Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pottery Making in Japan

I woke up at about 3:30 when Andrea thwacked me in the face with the quilt. Couldn't get back to sleep, so I checked e-mail and read on the kindle. At 5:00 Andrea woke briefly and asked me to come back to bed. I lay in bed for 5 minutes and heard the kids wake up in the room next to ours. Their volume quickly increased to an unacceptable level, so I went next door to keep them quiet.

When Andrea finally arose around 7:00 I had the kids dressed and ready to go. I'd spent the last couple of hours researching things to do on Wikitravel and quieting the boys. "Ari, for the fifth time stop kicking the wall there. Mom's head is just on the other side of that wall."

Off we went on the search for breakfast. The hotel lobby buffet was $15 for an adult and half for children. We thought we could do better. Fifteen minutes later we returned for the buffet. Once again Ari and I had fish, fruit, and rice, I added an egg, coffee. Andrea ate cereal, fruit, and yogurt. Joshua ate lots of buttered bread but tried a little miso.

Getting around Tokyo is complicated by the fact that there are competing subway systems, a separate rail system (or two), and competing bus lines. While there are maps that show either the JR trains or the major subway lines together, there is not a system map with both the JR trains and the subway, probably because it would become illegible and so complex.

We can sometimes walk. Andrea complained bitterly about the fact that most streets have no street signs and most of the streets on the map are also unnamed. I very smugly realized that the streets that are un-named on the map are the same as the ones that are unsigned in real life. They are not wasting our time by putting up signage on a street that we will never be able to find on the map. I very wisely kept this epiphany to myself.

To ease the task of getting around we went to get the kids a Pasmo card. Andrea and I have a Suica card, which came with our Nartia Express ticket. Although the Suica card is issued by Japan Rail, it works on JR, the competing subway systems, and most buses. Even with a Pasmo or Suica there are some issues. For example when transferring between systems to be charged the transfer price instead of the two trip price you need to leave one system through an orange colored gate. The first sign explaining this fact was difficult for me to understand. It read "The asukusa line transfer. Use an orange color ticket gate. Asakusa line becomes the transfer to go out to the ground. It participates from the A6 exit and it blooms below." Suica's unfortunately don't come in a child version and children ride at half price. Pasmo, however, is available in a kid's fare version, with a passport for proof of age. Now we don't have to buy them a ticket each time and we avoid having to try to figure out the correct fare for each trip and repeating the problem of buying a JR ticket for a subway line trip.

Once the kids had their Pasmos, Andrea and Ari were off to a pottery making course and Joshua and I visited Roppongi and Roppongi Hills. We bought postcards, and fun stuff from the 100 Yen store, where some things cost more than 100 Yen. We went to a bookstore and I almost bought a book on navigating the Tokyo subway system for Andrea, just to show her that I empathized with her frustration. They had two in English, but in my heart I knew she'd never read either one so in the end I left them. I also almost bought myself some Japanese study materials, but in my heart I know that my lack of fluency is not from a shortage of books, CDs, or flashcards, but from insufficient time spent studying the ones I already own.

We all met at the Shiba Park Hotel to find lunch. Andrea wanted a Panerra, Joshua wanted pasta, I would have been happy with any of the hundreds of restaurants, take away stalls, or especially the van selling Indian curries out the back all of which were nearby. I'll leave it at that because Andrea and I just had blow out argument about the effect her dismay over the food here is having on Joshua (apparently I'm just a total jerk with unreasonable expectations of my wife).

We ended up eating at Miami Garden, an Italian restaurant. I ordered spaghetti with tomato sauce and vegetables by pointing at the menu. I received spaghetti with a cheese sauce and clams, which was the next item down from the one I'd pointed to. As a culinary adventure it was almost as good as my mother in law's rakott kaposta. After lunch Andrea went to the bathroom and came back with the toilet find of the day. This toilet had a 10 button remote control, complete with a little LCD screen. I wen to try, but the buttons were, unfortunately, only labeled in Japanese and I did not experiment.

After lunch we went on a cruise up the river to asakusa. I ordered some ice creams on the dock - "ichi meron (one melon) and ni banira (two vanilla)". I received two strawberries before Joshua corrected my error. You see in Japanese if you are counting "one, two, three" is "ichi ni san" but if you are counting tall round things it is "ippon, nihon, sanbon" if you are counting people it's "hitori, futari, sannin", and if you are counting small furry animals it's "hiki, piki, biki". There are lots more counters, for people, for assorted objects, for square flat objects, for small round objects, etc. but I won't go over them all here. When I was learning Japanese I sort of glossed over the counting systems, figuring that the ordinal numbers would be understood. Now I know better - the "ichi" I used, which means one, was so out of context to the vendor that he assumed I was trying to say ichigo, which is the word for strawberry. Time to REALLY learn to count.

The cruise was a chance to rest - and rejuvenate before we went to Akihabara - a mecca of electronics and manga and anime. We went into a store with eight floors of just manga, that would make the largest Barnes & Nobles I've ever been in look small and it was just one of many. They prohibited photography, but Andrea snuck one shot inside. It won't do the place justice.

After Akihabara we headed to Shinjuku (near our hotel) for the nightly debate on dinner. There must be a thousand restaurants within a 5 block radius, many in food courts in the major department stores that are attached to the station . We ended up eating Thai - everyone ate well.

A couple of random notes on Japan:

The q-tips in our hotel are ribbed and made of black cotton. I love the ribbed q-tips. What a great concept.

There are french Patisseries everywhere. Go figure.

A few more choice phrase from the phrase book: Health -- "I don't want a blood transfusion", "Please use a new syringe", and my favorite from this section "I have my own syringe"

I tease my mother in law because I love her -- rakott kaposta may not be my favorite but she makes a mean chicken perkolt.

1 comment:

  1. David san, i wrote a book about japan which i think you may like. facebook me when you get a chance.