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Showing posts from March, 2013

Ten things I don't get about Japan

Enough already with pink.  It's time to return to quirky shrines and offbeat temples, but while I'm researching a dozen or so, I offer a list of ten (plus) things I don't understand about Japan.
I'm puzzled by many conundrums, such as the preference for white rather than brown rice and students who describe their hobby as "sleeping", but I can still kinda figure it out.
This list, however ... Japan, I love you to bits, but why?!
PachinkoCyclists on sidewalksMobile phones as a security blanketDragging heels and shuffling feet – all genders, all ages, all social strataMasksUnbelievably cluttered homes, regardless of sizeDo we really, absolutely and unequivocallyneed so many vending machines?Sniffing. I know it's cultural – I know – but wouldn't it be better to blow instead of swallow? (Egad, it sounds as if I'm talking about Kabukichō.)KaraokeA tendency to sexualise young girls and infantilize adult women. This could be linked to three more specific…

Sakura 2013: Koganei Park

Am I allowed to do another cherry blossom post, or are you tired of all this pink stuff?
When I realized that I'd have only one more chance for a good sakura sanpo (cherry blossom walk), I dithered between two spots: one in Yokohama, one in Western Tokyo. The former is famous for its three ponds, and who can resist blossoms reflected in water? The latter is a massive park that also has an old C57-186 steam locomotive, built by Mitsubishi in 1946.
No contest. The train won. As Kaori has rightly pointed out, I'm a tetsu-jo (鉄女): iron woman or female train fan.The ponds at Mitsuike Kōen (三ッ池公園) in Yokohama will have to wait until next year; this year I went to Koganei Kōen (小金井公園).

It's a massive park of 79 hectares, planted with about 1700 cherry trees. It also houses the Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum, and if there's another magic word apart from "train" that gets Ru going, it's "Edo".
It wasn't that difficult to discover a third rea…

Sakura 2013: Toden Arakawa Line

I'm besotted with trains. I don't know where this obsession comes from, but I've had it since childhood, when I loved travelling on the Trans-Karoo Express, an old steam train that crossed South Africa's arid interior from Cape Town to Johannesburg. When you finally reached your destination, you'd find black grit in your hair, your clothes, even in your locked and zipped-up suitcase.
When I arrived in Tokyo, I was in heaven: shinkansen, commuter trains, a subway system, streetcars. I love them all, but I'm utterly entranced by streetcars: they meander through backwater neighbourhoods, amble past kitchen windows, trundle through gardens, stop for pedestrians … all of that at such a leisurely pace that a human could probably outrun it. There are only two streetcar lines in Tokyo: the Toden Arakawa Line from Waseda  in Shinjuku to Minowabashi in Arakawa, a 12 km journey that takes about 50 minutes; and the Tōkyū Setagaya Line in western Tokyo.

The Toden Arakawa L…

Sakura 2013: Kōtō-ku

Ever since I moved to Tokyo, my friends and colleagues have been trying to persuade me that Meguro is the best cherry blossom spot in Tokyo. It's beautiful, it's upmarket, it has excellent restaurants, it has a great vibe …
I’ll get there, eventually, but why would I be in a hurry to visit an over-crowded, over-priced and over-commercialised area if I can have this?

Quiet, tranquil, gorgeous … and no crowds. Kōtō-ku.
If I got kicked out of Taitō-ku for whatever reason, I'd move to neighbouring Kōtō-ku … and never mind that it's the most defenceless of all Tokyo's wards. When the big one arrives, and if it were to be followed by a tsunami, the low-lying Kōtō-ku would be hit hard.
That very vulnerability – flatlands criss-crossed by small rivers and neat canals – makes it perfect for walking in all seasons. It doesn't have many train stations, and to most spoilt brat Tokyoites that equals inaccessible, and that means cherry blossom spots that are surprisingly qu…