Thursday, April 8, 2010

#7: Foul is Foul and Fair is Fair

Wednesday: Foul weather returned. Since I arrived on Saturday, only one day--yesterday--has been sunny and mild. Today was drizzle, drizzle, drizzle. Dreary, dreary, dreary. With all the people I saw coughing and sneezing on the trains, I began to wish that wearing a surgical mask for germ protection--already so widespread in Japan--were a universal practice. It was not a day to inspire urban exploration, but I did have a major errand to run. I used the morning to examine my the materials I obtained from the National Diet Library, among them articles on kabuki's communist troupe, the Zenshin-za; its postwar female troupe, the Ichikawa Shojo Kabuki (kabuki is renowned as an all-male theatre, with remarkably skillful actors playing women); an interview with A.C. Scott, a Brit who wrote one of the first postwar books on kabuki; a piece on kabuki box office business; an essay on the theatrical system under the recently departed Occupation forces; a discussion of the artistic style of the popular postwar star Ichikawa Ebizo, who would later become Ichikawa Danjuro XI; responses to reader's questions by the actor Bando Minosuke, later Bando Mitsugoro VIII (who ultimately died after eating improperly prepared blowfish [fugu]); and a piece on the name-taking ceremony of Ichikawa Sadanji II.

My errand required that I travel to the area near Ichigaya Station for a 1:00 appointment with a realtor from whom I was renting an apartment for May, when I have to leave the campus residence at which I'm presently staying. I have no printer here at the moment, so I hand-copied the realtor's map from the computer. I took the JR Chuo Line Rapid Express at Kichijoji to Yotsuya Station, switched to the local for one stop, and emerged from Meguro Station, where I rifled through my pockets and fanny pack for the map I'd taken so much trouble to draw. It soon dawned on me that I'd left it in my apartment in my haste to leave and would have to rely on memory. But Tokyo's often maze-like streets are not like midtown Manhattan and I wasn't really sure I knew which street facing the station was the one I should venture into. In Tokyo, near every station is a police box (koban), and, sure enough, there was one across the street. Inside was a young cop who couldn't immediately identify where the place I was searching for was. He took out an official -looking tome with large maps of the area, and tried to locate my destination, even calling a superior for help, but with no luck. I was a bit embarrassed about letting the realtor--a woman with whom I'd been in contact for several months by e-mail but had never met--know my predicament, but when no solution was forthcoming, I was forced to call her. She spoke to the cop, he caught on right away, and informed me of where I was to go. It was about 7 minutes from the station, up a slight incline that my knee did not take kindly to. I met the realtor, a stunning, well-dressed woman (as so many young Japanese women are) in her early 20s, signed all the paperwork,  and then left to visit the apartment, which I'd seen only in Internet ads posted by the realtor, who specializes in furnished apartments for short-term rentals, mainly by foreigners.

Ichigaya has several subway lines, the one I needed being the Nanboku Line, which took me to Meguro Station. Using the map I hadn't forgotten, I trekked to the apartment in a matter of minutes. Finding a nice apartment that close to a train station in Tokyo is a major accomplishment, but such apartments don't come cheap. This one was clean, up-to-date, and in an attractive, upscale apartment house on a quiet side street, although the street was quite steeply sloped. While waiting in the lobby to be shown the apartment, I watched a truck outside going slowly down the slope. The contrast between his practically 45 degree angle and the level floor of the apartment house was startling. The apartment I was to see was not the actual one I'd be renting, but the layout was the same. It was, however, in the process of being cleaned after its recent tenants had vacated, so I had to be shown the somewhat dissheveled but otherwise acceptable premises by one of the two cleaning ladies who were in the process of putting the place in order. Despite the high rent, the rooms are typically small. I took photos and videos of the place to send to my family back home (they're coming in mid-May), and then videoed the walk back to the station to show them how convenient the location was. I'll consider adding a link to these videos for those who might be interested.

I took the JR Yamanote Line at Meguro to Shibuya,and  transferred to the Inokashira, which at that hour was nowhere near the sardine can density of the night before, and returned to my digs at Seikei University. The remainder of the day was very ordinary. I would have visited the college library, but it was closing early.

Thursday: The sun shone, the air was crisp, the temp in the mid-50s. I spent the first half of the day in the Seikei Library, examining books I'm planning to work with or purchase, and making copies. The copy machine was, of course, fast, smooth, and efficient. It produced oversized pages that allowed me to copy a large format book without losing anything.

I notice that my wallet has been expanding with electronic cards. I have one card that I pass over a button outside my residence building (International House at Seikei University, not the more famous I-House in Roppongi) to open the door; another to open the turnstile gate at the library and for borrowing books; another for the copy machine; another for the trains and buses; another for the Diet Library; a Citibank debit card for the ATM (along with my usual credit cards). I'm sure more will be needed as time goes by.

If you come to Japan and want to use an ATM, be aware that most American credit/debit cards will not work here. It's best to get a Citibank debit card with its own checking account. I'm lucky there's a Citibank machine near the Kichijoji Station, as there aren't that many in the Tokyo area. I wanted to use the Citibank card at a 7/11--they're ubiquitous here--but didn't see a Citibank logo on the ATM screen, so I was afraid to try. However, I've been informed that it will, indeed, work, so I'll try it the next time I pass a 7/11. Also, the post office ATMs should accept it, but I haven't tried yet. Using a credit card, even if it worked, would cost more in bank fees than the debit card, so I'm avoiding going that route. During my last vist, six years ago, I relied on Travelers' Cheques. On the other hand, if you're going to take up residence here, for school or work, you can open a bank account and get a Japanese card that will work anywhere in the country.

In the late afternoon I joined Kei Hibino and his family for a visit to the memorable Ghibli Museum of animation, founded by genius animator-directer Miyazaki Hayao, who created Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and other classic anime films. When narrating a couple of videos I made for this blog, I kept saying Princess Monoike, not Mononoke. Moshiwake nai (forgive me). The place, located in nearby Mitaka, was reached by a bright yellow bus (pictured below) we boarded in Mitaka, but we could have walked there through Inokashira Park. The museum is a sort of mini-fairyland inspired by architectural details drawn from numerous old European towns. You're not allowed to take photos inside-Miyazaki reputedly thinks they're a distraction from concentrating on the details on display. I was very lucky to be able to attend this easily because foreigners need to request a reservation well in advance and are required to be there precisely when their reservation says. Kei, however, as a local resident, has access at his discretion.

The place is a shrine to the animator's art--particularly Miyazaki's and that of his collaborators--and there are displays that reproduce all the minutiae of the animator's art, including Miyazaki's desks and work rooms, with reference works piled up on the floor and pinned to the walls. All of Miyazaki's work is hand drawn. It's hard to conceive of how many such drawings one feature-length film requires, but one room at the museum makes it easy. There, in a large, glass enclosed space, are all the drawings, placed in carefully labelled folders, and piled high, in multiple columns. The effect is overwhelming. The museum also contains some amazing examples of machines that predate films yet give the illusion of movement, and children love some of the hands-on exhibits, like those that let them turn handles to set animation devices in motion. Six-year-od Miyako (Mi-chan), who has been here several times, and was still clutching the teddy bear I brought her, was thrilled to know I wanted to visit the place, and once she was there she showed unflagging interest in all the exhibits, which I found remarkable for one so young. As usual, she was a superbly well-behaved yet spirited child, and my heart grew fonder of her every minute. One of the outdoors features she was also attracted to was a practible water pump, and she couldn't get enough of it, pumping away to draw burst after burst of water.. A drawback for foreign visitors (of which there were a fair number) is that the exhibits are labeled entirely in Japanese. There are, naturally, places to spend your money, including cafes, restaurants, and gift shops.

Although we'd bussed there, we walked back to Kichijoji through beautiful Inokashira Park, where we encountered an elderly man with a very placid Borzoi (Russian wolfhound). Mi-Chan immediately proceeded to pet and play with it. After a delicious meal in Kichijoji, we taxied home.

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