Coffee Portraiture and Shrines: A Rainy Day in Tokyo

I was supposed to go on a great sounding hike today: exploring the trails around Hakone, taking a dip at a mountain hot spring, enjoying views of Mount Fuji and autumn colors. Unfortunately a steady rainfall canceled the trip the night before. Since I had already cleared the day of activities, I decided to head into Tokyo for some wandering. My friend Malin was going to hike with me and came along to Tokyo as well.


We started at Reissue, a cafe in Harajuku famous for its 3D latte art and portraits in foam. We arrived shortly after their 10AM opening and placed our orders. We got our own portraits done, while other customers went for 3D animals and graciously allowed us to photograph their orders. We all ooh’ed and aah’ed for several minutes, then reluctantly drank our creations.

Next we headed to Meiji Jingu Shrine, located in Yoyogi Park. Meiji Shrine was built in 1920 as a resting place for the souls Emperor and Empress Meiji, though they are both interred in Kyoto. Meiji Shrine tops the list as Japan’s most visited shrine, but you wouldn’t know it while you’re there. The entrance promenade takes a solid ten minutes to traverse, and the winding paths disperse the crowds enough that you never feel too crowded. Today’s rains probably helped.

After wandering the shrine a bit, Malin suggested that we visit the Iris Garden path, including a stop at the Kiyomasa-Ido (well), the fountainhead for the nearby pond. The friendly guard there chatted up the visitors, led us forward one by one, encouraged us to dip our fingers in the water, and even shared his favorite well photos on his phone. Malin and I imagined him going home every evening and telling his wife where his guests were from that day.

We headed back to the train for a long ride to the north side of Tokyo and the lovely Nippori fabric shopping district. But alas–today’s Japanese holiday of Labor Thanksgiving Day (“The law establishing the holiday cites as an occasion for commemorating labor and production and giving one another thanks”) meant closed shops, and a really long, unnecessary detour.


Coming to a Corner Near You: The Thrice-Weekly, Musical Produce Truck

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday around 4:30PM I hear music on the street. It’s the produce man! His truck of fruits, vegetables, and eggs rolls up and sets up shop steps from our front door.

After raising the canvas flaps on the sides of his truck, he starts selling. I buy from him every other week or so, and today I mustered the courage to ask him a few questions in Japanese. I wanted to know how many years he has been coming to this spot, and I came up with “Nan-nen achira kimasu-ka?”. Maybe not 100% grammatical, but understandable, I thought. I asked Mark’s opinion: “I think your Japanese is right,” he replied, “but he’ll probably wonder why you’re asking.”

Fair enough!


So I ambled over to the produce man and asked. An elderly Japanese woman selecting her produce chuckled. Then the produce man stroked his chin, studied the sky for a moment, and replied in Japanese, “About 40 years.” Then he clearly mistook my single Japanese question as some degree of fluency and kept talking. And talking. I understood a bit about watching babies grow up and become his customers, but not much more than that.

The offerings reflect the seasons. Now available: oranges, pears, persimmon, and apples

Then came the courage for question two: What is your name? “Anata no namae wa nan desu ka?”. He replied “Hara,” and I followed up with the standard Nice To Meet You expressions in Japanese. Then he replied with the standard Nice to Meet You Too. And we both bowed, of course. And kept bowing, until I awkwardly backed away around the truck, as one does.

The elderly Japanese lady kept on chuckling.

The truck reminds me a lot of Calomiris and Sons produce stand inside Washington DC’s Eastern Market. He even scribbles out the bill of sale on paper, just like Calomiris! But alas, no free piece of fruit for the road.

Tonight’s purchases: apples and eggs, with the always-handwritten receipt



Blog Post Number Three about Number Two: or, Let’s Keeping a Good Life with Taking a Good S**t!

When I started this blog I assumed that I would regularly write about certain themes. Like food. Shopping. Local adventures. And I have come back to those topics more than once. What I did not expect to write about at all–let alone three times–is poop. And yet here we are.

Earlier this year we visited Taipei, which included a meal at Modern Toilet restaurant. Shortly after that, Tessa and I headed to the Toto Museum. Many people would find two toilet-themed blog posts roughly two posts too many. But last week yet another poop-themed blogging opportunity presented itself: a fabulous homework assignment from a Japanese school with some rather unfortunate though accurate translations in English.

Before we go any further, a warning: in the past I’ve kept my language pretty clean. But today, that all goes in the shitter (har!). You’ll see why.

So the story: an American friend here in Yokohama named Rachel briefly sent her son we’ll call Jack to their local Japanese elementary school. Jack spoke no Japanese whatsoever, but the school simply did what they did for previous students. A translator came in from time to time, but for the most part he was expected to immerse himself and pick up the language. It works for some kids, but it didn’t for Jack. His Japanese school career was rather brief, and he came home with a stack of books and papers. A few months later Rachel found the papers and headed for the recycling bin when the English translations on several pages caught her eye.

Here’s Page 1:


For those of you who can’t quite read the handwriting on the photo, here it is:

  1. Did you take a shit this morning? Yes, No
  2. If yes, what kind of type is your shit? Liquid, softy, like banana, like stones, others
  3. When do you take a shit usually? Morning, at school, random
  4. Do you take a shit every day? Yes, No, not know

Jack’s writing along the right margin: SILENT MINE AND SLENDER MAN [note: In case you haven’t already figured this out, Jack is absolutely awesome.]

And page 2:

Why yes, this photo *was* taken in the main bar of our club, and that’s my Pikachu phone case propping up the page!

And the text: Let’s keeping a good life with taking a good shit!! [note: not my double exclamation points]

The shit dialy [note: probably meant for it to say diary]

As Rachel learned, the school uses volunteer translators to help English-speaking students while practicing their own English language skills. “It would probably take a lot to explain that this word is correct but not appropriate,” Rachel said, with far more restraint than I could muster.

Now, it’s easy to laugh at the well-meaning but not-quite-right translation. But. But! Why are Japanese school kids talking about shit, anyway? Some rather unscientific observations follow.

Many public restrooms include toilets with a waterfall recording (and apparently classical music, though I’ve never seen this one myself) to mask offending tinkling noises. This suggests widespread poop shame. Yet (husband) Mark has noticed that his Japanese employees go into far–and I mean FAR–more detail about their medical appointments and afflictions than his American co-workers do. A restaurateur friend confirms this; he has overheard far more extremely medically graphic dinnertime conversations than he would care to.

It’s no mystery that healthy poop reflects a healthy diet and lifestyle. I’ll let you Google that one if you’d like, since my browser history for this post probably already has me flagged in Who Knows What databases.

So let’s imagine the Shit Diary homework assignment. After a week of maintaining a Shit Diary, do the children discuss their answers aloud in class, in front of their friends? Are there right and wrong answers? If there are wrong answers, are children shit-shamed for not shitting often enough, or with the correct consistency? Does this lead to Shit Diary falsification?

So many questions.

Instead of answers, I leave you with this: the Golden Poop souvenir, available at an airport gift shop near you.

Also kids sliding into a giant toilet while wearing poop hats.

You’re welcome.