Monthly Archives: March 2012

This Izu a Day of Fun

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This Izu a Day of Fun

Just as a warning, this will probably be the most photo-intensive entry Haru has written so far. Who knew one could do so much in just one day of pure fun?

One Sunday not long ago, Haru shot up out of bed just before the crack of dawn and ran out the door by 5:30am. She took her hour and half commute from the Yokohama area into Tokyo, where she left with a bus full of her classmates and friends before the clock hands struck 7am.

Excited, but tired, the kids on the bus spent most of their time trying to keep each other awake. Sleep won out, but before long, a few hours passed and everyone found themselves in Izu, Shizuoka, Japan.

What did we do first here in Izu? We picked strawberries!

And the further we journeyed into the greenhouse, the bigger and juicier the strawberries got. The white stuff on the left is condensed milk. It’s popular here in Japan to eat strawberries dipped in milk sauce. We’ve gotta do that in the States! I wish could’ve tried some.

And here are a few of Haru’s friends enjoying their strawberries.

After the 30 minute time limit of strawberry picking was up, it was time to thank the strawberry farm owner, wash off sticky red fingers, and hop back onto the bus.

Next up was visiting Joren no Taki (浄蓮の滝), a famous local waterfall here.

It was pretty cold and humid, and on top of the rocky path being so wet, Haru couldn’t take me out. But there were so many things to be seen! I wish I could have come out, but here you can get an idea of what she saw on the way down to the waterfall.

The further they journeyed down the slopes, the more… spiritual things felt. It wasn’t just that we passed an old shrine that gave it away. All you have to do is watch Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫), to understand the feeling. There was a powerful quietness there, a silent strength in every fiber of the wood.

It was as if there was a fine line separating this world and the outside one where all the tourists came from.

On the way back up the slippery, rocky slope, it was impossible to leave without checking out the area’s famous merchandise: wasabi ice cream!

Up next, it was time to experience the Dogashima (堂ヶ島) beach and boat ride.

To the docks, people – Captain’s orders!

I didn’t think a doll could feel seasick, but it was all I could do to stay in Haru’s bag and keep myself together. As for Haru, she didn’t want to wear a life jacket or get wet, so she stayed inside the boat and took pictures from there.

Apparently, we passed by a lot of amazing island structures, and even went into a cave. The drivers here in Japan are amazing! Be they bus or boat drivers, they can maneuver through the tiniest of spaces.

Once we made it back to land, it was off to see the trails.

The sun-dappled walkways led straight to a resting area, where even the Showa emperor came and sat down for a bit. But I wonder if he went rock-climbing like the rest of us!

Not too many people were climbing up and down the slopes since it could be steep and dangerous at times, but boy was it a great view.

There weren’t just tourists on these rocky faces though. We even saw a fisherman at work on the other side. How he got there, we’re not really sure. It would have been quite a jump from our rock to his side of the neighborhood.

Here’s a photo of Haru looking like she’s about the fly off the side of the cliff.

And here’s a photo of two guys who actually did. 😀

After seeing Dogashima, it was off to the hot onsen baths. Now, this onsen was a lot bigger than the one the girls had the luxury of using at Zao in Yamagata prefecture. Unfortunately, Haru didn’t have the luxury of taking photos of the baths here in Izu this time, because there was a never ending queue of naked bath-goers. Even I didn’t get to see it, but according to my friend here, it was pretty amazing.

They had a salt bath, in which it was practically impossible to sink to the bottom of. It also stung any open cuts, so don’t go in that one if you’ve cut yourself shaving. There were tea baths and baths with water the color of white rice. From what we heard, some of these baths contained healing properties, like the various medicinal baths they had… Although to Haru, they smelled more like chicken soup than medicine. How about that?

By the end of the onsen visit, it was evening. To a horde of hungry, wired college kids, that means the unhappy sounds of grumbling bellies. However, thanks to Nahomi here, our awesome event coordinator, everyone’s painful, talking stomachs were taken care of. We ate at a kaiten-zushi (回転寿司) restaurant, or a restaurant that serves sushi on a conveyor belt for those who don’t know.

…and this is just the beginning of the feasting frenzy.

Here are just a few of the dishes that our group of seven snatched off the conveyor belt. Just watching everyone eat plate after plate of translucent, succulent fish makes my hollow, resin middle feel even hollower.

The dessert also looked scrumptious and ready to die for! Cream puffs, pudding, and chocolate cakes – I could really have some right now!

Here’s a photo of Yuan with about half the amount of plates we piled up during dinner. Workers and other dinner guests who passed our table kept giving us these curious, mystified looks – and I’m pretty sure that seeing a resin kid standing on the table had nothing to do with it.

Cheers to a dinner well devoured!

After everyone stuffed themselves, a long ride to Shinagawa station awaited us. While much of the time was spent on singing really out of tune karaoke, the rest was spent catching up on homework for some people.

For others like me though, it was time to hit the sack. Lights off, please!

And in my sleep, I dreamed that all was well, and that Komame had been there too. Boy, do I hope I find him by the end of our stay here in Japan.

Only one month left…

Good night all,

Rowan

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Endless Urban Sprawl

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Endless Urban Sprawl

Hey everyone!  Sorry for being a little slow in making posts in the past week.  The semester is coming to a close soon here in Tokyo (mid-April) so I have been buried under mounds of Japanese homework and essays from all my classes.  This past Wednesday I went to visit Tokyo Tower with my friend Nik.  Tokyo Tower is not too far from TUJ, about a 20 minute walk from Azabu Hall.  We met up at the Azabujuban subway station and headed over to the tower.

The cool thing about Tokyo Tower is that you can spot it from almost anywhere in the Minato-ku/Roppongi area.  Because of this we took an unconventional route to get to the location, periodically looking up into the sky to see if we were headed in the right direction.  On our way we passed temples nestled in between apartment complexes and mansions.  Occasionally we spotted an enormous embassy building of a foreign country, surrounded entirely by guards and policemen.  The Minato-ku section of Tokyo is one of wealthier, as well as more international, sections of the megacity.  Lots of overseas companies have their offices here.  When walking in the area I got the feeling that I was walking through a mix of a few different American cities.  Minato has the hilly streets and Californian architecture of San Francisco, the political feel of Washington, D.C. (due to the various embassies), as well as restaurants and cafes of various cuisines that gave the area a New York feel.

When we started to get near Tokyo Tower, we sort of got stumped as to where the entrance might be.  We gave in out of eagerness and decided to ask a nearby police officer for directions.  One thing I noticed about living in Japan is that a significant amount of Japanese people (not all) assumes that 外人 (foreigners) do not know Japanese.  Even when I ask a minor question (like directions in this case) in Japanese to a Japanese person they will start out first speaking Japanese, pause, and then try the best they can to finish their answer in English.  It’s always a funny exchange.  Who knows, maybe the person is using the opportunity to practice their English just like Nik and I were with our Japanese.

Since I’ve started to get a feel for certain cities and areas within Tokyo, and because public transportation is so efficient, my idea of Tokyo as a large megacity has somewhat diminished.  As the elevator took us up the Tower to the main observatory, I realized how wrong I really was.  No matter what side of the observatory I decided to look out of, I couldn’t even see where the urban sprawl ended.  We arrived at the perfect time to see the lights gradually illuminate the city, which gave Tokyo a totally different vibe than the moments prior.  The observatory itself was also very large.  In addition to a souvenir shop there was also a café, restaurant, and live music space, and club.  The special observatory supposedly had even more things for entertainment.  If I ever come back I will definitely shell out the extra yen to check out what the upper floors have to offer.  Afterwards we headed back home towards Tamachi station; and of course we had to stop by our regular spot, ココカレー (Coco Curry), for dinner.  Until next time everyone, peace.

Korea Town in Tokyo

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Korea Town in Tokyo

Mid-terms have been railing hard on Haru, so she didn’t get a chance to write much as of late. However, in the eye of the storm, she took some time to hang out with her good friend Kristina, also a previous host student who stayed with Haru’s host family last semester.

Together, they went to Shin-Okubo, also known as Korea Town here in the big city of Tokyo. There, they met up with Haru’s childhood friend, whom she hadn’t seen or heard from since elementary school!

Here’s the beautiful Kristina. 😀

And here’s Justin, a pro at using chopsticks and speaking Japanese. Maybe I should get him to teach me? He’s been living here for a while now. It’s funny how both he and Haru met up again coincidentally through Kristina. A miracle-worker, that girl!

The three of them ate at a small Korean restaurant tucked away somewhere near the station.

Judging the expressions on their faces as they dug into their food, the food must have been pretty delicious. Personally, I’m no fan of hot, spicy food, but Haru and her friends were. Here are some pictures of their meal.

For those of you with weak insides like me, doesn’t this just make you feel like you’d get a stomach ulcer?

Haru also got herself a peach and 日本酒 cocktail. Feeling pretty grown up, I guess. She was just happy they didn’t card her. Back in the States, Haru got carded all the time, even though she’s almost twenty-two now. She’s so old, and yet last time she was babysitting on Halloween, a neighbor thought she was a middle school student and offered her candy. When asked for her age, the poor woman went all bug-eyed when Haru said she was a junior in college.

After their lunch, they went out to explore Shin-Okubo with Justin as their guide.

There were so many stores selling beauty products, books, food, etc.

Perhaps the staple look around here though is the sheer amount of Korean band merchandise. They were everywhere! Here’s a photo of a music store on the second floor, with an entire staircase dedicated to Korean bands.

After the tour and wandering from bookstore to product store and back again, the three of them walked around Shinjuku briefly. Tokyo truly is a city of neon lights and sounds, but infinitely cleaner than Philly.

It was getting late, so it was time to part ways with Justin as he lives in Chiba prefecture, and the girls live in Yokohama over in Kanagawa prefecture. Before parting though, Justin and Haru goofed off like old times. Thanks to Kristina, a few jests were captured. It’s amazing how even in heels, Haru barely comes up to Justin’s chin. When they were both ten, Justin was the shorter one. I can’t imagine this, but Haru promised to show me her old photos when we return home to the US.

Before turning in for the night, Kristina and Haru dropped by Machida station, just four stops away from Haru’s home station. There, Kristina described Machida as somewhat of a college town where a lot of college kids gather, shop, and hang out. It’s a very lively part around here for young people.

Here, the two of them got their milk tea and tapioca drinks at Tapioca World. Bubble tea is pretty popular in Asia, and it’s been getting pretty big in the West too. If you’re in the Philly area, just drop by Chinatown or Upenn’s campus, and you’ll see bubble tea shops springing up around there.

By the time we reached Machida though, I was asleep inside Haru’s bag. Haru told me they went to a coffee shop to talk over some dessert.

While I didn’t get to hear what their conversation was like, I did hear a voice that I wasn’t really familiar with.

I’m still bummed that Haru hadn’t woken me up and let me try dessert. So whoever it was, better not have been eating my share!

Until the next post everyone,

Rowan

Oh, Odaiba!

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Konnichiwa everyone!

My time here at TUJ is winding down, unfortunately. Everyone is starting to feel an urgency to get things accomplished that they might have set out to do in the beginning of our time here. Even for me, I am frantically scrambling, trying to see and do everything.  One of the places that I knew that I definitely wanted to visit while in Tokyo is Odaiba.

Odaiba is a man-made island in the Tokyo Bay, that has become known for its shopping malls and architecture.  It is also known for it’s super jumbo-sized Ferris Wheel (Daikanransha) which used to be the tallest in the world, as well as the Rainbow bridge, which lights up in multiple colors during the nighttime.  It really is a beautiful island with gorgeous views of the city and the sea.

With all of those things, how could we pass up the chance to go to Odaiba!?  We just could not!  Anyways, a few friends and I took the train out to the island. It is only a few transfers and a rapid line away, but once we got there the weather and the view were nice enough that that was not much of a bother.

We walked around for a little bit, noticing the oddly shaped buildings and the water before we made our way into ‘Palette Town’, which is a 3 floor mall in an Italian theme. There were statues and lights and different decoration all made out to make you feel like you were in Italy. In Japan. The restaurants, the shops, the artwork, all of them were beautifully laid out as we walked through, taking a ton of pictures and probably slowing down all of the people that were actually there to buy something.

Don't you feel like you're in Venice already?

One of the more popular shops in Palette Town was the ‘Hello Kitty Kawaii Paradise’, which had everything that a Hello Kitty lover dreams of. It is so cute! The couches, chairs, photo booths, everything had Hello Kitty on it, and everyone was freaking out over it. Adults, kids, everyone loved that store. There were other characters featured in Palette Town, like Pikachu, but none had the emphasis that Hello Kitty had over the island.

After we were all shopping-malled-out we headed over  to the Ferris Wheel.  You were able to pick what type of car you would like, either color coded or clear and luckily for us there was no wait in the line! We were up in the sky before we even knew it. The ride lasts about 15 minutes, and the view is amazing the whole time. You could see all the way to Tokyo Tower! I would definitely recommend that anyone who visits Tokyo makes a stop in Odaiba and especially to take a ride on the ferris wheel. It is something that I do not think I will ever forget.

An Interesting Concert

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This past Tuesday my friend Jess and I went to Fever, a live music venue in Setagaya-ku, a few minutes outside of Shibuya.  I went to see an American artist (ironically) who goes by the name of Baths.  I heard various things about how the concert atmosphere is different in Tokyo, so I paid especially close attention to what was going on, and how things differed between the cultures.

One interesting thing about Japan is its relationship with technology.  I have noticed that while there is technology here that is much more advanced than American technology, there is still a tendency here in Japan to hold on to outdated technology.  A big example of this are arcades, which are still extremely popular here.  This desire to hold on to outdated concepts and lifestyles carries over into the concert scene as well.  Rarely do Americans go to a box office or Ticketmaster to buy tickets for an event.  The majority of tickets brought are brought online.  Although tickets are available online for most music events in Tokyo, most people tend to buy a physical ticket from a Loppi kiosk.  These kiosks are almost always located in Lawson’s コンビニ (convenience stores) around the city.  I actually like that it is done that way.  If you don’t buy merchandise at a concert then a ticket can serve as your keepsake.

When we first got there, the opening act was performing.  I expected to see some dancing, or at least some head nodding but for the most part everyone was chill.  It was hard to tell if they were even enjoying themselves.  As the night went on, me and Jess began to make our way to the front near the stage.  Back home, if I did not get to a show early I’d have to fight my way to the front, or just give up on the idea of going to the front altogether.  Here in Tokyo, everyone gave each other space,  you could even leave your spot and come back if you wanted.
When Baths came on the environment changed a little.  A few more people besides me and Jess were dancing, but it still seemed pretty relaxed for a concert.  Even Baths noticed it and could not understand why.  He tried to put even more effort into his performance and do some call-response games and it seemed to hype up the atmosphere somewhat.  What surprised me the most were these two guys in front of me.  They were the closest to Baths so you would expect them to be the most engrossed in the concert, yet they pretty much stood there and took in the music the entire time with little to no reaction.  I could not understand it.  They were at the front, so it was obvious that they were interested in the music, but they did not express that interest at all.  At the end of his performance, instead of hearing girls screaming and guys yelling, the crowd politely clapped for an almost endless amount of time.  Baths finally got the point that this was their version of an encore and came back out to perform two final songs.

The end of the concert was almost too immediate.  Back at home people tend to hang around for a good while to talk, and maybe catch the artist walking around in the crowd after the show.  The last train wasn’t for another two and a half hours yet pretty much everyone had left within a few minutes.  Of course it was so much easier for us to approach and talk to the artists, who were nice and open to conversation.  Overall, this experience was 面白い (interestingly funny).  It may take me some time for me to get used to the Tokyo concert scene.  じゃまた

Bueno Ueno Zoo

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Bueno Ueno Zoo

A good day at Ueno Zoo for penniless college students is one that includes no entrance fee.

Which is a great thing for Haru and her friends, Kristina and Emmy that the zoo was allowing free entrance onto their grounds. Of course, that meant braving the huge crowds. But honestly speaking, when IS Ueno Zoo ever NOT crowded? Besides, it was still Spring Break for the students here in Japan, so that meant a surplus of little kids going to see the zoo. Including me, of course! I’ve been on a permanent break of sorts, so it was awesome when Haru told me she was taking me to the zoo with her.

I got to see a lot of cool animals that I’ve only ever heard about. Unfortunately, they were all locked away behind fences and cages so I couldn’t see them up close and personal. Like this elephant. Talk about huge!

Of course, after seeing a real elephant, I wanted to ride one. That was impossible, but I COULD have rode on the fake one, but Haru said no. As usual…

We also got to see Monkey Mountain, which wasn’t as much of a mountain as it was a small rocky hill with monkeys on it. Having all those people gawking at them the whole time, I’m not surprised that they turned their backs to all the visitors… It made me want to go Tarzan on the spot and set them all free. Haru would kill me, but I know she felt the same.

After seeing the monkeys, we went off to ride the monorail! I was really excited, and people who saw me kept staring like they’ve never seen a pint-sized kid before. It made me feel rather awkward.

We said hello to the conductor and found a seat right behind him.

It wasn’t much of a ride since it was so short, but it was still cool seeing the zoo from high above everyone else. Take a look!

 

Before we knew it, it was time to get off. Haru and the others couldn’t believe that we waited in line for over half an hour for that, but I thought it was well worth our time!

We then proceeded to come across birds. Lots and lots of birds, including crows, which are not part of the zoo at all, but are Haru’s favorite animals. She took way too many pictures of them when she should have been looking at penguins.

Among other birds we saw were flamingoes. There were those of the pink variety, and then those that were not. These blue ones were HUGE.

Haru was able to find her way closer to the blue flamingo (that’s what the sign said, anyway), and she almost dropped her camera when it turned to look her dead in the eye. After that, she told us that she would never call Big Bird ugly ever again.

The birds were fun, but the girls wanted to go look at some furry creatures in the small mammal exhibit. Unfortunately, the day was growing late so they ended up leaving without seeing much. Besides, the exhibit was cramped and dark – not a great place to take photos of the cute and furry things inside.

On the way out of the zoo, we passed under the monorail. It was cool being in it, but there was something really cool about being under it!

Everyone wanted to take last minute photos, so we hurried up the ramp to the outdoor balcony. Here’s a photo of Emmy taking pictures. Seriously, Haru should just quit school and join the paparazzi. She takes too many candid shots.

We didn’t stay up there long, because Emmy said she felt the ground tremble. Immediately, everyone thought of earthquakes and collapsing balconies, so the three of them ditched the scenery and headed straight for the exit.

It was a great day out – nice weather, cool things to see, etc. But a part of me couldn’t help but feel badly about how weary-looking all the animals were. Also, I couldn’t help but feel badly for the parents who took their kids to the zoo – they also looked really exhausted.

Before we left the premises though, I saw the children’s zoo, which I assumed was a petting zoo. I begged Haru to take me there, but she really wanted to go home and sleep, so I didn’t push it…

Even though Haru’s anything but a parent to me, I wondered if she was tired too, like the other sleep-deprived parents milling dazedly around with their kids. Finals have really wreaked havoc on her and her friends as of late, and I worry about her sometimes. But looking at her tired, but happy face that day, I was glad I got to come along and enjoy the zoo with her.

We apologize for the late entry, but stay posted for more adventures! Coming up, I’ll cover our trip to the Kansai area of Japan: Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka. I promise you that that’s a story you won’t want to miss.

Au revoir!

Rowan

Seen a Hina-Matsuri?

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Seen a Hina-Matsuri?

It was March 3rd this past Saturday, and like many famous Japanese holidays, this holiday fell on an odd-number day.

Think about it: 1/1 is the day after New Year’s (お正月), 3/3 is Girls’ Day (雛祭り), 5/5 is Children’s Day (子供の日), and 7/7 is The Lovers/Star festival (七夕). This past weekend meant Girls’ Day was in session.

Why couldn’t Haru have planned to stay in Japan till after May 5th?! Children’s Day is also thought of as a Boys’ Day… It would have been so much more fun then.

But since it was Girl’s Day, Haru went out and bought stuff – girly stuff to be specific. Take a look at this! It’s called Hina-Arare (ひなあられ), or “snow pellets.” There was nothing cold about them. Just popped rice with a sugary coating, and voila! – snow pellets. There were even pink-white-green Hishi Mochi (菱餅) being sold, but she decided her snow pellets contained enough sugar to keep her awake for a week.

I suppose Haru was a little irritated with my sourness. She said to “stuff it.”

Next was dinner, which was o-sekihan (お赤飯), which was rice mixed with sweet azuki beans to give it its red color and sweet taste. It’s one of Haru’s host sisters’ favorite dishes. Talk about a sweet tooth!

So as I was pouting, the girls looked at me mischievously. Identical eerie grins split their faces, making me concerned. Very, very concerned.

Wondering if there was something funny going on, I looked everywhere. That’s when I noticed these two hiding under my elbow. Sure they startled me, but it was more because this was the first time I’ve seen dolls that were smaller than me.

That’s when I noticed one of their heads was wobbling… AND NO ONE WAS TOUCHING IT.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

… I wasn’t scared! I just felt like raising my arms, okay?! It’s called exercise. There was too much sugar consumed that one day, so someone had to do it!

After having her fair share of sweetened red rice, it was time to take photos of less disturbing dolls.

Did you know that for every daughter in a Japanese family, it’s tradition for them have to have a set of Hina dolls (雛人形)? This elegant pair belongs to Tomomi, the older daughter in our host family.

This set belongs to Minori, the younger daughter. She wanted Haru to take a picture of them kissing…gross, gross, GROSS!

These dolls were made to represent the Emperor and Empress of the Heian Imperial Court, the era from which the tradition of making Hina dolls originated. And it’s not just the Emperor and Empress dolls – it was the entire Imperial court! That would mean a seven-tiered set. HUGE, not to mention EXPENSIVE. Some sets can cost thousands in US dollars! I have a piggy bank back home that Haru gave me, and I’ve got a few dollars saved up, but it took me forever. I can’t imagine how long it would take to save up for a set – not that I, as a boy, ever would!

So for the sake of space and money, both Tomomi and Minori each only have a pair of official Emperor-Empress dolls.  The rest, they made on their own!

And as beloved as their dolls are, their mother put them away by the end of the night. There’s a superstition that says if the dolls are left out until the next morning after March 3rd, the daughters will have bad luck and get married late. If you ask me though, I think most people these days like getting married later rather than sooner. Haru said I’m going to become a cynic at this rate, but also admitted that she was one too.

Minori also showed us a little drawer with candy offerings to the dolls. Real cute…  and real girly! Yuck!

Ever the practical joker, Minori decided that playing with her Hina dolls was not enough, so she tried dragging me into her games.

GIRLS – I don’t get them at all! They must be aliens or something! What a nightmare!

But according to this worn out Kuma-chan here, I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Till next time!

Rowan

Starstruck at Ebisu

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Starstruck at Ebisu

Ever had one of those moments when you think, “Well geez, this sure ain’t Kansas anymore”?

I think the reality of where she actually is, finally hit Haru hard across the face – in a good way of course. She was just surprised really, but I had to remind her not to leave her jaw behind as she traipsed her way through the Ebisu Garden Place (恵比寿ガーデンプレイス) with her friend, Yuan.

Before I get to that, how about I tell you why we were in Ebisu in the first place. For those who don’t know where it is, it’s close to the middle of Shibuya and close to Roppongi as well. In other words, it’s a pretty famous place around here with museums, stores, restaurants, and gardens around.

In our case, there was a class field trip this past Saturday to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. It was a tiny place inside a huge building. But I think the archives were most impressive – behind the librarian’s desk was an automatic double door. And behind those doors, it looked like it would lead into the Matrix. I was almost expecting Neo or Agent Smith, to stride out of there with a rocket launcher in hand.

While we couldn’t take pictures inside, here are some photos of the enormous plaza leading to it. Everything was just so… grand.

But here’s the really fun part – watching Haru and Yuan go goo-goo-eyed as they struggled between melting and exploding at the same time. Here’s a photo taken from my point of view of what got them so excited. It just looked like a stick of rotten swiss cheese, with square holes instead of round ones.

It really didn’t seem like anything to me, other than another monument stuck in the middle of brick desert with random people trudging around. I made my exasperation quite clear, so Yuan decided to break the news to me about why Haru would stand comatose for one moment and then go into a photo-shooting frenzy the next.

“That’s where Tsukushi Makino and Tsukasa Domyouji met for their first date!” Yuan bubbled, as she jabbed her finger towards the stone monument, “That’s where Tsukasa waited hours and hours in the rain for Tsukushi to show up. It’s romantic, don’t you think?”

I guess, I can’t say what I think because I don’t know. I’m just a kid after all! And only after asking more questions, did I realize Yuan and Haru were talking about characters from a famous Japanese drama, and not about real people! But I couldn’t help but wonder why the girl character from Boys Over Flowers, or Hana Yori Dango (花より男子) would think to stand up the guy character in the first place. Didn’t she realize that standing up friends was a bad thing? Then again, I don’t know their whole story.

While Ebisu Garden Place may have been a famous set for a famous drama, luckily, we didn’t spend our entire time standing there, gawking. For instance, we met a sweet old lady walking her dog! He’s in his sixties in dog years, but in human years, he’s nine. Haru thought he had a dashing personality, and Yuan was more than happy to play with him and talk to his friendly owner!

Yuan got hungry so we followed her to Saint Germain Bakery for some tasty pastries. I tried talking Haru into getting something, but she was saving her stomach for dinner. Everything they were selling looked so yummy though!

After that, we went about touring the grounds. It was such a big area! People looked so tiny milling about.

And beyond it was the famous Taillevent-Robuchon restaurant, catering to gourmet food lovers and お金持ち, rich people, or at least anyone who can afford to eat there!

It wasn’t open when we were there, but we still went ahead and looked around. Here’s a photo of Yuan scoping the place out!

It was getting late, and the girls had to hurry back to Minato to meet up with their friends for a dinner Haru planned earlier in the week. But here are some twilit scenes at Ebisu Garden Place. It looks totally different than those earlier photos, huh? The place took on such a completely different feel when day descended into night, it was almost like magic was afoot there.

On the way back to Ebisu Station, we took the Sky Walk route. It was scenic as well as convenient, like most things here in Tokyo.

Not only was it a walkway that spanned several blocks, it was also somewhat of an underground mall – or rather, an “overground” mall.

Here are some photos of a flower shop Yuan and Haru passed.

It was stocked full of expensive, freshly cut flowers; an explosion of color and scents.

There was a very nostalgic air in there for Haru, as it reminded her of a local flower shop near her home back in the States. But this time, the knowledge of being in another country came with an intense feeling of severe homesickness.

On the way back to the Minato area, Yuan and Haru took the wrong train and ended up in Naka-Meguro, when they should have been going in the other direction. But the awesome thing about Tokyo’s transportation system is that it’s fast and intuitive so finding the way again wasn’t so hard.

Finding the way again… Wherever he is, I hope Komame’s finds his way back to me.

We’ll meet again, right?

Rowan

“For Here or To Go?”

Standard

This is one of the most common phrases I hear at small restaurants and fast food joints in the United States.  However in Japan, unless you’re going to マクドナルド (McDonald’s) or ケンタッキーフライドチキン (KFC), the likelihood of hearing this phrase is slim to none.  Whenever you go to a restaurant or even a small fast food place, it is assumed that you will be dining in and are treated as such.  A waiter will walk to your seat (or table if you’re with someone else) and serve you a glass of water.  Unlike American restaurants, in which the waiter comes back at a certain time to see if you’re ready to order, Japanese restaurants are quite the opposite.  The waiters literally wait until you are ready to order.  I learned this the hard way when I first started going out to various restaurants near TUJ for lunch.  I came at a busy time to Coco Curry, a small curry house near Tamachi Station.  The waiter was waiting on everyone in the restaurant, as well as helping the cooks in her spare time.  After waiting for about ten minutes I assumed that she would come to ask for my order eventually, once she had some spare time.  Then I saw one guy who had just sat down yell to the kitchen, “すみません!” (Excuse me!).  The waiter rushed over and proceeded to take his order.  That’s when I realized that I had to let them know I was ready, or else I’d never get my food.

In other significantly larger restaurants, such as Saizeriya (a Japanese-style Italian restaurant) you ring an electronic bell and the waiter will come to take your order.  From that point on, if you want to order more food/dessert you have to ring the bell again.  The check is brought out with your main course.  I find this process to be much more efficient than American restaurants.  Waiters can wait on more than one table; if you’re in a rush you won’t have to worry about waiting for the check to come to your table.    Also another thing I noticed is that no matter where you go, from the fancy high end restaurants to the low key, small ramen houses, you will always be treated and honored as a guest.  In addition, the concept of “tipping” is not really a part of Japanese culture.  Good, efficient service is a given quality of Japanese dining.  In America, I feel that we sometimes are surprised when we get better than average service at a restaurant.

A nan (sweet bread) and chicken curry dish from Jinnah, a cheap Indian restaurant near TUJ. In the back is my friends egg curry dish. All of this only took about 7-10 minutes to make, fast!

Back in the States, I often had to resort to fast food for lunch on my busiest class days.  There just was not enough time to sit down and enjoy a meal.  In my opinion, in Japan you do not have to go to a fast food joint to get “fast food.”  I noticed that restaurants here make food surprisingly fast.  Also, dining alone in a restaurant does not carry the somewhat negative aura that it does in America.  In fact, most places are set up with counters and tables specifically for those dining alone.  Well that’s all I have for now.  As you can see by my last post, I am using food a lot to immerse myself into the culture!  Until next time, じゃまた