Monday, March 26, 2012

Ghibli day Part II: Edo-Tokyo Open air museum

After the morning-visit to the Ghibli museum we got on the JR Chuo Line again, and travelled a few station to the Edo-Tokyo open air museum. The museum was a perfect fit for our Ghibli themed day as it was the inspiration for the buildings in the spirit world of Spirited Away. The museum is located in an enormous park filled with cherry blossom trees. We were a little early in the season to see them in full bloom but when they do it will be wonderful place to be. 

The open air museum exhibits buildings of great cultural value, constructed in Tokyo between the Edo-period (1602-1868) and the post-World War II period. However, most of the buildings exhibited are constructed in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) or more recent times. Among the buildings are former residences of influential politicians, farm houses, a public bathhouse, and various stores and craft shops.
It were these Meiji Period buildings that inspired Ghibli director Miyazaki when he was writing the story for Spirited Away. In an interview he stated that he set the movie in the atmosphere of the Pseudo-Western style buildings of the Meiji era (mixture of typical Japanese and Western design) seen in this museum. "I feel nostalgic here, especially when I stand here alone in the evening, near closing time, and the sun is setting--tears well up in my eyes."
The 'evil' spirit in front of the bath house
Miyazaki and the spirit displayed in the museum.

Just like the movie, the shops are filled with goods as if bus loads of customers could arrive any minute. This gives the eerie impression something is wrong, as if the shops are waiting for the spirits of nature to arrive when the museum closes and night falls...
We would show some pictures of the exhibitions that clearly shows the inspirations for the movie:

These corridors resemble the halls Chihiro had to clean in the bath house
Foreign spirit boarding the tram
The panels with orders for the bath heater

Bath house entrance
Right is for female spirits, left for male
Beautiful mural

Traditional Japanese bar

So much liquor and still it's called a 'soya sauce' shop
The shopping street leading to the bath house
There were various other buildings to be seen and entered at the museum. We will show some of the buildings that impressed us the most. 

The picture below is made in the Tokiwadai Photo Studio. Built in 1937 it incorporated some 'high tech' photo features in its architecture. The windows are exceptionally large and made of 'frosted glass'. This improves the diffusion of the light and provides more depth and realism to photo's. Nowadays we probably use apps for that.

The Tokiwadai Photo Studio (1937)

Below is the residence of Mitsui family (also know as the Mitsui zaibatsu). The house is actually made from two other family residences that got badly damaged during World War II. The guest room and dining room were constructed around 1897 in Kyoto, and was originally designed as a Japanese tea house. The storehouse was built in 1874 in Tokyo. After the war the family built a new western style residence in Tokyo and decided that their damaged property should be salvaged as much as possible. Thus this 'patch work' house came into existence in 1952. In combination with the beautiful garden it actually feels as if this conjuncture of styles was always what the architects envisioned.

Entrance and former tea house section
Dining room and guest room

A big surprise was the House of Koide. After architect Sutemi Horiguchi returned from his travels through Europe, his designs were greatly inspired by European architecture. The House of Koide is a very well balanced fusion between typical Dutch elements and original Japanese architecture. See for yourself:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ghibli day Part I: the Ghibli museum

Last Thursday we had Ghibli-themed field trip. Ghibli is a famous Japanese animation studio that produced well known films like 'Spirited Away' and 'My Neighbor Totoro'. The studio's animation style is very distinctive and their storytelling talent is magical. They have their own museum in Mitaka-shi, a quiet and green part of Tokyo that will be full of sakura blossoms when spring arrives. Only a few stations away from Mitaka-shi there is the Edo-Tokyo open-air museum. It's Edo-style architecture was the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki to write the Oscar winning Spirited Away, so we were very curious about that place

The Ghibli museum's exterior seems to be taken straight out of one of their movies: lots of round corners, stained glass windows depicting famous scenes and characters, ivy crawling on the walls and beautiful carved woodwork. A very inviting atmosphere indeed. When entering the building you find yourself in a hallway with more stained glass and a wooden stair case leading to the central area. All kinds of Ghibli elements have come to life here: Porco Rosso/NausicaƤ style propellers, enormous granny chairs, twisting metal staircases, a see-through elevator, and once more a lot of woodwork. This central area leads to the little cinema that shows Ghibli shorts exclusive to the museum, a room where animation techniques are shown with various Ghibli characters, and the staircase that leads to the exhibition level. To describe the exhibition area would take forever since there are so many things to be seen. It's not an ordinary museum exhibition where everything is ordered neatly and explained with 400 character signboards. Rather it's a complete chaotic 'mess' where sketches and objects are placed in seemingly random order. This approach is actually quite true to the Ghibli style; characters visit these kinds of fairy tale places where everything is a little messy but because of that also very cozy. Like a grandfather's workshop or study.

Upon leaving the exhibition room you enter the gift shop (of course) where souvenirs can be bought for magical prices (of course). Outside the museum you can follow another metal staircase that leads to one of the highlights of Ghibli history: a roofgarden with a life-size Goliath from 'Castle in the Sky'. A popular scenery to have your picture taken (not by the staff though, people are encouraged to take pictures for each other). After an elderly lady took our picture we descended the stairs and walked back to the station for part II of our field trip: the Edo-Tokyo open-air museum.

Museum entrance
Top view from the roof garden
Together at the friendy Goliath

Monday, March 19, 2012


Sugamo is the shopping district around the Yamanote-Line Sugamo station and very close to our home. Unlike most of the famous shopping district in Tokyo, it is not aiming at the young and fashionable. Instead, this shopping district caters mostly to the elderly. The most popular, 800m long, Jizo Dori Street is therefore know under the nickname 'Harajuku for Old Ladies'. Even though we're not exactly the typical visitors of the shopping district, we still find it very interesting the stroll around the area and discover all new things sold in the shops.

The shops sell mostly clothing (old-fashioned style) and many different kinds of traditional foods and drinks. This will mostly be foods you will not find in any normal supermarket, so the area is a good opportunity to try some traditional snacks and food. There are many nice sweets, cakes and cookies that are worth trying.

The area most famous product is the typical Sugamo red undergarment! They come in lots of different styles, and many shops are specialized in selling only these red underwear, socks, etc. It is said that wearing the red undies will bring luck to the wearer, however we have not (yet) tested this hypothesis...

In the middle of the shopping street lies the Koganji temple. Next to the temple is the Togenuki Jizo-statue. It's so famous that they have made a theme-park like queue to stand in line in order to visit. You wash the statue in order to let it help cure illnesses.

And, off course, you're not a real shopping district without an area-mascot : the Sugamo-duck!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Vacation... at last!

After three months of grinding our brains on kanji, grammar, listening and speaking exercises, we finished our first term at the Yoshida School for Japanese Language with a big bang: exams.

There was fairly little time to prepare for the test since it followed immediately after the regular classes were done, so there was quite some pressure these last weeks to combine the usual workload with reviewing past chapters on what we learned before. When the test was over we we're both a little anxious about how we'd done. Laurens finished his grammar test only just in time and Daphne (who is a level higher) had to apply all sorts of new difficult forms of (extremely) polite speech. In the end we both did fine though: Daphne ended up number 2 in her class (from 18 students) and Laurens finished first (only seven students :P). That means that we both go to a next level! Hopefully we'll do just as fine there.

Part of the school tradition is a little trip to relax after the exams. This time we went bowling. We gathered at Takadanobaba (try saying that three times fast with cookie crumble in your mouth :P) and followed our teachers to the bowling alley. It was the biggest free-time center we've ever seen! There was an ice-skating hall, a mini-golf course and an enormous bowling alley. 'The perfect place to show-off my bowling skills',or so Laurens thought. Daphne needed a little warm-up time since her first throws ended up in the gutter but then... strike after strike! In the meanwhile it turned out Laurens didn't have any bowling skills at all...
When the time was up we gathered in conference room where our teachers had a little surprise in store: prizes for the winners! Daphne, to her own surprise, ended up number 3 amongst the female students and won a fashionable Yoshida Language School T-shirt (see picture below). Laurens finished nearly last of ALL the students and won a consolation hug from Daphne.

We had great time this trimester and would like to thank our teachers and friends from the Yoshida for the things we learned and the fun we had. These next three weeks we have a spring-break and after that it's back to school again. In the mean time we will go sight-seeing in Tokyo, train at the dojo, review some kanji, and go on a trip to Kusatsu: a famous hot spring town. So please look forward to our next blog-update!

Daphne's price
The Official Yoshida T-shirt!
Our bowling scores

Thursday, March 8, 2012


The start of March is a very busy period for us, filled with lots of exams.

After the midwinter-training at the hombu dojo, I realised I learned a lot and had almost reached the required amount of training-days for my next aikido exam. So in Februari we trained almost every day, and I managed to reach the exact amount of required training days! So, last sunday I took my aikido exam at the hombu dojo for 4th kyu. It was a very busy day with lots of people taking exams, and lots of spectators, it was a great experience. And... I passed!!

Next week will be the start of our Japanese exams. Monday and Tuesday are filled with different tests: grammar, listening, conversation, kanji. So this week, and coming weekend, we are spending a lot of time studying to be prepared for the tests. So please keep your fingers crossed for us!
After the exam our school has organised a nice bowling party, which will be the start of our spring vacation. During the vacation we will finally have more time to visit more of Tokyo and do some sightseeing, so we will update on that later.