Friday, I headed to Tokyo to buy art supplies (katazome paper, thread, linen fabric to dye, etc). I took the train from Fujino station into Tokyo (about an hour, depending on the part of Tokyo you’re headed to) to go to Seiwa, where they teach dyeing classes and sell supplies. The French dancer Julie and I arrived and… it was closed due to Oban, the mid-August Japanese Buddhist festival honoring one’s ancestors. Officially Oban ended a day or two before, but some shops close the weekend after.
During Oban, people travel home (or to their ancestral homes) to honor their ancestors and spirits. On the mountain roads in Fujino this week, the little family shrines were tidied up and cleaned, and you could hear kids’ laughter as they played outside late into the night or spent time around a bonfire. (I heard a rumor than the “bon” of “bonfire” comes from this festival name, but I haven’t read up on that). My sense is that it is a ritual of family togetherness and a reunion of sorts for many Japanese.
With the shop closed, I headed to the Tokyo National Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Japanese art. The museum is really easy to navigate and every sign is in multiple languages (thank you!). There were some beautiful textiles from the late Edo period on display, and some amazing things in the bookstore. (Sorry, credit cards, but I really needed that book on Happi coats!)
The National Museum is located in a museum-dense section of the city in Ueno Park near the zoo. Although the weather was hot and humid once again (as it has been every day here), it was a lovely day to walk around and eat popcorn. I walked over to the Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to the emperor who opened Japan to the west, but… it was closed due to renovations. It’s still a brilliant gold on the outside.
My third destination was Nippori, a quick train from Ueno. Nippori textile town is a mile-long section of shops selling all manner of sewing supplies and fabric. My goal was Tomato, which boasts six floors of every fabric imaginable. And I arrived, and it was… closed. All five locations. Luckily, there were a few shops open so I could buy some supplies. Sweet treats from the local mart, pizza in the park, and a train ride back to Fujino to round out the day.
Go to Tokyo and decide on a neighborhood to stay in Tokyo. I picked Kabukicho, very close to Shinjuku station and known for its nightlife (ie: Red Light District). My plan was to start with the Folkcraft museum, then Shibuya crossing, then on to Shinjuku for the evening. Day two was Yoyogi Park, the Meiji shrine, the fashion street and the ukiyo-e museum. Shinjuku is central and close to all these stops.
Find a capsule hotel. Julie, the French girl studying here who speaks Japanese, helped me find one online.
Arrive, put your shoes in a locker and check in. If you’d like, ask for the all-female floor. In this hotel, it was the top floor and had an extra key code for security.
Go to your floor and find your capsule. I was in the corner on a bottom row. Occupied capsules have their green lights lit up. Because it was the middle of the week, there were lots of empty capsules.
Realize your capsule has just enough space for your body but not your backpack. Find your locker, and discover a towel and cotton robe and pants to use for the shower. Lock away the goods you don’t need.
Head down to the lounge and use the wi-fi and order something from the lounge chef. Then order it again in 30 minutes when your food never shows because you don’t actually know Japanese.
Bedtime! Return to your floor, shower, use the fanciest most technologically advanced bathroom you will ever see (including a button that makes the sound of running water to give you privacy) and head to bed.
Pull down your shade and lock it under the catch. Turn out your light and we’ll see you in the morning!
While in Tokyo, I walked through Yoyogi koen (Yoyogi Park) on my way to the Meiji Shrine. It is one of the largest parks in the city, an oasis of green space with a million paths for running and biking. I arrived at the dog walking hour, so I got a chance to practice my baby Japanese with the middle-aged lades walking their long-haired daschunds. (So far, I’ve seen more daschunds than any other type of dog. Maybe it’s too hot for the shiba inus to be out?)
Meiji Jingu is dedicated to the emporer who opened Japan to the west. (If the shrine name sounds familiar, Hillary Clinton went there during her 2009 Sec of State visit as a way to honor the history and culture of Japan). It features 175 acres of evergreen forest plant species donated by people all over Japan. Huge wooden gates (torii) mark the entrance. I was there just as the apprentice Shinto priests were walking through the grounds. The space is clean and peaceful–it’s easy to forget you’re actually in the heart of the city. One cool thing is the wall of nihonshu–straw wrapped barrels of sake.