Monday, July 4, 2011

What is Dorothy up to...?

I'll present you with some photographic evidence, but you can probably piece together the rest.

(yes, that's spam)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Barbecue: an epilogue

Just got this photo, which was taken later that night at a party in Ikebukuro. Sakura House, the company that owns my apartment, puts on these mixers so that English-speaking Japanese people can meet Sakura House's gaijin clients. It's a great way to make friends in a place as vast and foreign as Tokyo. An array of urban professionals, European backpackers, salarymen and college students all show up to drink and chat. It's a friendly, unassuming crowd. This is where I made a lot of my post-earthquake friends, many of whom show up in my Hanami pictures. Incidentally, this is also where I first met Hiro.

I look pretty goofy in this photo, but I wanted to post it anyway because Hiro's so darn cute. Despite my hapless look, I'm probably the only person there who wasn't drinking. (^_^)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Barbecue House

I went to this amazing little barbecue house with Hiro and some of our mutual friends and acquaintances on Saturday. (My readers might recognize some picnic regulars here--we hanami'd together, did some golden week time too.) It felt like deep Louisiana to me-- warm, humid day, foggy rainslicked windows, perched on the second floor of a clean but rickety little building; trees allowed to grow and branch through the building--bringing the outside in; small propane-powered camping grills serve as hibachi at each table, the flames a bit wily, but the boys managed them well. Spoke almost entirely in Japanese, having fairly competent conversations and making new friends. Great fun.

Clockwise, from top left: Hiro, me, Mari, Mikado, Naoko, Kyoumi, and Yuuki. It's Yuuki's 23rd birthday-- strawberry cake (^_^). Kimihito is holding the camera.

Meiji Jingu, Fushigi

I awake to the sound of rain on my window. "Tsuyu" has come, the Japanese 'monsoon.' I live in a rainshadow, because the north/west coast of Japan is sort of a spine of mountains, and much of what is east of that experiences less precipitation. So it's basically like Oregon weather.

I think of last Saturday. Saw Meiji Jingu shrine veiled in a light, misty rain on Saturday morning. Killing time with a close friend. Witnessed a traditional wedding procession--very similar to the "foxes' wedding" in Kurosawa's film, Dreams. Incredibly elegant, quiet, spare. The shrine is nestled in a tall, thick little forest that swaddles it from the noise and spectacle of Harajuku and Yoyogi park, and there were few tourists. The moment had all the beauty and wonder I could hope for.

One quiet Sunday back in May, I was walking home down the windy greenish street I photographed in my "second sunday" entry. Only weeks before, I had seen two shinto priests beating a small drum and processing there on a lonely evening. But this sunny spring morning I came across four thin, willowy trees, taller than myself, suddenly standing in a square on an empty lot of land. Twine was wrapped around them, filling in the sides of the square, and the little paper ladders you see at Shinto shrines were dangling from the twine, lifted reluctantly by the breeze. The next day I asked a Japanese classmate and he shrugged. Two weeks later, the grass-spotted gravel was empty again, as though the trees had been some apparition.

Two days ago, strolling amidst the shining, dripping leaves in the half-light of a good drizzle, I felt the same sensation: "fushigi," (不思議) Hiro calls it. defines it as, "wonder, miracle, strange, mystery, marvel, curiosity," sometimes connoting "a quirk of fate, curious coincidence." He murmured the word often as we watched "Le Marche de l'Emperor" or whatever March of the Penguins was in French (by the way that was a bizarre experience--I hope I remember to write about it). The Saturday preceding, we had picked it up at Tsutaya, Japan's answer to blockbuster.

One of the birds, immaculately white, yellow, and black ("but they don't bathe..." he murmurs, "fushigi") arcs its neck to reach its offspring with a long, curved beak ("do they feel love, I wonder? ... fushigi") amidst a vast and lonely desert of ice (even I think that's just plain fushigi).

As we crunch crunch across the gravel that winds through the forest, I remember the trees, and ask Hiro what they meant. He explains that it was probably purifying the land before some kind of construction project. Then it occurs to me that recently, I noticed fencing around the plot, with a contractor's advertisements fastened to it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bebop in Baba

 Excerpted from a hastily clattered (is that the computer equivalent of scribbled?) email to my Dad, the weekend before Golden Week. Hopefully I'll polish it into a proper entry soon:

I just spent my second night this week at this wonderful little jazz club in takadanobaba (affectionately dubbed 'baba' by us gaijin), called "the intro." I'm gonna write a long blog about it soon, but I want to tell you all about it--this will be the draft for my blog. I just got home (and have a belly full of beer) so I want to write this down before it fades. But this message just got really really long so feel free to skip through if your bored.

I absolutely love this little dive. It's a dim, narrow basement room-- cozy but not dingy, warm and smoky, but not stuffy, and close to the action, but not too loud. The place is packed with musicians. It only fits about 15 or 20 people, and all but 5 or 6 of those were musicians. The bartender/manager/#1 sax sets his beat up brass on the counter to serve drinks in between his sets. His name's Inoue--he's portly and bespectacled, cheerful and mild-mannered, and he wore the same beat-up "california" sweatshirt tonight and last Thursday. But when he picks up his instrument he really knows how to sizzle. The he has a list of names, sorted by instrument, and each time a new player squeezed through the door, a name got added. Inouesan assiduously manages it, putting together sets. Every fifteen minutes or so they rotated.

Today I asked if I could make a request--"Song for my father." I asked if he knew of it and he thought for a minute, then nodded. As Inoue pulled out a floppy, dog-eared songbook, the lanky drummer I was chatting up at the bar--Tohru--turned and said, "Ah, fazzah... Horasu Siruba, ne!" (^_^) So after a little while Inouesan and this fresh-faced young American sax player from New York--David--stood up in front of the songbook and played the chorus four or five times in a slightly stiff, stale manner. I started to think, "oh gosh, they must not get requests much--what have I done?!" But of course, they were just getting the melody down, letting it sink in. Because, after one of these reiterations, Inouesan, without skipping a beat, busts into a solo, taking the melody and running with it. Maybe I imagined it, but I felt like the energy throughout the whole room picked up, like Inouesan was outdoing himself just for me. He was so wonderful--I really love his style. There were probably four or five different sax players tonight, but by far Inoue is the highlight of the show. One of the sax players was a little too smooth and predictable, another had great precision and breath capacity, but played really fast and a bit rough, not alternating his tempo enough to remain interesting. He had wonderful Bowie hair though, and a bitchin black leather jacket (^_^). The other sax player--the kid from NY, who happens to have a sort of James McAvoy thing going on--was impressive, but in his solos he tended to get stuck in loops, which is always a shame. But Inouesan--I don't know how to describe it, but it's like, the way he plays, I just get sucked in and not a single note seems out of place.

Thurs. night I discovered the place while out with an acquaintance I had met at a party a few weeks ago. I knew the neighborhood--takadanobaba-- was famous for good jazz clubs. Just a couple weeks before I had come across an American sax player in Yoyogi park who swore by The Cotton Club, which is one of the pricier joints there. When I met my friend at the station, he asked me where we were going, and I realized that I had kind of assumed we'd just stumble upon something. Luckily we did, after about five minutes of walking. A sign simply said, "Jazz," and pointed down a flight of stairs. We heard an enthusiastic drummer as we descended and approached the heavy metal door that leads into the tiny club.

We arrived at about 6:30 and they were just setting up.  For a while it was just us and the band. I doubt more than eight people came in the club that whole night. It's a spare group on Thursdays-- a couple college kids, the owner (who plays drums and looks suspiciously like a yakuza), and Inouesan, although an impressive trumpet player came in around 8pm. A slightly disheveled businesswoman in a skirtsuit sat beside me at the bar, and after some time she took out a sketchbook and began drawing the performers. A few businessmen ambled in around 8 or 9, regular salaryman types, but you could tell they 'got' the music. The vibe was relaxed, but the music was fast-paced. The college boys played with a kind of intensity and energy that was different from their Saturday night counterparts. They had an easy camaraderie with Inouesan, and you could tell he is a mentor to them.
Hiro and I at the same club a couple weeks later. Not the most glamorous photo but it gives you an idea of the place--the other wall is just outside the left side of the frame! So cozy--love it. Walter (see "oh tokyo" entry for photo), a fellow angelino and avid jazz fan, is holding the camera. His girlfriend Steph (see "oh tokyo"), who also love Jazz, is behind him at the bar.

Tonight the group was much bigger, and with more musicians, the dynamic changed a lot. Not only did the musicians seem to barely know each other, but they were playing for each other, where Inoue and the college boys seemed to just be playing for fun. Tonight Inouesan was pretty busy, giving people directions, telling them who was playing next, scratching and scrawling on his list at the tiny bar. One of the players, a bassist with unfortunate aspirations to the avant-garde, kept dragging out his solos to ridiculous lengths. By the third time he'd done it, even the super-polite Japanese people around him were pretty impatient. In america someone would've thrown a beer bottle at him, I'm sure, but I think the most overt sign of displeasure was a grumble or a snort from the audience... although the pianist was practically hitting her head against the piano-lid! The boy had really pretty hair and a nice face, but that's about all he had going for him. Thursday night's bassist did impressive solos, was even younger, and also had cool hair, but wore a hipster hat on top of it all. The comparison wasn't favorable. ^_^

Tonight I dragged along Dan, one of my only American friends who weathered the quake, and met up with Takashi, another person I met at the Sakura House party a few weeks back. Takashi and I have done some conversation practice sessions at cafes in Ikebukuro--he's very amicable and speaks great English. I hope we'll be friends for a long time. It was fortunate that Dan really hit it off with Takashi, because that fun drummer, Tohru, sat next to me for a couple of hours, and after beer #1 my Japanese skills were getting pretty good. (^_^) I was really on a roll. We talked about all sorts of stuff. (Tohru: "Who are your favorite musicians? Do you know In-ton Maruserisu?" Me: "Oh, Wynton Marsalis! Yes! And I really like when Baado--Chyaari Paaka--plays with Dizzy Giresupi--do you know of them?" "Ah, yes, they're very good aren't they!") Plus, he must have been speaking slowly and/or clearly because I understood almost everything he said. It was really nifty. He actually said that Tokyo's summer jazz festivals are a little overrated, but gave me the names of some good clubs like "Intro" that are fairly inexpensive. I gave him my phone number and he said he's gonna come to a picnic I'm having on Thursday, and maybe karaoke some time next week too.

So all in all I had an awesome evening. I remember thinking how unbelievable it was that I was chatting up these really cool guys in fairly fluid Japanese in a cozy little hole in the middle of Tokyo--I bet six months ago I wouldn't have believed it! Haha I can't wait to go back again. And the best part? I spent the first five hours of my day doing intense Japanese study and volunteering for tsunami relief. So, I'm on vacation, but I'm making progress too.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Still Alive!

Wow, it's been almost two months since I last posted!!

Life continues to be wonderful, though wonderfully busy. As soon as my semester ended, we had "golden week," a week of continuous holidays. For the Japanese, this is particularly special, because Japanese companies are very strict about absences and vacations. Few Japanese get to take a week off for any reason, let alone a vacation getaway. I spent my golden week hiking in Kamakura and Takaosan, did a little karaoke and even some bowling (!), saw an amazing Taro Okamoto exhibition, and of course, had a picnic. I had a great time getting to know my new friends better. I also found this sizzling little Jazz club in Takadanobaba--I wrote a journal entry about this, so hopefully I'll blog about it soon.

Clockwise from left: Yuuki, Kimihito, Natsumi, Hannah (former roommate at LMU, coincidentally), me. Hiro's holding the camera.

I guess I haven't been blogging as much because I'm no longer a traveler, really. I'll be leaving Japan soon--in August, specifically--but I've sort of put down roots. I still seek out new experiences, but most of my life is absorbed in my studies and my social life. The summer semester courses are particularly intense because the semester is so short. But also, my social life has reached a new level--I found a really great boyfriend! I must confess that most free time I come across gets immediately allocated to that... But he's Japanese, so it's great conversation practice...! I'll stop making excuses, I'm a truant through and through. But I have been doing quite well in my classes, so the folks back home needn't worry too much.

As for prospects for this blog in the future? I'm not so sure... I write essays for my literature class every week, and I write essays in Japanese every week, so I'm a bit essayed out. Sorry folks! However, I plan to wipe the dust off my camera and at least post some photos, and hopefully I can manage 200-word aerograms once or twice a week.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Okay folks, I hereby vow to actually write an entry detailing my many wonderful hanami moments... but first I have to write a research paper, do a presentation, and take a couple final exams!
So, I leave you in suspense until... Tuesday?

Editor's note: still haven't lifted the curtain on this particular debauchery--Yoyogi koen was a crazy place. Unfortunately my camera was experiencing some issues, but I do have a rather interesting photographic chronicle of this eccentric landscape. Hopefully I'll post soon...