Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hydrangea Are Here!

I can tell that 2011 is going to be a great year for ajisai or hydrangea. Just take a look at these pictures! Last week I had lunch with a few friends at a cafe inside a very elegant flower shop located between Omotesando and Kotto Dori. Regrettably, I did not note the name of the shop (don't worry -- I know exactly where it is) but I did take a few photos of their potted hydrangeas. I just adore the rich colors and lush blossoms. The girls and I are gearing up for our annual pilgrimage to Toshimaen for the Hydrangea Festival followed by lunch at that sublimely delicious soba shop with the vegetable tempura and grilled sora mame or fava beans.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Coffee Cup Chandelier

This amazing light fixture elevates the lowly coffee cup to chandelier status. If you look closely, you will see that each of its tiered rings is composed entirely of white, Western style cups grouped together by style. Neatly nested together, they take on a completely different persona that is far and above their original lot in life. They probably started out as mundane, mass produced tableware earmarked for hotels and the like. There is something delightful about seeing them out of context, especially since they probably had little visual interest in their previous incarnation. While maintaining a connection to their original function, these iconic forms become geometric objects when aligned on their side. I am fascinated by that change in perception when we view objects in a group and in unexpected circumstances. Did the creator of these cups ever envision that they'd end up on the ceiling ???

Somehow these various cup collections had the good fortune to wind up at Pass the Baton, an unusual consignment store in the bowels of Omotesando Hills. Introduced to me by a design producer I met a few months ago, the shop's mission is to highlight the value of used goods and promote their re-homing with artful, attractive displays and clever juxtapositions. Historically, there has been little market for used anything in Japan, aside from American blue jeans and logo tee shirts. A bi-product of waste recycling has been an increased awareness that someone else's discards could be treasures. Especially among younger consumers.

In some ways Pass the Baton reminds me of the thrift, vintage and antique shops on Chicago's north side that my mother and I liked to frequent together. Yet the atmosphere here is a far cry from those musty places. On the contrary, the shop is well lit, clean as a whistle and the goods are cleverly grouped by theme on big tables in the middle of the shop or built-in shelving along the walls. Unlike at the Tokyo flea markets, there are no cardboard boxes to rifle through or piles of clutter to navigate around. Instead, each piece is labelled with a little information about the seller and marked with a price tag (no bargaining here). Resembling a line of tellers at the bank, a large desk along one side serves as the "passcounter" where sellers bring their no longer needed possessions (the shop posts a list of restrictions on their web site: The owner is asked to tell the story of each item so potential buyers can learn its background -- essential information that documents the previous life of and reaffirms the non-monetary value of each piece. Pass the Baton is the kind of place where I could linger for a long time but happily walk out empty handed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bento Box Tools

Since we are on the subject of mother appreciation, now is a good time to talk about bento lunch boxes. A cherished responsibility and privilege, bento box making is taken very, very seriously by moms (and some dads) throughout Japan. Careful compositions of little bits of lots of different foods, each meal-to-go is an edible work of art. I think I missed my calling. Besia in Tsukiyono has a most impressive selection of tools for the bento box maker. Here is a round up of our finds:

Cutters for the creative.

For musical notes made of bologna and dolphins made of cheese.

A cutter that can turn a sausage into an elephant.

A cutter that can turn a sausage into an octopus.

A ring mold for making onigiri rice balls and other fish-shaped delicacies.

A punch for nori seaweed.

Pre-cut nori shapes for the lazy.

Colorful furikake rice garnish.

Plastic pink and green grass to keep everything in its proper place.

Colorful cups for the bits and bobs.

Plastic flowers to prettify.

Scissors and tweezers for fine tuning.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mother's Day Flowers

A week ago Sunday was Mother's Day. This year I tried to concentrate on being a mother, not a daughter. My family made this easy for me. I absolutely adore the beautiful bouquet of sunflowers they gave me. Aren't they gorgeous?

The rich, yellow color just amazes me. We all agreed that this is the perfect shade.

Don't the blooms look great in this Warren MacKenzie vase? I probably should have trimmed their stems just a touch to improve the proportions but I didn't really want to truncate those elegant stalks. Warren MacKenzie is a marvelous potter who studied with the British great Bernard Leach but makes his home in Minnesota with his wife who is a textile designer/weaver. I met Mr. & Mrs. years ago at their combined opening in Tokyo. David and I are great admirers of their work.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Our New Sidewalks

While we are on the subject of Tokyo streetscapes, I would like to introduce our new sidewalks. After a solid year of tearing up part of our street every single day (March to March, I kid you not), the electrical wires are buried, their above ground concrete poles are gone and the street lights are a lot smaller (the brown pole in the above image). During construction, I really hated having to negotiate the closed streets and tight squeezes. I found all those little blue people orchestrating traffic an intrusion on my privacy (though they were generally very friendly to Pippi). And I always seemed to be coming from the wrong direction when in my cordovan roadster. Not to mention, the whole venture struck me as rather wasteful. I really do not have an aversion to the commonplace concrete poles and their above ground wiring. In fact, I do not even notice them anymore. They are simply part of the Tokyo scene. I would even go so far as to say that they have a certain charm. So when a giant repair truck came rolling down our street last week, my knee jerk reaction was to let out a silent groan -- not again!

This time, however, the truck brought no jackhammers or diggers. The workers had simply come to lay down the lines, the white lines that demarcate the "sidewalk". As on most small streets in Tokyo, we do not have a raised concrete path to walk on. Instead, pedestrians simply hug one side of the street or the other when cars go by. When there are no cars, everybody walks everywhere, even in the middle of the road.

Though it drove my parents crazy every time they visited me in Tokyo, this is a rather efficient system. It enables two-way, automobile traffic on what would be a one-way street in most locales and it allows cars and people to share a single, narrow slot of space. People ought to walk within the white lines when a car comes down the street. But when cars come from opposite directions, the traffic lane swells to include the so-called sidewalk, requiring pedestrians to wait while the drivers negotiate passage. Cars often park on one side or the other, blocking the people lane. Like my parents, I do not really like this mixing of the proverbial milk and meat but as long a moving vehicle can pass I tolerate it. What really annoys me are cars parked off to one side but opposite a telephone pole, making it difficult to drive through. But in light of our buried electrical wires, this should not be much of a problem for us anymore.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Smallest Guard Rail Ever

OK. Maybe this is not the smallest guard rail ever but it has got to be close. You have to admit, it is cute. What do you suppose is its purpose? Perhaps it could prevent an errant bicycle from toppling into the drainage conduit below. But can't the mesh fence, concrete bollards and orange mirror stand take care of that?