Dad’s Visit: Imperial Palace and Tokyo Tower

During my dad’s visit we hit the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Tower, two classic Tokyo destinations. We also ate at Kushi Garden in the Palace Side building over Takebashi Station, which was deliiiicious and quite affordable macrobiotic (aka “accidentally vegan”) food. All their desserts are egg and dairy free!

My dad is a big architecture nerd and we spent a long time looking at the walls and gates at the Imperial Palace. I’m not quite as into it as he is, but it was pretty fascinating to look more closely at the gates in particular, especially with someone with as detailed a eye as he has, and finally realize… wow, how that is built, and the people who built it, were really clever.

It was also my first time (and his) at the observation deck of Tokyo Tower. Gorgeous. Tokyo is such an amazing city, from above and below.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yesterday was my birthday in Japan, today is my birthday in America, so really I’m just gonna double up and keep celebrating.

But anyway, as for yesterday:

I met some friends in Roppongi Hills for lunch at Frijoles, the Japanese equivalent of Chipotle. While not real Mexican food, I appreciated the approximation. At the end of the day, when you’re in a foreign country and missing the American southwest, some beans, rice, guacamole, and spicy sauce’ll do. The spider (first row, second image) is an iconic statue in the area, though if you, like me, look at that spider and go “…why?” I cannot answer that for you. It’s Japan. Just go with it.

Speaking of “huh?” moments, on the way to our next stop we saw the six-story advertisement for McDonald’s Grand Canyon Burger (first row, third image). When I studied abroad here in 2007, McDonald’s had another campaign going for what I think was a seven-patty burger. Why Japan seems to have more obscenely large burgers than America, where one would think the people are more appropriately sized to consume such burgers, I dunno. There’s definitely more of a “food fad” culture here that might make this kind of thing popular. Plus, as far as I can tell, the local media doesn’t fly into a tizzy about these burgers destroying our children (or something else hyperbolic – not that I think fast food consumption doesn’t play a major part in a variety of public health problems in America, just that I think the news is ridiculous and frames things… how do I want to say this… stupidly). So that helps. My friends tell me people usually each such burgers as a novelty, and with help (ie people would split the aformentioned seven-patty burger, and probably the Grand Canyon burger too). The relative size of Japanese people to Americans makes me inclined to believe them.

Anyway, on to the Mori Art Museum. The museum opened in 2007 and was shiny and new when I first lived in Tokyo. It’s one floor of a… well, I don’t know how tall the building is, but it’s at least 52 floors because the museum is on #52. This is my first time back. Nostalgia! It was as nice as remembered, with a fraction of the crowd – the holiday doesn’t really start here until the middle of the week post-Christmas, so Tuesday found Mori pretty deserted. Last time I’d been it was on a weekend and it was packed, which is a little problematic when you have to wait in line for elevators to go up to the 52nd floor. (As if riding in a tiny box rocketing up 52 floors wasn’t spooky enough…)

The current exhibit is “Metabolism,” about an architectural movement in postwar Japan to create buildings that had a sense of “life” and integration with a city, as well as the ability to change and grow depending on a city’s needs. I really recommend it to anyone interested in architecture, or those who just like retro-futurism aesthetics. Most of the works on display were conceived or built in the 1960s-70s, so they have a fascinating, mod vision of the future. One friend I was with also commented some of the buildings made him think of Japanese steampunk, as Metabolism was big on taking traditional Japanese architectural elements and incorporating them into new designs.

Probably the most recognizable concept from Metabolism is the capsule:

The above is a mock up of one of the capsule rooms from Kisho Kurokawa’s capsule tower, on display as part of the exhibit.

The most interesting part of the exhibit was the fantastical designs – particularly ocean cities and elevated cities – meant to create artificial land and alleviate the straight up space problems of Tokyo and other rapidly growing cities. Because they were wildly expensive, of course, it’s the most ambitious designs that never happened, and so that still seem futuristic today.

I’ll scan the pamphlet from the exhibit when I have a chance, you really have to see some of these designs for yourself.

It was dark by the time we left the exhibit, and we took some (blurry, poorly lit) photos from the observation deck of the museum (included with the price of admission, woo~). My friends and I then parted ways, and I met up with some other folks at Bali Cafe Putri for tasty tasty Indonesian food. Chitose, who I haven’t seen since she left DC, was excited to eat spicy food – her kids are 10 and 6 and still like sweet Japanese curry. Overall it was super tasty and had a lot of excellent vegan options. In fact, when we first got the tempeh curry at the table, Chitose thought it was her chicken and didn’t realize it until she bit in.

We stayed out laaaaate – for me, anyway, I’m an old lady at heart – and finally shivered and walked back to the subway (spotting some leftover Christmas Illuminations on the way) around 11. Though I’m still missing home, overall a fantastic birthday.

Christmas Party

On Christmas, I went out for dinner with my friend Akiko and her husband Makoto at the vegan restaurant Little Heaven. I found it courtesy of, which told me, to my amazement, that such a vegan place was tucked only five minutes from my door. It was pretty good, and quite reasonably priced (especially compared to Manna, which I mentioned the other day).

When I returned home, the other girls in my house were underway with our own Christmas party. Two Korean girls share the room across from mine and they kindly organized it, going shopping in the morning and making takoyaki* and putting out other treats when I got home. The “fee” was only 1000 yen, which is about $12, and considering how much food (and alcohol…) they bought I’m very impressed with their budgeting.

A few photos from the evening:

Thank you to all the family and friends who’ve wished me well over the holidays! It was a bit lonely here in Japan, but as you can see I still kept myself entertained. Happy holidays and happy New Year!

*Apparently, tucked away in the house shelves, is a takoyaki maker. I’ll have to try it sometime, minus the “tako.”

Babies and Burgers

Busy week, busy weekend. On Saturday I met up with Maki, Kanako and Akiko #2 (different from the Akiko whom I met up with for the Yosakoi festival and Isetan) to see Akiko’s new baby girl, Mari! Let’s be honest, those who know me know I am not a baby fan. I don’t want any, I’m not excited to spend time with any, and, for me, they are just not that cute.

Mari-chan, however, did not take no for an answer. She insisted on being entertaining and completely adorable. Still don’t want any babies, but I’ll certainly hang out with Mari-chan again.

Akiko and her husband also prepared a veritable feast for us, with wagashi (Japanese-style sweets) and fruit. Maki and Kanako also brought various bread things that we were too stuffed to get to, though they sent me home with a piece of cake, specially purchased from a vegan-friendly bakery. Such good friends.

On Sunday a few people from school and I went to the Tokyo Vegefood Festa near Harajuku. A festival of vegan food, just ’cause. Yum! I got in my fake meat for the week. Mango smoothie, fake meaty karage (fried… faux-meaty-spicy things), and vege burger. There was also a grand hunt for pie, but we never did see where the single slice a girl was carrying came from. Alas! Another day, pie. Another day.

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?”