Gypsy's Travels

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Journey to Japan - Views on the Street

Two of my favorite things to do when I visit another country are (1.) get on a bus and ride it to the very end and (2) just watch the people and look at the street scene. I did not get on a bus this time, but I did enjoy the street scenes and people.

This street corner on Shibuya Dori, is one of the busiest in the world. It certainly looks innocuous here before the light changes.....

......but after the light changes, people appear from everywhere...and this was a light day.

This wonderful glass building towered over us along a small expanse of sidewalk......

It housed a well-known (well, in some circles)brand of shoe that was very prominent in a book made into a movie ("The Devil Wears Prada").

Posted by PicasaI didn't see small food vendors selling from carts on the street. Perhaps they have been replaced by American giants?

This donut shop was a popular place

The sweet shops were more elegant

This seems to be the season for this inedible Fall plant used for decoration. Someone told us it might be a "parrot plant," but I don;t find it on the internet - enlighten me.

I guess you could plan a "quick getaway" in a Scootcar....

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Japanese Journey - Taking a Walk

The "Cloth and Clay" tour began with a meeting the night everyone had arrived. It was a small group of 16, by design, and it turned out to be a very tolerant and congenial group of women plus one husband. Most were from different states, one from Canada, and one from France. Several were repeat travellers with Susan, although this was the first time this particular trip had been offered and everyone was very careful to be on time....all the time! It was a most impressive effort. Em was the youngest of the group but blended in well. She did not complain about the food or the walking or anything. I was pleased to see how nicely everyone interacted with her.

Most of the participants were retired school teachers and they wanted to make sure Em was taking note of all the important points.
Unfortunately, not all Susan's previous tours had been so delightful for her. Some included wannabes taking notes for their own tour offerings. Legally, they were within their rights - "We paid for this tour"; ethically, it was in poor taste; realistically, there is no way the larger companies can offer what Susan offers. She has the background to teach the reasoning behind the cultural specifics, the love of the people and shared arts, and the connections that offered us views behind the bamboo curtain. We actually met two Japanese "Living Treasures!" All this is to tell you that I won't be giving a detailed account of the places we visited, names of people that we met who do not ordinarily appear in public, or showing photos of some wonderful treasures that have not yet been released to the public. I WILL share what I can because it was fascinating......
Just walking through the streets in Japan is a real treat. This was my fourth trip over several decades of my life, so for me it was seeing the changes and embracing the memories. I also enjoyed seeing everything through Em's eyes as a first time visitor, who was also on her first journey to a place where she was definitely a minority -
"I don't understand anything they are saying."
"I can't read the signs."
"Everything is different!"
Definitely a touch of culture shock.
The first day, we travel by subway across the city and walk to our destination. It is part of the plan to make us individually mobile on public transportation and thus able to get around independently. I make sure Em is up front getting directions.
I LOVE to walk! It is the best way to see the city but I am often distracted by side views and trying to capture everything with my camera. I walk at the back of the group so I don't run into anyone or block someones view or progress. I become accustomed to hurrying to catch up but everything in Japan is picturesque.....

A street vendor is busy just a block away from our upscale hotel. These vendors are more common in the suburbs, but not many are this close. We are only a couple of blocks away from the Imperial Palace and Gardens.

There are so many people in such a small space that the Japanese make everything count. Beauty is incorporated into every nook and cranny. This cement wall is ribbed to give it visual texture and small plates are added for decoration.

Em captured this particularly cute one with an owl design.

Just a contained filled with water adds visual interest, although in Texas it would be full of mosquito larva.

Even a very small area is an opportunity for peace, quiet, and beauty.

Posted by PicasaA new use for olde doors
These characters guarding the street corner are some sort of popular trend.
Did I mention that Em really likes her Fedora and wears it all the time?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Free Cooking Lessons

An insertion here from another point around the globe. ....
Shelley is a down-to-earth Canadian living in Paris, France. She has a series of cooking videos that are fun and informative. This particular series is free and covers cooking and freezing. Not your typical cooking class. Have a look and sign up for free classes!

Japanese Journey - Exploring Takeshita Dori

Em and I headed down Takeshita Dori ("dori" is street in Japanese) in the early evening and discovered that it was dark by 5:30. The small shops were filled with young teens stopping by on their way home from school, young couples out for a walk, and busy, busy people rushing to whoknowswhere.

I was trying to take a photo of Em when a kind gentleman offered to take one of us together. His English was excellent and he chatted about the time he had spent in California. (Did I mention she LOVED her hat and wore it everywhere?)

Almost everyone spoke at least a little English and several who offered help at various times during our stay, spoke very well. Others, like the gaggle of school girls from whom we asked directions, managed to come up with some very basic English words they had learned in school, emphasized with a lot of giggling. My Japanese was even more basic and really sent them into hysterics. They probably had a good time relating their experience in their next English class.
As we continued our exploration of Takeshita Dori, we discovered that almost anything can be purchased from a vending machine. They are found on almost every street corner and there appears to be no problem with vandalism. We found the Japanese people to be very honest and polite. We never felt unsafe on the streets, even at night....not that we were out that late, mind you.

Small shops lined the passageways, tucked in close like cinnamon rolls in a package, displaying just enough to entice the shoppers. Most specialized in one particular this shop filled with a variety of socks.

Leaving the shopping area, we wandered into an area where masses of people were gathering. Our limited communication skills and the high noise level were not conducive to the exchange of information, but the streets were roped off and a "security" person kept pointing to an area and motioning us to wait and watch - this amid a flow of shouted Japanese completely unintelligible to us. We found a likely spot and waited.
We were soon treated to a parade of costumed people, most with loud instruments of some sort to accompany their"singing". Over-sized drums on a rolling rack required so much effort, that the drummers changed places as they stepped along.
Hundreds (or more) of people lined the route for a relatively short parade. Fortunately, Em and I were a tad taller than most of the natives, so we could see some of the action. We never did discover what the parade was about, but it seemed likely it was Jidai Matsuri.
There was one huge float with mean-looking "warriors" which dominated the parade. and the various costumes indicated it might be part of "Culture Day."
We ended the evening with dinner at a restaurant we discovered on our walk - Wolfgang Puck. The name was quite recognizable, but the food was local and very tasty.

This short video will give you some idea of the parade and crowd.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Journey in Japan - A Day for Em

One thing I am very clear on - I have NO sense of direction. Fortunately, I have been blessed with two strong legs so when I end up wandering around, I can think of my wanderings as an adventure. Em has a fairly good sense of direction but, even better, she was a pro right off the bat at reading the subway signs. This was impressed on me when we traveled in England, so I was able to relax and trust her to get us where we wanted to go ...... most of the time.

The children begin riding the subway at a very young age in Japan. They are confident and, apparently, safe. They are still children, however, as evidenced by these two school friends who had a fencing match with their umbrellas before they settled down to wait for the subway.

I knew that we would be on a tight schedule when the tour started so I wanted Em to have an opportunity to see something in which she was particularly interested. Like any red-blooded American girl, she wanted to go shopping. I thought I might distract her by pointing out some of the busy, little alleyways that housed small vendors, but that was not what she had in mind.

Em was interested in the big city shops. We headed for the Harajuku area - the area frequented by the Harajuku Girls, raves, and "fashion". We probably missed the real show since we were there on Monday, but there were a few mildly outrageously dressed girls. Em was very curious to know why there were all wearing "tails" - furry, tail-like appendages hanging off skirts, handbag
s, etc.

We covered 4 floors of a Shibuya Department store and Em took it all in.

Posted by PicasaThe floors were accessed by chrome escalators, mirrored from above. Very jazzy!

Em spent a lot of time looking - at clothes and the girls shopping. Prices were high but it did not appear to slow the, mostly, young women. Apparently, they still live at home after they leave school and get a job, so they have a lot of disposable income.
Em had her own spending money. ABW and I had talked about how the money was to be dispersed before we left. ABW decided it was better for Em to learn about budgeting at this tender age than later, so Em was on her own. I offered a grandma's conservative suggestions, but in the end the decision to buy, or not to buy, was Em's.
Em looked...........

.....and looked.......

...but in the end, all she bought was this black fedora. She was so pleased with her purchase! She wore it everywhere!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Journey to Japan - A Day on Our Own

We have intentionally arrived a day early. We want to relax a little and see some of the town on our own before the tour starts. Our first order of business is to find breakfast. Jonathan's coffee shop and grill is right across the street. Sounds friendly, though not very Japanese, but we head for it anyway. A friendly man welcomes us, shows us to our seats, and hands us a menu. He knows a few, heavily accented, English words. I have used my morning vocabulary saying "Ohio gozaimas."
We can't read the menu but it does have nice pictures. Unfortunately, some of the pictures are open to interpretation.

Before he walked away, our waiter explained everything to us (in Japanese of course) and pointed. with explanation, to the end of the table. We smiled at him. He walked away. We study the pictures on the menu.

Some 20 minutes later, we feel we have deciphered enough to order. There are two prices, one includs eshe "beverage bar." Our waiter seemed to have forgotten us, so I finally get up and peek around the corner. He sees me and hurries over. We order and he points us to the beverage bar. Sign language is to be a staple of our communication, although I begin to recall more and more of the words and phrases I used to use.

Em decides to try a green drink available at the beverage bar.

It is green Fanta. We have only seen orange in the U.S.

I start with a cup of coffee but there are several different possiblilities. Since I can't have milk, my choices are limited, but I can't tell what is what. I stand there for a while until a woman comes to fill her cup. Taking a chance she speaks some English, I ask which is the plain coffee. She shrugs and says "I don't know, I always get this one," as she fills her cup with a latte. I take a chance on a button, actually get it right, and head back to our table.

The silverware is available in a basket on the table, some condiments and tissue-paper thin napkins are at the end of the table where the waiter had indicated earlier. I do not see any sugar anywhere. I poke around at the end of the table and finally try to open a small, oval box. It doesn't seem to have a lid or any way to get into it, so I think perhaps it will pop open when I push down on the top. I push down, a bell rings, and the waiter comes running. Whoops!
Amid much laughter, we manag our meal without further incident and head out on our first full day in Tokyo, to explore the teen scene.