Cheap Eats at Ameyayokocho

Ameyayokocho is a narrow shopping street between Okachimachi and Ueno Stations. Takeshita is famous for trendy clothes, Asakusa’s little streets are famous for temple tchotchkes and Japanese touristy goods, and Ameyayokocho apparently is famous for being cheap. The shops that line the street sell nuts and dried fruit, fish, produce, and hot food, and all at awfully affordable prices for the notoriously expensive Tokyo.

My friend told me that on weekends it’s packed, and that week before New Year’s, when everyone is trying to cook up days worth of food for the long holiday? Forget about it.

We went on a weekday in the middle of the day, so it was positively pleasant. Vendors also sold shoes, sunglasses, umbrellas, bags, and American-style t-shirts and other clothes. I left with a new umbrella and bags upon bags of dried fruit and nuts.

…but I’ve already eaten everything, so I’ll be back, Ameyayokocho. Just you wait.

Yosakoi! Yosakoi!

Akiko, her husband Makoto and I walked the arduous five minutes to Otsuka Station to see the Yosakoi Festival today. Akiko told me ‘Yosakoi’ is from an old dialect and pretty much means ‘come out tonight!’ (yosa = yoru = night, koi = kuru = come). Yosakoi is a kind of dance, though based on the performances there’s plenty of variation in the steps and the accompanying costumes. There were a bazillion (and by a bazillion I mean maybe ten or fifteen) yosakoi dance troupes that came out to perform, and we stayed for about five. Waseda University had at least two, though the second Waseda group, in the green with the kitsune masks, had crazy energy and was definitely the most fun to watch.

I was standing next to an old woman (henceforth “obaachan,” aka “grandma”) who started chatting to no one in particular. She commented on how energetic the performers were, and I agreed, and, I suspect without looking at me, she replied back, and by the time she glanced over and realized I was white it was either not a problem re: her chitchatting in the first place or it was too late to politely ignore me. She was adorable though, and seemed to enjoy talking to me anyway, so I’ll go with ‘wasn’t a problem.’ It was loud and I could only hear/understand about half of what she was saying, and later when Akiko asked me what we’d been talking about I told her this.

“So what’d you say?” Akiko asked.

“I mostly kept saying ‘Is that so?’ and ‘That’s right.'” (そうですか?そうですね。)

“Oo, you’re good.”

“Small talk is universal.”

Around lunchtime we hopped on the Arakawa-sen (Arakawa Line), a rare street car line in the middle of Tokyo, and took it down to Waseda. There Akiko had found a restaurant called ‘Okinawashokudo’ (Okinawa Restaurant, essentially) that served vegan-friendly Okinawa-inspired food. Last time I went out with Akiko and Makoto (right after they’d met, and they were ten kinds of adorable then, too) they shared with me their strategy of ordering a bunch of stuff, sharing it, and ending up super full. I approve and was more than willing to participate.

While riding back Akiko pointed out a pun on an ad for gravestones:

It’s hard to read (but you can’t read Japanese anyway, right?) but it says: 墓地墓地(ぼちぼち/bochibochi)考えてみませんか?”Bochibochi” means “soon/in a little while.” “Bochi” means “grave.”

So the sign says something like, “Why don’t you think about (it) soon?”

Haha.

Seisen International Festival

Now that school has started I’m going to aim for weekly posts.

A professor invited us to a festival at his kids’ school out by Futago-tamagawa, and I and a classmate headed over on Saturday around noontime. It’s an international school, and thus an international festival. When trying to find our way there from the station, we decided on a “follow the foreigners” strategy that worked out pretty well.

So let’s be honest. Why does anyone go to these kinds of generic outdoor summertime festivals?

Food.

Since this isn’t my first time to Japan, and I’ll be here for a while, I felt perfectly okay abandoning the “try to eat Japanese food” mantra early in the game. I’m going to eat Japanese food every day for six hundred plus days. There’s no use keeping it up when surrounded by cheap, delicious international offerings.

Food was divided up into country-specific tables. Britain, America, and Canada were pretty amusing. Britain and Canada at least felt like they had picked their regional foodstuffs well: Britain had some little meat pies, Canada had maple syrup (with a little bit of pancake to go with). America was phoning it in with coffee smoothies and pork sandwiches, but I guess those two things do say “America” to me. Of course I’m biased and more prone to seeing America as lacking culture: because not only is it my culture, it’s the culture most of the rest of the world aspires to/absorbs/assimilates, so I see it as a null value instead of on par with the “other” that is everybody else.

So okay, America. Caffeine and meat sandwiches. I can see that.

My classmate and I did a circuit before I picked up a spicy lentil-filled fried bread pocket thing and she grabbed a falafel. You really can’t go wrong with fried bean bread things. We wandered around the rest of the grounds – there was a stage, where a line of kids playing the recorder gave us both flashbacks to our school days in the States, and various games and crafts that people a decade younger than we are would have been too old for so we passed. That bouncy house did look fun, though.

However. Cow milking contest? Where do you even rent these things?

We bumped into another classmate, but never did see the professor who invited us (or another that our classmate told us was roaming about, whose kids go to the same school). One more trip back to food, where I got a soft pretzel from Germany–and yes, IOM, it was disappointing, because it was cold and let’s face it I’ve just set the bar too high–and my friend got a different fried bean thing from Tanzania’s table. Then we headed back. All in all a good day: greasy foods eaten, people chatted with, vitamin D absorbed.

Now back to work.

Lost in Meguro

On Tuesday I went to Meguro looking for CLASKA, the Parasitological Museum, and a few other things. I found none of them, despite their all being on or very near to the main street exiting the station. I have a great sense of direction and can always find my way back, but not being able to understand addresses or street signs has thrown me way off. Something to practice. It’s either that or shell out for a phone with GPS.

On the plus side, when everything is new, you always manage to see something.

The castle is a hotel. It looked no classier up close I assure you.

On Wednesday my friend Makiko and I went to Harajuku to see the Jan and Eva Svenkmeyer exhibit on the top floor of LaForet, the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum, Omotesando Hills, and various galleries and shops.

There are a few galleries along Omotesando Dori, nestled in between Louie Vitton and the sad, gaping hole where Kiddyland used to be. There’s also a converted apartment building that holds some little shops and yet more galleries. It was poking around these places that we saw exhibits by Hal Milk and Shin Tanaka. Hal Milk is a lady who teaches in Nagoya and was, alarmingly, my age. As I have yet to have any gallery exhibits I am clearly slacking and need to get busy. Shin Tanaka was in the gallery where his work was being shown and he kindly signed the postcard I bought.

The third picture is us ending our day at the delicious Coco Donut. Weird art, good food, success!