Monday, February 13, 2017

The post that's mostly about me.

I suppose this entire season of Tokyo posts have been about me given that they are from my own perspective, but this time around I'll share the joys of turning 30 in Tokyo in the company of a clever and crafty husband, a 2 year old son who is pretty good at keeping secrets, and the ever-increasing bump; followed by a blow-by-blow description of our day spent packing today – this is about as unadventurous as our trip gets, so unless you're interested in reading about how I managed to stuff most of my dirty socks and undies into various souvenirs for people, now's a good time to bow out.

This is a traditional bathhouse locker key, which I remember using last time I was in Japan. Serendipitous that I found not only this one, but one for Kent and Viv, all sporting the ages we will be this year at a little antique shop in Shimokitazawa a few weeks ago. Even more of a happy surprise, is that the symbol in the top left means 'woman', and Kent's has the symbol for man. I didn't know this until after I bought them (sorry Viv, you've got a chick's key, but hey, that might suit you better further down the track anyway). They are beautiful objects, and I will delight in hanging this one on the wall when I get home.

For a change, I have few photos to share – I had one of the most wonderful and memorable birthday celebrations to date this year, in part to the incredible place that I'm in, and the amazing people I am with. I was awoken at the disrespectful time of 6.30am by the serenades of a two-year-old shouting his ABCs through the bedroom wall, which were quickly dispelled by Kent's lightening-fast leaping out of bed to shush him. My greatest birthday gift? Kent taking Vivian to the playground at the crack of dawn while I lay diagonally on our tiny futon, relishing in being alone (with facebook, instagram, words with friends and my email).

Eventually Kent messaged to say they'd return soon as our sad little son was so weirded out about being kicked out before breakfast, and then further distressed that Kent tried to buy yet more flowers, but all the flower shops were still shut. I was treated to a home cooked breakfast, some wonderful shouts of 'happy birthdaaaaaay!' and a 'bag of secrets' – I still have no idea how or when Vivian and Kent managed to collect said bag of secrets, wrap them all, and hide them from me in this thimble of a house.

I was handed each item one by one by Viv, with comments like 'Here's another secret mum,' followed by a description of the contents in the form of a question to Kent 'Is that the octopus one dad?' It turns out that Viv is also very accomplished at unwrapping secrets himself and was quite helpful in that department. What made the day so special was that we had no immediate plans, no pressure to be anywhere or do anything – something we've put upon ourselves almost every day we've been here. Once we'd all been fed, we decided that coffee (der) was in order, followed by a last trip into Shibuya to go apeshit at the Adidas shop.

Viv's daily shave, and quote of the day:
Kent (whispering): 'Say, happy birthday mama!'
Viv (shouting): 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY SANTA!'

An attempt to capture the pure madness of the Shibuya crossing. It's not possible. We went in, made a beeline for Adidas, spend Kent's Ausco grant on a hundred pairs of sneakers for me and another billion pairs of pants for Kent, had panic attacks about getting them in our suitcases and then got the fuck out of there. Our amazing child (who was ready to pass out by 11am), managed to sit through me trying on shoes with incredible patience of a boy his age – all I can say is thank god we saved up all the screen time privileges until this trip, otherwise I doubt we would have survived. 

Nothing says delightful day of moseying more than an afternoon bath. After a hot and stuffy train trip back to Asakusa, we had a refreshing and zesty outdoor coffee at local February Cafe (how appropriate), leaving us cold to the bone. About 5 minutes after this image was taken, Viv was stripped, in the bath with me, and announcing 'Oh! I did a wee!!' Yaaaaaaay.

Perhaps the biggest anticipation for the day was that we managed to snag ourselves a FUCKING BABYSITTER! Thanks to the fortuitous events of friends of friends making suggestions, then said friend only being free on my actual birthday, Kent and I were lucky enough to have a proper date night. The madness of visiting one of the world's most vibrant night time city and never getting a glimpse of it is not lost on us. One thing that is quite common in cafes, bars and restaurants here is even if there are 14 tables free, sometimes you will be turned away due to them being full. We expected that we would need to attempt 3 places for dinner before finding one that could fit us in without a booking, but were so fortunate that our first pick was free.

There is a restaurant in the next street near our apartment that we've looked longingly through the windows of many times since being here, Cafe Otanova – definitely not for children (because Kent and Viv actually got told to leave a little while ago). It is in an old residence set up as a bar/restaurant – it has been completely opened up, and is almost all on the second floor. Impossible to photograph (we tried!), we managed to snag the one private area off the balcony. We had no idea what kind of food they served, but by that stage I was happy (and slightly hopeful) to have cheesecake for dinner.

Gorgeous and alluring Cafe Otanova

And this is how I came to have Spaghetti and cocktails to the soundtrack of French music, in Tokyo on my 30th birthday – the non carb-eating, non-alcohol drinking yogi. Amazing what pregnancy hormones will do to you, neh? We got lucky with an English menu, though our waitress didn't speak much – there was some serious confusion when I tried to order a drink, but was adamant that I didn't want anything with caffeine, but I NEEDED something with alcohol. It went like this:

Me: 'Oh! Mmm ... yes. I'll have a cocktail. I like the look of this one, but what's Tiffin?'
Her: 'Tea'
Me: 'Hrmph. I can't have tea, I won't sleep.'
Her: *flips menu and shows me the list of teas and soft drinks
Me: 'Oh, no no, I'd like a cocktail!'
Her: 'Oh...'
Me: 'Tiffin with ginger ale it is then'
Her: 'Oh ... but... alcohol'
Me: *brightly 'Oh yes!'
Her: *gesturing to my belly 'Uh ... oh ... um. Baby?'
Me: *brightly 'Oh yes!'
Her: *turns bright shade of purple and looks concerned
Me: 'It's ok, just one for me!'
Her: 'Oh. Um ... this one ... have ALCOHOL. Ok?'
Me: 'Yes PLEASE!'
Her: *looks like she might cry
Me: 'It's ok. I will share with him. Just tasting.' (I'm lying so much.)

For the rest of the meal I can feel her eyes on me every time I lift the glass, which is 90% ice, but delicious (she asks me after the meal if the baby is coming next month – NO. It's NOT THAT BIG!!!). It's so good that we order 3. I am allowed a few sips of each one – the more Kent orders for himself, the more alcoholic they become. After some googling, we discovered that Tiffin is in fact tea liqueur, and I signed myself off for an awake all night.

The meal itself was light and fabulous – appetisers of pickled vegetables, a huge salad (with NINE types of vegetables according to the menu – I laughed a little at this, and then shut right up because most food I've eaten here is brown, white or yellow, so to enjoy a rainbow of fresh really was a delight). The pasta was incredible. We were very bemused that the menu stated 'please note that if you order more than one pasta dish, they will not arrive at the same time as we will cook it one by one.' And yes. We shared one bowl of pasta (Japanese-style tuna and mushroom. Mum! I ate tuna! It was good!), waited a little bit, and shared another (tomato, eggplant and chorizo). A common thread in cafes and restaurants here is how down to earth they are. I am searching for the right term, but all seem insulting (amateur, unprofessional), because it's what makes them work. It feels like you are at a friend's place, and they are cooking you a great meal, making you the perfect coffee (coffee also only ever comes out one by one, no multitasking there – in fact at our 'local', I noticed that they weigh the group head [yes of course I fucking had to google it] THEN add the coffee, tamp it, then weigh it again).

So we found ourselves not feeling full and stodgy as you might do in an Italian bistro back home, where you munch on bread while you wait, and then eat all of the things at once. We had a pleasant gap between each dish, around the time you'd expect someone to efficiently make it for you. The entire restaurant had two staff members, the chef and waitress – incredible for a space that had space for at least... I don't do maths. It was a modest size, but let's not forget that it was two storeys.

It looks giant, but not as giant as the Titanic-iceberg block of ice inside. Or my belly, apparently.
The view from our table to downstairs. The centre room had been removed to open up the space, creating a mezzanine. The centre was filled with a very flamboyant and trendy dead chandelier combo.

The restaurant took last orders at the all too respectable time of 8 and closed at 9, so we were at a loose end pretty quickly. After the big deal about getting a babysitter who was happy to stay as long as we needed, I wasn't about to waste that, and besides. It was my birthday and I hadn't had any cake. It turns out that Asakusa on a Sunday night is like Kyneton – bitterly cold and mostly shut.

We found ourselves in the almost-shut mall, and before I knew what was happening, I had already inserted ¥400 into a vending machine for Kent and I to get 'hot twins cutie girl photo decoration shoot!' It was ... the best coin I have ever spent, for the shortest and most frantic interaction with technology I have ever had. 4 booths, at least 6 photos and lots of loud music. Mostly in Japanese, half the fun was finding the English language before the timer took you to the next screen or the next booth. First we had the photoshoot, where our helpful models showed us what gestures and expressions we needed to make. Then we had our enhancing booth, where our helpful program made many decisions for us to make us more attractive, THEN we had the decoration booth, which is how Kent came to have a scrotum on his chin (top right image), THEN we had the collection booth – this was the most exposed, where the security guard (who so obviously wanted to go home) stood swirling his keys while thinking terrible thoughts about us as we doubled over laughing. There was also a booth where we had to write in our names – which, thanks to the machine only offering a Japanese keyboard, was how we came to be Suketo and Tehireyo. 

I would like to point out that the machines generously gifted us the majority of these enhancements without us even having to ask – like the rosy cheeks and creepy eyes. 
I just love what they did with Kent's everything. He really is the 'Cherry so pretty twins ... xoxox' that is stated on the other side of the picture.
Needless to say, anything beyond our impromptu photoshoot would have been a bonus, though I did have a deepset desire to have a cheesecake. After an unsuccessful visit to the bakery section of the local supermarket (Kent really knows how to romance a woman), we stumbled across perfection – a 1970s coffee/cake shop, the all night type kind with awful coffee, terrible ambiance and questionable everything. As we walked in, our host announced nervously 'Oh sorry! No smoking!' (she obviously didn't think I was having a baby next month) and we happily settled in to opera cake, cheesecake, and for Kent, surely bowel-destroying percolator coffee. Sadly hot chocolates are few and far between in this town.

I forgot to take any obligatory photos of my dinner, cake, the atmosphere of our old school coffee shop, but I think their bathroom pretty much sums it up. 
The roller door nearby, offering me up some reflective wisdom for the year (I only have to have it from 9-7 at least).

This guy – definitely got it right. I was spoiled within an inch of my life, we had the opportunity to actually spend time together, and essentially celebrate not only how wonderful it is that I was born and continue to exist, but also reflect and celebrate the incredible work Kent has done here, as well as the wheels he has set in motion for exciting times ahead. Last night very much marked the start of a new, slightly terrifying chapter in our lives together. New roles, new focus and soooooooooooooo many new sneakers. 

So, I snuggled up in bed with the deep understanding that cheesecake at 10pm will certainly not help you sleep, and settled in for a night of oh well – the kind of night where it's almost a relief when the mini comes in at 6.30 (again?!) to play. I have to say though, I am quite impressed with Viv's discipline – every single morning he tries it on (some kind of being very awake activity), and every morning we scrunch our eyes tightly shut and lie:

Us: 'It's still night time. Take a book back to bed with you and we'll come and get you in the morning.'
Viv: 'But I want to play/draw/wake up!'
Us: 'Do as your told! Take a book! Now!'
Viv: '4 books?'
Us: 'Yes! Take as many as you want! Go to bed! Close the door!'

And he actually does it (?!!?!) for at least 20 minutes. Sometimes with song. Sometimes with whinging. Normally with narrative.

Poor chap was pretty devastated to wake up from his nap to find all suitcases full and none for him to 'sleep in'.
And so begins our last day in Tokyo (or the apartment at least – despite our flight being at 7, our wonderfully warm and useless host still insisted on a 10am check out). I begin slight heart palpitations at the prospect of packing my sins into but three suitcases, and we settle into a day of settling out. Slow moseying, coffee, multiple playgrounds.

Kent's curiosity gets the better of him and he spends some time google-translating the local playground signage.

 They make a fair point.

Some more merchandise gold on Kappabashi street

So much pride at how bold this boy has become in his playground adventures. If he can survive the insanity that is Japanese play equipment, he'll kill the terrifying swirly slide now at the Kyneton library playground.

Not really necessary, but I find myself now avoiding the packing task ahead. The lovely staff at Davide Coffee Stop (a slightly weird, Old Testament meets New Testament meets Peanuts meets ET meets Anzac day branded coffee place with nice coffee and excellent sunshine) ask if they can take a photo of us and generously send it through – images of the trio (or quatro?) are a rarity, so it's nice to have a record.

We come home, put Viv to bed, and I start uncontrollably weeping. Kent looks at me helplessly and then at all of the stuff, and wonders where the fuck I've been hiding it all.

I'm JUST KIDDING!!! There were no tears, only sweat, aching backs, and some of the most ruthless stuffing of things inside other things to the point that customs better have some comfy chairs for us, because this could take a while.

Kent and I are FUCKING WIZARDS. So long as no one makes any sudden movements, the suitcases should not explode, but are likely to topple over at any given moment. I became very brisk at stuffing some of my acquisitions in without much discussion (why did I buy a broom?!) and voila! Didn't have to sit on a single one to make it close, however carry on could be a fight. 

And so almost concludes our mini-home in Asakusa, Tokyo. We some time in the morning to bustle around returning the apartment to its original and STUPID condition (wall hangings, tea sets and other space-filling wank) and lavishly leave out some money for the things we admit to breaking, and then surreptitiously hide the things we pretend we had nothing to do with (the kettle was definitely already melted when we got here). We have 7 hours in which to get to Narita airport tomorrow, something I am almost grateful for, because what with those three beasts of suitcases, a stroller, carry on, and a Vivian, it's going to be slow going. 

I feel I should be more reflective of our time here, finish with something poignant and witty, but in all honesty, bed is calling. My actual bed. Not this piece of shit mattress on the floor (which isn't even a real futon by the way, which would actually be comfortable). Kent and I have not slept through the night since being here, and are demented with exhaustion. I figure we settle in for an all nighter tomorrow night (because we're hardly going to even attempt sleep on the plane).

However, I could not be happier that we took the plunge and did everything we could to make this trip happen, with all its highs and lows. Despite the many challenges, it truly was a special opportunity for all of us. Kent has made some wonderful connections, some of them will no doubt be instrumental in exciting career progressions in the future. I could not be more proud of his efforts here, in a foreign city, putting in the amount of energy and work in that he did, nor am I surprised. For me (because remember, this post is really about me), being here at this time in my life will be something I will never forget. It is absolutely not where I expected to be, and while it makes me a little (extremely) trepidatious, I suspect that might not be a bad thing. This time marks huge change for all of us, and it is with excited anticipation that we start the long trek home to our still very new home in Kyneton, filled with inspiration, ready for the next chapter.

Holy shit we're about to have another baby. ARGH!

See you on the other side! 


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Choco-flakes and the last days of my twenties

Strap yourselves in (to what, I do not know) because this could be a long one. We've had a very busy two days in our panic to do all the things before we come home. 

I'll try to tell as much of our anecdotes through captions as I can. We tried a new trick yesterday, where we hung out in our local area for the morning, taking Viv to the playground in an effort to run him out for an early nap, before embarking on a city-shopping adventure in sleek Aoyama and sexy Omotesando. It was a mostly grand adventure, despite a our extremely late attempts at dinner and getting the child into bed at a normal hour.

Speaking of not our best moves (there's plenty to share for the last 48 hours), I'll start with Thursday night's brilliant plan of laying out a brand new doctor's play set to surprise (and occupy) Viv with in the morning. Cut to what is surely only 4 hours later, when the pitter patter of little feet in our bedroom (don't forget our bedroom is the lounge, play area, kitchen and dumping ground of horror) bustles in and then shouts 'WHO PUT THAT THERE!?!' Then cut to Kent and I trying to be as inconspicuous as possible hiding under our doona in an attempt to wake up slowly with Words With Friends on our phones while getting repeatedly injected by a plastic spring-based syringe. Unfortunately for us, all of Vivian's toys (he's accumulated a lot of little mates some how ... ) and Vivian's own fingers have been subjected to 'My Scissors' – shown below, and I am now balking every time Viv announces 'I'm going to cut you mummy'. 

It seems that Viv is also walking his father's footsteps in his doctorship pride, I quote 'I'm NOT Vivian, I'm a DOC-TORE.' No regrets though, this was ¥500 ($5.75) well spent as this has become the best time consuming indoor play thing we have.
A 'quick' coffee over the road at Bridge before we hit the playground turns into an hour long cultural exchange with one of the baristas Tomo, comparing the differences between countries (he has lived in Australia before). Our buddies Tomo and Sho are completely and utterly besotted with Viv, despite how irritating he is when we are there. If they're not to busy, they come to our table and pinch his cheeks, do little dances for him, touch his hair and wave at him constantly.

And of course Viv, the most unsnuggliest child I have ever had the displeasure of trying to cuddle, is besotted right back and hugs the boys at any opportunity.

Tomo, Viv and Sho out the front of Bridge

Viv has become quite partial to 'doing a funny one' – going down the slide with random leg/hand/face configurations, sometimes all three. 
We're big fans of having picnics at the park. Though I think this is unusual and often met with very small Japanese children who seem to be just at walking age, spotting Viv with food and then gunning it to get it to him. He's become quite apt at shoving the last bit in his mouth at the absolute last moment, much to the angry wails of his little one-year-old companions. Playground politics.

'Wanna come on the moon with me Dadd-ee?!' Viv's inflections are piercing at the moment – I didn't know a voice could be so high-pitched. Epic jump, especially in those pants. In real time, it looked half as high. 

Sitting down to a big steaming bowl of mystery is so much more fun when you're alone, but also have the joy of facebook messenger to alert your partner of your location in case you die from eating cat.
We took Viv home for an early nap, and quickly realised that we had no food. I sent Kent out first, who ended up disappearing for a nearly two hours doing 'things' (if they weren't birthday related, divorce). It was bitterly cold, and the thought of having my own turn wandering Kappabashi street (which I've been doing for the past month, and no I can fit NO MORE cookie cutters in my luggage) was unappealing. I stumbled across this soba restaurant and had the most deliciously tongue-burning hot soba soup for lunch. The guy who served me was great, very seriously explaining 'Now. We serve soba. Ok? Ok for you to eat Soba?' (Lilly, at this point I am thinking of your buckwheat allergy.) 'Ok. Ok. We recommend THIS one for beginners. Ok? Good.' At that moment, a cat walked past the restaurant, and it was too late. My morbid mind had begun and I was sure I was going to be eating it. When my food arrived, my first thought was 'fucking great. It's mushrooms under the sink soba.' I was instructed on the various traditional herbs and spices that were provided, but to 'please eat first, then season.' Well. Whatever the fuck it was, my amazing cat and sink mushrooms soup was divine, and needed no seasoning. 

I was greeted not long after by my husband and son, rested and ready for our next Boken. It was dark and freezing, but Viv had slept well and was in good spirits, bringing Otter along for the ride. 

Viv showing Otter the sights of the train.

Apologies for the quality of the image – as it got dark, we were delighted with the lightest falling of snow! Proper, fluffy and flakey snow. 
We were those dickheads that thought it was an excellent idea to visit Tokyo's version of the Champs-Élysées, with an unfed two year old, at about 5pm on a Friday night. Here he is on the floor of Commes des Garçons doing his best impression of a smackie.

And now in Adidas watching something so violently loud (visually and aurally) and on so many TVs that I had to look away and pretend I wasn't letting it happen. Sadly Adidas gear has less appeal when you're already shaped like a basketball.  

We bought nothing, but yet again, Vivian is gifted another bloody present from the staff. By this stage he had already been gifted a juicebox (which he gallantly 'shared' [kid was lucky to get a taste] with his parents) at one of the snazziest boutiques I've had the pleasure to spend no money in.

I was pretty stoked to visit this little store quite by accident, mainly because we saw it last time we were in Tokyo but it was shut. It turns out it's full of wonderful and weird Japanese children's wear – Viv is pleased with his present (now justifiable knowing that two children will wear it). 

At this point no one had had any dinner and Kent had already bought 14 pairs of pants. Ok two. Whatever, time's up. 
Sadly we struggled to access dinner in Omotesando – forgetting that it was Friday night (also now knowing it was the Friday before a public holiday), also forgetting that we had a 2 year old with us and were in the sexiest part of the city (why would any restaurant want a kid in there?). Thinking we'd have luck at the station, we trundled off and sadly ended up at the most disappointing Ramen bar near our apartment, on the basis of convenience rather than quality. I love my Japan-sandos, but the thought of feeding our son (and myself) another fricken ham sandwich made my gut twist, so I put my foot down. However, given that we didn't eat until 8 and get the child in bed until 9, Viv managed incredibly well (better than his hangry mother) and was as silly as a wheel by the time we were pyjamaring him. Naturally, by putting him to bed at 9, Kent and I were convinced that he'd sleep till 10am like we were planning to. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

As you may have noticed, I've been consuming a lot of erm, confectionary while here. As someone who (embarassingly) has all of Sarah Wilson's* books, this may shock some of you. BUT I AM PREGNANT and out of my comfort zone. Sensitive little soul that I am, I make sure I binge my choco-flakes et al STRAIGHT after Viv goes to bed, because I quite literally won't sleep if I have sugar before bed. Which meant that I didn't get my daily hit until closer to 10pm. Which meant that I spent most of the night practically spasming in bed, and by the time I had to get up at 5.30 to soothe a nightmaring child (dude, we said 10, right?!), I was so awake (sorry if I woke anyone with my barrage of Words With Friends, messages and emails at that ungodly hour). Of course, Viv DID SLEEP IN! Not quite until 10, but 8 people. What a WASTE of a child sleeping in.

This is what Kent and I are trying not to eat a bag of every single night, not because of anything crazy like health reasons, but more because it's starting to get embarrassing being known as that gigantic white woman at the convenience store that buys choco flakes EVERY FUCKING DAY.

Anyway, today was another extremely fun day, bar the peppering of intermittent and terrifying tantrums that were well over before Kent or I had the chance to even register what was happening to all of us. Usually it goes something like this:
'Remember Viv, just look with your eyes, don't touch.'
Viv instantly smiles in an evil way and touches said thing.
'I said no'
Viv starts tickling said thing while grinning like a little c-bag.
'Right. I said no. We're going.'
As I (or Kent, or both) reach toward his arm/scruff/ankle, Viv throws himself on the ground of whatever quietly stylish and respectful place that we're at, and begins thrashing and wailing. In an attempt to look as least violent as I can, I gather him up like a demented octopus having a seizure and haul him outside, before absolutely ripping into him. At this point, the face completely crumples as he realises that yet again, he has somehow fucked up, but can't quite exactly figure out how or why, because, after all he is two. This usually ends with:
'Right. You know the drill, in the stroller NOW. WITH BUCKLES.'
*Wailing* 'I DON'T WANT MY BUCKLES AAAAAAH GHAD MY LIFE IS THE WOOOOOOOORST' (slightly dramatised for effect).
Kent and I then stare at each other in embarrassed horror and then tell Viv we aren't talking to him for a little while. We try to ignore him, and within about 4 seconds, hear a cheerful happy voice pipe up:
'I'm all better now. Are you happy mummy?' And we look down to a puffy, red, tear streaked face with a hopeful little smile and die a little bit inside.

Viv's reaction to strangers is completely bipolar. Good interactions look like this image, bad interactions are unattractive and highly embarassing. Usually involving him hiding his head, screaming, swiping violently, or the latest: 'You're a BUTTHOLE BUTTFACE.' Gee Kent, as the parent who deals with Childcare, thank you SO fucking much for teaching him that one.
So, we arrive in Kiyosumi-Shirikawa (you may remember this area as the day of wind invading doom where we had to cut our trip short due to my being unable to walk through the pain of wind burn) to CRISP HAPPY SUNSHINE! It was cold, a little breezy, but altogether manageable (especially as I was wearing an additional layer of precaution pants. Because of wind burn. Not any other weird sanitary reason). We went back to the beautiful Iki cafe and splurged on a western style breakfast (one of the few cafes that offer breakfast at all in any way). We had severe words with Viv about his terrible behaviour last time and held our breath as we opened the door, relieved as he waltzed in, shouting breezily 'KONITCHIWAAAAAA!'

Our purpose in Kiyosumi was to explore a Spring arts festival run by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo – a way to share work in non-traditional spaces while their space is under renovation. As a mother, it is exhausting having to be 'on', knowing what to do when, who's eating what, who needs a fresh bum and where are we going next. So today I handed the reigns over to Kent (after all, exhibitions are his section) and allowed myself to be led through the sites of this event. It was, to say the least, fucking hilarious.

We had a map, in Japanese, of each exhibition's location, however it was pretty basic. There were flags and signs everywhere, and I suspect now that many local businesses were promoting the event. After standing out the front of a rice shop for about 10 minutes, I gave Kent a little shove and suggested that he go and ask if any of the work was inside. Our friendly proprietor did not speak English, and Kent does not speak Japanese. So allow me to recreate a dramatic interpretation of the conversation I believe they had, neither one understanding one another. The entire time, everyone was smiling and nodding and laughing. I shall write what I think Rice Man was saying, even though it was in Japanese.

Kent: Uhhhhm... Konichiwah?
Rice man: Hi!
Kent: I've come to see this (waves pamphlet). Art in here?
Rice man: Yes! The exhibitions open today!
Kent: So Art in this shop?
Rice man: Yes! There are lots of exhibitions!
Kent: Oh! So this is one of the exhibitions?
Rice man: Haha, no you twat, this is a fucking rice shop! Can't you see?
Kent: Oh! Hmm. So ... Art in here?
Rice man: Haha, No! Wife! Come and look at this idiot! He thinks that this is an art exhibition!!
(Kent smiles)
Wife: Haha! This is a rice shop!
Rice man: He's still here. What should we do?
Wife: Make him a hot chocolate?
Rice man: Here! Wait a second!
Kent: Lu, he's going to make us a special drink.
(Rice man hands Kent a small steaming cup. Kent brings it to his lips with the air of someone about to drink breastmilk)
Kent (whispers to me): I think this is the exhibition?
Rice man (whispers to wife): They're still fucking here. Give her a hot chocolate too?
(Kent and I proceed to drink delightful tiny cups of hot chocolate, presumably made with rice milk. I let Vivian taste mine too. Rice man laughs, while his wife looks bemused.)
Rice wife: Why won't they leave? Give the child a Kit Kat.
Rice man: There. Have a Kit Kat. Hahaha!
(Rice man gives Vivian a Kit Kat.)
Rice man: Oh my god, I have shit to do. Janice, let's get a picture with these dickheads and get back to it.
(Rice man seizes art event sandwich board and gestures that we are all to have a picture together).

After much nodding, gushing, Arigato-ing, bowing, agreeing that parasailing in Brisbane would be wonderful (that in English he knows?!), we eventually extract ourselves, round the corner and fall into hysterics. Meanwhile, I'm sure Rice man and his wife are on the floor laughing 'I can't believe they thought that this was one of the fucking exhibitions! A rice shop! Eeeeeeeee!'

Despite my attempt to interpret the situation, in truth this man could not have been more accomodating, generous, patient and genuinely friendly to the silly foreigners! Another instance of telling Vivian that there isn't any actual food in that package, it's just a fun thing to rustle really loudly. 

I could really get used to being handed tiny cups of hot chocolate throughout all my Winter walks. 

This area is full of huge industrial buildings, continuing to fulfil my bonus-card coloured roller door fetish.

Mostly. One of the few non-painted doors.
I'll try not to discuss the art we saw in too much detail – at the rate I can hear Kent pounding away at his keyboard next to me, no doubt he his reviewing what we saw in much better detail and understanding! Keep your eyes on for more documentation of the artists and their works. This was a particularly good event to explore given Kent's work with Kyneton Contemporary and the plans they have for sharing art in our town.

This was one of the most stunning exhibitions, showing the area of Kiyosumi-Shirakawa in an exquisite light.

This particular work was in fact a digital screen, in which I thought a still image was displayed on it. It was only many moments later when one of the towels on one of the balconies rippled in the breeze that I realised it was a video. Mesmerising. Until a deathly clatter and the hurried 'Gomen-nasai-gomen nasai(sorry-sorry!)-Lucy-we-have-to-go-right-now-I-just-dropped-my-phone-on-one-of-the-works'. The work was unscathed, unlike Kent's soul. The best part was that after our attempt at a quick exit, the invigilator blocked Kent and said 'There's more work upstairs. PLEASE be careful ... the staircase is narrow...' (Her words were to that effect, but her eyes really said 'you can't escape what you did, and now you must stay here for a little while longer and bathe in your shameful existence.')

Takeaway coffee from the all-pretentious staff at Allpress coffee (Dudes. We have Allpress too. Get over yourselves) got us to this delightful surprise of a playground (we were looking for a different one that we had passed, and never saw again) found in the back of a set of apartment blocks along a beautifully constructed Japanese garden and creek. There were ducks, even a crane, and the ever important swirly-slide. A big fat thank you to the genius who planned the playground to be on it's own little isolated island only accessible by stepping stones over the rock. Meaning that once Kent delivered Viv to the slide, he was inevitably trapped there, so we could sit on the park bench on the other side of the creek and finish our coffees in peace (that is until Viv tried to return without help partially landed in the creek).

Me: 'It's like a wonderland!'
Vivian: 'It's like a wonderland! FASHA NOWLAAAA RAAAAAAARGH!!!!'
(We've said that shouting is ok at playgrounds.)

So much slide joy. 
More joy at the playground.

Viv is entranced with this exhibition.

This video shows what now?!

Once I got over taking pictures of everyone interacting with the work, I pulled on a set of headphones and started to actually observe. Similarly to my experience of practising yoga under the guidance of a Japanese speaking teacher, listening to this elderly man (presumably) describe his working process as he created this image was beautifully soothing. In this film, projected onto the table, he is drawing a face using what seems to be hair clippings, using his fingers, a very tiny spoon and a soft brush to gently manipulate the strands. It was mesmerising.
My impressed face is too funny not to share.

Because the success of doing things that WE want to do relies heavily on how many slides we can placate him with. Just remember Viv, we can give the slides and just as easily taketh them away. This one makes me think of a gigantic green tongue.
Just a little bit too small for this slide (pic to come) – these playgrounds are menacing and not for the faint of heart. The only way up was this ... 

Or this death-ladder. I do enjoy the way Viv will confidently announce 'I can't do this one. I'm too little', before cheerfully flouncing off to the next thing.

The banana slide of terror. Who comes up with this shit and why do they hate children? I stood there and watched as one child lay on her belly at the top, clinging to the rail as she flailed her legs and wept. (I swear I was on my to help her when her sister/friend/random big kid came and saved her.) It's like every playground in Japan is a battle of boldness and wits.

Amazing how your taste for artworks change as you have children. The more interactive, video-based and crunchy, the happier the child, therefore the happier the parent.

This was a lovely work, but sadly seemed to be having some tech issues when we arrived. 

Beautiful lunch at the family run Mamma Cafe that Kent had found on the map. We spent the walk there debating what kind of place it would be (Kent suggesting that it was mum friendly, me suggesting that it was probably Japanese for 'sexy cafe, no kids allowed cafe, go fuck yourself cafe, yummy food cafe ... etc etc) – turns out Kent wins and it was about as kid-friendly as it gets, with a special kid's menu, actual change table in the bathroom and story books. A totally relaxing space to be in, Kent and I basking in the glory of having the only child in the space that wasn't crying and whinging for a change. Viv continued to do really well for a kid missing his nap and being dragged along to gallery after gallery (slides aside). Though there was an extremely odd moment when we were leaving – we are 99% sure that Viv fell asleep for a split second while standing up. There was eyelid flickering, swaying, possessions dropping but the kid stayed standing: 'no, I'm not tired at all' (while looking at us like WE were the insane ones). 

A highlight of our explorations, works by artist Yuko Mohri – sound, sculpture and spacial practice in a very evocative space. On our way out Viv said hopefully to Kent (who was carrying him at this point) 'I want to see more arts. Carry me aaaall the way to the other arts.' 

A terribly boring painting show made interesting by the discussions of colour with a 2 year old. Yours truly increasingly resembling a large rock or mound of dirt. 

Nothing surpasses the joy of Daddy swing pushing. ('No mummy, go over THERE. Daddy will watch me.')

Aaaaand now he's turned.

We can't believe it's the third fucking playground today Kid, yet here we are.

As I began writing this, Kent said he needed to duck out to get something. I had commented yesterday that I was sorely tempted to buy flowers based on the fact that our apartment is so disgusting that I needed something to lift it up. I decided not to seeing as we're leaving in a few days and there's nothing to put them in and no bloody surfaces to put them on. Cut to about 30 minutes later and a very cold-bitten Kent returns with a beautiful birthday bouquet – stating that by 10pm Tokyo time, it will technically be midnight in Australia therefore my birthday. The poor dude had planned on visiting the florist near our place, and discovered that it was a public holiday, so went traipsing around Asakusa looking for a florist that was open – what a guy.

All in all, what a gorgeous end to a lovely day, a truly delightful way to farwell my twenties. I finished my crunky and hot chocolate an hour ago, am about to sink into a hot, bath-salty bath and take the closest thing to a sleeping pill that a pregnant woman is allowed (a placebo) – fingers crossed it results in some rest before I wake up tomorrow in my dirty thirties. Shiiiiiit.


*May I please just point out that Sarah Wilson is responsible for the info-graph chart of 'these household items have more sugar in them than an average donut', which is BASICALLY her enabling, no, encouraging us to eat donuts. Of which I may have had two today, because I am in a different culture, and I feel it is important to sample what they have to offer. In the form of a Boston-based donut chain store of doughy low-sugar-perceived goods.

I have now had to prop myself up against the wall to finish typing, because I can no longer support myself upright due to all the sugar overload.