Saturday in Tokyo

It’s the “he” part of the blog team, just finishing a typical Saturday morning in Tokyo. Coffee, then a 3-mile run — not much different than we would do in the US.

Then brunch — but rather than an Egg McMuffin or Starbucks latte (both of which you can get in Tokyo, by the way), we opted for our favorite soba noodle shop. Steaming hot bowl of noodles — tasty and less than 1,000 yen ($10) total for the two of us.

Rounding out the morning was the daily trip to the grocery store. Back in the US, we’d take the car and load up on groceries once or twice a week. Multiple shopping bags, lots of refrigerator and freezer space. Here in Japan, with a tiny refrigerator and limited by what we can easily carry, the trips are much more frequent.

IMG_4202That’s a bit different, but we’ve come to adopt it as routine. And, after a couple of years in Japan, we can even read some of the labels on the packages.

 

The First Day of Spring???

It is Wednesday, March 21st… the first day of spring. Here in Tokyo, that is a holiday — Spring Equinox — and most people are off of work, and school. I think it is nice that Japan celebrates the seasons by declaring a holiday. It is just another way that they show appreciation to nature, and also… to workers all over the country.

My husband is off of work today, and when he is not working, we like to spend our time out and about exploring our (temporary) adopted country. We had planned to go out today and see the budding and blooming trees, and flowers. The Sakura bloom has not quite reached Tokyo. Yes… you see an occasional tree living in a sheltered location that has jumped early into the bloom, but most of the trees are still several days away from full flower. But, hanami season officially started last weekend. “Hana” in Japanese means flower, and the verb “miru” means to look at, or view. Flower viewing — hanami — is a really big deal here, with parties and get-togethers in all the parks, under the blooming Sakura trees, and among the other blooming plants and flowers.

But today — the first day of spring — instead of seeing this:

We are seeing this:

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A cold and rainy — turned to snowy — day in Tokyo. Not a very good day to be out and about on foot. A late season snowstorm. Granted, it is too warm for any accumulation, but it is a nasty mess to walk around in. We did go out to the gym around the corner for a workout on the bike and treadmill, and we walked to the ramen shop near the station for a hot bowl of noodles for lunch, and a stop at the supermarket on the way home. But… I think that will be the extent of our adventures today. Makes me want to ask for a “holiday do-over!” Oh well… the weekend is coming, and the weather is supposed to dry out and warm up a bit. Spring is fickle… everywhere. Guess we will just curl up on the sofa and watch our YouTube fireplace this afternoon.

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I feel warmer already.

Ah, Soup Curry!

Living in Japan, we have come to love the variety of food. Japanese curry is very popular, and one of our favorites. This week, we made our first trip to Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaido. And we’ve discovered — soup curry!

Soup curry originated in Hokkaido, and it’s a favorite here. Many restaurants compete to serve the best version. Basically, soup curry is a much thinner broth than other Japanese curry. It comes with vegetables, rice, and various other options like chicken or pork.

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Ordering soup curry is a multi-step process. First, choose the soup. Then the specific dish — tonight, I had a seven-mushrooms soup curry, and my wife had a vegetable variety. Then choose the spice level — mild to mouth-meltingly hot. In the restaurant we visited tonight, there were six levels of spice. I had level 3, and it was as spicy as I would want to tackle. You also select the amount of rice you want, and other optional toppings.

The place we went tonight was called Garaku – it happened to be close to our hotel, and easy to walk to on a cold and rainy night. There was a line at the door, and we waited about 10 minutes for a table. It was worth it!

The place is a very trendy cafe, with old signs and art on the walls, and ’70s and ’80s American rock ‘n roll music. The servers were fast and cordial, and the menu bilingual, so easy to navigate. Our food came quickly, and it was really good. All in all, a great evening out. Oh, and the price? The total for two dinners was just over 2,100 JPY — a little under $20.

If you have an opportunity to visit Hokkaido, we strongly recommend a stop at a soup curry restaurant. You won’t be disappointed!

Hachiko.

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The bronze statue dedicated to Hachiko — outside of Shibuya Station

We are headed into spring in Tokyo, and as the weather turns warm and sunny, we are watching the buds on the sakura (cherry) trees swell toward blooming. Saturday was sunny and pleasant, and we walked from our apartment in Shibaura to Aoyama Cemetery — about 7 kilometers away. Aoyama is a large cemetery in central Tokyo, and is well known for its beautiful sakura trees in early spring. It is also known as the burial place for Hachiko, the faithful Akita who lived in Tokyo 1923-1935.

Hachiko was the pet of Hidesaburo Ueno — a professor at Tokyo University. Every evening Hachiko would go to nearby Shibuya Station to greet his master when he came home from the university. Hachiko would always appear just before the time Professor Ueno’s train was due, and wait patiently for him outside the station. Then they would walk home together. This routine went on for several years, until the day when the professor did not show up. Professor Ueno had died suddenly of a stroke while he was at work.

Nevertheless, Hachiko continued to go to the train station every day to wait for his master’s train. For over nine years he would show up as always, in hopes that his beloved master would come back to him. After newspaper articles were written about him, many people started bringing him food and treats, and he became a national symbol for loyalty and faithfulness.

In 1934, Hachiko was present when a bronze statue was erected in his honor outside Shibuya Station. Although this original statue was recycled for the war effort, a new statue was placed in 1948, and still stands outside the Hachiko Guchi (gate) at Shibuya Station. In March 1935, Hachiko’s body was found on a sidewalk in Shibuya. It was determined that he had died of cancer and a parasitic disease at the age of 11. He was a faithful and loyal pet to his last days.

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Hachiko’s grave next to Professor Ueno’s grave.

 

Hachiko’s remains were cremated, and buried next to his master’s grave in Aoyama Cemetary, and the site has become popular with visitors. His fur was stuffed and mounted and his replica is on display at the National Science Museum of Japan, in Ueno, Tokyo. In the above left photo, the first kanji means loyal, and the second is dog. The next characters say “Hachiko.”

Stories and documentaries have been made about the life and loyalty of Hachiko, and there is even an “Americanized” and “modernized” movie version of his story. “Hachi — A Dog’s Tale” starring Richard Gere, was released in 2009 and takes the story to a fictional town in New England. Last I looked, it was still available to watch on Netflix.

Hachiko the faithful dog, lives on in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people.

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Many people come to visit the Hachiko statue outside of Shibuya Station. Some even bring their own beloved dogs for a photo!(Photo taken during the New Year’s holidays, January 2017)

Rain.

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We love living here in Tokyo. It has been an amazing adventure these past 2+ years. We like our apartment. It is small, but comfortable and convenient. We like the ease of public transportation here. We can travel almost anyway in the city — or the country, for that matter — on trains and buses. We get along quite well here without having a car.

But… sometimes… I really miss my car.

It has been pretty rainy here this week. You know — it is almost spring and rain is to be expected this time of year. I like rain. I like rainy days — most of the time. And here, everyone takes rainy days in stride. Everyone has an umbrella. Most people have raincoats and boots. I don’t mind donning my rain gear and going out in the rain — usually.

But this week, I would really like to have my nice dry garage, where I could climb into my nice, dry car, and just go where I need to go without thinking about… rain.

Like I said, I usually don’t mind getting out in the rain, but today — our third rainy day this week — I just don’t feel like getting out in the rain to walk to the supermarket to get today’s necessary groceries. It is about a kilometer to the nearest supermarket. It is a little more than a kilometer to get to the nearest train station. So even with the wonderful transit system here, there is still a good bit of walking involved. I normally enjoy the walking and the exercise it provides. But today… not so much. Juggling grocery bags and my umbrella doesn’t sound very appealing to me right now.

It’s ok… I am just letting the weather get the best of me today. But I will go out anyway… lol.

The forecast says we have a sunny weekend on the way.

 

Almost Spring.

We have been traveling quite a bit the past few weeks — first to Abu Dhabi, UAE, and last week to Saint Petersburg, Russia. I am fortunate to be able to accompany my husband sometimes when he travels on business. But while we were away this last week, early spring seems to have arrived in Tokyo.

Winters in Tokyo are relatively mild — actually pretty similar to Atlanta. There is little snow, and temperatures rarely stay below freezing for very long. Now with a few warm and sunny days, there is evidence that spring is on the way. Trees and plants are starting to leaf out and bloom. Soon the beautiful Sakura trees will be in bloom, and there will be Hanami (flower viewing) parties under the trees in all the parks. Cherry blossoms will be followed by azaleas, wisteria, hydrangeas, and lotus flowers. It seems like every month here is associated with the blooming of some flower or tree.

The “winter time” ducks have suddenly started to leave to go wherever they go during the warm months. All I saw as I was out for my run this morning were the Spotbill ducks — which stay here and raise their young on the canals during the summer — some Eurasian Coots, and a few straggling Pochards. All the other species were gone! I always miss the winter ducks when they leave… there is such a variety. They won’t be back again until late fall.

The mild and beautiful spring never lasts long enough though. It won’t be long before it will be hot and humid summertime here again. The word in Japanese is “mushi atsui” — humid… totemo mushi atsui… miserable, sticky, heat of summer. Enjoy the spring while you can.

 

Flea Markets.

 

Flea and antique markets are very popular in Tokyo, and on any given weekend — year around — you can find several locations hosting these sales. Many of the flea markets will be set up at various shrines and temples around the city, but you can find them at other locations as well. Our favorite is the flea market at the Tokyo International Forum near Yurakucho Station in the Ginza area of the city. It is set up on the plaza just outside of the entrance to the International Forum every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month.

 

We started going to this market several months ago in search of Kokeshi Dolls for my collection. The Kokeshi Dolls are wooden dolls that are made by turning wood on a potter’s wheel or a lathe. They have a very simple design without arms or legs, and it is said that they were originally made in northern Japan to be sold at the hot spring onsens (public baths). I have collected several of these dolls, and we often go to the flea markets looking for more dolls. They are really pretty inexpensive, and I like to see the different designs and faces painted on the dolls. Here is a link to Wikipedia if you would like more information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kokeshi

But the flea markets sell much, much more than just Kokeshi Dolls. There are all kinds of items available — from here in Japan, and from abroad. It is an eclectic mix of items, and I guarantee you will find something there that you like. Even if you don’t buy anything, it is a fun way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon in Tokyo. Following are more photos from our trip to the flea market this past weekend.

 

There are racks full of used silk kimonos, yukatas, happi coats, robes and jackets. Many are handmade, and cost ¥1000-¥2000 or less! ($10-$20)

 

Interesting collectibles…

 

Dishware — including beautiful ceramics, and cast iron teapots.

 

Toys, stuffed animals — “Peanuts” and Snoopy are very popular here.

 

How about old record albums, and posters?

 

Or… a one of a kind sculpture, mask, or figurine?

 

And… when you get hungry… There are plenty of food options around nearby.

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And one last photo — of the newest addition to my Kokeshi family. Her paint is a little chipped, and the wood is somewhat darkened with age, but she has a lot of character… don’t you think?