Wednesday, May 14, 2014

natasha's diary

Last night I attended a gathering of supposedly wide-awake singles in Ikebukuro (my favorite Tokyo place name--"Pond Bag"). At the door, everyone was given an electronic badge called an iTag to wear. The idea was to punch into the tag some info about yourself so that when someone who has something in common with you approaches, their badge flashes something like "Hello Natasha, I'm Hiyoshi. I also work in publishing." This is supposed to make it easier to start a conversation.

Thanks but I don't need this. I punched in that I collect old Bugattis; that my favorite sport is pole vaulting; and that I speak Hungarian. Funnily enough, this information solicited no responses from other tags but I did meet several people who agreed with me that if you need a tag to help you engage with other people you probably don't have much of interest to say. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

natasha's diary

To Kamakura to stroll  and sit and lean against trees and drink tea and read Basho in French (not bad, though a bit too lyrical for me). Nice quiet stay at a little inn next to a gurgling stream and simple meals elegantly served. When I get older and less caught up in the rhythms of Tokyo, I could live in Kamakura. Seth could not.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The pipefitter's art

natasha's diary

Ari tells me that on a street in an unreconstructed part of the city (Nezu, actually), there are two houses 20 meters apart with the same number on their mailboxes. People living the neighborhood are happy to bring this to the attention of passersby as they have learned it gives the neighborhood "character".

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Boats for hire to have a party at night out on the river

natasha's diary

The cello can make me cry. Not the music played necessarily, just the sound. This beautiful instrument, a piece of architecture, was played poignantly (Bach) at the recent funeral of Toshio Yasuma, a lovely man who brought the spices of the world to Japan as a commercial venture. A thousand people attended, from all over the world, and many of Tokyo's most aware restauranteurs. After the ceremony, there was a standing, pass-your-plate banquet of inspired Indian and French dishes. To the side were tins of Beluga and for those so inclined a bottle of Lafite '91 was opened.

It was a good goodbye to a good man.

I would have liked to have learned to play the cello, but it is so large: like playing an umbrella. Other things I wish I had at least dabbled in while I was growing up: dance, the harpsichord, juggling, magic, the stupendous game of go, kohdo, the Italian language. Too late, too late. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Window-washer's delight in the Ginza

natasha's diary

Job of the Week: JR has hired a sweet young thing to travel from station to station on the Yamanote Line, visiting kiosks on the platforms to relive the gentle ladies manning them so they can take a little break for a few minutes. She spends about 30 minutes at each kiosk. I could do that.

On a t-shirt: "Ambiguous". An invitation to the adventurous.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

At the checkout counter of our supermarket

natasha's diary

I have discovered that first thing in the morning, before anything, a drop of first-class Balsamic vinegar wakens the tongue and brain wonderfully. Why is this not known generally?

I want a new job. Perhaps I could import bicycles. Hans tells me there is a shop in Amsterdam, that bicycle-mad city, that imports the bicycles issued to the Swedish Army--great tank-like things--and paints them psychedelic colors. Just the thing for the new breed of bicycle messengers. Also, the Danes are making a bicycle whose chain and cables are all inside the frame. I'd get a smart architect to design the shop. "Cycles by Natasha".

Friday, April 4, 2014

natasha's diary

After the typhoon, a heavenly day. Clouds are a gift of nature. Perpetually clear blue skies would be as boring as perpetual smiles.

Tokyo bicycle manufacturers understand that brakes applied delicately should let off a small squeak, like a whisper in the ear, to warn people walking ahead that a rider would like to pass. The sound of a bicycle bell is to insistent, too crude.

It is rare in most neighborhoods to see a balcony without some flowers in the corner. They are not there to enrich the lives of the residents of the apartment, but to give a little lift to the passersby. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

natasha's diary

Some Tokyo graffiti...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Dentist office on second floor.

natasha nakamura's diary

So back to Tokyo. Can't be blamed for wanting to come home, at least for a while.

Somethings have changed. Is it my imagination or have women's breasts grown larger? They are certainly more prominently featured in ads on the trains and on the covers of the titillating weeklies. There are more cafes, some even with a few seats outside. The Oedo Line is hard at work redesigning its stations, each of which has its own design motif. (My heart goes out to those poor souls who have to ride the rumbling, crumbling commuter trains between Greenwich and Grand Central.)

There is some fine graffiti, as for instance under the Tokyu Line tracks between Yokohama and Sakuragicho. Grocery stores are stocking more spices and condiments from abroad like chutney and there seem to be more little shops selling things which foreigners find "smart," such as well-designed household implements like kitchen clocks. (I ran across a store in Harajuku that's nothing but chairs from all over the world, artfully arranged. It looks like a chair museum.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Last chance to buy something to read. Newsstand on train platform.

natasha nakamura's diary

Paris is a fine city, of course. Triumphant architecture, a lyrical language, sharp people with character and wit, and lots of cafes for talking and reading and writing. But Paris is small, and after a while the sweep of the architecture at every turn becomes oppressive. In Paris, nothing ever happens by accident, although sometimes people pretend it does. And the French have their own brand of arrogance, more sophisticated and so more provocative than down-home American arrogance, but still tiring in its demand for attention. (In Tokyo, arrogance is very bad form.)

So: back to Tokyo. Can't be blamed for wanting to come home, at least for a while.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Posters in the subway

natsha nakamura's diary

Interesting new magazine called Nikkei Woman, which talks about how women should buy insurance, how to get a job in banking, and how to live stylishly in a tiny apartment. Nothing at all on how to entice a man. It is hard to imagine a magazine like this ten years ago. Tokyo women are taking control of their lives.

I am tired of seeing (working) women in big bulging blue pantaloons to their ankles, like a uniform. They look like Russian infantrymen with an identity problem.

I'm thinking maybe late one night this Spring, when the weather invites, I'll work up a colorful stretch of graffiti for the wall across the street. Maybe invite one or two sympathetic souls to participate. Naomi? Fabrizio? That guy from Cambodia?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

natasha nakamura's diary

Thursday, sitar concert by Ayumu Suetsugu in the living quarters for bachelor British diplomats in Yokohama, a serious stone structure with English fireplaces, built in 1937. I was entranced and after the interval insinuated myself right up at the front to sit cross-legged on the carpet. Everyone else remained in their folding chairs. Perhaps we should have dimmed the lights and lit some incense.

Afterwards, dinner in Chinatown built around Shanghai crabs at a wonderful new restaurant called Sai where all the waitresses are bright and charming Chinese.

Friday. Interesting new place in Shibuya called J.--pronounced "J, Period". Japanese craftwork, not exquisite and hardly expensive: bowls and incense burners. These are things that would evoke a certain feeling of nostalgia in friends in New York and Paris who don't know the really good (and really expensive) stuff. It's so easy to become cynical…

Thursday, February 27, 2014


natasha nakamura's diary

Hey, this isn't New York. How about a bath on the top of our office building, open to the sky? Men and women on alternate days, I suppose (mixed bathing as the province of the countryside is the only instance I can think of where the countryside is more relaxed than the city), and after bath a light meal at the fine little soba shop around the corner. That's the way to build a cohesive work force. Talented people would be banging at our door.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sidewalk fortune teller

natasha nakamura's diary

A friendly call from Hiyoshi. He seems bored. I know more about how to move around Tokyo than he does. After all, he has a job and must hew to his routine, and the city is so big. It's like people from Tribecca have no idea of what's going on over the bridge in Brooklyn. Another world, equally urbane. 

Ginza back streets are a world of their own. I found this sweet old guy who presides over a 6-mat shop where he sells 18th-century Delftware copies of Chinese porcelain, wonderful Dutch platters inscribed in Old Dutch, and intricate Korean and Chinese incense burners. He told me he regularly goes to London to bid at Christie's and Sotheby's. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Graduation, at last!

natasha nakamura's diary

I've pretty much decided to buy a car. I don't really need one as Tokyo's transportation system is so good, but there is an element of carefree convenience to it and it would allow me to roam the countryside. The apartment provides a [free] place to part the beast.

I'm thinking it should be a kei car,  a small car, smaller than a Volkswagen, which costs less, is taxed less, and drinks less gas. Every Japanese manufacturer has a line of kei cars, which are not exported. Last year 40% of all cars sold in Japan were kei

Now which kei car should I buy?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rolls-Royce of scooters

natasha nakamura's diary

Lunch for 100 yen--less than $1--is the easiest thing in the world.

Any convenience store will have shelves of plastic bowls of dry noodles and spices for that price. All that's required is boiling water to fill the bowl and a pair of chopsticks. And the store will probably will be able to provide you with both.

This was my lunch today, eaten standing just outside the store, together with a trio of construction workers. I could have taken my plastic bowl of noodles home, where I could have fiddled with it, perhaps adding a hard-boiled egg, perhaps a piece of tempura or anyway something picked up for the purpose in the food basement of a department store.

Now I'll just have to compare the bowls of noodles offered by the dozens of makers, to find the best. More on this later. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Lamp over door of noodle shop

natasha nakamura's diary

I find it a challenge to live in a small space, as I am used to living in (slightly) larger spaces. But the problem has not been addressed with imagination here. In a small apartment, the couch should be the bed. There should be storage space on the roof or in the basement. The doors of the refrigerator should be transparent so you could see exactly where everything is without opening the door and anyway the refrigerator in a tiny apartment should only have to hold the ingredients of a good breakfast (the coffee pot should be built in) and maybe a hearty soup. As a rule, you should eat out and consider the cost part of the rent.

Audio and TV and computer should all be built in too. Telephone calls should be answerable simply by talking loudly, so no receiver would be necessary. Gardens, showers, and perhaps even toilets should  be shared, which should free up enough room so the complex could share a little garden. You'll go to the  public bath, of course, when you want to soak. 

A major problem remains: what to do with the magazines and books acquired but not yet read. Some discipline required here, that's all.   

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sidewalk sculpture

natasha nakamura's diary

This year I was deluged with Christmas cards from Paris and New York, mostly from people only vaguely remembered. My strategy to defend myself against this barrage next year is to wait until shogatsu, then send everyone a pointedly relaxed shogatsu card explaining this is the way we do things in Japan. Next year if I get around to it I'll computerize the whole shebang so I can send out my answering volley of shogatsu cards (perhaps with a computerized facsimile of my own handwriting) at the press of a button.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

One of the 180 used-book stores in Jimbocho.
One store specializes in books in Latin and Greek.