March 27, 2010

Strange Offspring

An unidentified plant that didn't survive through the winter. The surviving section was cut off and stuck in a vase. One of the leaves was half-submerged in water, resulting in new seedlings sprouting from the leaf itself.

Is this a characteristic of the plant, or did it adapt to its environment?

March 26, 2010

The Umbrella Has No Clothes

Just one out of the 100 million cheapie clear plastic umbrellas Japan goes through in a single year. Readily available (costing about 1 dollar) and safe to pair with any outfit, they are favored by people of all ages. Yet the clear plastic umbrella also symbolizes the strange dichotomy between Japan's eco-awareness and rampant consumerism: at once so focused on improving the efficiency of its products ("making things better...for the future"), yet content with treating others as disposable and buying more, more, more. It's hard to imagine this situation changing anytime soon. 10 years ago, clear umbrellas were a trend. Now they're ubiquitous. It's raining and you forgot your umbrella? Don't worry, just buy one at the conbini to tide yourself over. After all, it's only 100 yen. Flimsily made, these umbrellas crumble easily under the elements and are carelessly discarded, becoming not just an eyesore but a potentially dangerous one. Walk along any main street in Tokyo after a storm and you're bound to see umbrella skeletons tangled in bushes and blown against trees.

March 25, 2010

Miffy Can Live in Your Phone Too

I don't know what kind of emoji (emoticons) non-Japanese mobile phones have come up with in the past couple of years, but I'm betting you don't have this:
Miffy emoticons, from Dick Bruna's beloved picture books. It would be like US phones having Sesame Street emoticons.

How embarrassing if this is already a reality, and I'm just biased because I think nothing can surpass the Japanese mobile phone, both in practical use and gratuitous embellishments.

March 24, 2010

Micky Mouse x Mini Cooper

(In a Chiba shopping center.)

A Mini Cooper gets tricked out, Disney-style. Enlarge the photo to see all the Mickey Mouse flourishes on the car.

March 15, 2010

Animals Amongst Us

(In Higashi-Nihonbashi.)

An Il Porcellino replica, rather randomly positioned outside a nondescript building on a sleepy street.

(In Ningyo-cho.)

In front of a Hokkaido-themed restaurant, a bear attacking a sled. These large sleds were horse-drawn and transported fish, among other things.

(In Nihonbashi.)

A regal-looking giraffe standing guard in front of a building in Nihonbashi.

March 14, 2010

While You Wait for a Building to Materialize

(A construction site in Roppongi.)

An "under construction" notice that doubles as an eye test: Stand six meters away from the sign, cover one eye, and see if you can read "We are sorry to inconvenience you during construction." in ever-smaller letters.

If you can read the smallest print, you have 1.0 vision (In Japan, eyesight is graded on a scale from 0=bad to 2.0=very good). However, since it's pretty easy to guess what the letters are going to be, you can cheat and convince yourself you don't need glasses.

March 11, 2010

Japan's Venice

Before land was reclaimed from the surrounding Tokyo Bay in the early 1960s, Urayasu city (in Chiba) was known as the Venice of Japan. Where Tokyo Disneyland now stands was once all water. Canals acted as roads, and people made their living by gathering clams and making nori (laver). Urayasu City's Habitat Museum has faithfully recreated the local living environment as it was, half a century ago. Above is a general store selling candy and tobacco, watched over by the ubiquitous welcoming cat.

On the entrance of houses and establishments, a hiiragi iwashi has been put up. Literally "holly sardine", it is part of a Setsubun (the day before the beginning of spring) custom warding off bad luck. Since Setsubun is on February 3nd, it seems the museum is a bit tardy in taking down their decorations.

March 10, 2010

Perfume Nips

A hand-me-down from my mother: tiny, needle-thin vials of perfume. To release the perfume, the glass end has to be snapped off.

An interesting blog post talking about the history of perfume nips, and their relevance in this day and age:

March 9, 2010

Through Frosted Glass

Peering inside a dentist's office.

In Japan, you take your shoes off to enter not only people's homes, but oftentimes hospitals and dentists' offices as well.

March 8, 2010


(Woman sitting across from me on the train. She probably used a whole can of hairspray to perfect her look.)
I wish I had a digital camera that could be disguised as a lighter, or a tube of lipstick. How else to photograph all the fascinating people I see on the train? My current method of taking photos of unsuspecting people is to pretend to be looking at photos on my camera while angling for the perfect surreptitious shot. But I fear one of these days, someone will catch me and give me a dressing-down.

March 7, 2010

Julianne Moore, Ten Years Later

Julianne Moore for Vanity Fair magazine, 2000.


Julianne Moore for Bvlgari, 2010.


March 5, 2010

March 4, 2010

Our Cowboy

A parking lot attendant/security guard for a Tokyo hotel. In his ten-gallon hat, he's the closest thing we have to a modern cowboy.

March 3, 2010

Dolls Float on Polluted Water

Hina nagashi ("doll floating"), a Girls' Day ritual where hina dolls are sent down rivers or to the sea. This is an act of transference: impurities or illnesses are transferred from girl to doll, thereby keeping the girl safe from harm.

Some famous hina nagashi festivals use real hina dolls; at Nihonbashi Jogakkan, a girls' school in Tokyo, dolls were made out of paper and sent them down the Kanda River.

Since the school is located alongside the river, students crammed into the narrow space between the building and the river to watch.

Representatives from each class got to ride on the boat and release the dolls into the river.

Alas, the floating didn't go as well as planned. After several minutes, a cleanup crew went after the drifting dolls and rounded them up, one by one. This provoked the ire of the teenage girls, who protested over everything from the use of a mop to "catch" the dolls, the passing commercial boat that capsized an unfortunate doll, and the length of the ritual, which was admittedly anticlimactic.