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Archive for the ‘Tokyo’ Category

“Tokeiji is the place where men are deprived of their pride.”

Normally I ask for the Japanese version of the maps and flyers at tourist sites, because 1. I can read Japanese and 2. the Japanese version is often more detailed. When we got to Tokeiji, I told the staff member “either language is fine” in Japanese, so I received an English version. I’m going to let you draw your own conclusion to that interaction; suffice it to say that the solution to the language problem is to let customers pick up their own brochures at the counter if desired. However, the Japanese version is unlikely to have had such an awesome statement as the one above, so I think I secretly won this round.

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Tsuyu (梅雨), the rainy season, has officially hit the majority of Honshu according to the JMA. The name literally means plum rain, as this is the time of year when the plums ripen. Even though Kanazawa has been suspiciously sunny for several weeks, as soon as I returned from Tokyo on Monday morning, the air felt sticky and oppressive. The rain will come, and then the heat that steals my motivation to do anything but consume liters of iced teas.

The one bright point in the humid horror of tsuyu is the flowers, particularly the hydrangeas (ajisai, アジサイ) and the irises (hanashôbu, 花菖蒲). Kamakura, one of the old capitals and home to the Daibutsu and a stretch of temples that could take all day to explore, is famous for their hydrangeas. Finding myself in Tokyo for a performance of Elisabeth (my favorite musical–review of the 2012 show to come),  I decided to see if the hydrangeas were blooming more than in Kanazawa, downloaded the Kamakura hydrangea walking course information, set off to enjoy those bunchy globes of blooms.


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After an international business trip last week, I found myself enroute to Kanazawa via Tokyo with a whole day to spare. I think normal people might have decided to sleep off the jet lag or take it easy and go shopping, but no! It was sunny and warm outside, the complete opposite of snowy Kanazawa, and I was determined to enjoy the day. I asked Japan Guide what fun things were near me. If you aren’t familiar with Japan Guide, it is my absolute favorite means of doing general, especially last-minute, travel research, as it provides a good, brief overview of what any given area in Japan has to offer in English. It’s a great starting point: quick, streamlined, and perfect for when I am feeling too lazy to try to navigate the world of tourism online in Japanese. Using the suggestions there, I usually go straight to the sources to get more information in either Japanese or English.

What is there do to near Ikebukuro when you’re not in the mood for Ikebukuro on a sunny late-winter day? Go to a garden, of course!

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The buzzword in Japan this summer is 節電 (setsuden), or conserving electricity.* For my readers back at home, this is chiefly because, as Alice Gordenker so succinctly put it in her “So What the Heck is That?” column in The Japan Times,

a huge earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan on March 11, knocking out roughly a quarter of the electricity-generating capacity for the power companies that serve 53 million people in Tokyo, the Kanto plain and Tohoku. In the wake of the disaster there’s been a massive effort to reduce demand for electricity to levels that can be met. The alternative is scheduled rolling blackouts, or worse, sudden widespread blackouts from which it’s difficult to restore power. (“Setsuden,” 17 March 2011.)

I am fortunate to live in a relatively cooler part of the country and far from the affected zone, but while our energy consumption might not directly affect how much energy is getting out to Tokyo and the East, we are also being encouraged to setsuden. There’s been talk of deactivating some of our nuclear power plants, but there’s also a collective feeling that we should seriously reevaluate our energy consumption in general.

It’s hard to discuss setsuden without mentioning the  spirit of 我慢 (gaman), a term which means patience, perservance, and endurance and often has an undertone of sacrifice; colloquially, the phrase can mean “deal with it” or “buck up.”  (more…)

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On my trip to Tokyo in September, I happened to stumble upon a courtyard full of roses and sparkling lights.

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Part 4: Turkey and Vegetarian Sandwiches in Marunouchi

I love turkey, and I don’t just mean for Thanksgiving. I don’t think I realized just how much turkey I used to eat in the States until I moved here. Sure,  I could make chicken sandwiches, provided I get the right kind of bread at the store (ha). But nothing is like going to the nice grocery store by my old apartment and getting a quarter-pound of hand-sliced Michigan-raised turkey to make turkey sandwiches with real cheese and real bread.

Sigh.

I was back in the US briefly last week, and I think I managed to eat turkey almost once a day, including some very nice turkey my mother roasted and sliced up herself.

I won’t be ordering a turkey on the Foreign Buyers’ Club this year, for fear that  a 4-lb bird will not fit in my oven range. (Never mind that I have never cooked a whole bird.) However, I did find a sandwich shop in Marunouchi, Tokyo, that serves not only turkey “burgers” but also a decent selection of vegetarian sandwiches.


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Elisabeth the Musical
帝国劇団 (Imperial Theatre, Tokyo)
Sept. 23, 5:30 pm

Starring Sena Jun (瀬奈じゅん) as Elisabeth, Yamaguchi Yuichiro (山口祐一郎) as der Tod, Ishikawa Zen (石川 禅) as Franz Joseph, Irei Kanata (伊礼彼方) as Rudolph, Takashima Mashiro (髙嶋政宏) as Luigi Lucheni, and Kotobuki Hizuru (寿 ひずる) as Sophie.*

The Story
The musical begins in the land of the dead, in which Luigi Lucheni, an Italian anarchist, has been resurrected to explain why he murdered the Empress Elisabeth of Austro-Hungary. He replies that he’s explained over and over—un grand amore! She was in love with Death, he claims. She wanted to die! And so, to give his testimony, Lucheni resurrects the Hapsburgs to illustrate his story: Elisabeth, her husband Franz-Joseph, her son Rudolph, her mother-in-law Sophie—and the key witness: der Tod, the king of the dead. The musical follows Elisabeth’s life from the fall that sent her to the land of the dead, where der Tod falls in love with her, to her troubled marriage with Franz, to Rudolph’s revolutionary activities, and eventually, to the fall of the Hapsburg empire and Elisabeth’s assassination.

Although Elisabeth has been performed for over 20 years, those not wanting spoilers about the details of the show should stop reading here.

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Part 3: Hamburgers near Hibiya

Despite all the lovely tofu, Japan certainly doesn’t lack for meat. As I’ve written before, you can get all the McDonalds and “hamburg steaks” (ハムバーグ) you want here, but finding a hamburger on a bun with toppings and vegetables is somewhat of a trick. (And no, they don’t sell hamburger buns at the store.)

The avocado burger.

I first read about the Beat Diner in The Japan Times when it ran a special on gourmet hamburgers in Tokyo. (more…)

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Part Two: A Belgian Beer Cafe in Ginza

I Am a Beer Snob
Located on the other side of the tracks and down the road several blocks from the Trattoria Ciao, Antwerp Six stood like a beacon, guiding me out of the yellow fizzy seas of national-brand beers and into the familiar harbor of Belgian beers.

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Part 1: A Trattoria-style Italian Restaurant in Yuurakuchou

Lately, I’ve been traveling to Tokyo more, and I’ve discovered some great restuarants there. So far, my focus has been in 有楽町 (Yuurakuchou), the theatre district of Tokyo, which is accessible from the Yamanote and Tokyo Metro Lines, just one stop from Ginza. On my last trip, I went to see Trafalgar /Funky Sunshine! at Tokyo Takarazuka Theatre. Yuurakuchou is lined wall to wall with theatres, malls, and restaurants, and these are a few excellent restaurants that I happened upon while wandering around the area.

I’ve been a bit obsessed with Trattoria-style Italian restaurants ever since I saw「 バンビ~ノ!」 (Bambino!), a Japanese drama based on a manga of the same name by Sekiya Tetsuji(せきやてつじ [no kanji]. In Bambino!, Arashi-member Matsumoto Jun plays Ban Shougo (伴 省吾), a college student from Fukuoka who dreams of becoming an Italian chef. Ban travels to Tokyo for spring break to work at the Trattoria Baccanale, a ritzy Italian place near Roppongi, as a favor to his boss from his old friend, the chef. The drama focuses on naïve but bullheaded Ban, who is nicknamed Bambino by his sempai, and his struggles to achieve his dreams.

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