42

Kagurazaka

K intro

 

Oops.

I had planned to show you a younger face of Tokyo this week but ended up yet again being totally seduced by the old. I just meant to pop my head into Kagurazaka, a neighbourhood on the edge of Shinjuku, because a blog follower who’d lived there said it had “old, cobbled lanes running off of the high street and is one of the remaining areas in the centre of the city that you can still navigate using an Edo-era map” (thanks Laura B!).

Five minutes and then we’d be out of there. Ha. No such luck. Like a moth to a flame I was drawn in once more by those who float down the street, hair upswept, torsos bound and feet sheathed in white.

Ya. Kimonos. I cannot resist them, especially when they’re gliding around an older neighbourhood like Kagurazaka.

I was also sucked in by some beautiful wagashi – Japanese sweets – and the chance of spying geisha (they still frequent the area).

Some background: Kagurazaka is one of the few areas that wasn’t bombed in WWII. We’re talking Tokyo so that doesn’t mean they kept all the old stuff. But there’s more of it than in your average neighbourhood, as well as a cluster of very atmospheric cobbled lanes that Laura had mentioned. There’s also a distinct French presence with lots of little French eateries and, bizarrely, French music being piped down the main street.

Now glide…

 

Part 1: Kimonos in Kagurazaka

I’ve given a lot of thought as to why I’m so taken with the whole kimono look, more so than say with the Indian sari. I think it’s because while saris are extremely beautiful they’re part of the 21st century, still worn by millions of women on the Indian subcontinent as an everyday garment. The kimono on the other hand is a glimpse into the past – most modern Japanese women don’t wear one, and if they do, it’s usually for a special occasion only.

Which is why I love meeting those for whom it’s a passion. Like Emiko, a kimono hobbyist, and Kazuko, a kimono teacher, in the images below. Visit any city in the First World and really, we all look pretty much the same. But not these women. They’re committed to the process of assembling the 12 or more pieces that are required to put together a typical kimono outfit, mixing and matching the various bits in such a way that’s pleasing to their eye and reflective of their personality, and then securing them in the same way Japanese women have been doing so for centuries. One quick glance at an obi and you can tell – there’s no zipper there.

The other reason I’m so drawn to them is because most of them are such beautiful prints. They are moving artworks that literally dress up and enhance what can often be a fairly uninspiring urban landscape – even in Kagurazaka, where there are more old interesting buildings than usual as well as some appealing modern ones.

Anyway, I hope that explains why it’s week four in Tokyo and I’m still photographing kimonos – and as much as I’m trying to limit myself, may continue to do so until the day we say, see ya’ Tokyo.

 

 

straight lines - Emiko in her mother's kimono

“it’s my hobby” – Emiko in her mother’s kimono

 

 

 

 

salmon pink

salmon pink

 

 

 

 

squeezing nature in wherever possible :: 1

squeezing nature in wherever possible :: 1

 

 

 

 

squeezing nature in wherever possible :: 2

squeezing nature in wherever possible :: 2

 

 

 

 

ideal for winding your way to the mountains

ideal for winding your way to the mountains

 

 

 

 

patterns a plenty - Hatue

patterns a plenty – Hatue

 

 

 

 

infinite variety

infinite variety

 

 

 

 

We ran into Emiko and her friend, Yasuko, again at the end of the main road in Kagurazaka where modern Tokyo takes over once more. I loved watching their ancient shapes disappear into the crush of any-city garb.

 

 

heading home -Yasuko and Emiko :: 1

ancient in the modern  :: 1

 

 

 

 

heading home -Yasuko and Emiko :: 2

ancient in the modern :: 2

 

 

 

 

No sooner had they left than another group of kimonos turned up, with Kazuko, a kimono teacher, leading the charge.

 

 

Kazuko, kimono teacher

Kazuko, kimono teacher

 

 

 

 

a work of art

a work of art

 

 

 

 

my assistant - Coco explaining the project

my assistant – Coco explaining the project

 

 

 

 

fans

fans

 

 

 

 

As beautiful as Kazuko’s kimono was, it was the end of another exhausting day – time to do battle in the subway.

 

 

day fades quickly into night

day fades quickly into night in the Japanese autumn

 

 

 

 

rush hour on Tokyo subway

rush hour on Tokyo subway

 

 

 

 

The Japanese are expert at napping on the subway – Coco, absolutely tuckered out by a day of chasing kimonos in Kagurazaka, joined them.

 

 

turning Japanese

turning Japanese

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Coco in kimono

You know how in each city we do a little shoot with Coco dressed in something appropriate? Well, a kimono was the obvious choice for Tokyo but rather than do the whole kid-kimono thing, she wanted a kimono with a twist. So we bought a AUD$10 (cheap!) adult kimono jacket, stripy socks and added pink blush under her eyes, a look you see a fair bit around Tokyo.

Took a few shots of her down a lane – and then ducked up to the temple on the main road where there happened to be some sort of matsuri (festival) going on, to hand out our own offering… 

 

 

half anf half

half and half

 

 

 

 

with the temple dudes

with the temple dudes

 

 

 

 

mini kimono ladies

mini kimono ladies

 

 

 

 

would you like one? :: 1

would you like one? :: 1

 

 

 

 

would you like one? :: 2

would you like one? :: 2

 

 

 

 

would your dog like one?

would your dog like one?

 

 

 

 

what about you, would you like one?

what about you, would you like one?

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Sweet things

After the temple, we went and visited Hisae whom we’d met the first day we arrived in the neighbourhood at her shop, Baikatei, to admire her beautiful sweets once more.

 

 

 

sweet - Hisae outside the 80 year old shop she's had for 45 years

sweet – Hisae outside the 80 year old shop she’s had for 45 years

 

 

 

 

Hisae explained that what makes her sweets so special is the type of sugar they use and the way they process the beans that go inside the sweets. That and the skill of her main man, who makes hundreds of tiny, edible artworks every day…

 

 

from this to...

from this…

 

 

 

 

to this - Camelia Princess

…to this – Camellia Princess

 

 

 

 

I wanted to photograph some of his creations on something that was equally special. So we bought a few and wandered through the back streets of Kagurazaka to find another shop we’d spied earlier that had beautiful hand-made plates amongst other things.

Now, I’m not easily impressed and I’m not much a retail queen, but if I had the moola, I would buy every single item at La Ronde D’Argile. And I’d like to live in the building too, a tiny old house with tatami mats and the most wonderful feeling.

I don’t think the shop’s owner knew quite what to make of us – a kid in a kimono jacket and me, carrying a tray of Japanese sweets, pointing wildly at her plates – ‘Can I please take your plates outside and photograph these sweets on them?’

 

 

anyone?:: 1

anyone for a Camellia Princess?:: 1

 

 

 

 

anyone?:: 2

anyone for a Camellia Princess?:: 2

 

 

 

 

snowmen and Santa :: 1

snowmen and Santa :: 1

 

 

 

 

snowmen and Santa :: 2

snowmen and Santa :: 2

 

 

 

 

After I’d finished snapping the sweets, I couldn’t help taking a few shots of the shop’s interior. Actually, I think it was partly that we just didn’t want to leave. Coco made herself at home on the tatmi mats, drawing and playing a game of rock, paper, scissor in Japanese with a new found friend, while I floated around, uplifted by the tiny house’s good energy.

 

 

the work of 'up and coming Japanese artists'

the work of ‘up and coming Japanese artists’

 

 

 

 

a customer scrutinises the wares

a customer scrutinises the wares

 

 

 

 

while Coco plays with her new friend

while Coco plays with her new friend

 

 

 

 

The only feature of the place I wasn’t fond of was the staircase. Vertiginous in a word.

 

 

scary steep stairs

scary steep stairs

 

 

 

 

drat it, I didn't write down her name - but she's the owner

drat it, I didn’t write down her name – but she’s the owner

 

 

 

 

At some point while playing inside, Coco remembered we’d brought chopsticks to put in her hair and stuck them in. She had the kimono, the napping on trains, the playing rock, paper, scissor in Japanese and the chopsticks. All she needed now was…

 

 

doing the peace sign thing - the transformation is complete

doing the peace sign thing – the transformation is complete

 

 

 

 

I do not know why all Japanese – aside from the kimono women – do the peace sign thing when being photographed. But they do. And now Coco does too.

As we were leaving the neighbourhood for the last time, we ran into Hatue again, an older lady we’d met on a rainy, cold day during the week. Hatue was always in a rush and looked slightly peeved that I was taking up her time. But this time Coco, enlivened by her new Japanese-ness, launched herself at Hatue and gave her an enormous hug. Suddenly Hatue wasn’t in a hurry anymore.

 

 

 

hug

hugging Hatue

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

I loved all the kimonos of course but what about Kagurazaka itself? Well, it was probably the most manicured, upmarket neighbourhood we’d explored so far and at one point I wondered if the people that lived or hung out there were less open, more remote. But a kid in a kimono, a tray of tiny biscuits and a hug were all it took to bring out the best in the Kagurazaka-ites.

As for the built environment, amongst the usual Tokyo low rise there were those few lovely old lanes, some sweet older houses and a few more modern numbers with nice clean lines. And like all of Tokyo – at least the bits we’ve seen – there were no hovels nor no mansions, and no pavements (I get it – not enough space for pavements – but it always surprises me.)

And the French thing? Distracted by all things Japanese, I didn’t pay much attention to it. But that piped muzak, it’s really gotta go.

 

 

 

French? un petit peu

French? un petit peu

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Coco’s had a ball this week. Dressing up, meeting new people, playing new games. She’s loved it. And that kimono jacket, well, it hasn’t left her side…

 

 

 

it's amazing what you can hide in your kimono sleeves :: 1

it’s amazing what you can hide in your kimono sleeves :: 1

 

 

 

 

it's amazing what you can hide in your kimono sleeves ::  2

it’s amazing what you can hide in your kimono sleeves :: 2

 

 

 

This suburb has been brought to you by Andrew Leslie

See you next week.

 

40

Shimokitazawa

S intro3

 

So, you’ve heard of Harajuku right? The place where young Japanese do extreme dress-up? Okay, well, this week I thought we wouldn’t go there (too famous) – but somewhere that I’d heard was a Harajuku-lite. Hip but more relaxed. A neighbourhood in western Tokyo called Shimokitazawa, or Shimokita as the locals call it.

While I knew we wouldn’t find grown men in onesies or gothic lolitas there, I thought at least we’d see some dress-up. But no. Maybe we missed it. Because Shimokita seemed more cozy and kawaii (cute) than anything else, its narrow car-free alleys filled with a fairly ordinary mix of people hanging out at the independent cafes, vintage clothing shops and tiny bars and eateries.

Pretty amazing considering it’s just 10 minutes by train from the skyscrapers and madness of Shinjuku.

Let’s wander…

 

Part 1: Food and drinkies in Shimokita

As I mentioned, the neighbourhood is dotted with bars, cafes, restaurants. My favourite bar was the one where Tony Montana was at. No, not that Tony Montana (Al Pacino, Scarface, 1983). This Tony Montana…

 

 

everyone stands at a stand-up bar - that's Tony, on the right

everyone stands at a stand-up bar – that’s Tony, on the right

 

 

 

 

mushrooms and chook on the grill

mushrooms and chook on the grill

 

 

 

 

hey, hello, anyone?

hey, hello, anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

Tony was there with his owner, Kawabata. I asked Kawabata what he liked about living in Shimokita – he said, “It’s exciting”. (Or at least I think that’s what he said. Kawabata, if you’re reading this and I just misquoted you, please let me know.)

 

 

what? I'm hungry

what? I’m hungry

 

 

 

 

finally

finally

 

 

 

 

Given how many rules there are in Tokyo, I’m sure there’s one that says – No dog, including one named after a famous American actor, is allowed to eat at a bar. But this is Shimokita – chill.

There are lots of cute dogs in the neighbourhood – like this one…

 

 

let's call her Fluffy

let’s call her Fluffy

 

 

 

 

…. but really, Tony Montana was the best.

 

 

in their own worlds

in their own worlds

 

 

 

 

Aside from the bars, the main food focus in the neighbourhood seemed to be on fish and noodles.

 

 

fish, fresh and dried

fish, fresh and dried

 

 

 

 

let's get a taxi, this thing weighs a tonne

let’s get a taxi, this thing weighs a tonne

 

 

 

 

where would Japan be without its noodles?

where would Japan be without its noodles?

 

 

 

 

noodles in the making

noodles in the making

 

 

 

 

As for cafes, my favourite was this one, with a small photography gallery out the back and a very sweet barista, Susumu…

 

 

Ballon D'essai

Ballon D’essai

 

 

 

 

Susumu

Susumu

 

 

 

 

thank you Yoshida!

thank you Yoshida!

 

 

 

 

Part 2: On the main street

We met all sorts of people…

 

 

the inspiration for his hair do? - Teruaki

the inspiration for his hair do? – Teruaki

 

 

 

 

tradition

tradition

 

 

 

 

Kaede

French-ish – Kaede

 

 

 

 

half Dutch, half Japanese - Yuzuki and Luca

half Dutch, half Japanese – Yuzuki and Luca

 

 

 

 

Shunto

Shunto

 

 

 

 

There are few cars around but occasionally you see the odd taxi – of which I am strangely fond. Their bright colours, the lace seat covers and the impeccably dressed taxi drivers and their white gloves. Pity they cost an arm and a leg.

 

 

 

taxi!

taxi!

 

 

 

 

the smartest taxi drivers ever

the smartest taxi drivers ever

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Obsession No. 1

Lanterns. Love them. Can’t stop snapping them. Especially when combined with gleefully happy two year old Mei.

 

 

hanging out with grandpa - Fukai and Mei

hanging out with grandpa – Fukai and Mei

 

 

 

 

fish

fish

 

 

 

 

the kiss

the kiss

 

 

 

 

fun

fun

 

 

 

 

Speaking of fish and lanterns…

 

 

attracted by the light

attracted by the light

 

 

 

 

early evenings

early evenings

 

 

 

 

Part 4: House and garden

After we’d explored the main shopping area, we walked up the little hill to check out the houses. While most of them were the typical Tokyo low-rise 70s-80s kind, there was one that caught my eye – old, of course, with a traditional garden.

 

 

the garden :: 1

the garden :: 1

 

 

 

 

the garden :: 2

the garden :: 2

 

 

 

 

the garden :: 3

the garden :: 3

 

 

 

 

And I cannot ignore a nice old wall…

 

 

wall :: 1

wall :: 1

 

 

 

 

wall :: 2

wall :: 2

 

 

 

 

bows

bows

 

 

 

 

And even when there’s no space for a garden, nature still sneaks in…

 

 

windows

windows

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Autumn

One of the reasons I decided to include Tokyo in this project was I wanted to see the autumn leaves. While there aren’t many in Tokyo, I did spot a few. On trees and as well as elsewhere…

 

 

a slow reveal

a slow reveal

 

 

 

 

Inside this beautifully wrapped packaging from a shop in Shimokita was…

 

 

autumn :: 1

autumn :: 1

 

 

 

 

autumn :: 2

autumn :: 2

 

 

 

 

autumn :: 3

autumn :: 3

 

 

 

 

Japanese design is unbelievably wonderful. From their papers and fabrics to the sweets above. And these ones too…

 

 

kawaii!

kawaii!

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

When they ask young people where they most want to live in Tokyo, apparently Shimokita is one of the top choices. I can see why; it’s an incredibly relaxed and friendly little corner of Tokyo that’s minutes away from the bright lights of Shinjuku et al. I just hope it manages to hang on to its charm – just around the corner from Susumu’s hand-drawn coffees is a Starbucks. Just saying.

 

 

 

at the cat cafe

at yet another cat cafe

 

 

 

 

tea and hot chocolate

tea and hot chocolate

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Coco loved Shimokita. Aside from its small town charm, it had a cat cafe. A done deal really.

Now, I hope you’re still reading because I have news. Having almost not come here, Tokyo has got me firmly in its clutches. So we’re staying a few extra weeks. And, I’m so sorry if this is going to disappoint anyone, but I’m cancelling Mexico City. After Tokyo, one more big city may just do me in – well, us in actually. We’re both pretty exhausted. The kind of exhaustion that makes you feel quite odd at times and unable to move. We’ve been going at it for 11 months and it’s showing.

There’s more. You know how I’m running late – as in, I’m only up to ‘Suburb’ No 40 which means I have 12 more installments to go – but the year ends in just six weeks?

Well, the problem is, my Around the World tickets expire at the end of those six weeks. If we don’t finish by then, I’ll have to buy new tickets home. It may not sound like much but it’s just one cost too many – even with the wonderful support of my sponsors and Kickstarter supporters (hello! I love you!), this project has ended up costing me a pretty penny.

I’ve been really struggling with this for weeks. I’m so passionate about this project and so committed to making it the best possible virtual travel experience I can for you. But I just can’t take any more out of my mortgage to fund it (I know, extreme huh?).

So, here’s my solution. I’m going to do 12 ‘suburbs’ in six weeks. Ha! They’ll be shorter for sure, it may kill me, but…

And after Tokyo, we’ll finish the last few weeks in a mystery location.

If anyone has another solution (eg, know someone at Qantas who’ll extend my tickets for another month) please do tell.

I’m so sorry if you’re disappointed by any of this. But I think my plan will work out okay. It’ll just be 52 Suburbs Around the World ‘Lite’ from now on…

This suburb has been brought to you by Nirah Mattila 

See you next week – twice hopefully.

 

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