Monday, September 30, 2013

Sara udon 皿うどん

Sara udon, or Nagasaki udon, is a favorite dish of mine. Similar to chow mein, it's easy to make, and can be customized to one's taste. I generally like to use cabbage, carrot, yellow peppers, mushrooms, and tofu, but any veggie or seafood combination works. Above, stir-frying the veggies, below, fried tofu.

The package of noodles and gravy that I used, Kata yakisoba. Some day I will learn how to make this dish from scratch, but until then (and until I have a deep fryer for the noodles), the packages available at the market are quite tasty.

 The gravy and veggies, getting ready to mix with the fried noodles.


When added to the noodles, the warm veggies and gravy soften the noodles, making for a delightful cool weather dinner. This dish seems to lie somewhere between Chinese and Japanese food- it's a specialty of Nagasaki, but was originally inspired by Chinese food. To my palate, the gravy of sara udon is lighter than that of chow mein, and the noodles are thinner, plus there are a greater variety of veggies, I think of chow mein as being mostly cabbage, sprouts, and chicken.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Banknote and Postage Stamp Museum お札と切手の博物館

Today I spent about some time at the Banknote and Postage Stamp Museum, which is part of the National Printing Bureau, and close to Oji Station.

I love off-beat museums such as this one- it took a little under an hour to look at all the cases and objects, and to read a selection of the labels. The museum had a variety of currency and stamps from around the world, and a section on the history of both stamps and currency. My favorite items in the historical exhibits were the 18th century Japanese banknotes, which were beautiful monochromatic woodblock prints. I also enjoyed the section on unusual currency from around the globe- notes from nations in inflationary times worth billions, an error on a Canadian note that gave the illusion of a devil figure in Queen Elizabeth's hair, notes from post-revolutionary Iran that stamped out symbols of the previous regime. 

The first floor exhibits were more interactive in nature, and included two small working models of the manufacturing process of currency and stamps. 

Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside the museum, and there was no gift shop, but I did make a stamp sheet on my way out.

And since there were no photos inside, I'll include this lovely view of the flowers at the park across the street from the museum. The website for the Printing Bureau does have some photos of the museum, which you can see here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday 金曜日

Some photos from my Friday. Above- it was a fantastically beautiful sunny day here in Tokyo, so I paused on the bridge near Uguisudani Station to marvel at the view of the Sky Tree and the rush of the JR lines below.

Tea time at work. Each day at 3 p.m. the part time researchers and some of the full time senior scholars at the institute pause for tea. As the many visitors to the institute bring edible omiyage (souvenirs), from their respective parts of Japan, there are always interesting snacks. Today's was an apple sweet from Nagano, it was a light cake filled with sweet white bean paste that had a subtle apple flavor.

Fashion on the Yamanote-sen on my way out to dinner and drinks with a friend.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Imperial Palace 皇居

On Tuesday morning, Ti and I participated in the official tour of the Imperial Palace.

The tour is held two times a day on most days, but I had to submit an application about two or three weeks ago. Even with the reservation system, there were nearly 200 people on our tour, most of whom were retired Japanese people, but a few foreigners from other parts of Asia, Europe, Australia, and the U.S.

The Imperial Palace grounds are quite large, and are at the heart of Tokyo. The tour lasted for about an hour and a half, and was in Japanese, but there was also a small recorded English audio guide as well. The two tours were slightly different, with the English providing more historical context, and the Japanese providing more information on the architecture.

After providing our identification and reservation number, we started our tour in a large hall with a video introduction to the Imperial Palace, as well as information on what to expect (2 kilometers of walking, no food or drink, photos o.k., etc.). There was also a small shop with items emblazoned with the Imperial crest. Surprisingly (or not), there was very little security. No x-ray for bags, no metal detectors or pat downs, which are standard on the White House tour and at major U.S. monuments such as the Arch in St. Louis.

The first tour stop was Fujimi Yagura, which was part of the original Edo Castle. For some interesting information on the once gargantuan Edo Castle, of which only a small portion remains, click here.

Fujimi Yagura, as now dwarfed by modern Tokyo.

The next stop was the Imperial Household Agency.  This agency controls all information related to the Japanese imperial family, and runs the Imperial Palace, imperial family collections, and imperial family tombs. Also of interest, this building, which dates from 1931, was where Emperor Hirohito lived in the years immediately following WWII, when the Imperial Palace was destroyed.


The new Imperial Palace, built in the late 1960s.

More of the Imperial Palace.

The famous Nijubashi, or Double Bridge.

Another historic part of the grounds.

More of the Palace.

The large lotus pond, just beyond this is the rice field that the emperor ceremonially plants each year and the silk cultivation area where the empress participates in sericulture.

At the end of the tour, leaving through the Kikyomon.

Ti and I at the end of the tour.

Before each of us went of to our respective institutions for an afternoon of work, we had a lovely lunch near Tokyo Station, and got a great view of the newly restored building.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mori Art Museum: Out of Doubt

On Sunday afternoon I spent some time at the Mori Art Museum, viewing the 2013 Roppongi Crossing Show, Out of Doubt. The Roppongi Crossing show aims to examine trends in current Japanese art, and is held every three years. Much of the show was dark in nature, many works questioned social issues in interesting ways, and the aftermath of the 3/11 disaster was decidedly present. Above is the futuristic landscape of Roppongi Hills, where the museum is located, below the first work of the show, 1,000 Legs, Cultivating Fruits, by Kobayashi Fumiko.

One of my favorite works, Nonhuman Crossing, Kazama Sachiko.

The installation of daguerreotypes by Arai Takashi. The artist is currently working in daguerreotype, and in this installation combined images of Fukushima, Hiroshima, the Lucky Dragon Incident, and the Trinity Site in one room. The room was very dark with small lights on the daguerreotypes, but a Geiger counter clicked at the center, and then every few minutes lit up the extremely bright light that is seen in this photograph.

 The Niwa Yoshinori installation, Proposing to Hold up Karl Marx to the Japanese Communist Party, wherein the artist took Marx's image to local communist party offices and spoke with party members about ideology. This was a very interesting installation, and I wish I had been able to spend more time with the video works.

Yanagi Yukinori's Eurasia. The flags are made of colored dirt, and there are tiny tubes connecting each flag. Ants tunnel through the flags, creating fissures in the surface of the flag. 

Sasamoto Aki's Inner Ear installation. 

The Mori Museum is on the 53rd floor of Roppongi Hills, and includes a ticket to the observation deck on the 52nd floor. 

After viewing the exhibition, I attended a panel discussion on contemporary Japanese art with the curators of the show, one of the curators of the Japan pavilion at the Venice Bienniale, and a professor of modern and contemporary art. Some of the more interesting topics of conversation were the global events of 2011, the subsequent change in protest techniques and how this has impacted art and visual culture, the gesture and concept of "anachronistic resonance," and artist's awareness of the political futility of their own works.

Leaving the museum, Roppongi Hills from the base.

Louise Bourgeois' spider, a well-known landmark at Roppongi Hills.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hakusan Shrine Festival 白山神社祭

This afternoon I stepped out of my apartment for a few minutes to grab some lunch from one of the local bento shops, when I came across part of the Hakusan Shrine Festival at the end of my block. There was a parade of families and kids carrying a portable shrine, and another group drumming on a large float. 

I had seen the posters for the festival, but as it is a very small neighborhood shrine, I hadn't planned to go. I picked up my lunch, and walked over to the park next to the shrine to get some fresh air and to enjoy the sound of the chanting that was part of the festival.

Lunch, above, the bento shop, below (I took the photo on my way back home, after he had closed for the afternoon).

 Hakusan Shrine. For additional photos, click here.

I love the weather-worn lantern that is near the front. The shrine is quite small, and the origin date isn't known, but it has been here since the Edo period, so probably at least since the 17th century.

I made my way back home, and as I was settling into my afternoon, the festival parade came down my street, giving me a great bird's eye view.


The kids were working so hard!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Asukayama Park and Okonomiyaki 飛鳥山公園とお好み焼き

After a day of hashing out research and dissertation work, Ti and I spent the evening hanging out around Oji and Kajiwara, solving the worlds problems one drink at a time. We began at Asukayama Park. Public drinking is legal here, so we talked academia on a park bench, with chuhai and beer from the convenience store. The park has a nice traditional feel to it, and we mostly sat near the river (above), but also walked around the hilly part and viewed the mid-Autumn full moon (below).

The park has a great view towards Oji and Oji Station.

Next on the agenda was dinner. We took the streetcar over to Kajiwara and had dinner at Fukuraya, an okonomiyaki shop in my neighborhood.

Ti awaits our Osaka-style modan-yaki as it cooks on the grill. The mid-century vintage beer advertisements that decorated the restaurant were pretty stellar (check the background!).

Okonomiyaki. The greatest food known to human kind.

We also had a traditional style shrimp okonomiyaki. Modan-style has yaki soba noodles (a type of egg noodle), and is thinner in the pancake with the egg on top. Traditional style has the egg mixed in, and no noodles.

Nerding out for okonomiyaki.