Thursday, July 30, 2009


It has been a busy week at Espero Heights (the name of our apartment) and so not much picture-taking has happened. Ryan has been really busy with interviews, doing some proofreading work and taking Japanese lessons at the community center. The lessons are with an old friend of Todd's from when he was here. Ryan says his brain is just fried by the end of each lesson, so I think they are working. Already he can read the two kinds of kana, so he can read menus and signs and help us navigate. He's also learning a bunch of kanji. I've got to say that kanji are (is?) absurdly difficult. Yesterday I was designing some parts for our set-up and, although it is probably my favorite part about experimental work, the task was particularly daunting. Not only are the standards for a precise design extremely high here (you could have chicken scratch on a napkin and the machine guys at Brown would make it for you, no problem), but I have to write all the notes in the columns in Japanese so that the machinist can build them.

I obviously don't know how to do that, so I meticulously copied all the kanji (for words like brass, teflon, diameter etc.) from my boss's previous drawings. Well, the result (left) had her giggling wildly. She didn't actually change any of my attempts, so they must have been close enough to read, but man they must have looked like a child with a crayon wrote them or something to her (what do you think?) And somehow she can tell the order (the incorrect order, that is) in which I wrote the marks. It's really beyond me, but I'll keep trying. At least she gets a kick out of it.

Speaking of getting a kick out of things, I have to say, I'm really loving my job right now. There I said it. Maybe it's because I found out about the free espresso in the next building over and I'm sipping it while eating some yummy green tea cookies, but I am just all blissed out over here. I've got a cool project, a really nice boss, there is enough familiar about what I'm doing that I can feel slightly confident, yet enough new that I'm challenged by something every day. Today, life at Todai is pretty damn sweet.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A day at the beach

So last weekend was ocean appreciation holiday; to celebrate, Marianna and I went to the beach. I took no less than a subway and 3 trains (a cool station from which is below) to reach Yokohama and Marianna, then together we made our way on another train to Zushi beach.
The beach wasn't very remarkable I guess. The waves were small, but people were capitalizing on that fact and doing a lot of windsurfing. Several such classes were conducted during the time we were there. The one noteworthy thing from this photo below is that the lifeguards (at left) wear these funny red and gold hot-dog-on-a-stick-style beanies.
At Zushi there are all of these little huts offering changing stations, cold drinks and sometimes food. Apparently the huts go up around June and come down at the end of the summer. I found this one particularly appealing because of its climbing wall (outside wall of the bldg) and tightrope. It also had Hawaiian lounge singers playing inside.

In addition to the climbing, we spent the day perusing Marianna's stack of Us and People magazines, eavesdropping on all the American servicemen from the local base trying to pick up girls and watching the lifeguards (below, bringing in their 4-seater Sea-doo) go through their extensive routine of clean up and training (complete with an hour of mock-rescues, in and out of the water). We ended up staying for a good 7 hours, both of us getting pretty burnt from the deceptive overcast sky.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Another Festival

There are a lot of matsuri festivals about town. These shots are from Mitama Matsrui, just north of the imperial grounds. This one had a tremendously long procession of food stalls, the entertainment included a kind of haunted house and some carnival type performances off to one side. There were also more traditional dance performances in a central spot of the thoroughfare.

I couldn't get any shot that shows the scope of how far the lanterns and stalls went along. To give some idea: There is a statue at the farthest point visible in this pic, which 2 pics down is shown from the other side of the route.

Several of these portable shrines, holding spirits or some-such, were the highlight it seemed. You can sort of make out a troupe of women carrying this one. They were very slowly walked from one end to the temple amidst quite a throng of people. I was exhausted getting through the crowds carrying nothing.

Don't think I've ever seen skylights pointed at people. I think we understood that you can make a donation to sponsor a lantern and get your name on it (bit unsure about this).
...but the sponsorship thing is definitely true for these smaller ones. People seemed to be tracking down a particular lantern and taking a photo with it. We are just faking it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tokyo Tower and Zojo-ji

Made a quick trip to Azabu-Juban and Roppongi area. Didn't have a lot of time but hustled to some things I could see on the map.

This is Tokyo Tower, which is an Eiffel Tower knock-off of sort; there's also an Empire State Building knock-off in town.
Zojo-ji (Temple of the Tokugawa family) with tower in background. Not a great time of day to get any detail in photos.

Small graveyard behind the temple. Some Tokugawa shoguns buried here apparently.

And these little dudes! 0.o
Ok, the number of pics here is probably overkill, but... They all have the crocheted hats and little bibs in various stages of new->disintegration; they are i think 5 rows deep; and, they line a huge perimeter. Each has a little pinwheel. Some of the elements can be accounted for by the fact that these have to do with protecting children. Nevertheless, I found it to be pretty strange stuff for a 'sacred' site.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Some shots at Ueno Park

Went to Ueno Park, which is fairly nearby. The park/area is home to many of Tokyo's museums, non of which we have checked out yet.
Temple and covered lake.

Huge area of coverage from these lotuses(?). Look like the are verging on blooming
Long running festival just getting underway here.
This little performance went on at the temple around dusk. Some Shamisen playing and some kind of acting out of the song. The music is definitely an acquired taste - one that i am not likely to acquire.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Shiman Rokusen Nichi Festival in our neighborhood

The shinto shrine directly across the street from our apartment hosted one of the city's Shiman-Rokusen-Nichi festivals - the idea being that visiting the shrine on one of the festival days earns you the equivalent of 46,000 visits. Some streetmeats, homebrew, hippy crafts, and performances.

View from front of our apt. bldg.
This plant was the star of the show for some reason. It is called a 'chinese lantern plant' or 'husk tomato' and looks to be a red tomatillo basically.

The taiko drumming was definitely the highlight on the evening that we went; though the kids kinda steal the show in this clip, and the bass of the drums doesn't really get captured:

The main shrine building after the crowd had gone.

And the centerpiece... The thing is about 20 ft. high and we had no idea it was there after being in our apt. for over a week.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Some Foods and a Celebrity? Sighting

Had a great dinner at a Korean BBQ called Ton-chan. As usual for k-bbq, lot of small sides and awesome meat to make lettuce tacos out of along with the garnishes.

Bacon tastes good....
and cheesey rice...
Another night we went to an Okinawan restaurant with Michael, who relieved us of all the stress of menus and ordering. This isn't our pic but is representative of the Umiburo (sea grapes) we had. They are some kind of seaweed I take it; kinda unremarkable on taste (salty, oceany), but quite a mouth experience.
and this guy was part of a parade in Shibuya - people were excited, there was confetti... no idea

Monday, July 13, 2009

Meiji Temple Complex

Some various shots from a wander in and around the Meiji Shrine complex...

This is the entrance to the shrine proper, only notable really by the colored papers hanging from branches strung up above the door. These were all over town (including in a spot set aside in subway stations) leading up to Tanabata.

These are wishes and prayers written by visitors on wood blocks (for a small donation) and hung outside the temple.
A wedding party at the temple doing their photos.
Barrels of sake about-to-be?, just?, in-the-process-of-being? blessed at the shrine.
The 'emperor's fishing hole'... the koi swarms can be seen in plebe areas too.
There is a martial arts center in the complex/park where people seemed to be competing at Kyudo - traditional archery. Lot of ritualized movements leading up to and following each shot. Each group of five was a unit; so one shooter from each group at about the same stage of shooting. They are shooting at a rather remarkably small target - about 8 in diam. at about 60 yard range.
Video here isn't the best quality, but gives the general idea. If you listen closely you can tell that the second shooter hits the target -- the audience of shooters in the background make a fssssh-sound for every hit, which was most of the time actually.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tsukiji Market

This is a little out of order chronologically, but I wanted to share nonetheless. The very first morning after Ryan and I arrived, we woke up at 4am and decided to do what every jet-lagging tourist is supposed to do when they're awake at that ungodly hour: go to the tsukiji fish market (sounds like skeegee). We caught the first subway of the morning and headed southeast to the harbor. Once there we let our noses guide us to the giant warehouse area of fish being bought and sold every day in Tokyo.
By far the most spectacular part is the daily auction of tuna. Here you can see the floor of one of many large rooms filled with the frozen behemoths.
There is a little flap cut out of the skin near the tail. Potential buyers spend some amount of time pulling down the little flap, grabbing a little chunk of meat and rolling it around in their fingers. We saw one guy do this rolling, looking, rolling, looking on one fish for a good 5 minutes.
Then the auction begins. Each warehouse has about 4 auctioneers, each in charge of about 5 dozen tunas. The auctioneer stands up on the stool and starts ringing a bell to call the attention of all the buyers. This one additionally had sort of a marching thing going on. They call out prices, much in the same way that we've heard western auctioneers, and the buyers would raise hands with various gang signs, that apparently represent numbers. I have no idea what one of these tunas goes for, since counting and numbers were (and still are) completely incomprehensible to us, but a google search just told me that one can go for 10's to 100's of thousands in USD!
After the market we went to a nearby restaurant and had sushi for breakfast.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Festival time

Last week we walked/trekked to the nearest JR line station, which appeared much closer on the map. Along the way, however, we were pleased to stumble onto this street fair. There were various food stands, games, kids running everywhere and old guys sitting around in robes looking very official.
Here you put a ball at the top of the game on the right and wherever the ball lands, that is the number of fruit popsicles that you win. The popsicles were actually pieces of fruit with gelatin goop on them and they were sitting on that big cube of ice to form.
Ryan was particularly interested in the fish on the stick. This poor guy was sweating up a storm cooking these heavily salted fishsicles.

We also devoured some octopus batter balls with mayonnaise and a brown sauce and some donut holes made adeptly with a table-sized waffle iron thing. Ok so this was our first festival. I'm sure we'll become quite familiar with all of these items by the end of the summer. In fact there is one being held tomorrow at the temple right across the street from our apartment. Yay!