Thursday, May 16, 2013

Kagehashi Japan (Day 2)

Japan Foundation | National Museum | Kappabashi | Asakuza Shrine | Shinjuku Shopping

A healthy breakfast to start the day. I wish we had rice, miso soup and fish available for breakfast in America. I would totally wake up early for that.

I tried naoto (fermented soy beans) for the first time. The taste is neutral but the texture is the interesting part - all plasticy and stringy like cheese. Although I heard it's good for you, I don't think I will be eating it again anytime soon.

Picture taken from the bus of businessmen crowding the intersection. Everyone seems to be quietly and diligently going to their offices. Being tardy is a lot less forgivable in Japan.

Our first stop was at the Japan Foundation where we heard lecturers speak about the Kagehashi program, as well as different aspects of Japan like history, language and pop culture. The Kagehashi program aims to promote cultural understand through exchange as well as to stimulate the economy of Japan by creating "mini" ambassadors back to America.

One of the more amusing presentation talking about the impact of Japanese pop culture on Japan's image to foreign nations, also known as "Cool Japan". We started off watching the PONPONPON video as a highlight of what's popular right now. He then asked us if we thought this was "cool", to which I replied that as an art form based off kitsch, it was really original and creative. We then talked about the difference in censorship between America and Japan. In America, violence and swearing are rated appropriate for younger kids while nudity is 18+ - it's really odd when I thought about it because we're punishing the lesser offense. The companies would strategically place words and objects in front of panty shots.

Super cute packets from the presentation on language and a website teaching Japanese through interactive games/ videos.

Lunch! I've always wanted to try a 7-11 sandwich....

At the National Museum where the azaleas are in full bloom!

There were four parts of the museum, but because we only had an hour, I only visited the Japanese Art Highlights gallery located in the building behind the mascots.

Here are some of the highlights from the art museum. I most liked the samurai armor and outfits because of how intimidating they were. If someone charged at me in those masks, I'd collapse and give up right there. One interesting thing I noticed was that all the old scrolls were written all in Chinese characters or Kanji.. Some of the paintings were based on ink and brush paintings from the Song Dynasty as well. These similarities made me nostalgic of my own Chinese culture, which is also very rich and ancient.

After the museum, we toured and shopped in Kappabashi, a kitchenware street for professional restaurants.

Inside one of the more modern utensil shops. The wooden spoons and dishes here were adorable!

Streetview of Kappabashi.

The Kappa, or water demon, is what the street is named after. There was a golden statue of one a few blocks from where the bus dropped us off.

In Japan, all the restaurants have visual representations of their food in glass cases to show eaters exactly what they're paying for. There is a store that specializes in making these wax models with great detail, down the the textures and morsels.

Unbelievably, these wax models are many times MORE expensive than the food they represent. A small keychain with a cake charm was $12. Expensive!

Our last destination was at the Asakusa Shrine, a Buddhist temple and one of the oldest regions in Tokyo. The giant lantern at the gate, which I assumed was very ancient, was funnily enough a gift from Panasonic. Buddha's ashes, which was a gift, are at the top of the pagoda.

From the gate to the shrine, there was a street lined with souvenir shops and food stalls. 

Souvenir stores had Japanese trinkets, cute gifts and popular snack gift boxes. Perpendicular to this street, along an alley way, was a more local souvenir shopping area. I didn't buy any souvenirs because there wasn't anything too interesting and the gifts were still expensive.

However, I did buy a lot of street food like Taiyaki (a fish shaped pastry with filling), Takoyaki (Octopus balls) and Dango (sweet chewy dumplings). I freaked when I found takoyaki because I've only had the frozen kind from Chinatown or smaller ones from China. Though we were only give 45 minutes as Asakusa, I felt that I had a fulfilling experience from seeing the beautiful temples to tasting authentic street foods!

For dinner, we had Western food which was a big letdown for everyone. Though we are thankful that it's complimentary to us, the group really wanted to eat only Japanese food in Japan. However, Shimada-san said that the program had to offer widely accepted dining options.

While most of the group went karaoking, something I'm not very fond of, T.C. and i went shopping at the nearby Lumine, a high-end mall. I spotted so many cute Japanese brands but they were ridiculously priced. A pair of chiffon shorts from Rirandture (modeled by Lena Fuji Ahhh!) were over $100. Fashion is really expensive in Japan because since there's no way to show wealth through buying a big house in a crowded city, women show status through their clothes/beauty alone. I also found Opening Ceremony, a chain store that specializes in artist collaborations, a emerging phenomena in fashion I've a big fan of.

Speaking of fashion collaborations, this Uniqlo/Department store was huge! But I got everything I wanted at the London one and the stores aren't too different. I got very confused when i saw appliances on the

My purchases. I finally found the elusive green tea KitKat after frequenting many convenience stores. I also got a HbG magazine because of the cute gift back inside....and that's how I was tricked into buying a $13 magazine. Also bought a Lavshuca cheek perfume blush.

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