Monday, May 30, 2011

Nijou-jou and Nanzen-ji: preliminary thoughts

Making a shabby attempt at keeping the blog updated. So, here are some pictures with no thoughts yet attached.

From Nijou Castle (or Nijou-jou :D):


[EDITED TO ADD: Hey yo! Sorry about the VAST DELAY. But at least it's going up, right? There are some . . . ah. . . condensations toward the end of this post, made with an eye to not having it sit in cyberlimbo until the end of time. The original date on this post was 4/10/11, but I'm changing it to now to make it show up where peeps will notice it.]

The saga continues. . . . (now, with more pictures!)

DAY DEUX dawned. It dawned later than I had planned.

Damn snoring lady.

First, breakfast; I had walked by a grocery store the day before, "Tesco's Express." They had a seemingly unlimited supply of almond-filled croissants (mmmm) and, of course, 500-650 mL bottles of funny-tasting diet Coke. (In terms of the tastiness of their diet Coke, I have found Spain > U.S. > France > U.K.)
You can see my second day's route here as I slowly wended my way across London. I walked alongside the Buckingham Palace grounds on Grosvenor (!) Place. (My grandmother's maiden name is Grosvenor -- her family actually has [minimal] records going back to about 1350. John Grosvenor, my great-times-something grandfather, came to North America around 1660. NOW YOU KNOW.) I was kind of hoping to see the Palace from afar -- forgetting of course that it is sort of a government building and also a private residence -- in any case, it was surrounded by 10-foot stone walls with an array of six-inch-long spikes jutting out of the top.

Some famous streets -- yes, it amuses my immature mind that "Drury Lane" is just another street for most Londoners. (I also was on Fleet Street, but it was already dark, so I didn't want to stop and take a picture.)

My mom and I have a standing souvenir agreement -- wherever I travel, I will attempt to bring her back a Christmas ornament or object that can easily be repurposed into a Christmas ornament. So far she has a lacy laser-cut metal ornament from Mount Vernon (Dad and I went there on a high school trip to D.C.)(and now it's also a "flood ornament," because all the laser-cut flourishes have little lacy borders of rust from being submerged in mucky water), a yellow charm with a tiny white dog from the Shinto shrine at Kotohira, a charm with a small white peak embroidered on the front from the Shinto shrine on top of Mount Fuji, a metal bookmark from Ellis Island showing the Statue of Liberty, a supercheap metal keychain of the Eiffel Tower from Paris, and now -- this little dude, purchased the Buckingham Palace Mews gift shop, where I stopped as I made my somewhat confused way across London. I think I'll call him Percy. Apparently Christmas ornaments are a normal souvenir in England, because there were tons of excellently garish ones -- stuffed sequined crowns, blown-glass carriages, teddy bears in royal robes, etc.

Monday, May 23, 2011

you know what's important

I'll tell you what's important: Food.

Generally I am existing on a diet of noodles, things on top of noodles, and Pepsi "Nex Zero." (Marilyn, if you're reading this, I'm sorry.) I've drunk one liter of milk a week so far and gone through about four packages of frozen dumplings (which I suspect are mainly soy protein and cabbage with a slight flavoring of pork.)

I have broken this pattern on occasion:

These cookies are basically Teddy Grahams, except that instead of being in the shapes of diminutive bears they're in the shapes of various antique Japanese coins. They are the optimum tastiness: Tasty enough that I thoroughly enjoy them, but not so tasty that I want to eat the whole bag in one sitting (which is a problem I generally have whenever I a box with "butter" somewhere on the label.)

I think I mentioned these guys. They are frybreads, made from the dough that I attempted to steam, and filled with sugar, which then melts and caramelizes. Damn good. Probably better than I don't have time to make them on a daily rather than weekly basis.

My birthday celebration was rather, um, low-key. I got a maple doughnut and a cup of creme brulee flavored ice cream (deceptively labeled "vanilla pudding" when the primary flavor was the burnt sugar.)

This was this weekend's effort -- last week I got some Japanese sweet potatoes and discovered that I don't care for them by their lonesome, so I bought some regular potatoes (at $2 for four tiny potatoes! Yowza!), diced them really finely with some carrot, onion, and cabbage, added three eggs, about a cup of flour, some pepper and some basil to the pot, and fried up what I am calling "mixed vegetable latkes." They were pretty damn tasty, if I do say so myself.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Heian kimono

This is a collage that I've working on all week of the women in the Aoi Matsuri parade wearing Heian-era kimono. I was trying to emphasize the patterns and colors in each garment. . . not sure how successful I was. Anyhoo! Here you go.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

the first week

of work.

Well, 'twas interesting. In a good way! Mostly. Except for the damn toilet. I thought it would get easier to use with practice -- and it sort of has -- my squatting muscles are definitely stronger. However, THERE ARE STILL THE OBVIOUS ISSUES.

I finished the paper tiles on the roof of the model of the Nagoya temple. . . well, sort of. I finished the tiles on the larger model. Unfortunately there was an error in communication between me and my boss on the larger site model with buildings at a smaller scale, so I have to do some more twiddly work to finish it. (Dammit.)

Andrew, the other guy who works in my office, looked at this model and said, "Wow, they're so neat!" Which was a first. . . I don't think anyone's ever accused me of making neat models before. Of course, this has to be balanced against the fact that this office still does a fare amount of hand drafting, which I suck at (though I'm relatively confident I can do it if they ask, so long as they don't mind it taking me a really. long. time.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

the downside

of being taken out by your boss for an awesome Japanese dinner is not getting home until 11:30 PM. (And only two hours of that was eating -- I was at the office from 9:15 AM to 9:15 PM, and I was probably actively working for 10 hours of that time. Damn paper roof tiles.) This morning I pretty much had to choose between cooking lunch and showering, and cooking lunch lost.

I didn't eat out much last time, and I probably won't eat much this time, but an overview of things I ate (can't remember it all; this was sort of like tapas, where the izakaya employees/owner brought out little plates of lots of things and we shared):

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

the good, the bad, and the ugly

First: The good! There's quite a bit of it.

Today was my first day of work at Design 1st, a (very) small firm (I think it's just the principal and maybe one or two other people) that mainly restores machiya, traditional Japanese townhouses, in Kyoto. The "office" -- actually a small machiya which is currently in the process of being renovated -- is maybe a mile and a half south of my apartment.

The house itself is pretty tiny. The practical person in me cocks a brow at the amount of work it will take to make it really habitable (in a non-camping and non-Mom-living-in-the-old-church kind of way -- flood reference for the win), but the historian and the architect are still going, "SQUEE SQUEE SQUEE SQUEE SQUEEEEEEEEEE!" It's such a neat little structure.

I think my boss said in an email that this house was 200 years old. It's at least a hundred years old, that's for sure. It's probably about twice as big as my studio apartment in total floorspace, and constructed of dark pine beams (stained or aged, I do not know), plaster, and wood paneling. I drew a little picture (see below) to help understand the layout, but basically it's two living rooms, one in front of the other, elevated about 1-2 feet off the ground on platforms. The front one has a screened-in bay that faces the street. There is a ground-level hallway running alongside the two rooms that is two stories tall. In the back of this hallway is where the kitchen area used to be; there's a skylight/smoke opening and the remains of a brick stove. This hallway is sort of the "mud room" area -- the floor is concrete-ish and dirty, you can wear shoes and there are storage cabinets there -- while the two living rooms are the nice areas, where you're supposed to take your shoes off. There's ladder in the hallway that leads to a little platform which opens onto a loft over the back living room (the roof slants down so that there wouldn't be room for a second story in the front room.) The hallway continues straight back to the tiny courtyard with one tree in it, where the plumbing services are -- toilet and what I think was probably a shower, each in its own cubicle. I didn't put this in my drawing, but I think the space between the two cubicles and the back living room (which looks out onto the courtyard through a glass sliding door) had a big dry sink (or wet sink, not sure) in it. (edited to add: drawings not to scale. sort of, but not really.)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ginkaku-ji and further plans

I did indeed haul my lazy butt over to Ginkaku-ji. It cost 500 yen to get in. I think I might go back (perhaps!) because it's sooooo close and quite pretty and I forgot the memory card to my camera so basically I just have these two EXTREMELY SPEEDY sketches that I'm not super happy with. (There were colors, man! colors!)

This is the main and most famous building there. "Ginkaku-ji" means "the Silver Pavilion," though it is not, actually, covered in silver, though apparently that was originally the plan. It's supposed to be a counterpart to Kinkaku-ji ("the Golden Pavilion"), which I saw last time I was in Japan. Both were built as private residences, this one in the 1480s-90s, and later given over to orders of Buddhist monks to turn into temples. I kept picturing whatever brilliant old Japanese architect who designed this place spinning in his grave, yelling, "I spent MONTHS getting the curve of that roof JUST RIGHT, and now you cavalierly butcher it in your drawing? FOR SHAME!"

Ah well.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

music, silence, food

Some things.

On Saturday I walked to Uniqlo (not the closest Uniqlo, turns out -- damn you, Google Maps, for lying to me) to buy some socks, as I have put holes in three pairs since I've gotten here. I went ahead and got two more t-shirts while I was there, since it looks like I will be doing more dressed-down work (cleaning, etc.) and less dressed-up work than I had at first predicted.

I know some folk think Uniqlo's stuff is bland and boring, but you guys: When you are a size FREAKING ENORMOUS by most Japanese standards, and Uniqlo carries most of the basics in sizes up to XL (an American XL, more or less) -- that is a godsend. I love Uniqlo. Also their socks fit unusually well -- they go up just far enough to avoid slipping over the heel and have a good seam at the toe (and come in cute patterns.) I bought three pairs last time I was here, but alas! one half of each pair disappeared into the ether, and I was left with one red, one blue, and one gray striped sock.

On the way park I walked through a large park with a mysterious structure inside a large wall that I could not identify. Upon further investigation, I realized that it was the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Durrrr. The current building only dates from 1855 (only!), though there has been an imperial palace near this location since the late 700s. Two recent emperors were crowned here (though not the most recent), but it isn't currently used as a residence. You have to request permission to go inside, but I just walked about and took some picture of the wall and the roofs and stuff. (There's also a bunch of normal park stuff on the grounds, like a baseball diamond and tennis courts.)

VERDANT FOLIAGE on the roof!

Friday, May 6, 2011

more from the food front

I just made decent bread dough without any sort of measuring device. I WIN. (It's for steamed buns, as I have no oven.) (Yes, they're going to be cabbage, carrot, and onion filled. It's cheap!)


A kitty!

This is the window in my apartment that looks out on a cement block wall about 1.5' foot away. Still, in Tokyo I only ever got lizards outside my window (and in Madrid nothing at all.)

A little under two hours left in The Return of the King, and then I will have completed my eleven-hour LOTR rewatching spree. Wheeee.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I think the picture says it all.

Google maps tells me I walked 8.2 miles round trip . . . it didn't feel like that much, but sure.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

the view from where I am. . . walking

Mainly I watched the rest of the extended version of The Two Towers today, but I also took a short walk down the street and up the hill. I came upon Yoshida Shrine, which if I understood the sign rightly was built in 1601.

Actually colored this after I came back with my somewhat random selection of Prismacolors (I have a ton of them, but I only brought ~1/3 of all I own.)

A roof detail from the shelter over the basins to cleanse your hands before you enter the shrine.

Coming back down the stairs that led to this and several other shrines.

And finally, for Mary Beth. Upon closer inspection, it appears that this sign is actually instructing bicycle riders not to park their bikes in this spot, but it does rather look like it says "no bicycle-chasing pigs allowed" or similar.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

more winnage

The meal I just made cost:

1/2 head of cabbage at 105 yen ($1.30) x 1/5 used = $0.26
2 carrots at 112 yen ($1.38) x 1/4 used = $0.35
2 onions at 175 yen ($2.16) x 1/2 used = $1.08
1 bulb of garlic at 198 yen ($2.45) x 1/10 used = $0.25

1 package of dry udon noodles at 105 yen ($1.30) x 1/3 used = $0.43

6 eggs at 105 yen ($1.30) x 1/6 used = $0.22

$2.59, and probably $0.40 more in sauces and oil.

So $3 for two meals that had some protein, some starch, some fiber, some vitamins, and flavor. Go me!


Still feeling unready for hardcore sightseeing, so instead I took a walk along the river, probably about 6 miles round trip. There's sort of a boulevard that runs along the Kamo River (鴨川) ("duck river"! how appropriate) for probably five to six miles of its length, though admittedly I did not go upstream much of where my street hits the river.

During said walk I encountered all of the following wildlife:
  • Mallard ducks
  • Three or four Grey Herons
  • Four or five Little Egrets (yup, had to look both of those up)
  • A flock of very large crows eating trash out of the river (eep)
  • A pile of cats sleeping on a tarp outside a makeshift shelter under one of the many bridges
  • A very large Akita also sleeping outside a different shelter (double eep)
  • A small pot-bellied pig out for a stroll with its people
  • Swarms of gnats
  • A large dead eel that two people fishing had just caught and pulled in
  • At least three dogs riding in bike baskets: A pug, a King Charles Spaniel, and a Shiba Inu
  • Many other dogs playing in the water and doing other holiday-type things, including a Dalmation, a Lab, poodles, a Miniature Pinscher, a trio of long-haired Daschunds, several Shiba Inus, and a Whippet
  • Some turtles. Ahem. Technically the turtles were not wildlife, as they were made of concrete and functioned as stepping stones so people could cross the (very wide but also very shallow, ~1 foot deep in most places) river. Lots of little kids were playing out on these. There were also boat- and space shuttle-shaped stepping stones.
Overall one can tell it is a holiday. Lots of people were biking, walking, reading books, playing guitars and drums and a little triangular flute and also a ukelele, fishing, picnicking, wading in the water, and so forth.

I was thinking to myself, "Gee! Perhaps I should be a bit more careful. After all, it might have been sheer luck last time I was in Japan that I didn't get into trouble even though I didn't take any precautions." And that might be true, to a certain extent. However, one thing I've noticed is that no one here seems to use bike locks. They just park their bikes and go, something that wouldn't be a very good idea even in Boston. So, mark that up under the "Japan really is an absurdly safe country," column.

I reiterate: My apartment is awesome. Just. . . awesome. Everything works, everything is clean, and the furnishings even include actual sharp kitchen knives with which it is easy to cut vegetables. If I could find an apartment like this, for this price, in or near central Boston, I would be spinning around screaming in delight. (Of course, I'd need a job too, but . . . housing!) There's air conditioning too, but I'm not sure when I'll need it.

It's tiny, but a tiny, private space is pretty agreeable. (Also the bathroom is one of those that the whole thing -- tub, floor, walls, everything -- is a continuous plastic piece, which I find amusing.)

I'm re-watching The Lord of the Rings. It makes me feel extra homey, though I should probably watch some Japanese fantasy next so that my mind gets switched back on that grammatical channel.

Monday, May 2, 2011

this is what winning looks like

Winning is tasty.

This is my first self-cooked meal in Kyoto! The one downside is that now it is all in my tummy. Perhaps obviously, I have checked into my apartment. It is tiny (but not that tiny) and pretty great. My only food preparation spots are either in the sink (which is big! yay!) or on top of the small fridge in front of the microwave, but other than that, it's pretty complete. I checked in this morning with nary a hangup or problem and then went and got some groceries. A small package of unflavored udon costs about 60 cents (which is as much as you see here, though much bulked up by chicken and some veggies.) One serving of raw chicken is about $3.00-$3.50, so I can already guess I'm going to be eating eggs (didn't see any beans at the store.) I accidentally bought some sort of sweet vinegar, thinking it was oil, and had to run out again, so I shall be producing some interesting-flavored sauces for a bit. Note: oil is "abura," 油. I also got some corn flakes and milk, so my breakfast is covered for a few days. (In case you're interested, $2.50 for a liter of milk and $4 for the box of cornflakes.) (For more context, I spent $20-30 a day on food in Tokyo. So this is not that obscene.)

Other things -- on the train ride from my hotel to my apartment, I was standing next to a guy in a dark pinstriped suit who was intently studying English on flashcards hooked to a ring. Made me feel a little better -- everyone is trying to learn something. At the next stop or so, another guy got on and stood next to me wearing a "Michigan University: State Ivy League" t-shirt, which made me think of Alyssa and mentally chuckle.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


I am full of them, chiefly that I wouldn't blog about Japan at all until I'd finished my London posts. I have led you astray!

Ah well.

Some things:
  • I have located my apartment.
  • I have located my office.
  • I have located the grocery store closest to my apartment.
  • I have located the infamous デニシュブレド ("Danish bread"), a deadly buttery concoction that was the primary reason that I gained weight in Japan last time despite walking 6 miles daily.
  • According to Google Maps (which is not the most reliable source for Japan, admittedly) I walked about 7 miles this morning. Here is a somewhat loose representation of my route:

This is ignoring all the times I got lost.