May 21, 2006

Hanazono Shrine and Sumo

Sunday morning, I went back to the Hanazono Shrine market again and picked up two more kimonos. They are not super fancy but are sort of "vintage"... that's my nice way of saying "used". There were a couple of pretty ones I was tempted to buy, but they were of polyester fabric, so I opted to not buy them. The two that I bought were silk, light and airy.

Coincidentally, there was an ice sculpture contest happening at the Hanazono Shrine. Here are a few pictures from the contest:





When I was in the subway station later, I saw a lady with a super nice kimono. It had a large print of a crane. Stunning. It made mine look not as interesting.

Afterwards, I met a few coworkers at Ryogoku Station to go to the Grand Sumo Tournament. This was my first time watching sumo... live sumo, for that matter! It was super fun and very interesting. Each match could be as quick as 5 seconds or a few minutes. The tournament was the entire day and has been going on since last week, but we went to the last 2 hours of Sunday's match. The seats we had were not really seats. There was real seats for the first 8 or so rows, then after that was square mats with 4 cushions. You buy the whole square and are basically sitting on the mat having a picnic with 3 friends while watching sumo.

Fun times,

Posted by oneray at 8:39 PM

May 20, 2006

Portable Shrine Festival in Asakusa

The Sanja-Matsuri, the Portable Shrine Festival, was today at Asakusa. There are 3 main festivals in Tokyo. This is one of the big ones. I had read about it last week and had thought it was last week. Luckily, I had gone to Asakusa to pick up a few more hair ornaments today and picked up on the festival vibe. Wow. I wish I were taller so that I could have seen more. Tons of people gathered around the main shrine and waited for the men carrying the portable shrines to parade around. People were cheering and in a good mood. The sun was shining and temperature was warm.

I only stayed around for this one shrine, then walked around and saw the other portable shrines and their carriers waiting their turn. Yeah, and if you look closely at the picture below, you'll notice that some, not all, of the men are wearing like a towel diaper thing; it's called a fundoshi. It was hot... so, I guess the weather called for it. Also, I want to make a note that it's not a male only thing... I saw plenty of women.




Before Asakusa, I stopped at Ginza because I wanted to pick up some honey cake... well, it's not officially called honey cake, I'm not sure what it's called but it's of the Castello brand. You can find it in the Mitsukoshi food court. Here are a couple of pictures of the sunny Ginza area.



This is my last weekend here in Tokyo. Tomorrow, I'm going to the Grand Sumo Tournament, where a winner will be decided. The tournament started last week. One of my coworkers was able to find tickets from an online auction. Note: "sumo" is pronounced, "su-MO", where the accent is placed on the "MO" and the first syllable "su" is rather quiet.

On Wednesday night, we're going to a taiko show Amaterasu. Can't wait!

I leave this Thursday afternoon and will arrive in Austin on Thursday afternoon!


Posted by oneray at 4:08 AM

May 14, 2006

Tired in Tokyo

Today begins my fourth week here in Tokyo. I'm tired. My right eye still twitches every now and then. My body is tired. My head is tired. It's Monday, and I just don't want to be working.

Saturday, I had a long lunch with a friend at Berry Cafe. It was raining when we had came to ground level from the subway. The Berry Cafe has huge fruits painted on the outside wall, and it caught my eye. So, we decided to hang out there for a while. It's really a dessert place, but luckily they had a couple of salads as part of a set meal for lunch. We got those, then each had a pie/dessert afterwards. They are known for their fruit pies. Not like the American pies with the flaky crust on the top and bottom and gooey, surgary filling. This place had something like 50 different pies. Some were more like cheesecake and others were more like mousse or pudding. We were there for 3 hours. Eat, chatting, and I brought my laptop to show her a few videos. Unfortunately, even after 3 hours, it was still raining. By then, it was close to 4, and she needed to go teach an English class. I wandered back to Roppongi and went to Roppongi Hills to hang out for a bit. Didn't buy anything though.

Sunday morning, I went to the Hanazono shinto Shrine in Shinjuku to check out the market. But because it was Mother's Day, there were only a few vendors out. I did purchase a nice kimono for 5000 yen and a little girl's kimono for 1000 that I will probably cut up and make stuff with. I'm pretty happy with my purchases, but I think I'm going to go back next weekend and pick up another. It took me forever to get out of the Shinjuku station area. Turns out I wasn't really in Shinjuku station but another one really close to it. I got back to the hotel at around 2 and watched 'Closer'. Finished by 4, then ate, then got ready for the show at Tokyo Salon.

Tokyo Salon is in Harajuku/Jingumae area. There's a restaurant below (the pizza smelled really nice), and Tokyo Salon is upstairs. Serenely decorated in a Mid-Eastern influenced style, the dance floor was covered with nice persian rugs. The night is called "Ambient Night", where the music used is more chilled. There were 4 members of Samanyolo performing as well as Mishaal and I. The evening ended with a candlelight tribute to a friend of theirs who had died earlier in the week. It was a sad but beautiful moment.

I felt I've learned a lot these past couple of weeks here. Being alone allows you to think and reevalute your life; being with Mishaal and the friends here have reminded me how priceless life and friendships are.

Get out there and do something good today.

Posted by oneray at 10:01 PM

May 10, 2006

Vending Machine for Ramen


Here it is, at last, the photo of the vending machine. No, it's not as sophisticated as you would think... Put your money in, pick a flavor, machine does its magic, then out pops a bowl of ramen.

Instead, you basically pay for your ramen at the vending machine, and the vending machine gives you a ticket. Walk into the restuarant with your ticket and the chef starts cooking.

The machine makes it look like there are a lot of choices, but there realy isn't. The red row is the small bowl, the green row is the medium size bowl, and the yellow row is the large bowl. At the very bottom, the white buttons are for additional stuff like extra meat, an egg, etc.

Good stuff.

Posted by oneray at 12:46 AM

May 9, 2006

Japanese Snacks and Sayings

There are so many different types of yummy snacks in Japan, it's difficult to not want to try them all. I have had some weird stuff, but most everything I've tried tastes pretty good.

One of my coworkers went to Kobe and nearby onsen area during Golden Week. Yes, that's Kobe, as in Kobe beef. He didn't bring back any beef, but he did bring back some regional snacks. One of which is pictured below, the Roof Tile Cookie, literally. In Japanese, it's called "kawara-senbei". "Kawara" means roof tile and "senbei" means cookie. I remember eating something similar in my childhood. The flavor is not super strong, but the texture is nice, sort of like a crispy sugar cookie, but not with a bunch of sugar.

Even with all the snacking, you must eat a real meal eventually. My favorite place and dish is at a little restaurant called Midori, it's a short 3 minute walk from the ATT office building in Akasaka. The sign is not in Roman characters and neither is the menu, so you and I would have problems. Except I know where it is. The only thing I order there (because it's my favorite) is the "Ghin-da-ra", which is silver cod. During lunch, it's just the set menu. So, your meal comes with a couple of little side dishes, a bowl of rice, miso soup, and the main dish. The silver cod is grilled, buttery, and soft. This is a picture of the chef with a big flounder. Doesn't it look super fresh? I think he was preparing this for the dinner crowd as we were the last ones in there for lunch today.


This past weekend, I heard a lot of girls saying "kawaii", which means "cute or pretty". But I had to ask my coworkers, what else can you say? What if you wanted to say "cool" or "super"? Here's a few good alternatives:

means something like "super" or "wow, that's great!"

KaKoyeeeEE!!! (kaGoyeeEE)
which means something like "Waay Cool! "

you are the best!!




CHOW KIREYEEEE!! (CHOW is not pronounced like "chow fun - chinese noodles". The -OW is pronounced like "toe".)
really beautiful!

Posted by oneray at 12:45 AM

May 7, 2006

Kabuki-za, not Kabukicho

Friday was Children's Day in Japan. It is a national holiday, but I had to work. I was told that originally, there was a Girl's Day Holiday and a Boy's Day Holiday, but then that got combined into one Children's Day, which ended up taking the orginal Boy's Day Holiday date. Children's Day is where you'll see people flying the fish kite/flags out of their houses. Unfortunately, I didn't see any on Friday. Otherwise, I'd take a picture of one flying. I did, however, see the Japan flag flown from a house on Constitution Day, this past Wednesday.

Saturday, I didn't have to work, whew! So, I went to Aksaksa. It was packed with tourists, foreign and Japanese. But it's a great place to get real Japanese stuff, like stuff from the Edo era. I bought a few hair ornaments and then realized I didn't have my camera with me. I went back to the hotel, then headed for Ginza. I didn't shop this time, instead, I went to a Kabuki show at Kabuki-za.



A kabuki show is long, probably about 4 hours. There are a few acts. The coolest thing is you can buy tickets for one act. Only the die-hard kabuki fans go for the whole thing. I only went to the dance segment, which was 50 minutes for 2 dances. Unfortunately, only standing tickets were left. So, I had to stand for the 50 minutes. Here's the synopsys from the website:

After the death of his lover, the handsome young Yasuna wanders through the open fields madly searching for his love. The tragedy is a contrast to the beautiful setting, a field of brilliant yellow flowers and the lush, sensuous Kiyomoto narrative music that accompanies it. Starring young onnagata star Kikunosuke.
-FUJI MUSUME (The Wisteria Maiden)-
The spirit of wisteria blossoms dances of love in the form of a beautiful young maiden. One of kabuki's most famous and colorful dances, it will feature the dancing skills of the popular young star Ebizo.

The first dancer was ok. It was a bit too much drama and not enough dancing for me. The dancer was wearing these super long pants. Imagine having pants where the legs were twice as long as they should be. He was basically walking on his pants. Visually, to me, it looked like he was kneeling, but we all know he's not.

The second dancer was spectacular. She wore what looked like 3 kimonos. The top layer was a black one, which she entered with. She carried a big twig of wisteria blossoms. Imagine the typical Japanese doll in kimono, that was her. She did her thing, then went behind the large tree on the stage, which lead to the dressing room, where she took off her black kimono and was now wearing a purple one. In addition to using the sleeves of her kimono in her dancing, she also did some stomping and walked around really fast. Then she goes back behind the tree and takes off just the top part of the purple kimono to where it was hanging behind her and you see her red kimono underneath. She did her dance with the big wisteria twig and then humbly left the stage. The crowd went wild.

The most amusing thing about the show was the audience. Every now and then, a few guys from the audience would yell out something. I wasn't sure what they were saying. After asking a couple of Japanese friends of mine, I realized that it's mostly planned. The guys that yell out are typically major patrons to the kabuki-theatre and it's their opportunity to participate.

Before the show started, I took a flashless picture of the theatre inside.

This was my first time to see kabuki. There are a few similarities between a bellydance show in Cairo and kabuki dance. Allow me to list a few:
1. There are musicians (a band/orchestra) on the stage.
2. There is a singer on stage. In kabuki's case, there are multiple singers on stage.
3. The dancer has a long entrance music.
4. The dancer makes costume changes.
5. The band continue to play while the dancer is changing.
6. People from the audience yell out a word or two.
7. There is only one dancer on stage.

The major difference is that kabuki dance tells a story, and the dancer tells the story with her movements. Because of that, the kabuki stage has a special backdrop for the dancer. Lastly, the kabuki stage is typically 3 times larger than the bellydance stages in Cairo.

The kabuki dance has subtleties that I think westerners do not have the patience for. There was a German lady next to me. She looked like she was in pain and bored at the same time. I heard her sigh and even swear under her breathe. Then she'd go lean back on the wall, to where you can't see the stage. It's slow, so be prepared.

One last thing about the kabuki theatre... Too many people bring in snacks. I wouldn't mind so much, but the crinkly plastic wrappers were making too much noise.

Sunday, I taught a workshop at my friend Mishaal's studio. Her students are so quick to pick things up. I taught a short 2 minute duet choreography, then made them change it up to make it their own. They loved it and really liked a few "new" moves. Afterwards, we all got ready at the studio and headed over to Go-Kai in Harajuku. It's a tiny but funky little bar. It'll only fit about 30 max, but there were about 15 of us there. Then some customers came. The bartender/owner guy will basically make you whatever. There's no menu. You can ask for something specific, or he will just make you something. He made some super crazy drinks. Very funky, like the bar. As you can see in the photo below, those are eggs hanging from ropes from the ceiling. Yes, those are, indeed, lights. Egg lights!


Raqs Chandra, Mishaal's ATS students, performed their improvisation in groups of 2 or 3. I was really impressed. They handled going in and out of the groups like pros. There was always someone dancing. It starts with 1, then 2, then a third will join. Then one person will drop out and another will pop in. It was so organic and natural, I wish I could do that. Anyway, I just did two solos to music unplanned but that I had heard before. They girls are super sweet and presented flowers at the end. They have so much respect and appreciation for Mishaal and dance, I hope to someday have a group of girls like that. sniff.

Here's me with Mishaal and her son.

Here are the girls before the show.

Needless to say, I didn't really eat dinner. I did have a strawberry smoothie and some nuts at Go-Kai, but that was it. I was so tired, I took a taxi home and went straight to bed.

This morning, I got a little pizza from Nagano Bakery. Man, that place rocks.

The reason why I titled this "Kabuki-za, not Kabukicho" was because I told one of the girls that I went to a "kabuki show", she thought I had said, "Kabukicho"... hee hee. Kabukicho is the red light district of Tokyo. I have to remember to say "Kabuki-za". It's actually the name of the theatre, but it's obvious what you go there for, I suppose.

Have a good week.

Posted by oneray at 8:57 PM

May 3, 2006

Eye Twitch

My eye is twitching today. Eye Twitching, or Blepharospasm, is an involuntary eyelid twitching. It's not that bad to the point where my eye is closing, just the skin below the right eye is having some involuntary muscle spasms. I looked up the causes of eye twitching and it appears to be due to stress, fatigue, lack of sleep, prolonged staring at a computer screen or television, or caffeine. Sounds right. I need to make a plan so that I don't have to stare at a computer screen to make a living. Suggestions?

Posted by oneray at 10:52 PM

May 2, 2006

Golden Week

The name is awesome, isn't? Golden Week starts today in Japan, but it is actually only for 3 days. Wednesday, May 3 is "Constitution Day", Thursday, May 4 is "National Holiday" (bridge), and Friday, May 5 is "Children's Day".

I think that it's really Wednesday and Friday that have "real" holidays, but because it doesn't make sense to work, have a holiday, then work one day, then take another holiday, then be the weekend, the Japanese have made Thursday also a national holiday. So, at the very least, you have 3 days off this week.

Most people, however, take the entire week off. I would too, if I could. But I'm at work today. You can tell it's around Golden Week because there are less people everywhere. Even this past weekend, walking around, I noticed a bit less people on the streets. Today, especially, there were no business suits like I normally see on the way to work. Our building is also closed today. Lucky for me, I have a key card to get me in the building any time.

To say the least, I don't want to be working today or the rest of the week... but there is still so much work to do.

Posted by oneray at 7:39 PM