Trip Start Sep 29, 2009
Trip End Oct 29, 2009

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Flag of Japan  , Kanto,
Thursday, October 22, 2009


My first full day in Tokyo, I took the train up to Laketown Mall, an enormous shopping center adjacent to the Koshigaya Laketown train station in the Saitama suburbs northeast of Tokyo.  (To get here, take the Japan Rail Saikyo (pronounced Psycho!) Line from Ikebukuro to Musashiurawa, then switch to the Japan Rail Musashino Line to Koshigaya Laketown.)  It's a huge, huge mall with environmental pretensions.  It has two sections, one called Lake and the other Forest.  The anchor stores are the Jusco discount store and Sports Authority, and the entire mall was developed by Aeon, the parent company of Jusco. The smaller stores are mostly specialty shops, with a focus on women's fashions.  There are stores with odd names like "Starvation."  Next to the mall is an enormous lake, which is square and apparently artificial, and a large park with no litter containers (I know from experience carrying around a sticky ice cream cone wrapper).  Adjacent to the lake, they are building 8-story apartment buildings, and a bit further out, there is a tract of newly built single-family houses.  But the whole place feels too big and very controlled and over-planned. 

Next, I took the train one stop to the Shin-Misato station to see La La City (yes, that's the official legal name on the formal address signs!).  La La City (developed by the La La Port folks) has yet another mall, but this one is a much more manageable size.  It is anchored at one end by Costco and at the other end by Ikea, and in the middle there are stores including Uniqlo, H&M, and Muji.  But it is not enormous, a much more reasonable scale than Laketown.  Costco has a mix of stuff you'd find at their USA stores and some uniquely Asian merchandise.  Cheese bagels continue to be big sellers at Costco, and they had some enormous GE refrigerators on display.  There was also a lot of clothing in American sizes.  I had dinner in the food court--an excellent Chicken Caesar Salad for 600 yen and a slice of pizza for 300 yen, one of Japan's better dinner values.  The salad was excellent, although I think my diet has been deficient in green vegetables since I arrived in Japan.


I took the public tour of the NHK public television network in Tokyo.  The tour is mostly geared for school kids, who were thrilled to see their classmate hosting the evening news on a closed circuit system.  But at the beginning of the tour, there was an opportunity to be in the audience of a taping of the Melody Lane program.  A woman in traditional kimono sang old songs, and the mostly very old audience was enthralled.  I was tempted to ask if she was Aurora Teruko, a character in one of the Japanese soap operas I used to watch.  (Aurora had a beautiful voice, beautiful enough to take a man away from his wife, family, and tofu business, resulting in his daughter's disastrous decision to manufacture a line of tofu-based cosmetics, financed by a wealthy suitor she doesn't really love.)

From my random TV watching, I saw one program where they brought in a team of housecleaners to tidy up a very messy house. I hope this was a one-time report, and not an ongoing series where they find and clean the country's messiest houses.   

I did watch a lot of TV two Saturday nights in a row, so I have information about two series.  "Challenged" is about a teacher who goes blind but still manages to do his job--so well that he is able to navigate the river rapids and retrieve the missing test papers that his teaching assistant lost when she was hit by another bicycle.  Why she would have carried the test papers in an open basket on the top of her bicycle, ready to be victimized by any passing wind, is beyond me.  In the next episode, he gives a student the motivation to end his father's domestic violence.  But wait, the student who is secretly putting braille signs on every door in the school to help him out is now a victim of harassment--another female student has just attacked her hairdo with a pair of scissors.   Less uplifting is the series about a woman who appears to have murdered three people in one week.  First, there was the poisoned ice cube, which she put in the freezer and which her husband later put into his drink.  Then, there was the bicyclist she hit while driving, distracted by the beautiful berries on a bush she passed.  Finally, she stabbed to death the man who witnessed the car accident and was blackmailing her.  But the most extraordinary thing about Saturday night TV in Japan was two late-night programs--one was a calculus lesson, and the other was organic chemistry!!!   

For those of you who are wondering if the Japanese people are deprived of shop-at-home television experiences, no need to fret.  They have a solid selection of American full-length advertisements with subtitles and dubbed Japanese where appropriate.  The product lines focus on housecleaning and food preparation.  Typically, they use the American advertisement, and supplement it with scenes where actual Japanese use the same appliance for cooking fish or cleaning a small floor

After I got home, I had the opportunity to watch a Japanese television drama on television with English subtitles.  It had all the classic elements--the central character is a young woman and the story revolves around whether she will marry the right man.  She's engaged to a young army officer who is called to serve in Siberia, and, of course, he is injured in battle and reported dead.  After getting the news, she is pursued by the local newspaper editor.  Then comes the rumor that the army officer isn't dead after all, but is somewhere in China.  She makes a trip to China "to find out who is reflected in the mirror in my heart" and barely misses finding the army officer.  Turns out the army officer has amnesia (usually the amnesia in TV dramas results from a fall on an escalator at Narita Airport, but this story was set in the 1930's).  The family who has taken him in includes an artist who happens to see his fiance on her trip to China and makes a sketch of her.  When the army officer sees the sketch, he recovers his memory and rushes back to Japan, only to reach his fiance on her wedding day, and of course, she is being married to the editor.  Of course, it would be impolitely direct to tell the army officer about the wedding, so he loses precious time waiting around.  Will the army officer get to the church on time to stop the wedding?  Of course not.  Instead, he asks another officer to pass along the news that he is back, and that officer re-delegates the task to the newspaper editor (and groom), who keeps quiet.  The wedding is interrupted by, what else, an earthquake!  All ends well.  This is the classic Japanese soap opera plot.  It's also been done with a nurse who's engaged to a doctor who develops amnesia properly (through a fall on an airport escalator).  The nurse takes a job in the same hospital where the doctor ends up working and waits patiently for him to recover his memory, because it would be impolitely direct to simply tell him that he has forgotten that they are engaged.  And there was the series about the woman who was in love with the photographer who goes to Cambodia to photograph the war, and lends his jacket to a colleague who is then shot dead.  The news comes back that the boyfriend has died, but, of course, the jacket was the identifying factor, it was a case of mistaken identity, and months later the boyfriend returns to Japan alive.  And yes, I cried at their wedding!  

Yet another TV note:  Gatsby is Japan's leading line of men's hair products--the typical convenience store has an aisle devoted to Gatsby absorbent face paper and hair wax.  They needed some catchy American music for their hair styling wax commercials, so they chose the Stylistics (what a pun!!!).  The song they chose was a remake of the Stylistics hit, "I Can't Give You Anything But My Love."    Now the lyrics are "I can give you Gat-tsu-bee."  If you do a search on for Gatsby, you will likely find it.  This link may still work:     The song is at the end.  The rest of the video is a compilation of commercials with scientific graphs to help you decide which Gatsby Moving Rubber hair wax product to select, depending on the gloss, holding power, "lift up," "twist and stand up in bundles," volume, and "nuance keep" characteristics you desire.  


It rained hard today, so I gave up on my plans to visit Kamakura and instead spent the day shopping in Tokyo.  Hakusan (the folks who make porcelain in contemporary designs; I trekked to their factory store in Hasami) has a store in Tokyo, so that was my first stop.  Last year, I was a block away from their store and had no idea they were there!  They are on Otemesando, at the edge of the fancy retail district that includes Otemesando Hills (a multi-story shopping complex that has no connection with any hill), Cartier, and Prada.  When I passed the fancy Prada building, I was very tempted to barge in and yell,"The devil wears Prada!"  But I didn't.  Hakusan is in an attractive modern space 1/2-level below the street, so it is barely visible.  The shop is small, not big enough to display everything in the catalog.  Their level of design quality deserves a much bigger store.  Hakusan is a great source for quality porcelain in classic modern designs at very reasonable prices. 

According to travelpod, over 1,000 people have viewed my Japan blog.  I have no idea why so many people are interested, but if any of you are in the retail business in the USA, Hakusan deserves consideration.  Their quality is excellent, the prices are modest, and their designs are classic modern.  I have no idea why I don't see their products in major American stores.  Anyone out there from Nordstrom, Macy's, etc.?

The Hakusan shop in Tokyo is on Otemesando Avenue, about 3 blocks southeast of the intersection of Otemesando Dori and Aoyama Dori.  (Dori = Avenue.)  If you start near Harajuku, walking along Otemesando, you will pass Prada and then Cartier.  Past Cartier, but on the same side of the street and on the same block, you will find the "From" Building.  Hakusan is hidden 1/2 level below the street.  The address for the Hakusan Shop is "From 1st Building," Ground Floor, 5-3-10 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo (Metro Station: Omotesando).  (In the other direction along Otemesando, you will find Oriental Bazaar, Shakey's Pizza, and Kiddyland.  Oriental Bazaar is a good place for modestly-priced souvenirs.  Kiddyland has a mix of cool toys for kids and gifts for adults with limited taste.)


Machida is at the southwestern edge of the area within the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Tokyo government.  The only maps of Tokyo that give this area the same attention as central Tokyo are the ones issued by the Tokyo metropolitan government.  I'm sure they have to, since the suburbs of Tama Center (pronounced "Tama Centah") and Machida are officially as much a part of Tokyo as Ginza.  Machida is about an hour from Shinjuku station via the Odakyu train (yes, I call it the oakey-dokey line).  The train route leaves Tokyo and goes through some other city--I think it's Kawasaki, but it might be Yokohama--on the way to Machida.  Machida is at the intersection of two rail lines, and has two rail stations adjacent to each other, so there is plenty of pedestrian traffic.  I guess the rents are lower than in central Tokyo, because there is a Daiso 100-yen mega-store (5 stories full of cheap merchandise, the best place in Japan to buy plastic foam in the shape of concrete building blocks, or metal hooks in any configuration you might need) and the Mina complex, which includes a big Uniqlo.  The Machida Uniqlo has more merchandise than their typical store, but the main thing I noticed was that the aisles were wider and the density of customers was much lower.  I realized how stressful it is for me to constantly be in the midst of a crowd!  Taking the train back to central Tokyo, I was going against the flow of commuter traffic for the last 3/4 of the trip (there are some commuters who must travel from the south end of central Tokyo, or from Yokohama, and then use this line in the contra direction to loop up to the other suburbs near Machida).  By the time I got to Shinjuku, I was the only person in the car.  The amazing thing was that, on a sloppy rainy day, the inside of the train was immaculate even at the end of the day!


I avoided Tokyo's morning rush hour by staying in my hotel until at least 10 a.m. every day.  The evening rush hour was surprisingly late.  One day I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, only to discover a couple of small signs saying that it would be closed for two weeks.  I still wonder if the Japanese text of the sign said that they were sorry to announce that they had run out of ideas of traditional art they could deconstruct or modern art that hadn't already been done.  So I walked back to the subway, realized I wasn't sure where the subway was, and soon found myself at a bridge over the Sumida River on a sunny day.  So I took a walk along the river until I found a subway station that could take me to the monorail line to Odaiba, a landfill site with a huge development of offices, a convention hall, and shopping centers.  First stop in Odaiba was the Venus Fort shopping mall, geared towards women and with an Italian village theme, complete with statues and fountains.  Next was the waterfront Aqua City shopping center, which has a replica of the Statue of Liberty!  As the sign on the clothing store in Brooklyn says, "No more schlepping to New York!"

My next excitement was taking the train back to the other side of Tokyo at 5 p.m.  I was convinced this would be a disaster of overcrowding, but was surprised to find that there was plenty of room on both the monorail and the Yamanote Line.  I think people work late enough that rush hour isn't even beginning at 5 p.m.  The trains were much more crowded between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., and there is yet another rush hour at 11 p.m., when everybody rushes home before the last train.  


Kawagoe is a cute little town north of Tokyo.  (From Ikebukuro, take the Tobu Tojo Line.)  Its historic district includes old warehouse-store buildings and more recent structures that have been designed to blend in.  Kawagoe has recently been "discovered" by the guidebooks, so it was full of tourists from all over.  It seems that I wasn't the only one with a clipping from the travel section of the New York Times!  
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shermann on

Japanese TV
Your descriptions of the Japanese TV shows are hilarious! Hope you are enjoying the end of your trip.


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