Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why we have no money left this week

I went with Helen and her friend Courtney to see Mooney and His Lucky Rhythm on Monday night, at Thumbs Up in Yokohama. I was a treat to see the full band. That music makes me so happy. They did the most wonderful version of "Minnie the Moocher" I have ever heard, outside Cab Calloway's.

Helen had a bunch of us (me, Martine, her new roommate Greg - a Canadian microbiologist!- , and Ma-chan) go to see Psysalia Psysalis Psyche (I think that's right) on Wednesday, in Shibuya somewhere. It was their first show by themselves, and they should be very pleased with the turnout. The place was packed, and crazy, which was very impressive for a Wednesday. I met a slew of new people, including a very tall guy from Seattle, a couple of German girls on holiday, and Olga, the dunk/crazy Russian woman, who was armed with a harmonica and a microphone that wasn't plugged into anything. She played us many "songs," flashed us (I missed it, but Martine has pictures), and tried to seduce Helen. She also made me play some "songs" on her harmonica. Martine had her camera, and mine wasn't really up to the task in that lighting, so I have taken the liberty of stealing a few photos from her (with her blessing). Classes the blog up.

Jeff was out Thursday, seeing some band he met at the airport when he flew back in from the states. Friday, I was out in Tokyo with Martine. We were supposed to go to a gallery party that we learned about from someone we met at the PPP show, but when we got there, we found out that it's next weekend. So we just went to Araku. Pretty quiet night, basically Martine, Luke, Ashley, and me, recommending movies to each other. It was attack of the Aussies: they made me try Vegemite on toast, which I must admit, I rather liked.

I am proud of myself in that I took the last train home each night I was out and walked the 35-40 minutes home from the station (mostly uphill, too!). Saved a lot on taxis and got some great exercise.

Tonight, we are apparently having a party. There was supposed to be a Buzz-B-Q tomorrow, but it was raining today and it's too chilly, so it has turned into a small party tonight in order to get rid of all that beer and food. Tomorrow, I have my first Japanese home-cooking lesson with Aokisan (Kumi's mom). Cynthia will be joining us. I don't know what state I will be in afterwards, because the 3 of us have never been together without copious amounts of alcohol. This country is going to destroy my liver.

Next week, Helen and I leave for Okinawa! That has been my mantra for when the kids are driving me nuts: I close my eyes and chant o-ki-na-wa...

We are going to try and get tattoos. Seems like the thing to do.

Monday, September 24, 2007


I know, real attention-grabbing title, right? Well, I was excited, not having been to a Japanese Costco before, and not having been to any Costco in a long while. I was interested in comparing Seattle to Yokohama. Takakosan seemed excited to take me.

A lot was the same, but there were enough differences to make it interesting to me. First of all, the parking lot was empty. For anyone who has gone to Costco in Seattle, or probably anywhere else in the US, at any time of day, this is odd. I'm used to driving around for a good ten minutes and waiting for someone to pull out of a coveted spot.

Next, the first thing that you do when you enter the store is to head to the refreshment table, which is mobbed by women (where did they all come from? they aren't parked in the lot) fighting to get their free cold tea and bite of Costco muffin.

I noticed, after a bit, that this Costco is bigger than the ones I'm used to, which is surprising in the land of small-and-efficient. (Takakosan informed me that there is an even bigger one nearby that has two floors!). I saw a lot of the familiar sights, like the McCormick spice jugs, but in addition to the lemon-pepper and oregano, there were things like shichimi:

The frozen food aisles were interesting in their selection of rice dishes instead of burritos

and the fish section had a lot more than slabs of tuna and salmon. Like octopus, for example. Don't see that in Seattle.

and colored toilet paper! I almost bought some in black, for Halloween, but I was concerned what the dye would do, so I didn't.

Of course, this being Japan, alcohol was much better represented. A whole sake aisle!

And what home would be complete without a light-up Xian terracotta warrior?

I really noticed how our diets have changed on the past year by surveying the kids' lunch goods I picked up: a gross of nori sheets, rice cracker-n-peanut snack sacks, seafood pizza (OK, that's for me), giant sack of rice, Kiri cream cheese-n-sticks. I also got talked into getting an expensive carton of Sicilian 100% blood orange juice, which Takakosan assured me is great mixed with Campari (she's right), a soft blanket, beef jerky, half dozen cans of black olives (usually only available in tasteless little sachets at the local supaa), plus lots of odd snacks.

I also noticed that they deliver. Brilliant for those people who take public transportation there.

Finally, to end this really boring tale, I really enjoyed the moving sidewalk between the store and the parking lot. Despite the incline, the magic cart did not move a centimeter. Magnets or something.

On Sunday, we had scary movie day. See, I let M & D watch Aliens last weekend (D had some trouble gettng to sleep that night), and M had been telling his friends about it. Now they all wanted to see it, too, so it turned into a bit of a party. I felt a little weird about it: would a bunch of parents now hate me for causing their kids to have nightmares? I gave in though, because I had seen Aliens around there age, and yeah, it gave me a couple bad nights, but I never regretted seeing it. It still remains one of my favorite sci-fi movies.

It was very international: the two American boys, a Japanese boy and girl, a Turkish boy, and a half-Japanese half-African boy. I made popcorn, and Yura (the last mentioned) brought sweet sticks (pastry and cheesecakes cut into fingers of yumminess). Hamza was supposed to be fasting for Ramadan, but he cheated and had a little juice and popcorn. I think the fasting thing is not so strict for kids. Anyway, I hope that's the case, because I don't want to get in trouble for that as well as the nightmares. (Did you know that during Ramadan, Muslims aren't even supposed to have water between sunrise and sunset. That seems a bit extreme to me, and kinda dangerous in such places where Islam is popular, like deserty areas.)

Anyway, they all seemed to enjoy it. But that was only yesterday, and no reports of sleepless nights have gotten back to me yet. Kumi said it wasn't scary, but I was watching her face during some of the good parts, and if that wasn't horror, I don't know what it was.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mountains, art, parasites. And beer.

This might be long. I've been busy.

Last weekend (not this just past, but the one before), we met Martine, Dave, and his friend Rie on top of Mt. Takao. Cool view, monkeys, and an all-you-can-eat-and-drink-for-2-hours beer garden.

We may or may not have accidentally gotten D intoxicated. You see, once you get your initial glass, you can refill at various taps. There are beer ones mostly, but they also have soda. And sours (shochu and soda plus flavor, like chu-his). So, D comes back to the table with his drink. It's clear, fizzy, and kinda lemony. It's either Sprite, or it's a lemon sour. It's really hard to taste the alcohol in sours. I tasted it, and I couldn't really tell. And D drinks really fast (he'll be fun in college), so it was gone before further investigation was possible. Anyway, he had a meltdown later, but it could easily have been a normal 7 yr old irrational moment. We will never know.

Oh, and Martina was wearing really cool shoes. Someone made them for her.

I forgot to mention first that Friday, Helen and I finally went to Araku, in Shinjuku, where we met a bunch of friends. Ash and his wife Tracey run it. It's red, comfy, and Ash makes yummy snacks and stiff drinks. We could make a Friday-night habit of this place.

We went to Blue Corn after, and found Michael sitting across from Susan, who looked like this:

Apparently he was the victim of a drinking game with the Annoying Canadian. Poor Susan.

Thursday? I went to this museum exhibit at the Teien Art Museum on Russian dance, costume design, posters, and their influence on the Art Deco movement. I discovered some artists who were previously unknown to me, like Leon Baskt and Georges Barbier. I might even like him better than Erte. Well, as much, anyway.

It was a cool exhibit, but what really excited me was the building itself. Seems that Prince Asaka was in Paris for THE 1925 Art Deco Exhibition that really launched the movement. He and his wife, upon returning to Japan, built a new house after their old one had been damaged in a fire. They had Henri Rapin, a renowned designer of the time, design several main rooms, and Lalique, the famous glass guy, do a bunch of doorways and such (read all about these guys on the museum's site here). Reeeeally cool, and they have Art Deco-related exhibits all the time.

There is also a neat garden that has a bunch of modern sculptures in it. Not my thing. BUT, walking the path out of the gates, I had a nice moment in which I remembered why I really like Japan sometimes.

They create these amazing oases of green serenity right inside the city. And you know how I love the trees.

More pics of Araku, Mt. Takao, and the Teien Museum gardens here.

This weekend just past, M had to go to school to practice singing and playing guitar for a dinner/performance the upper grades are doing this Friday (he's super excited about this, especially the guitar part), so D and had some quality alone time. I dragged him on a shopping expedition for ingredients for Turkish food. You see, Hakan, our Turkish teacher buddy from the school, remember? we went out in Shibuya with him to a Turkish restaurant awhile ago? --he gave me a Turkish cookbook and some Turkish rock CDs, so I decided that I would have Turkish dinner for Helen when she came over on Sunday (Jeff is out of town again). We made lamb, a yummy pilaf, and fried carrots with yogurt-dill sauce. So yummy. And we listened to Duman. I actually kind of like them. I don't know what they are saying, which is probably better (sappy love songs or kill-the-infidel tunes?), but the music isn't bad.

Monday was a holiday (Old People's Day or something), so we went looking for something interested to do. Helen suggested the Meguro Parasitological Museum. Lot's of nasty stuff in jars. It's gross, it's interesting, and it's free! Not a big place, but inexplicably, a very popular date destination. I'm not really sure why, maybe because it's free and gets you out of having to buy dinner after.

Yeah, that's an actual tapeworm they removed from some guy.

We still had some afternoon to kill, and Helen found that there was another free destination nearby, at the Meguro Earthquake Study Museum. We, with Helen's translation help, learned about earthquakes, and got to experience a couple simulated ones. We learned how to navigate a smoke-filled room (rather disorienting in the dark smokiness, kinda scary) and got to put out a "fire" with extinguishers. Very informative, and I reiterated my promise to myself to get that emergency earthquake-preparedness kit together (I haven't gotten beyond collecting multiple bottles of water).

By the time we got out of there, we had our appetites back. Helen knew a kitschy place that was pretty neat, tho the guy working it was a crab-ass. They had cheap beer from a coin-op automatic tap. Cool!

More pics of parasites and earthquake stuff here.

So, remember when I said, last time, that I was going to do a Casati/Rembrandt-inspired self-portrait? Well, I finished it:

I did another one recently that is sort of in the same spirit, so I'll put up this one, too:

Just to prove that I don't waste all my time writing this stupid blog and watching downloaded TV shows. Of course, I've been here a year, and I've only done like 4 paintings, but whatever. I'm feeling more inspired now that I've found a direction I want to go, I think.

OH YEAH, did I mention I'm going to Okinawa with Helen at the beginning of October? Woo-hoo!

I leave you with this photo of a lovely vending machine selling little plastic toilets and poo. Because, as we know, even poo can be cute in Japan. Especially poo.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Time passes, but it's been fun so far

Happy Birthday to my older son. He's 10 now, which is sort of mind-boggling. Then my friend Patrick sent me a message on Facebook that we had met 19 years ago. Where has all this time gone?

Anyway, we took our boys and 3 other school friends to the Yokosuka base to go bowling. I have never seen such excitement. They all, including two who have never bowled before, did better than me. (Until the third round, when I crushed). They were all really cute and encouraging, with lots of cheering. Then we went to the picnic tables outside (they don't allow outside food in the bolwing alley) for the worst-tasting birthday cake ever. I don't think it was even made of real food. Not one kid could finish a slice.

Saturday, we took our kids on a surprise trip to Disney Sea. It's a pretty cool place, I must say. All the themed sections were really well done. It was less cartoon-oriented, more like the non-animated Disney movies. I could've sworn we were in Renaissance Florence or the Casbah. The Atlantis-looking section was the coolest. Very HG Wells. The best rides were The Indiana Jones Adventure and Journey to the Center of the Earth, although the latter scared D to tears. Poor kid has a lightning/thunder phobia, and he isn't real fond of swooping coaster-like hills.

I was amazed by the amount of ears I saw. Everyone had them, kids, women, men. (I suffered a serious bout of ear-envy) Jeff sent me an article yesterday that explains Japan's mania for Disney characters:

Since it opened in 1983, the Tokyo Disney resort has been a much envied marketing success story. Marketers, management gurus, academics and consultants of numerous colors have at different times given their expert opinions on the reasons behind Disney's love affair with the Japanese consumer, with whom Disney is uniquely the favourite not only of children, but also a significant proportion of adults. The overall appeal of Disney works the same as in other cultures but there appears to be an exaggerated and residual emotional attachment to the characters that makes it not uncommon for middle aged executives to have a Mickey Mouse pendant dangling from their cell phone or a fluffy Winnie the Pooh attached to their laptop case. Mike Fiorelli, an expert on Japanese consumer trends and brains behind the website thinks that the Disney 'cute' factor is very important to its success in Japan, he comments that, 'The burden of social demands in a traditional and historically regimented society like Japan takes an emotional toll. 'Cute' things bring some fun, brightness, and a bit of escape to daily life on a personal level...Appreciation of cuteness is one of Japan's great harmonizers and social lubricants.' Further than this, cute characters are also endowed with a relatively higher amount of trust by Japanese consumers. Thus, Sumitomo have used Mickey Mouse as a mascot to sell money market accounts, a fact that leads the analyst Mary Yoko Brennen to pronounce that in Japan, 'Cuteness is associated with childhood and evokes a certain nostalgia for a time when life was uncomplicated, safe and reliable' (Academy of Management Review, vol 29, 2004). Most recently, in May this year, Walt Disney Japan announced the launch of a new banking service aimed at women and families in partnership with Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

I was really surprised by the un-Japanese rudeness at the park. It took us a good ten minutes to get this picture, because of the girls and kids shoving past us to get a picture with "Gu-hi."

We stayed at a Sheraton hotel just across the way, courtesy of Jeff's frequent-stay miles. Very nice place. It catered not only to Disney-goers, but wedding parties. Like many of the nicer hotels in Japan, it had a wedding chapel. This is a popular trend, western-style weddings.. It was right next to the cool outdoor pool.

The hotel also had a kids' play-area, and I got to try a public bath house at last. I was encouraged by the fact that the rules said "No heavy tattoos". The kids' area also had rules, but I had trouble figuring out what some of them were. No ear-growing? No changing from cat to bunny?

We saw this in the gift shop. Classic Engrish:

Uhhh, yeah. Very Lolita.

On Monday, the kids started school (yea!), and Jeff had the day off for Labor Day, so we had an anniversary-celebrating day-date. We went to the Yokohama Museum of Art. There was a special exhibit by Morimura Yasumasa. It was a voice-guided tour set up like classrooms. His idea was that laughter is a great weapon, that we should fight wars with laughs instead of arms. This guy is an painter, photographer, and an actor. Basically, he likes to dress up in men's and women's costumes and put himself in famous paintings. He reconstructs the whole painting and then photographs it. It's pretty amazing.

He had a Rembrandt room, which focused on his self-portraits. This, and the Man Ray photo of Marchesa Casati in the museum's regular collection, inspired me to do a self-portrait, Casati-style (thanks to Valerie, who introduced me to this fascinating character). So that's what I'm working on now. It's nice to have the time to paint again.

So M is 10, I've known Patrick for 19 years, and I've now been married for 13 years. Yeah, I feel a bit old, but I also feel like my life is pretty rich, so no complaints.

And, by the way, there is a typhoon headed our way. Jeff used it as an excuse not to go into work today, because Yokosuka is, obviously, on the coast, and will thus get hit harder. We should be fine here, in our back-corner, sunless apartment.