Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hanami 花見 in Tokyo

Once again, it's cherry-blossom time in Japan. Today I strolled through the campus near me and took pictures of thousands of people flower viewing (called Hanami 花見) and having their picnics under the outstretched arms of 100-year-old cherry trees. It was so beautiful! Unfortunately, I don't have a fancy camera that takes gorgeous shots, but these will still give you an idea of the beauty of this time of year. (If you click on the pictures, you can see a larger image. )

The weather was perfect—although unseasonably warm—at almost 70 degrees.

It was wonderful to see so many families out enjoying the day. Children were everywhere!

Petals swirled with each gust of light wind, and the ground started turning pink.

Here are a few pictures of the cherry trees right around the corner from where I work in Jiyugaoka. These were taken early in the morning, so not many people were around. Last year the city cleared out all the bicycle parking around the cherry trees and added lots of park benches. For Hanami, they hung pink lanterns so people could gather under the trees at night to view the flowers and have their parties.

It's such a shame that this highly anticipated event lasts only one week. Nevertheless, it's quite a sight to see!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Need a brawny man for those lonely nights?

I know, I know. That title sounds X-rated, but if you'd like a good laugh (and can be patient enough to wait for the videos to load) check out this brawny guy

I think the Web site is either run by Brawny, the paper towel company, or just a spoof on their products, hence the paper towels being ripped off a roll while the video is loading. You can select videos from a menu that offers choices such as pre-made or custom movies. The pre-made titles are things like "Your Hair, It's Perfect," "That Thing You're Going Through," or "Feeling Lonely."

You can customize your selection and choose titles such as "Pleasantly Surprised," "The Warmest Welcome," "A Spider," "Freshen Up," "Ten Tired Toes," and more. You can even select "en francais" for those women who are hopeless romantics, although his accent is laughable.

The guy is dressed in a flannel plaid shirt and cords, and seems to live in a cabin with a warm, glowing fire. He's got that rough-around-the-edges look, including a little bit of face stubble. He speaks intimately to the camera in a low, sexy, pillow-talk style and says things like, "Please come in. Make yourself at home. That's the oven, I'm just baking some fresh bread.. .listen to me talking, I want to hear more about you, what do you dream about?"

He tries so hard to sound caring, loving, and gentle. For instance, in one of the videos, he's talking about people who "don't spend enough time just talking, taking the time to connect with each other." As he's saying this, he's putting a big leather glove on one hand and reaching out his cabin window. For a second we see what looks ridiculously like a statue of a small hawk perched on his gloved hand, and hear the sound of flapping wings as he then "releases" it out the window and says, "Fire away, friend. That's what it's all about, making friends, bonding..."

In another video, he's walking downstairs wearing his tool belt and acts surprised to see someone. "Hey, I didn't know you were here! I was just upstairs building you an armoir."

What makes it even funnier is that he's such a dufus! He's always doing things like forgetting the words to the songs he sings, or saying something like, "There's a word in German, for a woman who's magnetic, has a nurturing nature, gives everything to her family, and has a beautiful smile. (beat) I don't know what it is."

Anyway, it's pretty funny.

Thanks for the link, Diana!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My neighbor, the cellist

One of the things I'm grateful for is living next door to a concert cellist. He practices for half an hour or so almost every morning, which means I'm treated to my own private classical music performance. He's very good, and I never hear any mistakes, but have to admit, I probably wouldn't notice them even if he did make them. The cello is one of my absolutely favorite instruments and I was thrilled to know there was a cellist living next door. Although I don't really know him well at all, he did tell me that he and Yo-Yo Ma were classmates at Julliard back quite a few years ago.

Now, if only I could get one of my other neighbors to put away his keyboards and djembe drum. He lives right above me, and plays the same insipid songs--and makes the same mistakes--over and over. One of his favorites is the Carpteners, "Close to You." A few days ago he played the djembe all day and evening until I finally put on some headphones and watched a movie.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Just an ordinary day in Shibuya

At least a few times a month I go to Shibuya to shop, eat out with friends, or whatever. This is one of the things I dread the most--the unbelievable crowds! I've gotten better at making my way through them, as long as I pretend I'm a salmon swimming upstream. These are the moments when I definitely feel the need to gird my loins!

The Shibuya Crossing is the world's busiest intersection. I've read that about one million people cross here per day, and about 1,500 traverse every three minutes at each light change, 80% of them carrying a mobile phone.

It's quite an experience.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Step away from the sushi and no one will get hurt

Does the Agriculture Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka have nothing better to do with his time?

I mean, aren't there more pressing things to worry about? Like avian flu, or BSE (mad cow disease)?

Friday, Matsuoka gave the go-ahead to creating a label for "authentic" Japanese sushi. Apparently, there's been grave concern in Japan that people worldwide are eating sushi that's not, well, real Japanese sushi. They're worried about the bastardization of their cuisine, but not about the derision they face by the international community over this asinine labeling idea, most of which will be paid for by the Japanese government.

Not only are the purists worried about the authenticity of sushi ingredients, but also the atmosphere of the restaurants! I guess that means if you had a restaurant that didn't look enough like a "real" Japanese restaurant, you could not get a Japanese Seal of Sushi Restaurant Authenticity to post in your window.

I wish I were kidding, folks, but I'm not!

So, here's something to ponder: In almost any supermarket or convenience store in Japan, French red wine is sold chilled which would make a French winemaker weep. Spaghetti, one of the most popular dishes in Tokyo, is made with slices of bacon or regular ham and tastes curiously sweet. Pizzas are made with corn, tuna, mayonnaise, octopus, boiled eggs, natto, and nine million other ingredients that are definitely not "authentic" Italian cuisine. New York style cheesecake, cut into tiny rectangles, looks more like a tart than a cheesecake and has very little cream cheese. Mexican cuisine is made with almost no authentic Mexican ingredients.

Should food authenticity labels be required in "ethnic" restaurants in Japan? Or is Japanese food considered the only food so pure, so creative, or so intensely flavorful to require "protection" from those who would bastardize it?

It's an idea like food authenticity labeling that sets Japan apart from the rest of the world. To attempt to know the Japanese mind is not for the faint of heart.

And speaking of "not for the faint of heart," here's a picture of what's become my favorite sushi, even though it took me over two years of living in Tokyo before I would even try it because it looked downright scary. It reminded me of little golden-colored cat tongues. Here's uni, a sweet, buttery-soft sea urchin, that tastes like a piece of heaven, but only if it's impeccably fresh.

And finally, do you think there should be an all-out ban on things that are disguised to look like sushi, but that aren't actually sushi? There are millions of fake sushi items here in Japan, but this one is my favorite! Must look for one of these USB computer memory sticks!