybody can get where they're going as quickly as possible while b) bothering other people as little as possible, because bothering other people is an imposition. (Yes, even if it's technically their job to be bothered.) 

# The skydiving obaa-chan AirBNB host is my hero. Also, 200% not surprised that she can only do the hosting because her husband's dead, and that her friends say they'll start doing it when their husbands have croaked. One of the reasons obaa-chan are great is because they don't owe a damn thing to anybody, societally speaking, and they do what they want even if their husbands are still alive. Once the husbands are gone they're totally free to be nonconformist, or whatever.

# The meta-irony about the guy who says that most of his friends have never spoken to a foreigner is that Tokyo is miles away the most cosmopolitan place in Japan. There are far more foreigners here and it's far easier to find foreign food in stores than it is anywhere else in the country. There's also lots more places with English menus (which I make a habit of refusing).

# I actually live pretty close to Love Hotel Hill. It's not sketchy at all. But it is quiet.

# The speaking Spanish thing that the author reports is a pretty common response to being in a different language environment; I've experienced it many times myself. Usually I find myself trying to speak Chinese to people, which is really awkward in places like Peru and Turkey.

# I had to lol at the Japanese businesswoman quoting her countrymen's attitude as "What do you even eat?" considering that when Japanese tourists do go abroad they tend to go on group tours which are conducted entirely in Japanese and in which they eat nothing but Japanese food (indeed, this is the appeal of Hawai'i, as that's particularly easy to accomplish there). My friend M wondered about consulting a Japanese guidebook to Bali before we left, for example, but I nixed the idea on the grounds that it would just be a map to all the Japanese restaurants. Even relatively cosmopolitan people will eat entirely Japanese food abroad.

# It's definitely not because of the goddamn sakoku policy during the Tokugawa shogunate though (sakoku wasn't even formally a thing as such) (bingo!). People in Japan were quite cosmopolitan in the Meiji and Taisho periods, from everything I've seen in my research and reading. The ideology of Japan as unique and singular came in in the postwar period, but that's another story. 

# It's been a long time (happily) since anything I read brought up "the ideology of wa" as an explanation for anything. I definitely became a historian to get away from that kind of culturalist bullshit explanation that was so common in Asian Studies.

# People here are going to flip the fuck out in 2020. Commercial air travel was in its infancy in 1964, the last time Japan hosted the Olympics. I'm not sure they're really prepared, conceptually, for the hordes who will descend. Personally, I'm already over the Tokyo Olympics and the disfigurements it's wreaking on the urban landscape; I just wish they'd hurry up and finish refurbishing the train stations already. (It would be easier to list the subway stations that aren't being redone than the ones that are, from everything I've seen.) I'm also totally over the English signs saying that you can get cash from foreign accounts at 7-11. Really, I got that.
starlady: (adventure)
It's true, people in Japan give me things. I think it's a combination of a) me being a white girl b) that being unusual and/or white privilege c) the assumption that white people are kind of clueless d) people being nice in greater or lesser proportions depending on location and circumstances. Things I've been given, a short list off the top of my head: 
  • Umbrellas
  • A hiking pole at the top of Mt. Fuji (I left it at the trail entrance when I got down so that someone else could use it on the way up)
  • Sandwiches
  • Tea and tea sweets, in exchange for some English conversation (that was in Nara in June 2011 when foreigners were really scarce)
  • The most recent example: on Monday we wound up in a hole-in-the-wall izakaya in suburban Tokyo after the ramen shop we'd been aiming for closed early because of the Coming of Age Day holiday. We walked in and the owner immediately gave us some of his original art and started telling us his life story--he's 78 now and he only started doing art at age 70 after he got out of the hospital, where he'd been for a illness. There were three of us, and he gave each of us a small framed print! Luckily one of the people with me, despite not speaking Japanese, did art and had some on his phone to show, and we were all able to have a conversation in two languages about various things. The owner and his wife were very nice; even the drunk guy in the corner of the bar (there's always a drunk guy in the corner of the bar), in whose line of sight I placed myself on the theory that I've dealt with plenty of them in my time, was a particularly pleasant and friendly version of that guy. He really liked that I told him to be careful on his way home in Japanese on his way out. I still find that people in Tokyo live up to the standoffish stereotype (I'll take the snobs of Kyoto over the cold Tokyoites any day; Kyoto people are very friendly in my experience, but then I can be slightly snobby myself), but there are many exceptions, particularly among the more shitamachi types. Also the food at this place was pretty tasty, which was nice.
starlady: Remy from the movie Ratatouille sniffing herbs for a stew (cooking)
[personal profile] umadoshi asked about easy go-to foods in Japan

I could cheat and say "walking down the street to the on campus cafeteria," which is usually what I do for weekday lunches. It's almost always less than ¥500, it's decent for the price, and it gets me variety. On the other hand I could say that large parts of Japanese cuisine actually evolved out of snack food (viz. sushi), and that entire restaurant categories (i.e. ramen joints) are dedicated to getting food into people and people out the door as soon as possible--though you'll hardly ever be pressured to hurry up with your meal.

But in reality this often comes down to the grocery store and to whatever random little food shop is in your neighborhood. Three years ago in Kyoto I only had one burner, which meant that most days I biked down to the grocery store at about 6:30pm and picked up a package of store-made gyoza with the 20% off "time service discount," biked back up to my place, refried them, and called that a meal. For variety's sake every so often I'd go to the takoyaki stand down the street instead. (Side note: my kingdom for a neighborhood takoyaki stand here in Tokyo, omg.) The downside to this strategy was that I eventually gave myself a vitamin deficiency, and indeed, for people who were basically all vegetarians until the 1860s, there are not a lot of vegetables (particularly greens) in the Japanese diet--especially up here in Tokyo, where people's habits are much more visibly influenced by the "modern" of, say, Germany in the 1880s than in Kyoto, where traditionalism and hippies meet and eat vegan cuisine together. (Fun fact: there is a statue of Townsend Harris in Shimoda, erected by the nation's grateful beef farmers. I like to think that the statue is Townsend Harris as played by John Wayne.) The other night at a Belgian bar in Akasaka I ordered a Caesar salad and got half of an endive with dressing, croutons, and bacon and was so happy, but I digress.

So, yeah. Basically the quickest you can get is a bento at the grocery store or conbini, or instant noodles at a conbini--99% of them have hot water and microwaves available for you to make the instant noodles in-store. I actually never eat instant noodles and don't eat bento very often, though I probably should given my positive paranoia about getting enough vegetables. (Vegetables! I miss them so much.) I keep a package of frozen gyoza in my freezer and eat them as desperation calls for. If I'm out and about and not planning on heading back to my house, though, there are many, many places where you can get food very quickly in Japan, particularly in Tokyo. I'm thinking of a curry joint I really like in Dogenzaka that is quick and surprisingly tasty. Mmm, curry. And in Tokyo a surprising number of places here have the ticket machines where you pay for your food before you sit down and then just leave when you finish eating. Tokyo, man.
starlady: (orihime)
Goodness, I'm behind on everything. I blame Festivids.

[personal profile] seekingferret asked about Japanese sports.

I don't actually know too much about Japanese sports! The first time I lived here I went to see American football (Kyoto University vs. Ritsumeikan University), sumo, and a Hanshin Tigers baseball game. The football game remains the only one I've seen in its entirety; the interesting thing was the composition of the cheerleading squad: they had a mixed-gender band, a group of dudes in a made-up hakama/kimono outfit combo who were in the stands leading the crowd in cheers (we were given cheer sticks and a handout with songs to sing. Our side was terrible so all we sang were the defense songs), and girls in stereotypical cheerleader outfits down on the field.

The baseball game was much more interesting--in Japan in the seventh inning stretch everyone releases the balloons they bought on the way in, and since the stadium is so small (about 30K people?) it's like being in a sea of balloons floating upwards. Of course it's bad for the environment, but it was cool. And the style of the game is very different here--it's like baseball was in the States before the 1990s, when everyone started doping. The game is much faster-paced and more dynamic because the "home run or nothing" mentality also isn't a thing here. I like that, because the strategy aspects of baseball are something that has always appealed to me.

Sumo was cool, too. I need to see about getting tickets up here in Tokyo, though in recent years the revelations about bullying and match-fixing (not very surprising, to be clear) have somewhat tarnished the sport's reputation. When I went we made a day of it and watched the entire first half of the matches from ringside seats, because it's totally okay to sit in other people's seats as long as they're not there, not to mention eat food and drink beer. And then when Asashoryu lost everyone threw their cushions (zabuton), which was pretty hilarious.

It's my highly subjective impression that figure skating and horseracing are enjoying higher profiles recently. The figure skating thing I'm pretty sure of; Yuzuru Hanyu's latest sports feats regularly make the news, and I see his face around Tokyo fairly frequently. Other than that, I've seen the Seijin-no-Hi archery at Sanjusangen-do and mounted archery and sacred kickball (okemari) at Kamigamo Shrine. Sumo evolved out of shrine festivals, after all, and a number of shrine events still have a sports component. Those are all pretty cool because whatever people are doing, they're doing it in elaborate costumes.
starlady: (a sad tale's best)
Today I am meant to be talking about the weather for [personal profile] melannen

I think the most obvious thing to say is, it's getting warmer.

It's funny to be asked this question in Japan, where the weather is one of the few socially acceptable topics of conversation in almost any circumstance, and so is a place where you talk about the weather quite a lot. I have to look up how to say "sunny" again because I've forgotten it. The problem with not having a large weather-related vocabulary is the awkward silence that often falls after one has exhausted the topic of the weather. 

The last time I spent a year in Japan I lived in Kyoto, which is rather famously located in a basin with mountains on three sides and so is automatically at least five degrees F hotter or colder than the rest of Kansai--enough to be immediately perceptible upon disembarking from the train when one has either entered or left the city. Japanese people were often amused that I knew how to say basin ("bonchi", for the record), but that is basically talking about the weather, and so, I can do it. But even in the seven years I've been hanging around Japan in irregular intervals, I've noticed changes--the tsuyu (rainy season) is never very impressive, and more and more one is likely to get impressive summer rainstorms outside of tsuyu. There was a truly ginormous one in Tokyo in July which I was of course caught outside in sans umbrella. That's what I get for forgetting the Girl Scout motto, I suppose. 

This summer was also remarkable for a truly terrible heat wave--temperatures soared to nearly 40ºC in some parts of the country, and in Tokyo the heat index was about 120ºF for nearly a week. That's something that never used to happen, either, and there's not really anything to be done about it except chug cold drinks and keep going. Luckily the Japanese are masters of cold food in the summer, which is good because heat cuts the appetite as it is. Also, unlike the Metro in D.C., the trains here don't seem to be as prone to hot weather delays due to the tracks expanding.

It's interesting to me that though it's farther north Tokyo actually seems a little warmer than Kyoto thus far--I suppose partly it's because Tokyo is directly on the ocean. I don't except that it will ever snow and stick here, or even that it will get much below freezing; it snowed but rarely stuck in Kyoto proper, but it was frequently below freezing, a problem compounded by the lack of insulation and heating in my apartment (it was much like stupid Berkeley in that respect, actually. I can't understand how anyone would willfully choose to be so energy inefficient, but then, I'm well-known for my curious attachment to logic). There's a reason the wild parakeets of Tokyo have been able to survive here since the 60s (for the record, the ones on the Todai campus seem to be feasting on gingko nuts, which is only appropriate seasonal behavior).

We'll see how it goes. I'm currently planning on going to Tochigi next month and debating whether I should try to find a pair of snow boots in a thrift shop for it--Tochigi isn't the yukiguni proper, but it's close enough that I hope to see snow. Snow! It's so wet here, all the time, everywhere, except in the mountains I suppose--they must have powder in Nagano, or it wouldn't be a skiing hotspot, but everywhere I've seen it it's always thick and wet like it is in New Jersey and never is in Minnesota. Of all the places I've lived, Japan is the most humid, but New Jersey gives it a run for its money. 
starlady: (crew)
So as I have mentioned, I've been reading a manga about rakugo, which at least some people have called "tradtional Japanese stand-up comdey, done sitting down",  Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjû by Kumota Haruko, but I had never really thought of going to rakugo because while my Japanese is pretty good, there's a big difference between being pretty good at modern Japanese and being able to understand spoken Late Middle Japanese i.e. Edo-ben, which is what a lot of classical rakugo monologues are in. But when I saw posters on campus for rakugo in English for free, I jumped at the chance, and I was really glad I did.

The rakugoka in question, Tatekawa Shinoharu, started off by telling us how he became familiar with rakugo at the age of 26, which is very late, but loved it so much he quit his job and became an apprentice rakugo storyteller. He's a journeyman now, and since he graduated from Yale, his English is perfect. He translates his stories himself, and did three of them--"Tenshiki," "Sakamon," and "Jugemu." It was really funny, and also really impressive how just one guy could create such a multitude of characters with only two props (a hand towel and a fan) and without moving. Shinoharu-san made some interesting points, namely that there being only one performer is what allowed them to play an infinite number of parts, and that wearing kimono means that they can be anyone in any time period. Apparently a few rakugoka like him write their own modern stuff, so that definitely comes in handy.

I didn't ask about women being rakugoka because, quite frankly, that seemed like it would be needlessly rude, particularly in a Q&A that already was getting into the heavy territory of whether rakugo has a future, given that the audiences are generally pretty old. Shinoharu-san seems to be doing a lot of things to try to bring rakugo into the modern performing arts world, including his English rakugo performances, although he's too junior to actually express an opinion about what rakugo should do. In any event, it was highly entertaining.
starlady: Remy from the movie Ratatouille sniffing herbs for a stew (cooking)
for [personal profile] kindkit 

This question could have a very boring answer, namely, "everything except whale," but I shall endeavor to be more interesting.

The single thing I love the most (and this is very ironic) is parfait. The Japanese have taken parfait to the limits of the art form and then beyond (I've had parfait served with dry ice here, for example) and it is all delicious. Most food in Japan is not very sweet, and in fact is much less sweet than most food in America, but to compensate desserts that are very sweet are readily available. Even a delicious monstrosity like the Hello Kitty Christmas Tree Parfait (the tree part is made of cotton candy) is never too sweet, though. The tumblr tag has many delicious pictures, but I should note that I particularly like the so called "wa-fuu" (i.e. Japanese style) parfaits, which have more traditional ingredients like mochi, red bean paste, and various kinds of jellies alongside the cornflakes and ice cream and which are sadly rather hard to find in Tokyo. When I go to Kyoto the first thing I'm doing is heading to Tofu Cafe Fujino for their parfait of the month. And then I will probably go back for their regular parfait the next day.

GDI now I want parfait even more than usual.

Ahem. Another Japanese food I like that's more difficult to find in the States is okonomiyaki and its various variations--as should surprise nobody, I like the Kansai style (in which all the ingredients are mixed together) much better than the Hiroshimayaki style, in which everything is layered, but I have a surprising soft spot for modanyaki, which is okonomiyaki with a layer of yakisoba. Nomz. I've also discovered monjayaki, which is a Tokyo variation in which they essentially gave up on the idea of making a pancake-type thing and you more or less eat a stir fry of ingredients right off the grill.

Other things that are delicious here and hard to find done well in the States are karaage (marinating the chicken in sake is key, and even in San Francisco, it's hard to find people who do that) and takoyaki. I used to stop and get takoyaki on my way home every so often the last time I lived in Kyoto, and while I always puncture them and wait a bit before eating to avoid the unfortunate "lava mouth" experience which people seem to favor in Osaka, they're so good, but always overcooked or just underflavored in the States.

I also love all the drinks you can never find anywhere but here like amazake, which is a sweet hot winter drink made from sake lees, and hiyashiame, which is an unusual Kansai drink that is essentially cold ginger juice and which is amazing.

Japan is also a great country for bread. This may be somewhat counterintuitive, but it's true; although I've yet to find a really great baguette, Japan has many amazing kinds of bakery bread and I totally believe that it's the second-best bread country behind France. Sadly my neighborhood bakery is small and not as adventurous as they could be, though their Earl Grey chocolate chip bread is delicious. I miss my giant grocery store in Kyoto which had a very large selection of delicious bakery bread and a bakery right next to it (because shopping mall).

Similarly--and this is something that Tokyo is good for--Japan is also really good at classy, Dean & DeLuca style Western food. There are any number of great cafes and such in the retail complexes here which serve fantastic lunch specials, and many cafes that do the same, all at wonderful prices.

Really, I like everything. EXCEPT WHALE.

starlady: Remy from the movie Ratatouille sniffing herbs for a stew (cooking)
Well, I've been settling into living in Japan again, part of which has involved plotting a running route and going running (I've done it twice so far! Pathetic but on the right track) and part of which has involved cooking things again. Cooking! It's great. It's also interesting to me to be able to see how I've leveled up in the seven years since I first lived in Japan and was first responsible for providing my own meals 24/7. I'm much more comfortable improvising now, particularly since a) the internet is way better at food than it was seven years ago; and b) I've finally realized that the fundamentals of Japanese food are dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sake, with salt and sugar added every so often for variation.

I'm living in ridiculous luxury and actually have a microwave…oven…thing in my apartment, but I don't trust it (I'd rather just have an actual microwave, this one is very complicated, and I don't really have any pans and I'm lazy, though I can probably improvise well enough with tin foil for most things) and anyway it's nice to work on my simmering and sauteing skills. I probably should buy an actual soup or donburi bowl with all these soups and stews I'm looking at making. I'm also weighing the merits of buying an actual nabe pot, which is one of those kitchen things that is nice enough that I would want to cart it home. We'll see. I think the pot that came with my apartment is big enough that I can just use that for half-recipes of most things. I definitely need to get a leftovers-sized tupperware, though.

Anyway, here are some recipes I've been making or am eyeing: 
  • Nira Tamago - I had this once years ago and it is so fucking good, it haunted my dreams, and now the nira are all mine. Tomorrow I'm going to go hogwild and combine it with my patented agedashitofu oyakodon variation. This website also looks like it has a lot of good recipes in general.
  • Chestnut Rice (Kurigohan) - Pretty tasty! Definitely needs something like simmered pumpkin (kabocha) as a side dish. I like this website a lot from what I've seen so far.
  • Matsutake Clear Soup (Suimono) - Mushrooms, tofu, and whatever else in broth. Pretty tasty. I added carrots because I'm paranoid about getting enough vegetables. I also used a different kind of mushroom (shiitake) because cheaper. I'm glad this site sorts the recipes by season, though what was labeled two portions fed me for just one meal.
  • Deb's Pseudo-Okonomiyaki - The beauty of okonomiyaki is that you can do just about anything to them and they will still taste good because of the sauce. I used okonomiyaki flour for the base and only two eggs the first time, then three the second; I thought three was sufficient, as two was kind of a hot mess. But they were pretty damn tasty with okonomiyaki sauce (storebought; I haven't tested Deb's recipe) and toasted sesame seeds on top.
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Avocado Pudding - It's delicious. I didn't have enough honey so I threw in some brown sugar, and I don't have beaters so it's a tad heterogeneous, and I used natural peanut butter instead of normal (thereby introducing twenty minutes' hard labor stirring the thing so that the oil blended back in), and it's delicious.
  • Simple Tofu Chilaquiles - NOMMMM. I need to source the tortilla chips, tomato sauce, and (hopefully) chipotle, but once I can do that, all the chilaquiles will be mine. NOMMM.
I've been listening to a lot more music lately, because living alone in an apartment by myself fuck yeah, and I just have one question: how are Santigold so fucking good? How is it possible? Because they are.

In other news, I'm on track to finish clipping for my Festivid tonight, at least until I'm halfway through the draft vid and suddenly realize I clipped the totally wrong things. Still, it's exciting. I'm mulling the possibility of a treat vid if I finish my assignment in a reasonable time frame. It's very exciting.

starlady: (run)
I unpacked my suitcase for the first time in six months yesterday and it was awesome.

Yes, I'm back in Japan, this time for what passes for good in my world, namely just under a year. I got in without any problems worth mentioning on Thursday, except that we'd been delayed an hour in Seattle, so by the time I got in it was too late to get to the housing office to get the key to my apartment before it closed, so I used my handy-dandy portable wifi hotspot, which I decided to rent instead of going through the cell phone malarkey (more of that anon) to book a night at an airport hotel, breakfast included, for ¥10,000. It wasn't even the best deal I could have gotten, but it was pretty darn good, particularly since the exchange rate is now favorable to those of us getting paid in dollars, but it's so nice to have the resources to solve at least some problems with money.

On Friday morning I headed back to Komaba and got my apartment--it's so large! And by "large" I mean "25.2 m^2", but for one person, that is pretty ginormous, and it comes with all appliances, and I was able to rent bedding on the spot (it's quite overpriced, but I'd rather pay ¥18,000 for bedding for ten months than have to a) buy my own and then b) get rid of it frantically at the end of my stay. I'm willing to do a lot to avoid dealing with the trash laws in Japan). I think the building also has insulation, which is pretty amazing. There are trees outside my balcony and I have a direct view to Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Tower, which is basically all you can ask for in Tokyo. The building internet appears to be a joke for which they are charging ¥14,000 a month, but this is the other virtue of the wifi hotspot. Even with all that, my rent is less than $800 a month, which is just ridiculous.

Meanwhile it's autumn, and it's been four years since I've done autumn, and it's…going to take some readjustment. I love autumn, but autumn in Japan also makes me miss Kyoto. Part of the reason I miss Kyoto right now, I admit, is because I know where everything is after having lived there for more than a year, whereas I need to go on a quest to find a grocery store nearby as soon as Kuroneko delivers my other two suitcases this afternoon. This too shall pass, but I do want to get back to Kyoto as soon as possible.

I'm already worried about making a schedule to get work done, which I think is good; I'm going to Australia in a week and a half, however, which means that I'm just going to focus on administrative stuff for the next week rather than trying to frantically do too much. Australia should give me a good chance to focus on my dissertation and be re-energized for it, which is also good. In the meantime, I get to unpack MORE suitcases! Too bad there aren't any shelves in the closet…
starlady: Mako's face in the jaeger, in profile (mako mori is awesome)
I'm back in Tokyo. At the moment I am very jetlagged, but it is good. I took the NEX into town for the first time in…a long time (have I ever taken the NEX in? IDK. Maybe not) and it was pleasant. I like that on the train you can see rice fields. The trip over was also pretty pleasant, seeing as me and my seatmate had an empty seat between us. 

The program seems good so far. Riverside was pretty good, all things considered! I saw [personal profile] jhameia several times as well as a couple other local friends, and the trip was very productive. Down-voting: friend PK getting egged as we walked two blocks back to her apartment and then us getting street harassed on the next block. The traffic continued to be not terrible throughout. I made it to Union Station in 45 minutes flat on Saturday morning. 

I really miss the weather in Riverside, though, namely that even though it's hot it's not humid. Tokyo is a furnace. The program seems good so far, but I'm also totally brain dead, so I'm going to go to bed now. 
starlady: (Rick Roll'd!)
Tokyo is--there's a lot of people in Tokyo, a feeling exacerbated for the fact that I'm staying in a hotel in a busy area for almost the first time ever; I've previously stayed at conference centers, hostels, friends' places in residential areas. I've had a good time, but it's been a weird trip; I miss Kyoto, and I'm not 100% looking forward to the idea of living here (though I know I'll have a great time when I do).

Today I braved the thunder and lightning to check out the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, which is actually one of my favorite museums in Tokyo. I really like contemporary art, and the Hara Museum has a great building and really well-chosen stuff. This time it was an exhibition--the first in a museum--by the French artist Nicholas Buffe, called "The Dream of Polifilo." It was seriously one of the coolest things I've seen in a museum in a very long time: he turned the museum into an RPG/Disney-esque animation/reinterpretation of a Renaissance fairy tale-esque story. I bought the exhibition catalog because I liked it so much. Contemporary art in general is pretty great in Tokyo; there are a ton of great galleries, and a lot of pretty great museums, many of which don't get any near enough press.

I've also been on the trail of coffee. Yesterday I went to Toranomon Koffee in the new Toranomon Hills, Mori Minoru's latest thumb in the eye to business as usual in Tokyo. The coffee was practically perfect, though I will admit that it was at least as much the space and the presentation as the coffee itself. I actually walked past the Be a Good Neighbor in Arc Hills on my way; I doubt I'm going to get back there tomorrow, since I'm bound for Shimokitazawa and Bear Pond Espresso, which is supposed to be the best coffee in Tokyo. We'll see.

starlady: Mako's face in the jaeger, in profile (mako mori is awesome)
I'm back in Tokyo--there will be more about Con.Txt and such anon, I promise--and I hadn't counted on the way that it would feel like total deja vu from seven years ago, when I came here on my fellowship. Literally came here--I took the exact same limousine bus to the exact same hotel (although this time I didn't pass out on the bus, unlike last time; all I remember is waking up while going over the Rainbow Bridge, which we didn't do this time) and on the way to my hotel from that hotel I walked past the bank where we each cashed our checks for nearly $5000 in yen and hit each other in the face with as much cash as I will ever see in one place in my life. (We were 22.) The building with the fellowship office is on the other side of the street.

I did venture out and obtained a meal (spaghetti with pickled plum, natto, nori, shiso, and bacon) and even put money on my Pasmo, which is really all I can expect at this point. I want to go running at the Akasaka palace ASAP but I have no idea when I'll be able to do that, given that the posted schedule on the trip course page is totally inaccurate. Ah well. To be honest, I miss Kyoto more than a little already, glad as I am to be here. Tokyo is very glitzy, or at least this part of it, which I enjoy in small doses, but which will doubtless get a bit grating after long enough. My mission tomorrow: cafe it up, and find a Book-Off, or at least a Tsutaya.
starlady: Remy from the movie Ratatouille sniffing herbs for a stew (cooking)
[personal profile] swan_tower is doing a mini-blog tour for the release of her new novel The Tropic of Serpents, and over at Eating Author she's discussed the epic kaiseki meal we ate at Giro Giro Hitoshina in August 2011. Reading her description of the meal put a smile on my face, and if anyone was wondering what the courses were in my photos, now you can read for yourself!
starlady: Remy from the movie Ratatouille sniffing herbs for a stew (cooking)
Damn it, I missed posting this on the actual 27th!

[personal profile] inkstone asked for my top three favorite restaurants.

One of my favorite restaurants in the world is Kyoto Gogyô, the ramen restaurant in Kyoto I have raved about before. It's not especially fancy, and the food is delicious. If you go, make sure to get the tempura that's on special, and the shio ramen. It's just--really nice.

A bit closer to home, another of my favorite restaurants is the Longfellow Grill in Minneapolis, which is also the Highland Grill in St. Paul. I've been going to these restaurants (there's a third one somewhere out in the suburbs) since my freshman year of college, when my roommate and her family introduced me--they're New American, I guess, but New American diner/bar food, but really, really good. At this point I've eaten a significant chunk of the menu. The beer-battered green beans with plum sauce are amazing, and I think my favorite entree is the Peter's Burger with sweet potato fries, but the tuna melt is also really good, and they have great local beer. It's all just really good.

Believe it or not, it's actually hard to pick a number three. I could say it's the tonkatsu place in Kyoto--it's a chain of several restaurants, one in Kyoto station and two downtown--where you grind your own sesame for the tonkatsu sauce and they give you endless refills on cabbage and it's all amazingly delicious. That place is really good. I could say it's Revival in Berkeley, which has some of the best food and drinks I've had for the price anywhere; when I went to Chez Panisse on Halloween I found myself thinking that it wasn't shockingly better than Revival, which it wasn't. In New York I wind up at the Hampton Chutney Company quite a lot; they have really good dosas. There are a number of places in Philly that I like, but in the past few years I've been away so much that I'm reluctant to name any one. I have to put in a plug for Capogiro gelato in Philly--best gelato on this continent--and I do like Raw, the sushi place in the gayborhood, as it's called. (I also really like Steven Starr's Mexican place there, El Vez; not so much the one out on Chestnut.)

Anyway. I really like food.
starlady: (obligatory japan icon)
[personal profile] anehan asked how I got interested in Japan for St. Nick's (Happy St. Nick's, if applicable!), and for yesterday, [personal profile] rachelmanija asked about five things I'm happily anticipating upon returning to Japan.

The first question is easy, and for a while I enjoyed telling this story to people, especially Japanese people, because it was so clearly, from their reactions, entirely not what they were expecting.

This story begins in 1999, my freshman year of high school and the golden age of Toonami. My sister and I started watching Outlaw Star on Toonami the same semester that I started watching Revolutionary Girl Utena in my high school's anime club. I talked up Utena to my sister enough that our aunt sent my sister the first two DVDs, which had the first arc of the anime between the two of them, and they arrived on a day when we were making Christmas cookies. That was a good day. From those anime, and then from others that were broadcast relatively quickly after that, I decided that I wanted to study Japanese, a modern language, in college, since up to that point I'd only seriously studied Latin (aside from brief episodes of French and Spanish) in college, and I was soon to add ancient Greek. I did just that in undergrad, which was also when I started to get into manga, after we were required to read a volume of Doraemon in second year because "Nobuta-kun is the walking personification of the adversitive passive." I wound up double majoring in classics and Asian studies, and I made the decision to concentrate on Asian studies for my graduate career because I figured I'd have a better chance of making an impact there than in a field with a millennia-long history. I've done comparative empires (Rome and China) as my second field in history here in grad school, though, so I'm definitely still not completely out of the classics game.

Five things I'm looking forward to about living in Japan again! Well, to be honest, I'm not exactly relishing spending a year very much on my own, and I actually had a stress dream about it last month (which was probably connected to other things going on at the time, in fairness). My social circle in Kansai has eroded by about 95% compared to the first year I lived in Japan, and doing archival research can get pretty lonely. One thing I like about Japan which is also a problem with me living in Japan is that it's very easy to indulge my introvert tendencies; the first time I lived in Japan was also the time I joined online fandom, not coincidentally. I'm stockpiling media and making plans to visit friends and to have friends come visit me, and I know I'll meet new people in Japan, and I'm looking forward to seeing old friends again, and I know once I get there I'll be largely happy, but I of course anticipate being homesick for my friends in the Bay Area, too.

Ahem.

1. Food! I love Japanese food, and there are just so many kinds of it that are difficult to find even in the Bay Area. (I almost just said parfait, but I do miss more Japanese food than just parfait, as awesome as parfait are.)
2. Manga! Imported books are so expensive here that I've been forced to cut back drastically on my buying them (though in fairness I also lack a lot of time to read them). Being actually in Japan tends to fix both problems.
3. Onsen! It's been cold enough here lately--the coldest the Bay Area has ever been in my experience, actually--that I've been missing both Japanese bathtubs, which are generally deep enough for you to soak up to your shoulders, and Japanese onsen. Luckily rachelmanija and I are talking about taking an onsen trip to Kyushu next fall…
4. Sake! I really like sake, but thanks to a convergence of factors I have weird tastes in it, and the sake I like best is either impossible to get here or prohibitively expensive. But neither of these things are true in Japan, luckily.
5. Being back in Kyoto. I know the city pretty well, there's always something interesting happening at temples, and it's close to the rest of Kansai and not prohibitively far from Tokyo, either. It's the best city in Japan, to my mind, and I love it to bits.

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