A Day by the Sea

This weekend I went to Enoshima. I don’t know why it has taken me 3 years to get there; it’s only an hour from Tokyo by train but it feels a world away. I left the city heat behind me and spent an afternoon near the sea with friends. Lovely!

Our objective was to see jellyfish at the aquarium and eat seafood. Perhaps an insensitive combination. A day in EnoshimaThat ray had the most expressive face.(^O^)

We accidentally caught the dolphin show, which was surprisingly entertaining. I usually dislike animal shows but this one was choreographed with dancing, singing, synchronized swimming girls who sat inside big clear balls and were pushed across the water by a false killer whale. Everyone around me was like, “What the hell?” but in a good way.

Dolphins and smiling rays put up a good fight, but the jellyfish fantasy hall was the real shop-stopper. That, and when I caught a seal pooping.Enoshima jellies!An Enoshima sunsetAfter a walk along the small streets of Enoshima to the top of the peak, we were rewarded with a pretty sunset. And back to Tokyo we went.

Tokyo Craft Guide ebook!

I am so thrilled to announce that the new and improved Tokyo Craft Guide is here! Well, it’s over here, but you know what I mean.

Tokyo Craft Guide ebook!

Beautifully illustrated by Hana of ilikesleeping, and researched and written by myself and the lovely Frances of Miss Matatabi, the Tokyo Craft Guide is packed full of our favorite off-the-beaten-track craft shops in Tokyo. We’re giving you all of our secrets, my friends. Six neighborhood maps help you navigate our curated lists of craft shops and cafes. We also throw in a few parks, temples, a ramen shop, and a few bars. But mostly we talk about crafts: over 50 shop listings describing what is special or unique about each shop, where to go for paper or fabric or yarn, who speaks English, and a few words of Japanese to help you in case they don’t.

sneak peek! Tokyo Craft Guide cafes and shops

I’ll still be offering the same free content from the previous Saké Puppets guide, it has simply moved over to the Tokyo Craft Guide blog. Over there we will be profiling larger shops like Yuzawaya and Tokyu Hands, and also posting interviews and craft events happening around Tokyo. But we’ve reserved the special stuff for the book: small, independantly-owned places, young shop owners who stock their friend’s creations, old shop owners who have been around for 50 years and stock beautiful vintage glass buttons — those are the places that make craft shopping in Tokyo so wonderful.

The Tokyo Craft Guide has amazing maps!

I’m in love with the illustrations in this book. Each map guides you on a treasure hunt, sending you into the neighborhood to find secret craft-gold. Also, never have I looked so relaxed or my bun looked so perfectly huge!

relaxed! via Tokyo Craft Guide and ilikesleeping

A special thanks to everyone who helped us on this project, and to those that were so patient waiting for its release. I’m really excited! Maybe I’ll celebrate by … shopping for fabric.  (@⌒ー⌒@)

Harikuyou Needle Festival

On Friday I went to a local harikuyou 針供養 festival. February 8th is a day to pay respect to your old sewing needles by sticking them in tofu.

Needles stuck in soft tofu, their reward for a job well-done

The idea is that your needles have worked hard and have served you well, and so deserve a soft place to live our their final days.

My friend who is also a stitcher and I joined women in kimono and men in glimmering robes inside the small temple. We were ushered in and we kneeled on pillows. A box of incense passed our way and we were encouraged to pinch some into the embers and pray. We lined up with everyone and stuck our needles into the tofu. Then the temple ladies handed us sweet amazake. They reminded us it was cold outside, we needed to drink up, and handed us a second cup.

Needles in a bed of tofu for harikuyou

After the ceremony we went outside and noticed women were also dropping pins and needles into a large stone box. We peeked inside and saw it was filled up to the eaves. They told us it has been a resting place for needles for as long as the temple has been there. (I looked at their website, maybe since 1608?)

Needles of days past

We strolled around the temple grounds, admiring the ume trees in bloom. It was cold, but a lovely day.

森嚴寺

Just before I placed my needle into the tofu I accidentally pricked myself with it, and it drew a little blood. He (yes, he) wouldn’t go without a fight. I felt some remorse about sending him to his end, so I hope I did right by this little needle in finding him a tofu bed.

I bought a good luck charm from the temple to help me while sewing this year. I haven’t pricked myself since.

森嚴寺

Ps, I have updated this post so it no longer refers to my friend and myself as sewers. We are indeed people who use needles, not big holes of crap. ;)

The Tokyo Quilt Festival

This week I visited the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival. If you tell me something will be great, I am instantly skeptical. But this was great, at least for the few short hours I was able to withstand old ladies and their elbows. Don’t let those canes fool you, they are swift and deadly.Entering the Dome

Thank goodness I was at least a head taller than everyone, so getting a peep at the quilts was no problem. My view for most of the morning was something like this:

View from the top

In all earnestness, I had a lovely time with the old gals. My Japanese sewing vocabulary is well rounded, as is my ability to exclaim simultaneous astonishment and compliment with only mouth sounds (eeehhhhhHHHHH?!), so we got along quite nicely.

crazy triangle quilt

Occasionally someone would look over their shoulder to check for the Quilt Police and then gently lift the quilt to sneek a peek at the backside, and I’d crane my neck to catch a glimpse, too. We’d nod in understanding. You can always spot a fellow quilter or embroiderer, someone who is just as interested in the back as they are in the front.

tiny hand pieced

While most people were fawning over the traditional quilts, I really enjoyed the “wa” quilts category (和のキルト部門), described as quilts with a unique Japanese quality to them. Many were constructed from Japanese kimono silk and were quite vibrant, but I prefered the naturally-dyed blues and grays of old ikat cottons.

not so sexy hexy

My favorite was this double wedding ring quilt. I was lucky to catch a moment with no one between it and me and I snapped a photo — I’m standing straight in front, but notice how the rings are different sizes. I wish I could have taken this one home with me.

wonky double wedding

Another favorite of the day was the pudding quilt. Obviously.

pudding

You can see more photos of my favorites here on Flickr. This was my first quilt festival — has anyone else attended one? How do you think it compares? I’d love to hear!

Snow Day ☃

It is snowing in Tokyo!

snowday

I love snow days, and after a brief snowball-filled jaunt to the supermarket I am giving myself free license to sit under the kotatsu and watch movies and drink tea until it is an acceptable time to watch movies and drink whiskey.

Yesterday I ran into Tanaka-san while she was buying fried chicken, so I know she is set for the storm, too.

Maybe I should suggest we combine our efforts. It looks like the other neighbors already have the mixers on ice.

snowday

The Things They Carried Were Cats

When I see a cat cafe in Tokyo, I try to peer in the window, but Ang says no, laughs, and then steals my candy.

Ang is aggressively allergic to cats, and I’ve been denied, DENIED from entering cat cafes. But when a friend visits, there is great pressure to entertain. So while Ang worked, I took a visiting friend to a cat cafe in Shinjuku, and it was special.

We wash our hands before we enter the cat room, take off our shoes, and put on a visitor badge. Is this a cafe, or an institution?

We’re given instructions. Let sleeping cats lie. Do not suppress the cats.

As an employee opens the door for us, a cat darts out into the entrance room, but then slows to a crouch. The cat knows it has nowhere to go.

Forty cats lounge around a two-floor cafe. This is the nursing home rec room of a crazy cat lady’s dreams.

The furniture is a bit slick, easy to clean I suppose, and the smell is akin to 40 cleaned cats. An unpleasant smell, but a clean version of it.

A couple of young girls play Wii, ignoring the cats. The cats do just as good of a job ignoring all of us. Shelves on the walls and staircase give cats places to be out of reach of our frantically affectionate hands. I feel a bit like I’m in a remake of The Birds, but with cats. With cat eyes on us from above,we descend the stairs, and we descend into madness.

More cats.

Cats on totem pole constructions, cats on the counters, tables and shelves. I hear a cat snarl upstairs. Perhaps the Wii teenager has finally taken interest. Perhaps the Wii teenager is now dead.

A young salaryman in a white shirt and black pants pulls a sparkled ball out of the toy box. He rolls the toy toward a cat, but the cat doesn’t move. The ball jingles as it hits the cat in the paw, but still, the cat doesn’t react. She just looks to her left, looking for something that isn’t us. We all laugh, and then move on to the next cat, which had hoped to be invisible in its stillness. We see you cat. We see you.

Only one man seems to have mastered the art of affection. He is slumped in the corner on a floor cushion. His rumpled suit is too big for him, and six cats surround him. He stares ahead, paying no attention to the cats, or to us. He alternates between sipping his iced coffee, staring ahead, and pulling out pinches of shredded chicken from a plastic container. He barely looks at the cats as he feeds them, and he does not pet them.

My friend tries to pet a cat, any cat. They wait for her to approach, and then dart off, trying to catch a few winks before someone else comes for them.

“Come here, kitty. Come here.” There are equal parts frustration and joy in her voice.

But the cats only speak Japanese.

I Know

I know there must be a connection that can be made between the fragile situation in Japan and these precarious, lantern-covered wooden floats that lumber through the streets, pushed and pulled by a community, urged on by the chants and music from those too small to help.

But what do I know? We ooh, and ahh, and are happy to be at our first matsuri in a new Japan.

An Afternoon Stroll

On Saturday Dan and I took a stroll to Nippori in search of Yanaka Ginza.  We recently purchased a new camera and thought the quaint shopping street would be perfect for some practice shots.

But first, no afternoon stroll through Tokyo can begin without ramen:

We didn’t even make it to the train station before this stop, since this ramen-ya is in our neighborhood.  Dangerous, I know.  B1F, 1-7-9 Azabu Juban, Minato-ku  博多チムそば 麻布十番店、〒106-0045 東京都港区麻布十番1丁目7−9

On to Yanaka Ginza.  Well, almost.  To reach Yanaka Ginza we had to take the train to the JR Nippori station, which is also the home of Fabric Town:

Does anyone remember Cheapo in Minneapolis?  Oh, the hours I spent trying to look interested in used CDs while Dan click-clicked his way through new arrivals.  Apparently it’s payback time.  (You can find more info on Textile Heaven here.)  Only one hour was lost, and then it was back to our mission…

We got a little turned around, and eventually found our way across the train tracks via tunnel.  I sort of love/hate it when I’m in one of these tunnels and the train passes overhead.  Popping out the other side, we noticed people were gathering:

We’d stumbled upon Fujimizaka (meaning Fuji view slope), and joined just in time to watch the sun set over the city.  Everyone was gathered along a road that climbed up a steep hill (apparently some with better cameras than us).  If you are like me and need a little help, Fuji-san was just about here:

Finally, on with our quest.  We were looking for Yanaka Ginza, a small shopping street in northeastern Tokyo that is famous for maintaining the feel of Shitamachi, the traditional and lower class part of Edo which housed merchants and artisans in the marshy (read: humid and stinky) low part of the city.  Most of Shitamachi is gone, due to fires and wars over the years, but a few areas of Tokyo still do it right.  After some iPhone-led zig-zagging through neighborhoods, we finally arrived… and forgot to take photos.

Believe me though, it’s great.  We bought sencha 煎茶, stood in line for grilled meats, and wandered from shop window to cafe menu.  On our way home, we passed a small shrine tucked along the road:

A nice end to a lovely winter day.

1/1/11: A Day in Pictures

To friends new and old and family near and far, Happy New Year!  あけましておめでとうございます!

First it was a champagne toast and countdown to midnight with new friends, then off to Meiji jingu shrine 明治神宮.  Fortunes were told and hot, sweet rice milk was glugged.  New Year’s Day had us strolling the neighborhood to Zenpuku-ji temple 善福寺 for hatsumode, our first visit of the year.  Welcome, 2011!

Nikkō

Have no fear, folks — no talk of afterbirth today, just pretty pretty pictures.

A few weeks ago we took our first day trip out of the city to Nikkō.  Tokyo was experiencing its hot, sticky, rainy season and Nikkō was cool and so very pleasant, so we congratulated ourselves on our good timing.

Two hours north of Tokyo by train, Nikkō (日光市, meaning “sunshine”) is home to the World Heritage-listed Tōshō-gū shrine. We were looking for both culture and trees, so it was the perfect destination for us.  We picked up some bentos at the train station, and off we went.

Let us begin with a little history (because it’s fun!): when the first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu died in 1616, construction began on a shrine and mausoleum to honor him. Ieyasu’s grandson, Tokugawa Iemitsu, declared that it should be the most splendid and impressive shrine ever built, and that the feudal lords, or daimyō, should pay for it (in order to prevent them from acquiring too much money of their own, you see?  Smart grandson!).

Artisans from all over Japan were brought in, and for two years some 15,000 of them worked on the shrine.  I think my guidebook describes it best with, “Almost anything that can be decorated is.” Gaudy or gorgeous, either way, it’s pretty awesome.



We went to Nikkō in search of culture and trees, but what we really found was a crowd.  Tōshō-gū was packed full of tourists and school children, and we spent a lot of time trying to keep either ahead of or behind them.  Despite the awesomeness, it wasn’t long before we decided we’d had enough of Tōshō-gū shrine and went looking for something else.  Tōshō-gū shrine is the big attraction in Nikkō, but we’d heard nearby Taiyūin-byō shrine was worth the visit.

Some more background (and more fun!): Taiyūin-byō shrine was finished in 1653, and is the mausoleum for Tokugawa Iemitsu — that’s right, the grandson.  Iemitsu turned out to be an extremely powerful shogun — he was the one responsible for closing Japan to foreign commerce, isolating it from the rest of the world for almost 200 years.  So he got a pretty impressive shrine as well.

The shrine built for Iemitsu feels like the antithesis of his grandfather’s.  Where Tōshō-gū is flashy, Taiyūin-byō is serene, set back amongst the cedar trees where it blends in with the landscape.


I fell in love with these lanterns.  There must have been hundreds of them scattered throughout both shrines, though the ones at Taiyūin-byō were more eerie, all covered in moss.


Nikko has been considered a holy place for over 1,200 years, when as legend has it, the Buddhist priest Shōdō Shōnin was helped across the river by two snakes who appeared and formed a bridge, then vanished.  The red Shin-kyō bridge marks the spot.

Walking back to the train station along this river was a refreshing end to our day — the water was so cold we could feel a rush of cool air go by as you stood next to it.  The scene was completely lovely, and we stood there for a long time.

For those interested, we took the Tobu line from Asakusa station using the Nikko World Heritage Pass.