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30 Oct

Harajuku in Tokyo, is where teenagers go and hang out on Sundays.  It’s a heaving mass of crispy hairspray, dayglo netting, skinny ties and precarious stack heels.  The narrow lanes sell every kind of clothing from manga maid outfits in gothic colours to glasses with no glass in them and pastel cartoon character wigs.  It’s very Tokyo.


7 Jul

Bath times in Japan are a family affair and the children have taken to them with great gusto.  You all go into the bathroom together, sit on stools placed next to knee high taps and take it in turns to scrub backs and pour ladles of freezing water over your parents’ heads.  It’s very important that you’re squeaky clean before you get into the bath, because the deep tub is only filled once a day and the water is shared by all the people in your ryokan, or guesthouse.

Once you are muck free, you lower yourselves, squealing, into the wooden bath full to the brim with scalding water, gradually getting deeper and deeper until only your head is unsubmerged.  Then you soak until your muscles turn to jelly and the aches of a day spent walking around Tokyo have evaporated with the steam.  Well, except for Dickon, he’s not a fan of cleanliness at the best of times, and he has no wish to be cooked like a pea. Once you can take the heat no more, you leap out and ladle freezing water from the waiting bucket onto your pink skin until it tingles, then you get back in and start all over again.  And apart from the whole three squealing children in the bathroom at the same time as you thing, it’s really very relaxing.

Japanese loos are less relaxing, but the children are just as enamoured.  Most loos have a little dashboard at the side with enticing buttons, labelled only in Japanese.  The children disappear into cubicles in restaurants to try them out amidst much giggling, then re-emerge, whispering about washing bottoms and blasts of air.  I find heated loo seats rather disconcerting, but I think the button which makes a fake flushing sound to cover any other potentially embarrassing sounds is rather sweet, and very Japanese.  God forbid anyone should hear you wee.

And after three months in South East Asia, the children are finally, properly clean.


For reasons of decency, there are no photos accompanying this post.

It’s never obvious

11 Jul

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On our first afternoon in Tokyo, I remember being quite disappointed.  It all seemed rather, well, normal.  I was expecting Japan to be different.  But the closer we looked, the more different things became, and there were very many times we had to ask for sign language explanations of what we were seeing.  Some things simply remained mysterious.

One of the things I liked most about Japan was the order in everything.  Shop displays, gardens, railway stations, even forests, were incredibly neat and tidy and laid out with minute attention to detail.  The repetitive rhythms made for interesting photos.

So can you guess what the photos are of?  To make it more interesting, I’m going to give a prize to the first person who gets them all right.  Yes, you heard me, a prize.  I haven’t decided what yet.  Maybe a packet of wotsits.  So get guessing.

This post is for the Gallery who’s prompt this week is ‘Can you see what it is yet?

Raw fish

11 Jun

I was introduced to sushi at quite a young age by my Japan-loving father.  In 1970’s London it was something of a novelty.  I wasn’t sure at first, but at some point in my teenage years, grew to love it.  When I learnt about Tsukiji Market during my research for our trip to Japan 10 years ago, I knew we had to visit.

To describe Tsukiji as a temple to raw fish, would be understating it’s size and significance.  It is like a small city with roads, vehicles, traffic police, an auction house, restaurants, shops selling all manner of fish accoutrements and of course stall after stall after stall of raw fish.  Whole fish bought at the 5am auction are processed by the many small outfits, like the one pictured, before being sent to restaurants around the world.

It’s an atmospheric place to visit, even if you have to get up before the crack of dawn.  Everyone scurries purposefully around you, hurrying on their fishy business.  The bare lightbulbs and dark corners, huddles of men doing deals worth hundreds of thousands of yen, boxes heaped high with octopus and sea urchins, trolleys of valuable frozen tuna pulled by harried porters.   And it doesn’t smell of fish.  We shall be going back.

This post was written for Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.  For more travel pics, head on over.

In search of Sylvanians

2 Jun

The 8 year old has never really played with toys.  Certainly not according to the manufacturers’ instructions anyway.  Her play usually involves dressing up and telling convoluted stories with numerous props and her brothers as extras.  The only toy that has ever properly captured her imagination is the Sylvanian Families range.  These little, fuzzy, animal families come dressed in quasi-Edwardian clothes and with an astonishing array of fingernail sized accessories.  Each animal has a name and character traits and their typical hobbies include holidaying on canal boats and having piano lessons.

It wasn’t a huge surprise when I found out that despite the European image that they project, they are actually Japanese.  Somewhere near Mount Fuji, there is a Sylvanian Families theme park, with lifesize characters.  This will either be completely brilliant or more than a bit scary.  We are going to find out.

I quite often photograph the Sylvanians, at the eight year old’s request.  She has plans to make a stop motion animation with them during the summer holidays.  Storyboards are being drawn up as we speak.  She set up this tableau entitled ‘Bath Time’.

But I wasn’t sure whether a tableau really counts as a still life, so I took this one too.  I like it’s macabre qualities.  I might ask the eight year old to make up a story to go with it.

This post was written for The Gallery at Sticky Fingers.  This week’s prompt was ‘still life’.

A lesson learnt

1 Apr

I’m going to Japan tomorrow, I’m going to Japan!  I’m more excited than Baldrick would be on finding an extra large turnip.  I’m finally going to Japan!  I’m 28 years old and I’ve been intrigued by Japan for at least 21 of those years, since I met Ashley aged 7.  She had just moved to London after two years spent in Tokyo and taught me how to count to ten in Japanese.

My interest was further fueled by my parents, who visited in 1973, and have talked about it ever since.  Add in a local toyshop that sold Hello Kitty notepads and regular childhood trips to Japanese restaurants, and an obsession was born.

And now I’m going!  Three weeks in the land of sushi and Hello Kitty is mine!  Thanks to a cheap flight spotted in the newspaper, we are flying to Tokyo tomorrow afternoon.

Just the small matter of packing to sort out.  I’ve been really really busy getting things finished at work, so I’ve left it until the last minute.  No matter, We don’t need to take much, and I’m looking forward to buying new clothes there.

OK, packing done, tickets, yup, Japan rail passes, yup, passports, I’ll just get them from the drawer…

OK, they must be here, check again.  Crap.  Where the hell could they be?  Check again, they’ve GOT to be here.  I remember putting them away myself.

Saliva starts flooding my mouth, heart pounds in my chest, breathing quickens as hot  panic rises through my body.  I frantically search every possible location for our missing passports.  Where are they?  Where the hell are they?  If they’re not in the draw, they could be in that blue folder… No.  Crap.  What am I going to do?

Crap, crap, crap.  Where the crap are they?  I couldn’t have recycled them could I?  Could I?  Fuck.

Steve walks in the door “Hello Sweetheart, we’re on holiday! Did you get everything finished at work?  Are we almost ready?”  “Oh my God, I can’t find our passports anywhere, what are we going to do?”  “Don’t worry, we’ll look again”.

I’ve wanted to go to Japan for 20 years.  I’ve been planning this trip for six months.  Six months of dreaming and waiting and dealing with crap at work all for the promise of this trip.  I’ve never wanted a holiday so badly before.  Now it is about to be snatched from my grasp, it’s loss it a physical pain.  A tightening in my chest, nausea.  Why did I dare to want something so much?  Especially something as trivial as a holiday.  Wanting just leads to disappointment.  I will never want anything this badly again.

What can we do?  Can we get new passports?  My father would know… Yes and no.  We can queue at the passport office tomorrow morning, but our chances of catching our flight are slim.  Can we change our flight?  Maybe. No, they were cheap tickets.  Japan is slipping out of my grasp.  Tears of loss and disappointment run down my cheeks.

“What CAN have happened to them?” Steve asks.  “I think I must have recycled them when I was doing that big clear out”.  “Let’s pull the filing cabinet apart, just to make sure”.  Out comes the drawer where the passports should be kept.  Out comes every piece of paper.  What do we find?

Our passports.

It takes me the rest of the evening to calm down.  I resolve never to want something so badly again, particularly a holiday.  I’m not sure that I’ve kept to that one.

This week, Josie at Sleep is for the Weak asked “When was the last time you really, really wanted something”

How to count to 10 in Japanese

9 Mar

I am very much enjoying my new internet teacher of useful facts role, so here is another vlog for Just Vlog It.  Please excuse the lack of brushed hair and general scruffy appearance, but the Director needed to go to bed, so a lengthy session in hair and make up was not possible.