Sunday, July 27, 2014

池袋 Ikebukuro

Things are starting to come full circle as my research year comes to a close. I've been selling off things to other researchers and to random people on Craigslist, and Sunday I was running errands around a very hot and humid Ikebukuro, which was reminiscent of last summer when I was doing a similar thing in the same place. Ikebukuro was where I stayed when I first arrived in Tokyo, and I've spent many days there since, so it is fitting that almost one year to the date I'm again sweating it out on the tree lined streets of one of the busiest parts of the city.

秘密県民ショー The Kenmin Show

How is it possible that I have never blogged about The Himitsu Kenmin Show before?  For as little as I am interested in American t.v. (with a few notable exceptions), I absolutely love Japanese t.v., and The Kenmin Show is tops. Joe and I started watching it years ago when we first lived in Japan, and I was beyond thrilled when I found out last year it is still on the air. The Thursday night show brings together representatives from every province in Japan and then investigates quirky things about the different provinces. Sometimes the hour long episodes focus on one specific province (I loved the Okinawa special that aired just before we went to Okinawa), and other times they have segments on different provinces. The himitsu, or secret, is usually something related to food or language- for example this past week they revealed that people in Ehime put rice in their udon (noodle) soup, other times it is related to attitude or general cultural norms, as in this clip (with English subtitles) of Osaka vs. Tokyo. The show is really popular, and in addition to being hilarious has also provided conversation with a variety of friends and coworkers who also watch the show. For a true idea of the entire show, check out this link (but it has Chinese subtitles!).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

国立国会図書館 National Diet Library

One of the entryways.

This week I've been spending some quality time at one of my favorite Tokyo haunts- the Diet Library. I know many researchers are not excited about the library- photocopies are expensive and the process of obtaining them is bureaucratic (to say the least), many of the digitized collections are only available on site, and the rules of using the library are rather strict. Having said that, I always feel really productive when I spend time at NDL. The collections are extensive, and there is a certain excitement in seeing all the varieties of research being done- I love looking around and seeing people searching through biochemical journals, wartime magazines, publications on educational pedagogy, and any number of other topics that one could think of. I'm also fascinated to see reporters and politicians on the streets surrounding the Diet building as I leave in the evening. As my research year in Tokyo winds down, this is definitely one spot I will miss.
The main building.
Across from the Diet building.
Reporters gathered outside political party headquarters.
The subway back home.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Shrimp and Grits

Soon I will be moving back to the U.S. All packing and moving stresses aside, this means I'm trying to go through my pantry and finish up any foodstuffs sitting around. Enter the last cup of a bag of polenta, or grits. I have a complete soft spot in my heart for polenta- I like it soft, grilled, sauteed, really anyway. Although I'm not really a fan of corn or other corn products, polenta is high on my list. It is easy to make, versatile, and relatively healthy. I also had half a bag of seafood mix in the freezer- so the natural result was Shrimp and Grits. I invented a recipe from looking at a few photos online, so I'm not sure how authentic this is, but is was amazingly tasty.

While the polenta cooked, I sauteed garlic, onion, and two peppers in olive oil for a few minutes. I then added the seafood mixture, a copious amount of cayenne, a dash of black pepper, basil, and oregano, some broth, and a dash of dried spring onions. After a few minutes I also included a healthy amount of Tabasco sauce and a bit of white wine, and let the mixture cook for another five minutes. I topped the polenta with the veggie and seafood mixture, allowing the broth to form a spicy sauce. The smell was heavenly, and taste perfect. Definitely a new addition to the regular menu!

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Quick Dinner

One great thing about life in Tokyo is the ease and convenience of daily life. On the walk home from little dude's school, which is right across from one of the many nearby train stations, we pass two vegetable sellers, a tempura shop, two fish mongers, three convenience stores, a small supermarket, a small electronics shop, a flower shop, two cleaners, and numerous restaurants. This is about a ten minute stroll at a small kid pace, less than that when I walk it alone. On a few evenings we've made a stop at the tempura shop (at the right of the photo) to pick up part of our dinner, selected veggies from the vegetable market (at the left of the photo), and come home to make a pot of rice and steam whatever green veggie little dude thought looked the best that day. It is so nice to have fresh food accessible in such an easy way, and also great to know the local people who supply our food. At the center of the photo is the fish monger that supplies fish to little dude's school once a week. All of these people know us by name, and greet us as we walk through the neighborhood, providing not just the necessities of a quick weeknight meal, but a pleasant sense of community as well.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

七夕 Tanabata

Today is Tanabata, or the Star Festival. This summer festival, celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month, represents the one day a year when a mythical prince and princess- Orihime and Hikoboshi- represented by stars (Vega and Altair) meet across the Milky Way. The festival is often celebrated by writing a wish on a sheet of paper, and tying it to a bamboo frond. Little dude wrote his wish, for a giraffe and for happiness, on a yellow paper, which he tied to bamboo as part of a class project. The kids also made stars with Orihime and Hikoboshi on each side, crafted paper chains, and attached shiny decorations to big strands of bamboo, which they brought home from school last week. May your wishes come true this year!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

明治の工芸 Meiji Period Craft

Entering the museum, which is attached to a ritzy hotel.

Early this week I spent the morning at the Mitsui Memorial Museum, viewing the exhibition Kogei: Superlative Craftsmanship from Meiji Japan.  The show included a wide variety of amazingly crafted objects from late nineteenth century Japan, most of which were created for export. Objects such as cloisonne, embroidery, ivory carvings, laquerware, and metalwork were presented in seven large galleries. The detail of the exhibited works was truly amazing- especially some of the ivory carvings and cloisonne vessels. I will honestly never understand why craft is not held in the same regard as fine art objects, especially after viewing such a fantastic exhibit with such perfect artworks.
The beautiful wood paneled galleries of the museum.
A small sampling of the objects exhibited as seen on the flyer. The no photos rule was strictly enforced in the museum. 

Friday, July 04, 2014

Tokyo Disneyland! 東京ディズ二ランド

Tanabata festival decorations.

After all the stress of the past month, last week little dude and I took a random Thursday off from work and school and hopped the train out to Tokyo Disneyland. We spent the day riding rides, meeting characters, and eating popcorn. We made Tanabata wishes and watched parades. Little dude recently hit the 102 centimeter mark, so we were able to go on a few rides for the first time, including Star Tours (huge impression there!) and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The latter was my absolute favorite ride growing up. My Dad and I would go on it as many times as we could on our trips to Florida. Little dude has seen Big Thunder Mountain from the Western Railway ride on our past two visits to Tokyo Disneyland, and as Thunder Mountain is a train, he has expressed great interest in the ride. Well, our day finally came. It was so much fun that we went on it twice.

Little dude's Tanabata wish- to go on all the rides and to have fun. Mine was to finish my dissertation!

 Too bright to look into the camera...


 Waiting in line, the excitement builds.

 Train coaster! 

 Meeting characters by Splash Mountain.

 Curry at the Hungry Bear Restaurant for lunch.

 Studying the map while waiting for a ride.

 Parade time.

 Waving to Toy Story friends.

 My favorite- Alice in Wonderland.

 More parade!

 They let the kid drive!

 The Electrical Parade, always a perfect end to the day.


The little guy fell asleep within minutes of the finish of the Electrical Parade, and we went home happy. Disney was a great way to celebrate the completion of my research presentation; taking a spontaneous day off to head to the park was something I have wanted to do since arriving in Tokyo, and it was really a great time. Little dude made many new friends, and a few high school girls even took photos together with him. I can't wait to go back.  

Thursday, July 03, 2014

すみだ水族館 Sumida Aquarium

Arriving at Skytree Town.
On a hot afternoon a few weeks ago, little dude and I headed over to Tokyo Skytree Town to visit the Sumida Aquarium.  Japan has a wealth of aquariums, and this one was quite lovely. It was about the same cost as the Sunshine City Aquarium, and had a fantastic variety of jelly fish as well as a great penguin habitat. I think the fish at Sunshine were a bit greater in variety, but this aquarium had a huge central tank, complete with a gigantic eel and a sizable shark. The Sumida Aquarium also had a neat kids activity area where little dude could take a break from the crowd, sit at a kids sized table, and color a penguin postcard.

 Entering the aquarium!

 The lovely and calming aesthetic of water and water species is so appealing to me.


 Tiny jellies!

In addition to a standard jellyfish exhibit, this aquarium also had a variety of tanks with small exotic jellies, in particular, we were really into the long-haired varieties, although some of the chubby ones were pretty cool too. They also had a small interactive lab area where we saw day old super tiny jellies (like pin-head tiny), and learned about how and what they eat when they are so small.


 The giant central tank with the shark. He got quite the reaction when he swam right by us, teeth exposed and all!

 Fishy cuteness.

The highlight of our visit was the penguin habitat. We spent a serious amount of time by the giant tank, and little dude wore himself out running back and forth along the stretch of tank, chasing the penguins as they swam. I learned that 25% of the world's captive penguins are in Japan- an interesting bit of trivia!



 Penguin love.

Back by the big tank one more time.

After a long afternoon at the aquarium we stopped for ice cream at Skytree Town, and then took the Tobu Spacia-sen part way home. This train has been on little dude's train wish list since arriving in Japan, as it was one of the first toy trains he received. The train goes a long distance up to the north, and is meant as a long distance train, but we just rode it from Skytree to the next stop, about 10 minutes. It was exciting enough to check it off the train bucket list, and was the perfect end to a great day.

 Tobu Spacia-sen. Another train goal met!

Looking back at Skytree from the train.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

National Museum of Western Art 国立西洋美術館

Entering the museum.

Over the weekend, little dude and I spent a rainy Saturday afternoon wandering through the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park. Generally, I visit museums for work or research, so to go to an art museum purely for fun was a treat for me. Sprout loves abstract art, so he was excited for the twentieth century galleries. 

 Netherlandish Christian art.


Joan Miro, 1953. The hands down favorite.