Saturday, August 18, 2007

of tokyo banana & turtle house – a japan summer

August in Tokyo is hot and the day temperature soaring to 35C is not uncommon. Without a breeze to cool the mid-summer heat, the humidity is stifling, and one would sweat easily outdoor. Despite the unpleasant weather, a summer vacation could be full of excitement & fun .

By noon, it was Tokyo, and this holiday not at all planned. I had just wanted to go some where for the National Day holiday break. Cos of the busy work schedule, I missed to book the mileage pass ticket in advanced and ended up paying a USD 75 dollar for the ticket at the airport that morning, instead of USD15 if one had booked it a month or more in advance. Nevetheless, the 5 day stay in Tokyo was a bargain, and it was decided on the spur of the moment. It was in fact faster to reach Tokyo than to hopped on to the bus and go back to the home in Ipoh. Tokyo perhaps is one of the other home-towns.

Just as once many years ago when I first visited Taipei, the customer officer at the airport would greet me with – ni hui lai le - 你回来了– though he knew that I was carrying a foreign passport,visiting Tokyo brings on a sense of – okaeri - O 归 ri - a return .

Snippets -

Tokyo Banana & omiyage

First taste of Tokyo Banana was a present from a Japanese businessman. It is a sponge cake with banana paste filling, taste is good with a nice nanaf banana flavor. The cake is in a shape of a banana, individually wrapped. The package wrapper is in banana yellow color, and the design & the wording exude modernity, invoking a sense of nostalgia for the home. The bananas are decorated in bow tie, and it has a cute slogan written in English:

'People gather to TOKYO from here and there with memories of their home.
And then, TOKYO gets the every one home town. TOKYO BANANA'

Bringing along a present - omiyage - is a custom commonly practiced in Japan – be it with the businessman visiting his client or someone returning home after a visit to the city or visiting friends.

This stall selling Tokyo Banana is located at the Tokyo Station. And one of easily close to nearly 50 or more different omiyage stalls in the station – selling different type of cakes and cookies from the tradition sweet red bean jelly – yookan - 羊羹, rice crackers & to this modern invention. A box of eight Tokyo Banana is at Y1000 (S$13.00), and it is - 大人气 – dai ninki –meaning a hot sell. In Chinese it reads as - da renqi - meaning showing great sign of life! For 人气 – literary is human breath, or a sign of life!

Tokyo train station is one of the busiest stations in the metropolis together with Shinjuku station. The daily human flow easily surpasses a million commuters! A 0.1% of the commuters buying a box of Tokyo banana would amount to $130K taking in a day – just by selling bananas!

Catch the Tokyo trend - instead of the traditional rice crackers from Asakusa - bring home some Tokyo bananas on your next trip to Tokyo. You can get it at the Narita Airport, too.

Kameya restaurant –Japanese name & color concept

This traditional Japanese is located near to the Ueno station. It offers shashimi, unagi – eel, etc and other seasonal fare. The name of the restaurant - Kameya - 龟屋 - is perfectly fine and normal to a Japanese. And with the noren – (a cloth partition over the door way ) it is as Japanese as you could have it. However, when the two characters are read in Chinese – gui wu - the meaning of the words hits you differently altogether! 龟 - gui – meaning tortoise or turtle, & and 屋 - wu – means house.

The - ya -屋- in Japanese could mean a shop or a store, and this the same ya - as in Takashimaya - 高岛屋 – which most Singaporean would recognize with the popular shopping mall at Orchard Road.

With the two little turtle painted on the noren, one could have thought that this restaurant is selling turtle dishes or even turtle soup. If it is, and if one knows Chinese, one would be puzzled as to why it chose to use the word gui wu -龟屋. It could have used a more refined term for turtle - namely -山瑞 - shan rui. The 汉字- hanzi– Chinese characters for : 山– shan - meaning mountain, and - 瑞 – rui – meaning a good omen. Thus 山瑞 - shan rui – could mean delicacy from the mountain, and this term is used commonly in Singapore by the shops selling turtle soup.

The name -龟屋 – gui wu - could not have been a worse name for a restaurant in Chinese. For the word -龟 – gui – in Chinese could also mean a pimp! My goodness me, the restaurant would than mean a - house of pimp!

Further more – on the shop front decoration - of a white cloth draped over the door way – this would be utterly taboo in Chinese custom and feng shui – 风水-tradition. For white would be most inauspicious, when red brings fortune and luck. I wonder if one could find a a similarly named and decorated Japanese restaurant in Singapore.

Well, it’s business as usual for this restaurant in Ueno- and so much for the cultural shock - the food is superb to the taste bud and delightful to the eyes! Have a go at it when you are in Tokyo. It's about 2 mins walk from the Ueno station along Showa dori Street in the direction of Okachimachi station.

Snap shots

1. Cultural pursuit
Date: 10Aug/Fri
Time: 9:30am
Venue: Ueno - Tokyo National Museum

An exhition on the travel of Buddhism from India to Japan. Statue of Buddha from the Gandhara period, around 200AD. The Greek influnce is most visible in the fold of the robes. The Greco-Buddhist art is a hallmark of Gandhara - an ancient kindom located at where eastern Afghanistan & Northern Pakistan is.

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Entrace fee to the museum is Y600 or S$7.80. There are commentary notes in English, Chinese and Korean.

2. Shitamachi

Date: 10Aug/Fri
Time: 4:40pm
Venue: Sumida River

Asahi Beer HQ - the building is modeled after a beer mug with foam at the top. Sumida River with near to Asakusa is located on the older part of Tokya - the so-called : shitamachi or downtown.

3.Tokyo Bay

Date : 11Aug/Sat
Time: 12:30pm
Venue: Decks Tokyo - Odaiba
The folks are down on the beach in the mid-afternoon sun to secure a place to watch the fireworks in the evening. The Rainbow Bridge spanning the bay provides an awesome view over the metropolis skyline.

4. Latin summer on the hills

Date: 11Aug/Sat
Time: 4:30pm
Venue: Roppongi Hills

Roppongi Hills - the chic & in-place - with a Latin American summer theme

5. Traditonal marriage

Date : 12Aug/Sat
Time : 12:30pm
Venue : Meiji Shrine - 明治神宫 - meiji jinggu

tradtioal japan in its splendouur - the wedding processions were a surpise bonus to the visitors who had to walk about 20 minutes from the Harajuku Station along a tree lined path that provided a welcome shade to the hot afternoon sun.

6. Summer street festival

Date : 12Aug/Sun
Time : 4:30pm
Venue : Shinjuku

Summer is festival time in Tokyo – fireworks with 120,000shots and last for an hour; samba festival in Ueno, or the bon odori – akin to the hungry ghost festival in locally but with fun and fair, and group dancing around a drum beat accompanied with traditional folk songs

7. Budding artist

Date : 13Aug/Mon
Time : 1:50pm
Venue : Tokyo Station

A young artist at work – he started painting by the road side from 8am & the noon temp was 35C!

Postscript -

a)  回 & 归

回 - hui (Chinese) - return, go back, e.g 回乡 – hui xiang - return home or balik kampung
归 - gui – or kaeru (Japanese) - to go back to , to return - to one’s home or place of origin

The ‘O’ in ‘okaeri’ – is an honorific prefix to indicate respect.

b) Gift giving season

Summer is one of the two gift exchange season in Japan: namely - 中元 - ochyugen. The other one is towards the year end - 岁末-oseibo. At this time of the year the big departmental stores in Tokyo will offer expensive and nicely pack present especially of food, such as fruits, noodles and even cooking oil. A Japanese melon packed in a velvet box is not uncommon to be priced closed to Y10,000 ie. S$130.00

c) Tokyo Banana website


Monday, August 06, 2007

the summer of 81 @ lake biwa

Aug 06 is a special day to the Japanese, and each year on this day, the whole nation will turn her attention to the memorial Peace Park in Hiroshima. For on this fateful day 62 years ago, the B52 Anola Gay released the bomb at 8:15am on that fateful morning, and wiped out nearly 200,00 souls in an instant. The bomb ended WWII in the Far East.

Leafing thro the photo album, I found that I was at another place. Instead of at Hiroshima, my first summer holiday in Japan was in Lake Biwa.

Date : 06Aug1981
Place : Takashima Station, Biwa Lake
Fr left : Huang Zhijun, Yang Kairong, Zhu Ze, k3, Eryu Shiji, Zhu Yixing,Dr Huang Guangwu

This picture was taken 26 years ago to the day at the railway station near Lake Biwa, Japan. It was a summer vacation to the biggest lake in Japan and with a group of students from China, and their Japanese female friend.

I had arrived in Osaka four months earlier, and was staying in the same foreign student dormitory as them, in the in the new campus ground of the Osaka University of Foreign Studies (OUFS), located at Aobadai, Minoo, on the outskirt of Osaka city.

Of the five Chinese students, four were graduate students majoring in the Japanese Language and Japanese studies. Of the four three were from the Shanghai University of Foreign Studies, and the 4th student from the North-East Region. Variously they had been in OUFS for 2 to 3 years, and were one of the first batch of students sent by the government of the PRC to Japan, with Deng’s policy of opening up to the outside world – 改革开放 - gaige kaifang - in 1978.

The fifth student was a medical doctor, a bare-foot doctor I believe for that. He came for his immersion in a medical hospital in Japan, and had similarly gone to the OUFS for the 6 month intensive Japanese course. This Dr Huang, was my neighbor in the dormitory. He spoke Mandarin with a Guangxi slang.

What was distinct about him I thought was that his mannerism and image was more akin to that of a farmer from the rural area than one would have associated with a doctor that had gone thro tertiary education and training. China then, was just beginning to shake off her communist ideology and the doctor was probably selected probably due to his ideological credentials.

The Chinese students were all able cook, and in the evening would meet in the kitchen to prepare dinner. We would talk in Mandarin, and interspersed with Japanese in between. The fact that I was able to speak Mandarin had helped in the mingling with them, and from them to learn Mandarin.

Their female Japanese friend was studying Chinese in China, and was back in Japan for vacation. She was introduced to the Chinese students by her lecturer in China. Her parents had lived in China before the Pacific War and possibility cos of this link with China, she had gone on to study Chinese. There was among the Japanese, a minority whose parents was born in China and had lived there before the War. China was just opening up then, and many of these Japanese had goodwill towards their poor and big neighbor.

The documentary - the Silk Road - by NHK that was shown on Japanese TV a year or so earlier was such a big hit in the country, that it generated a tourism boom to China. The theme music was by Kitaro. Due to his long hair, Kitaro was banned from performing in Singapore.

During my secondary school years, I had read of the suffering of the children of Hiroshima who had survived the bomb. However during my stay in Japan, I did not make it to Hiroshima or Nagasaki. After Osaka, I went on to Tokyo, and it took me further away from western Japan, to the eastern Kanto region.


a) the photograph - in Chinese:

地点:高岛 站, 琵琶湖
从左:黄志军,杨凯荣, 朱泽,笔者,儿玉十纪,朱一星,黄光武