Dinner at the Count's

Last Friday for Rie's birthday, we had dinner at Ogasawara-tei, a fancy restaurant in an old, Spanish-style mansion. The house, built in 1927, was the private villa of Count Ogasawara Nagayoshi. It's really rare for a building like this to be preserved and restored in Tokyo. After the war, the U.S. military used it as a headquarters temporarily, and then when the city government took it over, the house was used as a social services center. But eventually, it was closed and abandoned. In 2000, the city offered the house to a private company, under the conditions that the house was to be restored. They did a pretty good job, but unfortunately, the grounds leading up tp the house from the street are covered in asphalt. There are these cute duck-shaped bushes, however, that flank the front door. Speaking of duck, one of the many dishes was smoked foie gras. I hate liver, but this was actually not bad. In fact, it tasted nothing like the innards of a bird. My vote for favorite dish of the night, though, was the octopus gnocchi.


Kudos to CUDO

I'm color blind. Or should I say, I have "color vision deficiency?" Today at work I noticed a label on the back of a company report that stated it was "produced with due consideration to "color universal design" and checked by the NPO Color Universal Design Organization. Basically, this means that the report was reviewed by/for people like me who have trouble seeing the difference between colors (in my case, red and green). According to the organization's site:
"People see color with significant variations. In Japan, there are more than 5 million people in total who see color differently from ordinary people, due to their genetic types or eye diseases. Color Universal Design is a user-oriented design system, which has been developed in consideration of people with various types of color vision, to allow information to be accurately conveyed to as many individuals as possible."
I have yet to see this label on any other publications, but I will definitely be happy the day that train lines and other similiar types of charts/guides that use a lot of hard-to-decipher colors adopt this system. CUDO also has an interesting blog (Japanese only) with photos of how the system is being incorporated into things like street signs and recycling bins.


Safe snacks

I just can't read a story about "hardness indicators" without laughing. Apparently, there is a new system for letting customers know whether the rice cracker they are about to bite into is really a rock or if they can eat it without putting in their dentures. According to the Mainichi newspaper:
"Rice cracker fans' teeth may get a break from April when the popular snacks will come out with clear indications of their hardness, preventing accidents from biting a biscuit that's too hard."
The photo shows what the labels will look like. The far left is the softest; the far right, the hardest. Is it just a coincidence that hard harder the cracker gets, the larger the indicator gets as well?


Asakusa Kabuki

We went to see the New Year's performance of Asakusa Kabuki on Saturday. Up until now, I've only seen kabuki performed at the Kabuki-za in Higashi-Ginza. The Asakusa theater features a younger generation of kabuki actors. This is the chirashi, or flyer, for the performance. The actor's are saying, "Asakusa e isoge!" Basically, that means "Hurry to Asakusa!"

The best part of the performance was being able to see Nakamura Kosanza II, an 87-year-old kabuki actor that rarely performs on stage anymore. His part was pretty small, basically just tagging along with the main female character for one scene. Still, someone shouted out his name as is customary for audience members to do when an actor makes his entrance or strikes a powerful cross-eyed pose.


That's MISTER Gachapin

Gachapin and Mook had a fight! You can read about it on Gachapin's diary. That's big news. . . these guys are supposed to be friends. Apparently, Gachapin ate some of Mook's snacks. Gachapin's defense was that he thought the goodies were his New Year's gift. If you don't know who Gachapin and Mook are, I don't think I can explain, except to say that they are characters on Fuji TV. Just look at the photo. The green guy is Gachapin and the red guy is Mook. I didn't know this, but they are both supposed to be 5-years-old. And more importantly, since last July, Gachapin should only be referred to as Gachapin-san, according to this Ameba news article.

Doric Style

Most people walking down Meguro-dori probably don't notice this building, even though its facade is designed to look like the Parthenon. Somehow, the building seems to blend in with its chaotic surroundings even though it has these faux-Doric columns. Perhaps it was more eye-catching when it was new. Currently, a canned-coffee ad featuring Tommy Lee Jones adorns the billboard on the roof next door. A worn-out face to match these worn out buildings. . .

Raiders of the Lost Toychest

Some guys found an abandoned toy store warehouse chock full of toys, plastic model kits, and games from the late Showa Era (1926-89) through the early Heisei Era (1989-present), shot video of their pillaging, and posted it on YouTube. It should provide a vicarious thrill for anyone who loves to enter derelict places and search for stuff. I once found some Star Wars figures and an Alice Cooper 8-track cassette in an old house in New Jersey, but never did I come across anything like a still-in-the-box, mint-condition Nintendo Mach Rider! The title of the video is "Yume No Omochaya Haikyo," or "Abandoned Toystore of Dreams."


High Above Shibuya

Tokyo is a stimulating place to live because new buildings go up all the time, while others sometimes come down before you even knew they were there in the first place. The city is constantly morphing towards its future self, but never quite gets there. I am drawn to old maps and photos of Tokyo simply because I find it hard to believe that the city once had water taxis in its canals and even an area of red brick buildings called London Town. Apparently, even the busy shopping district of Shibuya once had a gondola lift over the street near the train station. Although this photo looks like the passenger car was full-size, only children were allowed to ride it. The gondala was called "Hibari-go," and according to Coneta, it only traveled a distance of 75 meters to the top of the Tokyu department store. Even in the U.S., I am fascinated by stories of things that used to be somewhere, and now only exist in photos and memories. The Sutro Baths in San Francisco, the Steeplechase in Coney Island, etc.


Retro Tourist Trap

If I make it down to Oita, Kyushu one day, I would like to check out this street. According to the Japan Times:

"Bungotakada's magnet is Showa Town, where about 100 stops line a street for 500 meters — a model community with a nostalgic theme that has turned the local economy around and drawn sightseers by the busload."

Although the Showa Era actually was from 1926-1989, Japanese feel particularly nostalgic about the Showa 30s, the time period this recreated street is based on. Tokyo has a fair share of similarly themed restaurants and bars, which, nostalgically speaking, are comparable to 50s-themed diners in the U.S.

Martini Over Ice

I was just browsing menus online for bars with a view in Tokyo, and I came across this unbelievable drink on the menu for the Ritz-Carlton's lobby bar on the 45th floor of the Tokyo Midtown building:

"The Diamond is Forever Martini" -- Chilled Belvedere Vodka with a hint of fresh lime juice, stirred or shaken to perfection, over a crystal clear one carat diamond"

All for the bargain price of 1,800,000 yen!

According to Reuters:

"That price includes drink preparations tableside, a serenade of "Diamonds are Forever" as a cut stone slides to the martini glass bottom, and later a ring mounting by a local jeweler."

One suggestion, if your buying this for someone other than yourself, you probably should warn the woman to sip it slowly through her teeth.


The Seven Lucky Gods

Last Sunday, I visited Ryusenji Temple, which is also known as Meguro Fudoson. The temple has divine waters spouting from dragon heads into a small pond where a statue of a fudo, or firegod, stands. The thing to do is take a ladel from the nearby fountain and splash the god with water.

I also learned that Meguro Fudoson is also one of the temples in the Yamanote area that houses one of the Shichifukujin, or seven lucky gods. I got a free map showing the route to all seven temples, and I plan to walk it one day in the near future in order to collect the god figurines pictured above. The little dolls strike a remarkable resemblance to the old Weeble Wobbles, but I don't think they bounce back up if you try to knock them over. Ryusenji sells Ebisu, the god that the temple houses. It should be a good way to fill an afternoon, and it will give me something to put on my mantle. . . for the day that I have a mantle.



I went to Seoul for two nights with Rie over the New Year holiday. It was a very short trip, but we still managed to experience quite a few interesting things. The first night we went to a the Dragon Hill Spa, a Korean sauna, which has multiple levels featuring baths, saunas and relaxation spaces. One of the first things I noticed that is not often found in Japanese Health Spas was the heated flooring throughout almost the entire building. Most of the saunas are dry type saunas, one actually felt like I was in a pizza oven, another one had walls and floors subsisting of salt crystal. Then there was the ice sauna, a good place to cool off after sweating it out in the other places.

The most memorable thing about our visit to the sauna was our decision to try out the "akasuri," in which a special towel is used to scrub all the dead skin and grime off your skin. However, the scrubbing is done by an attendant in the sauna, while you lay on a padded table completely naked. Normally, being washed by another person might be a pleasant experience. But not when its a person of the same sex, and they are using something that feels like sandpaper on almost every nook and cranny of your body. Fortunately, he stayed clear of the most sensitive zone, although the brisk pace in which he worked made for a couple close calls that could have been painful if he accidentally slipped. Not knowing any Korean made it a bit difficult to know when to turn over. I think he kept saying something like "Jup!" at that point. Finally when I the whole washing and scrubbing, as well as a tiger-balm massage, was finished, I stood up. He picked up a bottle of shampoo, called me over, and directed me to hold out my hand. Then he squirted a generous portion of shampoo into my palm. I rubbed it into my scalp, and walked back into the main shower/bath area. This was a special bonus, I realized afterwards, because the baths only supplied body soap, not shampoo.