Monday, June 4, 2012

Cafe Wamp

Yesterday we were taking a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood with Pippi when we chanced upon the Cafe Wamp tucked inside a bunker-like space beneath the overhead expressway.  Capitalizing on any usable space (defined broadly), the gaps under elevated transit lines of all sorts often house a variety of commercial endeavors like shoe repair shops, dry cleaners and sketchy bars only open after sundown. Because of its menu posted outside and friendly-seeming folk seated at street-side tables, I took a closer look.  Much to my surprise, the small shop not only carried dog paraphernalia alongside tea and cakes, it had actual dogs. And lots of them. Curious, I approached the proprietor, an amiable chap who spoke rather good English since he used to play football in Florida.  A dog lover, he rescues dogs and keeps them at his shop until he can find homes for them.  At the moment he is maxed out with motley collection of mostly pit bulls and a few mixed breeds, all big dogs.  The animals looked a little bored but well tended.  Clearly they get a lot of attention from the Wamp staff and customers.

Wondering about the name "Wamp," I probed the proprietor.  Combining English and Japanese, this made-up word is based on a slang Japanese expression, "ippuku," meaning "one puff." Though a reference to taking a puff on a cigarette (ichi + puku), the term has come to mean "taking a short break." And translating "ichi" into "one" led the cafe owner to the sound written "wa" which is also a play on the Japanese word meaning "harmony."

Anyhow, if you know of anyone looking to adopt a dog, please drop by Wamp.  The cafe is on Meiji Dori, between Tengenjibashi and Furukawabashi.  If it weren't for the cafe, these dogs probably would not have a chance since there is no such thing as a no-kill shelter in Japan.  Their plight seems particularly heartbreaking in a country where people lavish unbelievable expense and attention on their pets yet look the other way while hundreds of dogs are "euthanized" weekly.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Smiling Stool

Yesterday in the park, Pippi and I noticed this perky little sign affixed to the can designated for burnable refuse as we tried to stealthily slip a loaded poo bag into said bin.  Illustrated with a pile of stool adorned with a smiley face, it states that dog owners are to take their pet's droppings home for proper disposal.  Amazingly, most people in Japan seem to do just that.  Unlike in some U.S. cities, there are no fines for not picking up pet droppings.  There is no need for monetary punishment since the social stigma of behaving otherwise keeps most people in line.  I guess I have not gone fully native yet.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Taxidermy Dog

The scene I am about to recount for you may be the weirdest thing I have seen in Japan yet. You might want to sit down.

A week ago Saturday was the quintessential spring day -- the kind we wait for all year. The sun was shinning, the cherry blossoms were nearly peaking and everybody was out for a stroll, including us. At Hiroo Crossing, we noticed an elderly woman in a wheelchair with her dog on her lap and her husband hovering behind her protectively. Initially, we just kept walking. Yet something was slightly off about this scene. Something made us turn around and look again.

At a glance, her shih tzu looked very realistic. Its size, shape and overall appearance were those of a real dog. But its fur was unnaturally stiff and bristly, its eyes had no expression and its body was completely unmoving. It was then that we realized this dog was no longer living. It was taxidermied!

I am dead serious.

I acknowledge that my behavior probably bordered on the impolite. While David went into the grocery store, Pippi and I circled around her a few times. I did not have the nerve to snap a full-on photo but, as you will see for yourself, I did score a rather telling profile shot.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Pilgrimage

Amazingly, on my recent round-the-world adventure I visited three out of my four childhood homes. The only one I missed is Beverly Shores.

The first stop on my pilgrimage was 6 Priory Walk in London. The neighborhood is as charming as ever -- still straight out of Mary Poppins.

The house needed some attention, or at least a little paint, in places.

Next I went to Chicago where 5759 was waiting for me, just as lovely and welcoming as ever. The flowers in front were just beginning to bloom. I have a profound attachment to this house.

Lastly, a quick stop at 1110 Webster Street in Palo Alto where we lived briefly one summer. My pet frogs are buried in the backyard. I remember that the light inside was beautiful.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Still Going Strong

Two of my book babies, Modern Japanese House and Hitoshi Abe. Spotted at the tiny Phaidon Shop at a shipping container mall in London.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Changes in the Hood

We now know that our old and much beloved building, Moto Azabu Grand Mansion, will be torn down soon. We knew this was coming but preferred to not think about it.

Until we moved out in July, this was the only home Eve had ever lived in and the only one that Abby remembered.

For us, that lovely apartment 401 was laden with memories and history.

We were its first and only tenants. But now it is empty and awaiting its demise.

Borings have been taken, the legally required kenchiku keikaku (architectural plan) is posted to the side of the building (pictured above) and the drive in front is now fenced off. Even Pippi is deterred.

Instead of parked cars, piles of scaffolding sit in its paved roadway, just waiting to be called up for duty. If all goes according to plan, the brick-clad structure will be in the throes of demolition by this time next week.

Just around the corner, the 70s vintage (I think) apartment building, Homat Pearl, is a few steps ahead in the redevelopment process. Sorry for the poor picture. The old building already razed and the site prepared, the groundbreaking is about to happen (I think). It is a huge site -- I never realized its size until the building was removed. Now that it is gone, there is so much more light and air. But, of course, that will go once the new construction starts. Hopefully these two new buildings will not alter the character of that little S-shaped stretch of street, an unexpected pocket of residential quiet in the shadow of mammoth Roppongi Hills.

Now don't get me wrong. I am quite dazzled by Tokyo's ability to reinvent itself again and again and again. This city has a remarkable way of evolving, revitalizing and growing in a very organic fashion. These are marvelous traits that keep the city alive -- no donut issues here. In fact, I would even go so far as to say Tokyo is a model of natural urban renewal that the rest of the world could learn from.

The replacement of buildings one by one is a sign of urban health. I do not even mind the disjuncture between adjacent buildings -- there are no cornice lines, street walls or consistent architectural vocabularies to unify. Over the years I have grown quite fond of the odd juxtapositions and strange adjacencies. Though frustrating at times, I have even developed an affection for the quirky Japanese address system that identifies buildings in the order of their completion, not physical location within the block. Yet seeing our former home for one of the last times tugs at my heart just a little.

I want the city to replace the worn out and the no longer needed, yet to save the meaningful and the historic -- and not just the front elevation as is sometimes the case ( I loathe facadism). Not to mention the florid wastefulness of destroying a building like the Grand Mansion which is only 16 years old. This is young even by Japanese standards. Good Bye, Grand Mansion. We are sorry to see you go.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Poor Sad Christchurch

I've got Christchurch on my mind. We made a brief visit to the city in January. And I am thinking about it once again as I pen a short piece about Shigeru Ban's upcoming paper tube church, due to rise up from the rubble in three months time. As of December, the entire central business district (CBD) was still closed off and declared red zone. It is the equivalent of the Loop and North Michigan Avenue having been sucked out of Chicago, my point of reference for most things urban. Unfathomable. In between the hoardings and fences, one can peer inside --the once thriving commercial area now looks like a ghost town. There is still debris in situ, broken glass scattered about and buildings in various states of destruction. It looked like the EQ was just last week. Had this been Japan, I am fairly certain that things would have been tidier, if not cleaned up entirely. Evidently, even buildings that look relatively unscathed have a date with the wrecking ball due to unseen, but very hazardous, structural damage.

True, a make-shift shopping area compiled of shipping containers has sprouted just outside the CBD. On the one hand, this seems like an ingenious way to attract people back into the center of town. Though we saw lots of pedestrians milling about, the stores were understocked and kind of tawdry. We tried to find something to buy out of solidarity but it was a struggle.

I was particularly struck by the many 19th century churches outside the CBD. While awaiting repair, their steeples sit on the ground, alongside the main edifices. We witnessed this again and again. Hopefully they can all be resurrected. But bringing these historic structures up to code will be a challenge and a great expense no doubt.

The gate at the Jewish Community Center, itself in total disarray, was hauntingly off kilter. We were very relieved to learn that money is being raised for the center's rebuilding. In the meantime, weekly services take place in a member's home.