What you'll find on Storybook Days

The Home page displays all my musings on life in Japan and a few other things (baseball and children's books are distinct possibilities). For highlights only: "A Day in the Life (edited)." "Tabemono (Food)" is exactly that. "Big in Japan" is my completely biased and oversimplified list of what is popular in Japan, and "Kimono Count" is a day-by-day record of the people I see in traditional dress. "Editor's Delight" catalogs the unintentionally amusing and apparently quite complicated world of Japanese-English translation. "Uncle Tucker" tracks our sightings of a certain cat following us around Japan.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hello, Kitty!

Like so many other stories in my life, this one begins in elementary school.  I was, I believe, in 5th grade--the single most traumatic year of my whole life for an entirely too long list of reasons.  Luckily for me, one of my friends, Elaine, was the nicest girl in school.  She had white wavy hair and pig tails, and she had a swimming pool in her backyard.  Most important of all, she had amazing Hello Kitty and Smurf collections.  I liked the Smurfs, but I adored Hello Kitty. 

Dillard's department store was the only place in town to buy Hello Kitty.  They had a corner of their children's department decorated top to bottom with all the teeny-tiny red and white Hello Kitty toys my heart could desire and my mother could forbid.  I don't know why Mom didn't want me to have Hello Kitty toys.  Surely not because they were unworthy toys.  I'm going to guess expense.  (But how much could one small piece of plastic cost, after all?)  I am sure I must have had some, but in my mind, I mostly had none.  Elaine seemed to have them all, and she was nice enough to share.  I remember being particularly taken with small Hello Kitty erasers and note pads.

Fast forward a few decades, and suddenly Target began to carry Hello Kitty.  Lots of Hello Kitty.  Though it seemed like magic, I suspect the onslaught of Hello Kitty products is simply proof that Target has pioneered the science of psycho-social marketing research.  They know what women like me want before we want it, and they know how to get us to buy it.  (For more on this, see The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Going Broke by Stuart Vyse)  Perhaps this is why I am a grown woman who has been known to wear a hot-pink Hello Kitty t-shirt with glitter (until it all washed off) in public.  Even to my kids' schools.  It's the only piece of glitter clothing I ever owned, and I loved it.  To death.  (I don't even like glitter.)  Then I bought fluffy HK slippers.  Clearly Target's marketing department was winning.  Enlightened consumer that I long to be, I now try to keep the love in check.  I get my fill buying HK for birthday presents when possible.  A couple of girls I know even indulge my weakness by showing off their new HK acquisitions whenever I visit.

Yet here I am in Tokyo, Hello Kitty Mecca.  There is no Target in sight.  The HK love is strong, and I am weak.  I managed to wait a month before making my pilgrimage, but one sunny day this week, I packed up for an afternoon of adventure and took my boys to the Ikebukuro neighborhood to visit THE Hello Kitty store:  Gift Gate, Elegant Ikebukuro.

Of course, I didn't immediately tell the boys where we were going.  I didn't have time to deal with mutiny.  However, it didn't take long for them to catch on and accuse me of torture.  Here's a prime example of the torture:

I made them walk up these pink and gold stairs to the second floor, where I shopped for a few gifts for girls back home.  They were not amused.  I was.  The store was two floors of Hello Kitty mania:

Hello Kitty, I'm a fan!

This is a Hello Kitty shop girl.  Note the dress;  it's got the HK bow on it. Cute sells.

Kickin' it old school with a little red-and-white HK.  Takes me back to Dillard's circa 1980.

Proof of marketing geniuses at work:  HK reading glasses (no, I don't need them, yet) and HK slippers (very big in Japan, since no one wears shoes inside and everyone has slippers)

In the end, I was proud of myself.  I bought three gifts and nothing for myself.  Truly, there wasn't even anything there I wanted.  Checking out the goods was good enough.  But the Rilakkuma store...that's a different story for a different day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Another Reason to Love NPR (and yes, Ira Glass, I'm a member)

Breaking news:  I've created a new tab on the blog:  Tabemono (Food)

All my posts on Japanese food will live there.  Here's the first...take a peek:  Another Reason to Love NPR (and yes, Ira Glass, I'm a member)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Origami, Mommy!

It just wouldn't be a trip to Japan without at least one visit to an origami center.  The Nippon Origami Museum is located inside Narita airport, but it is certainly not the only place to see fantastic displays of origami.  Origami stores and decorative paper shops are found in just about every neighborhood, but if you want to experience the history of origami hands on, I highly recommend a trip to the International Origami Center in Tokyo.  (Their site is in Japanese, but here is a link to their U.S. associate:  Paper Connection

Run by Kazuo Kobayashi, who was born in Yushima, Tokyo in 1941, the International Origami Center (IOC) is a fourth generation business that was started in 1859 as Yushima no Kobayashi (Yushima's Kobayashi).  Mr. Kobayashi is now the director of the IOC and is the chief director of the International Origami Society, which is certified by the Japanese Cabinet Office.  According to the IOC's official English-language handout, Mr. Kobayashi "has made it his lifework to convey the 'Culture of Folding Paper' and the 'Culture of Japanese Paper' inside and outside of Japan."  A noble endeavor--let's take a look inside.  The lobby of the IOC serves as a gateway to the multi-storied center:

And lest you think origami is just for kids, take a look at this complicated paper sculpture based on a mythological Japanese creature:

On the second floor, you'll find a gallery with the latest exhibits.  When we visited, we saw an exhibit of the International Flags of Renzaru, which is explained here:

Examples are here:

The next exhibit is one that (once again) shows the Japanese people's love of cats and dogs, as well as their knack for an entertaining use of the English language:

Why not be happy with cats and dogs?  I give you what I like to think of as "Habitat for Humanity":

What is it, you ask?  An entire community where teeny tiny cats and teeny tiny dogs (and people) live together in monotone equality and mutually ensured happiness.  Need a closer look?  Of course you do!

But my favorite exhibit was the one of cards and postcards:

This is a rectangular folding card depicting a famous Kyoto scene of vermilion Tori (Shinto) gates.  

A trip up to the third floor takes you to the paper shop, where attentive salespeople will help you find just the right project.  There are origami sets for making creations like these, which are mounted on
special decorative boards so that you can hang them for display.
Tiny man

Fireflies (makes me think of Eric Carle)

Many of the creations are not what I would have thought of as origami at all.  This gorgeous gold design with peacocks is actually crepe paper, believe it or not.  I never thought of using crepe paper for anything other than my kids' birthday parties.  Clearly this is not something you can pick up at Parties Plus.  It is so delicate and beautiful--it really looks (and feels) like fabric:

I have no idea what to call these, but I think they are swell.  My Aunt Ro would love them:

There are kits for cityscapes:

This is a Tokyo scene with the new (1 month old) Tokyo Sky Tree tower as the focal point

Kits for nature:

Kits for cranes (I call these "birds in flight"):

And, of course, snakes and dragons.  Lots and lots of dragons:

You could buy paper in kits, paper by the piece, and a dizzying array of display boards and frames.  There were origami mobiles (above), too.  After much hand wringing, we made it out of the shop with one (small) dragon and one (small) boat (with a dragon on it).

Next we were off to the fourth floor, to see how the paper is created.  As we stepped into the elevator, we were greeted (in English) by Mr. Kobayashi himself.  He had just returned from Dubai, so I did not want to bother him by requesting a photo.  (But there's one on the Taro's Origami Studio website--shout out to Park Slope, Brooklyn.)  When we reached the fourth floor, Mr. Kobayashi exited to the right for his office, and we took a left into the studio where an artist was at work.  We were stopped in our tracks by a fascinating scene--rows and rows of black and red striped paper, hanging in front of the windows to dry:

They were delicate and beautiful, yet also intensely colored.  The artist explained he was going to use them to make goldfish.  "Koi," I asked.  "Iie (No)," he answered.  "Goldfish."  So, imagine red and black goldfish.

Many tools are used to make paper, including brushes, paints, and work tables:

While the black and red papers were drying for the goldfish, there was another gold project in the works: gold paper.  Real gold.  On real paper.  The finished product looks like this:

The paper making looks like this (and p.s. this was our favorite part of the trip):

We watched for awhile--mesmerized and unable to drag ourselves away.  Eventually, we left the artist to his work and headed back out into the grey Tokyo afternoon.  Thanks, Mr. Kobayashi.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tokyo Accord

Two weeks is a vacation.
Two months is a lifetime.

Over the weekend, the boys and I hit the two-week mark for our Tokyo summer.  At the time, we were on vacation in Kyoto.  When we returned home to Tokyo, it was time to implement a little structure.  For two weeks, I can hang.  After that, it's time to get back to normal, even if normal means living in a two-bedroom apartment in Tokyo. 

I declared vacation officially over.  (Groans from the peanut gallery.)  I reminded everyone involved that although it is technically summer vacation, we observe certain rules year round.  Here would be no different.  (Besides, how can they complain--no piano practice and no religious school all summer regardless.)

I give you the 2012 Tokyo Accord, which is clearly posted on the refrigerator:

1-7 must occur independently.  Unwritten rule:  do not wake the Nure-onna monster (me) before 6:30.  Of course, this only gets us through the mid-morning, but that is the toughest time of day.  One day in: so far, so good.  I'll take what I can get.

Kyoto in 54,000 (Chronological) Words