June is the "rainy season" in Tokyo, which means it is the perfect time for museums or (even better) the International Library of Children's Books! While at Ueno Park the other day, I found myself standing in front of this:
I was instantly captivated by the illustrations. (Plus, my Japanese is only good enough to read the first two words: Japanese Children....) Luckily, there is a nice English translation at the bottom, which you cannot read, but I assure you it says that there is an entire library of children's books just waiting for me to come visit. Being perhaps the world's foremost expert on children's books that publishers don't yet realize they are dying to publish, I knew that I needed to get to the library ASAP.
With a little planning and the help of Google, I planned a full day of wistful book browsing, dancing through museums and complaining from my lovely children. Up bright and early, I was ready for the day. And then it rained. Really rained. In a rainy season, Winnie-the-Pooh "Rain, rain, rain, came down, down, down, in rushing, rising, rivulets" kind of way. And the Mets were on ESPN. Which is why we found ourselves at home at 11 AM when Kato-san, the impossibly energetic and wonderfully friendly owner of our apartment building, called to ask if I was available to meet her at 2 PM. She wanted to show me around the neighborhood. In the rain. I said yes.
By 1 PM the Mets had dutifully lost a 12-inning marathon of a game but miraculously, the rain had stopped and so it was that I found myself outside on the street with two children, two baseball gloves, and one baseball. We would wait for Kato-san there. The only rule was that they could not have a catch directly in front of the shrine:
Of course, this was countered with "WHY can't we play in front of the shrine?" (As though it really mattered to them.) "Because," I muttered to myself, "it is not a shrine to baseball," and so they ended up slightly down the street in front of Mama-san's restaurant (more on Mama-san another day):
We were soon met by Kato-san, whom I learned has 5 grandchildren, ages babies to tween. Three of them are boys, including the oldest. She's my kind of grandma. Though Kato-san had told me that she wanted to show me the best places to shop (pharmacy, market, etc.), I explained that what I really needed was a place for the kids to play ball. Suddenly, we were on a mission to play. We started with a brisk walk up the steps at the end of the street to the shrine next door (different from the one previously pictured):
We hung a left a the shrine and ventured out onto a side street, took a sharp right and then crossed a busy intersection, which allowed us to venture past a large metal sculpture and down a sidewalk between two buildings, seeming to lead nowhere fast. Just as the boys were beginning to whisper under their breath about walking too long, we turned a corner to the left and found a small oasis in the middle of four concrete apartment blocks: a playground. Perfectly hidden from the street but not from the gang of tween boys playing soccer. GAME ON!
In no time the boys had joined in the game and were lost in the thrill of running and kicking something other than each other. The kids and I could have spent all afternoon there, but I was mindful of Kato-san's time. I suggested we leave and make our way to the neighborhood landmarks she wanted to show us, but she insisted that we stay. She saw that the boys were having fun and wanted them to enjoy themselves. Kato-san and I sat on a bench and watched the boys play. I told her the story of my Dad and Japan, and she told me the story of her own family and of meeting Frank and showing him around when he first arrived. When we finally left, the boys were sweaty, red-faced, and entirely happy. We stopped by a vending machine for water, but not before learning that the local boys gather there every day after school. Tomorrow we're teaching them wiffle ball.
After an hour and a half of walking and talking, we made our way home. Kato-san gave us a bag of salted rolls with red bean paste inside (one of my favorites), and I gave her a box of Thin Mints. A perfect storybook day. Tomorrow we'll catch up with the library.
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.