David Chart's Japan Diary

October 20th 2004

I've got the day off school again today, due to yet another typhoon. So far, we've just had lots of rain, so I suspect that, as usual, we won't suffer too badly from its effects. The extra clear day is very much appreciated, though. I've got piles of freelancing work to clear, and I've already finished all that I thought I'd be able to do today, at eleven am. Thus, I've got time to write a diary entry, which I didn't think I would have before the weekend.

Another reason I'm not too unhappy about having a day off is that I have a bit of a cold, so a day spent in is probably going to do me good. I was a bit worried about having no voice all day...

Option classes started this week, although the first lesson of ikkyuu vocabulary was to have been today, and thus has been cancelled. I'm not devastated about that, either; it's a useful class, but not one I particularly enjoy. I have one teacher I haven't had before, Kurita-sensei, for pronunciation. He's one of the few male teachers, as well.

The reason I wasn't able to write a diary entry at the weekend is that I was away, in Tokyo, visiting Yuriko. For some reason, Sawanoya was full a month in advance for that weekend, so I stayed at Homeikan. This place is a bit more expensive than Sawanoya, and not as conveniently located, but it's a very nice traditional-style ryokan, complete with garden and meals served in your room. The baths are also good. I think that, if you want to get a proper 'Japanese experience' while staying in Tokyo, Homeikan is a better bet. I'm planning to go back to Sawanoya, though; I've done the experience thing, so convenience and cost are more important now. (Two things: Homeikan is also traditional in that the sinks for washing are in the corridors, rather than your room, and that you can't lock the doors of your room from the outside, although there is a safe in each room for you to use.)

On Friday we had dinner in Ebisu, and made further use of Yuriko's book of restaurant discount coupons. Apparently the book is 3000 yen, and it contains dozens of 'one person free' coupons, each for a different restaurant. We've used it twice, and already Yuriko has saved the cost of the book, even splitting the savings with me. If I do end up moving to Tokyo, I think I'll look into getting a copy.

Afterwards, we went to a Korean-themed bar/restaurant type place. There's a Korean fad in Japan at the moment, largely due to a single television series, 'Winter Sonata'. Apparently huge numbers of Japanese women in their thirties and forties are heading to Korea in the hope of meeting someone just like the star. Korean food and language are also more popular than they were until recently. Personally, I think this fad is a very good thing; relations between Japan and Korea have been cooler than is desirable. Jointly hosting the World Cup started a thaw, and this fad should move the process along nicely.

We stayed talking so long that I had to get the last train back to the ryokan. The Yamanote line train was almost as crowded as it is in the morning rush-hour, so that to get on and off you had to force your way through the people, and while in the train there was constant physical pressure from the mass of bodies. So, I've done that experience now. Don't need to bother again.

Shinjuku Gyoen The French Garden in Shinjuku Gyoen, from one of the avenues of plane trees. (Also, central Tokyo on a Saturday.)

On Saturday morning Yuriko had to do boring things like laundry, so I went to Shinjuku Gyoen. This is a very nice park in Shinjuku, although you do have a pay to get in (200 yen). It's a lot bigger than you might expect, and it has areas laid out in several different styles, from traditional Japanese to formal French. It was a little too chilly to enjoy the park properly, but even so I had a good time. It's apparently Yuriko's favourite park in Tokyo. I'm not sure that it's my favourite (Koishikawa Kourakuen may be), but it's certainly very nice. I've found lots of lovely gardens for family members with an interest to visit on future Tokyo trips.

We met up for lunch, and ate at Mosburger, which is a Japanese burger chain. The burgers are much, much nicer than McDonalds, and not actually that much more expensive. They also appear to be made to order, rather than sitting on racks, so it's slightly slower food. Still, I might well go back there when I need a quick meal.

Primal Memory, by Mariko Mori Primal Memory, by Mariko Mori.

In the evening we went to the opening of an exhibition by Mariko Mori at the Tokyo University Museum. Ms Mori is a contemporary artist (she was at the opening), and I really liked the exhibition. There were only three main works, consisting of simple white plastic shapes modelled on Jomon (prehistoric Japanese) stone circles and the like. The main work, called 'Transcircle', was a 'stone' circle, where the stones lit up in various colours. Each colour represented a planet, and they moved round the circle at the relative speeds of the planet, speeded up so that Earth went round once in nine minutes.

However, my favourite work was 'Primal Memory', which consisted of a transparent acrylic reproduction of a Jomon pottery mask, looking over a set of plastic 'stones' arranged like a Jomon circle. It's a bit hard to say why I liked it so much; it had an elegant simplicity that really appealed to me.

On Sunday we met up for lunch, and had monja (I think), which is apparently very traditional for a particular region of Tokyo, down by the bay. It's one of the dishes that's cooked on a hot-plate at your table, and it was very nice. One of the things about Tokyo is that the feel of the city changes remarkably as you move from one neighbourhood to another; Tsukishima, where we had lunch, feels nothing like Shinjuku or Ueno.

After lunch we went to another exhibition, called 'High Energy Field', showing the work of four more contemporary artists. One piece was a performance piece in a set, which normally showed on videos. However, Sunday was the final day of the exhibition, and the aritist was performing. This involved 'audience participation', so I got performed on, as did a number of other people who didn't run away fast enough when they saw the artist coming. Modern performance art doesn't seem to be my thing, but two of the other pieces, by different artists, were very good. One was a black room with four squares of bubbling white something set in the floor. Each square had a different pattern of bubbles. The other was an illuminated interior tower, with shadowy figures moving across windows and eerie noises. It was extremely effective. (The artist is Kyota Takahashi; I'm not entirely sure what the name of the art work is.)

From there, we went to a new development of apartments, out on reclaimed land in the bay. They are mostly council flats, but the complex has been nicely designed, with a S-shaped road lined with shops running down the centre. There was an event on, which is why Yuriko wanted to go, and we got some free tea and cakes out of it. We also got filmed chatting, as the company organising the event took film to record how well it went.

Afterwards, we went to look at the model rooms for the apartments, and decided that we really liked one of them. Unfortunately, someone had already reserved it. Oh, and the rent was 270,000 yen ($2700) per month. On the other hand, the rent on the smallest, 50 square metre, flats was only 120,000 yen per month. That's about £625, or a little under 20% more than the rent on my flat in Cambridge for somewhere 50% bigger, and in the centre of Tokyo. (The complex is five minutes from Ginza, which makes it central.)

Trains back worked out fairly well, except that the connection from the shinkansen at Toyohashi was reserved seats only. The shinkansen timing is perfect, so I think I'll reserve a seat for my next visit.

Right, back to work.