Gypsy's Travels

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.

A Japanese Journey - The Arrival

What is the first thing you do after checking in and arriving at your room?

I always check out the view. We have a nice view of part of the city with some tall trees immediately in front of us. Very tall trees, considering we are on the 12th floor.

We are not fancy people but that doesn't men we can't enjoy luxury when we are in its lap. The hotel seems to have thought of everything to make a stay memorable and they present it in a typically warm Japanese manner.
Robes and slippers in the closet

If a robe is too hot and stuffy, try a cool, comfortable yukata. Ready and waiting in a drawer.
Hotpot filled with water and ready to plug in and heat water for tea. After some maneuvering, I discovered I was supposed to just put the plug in the pot, it was already plugged into the wall.
The bath was done in a sunny yellow, a royal color, that reminded me of chrysanthemums. Forget a toiletry? I am sure it was here.
Posted by PicasaEm's favorite - "What in the world is it?" The seat is heated, as it is almost everywhere - even in public toilets.

After we get settled, the first order of business is to let ABW know we have arrived safely.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Japanese Journey - The Beginning

I know I haven't finished blogging the trip to England yet, but I will get back to it. I have dragged my computer half way around the world to see if it will make a difference in my being able to keep up with the outflow of information. So far, it has been worth it!
I have had this trip planned for a long time. I don't normally like "tours," but this one is a little different. My interest in it is twofold - the focus is "Cloth and Clay," studying the pottery and weaving related to specific areas. The fact that I lived in Okinawa when the wounds of war were still fresh, was the 2nd temptation.

The initial information arrived just a few weeks prior to our departure. Typically, they had been tied together with a length of ribbon. The Japanese observe strict modes of conduct in all their dealings. For so many people to live together peacefully in such a small country, they need to be aware of those around them.

The information was appreciated and read but, of course, I went to the computer and explored, looking for even more.

October was such a busy month, I did not feel completely ready for departure from Denver on Saturday, 30 October. I had driven to Colorado Springs to visit ABW and family and pick up Em to accompany me on this Asian trip. Fortunately, Em's (charter) school felt the travel experience would more than make up for the time she missed in class.
Friday evening, I checked over everything to make sure it was all in order. The most important things are passport, credit card, and money, almost everything else can be replaced. ABW, the three children, luggage, and I piled into the car, for the trip to Denver. Since we had a 9 AM flight, Em and I planned to spend the night in a hotel rather drive so early in the morning. Thanks to 911, we would need to be at the airport 2 hours early to get through security in a timely manner. In, larger airports and on international flights, I usually aim for 3 hours just to be on the safe side .
The hour drive was long for the children. Andrew decided to entertain us with his rendition of a deaf opera singer hitting the high notes. When he discovered that this annoyed not only his mother and grandmother, but Abs as well, only continued distraction kept the peace. We kept them somewhat mollified with the usual car games. Nevertheless, we were all relieved to arrive on the outskirts of Denver where there were restaurants. There aren't many between Colorado Springs and Denver. We chose a place that sounded healthy and not too quiet - something about a Tomato - serving a salad buffet. I reached in my backpack for my pouch / purse which held lipstick, brush, and, of course, all those vital documents I mentioned before - passport, credit card, and money. A cold chill ran down my spine as I searched frantically for the pouch! A few minutes later, I had to publicly admit that it was missing. Not the way to begin an international trip. The good news, we had not stopped anywhere else; the bad news, it was back in Colorado Springs at the house.
It only made sense to feed the masses first, then we would have to drive back. Ultimately, we found the pouch where I had placed it after checking the contents, and Em and I repeated the Denver drive leaving two very sleepy children at home with ABW.
Early arrival at the airport was a good idea. It was very busy even at that early hour. We made it through all the hoops and relaxed with a breakfast snack, ready to board. Then came the news that our flight had been delayed an hour. The delay was actually in San Francisco, but Southwest Airlines was kind enough to allow us to wait comfortably in the terminal rather than on a crowded plane. My laptop was put to good use and there were electrical outlets by the seats in the waiting area. My cell phone was still working. I had scheduled our flight out of San Francisco with some leeway built in. We had a nice delay.
The flight from San Francisco to Tokyo was like riding in a rowboat during a storm. We were tossed, buffeted, shaken, and could hear the plane groaning and rattling. The woman seated beside me had a very active startle reflex. I hope all that plane's screws, nuts, and bolts were checked and tightened before the next flight.
We did finally arrive in Tokyo, made it through immigration, and customs, then boarded the limo-bus for the hotel. Em was really tired, but put the time to good use.
Posted by Picasa
Fortunately, it was almost bedtime when we arrived.