Monday, December 29, 2008

The Big Red Lantern

Welcome to Asakusa! And seriously, that is a really big lantern. It weighs like a ton (the actual number was in Kilos, and I forgot it) and it really is just Paper on the frame. I don't know how often they replace it, but the temple has sported a big red lantern since before the Edo period. The temple has in fact been burnt and earthquaked down several times, and each rebuilding has seen the same elements rearranged.The walk leading to the temple and all the area around is full of shops selling traditional and traditional style (manikai neko on a phone cord) items. This is where people (gaijin and japanese alike) come for omiyage and old fashioned home goods. The best prices are off the main strip, but english signs and credit card machines abound here.

Here we have the second gate, right in front of the actual shrine. Also with a variety of lanterns, though none quite as impressive as the main one. It was an extreamely windy day, quite cold despite the clear skies. But there were plenty of people around, and long lines for freashly baked anko and little pancakes. We got fortunes, a seal for our book, and then headed in the the main shrine.

The Pagoda just west of the shrine. The metal tower on top is full of bells, and man were they noisy today! Many sects of buddism are all about making noise.

This is a painting on the cealing of the shrine, I didn't even see it the last time I was here!!

A pair of brass buddas. One is for health and the other wisdom (I think the one on the right is wisdom). At this time of year a nmber of the buddas are wearing clothes. Head scarfs and aprons, one was almost fully dressed in colorful cloth! Got the keep the budda warm I think.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


We went to a local Onsen (hot tub joint) with our hostess, and it included, for some reason, several hours of kabuki- style theatre. The first half was a long and ponderous drama. Something about a boy with a sob story looking for his long lost older sister. Really, that was the plot of an hour and a half. Lots of talking with very little to say.

The second half was more fun, each of the actors doing a classical style dance and going through many costume (and wig!) changes. This is the 12-year old girl. The patrons will approach the stage and stuff money in their obi, or if they have a whole lot they pin it fan style to the collar. The paper you see over her shoulder is one of ten 10,000 en bills. That's right, that twelve year old just got handed more then a thousand bucks.

And this lovely michiko, is actually a man. These actors are that kind of good. They clean up real nice eh? For that matter there were also women dressed in men's kimono. I don't know what was going on!

And here we have the punk/rock-a-billy dude. Doing an umbrella dance. Elvis in a kimono!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Have yourself a Kentucky Little Christmas

Now, strange as that may seem, Kentucky Fried Chicken has pulled off an amazing feat of marketing. They have convinced the whole of the Japanese people that Fried Chicken is the traditional Christmas Dinner. The Ads are a little surreal, the happy smiling couple, the excited kids, tearing into a paper board box of chicken fingers. Then there's a whisper of "Kentucky Christmas"  that sounds like the poultergeist. The fact that fried chicken was already somewhat popular has helped quite a bit mind you.

Christmas here is seen as a holiday for kids, and couples. Not so much for family gatherings. The New Years is really the big deal, and children don't even get off school until the 27th or so. It seems however, that KFC is trying to convince the Japanese that Chicken would be good for New Years too, they have a lot more cultural barriers to break down first...

This picture was taken in Akihabara, the electronics district. Many shops advertise "Duty Free" for gaijin but they never tell you how to get your flat screen TV and extra large rice cooker home on the plane.

It's bright and bustling, I saw far more locals then foreigners, but we do stick out quite a bit. This is also where we found two card shops, each packed with males  13-30 picking over the wares. The most popular there it seems, is not magic. There were some people playing Pokemon, some Gundam fans, and a whole lot of games that feature scantily clad anime chicks as cards. No clue on how to play 'em but they do sell lots!

We also found several shops of the same used dvd/games variety. Each had a ground floor of mixed fare, and a second floor devoted entirely to porn. Not a sign of carding for age anywhere. And in the actual "love place", the floor of dvds was off limits to women. Not the floor with inflatable women, the dvds. Pictures were not allowed, so this post stays SFW for the moment.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

And Now For Something Compleately Different

Heres some of the random pictures taken around Japan, some things just defy cultural description.

Like a Bird telling you not to touch the high voltage wires. Or naked women playing with doves.

A bicycle covered with rhinestones. You have no idea how much I want one!

Wouldn't you like to go shopping at Titty & Co ? Things that must not have translated the way they wanted it to...

Really alot of the stores have somewhat english names, that may or may not mean quite what was intended. 

And what to we do in fancy restaurants?  Cook our own food on the in table grill, and play with the chop sticks...

Would you like a Macaroni Western Bible? How about a Peruvian Flute Band? You can get about any thing in Akihabara.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Square Enix Store

Where can I get the job of making life sized models of Anime charecters and their clothes? Seriously, coolest job ever. And I think the Square Enix Store exist just to show it off. You could buy most any of the products at other toy stores. But here they have jewelry... and a life sized Sephiroth in glass. You can't get it this good in the states I tell you. Also strange, the stuffies can be had for about $20, the T-shirts however will set you back more then $50. I think they've got it backwards eh?

Furthermore, the cool little models, I wanna make those too. They have a ton of them, but the ones in mid battle seem to be the most skillful. Truly, a house full of these would be really super cool.

Really, the plushies are my favorite tho, unbelieveably cute! I almost want a full set to cuddle with, but I'm not really a teddy bear kinda girl. The Christmas Chocobos are about the sweetest thing ever, almost a sweet as Christmas Cake! Finally Jet got to go somewhere he was looking forward to!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Illuminating Park






Now I have seen, for sale at many shops, inflatable Santas of the sort we might put in our yards. The Japanese by and large do not have much in the way of yards, so it seems "illuminations" are the way to go.

Much as parks serve as gardens for the apartment dwelling masses, they are christmas decorations as well. The large local park near our host families home was filled with dozens of lighted shapes and some huge trees which blinked in time to the midi christmas music. There was a large stage featuring local acts and surrounded by booths of food.

The local acts were various and typically Japanese. A dog with a guitar. A Ballet about using reusable bags instead of plastic, ya'know, normal stuff.

Aren't they soooo cute! The local Ballet School fielded several acts, all of which were amazingly good. And, "ECO" bags? sugoi!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Joenji Temple

Right in the heart of Shinjuku, amidst office buildings and huge hotels, you're walking along, BAM there's a temple. We were greeted by a gaijinwho had taken his vows (or whatever it is that buddist monks do). And he offered to show us around. "This is where the Emperor's wife comes," he told us "It's kinda a big deal."

This post will be short on Pics however, as we were ask not to post pictures of the inside on the internet. Appearently, a group of roving young muslims in southern Thailand hacked a buddist monk to death. The leaders of this sect of buddism condemned the act, saying "How can you expect your religion to be taken seriously when you go around killing innocent pacifist?" Seriously, who picks on the buddist? Well, as you can imagine this didn't go over well with the muslim extremist, who have made terrorist threats against the temple.  

The temple had two buildings for services, one of which had murals depicting the founders life. He was exiled a lot, and survived a beheading attempt. The executioners sword was struck by lightening, killing him. The rest of this guys enemies decided to leave him alone. He was all about helping the poor (which at that time, 12th century, were numerous). The cematery, actually a bunch of family shrines, includes a shrine for unclaimed people. The destitute, forgotten, unknown deaths in the city are cremated and given rites by this temple. This one grave he told us has 9000 urns in it's underground vault.

Speaking of underground vaults, this temple also has a statue of the founder. It seems this wood carver found a huge tree floating in a lake (appearently good luck) and cut it into three parts, carving a likeness of a saint from each one. This statue was buried in a vault, along with other religous icons, during WWII. Good thing, as the entire of down town Tokyo was oblitereated. But, they forgot where they hid the thing, so it remained buried until 1968 when an excavation for building a parking garage found the vault.

This is one of the exciting sects of buddism, they drink sake, make lots of noise as part of their prayers, and do excrutiating rites to make them selves magical. For 100 days in winter they dump cold water all over them selves several times a day, sleep two hours, and barely eat. People who have done this several times are considered magical enough to do things like build ghost houses. They're building one at Joenji, to take the spirits out of the graveyard and have some where to put them. And you thought all they did is meditate.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hi, I'm Hello Kitty. Look at my Ribbon!

We've been the last two nights in Shinjuku, the most bustling busy corner of Tokyo. Here all the fashionable people get fashionable things, and no one is more fashionable then Hello Kitty. We came upon this little corner of Cute, a Hello Kitty Store. I imagine somewhere in Tokyo there is an even larger pile of cute. If you're looking for a pink fix there's not much better I'd think. Here just about everything you've ever wanted (or not) is available with Miss Kitty or her Bunny cohort. No sign of Karoppi or anyone else in the bunch.

Bento (Lunch) boxes, water bottles, pens pencils and notebooks, clothes (including pink thongs) pillows... the list goes on.

Here's my favorite piece of Kitty swag, a Janome "Mashin". Covered in kawaii and ichigo (strawberries) it will run you a little over a hundred dollars. More like 120$ with the current exchange rate *~*

It does little more then zig-zag though, so don't expect to have an easy time using it to make your Cosplay project.

And of course luggage, to carry your Hello Kitty stuff home with you. When phone bling isn't enough to let everyone know you're a fanboy, this is the (roll around) way to go. "Some people paint pictures, some people write poetry. I dress up and go out." Kawaii!!!

And here, for no reason at all, is a large reproduction of the LOVE symbol. And Jet.

And here, is the Shinjuku Flea Market. Well, nothing so official, but a number of people bring a tarp or a blanket and lay out heir goods. Some have old household items, others are selling wholesaled new goods. The prices seemed very good, but wouldn't you know most Japanese women are waaaay smaller then me. This is in Shinjuku Park, not the Shinjuku Park tho, as that park is HUGE, and on the other side of the park from where we stayed.

Ueno Park

Thursday morning we went to Ueno Park, the Central Park of Tokyo. It features lots of shrines, a temple, tons of memorials and various such items, plus a lake,  Zoo,  amusement park, and several museums. It's in the heart of Down Town Tokyo, but remarkably calm and quiet. A few vagrants dot the park, many have even set up nice little gypsy camps. It must be nice to be homeless in Japan. Mild weather, nice police, public restrooms, and it seems you can erect a tarp tent complete with clothes line and no one bothers it.Here is the first shrine we visited, the papers hanging up are bad fortunes being aired out for the spirits to see. in the back you see a rock, my Japanese failed to explain the importance of it, but there is a rock.

Here we have the water dipper and basin. The buddist are all about purification, and a chance to wash your hands is important. Note the brass dragon spitting water. The "swaztika" on the water basin is actually backwards from the german version. It's an ancient symbol, and part of the classic 4-elements theme. On maps it's the standard marking for a shrine, and most seem to have one somewhere. Furthermore, they're nearly all painted red, if they are wood. Red is Good luck.

They also nearly always include a lamp, or two, or a hundred (post to follow ^.- ). Stone, Metal, or wood they are used primarily for purifying rites, not illumination

This intricate stone lantern sits on the path to a large shrine on an island in the middle of a large lake. The path was lined with small memorials of various sorts (a large stone with a pair of glasses carved into it, for example). The lake is usually more lush, in the summer it is full of large lotus plants. Now however, the leaves have wilted and the heavy seed pods droop down into the lake. 

There are in fact several buildings on the island, each with it's own place to toss coins, and a souvenir stand.


Here's a nice metal model of a traditional string instrument, complete with metal wires. Yes it has a name, and I can't remember right now...

Here are the panels to either side of the main shrine, beautiful gilt and laquer work.

The lovely thing about the climate here, is that the fall colors hang around. Some trees change and shed their leaves, some change and hang around, and some remain green. The colors looking across the lake, and the temple on the island from a far.

The colors, here a Japanese Maple continued around the park. The other red was rows of temple gates, leading to the entrance. The gates and doors often also have Fu Dogs. ( I suppose they must not be called that here, I'll have to ask about it...) 

A lovely day to visit a lovely area, this is only the forst half, the major temple will be in another post. For now, I'm off to bed!