Ok, so I worked myself into a state anticipating airport hassle. Looking forward to travel has long been completely obliterated by the stress and distress of the airport experience.
I did my usual thing of checking online for the latest flight advice for my wheelchair and its batteries. I printed out my sheet of specs for chair and batteries, plus website addresses. I felt well prepared.
The check-in process went exceptionally smoothly. My suitcase rolled away as my chair was labelled and I was escorted to the assistance desk. After a short wait I was escorted to a second assistance desk on the grounds that the boarding gate might have changed. It hadn’t, but I had to wait for a new escort person for the final stretch. I was on my guard, expecting trouble, but apart from minor hassle, none occurred. Myself, my chair and my batteries were loaded onto the plane with minimum of fuss. It felt too good to be true. It was.
The flight manager came to inform me that, for security reasons, the chair and batteries would be moved into the hold.
The airline offers to take one folded wheelchair in the cabin, the safety manual recommends that the batteries fly as cabin luggage.
Somewhere a little Hitler decides differently. “Terrorism panic” has to find expression somewhere.
I’m really fed-up with the way it focuses on my powerchair batteries and my wheels.
The cabin crew were thoughtful and helpful. The plane was very full and there was a lot of turbulence, but somehow the 12 hour flight passed smoothly and quickly. Take-off and landing were particularly smooth.
The stress of boarding has driven me into a state of denial. During the flight I escape into cheap and vaguely humorous literature punctuated by small bouts of Sudoku.
Arriving at Narita, I was surprised at how quickly the plane emptied and the aisle-chair was presented to take me off. Waiting at the door was an airport issue chair. There was no way my support cushions would work in it and I refused to transfer. A repeat request was made for my chair to be presented and after a short wait I was reunited with my wheels.
My lowest-hassle trip yet.
Blue sky and the clear light in Tokyo lifted my spirits instantly. The train journey – Skyliner into Ueno and change – was such a welcome familiar experience, I was so very glad to be back.
Earth laid out in flat green rectangles,
morphs to mounds of forested bamboo,
And concrete gathers momentum, tints
and white with glazed tiled roofing in blue
and green shades.
The city creeps closer, Skytree spikes
grey on blue,
until surrounded by Tokyo and
bright clear sky,
as far as the human eye can see.
My first day back is spent settling in and realizing that this time my forgotten item/s was my comb and nail file. There is always something. The comb I discovered missing halfway through my hairwash. I do have long hair so that was not clever.
I haven’t paid much attention to Japanese hair products beyond noticing that hair care for fine Scandi-blonde isn’t readily available. I can’t just assume I can find the comb I need. It was cold outside, very similar to UK, so I didn’t just rush out, with my tangled, wet hair, to find a replacement.
Although cold, the day was awash with sunshine and the light was fantastic; after UK grey it was a magical gift. Light to inspire.
I did feel totally overwhelmed with emotion and somehow found myself weeping with a mixture of overflowing joy, just at being here, and months of pent up sadness and longing.
The pressure of UK living gets to me. The car centred cities. The lack of ‘people focus’ of the architecture and urban geography; the hostile street faces with the mumbled remarks, ‘get that thing out of my way’ – they all add up.
Things have been progressing while I’ve been away. The hole in the ground at the end of the road has become a mansion – a high rise block of flats – that has, to the western eye, a conflicting message of design elements. The opaque pale-green glass of the balconies looks clinical and somehow cheap compared to the more elegant etched glass and dusky brown marble of the entrance and foyer. In Japan public spaces don’t have to be quite so obviously vandal-proof, so communal spaces look welcoming with touches of luxury that are very positive.
This new building has no car-parking, but plenty of bicycle space. Minimal planting at the front is offset by a view through to a green area behind the block. I did see several young trees being carried through.
A bright orange-topped crane hovers high over the site of the new luxury flats being built beside the river.
The site is mysterious; progress, unlike the completed mansion, has been slow. There was still nothing to see above ground; the site still looked newly cleared although the crane often looked busy. Sometimes loud-speaker music came from the sight, and there were meetings that just might be staff moral-boosters, or training exercises with a sports or military flavour. I’m keen to check out progress since my last visit.
At 16.30 the bright light was fading and by 17.00 it was dark. As dark as it gets in a mega-city of lights.
Here there is a new bakery,
opened bravely before the new
homes have emerged from the wasteland.
Here there is a queue; suits in cold winds,
schoolboy delight on business faces,
ignoring the seated eaters inside,
confidential in the warm, for
a shared anticipation of hot
breads to go. Different, special
Getting my priorities right, I was keen to reconnect with the river. Heading in the direction of the orange crane that I can see from the window, I get to roll parallel with Sumida before I see her. The building works along the way are progressing well. There is a new little restaurant with a long lunchtime queue of suits laughing and chatting as they wait. The mysterious building site doesn’t appear to have changed at all.
The river is an elegant grey-green and from above looks smooth, full and unruffled. As I roll down the slope to the river-walk I see that Sumida is actually choppy and busy and as the angle of light changes I notice her gleaming silver skin. There are ducks, bobbing on her surface and a low flying cormorant. I do miss Sumida when I’m away.
I notice my first signs of Christmas – tinsel and baubles decorating the trollies of a couple of homeless guys sitting by the river. Christmas is a season in Japan, a subsection of autumn, and enjoyed as a run-up to the New Year festivities. I have the impression that Santa is morphing into Old Father Time, minus any hint of grim reaper. He’s an attractive old fellow with a silky-white beard, big black boots, and a fur-lined great-coat in various colours – including red.
There is the smell of seasonal food wafting through the air, very Japanese, and I can’t help comparing it with the European aromas that drift from the now ubiquitous Christmas Markets invading the city I live in in UK, armies of garden sheds like Doctor Who villains.
Mitsukoshi has a display of Christmas trees outside that attracts attention as people whip out their phones to record the spectacle.
Wako, the rival department store opposite, has no such spectacle and the predominantly grey window is at first glance, a disappointment.
Rolling through Ginza and beyond I see that the new building on the left is almost finished. With its angled surface of triangular sections of dark, refletive glass, it does look very dramatic.
It’s here I take a right turn to find myself a place that sells combs. I pass the lucky lottery queue and it’s already quite long.
Who am I wandering the streets of Tokyo;
watching the sun catch on the cliffs of concrete
setting red in the acres of glass blushing
crimson and gold; louder, stronger than neon.
Who am I rolling this reclaimed earth while
Sumida rises, restless, rocking and rolling
her moon dance with the leviathan, the sea.
Who am I and how long can I be here?
Again that glorious clear blue sky and sunshine; Sumida gleams like blue-black diamonds. A couple of homeless guys are sleeping on sun-warmed benches on the river walkway and an elderly woman crouches by the gleaming river, enticing a flock of pigeons to eat from her hands.
I’m keen to check on my favourite wildflower shop in Ginza and on the way I’m offered enticing leaflets by kimono-clad ladies for the kabuki theatre not far away. A kimono-clad young man outside the traditional looking theatre building appears to be telling a dramatic tale – maybe the plot of this evening’s performance? I roll by with a nod; dodging my way through the hoards of tourists that gather excitedly with their cameras.
In Ginza I pause by the mini-forest of Christmas trees outside the Mitsukoshi store and am amazed to watch a middle-aged Japanese woman reach out and grab one of the tiny chandelier decorations – it disappears up her sleeve in a well practiced action. She glares at me as she hurries away; as gaijin I don’t really count as a witness. No one else notices.
Down a side road, the flower shop is still there. It has trays of miniature plants and beautiful tiny dishes of exquisitely miniature cyclamen. There are also small fir trees, no more than 10 cms high, and micro-gardens of small complimentary plants in fine glazed and rustic pots from 12 – 25cms. I look forward to more visits and inspiration for the balcony garden here.
The fir trees are important for New Year and decorations with pine branches are already in the shops. By my reckoning its too early as the traditional gathering of pine branches waits until after 13th December – this being when the spirits come to earth to inhabit the pine forests. I’m not sure how much belief comes into this, but tradition (and Taboo) play an important part in Japanese people-centred society and community.
Everywhere is busy. The lucky lottery queue is longer than yesterday and there are pop up stalls selling other lucky tickets for cash prizes. The queue is so long it extends across a road and, by Japanese standards, requires traffic police. People stand quietly, patiently, with a hint of hope or wry anticipation – gently stamping their feet and huffing warm, white breath onto cold fingers.
Nearby, on the opposite side of the road, the new glass building looks close to being finished, the fluffy white clouds that are beginning to gather, are reflected in the many facets of its smoky glass cladding. I have a sudden flash of anxiety imagining the glass tumbling to the ground in a diamond-bright curtain.
Doubt is part of human nature, facing it calmly and with a show of confidence seems part of the Japanese way of life.
I wonder about new quake-resistant technologies – and what will be inside the building when it does open…
There are a lot of part-occupied buildings in the smart areas of Tokyo, empty spaces don’t seem to worry people here. New buildings often have space – pleasant, open areas with seating that is welcoming without conditions; no pressure.
the sign says 2.53, I presume
this is the time it takes to arrive at
the point where money will change hands; when
the lucky ticket will burrow its way
into the dreams, plans and schemes of people
currently blowing warm air on cold hands
standing in silent anticipation
gentle foot stamping in the long cold queue.
Heading out into a blue-sky day, albeit with a few clouds waiting in the wings, I notice that it’s rubbish collection day. Piles of little white bin bags are heaped at intervals along the street. A passing cyclist stops to inspect the contents of one heap.
If you have unwanted furniture or goods in reasonable condition it’s fine to put it out late in the day before rubbish collection and someone will snap it up.
I take the shortest do-able route into Ginza and beyond, aiming to visit Marunouchi Brick Square. On my last visit it seemed a little empty without the statues. Now they are back; in fact turning into the avenue you cannot help but notice a copper-coloured figure sitting on a brand-new park bench with its own small lampstand. The figure is of a young man wearing ice-skates.
Further up there is another figure on the opposite side of the avenue and yet another on the side I’m on; this third one is of an older man in a business suit – no ice skates; rather eerily it reminds me of my grandfather…
The figures led me past Brick Square and into Marunouchi Building where there is an ice rink in the large glass atrium and another figure wearing ice skates waiting on a park bench, this time in front of a brightly lit mini carousel…
People are queuing to use the ice-rink; the atmosphere is noisy and filled with a mix of timidity and confidence as people of all abilities move out onto the ice.
Average to bad covers of all the very worst English/American Christmas songs and jingles assault my ears, many of the singers quite obviously don’t speak the language. I wonder how the Christmas ‘mood’ translates…
Outside I spy three of the garish orange garden sheds with which Germany is conquering the world. The Christmas market has arrived in Marunouchi. These have Father Christmas popping out of one end, the ‘holy family’ on the roof and Rudolf tethered at the other end. I’m not sure what they were selling, the contents looked rather like seaside souvenirs. No-one seems to be buying, but mums with small children seem to like them.
I head back to the peacefulness of Brick Square. My second favourite flower-cum-recycling shop is selling Christmas trees. Two smallish ones, 35-40 cms and two larger ones, around a metre, in very nice pots. There is also a two metre specimen fir that I don’t recognize, it’s a soft grey-blue with fat almost-needles in whorls – not the sort of tree you would even need to decorate.
The smallest tree costs just short of £50.
Other people’s agitation:
something about the restlessness
drives me inward; seeking inner
stillness as an antidote to
agitation. No reaching out,
just withdrawal from the hassle.
Tokyo contains myriad
spaces to withdraw, so I feel
there is always place; room for me
to reconnect with my own peace,
room to be still and to expand.
The sky falls! I guess in UK it might be called mist, or drizzle, but I feel as if the sky has just descended around me. Visibility is almost non-existent, just like being in the middle of a cloud.
Around 11.00 the wind picks up and white billows of moisture chase past the window. Almost instantly there is high, blue sky and warm sun. The temperature forecast is 22C, clear with small bursts of rain.
My delight in discovering just how hot the wind is, plus the strong sunlight, sends me into giggles of delight – bordering on the manic.
Today a coat is superfluous. The river echoes my mood, gleaming and choppy with ribbons of white where the waves crest. The wind blows in from the sea and Sumida is very full. The temperature rises to 24C and I have to keep reminding myself that this is December.
The rosy-red camellias lining the streets are in full bloom – vying with the pointsettias as seasonal decoration – and I can’t help noticing how black and white, with touches of grey, Japanese winter clothes are this year. Today I’m a great contrast in turquoise and orange skirt and top. It may be the colours, or the wind, but people are smiling at me and obviously ready to help when it looks like the wind may be a bit much for my skinny wheels.
Leaving the riverwalk for the road into Ginza, there is a decorative area with an abstract granite statue and a water rill that divides the steeply sloping paved area. It is a challenge, even on good days, to traverse the angle above the rill and to keep my wheels from running away with me.
My heavy bag gets lifted right off my lap. And further along there are bicycles strewn about in heaps.
Away from the river it is less blustery and in town the Salvation Army are busy singing and playing seasonal tunes and collecting for ‘the needy’ – it really does feel like the world is shrinking. An article in the news about Salvation Army religious doctrine on gay people sees me giving them a wide birth. I find all this intolerance so unnecessary.
I’ve decided to include checking out Mitsukoshi in my familiarization week. Still in the process of being refurbished last time I was here, it will be fun to see it finished and to visit the food hall. Japanese people are really keen on seasonal food and Mitsukoshi present food so wonderfully well.
Going out to eat in the evening it was still warm, though the wind had died down, and the deep storm gutters were full and overflowing with golden ginkgo leaves.
Sumida curves her blue-black diamond glitter,
through the highs and lows of megacity Tokyo.
A jewel of splendor, a jewel of diversity,
equality, without prejudice or favour;
powerful and placid, but never without
the hint of danger, of unimagined peril.
Latent power surging under the diamonds.
Another light, bright morning, but today there is a cold wind blustering. And today is about gathering ingredients for the traditional English cake and the all important Danish treats, so it’s back to Ginza and the bakery supplies franchise within the Lumine department store.
It’s like a magical space, small and packed with both goods and customers. I find it hard to concentrate on the task in hand, finding myself distracted by things like the packet of dried fish – tiny slivers of silver ‘infant sardines’ and a jar of ginger and orange tea that looks a lot more like marmalade. There are so many interesting things to explore, so many things waiting to be cooked with, tasted, tried.
Like last year, we make creative substitutes for some of the preserved fruit in the English Christmas cake recipe and get a little carried away with quantities.
We come away with an over abundance of cake ingredients and a few extra treats.
Ginza Hands was also on the to-do list for a new door prop. Sadly the Ginza store didn’t appear to stock them and the crush of the Saturday crowds was a bit much so we didn’t hang about. I have not quite managed to cultivate the calm patience shown by Japanese people in crowd situations, but I’m working on it.
While we were waiting for the lift I did notice people watching video tutorials on how to wrap presents (European style) and how to make festive wreaths. The commercial European Christmas, with emphasis on Scandinavian and French traditions, dominates.
Shops with French names like Deuxieme Classe celebrate Joyeux Noel, while everyone else proclaims Happy Christmas among a host of Scandinavian-style decorations.
The plentiful camellia blossoms are beginning to seem appropriate for this season of bright and loud decoration, but I wonder if the customs of dark winter lands are, like my manic delight of yesterday, a little over the top for this bright and beautiful country.
Back in the apartment, a little reorganizing of the tiny kitchen is required to make room for the beautiful basket of ingredients and other seasonal additions.
And careful planning will be necessary to make space for the alien mixing, rolling, cutting and cooking. The kitchen was never designed for icing fruitcakes or the cutting, twisting and cooking of klijner.
I’m learning a lot about being organised, calm and positively uplifting.
My wildest dreams never, ever
included baking klijner in Japan,
making my own ScandiBrit Jul
on the other side of the world.
Creating the food of the long dark
under bright clear sun in the land
of the ever rising sun. Food
to encourage the sun to rise
and bless the New Year with new hope;
the old year having been what it was
and now to be released into
the custody of memory;
with gratitude in the fresh start.
A Christmas party – rather unexpected and requiring the fully decorated ScandiBrit tree. This quite realistic plastic item was surrounded by a white sheepskin ‘snow scape’ and liberally adorned with gold and silver sparkle, together with red and white reindeer, ponies and homemade, traditional Julenisser (a sort of leprechaun-style mythical little figure with the power to create havoc in your life). All topped by a shiny golden star.
And I thought Christmas came all too early in UK.
The party included three small children. One of the dads dressed up as Santa and arrived with a sack of toys. By prior arrangement the parents had bought three of each gift so the each child had exactly the same number and selection of toys.
The buffet-style meal had Japanese attention to detail, the mini tomato Santas were particularly charming. Small ‘decapitated’ red tomatoes were body and hat to tiny white mozzarella-ball faces, each with two black sesame seeds for eyes.
A whole fish ‘swimming’ across a plate, glazed meats and lots of intriguing intricately-constructed finger-food, were supplemented by bought in tempura, strawberry and cream sandwiches and pizzas.
Seated around a table, the guests clinked glasses with the Japanese toast ‘kanpai’ to start the meal.
It was finished-off with a version of trifle: a sort of ‘Eton mess’ of fresh fruits, sponge, jelly and cream/cream cheese.
Guests brought popcorn and beer. Some arrived in Santa hats with Mickey Mouse ears (it’s hard to keep the mouse at bay here) or red and green antler headbands.
The children, two-year-olds, enjoyed their toys after checking that each did indeed have an identical item.
It was a lively occasion, with the non-alcoholic ‘champagne’ winning out over the beer, and some odd combinations of food causing much hilarity. The meal was very relaxed and informal, the small children had their own table, but were free to run around and play.
A good time was had by all.
A qua-bird breaks the silence,
a solitary cry anticipating
dawn; lonely flight over
early sky, a keen intent
marks black body against grey-
blue. The qua-bird calls the sun.
Delight, how long will delight
flow and overflow with the
magic of being here? Here
in Japan, as Tokyo like
a sponge, absorbs the world
of difference. How long?
Today hardly qualifies for the diary, being a stay-at-home day; a housekeeping day…
A day for some reorganizing in the kitchen after the party. It’s a tiny space that needs constant rearrangement to maintain its clean, welcoming lines. And the low pull out shelf under the built in oven, designed for the rice cooker and kettle, is rather wasted space now that the rice cooker has been moved up onto the already small granite worktop.
A day to handwash clothes I don’t quite trust to the industrial-looking giant of a washer-dryer situated in the pre-bathroom – where there is also handwash basin and, fronting storage for personal hygiene products, skincare and make-up, a large triple mirror, but no natural light.
A day to indulge the Japanese bath rituals as closely as possible in a modern Tokyo apartment. The bathroom is a wet room with a power shower and a D-shaped bath which might be a compromise between East and West. The curve of the D is constructed with a ledge halfway up.
It fills to a pre-programmed temperature at the touch of a button. A soft female voice alerts you when the bath is almost full and a gentle jingle warns that the process is complete.
The bath itself is shorter than a traditional European bath, but not as deep as a traditional Japanese bath – disadvantages to both. The ends are very upright, making relaxing difficult.
In the shops there is an enormous selection of body and haircare creams and lotions, scrubs and potions, some of which are rather more adventurous than the one I see in UK.
There are also herbal essences to add to the humidifiers which become very necessary in the dry winter months with air-con at full blast. It all sounds a little over the top, but in practice I’ve found the aromas to be very discrete and not at all intrusive.
Relaxing herbal fragrance eases stress as I pre-rinse under the shower, soak a while in the tub, then climb out to have a really good wash before getting back in to soak, relax and meditate on life; on global citizens, diversities and inequalities…
…to ponder the quality of light and the western obsession with banishing shadows.
And will the world one day
be filled with halfs and more
adapting the best of
many and various
ways of being human?
Or will we retreat; smite
Babel to a hard ground;
precious, each of his own,
defensive and ready
to fight and die for war
where less is never more;
by fear and righteousness.
A grey day by Tokyo standards and cold, but still with good light. I decide to visit the gallery/shop beside architect Vinoly’s great glass ship that is Tokyo International Forum.
I discover the Lighted Bench Artwork is also represented here in the square; but this time something more obviously Japanese appears to sit guard over TIF and the smaller gallery/shop next door.
Dwarfed by its giant neighbour, this small half glass building sells museum souvenirs and in the non-glass half has regular selling exhibitions by printmakers, potters woodworkers and fabric artists. The current exhibition is Christmas themed and includes possible presents such as the tiny, framed, micro-etchings to wear as pendants. There are hand crafted micro-boxes to wear as jewelry and also tiny beautiful books of etchings in handmade boxes with embroidered lids, handmade mugs and plates slip-glazed in amazingly subtle colours, clay tree decorations and small ceramic trees as well as attractively framed fantasy etchings with elegant Christmas themes.
The Christmas theme extended into the shop, with gift souvenirs from MOMA and the British Museum among others. I liked several of MOMA’s perpetual calendars for their witty design, but they would be more decorative than functional in my digital life.
I am surprised by how much more Christmas there is visible in Tokyo this year. Cards and giant rolls of wrapping paper abound. I’m guessing the commercial value of the occasion is too good to miss.
This northern European feast, brightening the darkest days of winter, is transcending its adoption and adaption by Christians to spread across the world – with and without religious connotations.
Standing on the roof of a wooden hut,
the garden shed of the Christmas market
the young parents stretch their arms in blessing;
or maybe a plea. The baby sleeping.
And here is a message to give, give to
the children, give before the old year ends.
And on the magical 25th day
young lovers give to each other. Parents
in waiting who will need every blessing
to even consider becoming a family.
And this is also a Christmas story;
the story of humanity seeking
a safe haven, space and a place to be.
Return of the warm sun-bright weather, another day without a coat! Tokyo edges ever closer to the tropical.
I did a physical search for the bridge museum, without luck. I read about this once-opening bridge, which crosses Sumida just after the current river walkway ends, and the campaign to have it open again. It mentioned a museum. A little museum worth a visit.
Rolling over the edifice, although it is in regular heavy use by both pedestrian and vehicular traffic, the bit that once opened in the middle makes ominous clanking noises. It feels perilous and old. Maybe the museum is long gone.
I headed instead for the Emperor’s grounds at Hibiya. Its moat runs alongside busy traffic-light controlled multi-lane roads – almost like a double defence. Giant granite spheres surround the acres of manicured grass, bonsaied and topiary evergreens provide background for the autumn colours of Ginkgo. The soft golden tree colours look wonderful from a distance, but closer the impact fades.
I can still enjoy it all, but it does not make good photos, so visually I can’t share. Everything has been tidied, pruned and ready for winter.
A winter that so far has eluded us.
Afterwards I roll into Brick Square for Sampaka chocolate ice cream and that doesn’t disappoint. The avenue of trees in Marunouchi is just as beautiful as the Emporer’s own trees, with the same soft butter-gold of ginkgo leaves.
The street sculpture at this end of the avenue includes ‘PEOPLE LINE – parallel’ a 2015 work by Toshiharu Miki
I stop to photograph it and people looked surprised, as if noticing the sculpture for the first time. The gold, almost abstract, double line of small standing figures sit on top of plinths and blend with the gold of the nearby leaves.
Is there a view from the palace?
Does the Emperor sometimes look
out over Marunouchi; look
for pleasant views to sweeten
his gaze? And does he ignore the
swanky hotels, Lamborghini’s
and luxury shopping, his eyes
not traveling beyond the edge
of the moat that separates him
from his subjects and the gaijin
seeking the soul of his country?
Baking day. It’s most definitely time to make the English Christmas cake. It needs to settle a bit before we coat it with marcipan and get creative with icing and some decorations. The Danish baking needs to be ready for the 23rd – little Christmas Eve.
Regarding the cake ingredients, my own preference for natural fruits has been overruled in favour of bright green glacé cherries. And failure to find sultanas has again meant a substitution, not the same as last year’s but instead a rather wet blend of mixed fruits – including chopped up bright red cherries.
The final mix is a little soft, but appears to have cooked well. I wonder how it will taste!
On the way to collect the baking ingredients some days ago, I did my best to photograph the Wako department store window. Selling ‘Christmas giving’ with baubles and fake snow, the grey mesh figures stand behind hints of a clock, and suggestions of horoscopes in a clever play on Japanese seasonal sentiment. The rising sun, so Japanese, also references the Scandinavian Jul.
This must be christmas – with a small c.
In the midst of cooking, lunch consisted of natto with rice and seaweed – an easy meal. Natto, fermented soybean, is a particular Japanese delicacy traditionally served with soy sauce and some kind of mustard; that, as far as I’m concerned, grows on you. I’m not sure about the mustard.
Matcha, the powdered green tea, I can have in UK, but Natto works out too expensive. I don’t know why, it’s very reasonable here. I can’t even buy the beans to make it myself.
The day has been cold, it started bright and sunny but gathered increasing cloudy spells. The house plants went outside while the sun shone, it’s otherwise hard to keep them healthy where they live – set so far back from the window – even though we’ve chosen the most shade tolerant specimens.
Inside Japanese apartments light access is not always good. Japanese people have an historical relationship with shadows and mystery that some philosophers claim is being destroyed by the western obsession with artificial light. Also living space can be very limited.
Outside there is the contrast of so many light-filled days and open spaces – public spaces (created urban geography conducive to community and the valuing of humanity and social activity) and wild uninhabitable spaces.
A rich tapestry of living.
I worry about getting beneath the skin
of Japanese strangers, I worry that I
will find the judgmental hidden behind faces
that smile. I worry that familiarity
will open the floodgates of special treatment
taking innocent delight away from my
interactions; undoing the dignity
of independent freedom and magical
access. I worry because I have seen clues;
I really do need to close my eyes and stop
A day in Roppongi; a sunny-day, but cold from a biting wind. Making our way first to Tsukiji and then taking the metro, we got there around lunch time and headed straight to my favourite raw fish restaurant.
Its a noisy place where the chefs call out greetings to the customers and maintain a cheerful, bustling atmosphere. At certain times of the day the front portion of the restaurant allows smoking – the customers there are mainly businessmen from the surrounding office buildings . Customers with children are usually seated in the more secluded rear section.
I had been looking forward to the sashimi and chose the mixed selection with a shared side of smoked eel and some hot, fried sprats.
There was also miso soup and green matcha tea. I got quite full.
Outside it had become bitterly cold and the wind on my aching face and sore eyes made me temporarily quite miserable.
A session inside the Roppongi Hills shopping complex soon warmed me up. I particularly enjoy the work of artist/ florist Nicolai Bergmann regularly displayed in a franchise in one of the stores.
Watching the curious Christmas decorations was also a good distraction. Like giant white hats (crochet or macrame), these strange installations slowly folded and unfolded like living, breathing sea-creatures.
I made an effort to ignore the Dr Who style German invasion of orange garden sheds, by staying under cover – no hardship considering the bitter wind.
The wind is a recurring feature at Roppongi Hills, but the architects of the complex failed to take it into account. On the worst days some of the doors remain securely closed. These safety precautions did rather frustrate my first approach and the newly renovated accessible loos threatened my further equanimity.
Baby seats have been installed just inside the sliding doors, making access an art and a possibility only for smaller wheelchairs.
Add to that, the usually just pleasantly-warm loo seat felt hot enough to roast a turkey on and you might realize that my sense of humor was getting an unwelcome workout.
Equally unwelcome was the journey back from Tsukiji in the bitterly cold wind. The wheelchair platform-lift at my local station was broken leaving no option, but rolling home from the nearest accessible stop.
The equipment is old and from the reaction I got when I first started using it, not much used. I do believe plans are in place to improve the whole travel experience in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Tsukiji is the closest accessible station on that particular line.
The challenge, the getting out of your comfort zone,
is the force that keeps you alive, inspired.
Being elsewhere highlights the taken for granted
of daily endeavour. The challenge: attempting, failing
succeeding, this is the key relevance. The surprise
and fun, is finding the overlaps and working up the magic.
Today was yet another bright blue sky and dazzling sun-day, without the cold wind.
The Internet was not working so the fixing took up some of the morning; but then we got back on track with a train to Minami Funabashi for Tokyo Bay Lalaport.
The trainline that goes in that direction uses a different station to my usual one – it has elevator access and we don’t have to travel far to it. Minami Funabashi is a few stations beyond Disneyland in Tokyo Bay and there is a lot of building activity to see, including a new road. Tokyo Bay includes some 249sq K of reclaimed land – almost an ongoing project for over a hundred years; and obviously started before the concept of climate change, but not before threats of tsunami. There is a great deal of land at or below sea level.
Tokyo Bay Lalaport is one of the largest malls in Asia, spreading long and relatively low on one side of the rail tracks. The iconic blue and yellow of a large IKEA store spreads out on the other, the sea, side. We take the elevator up from the station to Lalaport level. So much of Tokyo may be low-rise, but life increasingly happens a floor or two above ground level.
We’re here for the Himalayan Curry and for some light-hearted Seasonal shopping. And for that Japanese inspiration that has a uniquely human quality of relevance and fun.
The trappings of Commercial Christmas are no-where near as evident here (the photo is from Marunouchi – a much wealthier part of the Tokyo Metropolis) and actually it doesn’t even look like the New Year preparations have started yet. It seems to be business as usual. And that’s rather nice. Everywhere is clean, inviting and cheerful. Plenty of space, places to sit, refreshments and loos. Possibly more international than Japanese, with a wide choice of Western and Asian foods. There are also plenty of icecream parlours, pancake parlours and combos that are most definitely not the healthy option.
Snacking while you shop must be a modern international thing, but wandering around with food is still frowned upon in Tokyo. Walking while smoking is also prohibited
Minami Funabashi is a name
to conjure with, a name to roll
the tongue around, a name of fantasy
and strange adventure. Like eating Dashi
in Nihonbashi, Minami invites you to
a playground of weird fun in Lalaport.
Even if you’re not a teletubby.
What you get of course,
is Japanese logic
Days 15,16, 17:
Mostly sick days. Mostly just spent cosy-ing at home, generating hygge as best I could. I had a seasonal sore throat, probably aggravated by the dry air, in spite of billowing clouds from several humidifiers, and I felt utterly foul and quite pathetic.
I did try a variety of traditional and modern cures – honey and radish rapidly gave way to ginger and lemon drinks and lozenges from the konbini. The warm honey and white radish drink smelled and tasted quite disgusting I think maybe like the liquid from green compost…
Recovery seemed so slow. Danish baking took up a lot of day 17 with the preparation for various dough mixes and side dishes filling up much of the morning. And the time consuming hand rolling of pebernodder – hazelnut sized pepper biscuits that get shaped into little balls in the palm of the hand, entertained my afternoon.
And the day being ‘Little Christmas Eve-day’ it was ok to sample the finished results.
I did feel well enough to venture out to admire the Christmas lights and enjoy a Chinese evening meal in Ginza. I kept my eyes open for monkey signs! Last year the sheep was much in evidence as the new year approached, but the monkey seems more reticent.
It was cold, I wrapped up warm and took my hot-water-bottle. It did a good job of keeping me glowing as we wandered the brightly lit and decorated main streets and admired the Seasonal window displays. Many really were works of art.
The restaurant was very modern and warm, the Chinese food very good and the way of eating with shared food was just perfect.
Juleaftens dag (Christmas Eve day).
The Klijner dough had rested overnight in the fridge and was ready to be rolled, cut and twisted into the traditional shape to be deep-fat fried. And the English cake, with its generous coating of marcipan, was ready to be iced, we even found some holly decoration.
We had our traditional smørrebrød lunch with as many Danish style toppings for our ryebread ‘halves’ as we could conjure up. And reminded ourselves how to use knives and forks!
After lunch we prepped pudding rice (actually sticky Chinese rice) for risalamande – it needs to be cooked with vanilla korns (the little black seeds removed from their pods) and allowed to cool, we boiled potatoes for brunede kartofler – they also needed to cool after being peeled and finally we made the black cherry sauce – with whole black cherries – which is also served cold.
We aimed for a tour outside to work up an appetite before starting cooking the main meal. The salmon went in the oven stuffed with lemon and ginger while we whipped up cream to mix with the cooled vanilla rice and a generous portion of chopped almonds, plus one whole almond. The little kitchen was overflowing, so we put the finished risalamande and black cherry sauce out on the balcony until we needed it.
Traditional sprouts were prepped and boiled (I might try roasted next year), the red cabbage, which had been prepared well in advance, was warmed through while the potatoes were toffee’d in caster sugar, butter and a little oil.
Somehow it was all timed to be ready to eat as soon as we’d finished our perfect Japanese melon starter.
It is strangely exciting eating this long familiar meal in Tokyo. And I got the whole almond and consequently the mandelgave, the ‘almond gift’. When I was a child this was often a marcipan pig, but now we stick to chocolates.
Then a few choice presents under the tree. Each recipient was photographed unwrapping and opening gifts – a cause for much amusement. It was lovely.
In a rare quiet moment we could hear the lingering bad spirits of 2015 being warned off by the ‘clacks’. I don’t know what they are called in Japanese, google fails to enlighten me, but these bands of guys roam our area after dark making noise with what sounds like rhythm sticks. The intention is to prepare for the new year by chasing away any lingering bad fortune, so that everyone is receptive to all the good fortune the new year will bring.
The ritual takes place several times a week through December, building in frequency.
Even though the clacks are out, I’m still coughing…
Food has always had an element
of the ritual in my family. Childhood
liberties with the formalities
of meal structures have not translated into
less formal patterns of eating. The
comfort and delight of mealtimes gains much from
familiar orders of taste and texture.
Relaxing into the traditional carries
significance greater than logic
as familiar tastes and aromas link
present joy with memories stretching
way back into generations barely remembered.
A glorious sunny day and we are all needing something peaceful, except the youngest member of our party who showed amazed delight that there were presents again under the tree. Our family tradition is for main presents under the tree on Christmas eve – after the evening meal – and stockings full of little fun things on Christmas morning, but the little one is yet too young for the late tree or the jokey stockings!
All of the gifts were welcomed with huge delight. Pebernodder and a little box of raisins were much appreciated; wrapping paper of both Western and Japanese tradition settled in small mountains and everyone seemed very content.
Leftover Lunch was very very good. My favourite kind of smørrebrød is stacked high with traditional elements, like Danish sild and makral salat, pickled cucumber and crispy fried onion, salad and vegetable ingredients – all supplemented with leftovers from the Juleaftens meal – and all arranged on half slices of rye bread; each ‘half’ being carefully crafted with coordinating flavours. Fish, then meat, is followed by white bread or crackers with good cheeses.
We all ate a surprising amount before eventually heading out for The Walk.
A tour in the fresh air held the promise of meeting the clacks, who seemed now to be venturing into the daylight. Actually we met almost no-one. Japanese people were at work, but a normal workday was never that quiet. The strange silence was eerie, oppressive and somehow solemn.
No clacks, just the haunting and mournful chant of the mobile hot sweet-potato street-seller rising through the silence and following us around the local area as we took a long detour to the konbini for fresh eggs. This strange silence and the haunting beauty of the chant seemed like it really should have some deeply significant meaning…
A very light evening meal was followed by leftover risalamande and stuffed, we settled down to game of dominoes.
Christmas Day is very much
a day that has lost its way.
The recipe for Christmas Day
includes the morning stockings
stuffed with amusements
to bring smiles and an orange
for its evocative aroma.
It includes the walk, the family
perambulation, the roll
around the block. And it includes
the food. It has the cake
to call its own, but otherwise
borrows the Boxing Day ethos
of leftovers. And freed
from the pressures of religion
it has its own spiritual quality
that here in Japan grows
and swells like tsunami
rushing at the NewYear with
a clear sense of possibility.
of something wonderfull.
We headed into town to see the lights, fully expecting the main streets to be closed to traffic as they usually are at weekends. Surprisingly the walking streets were not activated – it was traffic as usual – but there was not much of it. I’m guessing everyone else was taken by surprise too.
New Year decorations were out in force, the European-influenced trees had disappeared, but there were new lights and I looked around for displays featuring the Fire Monkey. They still didn’t seem much in evidence.
While there was not the same focus on the monkey as on the sheep last year, Waco window had a few fluffy white monkeys cavorting around the number 2016 and even a monkey outside on the top edge of the main window.
General lack of interest in the window, and some unenthusiastic muttering, convinced me that no-one else was impressed by the display either.
We planned to eat out and researched a Chinese restaurant that looked inviting. We made our way through the crowds to check out the menu boards, but were sadly disappointed. Our chosen restaurant proved to be mainly meaty, so we ended up eating in Muji.
Ginza Muji is very popular with multi-generational families and it is always fascinating to check out the other diners. As in China, the Japanese people celebrate the new year in families and the atmosphere was already feeling quite festive.
Our meal was followed by browsing the sales, Muji has something for everyone and Japanese sales assistants are so polite and welcoming.
We came back home to Christmas cake – it was produced with some ceremony and cut open with much curiosity. The fruity insides were a great success. The marcipan, a little too sweet, was not the brand of choice, but shopping in austerity UK means many good things have disappeared from the shelves and I have not yet discovered where to buy quality marcipan in Tokyo. I’m sure it exists!
Card games, board games and our traditional family dominoes entertained us.
Christmas disappears like a magic trick
leaving Jul, the season, behind. Somewhat
insignificant in the bright face of
the approaching changeover when wood sheep
gives way to fire monkey, Jul bides it’s time
in semblance of business as usual.
Unusual in its bold extreme of
normality; strange in its emptiness,
the bleak vacant space where the elephant
magically departed the room.
Today we are translating a UK experience into a Japanese one. We have packed Christmas cake slices and we are heading for Daiba.
We decide to follow road signs to Shiodome, which involves heading towards the Hamarikyu gardens – with their tidal lakes and Duck Cemetary. This area is under intensive road development for the 2020 Olympics, so I was a little anxious about access. It proved doable, if a little hair-raising!
Just past the entrance to the park we could see the station across the other side of a road junction with massive works all around. Luckily there was an elevator down to a vast, practically empty, underground concourse where we managed to find an accessible route up to the second floor station.
This would take us to Odaiba via the Rainbow Bridge on an unmanned shuttle that nevertheless has staff ready and waiting to assist anyone with access needs.
I don’t have a great head for heights, my first time with this train I travelled with my heart in my mouth as we sped across Tokyo between skyscrapers, with a sheer drop from the train window down onto busy roads increasingly lower down as the the train gained height to cross over to the reclaimed land that is Odaiba.
The rainbow bridge curls in a great double decker circle over the water and we travelled from one end of the journey to the other. Although the day was bright and sunny, the wind was strong and bitterly cold. We did attempt sitting here (picture) on the balcony walkway that juts out over the water, but lasted seconds, not minutes. Plan B modified hopes of sitting eating our cake by the scale version of the Statue of Liberty over looking Tokyo beach, to sitting indoors in a large picture window of the shopping mall situated behind and to the left.
We didn’t give up, but short walks outside in the wind were modified by indoor explorations and an afternoon pizza. We even warmed up enough to enjoy a chocolate ice cream sundae.
Some of the floor surfaces inside are not the most comfortable to roll over and finding an accessible place to eat was not quick or easy, but success was rewarded by an excellent pizza in a very pleasant venue with views out over the sea. The large outdoor eating area we could see through the picture windows would be great in the summer.
And the journey back, in the dark and dazzle of Tokyo lights was an exhilarating experience.
Mind over matter
I conquered my fear
of traveling the Rainbow Bridge
Now the mere idea
of traveling high
between Tokyo skyscrapers,
out over the bay
in an unmanned train
is a thrill. Delight,
fuel the adventure
with a true sense of magic.
An arty day, meeting media and talking about my art and my philosophy.
I was met with this beautiful bunch of flowers, the picture really doesn’t do them justice.
The brown textured-bark paper was amazing. And the flowers lasted weeks!
A crisp cold day, and I rolled round through the little ‘green space’ on my way to the Metro lift that would take me underground where I could check the day’s accessibility.
Roppongi was the destination and the platform lift that took my chair down to the second level appeared to be working. Its a very old piece of kit and is supplemented by station staff (when available) who ferry buggies (without babies in) and suitcases up and down the two flights of steps between the two sets of platforms. I imagine a lift is being planned for when the Olympics come to Tokyo in 2020.
The big idea was to start with Design 21_21 my all time favourite museum/gallery. It was closed for the week. Even as I approached the unlit building I realised that this was the wrong day. I had forgotten about its regular day off. What I had also failed to take in was the fact that it was closed all the way from its normal day off through into the New Year. I was deeply disappointed.
Consolation food called. We headed for ‘our’ restaurant which is a bit of a hairy ride downhill from Roppongi Crossing; the paved surface leaves a lot to be desired. I do feel pangs of conscience about going there. I don’t know how sustainable or ethical their fish-catch is. I avoid anything on the menu that I might have doubts about. The items we chose were wonderfully fresh (we are not that far from Tsukiji – Japan’s renown Fish Market) and utterly delicious.
Wonderful food, and as much hot green tea as I could drink, later we wrapped up in our warm outer clothes and headed back up to Roppongi Hills.
Here in the Mori Museum of Art was the exhibition: The 500 Arhats, the so-called paintings of Takashi Murakami. I say so-called because these images, printed on large panels by a studio team of workers/students, looked more like enamel than paint and, according to the detailed illustrations from Takashi’s studio, were in fact screen prints. All very confusing.
There was a lot on offer including a very lifelike figure caught in the process of emerging from a duplicate of itself, its eyes rolling and mouth moving as it chanted – the whole thing feeling very creepy.
The exhibition was very colourful, if somewhat repetitive, with a 60’s vibe updated with a nod to Terry Pratchet and hints of Alice in Wonderland. 500 Arhats, at 100 metres, is claimed to be ‘one of the largest paintings ever produced in global art history’. It was created as a token of gratitude to State of Qatar, one of the first to offer assistance in the wake of The Great East Japan earthquake in 2011. The quantity of works, including new pieces, was somewhat overwhelming.
Last day before the End of Year Day…
A trip into Ginza for a Korean ‘curry’ afforded an opportunity to visit my favourite shop. The tiny space was packed with people making last minute purchases. The miniature plants were picked, admired from all sides and purchased by folk with such delight in their faces…
The New Year decorations, bonsai miniatures and heralds of spring brought equal delight to my face. Everywhere the sense of anticipation was mounting.
I would dearly love to have taken the whole shop home with me.
The Korean curry was hot in every sense of the word, the flavours are subtle and not necessarily what I would associate with curry. For years Indian curries informed my idea of curry flavours and these were not inevitably hot, but rich and complex to the taste buds. Korean curries, as served in Tokyo, are hot, and to my taste buds they do seem subtle but without the depth of flavours. In their own way they are very nice – colourful and rich in textures.
Afterwards I randomly attempted a couple of sales – clothes mainly. The packed crowds took no notice of me, and were unresponsive to my ‘sumemasen’. I did roll into a couple of people and I did come to the conclusion that sales weren’t really worth the hassle. I think I got most frustrated by being rendered immobile by ambulant people who managed to mill around each other without leaving even the smallest gap for me.
I also learnt that people immune to my polite words were equally willing to ignore being rolled into, or over – in the case of protruding feet.
If I lived permanently in Tokyo, I’d have to solve this one, or pay full price for my new clothes.
the skinny wheels move
just a light-weight chair,
but then, there’s me
average I guess,
rolling over feet
shod in Japanese shoes
often the weak link
in a smart outfit:
my own feet
at the mere thought.
End of year day and we all had coughs. Food prep, resting and dozing took up all of our time.
The food preparation was a mix of tasks from the ‘starting from scratch’ with raw ingredients, to defrosting, cooking pre-prepared, and unpacking ready to serve. The ready to serve elements also came with fine gauze and glitter napkins that tone wonderfully with the New Year chopsticks and rests that come out of storage for the occasion.
There was no rush, no stress, just the nearest you’ll get to hygge outside of Danmark.
The table looked wonderful, dressed in green with delicate pink and glitter napkins and perfect Japanese attention to detail.
After our day of relaxed preparation, part of the meal does need to be cooked at the table. Last year some dramatic escape attempts prompted a rethink; our crab, this year, had already been dismembered and deep frozen, so no scuttling!
We chatted and cooked vegetables and seafood and munched on homemade sushi. It was really delicious. There was just the tiniest hint of food formality to satisfy my Danish upbringing, but otherwise a very relaxed ramble through the most sociable of Asian meals. KanPai
Later we had our end of year soba with a large tempura’d prawn and watched the end of the traditional song contest (ladies won – first time in ages), before some quiet contemplation and temple ‘bongs’.
So here we are ready to celebrate
that we cannot change. The fire monkey
swings in to mark the difference; a change
of tone, less prominent than the wood sheep,
I cannot help speculate on its welcome.
And still we make preparation. The food
every bit as significant as Jul
and Christmas eating traditions, takes time
in its preparation – growing our sense
of anticipation, weaving our hopes
into toasts, and dreams of future delight
in the year of the Fire Monkey.
Sitting watching the sun rise on 2016 – as best I can from the balcony – as the soft pink-peach glow spreads around neighboring skyscrapers. A qua-bird dips its beak silently in a gutter still holding a little water, it all seems incredibly peaceful.
We had the good-luck sticky rice for breakfast – I ate the vegetables and soup and just a token nibble of the rice cake, mindful of its power to suffocate the unwary, but not wanting to challenge the notion that this custom would bring luck.
The day was bright and in spite of the chill wind, still warm in the sun. New Years day also has the traditional ‘walk’, and we headed out in a familiar direction.
We made our way over the Big Bridge (it’s big, white and the towering suspension supports are visible from a distance – there are photos of it elsewhere in my Tokyo writings) and turned right into the gardens/ river walk. We normally cross this bridge to a small supermarket, or a large konbini, or just to walk alongside the river. Our New Year option is enjoying being able to follow the river down to the next bridge. I’ve been under that bridge on the other side, but never crossed it to explore this one.
We found a ramp down from the riverwalk that led us a little way away from the river and through a vibrant Lowrise area of Tokyo I’d not seen before. There was a very long queue disappearing around a corner to the local temple (it is customary to visit within 3 days of the start of a New Year) and lots of cheerful people out and about. Cheerful and friendly enough to greet gaijin strangers. The little wood and stone dwellings were surrounded by pots of trees, shrubs and flowers, the atmosphere was fantastic. There were houses with gardens and fruiting citrus trees and little tumbledown places right on the road. It felt protected, like a secret.
I could have wandered around there for hours, but heading back towards the river we sought to find the ramp up to the next bridge.
This was in a rather run down patch partially under the bridge and the ramp itself not in great condition, but doable. It was steep, but like all Japanese ramps, had short level patches where one could rest.
The bridge itself was fine and it was fun to look back over to the very beautiful white bridge we normally used. The ramp down was well worn. I had noticed how busy it was when rolling underneath it – a lot of cyclists use it.
A very good outing, I hope to do it again.
Quietly as we may
have bid farewell to the
sheep, and invisible
as the monkey seems to
be, yet this new day is
welcomed with a rare joy
on the streets, in the queues
that wind through them, greeting
the neighbour and stranger
alike, as the new year
settles around us all.
Into Ginza to browse Japanese books and I found a great book of modern Japanese architecture that I just couldn’t resist. The clients of these architects were obviously wealthy, but the buildings were not about money; such inspiration to dream.
The bookshop has a small section of books with English text – I do chose books I can actually read.
Somewhere I heard about a bookshop in Tokyo that only sells one book. The book changes over time, but while it is ‘the book’ it gets a lot of attention via in-store discussion groups and readings and analysis. I wish I had Japanese enough to try it.
I was also keen to look into the possibility of a kit to mend a beautiful broken pot with gold. I had already looked into the courses available to learn how to do this, and discovered that the traditional kintsugi method is very toxic.
Their literature did mention more modern versions with less toxic glue, so we headed to Ginza’s Tokyo Hands.
The pot is from my ‘People Like You’ exhibition. It was a collaboration with the brilliant Mirka Golden-Hann and has braille words from a blind man’s song dotted on the outside – the words are raw and painful. You can feel the song as you handle the wonderfully tactile bowl. The exhibition toured and the bowl was damaged in transit.
The kintsugi kits were all using the old fashioned resin ‘glue’ and rather expensive. They also needed controlled temperature and humidity to work properly. These glues can cause quite severe allergic reactions, to use them you need to wear gloves in a well ventilated room. I’ve no idea how I would manage the humidity…
I need to do more research.
Although the day started cold it warmed up and after browsing Ginza Hands with kintsugi in mind we walked back enjoying the warm sun.
Wheels run liquid gold through the broken lines
of my mobility. Value adding, life enhancing
threads of gleaming, healing gold. Undiminished
vessel of my life, rare treasure of transformation.
Rolling on gold.
And who, poor fool, imagines they are
nothing but the emperor’s new clothes?
One of the things I do try to do in Tokyo is go to the cinema. Getting around in UK is practically impossible, and the last time I tried my local cinema the wheelchair space was just that. Someone had removed one of the fold up chairs at the end of a row. The space was angled steeply towards the screen and no one had thought to level it out. Needless to say, the experience was not pleasant.
My visits to Japanese cinemas has been altogether more delightful – though my first choice of venue is not always accessible, there are many that are and they are often very well thought out…
So, we wandered into Nihonbashi to watch Star Wars!
I got into the spirit of things rolling past a lot of mysteriously dark buildings that looked like homage to Darth Vader. When not in shadow, the day was bright, but cold and parts of our route bore traces of preparation for a race (marathon?) coming through later.
The cinema offered many versions of the film: Japanese, sub-titled and original; 2D, 3D and various combos.
We chose the original, 3D version – very much a farewell to Han Solo, I thought it was most watchable.
And afterwards Dashi in Nihonbashi – great lunch in a modern Japanese restaurant within the same mall as the cinema. I do enjoy Dashi, fishy flakes that are sprinkled onto food, and these were really good.
Outside it was gorgeous in the late afternoon sun, with colorful spring plants lining the streets. I shall make my own spring when I am back in UK.
My NY resolution!
Nearer home we looked in for dessert, chocolate ice cream sundae, in the ‘Royal Host’ – the hotel/restaurant with a non-smoking policy that makes it an ideal eating place for families.
The western quality of light
was disconcerting, to say the
least. I found myself quite anxious
about the effect on flavours;
I know there is research about
the colour of plates and the sounds
and the smells. Wood, silver or gold…
flavour is more intense in the
dark, but Japanese food? Does it
taste somehow less Japanese in
this western illumination,
this shadowless light? Does it hold
it’s own on the glossy tables
in the picture windows, in the
gleam of a white and shiny floor?
On the subject of farewells, I rolled my au revoir to Sumida today. She was glittering in the warm sunlight. It was painful. For me this river is alive – a river spirit that captures my imagination. I feel somehow engaged in her communication with the powerful spirit of the sea as they push and pull into each other’s territories. They cycle through the seasons and phases of the moon together, and renegotiate their power dynamics when the earth tremors and the plates shift.
Saying goodbye eats into me – precursor of the pain that will send me into emotional confusion as I leave my loved ones; leave the freedom and accessibility that characterizes my Tokyo; leave behind that version of me that is the most real.
Rolling into Ginza I travel the walkway barely visible on the right bank of the river, joining just beyond the bridge visible where the river bends to the right. I roll past the skyscrapers and high-rise on a pleasant journey with plentiful seating and seasonal planting. Ginza is to the right of the picture and my route is not at all direct. I could take other more and less accessible routes, sometimes I do, but this is my favourite.
Then, saying farewell to the flower shop, I was lucky. It was filled with tiny yellow flowers of spring and I did not lust for one of them. The shop has, maybe, a spirit that speaks through the growing things that wait to catch the attention of a buyer – a homemaker – it has a strong personality. Luckily I have this lack of contact with yellow blossom, so this goodbye was merely sad and full of optimism about my return…
Loft was next, in the hopes of finding a gift for Thomas and Gail. Disappointed I rolled on to Marunouchi and a last chocolate ice cream for this time…
I ate it in a shaft of sunlight in Brick Square. Trying to enjoy the moment with all my senses, to feel grateful and blessed.
I did, but the knowledge of leaving gnawed a hole in my time – eroding my joy.
reality as I chose it
and the propaganda
Voluntarily giving up
mobility for constriction.
for hate crime,
and striving to maintain
wholeness; to keep
the freedom in my heart.
I never thought I could do it.
And there are days
when I get paralyzed
by the fear.
I contemplated rolling back over the river to the Megacity village – I love the fact that there is so incredibly much diversity in Tokyo. How brilliant it is to do so much independent stuff. And to feel safe while doing so.
I shall, world permitting, certainly go back there with a sketchbook and a camera.
I grew up with Janteloven, the Law of Jante, the idea that I was no better than anyone else – and naturally, that no-one else was better than me. I grew up to value community, communication and that famous ‘hygge’
I grew up with the Danish notion of focusing ones attention and energy on the things one valued as a valid social comment. I didn’t need to poke around and complain about stuff I found distasteful unless I was ignoring harm being done to someone. I grew up with a notion of diversity; a notion that equality didn’t mean a bland, across the board sameness; a notion that compromise could be fruitful and I grew up with a faith in my own values.
I feel this echoing through my experiences in Japan; the Dane and the Japanese ‘on the street’ seem to have some valuable things in common.
I considered rolling over the bridge, but instead I took the train to Roppongi. I needed to do the ride, to experience the freedom to go, just go. Without 24 hours notice, without wondering if the system would function, I wanted to exercise my right to choose. I needed that glorious taste of freedom.
The Japanese aim is to design a universally accessible country – awareness of universal design has historically influenced Japanese people and that awareness is projected into a future where the longevity of the people will result in an increased demand. Universally accessible created geography, buildings, facilities and tools are not yet universally embraced in Tokyo, yet alone the whole of Japan, but in ‘my neck of the woods’ progress is good. Good and constantly improving -currently spurred on by the 2020 coming of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I have no reason to tussle with Japanese bureaucracy, I come and go as a visitor, so my interaction with Japanese people greatly benefits from Japanese universal courtesy and good manners. I am treated very well, or politely ignored. I never have to face the bad behaviour and scathing rejection that is part and parcel of life in UK.
Just going out on the street is a so much pleasanter experience and wheelchair access is so much better.
I’m also a great fan of the Japanese attitude that sees barrier-free universal design as not only the future direction for Japanese society, but also a ‘blue ocean’ in terms of marketing opportunity. It certainly has the effect of opening up possibilities for a diverse and ageing population.
Whereas in UK the very opposite is true.