44

Ginza

 G intro

 

With just a few days left in Tokyo (sniff) I realised I’d been so distracted by traditional Japan that I’d completely ignored the hyper-sophisticated, ultra-modern side of the city. In a panic I leapt off to the one place I thought I’d find it by the bucketload – Ginza.

Ginza? Possibly Tokyo’s most famous district? Yeah, I know, and let me tell you, after last week’s flirtation with a famous area I really wasn’t keen on exploring another one. But I had no time to faff about or do a recce anywhere else, and anyway, this was Tokyo – surely there would be more?

A few facts before we amble. Ginza was originally the site of a silver coin mint – hence the name Ginza, meaning silver mint. Became Tokyo’s most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district after the 1923 earthquake. Nothing about Ginza is cheap – apparently you can buy a coffee here for $10. Hate that.

Okay, let’s move.

 

Part 1: And then

After snapping a few off the wall buildings, I was struggling. Ginza had turned out to be just glitzy shops and nothing much else after all. I mean, impressive architecture for sure, but beyond that, hmm…

 

 

a jewel of a building - Mikimoto pearls

a jewel of a building – Mikimoto pearls

 

 

 

 

liquid - De Beers daimonds

liquid – De Beers diamonds

 

 

 

 

Japanese for beer

Japanese for beer

 

 

 

 

 

place of fancy threads

place of fancy threads

 

 

 

 

Despite my time challenges, I decided Ginza wasn’t for me.

But just as we were approaching the subway to leave, I spied a monk type figure under a large hat, chanting. A metre away from him three Japanese men were busy discussing golf scores or business deals. Women rushed past, arms full of crisp new shopping bags. Twentysomethings wandered around, texting madly. But there the monk stood, a figure from another time, nothing moving but his lips.

O-kay. Not modern, no, but kind of interesting. Subo-san from Kyoto had told us about these monks who stand frozen for hours at a time, moving only when someone approached them for a blessing. He said it looked easy but in fact was very hard.

As it would be getting dark any minute I took just a few shots and then we left. But I was curious. Would the monk be there the next day? Was this his life?

 

 

Ginza gents and a monk

Ginza gents and a monk

 

 

 

 

the blessing bowl

the blessing bowl

 

 

 

 

frozen in time

frozen in time

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Cats and hats

Curiosity piqued and with time running out before we’d have to fasten our seat belts, we went back to Ginza the next day to see if the monk was still standing still.

On the way we passed another surprise – a man placing his three cats on a small ledge, for those passing by to enjoy.

Tokyo is seriously cat crazy so within seconds, no kidding, a crowd of Japanese had gathered to snap the cats. The furry stars sat there without looking the slightest bit distressed but they were kind of snotty and sneezy and really, when you think about it, did they really need it? As Coco said, “It’s cute and dreadful at the same time”. But at least it was surprising.

 

 

Ginza cats

Ginza cats

 

 

 

 

cat and camera crazy

cat and camera crazy

 

 

 

 

We then made a beeline to the subway to see if the monk was there. Yep, still there, looking like he’d never left.

 

 

Ginza girls and the monk

Ginza girls and the monk

 

 

 

 

heads down - the texter and the monk

heads down – the texter and the monk

 

 

 

 

In the 15 minutes that we watched him, maybe three people stopped to drop a few coins in his bowl in exchange for a blessing. After Coco had one, I got a little closer to see what his face looked like under his hat.

 

 

under his hat

under his hat

 

 

 

 

He was fully focused, eyes shut, chanting softly – all this despite the fact that a political rally was underway right behind him, with loud speakers blaring a few metres from his ears and people all over the place. Including this man, who was handing out pamphlets – a Japanese Dick Tracy for sure.

 

 

Dick Tracy, moonlighting as a political campaigner

Dick Tracy, moonlighting as a political campaigner

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Hair dos

We left the monk and Dick Tracy to go and eat lunch. When we came back in the late afternoon, the monk was still there, doing his thing, but the political rally had been replaced by another sort of gathering – one of traditional Japanese hair hobbyists. They were standing not on the street but outside Wako department store, housed in something you hardly ever see in Tokyo – a building over 70 years old. The 1932 neo-Renaissance building was one of the few buildings left standing in the area after WWII.

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 1

hair hobbyists :: 1

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 2

hair hobbyists :: 2

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 3

hair hobbyists :: 3

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 4

hair hobbyists :: 4

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 5

hair hobbyists :: 5

 

 

 

 

After snapping the women I turned around to see two of them approaching the monk. He’d already taken his hat off and was apparently finally ready to leave but he smiled at one of the women as he started the blessings. “I know him”, she said, “I come here all the time”.

 

 

blessing her hair?:: 1

blessing her hair?:: 1

 

 

 

 

blessing her hair? :: 2

blessing her hair? :: 2

 

 

 

 

Once he’d finished the blessings, Coco and I went up to him. After watching him for so long it was lovely to see him smile and talk and laugh. And he spoke perfect English. Because Hideo Mochizuki, it turned out, was a monk who’d lived in the East Village in New York City for 15 years once upon a time. Back then he was a cook and a carpenter. Then he’d met a monk on his return to Japan 12 years ago and found what he was looking for. “Everyone has a seed of goodness in their hearts. When they ask for a prayer, that seed grows.”

Well, he said something like that anyway. Hideo explained that he stood for four hours at a time, three to four days a week, and that he’d done that for 450 days in his Ginza spot – once he reaches 1,000 days he’ll move on. And what does he chant about for all those thousands of hours? He’s praying for people and for world peace.

Coco and he beamed at each other for the final time and then it was time to fly…

 

 

her latest friend - Coco and Hideo

her latest friend – Coco and Hideo

 

 

 

 

and then it was time to fly :: 1

and then it was time to fly :: 1

 

 

 

 

and then it was time to fly :: 2

and then it was time to fly :: 2

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Given more time and less panic, I may not have chosen Ginza to be part of this project. Too famous and too fancy.

And in the end, despite my desire to focus on modern Tokyo, I found myself drawn once more to the old.

But I can’t think of any other famous, fancy shopping district in any other city that I’ve been to that was more enjoyable and surprising to explore than Ginza. Admittedly I’d almost bailed but Hideo the monk had saved me. All those hours he spends saying prayers for people really do work.

 

 

 

from one sprawling, earthquake prone city to another - Tokyo back to LA - to fly on to ….

from one sprawling, earthquake prone city to another – Tokyo back to LA – to fly on to ….

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

That was our last week in Tokyo – we left on Sunday, to fly back to LA, to catch our next flight to… Let me surprise you in the next post okay?

I hope you enjoyed our six weeks in Tokyo as much as we have.

Many thanks to those who sent neighbourhood suggestions as well as those who gently insisted Tokyo be included in the project. And to Laura M. and Jacqueline J. for all your advice on everything from best subway routes to surviving Tokyo as a gluten-free eater (it’s not easy).

There’s so much I’ll miss about Tokyo – from their absolutely beautiful sense of design to the people themselves. I’m sure there’s a darker side to Japanese society and yes, there are a few areas that aren’t so rosy (whales, the government’s lack of transparency, earthquakes etc) but it’s probably the city I felt most at home in. By the end I was almost falling asleep on the subway too.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Tony Murphy

See you next week.

 

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.

 

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