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Watashi Wa bejetarian desu
It don’t mean a thing. If you are vegetarian and going to Japan be prepared that you may starve. Unless you are with someone who speaks fluent Japanese. You might be able to say the phrase but the concept of being veggie doesn’t really seem to exist.
Toku Hands Could Take Over
Ah The inspiration of Toku Hands. Honest, if they opened a Toku Hands store in London, John Lewis would be out of business for starters. There is a floor for every conceivable anything and more, stuff you’ve no idea what it can possibly be for.
‘Grooming” is a very big deal in Japan. And the weirdest part of the store was all these contraptions for women to loose weight and look slimmer; Many Strange girdle things, eyebrow things, tortuous looking mouth devices and a range of items, with a cute cartoon pig on the front.
called FAT PIG !!!!!!
There also seems to be a fondness for magnets? Hundreds of them all different sizes and shapes and characters, and key chain nik- knack thingys for your mobile, I’m not kidding thousands of collectible weird characters including these odd devilish creatures that look like balls of string?
Both myself and Bedwyr had similar shopping centre attacks. Though Bed found out that panic attack means a different thing in japan. Apparently some guy had gone ape recently in the aforementioned Tokyu Hands with a machete and killed several people! This is known as a panic attack. And it best not to use these words.
We just both thought we were experiencing earth tremors, but I think it was just jet lag and not enough veggie sushi on my part.
Miscommunication and Kawaii
Everybody thinks I am Kawaii ! (cute) and everybody wants to have their picture taken with Bed. Each time Rumiko introduces us to anyone, she makes Bedwyr stand next to her, and then they laugh. Bed is very tall and Rumiko is a very small. I wonder if this is wearing a trifle thin, but Bedwyr appears to be taking it fairly graciously.
Before we went to Tokyo I had sent emails to make sure there were dancers ready to meet me when I arrived for rehearsals for the performance. The email I received said, yes, there were 30dancers of mixed age range. Great. What I didn’t know, when I turned up to my Monday morning rehearsal was that mixed age range meant between the ages of 6-7. So, what can you do? Try not to look too completely shocked, remember there is a TV crew here watching you all the way. And we have been told to be ultra polite at all times.
The Interviewer asks me, ‘So what is your concept to work with the children of Ikebukuro?’ What can I say, ‘Well there isn’t one. It’s not supposed to be like this’ ?. I explain to Kazuko and Rumiko, that this is not what I was expecting. Are there other classes of more mixed ages I can work with? After some chatting they assure me, this is fine, all sorted, I am to come on Wednesday at 3ock. So I teach the kids, they like the monkey dance best and I get a nice picture of them holding bananas. At the end, while I being interviewed again, all the kids suddenly appear in front of me holding up their mobile phone cameras to take my picture.
Then I make my boo-boo to the camera, when asked what I think of the children of Ikebukuro by saying, ‘ah Kawai’, which Ben and Aiko later tell me actually means, ‘Spooky’, ‘Kawaii’, (pronounced like a long E on the end), means cute.
The second rehearsal I turn up to on Wednesday, I have a room of older ladies.
Rockin all over the World
I meet my friend Mari at Harujuku station. We see all these great kids in their outfits, hanging out on the bridge, A bit like Camden Town, only its clean, there are no pushers or drunks, or stalls all selling the same tat.
The fake tan weirdness and wigs that we’ve seen in other parts of Tokyo is not so apparent here, this is much more costume orientated, The Victorian maid look is very popular, but I like the teenage twins who pose for me to take their picture , dressed identically in more obviously homemade outfits. Much more creative. I suspect they have spent all week, or maybe months, to wear them this Sunday.
We walk on to Yoygi Park, which I keep calling Yogi Bear park, and there they are- In full glory. A bunch of campish, but hard looking guys, dancing away in their black pants and leather, with emormous quiffs. And who told me they didn’t exist any more?? Apparently these guys have been coming to the park every Sunday for thirty years! Mari asks them for me if they would come to my dance performance but they work on Saturdays, and are at the park every Sunday. We get Ken San’s mobile number and I take some photos. I return next Sunday and actually manage to get something that I wanted the whole time. It takes an hour and a half to get in there, and the guys show me the line dance id seen the weekend before, thinking I could pick it up easily and how similar it is to one of my Mod dances. Mari films for me and some smart arse walks right through the middle us. But I think there is enough there on film. Then I have to rush back to Ikebukuro, pick up my costume, shower, eat and start all over again. For the next performance I decide to wear a different dress, and go a bit more all out to try and get people in the audience to dance with us, because we don’t have the villagers today, or he Beatles to stir things on. Its hard, but some guys join in. Japanese audiences are hard, they put up a mask, I am told by Nariko, the dance teacher, But if they are still in their seats….. well your onto a winner. I don’t know if the Juneaus know this when they have to play, headlining the end of the performance. So wee whoop as much as we can. The cans of Kirin help.
The news from Toge - It just gets better & better ...
The swallows have left the nest and are making trial flights backwards and forwards in the hallway.
We have been for an Onsen with Komi san, Junko , Kucho san, Izuru san & gang. It was a new Onsen to us (& seems even to them as we got lost!) and the ladies were one side of a Bamboo wall and the lads the other - they had been there for some time when we arrived (drinking) and serenaded us with improvised versions of "Hoi saka hoi" apparently with words pertinent to the Onsen - Komi san sang back. All this after they took us out for dinner too ...
We even had ice cream at the end made from rice - it doesn't get much better as a night out.
We have now made friends with the man who runs the swimming pool and he lets us in after hours when we have the whole place to ourselves, it's a bit like Hollywood in the mountains as Karen keeps her sunglasses on.
Our afternoon of bonding with the village ladies over the 'sheilds of Toge' with some marker pens (& Aiko's powers of persuasion!) has bought about a gentle revolution in house life. The door to the village is now even further open, the hallway is a shop (buy rice and you get cucumbers free), we pass hours engaged in communal craft activities & Junko has practically become a Samurai.
Yesterday we all made those material shoes that the village were selling in Tokyo. Karen and I's initial efforts - a pair of small misshaped child's shoes - bought about much hilarity.
Tim your yellow T shirt has been recycled into shoes.
The only thing to interrupt the idyll is the constant stream of visitors, they come by the coach load now & seem to like the chaos of our shoe making etc. later today we're trying to move into communal model painting. I'm not sure if mould making has been quite 'the start of an incredible journey' (to quote Lilliput) but we do have some fairly credible cottages to decorate.
The Toge rice is walking off the low table.
Even the Triennial drumming event was quite a laugh as we went with the Toge gang. Cha Cha Cha man broke away from our rather sedentary party and practically jogged across the middle of a rice field to join the action when a French Samba band came on.
Kondo bought round a TV but there seems to be no way to tune it to the DVD player.
We play the DVD of the Ikebukuro live feed on a loop on the laptop - much to the hilarity of the village ladies, we've spent a lot of time laughing at the shaman routine but also admiring your legs Marcus in those kitten heels.
Lastly attached the light animal porn sourced for Marcus on one of our futile Tokyo mini-house research slogs.
Must go a second shoe workshop seems to be happening spontaneously and Mitsuko san is dismantling the screens between the two rooms main rooms.
VERY hot here, missing you all ...
N & K
Michigo-san and Komi-san return after lunch to resume the rag flipflop sweatshop in our tatami room. Yesterday 5 of us managed to make 4 pairs, none (even our sensai (teacher) Komi-san) coming close to the ‘model pair’ made by local people with special needs.
The day began with the women unpacking bundles of old clothes to tear into strips, and of course within minutes Nina and I were shrieking “You can’t tear up this gorgeous old kimono!”. Komi-san then proceeded to half dress us with these motheaten but gorgeous things, and then insist on carefully folding them up for us to pack and take home. I wonder if us suggesting tearing up some old British clothes would have the same effect on them “No – you can’t possibly tear up those old Marks & Spencer slacks!”
Back to the flipflops: It’s basically made in a very simple way: woven with rag strips (like those nasty English ragrugs) onto looped rope as the sole – the ‘thong’ bit is rice straw in a sewn ‘sausage’ – and their charm lies in the unique patterns in the woven rags, which seem to have a distinctly Japanese feel.
My 1st attempt had everyone in hysterics – it was squint and too narrow to match Nina’s other of the pair – but I live in hope of finding a 8 year old in need of orthaepedic sandals. My 2nd attempt yielded a jaunty, rather nautical-looking pair in shades of black and blue – if Bergerac was a home-made flipflop, he’d be these.
The drumming soiree is furnished with a row of three Japanese portaloos which I’m forced to use after my can of Kirin. It’s the squat-down variety (still don’t know which is front or back though) and as my piss starts to hit the flap which covers the base of all Japanese toilets, it begins to gape and shut in turns, reminding me of the mouths of the hungry carp in the village ponds.
Breakfast: Stir-fried cucumbers
Lunch: Cucumbers in spicy miso dressing
Snack: Cucumber lollipop
Dinner: Stuffed cucumber
Contrary to Adam-san’s predictions prior to his leaving, tomatoes have not yet overtaken cucumbers as the Toge glut. We're trying to sell them from the house too - or even give them away free with a packet of Toge rice. Even the locals are finding the magnitude of their harvest difficult to take. Yesterday we asked a neighbour for some aubergines and when she handed them over we found a cucumber hidden in their midst. Neither of us referred to it.
You would not believe how complicated putting out the rubbish is in Toge. Our first morning home alone in the house has begun with the shameful experience of having to walk back up to the communal rubbish area and ‘re-bag’ our burnable refuse under Komi san’s gentle guidance. At 8.00 am she was not our first caller though, cucumbers started to arrive at 7.15.
Each day you have to take one of 8 different kinds of rubbish or re-cycling to the village bins by 8.30. There is a diary with different colours for each day and unbelievably detailed instructions for each type of packaging, that has to have all labels removed and be washed. I guess considering the amount of packaging they use it’s a good thing, but I couldn’t see it catching on in Hackney.
The source of this morning’s shame was not incorrect rubbish content but the wrong bag – a stray black one - perhaps the correct clear plastic bag with “rubbish” written on the side is the one we inadvertently used to carry our models to a Tokyo meeting … the buyer from Tokyu Hands didn’t seem to mind.
Karen and I have just arrived back at the house after picking up our mini car for the last week … downsizing for the final 2 Samurai as Adam, Tim, Jamie and Aiko drive on to Tokyo and no doubt a wrestle with the BA excess luggage limits.
The house feels very calm & quiet now but before they left today things were in pleasant chaos, we all tried to pack as everyone from the village called round and Aiko created a mini whirlwind completing her final translation tasks.
Helped by Aiko and drawing, Karen and I spent an afternoon with the village ladies yesterday in a kind of tea party meets motivational workshop! We drew & spoke about Toge, rice, snow, mountain vegetables, small businesses, a cafe, bringing young people here & the future. It was hard work at points during the three hours & they did seem slightly reluctant to try out the ideas that came up - so this morning I was pleased and surprised when Miyuko san bought round vegetables to sell, with out further persuasion.
The idea is that our house now becomes part exhibition, part café, part social space & part shop for the duration of the triennial, and that for the next week Karen and I encourage this relaxed approach. I hope to learn something about Japanese cooking above and beyond how to work the rice maker.
My sadness at the other Samurai leaving is mixed with excitement about being here on our own for a week. Yesterday it felt as though we made some real progress with some of the village ladies, who up until now have been rather separated from us in a haze of communal cooking. Despite our language problems it seems they are easy to hangout with, Komi san (Kucho san’s mum) is really like Karen’s mum.
Also on the way home from the collecting the car we went to the local swimming pool that Kucho san (village boss-man AKA Kimio san) told us about. After 2 months without a swim it felt like heaven (especially as now it’s stopped raining it’s REALLY hot here) – my life in Toge is now near perfect.
There never seemed to be any time in Tokyo to blog … not because I was out seeing the sites, far from it, I barely left Ikebukuro (where we were performing) but any time left after researching our houses project was absorbed by preparing for the live events – even though most of our role was documentation.
The two ‘tourist’ trips we did make were interesting, if a little disappointing. Despite having revved myself up for Cat World (at the top of Tokyu Hands) in reality it was rather unremarkable, aside from the eye watering smell inside - which most Japanese visitors seemed to be ignoring. A cross between a local vets waiting room, a cat rescue home and a slightly shonky theme park even my love of cats couldn’t make me into a fan of ‘Nekobukuro’. The Japanese obsession with all things kawaii (cute) just doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion. I wanted the cats to be practically operating the oven in ‘cat kitchen’ or at least wearing outfits, not just lying in baskets in loosely themed areas.
Our other slightly misguided, but highly enjoyable, detour was the very long off-route journey to Edo Wonderland, that we enjoyed on the way back to Toge. Fortunately Jamie had somehow managed to escape the clutches of our Ikebukuro host and his karaoke habit (‘Funky Monkey Baby …’) which the rest of us had encouraged until 4am. Too over tired for an immediate return to the village, Jamie and the on-board ‘Navi’ (computer says yes) took us to Wonderland.
Bearing in mind Karen and I have recently been subject to the rigors of the stringent ‘authenti’ rules of a Kentwell re-creation (hand-sewn costumes, only Tudor food, all conversation conducted in ‘Tudorese’ in the first person etc.) the shameless wigs, nylon ninja and rows of retail outlets that line main street Edo Wonderland were a bit of an eye opener. As Tim commented it was more Isle of White circa 1980 that Japan circa 1700!
We did, however, at last get the chance to try out our costumed 7 Samurai photo opportunity … the hilarity could only have been increased if we’d still had Ben, Marcus and Barney for company … although there wouldn’t have been enough bad wigs to go round. The 2 kimono clad ladies who ran the joint offered a stern service and the minute we’d slipped of the plastic shoes and had our wigs removed (‘don’t touch the hair’) the computer printout in special display frame was in our hands as we were firmly directed towards the exit from Edo Wonderland. The giant Samurai cat put up a good show at the exit though.
Some nice pics. from our cross-town costume parade, linking the performances in Sunshine Square and Ikebukuro Arts Square.
Adam, the night before Ikebukuro Live, ready to promote his Toge Frog Biscuit innovation, Karen making cucumber sandwiches on the day and the village ladies in a rice labeling frenzy.
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