Saturday, October 25, 2008

Japan I Bloody Love You - part two

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.

Breakfast at last and it is oh so good.

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*


Fashion Hayley said...

Heya. Ahh you discovered the "mama chari" phenomenon (what locals call those types of bicycles because mainly women/mothers ride them to chauffeur their little princes and princesses around like a king or queen on a chariot, but you do see salarymen, students etc on and Henry swore by bike travel there hardly ever catching the train by the end of our year there, I had a shiny red mama chari) Oh and I love the pot plants all over the place too, the area you stayed in is mainly full of older people who have heaps of time for a gardening hobby, just no space for a garden other than the footpath, bus stops and other public space. My neighbourhood was very similar, there was this 1 old lady who spent all day gardening, but all she had was like 4 pot plants and an old scooter covered in pots next to her front door, she even had a wheelbarrow to help her work, it was so funny to see. Can't wait to read more and see more of the super kawaii stuff you bought.

Fashion Hayley said...

Oh and those embellished hand cloths you bought are for the humid Summer in Japan. You keep one in your handbag and use it to wipe the sweat from your brow. Men use plain ones and women use the super kawaii ones.

enc said...

This wonderful post brings back strong, clear, happy memories of my short time in Japan. I loved it and remember feeling many of the feelings you describe here.

Thanks, SKM, for taking me back to when I was 17.

What a lovely time you had!

WendyB said...

I haven't seen a kewpie doll in sooooo long. Nice Kitty collection!

K.Line said...

I wanna see that sexy cookie! :-)

A dreamer said...

ahhh i loved this post! filled with cute little observations and kawaii pics= me like. japan sounds super fantastic! did you eat any rice balls from the convienience store yet? yum.
hahah @

Hammie said...

What an adventure, I'm travelling with you and you are making it sound more peaceful and digestible than the average t.v. travelogue. I had NO idea about the bicycles, do they ride on the road or bikepaths? and is it not mad busy with exhaust fumes?
I love the idea of the potted plants in public spaces. I thought Japan was more conformist than Aus', do they have byelaws that permit this (Hayley?) And can you get those bye-laws in Altona. My Grandma has filled the patio of her condo, she needs more pot plant space. But now I think about it, you would need everybody else to be respectful and conformist; otherwise the plants would be vandalised/used as cigarette receptacles/Stolen. Hmmm.

Super Kawaii Mama said...

Hayley: Thank you for that enlightenment. I loved those little gardens. I can imagine how needed those cloths would be in summer too. They'll be living in my handbag as quick solutions to messy children.
Enc: Excellent! So it hasn't changed much in the past four years then? ;)
I was so pleased to be able to take notes like that, as it has left me with such strong memories of lots of little details.
Wendy B: I had one growing up and always wanted to replace her. She died after too many amateur operations.
k.Line: I reckon just about any box of cookies could do the trick.
A Dreamer: You would love Japan. I didn't get any convenience store rice balls, I kept getting distracted by chocolates in Sanrio tins. yummm.

Super Kawaii Mama said...

Hammie: I did find it peaceful actually. It appealed to my organised and systematic nature so much, that I was more relaxed here than on a beach in Phi Phi Island! The bikes were both on the road and on the footpath, but the paths and the roads seemed to be twice the width of those in Melbourne, and people were very careful, although I couldn't vouch for your safety should you be engrossed on your mobile. I was surprised at just how unpolluted it was. After seeing vision of people wearing face masks, I was expecting the worse, but it was certainly no worse than Melbourne, and much better than Sydney (where my washing always came in dirty). And you're right about planting like that here. They always seem to be used for butts and the plants killed, but there, there was a much greater sense of respect, not just for plants, but for your fellow man in general.

Anna said...

It's a real pleasure reading your blog, especially this parts! Youre a great writer!

I'm also a big fan of cute small things, or cute small things in big sizes! Like an oversized Hello Kitty.
I have my own Moomin collection, and even my mum bring me Hello Kitty stuff...

Have a great day cupcake!


miss cavendish said...

No doubt you have but have you seen Jam Fancy, a blog by fellow Aussie Christina? She's all about kawaii, having designed dolls for a Tokyo clientele . . .

PorcelainBlonde said...

Ohh I have the Anna Sui brush too! Great value when you consider the base is a Mason & Pearson :) Or at least that was the case when I bought mine 8 or so years ago!

Love the pic with Melody looking down...very cute :)

Super Kawaii Mama said...

Anna: Thank you so much! I love how cute things always make you feel better. You can never be in a bad mood with Kitty around. I'm off to check out your blog too.
Miss Cavendish: No I hadn't, what an oversight! Thanks for tipping me off, she looks like one very talented individual.
Porcelain Blonde: I didn't know that, but I had a suspicion as the quality of the brush is the same, lovely. the girl serving at the counter had the most amazing make up I have ever seen in my life. I was so tempted to take her photo, but not speaking the language I didn't want to be rude and just snap away, so a mental picture will have to suffice. In fact all the staff looked so amazing 9as well as the store) that it made Myers seem like a dirty bargain basement. Which these days, it really is, aside from the bargain bit.