Month: March 2009

Men’s hair, or “Fukuyama, you’re a girl!”

Men's hair, or "Fukuyama, you're a girl!"

Enough about flowers, trees and bombs. Yes, it’s time to re-examine Japanese men’s hair, and to tease the sister-in-law just a bit.

Anyone who follows Japanese male celebrities knows that two men have dominated this field and at any given moment are fronting at least 6 products each, from instant noodles to televisions to hair gel to canned coffeee. The battle is between SMAP idol Kimutaku and singer-actor Fukuyama Masaharo.

Some ladies like one, or the other. It’s rare that anyone likes both equally. As blog readers know, I prefer Kimu, my sister-in-law Fuku. Recently I noticed that as both are becoming solidly “Arafo” (close to 40), they are upping the airbrushing and botox.

Kimu is widely known for his ever-changing hair, generally blondish and curly. Now, Fukuyama seems to be strongly competing as to whose hair is more girlish.

What do you think? Which idol’s hair is more girlish?

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Hard prune

Hard pruning, ginko trees in Nakano

A crew of ten has been methodically hard pruning the ginkos on the main street in front of our apartment complex. I am amazed at the skills and resources devoted in Tokyo to public trees.

In San Francisco, the city is content with a 20 minute training session and a couple of chain saws. In Tokyo, trained arborists climb the trees, use hand saws and prune the trees into perfect shapes.

Hard pruning, ginko trees in Nakano

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

I love spring. It’s been cold here the past two weeks, and the ever vigilant newscasters are reporting that the cherry blossom season is now one week behind the previous estimate. There’s actually a nightly map showing the progress from south to north, and west to east for peak blooms. It’s flower mania.

The photo above is an unknown (to me) woodsy flower growing outside our apartment complext. Below is quince plus some other very common small white flower shrub.

Quince

And just around the corner, near the house demolitions, is this amazingly fragrant small bush. It smells like honey. I wonder what it’s called?

Fragrant shrub, Shin Nakano

Bomb found at school near house

Police tape, bomb scare at school nearby

Walking home before lunch, the small street near my house was blocked with police tape and many many young police men. Peering past the police line, I saw some official looking daddies in dark suits moving about. The location is just down the small street from the destroyed house and near or possibly inside the grounds of an elementary school.

My Japanese is so bad. After speaking to several of the police, I understood there was a missile. I asked if it came from North Korea, which has been recently threatening to launch a long-range missile in the Pacific. I was assured that it did not land today. Another cop told me it was 50 years old.

This is what North Korean’s 1998 Taepodong missile looks like. 

North Korean missile

Once home, the husband explained that World War II bombs are still being found throughout Tokyo. It’s probably not an immediate threat, but still kind of a shock after 60 years to feel the presence of the fire-bombing.

Fast destruction of tatami live-work space

Nakano tatami live-work destruction

In January I saw this older daddy taking golf swings in what was a tatami-making live-work space in the small lane we take from our apartment to the JR station. The lower level had extra high ceilings, the upper floor seemed to be his house, and the whole building probably pre-dated World War II. In a matter of seven days, the scalfolding went up, and the entire lot was scraped.

A similar wooden house a few doors away was also rapidly removed. It’s sad how little protection is given to the few buildings that are of historical interest in Tokyo.

Tatami live-work destruction Tatami live-work destruction Tatami live-work destruction

I am expecting either six banal townhouses or a small apartment building to replace it. Few modern buildings in our neighborhood seem to benefit from architects or design.

I <3 (heart) Nakano

Nakano Broadway Coffee

It’s great that Japan celebrates the first day of spring as a national holiday. I celebrated with a trip to Nakano Broadway and Sun Mall for a coffee and some ramen. My favorite coffee shop in Broadway serves an amazing cup of cold-dripped coffee (水出し) served with the cutest mini-carafe of sweetner and tiny tin of cream. For serving the most amazing coffee, with no pretension, I salute you sisters!

Equally exciting, I visited the new Sun Mall ramen shop in a cool, metal-clad building. The shop is paneled in wood, and serves delicious pork-broth Kyushu ramen. Best of all, all six male staff wear white towels on their heads, each tied differently. Friendly and tasty! I’ll be back.

Nakano Sun Mall, new ramen shop

New plates

New plates: reduction versus oxidation

Last week, the in-laws fired two more plates I designed. They asked if it was OK to use the reduction firing (versus the oxidation firing). Of course, I agreed. It’s interesting how the same clay and glaze turned out so differently.

The reducation firing, above, at first looked burnt or dirty to me. It was interesting that my in-law teachers and most of the students preferred that look, deeming it “antique” looking and better for serving food. The look is growing on me, too.

plate_rf_reduction

Now I am working on some mugs for coffee drinking at home.

Our front door

Our front door

One of the strangest features of nearly all Japanese middle class apartments are their doors– typically metal, short and oddly un-residential to my eyes. These doors define residential living here, along with hallways that are open to the elements, and endless rows of symmetrical fluorescent hall and stairwell lighting visible from the streets.

I was reminded of this when my American artist friend who lives in Beijing and is in Japan for a 2 month artist residency told me about her strange Yokohama apartment door. She didn’t realize how typical and pervasive this door is.

What do you think it looks like? Sometimes I feel like it’s a prison, a submarine, an industrial farm. More recently, these doors seem normal and unremarkable.

Name this plant

Sayonara sale plant

Does anyone know the name of this plant? I thought it looked so good that at first I thought it was plastic. As much as I love gardening, I am slow at learning the names of plants. .

The plant was a free gift with purchase from my second sayonara sale. Basically, foreigners in Japan who are leaving try to unload their stuff on English-language websites. I went to buy our first flat screen HD TV (only $300), and also left with this gorgeous plant, a humidifier for the husband, and a bike pump.

Because it’s costly to dispose of garbage, sayonara sales feature deeply discounted items and often free stuff. True recycling. Thanks, Brit guy in the neighborhood, and good luck with your next adventure!