Thursday, 31 December 2009
The second train is one of Tokyo's major lines and was about 30 minutes delayed when someone jumped in front of the train. The latter is sadly an all too common occurence in Japan. Makes me all the happier that the kitty made it away safely.
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
As we went down the escalator we both noticed another internationl couple coming up the escalator in the other direction. The foreign girl was wraped around her Japanese boyfriend, and U turned to me with a smile on his face. "Haggu!" he whispered at me - using one of his new favourite English words.
Looking at U's face, however, I realized he was reacting to more than just the very uncommon public display of affection, he was excited to see another foreign girl/Japanese guy couple. It may seem odd, but suddenly it hit me that I'm not the only one in an international relationship. U is too! I think it'd be good for both of us to have a few friends who are also in international relationships.
Friday, 25 December 2009
About the time we finished opening the gifts (my grandmother ALWAYS being the last because she got distracted watching others open their gifts) the house would have filled with a delicious scent of cinnamon and our Christmas breakfast of freshly baked cinnamon buns would come out of the oven. A generational battle would be waged every year with my uncle and father arguing for raisins and me and my cousins staunchly anti-raisin. Since we had cuteness and youth on our side we won most years, and we'd gleefully inhale our sticky buns - still warm from the oven and oh so ooey gooey good.
I don't have an oven of my own, so I can't make my own cinny buns this year. I had to cheat and buy a Starbucks cinnamon roll. I enjoyed it with my morning coffee, however, as I opened gifts sent by friends and family.
(photograph from the Starbucks Japan website)
Thursday, 24 December 2009
I love my stocking and have used it almost every year. This year in early December I suddenly realized I desperately wanted my stocking to hang in my room, even if Santa didn't come all the way to Japan to visit me. So I fired an email off to my dad to ask him to mail it to me. His reply? It was already in the mail to me!
Over the years when new members have joined our Christmas I've made them stockings. I haven't stuck with my grandmother's template, and each one has been unique. This year I decided to make one for U. I couldn't decide on the design - reindeer and snowmen just didn't seem right (in an aside - despite the fact that western snowmen are three snowballs, the snowman on my stocking is only two - like a Japanese snowman... I wonder why??). Then U told me how he used to put out a regular sock on the end of his bed for Christmas. So I decided to decorate his stocking with the same tartan-type pattern that decorates most of his socks. I'd like to think that my Scottish grandmother would have approved!
(and yes, U's stocking still has pins in it, it is not finished. A bad bout of something has flattened me for the past 10 days and my thesis is due in less than 3 weeks... I have promised U that it will be fully finished and pin-less by next Christmas! His stocking does have his name on it, but I decided to block it out, so you'll just have to trust me on the fact that it looks good!)
Monday, 21 December 2009
Years later I was looking for something festive to do with a young second cousin and found a gingerbread house kit. We hit the local candy store and loaded up on decorations, made some colourful icing and created a masterpiece that my cousin proudly took home with her at the end of the day. We continued making houses for a few years, including one that we covered entirely in bright blue icing. And every year my cousin took the house home with her. She grew up, however, and I started making gingerbread houses (still from a kit) with my young step-sister. We had to keep her very active younger brother from the kitchen as his "help" tended to end with the house flattened and candy-less...
A few weeks back I found fully baked gingerbread house kits for sale at Ikea and was very very tempted. I don't have a young friend to send the house home with, however, and would thus have to display it in my small apartment (and then eat it or chuck it or whatever people do with a gingerbread house after they've made it), so I decided to go for a packet of heart-shaped gingerbread cookies instead...
U and I took a break from studying last night and decorated the cookies. I had picked up four colours of little chocolate writers and only one mini-star sprinkles for topping - not nearly enough choice! Unfortunately he chocolate writers were much more difficult to use than icing as the chocolate would harden and need to be re-melted in warm water.
Our cookies were definitely not works of art, but after solving one rather impressive mistake by sticking the cookie in my mouth I realized that while maybe decorating gingerbread cookies is not a tradition I want to continue, EATING them sure is!
Thursday, 17 December 2009
Someone, usually my Grandmother (my father has taken over the tradition in recent years), would make up a couple of batches of dough and leave it in the fridge. When the kids (and kids at heart) had been gathered we'd pull out the Christmas cookie cutters and bake sheets of bells, ornaments, Santas, trees, and snowmen. The icing, often upon my insistence and to my grandmother's disgust, would be made with too much food colouring, creating violent shades of magenta (never quite red), bright blue, lemon yellow, electric green, and vibrant purple.
Over the years various family and friends of all ages have tried their hand and created works of art...
(these two cookies iced as a surprise present for me from my young step-siblings)
This year my dad sent me the recipe and suggested I try making them to give to friends here. Since I don't have access to an oven, however, I decided instead to share them virtually. Then, when La Fuji Mama posted about the 12 Days of Sharing Virtual Cookie Jar (hosted by In Jennie's Kitchen to help raise awareness about childhood hunger in America) I knew just how to share my grandmother's recipe in a way that she would have supported fully.
Christmas Rolled Cookies
1 cup margarine
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
Cream margarine with sugars, add egg and vanilla. Then add the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Form into logs and wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate the dough for a couple of hours or up to a few days, then roll and cut into shapes.
Bake 8-10 min 350 oven until golden. Cool then ice and decorate.
Sunday, 13 December 2009
He's watched me knit and complimented me on my ability to make pretty things out of wool. Since I've been making a lot of scarves for female friends I think he had the impression that knitted goods were "girly." So when I let it slip that I was making him a scarf and he caught a glimpse of the suitably "manly" cabled scarf - well he got rather excited.
We were talking one evening and it became obvious to me that he had never actually worn a scarf before. Having spent part of the winter for the past decade in Northern BC, the idea of somebody who does not own warm winter gear just does not compute! Scarves, mitts, and toques are all necessities of life in cold climates. I teased U about the rude shock he'd have when he visited Canada with me and he calmly says "I don't have gloves either..." He trails off into a meaningful silence but when I didn't reply immediately he continues "and it'd be nice to have a matching set!"
Yup, he's a fast learner! Luckily I'm not too slow myself, as I whipped up a pair of mitts with a pattern I've done once before, but altered them to include the cable pattern from his scarf...
Friday, 11 December 2009
After being spoiled having grown up in an area of Canada with plenty of beautiful bushy and wonderfully pine-y real trees, and especially over the past few years when my father and I have gone out to a local tree farm and clambered through snow banks to pick and then cut down our very own tree... well, I thought that a fake tree just wouldn't cut it. But I pulled it out of the box and set it up anyways...
And while it didn't have a pine-y smell, it did litter little "needles" everywhere!
I still wasn't convinced, however...
And neither was the angel when she was placed atop the tree!
Hold on, what's that??
a baby penguin?
What are penguins doing on the tree???
The lights and most of the decorations (my penguin paper-clips aside) were bought at the 100 yen store along with the tree, so it is a rather simple affair, but with U's help...
I think it turned out alright after all.
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Since I'll be spending my first Christmas in Japan (thesis is due January 13, not conducive to trans-Pacific travel!), and U, who has never celebrated Christmas before, and I will be spending our first Christmas together, I began to think about the traditions I want to hold on to, and some new ones I want to start.
Growing up, Christmas was a day of family. When I was very young my parents and I would fly to Vancouver to spend the holidays with my father's family. We moved to Vancouver the summer before I started grade one, and I still remember my excitement of living permanently in a city that for me was full of good food, presents, and grandparents and other relatives (I was the first grandchild) spoiling me rotten. We continued to spend Christmas with my dad's family, which grew to include my two younger cousins as well as aunts, an uncle, and my grandparents. Every year we'd gather at my grandparents, then in later years at my aunt and uncle's place. After my grandmother passed away, however, and my cousins and I grew up, getting all of us together for Christmas began to happen less and less. The past few years its been just my dad and I - with family friends joining us for dinner. This year will be only my second one away from Canada and my dad, my first being 5 years ago when I was volunteering in India.
This year, with my thesis hanging over me, I don't have a lot of time, but I don't want the holiday to slip by without recognition, so I'm plotting to include as many traditions as I can. With the cultural collision that is bound to happen, if they end up coming out looking nothing like what I'm used to, that will only make it all the more memorable - like door-to-door caroling at the homes of Hindu friends in the warmth of an Indian evening dressed in a red and green sari and reindeer antlers! So, stay tuned - while there may not be 12 days of Christmas for me this year, there will at least be a few, and who knows what will happen!
my usual Christmas dinner role - making gravy
Only this time it accompanied fried chicken, had to be enough to feed 40 people,
and I had to try not to stain my festive sari!
Monday, 30 November 2009
A short middle-aged woman touches my arm and my train of thought is suddenly interrupted. One word, a simple question, but I am confused. The woman isn't wearing the red jacket or name card worn by all the exhibit staff and volunteers, so she isn't an employee. I have the vague feeling that I should recognize her face, but can't place her or come up with a name.
"Yes, my name is Sarah..."
I let my voice trail off into a question, but all the woman needed was affirmation of my name, and she all but hugs me as she bounces with glee and beams at me excitedly. When she finally notices my confusion she steps back and looks at me.
"I used to be a leader with a Girl Scout troop in Hirakata City..."
Now it is her turn to trail off, and my turn to bounce with excitement and hug her as my jaw dropped. Hirakata City Girl Scout troop?! Its K-leader!! Wow! My mind jumps back over a decade and fills with memories of my exchange year in Osaka, by far the best part of which was the time I spent with a local troop. Despite my lack of language skills the girls and leaders of the troop welcomed and accepted me. They encouraged me, challenging me to use my fledgling Japanese to lead songs and games. After meetings the other leaders (one occasional leader was a fellow university student, then there was K-leader, and then three or four women in their mid-sixties) would hold a meeting over tempura and noodles. I was dragged along every time despite being unable to follow the discussion in rapid-fire Osaka dialect. Hiking Mount Fuji in the middle of a rainstorm, attending a national camp, learning about Japanese festivals, learning about the tea ceremony, and all sorts of other wonderful moments flooded my mind as K-leader continued to beam and bounce in delight.
She asked me what I was doing now, why I was at this museum in a remote area a few hours from Osaka. Without really stopping for me to answer, she continued on in a rush, telling me how she hadn't been supposed to be one of the teachers on the school group she was with, how she had stepped in at the last minute when another teacher got sick. Then she began to tell me how she had recognized me. I hadn't changed a bit, she said. My face was exactly the same. But even more so, she had recognized my profile from behind - in particular my bum was what convinced her it really was me.
Should I take it as a compliment that a woman old enough to be my mother, who saw my 19 year-old ass and everything else in a Japanese hot-spring, says my rear hasn't changed in the intervening decade plus??? Either way, she was terribly amused by this, and showed her amusement and general appreciation of the correctness of her guess by reaching over and pinching that part that she found most recognizable...
We chatted a bit more, and I gave her my card so that she and the other leaders could be in touch and we could all get together next time I visited Kansai. Then she dashed off to find her group, leaving me and my somewhat sore rear to go back to my research.
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
U was on hand to help me out - he's quite excited about the whole "cooking challenge" and really enjoy's checking out all the photographs on La Fuji Mama's round-up.
This time around we started with the broth - which while a bit finicky was simple enough to make. I must admit that neither of us were very taken with it and I strongly doubt it'll appear again in our kitchen.
We also made sushi rice - my first time from scratch (I usually use the instant powder packets). Again, relatively straightforward once you get the hang of it - providing you have two sets of arms to pour vinegar, fan, stir, and hold the bowl all at the same time of course!
What to do with the rice was an easy decision for both of us. I've made both chirashi and rolled sushi before, with the latter being my favourite. It is fun - because you get to do what your parents always told you not to - play with your food! And of course since you are the one making it you decide what to put in. My dad and I used to have roll-your-own sushi dinner parties - a big hit (especially when one friend brought her home-smoked salmon... wow)! In university the student union I was involved with ran "Make-your-own-Sushi Lunches" every other month or so. It was fun and a great fundraiser (I pitied the History Student Union who had to rely on bake sales - the East Asian Studies Student Union ALWAYS had the best food!)
So, rolled it was... but... well, that was where we parted ways with Andoh. I had told U that the recipe for rolled sushi called for eel, and although he loves eel he decided he didn't want it cold. So we went looking at the grocery store - on empty stomachs... ALWAYS DANGEROUS! Here is what we came home with:
(clockwise from bottom front: scallops, avocado, red snapper, salmon, tuna belly with green onions, tuna, squid, and cucumber)
Since we were splurging on ingredients we figured we should go the whole way, and bought fresh wasabi instead of powdered or prepared paste. U scraped off some of the knobbly skin and grated it - filling the kitchen with a wonderfully fragrant aroma. The flavour too is incredible - spicy, yes, but with so many other flavours too. Fresh wasabi can be expensive, but it really is so much better than the other choices... mmmm! (and a mite more photogenic to boot!)
With all the choices we got a little adventurous - here I'm combining tuna and cucumber with a shiso leaf and salted plum paste - giving the roll a great tart kick.
in addition to that roll, here's also a salmon and cucumber/avocado roll, and one of my attempts at an inside-out roll - with tuna belly and green onion (my ALL-TIME favourite) and avocado.
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
So, here go two finished projects:
One was one that had been hibernating for a while. I was given some gorgeous yarn a while back, and wanted to make myself a shawl. Even combining the yarn with a few others, however, I just didn't have enough to make it big enough. I hid it away for a long time, trying to come up with ideas on how to make it bigger. I ordered a few yarns that I thought might match, I thought about knitting or crocheting on a border. In the end I decided I liked the yarn too much to settle for anything that wasn't perfect. So my Muse Shawl turned into a mini-Muse. I still love the colours, however, and am still happy with it. The big button makes me happy too!
The second was an impulse yarn purchase. I made a scarf for a friend with a funky yarn that knitted up well. After seeing the same yarn in some of my favourite colours I just couldn't resist... So I bought one ball and started knitting it up in the same "Dropped" pattern. I knew I wouldn't have enough for a scarf, so instead went for a much skinnier version and - voila! A fun belt!
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
I took another step, however, and there was another mark, bigger than the one before and... well... not really muddy looking. Most importantly it didn't look mud coloured. My immediate thought was that it was the exact same colour as the raspberry jam I had had on my peanut butter toast for breakfast (I've never been a pb&j fan, but this raspberry is really tart and just puuuuurfect with pb... anyways, sidetrack... where was I?? ahhh, yes, sidetracked... again!) My next thought was that it was a waste of jam. That raspberry stuff was a present I received in an itty-bitty jar. Not many pb&js worth.
Yes. Honestly, I'm standing there on the path to my apartment, looking at large wet red splotches on the pavement and thinking that it is a waste of JAM! uh huh. Wondering how and why somebody spilt jam all over the path. In a country that doesn't eat a whole lot of jam. Especially the older male population - who if presents from strangers on trains are anything to go by, live on a diet of rubbery dried fish and mikan oranges... (and another sidetrack... it is really a wonder that I manage to write papers for school, what with my apparent inability to stick with one thought for more than a few sentences!!)
I took another step, however, and as I saw another, again bigger puddle, I suddenly thought "I really really really hope that is not blood!" Another step, another splotch and... yeah... that IS blood...
All my years of first aid training kicked into gear and I immediately....
turned into a wimp! My first thought was "EEEEEEEEWWWWW!! YUUUUUUUUCK!" and I made a run for it - dashing past the door where the blood puddles stopped, unlocked my door and locked it behind me.
As I slammed shut the door to my apartment I heard the door of the apartment two doors down open, and my already overactive imagination hit over gear...visions of crazy knife-wielding maniacs - or at the very least a mean old obaachan intent on revenge for garbage infractions (which, for those of you who live in Japan realize can be just as scary!!)
Through the paper-thin walls I could hear the ambulance attendants as they rushed to the apartment (my conscience quietened down as soon as I realized there were experts on the scene and thus I could hide in my apartment without the guilt of wondering if I should be helping) and began speaking with the old guy (the one who seems to enjoy standing on his balcony and hawking up a nice lungful of phlegm from about 5am until well past 11pm). He seemed to be trying to tell them he did not need help, and they kept repeating requests for him to keep pressure on the wound.
The ambulance guys were young and very polite. Politely requesting the guy to maintain pressure on the hankie held to his wound. Politely asking his permission to enter the apartment. Politely asking him to sit on the stretcher. Politely pointing out that with the amount of blood he had (and was continuing to) loose, that walking to the hospital on his own two feet was not a good idea. Politely apologizing to U (who was trying to get by) for blocking the path.
I relaxed a bit - no axe murderers or grannies with on a mission of vengeance - just a stubborn old guy. And stubborn he is! It took the ambulance guys a good 15 minutes to convince him to get onto the stretcher and be wheeled to the ambulance waiting around the corner.
Meanwhile since the ambulance guys, the old injured guy, and a few neighbourhood busybodies were all blocking the path leading to the apartment, U could not get in. He made a valiant attempt at a Romeo type assent over the aloe bushes and into my balcony, but in the end had to settle for waiting till the old guy lost enough blood to become docile enough to be coaxed onto the stretcher and wheeled off. U then dodged the puddles of blood and came in for his tea...
So that was the end to my Culture Day (today is a national holiday in Japan - Bunka no hi, or "Culture Day"). Anybody else have an exciting day?
Monday, 12 October 2009
Fiiiish 'n chips and vinegar,
fiiiish 'n chips and vinegar,
pepper, pepper, SALT!
Don't throw your junk in my backyard,
my backyard, my backyard,
my backyard's FULL!
Although, of course since I'm loosing my voice from a cold, you'll have to imagine me singing in a nice gravelly baritone!
Anyways... where was I?
This month's Washoku Wariors ingredient. Although I have a bottle of rice vinegar in my cupboard I haven't used it much and enjoyed trying out a few different recipes. The only drawback was that after three vinegar recipes in one evening my kitchen smelled like vinegar for a few days!
The recipes I tried were the Tangy Seared Chicken Wings and the Classic Sweet-and-Sour Sauce, with which I made Sweet and Sour Lotus Root.
The Tangy Seared Chicken was yummy, although I think I'd like to try adding carrots or other veggies next time, to see if this could work as a sort of stewed meat and vegetable dish.
I've never been a fan of sweet and sour pickles (I'm a garlic dill girl through and through), but I am very happy with the Sweet and Sour Lotus Root. The pieces of lotus root are crunchy and tangy and a side to just about any dish. I'm looking forward to trying another one of the sweet and sour pickles once I've eaten my lotus root!
Sunday, 11 October 2009
10 things I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving:
10 - mega electronics stores - all you could ever imagine you wanted and more... one dizzingly large floor after another!
9 - helpful electronics store staff who listen to stupid questions from stuffed up and cotton-ball brained foreigners and who calmly tell you all you need to do is plug it in and you're good to go.
8 - Points cards - while the sheer number of them doubles my wallet in size, using them faithfully can actually add up to sizable rewards - if you're patient.
7 - 100 yen stores - selling everything you could want for your house, including flashlights used to shine at laptop screens with a dead backlight in an attempt to troubleshoot why the "just-plug-it-in" screen is not working although it is in fact plugged in
6 - my cell phone - in addition to the obvious making phone calls (which I actually do rarely), it also surfs the Internet to troubleshoot computer problems, and sends frantic texts
5 - U - my kind and caring boyfriend who, 1000 km away, who replied to the frantic email by immediately calling me.
4 - U - my smart boyfriend who remembered that pressing "function" and "F8" does something to displays, and that proves to be the solution to the problem.
3 - my new screen - its purrrrty! and it works!!
2 - lemon tea and honey - soothing on a sore and scratch throat
1 - grapefruit scented lotion containing Kleenex - soft and fruity and so nice on a sore red rudolf nose!
Monday, 28 September 2009
Well, I don't have ninjas attacking me, I'm not moving to the country, they weren't free, nor did I get millions, but I did find peaches - peaches for me (or, well sort of...)! (and yes, I have had that song running through my head for the past few days!!)
After looking for peaches in the local grocery stores without any success I figured I'd have to give up and wait for next year to make Andoh's Poached Peaches in Lemon-Ginger Miso Sauce. But with an old friend from high school in Tokyo with her husband, U offered to drive us all to Mt. Fuji for the day. It was a bit cloudy, so we didn't get the greatest views of the mountain, but we had a great time enjoying the mountain air, visiting a shrine, soaking in the hot springs, and enjoying the local food. Lunch was a Yamanashi speciality: hoto - thick chewy hand-made udon noodles cooked in miso broth with kabocha squash, cabbage, carrots, and all sorts of other veggies.
Yamanashi prefecture also happens to be known for grapes and PEACHES! Yay! I had forgotten this fact, and got very excited when we drove past a roadside stand selling fresh local fruit.
We ended up splitting a box with my friends, and coming home with 3 fresh peaches. One got cut up into slices for breakfast the next morning. I was really excited about this, and wanting to properly enjoy the treat of fresh peaches, decided to enjoy them all by themselves, after I had eaten my granola. I savoured one slice, and had just speared my second when U asked me a question, to which I wanted to look up an answer. I responded "wait a sec..." and turned around to my computer. It hasn't been feeling well recently and is really sluggish, and 5 minutes later when I turned back to the table having found my answer I was shocked as the table had been cleared of everything - except for my half-drunk coffee. "Where are the peaches?" I asked U, dreading the answer already. He had eaten them of course, including the one that had been skewered by my fork and had a bite taken out of it! My peaches! Aaaaa! I was annoyed because he had been the one arguing for not getting so many peaches, we didn't need any to eat fresh, just the ones for the recipe, he had said... I proceeded to give him nasty looks for the rest of the morning, to which he responded with admirable generosity (at one point half-seriously offering to drive back to Yamanashi to buy more!). U pointed out that as the eldest of three, if you wanted yummy food you had better claim it fast before it disappeared... this only child has learned her lesson!
The other two peaches (one white and one yellow) were cut into slices and turned into poached peaches (it is quite possible that some of the slices didn't make it to the pan to be poached, but I'm not admitting to anything! ;) ). I was really worried about this recipe, despite having read the good reviews. I didn't want to get to the end of it and regret having "wasted" the yummy (and expensive!! eeek!) peaches. But of course I should have trusted my fellow Washoku Warriors, and Elizabeth Andoh herself too! These were delicious - tangy and sweet and gingery, with a lovely hint of saltiness from the miso. But none of the flavours was overpowering and so the taste of the peach itself still shone through. Definitely not a waste! Mmmm!
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
U was down for most of the 5-day weekend (National holidays fell on both of Monday (Respect for the Aged Day) and Wednesday (First Day of Fall) which made Tuesday a generic holiday, giving us what has been dubbed "Silver Week" (both in respect to the "Silvers" and because the big holiday in May is known as Golden Week)) and was as eager as me to try a few more miso recipes.
Unfortunately the big grocery store we went to didn't have fresh peaches (we ended up having to settle for canned peaches with ice cream... yummy but not quite the same!)I will have to wait for peach season, but with all the rave reviews (Coraa, and Sassy Chronicles) I will have to try them sometime!
We did, however, of course find a large selection of fresh fish. U wanted to try a white fish, but I insisted on salmon (he later freely admitted that the salmon had been the right choice). We mixed up the marinade as soon as we got home and put the fish in the fridge. We had planned to eat it the next day, but in the end it got an extra day and a half of marinating and so the fish was deliciously flavourful. The salmon and sweet saikyo miso and lemon were a such a wonderful match! But the best part?
Was that I didn't do any of the cooking!! Classes start up again tomorrow after the summer holidays, and I have a project due on Friday that isn't quite done (lets blog... can you say procrastination?!) So U offered to make dinner. He boiled the komatsuna greens and prepared the ohitashi (Andoh calls spinach ohitashi "spinach steeped in broth"). He made tofu and nameko mushroom miso soup. He grilled the fish. He then plated everything and brought it to the table. All I had to do was take the pictures -
and then eat - YUM!
Oh, and it gets better! As we tucked in to the meal and I was gushing about how good it all was and how great it was of him to cook for me, he remarked that cooking was fun and he'd like to try his hand at a more complicated dish next time. I immediately offered to be his guinea pig!
Friday, 11 September 2009
Day 1 - Museum for Communication (after jet-lag induced late morning and an attack of "WOW! Clothing in this country actually FITS! that resulted in half a new wardrobe)
Day 2 - German History Museum (DHM)
Day 3 - Jewish Museum
Day 4 - Gandhara - an exhibit of Buddhist Art from Pakistan at the Martin-Gropius-Bau & Technology Museum
I enjoyed all - for different reasons. Unfortunately, however, my time at the Communication Museum suffered from my jet lag induced cotton ball brain-ness, and I just couldn't get beyond the lack of explanation of the large robots drifting around the larger inner atrium. I had seen pictures of and heard talks about the DHM, but I was still overwhelmed by the museum (my friend gave up on me and left me to wander at my own pace, going on to see the whole exhibit and two special exhibits before browsing the gift shop and going across the street for coffee and rhubarb cake, and reading a chapter or so of her book before I finally came out of the regular exhibit area...) The Jewish Museum was an unforgettable experience and very thought provoking - also hands down the BEST museum cafeteria I've EVER tried! The art exhibit was fascinating, especially with pieces on display from museums in the Swat Valley, an area in the news at the time. The Technology Museum was also overwhelming in sheer size - I thought I had seen the whole thing and was feeling rather pleased with myself when I met up with my friends at the appointed hour - only do discover I hadn't even found the largest wing of the museum!
With the exception of the art gallery, I was rather surprised to find copious amounts of natural sunlight in the museums. Both the Technology Museum and the Communication Museum also had open windows in the exhibit space. One of the things drilled into undergrads in the curatorial certificate program in Japan is the need for climate-controlled exhibit space and the evils of natural light. When you are exhibiting wood-block prints or ink paintings in a country where summer weather can reach the high thirties with 90% humidity on a clear day, the need for such protection is obvious (heck, VISITORS need the climate-controlled environment to be able to happily visit a museum with those conditions). Although it is definitely arguable as to whether they actually do much, almost all exhibit cases in a Japanese museum will contain some sort of desiccant. Given the regular occurrence of earthquakes, all objects are securely and safely fastened. The lack of all these familiar things really surprised me at first. I was surprised and began getting worried about object conservation. After a few museums, however, I realized just how conditioned I am to the Japanese museum, and I began noticing unique and interesting techniques being used to protect objects while also having them on view.
There were your average pull-out drawers, dressed out with eye-catching colours and at an easily viewable height.
There were spiffy glass covered cases with multiple levels of documents on sliding panels that retracted slowly back when released.
There were traditional pull-out drawers topped by heavy covers that revealed documents when opened (and due to their weight would not be left open by even the most absent-minded of visitors)
And there were these canisters on the wall that, after a good ten minutes spent trying to figure out HOW to open them, delighted me to no end (simple minds, simple pleasures, right?).
I was also impressed by the use of bright colours and whimsical touches in many of the museums we visited. The Gandhana exhibition was in a white space, but all of the case bottoms were either bright orange or lime green - a strong contrast to the grey stone of most of the objects! All of the museums, however, used bright colour, something I found refreshing from the blandness of most (older) museums in Japan.
Of course the first section of the Jewish Museum has no colour - it is all white, black, and cold greys. The lack of colour further and effectively heightens the impact of the space.
I'm really still only beginning to think through the museums I visited, and look forward to presenting on one of them next week when our inter-university grad student museum studies group has our first meeting back after the summer vacation. I really want to think this through some more... I loved being shocked out of my "Japan-centric" museum mind-set, and being reminded that things are done differently in different museums around the world. I'm eagerly awaiting my next chance to explore more "foreign" museums!