Meika's good friend Louise invited us to a Filipino dinner party at her parents' massive apartment, and it seemed pretty perfect because Hannes was returning from a business trip to Manila just in time to join, but he ended up being too tired after the three-hour trek back from Narita.
Either way, we had just met Louise at Eros Revenant, and she had been wanting to invite people over for Filipino food for a while, so it was pretty nice of her to include us (well, me).
I got there a little bit early because taking the train to Kita-ku and then finding the building went quicker than I thought it would, but I was awkwardly trapped for a while because I couldn't get the elevator to work. Going up the fire escape stairs didn't work either because the door to the top floor can't be opened from the outside. I tried calling back up to the apartment from the doorway but Louise and Meika didn't seem to be hearing me, or at least I couldn't tell if they did. The second door just got buzzed open again each time. I didn't have a phone with me.
After trying everything I could think of I just sat on the stairs with my book, figuring that someone else would come soon and/or someone would come down looking for me.
Then Meika did, visibly baffled. I explained that pushing the elevator button to the top floor didn't do anything; the elevator voice was asking me to push some other buttons. Meika tried it and got the same response.
"Oh good, so I haven't lost my mind and I'm not an idiot."
Meika called Louise on her cell and it turns out that she forgot to include in the event info on Facebook the all-important detail that there's a code for the elevator to get to the top floor.
Another mystery solved!
Anyway, I get up there to find that these two have been preparing food all afternoon and are running out of steam, and that Louise has sort of left Meika to finish everything up, and she's just making little stressed-out overwhelmed sounds while shifting bowls, sauces, and lettuce around, so I'm like, "I can cook, let me help!"
Yeah, well, I mean, I can, but I had never actually made spring rolls before, which became my job. Meika handed me the bowl of spiced veggie and tofu filling, the lettuce, the rice paper wrappers, and got me a plate of water, and they didn't turn out perfect but all in all it seemed like I'd done okay.
Not having a whole lot of space, though, I stacked them in a little pyramid on a large plate to serve and uhhh yeah I wasn't thinking about the fact that the wet rice wrappers would stick to each other, so everyone had to gently separate them after a few people casually grabbed one and disemboweled it. Sorry lol I tried.
Louise and Meika had also prepared another vegan dish - a spicy tofu and
mushroom deal - in addition to the rice and the meat dishes.
Everyone brought beer including me, and there was also a bottle of wine.
This was the first of the many classic couple pics of these two nerds that Hannes and I continue to take with the new camera, haha. Also, that's Louise at the head of the table!
It was heckin' tasty even though I was told to put the sweet and sticky sauce on
the outside of the spring rolls and that didn't work at all, Meika
Then my wooden fork broke the instant I touched something with it, wtf Meika.
Dessert, which was warm and heavy and extremely filling, was a type of rice, coconut,
and fruit porridge called ginataan. It also had mochi and boba (tapioca balls) in it. Even though I was super full and it was very substantial I really liked it and wish I could have it
for breakfast sometimes without the hassle of making it myself!
And I forget who brought this matcha chocolate back from their trip and where
exactly that trip was to, but it was also really tasty!
Everyone sat around talking and drinking for a while and it felt a lot like a
Filipino Thanksgiving. I hope Louise decides to host another one sometime!
The next morning NiQui, Rejon and I met at a festival only two stops away from where Hannes and I live, at Nakai and along the Kanda River, which is surprisingly clear with wafting grass at the bottom but walled into a grim canal like all of the other urban rivers here. The festival is the 染めの小道 or "dyeing lane" and describes the many little fabric-dyeing shacks and warehouses that were clustered along the river in the past. Many of the old, dilapidated, wooden buildings are still there, but with the traditional industry gone; the sleepy little neighbourhood is mostly lifeless during the day and very dated.
It's like this all over Tokyo.
We were surprised, though, at how many people had shown up for this and how enthusiastically the local businesses participated with their hand-dyed 暖簾 or traditional door curtains, and how many people (mostly women of course but also men!) were decked out in kimono. Not just your regular special event kimono, either, but in many cases with unusual fabrics or embroidery and paired with various textilesy and handmade accessories.
Oh and uh, this is the face I also made when I realised I had forgotten the SD card
for the new camera, asked NiQui to message Hannes, and when he then brought it
out to me. Isn't he the best?
We were also staring at this, right across from the station while we waited for him.
There are.. a lot of signs, labels, and brand names like this around these parts.
The real image of this festival is not the door curtains or dumb Engrish signs, though, but the colourful 垂れ幕 or banners that are hand-dyed and hung up over the river to flutter
in the breeze.
Oh but wait, here's a cute door curtain though
Okay, back to the banners. They're all hand-dyed.
And here are some of those old buildings I was talking about.
"Can we take a group juice selfie?!"
These ones were done at the local kindergarten (that 幼 is the kindy symbol), where we
found out later and completely by chance that that was exactly where we were supposed to
go to try our hand at adding to one of these ourselves, which we went hoping to do.
Because these are so long and thin they're difficult to photograph, but the overall
impression in person is wonderfully bright and evocative of sunshine and springtime.
In addition to pricey hand-dyed handkerchiefs and second-hand kimono accessories, a wide
variety of other artisans had tables with things both textilesy and not for sale, and we had way too much fun with these three ladies and their cute little items.
They found the fact that we could use enough Japanese to identify and compliment their handmade thises and thats very surprising in the endearing (as opposed to condescending and baffled) way that you tend to hope for, and there were an awful lot of exclamations and chuckles all around. I haven't worn the lovely little light blue chirimen dragonfly brooch I bought yet, but then, I've always liked just looking at these kinds of things anyway.
Also, I should mention that NiQui only joined us for the very beginning of the festival, because she had double-booked herself and had to skidaddle for a sake tasting event in Shinjuku. "Oh nooo," we said, "you have to go and drink for the rest of the day now, too bad.."
The banners and door curtains so many of the area's businesses had out were numbered, because there's a contest, but we didn't know how to vote in it. It was surprisingly fun to go around and notice banners that carried their business' motifs; this one was obviously at the cafe nearest the station!
Some of the ones that didn't correspond to the restaurant or shop displaying them
were awfully nice, too, though.
I think this one gets first prize for overall atmosphere.
And - ahhh! We were waaaay too excited about this. I felt like we had come across
some kind of super rare, valuable collectible. It's kitschy and consumerist but if this is
what post-capitalism looks like, sign me up.
Hnnnggg bike shop!
That the pharmacy has a temari ball one isn't the most relevant thing, but the fact that
this is basically a snapshot of everything you need to know about life in Japan is.
This one was really unique and would make a good cover for a post-black metal album.
Even the Indian/Nepali restaurant got into it!
Love this one - it's a Chinese restaurant!
Don't worry, though, the remainder of this image-heavy post isn't all door curtains.
Why not a tiny basket of absurdly pricey handmade fruit or a printed image of the
Seven Lucky Gods that would make a great back patch?
No? How about a new obi cord for a few bucks?
No?! Okay, how about this artist, who not only had a table but who made the curtain
hanging on the clinic behind it? Everything was leaves and simple little tree frogs!
I bought a postcard and some stickers.
I also regret asking if I could take a picture of her outfit, because even as I
look at this now three months later my entire body cringes with sympathy
just as hers is cringing in discomfort.
So then I just went undercover. Check out this great labelled insect obi!
I love those Japanese grasshoppers with the stupid pointy heads.
And look at these lovely handmade sake cups that someone's already holding for you!
7000円 was a little shocking, though.
These were at the stand of the young woman with the detailed and unique handmade wooden stamps, where we spent way too much time and that you can see in the video at the end of the post. She seemed pretty introverted and was so talented. Rejon and I are continually dumbfounded by the way so many Japanese people seem determined not only to avoid making a profit but to lose money, so we implored her to sell online. I doubt she ever will.
We had gone down the alley and passed Stamp Girl's table because we were drawn in
by these banners, displayed vertically, and the crowd of women underneath them. Was
this the place where you could dye things yourself..?
Ah, nope, anime-esque art school guy standing in a giant pool of fresh flowers making
custom bouquets. Should've known!
He did seem to be putting some beautiful ones together, though, and his lavender hair
matched the fragrant pile of cuttings and branches pretty well.
This is one of my favourite pictures from that day.
This is the opposite side of the same building. Part of the reason it was so crowded is that
it had a way through back toward the rest of the festival, by means of a fully shaded
alleyway full of various artists and craftsmen and their tables.
Look at this guy! Isn't he cute?
We didn't go into the business behind him and that gun is just a (heavy, solid wood) replica,
but look at all the contrast. His funny knit wrist warmers and standard-issue Japanese Guy
Scarf, his smartphone stuck in the front of his hakama. Platform flip flops in front of the door
behind him instead of geta.
God, that toilet paper cat. I think this guy wanted 20 or 30 bucks for his
handmade handkerchiefs but the designs were great.
I hyperventilated slightly at this stand and told the very sweet female artist that it was all
too cute and I couldn't stand it. I ended up buying the little tree brooch you can't see here,
under the red one. I wish I could have afforded something bigger.
What are those big cage-shaped things, anyway?! Are they for presenting felted food
to dinner guests?! Look at those fucking bird balls!
More ceramics! I thought these were especially nice.
And then I realised that just kind of going partway under this guy's table was a little
awkward, so I took a picture of him, too.
Oh geeze. That Liberty tho. Also the ones above are made to look like cheap sake cans
and were also about $70, just like the already-held sake cups from before.
This is my favourite picture of the banners.
Even found a motivational Juicy Fatz sticker I'd never seen before - and she saw it and
thanked me for being a fan on Instagram!
And here's this just in case you wanted to see the bridge design in focus
The grand finale to the day was in fact the aforementioned banner dyeing at the local kindergarten, which we only chanced to discover after walking around and seeing no clues all day because of what Rejon refers to as her "traitorous bladder". Idk, it's not bad. It probably tries its best. It just frequently finds itself at capacity.
So anyway we pass the kindy and there are a few people going in and two young women standing out front; we figure there's something for the kids and parents going on, but they invite us in, and we warily make our way through, like we're breaking in or something. Most kindergartens in Japan have gardens that the kids tend (or picking events for everything from strawberries to potatoes in nearby fields), and this one also happened to have little concrete frog and fish ponds that you walked by on your way into the gym/assembly hall.
Some National Geographic shit ensued.
I mean really, this is the best gift I've ever gotten
That texture tho
Okay, now this is going to seem like quite a jump and like I'm skipping the most important bit, but don't worry! Adding our own flowers to one of the banners for next year is the main part of the video below. My only regret is that Rejon stopped filming before the nice English-speaking volunteer who explained it all to us said "Thank you, goodbye," and waved.
Adding one flower stencil each was just a tiny thing, but this is exactly the kind of artsy fartsy crafty wafty shit we live for! What a day.
Oh but uh, Rejon still needed the bathoom lol. We ended up stopping in a tiny closet of a
restaurant along the river, and they had a very decent painting of the banners up.
She came back to Ekoda with me and we had Turkish food.
Then we got home to find that Hannes had gotten us all cake from the painfully cute
(and surprisingly inexpensive) Andersen bakery near the station!
Should I have eaten this Mont Blanc cake with a chestnut that looked like a jungle cockroach on top? No. But was it tiny, and with only one little layer of actual cake? Yes. Do I regret it? Absolutely not.
What a perfect day.