かんぱい Cheers!

Michael’s class finished their exams and headed off to Ebisu for a fieldtrip to the Museum of Yebisu Beer, a short train ride from school in Shibuya. Here they are heading out of the station: IMG_7452



The drinking age here is 20 but nobody seemed to mind, or ask. Museum rules………We Americans can only marvel at a school-sponsored trip to a brewery museum!






The brewery was started here, in what was the a rural area in 1889, and the technology and brew-master were brought in from Germany.  In 1900 Yebisu Beer won a gold medal at the Paris Expo and, as our handout said, “the quality of Yebisu beer rocked the globe”. Here is our docent – the tour was in Japanese and made no concessions to our group! So: Fiona is applying to transfer from LACMA…

A note on Ebisu/Yebisu:

The original name was written with a syllable no longer in use, sounding the “Ye”. The station and area, named after the brewery, are known as Ebisu, but the brand name reverts to the old sound of Yebisu. Yebisu is the god of commerce and one of the seven gods of good fortune. Always shown holding a fish, probably a carpIMG_7487

Michael’s teacher takes this part of the course very seriously! And the group joins in the tasting part of the tour with enthusiasm:

One last thing you may wonder about. Why is the theme tune from The Third Man played in Ebisu station every time a train arrives? Well, in 1994 a “We Serve Yebisu Beer” campaign involved a TV commercial which chose this tune. It is now known here as the Yebisu Song.  (You can hear the jingle recorded at the station here (at about the 1 minute mark) and the original Third Man track here.)



GO GO Swallows

sutajiamu no minna san mo isshou ni odorimashou – Everyone in the stadium, let’s dance together!

It must be because we feel our time is flying by (like our local baseball team!!) that we are already writing another blog. We leave Tokyo 3 weeks today.

Kyle Davies, our neighbor in these apartments, is a starting pitcher for the Yakult Swallows, so we went out to Meiji Jingu Stadium for today’s game.  One block from home.

Kyle Davies pitching
Meiji Jingu Baseball Stadium

It is 90 degrees and humid but the place was packed, especially because the Swallows were playing the Seibu Lions, who come from Saitama, a suburb of Tokyo less than 30 miles away.  Again we were struck by how polite and civilized it all is. No obvious security presence, no bag check, metal detector or aggro. And so clean.

Every different kind of beer is served, and the girls run up and down the bleachers the whole game. Here is the Ebisu beer girl, keg on her back, pouring us one. Lovely and cold!



Swallow Mascots












Drumsticks beat out a rhythm in unison
And then there’s the Parasol Wave


Yakult Swallows 5 Seibu Lions 4.  Happy Saturday!



The Samurai Museum

Shinjuku is a crazy part of Tokyo where anything can happen. Samurai have been portrayed in so many undignified and inaccurate ways. How bad can The Samurai Museum in Shinjuku be we asked ourselves: shall we risk it? Sam Knowlton is a Japanese history enthusiast, I studied up and toured the Samurai exhibition at LACMA and we did not want to be disappointed. We decided to go anyway.IMG_2905

And it was wonderful. We arrived and were immediately greeted and introduced to the armor by a delightful guide who spoke good English and was very, very knowledgeable. Not surprising:  Noguchi-san is the museum’s owner! He has assembled this collection over 7 years, and it is housed on  2 floors of an old building with small rooms, sliding doors and tatami mats. The labels and lighting are greatIMG_2907

We saw the progression of styles from 12/14th century Heian and Kamakura armor, and helmets through the  Muromachi and great Edo periods and ending with the Last Samurai during the Meiji time.


Noguchi-san unlocked cases and we held face masks (very heavy), swords (very sharp, he warned he had cut us his silk necktie by leaning over the sword) and guns (17th century matchlocks). Hey LACMA docents, that was FUN.

And finally, the photo studio where we dressed up and helped to tell you all about the museum by posting on Facebook.

Read the Signs

I was handed this political flier and I think I will start a competition for a Hillary Clinton logo based on it .



Staying safe:

Just don’t:

And who is this person dripping a wet umbrella in the subway? Not me, but sure looks like it…….!


Saddest street art



Maybe he should go here for a coffee

Or better still.

The small slimy brown mushrooms may not cheer him up (truth in advertising) but how about beer on a stick? The only thing Isak didn’t try during his visit. He ate all the fish, octopus, sticky rice balls, everything on a stick!

The flower shops are gorgeous. And wow! I wish I had thought of this when marketing The Flower Girl.

Here I am – not in Beverly Hills!
Still not in Beverly Hills.


Working on it……


Next Blog:The Samurai Museum, which was absolutely wonderful.

Parading through Kanazawa

(Before we start: please let us know if you have any problems with all these photos in the blogs. Does it take too long for them to download?)


Last weekend we took a trip to Kanazawa with our friends Sam and Brit Knowlton, from Austin, Texas. It is 2 1/2 hours on the new Shinkansen, in an area previously not easily accessible because of the mountain ranges. We arrived on a special weekend (ha! that is why hotel rooms were so hard to book): the parade for the Hyakumangoku Matsuri (百万石祭, meaning the festival of a million jewels) celebrating Lord Maeda’s arrival at the castle in 1583. Over 2,000 residents in full costume re-enact this historic event. We hope that this slideshow gives some idea of the excitement. We were at the castle when the parade arrived:  samurai, court ladies, cheerleaders, marching bands, boy scouts, taiko drums, ninjas, dragon dancers and acrobats……

We couldn’t help comparing this with events in the States. There were dozens of polite Event Staff, no metal detectors, no bag checks, and the few police were mostly involved in keeping Lord Maeda safe from his adoring fans – he was represented by a very popular Kabuki actor. There was no trash around, no yelling, or pushing, no fences or barriers. The only official warning  was prohibiting drones and selfie sticks, which can cause nuisance to the visitors!

Kenrokuen Garden is glorious, deservedly designated a ‘Cultural Property and National Site of Special Scenic Beauty’. It is a traditional strolling garden with ponds, waterfalls, paths, plants designed to reflect the seasons, every angle giving a different view, using  “borrowed” landscapes, and celebrating the Japanese love of nature. Look at how much care is taken to prop up the ancient trees.

Lunch, of course, and green tea ice cream with gold flakes. Kanazawa is where gold was mined, and gold leaf was made. The Gold leaf Museum gives a wonderful display of this process.

There is no main entrance to the glass, oval shaped 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art – art should be approached from all sides, any angle.


And who recognizes this installation? (with Fiona doing the docent thing!)


(Answer available if you email us). Other exhibitions include Erlich’s Swimming Pool, 2004 and an imagined Land of Xijingman. Here is Michael in its immigration hall where you need to smile, dance and have a good attitude to enter.

More snacks. Cucumber on sticks and KitKat sake. Covers all food groups.

We wandered around the Edo period area, Higashi Kuruwa. Lovely lattice windowed shops and homes and here  is a restored, 2 storey tea house which was delightful

Time to go home, below see Michael in our hotel room with his wall-to-wall wingspan: we need some more space!


Ending with a view of spectacular Kanazawa station architecture, the waterfall clock (accurate) and a station official who receives the exiting passengers’ neatly bagged-up trash.

And home on the Shinkansen . . .rice fields seen from train at high speed.


何かを習いましたか. Have we learned anything? 


Returning to Tokyo from a week back in Los Angeles is a good time to reflect on how we are getting along with the Japanese language. 何かを習いましたか (nanika o naraimashita ka – have we learned anything?)

The Naganuma School intensive course is living up to its name. We have studied hard.  It is, however, difficult to tell how we are doing, because progress is necessarily incremental.  (Incremental is a fancy word for slow, we think.)

So what constitutes progress?  Communication in a developed language generally involves four elements: Speaking, listening, reading and writing.  Japanese presents major challenges for Western learners in particular because it has little in common with anything we are used to. Even when Japanese borrows words from English and other European languages, it often changes them in ways that are not immediately obvious.  (See Tea Time, Springtime.)

We’ve probably made the most progress in speaking and writing, because there we control the process.  We need to learn 2,000 Kanji, which takes years rather than months, but we can often decipher Kanji, especially online, with the help of a site like www.furiganizer.com, which gives both phonetic readings and, if we want to peek, translations.  For signs and Kanji we meet in the real world, if it’s critical or merely to satisfy our curiosity, the Google Translate app on our phones allows us to scan and recognize Kanji.  Writing Kanji is also not as hard as you might think because of how virtual Japanese keyboards work, where they will suggest Kanji if you can spell the word phonetically.  So Kanji, as hard as it is and as much as we need to improve, is not our biggest problem.

For us, the hardest by far is understanding the spoken language.  Japanese people speak quickly, to our ears, and Japanese has so many homonyms that processing them, even when we know the context, can be a big challenge.  If we process speech too slowly, we may get the first part of a sentence but actually don’t hear the second part of a sentence – a problem in a language where verbs pile up at the end of the sentence.

So what can we do now?  Well, we can have basic conversations, especially if we can persuade people we talk to to respond slowly.  Gestures, occasional English-sounding words and animated facial expressions also help.  In person communications are much easier than phone calls.

We have also found that we can watch Japanese video with subtitles and realize we knew some, and occasionally a lot, of what we just heard.  This will prove invaluable in improving comprehension, especially of normal spoken Japanese, as opposed to the highly formal and grammatical usage we are taught in school.  On that score, we occasionally get told by Japanese people that our Japanese  is too perfect – perfectly absurd, of course – but we get their point.  We sound like walking textbooks.

An interesting test approaches.  Our beloved Los Angeles teacher Hiromi is coming to visit her parents in Yokohama and we will be meeting them all.  Hiromi, of all people, will be able to gauge how we are doing.  If her opinion is not unduly humiliating – well, even if it is – we will report back in this space.

A Day in My Tokyo Life

This was a terrific day and I would love to share it. I bought airmail stamps and mailed letters, cards and a parcel – all in Japanese at our local Post Office. Yes, it’s these simple achievements that can make us happy!

Google Maps cannot deal with huge cemeteries. My walk to The National Art Center was “18 minutes” but started to go around in circles in Aoyama Cemetery so I made a big mistake and asked two very little, very elderly ladies which direction to the museum. They were delightful but insisted on walking me somewhere (Google Maps now said “25 minutes”) until fortunately we saw a delivery chap on a bike, who insisted on walking me onwards…….We have encountered this kindness before – ask for directions and you will be escorted by someone who indicates it was where he/she wanted to go all along!

How could I possibly have missed this anyway? One of the largest, all glass buildings I have ever seen:

And inside there is space to land a plane. Three storeys each with 6 huge galleries, and a cafe on top of each inverted stone cone. I saw the Renoir exhibition, paintings from the Musee D’Orsay, on its 30th Anniversary (remember when it opened?). Beautifully exhibited, and I remembered how much I love his landscapes and still-lifes. Then – a wow of an exhibition in a gigantic gallery: Miyake Issey. I wondered at the colors, fabrics, shapes and sheer inventiveness of his costumes. How I wished I could see the  Invertigo dancers bring them to life!! No photos allowed, sadly. You can see the ‘flying saucer’ style hanging above the lobby. I will have to go back to his 3 shops which I passed in Omotesando and photograph their windows!

I know from Toby how hard it is to find practice space, and looks like Tokyo musicians have the same problem. I made another detour through the cemetery to find out who was playing Debussy’s Prelude L’Apres-midi d’un faune.


Then a delightful break – a chalkboard at the entrance to a narrow alley included two words that popped out at me “after noon” and I recognized tea in kanji. It was a tiny room with two tatami mats and a small counter, 3 stools. Delicious green tea and adzuki jelly treats. Because I did exit through the gift shop I had a bag showing on it the logo for the National Art Center,  and the only other customer was a lady who had also seen the exhibitions. She had also visited Paris and the Musee d’Orsay two years ago so we had a great conversation. Some English, some Japanese, some pretty good acting and visual aids.

I carried on through the small back streets where all kinds of shops, cafes, and businesses can be seen and came across a little gallery with bamboo growing around it and a lively exhibition opening going on, was invited in and saw beautiful work by a local bamboo artist, whom I met.

There is so much going on around – and a walk through the city is always an adventure. Tomorrow’s museum is the Ota Memorial Museum and its latest rotation of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. However – now it is time to meet Shogo, Sumiyo and Sachiyo for dinner at Napule which has on its card “Innovazione Bio”.