a The Transit Lounge: September 2009

Back in the Day: I had a quarter life crisis, headed to Osaka, Japan for the unknown–only to discover that a passport plane ride are not necessarily a ticket to escape. Some Years Later: Settled back in Oz, the man of my dreams ended up in Tokyo for work–which is how a passport and plane ride showed me home is where the heart is. And Now: Well as luck would have it, we are about to embark on Japan Mark 3, with a baby in tow and another on the way...

Wednesday, September 30

Prada Passion

About two weeks ago, the fella and I decided to indulge in one of our favourite pastimes and that is wandering the streets of Harajuku and Omote-sando. We take the camera, take some mags, wander, have coffee, cake and a read somewhere, wander some more, take a whole heap of photos and generally just take in the sights. We both love the areas for different reasons that are all related. Ben loves the architecture and design aspect, whereas I am into the fashion and people watching that all comes together in this small pocket of Tokyo.

So I was not too surprised when we sidled down one of the back streets where the fashion house Prada is situated. The building is incredible. Designed by Herzog and de Meuron in 2003

Designed by Herzog and de Meuron in 2003. The objective of the designers was "to reshape both the concept and function of shopping, pleasure and communication, to encourage the meshing of consumption and culture."

Jacques Herzog has described the glass panes “an interactive optical device. Because some of the glass is curved, it seems to move as you walk around it. That creates awareness of both the merchandise and the city—there's an intense dialogue between actors. Also, the grid brings a human scale to the architecture, like display windows. It's almost old-fashioned.”

The interior is absolutely beautiful too (no photos allowed of course). Felt like I was walking in space. The panes definitely do create an optical illusion and when you walk close to the windows you almost feel you are walking out over the people below you without anything underneath - like you are floating.

My fiance saved the best part of the evening for last, buying me a pair of beautiful Prada shoes to wear on our wedding day. Those we were allowed to take a photo of, but the shoes are a surprise until the big day.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 29

Ronald Donald McDonald

Earlier this year, the beloved and I caught some action on the slopes of Hakuba in the Nagano Prefecture. We also happened to be there on the weekend the village was celebrating its 50th birthday.

As you can imagine, the celebrating was rife. There was a big event at the bottom of one of the ski runs scheduled for the Saturday night. So we arrived to find lots of stalls, stacks of beer and a huge stage set up. There were a few hundred people with us, waiting in anticipation for the big surprise display at the end of the night.

So after some introductory drum beating came the raffle. This was the world's longest raffle. EVER. It went on and on and on and on and on...and when you are standing in snow, at the bottom of a ski field with the temperature hovering around a freezing -12C degrees, it got VERY cold very fast.

So then Ronald McDonald took to the stage. Or so we thought. He looked like Ronald. He sounded like Ronald but his name was Donald - because using a name like Ronald in Japan can be kind of cruel (go on, ask a Japanese person to say Ronald McDonald). And why was Donald there? Well Maccas has a restaurant at the top of one of the slopes of course and we realised Donald was actually there to warm up the crowd. Literally. He got us moving in a hail of red, yellow and burger patties. At first we gaijin were just standing there saying "What the..." But then we realised we were too cold to think anymore and had no choice but to join in.

Donald saved the lives of hundreds that night!

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 28

Looking at the Positives

I have spent the past hour or so rereading old correspondence between my fiance and I. I found an email written just over 12 months ago in response to Ben feeling a bit low and isolated in Nippon - something all newbies go through over here. So to give him a smile, I had decided to point out the positives of his situation. (I was back in Australia at this time, hence the "there" reference to Japan.)

(a) You're not teaching English. There isn't any secret Dead Poets Society or charismatic Robin Williams like character running about screaming "My Captain, my captain" or "carpe diem!" I dont think seize the day even means anything in Japanese schools. In fact Dead Poets Society was probably banned there...
(b) You're not a Japanese salaryman - that is just depressing in itself.
(c) You're a gaijin in Japan. Sure everyone stares at you, no one wants to sit next to you and people go out of their way NOT to help you, but you still see the funny side of it. They don't.
(d) You can see the humour in a bow-off.
(e) You could get away with doing a dive bomb into one of the onsen pools because people would be too scared to tell you to get out.
(f) You get to come home soon. So many gaijin get stuck in Japan and complain that they've never left. They get really bitter and twisted, start Japan bagging but still never leave. They talk about how much they hate it there and what's wrong with it all and blah blah blah...but still never leave...you have light at the end of the tunnel to focus on before bitter and twisted even gets on the radar.
(g) You have me on the other side of the world (well at least in another hemisphere) thinking about you, thinking about when I next get to see you, thinking about how good I feel when I think about you. Baby you rock my world for all the right reasons.
(h) Jetstar has now put on flights to Tokyo, beginning in December. So it is good to know that for the future, there are some cheaper options between Nippon and Oshtraya!

And as I said to him at the end of said email: "Sometimes you have to look at the ups, no matter how small!"

Labels: , , ,

Dante's Peak

The face of keitai (mobile/cellphone) giant Softbank is a gorgeous white dog and....Dante. I knew Dante back in the day, when I lived in Osaka. He was the boyfriend of a friend of mine who was starting her own pizza restaurant with her brother in Ame-mura and Dante was helping out in the kitchen and with service.

He landed this Softbank gig just before I left Osaka, so towards the end of 2006. A couple of months ago I was in Osaka eating pizza and heard his popularity in the Land of the Rising Sun had reached crazy proportions of the Japanese variety. He gets some serious recognition on the street and is bandited by the young, the old - both men and women - for photos and just to be screamed at. Apparently the screams of recognition are insane.

So good on him. I just dig the slippers in the bottom photo....only in Japan.

PS For the best pizza in Osaka...nay JAPAN, head to SLICES in Ame-mura, Osaka. Goes down so well with the bubble tapioka tea.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, September 26

Unicycling for the Masses

What is Yoshio doing? Why it looks like he is clowning around on some sort of motorised unicycle!

This past Thursday Honda unveiled an electric unicycle.

Can't say I am not relieved that there are no plans to sell these nifty little people movers to the public. Could you imagine the chaos once you throw mobile phone texting into the equation?

Labels: , , ,

Friday, September 25

Putting on the Ritz

So this is what Tokyo looks like from the 51st floor of the Ritz Carlton in Roppongi Midtown, Tokyo.

A huge thank you to my wonderful fiance for organising a surprise 2 days "away" at the Ritz Cartlon - complete with a morning of treatments at the hotel's spa, as well as a surprise picnic in the grounds of the Imperial Palace Gardens - as our engagement present. And a huge thank you to Linda and the Ritz Cartlon for the champagne, the cards and the extra special touches that helped make an already special occasion even more dazzling. It also helps that Midtown is one of our Number 1 places to go in Tokyo!

PS My favourite part was us talking as we were sitting in front of our room window, drinking champagne, as watching the day fade and Tokyo town came alive below us with the twinkling, sparkling lights of the city night. We both said we could have done that for hours. It was like having our very own interactive movie screen.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 22

The Brutal Truth

The mishmash of the the modern and ancient worlds in Japan thoroughly intrigues me. They seem to co-exist peacefully in a culture and way of life full of contradictions. Tourists often expect the notions that typically define Japan for outsiders, such as geisha, sushi and samurai to be set against a backdrop of zen gardens strewn with cherry blossom trees or on lantern lit alleys. Yet more often than not, it is the complete opposite and people are rather unexpectedly introduced to brutal reality that everyday Japan now lives within. And when I say brutal, I mean it literally.

Due to the amount of damage sustained by Japan during WW2 bombings, as well as frequent earthquakes and landslide activity that also damaged traditional construction, the desire to replace the more traditional style of building with construction of a much more stronger and solid type was great. Steel prevailed over wood in just about all building and construction. With the introduction of Western attitudes, design, styles and materials Japanese construction between the 1950s and 1980s took on the form of what was popular elsewhere in the world at that time - which, for both good and bad reasons, happened to be brutalism. During no time in Japan is this more evident than during the lead up to the 1964 Olympic Games held in Tokyo. Just about all the sporting arenas and fields used for these games are of a brutalist nature.

The first photo was taken at Yoyogi Stadium in Tokyo, built between 1961 and 1964.

The bottom two photos were taken in the Komizawa Olympic Park.

Note the brutalist take on the traditional pagoda design below.

This brutalist boom came to an end as the bubble burst, making way for the post-modern era in Japan - which has also paved an interesting path for the old colliding with the new.

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 21

Shibuya Saturday Nights

Walking through Shibuya on Saturday night, I came across a little matsuri.

"So pretty," I hear you saying. And then the crazy came - the chanting, the noise and of course men with no pants on. It definitely can't be a serious festival if there is not a little nudity (or near nudity).

I wish I could hear the water cooler conversation at the office this morning. I imagine it to go a little something like this.

Yoshi: "So Hiro, what did you do on the weekend?"
Hiro: "Oh me and Tazawa joined in the Shibuya matsuri. Before we knew it, Tazawa had his light sabre out and began directing traffic. So I took my pants off."
Yoshi: "You're so crazy Hiro."
Hiro: "That's not even the start of it. I realised I was wearing my wife's underwear but it didn't matter. The other men were wearing ladies' underwear too. So we just chanted and drank some more, carried this thing and then it gets a little hazy. But when I came too, I was wearing somebody else's underwear!"

Labels: , ,

Sunday, September 20

J-Pop at its Best!

Smap doing their bit for Japanese mobile phone giant, Softbank.

I am 99% certain it is not SMAP actually singing, namely because Locomotion is a very difficult word for Japanese to pronounce at the best of times.

Still the ad is really catchy and in true J-Pop fashion, SMAP are giving it their all.

Labels: , ,

Friday, September 18

Doll Collecting.

Gentlemen. If you don't quite have the social skills to get yourself a lady, what better way to get your rocks off than with a doll? I should be more specific. You are probably thinking I am referring to Real Dolls. Of course I am....not. I am referring to plastic model dolls, ranging anywhere from 5 cm to 30 or 40 cm in height. Please peruse the selection I photographed in Akihabara this week.

Who knew dolls on toilets were in demand?

Posing is quite the artform.

Wow - that is some high kick.

Visual Merchandising at its best. The Disney dolls put in the same cabinet as some of the erotica.

You can also see that there is tape placed strategically over particular parts of the body, but the over-proportioned boobies are allowed to sit out there for all the world to see.

There were also parts of the store dedicated to making your own model doll up, tape and all.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, September 17

Save It For Later!

These sorts of posters are up all over the subway stations in Tokyo.

They are to make you do whatever it is you are doing that is inappropriate in the proper place. And you are usually left thinking "What the...?"

So you can imagine my surprise when traveling on the subway earlier this week with Claire and Hisa, Hisa did exactly just this.

I pointed out he needs to do that in the athletic club...

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 15

Open Forum

The Tokyo Forum Building at the Keiyo Line end of Tokyo Station.

Designed by Rafael Vinoly, it was completed in 1996 and is shaped like a boat. The building interests me, although the design makes absolutely no sense. It is vert modern but I generally do not like this building because it seems to me to have nothing to do with JApan at all (including the architect!). A great many people rave about this building - I can understand why - but to me there are many more interesting buildings in Tokyo that represent Japan in not only modern, but ancient and cultural contexts too.

Labels: ,

Monday, September 14

Harajuku Girls and "Girls"

Anything goes on a Sunday in Harajuku.

The wonderful thing is that these people actively encourage you to stare at and take photos of them, positioning themselves outside Meiji Shrine, one of the tourist hotspots of Tokyo. Some of these characters wander through the crowds too, in order to get attention. It is a fascinating scenario to watch. I will post video footage I took to which includes a few extra special surprises.

Labels: , ,

Friday, September 11

I Heart Osaka

This tower is located in Shinsekai, Osaka, around the corner from where I used to live. The tower is known as the Tsutenkaku Tower - the tower reaching heaven. Well I guess heaven needs to pay bills too, which could account for all the advertising on this holy construction.

I love Osaka!! I got back to Tokyo today but my good friend Claire is arriving in Osaka tonight and I am hoping to get down next week with her and also to visit my old flat mate Naoko as well as my Freeza family Chie and Ayberk - and everyone else I know as a result of everything in between.

Osaka really holds its own against Tokyo - the nightlife rocks, the shopping is excellent and the food is sensational. But when I think about it, it was certainly the people I knew there that helped make it so special to me.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, September 9

日本 Homesickness

Living in Japan does strange things to a gaijin. Not only do most gaijin appear and behave in a way that is on the extreme end of different to the Japanese, we are also legally referred to as aliens and generally looked down upon from a society that still beareaucratically believes it is a far more superior civilisation.

People of all ages will out and out stare at you on the train, and there are times when bank tellers, ward office staff or even restaurant waiters will pretend not to understand you - even when you are speaking Japanese.

And if you want to look at it the other way, the Japanese are so policy driven that going from A to Z requires passing through points B to Y along the way. If it is not in the manual or rule book, do not ask because the frustration that follows can be hard to shake - at some point, most gaijin have tried to add ketchup/mayonnaise/tomato a McDonald's hamburger only to be told this is impossible. Or just try asking for soy milk at Du Tour Cafes.

So why am I so desperately homesick for the place?

As I say to my friends and family, Japan is a country that has to be seen to be believed. And even when you are in it, you are still constantly shaking your head with an incredulous "Shinjiraranai!! - I don't believe it! From a culture with so many layers that peel away like an onion, only to reveal another layer that will make you cry out of either gleeful joy or unnerving frustration, to the Japan-only brand of crazy that affects fashion, fads, language and people alike, living in Japan opens up endless possibilities. It is a country that constantly challenges you and one in which you can definitely learn something new form every single day.

Japan is not for everyone. It does take a tough skin and an open mind. Whether that involves trying the food, experiencing festivals, gaining an understanding of the way in which society works in both a professional and working environment as well as a social one, you need to be constantly ready for the uptake. It is also the polite thing to do and the right thing to do. I have had so many conversations with foreigners who hate the place, have nothing better to do than pick on the country and people with a false sense of superiority and do not want to go beyond their comfort zones - even going so dar as to refusing food offered to them in business and social settings, making an active decision not to learn the language and approaching everything with the attitude of "Why bother?". I then often ask them why they are here and why they do not go home. Japan certainly does not want people like that and neither do the gaijin who love living there.

i am going back to Tokyo tomorrow after nearly 4 weeks away and cannot wait to get back in the hustle and bustle of it with my fiance (my missing Japan has not been helped either by the fact that he is still there while I have been in Melbourne). We love spending our free nights wandering around different parts of the city and soaking it up with our cameras and each other.

Like I said, living in Japan does strange things for a foreigner. It gets under your skin like a dream you suddenly remember having, triggered by a sense or a smell, the memory of which gets stronger and more vibrant as time goes on.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, September 8

On The Streets of Harajuku

I love Engrish!

Labels: , ,

Friday, September 4

Tokyo By Night

I love this view.

Ahhh Tokyo. Need I say more?

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 3

What in the World?

From Takram Design Engineering comes Phasma, a "hexipedal running robot that can run dynamically like a living organism." It is remote controlled and design to mimic insects through movement rather than shape.

In order to replicate the stability, efficiency and smoothness of insects in motion, it is constructed or sliding cables, stainless steel springs and rubber joints. Thank you Takram and thank you Japan!

Apparently Phasma is available in Midtown, one of my fave shopping "malls" in Ropppongi. I bet is in in Ideas Digital Code. Still, it does not come even close to my old favourite, Pleo , the gorgeous little dinosaur!

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 2

No Drowning Outside Regulation Times

From the TJB File. Location: Chiba International Swim Centre.

It is a fact that 5 minutes before the end of each hour, swimming pools across Japan blow a whistle and order everyone out of the pool. Everyone must stay out for 5 minutes. This is so that one of the pool guards can jump into the pool and swim the lanes looking for people on the bottom.

This would be fine, except it raises a few questions that no-one ever knows the answers to. I have tried asking.

1. Often the pool guard is someone whose swimming skills are very poor. How would this person save anybody?

2. What if you sink to the bottom of the pool 2 minutes into the next hour? Will you be there for another 53 minutes?

3. So if the purpose is to save people, then how come when lessons are going, you do not stop the lessons and ask those people to get out? Surely the people in the lessons are the ones who are more likely to drown?

4. See question 3 except add in children - groups of children that have perhaps 1 adult to a group of 25 children. Surely these kids have more chance of slipping under the water undetected than say the average swimmer who is doing laps?

5. What about for those people who need to do continuous 3 or 4 km sets (such as those in-training for ironman or triathlons or distance swimming)? Surely people swimming these distances are less likely to drown than those in Q3 and Q4...so why stop them?

6. And this still doesn't explain can't I wear flippers in the pool, when the lesson lane next to me can!till doesn't explain can't I wear flippers in the pool, when the lesson lane next to me can!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 1

Kanman-ji, Kisakata Part 2

Just such a beautiful, serene place!

Japanese cemeteries are much more natural than what we have back in Oz. Maybe it is because most Japanese cemeteries are older than white settlement in Australia and the Aboriginal culture pre-dating this wasa nomadic culture and didn't have burial grounds in the way that we know them today.