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Wednesday, March 28

Ueno in the Pink

Spring has definitely arrived in Tokyo as the cherry trees are doing their best to show-off the new season. One grand place to see spring in action is Ueno Park, where a friend had treated me to tickets for an Ikebana exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum located in the park. The school exhibiting was the Ikenobu, the exact one that I have been eager to find a sensei for. As you may have noted, I haven’t been posting any new Kofu arrangements lately. I actually haven’t taken a class since December. There are several reasons for this which are much too trivial to get into. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been practicing but without a sensei telling me if I am on the right track, I refuse to post something calling it Ikebana when any expert can see that it is really a cheap imitation. So, I simply continue my practice in the solitude of my own home until, as I said, I find a sensei who teaches Ikenobu. Enough with the side story. Ahem.

Yesterday, Russia and I caught a train to Tokyo for a day at the museums. In this particular area, there are actually many art museums to peruse but one had a special DaVinci exhibit currently showing which we intended to add to the end of the day’s itinerary. Once in Ueno Park, we initially missed finding the Metropolitan but did end up at the Tokyo National Museum where DaVinci was being shown. Going a bit backwards from the original plan, we scuttled to the counter and purchased two tickets for 1,500 yen each. Then we got in line - a line that actually wrapped around two of the buildings in the complex. We waited for the slow moving line to approach the front door, next passing through the x-ray machines and finally forcing us into the slowest scurry that man ever performed through the room where each person strained their necks at all angles to gaze at the amazingness that is the “Annunciation.” As we left this first room, Russia and I eagerly awaited seeing the rest of the works displayed. The information we were given was in English but I wouldn’t say they were beneficial in directions. After scanning some rooms and coming up with nothing short of restrooms, we noticed that their seemed to be a trail that was leading back out of the building and around a shady corner of the grounds. So we followed. Just doing what those Romans do! We enter another building with anticipation galore only to face quite the little letdown. This never occurred to us, but there were no more DaVinci’s to see! That one beautiful painting was it! The second room was what, thinking back now, seems completely indicative of live in Tokyo… digital reproductions of DaVinci’s work. While the exhibit was quite crafty, it was still just TVs and paper mache sculpture reproductions explaining the man’s work. If I wanted explanations, I could read a book. I paid 1,500 yen to see art! I wanted to stand in front of greatness and be moved to tears! Instead I stood in an overly crowded room where the limited English translations were all below tops of the multitude of dark heads. To actually read the part we could understand would mean that the room would have to rather devoid of other bodies… frankly impossible in this chock-a-block city. Feeling a little saddened at missing the real stuff and maybe a little frustrated because what we could see, we couldn’t actually read, we called an end to our DaVinci wonder and wandered back into the park.

On our way back to the Metropolitan, we gaped and gawked at the cherry trees lining the path, the large quantity of cleanly-dressed and shaven but obviously homeless men that gathered around the fountain and then the several blue tarps laid out and covered with about one hundred Japanese business men in suits enjoying lunch and was that… beer?? Yes, indeed it was. Laid out in the middle of each circle of suits were cans and cans of Asahi while many of the business men looked as if they had helped themselves to more than a few… including the suit that came running over to the two gaping blondes and offered them grapefruit chu-hi on an obvious dare. We gratefully accepted because what smart person would turn down a refreshing and (importantly) free alcoholic beverage on a Tuesday afternoon? Among heaps of hoots, the gentleman rejoined his group beaming with pride as we wandered off to find a spot to sit and enjoy the token chu-hi.

Back on our way to the museum, which we finally discovered in a quiet corner, only to accidentally enter through the employee entrance and be quickly ushered back on track by security. We had been attempting to find the restaurant inside that we could see from the outside but had too much difficulty explaining ourselves to security. Instead we merely shoved our tickets for the Ikenobu exhibit towards him. After a glance, he personally escorted us through the building, up two floors and to the exhibit’s entrance. Perhaps he feared we were trying to make off with the art inside, but frankly we just haven’t learned how to read the obvious (and even in English) signs splashed on the doors that we passed through. Finally arriving at the exhibit, we tossed aside the previous concerns over our detours and hunger to taken in the many splendid arrangements that filled the room. It was just as beautiful and amazing as I know the school to be and gave me that much more incentive to get back to my Ikebana education.

The day was getting late and we still were missing lunch so we found an English pub-looking place that concocted some form of fish and chips with a bit of Japanese flair. (Do the English really eat their fish and chips with rice and undercooked egg?? I think not.) Stuffed and disconsolately looking towards the work that called to both of us at home, we headed back to the train home.
The rest of my week is all about bringing home some dough with the help of my mighty substitute’s hat. After this weekend, I should have a pretty amusing festival to tell you about… this one not meant for children. I’ll save details for then.

Thursday, March 22

Culturing Up

Not wanting to appear lazy in the face of last week’s adventures (and not wanting to sit around the house and mope all this week long), I roused myself early on Wednesday morning and caught a train to Yokohama. During my previous travels, I had noticed that there was an art museum there I had yet to explore. The information I had indicated that I would find works by Cezanne, Magritte and Dali there. Being a junky for all things artistic, I refuse to miss a chance to see work by these people. Or so I thought.

I arrived at the Yokohama Museum of Art and had a little trouble finding the front entrance. After a tour of the outside of the building, I managed to attain access to the foyer and opted for the ticket that included the special exhibit by a Japanese artist of which I can’t recall the name. All I recall now it that he was a banker in real life. It didn’t help that few signs were in English either. His rooms were the first I toured. Along those walls, there were also watercolors by other similar Japanese artists. This special exhibit was much more beautiful and interesting to me than I first expected, possibly because I simply haven’t studied enough Japanese art prior to my visit to really grasp the meaning behind the works. Of course, now I have to yank out all of my old art history texts and study up for my next Japanese art museum. Most important question… why do the Japanese paint one eye all crazy-like, aimed at the sky and the other piercing into the viewer’s brain?

Off to the permanent collection. After my initial excitement over the new discovery of Japanese prints, the permanent collection was a tiny bit disappointing to me. For two rooms (the museum had a total of six), there were only pen and ink, sketches and prints to see. Of course, many were works by Renoir, Degas, Manet, Rodin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse and Picasso… but that was totally not what I was expecting to see for their works. Beautiful artistry, yes… but I wanted watercolors, oils and acrylics to bleed their colors into my mind’s eye. There is another art museum in Tokyo I have been wanting to get to which hopefully will fulfill my longings.

There was a photography room that was quite moving, focusing on what I think was the earthquake in Kobe in 1995. Again, limited English here to know for sure. The last rooms were back to a bit of what I was expecting with Japanese oil paintings, very Renaissance-like, which makes me wonder about how influence spreads in our smaller-than-we-know world. The very last room displayed huge Japanese painted screens and silk screenings, again making me wish I understood more of their art.

Finished with the museum tour, I headed back through Landmark Tower which only the day before I had come to discover had a Banana Republic hidden somewhere in its tall, gray walls. My intention was to take a quick peak while at the same time refusing to get my hopes up. I was oh, so right not to do so. Nothing in my size. No harm done. Of course, there is rarely harm done by me in a mall these days. Perhaps when I move home, the malls can simply remove anything remotely close to my size to keep me at arms length from future harm?

Time to go do that research on Japanese painting. Or… maybe I’ll just surf the website. Just for a minute. No harm done…


Tuesday, March 20

The Week in Review

Tears are still being shed over the emptiness of our home from my cousin’s presence but I am trying hard to get back to my usual self. It was me that chose this life so far away from my family and friends so I don’t feel that I have the right to be sad because of it. However, I do ask for forgiveness and understanding when I am struck with these snags of depression over how much I miss my life back home and those that I love so much. Chris, Erika and I really did make memories to last a lifetime over the past week. I will always have those to cherish forever.

Fortunately, Chris and Erika have as much energy as I do and I was able to fill their days as best as I could with as much as I could. If you are thinking of visiting me, and this itinerary seems a bit to hectic to handle, let me know ahead of time. I will only slow down when forced to and guests will have to be that force. I warn you now… this is a long post. I write this for any family member who wonders what we did and what I might possibly do to you if you dare make this trip.

Day 1
Arriving at the airport to pick them up on Sunday evening, we headed straight home to get them settled and to give them a little treat I had put together… a bag with things that you need in Japan. This included a purse-sized umbrella because you never know when it will rain, tissues because you never know when the bathroom will have no TP, decorative towel because you never know when you will become drenched in sweat, slippers because there are no shoes inside the house and your trickies will get very cold, yen purse because you will hate having to constantly dig through your American coins to find the yen, and candy because no one can live without sugar. Once they unpacked, the rest of the night was spent catching up with one another.

Day 2
We all awoke pretty early on Monday morning, showered ourselves, breakfasted and headed out to the trains by 9:30 am. The day’s adventures took us to Kamakura which I have explored many times. Starting with the Hachiman Shrine, we explored the grounds and hiked the many stairs to the shrine. Back down again to the surrounding gardens and then back out onto the main street to the train station. There we caught another train and headed to the area where the Great Buddha sits. On the way there, we stopped for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Knowing that I had guests who weren’t used to chopsticks, I had packed plastic forks into my purse. Both Chris and Erika attempted their first meal with chopsticks. After much frustration, they switched to the forks but not until after some helpful man sitting nearby indicated that the restaurant had spoons to use as he watched Chris’s sweet and sour dish be dropped out of the awkward sticks over and over again. On to the Great Buddha after lunch where we even paid our 20 yen to go inside. Erika had wanted to rub Buddha’s belly which we had indicated was impossible because of his size. However, from this inside angle, she was actually able to do so. Quite a strange feeling rubbing the bronze belly of the Buddha from inside his dark body. Knowing there were Japanese toilets there, we all headed off for another first. Chris went for it although she said she almost fell over. Erika ducked in and out of a stall until she finally decided she could just hold it for now. Realizing that all of this lifestyle was new to an eight-year-old, we accepted that and moved on. Down the street we stopped for the not-to-be-missed purple and green, sweet potato and green tea ice cream. It was a hit! Not to be missed were the sweet potato chips offered there either. Filled on Kamakura’s special junk food, we moved on to Hase Dera Temple which I had talked about before. Still one of my favorites, we took a long time to explore all of the gardens and caves offered here as well as the beautiful hillside view of Kamakura and its beach. Completing our tour here, we made our way back to the train station and on to a new temple, Gokurakuji. We were a bit too early in the season for this one. It is supposed to be filled with cherry blossom trees but our visit there was about three weeks to early for blooming. Still it was beautiful and filled with glorious old architecture. After the train ride home and the walk back to the house, we switched to car travel and headed in to meet Kimono Hubby after his work day for dinner at our favorite Thai place. As spicy as usual, but also as brilliantly fresh as usual, we were stuffed and ready for PJs and relaxing. So came the end of our first full and very busy day.

Day 3
Waking again in the early hours, we were able to leave the house early again. Traveling by car this time, we headed to Tokyo for a little souvenir shopping. Our first stop was China Pete’s which is filled with traditional blue and white pottery. Somehow I refrained from making any purchases although we made sure that Chris and Erika loaded up with goods for themselves and loved ones at home. From there, we drove to Machida which is the location of the five story 100 Yen store, filled with shocking good deals for those like me on a more frugal budget. Even I couldn’t walk out empty handed here. While wandering the area, we came across an Italian eatery which Erika almost got down on her knees and begged for. It seems her first day of very ethnic food left her wanting for something comforting. We obliged and enjoyed a good old fashioned Japanese pizza while Erika gorged on one of many spaghettis that week. Back in the car, we went to spend the rest of the afternoon touring Yokosuka Naval Base. We met with Kimono Hubby who gave one grand tour and even taught me some things I hadn’t previously known. For dinner, we went to the Officers Club for Mongolian Barbeque night… one of my favorites and about the only time we eat on base besides fast food. Stuffed to the gills again, we were forced to call it a day.

Day 4
It was apparent by this day that neither Chris nor Erika had any concerns with jet lag. I can’t tell you how envious I am of this but that is neither here nor there to the story. Up at the crack of dawn again, we were back to the trains again for a trip to Yokohama and the famous Landmark Tower, the tallest skyscraper in Japan. Taking the fastest elevator I have ever been on, we made it to the 69th floor in only forty seconds, ears exploding in pops the whole way. This top floor is called the Sky Garden and has the most amazing views of the city of Yokohama. From here, we could see the next stop on our list, the Cosmo Clock Tower which is the world’s largest Ferris wheel. I have talked about this area before as it is in Minato Mirai 21 and I had shopped with a friend there. Since then, I have dreamed of riding this Ferris wheel and I finally had my chance. After some initial shakiness when first getting in to our little enclosed cart, Erika loved the ride as much as I did. By the end, we were all moving around inside to take pictures at various angles (which apparently was a no-no but English instructions followed the Japanese so it wasn’t until halfway into the ride that we discovered we weren’t supposed to be moving inside… oops). Completing our arial tour of Yokohama, we found ourselves another lunch-worthy Italian eatery for my spaghetti-loving friend and Japanese seafood pizza for Chris and myself. Then back to the trains to Ueno Park and Zoo in Tokyo. The day turned rather chilly on us as the sun lowered which caused us to see only half of the zoo but what we saw was amazing. If you are a bird lover, this zoo has some of the most interesting and varied bird species I have ever seen and many I never knew to exist. It is a large zoo in Tokyo, probably one of the largest, so there was pretty much every kind of animal there. A must see if I ever knew one. As I mentioned the chill and lateness of the day caused us to make our way back to the crowded trains. We got there a bit ahead of the severely crowded times but there were moments we had to protect Erika from getting squished into corners. Back to home base, Kimono Hubby met up with us to head to our favorite neighborhood eatery, a mix of Japanese and Chinese. Once again, we eat too much and I become keenly aware that I will likely gain a few pounds in this week with all this eating out.

Back on Valentine’s day I mentioned the holiday White day, if you recall. It was all about the guys now giving presents to the girls who bought them something on Valentine’s day. Well, Day 4 was White Day and Kimono Hubby earned some major points this very day. Waiting at home was a White Day present of not only a box of my favorite Godiva’s but also a pair of pearl earrings for me. But that isn’t where he earned the points… there were also two boxes of Godiva’s for both Chris and Erika. Happy White Day to all of us! And sugar coated hugs and kisses to Kimono Hubby for his thoughtfulness.

Day 5
Striking out early again, this time we made are way to Hakone, a resort area at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Sadly, the day was gray and obscured Mt. Fuji but the trip was not a disappointment. In fact, it was a heck of an adventure. We took the train to Hakone which brought up and through the mountains. At one point, the small train we were on stopped and started going backwards. Chris and I gave each other odd looks but we guessed that it was to let another train pass us. Others on the train also show concern but after a speech by a conductor, they all seemed satisfied. Of course, his little speech did nothing for us as it was in Japanese and we didn’t understand a single word. But if the others were satisfied, so were we. It took as some time, but we seemed to figure out that the train was zig-zagging up the side of the mountain. Every once in awhile we would get to an end and turn around in another direction but never passing what we had previously seen. No one ever said we were the sharpest crayons… After this crazy train ride, we found ourselves in a small town in the mountains where the only choice for lunch were VERY traditional restaurants. Fearing Erika’s reaction but left with no choice, we took seats around a table and began to decipher a menu. Erika surprised both of us by heartily plowing through both Chris and my plates of food. Chopsticks were still not an option to eat with for Erika although she was practicing and improving with them, but I did have plastic forks and she was happy to indulge in all dishes on the table. Warm, full and ready for the next leg of our journey, we bought tickets for the train-like cable car that ran up further towards the top of the mountain. This leg was slow but was past before we knew it bringing us to what we had been looking forward to, the ropeway. The ropeway is just as it sounds… a cart hangs from a rope and takes you another leg up to the top of the mountain… not for the fear-of-heights faint of heart. Over trees and looking out at the surrounding mountains on the climb, you begin to notice an odor. It wasn’t until we passed over the peak until we realized what it was… sulfuric gases coming out of the ground. This is what makes the area great for all of the famous hot springs but rather rough on the nose. Finally at the top, now was the next leg of the trip. However, there was one problem at this point. It seems that somewhere prior to the last mode of transportation, I had lost the directions. Before even thinking about it for a second, I blurt this out to Chris only to realize she might freak out. This was an area that I had never traveled before and I lost our only English map. We had a Japanese one which helped some but was ultimately nothing like the piece I had brought with me that even included prices that I had determined for each part of the trip. Points would surely be taken away from me by Chris on this one. As amazing as the person she is, she remained completely calm and just said “we’ll figure it out.” God love her for that calmness. And figure it out we did. After only small struggles, we determined the correct bus that brought us back down the mountain and to the ship that would help us cross Lake Ashi. Somewhere in the back of my head, I managed to pull out the name of the correct dock for the boat that would get us to the correct bus that would take us to the correct train that would take us home. While we didn’t really do much more than travel on this day, as Chris said, the fun was definitely in the entire adventure. Finally at home, we changed yet to one more mode of transportation and got into my car to meet Kimono Hubby for dinner. This time, our beloved yakitori stand in Yokosuka were we indulged in healthy vegetables wrapped in less than healthy bacon. And another full day completed.

Day 6
Chris and Erika were still going strong although we were a bit slower to leave the house on this morning. Therefore our first stop was Denny’s for lunch which is nothing like Denny’s at home but quite tasty and simply fun for the experience. Then off to Yokohama towards Sea Paradise, a large aquarium and amusement park. It was a bit too cold for the amusement rides but the aquarium was worth the admission price. As we walked to the entrance, we noticed on the large movie screen there in the center of the park that there were images of ourselves walking down the stairs and the camera seemed to be following us. Moments later, as all of us were in sight, the image froze with us on screen. All week long, Chris and Erika had noted that eyes seemed to follow us everywhere. Three blonds wandering in Japan… I guess they would. I have never gotten entirely comfortable with it but I know that it isn’t rudeness but merely curiosity that causes this. The big screen image of us only reminds me of what a hot commodity we blonds are here in Japan. At the aquarium, the first thing we saw was a show filled with the most beautiful sea creatures… seals, sea lions, whales and even walruses. Even with it being performed in Japanese, I think this was the highlight of my week’s sights. I was just in awe at some of these creatures and we took a good long time perusing here. For dinner, the girls had not yet experienced yakiniku where you cook your food on a grill built into the table yourself so we headed to the mall where not only was there a good restaurant for this, but also there was shopping. Saving room at the meal, we made our way out to window shop on our way to the crepe shop. Crepes were something that couldn’t be missed on the “try these foods” list and we even went the following night as well because they are just so darn good.

Day 7
The final touring day had arrived. As it was a Saturday, Kimono Hubby finally had off and could join us for the day’s tour. We choose a place that KH had been looking for us to go to so it would be new for all, the Imperial Palace. You can only actually see the Imperial Palace on two specific days of the year and this was not one of them. But there are places where you can catch a glimpse of it, like when you visit the White House. So these were the places that we walked to. The East Garden was also open to tour which we did. However, again being early in spring, there was not much in the way of garden to see beyond pine trees and the towering rock walls that protect the palace grounds. Over the loud speaker, an announcement came asking all to leave for the closing of the gardens so our time was cut a bit short here. We caught our first cab of the week and headed to Ginza, an area in Tokyo famous for being the ritzy-ist of the city of Tokyo. Wandering in and out of shops like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany’s, we didn’t even try to fit in and simply gawked at the flagrant indulgence that surrounded us. Not daring to find a restaurant on the main drag, we headed off the beaten path for our last dinner together, a Japanese beer hall with a menu filled with curries and fried foods. In retrospect, a good choice as it was St. Patrick’s Day although this didn’t occur to any of us at the time as far as I know. And so our touring fun together came to an end with the train ride back home.

Day 8
Time to say goodbye. I hadn’t made a meal all week and was feeling rather guilty about this, plus I wanted Chris and Erika to be filled up on American food before the long flight that was bound to be dotted with Japanese noodles at every meal, so I made waffles for breakfast. We took those last few hours just enjoying each other’s company. The ride to the airport was a rather quiet one, with each lost in their own thoughts. As I said, I was so incredibly sad to see them go. Only later did I find out that the same sad feelings were inside them too.

We do have our memories. And there will always be more to make. It was a grand adventure and I’m so glad I shared it with you, Chris and Erika. My love to you both for helping me get out there and see so much newness in Japan with you! Glad you are home safely. We shall see each other again soon. Very soon if I can do anything about it.

Plenty of pictures over in the Flickr link in case you are interested!

Sunday, March 18

Wish They Were Here

Did you ever experience a time where you had family or friends visiting you and the time flew by with not a single moment being a bad one, or even a slow one? Well, I have.

My cousin Chris and her daughter Erika were dropped off at the airport today after a week long visit. Them on their way back to the States and me back to my home in Japan, I got suddenly wistful for these last days spent with them. As I parked the car and walked slowly to the house, big fat crocodile tears appeared out of nowhere. The house was empty of their voices and their presence… back to being filled with only my husband and myself. I would have given anything to hear one of Erika’s made-up songs in that quiet moment. After only a week with them here, I can’t begin to fathom being alone again. I feel like I have lost my best friend. The funny thing about my sorrows is this… Chris and I rarely get to see one another. She and Erika lived rather far from me when I was in the States. Erika - I had only seen a few times before in her entire life. But boy does that girl leave an imprint. Chris has been a lifelong hero to me although she never knew it until a few years ago. Having her here these past days only reminded me again why that was so.

We had so many wonderful adventures while they were here. It will have to be another day for those stories. Right now I just need some time… time to miss them more than they know.

Monday, March 5

Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?

Where in the world have I been, you ask? Absolutely nowhere! And it was brilliant!

In less than one week, I have company coming that will pretty much span the course of the month. To prepare for their visit, I have been subbing every little hour the schools will dole out. Which is pretty much all of them! See – I need cold hard cash to frivolously spend while my guests are in town. For things like daily dinners eaten out… train fare to every nook and cranny we can make it to… flippant souvenir purchases… you know, basically anything I haven’t been spending on. There is only one way to get it. As much as I don’t like it, I’m doing it anyway.

These past weekends have been lovely. Spring is definitely here and with it… warm days filled with light breezes that inspired the trees to bloom amazing shades of blossoms, perhaps much earlier than Japan would have maybe liked. You would think that with the gorgeousness of those weekends, we would have taken the opportunity to go do something new and interesting and fun. Nope! I’ll be doing enough somethings soon enough.

Instead, I occasionally took walks around my little town. There were multiple hours where I simply parked my rump in a cushy chair and shoved my nose in a good book.

Yes, these have been perfect, if not highly boring to speak of, days. Hence… the gaping whole that has happened with my updates.

In other news, I can tell you that I have accepted a Board position with the Ikebana International Kamakura Chapter and will begin my duties this summer. In some crazy happenstance, I was actually approached for the position and was honored to accept it.

If you were wondering what happened with my actually doing Ikebana arrangements, well I have been looking towards studying a different school. Possibly the Ikenobu School. To do so, I have been looking for another sensei, one that hopefully lives closer to me. Once I am fully involved with the Board, the opportunities to find that instructor will increase twofold. For now I have been continuing with practice at home. I would not dare share these online though and call them real Ikebana as there is no instructor standing over me confirming I am arranging correctly or not.

Now after all this drivel, aren’t you glad I haven’t been writing? Only one week from now, I will resume my usual sharing of tidbits from Japan. Till then… I hope the trees in bloom where you are and brightening your day!