torsdag 26 februari 2009


Well, that's almost another whole week passed. Time flies when you're eating nattō, eh?
So last saturday, I moved from my favorite japanese family to a student "guest house" where I share a small room with a friend.
The change was not without it's anxieties. Mainly, I miss dinner with the Kobayashis, and the high-speed internet connection I had there. You know, for surfing on teh webz.
But I won't complain. It's nice here, and warm.

Saturday was eventful in other areas, too.
After dinner, me and Nathalie headed off to Ikebukuro where a café was supposedly celebrating some sort of anniversary. I knew nothing about it, but tagged along for lack of anything else to do.
Turns out, this get-together was largely one of artists and musicians, three of whom were performing when we arrived. Clad in white, heads bowed, they delicately manipulated their instruments (a steel plate, a mixer with a delay pedal, and some mutation of a record player) to create random noise and ambient hum. It was very good.
Most of the expensive-glasses-wearing clientele seemed a bit awkward by the whole affiair, which obviously made it even better.
After their set, I wasn't late to approach the oldest of the three to compliment his weirdness and ask about his steel plate. His name is Ken-ichi Kanazawa, and he's a sculptor. The audio-thing was just one of many ways to explore the uses and features of steel. Or so he said.
Fascinating old dude, he quickly introduced me to the other two; Shinjiro Yamagiuchi and Hiroyuki Ura. Behind the usual japanese politeness, they were really cool people, and were far less pretentious than I would have thought. Shows me.
The event also hosted a screening of a very artsy short film, which I didn't care that much for. Most of the next four hours was spent talking to nice people. A canadian named Luke took several pictures of our shoes, and his english friend Lisa gave us tips about vegan eateries in Tokyo.
Tired and smiling, we left just after eleven to catch the last train home. Or so we thought. Through some misunderstanding, we missed the train and had to find something to do for five hours. The proximity of Tokyo Dome seemed encouraging, so we approached the premises, immediately finding a 24-hour Denny's.
We figured we could get some tea, get warm, then go someplace else. Right.
We woke up around 4:30, and staggered off to catch the first train instead.

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday came and went. Got some studying done, which was good. Went for a walk and found a good 100-yen shop that sells food (not all of them do.)
Yesterday me, Nathalie, Maria and Nathalie's visiting friend Erika went to a vegan restaurant/café in Shibuya to eat falafel burgers. I've been curious about places like that, but it was actually a bit disappointing. The food was bland and expensive, the room small and grey.
And obviously there's a sign on the wall that reads "Vegan. Make the change you want to see in the world." Shit, can't we just eat food without meat? We're not better people for it.

School is trucking on, getting more difficult now. I just hope that when I go home, I'll actually be able to use some of it. 
Also, the weather sucks. Hope that changes soon enough.

The last meal I had at the Kobayashis' – sushi and tempura. 
Stupidly good.

And the first thing I had in my new house. Rice.

Ken-ichi Kanazawa, fucking shit up.

Five talkative japanese and one lingually challenged foreigner.

Denny's. They know their stuff.

fredag 20 februari 2009


Right. I haven't written anything in a week because somehow I didn't think it was worth writing about. 
Bah humbug! to that, everything is worth writing about!

Last saturday, summer paid us a visit. It was about 18° C (in february, that's what I like to call "fuck you, Sweden!")
Tokyo was surprisingly different under the effect of warmth and blazing sunshine, and I'm all for it. I went for a long walk through Harajuku and Shibuya and found more attractive places for buying stuff. Not entirely good, I should think.

I did alot of walking this week, again. The temperature did drop, but it was sunny most of the week and it's not like I'm going to let the weather dampen my walking-glee.

My modest purchases for this week includes Super Donkey Kong for Gameboy, bought at yet another retro games store (which was just fantastic, it's kept by an old lady) and a pair of hashi – purple Hello Kitty ones. Yeah.

Sesame Street makes everyone feel happy because it's a town always filled with fun and joy.
Good to know.

Typical Tokyo, I guess. Pretty.

The Imperial Garden. Actually, a particularly uninteresting part of it.

Yes we can.

Tomorrow I move. I'm getting all my stuff together now, a fairly simple task. 
My six weeks with the Kobayashis have, in one snack-sized word, been great. The people, the food; it's all been great. 
I'm sure I'll see more of them in the weeks to come, but I will miss them.

Me, José, Kobayashi-san, Yu-Lin, Hage and Eric. Missing is Paul, the Canadian kaisha-in.

fredag 13 februari 2009

Kugahara, Ota-ku

One week from now, I'm leaving the Kobayashis in Kugahara to live further up north with fellow knäckebröd-enthusiast Nathalie from my school. I won't say goodbye just yet, but I thought I'd give a fairly detailed description of a normal day.

I get up at 6:45. This is done with much reluctance and difficulty, since my bed is warm, and the rest of the room is colder than Santa's nose. 
The first thing I do is either shower or shave, or both, or snooze for a few minutes.
At about 7:22 I'm downstairs in the kitchen, where Akiko-san is preparing breakfast. This, the meals of all meals, consists of white bread with peanut butter or jam, and coffee or tea. In my case, three pieces of bread and a cup of tea (hardcore – no sugar or milk.)
José and Eric joins me about five minutes later.
We try to leave just shy of 8:00, since the train from Kugahara departs at 8:09. This gives us plenty of time.
At Kugahara, we board a train that is already completely full. This, as I have mentioned before, is my share of Tokyo's rush hour.

For ten stops I stand up, listening to music and sometimes falling asleep. Ontakesan, Yukigaya-Ōtsuka, Ishikawadai, Senzoku-Ike, Nagahara, Hatanodai, Ebara-Nakanobu, Togoshi-Ginza, Ōsaki-Hirokōji and finally Gotanda.
At Gotanda, we have a bit of a walk to get to the subway.

Construction workers getting their morning exercise at Gotanda station.

From Gotanda it's three short stops on the Asakusa line to Mita, where we change to the Mita line. This takes us all the way through central Tokyo and the Palace grounds to Jimbōchō, where exit A1 lies within two minutes walk from our school. We usually get there about 8:58.

Then, at 9:10, class. What can I say about that? We study japanese. Today, counting objects and people with a ridiculous amount of variations.

School ends at 12:40, so the first thing I do is usually have lunch. Of course, this is where the routine dies and gives way to gung-ho, spur-of-the-moment, impulse-driven activity. Yesterday, modern art in Roppongi. Some days, studying.

Today was pretty mellow, in a great way. I went to a favorite noodle-place and bought a cheap bowl of soba with tofu. 
Then, a skim through the record stores near our school. I'm really starting to like that neighborhood. From the junction of Yasukuni-dori and Hakusan-dori I can either go left to find several good record stores, cheap restaurants, and five million antique bookstores. Or, go straight to guitar shops, a store that seems to specialize in old cameras, and eventually, Akihabara.
Anyway, today I bought two super awesome rekkids at Disk Union and walked around in all of the above areas.

Eventually, I head back home. 
Dinner is at 19:00, unless noted, so by 18:50, I and the other expats will again meet Akiko-san in the kitchen to help set the table and otherwise act politely. We do that a lot here.

Then, food! Yesterday we had tempura, which is insanely good when the Kobayashis make it. One funny thing I've noticed is that no matter what we eat, there's always a bowl of rice and some miso soup. Even when it's pasta with tomato sauce, there's some miso and rice on the side. I love that.

Another staple of our meals is the after-dinner cup of Japanese tea (green, but toasted in some way… I think. It's very good.)

Then I go back to my room and make funny faces on Skype until I fall asleep. I would stay up all night if I could.

No plans for the weekend, but apparently it's not going to snow or anything. So, maybe I'll go outside.

torsdag 12 februari 2009

Home swede home

Yesterday we had a day off from school (I think it's Japan's birthday or something like that) so me and the other blondes-and-blue-eyes thought it would be a great opportunity to visit Ikea.
Good ol' Ikea. Founded by genuine man's man Ingvar Kamprad, it's one of Sweden's main cultural exports, providing people all over the world with simple, cheap furniture with names like VIBBYN, GUNGHULT or ASPVIK. 
Such is the case in Japan. There are two Ikeas that I know of in Tokyo, and one of them is located not too far from where I live. 
Seeing as how I'm moving in less than ten days, I figured I'd better equip myself with some bedsheets and a towel (simply because I had neither.)

I could give many fascinating details about the day, but I won't. The gist of it is, I got lost. Horribly, insufferably lost. First, on the way to Ikea. 
I was supposed to walk to a bus-station, about fifteen minutes. After two and a half hours of walking aimlessly through Ota and Setagaya, I found the busstop and had to wait there for 40 minutes.
Then, after gathering my goods amongst the somewhat confusing aisles of the Palace of Pinewood, I got back on the bus. However, this was a different bus, that didn't return to where I came from. No, this bus went to Yokohama.
As usual, a map will instantly tell you just what an insanely fucking long detour I took just to get to Ikea and back. 
From Yokohama, I knew the (relatively simple and short) way home and even afforded myself a quick stop in Kamata to eat one onigiri as a kind of late lunch. 


On a brighter note, my girlfriend is the best. And so is this.

måndag 9 februari 2009

All you can eat, and then some.

This past week I've found a few favorites. Places that I will remember the next time I come to Tokyo, especially if I don't have alot of time on my hands.

First up is Hanjiro, in Harajuku. See, I wasn't aware, but Harajuku is big. Considered by many as a maelstrom of modern youth fashion and all that, but within its' vague borders lies many hidden gems. Hanjiro is not one of them, since it isn't hidden at all. It occupies two floors in a mall of sorts, close to one of the main street crossings in Harajuku.
Hanjiro is a second hand or vintage or used clothing store. It's still not clear whether all the items were actually old and worn, but they looked the part. I got a pair of sunglasses and a sweater, and now I look cool.

The second favorite is Super Potato. Nestled in the electronic neon jungle of Akihabara, they specialize in retro videogames like the old Nintendo or Sega systems, and I can (most likely will) buy a SNES for 2900 yen. Hundreds of old games, game music, Gameboys, toys and miscellanea. Not very expensive. I shall return.

And third, the place where I had lunch today. Or rather, a combination of several meals presented on a chariot of chocolate and feathers and served in a famous bowl. (Two Patton Oswalt references in one sentence. I rule.)
At Sweets Paradise, one can indulge in an all-you-can-eat buffet that puts any American equivalent to shame. Not because it features six kinds of salad dressing, no, but because a) it had more cake than food, and b) both food and cake was extremely good.
Me and three friends entered the establishment famished and excited, and upon hearing Sonic Youth's Dirty Boots playing somewhere close I thought that this might very well be the single greatest place on earth.
Precisely 90 minutes later we emerged, bursting with sugar and fullfillment.
Okay, so maybe I won't have lunch there every day. But it's on my list.

I've also gotten to partake in two of Yu-Lin's favorite lunch-eateries, namely the black udon of Ichigaya (not what it sounds like, but almost) and tempura in Shinjuku. The former was a quiet place with almost no other guests, that served a superb udon soup with tofu and egg, in a big ceramic bowl, which itself sat in some sort of wooden crate. It was wierd, and great. A very friendly and talkative couple worked there.
The tempura was cool mostly because we got to sit cross-legged on tatami mats when we had it. The food was very good, but a bit expensive.

The weekend was calm, except for friday night which was noisy, Korean, and lasted until 8:30 on saturday morning. No karaoke, mind you, but fun times and falling asleep on the Yamanote line again.
I decided to give Ota-ku yet another shot at impressing me, and found that Togoshi-ginza has some good spots. A bookstore that sold really cheap SNES-games (to go with the aforementioned console) was one.

Shinjuku after sun-down.

Friday night. I stole this off Nathalie's blog.

Now that right there is sexy. 

Helping ourselves.

Well, I couldn't very well have a little cake, right?

Cute bookstore in Ota-ku, occupied by a sociable cat.

onsdag 4 februari 2009

And a merry setsubun to all!

Yesterday, February 3rd, we celebrated setsubun here in Japan. Didn't you?

Basically, setsubun marks the beginning of spring. It's a divider of all seasons, but spring is special to the japanese, so its' coming should be greeted with music and laughter, and cheer. And, obviously, by throwing beans. 
At me.

By the ancient and revered tradition of mamemaki (mame being the beans), the japanese exorcise evil spirits for the coming year. Roasted beans are either thrown out of the door ("And don't come back, bean!") or at a member of the family, dressed up as an oni – a demon or ogre.
Now, here's where it gets exciting.
One way of celebrating setsubun is by having celebrities throwing bags of beans (um, yeah) to anxious civilians, such as myself, Akiko-san, José, Eric and his girlfriend Yvonne, and Yu-Lin.
The theatre of this affair was Ikegami, two short stops away from Kugahara.
More specifically, it took place at a temple where one could conveniently do a bit of worshipping as well.
It went down like this.

A calm, tuesday afternoon. Hundreds of people.

Then, this gang appeared. Cool. Like something out of Conan. They were followed by a big bunch of celebrities, none of which I knew. At all. None.

Suddenly, chaos! Handfulls of beanbags were thrown into the crowd, who responded by going apeshit berzerk, grasping at the morsels.

Taking no prisoners. José, eager to score him some luck, makes a clean one-handed catch. 
It should at this point be noted that I, who didn't really try to catch anything and instead hid behind my camera, had secured four bags. They all hit my face.

Bombardment! I guess being tall and white as a ghost makes you kind of a bulls-eye for sadistic japanese tv-celebs.

When the smoke had cleared, the dead carried away or eaten by carrion birds, we left the scene. I had, mostly by standing in the way, caught eight bags. Eight. A good few more than your average elderly, 123 cm high japanese woman. Take that, haters.

After this fresh experience, we walked back to Kugahara. It took longer than expected, and showed me once again that this part of Ota-ku has little to offer, but is quite nice to walk through.

Another segment of our celebration, and something I guess Akiko-san wanted to do anyway, was making our own sushi. Awesome! I always wanted to try that, and having a japanese housewife show you the ropes certainly adds to the impression.
We only made maki-sushi, since that has something to do with setsubun. But we made tons of it.

Rice, cucumber, lettuce, omelette and nori.

 This is Choi Jong Hak, who's going back to Korea in two days. I'll miss him.

Akiko-san's knife-skills: the art of turning this…

… into this! Served with a hearty miso-soup. Unbeatable.

tisdag 3 februari 2009


This weekend was pretty mellow. On sunday I went with the family to the Tama river, then walked alongside it. We ended up somewhere in the vast Setagaya-ku, where we took the subway to Roppongi. From there we walked back to Gotanda, which took about two hours. 
My legs are hurting still.

Tama river and Mt. Fuji

Sunday afternoon baseball

Minutes prior to lunchtime

Lunch: two onigiri, two croquettes of some kind, two pieces of omelette, and a bottle of Soft Fruit.