Month: August 2014

No secret squirrel stuff here…

Antelope crossing

I have no idea if this was always the case or if it’s a new thing in Japan, but I have to say that I love the information sharing on the train (in ENGLISH) even though it makes no difference to me except to satisfy my inner Gladys Kravitz. I was on the JR train today, the Yamanote Line, heading to Akihabara–the electronics mecca of Japan–when in-between the helpful station notifications and route maps, I noticed the following sign: Train delay on the Tagata Shinkansen (bullet train) due to an antelope collision. There was also another notification for a delay on the Keikyu Line due to a passenger injury. Now knowing about a delay is indeed helpful, knowing why gives you an odd satisfaction or perhaps a little more patience.

When I was in Tokyo before there was no information in English beyond the name of the station. They now have announcements in English, ticket machines in English, as well as route maps, fare calculators and a handy chart that tells you how long it will take to get to your station, all in English. It’s actually quite easy to get around. Also if you are at all confused, if you simply stand there looking confused, a helpful Japanese person will ask if you need help…usually in less than a minute.

I wonder what the impetus was for the information sharing… Was there a study done that found people were more patient if they knew the reason for the delay? Was it something that came up in a corporate brain-storming session? Or indeed is it something altogether more sinister as my conspiracy theorist friend would say–should we be thinking about what they’re NOT telling us? Japan can be quite a paternalistic society in many ways and at times citizens are protected from the truth. Apparently, this happened during the nuclear accident at Fukushima; there was a bit of a news blackout.

The notification on the train got me thinking…the suicide rate in Japan is quite high and many people jump in front of trains, usually on specific routes chosen because your chances at a successful death are higher if you find an express train that goes through an underground station (poor visibility) at top speed. When I lived here in 1990, I lived on one of the “suicide lines” which I would never have known had I not mentioned the number of delays I experienced trying to get home to one of my students who filled me in on the darker side of life in Tokyo. Now I’m wondering if the antelope was really an antelope….

Toire-wa doko ni ari masu-ka?

Amazing toilets

Literal translation is “Where does a toilet exist?” Luckily, in Tokyo, almost everywhere. If you are in need of the facilities, there are decent toilets to be found in many places such as department stores, coffee shops and train stations. The ones in department stores are usually quite lovely, many equipped with a handy baby/toddler chair (also good for umbrellas), baby change table and a fold down platform that provides you with a clean area upon which to stand should you need to change your clothes.

Japanese toilets are probably the best in the world sadly they don’t export the most majestic models but you can find lovely TOTO models in Canada. Even the base models, found in public places like train and bus stations, have automatic flush or an electronic flush activated by movement. Many also have heated seats, a built-in bidet (with controls for temperature, pressure and angle of water), a dryer and a recording to mask any embarrassing sounds you might make. There is also a toilet seat cleaner that automatically dispenses a spray of antiseptic for you to wipe the toilet seat; however, many higher-end toilets clean themselves after each use.

Most restrooms also offer at least one squat style toilet for those traditionalists who say it’s more hygienic as your body isn’t touching anything. Personally, I find it odd to see a squat toilet in a fancy washroom surrounded by marble and mahogany but hey, it’s great to have choices in life. If you’re feeling a little tired and in need of a rest, many restrooms in stores and museums offer sitting areas with comfy couches and make-up areas. Surprisingly there are no refreshments served.

The only thing missing in most train station restrooms is a hand dryer…which is usually a great opportunity to put all those packages of free Kleenex to use.

Curly hair genius in Tokyo

Hair genius Nepenji

Who would have thought that I would find the best hairdresser ever in Tokyo. Not me. Last time I was here I had a hard time even finding someone who would cut my hair…curly + gaijin is a little too much for most Japanese stylists. One of my students finally recommended a friend of hers who had worked in NY and was willing to take me on. She did a decent job but no better or worse than any other haircut I’d had in Vancouver, which for a foreigner in Japan with curly hair was a huge win!

Now in the age of the internet and blogs you can literally google pretty much anything and get at least some helpful information. Anyway, this particular salon, Nepenji, was highly recommended and also had several blog posts with impressive photos. Kiyoko trained in London at Vidal Sassoon and at the Devacurl Academy in NY which specializes in curly hair. I immediately booked myself in as my hair is a disaster—frizzy, gray and dry as well as in need of a cut (I did it myself in May with the nail scissors).

I have to say it was worth every penny and was actually much cheaper than Vancouver, about $220 (no tipping) for a two-stage cut, Kerastase treatment, colour and head and neck massage. Kiyoko wanted to cut my hair dry but it was too frizzy and had been in a bun/ponytail so it wasn’t possible to see the curl pattern. She cut a bit, then did the colour, treatment and then dried it by hand with a diffuser as well as an overhead spinning dryer and then cut it again, one curl at a time.

I did know you are supposed to cut curly hair dry but it has never actually happened to me. I was given so much information on how to care for my hair that that alone would have been worth the $200. Anyway, in a nutshell, minimal shampooing with sulfate-free shampoo; conditioner (lots but make sure it is free of alcohol and silicone); don’t rinse out the conditioner; use your cupped hands to rinse a little bit; turn your head upside down and gently squeeze the water out using paper towels, old t-shirts or a microfibre towel, scrunching the curls as you do this. Whilst still upside down, use alcohol-free gel and smooth over the hair, again with the scrunching motion. Carefully turn right-side up and separate and arrange the curls. You can use pins to give it a bit of lift and to help the curls to dry. Apparently the key to managing curly hair and the frizzies is moisture which seems counter-intuitive but this woman is a guru and whatever I’ve been doing isn’t working so I might as well give this a go. She said it will take about three months for my hair to repair and rebalance if I follow her instructions. Fingers crossed that I may have found hair nirvana in my 40s. The most exciting thing of all is that she is opening a salon in San Francisco this fall which is a lot closer than Japan!

Balletworld.

Ballet

Karis had a slow day on Thursday so we evaluated our options…particularly our indoor options. We’ve been wanting to check out a special exhibit by Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away) for their new film When Marnie Was There but sadly, it’s an outdoor museum and it was fricking hot so Karis decided to try out a ballet class instead. Air conditioned. Indoors. I had emailed around earlier to see what was available on a drop-in basis and in English and found a great studio just a few subway stops away (AND past Gotanda where I used to live 23 scant years ago…it actually looked a little bit familiar unlike my trip to Ginza 😉

Architanz is a studio that offers ballet, contemporary and Pilates mainly to dancers age 13+ with guest teachers from all over the world. The students run the gamut from very talented teenagers to company members to those who try hard but suck, ranging in age from 13-50ish. Karis was the only foreigner in the class and the tallest. Minh Pham taught the class–intermediate level for dancers with 5 years + experience. Karis hasn’t done ballet for about six months due to a back injury so I figured it would be plenty hard enough. Class moved pretty quickly and she did well, especially considering she hasn’t taken class for so long.

I hung out in the smoke-filled lounge. Yup, it seems that all the dancers smoke and drink coffee. Also spent a considerable amount of time looking at the Yumiko leos at the boutique in the lobby. Any dancer or parent of a dancer is fully aware of the caché of these custom made leotards. A good portion of the dancers in the class were sporting the Yumiko brand much like dancers at the National Ballet School wear Ainsliewear (Ainslie Cyopik is a graduate of NBS). Speaking of NBS…the most amazing coincidence of all. Karis comes out of class and heads over to a Japanese girl waiting for the next class. The hug like old friends and chat for a moment. I’m completely puzzled as Karis, as far as I know, does not know any Japanese girls. The models at her agency that she interacts with are all international (no Japanese girls) so I had no idea how she knew this girl. It turns out that she attended summer school with her at NBS in Toronto last year. It’s not like they’ve kept in touch as she doesn’t speak English and Karis had no idea she danced there. So of all the days she chose to go to class, at that particular studio to that particular class and she sees someone she knows in a city with the same population as Canada…it truly is a small world.