Tokyo, Japan

 

 

TOKYO AND JAPAN

Our Kimono-story

In the spring of 1988, my daughter C got off school to follow me and my husband to Japan for one week on one of his business trips. We lived at the time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Thirty years ago, airplanes could not fly as far on one full tank compared to today, so we had a half day stop-over in San Francisco before continuing to Japan.

In San Francisco we did the normal tourist program. In Tokyo we stayed at the Tokyo Prince Hotel. My daughter C and I did tourist things while my husband met with his business contacts.

For instance, we saw people celebrating the falling of the Cherry blossoms in a park. They had brought blankets and had pick nick under the trees. We took part in a lovely tea ceremony in the top floor of an international hotel, and we made a weird trip to a university out in the country where they taught Swedish.  I was at the time the only Swedish teacher at a university between Washington D.C and Chicago and maybe I felt I should meet a colleague. Maybe I got bored of the sameness of the huge city of Tokyo.

One of the great memories is my two mornings at the Tokyo fish market, which is fabulous. I only took a taxi when I heard the gong at the monastery next door.  They beat the big gong at sun-up.  My daughter C went with me one time, but we had to leave as she thought it smelled too strongly —of fish.

I hope to describe the Tokyo fish market to you some time.  You ought to visit the Tokyo fish market if you have the chance.

My husband and C and I were invited by the Japanese businessmen to their club in Ginza. They had a shelf reserved for their personal liquor, whiskey. I do not drink whiskey and asked about brandy and somebody was sent out to buy a bottle. That bottle of brandy is still there, I am sure. That evening in that club in Ginza I made an unforgettable—for my family unforgettable –Karaoke rendition of “I Left my Heart in San Francisco.”

We also made a memorable trip to Nikko but here I will let C tell the story because that is C’s story:

Our first evening, a Friday, in Tokyo, I inaugurated a new pair of white leather sandals. However, the leather was very hard, especially at the heel, and cut into the skin. When we returned to the hotel I had bloody sores on both heels. That being the last time I bought shoes from a catalogue. Or wore those shoes. So, wearing other shoes I went around Tokyo with my eyes and mind wide open. And taking photos of everything, stopping only to enjoy the corn-on-the-cob-fried-in-soya-sauce in large Woks sold by street vendors. Yum!!! Then on Thursday we made our way to Nikko, a sanctuary up in the forested hills to the north of Tokyo. A visit was recommended to me by my history teacher who had lived in Japan. After several trains and busses, we reached the lovely site with large ornate pagodas, and a small water trough from which a thirsty visitor could get a drink.

The air was slightly moist with rain, and many of the school children and their teachers were holding up umbrellas. We walked around and took photos. Of course. We watched as school classes took turns to line up in rows on the steps and have their pictures taken. [The three “smaller”photos have been scanned in as they were not digital.]

Then it became time to return to Tokyo proper. So, we started to wander down the hillside to a bus stop where we would begin our journey. Behind us was a class of children around 11 years old. About halfway down the hillside Mom noticed that they wanted us to stop. Wondering what they could possibly want from us, we stopped and their male teacher approached us. He was stretching out his arm towards me. And in his hand, he held two Band Aids and pointed at my feet. I smiled, bowed and placed my hand on my heart before graciously accepting the gift. C

 

But it was OUR KIMONO STORY I wanted to tell you; how my daughter C and I found and each bought a pre-owned kimono and an obi “somewhere” in Tokyo. It was a wonder how we got there and back to the hotel.

I checked the English-language newspaper for things to do and I had found the smallest ad: “Used kimonos. 1 dollar per pound.” Why I reacted I do not know, but I love beautiful “stuff.” And I assume that we all agree that kimonos are very beautiful.  The receptionist at the hotel wrote out the address in Japanese and my daughter and I took off. I remember going by two different buses and one subway. We tried to get a taxi, but the taxi driver refused to drive us. That made me think that it might not be a good or safe address, but we endured. Between buses and subway we stopped people and showed them the paper with the address and asked what to do next. I remember well that when we were close we walked about 500 yards through an area with very nice modern buildings.  But what we thought the last person meant when we asked for directions had us ending up at a shack below a railroad track. We stepped in. Bowed respectfully of course and looked around. Only black “working-class”  (sorry for the choice of word) kimonos, many of them mended. We looked around and tried to make some sense of it all and maybe find a nice black kimono. The man in charge of the store was sweet and apologetic. When we showed him the advertisement he took us outside and made us understand that his was not the place for us. We together understood that we should go to the modern building across the street and he pointed at the door where we should enter and showed three fingers. So we went across the street and up to the third floor and there we came into a Paradise.  If you love beautiful things, hundreds and hundreds of colorful kimonos are Paradise.

The store had wedding kimonos on the fourth floor. Only if you are extremely lucky do you get to see such fabulous things. Maybe some museum in major cities have Japanese wedding kimonos on display.  We were very lucky. We spent two hours and bought each one kimono and each one obi.  Then we started on our long and complicated way back to the hotel. We were elated, to say the least.

This morning, sitting in my home in Orlando, Florida, I looked up pre-owned antiques on eBay. Auction houses and eBay are like fine museums and you can sit comfortably in front of your computer and enjoy the beauty without having to travel! Lucky me.  There on eBay were pre-owned kimonos, being auctioned. That was when I remembered my and my daughter´s difficult travel with buses and subway to that store that sold fabulous pre-owned kimonos in Tokyo.

 

Mobile, Alabama

ALABAMA

December 13, 2017, Lucia Day in Sweden, a very important day culturally.

MOBILE, Alabama, ”the best city in the USA.”

”the best city in the USA.”  is what Sweden´s (second most important) author, Carl Jonas Love Almqvist, said in the 1860s. Almqvist was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1793 and died in Bremen, Germany, in 1866. Almqvist spent the years between 1851 and 1865 in America, mainly in Philadelphia, but traveled extensively in the USA.

Almqvist was a genius, unfortunately too modern for his own times. Almqvist managed to construct the Swedish school system before he left his country. Almqvist was a romantic writer and still would have fitted in today as he was a very early Feminist.

Yesterday, was the dramatic election in Alabama of a Senator for the US Senate where feminism played an odd role. That triggered my memory of Carl Jonas Love Almqvist and especially his love for Mobile, Alabama.

I had been curious about what Almqvist had seen in Mobile, and had the chance to see the town on a drive between Denver, Colorado and Orlando, Florida.

Mobile was well worth my visit. The old part of town today is restored and lovely and looks like it must have looked in the mid-1800s.

The Old Spanish Trail, or route 98, out of Mobile going east is a beautiful experience. And there is also the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park just outside the town. That would be interesting for a family with young boys. Interesting for Dads also. (For Mom?)

I had a great meal in a HUGE building, bigger than a barn, on the reef 3 miles east of downtown Mobile: Felix´s Fish Camp Restaurant.

Another restaurant I found and to which I´d like to return is Tropics Bar and Grill on 5872 Battleship Parkway, in Spanish Fort, just at the foot of a bridge on Route 98, about 8 miles from Downtown Mobile. The view is very inspiring.

When I went to school, they taught Almqvist´s writing. Today, many people in Sweden have not heard about him unfortunately. He is among the people who have shaped the Swedish way of thinking in the 1800s. Almqvist happened to live in the Romantic Era. For instance, he and some friends “went back to nature” the way the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) preached.  Almqvist and his friends were farmers for a while in the wooded area in Värmland near the Norwegian border. The house is still there, well taken care of by people from the Almqvist Society.

We have several touch points. In 2012 we moved our Swedish home from the Stockholm area to Upplands Väsby, halfway between the capital and the city of Uppsala. From the time Almqvist was three years old till he was fifteen he lived in Upplands Väsby. He described his childhood on a country estate 200 years ago as an idyll.  The square in front of our train station in Upplands Väsby is called the “Love Almqvists Torg.”

And another touch point with Almqvist is our country home I Värmland about 10 miles from Almqviststugan, his little cottage in the dense forest where he played at being a farmer for a few years around 1820. There he married a country girl and they had a daughter. The daughter was his contact in Sweden during his years abroad and we know so much about him through his letters to the daughter.

Mobile, Alabama. It is lovely. When I feel like it I shall take my little dog with me and drive there again, follow the Gulf coast, possibly take a detour to the lovely and artsy Cedar Key on route 24 north of Tampa. I will plan the trip over some Saturday and Sunday. In the USA it is so pleasant to travel through small towns on Saturdays and Sundays as people in small towns put on special “Days” at their market squares over weekends. We people are after all flock-animals, and seek any reason for festivities.

(The foremost Swedish author is August Strindberg, born and died in Stockholm, 1849-1912)

Have a great day, S.