Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ebisu & Carl Stone

Yesterday (Monday) was "Showa Day." I met up with Carl Stone who has lived here for 12 years. Carl is an internationally recognized composer, cosmopolite and bon vivant. He speaks Japanese fluently and knows the city like the back of his hand. In addition to all of that, he is a foodie. After a tea for me and espresso for him, we set out for the Ebisu district in search of some victuals.

It was a holiday, so a lot of the places he knew, were closed. We stopped in at NADiff, an extremely nice gallery and art book store. Carl is friends with the director, to whom I was introduced. Carl then asked him for advice for a restaurant in the area, preferably serving very Japanese, and distinctive food. In what is typical Japanese fashion, the director escorted us to an area with several restaurants. Now this is saying something, for though it was a holiday for many, this guy was working. It was no small gesture.

I can't tell you the name of the restaurant we choose, don't remember it. But it is around here (35º38.869', 139º42.717') someplace. We got our booth and got down to business. With the help of Carl's consultation and interpretive abilities, we choose a tasty variety of dishes.

The complimentary starter - red flesh: raw.

Some red flesh: cooked.

A close-up of same red flesh, because it was so delicious.

White flesh: raw.

White flesh: cooked

Red flesh: raw
 There were also oysters, but I seemed to have failed to shoot those; maybe because I didn't eat them.
A pancake with lots of stuff in it and on it.

The pancake again. It hit the spot.

Back to Kawasaki

A Yakitori stand in Kawasaki.
 Back to Kawasaki on Sunday for my meeting with Miyuki. Miyuki is a movement artist based in Kyoto. We needed to see if there is any possibility of our collaborating when I go there. We have decided to give it a try. The trip was easy since I had done my pre-trip. I hoped to get photos of people having their picnics by the river but the sociology of that particular train car did not allow for such shinanigans.

The biggest 7/11 I've ever seen.
After the meeting we decided to find a spot for dinner in town since she was not overly thrilled with the restaurants in the building where she works. We roamed the streets for a short while, then entered the first place that looked really interesting.

The night streets of Kawasaki.
 It was a great find. I marked it on my GPS. If you are coming here soon: N 35º36.030'/ E139º36.713'. The only seats available were not seats, but the traditional take your shoes off and sit on the floor set-up. That is not the most comfortable situation for an old guy, with old injuries like myself, but I managed.

The Good Luck Cafe.

The food was worth it. Yes, it was.

You get a discount if you write you order yourself.

The complimentary starter.

Tai in aspic.

Fried sardines with onion pickle. If your eyes were closed, you'd say it was pickled herring.


House specialty - fried chicken patty.

In background: tempura of a spring vegetable, not one I've had before.

One of the chefs.

His handiwork.

Happy after the meal. The waiter from the restaurant across the street took this shot. I guess it is a friendly competition between them.

The train station on the way back. Pretty busy for a Sunday, but then again, it is Golden Week.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Neighborhood and Kawasaki City

I live in the Azabu Court Apartment Hotel
The new neighborhood is Azabu. Not too many photos yet. But here is one of my streets. There are two streets because it is on a hill; this is the lower entrance. The lobby entrance is on the third floor. My room is on the second floor. As narrow and small as this street is, it is a major thoroughfare for both auto and pedestrian traffic. Having been hit by a car as a kid, Tokyo makes me a little crazy. Too much trust going on here. I don't like being anywhere near a moving car, but it can't be avoided here. Still, I make it a big point to have eye contact with any driver whose car I am walking in front of. I also prefer to cross un-signaled intersections with a crowd.

It gets very busy.
Walkway leading to entrance.
My floor has the black doors.

The other entrance.
Now let us have a word on bike riding. Seems like every fourth person here is riding a bike. There are more fold-up bikes than I have ever seen. You wouldn't get me to ride a bike in this city to save my life, because the opposite would probably happen. More than half of these riders have kids on the bikes with them. You would think that they don't have traumatic head injuries in this country, because I have seen fewer bikers with helmets than I have fingers on one hand. The folks on scooters and motorcycles have them; apparently they are not mandated for bikers.

Bikes, no helmets...
Scooter, helmet.
 Today I have to go to Kawasaki City to meet with a movement person that I may collaborate with Kyoto. She is in Tokyo doing some translation work. You are now clear on the navigation issues in this town. So yesterday I did a trial run; it is all well and good to be rambling around because I like to ramble, but if I have an appointment, I don't want to be lost. I think Kawasaki City is a suburb of Tokyo. I made it okay. Almost couldn't believe it. I want to say this though (I'll keep making these points, so get used to it), the maps on google and apple are just wrong. I know this because the beginning of this trip was a no-brainer. I just walk along the east side of the Memorial Park of Arisugawa-no-miya and follow that street to the next major thoroughfare after the parks boundary. Well, I couldn't do that because the street didn't continue. The map said it did, but it did not. Too strange for me. I'd at least expect the maps to be correct. No wonder I am forever getting lost.

It is a long ride to Kawasaki City, two subway trains, the last of which ends up above ground. It crosses a river, on the banks of which were many families on picnics. I get off at Mizonokuchi Station and walk 1.4km to the southeast. I managed to start off in the right direction because I eschewed the iPod Touch with its apple.maps and pulled out my plain, old compass that relies on the earth's magnetic field. Kawasaki City looks interesting; a lot less of the hustle and bustle of mid-town Tokyo.

Even though I know where I am going, last night I realized I still have a big concern about this trip. The Tokyo subways do not run 24 hours. This meeting is in the evening; I can't find on line when specific trains stop running. What they say is, "Read the signs at the station." Okay, I'll try. Will they be in English? I have my doubts. This meeting starts at 6 PM. I am taking the Reise tuba, because there is a possibility that we can do some work. It could go late, but I'll be watching the clock. I am also going to take my one map of Azabu Court in case I mess up and have to take a cab. That would be bad news; Kawasaki City is a long way away from Azabu.

In the photo above, you see a guy cleaning one of those giant drills. He is not wearing the traditional Tobi pants of construction workers here. I have seen a lot of construction workers, but not a lot of those pants. I am noticing because I have wanted a pair for years. Well, now I am here. I may not get them until I return to Tokyo, because I don't need to be lugging around more clothes; I already have a baggage issue. But I have found a source:

I put that link up for one reason - so you can read the directions and look at the map. Now I don't have to keep harping on finding places here. A week from tomorrow I fly to Sapporo from Hanaeda Airport. A different airport than I flew into. You can bet that sometime next week I am going to make a trial run out there. Looks like I can ride the monorail if I want. Want? I haven't ridden a monorail since the last time I went to Disneyland, which was in the early 1970's. I gotta ride the monorail.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Public Action

Something is happening.
My cultural activity for today was supposed to be to explore the park right up the street from here, Memorial Park of Arisugawa-no-miya. True to what seems to have become form, I left much later in the day than I planned and only walked the length of east side of the park, south to north. The continuation of the roadway was so intriguing, I had to take it. As I moved along I noticed a lot of cops. At first I thought they were just traffic cops out for rush-hour duty. It became clear though, that they were not the least bit interested in traffic. Their numbers increased along the route and became concentrated in one area. I thought maybe there was going to be some big diplomat coming through. If you take the link for the park, you'll see a list of the embassies in the area. A lot of these cops were holding long sticks, also strange for traffic duty. Then I passed one that had a shied on the ground by his feet. The sticks are to hold the shield, crowd-control shields. Cops make me nervous, so I minded my own business and kept walking. After a while, low and behold I recognized where I was - back in Roppongi.
For awhile I had been hearing someone on a loud speaker. That is not unusual here. I have often seen a truck driving around with a billboard on its bed of a nursing mother. My level of Japanese couldn't begin to parse what was coming out of the bullhorns mounted on the cab. Once I got to where I could look down Roppongi-dori, I saw the source...
Of course, I don't know what this is about, because I can't understand what the guy is saying. He was pretty fervent, then there is the other guy waving the flag. Whenever you have one guy waving a flag in conjunction with a guy with loud speakers attached to the top of a van, folks holding placards and cops around, you've got something going down.
 I'm thinking this can't have anything to do with all those cops that I had passed. There were too many of them, too few of these guys and they are widely separated. I took my shots and moved on.
Roppongi Hills rent-a-cops
Guys (and gals) with flags and things.
Real Tokyo cops.
I decide to not tempt fate as I have in the past and returned the same way I came, just on the other side of the street. You walkers will know that a street can look really different from the other side. There was an Indian spice store that I did not notice on the way up. I ducked into it, bought some curry powder and some kind of fried potato snack. When I come out, what should be passing in front of me but this motley crew with the flag-waver, accompanied by a female police office. I let them pass and follow. We end-up where all those cops were concentrated, who when we arrive, start putting out more traffic cones and begin to construct barriers. All the while this group is chatting amiably with the female officer. I have a desire to hang out and see what develops, but then remember that I don't like to be around a lot of cops with batons and crowd-control shields. I head south.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tokyo, GPS, Apple Maps

Aoyama Cemetery
Today I decided that I have to do at least one cultural activity a day. This is because most of my time here has been taken up with administrative tasks. There is a lot I have to get in place. But I'm not here for that, I'm here to experience Japan. Unfortunately, at least while in Tokyo, I am going to have enforce my remit - experience Japan!
 I decided on two goals - walk the Sakura Avenue of Aoyama Cemetery and eat a soba dish called "Maze Soba," at a cafe called "Junk Garage," located in Tokyo Station.

Found the places on google maps, figured out how to find the coordinates on google maps, bookmarked them in apple maps on the iPod Touch; packed the Touch and the GPS and set off. Six hours, forty-one minutes, 56 seconds and 22,769 steps later, I am back at the crib. More than two of those hours were spent walking through Tokyo Station. Talk about being lost in a damn twilight zone? You don't know nothin'. I didn't sit down in Tokyo Station because I didn't find the cafe. It is pushing it (because what do I know about Tokyo Station), but I am willing to say that the "Junk Garage" cafe is not there, even though I read a review of it in a weekly magazine dated April 12-25, 2013. I really don't think it is there.

I have to go to bed so I'm going to be quick.
I read that Tokyo was designed so that invaders would have a difficult time getting to the Imperial Palace. It is also very old and a collection of villages - a grid layout of the streets is not what it is about. Also, Japan, or Tokyo anyway, has a sketchy address system. I've already told you that you have to give the cab drivers maps. This is everyone, not just people like me that don't speak Japanese. This reality also makes it rough for GPS units and programs like apple maps or google maps. It is hard for them to find an address if there really isn't an address. To come to this new abode on yesterday, I gave the taxi driver a map. From that he loaded something into his very impressive GPS unit. I'm thinking, cool the GPS understands Japanese, no problems ahead. His GPS took us to where my GPS and apple maps and google maps took me - which was not the right place. Fortunately, because I walked to the place on Tuesday, I knew where we were and could tell him where he had to turn.

Okay, you got it. All I want to say is, I'm glad I have these instruments. Without them I'd probably still be walking around Tokyo. But hell, once I got to the neighborhood, I walked around looking for that Sakura Avenue for more than an hour. I was literally walking around it because apple maps doesn't really indicate where you are while you are moving, so it is easy to miss a turn, even if the indicated street is actually there which it isn't always. The GPS map doesn't give a turn by turn, it is more directional, but at least it does follow you along in some real time way. It is really frustrating, it was less than a quarter of a mile from where I was circling. Both of them are irritating. I tend to use them both in conjunction with each other. If I had to do without one, it would be the Touch and apple maps. That app is close to being pathetic.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Guys out on the town.


Up until 3:46 PM today, I have been staying in Roppongi-ku. It is a up-scale, hipster, glam area full of expats, embassies, hard core shopping opportunities and a night life that looks like it could easily be pushed to the seamy side. Roppongi means "six trees." (六本木) There is a history to that name having to do with trees and/or six rich guys with swords. I liked it there. I was warned to be careful at night. After walking around several evenings, I was able to see the wisdom in that advice. The hotel at the IHJ is hip, but it is not cheap. I wanted to be there long enough to get my bearings, which I now have, then get out.

Now I am in Azabu-ku. Not very far from Roppongi; one subway stop and really walking distance. That's hip, because I intend to go back to the soba restaurant for sure and probably the Thai one as well.

Looking west toward Roppongi from the Tokyo Tower
A restaurant's front window.
This is in the Roppongi Hills living and shopping complex. There is probably something sleazy going on here that I don't understand.
IHJ with the Mori Tower in the background on the right.