Let me begin this post by warning you that I bought myself a dictaphone / voice recorder while in Houston, and as such, then took copious amounts of random notes for the remainder of the voyage. Therefore, you'll now be subjected to the edited version of my internal monologue as it was.
Morning one in Japan. I wake up at 7 am (damn that internal clock) and begin to formulate a plan for my day of wonder. I put on my favorite fuchsia dress, black shoe boots, curled my hair and grabbed what maps I had. The plan was to enjoy a leisurely local breakfast of homemade noodles, a stroll in the park and then onto some serious kawaii shopping. After seeking advice on the best shopping precinct from the desk clerk, I headed out the front door and promptly started walking in the wrong direction, all the while blissfully unaware. The streets were beginning to come alive with people on their way to work. And this is where I found my first Japanese infatuation. The prevalence of bikes as a means of transport. Like most things in Japan, there is a grace to the riding of said bikes. The bikes themselves are laid back, Ladies style with baskets on the front and large padded seats. The riders may be men in business suits, ladies in skirt suits and heels and even mothers with babies both in the seat behind and the basket in front. And while they ride with purpose, they don't ride with haste (well at least not here anyway). Simply watching them gliding down the road was a relaxing experience.
Image courtesy of Copenhagenize.
As I continued walking in the wrong direction, I noticed two things about the shop fronts. Firstly, nothing was open at 8am, so my breakfast plans went on hold. Secondly, each shop front was decorated with potted plants. Imagine if you will, the shop front, footpath and curb with council planted tree. Around the council tree, each shop had created a little oasis of potted geraniums, jade plants and even trellised vines. It was quite common place and I wondered if this was installed as a sign of ownership of space, an attempt to increase the serenity in a place you must spend many hours a day or simply an acknowledgment of the role nature and the seasons play in everyday life here. If any reader can enlighten me on the subject, it would be much appreciated. It did make me laugh as I thought of our own Melbourne City Council's reaction to such an effort, as I had once been threatened with a lawsuit and heavy fine for signage encroaching by 6 inches onto the footpath.
Eventually I came across a subway station whose maps inform me that I have been travelling in the wrong direction for about 30 minutes. Resolutely I walk back up the other side of the street, hoping to find an open noddle shop as my stomach is now protesting at the lack of attention for more than 20 hours. With my non existent Japanese language skills and lack of a cohesive plan (you know Virgos for planning) I was beginning to feel just a smidgen anxious. As I turned the corner I saw the sign for what appeared to be the only open eating establishment within that 30 minute walk, and so I headed in for my first visit to Johnathon's. Johnathon's appeared to be an American style family restaurant, (similar to Denny's) and while it didn't meet my fantasy of home cooked noodles by a family whose secret recipe hearkened back generations, it advertised good coffee. And here is where I made observation number two that further increased my crush on Japan.
My Melody (the red rabbit thingy) appears like a guardian angel from above.
The Japanese make life very easy for a tourist. Considering the language barrier you would think it easy to get lost, never be able to communicate effectively and possibly sold into slavery ( just joking.) But everywhere things are illustrated. Menus with pictures throughout, instructions with unmistakable directions on which buttons to press for the perfect coffee, and happy smiling cartoon faces on everything. The art of Engrish is one that often amuses me, but seen in this context, its value is immeasurable and entirely different. I'm imagining life for a tourist in Melbourne, where the only place you get to see pictures on a menu is in McDonald's, and should you not understand English, people simply speak louder and slower as if you are deaf. Japan is the antithesis of this approach. Everything appears to be done to put you at ease and make you as comfortable as possible. As I sat eating my breakfast, any trepidation I may have felt about my adventure melted away. I drank the most excellent coffee I had enjoyed since leaving Australia, plotted to take home the cute restaurant signage (" Drinks Menu Was Enhanced Here!") and looked up to see a huge My Melody stuffed toy looking down on me from a high rise window. Forget Xanax, all I need is a little kawaii Sanrio and I'm good to go.
My Melody (the red rabbit thingy) appears like a guardian angel from above.
Appropriately fortified for the day, I went forth to shop! After all the vintage treasures acquired in the US, my plan here was not to vintage shop, but to gorge myself on a diet of my other passion - the Super Kawaii. My first stop was the Matsuzakaya department store, as nothing else was open prior to 11.30 and I was itching to make first contact. Like an anthropological explorer, it seems that I make my best and quickest efforts to assimilate by immersing myself in a situation with which I am already overly familiar. And a department store was the perfect stage. From the moment I stepped through the entrance way, it was though I had gone to department store heaven. Where Sax Fifth Avenue had been gleaming, it also had the ability to make you feel as though you needed to improve yourself to shop there. Matsuzakaya is another world entirely. Each display is perfectly designed, executed and maintained. Each staff member greets you with a tuneful "Issasshaimase" the moment you enter their visual sphere. Now I know this may sound silly, but I felt like I was gliding around that store on a cloud of visual perfection and obsessive compulsive heaven. Almost as each item was touched by a shopper, it was carefully straightened back into its original, perfectly aligned position - without making you feel as though you had disturbed anything but rather that there was pleasure taken from your attentions. (Okay, this may sound a little over the top, and the reality of this feeling may not be at all grounded in the truth of the matter, but I am simply calling it as it felt to me.)
Anna Sui Brush and cosmetic box, cute rings, Kewpie cuties, Tokyo Romantic fragrance.
I discovered the joy of the embellished hand cloth at the Matsuzakaya store. These are my two favorites I picked up, but in total I think I must have bought about a dozen!
A small selection of all the kawaii paraphernalia including Totoro for Miss Four (one of her favorite films), Babushka Kitty for me, a Gu Gu World shopping tote and more stationery than you can poke a stick at.
More Kitty fun for the kitchen. This lot was actually from the Sanrio Store in Houston; I seek out kawaii where ever I go.
One of a selection of 14 miniature Kittys now gracing my entertainment cabinet.
From the department store onto the best toy store I've ever seen in my life. 6 Floors of electronic, animated and modeling magic. As I walked in the front door I was greeted by the insane yapping of a whole floor of electronic toys such as " Poodle in a Tea Cup." What is it? A small pooddle that yaps incessantly until you place in in the designated tea cup, where it promptly goes to sleep. Even better than said poodle was "F Cup Cookie". A box of cookies that promises you F cup breasts upon there ingestion. Is it that if you eat enough you get so fat that your breast then reach this size? To the left of "F Cup Cookie" was a strangely sexual looking object, that upon closer inspection proved to be a banana protector. And on it went. As you can see, I spent quite a bit of time and money in this store, but I'll leave the Tea cup Poodle for another enthusiastic shopper for now.
*Stay tuned for further adventures in Japan during the week*