Thursday, December 11, 2014

Revisiting the Past: Kitasenju

Recently, spurred by the desire to try a great Thai place which appeared on one of our current drama obsessions (Kodoku no Gurume), Matcha-kun and I ended up at Kitasenju.

To tell the truth, I had tried to ignore this (admittedly blameless) area for a good long while. When passing through the station on my way to my koto lessons, I whisked from one line to the next, and never left the station.

The reason is silly, but not entirely. Several years ago, I actually stayed in Kitasenju for about a week. I was in Japan to job hunt and visit my then-significant other. As Kitasenju is out of the way, and home to a lot of Tokyo's day laborer population, the lodging was really cheap. 

This was not a great time in my life. I was in grad school in London, so doing the long distance thing with my SO, and having absolutely no luck finding a job that would take me back to Japan. 

As the SO was also busy, I ended up spending a lot of time running around for interviews, then walking around alone. My last 2 days in the city were spent rambling about, missing this person who had been 'forbidden' (!!!) to spend the evenings with me... mostly because his parents were afraid he would get plastered right before his first day of work. 

Eventually he did show up on the eve of my departure, after his first day at work. Drunk after a welcome party for new recruits... not a good state. One of my major issues with him was his inability to stop drinking at a reasonable point, so you can imagine how upset this made me.

All in all, the whole mess left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. And I guess it made me irrationally dislike Kitasenju.
How different things are now. Exploring the long shoutengai shopping streets hand in hand with Matcha-kun, I could literally feel my heart lift. This place now has new memories affixed to it, the dark aura it had in my mind is gone.

Perception is a funny thing. The things, places and people we thought were so perfect or pursued so assiduously actually turn out not to be what actually makes us happy.
The total shitamachi-ness of Kitasenju now can actually speak to me. The long street with colorful hand-painted shutters, the cute little cafes and bars, the calls of merchants purveying everything from snacks to futon. During that visit I couldn't even see it.

But now I can. Forgive me Kitasenju, let's be friends.

Friday, December 5, 2014

3 Years On

Due to a friend's question about exactly when Matcha-kun and I started dating, I realized it has now been 3 years... give or take a bit.

That odd 'bit' is due to a couple reasons. The first being that I am terrible at remembering dates and anniversaries. Hence, my mental image and timeline of our dating is a biiiiit fuzzy.

The second is that, being two very different types, we have different concepts of when our relationship started.
Matcha-kun, in typical decisive Matcha-kun fashion, feels that we started our relationship on the first date. I, being more cautious and undecided, think that it was closer to the 7th or 8th. Not that it truly matters, but it does make for an amusing conversation.

My coworkers seem vaguely concerned about this. It is commonly thought that women are the ones that care about anniversaries, special holidays and other 'romantic' dates. But really, I don't mind. I much prefer daily kindness and care to a few expensive dates throughout the year.
And when does a relationship truly start anyway? First kiss? After an explicit agreement? After surviving the first fight? I think there are various stages in any long term relationship, and those transitions are equally worthy of being remembered...even if you can't pinpoint an exact date.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fall in Tokyo(ish): Rikugien, Kawagoe and Mukojima Hyakkaen

All I can say is, I hope ya'll like autumn leaves... because fall foliage is on the menu today! 

As my parents were in town (and due to the persnickety weather) I didn't have quite as much time as usual to run around the various parks and indulge in my love for koyo. However, what parks we did manage to visit were splendid.

I am particularly pleased with several of the shots taken in Rikugien. Matcha-kun, my parents and myself managed to get there during the golden hour, when the setting sun and fog made the whole place magical.
The two pictures below are from the little known Mukojima Hyakken. It is a very small garden, but the combination of the actual trees, lamp posts and Sky Tree is quite lovely.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dating in Japan: Moving In

The common reaction I got/get when telling local friends or coworkers that I moved in with Matcha-kun are a bit bemusing. Basically, they can be summed up as:

'OMG! He proposed! *squeeee* You are getting married, OMG when is the wedding?!? Show me your riiiing...wait, where is your ring?!'

Uh, whoa. I didn't realize we had slipped back in time to the 50's, when sharing a dwelling was equated with matrimony.

Besides the repeated necessity to explain that cohabitation and marriage can indeed be separate things, I think the Matcha- Godzilla household is proceeding quite well. For the most part things go along smoothly, with much silly dancing and weird noises by both parties. Occasionally we spat, about things like laundry drying and other such world shaking matters, but resolve things quickly with a minimum of nastiness.

For the most part we are both flexible about things, although I must say he is more amenable than I. It probably comes from having several siblings. While I am not always good with change, he takes it in stride. And while I am better at creative problem solving and spatial reasoning (very important when it comes to furniture and textiles), he is better at more concrete issues... and of course anything that requires reading complicated kanji.

Like many intercultural couples before us, we realize communication is key. Sometimes you literally have to spell out what you are thinking, because the 'default mode' just doesn't work. Obviously this is not just a cultural thing, but it becomes more pronounced. 

Household duties have been divided fairly, so the apartment is usually quite respectable looking. Since cooking daily is not something either of us is interested in doing, we make a few large batches on the weekends, supplemented by a couple meals by me during the week. And on weekends, he makes fancy vegan pancakes and other yummy things (yay!) And does all the dishes (more yay!), because I hate dishes and prefer doing laundry.

There will always be points of contention (like his insistence of leaving suits airing all over the place, or my annoyingly early alarm clock) but such is life. On the whole we have a good time watching odd dorama online (like Shinya Shokudo or Kodoku no Gurume... yes, food porn), running around the cit, eating far too much French bread and being silly.

Not earthshaking, and that is (in the words of Martha Stewart) a GOOD thing. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Here it Comes!

Strap on your seat belts and prepare for much enthusiastic blithering... for autumn has finally hit Tokyo (well, Tachikawa, but close enough). Behold, photographic proof!
The ginkgos of Showa Kinen Park have turned that glorious shade of goldenrod which delights the hearts of all koyo fanatics. As Tachikawa is about 3-5 degrees colder than Tokyo proper, we got a sneak peak of the autumnal glory which should hit the city in around 2 weeks.

In other, vaguely related news, for some reason the IKEA in Tachikawa is much less crowded than the one in Yokohama. And their delivery service is much faster! Good to know for peeps seeking cheap chairs and printed fabrics (!!!).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

可愛いのに (Even Though You are Cute...)

Recently I came across a phrase that gave me pause, and as it has been tumbling about in my brain for a bit without coming to a satisfactory conclusion, it shall end up here for public(ish) debate.

The perturbing phrase was: 
'Even though you are so cute, you still care about/are interested in the homeless'.

Now, just take a minute to let that sink in and roll around your brain for a minute.

Since when does cuteness have anything to do with humanity? 

I have heard people here make comments about (primarily women) who volunteer a lot and are not blessed with media-sanctioned good looks on the lines of : 'yeah, she looks like she would volunteer a lot'. Does this mean that only 'homely' women volunteer? Perhaps the implication is that they are not attractive enough to find a mate to snarf up their time? How incredibly narrow minded, should that be the case.

Are the cute exempt from responsibilities to their fellow (wo)man? Are they too busy traipsing along in high heels on the arm of some dude? Is it 'dangerous' for cute women to be close to the homeless? Is their time considered more valuable? 

Perhaps it is more a societal issue. Homelessness is often seen as being due to some flaw in that person, when in fact people often become homeless due to reasons beyond their control (escape from abusive situations, loss of home due to illness, mental illness, sudden firing after the age of 50 etc). So, are these people not worthy of support? Considering some of the reactions I have personally heard when going to help out at food pantry events, this is a persuasive argument.

Or maybe it is a comment on the lady in question instead. Are cute people supposed to be vapid and innocent to the messier sides of society? 

It is the のに (even though) part of the phrase that bothers me. Why couldn't it just be 'you are super cute and your concern for other people is praiseworthy'? Telling people they are awesome is certainly a nice thing to do, but it doesn't have to come with a side of comparisons.

Thoughts, suggestions or comments welcome.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Nagano in a Nutshell

There is a very famous phrase, written by Kawabata: 'トネルを抜けると、そこは雪国であった' (On the other side of the tunnel, there lay snow country).

That was my image of Nagano in the winter, covered in thick coats of snow, which appear suddenly after the long tunnel after Omiya.

Man, was I in for a surprise when visiting last New Years! After much thought about what to wear and how to layer, the temperatures were pretty much the same as Yokohama....sans snow.
I really like Nagano.

First of all, many of their regional specialties are things I can actually eat (apples, peaches, soba and the fantastic oyaki). Oyaki, for the uninitiated, are chewy dumplings filled with all types of seasoned veggies. They are truly amazing, and on this trip I found a little store purveying an apple pie version!

Secondly, it is rather unpretentious. Like many mountainous, dangerously snowy and cold places, people tend to be a bit more practical. For instance, Nagano is the prefecture with the most uniform-less schools. Students can wear things that actually keep them warm (aka pants in winter for girls).

They are practical in many different ways *cough cough* (yes, that is an adult toy store).
Thirdly, Meiji era buildings galore!