Saturday, August 31, 2013

Museum Thursday 美術館の木曜日

I spent Thursday with my friend Ti, exploring near Tokyo Station, and viewing two museum exhibits. Our first stop was an exhibit of ukiyo-e at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum.  The museum building is a phenomenal recreation of one of Tokyo's first Western-style office buildings, originally built in 1894, but with the current incarnation dating from 2010. The ukiyo-e show was also a treat to see- we viewed the third section, which included prints from the 19th century.

We then walked over to Tokyo Station, the renovation of which was recently completed. The station, a perfect example of Meiji period architecture, looks amazing. The original roof design has returned, and the opulent domes are restored to their original appearance.

After a brief lunch of Thai food, we walked to our second destination, the Mitsui Memorial Museum. This museum was connected to the posh lobby of the Mandarin Oriental, and had a breathtaking entryway. 

The exhibit we saw was on yokai, or demons. It was very cool to see yokai ranging from a Kitano Scroll of the 14th century, to 18th century prints, to 20th century manga, and how the illustrations of the yokai have changed and remained the same throughout history.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Waseda 早稲田

Tuesday proved to be a very productive day, which I spent visiting the library at Waseda University. University libraries in Japan are generally closed to the public, so I arrived with a letter of introduction from my own institution, as well as my i.d. card. As the library is literally gated (students swipe their i.d. card to enter), I had to receive a research day pass to use the collections. This allowed me full access to the library, and also allowed me to leave and return throughout the day. Above is the entrance to the central library, below are shots of the tree-lined campus, where I took a long walk on my lunch break.

 My day pass. I spent the morning in the general stacks, and the afternoon in the research collections, which required a further sign in and deposit of my bag in a locker.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Iidabashi 飯田橋

On Sunday evening I met my friend Ti for dinner and drinks in Iidabashi. This is my new favorite Tokyo neighborhood- it was leafy and had lots of small, cosmopolitan restaurants and bars tucked into the various narrow lanes that we strolled.

We hit up The Royal Scotsman for some craft beers on tap and a fantastic dinner.

A Sierra Nevada and a Punk IPA. Most beer in Japan is lager, so not the most flavorful or interesting to drink. As a result, it is a treat to come across craft beer, and despite the high price tag, it is very worth it to indulge in a few glasses when the occasion presents itself.

The food at The Royal Scotsman was also fantastic- we had an appetizer of octopus with tomatoes and walnuts, drizzled with a savory dressing, and a meal of fish and chips, fried to perfection and accompanied by a great tartar sauce.  I did not try the haggis.

After dinner we walked the neighborhood, enjoying lovely weather and narrow lanes and popping into a basement wine bar that was playing a stream of classic Madonna.

On the Tokyo Metro headed back home....

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Otsuka Awaodori 大塚阿波おどり

On Saturday evening I went out with a friend to the Otsuka Awaodori festival. The festival consisted of over a thousand dancers in the street, most belonging to local companies or neighborhood groups (like the PTA). The dancers were accompanied by drummers, flutes, and chanting, and each had their own distinctive costuming. It seems that the festival is related to Obon, comes from Tokushima, and was brought to Tokyo by migrants. The dancing style was distinguished by gender for the most part, but some of the groups seemed to mix up the styles. Also in true Japanese fashion, there was plenty of open drinking and street food stalls, making for a great night out.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Jokenji 成顕寺

Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend the day with my friend Aya and her family. They were so kind and generous, and brought me along with them to visit temples and participate in a local festival over the course of the afternoon and evening. It was amazing!

We started the afternoon at Jokenji, a temple of Nichiren Buddhism where Aya's brother works as a priest. Above is the central altar, below the beautiful paintings adorning the light above the altar.

 The dragon ceiling at the temple.

Above is the shrine to Suwa daimyojin, a manifestation of Buddha that is combined with Shinto practice. Aya had the priests perform a yakuyokei (厄除け) for us, it was a ritual that included chanting the name of the Lotus Sutra over small amulets that had our names inscribed on them. The priests included each of our names in the chant while we sat in front of the above altar. We then moved to the other altar, where five priests surrounded us and chanted, touching a copy of the sutra to our heads and shoulders, sparking a piece of flint, and clapping together beads on a small board. The entire ritual was meant to drive out evil spirits, and provide us with health and energy. We also took home the amulets with our names inscribed on them, mine is now hanging in my apartment, where hopefully it will provide me with good energy in the coming year.

Aya's two small children and her husband also participated in the ceremony, above is her son playing around near the altar.

After the ritual, we spent some time hanging around the temple. There were kids games, and food stalls, and people selling plants and other small household items. 


The kiddos played fishing games, and took some goldfish home.


In the early evening, we took leave from Jokenji, and went to Aya's family temple, which is attached to her parent's home and run by her father. The two photos below show their temple, which is also dedicated to Nichiren.

We had a lovely time visiting and relaxing at their home, and enjoying sushi delivery for dinner.  After our meal, we went back to Jokenji for the evening festivities. There was a procession through the streets surrounding the temple with large floats that had paper flowers flowing from the top. Images of Nichiren adorned some of the floats, text adorned others. Practitioners and families paraded together with the floats and chanted various incantations, chatting and having a great time together.


 The processions ended at the temple, where the priests blessed the participants. Various people danced, chanted, and played the drums, chasing away the negative spirits. At the end of the activities, participants gathered in an air conditioned room of the temple, where people were drinking beer and soda, and eating curry, continuing the days celebrations.

Me and Aya at the end of a fantastic day!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Research 研究

This week I started my position at the research institute. It really is a great privilege to have the opportunity to pursue research full time, especially somewhere with such knowledgeable people and extensive resources. I received my official badge today- the very fact that it says Visiting Research Fellow (来訪研究員) is pretty thrilling. I have a small desk in the Department of Art Research, Archives, and Information Systems, and use of the library. The building is beautiful, and located amidst the greenery of Ueno Park. I'm truly looking forward to a great year.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dinner 晩御飯

Tonight I cooked my first meal in my apartment. 

It's been a hectic two days of starting work, getting business cards made, getting furniture delivered, acquiring groceries, and generally settling into life. I've been eating from the convenience store, something that I would not consider in any other country, but which is pretty acceptable and relatively healthy here. Of course, I'm concerned about chemicals and processed additives, and generally prefer to cook my own food, so it felt really good to be in the kitchen.

I started simple with a Tuna Rice Bowl- white rice, egg, tuna, soy sauce, and mirin stir fried together and then topped with Japanese mayo and cut nori. I cheated and bought the hijiki side dish prepared from the market. This simple rice bowl is a staple in our house in the US, and makes a great lunch. Plus, it's a nice base to which a variety of vegetables can be added.

Tuna Rice Bowl how to:

For one person, I generally make 1 cup of rice, which gives me a meal plus leftovers. This amount also works to make a portion for myself and one for my small kiddo. The dish highlights rice, so it really needs to be a quality sushi rice.

Once the rice is completed (in a rice cooker), heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a skillet or wok pan.

Crack one egg into the pan and add a dash of mirin. Scramble for a brief second and add a can of tuna (preferably flake, no salt, packed in water). I often make this dish without the tuna as well.

Before the egg sets, add the cooked rice and a few dashes of soy sauce to taste. Turn the heat off and mix everything together.

Serve with the topping of your choice- I like plain nori, but any furikake will do, and there are a variety readily found at any Japanese market, or you could make it yourself (here). I also like Japanese mayo (kewpie!), as it provides a bit of tang, and helps to keep everything together.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Shibuya 渋谷

It was quite the adventurous Sunday around Tokyo.

It started by meeting up with a woman I found on Craigslist to purchase a hair dryer. I'm generally distrustful of people I don't know, but for 500 Yen (about $5), this seemed like a good deal for something that I need. We met at a station, and I didn't even have to leave the gate, we just exchanged over the turn style. The dryer works, and now we're both better for it. Watching the film Craigslist Joe a few months ago made me more open to the possibility of finding goods through the listing, and considering I've sold a few things that way myself, perhaps it is a good lesson in being open to the potential good of humanity.

After meeting her, I had a bit of time to spare before going to a social gathering of other foreign academic  researchers currently working in Tokyo. I had to get there by way of Shibuya, so I spent a little time around the station. Perhaps best known for Shibuya Crossing and all the trendy teenagers, I was more interested in seeing Okamoto Taro's Myth of Tomorrow while in the area. Myth of Tomorrow is a huge mural created by the mid-20th century avant garde artist as a warning against the horror of nuclear war and weaponry. It was originally housed in Mexico City (in a hotel of all places), and was lost for decades until it was found less than ten years ago. The mural was restored and brought to Japan, and now resides in part of the sprawling Shibuya Station.

Although the mural has sustained some damage through its tumultuous life, it still has a haunting, ghostly feel to it. It seems like a strange place for such a work- in a hall full of commuters, most of whom passed by without giving the piece a glance (though there were a few others taking photos and obviously visiting for the art). As with Okamoto's other work, I enjoy the supporting characters the most- the tiny ghostly creatures in the bottom right corner for example, don't appear central at first, but really work to draw the viewer into the message of the mural with their uncanny human forms and chilling, empty eyes.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


The past few days have been spent settling into my new apartment, acquiring a cell phone and furniture, setting up utilities, and finding my way around my new neighborhood. As such, I don't have many beautiful things to post, but this photo of part of the izakaya dinner I had with a friend on Thursday will suffice for now. Not veg- but I can not resist the pull of sashimi when in Japan.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Akasaka Mitsuke and Ikebukuro 赤坂見附と池袋

Jet lag had me up early today (as in 4:30 a.m. early), but I still managed to have a full first day. It started off at the Fulbright office near Akasaka Mitsuke station (street scene above), where I had a brief orientation and met another Fulbright grantee. We enjoyed a great lunch near the station, mine consisting of chilled noodles, tempura and rice, salad, and pickles. It was fantastic.

The afternoon was spent near Ikebukuro Station, the second busiest in Japan. I had a few errands to run, and got most of my tasks completed by 5 p.m., even in the unusually hot weather and fighting the afternoon drowsiness of jet lag.