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Monday, December 01, 2008

Japan trip: Day 13 - 18th June - Tokyo (Part 1)

"Your life story would not make a good book. Don't even try." - Fran Lebowitz


Japan trip
Day 13 - 18th June - Tokyo
(Part 1)

Traffic light timings in Japan are weird. When the green man starts flashing it is only a short while before he turns red - even I got caught in the middle of the road, what more the old people Japan is filled with? Then again I witnessed the amazing alacrity of the old Japanese folks while catching the train to Koyasan, so presumably they can run if the need presents itself.

Chikan land would be good for HWMNBN since they can't stop talking either.
I woke early to catch the Shinkansen back. Since I was on the JR pass I had to make one stop.

Yakult vending machine. Can you tell what's wrong with this vending machine?

Someone informed me that "Singapore is the only country where Yakult is available in flavors (orange, grape, and apple) other than the original"; I noticed they didn't have non-original flavours in Japan, but didn't know that.

Someone else: "why is the milk brand called mother's?"

Shinkansen crew also bow upon entering/exiting the car.

When I got to Tokyo I entered one of the station's toilets, and saw my first Japanese graffiti:

I'd think it's a "Free sex" ad, but there's no phone number.
[Addendum: I am informed that it reads "i wonder if there's also graffiti in the ladies' [toilet]?" HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA]

"Please do it at home" - but it's called a MOBILE phone!

I saw Sky Time in a vending machine and was very happy. It being only 2% juice (since I could now read the label) didn't stop me.

My hostel was in the Asakusa region (but across the river from the busier part). Crossing the bridge, I saw:

A g
iant golden tadpole (???). IIRC this was a beer company. I don't know what the tadpole symbolised - maybe fertilisation opportunities offered by the beer: a subtle way to increase the birth rate.

The hostel (the most remote Khaosan branch) was quite hard to get to (which was why they told us to print a map) but I navigated the twisting roads and made it there. It has a lot of anal rules which, of course, were promptly ignored (less is more). For example, half the guests' shoes on the shoe rack in the entrance area (since like some Japanese establishments you couldn't wear shoes in) had notices stuck on about them being presumed by the staff to be abandoned and in danger of imminent removal.

Since I had an afternoon left, I tried calling up the 4woods Co.,Ltd ("Manufacturing Inspiring Soulful Love Dolls") as their showroom was in the middle of nowhere and I couldn't figure out the map. Unfortunately, once I got someone able to speak English I found they were closed this week and asked me to return next week (by which time I'd have left Japan already). And I didn't visit at the start of my journey because I got voice mail saying they were closed (or something like that) and I'd already planned my trip. Maybe the next time I visit Chikan land (no, I won't plan a visit just for it, but it's an interesting thing to do)!

Neighborhood watch: "Don't abduct me"

Homeless (?) man sleeping under statue of girl with paint on her

Sci-fi boat

I decided to visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum, a new joint which showcased Tokyo from its days as Edo till post-war reconstruction.

People who were disabled got free entry but had to show "proper identification". Uhh.

The museum's price discrimination was very interesting: they had different prices for those in "university, college and special school", "high school and junior high school (outskirts of Tokyo)" and "junior high school" (for those residing in or going to school in Tokyo). Presumably students not from Tokyo or its outskirts would not want to come, lacking a personal connection to the city (figures! but they seem to have simplified their pricing structure since)

The museum had Y100 lockers - for umbrellas. Uhh.

The museum had an interesting and admirable photo policy: they told you when flash was alright (e.g. for models and not for artefacts), and you couldn't take photos of some things, like costumes by this Japanese designer (who was the first Japanese to enter an international fashion show in London in 1975) which were damn ugly. However I was suffering from a bit of photo fatigue by then (and anyway the museum had interesting information but not so much interesting artefacts - at least ones we were allowed to photograph; there're nice photos on Flickr though).

There was a replica of the famous Nihonbashi bridge from the Edo era, from which all distances in Japan were measured, but I found it impossible to snap. Here're some from people who had more time/energy/technique:

Edo-Tokyo Museum

The old Nihonbashi in the Edo-Tokyo museum

I was lucky enough to get an English-speaking guide, who just before I entered the gallery had departed with a pregnant Japanese lady and her black husband.

During the Edo period the average height of men was 155cm.

Screen of Edo: this is one of two screens depicting Samurai life, where Tokugawa Iemitsu makes 13 appearances, and each time his name is blancoed out.

Water pumps didn't have enough power so they mainly relied on firebreaks.

Firefighter jackets could be turned inside-out - they wore one side when fighting the fire and when they extinguished the fire the firefighters turned their jackets inside out to display the much nicer side.

Matoi: firefighting company standards. There was a replica we could lift - it was heavy, but not as bad as I'd feared.

Firefighters of the Sen Company, No. 2 Brigade

During the Edo period the literacy rate was about 70% due to temple schools. But books were expensive so there were a lot of secondhand bookstores.

The straw band with strips of paper hanging from it that you always see in Shinto shrines represent a sacred place, and it was used to mark family altars as well (we saw one in a reconstructed house).

How polychrome woodblock prints work: each block is painted with one colour, and the paper is imprinted many times. Notice the evolution of this print.

A 1887 painting of Van Gogh's imitated Japanese woodblocks. Whistler did the same.

??? woodcut

Japanese go to Shinto shrines for happy occasions like weddings and Buddhist temples for sad ones like funerals. They are indeed very chill about religion.

Dedicatory labels depicting the floats of Kanda festival in Edo

Hakushi (the 35 Views of Mt Fuji guy) moved house >90 times. Wth.

They had a replica of the front of a Kabuki theatre:

The arrow through the bullseye represents their hope for a "big hit". GAH.

Kabuki had a revolving stage. So hi-tech. And during the Edo period they held performances during noon so they wouldn't need candles, which were a fire risk.

Inside a Kabuki theatre there were no status distinctions (like onsens and sentos). No wonder they were so popular.

"Kanda Festival" Shrine with Guan Yu (a god of fortune for them) on top.

Sword case with "Umebachi" mark of makie lacquer decoration

Sukeroku Kabuki scene

Mikoshi (portable shrine) of the kind used in the Edo Sanja festival

There was also a nice scale model of Edo.

The guide left us at this stage, so we didn't have interesting tidbits about early 20th century Tokyo, but the information panels were interesting enough.

Some old signs and books the museum had also had furigana (hiragana on top of kanji as a pronunciation guide). I don't know they they bother keeping kanji.

An information panel for one old-style bicycle claimed that the front wheel was "large to catch speed". ???

"Eclectic ways: east meets west
Only a small number of people from the upper social stratum directly imported and fully adopted new western culture. Yet the Tokyo citizenry was exposed to western things and ideas or a daily basis and gradually accepted such ways into its lifestyles.
"Civilization and enlightenment," the slogan of the Meiji regime, meant many things, but most conspicuously and immediately the new hairstyles of men. In 1871 the government issued an order that promoted the cutting of the old-style topknot. The new hairstyle became a hallmark of westernization. Women, too, began to wear their hair in a swept-back style, with a bun at the back of the head. At around the same time, shops offenng relatively inexpensive imported western goods popped up throughout the city and drew customers who wished to experience western things.
Japanese traditional cuisine also began to incorporate western items. Anyone who had not eaten beef was considered uncivilized; buns stuffed with bean jam, and other items were popular as well. The desire for Tokyoites to be up-to-date helped, too, in bringing western ways into daily life."
What's so modern about eating "buns stuffed with bean jam" (anpan)?!

"Tokyo Sanitation
Compared to American cities of his day, [ES] Morse found Tokyo sanitation to be excellent. "It seems incredible," he wrote in Japan Day by Day, that “in country village and city alike the houses of rich and poor are never rendered unsightly by garbage, ash piles, and rubbish.” Night soil was transported to rural areas to be used as fertilizer. Since the Edo period this practice had closely linked central Tokyo to surrounding farm villages. As Morse pointed out, it also greatly aided sanitation in Tokyo. Morse also remarked that the Japanese appreciated cleanliness. He was astonished to discover that the life expectancy of a Tokyoite was longer than that of a Bostonian."

"Pleasure and anxiety
New fashions and trends, and new social movements were born in Tokyo. Short hair became the symbol of the “modern girl”; the permanent wave was available from around 1930. At the same time, numerous labor disputes occurred, leading to the writing of books such as “A City With No Sun” (Taiyo no nai machi) by Tokunaga Sunao (1899-1958).
Just at this time, Tokyo was hit by the effects of the Great Depression, known in Japan as the “Showa terror.” Slogans such as "ero-guro nansensu" (from “erotic grotesque nonsense”) were born; the song “Is Sake Tears or Sighs?” was a hit. Both hedonism and fear colored the age.
In the summer of 1933, the song “Tokyo Ondo,” with its lyrics “Hah, if you dance, Choito dance to the Tokyo Ondo music, yoi yoi...” became a great fad. Drum towers were built throughout the city for nighttime outdoor dancefests. As Takada Tamotsu (1895-1952) wrote in his “The Uncontrollable Spread of Tokyo Ondo” (Tokyo ondo no hanran), “Young and old, men and women, one and all waited breathlessly for the sun to set.”
In January of the same year, a female student committed suicide by plunging herself into the volcanic crater of Mt. Mihara on Oshima, one of the Izu islands, setting off a wave of copycat suicides. A short time later, a few months following the failed coup of February 26, 1936, a woman named Abe Sada murdered her lover and became the talk of the town."
Plus ca change...; the last paragraph is particularly wth

"The air raid disasters
Some 100,000 people perished in a single night... the air-defense law had made it illegal for people to evacuate without first receiving official permission."
The wonders of bureaucracy. You also needed permission granted for the brightness of your flame

Interestingly, the incendiary bombing of urban cities was started by the Japanese when they bombed Chongqing. Hah.

There was a People's Rights Movement campaigning to grant people decadent Western democratic rights, but there was a backlash of traditional values and in 1890 the Imperial Rescript on Education was promulgated. Education was changed to incorporate Asian Values and nationalism. This was one reason why 40 years later there was a rash of "incidents". The National Education lessons that we can learn are profound indeed.

During the war people polished rice by putting it in a bottle and beating it with a stick.

Having finished the permanent collection, I moved on to the special exhibition: "The Perry & Harris Exhibition: The Dawn of US-Japan Relations". Even with a joint ticket, it was expensive and a boring exhibition (not least due to the lack of English signage - only section overviews and names and provenances of items were in English); I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought so ("We expected to have a rewarding experience learning about the beginning of the Bakumatsu period, but instead learned that is possible to fall asleep while standing on one's own two feet!")

Photography was disallowed so you'll have to content yourself with my snide remarks.

The exhibition said the 1858 treaty was the "starting point for the close Japan-US relationship that continues today". They seem to have missed a few "incidents"...

The text of the treaty (in both English and Japanese) was displayed. The American version of the treaty was much longer than the Japanese one, probably because the latter just read: "We surrender. Please don't kill us"

Perry is usually portrayed as violent and a violator of Japan, but here it was revealed he exchanged gifts and banquet invitations with the Japanese. For their banquets, the Japanese cooked Japanese food, while the US cooked French (hah, not American!)

For the exhibition, they managed to dig up a lot of stuff from US museums. Including a piece of Japanese porcelain from the Smithsonian Institution's Natural History museum (the fact that Anthropology is under Natural History is RACIST!) And also drawings from Munich's Ethnology Museum.

Harper's Weekly Journal of Civvilization drew the first Japanese ambassadors in 1860 as Negroes.

Get a 10% discount on this Fricasse with your ticket stub

Veggies on the train (???) Maybe the moral of the story is that veggies are bad.

"Your seat should only be as wide as your bottom, not the width of your spread legs."

"Have a rice day!"
GAH. This is Japan, why do you need to encourage rice consumption?!

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