Narita Airport Terminal 1 Underground Passage

Narita Airport Terminal 1 Underground Passage

Got back a couple of days ago from my annual visit to my “other” home, Toronto. Yes, it was a great trip, thanks for asking.

I always have mixed feelings on leaving Toronto and returning to Tokyo. On the one hand, I really enjoy visiting family and friends and familiar haunts (such as the public reference library, and the UofT campus – I know, I know… 24-hour party people) in my old hometown. I love to walk, and Toronto’s streets and alleys make for great walking – and the weather usually co-operates by cooling down overnight and staying that way into the morning. All the hassles of daily life in T.O. (oh the TTC! ooh construction!!) don’t really get to me: I’m on holidays! nowhere to be, nothing to do. Perfect Zenlike simplicity. Streetcar delayed? Hey, isn’t that a Starbucks over there? Sweet. I could just retire into my Golden Years… Read the rest of this entry »

Naoshima: a traditional island fishing village in the Seto inland Sea with, you know, traditional contemporary art and architecture by the likes of Tadao Andao, Yayoi Kusama, and Claude Monet.

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Read Kate Morgan’s “4 Reasons to visit Naoshima” on, among other sites, for more details and practical information.


This is not my house…

At first, my new neighbourhood in Nerima comes across as any other near-city suburb in western Tokyo. Acres of boxy, two-storey houses with blue or rust roofs and little or no yard radiant from the train station. Functional low-rise walkups with open hallways and stairwells. Light-industry factories and warehouses. Grim schoolhouses. And in the between-spaces, fields of cabbage and onion and corn.

So very, very different from the hip, upscale neighbourhoods in central Tokyo, aka The Big Sushi, where R., my wife, and I commute every day for work.

We moved here, bought a house and everything, after eight years in nearby, semi-rural Kodaira. And that – eight years – is the longest I’ve lived in one place. Ever. So much for my “three-year adventure in Japan! Sorry, Ma. But that’s another story…

Compared to Kodaira, Nerima at first feels claustrophobic: houses, fields, cars, bicycles, pedestrians, all share too little space. Stepping out our front gate the first night in our new home, SUVs menace on the narrow, poorly lit, sidewalkless streets. Headlights swerve to the left of us, to the right of us, straight at us… and that was just in front of our house!

As we settle in, however, and on laid-back weekends explore our new surroundings, the character of the place starts to open up. Across the street from our house a spooky parkette with the copper-green statue of a child but never any real children — or anyone else, for that matter. The Muscle Gym around the corner — that’s the name, by the way, in English and Japanese — with a jacked-up 4×4 in front, a middle-aged guy with a punch perm and sweat suit smoking by the door and joking with a knot of young men. Next door two kindly obasans, middle-aged women, make bento box lunches by hand among great dusty sacks of rice from all over Japan.

Mornings, I wake before dawn brightens the skylights. A rooster crows as I hit the shower. By the time I start my walk to the station, the farmers are already hard at work trimming cabbages with long knives and loading the heads into barrows. Back from the road carrots, cauliflower, broccoli are left for sale on tables and clear-fronted, coin-operated vegetable lockers. Only in Japan….

A forty-minute commuter express ride each way takes us to and from the sky islands and neon canyonlands of the Tokyo that you, gentle reader, likely imagine. We squeeze into trains packed tight as sushi rolls, jack into iPods same as everyone else, do our best to tune out the discomfort. Lately I’ve taken to passing the time with meditation podcasts.

After a day in the workaholic city, I return to our quiet little home and even quieter neighbours, mostly retirees – or gentlemen farmers. Sometimes I catch a sunset, all cherry-blossom pink; other times I watch the moon rise through the skylights.

R. has a different schedule from me, so weeknights I am often in bed before she gets home, dreams of cabbages dancing in my head…

Maybe this isn’t the adventure I expected when I left family and friends back in Toronto all those years ago now. But as I become mindful to the details of this residential suburban life, I find myself growing and deepening in experience. And isn’t that what adventure is all about?

(With thanks to Amanda “Ax” Castleman for help with the edits…)

Apple Store, Omotesando

Apple Store, Omotesando

The new Apple store opened on Friday the 13th (!) in Omotesando, a short-ish walk up the road from Harajuku Station. I didn’t manage to get there ’til around lunchtime, by which time the wait in line was about an hour long according to the young Apple Genius or whatever manning the front entrace and high-fiving fanboys and -girls on their way inside. Apparently, a small gift awaited them inside…

Apple released a video last week, embedded below, featuring their new retail design concept. At least, that was apparently the intent. Watching it, however, I’m left wondering what it’s really like to work at an Apple store? And apparently I’m not alone in wondering: back in 2012 Gizmodo published a post with an inside look at the employee training manual, The Genius Training Student Workbook. Gizmodo’s take? “Become strong while appearing compassionate; persuade while seeming passive, and empathize your way to a sale.” Enjoy.


The rice stalks have risen.

They are living things.

They are precision machines.

All stand erect.

At their tips, which waited patiently in the rain,

Tiny white flowers glisten and above the quiet amber puddles reflecting the sun

Red dragonflies glide.

“The Breeze Comes Filling the Valley”, Kenji Miyazawa

Probably this head’s up is too late to do you much good, but if you happen to find yourself in Tokyo today, Sunday 15 June 2014, or better yet are already in the Roppongi area and want something to do, some place to go to get out of the heat and humidity (mushiatsui!), you could do worse than to duck into the Tadao-Ando-designed 21_21 Design Site in a corner of the park behind Tokyo Midtown. It won’t take long to tour the whole exhibit; I I was outta there in about an hour, and that was with taking a whole passel full of photos – some of which you can see below…

The exhibition is, of course, surprisingly interesting – I say “of course” because, if it were otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing about it here – and the curators are photographer-friendly, so I really enjoyed some quality shooting time with my new Olympus e-p5 and venerable Panasonic Lumix 7-14 4.0.

And 21_21 Design Site is worth visiting for its own sake, if only to relax in the cool grey, icebox-like (but suprisingly warm) interior.

Fun Facts, from the exhibition book: a typical bowl of rice holds about 3,000 grain. That’s three bundles of rice talks (so comes from three seeds).


June 8th is the official start of the tsuyu rainy season in Tokyo. Ironically, today is also the first break we’ve had from the rain in three days. Here some of my neighbours take advantage of the weather to… well i don’t know what they’re doing. Anyway, for those of you skeptical that there’s any countryside left in Tokyo, this is the scene R. and i passed today on the way tp the library and supermarket.


In Japanese, tsuyu or “plum rain”: fortunately, not because the raindrops are the size of plums but because rainy season corresponds to plum season. Mmm, plums! Like most produce grown in Japan, plums taste better here than they ever did back home in Canada. Sure, they’re more expensive (though not in the $100 for a square watermelon range), and only available in-season, but dang they’re good! I digress…

Yes, it’s a good thing the rain drops are normal-size, ’cause on a day like today there’s a lotta them. Forecast called for close to 160mm of rain in parts of Tokyo and area. I don’t know how close we are to that measure, but I do know that it’s been raining hard all day and all night, and I’ll be amazed if parts of the city aren’t flooded by tomorrow. If they aren’t flooded already…

Speaking of flooding, apparently Tokyo has this amazing underground waterway system of tunnels and silos, the largest in the world apparently, to help control flooding. Called the G-Cans Project, the system operates from nearby Saitama and the tunnels are open to tours, where you can, as the tour literature puts it, “feel the grandeur of the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel.” Actually, the pictures look amazing, some kinda steam goth medieval science fiction setting. Maybe Ridley Scott’ll use it as the setting for his sequel to Prometheus


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