David Chart's Japan Diary

January 25th 2005

This diary entry is late because I spent the weekend in Tokyo. Its content, thus, will largely be an account of said weekend. Last week was a fairly ordinary school week, although option classes started and were good. I also started the process of paying my Japanese taxes. For those who have done their own tax returns, I can assure you that it is more hassle when the forms really are in Japanese, rather than just 'might as well be'.

I would have done this yesterday, but yesterday I went to try to fix Hang's guarantor's internet connection. It turned out that the problem was with the company, not the computer, so I'll probably have to ring the ISP on their behalf sometime soon. Hang's not currently living in Okazaki, but rather with her guarantor in Nagoya, which means that it's about an hour each way, even though I was very lucky with the trains. Today I had to do my shopping, and post a bunch of paperwork to the US and UK. One of the pieces of paperwork was a contract for my next current freelance project, which is good.

All this isn't leaving a great deal of time for homework, as you might be able to work out. In addition, a lot of this term's homework isn't filling me with enthusiasm; I'd rather be reading Japanese books, and writing my Japanese diary. It seems that pretty much the whole teaching staff at Yamasa are now reading my Japanese diary, so I'd better keep it up. I should probably mention the homework thing in the next diary entry, too.

OK, Tokyo.


Mt Fuji from the Bullet Train Mount Fuji, as seen from the Shinkansen going at full speed.

I took my usual train to Tokyo, as the timing is pretty much perfect. On previous trips I have had a rule that I do not take pictures of Mount Fuji from the shinkansen, but as you can see my resolve failed. I had a window seat on the Fuji side, and it just looked too perfectly like the standard tourist posters. I don't think it's the best view I've had of it; that was the one we were treated to when Mum, Ray, and Silver were here, when the snow-clad peak seemed to be floating in a blue sky. Still, it always seems to be beautiful when you can see it.

I was meeting Yuriko for dinner, and in the restaurant I showed her the photos. She showed me some that she had taken on her way back from Nagoya, although she wasn't sure that it was actually Mount Fuji. I was able to reassure her that it was; it's slightly odd that I'm more familiar with some Japanese landmarks than she is, but then I've done a lot of travelling over the last year or so.

For dinner, we made further use of her coupon book, and went to an Australian restaurant. I took advantage of the opportunity to have crocodile and kangaroo. They were both tasty, particularly kangaroo, which had a strong and interesting flavour.

This time, I was staying with Yuriko rather than at Sawanoya, which made a bit of a difference to the travel plans. The house she lives in is a so-called 'gaijin house', which means that there are quite a lot of foreigners. There's a nice garden with a sort of summer house used for teaching, and where we had breakfast on Sunday. On the other hand, the whole place looks like it would fall apart in a strong breeze, although since it survived all of last year's typhoons appearances are clearly deceptive. I'll probably end up living somewhere like that for a while, assuming the visa comes through, while I look for somewhere a bit more permanent.

Yuriko and a statue Yuriko and a statue in the garden at the Garden Museum. I think this statue is a permanent exhibit, although some parts of the temporary exhibition were in the garden.

A big advantage of staying with Yuriko was not having to make plans to meet in particular places at particular times, so we were able to have a much more relaxed weekend than on previous visits. On Saturday, we went to the Tokyo Garden Art Museum, which is housed in a former Imperial residence. Last weekend was the end of an exhibition by Keiichi Tahara, who takes black and white photographs and prints them onto fabric, glass, stone, and metal, rather than paper. The photographs cover a range of subjects, from sculpture to dirty windows with rain on, and sometimes the printing medium felt like a bit of a gimmick. However, some of the others were very effective. In particular, a photograph of a statue was printed onto two sheets of sheer fabric, which were then put up against a window, so that they were back-lit. The image was thus doubled, and seemed a little out of focus without actually being out of focus, which was very effective.

As one might expect from the name, the museum is in a garden, which is small but extremely pleasant. I think this place has to be added to the list of places to go when people come to visit me in Tokyo; because the museum is dedicated to exhibitions, there will always be new things for me to see. In addition, the building, which is early twentieth century, is fascinating in itself. It's very western in style, despite being an Imperial residence, and beautifully done, as you might expect. The comfortable lounge and coffee-shop area attached is another bonus.

The plan was to go on and buy Yuriko's Christmas present, some of the accoutrements that go with a kimono. However, the shop she had planned to go to had closed down, which was inconsiderate of it. We did find something, though (a mirror), so the trip was not wasted. We shopped for food ingredients on the way home, and Yuriko cooked a very typical, traditional Japanese home-cooking dish. Which is basically meat-and-potato stew. There is no sarcasm in my description of it; it really is very traditional. It's the dish that most Japanese people would think of when asked what best represents home cooking. On the other hand, it bears no resemblance whatsoever to what most Western people think of when they imagine Japanese cooking, partly because what they imagine takes a trained chef with a team of assistants several hours to prepare.

On Sunday, we went book shopping, so that I could spend the book tokens I was given for being interviewed by the local technical high school. (I've not seen the article from that yet; I wonder when it will come out?) I bought two books by Machi Tawara; one a volume of her poetry, illustrated by photographs, and another a volume of her essays, on language. We've read quite a few things by her in class, and I've enjoyed them, so I thought I'd look at some more. I also bought two introductory books on Shinto. I know the basics of Buddhism, having bought the Oxford Very Short Introduction in England, but not really Shinto. (Incidentally, Silver may be interested to know that the Que Sais Je? series is apparently being translated into Japanese.)

We ate at Bikkuri Sushi, which is tucked away under a bridge near Shibuya Station, and where we ate last time I was in Tokyo as well. It's a conveyor belt sushi place, and it's really very tasty indeed. Probably a bit difficult if you speak no Japanese and go when they aren't loading the conveyor belt, though. There was still some time left after food, so we went to look at clothes.

Yuriko has decided to give me an image makeover. I'm not at all worried by this idea. It's not like I pay that much attention to what I wear normally, so having someone else pick it shouldn't make too much difference. Come to think of it, it usually ends up being picked by someone else anyway. I'm not at all concerned by the length of time she spent looking appraisingly at me, or festooning me with hats and scarves, or the occasional references to 'playing dolls'. After all, she earns her living organising art exhibitions of various kinds; how off could her taste be? Nope, not worried at all.

Terrified is a good word, though.