Thursday, 26 March 2009

Tokyo Promotion Day : From Old Japan to New Japan : Shodo , Sadō and Robots.

Target of the Tokyo Promotion Day was of course to promote Tokyo as a touristic hot spot, and show that it has a lot to offer for every kind of tourist. And at reasonable prices too !
Every visitor got a full package of folders, with maps, hotels, places to go and places to see.
I still haven't completely read mine.

Throughout the hall were displays explaining about things to see, things to do ,things to eat and how to get around and to Tokyo.

Placards with useful information were showing us everything about Tokyo, Japan

Things to enjoy

spare parts !

A Foodie's Guide!

There was an anime theater (whee!) , showing all kinds of anime throughout the day.
but I found out it was dubbed in English instead of original Japanese with sub titling, so I only watched one show, ( although I really wanted to see Coluboccoro ( see poster ) but it was programmed at the same time as my reservation for the tea ceremony).

There were several traditional activities you could participate in : old Japanese games , origami ( paper folding ) , shodo (calligraphy) and a tea ceremony (sadō).

"Everybody hold your pen like this. This is the character for tree..."

With so much to do and to see in one day I had to choose : I decided to take part in the tea ceremony, because it's the only thing I couldn't replicate at home.

We had to sit in front of the tea lady , in seiza style. Oh boy ! Although we got a zabuton ( cushion) to put under our knees , after a few minutes most people started feeling THE PAIN and started to try and find easier positions.
This is where I SHINE! I can sit in seiza style effortlessly like forever : seven years of serious bodybuilding and stretching and running has given me legs that are very strong and also very flexible. ( Strength training shortens your muscles : you absolutely need to stretch each trained muscle for 30 seconds each after training to keep them long.) So I was able to sit there , smiling like a Buddha , while around me painful motions and shifts were being performed.

We got a bowl of green matcha tea ,a sweet on a paper and a bamboo whisk , with which we had to stir the tea in a horizontal figure of eight ( a bit more difficult than the vertical figure of eight I'm used to as a cook) and then whisk the top of the tea quickly into a nice froth ( Oh YES! That one I'm good at :I revved up the right wrist and whisked away like an runaway outboard motor , but ever so elegantly mind you : only the hand and wrist moving, while the rest of the body stayed still :).
Then we had to take the wisk out , lightly scraping it at the front, put it to one side, hold the bowl on the right hand and turn the front away from us, drink the tea in three gulps and eat the sweet. The tea wasn't very thick or bitter ( I have matcha at home that is more bitter).
Still, I'd love to get hold of a bamboo whisk and bowl and do it at home. It was a wonderful experience !

I got the chance to talk to the lady after the ceremony. She explained : " I have been studying this style of tea ceremony for seven years. But this style is not so popular in Japan these days." "Ah ? so why do you study this style?" "Because I learned from my grandmother " "Seven years ? I should call you sensei then ?! " " No no, not sensei, I still have to study a few more years before I can teach"
Ah, such modesty !

The ROBOTS are coming, the ROBOTS are coming

This cute little doggy drew a lot of attention : it tapped its right foot to the rhythm of the music
and responded to petting by flashing it's lights and flicking it's ears.

A young Japanese woman standing next to me said : "What is that ?" I said "It plays music.. You can pet it : go ahead. Stroke its nose" She did. The I-dog flicked its ears,flickered its LED lights and made cute little noises. She was enchanted : " Ah, it's so cuuuuute. I mean.... it's so, so, mm.., so.."
I knew just the word she was looking for : " It's .. kawai ?" " Yes, kawaiiiiiiiii !!"
I have a feeling that kawaii means a lot more than just cute.
I think it's cute , cuter, cutest, kawaii.

Oh, she totally wants one of those !

Wheeee! I am I-sobot.

Everywhere there were Japanese hostesses in blue (vests ?) to help explain.
Here a British boy is getting vital instructions on the use of THE REMOTE CONTROL.

Look at the gleam in his eyes : I can see him thinking " Just add a jet pack and a plasma beam gun and I'm controlling my very own Gundam." World domination is the next logical step.

One one side , getting very little attention was this techno marvel . It plays music from an inserted MP3 player : I saw it rotate and spin to the rhythm of a pop song it was playing. Impressive. It can't do stairs , but it never rolled of its platform , it's that smart.
I'd love to get one to follow me around the house , but it would probably scare the cat

You could get your digital photograph taken and printed to take home , posing in front of two Tokyo landmarks : a tori

and modern buildings

From left to right : April, Priscilla, Mel, Isla, Hong & nihon buyo dancer Chie Nakayama ( from my previous post ) (Disclaimer : this picture is from Shigatsuhana's (April) flickr files )

All in all , it was well worth the trip , the long freezing drive on the motorbike, etc.. but I've already blogged about that.
One day , I'll visit Japan. Till then events like this are a welcome introduction.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

O-hitashi : spinachrolls with sesameseed

This Japanese dish has been around for centuries and is one of my favourites because it's quick to make.

Serves 2
250 grams of spinach
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of water

1/2 tablespoon of sesame seed

Bring slightly salted water to a boil and quickly boil the spinach in it for 20-25 seconds.
(tip : I usually use a pot with a sieve in it so I can lift the spinach out in one move.)
Rinse the spinach straightaway under cold water.
Squeeze all the water from it.
Mix the water and the soy sauce in a bowl and add the spinach to it . Mix the spinach and sauce well.

Heat a dry cooking pan and stir the sesame seed till lightly brown. Take pan from fire.
Squeeze all the sauce from the spinach and form into a roll about 4 cm thick.
(tip: I found this to be very easy if you form a roll and then wrap it into plastic foil.
I firmly squeeze and form the wrapped roll in a makisu ( a bamboo rolling mat used for sushi ) and then remove the foil )
Cut into 4 parts, dip one end in the sesame seeds and serve straight away.

(click for large version ) : Don't they look delicious ?

I like it so much I usually eat all four of them !

Friday, 13 March 2009

Tokyo Promotion Day : Drums, Dance, Music, Lions (lions ?!)

During the day , several traditional live performances were taking place at a small stage
( against a background of Hokusai's beautiful ' Fukugawa Mannenbashi Shita' print).
The first one I saw, was a Shishi-mai ( Lion-dance) by the group Arigato Shishi , which is performed at shrine festivals and New Year , to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck, bountiful harvests, etc..
The Lion , portrayed by a very flexible actor wearing a shishi-gashira, or lion's head,
is accompanied by a flute player and a drummer and performs all sorts of acrobatic moves on stage.
( click on the pictures for a large version )

At one point during the dance the Lion apparently seems to settle down for a nap
and it takes quite a bit of serious clapping with the fan ( by the flute player , who has donned a mask)
and hefty drumming to get the Lion to wake up again.

Near the end of the dance , the Lion comes into the audience and 'bites' people on the head,
which is supposed to bring you luck all year long. I visited this performance twice, but no luck for me this year : I didn't get 'bitten'.

Next was a traditional Nihon Buyo ( Japanese dance ), performed by Nakagawa Chie, who's been studying folk and traditional dance from an early age, performing around the world.

With no more than a kimono and a fan , she managed to entertain me thoroughly for the entire period of the dance. It was quite fascinating !

A long succession of lots of very elegant moves.

Making good use of the long sleeves on her beautiful kimono.

The ensemble "Hibiki" performed several traditional pieces of Japanese music. A Sankyoku is made up of a koto , a shamisen (a three-stringed lute) , played by Arisawa, Shino and the shakuhachi (bamboo flute) played by Coxall, Michael . This ensemble has been together since 2003.
You can listen to a koto here, played by Okuda, Satoshi (Utanoichi).

You didn't need to go up to the stage to see whether Hirota Joji & the Taiko drummers were performing. You could hear them from outside !
As you can see the women got to beat the big drum too and I can tell you they didn't hit it with any less enthusiasm or power as the men!

It was beautiful to see how everybody kept beating perfectly synchronized , even when the drumsticks went high up.

:) The female drummers smiled the whole time while the young men frowned and Hirota-sama kept a watchful eye on his pupils from the back.

"Woooh! " At the end of the performance , the sticks go up.

Next time : From Old Japan to New Japan : Shodo , Sado and Robots.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Tokyo Promotion Day : I'm off to London!

At the end of January I traveled to London to visit the Tokyo Promotion Day on Saturday 31st. ( The homepage of their website won't let you get to the original pages anymore , but you can take a peek via this page).
Instead of a quick oneday (hurry,hurry!) trip I decided to make a weekend of it , arranged for 2 overnight stays at a B&B ( bed and breakfast) somewhere in Kent and on Friday morning I took off. By motorbike of course ! Sure , it was the middle of winter and it was really freezing, but that wouldn't stop me !
(click the pictures for a large version)

Waiting at Calais Harbour for the trucks to unload from the ferry (which you can see in the back behind the gate sign).

Safely strapped to the deck on level 5. I'll be in England in one and a half hours.

By 7 pm I stopped at the Chinese restaurant "The Sundridge House" where I had a nice evening dinner before going to the B&B.

Saturday morning I took the train to London , leaving the bike at the station. Walking to the exposition, I walked by Buckingham Palace and took these pictures.

Looking past the Queen Victoria Memorial at Buckingham Palace.

The Victory statue on top of the memorial.

As you can see I was not the only one taking pictures on this lovely sunny Saturday.

The theme of the exposition : Tokyo : So old, So new, So Tokyo.
There was an awful lot to do and see here : the old and the new. Traditional arts, traditional activities to participate in, a Hokusai exposition; lots of information for tourists going to Tokyo, there was even anime and robots !

I've always admired Ukiyo-e ( I have like 3 books on Hokusai alone)

and apart from the Hokusai exposition here, I was able to watch a real hanga (woodblock printing) artisan at work!

Look at the print on the front left : for every color he needs to carve those separate wooden printing blocks( you can see 3 of them in front ) that have to be inked ( unless the colors are completely separate ) and they have to match exactly !

Did you know that Hokusai made everyday-life sketches that were called manga ?
You can see some of these sketches here. Several of the Hokusai manga volumes were on display at Tokyo day.

Right next to him there was a craftsman creating kanzashi (flower-like hair ornaments from silk).

Aren't they すてき (lovely) ?

To see more of Tokyo day , keep visiting !
Next time on this blog: Real Live Stage Events : drums,dance,music,lions (lions ?!)