Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Food and Temples

Our day ended with a wonderful meal of Okonomiyaki. It was a great treat- and coincidence as Michele and I had both decided that we'd probably enjoy okonomiyaki for dinner- given that there were a huge variety of choices we actually hit on the same idea on the same day. We had seen an okonomiyaki place the night before and then on our way to the station after visiting the temple we saw another one so headed for that at around 6:30pm. The first one appeared shut so we headed for the original one we had seen in a side street near Meguro station.
The first time we had okonomiyaki was with Sakurako in Kyoto about 10years ago. We had not only enjoyed the food but also the experience then and on this occasion we thoroughly enjoyed both the food and the experience again. The restaurant was small and made only okonomiyaki so did it well. The cook was behind the bar and we could watch as he made ours and others' meals. We had a seafood one to share which was a good idea as it is very filling. A thin pancake like mixture was heated on the grill and then cabbage and seafood and cheese and other secret ingredients were added. The "crepe" was flipped and then onion and more ingredients and the pancake like dish was placed on a hot gridle and served at our table. There was additional mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce on the table. It was by far the lightest and most delicious meal of okonomiyaki we have had. (Okonomiyaki is a mixture between pancake and pizza. "Okonomi" means "as you like". This refers to the ingredients.)
I had asked Michele if we could include a temple visit in our tours around the city and she knew just the one. It is a short walk from Meguro station in the midst of suburban sprawl- houses, narrow streets ans shops and there in the midst of it all Daien-ji (Daien Temple). It is beautiful. Its history is long-ish for Japan but in terms of Australian European settlement it was built just before the First Fleet!
Daien-ji was the flash point of a conflagration that burned one-third of Edo and killed nearly 18,000 people in 1772. Five hundred bas relief rakan, stone images representing the disciples of Buddha, were carved by temple monks as a form of penance. Each sculpture appears to genuinely mourn the fire victims with an individualized, grimly ascetic expression. Odd then that a wee flame is kept continuously burning at the temple. Perhaps this hints that some things -- despite modern ambitions -- never change.
The temple was built and these figures to represent the people who died in the fire- the enormity of it is apparent with the en mass sculptures, each of which is different. I tried to show the extent and number of sculptures by photographing in close and moving out.
The other lovely part of the grounds are the Jizo statues- indicated by the little hats. They are usually a little red bib or bonnet. These were crotcheted bonnets which have discolored to orange and from a distance look like bright nasturtiums in a small garden plot.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The sights of Tokyo?....

Even in my slightly jet-lagged state the sights and scenes in Tokyo provided reassurance that Japan continues to be the interesting place I knew it to be.
Michele and I headed out from the apartment with the intention of going shopping as it was raining and was going to continue to rain for the next three days! Darn- however intrepid explorers that we are nothing will keep us from the shops, galleries and other indoor activity. We caught the subway with a couple of changes of trains and "slapping down" of the Suica card. We went to Tokyo Midtown at Roppongi Hills. This involved taking the train and then a scuttle through the rain and we were at a large architectural treat.
It was far too cloudy and grey to even bother to make the effort to go up to the viewing area at the top of the tower (57th Floor) we just enjoyed the ambiance of the circular courtyard and the many sculptures despite the constant drizzle.

One of the many joys of Japan is the fact that they continue to use processes seemingly sticking to the theory that "if it aint's broke don't fix/replace it" the traditional 'birch" broom here being a good example of it.
Our tour of the complex took a bit of a different turn as the shops don't open until 11am and it was only 10:50 so we made a slight detour outside our eye being caught by the eye-catching sculpture in the garden surrounding the building. Red and white polka-dot skittles- no idea why the artist chose this particular shape but the contrast between the green grass and the art work made for great photos. Trying to get all of the pieces in was a bit like trying to get all the rocks in at the Roan-ji a temple in Kyoto. Perhaps a bad analogy but it was a struggle that I think I overcame- not in this particular shot as there were 5 of them.

I know, I know I am supposed to be really polite and discreet but the visit to the toilet in the building was too much for me. It was wonderful to know that my memory of things Japanese wasn't wrong and that innovations occur everywhere. Also in the light of the comments made on our AUSSIE PD day by Alan November and his experience of the micro-chip in the toilet at some model house at an exhibition in Japan, the toilet facilities in the Midtown Building just added to my conviction that nothing is to be omitted from the tourist photo collection. I had to snap the selection of buttons available for use on the side of the toilet. They included a flushing sound to camouflage any unwanted sounds, the bidet whose speed could be increased or decreased, heating of the seat and the water. Not sure of the order in which one was to use them and the synchronizing of the actual flushing of the toilet- needless to say I stuck with conventionality and just took a photo of it all.
Later in the day when we were traversing the train stations in the bowels of Shinjuku Station (bad timing of the use of that phrase so perhaps I should say beneath) therefore when we were traversing the passages beneath Shinjuku Station Michele pointed out this particular attraction- a glasses cleaning point. There are instructions on what one does. You dip your glasses in the solution then wipe them with the tissue provided for that purpose. What Michele hadn't realized in the past was that one presses a button in the lower left on the front of the bath this causes some sort of whirring noise which we decided was magnetic force or magic that went on for a minute. You then rinse the glasses in the bath (silver) at the front of the table and then dispose of the tissue in the bin in the middle. So Michele and I did parallel glasses cleaning. Our glasses were certainly sparkle-larkle-larkling by the end.

Just a couple of the lovely differences and surprises that brought our day together. We didn't buy anything but had a lovely if exhausting day walking around the shops in the building and then out to dinner all in the rain . If only some of the rain would fall in Australia!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

In Japan

Having taken forever to get back in to my blog, perhaps I can back track the past month using my photos...... but sitting here in Michele's apartment in Tokyo we are parallel blogging- she's working on her "60 Days of Celebration" blog I am inspired to begin to catch up on my own.
I flew here from NYC via Chicago arriving in Tokyo at 3:45pm. Michele had given me excellent directions and instructions on how to find my way to Shinagawa station where she was waiting for me. I was a tad spaced out when we caught up me trying to work out exactly which gate I needed to exit or did I need to go up to the "surface" and just as I was turning around to go over to the green JR sign I thought I should be standing near there she was!
I hadn't completely understood here directions as I hadn't bought the Suica train card at the airport but not to worry we got one from the station staff. It's like a metro card but much more substantial, like a credit card and refillable. You just need to slap your wallet on the big blue button and the gates to the subway open for you. You need to use it on exiting also. So we schlepped my stuff down the escalators to the subway and went about three stops changed trains went one stop and headed out onto the surface.
The apartment in down a narrow street not far from the subway and on the first floor (2nd floor in the US). I was a tad tired mainly from the flight 13 hours, and then the train trip from the airport ( sitting with my back towards the direction we are going makes me feel train sick every time).
We sat and had a refreshing cup of green tea and chatted. By this time it was late enough to go out for dinner. We went to a local "chain" restaurant and had a lovely set meal which included sashimi and fish and pickles. It marked the start of looking for the differences in culture, when I say looking I mean taking a quick picture of. The first thing that cuaght my eye was the small buzzer on the table. When we had perused the menu Michele hit the buzzer and the waiter came over and we order our dinner. (The buzzer is the round white ink pad looking thing beside the toothpicks in front of the napkins). Our meals arrived really quickly. I love the simplicity of the meal and the variety of little dishes you can have within the set meals. This one had (starting in the top left corner going clockwise) tiny eggplant in soy and miso, sashimi (raw fish) egg with seaweed, miso soup, grilled fish with sauce in a little pot and rice with tiny chunks of fish- all for $10.
Michele had a similar meal and enjoyed it as much as enjoyed mine. We walked slowly back to her apartment browsing some of the shop windows including the little bakery that had some beautiful little cakes all of which we resisted.
Back in the apartment we had another green tea and a little treat Michele had bought earlier in the day- an "umpan" a little cake filled with ungo- red bean- yum!