Archive for March, 2014

Japan 2014, Part 2.

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Ah, the heated toilet seats. I cannot speak highly enough of them. We trekked through a great many cold environments, it being winter and all, and we’d see some outdoor lavatory situation, pop in there for a tinkle and boom! Toasty seat. Invariably I would say, “I live here now. It is warm and I am happy. Move on with your life. This is my home.” In addition, I am accustomed to my toilet flushing and that’s about it. The toilets in Japan do everything short of your taxes. Here was a sign next to one.


I could not bring myself to press any of the water-squirty features but I if anyone else has, please tell me if they’re magical or horrifying.

The other thing that I adored were the vending machines. They are everywhere. Seriously. Next to a giant Buddha, in the middle of the forest, in random residential cul-de-sacs. Seriously, everywhere. And they dispense both hot and cold beverages. I started liking certain flavors and looking for machines selling those flavors. I would buy the hot ones and keep them in my pocket warming my belly and then when it cooled a bit I would drink it. They were the greatest. If I lived there and wasn’t unable to drink carbonated beverages (they burn the inside of my mouth, I’ve never had Coke or Pepsi or beer or champagne) I would make a point to try each and every flavor of everything in all the different vending machines and make a spreadsheet of them. Because I am so very cool.

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The way you know if the beverage is cold or hot is to look where the selection button is, right under the can. Is it blue? Cold. Is it red? Hot. The Moomins and I didn’t know that and one night she was hankerin’ for a beverage and I wasn’t allowing her to drink any more tea because it was after 7:00 p.m. and I didn’t want her to be up all night. We came across a machine that was selling this:


The Moomins and I didn’t see the red underneath (you can clearly see it there) so we thought the hot meant spicy. No, it was actually hot ginger ale. The Moomins, being the trooper that she is, drank it anyway. And here’s the kicker: she loved it. It was like sparkling ginger tea. She was suffering from a hacking cough the entire time we were there and she said the only thing that helped was this drink. I was on a constant pilgrimage to find some.

Look! Hot corn soup!


Okay, the Ghibli Museum. Miyazaki is an animator of a variety of films, the most famous of which is either My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away. This is Miyazaki’s museum. Snorth had told me about it and I felt like this needed to be checked out. It’s a small museum, so you need to buy tickets well in advance from a registered ticket seller. It’s all on their website. The museum only takes a certain number of people a day, so you need to get tickets no less than a month ahead. We took the JR to Mitaka Station where we got off and was greeted by exquisite ikebana flower arrangements right at the bottom of the escalator.

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I was astonished how something like this was right out in the open and not in a glass case or behind bars. Are you familiar with the phrase, “This is why we can’t have nice things”? I think of that all the time in America. In Japan no one stole any of the flowers or wrote “L.M. <3 B.R.” on the paper tablecloth under the arrangement or poured their leftover soda in the vase. I noticed that the Japanese are really into being respectful and following rules. There’s a system and a structure and it is not to be meddled with. More than three times I found myself at a crosswalk and I could see no cars were coming from the left or the right, there were no cars on the road at all. But that crossing light was red and therefore no one crossed. No one moved until that light turned green. When I would go into a shop there would often be a little tray to put your money on when paying. In one store I put the money directly on the counter like an animal because I didn’t see the tray. The shopkeeper moved the money to the tray, then took it and put it in the cash register. Like, placed the money in the tray then immediately picked it up to put it away like if it didn’t stop off in the tray it was not legal tender. And people always reference the Harajuku district of Tokyo. “People dress so wacky there! It’s so edgy and cool!” Well, sort of. It’s only on Sunday between certain hours. It’s a contained individuality. Most everywhere else everyone dressed pretty much the same, often very modestly. I felt like I was surrounded by Asian Orthodox Jews, fashion-wise. I often caught people staring at me, not in a bad way, but in a curious way because I was different. Different is not really encouraged I think. That’s the vibe I got. I could totally be wrong, I was only there for two weeks. But that’s the impression I got. The point of this rambling paragraph is that Japan’s rule system may be constricting to one’s personal flair, but you can have stunning flower arrangements out in the open, so that’s a plus.

Back to Mitaka Station. It was a breath of fresh air. It was filled with gorgeous little food stalls that sold all kinds of beautifully presented snackery in pretty boxes. It was like Christmas. If we hadn’t had the tickets for the Ghibli Museum we might have stayed in the station all day, looking at flowers and eating unknown food items (we ended up getting a dumpling sampler from there on our way back from the museum, it was delicious). The museum is buried in the corner of a park and it’s about a mile from the station. A shuttle bus will take you directly there (I found a pic online of what the bus stop and shuttle looks like):

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but since we had just sat for a 12-hour flight the day before and the weather was cool and overcast, we decided to walk. Which was great because we walked past a dog cafe! Oh my God. It’s a place you can bring your canine and have English tea. That’s it. We went in and tea had just finished for about four people, one who had two poodles and one who had a sheltie and the owner had a phalene in her arms. As soon as The Moomins came over, the little phalene struggled to get in The Moomins arms for cuddles. It was heart-meltingly cute.

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We walked along the brook that runs through that part of town and saw snowmen. Japan doesn’t make the kind of snowmen we make. They make little snow spirits and they are waaaaaaay better than the lumpy atrocities one sees on lawns in the area I live in.

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What is that, a deer? Love it.

Then we came to the park and in front of us was an odd-looking yellow stucco house with this sign in front of it.


And then there’s a ticket booth manned by a giant plush Totoro.


We went in with our printouts from the registered ticket vendor which at the front door were exchanged for two tickets containing three film frames of a Miyazaki movie. Ours were boring frames (one was a landscape at night, so blue and black and nothing else), but I found a pic on the internet of someone else’s better ones.


Then we walked inside and it is like a teeny tiny personal Disneyland. There’s a mural on the ceiling and gorgeous stained glass windows and fun little architectural details, all of which I would have taken photos of except I was informed that photography inside was prohibited. Okay, I thought, I’m sure they’ll have a pamphlet or a booklet of all the sweetness here that I will buy in the gift shop. The Moomins and I looked at all the exhibitions showing how the animation teams make the movies. There was a fantastic use of strobe lighting in the middle of the downstairs. It was a rotating disc with characters from the films as little sculptures and it spun at just the right speed so when the strobe hit it the sculptures looked like they were flying, skipping rope, etc. It punches you right in the heart. If someone told me they visited the museum and cried, I would in no way be surprised. I found a video of the strobe thing. If you’re planning to visit ever, don’t watch this because you should experience it fresh. If you’re never planning on going, go ahead and watch it.

Apparently the spinning thing is called a zoetrope. You learn new things every day.

I walked around with a big dumb smile on my face the whole time. There was a little movie theater called the Saturn Theater showing a ten minute Miyazaki movie that was made only for that space, so we stood in line and we saw it. Neither The Moomins nor I speak Japanese but somehow we totally understood it. It was delightful.

After seeing all the exhibitions we finally made it over to the gift shop where I promptly asked if there was something on the stained glass windows / the building itself. I was informed there was not. I was mad, but I continued to be a good rule-follower and not take pictures. Luckily other people broke the rules and I found their pics online.

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See? Right. And then I couldn’t take it anymore. Rules were meant to be broken. I positioned The Moomins in front of me and managed to get a pic of a metal bat on the top of the elevator tower.


On the second floor there’s an enormous plush catbus that kids can play on with great cutouts of bugs in the wood that surrounds the play area. Took secret pictures of that too.

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And then the piece de resistance for me, a small window with the Radish Spirit and No-Face from Spirited Away waving at me. Spirited Away was the reason I went to Japan in the first place. I saw it in 2001 and I was enchanted. The hell I’m not taking a shot of that.


Just as I snapped the shot one of the museum attendants came past me and said, “No picture.” I imagine if I was Japanese I would have been disgusted with myself and possibly committed seppuku for bringing such dishonor on my family, but I truly didn’t care. IF YOU DIDN’T WANT ME TAKING PHOTOS YOU WOULD HAVE MADE A BOOKLET OF THE AWESOME STAINED GLASS WINDOWS MA’AM. I FEEL NO SHAME. BRING IT.

Before I ruined the U.S.’s reputation even further we went outside to the cafe. It was a lovely cafe where we shared a cup of roasted barley tea and I took a photo of the handles of the washbasin. I think it’s the cat from Kiki’s Delivery Service.


There were exhibits outside as well. On the roof there’s a big metal robot from one of Miyazaki’s other films (I have not seen his entire filmography so I don’t get all the references).


And there’s a cube from another Miyazaki film. And some spinny noisemakers that look like fish. But in my opinion my favorite things were the snow sculptures. Near the front door was a stone forest dweller from Spirited Away.


And on the roof someone had made both the main big Totoro and his two backup smaller Totoros. I (brilliantly, if I must say) decided they should be called snow-toros. Look. Look at the snow-toros.

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That was a phenomenal start to my Japanese journey. The next entry will delve into some Tokyo sightseeing.