Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Not too long ago, we received word that we would be leaving Japan for good before the end of the year. In fact, we’d be leaving before Christmas. Our contract to stay in Japan was about up. Still, there was talk of all kind ranging from staying an extra year to staying a few months. So I guess we were a little shocked to find out we had only 12 days left in Tokyo. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of seeing friends, soaking up the city, packing, anxiety ridden sleepless nights, and closing up shop in preparation for moving home to The States. I wish I had something really fantastic to write about, but after these past 12 days I’m just plain old tired.
People keep asking me what I’ll miss most about Japan. It’s a tough question and one that makes me a little sad, so I hadn’t given it much thought until tonight.
We’re staying in a hotel for our last night. After a long day of moving I crashed on the bed as soon as we checked in. Driscoll went to dinner with some friends and I apologized for not being physically able to join him. Some people (like Driscoll) do well with no sleep for days combined with physical exhaustion and multiple goodbye parties. Not me. I took a big nap and woke up at 9:00 pm. I remembered that there was an awesome looking Indian art exhibit at Mori, so I sprung up and went to see if I could get into the show before it closed. I got in. The show was interesting, really good. There is some cool art coming out of China and India. And it got me thinking about how much I’m going to miss living in a city with so much access to great, international art. I also visited the city observatory one last time. The Rainbow Bridge was all lit up for Christmas. I found our apartment through the glass window. I said goodbye.
After the show I was starved and so at 10:30 I looked for a place to eat. All I’d eaten for two days was easy, on-the-go food. You know, muffins, pizza, bad bready sandwiches etc., moving food I called it. But what I was now craving, ravenously craving was Japanese food. Not sushi, but the real deal Japanese food. I once read an article about a Japanese artist who had trouble traveling because he missed the food so much. And I guess after two years in Japan, my body, too, craves the stuff like nothing else. I realized this as I looked for a place to eat near the museum and everything was closed. “There’s a steak house around the corner,” said a nice woman closing down her own place. She also mentioned an Italian restaurant and some Chinese place. I was cranky…all I wanted was rice, soba, tempura, yakitori, tofu, oyako donburi! That’s what I wanted. I walked and walked until I finally found a place that was open. I was happy. And as I ate, I realized that this is what I’ll miss most, the food and the art. The design stuff (everywhere and all the time) is also pretty incredible. And the trains!
I don’t have a lot of expectations for moving home. But I am hopeful. I hope our return feels cozy and natural. I hope we love our house in Portland as much as we did when we moved to Japan. I hope I find a nice job even though the recession is swingin’. I hope that after these two years we are able to reconnect with our friends and family. I hope we grow a big garden and invite people over for homegrown salad and salsa. I hope the Oregon rain doesn’t get us down. I hope that someday we really do build the Japanese tatami room we’ve talked about. I hope we’ve learned some things during this time here in Japan. I hope we can remember (we certainly took enough photos to remind us). I hope we can hold onto our exposure to the Japanese aesthetic. I hope we’re able to travel in Asia again. I hope that someday, if we’re lucky enough to have children, we’re able to bring them to Tokyo. I hope we show them around the city and tell them laughable anecdotal stories about what it was like living here. And I hope they can appreciate it. I can hope for these things, but who knows. You really can’t predict what’s going to happen or what to expect. I surely never imagined I would spend two years of my life living in Tokyo and traveling around Japan.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Pounding out homemade mochi and smashing open a cedar box of sake are ways of ringing in the new year here in Japan. It’s a little early, but these were the highlights of the Christmas party we went to last Friday. The dancing was pretty fun, too.
D+H gave a lecture on their work last week. For the past four years, these guys have probably spent more time together than Driscoll and I have. And as a team, they have to spend most all of that time creating and producing. I don’t know how they do it, but it seems to work well. It was nice to see their stuff blown up on a big screen. My friend Megumi-san came to see the lecture. After she kept saying, “Huh, so desu, very famous desu!” It was pretty funny. No way, I told her, not famous at all, just nice guys who like telling stories.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
We’ve been spending a lot of time in Ginza lately. Ginza seems to be the most elegant of the Tokyo shopping districts. It’s so clean, shiny and electric that it resembles some kind of a nighttime amusement park for adults. Right now the stores are all decked out with incredibly intricate, decorative window displays. Last night we saw a group of otaku camera enthusiasts, tripods and all, taking photos of the displays. These here are for Hermes and Barneys.
This shirt from UNIQLO was part of a line of flannel shirts this fall, which looked an awful lot like Pendleton shirts. Even the label looks like a Pendleton label. I particularly liked this one, so I bought it. It was inexpensive, soft and sweet; and it got me thinking again about Japan’s ability to take examples of things from other countries and make them their own by enhancing and perfecting them to a T.
Japan grabs a lot of influence from around the world, so much so that it can be disorienting. Say you’re an American at a French restaurant, for example, surrounded by French décor, reading a French menu and being helped by a Japanese waiter who speaks French. It’s easy to fumble over which language to speak, and you can almost forget that you’re in Asia. It might sound silly but it’s true. The people here are just so darn good at taking something foreign, perfecting it and recreating it in Japan. This type of inspiration is all over the place. Don’t get me wrong; Japan definitely has its own style (obviously). But I do think their high regard for other cultures is admirable. And with all of the access and options it generates for people, it surely makes for an enjoyable lifestyle.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
I made it back to fabric town thinking it might be my last chance to pick up a load of cheap and awesome fabric before leaving Japan (no we don't have details, so far it's just talk). The experience was sort of overwhelming in that there was just too much to choose from and my arms were not strong enough to carry it all home. I resolved to come back to fabric town at least one more time before we leave Tokyo. Next time I figure I can bring Driscoll to help carry the load.
Here are a few favorite finds from this trip. I’m hoping to combine the wool and one of the shiny reds to make a holiday skirt.
Here are a few favorite finds from this trip. I’m hoping to combine the wool and one of the shiny reds to make a holiday skirt.
Ever since we moved to Tokyo and began exploring the irresistible furniture stores, we told ourselves that eventually we would collect some pieces to ship back to our house in Portland. But after recently watching The Grapes of Wrath, and as things seem to increasingly slow down economically, spending a lot of money on new furniture (or anything for that matter) is starting to feel like a bad idea. And although it is kind of a bummer not to be able to collect some of the amazing things we’ve had our eyes on, we were able to make lemonade out of the situation while perusing Nakameguro’s thrift stores last weekend. This cabinet cost a tenth of what we’ve found in the new stores, and it’s just as nice if not cuter. I'm hoping that, rather than lead to a period of low spirits and hardship, the economic slowdown will push people to be more creative and interesting with their time and money. And maybe even have more fun by focusing on things that don't involve (or involve less) money.…I’m hoping. I’m also hoping that things with the economy pick up again sooner than later.
Here are just a few examples of the stores holding Tokyo house candy…
Sunday, December 7, 2008
With Driscoll’s parents in town last week, we decided to do some traveling around Japan. We headed west and visited Shirakawago, a mountain valley village filled with old Japanese farmhouses. Most of the houses are around 250 years old and were relocated to the area for the sake of preservation. Later, Shirakawago was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The farmhouses are beautiful with tatami mats, paper sliding doors, dark fragrant wood and extraordinary construction detail. At five stories tall, the one we toured was enormous. We were struck by the incredible handcrafted detail; these farmhouses were built and even reconstructed after the move without the use of nails.
We also went to Kanazawa where we had a fantastic shabu-shabu dinner. Our favorite sites were the Kyoto-like geisha district, the incredible Japanese garden and the contemporary art museum, which was one of the best I’ve seen in Japan…or anywhere really. Below is a photo of Driscoll holding his breath inside Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
We had the pleasure of being in Los Angeles during the final stretch of the most incredible election season of all time. Yesterday we gathered with friends to watch polls close and the landslide take course. What a fantastic night to be an American. After that we drove up Sunset honking our horn and waving to crowds of Obama supporters as they cheered and celebrated in the streets.
Gone is the peaceable shame that came with traveling (and living in Japan) during the Bush years, and restored is a sense of pride and a stronger connection with the American people at large.
"By choosing you, the American people have chosen change, openness and optimism. At a time when all of us must face huge challenges together, your election raises great hope in France, in Europe and elsewhere in the world."
– French President Nicolas Sarkozy
Monday, September 22, 2008
There's an ongoing rivalry between Osaka and Tokyo that's similar to the rivalry between NYC and LA in The States. We have yet to visit Osaka, but I just found another good reason to check out the city of Osaka, famous for its comedians and okonomiyaki.
Tokuhiko Kise is a furniture designer who lives, with his wife and daughter, just above the space where he runs his successful furniture company, Truck. This space is where all the design, manufacturing and retail of the furniture takes place. I've only seen catalog photos, but I really appreciate his modern, earthy style. It's just very Japanese. I’d love to see the entire store sometime, and maybe even bring home a souvenir or two.
We’re in China (Beijing) for my first time. We’ve covered the city well and I have to say that one of the most interesting and unexpected things we’ve come across has been 798.
798 is an up and coming/already there artist community here in Beijing. Located at the site of a former industrial military factory, it’s big, spanning across several streets, alleys and buildings. We spent an entire afternoon there and only saw about a third of what the district has to offer. Remnants of the old factory buildings and metal structures remain among countless galleries, cafes and retail stores. The art, the transitional feeling of the area, the old and new buildings in the same space, it’s all just very unique and cool. The most striking exhibit we saw was God of Materialism. It was insane and disgusting, but somehow it made perfect sense. It was interesting to see a Chinese artist lashing out at materialism and over consumption in general. The scale of the art was huge; there was no mistaking the message. Other stuff we saw was tamer. I hope we make it back for round two of 798 before we leave.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I’ll be honest and say that it wasn’t as well written or enjoyable as some other recent reads, but it’s probably more important. This is a great book that really speaks to America’s troubles with terrorism and the handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Greg Mortenson’s true story peels back layers, allowing the reader a first hand glimpse and the ability to piece together both reasons how and why terrorism begins as well as possible ways we might more successfully dissolve its intensity in the future. Thought I should put it out there.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
We’re usually pretty lazy about going out for late nights here in Tokyo, but last Friday there was a party happening that we didn’t want to miss. W+K’s record label, WK Tokyo Lab, threw a big party to celebrate the opening of the Tokyo.Ten exhibition at the Claska Hotel. There was live music provided by Tokyo Lab’s own, as well as a huge display of visual art by a large number of artists collaborating with the label. We had a really great time. The party happened to fall on one of the only sunny days in a while (June & July are the rainy season, yay), which made it feel even more like a celebration. It was really fun to see the artwork, and also to bump into friends from around town who we hadn’t seen in a while.
Before moving to Tokyo I never realized that there is a community of people and families out there in the world that is living indefinitely international. They don’t just move to one place for a year or two. It’s more long term than that; it often involves multiple locations and many, many years abroad. I’ve met families from America that have spent years living in Singapore then Hong Kong and now Tokyo; Australia, Hong Kong, Tokyo and back to Hong Kong; France, America and now Tokyo; New Zealand to Shanghai, Tokyo and now Dubai. It goes on and on like that. And then there are the people who have moved from their home country to live here in Tokyo indefinitely. They have babies abroad, send them to international schools, create social bubbles providing them with a connection to their own cultural traits and friends who speak their own language (yes I’m also guilty of this). These people have no plan to return home. In fact, home becomes sort of ambiguous after a while. And it doesn’t seem to bother them in the slightest. Becoming acquainted with these folks really blew my mind at first. Living abroad for a couple years, sure, but I couldn’t fathom the idea of giving up my life back home for a never-ending international experience. To tell the truth, I thought these people must be nuts; or maybe they just came from a place not quite as nice as the one I’m from. But over time, as I got to know these people I realized that they weren’t nuts. In fact I quite liked them and shared a lot in common with them. They also came from pretty desirable places, and they all raved about their home countries just as much as I did (you become unexpectedly patriotic when you live abroad). The only thing I can really gather as a reason or explanation for this lifestyle comes down to that old silly phrase: Different strokes for different folks.
Needless to say, this move-around-the-globe lifestyle creates a lot of sayonara parties. This month I’ll say goodbye to three of my Tokyo girlfriends. These girls are off to Sydney, Melbourne and Hong Kong. I’ll miss them all as they’ve kept the laughs coming and the spirits high through my time here in Tokyo. The power of friendship is such a special thing. I’m not sure I would have made it here in Tokyo had I not nailed a few solid friendships. After our goodbye dinner the other night with our friends Joanna and Andrew, I squeezed Joanna so tight that I could almost feel the baby in her six-month pregnant tummy give me a little kick. I just didn’t want to forget that last hug. I don’t know when we’ll see Joanna and Andrew again, hopefully in Sydney this winter, but more likely back in NYC. I wish them all well and a big old SAYONARA!
Monday, June 30, 2008
Umbrellas are a big deal here in Tokyo. Getting around on foot is a way of life. Most people don't have cars to protect them from the weather. The rainy season is pretty intense and the sunny days often have women wanting to protect their faces from skin damaging rays. I’ve been ogling these umbrellas and parasols being sold around Tokyo. Pretty hot design for something that repels rain and sun. Here's the story behind these practical fashion Parashells. And here's the company website.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
The other day I had my final private lesson before summer break with my French student, Lou. After class she gave me a box of French cakes and this card she made. It’s a picture of her saying thank you. She wants to be an artist. She loves Japanese animation, which you can kind of see in her drawing. She’s eleven years old and has been living in Tokyo all her life; well, actually she would correct me and say she’s been living here since she was one. She speaks French and a little English. How strange it must be to grow up in a country where you don’t speak the language. The expatriate bubble culture seems both interesting and strange. But if these expat families are bringing up children as charming as Lou, they’re definitely doing something right.
Monday, May 19, 2008
My Cocca article was just published on Pingmag. I love, love this store/design collective and was happy to help promote them and their beautiful fabric and prints. Those of you who have visited us in Tokyo may remember some of these prints from our apartment. I'm hooked on this fabric!
Monday, May 12, 2008
When you’re living abroad you tend to miss the strangest things from your home country. The things I crave most (aside from people and places) are the things I rarely gave notice to before moving to Tokyo. Things like boxed macaroni & cheese, television, Nestle Toll House chocolate chips, grass to sunbathe on, sliced turkey or whole wheat bread. The other night I surprised some fellow American friends with homemade cookie dough. I had to ride my bike to two different grocery stores to find all the ingredients, but it was worth it. We practically finished off the dough before it made its way to their microwave oven. You get the idea. I also really miss magazines. For me, these days any English language magazine, no matter the subject, is a slowly savored treat. They’re just so expensive here that I never bother buying them. I’m talking $10.00 - $25.00 for magazines ordinarily costing around $4.00 in The States. But with Driscoll off to LA for work, I decided to go ahead and splurge on some mags for entertainment purposes. One of the magazines I bought was ELLE. Somewhere between catching up on clothing designers pushing for sustainability in fashion and Madonna’s latest whatever, I saw a full-fledged article on Portland’s Naomi Pomeroy and her restaurant, Beast! I couldn’t believe it. I asked myself, “Is this the same Beast I get those emails from?” I was heading over to have dinner with some friends, so I brought the mag with me and upon entering their apartment, promptly shoved the article in their faces (so much pride), “Look!”
“Oh that’s great, Bonnie,” they said. Right then I realized that being from NYC, they must see their local restaurants featured in magazines all the time. Still, it’s fun to see Portland making its way to the notable map. It may not be the biggest city (most people here seem to think it’s all Nike and countryside) but it sure has a lot going for it including–speaking of things I crave–all those fantastic restaurants! Don’t get me wrong, the food here is amazing, but all those Portland restaurants are such a piece of home.