Monday, March 31, 2014

桜 Sakura

The sakura are in bloom!

The buds started to open up this past weekend, and as of today they are in full bloom around Tokyo. This means that people are taking to the parks in droves, complete with plastic tarps, gobs of snacks, and plenty of liquor. On Saturday Joe and little dude and I enjoyed a picnic lunch beneath the sakura in Arakawa-ku. The above and below pics are from then.


Today I picked up some bakery bread on my way into the research institute and had a mini picnic beneath the sakura in Ueno Park. The trees there are among the most famous in Japan, and walking along the lined pathway, it is easy to understand why. 


There is no way that photos can do sakura justice. The experience of seeing thousands of people of all ages and in all types of groups (work groups, families, school groups, friends, etc.) gathering for what amounts to a national picnic is like nothing else. The soundtrack of laughter, kampai (cheers), and occasionally someone playing traditional music is pretty awesome.


The texture of the trees is also difficult to capture in two-dimensions. The flowers are fluffy and airy, and when they reflect the sunshine on a blue sky day like today it makes one feel as if in the clouds.

The joy of the experience is seen with kids and old folks, people taking selfies on their lunch break (like me, but I was definitely not the only one!), tourists and locals alike.


On my way back to the station after an afternoon at work, I caught some bonus sakura by the cemetery that I pass, complete with Sky Tree in the far distance. Little dude, my mom and I also took a dinner picnic beneath the sakura in Asukayama Park, enjoying the blossoms at twilight and into the dark, lit by the small lanterns that line the paths near the trees.


Friday, March 28, 2014

発表 Research Talk

I don't think I will ever tire of taking photos of the Toden Arakawasen.

Hello people of the interwebs! Sorry for the radio silence these past weeks, many things have been happening around here. Our house had a bout of the flu, Joe is here visiting from the States, and yesterday I gave a research presentation at the Waseda Modern History Workshop (click here for the abstract). It was great to have the chance to discuss my work in a public setting; so often as scholars we are are alone in our research. Having feedback from a friendly audience gave me some ideas for how to edit and proceed, and refreshed my thoughts on one of my chapters. We finally have spring-like weather here in Tokyo, and we're on the verge of hanami season (flower viewing picnics). Many more posts in the near future!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ume 梅

This past weekend little dude and I attended an ume viewing picnic with a big group of friends. The weather was perfect- sunny and cool- and the company fantastic. The ume were in full blossom, complete with their lovely scent, and Umegaoka Park was the perfect location to pass the time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

桜ケーキ Sakura Cake

Waiting for sakura (cherry blossoms) is a national obsession in Japan. And this week, the suspense is building. As of today (3/18), the blossoms have not officially opened anywhere, but it should be only a few days before they begin the march north (click here for a prediction map). Meanwhile, today was the last day for sakura cake and lattes at Starbucks. I enjoyed my share of these sweets, including a slice yesterday overlooking the streetcar at Otsuka Station. While I'm sad to see them go, other seasonal treats will arrive in the coming weeks. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

鶯谷ー上野 Uguisudani-Ueno

Everybody loves a steam train.

On Saturday we spent the afternoon between Uguisudani Station and Ueno Park. Our first stop was the station, where we waited for a steam train to pass through, a special event in commemoration of this week's 3/11 disaster. The crowds were thick at all the stations along the route, as well as on the streets along the tracks.

Waiting for the steam train, cameras in hand, security trying to keep everyone behind the yellow line.
It was pretty neat to see the old engine running through the very modern city, and I was surprised at how quiet the train itself was, yet how loud the steam whistle sounded.

After the train passed through we walked around Ueno Park, enjoying the sunny weather. We stopped by a food stall outside of the Benzaiten Temple and snacked on kasutera, a street snack similar to doughnut holes, shaped like Doraimon and Hello Kitty.

Benzaiten Temple.
Kasutera stall. This guy was quite the performer when it came to cooking up the little snacks.
Kitty kasutera.
 Along our route we saw an early blooming sakura tree, and watched a man place two cats in the tree. Then came the cameras... too much cute.

Our ultimate destination was the Shitamachi Museum at the far end of the park. There we were able to explore what the merchant houses of old Tokyo were like in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Little dude exploring history.
Shitamachi of 100 years ago recreated. Or, as little dude put it, we explored ooooooold Tokyo.
The recreated narrow streets of Shitamachi.
The museum had many interactives, including a big table of old fashioned games such as the pinball that we spent a good deal of time with.

Recreated Shitamachi from the postwar period.
After a long day we stopped at the Hard Rock in Ueno Station for dinner. It was fun for me to eat a veggie burger, my mom to have a burger, and little dude to have mac and cheese, foods that are not so easy to come by in our part of the city.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

A Week in Pink

Pink is not on my list of favorite colors, but it seems to be a pleasant reoccurring theme this week. This afternoon I enjoyed a perfectly sweet Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Chocolate Latte at Starbucks, a sign that spring is on its way. I've also been spending a good deal of time with my magenta electronic dictionary, working on translations. Lastly, the camellias are in full bloom around the city, in particular I enjoy them in Ueno while walking to the train station from the research institute.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

National Museum of Nature and Science 国立科学博物館

Museum entrance.

This past Sunday was a very rainy and chilly day, the perfect day for a museum outing in Ueno. We chose the National Museum of Nature and Science as our destination this time, and thoroughly enjoyed this amazing museum. 

 Tickets. Free for little dude and my mom, only Y600 for me ($6). I love how his hand holding the map mirrors mine holding the ticket.

 Ocean diorama.

The museum was comprehensive and huge- it filled six floors of a new building, and three floors of the 1931 structure. The new building was devoted to global science, and the exhibits in the old structure covered the natural history of the Japanese archipelago. We spent four and a half hours exploring, and could easily go back again. What really struck me about the museum was how aesthetically pleasing everything was. For as long as I can remember I have loved the nature dioramas at natural history museums (like my beloved Field Museum), but all of the exhibitions at this museum were stunningly arranged and designed.

 Examining a cow's intestine.

Butterflies in the tree of life section.

There were many interactives throughout the museum, and most were aimed at all ages or smaller visitors.

 Scientist at work.

Playing with interactives in the giant experiment room.

The mammal bone exhibits were quite impressive- especially the mammoths and prehistoric sea mammals. The dinosaur bones were also quite cool, especially the t-rex and ankylosaurus.


 Observing the many teeth of the prehistoric sea monsters.

We spent the majority of our afternoon in the global exhibitions, but did check out the Japanese exhibits which were housed in the beautiful original 1931 structure before we left.

 The atrium of the Nihonkan.

 More aesthetic science.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Red Beans and Rice

It's Mardi Gras! This isn't a thing at all here in Japan, but in honor of the holiday I made Louisiana-style Red Beans and Rice for dinner tonight. Kidney beans, onions, garlic, green peppers, spices, and simmered for three hours. It was complete perfection mixed in with rice and topped with spring onions. I wanted to make a tri-color slaw, but couldn't find the right veggies at my neighborhood market (the big supermarket is a bit further afield), so I improvised with tri-color pickles to represent the purple, green, and yellow of New Orleans. While the pickles made it a bit of a cultural mash-up, their crispy vinegar flavors made a nice contrast with the texture of the beans.