Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Romping

We're heading out today for three wonderful weeks in Cambodia and Laos! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! We'll see you in 2010, the Year of the Tiger! Grrrr!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sapporo's Winter Wonderland

Walking around Odori Park in downtown Sapporo this time of year is such a treat thanks to the annual White Illumination:

The city does its best to envelop you in a dazzling display of light sculptures and set-ups, and it is particularly pretty after (or during) a nice, big snowfall:

Never letting you forget that yes, you ARE in Japan, there's always something a bit bizarre thrown into the mix! My favorite at the White Illumination is the girl in the glass bubble who plays electric Christmas tunes from the comfort of her transparent shelter. Classic:

In a bit of a Christmas identity crisis (and also as a nod to our sister city of Munich), the White Illumination also hosts the German Christmas Market, complete with German crafts, foods, drinks, and entertainment:

Remember what I said about skinny Santas being all the rage here (if not, see The Great Santa Gig post below):

Despite the fact that the Japanese pretty much do nothing on Christmas day (Christmas cake devouring, KFC, and Christmas dates happen the night before), it's almost impossible not to get in the Christmas spirit of home around here! Happy early Christmas, everyone! The countdown is on...

The Great Santa Gig, Year II

You really can't beat a gig like this!  I sent my camera along again with Jacob to his reoccurring role as "authentic" Santa over at the nearby kindergarten for some super-cute and blog-worthy pics!  Good thing slim and trim Santas are a little more en vogue over here in Japan!

Wonderful Wintery Week

As easy as it is to dread winter and all the cold-snow-slushiness that goes with it, there are just some things that make it such a lovely time of year (for a few months, anyway).  For example, seeing the vice-principal of our school dress up as Santa and distribute candy to squealing high schoolers:

...taking in all the Christmas decorations, lights, and displays:

...small seasonal reminders of home:

...unexpected touches of Japanese cuteness:

...the stillness of the morning after the first really big snow:

...and getting warm by the (kerosene) heater with smoked-salmon snacks and Jacob's super rummy homemade egg nog!

Best wintery week ever!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Custom Kimono Gaijin Smash

When you live in a place long enough, you sometimes become immune to the little things that make it unique. I was reminded of this last week during an amazing experience I had while visiting a fabric and kimono shop with a couple of my friends who were looking for gifts to take home to their families:

The owner of the shop, a man around 60 or 70ish, and his daughter immediately had us sit at the counter while they brought out a large stack of furoshiki (beautiful printed Japanese cloth that's used to wrap up anything and everything under the sun) wrapped in protective paper. When we went to check out, we were surprised that he used an abacus (modified as a soroban here in Japan) to figure out the total, and insisted on him showing us how to use it as well. I think that he was quite taken by our inquisitive natures (not to mention our dashing good looks), because he insisted on his daughter bringing out hot cups of green tea for us...

...and then proceeded to roll out and show us some of his most exquisite and antique obi (thick fabric belt tied around kimono and yukata). This particular one was hand-woven in the 1940s with pure gold thread:

And, not surprisingly, it has a nice little price-tag to go along with its extraordinary work:

That translates to about $4,500USD!!

Afterwards, he insisted that I come up on his tatami stage and try on some of his works-in-progress...namely custom-ordered silk kimonos! They were beautiful and not like the standard kimonos which are usually stiffer and a little heavier (and, nowadays, rarely made out of silk...or in Japan for that matter!). This one ran about $3,000USD:

And this kimono, which felt silkier and lighter, had a price tag of about $4,000USD:

We first thought we had taken a trip back to bad-1980s wall-art when he had Steph try on this kimono:

Until we saw the price tag on it:

Folks, that's $15,000USD!!! Seriously. In other words, Steph now knows what it feels like to wear a new car or a down-payment on a house!

Us in about $20,000USD-worth of silk, thread, and Japanese-commodity:

I was wondering what this woman (on the left) thought about all these gaijin (foreigners) trying on people's custom-ordered kimonos, probably just like the one she's purchasing!

Even Zofia had a go at getting dressed up in other people's goods! I think we pull off the look quite nicely:

So, what started out as a 20 minute hop into the store turned into an amazing 1 1/2 hour experience...and a very Japanese one at that! While one of these babies won't be on my Christmas list anytime soon, it's definitely one of those things that will stick out in my mind of my time in Japan!