Vacation

Greetings to everyone – to those who read my irregular writings, or stumble upon this blog.

I’ve been away for some time, indeed.  As of January, Mr. Batsu and I began preparations to move.  In mid-February, we made that move and currently reside near Akihabara station in Tokyo.  It was very exciting for the both of us, and living here feels much like living in a dream.

However, soon after we moved, there was a very serious earthquake in northeastern Japan.  Tokyo did not sustain much damage, and as we had just moved, most of precious breakables were still boxed up.  In my 5 1/2 years here, it was the first time I’ve had belongings flung about my apartment though, and the strongest earthquake I’ve experienced.  Even now we still get aftershocks almost everyday, but nothing like the initial quake on March 11.

Just when things were starting to feel normal, March 13 or so, the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant began to show signs of serious trouble.  Four reactors were under duress, cooling systems were down, and buildings containing the reactors began to explode.  Radioactive elements spewed into the air, contaminating our water and soil, and elevating background radiation.

Everyone went into a panic, buying up daily necessities such as rice, bread, dried goods, canned goods, bottled water, bathroom tissue, and even feminine hygene products.  Rolling blackouts combined with the tsunami damage that wrecked businesses and ports caused the scarcity of many goods as well, including gasoline, batteries, paper, yogurt, natto, and even cigarettes.  Many newspapers and magazine publications were put on hold.  About a week later, many foods in the Kanto region were declared unfit for consumption, including fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, and milk.  The Tokyo tap water was declared unsafe for infants, and the government began rationing out bottled mineral water to qualifying families.

However, even though I say panic, it’s the most orderly kind of panic one could imagine.  No one was pushing, shoving or looting.  For example, I rode my bike around to every vending machine in the city block to find bottled water one day, and after finally finding one, purchased four bottles.  An elderly man saw me buying water and waited patiently.  When I grabbed my bottles and started packing them up, a few steps away, he very politely asked if I was finished and he could proceed.  In fact, everyone was going out of their way to be especially courteous and polite even if many shelves were barren.

It would be disingenuous to say I wasn’t scared though – on a few occasions, I was downright terrified.  Though not as terrified as anyone I know in the United States, who despite their best wishes often become awash in misinformation, and act irrationally.  The government asked people to stop hoarding items, and as only certain items were gone, this did seem the case.  The government also acted very prudently regarding the water and potentially contaminated foods.  I’m not one to generally credit the government, but in this case, the Japanese government acted quite well under the circumstances.  Various other organizations and individuals were all carefully monitoring their response to the crisis and the numbers match up.

Personally, I feel like I’ve worked too hard to give up now.  We’ve just moved to Akihabara!  I’m walking distance from Ueno Park!  There’s so much I still want to explore and just as many reasons I would dread leaving.  Nonetheless, I couldn’t throw caution to the wind either, and invested a lot of time and energy monitoring the situation as well as dispelling rumors among family and friends.

Now that I know we’re going to be able to stay, and stay without endangering our health, unpacking has once again commenced.  Well, at least it had – until I received a big video game translation project.  After that was finished, I now find myself nursing a second consecutive flu.  Just as I’d gotten over the first one, Mr. Batsu brought in a fresh one from his business trip in San Francisco.  He also brought spice drops, sweedish fish, and cinnamon candies – all difficult to find in Tokyo – so I consider it forgiven.

I will try to post more often now that this drama is finally coming to a close.  Thank you very much to those of you who have written letters of encouragement, and also to those who have been following the Kuroshitsuji Victorian Desserts series.  And many thank you’s also to those who have made it to the end of this long and personal communique.

Yokohama Romankan

Though I found out about Romankan some way or another around 2 years ago, the idea of making a reservation to visit seemed out of the question.  Being a journalist at the time, I had come to loathe the “special” treatment given to “foreign guests” -  particularly if they were expecting me.  So I waited and waited, and waited a bit more, but knew that one day I would have to visit.

A few months before the discovery, I had attended the annual World Dolls Festival in Tokyo.  It was a rather drab and disappointing, over priced antique oriented affair.  That is, all except for Sachie Okano.  Her dolls were very striking, anthropomorphic albino-like rabbits with harsh white skin and red eyes, contrasted with soft and sweet child-like clothing.  At the time, I barely had enough for train fare, so I wasn’t about to go rack up false hope with the artist.  Even though most all patrons seemed to be ignoring her, she noticed my attention, and we exchanged a meaningful sidelong glare.  Not only her dolls, but her personality made a lasting impression.

However, her name was misspelled on the flyer.  The name on the list of booths and booth map didn’t match – misspellings and incomplete names.  It doesn’t help that she has no website or web presence.  So, what was I to do?

Browsing through the long and disorganized galleries of photos on the Romankan site (they have since remodelled), deciding if the trip was worth it, I suddenly came across her dolls.  There was no mistaking her craftsmanship.  I seemed to be in luck, but still couldn’t afford one, or muster the courage to make a reservation.

It is now over a year later and Romankan had recently changed their policy – business hours are held only during special exhibits, no appointment necessary.  I took the chance to go visit Okano’s dolls last Friday, during a Naoko Nomura exhibit.  Click on the link for ambiance photos.

The museum is tucked away in what seems to be a duplex or apartment building.  A very friendly lolita dressed woman answered the door and invited me in.  The whole space was very very small, but somehow filled with magic.  Victorian style velvet furniture, paintings, and other artwork simply covered every room.  I’d say each “gallery” room could comfortably accommodate one person, at most 3; the front entrance and sitting area might be able to handle 4.  Nonetheless, it’s far more amazing than I could possibly describe, and quickly became my new favorite doll museum.

While perusing the tiny rooms I was offered a delicious raspberry beverage, which I sipped daintily, admiring all the stark white fabrics around me.  It was perhaps a mere thimble-full, but still made me nervous.  I wondered how they could deal it out with such calm.

As I was about to leave, they inquired if I had come to see any particular dolls and then proceeded to get them from a back storage area for me to play with.  In total, there were 4 – 3 rabbit girls and a more human like girl.

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I couldn’t decide which one should come home with me, but they still allowed me to photograph them – almost unheard of anywhere else!  I purchased Nomura’s nostalgic-style picture book and promised to be back.  The staff did not introduce themselves, but made lots of pleasant conversation.  I really look forward to seeing them again.

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As it would happen, on the walk there I noticed a very striking patisserie as well.  It seemed far too fancy to be tucked away in a small suburban area, so I purchased some Lemon Tarts on the way home.  Going in only confirmed my suspicions – it was like walking into a different dimension.  The tarts were like miniature lemon meringue pies, the perfect balance of tart custard and marshmallow-like sweet meringue, lightly dusted with almonds.  An excellent souvenir for Sir Maru.

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