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Archive for November, 2008

hachiko10 years is how long Hachiko waited for his master at Shibuya station. Every day from 1925 to 1935, the dog would go to the station and wait for the afternoon train, the train that his master used to take home from work. Only he wasn’t coming because he was dead and so Hachiko waited in vain. Did people talk to him, I wonder? Did they gently pat him on his back and say, “go home,” “he’s not coming.” Or did they just watch quietly, feeling a little pinch in their own hearts where a lost love ached?

Whatever the case may be, Hachiko’s faithfulness and persistence made him quite famous and he is now a sort of mascot for the neighborhood. You see him on buses, on elevator buttons and in front of Shibuya station there is a little statue of him, which has become a popular meeting place for locals. Every time I passed by, it was surrounded by throngs of people waiting. And there is more fame in store for the little dog, according to Lisa; Richard Gere is at work turning the story into a film. The Hachiko legend lives on.

Hachiko statue

Hachiko statue a popular Shibuya meeting spot

In other news: We are at Narita airport waiting to board American airlines flight back to New York. Thanks for following our adventures here on the blog, hope you had as much fun reading it as we had writing it.

– Pejk Malinovski

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How to modernize your kimono

kimono-partyLast night Roland brought me along to his friend’s kimono Party. Yes, you guessed it, a kimono party is a party with people dressed in kimonos. Of course it was somewhat tongue in cheek, but as most Japanese these people were dead serious about their hobby. There was a one hour presentation on ways to modernize your kimono, like a 100-yen attachment to carry your cell phone in your obi (kimono belt) or a turtleneck undershirt to keep warm in winter. These things aren’t cheap either; $2000 is about average for a good kimono. And how else to finish the evening but with a kimono striptease?

– Pejk Malinovski

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Post-Tokyo high

tokyo_midtown_galleria_2Last night I visited the new highrise called Tokyo Midtown, which is the tallest building in the city and on its lower floors contains — thanks to vast swaths of wood, elaborate lighting, and other beyond-the-call-of-duty architectural and furnishing details — the most convincingly, tastefully luxurious shopping mall I’ve ever experienced.

And the luxury extended from the sublime to the ridiculous — that is, from a terrific little Picasso retrospective at the mall’s Suntory Museum (including Death of Casagemas, an electrically van Gogh-ish painting from 1901 I’d never seen reproduced) to a store selling nothing but very, very high-priced fruit — such as $10 strawberries and $100 melons.

I’m posting this from Narita airport, drinking good free espresso and feeling happy to have had such an amazing opportunity to marinate in Japanese culture these last two weeks, and happy also to be returning to New York in time for Thanksgiving.

– Kurt Andersen

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More great design solutions that I wish we could bring back with us to the US:

dfrw-seat

ITEM 1:

Say you’re shopping in a department store with your toddler and you need to go to the bathroom… where do you stick the kid? TOTO, maker of the world’s most amazing (and complex) toilets offers another great product, attached to the corner of the stall.

ITEM 2:

The Japanese are known for being extremely considerate — but sometimes, even they need reminding. Or perhaps they’d like to politely remind their visitors? This public courtesy campaign is in train cars and stations. This is not your brain on drugs — rather, it’s a gentle, rational reminder not to be stupid:

dfrw-sign

"Texting while walking means putting a blind-spot in the center of your field of vision."

ITEM 3:

We’ve enjoyed staying 20 stories above Shibuya, one of the busiest pedestrian intersections in Tokyo. So busy, in fact, that they’ve done away with crosswalks: at the signal, hundreds of people cross every which way, then clear out completely to make way for the cars. The wash of people — like four dark waves, crashing into each other and then receding back onto the sidewalk — takes my breath away every time. Especially since I know we’d never be capable of sharing the street so efficiently and gracefully in Times Square.

– Jenny Lawton

(Frustrated Writer/flickr)

(Frustrated Writer/flickr)

(Shibuya on a relatively light day)

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Name that building: revealed!

mystery-picture

This afternoon, Leital and I were hitting up some souvenir shops when we spotted this building across the river.  We were just as surprised when we found out what company it represents.

Any guesses?

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THE ANSWER:

Indeed, it is the Asahi Breweries HQ.

Our pal here says that the French architect actually planned 3 gold flames, all sticking straight up.  But Tokyo nixed that plan — not earthquake safe.  (Speaking of which, word has it we had a small one yesterday evening, though I didn’t feel it.)  However, one flame blowing horizontally has been quite enough to make the building famous.  Of course, it also has its share of not-so-nice nicknames… which I’ll let you imagine (or post!) yourself.  No comment here, except that I give the beer a thumbs-up!

– Jenny Lawton

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I will probably never be an expatriate. But that doesn’t mean I don’t fantasize in every foreign city I visit about which neighborhood I’d live in. In Tokyo, I think it’d probably be on the Naka-meguro canal, a quiet, Amsterdamish stretch of just-hip-enough gentility only two subway stops from the high-rise neon clangor of Shibuya.

by coder.keitaro/flickr

by coder.keitaro/flickr

And by Amsterdamish I don’t just mean the canal. My favorite bits of Japan share DNA with northern Europe — the seamless combination of the up-to-date and traditional, the devotion to jewel-boxy craft and detail, the appreciation of minimalism in all realms, the surprising doses of humor to leaven the high-style sobriety.

Consider just three characteristic shops along Naka-meguro canal. Higashiya sells tea and sweets, but the sweets are each like little abstract sculptures, the teas are kept in dozens of pristine and dramatically lit white cardboard boxes behind the counter, and the storefront is a gorgeous copper slab into which they’ve cut a single deep opening, maybe two feet by one foot, more of a giant keyhole than a window. Nearby is a cafe and upscale children’s store called Snobbish Babies. And I ended up spending almost $100 in a button shop, of all places, called & Stripe: “button shop” hardly does the place justice, since it’s more like an art gallery in which buttons are the medium.

Not that Tokyo is wall-to-wall chic, of course. It now makes sense to me that Paris Hilton is a star in Japan. A small but significant fraction of young Japanese women — the aggressively cute, highly glossed, vacant-and-faintly-debauched-looking ones — are Paris Hilton simulacra, I swear.

– Kurt Andersen

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Bad Fortune Lack

While the Japanese are known to be secular or atheist, at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples you’ll often see people dropping coins in an offering box and praying (albeit briefly). Another ritual at these sites is to get a fortune, or omikuji. At the Akasuka Temple in Tokyo, you deposit 100 yen in a slot, pick up a metal cylinder, shake it, and a stick falls out with a number on it. You then go to a drawer with the matching number and pull out your fortune.  Just like a cookie, right?  Um, not quite.  Here’s what we got:

img_1895

Ouch!  I was hoping bad fortune would lack, but it’s just bad luck.  As if all those awful things are not enough, they throw in the last line: “Everything will come out to be bad, so you should be patient.”  Patient for what?  Death? But apparently this is only one level of curse, and not even the worst one.  Only after getting home and reading up on omikuji did I realize that you’re supposed to tie the paper in a knot around a tree (or special wooden rack at the shrine) to deflect your bad luck away from you and to the tree.  Guess I’m going back!

-Leital Molad

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