Friday, October 3, 2008

Looking around

The journey to Nihon Minkaen an open air folk museum involved taking a number of trains from Shirokanedai where Michele's apartment is to Mukogaokayuen (love the names!). I had a bit of an epiphany when I realized that the Japanese have their own version of Tai Chi which probably is called Tee Cee (train commuting)- it is as skillful as Tai Chi and involves a number of specifically named and elaborate "positions". The major ones we saw in practice today were the "Approaching the station" this involved standing with feet firmly planted and slightly apart, knees slightly bent and slight indiscernible pressure on feet allowing leaning in the opposite direction from that of the train's motion. "Departing the platform" involved similar skill and positioning but in the opposite direction to ensure stability. Both of these positions required arms to be by the side. Advanced forms of each of these positions were also witnessed these being "Reading & holding book/newspaper in one hand" or "Drinking from an open container" or "Single-handed cell phone message receipt/sending". The most dangerous "position" witnessed was sleeping standing up resting head on door- the danger in this position is that when one snaps ones head up in mid snooze one may bang it rather nastily on the door. All positions required great skill. We were in a compartment that had had the seats raised to enable more commuters to practice their Tee Cee in comfort!
We changed trains at Shinjuku which is a major hub for the subway system and JR rail where one has a choice of about 11 different routes/lines. We used the trusty Suica card and made it to our destination without too much trouble- we were beginning to become quite skillful developing our Tee Cee skills.

The open air museum provides illustrations of traditional architecture. There were 25 historical buildings which had been relocated to the museum- they dated from around the 17th and 18th centuries. It was a lovely warm sunny day so walking around was very pleasant other than the school groups we needed to avoid but the place was large enough that it didn't spoil our cultural and viewing experience.
I was quite taken with the shapes and textures of the buildings- the thatched roofed houses were similar to the guest house (ryokan) we had stayed in a number of years ago. The typical decoration of the eaves and the storage of wood and household equipment were simple and gave us the opportunity to take loads of photos.
Looking back at the photos I became a little obsessed with trying to get the perfect shot of the fire place and cooking pots.
Having looked around the museum for about two or so hours we walked back in to the town and had lunch at a ramen (noodle soup) shop. Perched on stools facing a wall we slurped our way through a delicious lunch that had the soup and gyoza and rice.
A bit of compulsory shopping and then off to the train to come home and there making their way to the same train as us (as it turns out) were two women in kimono who it would appear had been out for a day of shopping. The contortions I went through trying to surreptitiously get a photo of them. Shuffling up behind them I managed to get a photo of them heading to the train and then one of them had to hunt for her train ticket and I rushed ahead to get the photo of the front of them. Very bad acting on my part of "Oh Michele you moved now let me get a better photo of you!" Serves me right- when I came to go in through the station gate my trusty Suica card wouldn't work! Panic on my part but easily sorted at the gate booth.
We have seen a variety of fashions over the past few days but perhaps that requires a separate blog all its own.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The big day!

At least part of it anyway.... the big day being Michele's 60th birthday. We started the day slowly giving her time to explore her presents. She loves her camera- good thing I know what my sister will love and need! Having got ourselves in order we headed out for a leisurely morning- none of this rushing about and getting ourselves exhausted as we have a big dinner planned tonight at the place we booked yesterday.
So the start of the day was a leisurely walk to Teien Art Museum which is the former residence of Prince Asaka. Michele's choice (after all it is her birthday and one must respect ones elders!) and what a great choice. She had been there when other exhibitions have been on, the exhibitions actually hid the beauty of the house, but she knew that it is an Art Deco house as it turns out once a year the exhibition is the house itself and this is what we went to see.
It is kinda difficult to know what the entire history of the place is as the signs were in Japanese but the house and its fittings are truly gorgeous. What made it even better was that you could photograph whatever you wanted (flash off) so we rose to the challenge of trying to capture an entire house on our cameras. Michele put her birthday present to good use and is really pleased with the results.
The decorative covering of heaters, air vents and doorways were not safe from our camera shutters. The Lalique vases and the beautiful entrance with Lalique glass were things we wanted to capture as did every other tourist. It was a tad difficult getting the picture of the doorway given that there were either people wanting their photo taken in front of them or reflected in the glass as they tried to do what we were doing- that is getting a photo without someone's reflection in it including our own reflection- we almost succeeded.
About 50 shots later we went outside and of course there is a beautiful garden and an opportunity to sit and enjoy the outdoors sipping on an iced green tea purchased from the conveniently located vending machine at the corner of the garden.

An examination of the toilet facilities and then off to the gardens Michele had picked out for our lunch time picnic. We strolled along to the supermarket and got some lovely salad and refreshments and continued back in the direction of the apartment.
Unfortunately Happoen Gardens asks that one doesn't bring in food and drink, understandable really, so we went to the little children's park near the apartment and had our picnic at the wisteria shaded picnic table and then went to stroll around Happoen Gardens. They are small but have amazing variety of features to them. Like many Japanese gardens Happoen has the tea house, pond, fish and seating areas to admire the variety of vistas created by the plantings.
This particular garden is small although gives the impression of being much larger once you are in it. It is also a very popular choice for wedding photographs. While we were there, there were four different brides and grooms- they don't have bridesmaids and groomsmen etc.
Japanese wedding photos are taken before the actual wedding ceremony and often in European style gowns. The traditional clothing is usually only for photographs as it is very expensive to hire.
We weren't lucky enough to see a bride in the traditional wedding kimono but we did see almost the full gamut of styles and choices in the four couples who were being photographed. It was tricky trying not to be caught in the background of someone's wedding photo. Just what you'd want is a couple of Australian tourists slopping around in the background of your very beautiful wedding album.
In the shots I've included are the traditional white and another one with some sort of pink fluffy stuff on her gown. Sometimes the gowns are only borrowed for the photo shoot. Usually the bride changes during the course of the actual wedding reception, the one we went to, Sakurako's she only changed twice but we know of other bride's have changed 5- 6 times changing in to different coloured gowns.
So much for the reflection on some wedding traditions... and back to the birthday..... we have been enjoying the lovely sunny day and have grand plans for the evening at a lovely restaurant having a sushi banquet.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

People watching and origami

Absolutely exhausted having walked and walked and walked today.... but what a great day. It was marked by the fact it didn't rain and we hadn't taken umbrellas so a little bit lighter load.
Looking back over the photos I took there is an emphasis on people watching and kids in particular. Walking from the station to the Ceramic exhibition at Matsuoka Museum (near Meguro station- again) we spotted this group of children from the local day care being taken to the shop on the corner it would seem. The "cart" was parked up against the wall while the carers swapped who was walking and who was being perambulated. The ones in the "cart" near the metal wall were having a great time beating out their our music on the wall.
The museum was truly a treasure trove with some wonderful sculpture by Henry Moore- seems to be making an appearance in every city I visit. No mean feat given the size of the scultures and the distance from England! The main reason we were there was to see the ceramic exhibition which was from the 1600's, beautiful Kokutani ware- the colours and detail on the bowls and jars were glorious. We strolled through other parts of the museum where there were some beautiful scrolls and screens from similar if older periods of history. The main entrance to the museum is a work of art in itself so it was a lovely start to the day.
We booked tomorrow night's venue for the birthday celebration and after a lunch of fabulous tonkatsu we headed for Myinichikan- the School of free spirit the buildings of which were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1921 and remains today fully restored in a side street not far from Ikebukero station. Unfortunately the upper hall was in use (I guess they need to make their money somehow) so we had to content ourselves with looking through the classrooms of which there were about 5 or 6 in this junior/high school for girls. The building has all the simplicity and style that is so distinctly Frank Lloyd Wright's work (I was tempted to write oeuvre here but wasn't sure if it was the right word and tense!). We had a cup of tea and biscuits in the main hall- lovely biscuits and cup of tea and cheap at twice the price compared with yesterday's fiasco of $6 for a cup of iced tea!
To get to the restaurant for tomorrow night we went past an exhibit of origami and in the middle of the square people were taking advantage of the seats and the fine weather (no sun but no rain) and eating their lunch in the open. Mothers were feeding their young children- it was like watching birds feeding their young in their nests. No soggy sandwiches for these kids- meals of rice cakes and other dishes that required spoons and chopsticks.

On the toilet critique front a couple of today's experiences were squat variety (which I avoided) and another one had the necessary noise maker to camouflage the undesirable/ embarrassing sounds that may be emitted.