Thursday, June 18, 2009

Monday, June 15th, 2009

If I'm rich, I'll wear Bliss. That's the first note in my travel notebook for Monday the 15th. I made it as I was walking up Omote-Sando, the posh designer avenue coming off of Harajuku. Some of the most amazing prices I'd ever seen. On the other hand, everything in some of the windows was a work of art. I only say "some of the windows," because I think there's a lot less art in some of the big designer labels than there is in smaller shops elsewhere. Of course, even the smaller shops were pricey in this area: 30 bucks for a change purse was not at all unheard of. I moved on.

I did pop into the Oriental Bazaar to check out the Japanese souvenirs there. It was a tourist trap, obviously, but as tourist traps go not too bad. I still want to pick up my souvenirs in other places, but if I can't find something I want later I know where to go. I also stopped in at Kiddyland (an obscenely expensive 6-story toystore) to find small souvenirs for the kids. I ended up getting them tiny charms and erasers out of the vending machines.


Note: I love the hydrangeas everywhere. They're in full bloom here, and besides the amazing ones at the East Garden Sunday, I saw plenty at Omote-Sando and elsewhere in Harajuku. I think they're one of my favorite flowers. I keep trying to take a picture of one that captures the exact shade of blue, but so far haven't been able to. Maybe it's my camera (or my ignorance in using it). Mom: hydrangeas? Or should I just come home and start my own garden? Because this week, I'm starting to be tempted.


At lunch, I wrote: "Keep trying to like Hara. better, but just feels like a big, pretentious mall. Prob. more fun w/ friends." I'd been tromping around a while at that point, and had been mildly harassed by a North African (?) hustler in the slightly-seedier Takeshita-dori. I had lunch at the Eco Cafe, which I think was some sort of experimental organic place, but wasn't really good enough to warrant the money. Damn good coffee, though, and after I had some I felt better. I'd also found a necklace I liked-- hematite beads with copper and amethyst accents-- at a jewelry shop called the Stone Market, on one of the small streets in Harajuku. The store had some cool stuff, pretty reasonably priced, and the sales guy was really nice. I'd go back, if I came back to Tokyo again.


The coffee revived me a bit, and I went wandering. I ended up at the Fiesta Gallery, which is a massive sprawling two-and-three-story house-turned-art-gallery, which can be rented out for peanuts by local artists who want to have private showing. You choose a little bit of wall-- all the rooms are available, bathrooms and shower rooms included-- pay about five bucks a day, and put up your stuff until the money runs out. It was interesting. There was a mix there-- "real" artists, who had really interesting and compelling stuff on the walls, and then others who were pretty obviously amateurs, with... less... compelling... things. I thought the best by far was... well, the card says "kuroko." A young man was sitting in the gallery, greeting passers-through, but I'm not sure, now, if he was the artist or not. "-ko" would indicate a girl, but honestly I don't know. It's pretty gruesome stoff, some of it-- lots of things-turning-into-things, people-growing-from-things, things-growing-from-people, bones and bodies, etc. Still, it makes you look, and keeps your attention, and I did quite like it. Or, at least, I thought it was pretty good. Here's the ( website on the card I got...

There were some foreigners outside on the (painted, mosaicked, be-sculptured) deck, chatting. One of them seemed to be pitching an art installation, themed around garbage and ecology, to another, who was trying to show off how jaded and knowledgeable he was. They... gave the place a very art-school, college town atmosphere, which I guess it has overall, anyway.

Seeing an amateur gallery, where it looked like just about anyone could display, made me want to try and produce something in terms of visible art. If I were cooler, I'd bring a sketchbook when I went out and make lots of pictures for you all to marvel at. Maybe when I get home I'll try to draw more, outside of whiteboard masterworks in my kindergarten classrooms.


Harajuku more or less won me over, in the end. There's a massive "fashion tower" (as Koreans would say) called Laforet, which appears to be where most of the action is at. (To those who've been to doota! in Dongdaemoon, it's like that, but a lot cooler.) I was lured inside by the promise of "books" in the basement, but was quickly distracted by the gothtastic shops I knew my friends must have visited a few days before. I started up one escalator at a time, and was pushed by sheer stubbornness to see the whole thing. A lot of the stuff was aimed at certain markets-- gothic, Lolita, gothic Lolita, rocker, punk, artiste-- but there were also a lot of stores that were just plain cool. I saw some of the hypercolored accessories that are so popular in Korea now, and wondered which country had started wearing them first. Are the kiddies wearing neon plastic jewelry in the States these days? I can't keep up.

I didn't try on much (just one shirt, not nearly generous enough), but was surprised to see quite a lot that looked like it would fit me. Either the Japanese are a bit bigger than Koreans (some people are, certainly), or there's just a lot more give in the clothes. Here, too, the "laundry basket" look has gotten popular-- layers and layers of floaty earth-toned clothes, shirts and scarves and big droopy hats, everything you need to make you look like an artist living an idyllic life in the country. Except, of course, that few artists could afford so much as a scarf at one of these places. Most of the stores were boutiques, or at least branches of very fashionable chains, so of course the price tags were heavy. The music was quite good, anyway-- especially at one shop that sold headphones and "rocker gear" in general-- and I enjoyed looking around and seeing what people had created.


Went to the Tokyo Apartment Cafe for dinner. (The guidebook had recommended it, and it's right next to Laforet-- win-win, yes?) Had a tomato-and-olive salad (actually tomato-and-olive-oil), vegetable soup, and a glass of wine. Is a preference for white wine an East Asian thing, or what? The red ones on the menu were a bit much, so I had the house wine, which was okay. (Listed as blush, but looked red and tasted... mild, I guess.) The food was okay, though not amazing. The atmosphere was cool, but it was definitely the sort of place I'd want to go with friends. I was starting to feel quite lonely at this point, so I ate pretty quickly and left (though, stirred by my new Fiesta-Gallery inspiration, I did try to sketch a little at the table).

I'd been getting a rotten headache, and it got really bad at dinner, rather cramping my enjoyment of the evening. The wine helped a bit, I think, and I dulled the pain further (ha, ha) by eating a crepe (my second of the day) from a stand nearby. Winced and shuffled my way back to Nezu station for my last night at Sawanoya.

Fortunately there's a pharmacy right by the subway station. Popped a few ibuprofen, which helped tremendously. I've gotten a cold, actually, and I think the headache must have been the beginning of it. I was fine Saturday (with the obvious exception of having been dead on my feet) and I really hope it goes away by Sunday, because I do not want to get dragged out of line by Japanese (or Korean!) customs officials a little too concerned for my health.

A band of American college students (I think) had showed up at the ryokan that morning with their Japanese teacher-- one of them admitted, when asked, that they were on a class trip. When I came back in that evening, several of them gave me borderline hostile looks. I tried to make polite conversation after I had my bath later (Sawanoya onsen... how I miss you...), but the two girls still downstairs were not in the mood for talk. I'm not sure if they were just clannish, in the way that tour groups (I guess?) can get, or if I had unwittingly offended them somehow. Maybe they just didn't want their Genuine Japanese Experience cluttered up by other foreigners. Whatever. People are weird.


Downside of tatami rooms: You really kind of have to close the windows when it rains, because otherwise you get rotten straw. Oh, forgot to mention-- it started raining around five or so, and showered off and on the rest of the night. Seems to be a pattern here, though tonight (Wednesday night) we've mostly missed it. Forgot my umbrella Monday, but will not make the same mistake again!


Am typing this in my room at Suzuki. Can hear vague sounds of the guest next door doing something or other. There's no lobby here, unfortunately; I'd really like to talk to some other travelers, since it's mostly been me and my iPod this week.

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