steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

梅雨 Diary - Off to see the Wizard (26-30th June)

Now, with the rain falling steadily on a quiet Saturday, seems a good time to look back over the last few days and pull out a few choice plums for sharing. Tuesday and Wednesday were basically work days, spent largely on campus (though I did go to lunch with Satomi on Wednesday, and had my first Hamburg steak, which was pretty tasty, along with an "onsen egg", so called because it is cooked at a low temperature). The photograph has a rather unforgiving flash, though:


My adventurous days were Monday and Friday, when I visited Seisen and Taisho universities to give talks and hang out with my friends Hiroko Sasada and Yoshiko Itou; and Thursday, when I went to the Ghibli museum in Mitaka City. Shall I describe Ghibli first?

One doesn't simply walk into the Ghibli Museum. On the contrary, you have to book way, way ahead. I bought my ticket online back in March, but Thursday was the day I cashed it this uncharacteristic bout of far-sightedness. Clutching this precious document and my passport - also required - I strolled the half hour from Toukyou Joshi Daigaku (which I've been calling "Toukyou Joshi Dai" for short, but turns out to be "Tonjo" for even shorter), in pleasant weather, through Kichijouji to the far side of Chuou line, where there is a zoo, a park, and other such amenities. Soon, I began to see enticing indications that the museum was nearby...


And sure enough, it wasn't long before I found the place itself, frond-draped and intriguing...


There was a short queue to get in, and I found myself waiting with a middle-aged woman from Aomori (on the northern tip of Honshu) who'd come to Tokyo - her first visit - especially to see the museum. We bonded over Ghibli love, and she took this nice picture of me with Totoro:


Sadly, the inside parts of the museum couldn't be photographed, so you'll just have to believe me (but I see you already do) when I tell you it was wonderful. It's not a huge place, but spread over several floors, including a roof garden where you can meet one of those robots from Laputa:


As well as permanent exhibits on the animation process and a little cinema where you can watch a short original cartoon about sumo-wrestling mice, there are rooms of books that Miyazaki has found inspirational (particularly interesting to me), a cat bus for younger children to play in, and (this year) an exhibition about food, which among other things alerted me to the many different ways which Ghibli characters handle their chopsticks: the little things say so much. The architecture of the place, as you can imagine, was amazing.

After a while, I repaired outside to the cafe, where I bought a "皆大好きハムサンド" ("Ham sandwich beloved of all") and a bottle of "Valley of the Winds Beer" - a name probably chosen with no intention of a double meaning, although it was pretty fizzy:


So anyway, yeah - if you know three months ahead of time that you're going to be in Tokyo, I highly recommend getting yourself online and booking a ticket to the Ghibli museum. Tell them I sent you.

On Monday I went to Seisen, a Catholic university in Shinagawa, where I gave a lecture to the students of Hiroko Sasada, whom I met at ChLA in Ohio last year. Here I am in work mode:

At Seisen University

Seisen (like Tonjo) is a small university - actually rather smaller - but it too had a pleasant, slightly rural air, and an architectural style drawn from the early twentieth century:

Seisen University, Tokyo

It was founded by a Spanish nun. Catholic statuary and symbols are still much in evidence, and Spanish teaching is taken very seriously, although I'm not sure whether there are many Christians among the staff or students. Anyway, I was treated very well, and the students heard my English-language lecture with the appearance of interest. I even managed to take some questions in Japanese afterwards, though rather stumblingly. Then Hiroko and one of her graduate students took me into a rather grand room for tea and okashi. Knowing that a Englishwoman was coming they had thoughtfully provided about ten different kinds of black tea; unfortunately I am one of those rare English people who only likes green tea, which had been omitted - the dangers of stereotyping! - but Hiroko soon made that good, and we had an interesting conversation, during which I learned of the existence of "Chibi Madoka Magica Chan" - apparently both a manga and anime. I long to see and read it.

Yesterday I headed north to Sugamo, workplace of my other ChLA chum, Yoshiko, to give the same lecture to her students at Taisho University. Hiroko came along too, because the three of us were planning to get together afterwards to relive old times over food and sake. Taisho is a much more obviously urban university, and the buildings (at least the ones I saw) are mostly modern, but there was a friendly vibe and the students were quite lively. I joined one of their self-directed seminars afterwards, where a Diana Wynne Jones fan among them was particularly keen to ask me questions. With considerable interpreting help from Yoshiko and Hiroko the whole session was pretty relaxed, although I'm not sure if I'll ever get used to everyone around a seminar table bowing to me as one. (Actually, on second thoughts I could definitely get used to it.)

Yoshiko and Hiroko

I should just mention the tune played at the beginning and end of lessons at Taisho. At many Japanese schools and universities they signal the change of lesson with the Westminster chimes, but there are variants, and the Taisho tune - which is actually the university's own anthem, written by a well-known Japanese composer - is particularly striking. The end-of-lesson tune has a slightly sinister tone, as if Darth Vader were about to walk in and take over the whiteboard - I was actually a little startled the first time I heard it, in Yoshiko's office (where the three of us were enjoying soba and tempura bentos - a cut above UK university sandwiches!). The beginning-of-lesson tune is far gentler and somehow more uplifting. It started playing just as I was going into the toilet, and somehow made the whole experience feel like a solo in a romantic ballet. I've never washed my hands with such refined grace.

Sugamo (巣鴨) literally means "duck's nest", and the area's mascot is, accordingly, a duck, which was much in evidence when we went for a walk afterwards down the thoroughfare known officially as "Jizou Douri" (because of the Buddhist Jizou temple there).


I say "officially", because unofficially this road - full of interesting, old fashioned shops - is "Obaachan no Harajuku" or "Harajuku for Grannies" (Harakuku being the super-trendy fashion district between Shinjuku and Shibuya). Although we barely did more than walk up and down it I really recommend this street, if you're Tokyo bound - and I'll certainly be going back myself. (Does that make me an obaachan? In spirit, undoubtedly.)


During our short perambulation, we took advantage of no less than three ways to improve our health and spiritual wellbeing. First, we stopped in at the "Aka Pants" (red knickers) shop, which sells - well...


But these aren't just tasteful underwear for the daring over-sixties - they also have a health benefit, releasing "chi" by the bucketload, although the English pamphlet I picked up does warn against wearing them at night, lest they cause "insomnia due to their stimulating effect":


Second, at the Jizou temple, I took the opportunity to wash the Buddha's feet. Apparently the custom is to wash whatever part of the body is giving you pain, and since mosquitoes had given my feet a good chewing the night before that's what I went for:


(And it's true that last night the mosquitoes, filled with religious awe, carefully avoided my feet altogether, as if they were a place of bad omen.)

If you see this sign, by the way, you will know to look out for begging Buddhist monks - who, the Jizou temple wants you to know, are nothing to do with them, and may not even be monks at all, the scallies!


Finally, at the end of the street stands a several-times-life-size simulacrum of a duck's behind, along with a notice explaining that if you touch it gently you will die peacefully, with no need for personal care in your final weeks. With this inspiring message, as you can imagine, it has been worn down by the bony fingers of many an obaachan - and now also by ours.


Having sorted out our chi, our bodies and our mortality, we went to a restaurant and got pleasantly drunk on sake. Rather than show you pictures of us bumping into things and falling over at the end of the evening I'll leave that scene to your imagination, uploading only a modest plate of sashimi moriawase, because it is almost as pretty as it was tasty.

Tags: voyage to japan, 梅雨diary
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