DIGGING POP CULTURE IN HARAJUKU, TOKYO

If you’re with a 14 year old on a Sunday in Tokyo, it’s a no- brainer to join them in a Harajuku foray, the epicenter of pop culture in Tokyo.

In this case, a picture is most definitely worth a thousand words, so here’s some highlights of our day:

Our spirits were high as we began our immersion on Takeshita Dori, in a crush of young women, tourists, hawkers, vendors and noise!Takeshita Street

The most interesting encounter of the day was the creature in pink, not sure how to classify!creature in pink

I was the only one in our group who could have spent more time in this circus, so we moved through as quickly as the crowds would allow, although if on my own I could have easily enjoyed some more intent exploration.

The streets surrounding Takeshita were cheek to jowl with all kinds of  creative dress up items, which led to some inspired browsing. FYI, there are about Y120 to the American dollar.IMG_4091 IMG_4090 IMG_4089

In the sneaker department, this was just the tip of the iceberg of footwear. Some places don’t like you taking pictures, so you’ve got to be fast and/or charming to get away with it.IMG_4103 IMG_4104The yukata is the traditional Japanese summer robe, worn at onsen, or at festivals.  It was interesting to note that designers have taken to updating the look for young, contemporary taste.  It was surprising to learn that these limited edition items can sell for $500-$1000!IMG_4111 IMG_4112

Along the way, we met a few new friends.IMG_4102 IMG_4096IMG_4108What a wide and wonderful world we live in!

THEY TRIED TO COOK ME

onsen

Yesterday I came close to being boiled alive at Yonotsu Onsen, a small public bath house in a historic onsen town.

I’ve visited several onsens over the years.  They’re wonderful. Once you get over your own self-consciousness at being naked in front of strangers, it’s a great place to take the waters, relax and become Clean Clear Through.

It’s easy to take your behavioral  cues from Japanese women. Women of all ages disrobe, wash and bathe together as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.  When you’re brought up in this culture, it is!

etiquette

The bathing ritual goes as follows;

a.  Undress and store your clothes and towel in a basket or locker.

b.  Walk casually into the bath to find a low stool which you sit down to

c.  Wash your body as it’s never been washed before.

d.  When you are certain every single solitary square inch of you is clean, rinse yourself off very well, and

e.  Casually walk over to the communal bath to soak with the other guests in the peaceful and congenial atmosphere.

Yonotsu Onsen has a small, unattractive, mineral laden natural hot spring bath, reputed to be of very high quality.

women's bath

I sensed this spot was unlikely to provoke a long luxurious soak.  Little did I realize just how brief it would be.

I came very close to screaming from the moment the searing water touched my well scrubbed skin.  My face must have registered my dismay, because the young woman who sat across from me began to laugh at my expression and gleefully pronounced, “atsui!”  (hot)  I smiled weakly and repeated, “atsui!”

The only way to save myself was to beat a hasty retreat. I forced myself to linger for a few minutes with only my feet in the water, thinking it might become tolerable.  Wrong! I quickly and shamelessly fled to the safety of the dressing room.

I imagined that in the days when Americans and Japanese were enemies, I might have been lured into the bath as easily as a lobster is thrown in a pot and then quickly cooked alive.

Fortunately, I escaped to bathe another day.

lobster

KNEES, THOU HAST DESERTED ME

japanese kneeling

A few short decades ago when I’d visit Japan, I could coil and uncoil from sitting or kneeling on the floor to standing up as effortlessly and gracefully as any native Japanese.  Probably just a shade below that of a professional geisha.   I possessed an ease and self assurance that I knew was secretly admired by other visiting foreigners, if not by the Japanese.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

How far the high and mighty can tumble. These days, I would compare my attempts to rise from the floor to my feet to that of an aging elephant. My knees just are not that eager to make the effort. When asked politely to perform routine tasks, they act as if they’re not a part of my body anymore.  Let’s just call them non responsive.  It can be disheartening.

low chairs

Descending from standing to sitting  is equally precarious, but is more easily faked.  Once my bent knees refuse to support any more deepening, I allow my body to just plummet  the remaining 3 -4 feet to the ground. If someone is watching me, they could see my speed accelerate, but fortunately most people don’t pay attention. I must trust that a low chair will be there to catch my impact, if not, I might make a hole straight through the floor.

MY BLUE HEAVEN, aka A Flower orgy

The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers. ~Basho

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There are two distinct  kinds of temple/shrine goers in Japan.  One type believes that if you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all.  The other’s credo is that it is impossible to find a temple that doesn’t have something to admire.   I’m in the latter category.

There’s an affinity in temples and shrines for splendid gardens, sometimes grand, but often intimate.  For the temple addict, the beauty of the natural world is heightened by the artistry of the designed landscape.  The garden provides inspiration, while the temple or shrine set on site, provides the opportunity to give thanks.  It’s a perfect marriage.

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I gasped at the first sight of 10,000 hydrangeas simultaneously in bloom at the Mimurotoji Temple garden. I entered into a dream world of blueness, in delicious shades and tints of the blue spectrum.DSC03962

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An outdoor café sits in the center of the garden.  It’s a perfect place to indulge in a chilly green tea  shaved ice or a green tea parfait that helps to cool the summer heat.

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When I finally bid goodbye to the hydrangeas, I went to visit the temple.  I climbed three sets of very steep stone steps, discovering that this ancient structure was framed with hundreds of regal blooming lotus.  What a fine day!

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HI TO YOU TOO, TOILET-SAN

NOT
                           NOT

I arrived alone at our Kyoto apartment.  It was quiet, dark and empty.  There was no, hi honey coming from another room.  No warm welcome home after my lengthy journey across the wide Pacific. No flowers, no champagne.

NOT
                                   NOT

That was until I passed the bathroom door.  All of a sudden, my return was acknowledged by a perky and cheerful beep beep beep.  That’s toilet language, for it’s nice to see you again.  In fact, Toilet-san was so happy to see me, it lit up and tipped its hat, well, I mean opened its lid in invitation to join it and have a seat.

HI!  WELCOME BACK!!
HI! WELCOME BACK!!

When I accepted its invitation, it played one of its favorite musical recordings, much to my delight.

For the first time, I understood the importance of a responsive and cheerful appliance, always there for me, just waiting for me to return to my Kyoto home.happiness t p