Sunday, May 27, 2018

Last April in Tokyo: Sweets and Easter Goodies, Ai Shinohara, and Cherry Blossom Breaks

I've decided to post this anyway, for consistency, because I just feel like it, and in the event that my disk error-corrupted photos from last year can be recovered. Those of you who have been doing your best to keep up with my catching up will be happy to know that this isn't another phone picture dump, then, but rather the few photos and videos I posted online and therefore can still access (which means that there aren't actually any of the cute Easter sweets xP).

Just our neighbour's yard that we'd see first thing when we left the apartment
 every morning, no big deal

Oil, gasoline, or some other chemical spilled on the street after getting rained on, no big deal


Just another tajín de verduras from Alandalus, also in our neighbourhood, also nbd

A painting at Gallery Momo's Roppongi location by Saori Ono, who is from a fishing village in Fukushima that was destroyed during the Great Tohoku Earthquake and subsequent tsunami. I mistakenly thought that Ai Shinohara was showing here, but it was actually the Ryogoku location. Regardless, I was glad to have seen Ono's paintings; you can read a thoughtful description of this exhibition here.

I had a grand total of about 15 minutes to see Ai Shinohara's exhibition in that totally different part of town while going from Asakusa back to Roppongi for work on the 7th - because it was way out of my way but on the same train line, so I decided to go for it - and it was so worth it.

Rich and symmetrical af details

Her dark fantasy paintings, in which beautiful pale young Japanese girls are often dead, decaying, or part-fish while remaining delicate and porcelain-like, are very pleasant.

I had posted the full version of this one ("What Are Little Girls Made Of?) on Facebook a few years ago; seeing it in person was really cool. It's like 8 feet tall.

Here it is in full, from the exhibition book:

I was really excited about this, and enjoyed seeing these huge oil paintings in person so much that I did indeed buy her them and many of her earlier works and graphite drawings in book form.



I really like these industrial dilapidation and death ones:


This one is earlier; instead of soft and natural the dinosaurs look metallic and robotic, which may or may not be intentional but is distinct from what she's doing now nonetheless, and her earlier girls were also very generically anime-ish, if well-executed.

And of course, the graphite drawings she starts every large painting with are exquisite.

At this time I was also working in Kudanshita again, down the street from the Yasukuni Shrine, at an afternoon and evening cram school for (wealthy) kids. That was the only contract of its kind my company had, I needed as much work as possible since I was about to quit (shhh), and they had been wanting me to come back for a while because I was well-liked. Twist my arm. I also missed Eman.

So anyway, while I was there, I noticed they had all seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia, which has been on my reading list forever, and man, was it a load of hateful, delusional, propagandistic Christian bullshit from the 1950's disguised as a fantasy adventure. It just gets darker and darker and more screwed up as it goes on. In the end you find out the older sister has no contact with them or their special pure realm (that represents heaven and faith) anymore because she's taken to wearing lipstick and short skirts. Yikes.

I borrowed the books on the DL and plowed through them just before the contract ended. These photos are during lunchtime, on the attractive terrace area in front of Midtown Tower in Roppongi, where I was spending most of my work time. The curry above is homemade, and these きなこ棒, or toasted soybean flour sticks, are a tasty treat I had found at the fancy supermarket there.

And speaking of Yasukuni..


Here's a nice, quintessential Japan photo for you.

This half-hidden back garden, with cherry trees and a large, lovely water feature, was one of my favourite little spots in Tokyo, even if this shrine is the center of a lot of controversy over Japan's very uncool nationalist pride and total lack of regret for their full-blown-Nazi-ness during WWII. Because they've enshrined their murdering, raping, burning, pillaging war criminals there along with common soldiers, and the prime minister and other prominent politicians still go there to pray every year like that's not a problem for them. 
Honestly though, it isn't a problem for them. Which is the problem. Unlike Germany, Japan has always gotten a special pass on its Nazi atrocities leading up to and during the war, and Korea's not big or powerful enough for anybody to care about how pissed they still are about it.



All of that important sociopolitical background aside, though, I did enjoy a number of very pleasant reading breaks here.

Back down Yasukuni-dori, in the neighbourhood of the cram school..


There were a few days where, I think, one of the many womens' high schools or colleges around there, was selling strawberry daifuku, sakura mochi, and more. So delicious. I ended up giving one to the cram school owner before I left, one of the few times we sat down and actually chatted, and she seemed really moved. It's a fond memory, even if I didn't particularly want to be there teaching kids.

Back in Ekoda, our own neighbourhood, Hannes had gotten into the habit of going for Sunday walks on his own, because his job was sedentary and always in the same place, except for when he was wining and dining politicians and going on business trips, while I spent my week walking and riding trains and seeing interesting stuff all over the place.

Tucked away in one of the narrow streets on the opposite side of the station, he found a tiny but outstandingly-decorated hot dog stand, which also served beer and liquor. They had classic 1950's American diner-style barstools for seating, kitschy Americana decor and collectible toys on the walls and shelves, old Popeye cartoons (exclusively) playing on the big flatscreen TV, and gangster rap playing in the background. It was pretty amazing, even if the food wasn't great, and it was all in a space the size of the bedroom I had growing up.

"The hot dog rappers told us there's going to be a ceremonial tuna butchering around the corner from their place, like with a sword, if you guys want to check it out," I mentioned to NiQui and Rejon.

"Oh, I- uh- wow, that's a lot." Rejon replied.

They didn't understand at first, thinking I was saying "wrappers".
"Oh, no, no, like, they're actual rappers. They make rap music and promote rap concerts and have their own small recording label in addition to running this amazing hot dog stand." I clarified. But of course, it's still a lot and takes a minute to absorb. That's Tokyo for you.

Here's this, for which a large crowd had gathered, in case you don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to the tuna butchering. These special sword-like knives are pretty rare and seldom-used these days. I was commenting during this that these people should enjoy their maguro while they can; before long, there won't be any more.

The main reason Rejon had come over that afternoon, though - the traditional tuna butchering with the sword-knife was just a bonus side quest - was so that we could use the bag of soybeans she got for Setsubun. 

That holiday is the day before spring starts according to the traditional Japanese calendar, and kids are meant to throw soybeans around the house, into the corners and everything, to chase out demons and bad energy. Kindergarten and other ESL teachers tend to get gifts from their schools, and a big bag of soybeans is exactly the kind of thing you end up with in Japan. So, year after year, Rejon ended up with a bag of what she thought were raw soybeans, eventually throwing them away each time after finally deciding she still had no idea what to do with them.

She's not much of a cook and doesn't really have the confidence to try out new things in the kitchen, so I told her we'd use them to make curry. And it had also come up a couple of times that she'd never seen Alien, so I insisted that we had to watch that, too.

I put the soybeans into a colander and started to rinse them, but realised once they were all wet that they had already been toasted. Damn it. Oh well. I decided we could still make curry out of them anyway, but had read online that you should hull them first (that is, take off the outer skin - chickpeas have this too) so that they don't make you super farty.

So we sat there and hulled soybeans while watching Alien - and the jumpscare parts got her every time, much to my delight - and it ended up taking nearly four hours. For future reference, that's not really worth it, but crunchy soybeans in a sweet thick curry sauce with other veggies are not too bad. It was vegan, too; coconut cream-based.

That aforementioned spot in front of Midtown Tower - the tall one there - where I was usually working, on the 35th floor. This carp wind socks, or koinobori, are the symbol of Childrens' Day.

Also right in front of Midtown Tower is Fujifilm Square, which was one of the many stops on my free gallery circuit in the area. This exhibition was one of the better ones, of the dark, romantic, Japanesque work of Hiroshi Nonami.

The Fukasaku Eye Institute directly across the street also has a free gallery (I know, random) and shows small installations and photography in a tiny-ass basement space down some narrow-ass steps. Usually it's nothing of note, but this time they really got it right with Kanae Ōshima, who was lurking down there in the pitch black and told me all about her concept.

These floating cubes, tiny houses lining the stairs and corners with flickering lights inside, and blurry photo grids are all about the nature of memory.

This is the rooftop area of Gallery Mon in Nogizaka, down the road.
It was more interesting than the Shigeru Ban exhibition about construction phases and architeture going on inside.

And then it finally came, my last day working there in Midtown at Actelion Pharmaceuticals.
The left side of the table here is really not keen on having pictures taken, but I can assure you that these ladies are all lovely, and that having a farewell lunch together was their idea.

The café here is ukafe, tucked away in a corner of the second floor of Midtown Tower, and this is their (overpriced, too-small portion, no one is surprised) 100% plant-based curry, which I would certainly recommend to vegetarians and vegans looking for lunch in the area. The large window that comprises one wall of the café looks out onto a lawn and there's cute art on the walls, too.

Me matching the abstract corporate art in Actelion's lobby. 
Goodbye, contract! Goodbye, clients! Goodbye, employment!