Wednesday, December 21, 2011


We are fairly convinced that Japan has more 'hair & make' salons than any other city in the world. People in Japan obviously love to get a tonsorial fix -- who wouldn't when every shampoo comes with a head massage? I think it is probably one of those little luxuries that off set the hardships of daily life in the rabbit hutch. For a couple of months, I have been collecting hair salon signs around town to share with you. Here is a round up of the best of the best. I hope that you find them as amusing as we do. None are photoshopped. All were taken with my trusty little iphone. I kid you not.



Kinda catchy!

Maybe it's a guy thing.

Say w h a a a t ???

And, my personal favorite, NIX! Lice or no lice, they simply hack it all off.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pippi's Omimai

Very regrettably, Pippi had a bad encounter with a pair of rather aggressive beagles about ten days ago in Arisugawa Park. While Pippi was greeting a friendly labradoodle that she knows, two beagles on a double leash lunged at her. In turn, Pippi lunged back and a bit of a tussle ensued. By the time we could pull the dogs apart, Pippi's ear was dripping with blood. The opposing dogs were completely unscathed. Pippi's injury resulted in stitches, a snood-like bandage to keep the ear in place and, the crowning blow, an erizabesu cora (aka Elizabeth collar). Despite her regalia, Pippi has still managed to play fetch with her friends, Humphrey and Scout, every morning in the batting cage not far from home.

Yesterday, when we showed up , a most remarkable thing occurred. One of the older, Japanese women who lives right near the batting cage, appeared at the fence with a small, red and white bag. I had seen her before but we had never actually spoken to one another, just the usual slight head bow of acknowledgement. This time, she addressed me full on and offered me the bag as an omimai or sympathy gift for Pippi. Cognizant of Pippi's love of apples, she had kindly placed one red and one yellow in the bag for her. Only in Japan.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Lovely Arches

I drive regularly under a pair of bridges, one for the Chuo Expressway and the other for the JR train line, not too far from my home. As you can see in the photos, they are made of iron or steel and painted green. I imagine they were built in the 60s or 70s but I could be wrong about this. Not much to write home about. Unless you are me.

I have always had a thing for feats of structural engineering. There is something so beautiful about a form that is so efficient. Yet for years, I barely batted an eye at these bridges. That is, until I walked beneath them. How differently we see when on foot. I had never noticed the care or craft embodied in their metalwork. Just look at those rivets! And what lovely arches. They are text book perfect.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

In Monet's Garden

As summer slides into autumn, I find myself thinking wistful thoughts about our lovely trip to France. One of the early and many high points of the trip was our visit to Monet's home and garden in Giverny, a destination we had been hankering after since the girls were very little. From a young age, the girls enjoyed reading about Linnea and her Giverny expedition. Plus we are regulars at the Impressionist galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Color is clearly the dominant theme of the artist's homestead. The sunken living room with its tall windows and expansive wall space for paintings was very evocative. However, we loved the yellow room and the blue kitchen most of all. Using architectural means, these spaces bring Monet's feeling for color inside. Even the more sedate rooms have windows that look out over the garden. Edged with wood, each one frames the view like a picture. A wild contrast to the closely cropped landscapes we are accustomed to in Japan, Monet's property was an overgrown, exuberant outburst of growth. Laced with paths, the garden has some small lawns but it is the flowers that draw the eye. The management explains that this profusion may not have existed during Monet's time yet the slightly untamed nature of his property is probably pretty true to form.

Monet's famous foot bridge looked just as it does in his paintings but it did not really seem Japanese to us. Also, today the pond is separated from the rest of the garden by a road that was not extant during Monet's time. A tasteful underground passage connects the two halves but this is certainly not the way the artist experienced his domain.

After exploring the tiny town, we got back on the train and went to Rouen per a good friend's suggestion. What a charming spot with its half-timber buildings and medieval clock tower. We bought a small bag of caramel pearls at one of the local confectioners. Truly the best chocolates I have ever eaten in my life. Bar none. Hollow chocolate balls filled with creamy caramel inside and dusted with crunchy sugar granules on the outside. Regrettably, we did not discover their goodness until a day or two later when we were already back in Paris and those luscious taste treats were miles away. We did investigate the possibility of ordering but have yet to confirm whether they ship internationally. Sadly I do not even have a picture to show you. But I can take you on a tour of flowers from Monet's garden.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

September's Manner Poster

I covet this poster. September's Subway Manner Poster, it reminds riders not to fall asleep on their neighbor's shoulder. Who cares if it is 100% photo shopped? It's cute! And it makes its point in such an appealing way. The other night, just as September was on the cusp of turning into October, Abby and I popped our heads into not one but two subway station offices to inquire after the parrots. In her best Japanese, Abby asked what the officials were planning to do with the poster at the end of the month, i.e. the next day, and whether they would be willing to give the poster to her. Needless to say, we were quite disappointed when we were dinged both times! Apparently, Manner Posters have been showing up on Internet commerce sites and Tokyo Metro doesn't like that. Do we really look like the types who sell stuff on the web? I think not. But rules are rules. And in Japan that means they are seldom excepted. After all these years, I still think like an American. Thank goodness.

This is October's offering. It is not quite as good but still grabs my attention. It depicts a kitty gazing at herself in a mirror.

This message is don't put make-up on while riding the subway.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Now That's Recycling -- Part Two!

A Pocari Sweat bottle-turned-plant pot? My design instinct appreciates the matching bottle (though not visible in my photos, there are three or four planters attached to this tree). And it takes a certain acumen to view a bottle neck an as upside down planter drain. Yet, I am sure we would all agree that nipping this problem in the bud, i.e. making, and buying, fewer plastic, PET bottles, appeals more.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Coin Lockers

Coin lockers have a life of their own in Japan. A relative rarity in the U.S., they are common fixtures at train stations from Hokkaido to Kyushu. Aside from their day job of providing temporary storage for small parcels, spare coats and unneeded umbrellas, many function like that extra closet you wish you had. I had heard about people who use coin lockers to stow their goods on a permanent basis. Apartments, and even houses, in Japan can be so small that many people are unable to store all of their possessions in one place and often distribute the overflow among their parents' home, their friend's garage and a multitude of rental options. Though some spring for a room at a bona fide storage facility (of which there are many, even in the heart of the city), others make do with a coin locker or two. I had not observed this practice with my own eyes until the other day when I had to venture out into the sticks to do an interview.

While waiting for my subject to swing by the station to pick me up in his silver roadster, I chanced upon this bank of lockers. Affixed to the locker door is a little notice asking renters to use the locker for no more than three days. Payment seems to take place at the time of retrieval. Please note that this person has already racked up a tab of Y3200 -- at Y400 a day, that's 8 days and a whole lot of Y100 coins! I wonder what they've got squirreled away in there ... dirty laundry, rock collection, a musical instrument??? The possibilities are endless.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Imagine My Surprise When I ....

.... got into an elevator this afternoon expecting to ride to the seventh floor only to discover that there was no seventh floor. Or any odd numbered floor for that matter. What ??? It was kind of an Alfred Hitchcock moment. Noting my consternation, a fellow passenger explained that I had to go to up to floor eight and take the stairs down from there.

After my meeting, I got into the elevator on the seventh floor and discovered that there weren't any even numbered floors listed. Apparently this 70s vintage building (wouldn't want to be there during an earthquake!) has two, side-by-side elevators, one for even floors and one for odds. Somehow I have the idea that this was a design concept that never really took off. But it is kind of quaint in its own, Alice-in-Wonderland way.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ita Choco

Sadly, this past weekend was our last in Minakami. We had some fun times there but we just weren't using the house enough to warrant holding onto it. I will miss a number of things about those weekends, including those jaunts to Besia -- they were a real cultural experience. We rarely bought anything besides groceries. Yet each time I unearthed something weird or interesting to look at. Consequently, this last visit was kind of bittersweet for me.

My find-of-the-day on Saturday was Ita Choco, the latest from the folks over at Morinaga. I absolutely love the package graphics (especially the bold color scheme and the retro font) and the architectural metaphor (ita = board or plank) did not go unnoticed either. Pronounced "eat-a-choco," this name was surely someone's idea of bilingual fun.

As you can see, the concept is a bar of chocolate divided into hollow "boards." Instead of loading these compartments with caramel or nougat, each one is filled with vanilla-ish ice cream.

Regrettably, we mistakenly put the bar in the fridge when we got home. As a result, the ice cream was a bit runny and difficult to eat round robin style as we are wont to do but I am sure you get the picture.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Omamori on the Go

I am a great believer in the power of Omamori and seldom does a New Year holiday pass when we do not visit Zojoji to get our annual fix. Designed to protect and shield us from misfortune throughout the year, these little embroidered, cloth amulets are sold at shrines and temples. Containing a small piece of paper with a prayer on it, they are good for a year but then need to be properly discarded at a shrine or temple and replaced. Some of the most common Omamori protect against illness, insure good grades and guard us from traffic accidents. During my pregnancy years, I always carried an Omamori for a safe birth.

It is very common to see Omamori dangling from a car's rear view mirror or, in the case of sticker-style amulets, pasted onto a car's backside. But never had I ever seen an Omamori attached to a bicycle until we drove by this two-wheeler the other day. Parked in front of the Cartier building near Omotesando, it looked like a conventional, black bike. But then my eye gravitated towards the little yellow pouch suspended from its seat bottom. What a clever idea! Is there a special amulet for cyclists? Since we just bought a bicycle last weekend, I shall have to investigate. If you have any leads, please let me know.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

French People and Their Dogs

During our recent trip to France, we marveled at all the dogs. By our rough, eye-ball accounting, French people seem to really love their dogs. And dogs in France can and do go everywhere. Imagine our surprise and delight when we encountered dogs at the market, dogs in our accommodations and, best of all, dogs resting comfortably at their owners' feet under the tables at swish Paris bistros. Below is a round-up of some of our favorite critters.

Fibi. This delightful fur ball belongs to the couple who own the B & B where we stayed in Sarlat. Her half-brother, Frodo, sings opera but is a bit shy.

This poodle is a classic. She waits patiently while her person pays for her produce at the market in Sarlat.

Another market denizen.

Oh my.

At the meat counter.

Dog as fashion accessory.

Whoever said that dogs look like their owners is probably right.

In Bourges.

Out touring.

Looking stylish in a classic Citroen Deux Chevaux.