Wednesday, December 24, 2008

And just like that…It's over.

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

New Sneakers

From the Nike store here in Tokyo.

Akemashite Omedeto (Happy New Year!)

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.

W+K Lecture – Gaijin working in Tokyo.

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.


A lot of the restaurants make their own tofu. It’s really good and pretty different from what you get in The States. Here is a regular style and a sesame style.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Elaborate Windows

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.

UNIQLO Absorbs This Shirt

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 d├ęcor, 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

Palette New York

Palette New York gave a show recently at ggg gallery in Ginza. The inspiration seemed to focus on detailed, colorful knits of all styles and shapes, cheery stuff for winter. Here are a few highlights from the show.

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.

Spend Less Money, Have More Fun

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…

Muji Furniture

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Kanazawa + Shirakawago

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.