A flock of Japanese police, especially when assigned to the Imperial Palace, perfectly captures the appearance of being busy. I think the men are as stylized and ordered as the luxuriously pruned black pine garden behind them.
For 100 yen ($1.05), I bought this morning glory a few days ago. It’s already twining itself to the balcony railing. The tomato I planted a few months ago is producing quite well. The husband doesn’t like the thick and hard skin, but I find them tasty.
I’ve also started a bitter melon vine. It’s supposed to be super rich in vitamin C and beta-carotine. It makes a good pickle, and also tastes good combined with ground pork (though what doesn’t?).
And the saipan lemon tree is budding. The flowers smell so good. So far it isn’t fruiting much. The husband insists it needs hand pollinating.
For work, I was required to leave the safety and comfort of Japan for the unknowable dangers of the US. Media and corporate “risk managment” departments had warned of the grave dangers of traveling to Canada and the US, while many workers have been outright forbidden to visit Mexico because of the terrible risk of swine flu.
My goal was to wear my face mask for the entire 17 day trip. I started by wearing it in the Narita airport in Japan. No one was at all surprised to see a passenger with a face mask there. If anything, I feel it makes me look more Japanese. I kept it on until passing through immigration and customs in the US.
Here’s the bento my husband made me for a garden tour with the (famous university) professor’s class last weekend. Note the pretty cloth and simple tie on our kitchen counter.
Here’s what it looked like unpacked on the garden bench. Two levels, including pasta, carrot pickles, celery salad, bacon, and egg. Note how the pickles have their own cute paper cup, there’s a re-usable toothpick in the eggs, and the salad is wrapped for freshness. Husband, please forgive my taking the photo without tidying up the bacon!
It tasted great!
My tulips are in full bloom on the balcony garden. I planted them underneath my winter pansies. Below is a common bulb called Ipheion that I planted in one of my small flower pots.
The husband and I spent most of February in San Francisco. It was great to see friends and to spend time in my garden. I love how this fern in the winter has new leaves that are red. Seeing my San Francisco garden has given me inspiration for re-making the in-laws small shady garden in Tokyo.
What seems like an ancient wood residence sits incongrously on the main street of Akasaka. I visited this central Tokyo neighborhood twice recently for work. Each time I was amazed by this particular house, directly next door to an up-to-the-last-minute McDonalds, dwarfed by a few street trees, and modern high-rise towers. The owners must have turned down many offers for developing their land.
Here’s another view of this small home next to fast food modernitee.
The street contains a Metro station and a number of buildings from the 1960s to this decade. My favorite is the one in the middle of the next photo. The glass facade looks like shards jutting in and out for 15 stories.
Akasaka has a wonderful mix of the slick newest building styles, the banality that you see everywhere in Tokyo, and bits and pieces of old Tokyo charm.
My work colleagues took me into an ugly mid-rise building where there was a restaurant that looked like a throw-back to the 1960s. We sat on a tatami mat, with no floor cut-outs to make sitting easier, and the stout and friendly proprietress served up delicious bento box of sashimi and tempura for me, aji-don for my new friends. The per person cost, including service, was $11.
On a smaller side street, I saw two fancier restaurants with interesting gardens. The first is incredibly simple and mostly obscured by the wall.
The second is wonderfully fussy, including the bamboo hat that is both decorative and a means to train a pine tree.
Visiting my favorite gardens in Kyoto, my eye was caught by the elaborate wrapping of cycad palms for winter. These plants were chosen because of their tropical look and exotic origins. I think they probably look better wrapped than unwrapped.
Our south-facing balcony continues to be warm and full of sun. I’ve renovated the garden to include a small plant stand by the living room window and several boxes hanging on the railing. The eleven flower pots that weren’t sold are the stars of the garden.
Some of my new plants include winter pansies and kale, grown on top of spring tulip bulbs. Also, a rose from our friend K. And a cool moss-ball, bonsai pine tree from I.
I made a 44 hour trip to Taipei this week: the visit focused on eating, buildings and streets, contemporary art, and botany. The trip started at famous Din Tai Fung, with soup dumplings, hot and sour soup, shrimp and pork dumplings, and pea shoots. The place was mobbed, with many Japanese tourists.
Other food highlights was the Japanese style onsen at Villa 32 in the northern suburbs, with indoor and outdoor hot spring pools and a delicious Italian restaurant. I took the combo public bath and lunch special, which was very relaxing and a chance to see the local upper class in action.
Other culinary treats include beef noodle soup, pork chop noodle soup, Mister Donut (imported from Japan). I was amazed at how international Taiwan is, including my “Norwegian-style” budget chic Hotel Dandy.
Walking around Taipei, it’s striking just how many scooters fill the streets and sidewalks.
They also occupy a majority of the sidewalks.
Vernacular architecture includes vertical commercial buildings and aging concrete, including this sublime corner building in a wave shape:
The wonderfully tropical weather was a great change from fall in Tokyo. It also seemed in many places that the jungle would soon re-occupy the city without constant human vigilance.
Of course, I also saw and entered some spectacular buildings, including the Spot, formerly the American ambassador’s residence and now an art theater, bookstore and super-chic cafe. Also the 300 year old Longshan temple, full of worshipers, offerings, incense and candles.
And on my way back to the airport, I visited the Museum of Contemporary Art and saw its show of young local artists called Super-Generation. The art was fun, as were the friendly art chicken docents. One of whom described how the building was constructed by the Japanese, who were “taking care” of the Taiwanese during the first half of the 20th century. An odd choice of words to describe an occupation.
Also on my last day, I strolled through the gorgeous Botanic Garden, which includes many palm trees, and sections based on “idiom plants” and “literary plants.” Lots of older people doing qi gong exercises and school children.