So I had a day off for shopping and cafe-hopping at Harajuku, land of fashionable people. So, the plan was to look for my favourite Japanese labels (minus EMODA, which is at Shibuya 109) like, Lowry’s Farm, Jeanasis, etc. And I knew STREAMER Coffee Company (by Sawada Hiroshi, celebrity barista that people from Maison Ikkoku know) was in the area, so to Harajuku I went. This photo was taken at at LAFORET, land of awesome shops. (What biased opinion?)
So after that no photos were taken because shopping. I’m in love with Japanese changing rooms. They also make me feel bad every time I buy something because they wrap it with such love and care and tissue, then carry it all the way to the exit of the store, and bow until I’m out of their sight.
Streamer, from the outside. It took me a really long time + asking for directions + google maps + WHY IS IT UP A HILL to find it. I almost jumped for joy – but had to keep it in because we’re in Japan guys be cool…
The latte art was amazing, but the coffee was normal. Sweeter than normal, probably because Japanese milk is creamy, but nothing special. Maybe I was expecting to see rainbows and shooting stars. And I also missed brewed coffee.
And so I walked back to Omotesando and found this!!!! It’s a tiny obscure shop under the famously long-queue Eggs n Things. I loved the place! The baristas were friendly, I was the only one in there so I could talk to them, and they played Florence + The Machine! Talk about an awesome place to be in.
And here, I cultivated the love for brewed coffee (specifically the chemex) over ice.
I saw rainbows and shooting stars. Light, refreshing brewed chemex, with it’s clarity intensifying with the ice.
And made by the sweetest baristas. ❤ Hanging out there was really enjoyable.
It was getting dark and I wanted to get back to the hostel, but I went to look at Christmas illuminations first. :3 Ahhh, Japan and your fairylight abuse.
On Day 3, I met Chikage-sensei at Shibuya to watch a Noh Theatre performance. I first knew Chikage from my first year at LASALLE, where she introduced me to Noh theatre, and taught us all about it. Now, I would soon discover that doing it and watching the real deal happen are two complete ends of the spectrum.
At that time, I loved Noh for it’s structure and it’s beautiful stories… And of course, the concept of “hana”, a state of presence an actor should strive to achieve. Oh, you know actors, always wanting to be present. 😛
Kanze Noh School is a walk from Hachiko Exit at Shibuya Station. I met Chikage and she walked there with me, then we walked somewhere to have coffee, and then she went earlier to prepare for the performance.
Since I was at Shibuya, I went to Shibuya 109 (OF COURSE) and to my favourite Japanese brand – EMODA. And bought my favourite pair of shoes yet. Sighhh Japan you’re just giving me more reasons to love you.
Anyway, I found my way back to Kanze Noh School 15 minutes before the doors were supposed to open. Meaning 30 minutes before the performance.
THERE WAS ALREADY A QUEUE. I wish I had the picture to show you. It was a bunch of old people in their kimono’s all dressed up in an orderly line waiting for the doors to open. >_< So cute. The doors finally opened at 2pm, and Chikage told me to sit in the middle of the main stage. Get ready for my long spiel about Noh Theatre.
I CAN DIE IN PEACE.
VIDEOS AND PICTURES DO IT NO JUSTICE.
I ALMOST CRIED. BEFORE IT BEGAN.
It was more than I imagined a Noh stage would be. (Now I’m digging up the programme booklet and trying to read all the Kanji.) The performance was from 2PM-5.45PM. It consisted of two Noh plays with a Kyogen (something like farce) in between.
First was “野宮 (Nonomiya)”, then the kyogen, then a Noh play I am familiar with because she taught it at Lasalle – “紅葉狩 (momijigari / maple viewing)”. Wow all the Kanji I can’t read in the programme.
So… It began. 3 hours and 45 minutes of an excruciatingly slow performance in archaic Japanese.
At first, I thought I was going to die before I got to the end of the performance. It began with an old man suriyashi-ing (sliding) slowly out to set up the stage by putting a little wooden prop-gate on the stage. I think that took about 10 minutes. But then in the waiting, in the quiet, I… discovered what Zeami meant by “hana”.
One cannot speak of Zeami’s Noh without referring the concept of “Hana (flower).”
What is “flower”? By thoroughly following the inevitability of surrounding environment and your own innate nature, you create a new appearance suitable for each moment. This is the meaning of “flower.” To acquire the “genuine flower” is what Zeami aimed for in the art of his performance.
The performers had “Hana”. I mean, they were just SITTING there. Sometimes they closed their eyes. But my spirit was excited and warm and I KNEW they were present. Wherever they were, they were all there. They didn’t give a shit if you were watching them or not, they just existed. When it came to “Momijigari”, I was completely mesmerized. The vibrations were speaking to me even though I didn’t understand, my body did.
The thing about these Noh plays, they’re really epic. The SLOWING DOWN of it makes it even more so.
Take Momijigari for example. It belongs to the “demon” category of plays, which is about a warrior who is hunting and then sees a lady in a forest, banquetting/having tea. He joins her, and then falls asleep because of the wine he has drunk (or a date-rape drug, who knows). While he is sleeping, the woman has disappeared (gasp) but returns as her true from… A DEMON! It was actually really scary and epic because of the masks, but then the local God of War appears, wakes the warrior up in time and gives him a sword to kill the devil-woman with. The End. Moral of most “Demon” category plays: Everyone is secretly a demon. But you usually can kill them or give them a peace offering. How do you not love something like that?
— End of Noh rant. There will be pictures now.
To reward you with your patience in reading my passage about Noh (if you read it, well done!), here is a picture of the cool toilets. Full of buttons. There is a deodorizer, which is fantastic. And sounds to play so no one will hear you do your business!
Then the problem was : WHICH ONE IS FLUSH? Which was usually followed by me pressing ALL the buttons. Sometimes it was a sensor, so it was mostly, “Do I wave my hand? Button? MUST I DO A DANCE? Just FLUSH!!”… Sigh.
Apparently this problem isn’t limited to me. Chikage faced it, too, so I feel a lot better.
We went for a shabu-shabu dinner after the performance! IT WAS SO GOOD. Actually, no meal in Japan was bad. I don’t think Japanese food can actually taste bad.
When I saw this, my first thought was, “Lard?”
But Chikage said, “Ko-ra-gen.”
– long silence –
“YES IT MAKES YOUR FACE SOFT AND SMOOTH!”
So, I had collagen shabu shabu. Yes, my face was bouncy the next day.
I want shabu-shabu now. Once again, yes, there were mushrooms but I ate them all. When I eat steamboat in Singapore, I usually throw in the veggies first, and have the meat later, and eat it with rice at the same time. But they do it in a “meat-veggie-rice” order. The meat goes in, followed by the veggies so that it soaks up all the flavor of the meat, and you have the rice last so that the soup is the most flavorful.
Just take me back!!!
The dishes are fished out into a dressing of your choice and then eaten. I chose sesame and shoyu dressing. WHATEVER IT WAS IT WAS SO GOOD. Despite us sharing, we were both really full after the veggies, so we asked for a small portion of rice so that we could finish the meal.
THIS, MY FRIENDS, IS CHIKAGE.
Do not be fooled by her sweet and adorable demeanour. She is one badass Noh performer. She can be soft-spoken and gentle when you meet her, but HER VOICE WILL SHAKE YOUR SOUL. I still don’t know her secret. Her family practices Noh, and she first performed when she was 4. In the blood.
Other than that, I’m very grateful to have met her! She comes every year to Singapore to teach the Level 1s about Noh, so I look forward to meeting her every time!
Okay, that’s enough Japan obsession for today (NO NEVER IT WILL NEVER END)! Hope this post was enjoyable and somewhat educational! ❤
It is no secret I am in love with Japan. Ever since I went there for an exchange program in 2006, Japan has always been in the back of my mind, in the depths of my heart. I thought it was just a childish dream, so I threw my attention to studying. Becoming at actor. Back then, I wanted to be a musical theatre performer. I planned to take the Junior College – Theatre Studies – NUS route.
But of course, time changes the course of things. God opened doors at the perfect times. So I began the Acting course at LASALLE. In first year, I was exposed to Noh theatre. Something stirred in my heart. A dormant feeling I thought I had long lost… Then I met Yagnya, then I was exposed to Japanese art and aesthetics, then I discovered Suzuki’s Method of Actor’s Training, then I watched TNS’ Mobile 2: Flat Cities…
And I realized I might have left my heart in Japan in 2006 after all.
This is my first trip overseas alone. I needed to go. It was something I had to do. I wanted to see if I really left my heart in Japan.
Pictures taken with my iPhone 5. I didn’t bring my Lumix on this trip.
When I got off the plane, it was early in the morning, about 9AM. I couldn’t believe my eyes. That was my first feeling.
“Shit. I’m really here.”
Japan was everything I imagined it would be. Beautiful. The streets, the lack of dustbins, the bicycles… I found my heart just where I left it.
It felt right. This road was somewhere near my hostel. I checked in and took a walk around the streets.
This was the road opposite my hostel. If you walk a little further and made a left, there would be a public bath, where you could take a bath and soak in 40 degree C water. BEST THING EVER IN AUTUMN/WINTER. The temperature would be about 14-17 degrees, so it was cold but bearable.
When you come out of the sento you will feel SO TOASTY WARM it’s completely alright to walk around in the cold!
This is the view of my hostel, taken from the 7-11 across the road. I spent about SGD$300 on accommodation for 9 nights in Tokyo. The staff were really friendly and it was a nice, clean hostel. It was small (I was in the 8 bunk room), but cosy and enough for me.
Keep in mind I’m short and enjoy sleeping in small tight spaces. Check them out here if you’re interested! I met loads of backpackers, travelers, and locals there and it was a fantastic experience.
To the left would be the kitchen/common area, and the right was the back door opened by a keycard. I didn’t do much on my first day, mainly because I slept for about 2 hours on the flight. So I lazed around, ate food from 7-11 and slept in.
The next day, I met Shoichi. I first met him through Yagnya when I watched a performance he was involved in – The Necessary Stage’s Mobile 2:Flat Cities. I chatted with the cast after being introduced by Iggy after the show. How things just fall into place…
Anyway, I owe Shoichi my Japan trip because he introduced me to a lot of Japanese theatre (I didn’t plan. That’s a terrible idea. Always plan.) and as luck God would have it, I was there during F/T 2013, a theatre festival.
Menus are hard to read when there are no pictures. 😦 I had to have the menu read out to me like a child. -sigh- But my Japanese is much better now compared to then, so who knows? This is tempura cold soba. Then I discover…. THE PORTIONS ARE HUGE. And it is considered rude not to finish your food.
But the soba was fantastic. Ugh, typing this makes me miss Japan. I want soba now. You’re supposed to slurp up the noodles but I was extremely unskilled in noodle-slurping.
Anyway, we met up to watch a theatre performance called “No More Winds Blow” /「もう風が吹かない」by a company called Seinendan (青年団) in Kichijoji. We took the train from Nakano (it’s apparently just 2 stops) but we took the wrong train (Express instead of Local, so it skips stops) but made it in time for the performance.
That was my first theatre experience in Japan. Entirely in Japanese. I understood bits and pieces of it, but still had to have a short translation afterwards. Better to clarify, right? The performance ended about 5PM and it was getting dark out, so we had time to kill before dinner.
Kichijoji is really cool.
So I had to do something somewhat touristy, so CAT CAFE!
So you just sit there and get surrounded by the cats. They were really pretty, but being cats they didn’t give two hoots about you. But CAAAAAT.
Until the food came out, of course. Then they all became friendly and happy. Then they wouldn’t run away when you want to stroke them. ^_^
Then, dinner time. Decision-making for food has to be one of the most difficult things in life, no matter which country you’re in. We walked around for some time before…
Yay for being unable to read the menu!! Kanji I somewhat can read. Then you write the menu in cursive Japanese. COME ON. T_T No, really. But it was delicious, whatever it was lol. See that bowl next to the beer?
If you know me, I don’t eat mushrooms. I never liked mushrooms. I spat mushrooms out in Kindergarten. I ate all the mushrooms. Japan, this is how much I love you. I eat mushrooms for you.
WOW MY FIRST IZAKAYA.
JUST LIKE THE BOOKS.
This has to be one of the “WTH” things I consumed. It is… mozoku seaweed. The white stuff was tororo and it is sitting in a slippery lemon juice. But why.
I guess I would eat it over rice, but on it’s own it was really sour and slimy.. Acquired taste, like natto I guess? Maybe Yagnya-baabaa would love it hehe.
I burnt my tongue trying to eat this! It was really hot. It’s an eggplant, baked (it seemed baked) with miso paste and sesame seeds.
The skin makes it hard to eat. It was good, but it would have been wise to wait for it to cool down. -whistle whistle-
Rice and tea and seaweed! Can’t go wrong with that! All the things I love in one convenient bowl! Katanashi in Singapore serves it, too!
FIRST NIKUJAGA! WAO COMFORTFOOD.
After dinner, we went to a cafe to sit down and plan my theatre experience for the rest of my trip.
I don’t know what I did to deserve the fortune of this tour guide but THANK GOD for Yagnya for introducing me to Shoichi because WHO DOES THIS KIND OF THING??
I had this feeling he wanted to facepalm and kill me for not planning what I want to watch beforehand from the amount he was smoking then but if you see this, 將一さん、本当にありがとうございました！
I owe you.
So then, the butoh performance and Festival Tokyo performance was booked that night. So thankful…
This concludes Part 1 of my Japan trip. Which was actually just 2 days… But writing this helps me remember. It seems like a long time ago, but the memories I’m living now are fresh.
My heart is still there, in Japan. Writing this makes me want to cry, I think, because I am far away from my heart. It’s illogical and unexplainable why I should be there. I don’t know either. But I think this is the leap that I have to take.
I trust God will open the doors that needs to be opened.
Part 2 next time! Hope you enjoyed reading my obsessive post. x S