Month: July 2014

Ueno Park is big. Part 2.

liliesThe water lilies are amazing! It’s like a forest of water lilies if you can have such a thing. Apparently Ueno is not the best part of town…lots¬†of sex shops and weird bars but not really an issue during the day. I did meet a very friendly transvestite whilst admiring the water lilies, but she/he just wanted to know where I was from, if I liked Japan and if I needed any help finding anything. On my way to the Shitamachi Museum there was an area with people selling used goods. It looked like a bunch of junk so I didn’t spend much time. Also it seemed that there were mainly drunk men hanging out in the area.

Back to the water lilies. I had no idea they could get so tall. They cover the entire pond/lake and are a lovely oasis of green in the middle of the (sort of dirty) city. The wave around in the breeze and the light is amazing. Monet would have appreciated them ūüôā

Ueno Park is big. Bigger than I remembered. Part 1.

ShitamachiAnother art gallery/museum day today. It was ridiculously hot and the museums are like refrigerators so I thought it would be a practical expedition. I had taken¬†a few notes on Ueno Park earlier and noticed that there were a lot of museums there AND quite a few temples and shrines as well. It never sounds that big on paper. I think it would realistically take a few days to see them all. It’s huge. Like Stanley Park but with museums. Maybe bigger.

I headed out at 1pm, paid my 200Y and hopped on the Yamanote line which is the circle line that goes around the city. It’s above ground and I wanted to check out the scenery which is why I chose it instead of the subway. So arrived at Ueno and thought I’d head to the Shitamachi Museum first (free with my Grutto pass). Exiting the station, the heat is like a wall…so ridiculously hot.

The Shitamachi Museum was pretty cool. Very small. It’s a replica of what the area would have looked like in the Edo period showing houses that ordinary people would live in as well as the merchant class and the working class. Much like the old-fashioned street scene at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. Sorry the pix are a big blurry but I couldn’t use the flash. You could actually take your shoes off and walk around in the rooms. Very little floor space¬†but super-organized. Not that I expected anything less ūüėČ

Camellia oil. Best. Thing. Ever.

Camellia oil from your local grocery store :-)

Camellia oil from your local grocery store ūüôā

I read about Tsubaki¬†(camellia oil) first on the Savvy Tokyo blog and decided to try it out. It’s a great emollient with Omega-6 and 9 essential fatty acids and easily penetrates the skin. It’s very light with no fragrance. You can use it on hair and skin and apparently it is the traditional Japanese beauty secret behind thick shiny hair and wrinkle free skin. It’s from Japan, hand-picked and the oil is cold-pressed.

I got some at one of the cosmetic superstores though they sell it at the grocery store too, where, incidentally I got a great sports bra for $7 today. The Tsubaki oil is about $8 and apparently lasts a long time. I used it on my hair last night and it is a bit less frizzy…which is amazing considering the humidity was at about 87% today. According to some of the reviews it takes a while to build up in your hair. Read about it here. I’ll keep y’all posted on the frizz-defying qualities. If it works I’m importing a tanker load of it!

Department stores like you’ve never seen…

View from the Gallery level at Hikarie Department store in Shibuya

View from the Gallery level at Hikarie Department store in Shibuya

The department stores here are epic. There’s not really any other way to describe them. They’re huge…4-10 floors including a basement and possibly a sub-basement or two. They usually have food like groceries as well as take-out boutique-style food. I mean serious food here…all kinds of Japanese food, Korean barbecue, French patisseries, Italian delis, butchers, bakers, fromageries, chocolatiers…it’s quite something. Anyway, the food does not stop here. There are usually cafes and restaurants interspersed amongst the floors in case of starvation…think high-end food court. There are often art galleries and museums on the top floor as well as public spaces and sometimes even theatres and movie theatres. Up until today I’d only been shopping but today I did my first gallery tour at Hikarie Shibuya. I saw an exhibit on Japanese puppets (amazing), an installation on travel with various ‘objets’ and a modern art exhibit. Hikarie has two floors of restaurants and cafes. And it was packed.

I guess having such a huge population supports stores like this…think Holt Renfrew (10x bigger) with about 20 stores in the downtown area. For the most part, most department stores¬†sell fairly high-end goods and many are boutique style, housing top designers within each store. They usually have a gift section and a kimono department in addition to the usual fashion, household goods, and beauty ¬†departments. The customer service is amazing…if you go right at opening time (usually 10 or 11am), all the staff stand at the door and bow as you enter. They also bow whenever they leave the floor by turning to face outwards, bowing (even when there is no one there) and then going through the door. You rarely have to wait…if they see a lineup forming clerks will rush to a till to serve you…so that you, the honourable customer (o-kyaki sama), does not have to wait. It’s quite radically different from shopping at the Bay.

Here are some of the big ones; Marui;¬†Parco Shibuya¬†and Shibuya Hikarie¬†Isetan, Keio¬†and Odakyu¬†in Shinjuku;¬†Mitsukoshi, Matsuya, Matsuzakaya,¬†Printemps and Takashimaya¬†in Ginza; Seibu¬†and their partner stores Loft¬†(my favourite in terms of affordability and selection for household, beauty and paper) and Muji;¬†¬†Shibuya 109 (horrendously loud on the weekends); Tokyu; Tokyu Hands¬†(which is like Michaels on steroids); Tobu in Ikebukuro; and Daimaru. That’s not to mention the stores that specialize in health and beauty aids; the 100 yen stores like Daiso¬†(which we have in Richmond); and all the designer boutiques that are at least 2-4 floors. There’s a lot of stuff to buy here. It’s hard to resist…already checking out the price of suitcases to haul my prizes home ūüėČ

A little slice of Milan…three minutes away

Yummy pizza watched by the fish with eyeballs on the top left :-(

Yummy pizza watched by the fish with eyeballs on the top left ūüė¶

Sooo…wasn’t feeling much like raw fish last night so we went looking for something different. Not Japanese. There’s a lot of Japanese food that is deep-fried and/or served on top of noodles with oddly, an egg on top. The eggs aren’t always totally cooked, in my experience anyway. This is a big yuk factor for me. I saw a little place just around the corner that looked good…homemade food, not deep-fried and no raw eggs. It was closed. Deep sadness.

Karis saw a place across the street and it was open so we headed over as there was a massive thunderstorm about to erupt. Which is how we ended up at Milano. Glass of prosecco for 300Y (about $3.25) plus full-on Italian style pizza baked in a brick oven for 500Y. We assumed the pizza would be¬†about the size of a side plate for that price. Nope. They were the size of what we would consider a small pizza i.e. bigger than a side plate! The only miss of the night was the bruschetta. Nicely toasted bread, garlic, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and inexplicably, small white fish with eyeballs. We both tried them…they didn’t really taste like much but the eyeballs got to us. Pizza = HUGE win. Fish with eyeballs = Won’t be doing that again!

I even managed to get my leftover pizza ‘to go’ (o mochi kaeru)!

Sumo in the neighbourhood

For those of you who don’t know much about sumo… It’s an ancient art based on the Shinto religion and sponsored by the Japanese Imperial Court. The successful top-tier sumo wrestlers¬†makuuchi¬†have rock star status in Japan. They can be demoted if they lose but the grand champion, Yokozuna,¬†cannot be¬†demoted; he’s expected to retire if his performances get sloppy. They bow, throw salt (purification) and throw their hands up (Hey guys, I’m unarmed) before they start. Matches are pretty short and whoever pushes the other guy out of the ring first wins. Weight is important and the athletes in the training stables eat a high-calorie stew called¬†Chanko Nabe.¬†There are many training stables in the Ryogoku section of Tokyo as this has been the centre of sumo for over 200 years. There are also many restaurants serving¬†Chanko Nabe if you’re interested in trying it out.

All that high-falutin’ sports stuff aside, there was a charming sumo tournament for kids in my ‘backyard’ sumo ring on Saturday. Cutest thing ever! Anyone could try. Even girls, though women are not allowed to compete professionally. And one intrepid toddler who fought everyone and was either indulged by a kindly older child or simply pushed over immediately. One girl beat about four boys. They all cried. She laughed and walked off with her prize watermelon and her somewhat bemused parents who weren’t sure if they should be proud or horrified. A good time was had by all–except the little boys who were pushed out of the ring by the little girl in the pink dress ūüėČ

Heads up to the sumo world...the toddler and the little girl are the ones to watch. They've got HEART!

Heads up to the sumo world…the toddler and the little girl are the ones to watch. They’ve got HEART!

Flashbacks…but not enough

Ginza panoramic

I went to Ginza today. Thought I’d check out my old stompin’ grounds and see if I could find the place I used to hostess at. Shocking I know…that I was a hostess, not that I was trying to find it. Not sure what the hostess scene is now but back in the day there were a few ways of being a hostess. Roppongi, Ginza or the Asian clubs. Obviously the Asian clubs were out for me. The girls there were mostly Japanese, Korean, Thai and Filipino. Interestingly they made the least money.

If you worked in Roppongi in the dance clubs the hours were long and the base pay was lower than Ginza but you made GREAT tips if you could play the game…a whole lot of acting and schmoozing which means your¬†customers ask for you at the door, they ask you to¬†dance and they buy bottles of booze to leave at the club with their name on it. If you were involved in any of those transactions, you got a fee¬†every time. If you were good at the game you could make¬†$500-$1500/night. I knew this was not my scene as I had zero acting skills and would never be able to pull it off–also lots of drunken fools grabbing you. You’re not allowed to slap them. They would fire you.

Then there was Ginza. A rabbit warren of clubs, that were literally the size of my kitchen, stacked on top of each other in the office buildings surrounding Ginza station.This is where I worked. The clubs were more like a private clubs…they were very small and had regular clients. You couldn’t get in to many of them (including mine) without an introduction. I got to know most of the clients¬†very well. I even met some of their families and stayed in touch with a few of them.¬†It was all very much on the up and up. When my mum came to Japan, they had her over for tea before the evening started. I made $500/night working from 7ish-11:45 (had to catch the last train home). I had to sit and make polite conversation if the clients wanted to or else just sit and look pretty. We had a strict dress code. They had to approve all our dresses. Close-toed shoes. Stockings. Nails done. Make-up and lipstick. No eating. No crossing your legs. No drinking. No smoking. Nothing remotely vulgar. It was like going to a Swiss finishing school. No one ever touched me or groped me. There were usually three of us. We all spoke a fair amount of Japanese but we never let on…so we could understand pretty much everything they said about us¬†which was amusing. Hey it was boring just sitting there.¬†We spoke bad French amongst ourselves so we could talk without anyone understanding us, though we had to be careful when they brought in European businessmen. Sometimes clients would take us out for sushi after the club closed but they had to take ALL of us including Mama-san and her daughter Mariko-san. They also had to drive us home afterwards or pay for a taxi or limo in addition to paying for our sushi, the cover charge for the restaurant (usually a few hundred dollars per person) and pay Mama-san for our time. This was back in the heyday of Japan before everything crapped out. I think I was there on the last gasp and I started to see some of the impending financial doom near¬†the end of my time there¬†which would have been the fall of 1991. But when I was there the saying was that if you took at $100 bill and crumpled it up as small as possible and dropped it on the ground, the tiny amount of space it covered would be worth $100 USD. Not sure if that’s still the case. There’s still a lot of money in Ginza if you look at the stores but it’s a bit run down. I’d be interested to know how the club scene is but not really sure how I’d find that out.

My quest was unsuccessful. I wish I’d thought to read my journal and note down the instructions on how to get there for the job interview. I was hoping I’d have some sort of epiphany of recall when I got to Ginza station and I did a bit. I remember the Sony building and this weird bakery with cream puffs–Mama-san loved them and used to send ‘the boy’ out to get them whenever she wanted a treat. However, when I went down the back roads they all kind of look the same. There are tons of new stores too; it’s changed a lot since 1991. Also, I doubt they’re still in business…Mama-san would be close to ninety and Mariko would be in her 60s. It would have been cool to see it though….

All those signs are ALL for clubs. They're stacked on top of each other. The one picture of me in the mirror looked a bit familiar...but I'm not sure. The club I worked at was called 'Olive' because it was Mama-san's favourite colour.

All those signs are ALL for clubs. They’re stacked on top of each other. The one picture of me in the mirror looked a bit familiar…but I’m not sure

Culture Club in Tokyo

Incredible detail and imagination...made me think of Enigma Aracana #rayandjane

Incredible detail and imagination…made me think of Enigma Aracana #rayandjane

The Monet painting he had to use as collateral for his rent :-) #mylandlordisanidiot

The Monet painting he had to use as collateral for his rent ūüôā #mylandlordisanidiot

A most excellent day at a most excellent museum…The National Art Centre in Roppongi. Two great exhibitions: Ballet Russe-The Art of Costume and The Birth of Impressionism Freedom in Painting: Masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay.¬†Both were excellent but I’d have to say I liked the Ballet Russe one a bit better as I’ve never seen anything like it before. The paintings¬†from the Musee d’Orsay exhibit were not any of their major pieces but they still had some of my favourites¬†by Monet, Caillebotte, Cezanne and Sisely.

I learned a few things I didn’t know…always nice, makes it all worthwhile. First, in the Impressionist exhibit, there was a huge painting by Monet that was in two separate pieces. It was styled after Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe¬†as a tribute to both the painting and the artist. The reason it was cut in pieces is that Monet was short of cash and had to give it to his landlord as collateral. When he got it back, it was damaged and he had to cut out the damaged parts and it ended up as two paintings.

In the Ballet Russe exhibit I learned a lot more, as I knew very little about Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe. Most interestingly I¬†learned that a French painter I’ve always liked, Marie Laurencin, was a costume designer for the Ballet Russe. The costumes are the property of the National Gallery of Australia. They’re amazingly detailed and imaginative…not surprising I guess since Ballet Russe was a group of incredibly talented group of artists, dancers, choreographers, designers, painters, musicians who were on the cutting edge of art and culture at the time.

A typical day (Model child)

Karis walking to the agency. It's 32 degrees out and cloudy. #areweinBangkok?

Karis walking to the agency. It’s 32 degrees out and cloudy. #areweinBangkok?

Karis’s days are rarely the same in terms of timing and scheduling. She gets a text the night before sometime between 9-11pm telling her how many castings she has the next day and what time she has to be at the agency. She walks there¬†from the apartment which takes about 15 minutes as it’s so ridiculously hot that you just can’t go any quicker. There’s nothing special she has to wear…just a cute outfit. The girls mostly wear dressy shorts or skirts with short-sleeved T-shirts or short dresses. They have to bring heels and a bikini with them to every shoot just in case the client needs to see them walk for a shot or how they’d look for a swimwear or lingerie shoot. They¬†all meet at the agency (whoever is going to the castings) and head out in the fancy bus/van driven by one of their bookers Kai, Tai or Sho (whom I’ve never met but I’ve been told he exists). Most of the castings start in the mid-to late afternoon and go well into the evening. She doesn’t usually get home until 8 or 9pm. Sometimes later.

When the girls get work they are responsible for getting there on their own. They are given written instructions detailing which subway or train line they are to take and from which station, where they are supposed to change and the next subway or train line and so on. They also get a map to follow from the subway station which tells them which exit to use which is really important as the bigger stations have many exits…just to put this in perspective, Shinjuku station has over 3 million passengers per day, 36 platforms and 200 exits…servicing¬†12 different lines from five different rail companies:¬†the subway, the metro, the Keio line, the JR line and the Odakyu electric line.

New Faces like Karis also do photo shoots called testing (sometimes called creatives in Vancouver) to give them experience working with Japanese photographers and stylists as well as learning how to pose. It’s quite a different look than what we’re used to in North America and Europe.

The agency gives them an allowance every Tuesday of 10 000 Y which is a little over $100 for food and sundries. Your flight, accommodation and transportation is advanced to you by the agency. For more information on how this works in Japan (or anywhere actually) check out the Business Model Mag. It’s a very informative site¬†AND it’s Canadian.

Models usually get the weekend off unless there’s a special event or they have a photo shoot. Time to see the sights, shop, workout or just relax. No clubbing though. It’s written into their contract that they’re not allowed to drink or go clubbing if they’re underage. Even if they’re of legal age (20) they’re supposed to keep it to a minimum or they’ll be sent home. And the¬†agency¬†always finds out….

A typical day (the Mothership)

A Zen exercise environment...lovely stone stairs to run up and stretch on and lion statues to stretch my shoulders out!

A Zen exercise environment…lovely stone stairs to run up and stretch on and lion statues to stretch my shoulders out!

Being here in Tokyo, staying in a house that is not mine without a garden, husband or dog, has given me a fair amount of free time. I’m here to help Karis stay organized and on top of things…mostly by making sure she’s fed and her laundry is done. This isn’t always easy here. You need to food shop almost every day as there is no storage space and we are sharing with other people. Also, I’m pretty sure if I left it up to her she’d be eating a lot of Ichiban (which means ‘number one’)¬†noodles and salad which isn’t a nutritional wonderland. The older girls (17+) are a bit more cognizant of what they’re eating whilst the 15-year olds on their own tend to eat out, make pasta or have noodles and toast…mostly because they can because they’re 15! Laundry, as you’ve heard in previous posts, is slightly more complex as it has to be air-dried and there can be a lot of sudden rainstorms. Running errands and getting money can take time. The only bank machines that take foreign ATM cards are the ones at the Post office…which are only open when the post office is open. It took me a day to buy a pillow…one that didn’t cost $75. Printing and mailing an electronic document also took the better part of a day though I know how to do it now. However, seeing as I am experienced in doing the household stuff and relatively able to figure out other¬†things, it doesn’t take up that much of my time. So I’ve got some free time where I’m on my own.

I’ve been exercising every day. I tried running but it hurts my knee too much. Probably need new runners and the pavement can be a bit uneven. It’s also a bit unnerving as there is a constant stream of people and bikes coming at you which makes me really anxious. Anyway, I decided to run up and down the stairs at the sumo park around the corner. It’s been fabulous. Quiet. Somewhat shaded if I go early enough and doesn’t hurt my knee. I considered joining a gym or doing a class but it’s quite expensive here (over $30/class) and I’d have to walk or take the train. I’m so very lazy that any sort of extra work will end up being a great excuse for me not to go. So since the park is literally about a hundred¬†yards away, it works for me. I also do other exercises from Karis’s trainer Caroline Walton¬†which are helping my core and keeping my back from getting sore ūüėČ

I also write. This blog is part of my writing commitment as are various other projects I’m working on while I’m here. I write and read every day. Being here has made me really think about how I spend my time…and how I waste my time. I watch a lot of TV at home. Much more than I actually thought. We have a TV here but it’s in a cupboard and I don’t even know if it works. Haven’t cared enough to try. Karis watches movies on Netflix and sometimes we’ll watch one together. I read the newspaper about twice a week. I’ll be instituting a few changes when I get home.

I also help Karis if she needs to take the subway anywhere as she’s not yet confident on her own. She’s pretty good and is picking up the finer points–the agency does give them maps but it’s still VERY confusing. Basically, I manage to amuse myself all day, every day. The department stores here are amazing…6-9 floors of cultural anthropology. The cosmetic stores are amazing…they have products we haven’t even heard of. Stay tuned…. I still hate cooking and find it hard to figure out what to cook. Ingredients you take for granted are sometimes hard to find though I have to say, it’s a lot different than it was in the ¬†90s…I got anchovies and capers at the store today to make Salad Nicoise!

My working area in the kitchen; the weird toaster/broiler worked well to roast peppers; the finished product: Salad Nicioise!

My working area in the kitchen; the weird toaster/broiler worked well to roast peppers; the finished product: Salad Nicoise with prosciutto and melon and roasted peppers on Italian buns!