A Travellerspoint blog

New Art For the People

We had three new students in class today. Two of them were adults- one in her thirties and one in his forties. They all needed to go up and introduce themselves to the class. One person did an average job of introduction. One was really stumbling, asking for a definition of at least one word per question. And then the last person got into a side conversation with the teacher (who was clearly interested in what the student was saying) while the rest of the class looked on in confusion and tried to see if we could figure out what kind of research he did. (One of the questions was that, and he said it again, and wrote out the kanji, and gave an explanation. I think it might have been anthropology? Something like that.)

The lessons took a weird order. We began by learning the concept we'd briefly glossed over yesterday. Then, right as I was beginning to wonder if we'd restart the lessons we'd done yesterday, we were onto the next chapter. The next concept was one of the ways of making lists in Japanese. (there are multiple, depending what type of word [noun, conjugating adjective, non-conjugating adjective, verb] and how complete the list is) We practiced by splitting up into groups and describing, in nice ways, the person next to us. One person in my group had a really hard time saying anything besides 'he has pretty eyes.' Consequently, I started my description after the other groups had finished, and the teacher told everyone to just listen. Fortunately, I could think of multiple nice things to say about my partner, though I wonder if should have ended on a stronger note. (My concluding attribute was 'she has cut e clothes.)

After we finished lessons, I headed out again in search of the elusive yarn store. Third time's supposed to be the charm, right? Depending on how you count it, that was only my second in search of this particular yarn store.

I was walking past the park today when I saw an easel and what appeared to be a large crowd watching it. There was also music playing. It was mainly the size that drew my attention. I've seen artists in this and other cities who would paint out on the street, and would sometimes have a few people come and look at them. But there were over twenty people watching. So I conformed and went over to join them.

I arrived just as people were clapping, and got to watch a decent interval that was just someone spinning a disc with a painting in the background. Then he finished that and went back to working on the painting. It was clearly a performance- the strokes were in time to the music, and he would build in interludes to step back and allow an unobstructed view of the painting.

I stuck around to see the end of the painting. When I first saw him, he was using paints and a brush. He switched to spray paint, and then, I think crayons? Something like that. After he finished, he took it off the pad, (what I'd earlier taken for a canvas turned out just to be a pad of white paper) posed with it for a bit, and then put it down on the ground, holding it down with rolls of tape.

I moved on, and walked for a while. I was keeping my eye out for a coffeeshop I'd seen on Monday. The menu had drawn me, because the pictures of coffee they had designs on the top made out of the milk. I'd seen pictures of that before, but wanted a chance to have one of my own. On Monday, I only saw the sign after I'd already bought ice cream, so I wasn't interested in any other place that served food. Today, though, I was ready.

I felt kind of silly ordering a hot drink on a hot day, but iced drinks didn't have any patterns in them. The coffee didn't taste particularly anything, but it did come with a milk design of a leaf. It's also approaching three weeks since I've had regular coffee, so I might just not be used to the taste. (The other kind of coffee is honey lemon, and I've only had that twice since coming to Japan.)

The coffeehouse itself was wonderful. Not many outlets, but the atmosphere was somehow perfect. To begin, it had five different kinds of seats- outside, really comfy looking sofa-esque chairs with small tables on the side, sets of two armchairs with patterned backs facing each other with a table in between (I sat in one of those chairs), tables with multiple wooden chairs, booths, and high tables facing a window. Basically, no matter your purpose, you could find the right chair there.

It also just felt comfortable. I think it was the people. One of the things that I've inadvertently gotten used to is the silence. The trains are absolutely packed in the mornings... but it's completely quiet. Even on the way back, when people are sometimes sitting in seats next to friends they've spent the day with, they don't talk. I've been in restaurants and seen people who know each other sitting together. But there seems to be a level of separation.

I'm not saying it was completely gone at the coffeeshop. There were obviously still people who were alone, (I wasn't the lonely gaijin sitting at a table where all of the other chairs have been removed so everyone else can be with their friends) but there were also people who were clearly enjoying each others company. I've seen that in the park, but that's about it. At the cat cafe, most people came with a friend, and then sat nearby, sometimes played with the same cat... but never really talked.

Once I left the coffeeshop, I started the task of finding the yarn store again. I think it's time to declare the 'know what the surrounding buildings are and assume you'll find it easily' theory dead. I saw a lot of interesting stores today, but none of them appeared to be what I was looking for. So I think I'll get a better idea of where it is before I try again.

On the plus side, the area is starting to feel familiar. Once I can go from 'this building/route is familiar' to 'this building/route is familiar, I know which way I want to go,' I'll be in great shape. Though I don't think I'll mind exploring it more.

Several times today I saw a building that looked interesting, and went in. Air conditioning was nice. It was kind of awkward when it was a store and I was the only customer, but I'd typically smile politely and leave after looking around. (One of the stores was a chocalatier. I would have been tempted to buy something, but there was no way it would get back to my room without melting, and I didn't want to eat it then.)

Another time, I went into something that said it was an art museum. If it had been a free one, I would have looked around. I went in, but couldn't see any prices, save for the desserts. I'm pretty sure there was art other than the desserts past a gate, but then again the desserts were made to look like specific pieces of art (I didn't recognize any of them, but next to the pictures of the cakes they had pictures of paintings. There was definitely a resemblance.)

Even in this weather, though, I like just walking the streets. One of the things they have is tiles with images of various plants. I first noticed it on the bridge to go there, and it made me smile. Then I noticed them on the rest of the streets. Some of them are flowers, and some are trees (the season varies.) It feels a bit like a treasure hunt each time I see a new one, except that I'll never know if I found them all, and there's no prize if I do. Still, I like finding them.

Once I decided to head back, I picked a direction and started walking. (I was on the same street I was on when I decided to do that on Monday, so I was pretty safe in my choice of direction.) However, I deviated from what was familiar, and took a right towards buildings that I didn't recognize.

In my defense, I was right by the Shibuya station and knew it. I didn't recognize it, but there were signs saying as much. Train stations could be big with multiple exits, but if I walked in circles I'd be able to find the right one. I didn't walk in circles, but just headed towards the buildings until I saw something I recognized. As a better point in my defense, it worked.

It was a new route, so there was a bit more aimless wandering, but it was more interesting to be by stores than following the road had been, so I'm glad I tried something new today. Besides, I now have a hazy idea of how different parts of the city connect, so that's useful. (Looking at a map doesn't make it real. Walking the routes does.)

In summary, although I did find my way back, I still didn't find the store I was looking for, but at some point today, I think I stopped looking. It was more interesting to just walk and look around then to look for something. In my looking at maps for landmarks, I also saw other buildings that looked interesting, so I'd like to try finding those too. (Since those are marked on maps, they would probably be easier to find too.)

I'm sure I'll be back, and not just for the coffee.

Posted by Soseki 05:25 Comments (1)

Two For Joy

It might not have been a Monday, but it felt like one. There were several students missing from the class. At least one of them had gone home for good (he'd been part of a different program, and had been here before I arrived) but I think others just weren't there. The students who were left were kind of dragging.

Today mostly consisted of learning how to say things probabilistically. It was both really simple, and I'd learned it last years, which means I wasn't paying as much attention during the examples as I should have. I did the written exercises and partner activities, but didn't volunteer much in class.

After that, the activity was to go paint either an Edo Lantern or an Edo fan. I'd previously selected the lantern, so when I arrived there was a place set out.

One side of the lantern already had kanji and an image (of Tokyo Skytree) on it. The other side was left blank for us to decorate, beginning with a kanji of our own.

Very brief summary (they give us a more thorough history there): the calligraphy used for lanterns and fans was developed to envelop as big a space as possible. So, when we were decorating our own, we were supposed to make really big characters. Guess who had a problem with that?

It was comforting to know I wasn't alone in that. I was sitting by two people who had a very good grasp of kanji, but didn't like their handwriting. They spent ages deciding what character they wanted to paint, and then, (partially because they'd chosen really complicated characters) had a hard time drawing them on their lanterns.

On the plus side, I now know what the perfect character would be if I have the chance to do it in the future. A combination of regrets, and then further discussion, concluded that it would be impossible to go wrong with a character that means 'complete success.' If the lantern turned out well, you'd have a pretty lantern you could be proud of and would mean good things. If it turned out horribly, it would at least be ironic.

I finished writing/shading in the two characters, then decided I needed to use some kind of color, and the stamps they had there. So I went over and got red paint, selected four stickers, and started painting. I'd barely touched the brush to the lantern when one of the instructors came by and showed me that I should use a sponge instead. So I started doing that.

She came back a little later with three different sponge brushes, and showed me how I should dip those in the paint and then press it against the lantern. So I started doing that. And then she came back with a pot of orange paint and a pot of yellow paint. Then she saw that I'd finished one side, so she took the lantern off to be dried (they were using driers to speed up the process.)

After she came back with my dry lantern,s he dipped one of the other brushes into the yellow paint and described how I could use multiple colors. (Or something like that.) Then I felt guilty, so I did use yellow for the sticker stamps on the other side. And then I dried it again and, just so that I didn't feel like I was a disappointment to her, made the inside circles of the flowers and stars be orange.

The lantern is currently in a box which is going to get stuck in a suitcase until it's emptied and put with all of the other fliers I've accumulated as priceless memories that I have no idea what to do with. If it's very lucky, the lantern will at some point get taken out of the box.

Apparently some of my classmates are artists, though. When one of them finished her fan, the teachers held it up and most of the rest of the classroom gasped in awe and envy. The kanji was the character for spring, and the picture was a cherry tree. I think there were multiple shades of pink, and it looked, if not realistic, at least artistic. A girl who was sitting by me was still working when I left, but her lantern had the kanji for bird, and she'd drawn a telephone wire with two crows on it.

Posted by Soseki 04:46 Comments (0)

My Compass Is True

Today, we had the day off of school, because it was a Japanese holiday. Only after exploring for most of the day did it occur to me to check what holiday. Apparently, it's Ocean Day, and is also supposed to celebrate the return of Meiji from Hokkaido. I guess the aquarium was a fitting thing to go see on Saturday.

As I was walking, I noticed a mascot, an announcer, and a decent crows of people, so I paused to watch them. From what I could make out, the mascot was playing 'Rock, paper, scissors' with audience members. (I later looked around and saw a line of people waiting for their turns. Winners got a bag with things inside, not sure what. Also not sure what the purpose was.

I went to Harajuku through the similar route I'd used to get back home yesterday. For a bit I thought I might need to make a new plan, since there was a large group of people marching the opposite direction. However, there were also people going the way I wanted to go, so I followed them.

During weekends, Harajuku and Shibuya are mainly the domain of Japanese teenagers. During national holidays, apparently it belongs to anti-nuke protestors? Or maybe that was just today.

It didn't take me that long to get the rough idea of what they were protesting. I couldn't read most of their signs, but I took the first flier I was offered, figuring that even if I couldn't read it then, and I'd be able to later with liberal use of a kanji dictionary and Google translate. The flier had an english phrase that said 'No Nukes!' so that made it pretty obvious.

I'm not sure if it got any more specific. There were a couple of signs in English. One was protesting nuclear energy, another was asking Obama to stop nuclear weapons. So it was probably just protesting nukes in every way, shape, and form.

Should have paying more attention to the flier when they gave it to me, though. Apparently Oe was one of the more public figures who was involved in it. Now that I'm looking, I can see his name (listed as one of the calling/appealing people.) Nice to know he's still doing something after he publicly declared he's not going to write any more books.

I first saw the protest in the NHK (broadcasting company) section. There were also stalls selling food and clothing and such. I'm not sure if they were there because of the protesters or in spite of them. One of the stalls had a 'Save our children, stop using nukes' sticker on it, but that could have just been a general show of solidarity.

I ended up following some of the protesters for a while. Not intentionally, just by chance. I very briefly ended up walking with them. (I was walking nearby, and then there was a car in my way, so I went closer to them. Once we'd passed the car, I went back on the sidewalk.) I tried to figure out what they were saying, which was difficult because it was a protesting chant in Japanese. The only word I could catch was 'Is not necessary.' I was kind of tempted to ask someone else what they were saying, but didn't.

At one stoplight, it took normal civilians a shocking length of time to realize they could just walk across. There were a steady stream of protesters, and police making sure they weren't run over. We didn't need to wait for a walk light to go.

The protesters and I finally parted ways, and I went off in exploration. I made the mistake of buying food (ice cream, no less) without there being a place to eat it, and then needed to walk around quickly looking for a bench, or at least for somewhere to sit. Once if ound it, I realized that the street was incredibly quiet. It felt slightly lonely after the chants.

Is Open Campus day a thing? Because I passed two different universities which had large signs proclaiming 'open campus!' (One of them in English, the other in katakana.) I took advantage of both, using one as a shortcut, the other as a place to sit down. (They had lecture rooms unlocked with nobody in them. Hey, they said it was open. No wireless, though.)

When I passed people taking pictures with their college bags by the entrance, I was torn between feeling guilty that I was an obvious foreigner who probably wasn't looking at the campus for legitimate reason and trying to figure out where I could get those bags. I ended up lingering around both campuses for longer than I should
In summary, despite all my wandering around, I could not find the yarn store I was looking for. So at some point, I decided to give up and head back home. I started off, following a combination of signs and my idea of where things should be.

None of the buildings looked familiar. At some point, the sidewalk started looking familiar. But if it was, I was on the wrong side of the street, so I crossed over. And then I kept walking, and eventually the signs went away. Shortly thereafter, I reached a pedestrian overpass.

My first thought was that it looked familiar be the overpass I take every day to get to the park (and beyond.) My second thought was that Tokyo, and Shibuya, were big, and it couldn't possibly be. (Tied with that thought was probably: 'stairs. Do I need to take them?') Then I got up and looked around. And maybe it looked familiar? Most of the buildings didn't. The roads looked like... roads. But there was one building that had a picture of a rose on it. And I thought I'd seen that before.

I looked down, realized I was trying to navigate based on the location of vending machines, and that if I actually wanted to know what building that was, I'd need to go down and check the name. So I formed the concrete thought in my head 'If that's Tominaya springs,I'm going to do a happy dance and run up the stairs, because I'll know how to get back from here.' As I was on my way down, it occurred to me that if that building wasn't Tominaya Springs, I had no idea how to get back, or even what direction I'd come from.

The building was Tominaya Springs. I did a really pathetic dance (I can't dance) and ran up the stairs with a new-found energy that lasted until the next hill I needed to climb. But at that point, there was a very imminent end in sight, so I managed to make it up the hill and back to the house.

Long day, and interesting, though not in the ways I was expecting when I headed out this morning.

Posted by Soseki 04:35 Comments (0)

Gift Wrapped Kitty Cats

Shibuya was deserted around 10:30 this morning. It was a little disconcerting. There were a couple of cars, and a few other pedestrians. The only thing that seemed to be growing was the construction, which had spread to a new corner. Fortunately, there were three different workers who seemed to have the sole job of guiding pedestrians through, so I was able to find the safe walk and follow it.

I did some more walking around, not really making it to any new stores. Then I ate lunch, which was noodles and potstickers and no heads in sight, and went to Harajuku. First, though, I decided to go investigate the large open space with a high number of people going to it.

As I was following some people there and trying to figure out what was going on, I saw someone handing out sheets of paper. Normally I'm very good at avoiding the paper. I'm not sure if this is because I look like an obvious foreigner or because I've had plenty of practice. Sometimes, though, I do want the sheets of paper, like when I'm trying to figure out where I'm going or there are free cookies attached. It's still very easy to get them- just hold out your hand and pause. (If you're going for attached cookies, it probably won't work multiple consecutive times, but the first time it will.)

The paper was a round sheet that was advertising for either Peter Pan or Pita Bread. I couldn't read enough to figure out which. Given the visuals, it was either Peter Pan, or the person designing the flier had a bad sense of humor and a deep dislike of foreigners. (The Japanese would for bread is 'pan.')

Once I entered, the idea that it was for Peter Pan was more deeply confirmed. There were several signs up saying 'Disney on Ice,' and several different images of Disney Princesses. Also, several young girls dressed as Disney Princesses. After I'd hung around long enough to determine there wasn't much to do if you weren't with/you yourself were a girl seven years old or younger, I left.

This time, I made it to Harajuku without immediately turning and going back to Shibuya. There were several stores there, none of which interested me that much. There were also cafes and restaurants, some of which looked good, but I had grander plans in mind. So, after lingering around a little bit, I turned and went back to Shibuya.

Specifically, I went back to the cat cafe. I got a mint iced tea, which seemed fitting for the weather, and spent an hour in air conditioning with cats.

I was amused to find some of the cats were in the same position they'd been last time. I suppose there could have been a different grey cat inside the ante-penultimate cat tower by the window, but I'm skeptical. There was certainly one white ball of fluff inside a cat tube.

One of the cats was really feisty. Not so much with people- it showed brief interest in one of the toys when I played with it, but then got bored and ran away- but with the other cats. It would perch on top of one of the towers and bat at any cat that came near it. It would also mew loudly and run away for no apparent reason.

Today, I learned some of the cats names. The feisty one was Ra Ra. (I read it in the book, then heard it from one of the... what do you call people who work there? When she was attacking the other cats.) The white ball of fluff (there's also a black-and-white ball of fluff and an orange-and-white ball of fluff) is named (translated) Princess Pudding.

After that, I took a similar way out I'd used to get there, only turned the direction of the house instead of the direction of Harajuku. The main differences this made was instead of reaching a plaza, realizing I'd made a wrong turn, and going back, I just kept going and knew how to get back from there. So that was an improvement.

Posted by Soseki 04:59 Comments (0)

Deer Die With Their Eyes Wide Open

Why fish, just like deer, are creepy.

Once everyone had arrived and boarded the buses this morning, we left. The buses were nice and big, and it no longer felt weird to be in them not dressed formally. The bus drivers also showed remarkable skill in their ability to park. I can't back a car into a parking spot, and the thought of managing that with a bus is mind-blowing.

After about three hours of driving (and a ten minute break at a rest stop) we arrived at the aquarium. It had been several years since I'd been in an aquarium. Nothing that I saw today made me regret that.

The jellyfish were cool. And the penguins were cute, especially the only swimming one that liked to follow a little boy around. The little boy was clearly amused, too, and would stay closer by the glass, sometimes ducking down, other times walking slightly away. The penguin would always follow it.

Apart from that, there were fish in tanks. Some of them were pretty looking fish. Some of them were vaguely intimidating. There was once a human in a diving suit. That was interesting too. But I'm not that fond of fish in any form, so I was kind of glad we had under forty minutes to explore.

I'm not that fond of fish in any form. Even as food. Depending on the kind of fish, and the preparation that goes into it, I might like it. Breaded fish, for instance, is good. Raw fish, or fish that still have heads attached, aren't. Guess what lunch was?

The good news: there was breaded fish, rice, and a salad-like vegetable of some kind. The bad news: there was also raw meat (of several kinds, I didn't look too closely) and heads. Lots of them.

There was one prawn-like thing that appeared to have both a head and a tail. There was another dish that, at first glance, seemed to be some kind of lentil dish. If you looked closer, you might wonder what the silver things were. At some point, you or the person sitting next to you would realize and exclaim that they were tiny fish. Dozens of them. (It was amusing to listen to different people come to that realization.)

The tiny fish were surprisingly good, although I don't think I ate them properly. I did succeed in sitting Japanese style the entire time, so I'm counting that as enough of a victory for the day. (We took our shoes off when we arrived at the restaurant, than sat down on cushions on tatami mats and ate at low tables.) I didn't try the other headed thing, or anything raw. And no puffer fish, so at least I didn't have that to worry about.

After lunch, we got back in the bus and drove for a while more before being brought to a Buddhist Temple. It was clearly Buddhist, because there was a giant statue of Buddha. We had some time to explore that, but not much. There also wasn't much to do.

Back in the bus, drive a bit more, and end up in... a parking lot! They gave us an hour to explore this. There were a few other cars and some vending machines. And, more importantly, access/freedom to leave and explore nearby shops and/or the Shinto shrine.

I went with a group to get ice cream. Of the seven people who ordered, I was one of only two people to try sweet potato and green tea ice cream. Four people got vanilla, and one got vanilla and mango. They were missing out. The sweet potato ice cream tasted like sweet potato, even if it was way more purple than I'm used to. (The green tea ice cream tasted like the green tea ice cream frozen balls I sometimes had. About the same color, too.)

After that, we went to the shrine. Some walking around, reading what prayers/wishes I could (there were a couple in English and one that I saw in French. Mostly they were in Japanese, though.) and watching something. Still not sure what it was, but there were multiple people dressed in kimonos and a sense of ceremony around them. There was also music that sounded disconcertingly like bagpipes.

Back to the bus, another long bus ride back(with a stop at the exact same rest stop) and then we were back at the school. It felt nice when I realized we were back in Tokyo, though I'm not sure if that's because it meant I was almost back or because it meant I could find my way back if I somehow got kicked off the bus. Either way, I'm glad I'll be spending most of the remaining time in Japan in Tokyo, and not at the aquarium. Fish never close their eyes...

Posted by Soseki 04:54 Comments (1)

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