Friday, June 06, 2014

40 Days of Summer (in Japan) - Part Kyuu

Field trip! We have field trips every Friday (With the 'Witz? No way!), and today we had our first one to the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryokogu. We had to make our own way there, and I happily got lost at Shibuya Station, the one that my train line connects me to. I never had to change platforms before, yet alone change to a different station owned by a different company; so I got terribly, hopelessly lost. I wandered the underground catacombs for about twenty minutes, following signs whose only destination was greater confusion, but finally I managed to get to the platform with my train, after crossing a tiled floor by stepping on specific letters etched into the marble which spelt out the name of a magnanimous deity, and dodging a giant rolling boulder.

You know your rail system is complicated when your stations come with Lego assembly instructions.

I arrived last at the museum, after being battered around in the wind which broke my umbrella. If you look at pictures of the museum, it looks like a giant white crocodile with its mouth agape. Our professor says that it actually is a homage and reference to the Ryokogu Kokugidan (Sumo Hall) which stands opposite: it's supposed to look like a sumo wrestler. If our professor's right - and I hope he isn't, but if he is - then that makes the escalator entrance sticking out the underbelly take on a very different connotation.

I prefer to see a futuristic spaceship-type capsule door which opens with the hiss of hydraulic steam pumps.

The Edo-Tokyo Museum contains exhibits from the Edo period, which is what Tokyo was called before the Meiji Restoration and before it was the capital, to the much more contemporary time period of about the 1980s. There was a lot of fascinating stuff, but for the interests of this blog I'm not going to relay everything, so you're going to learn as much as stupid photograph joke captions can tell you.

A replica of the Nihonbashi bridge, which was the gateway into Tokyo. In this case it's also the gateway to the Edo-Tokyo Museum exhibit, which is quite apt.

The property of a Daimiyo. Those aren't a bunch of badminton courts; they're spaces marked out with the buildings that would probably be found in there, and their respective functions.

They provide little binoculars to see details of the model. The diorama , not the supermodel standing on the other side of the display.

They put rocks on their roofs to prevent the thatch from blowing away in the wind. Why not just get better roof tiles, you ask? Because these are poor houses, and rocks are dirt cheap.

I spent a lot of time taking "in-the-scene" shots of dioramas. Here, what's happening is some strange festival performance, or a gruesome battle to the death in the streets for the entertainment of passersby.

"Hey! I can see your ass from here!"

"Sorry for diverting your river into my city."
"Eh, it's okay. All water under the bridge."

It just goes to show that vehicle manufacturers, like game designers, resort to palette swaps as well.

That sign reads: Whosoever pulls the sword from this exhibit will rule all of the Japanese correctional facility down the street.

A team of early Japanese firefighting militia. I'm not sure what the sticks with the hooked blades are for; the fire sure isn't going to be intimidated by a bunch of guys carrying flammable weapons.

" was not uncommon that this practice ruined the woman's health." Oh, you superstitionists.

That's a rally point standard for firefighters for a specific division. It's incredibly heavy, and I think the original would be even heavier because it was made of wood.

Woodblock printing is essentially manual Photoshop.

A replica of a shop selling popular writings, like a early bookshop or manga store. Oh Akihabara, how times have changed.

If they thought elephants looked like that, it's no wonder Japanese never ventured outside their own borders.

"Just grab the box of gold and run! The tax collector it belongs to has been dead for centuries!"

It's stilts for working in shallow water. I wonder what early Christian missionaries thought when they saw a whole race of people walking on water for the first time.

"The next gas station is how far away?! Two hundred years?!"

It's so cool to see exhibits for visually-impaired people. You can feel the shape of the portrait, and the braille points you to the interesting features of the work, also typed in braille on the side.

Original kabuki theatre performers were all men (and prostitutes on the side as well). Cross-play goes back way farther than I thought.

The Nikolai Cathedral, the Russian Orthodox Church in Japan. I like to imagine little figures of Tesla Troopers patrolling its base.

The Twelve Storey Tower, the tallest building in Tokyo.

Early modern Japanese men's fashion; or freaking Slenderman?

There were these elementary school kids on a school trip as well, and apparently on of their scavenger hunt activities was to get the name and signature of a tourist. Xi Min has never been happier.

Those aren't bento boxes; that's just candy!

Japan has a way of making cute everything, possibly to ensure they're not seen as a global threat anymore.

So that was the Edo-Tokyo Museum. On the way out, we walked by the sumo hall, and spotted some sumo wrestlers out and about. I didn't have my wide angle lens, but I managed to catch a photo of them through the fence.

It's not like sumo wrestlers to be elusive.

And in the spirit of our trip to the area, we were brought to a nearby restaurant and had for lunch a mini-chankonabe, the protein-rich, calorie-intensive, carbo-loading meal of sumo wrestlers. Of course, we didn't have it in the same size or frequency of the sumos, but it was a very satisfying meal nonetheless.


Along the way, I also walked by a QB house:

It's about S$12 to get your hair mauled in the shortest amount of time.

And in the station, they had on display the hand-prints of the champion sumo wrestlers, like outside the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood (only, like, not).

"My, grandma, what big hands you have!"

Our next stop was Asakusa. Our professor wanted to show us around the place, and I guess point out interesting architecture. But that plan was washed out by the rain. We huddled under a store eating some taiyaki-like thing whose name I cannot remember and cannot find on the Internet right now. Prof Jacobowitz said that there's no point trudging through the rain, so we split up to go our own separate ways.

Let me tell you a bit about this rain. It's now tsuyu, the rainy season, and it rains everyday. And it's not like the rain in Singapore, where it dumps buckets in a huge thunderstorm for maybe one, two hours, and then it clears up, and everything's all right. Here, the rain is persistent. It hangs around all day, flicking water at you constantly, like an extended natural Chinese water torture. It wears you down slowly, overpowering you with sheer patience and obstinacy. It's like getting beaten to death with a feather. It has been raining consistently for the past two days straight. There are no floods, either because the Tokyo drainage system is very efficient, or the precipitation is just at the rate of evaporation to keep everything in a state of moist balance. I can now imagine what dreary London rain is like, only I'm sure it must be twice as cold as it is here.

I ended with with Xi Min, Rachel, Nia, and Yuri-san, one of the Waseda international office facilitators, who came with us on the field trip. We walked around the covered walkways of Asakusa for a bit, before someone (I think it was Rachel) suggested that we get takoyaki to share. Side note: I constantly get taiyaki (fish-shaped red bean pastry) and takoyaki (fried octopus balls) confused.

Nothing like piping hot cephalopod extremities in cold weather.

The Americans then wanted to try out karaoke, so we all headed towards this karaoke building nearby. It's very brightly lit and the decorations are ostentatious and tacky; we spent fifteen minutes deciding on drinks with Stephanie's halting Japanese before we were ushered into a rickety elevator and into a room on the second floor. It was really fun; just singing famous stuff and chilling out with the Yale people, whom I've never really had the chance to hang out with properly. Nia, with her inherent black-woman voice, was amazing. She hit all the high notes, and belted out Lady Marmalade like a professional. Dayum, gurl.

We left for Shibuya to have dinner, and again with such a large group and indecisiveness, we split up to have our own separate dinners. Nia was open to the idea of trying out a conversation cafe, and I found one near Shibuya - another branch of Leafcup, of which the Iidabashi branch I had been to before. We had dinner in a small cheap shop under the railway, and I tried some red soba which turned out to be, not red-coloured soba, but normal soba in spicy red-hot sauce. It was pretty nice though. I mentioned to Nia that this was so surreal: eating noodles in a small shop after escaping the rain, with the sounds of the train rumbling by every few minutes. It felt like a noir movie; if only I had actually watched a film noir and knew what it was like.

We arrived at Leafcup at around 9pm, and apparently the only table tonight had people who were just about to leave. The lady at the door seemed very confused by our presence; she thought we were students but we spoke English too well. After trying to explain to her why we were here (which, in retrospect, sounds very creepy), she let us sit down to wait for the people who were about to leave.

Maybe I should briefly introduce what conversation cafes are all about. Basically, they're places for Japanese people to practise speaking English. The companies who run then usually hold English classes as well; the cafe is mainly for people to practise speaking and listening, especially in conversational English. Their customers are mainly working adults, who might have to use English for business; and also sometimes housewives, who want to learn something new.

When we pulled up chairs at the conversation table, there were three Japanese left, as well as the instructor. I think she must have thought we were here to learn English as well, because she looked very confused; but when we introduced ourselves I think it all got smoothed out. Two ladies left pretty soon after we sat down, leaving us with an animated Japanese man, whose name has slipped out of my memory (I do know that it starts with an S- something). The instructor introduced herself as Nicole (I heard "Niko" and thought she was Japanese - and apparently she was. More on that later.) and we started chatting.

S-san was a very interesting guy. He's a systems engineer, designing websites for a Japanese company, and he hopes he gets transferred to another department which deals with incubating start-ups, if I understood it correctly. He's travelled to many, many different countries, and likes playing the acoustic guitar; he used to play the electric and performed in a band, but he's not done that for some time.

The instructor, Nicole, was very interesting as well. She apparently is very fascinated with sumo wrestling, and has very detailed knowledge of the tournaments and the ceremonies which accompany the tournaments. I remember she mentioned that sometimes the winner gets an envelope with the prize money, and sometimes they don't, and she asked S-san why that was so. And he responded, "Wow, you watch very closely!" She had an accent I couldn't quite place; during the conversation she mentioned that she was from Sao Paulo in Brazil, which seemed to explain it, and only when we were leaving and I told her that she looked so Japanese did she reveal that she was ethnically Japanese - her grandparents had migrated to Brazil. She was doing her masters degree in public policy, and I wished her all the best.

I got the impression that Nia didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped she would; I enjoyed talking to S-san and Nicole (they seemed very interested in Singapore - maybe because it was closer and more relevant), but they're both adults, and not really the same demographic that Nia was expecting. I did learn a lot though, about sumo wrestling, a bit of Japanese history, as well as about start-up companies in Japan, and a new "smart city" prototype they're coming up with, which includes an efficient energy distribution grid. Best of all, it was free; last time I went, we had to order a coffee or tea for about 700-yen.

The best things in life are priceless.

1 comment:

Demel said...

"S-san was a very interesting guy. He's a systems engineer, designing websites for a Japanese company, and he hopes he gets transferred to another department which deals with incubating start-ups, if I understood it correctly. He's travelled to many, many different countries, and likes playing the acoustic guitar; he used to play the electric and performed in a band, but he's not done that for some time."

This guy somehow sounds like what I might become in the future ~_~