Hello to all readers, This is the last student post of Pratt Tokyo Summer 2012
A majority of the class have already returned to New York, off to fight some jet lag (me included), which led me to think about what I should be posting since I'm part of the group not in Japan anymore. 
During the first hour back in JFK airport I've noticed that the air conditioner was on and there was a dormant escalator, a little kid ran in front of it but it did not start moving. We truly are back in the US!
So in conclusion I will tell about all the little things that made Japan, Japan. And other little interesting things that happened or just noticed during our time there. (Not in any particular order). Please click on "read more" for the complete post and follow the photo trail for entertainment. Douzo.
Crow from Yoyogi Park
One of which is hearing the sounds of crow every now and then. Their cawing sounds like something a human can make, which gave me the spooks the first time I heard it. Though there were pigeons jumping around, there were more crows flying around. First sighted around Yoyogi Park, an area where trees are planted as if they came from a natural area. You can actually manage to film a rough forest scene here.
Other things you can do in the natural areas include Koi fish feeding, Peddle boating in Ueno Park, seeing some street performances, or just notice people sleeping around. It was difficult to tell whether the sleeping man were are homeless or not, they were really well dressed. In some areas like Shibuya, under the bridges, railways and away from the sun are places where a lot of the homeless settle; their "flats" are actually really well organized, either with boxes or umbrellas. They don't disturb people crossing the area. This is also the place where people usually park their bikes. 

Feeding Koi fish inside Kamakura Shrine, Peddle boat in Ueno Park, Street performers at Ueno Park, People sleeping in Ueno Park
Bike lot around Tokyo Sky Tree
Bicycle parking in Tokyo, even though thefts still occur, is a bit more carefree. Usually only a ring lock, that prevents the back wheel from working, is enough as a bike lock. Only rarely do people go all out and tie their bikes down. Guess people don't lift up their bikes that often in Japan. In certain crowded areas near the Shonan Beach, around Toyko Sky Tree, or just inside Tsukuba University, you can find bikes parked and crammed into a bike lot. Many of them with little baskets front and back. There are even bikes for parents with little seats in the front and back to carry their children. Other accessories include an umbrella holder, for a rainy day, or a surf board holder. These levels of tightness reminds me of the clusters of fortune founded in the Shrines, where omikuji (fortune paper) are tied around bars, and everyone's good wishes and prayers are written down on Ema tablets and placed next to everyone else's wishes. In a way this is one of the more beautiful sights when you realize that these are people's good wishes, but you just couldn't quite read most of it.

Omikuji in Tsurugoaka Hachiman-gu (Kamakura), Ema tablets in Meiji Shrine (Harajuku)
Nicolas G. Hayek Center by Shigeru Ban
The Nicolas G. Hayek Center, in Ginza, is a large department all for housing different watch makers. I didn't believe something like this would actually exist; I never figured out how the competition would work out with the stores being so close together. Another place in particular is the "Kitchen City"  in Asakusa. (Needless to explain).

In Kyoto there were quite a few store that display little animal charms and food replicas. There are so many to choose from and apparently each of them means something different; it's difficult to keep up. Even the charms from the shrine and temple come in large varieties and are meant for different fortunes and luck. This seem to have led to a crafting of individual identities as many people (young and old) have a charm (or a couple) tied to their bags to show their true colors so to speak. For example, if a boy orders a strawberry crepe, it could imply he has a girlish character. 

(Top) Stores little rabbit charms and dolls outside Sliver Temple Kyoto, Little replicas of sushi along Nishiki food market Kyoto, lines of little animal charm Nishiki food market Kyoto (Bottom) Harajuku's Takeshita Street: crepe display, accessory shop
Open walkway between buildings around Ginza
An interesting thing to note is that, even within the tightness of streets like Ginza, no buildings share a party wall between lots. There is usually a thin air gap between buildings, and sometimes a walkway under it, that opens more frontage for the stores at the ground level and allows pedestrians to travel to the other side of the street. Functionally, with the gap, they can run pipes and electricity from the outside and potentially work as a fire break. (It's a nice place to hang security cameras as well). Culturally, this illustrates the desire to respect one another's spaces, so as to not touch another person or their property. But also historically, buildings in Japan do not last forever, and they are usually rebuilt whenever possible. When a building, sharing a party wall, is knocked down, the party wall is often left exposed and tied back to the remaining building (not a pretty sight) and the party wall is usually not covered up, even when a new building goes up.

There is this mixing of the new and the old, whether it be spending a night at a Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) and walking a few blocks into a street, with huge modern towers, or just hanging out around the younger venues of Harajuku, and seeing people in Victorian style outfits. One thing I remembered was this one building in Mukojima, that had a concrete panel aligned with the window. (At first, I thought it would slide over the window to cover it, but it did not seem to have any joints). I think this is supposed to resemble the wooden and removable doors of a traditional house, where the doors do not swing; they can either slide or be removed, and placed on the side. 

Removable door of a traditional Japanese house (Edo Museum), Facade with a fixed panel (Mukojima), road tile patterns along streets (Ginza), Interior tile pattern (Mori Tower)
Top of model of Mori sitting at the top of Mori Tower
I also remember the floor tiling patterns inside the Mori Tower, with the arrays of restaurant. They seem to resemble the patterns of "curbless" streets, that basically change colors to identified boundary. (The floors felt like a street you would find in Japan: tight, easy to get lost, and you will never know what you can find). During our time there, you can see posters for the "One Piece" exhibition, near the top of the tower, where you can see all of Tokyo. A ticket would get you access to the top, but needless to say, currently being the most popular anime/manga series in Japan, the exhibition was sold out for the day. Instead, I got a ticket to the Disney anniversary showcase on the roof top, next the Heliport. There were individual glass panels for every Disney movie that was ever made, and a glass ball that opens up every 5-10 minutes or so and played party music, while lights flashed everywhere. There was an interesting caution sign (Image below, please read 4&5). And last, but not least, a really nice view of Tokyo. 

(Top): Panorama View from top of Mori Tower of Area around Tokyo Tower (Middle) Roof of Mori Tower:Heliport, Walt Disney, Music Ball, warning sign (Bottom) One Piece Advertisement within commercial parts of Mori Tower: Ads along hidden lockers and doors, Photo wall, Poster indicating all tickets sold out
Geisha in Kyoto
In Kyoto, there were a lot of Geishas walking around town; we spotted a few during our bike tour and they are in kimono, slippers, and has a parasol on hand. There is always a formal uniform, for which you can distinguish people with when they are working. Being it a business man, construction worker, police officer, waiter, or even taxi drivers, are so well dressed, that they look like a teacher or a business man. The school uniform in particular, not only tells people you are a student, but also which school you attend, since each school uniform is different (which, in its own right, is a formal way of introduction). 
The International Manga Museum in Kyoto doesn’t actually have a uniform, but being a place of cultural pastime, you can expect the workers there to be in a cosplay or two. The museum is an interesting place, no pictures allowed, but you are free to read all the mangas that are on the shelves, laid out in three floors. (They have a collection of almost every Japanese magazine and manga ever published, since the beginning of manga, also some English manga on the first floor). There is an outdoor reading area, where you can lay on the lawn, and enjoy your favorite manga. 

Reading lawn outside Kyoto Manga Museum, front desk receptionist cosplay as Mami Tomoe from "Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica"
Subway stop with platform fence
Within the train stations, there are markings on the ground that tells passengers where the doors will be, and thus, where to start lining up. We knew about this "rule", but when we're really tired, we tend to cluster around the door like the line never existed. There aren't usually fences at the edge of platform, but if the waiting area is tight, there might be a fence, or if the station is really high up like in Odaiba, full height doors are put in place to prevent people from jumping over, either involuntarily or voluntarily.
Also interesting are the railway crossing, that puts us only a few feet from the tracks of moving trains. Usually, there are one or two trains running across, before the bars goes back up. Other times, i.e. during rush hour, a total of five to six trains need to cross, before the cars and pedestrians can start moving.  Once, I could have sworn half the street across was backed up, waiting for the time to cross. But usually it does not take that long. 

Railway crossing near Sangubashi station, Train running in progress, Wide-lane railroad crossing en route to Mukojima
Morning rush hour, en route to the Tsukuba Express
The Sangubashi crossroad crosses, with a "curb-less" street that is mainly for pedestrians, with simply a white line on the road to represent a temporary curb, if a car does run on it. I can't remember how many times our class have yelled, "Car!", "Bike!", or "Watch out!", while in these kinds of streets, since we walk all over the road.
In a place like Tokyo. especially in the stations and outside the station, there are heavy pedestrian traffic. But the wonderful thing is, it's surprisingly organized. In areas like Akihabara, Shinjuku, and Shibuya, there are crossroads that allows large number of pedestrians to walk across to any corner of the cross street, at the same time. There's usually only enough time to cross over once, but not back again. This really helps with the street getting congested. In areas, where cars are given priority, the corner curbs are rounded more, to allow cars to turn more effectively. However, this can disrupt bike and pedestrian traffic from going straight. In other areas, large elevated walkways are built, to connect the crossroads for pedestrians. The walkways in these areas usually loop around highways and/or railways, and some are looped around in a giant circle.  

Clockwise from left: Pedestrian cross street at Akihabara, heavy pedestrian movement in tight street around Kamakura, pedestrian waiting to cross outside Shibuya Station
Grand Stair at Kyoto Station
Extremely long uphill walkways and stairs are prominent in temples and shrines. They also exist in large modern development, though they aren't as continuous. Most probably exist due to safety issues and new building codes. 
The public stairs in Kyoto Station, counting around 510 steps, takes you all the way to the top, broken up into 12-18 steps segments. A concert was being held here the day we decided to climb the Station. The Fuji Television Center, in Odaiba, had a similar climb, only shorter.  
This practice of breaking trails seem to have spread to other development of public space, like the continuous escalator with a leveled break in the middle, for relatively high displacement.  Some interesting slides in playgrounds also had this effect

Escalator break at entrance of Edo Museum, Slide break at a park in Mukojima
Bakery with panda pastries just outside Ueno Station
Japan always has some kind of cute mascot attraction somewhere in the area. Tsukuba City had “Tsuku-tsuku”, the Owl, as a mascot. Along some streets, between Ueno and Asakusa, a kappa was used as a mascot. (One of the streets was named Kappabashi-Dori or Kappa Bridge street). Around Ueno and Asakusa, it was a panda. There was a bakery just outside Ueno station, that made panda- shaped bread, a café near Ueno Park, with panda- faced dishes and the International Children Library had a café that sell panda Pocky. (Pretty sure that’s not the only place). There was even a panda bus. 

Panda Pocky, Panda Dish, Panda Bus
Vending Machine in Mukojima
Vending machines are almost everywhere. This is one of the best ways to get rid of change. Not only do they provide a quick access to refreshments on the road, they are also the only source of disposal outside. Many of the time when we see vending machines during our travels, we are not looking to get coffee or drink, but to get rid of our trash and recyclables. It is a fact that there aren't any public garbage cans, except near a convenience store, or near a vending machine, which in theory will help reduce loitering (which it does). 
Some sloped roads, near Shibuya, even built big steps on the side, just to create a leveled ground, to sit a few vending machines along the slope. 

It doesn't seem strange anymore, that there are vending machines outdoors, even if they are sitting in the middle of a quiet, residential area. Other than drinks, the things you can get from vending machines include food, ice cream, camera, a pack of smoke and alcoholic beverages. But not to worry, to help control who gets to buy cigarette and alcoholic drinks you are required to register for a card saying you are indeed overage. (we have yet to see a condom or panties dispenser).

Food in National Olympic Center, alcoholic drinks in Tokyo downtown, built-in machines near Odaiba, Camera outside Kyoto Golden Temple
"Goku" Dragon Ball Kai soda can
One of the more memorable things I found coming from the vending machines was this particular display of Dragon Ball Kai sodas. It first appeared to me during the trip to Kamakura. A different art of a character, from Dragon Ball, comes out each time you buy one. Some vending machines even play a short clip of suspenseful game music, just before it comes out. There are a total of 9 different cans in all. Over the course of the trip, to the very end, I've only got my hands on eight of them. 
To the Dragon Ball fans out there, the nine cans are Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, Vegeta, Trunks, Freeza, Cell, King Kai, and Super Saiyan Goku. The Super Saiyan can was never found, guess it was one of the rarer ones. 
Along the search, there was also a Kamen Rider set of these drinks. In Kyoto, there were these milk drinks, that came with Pokemon stickers. In convenience stores, some drinks came with a little figurine or key chains, wrapped around the top. (In which case, you can choose the one you want). Variety and surprises like this is a really prominent way of selling not only drinks, but toys and figures as well. A lot of anime figurines come individually in small boxes. Collecting full sets would take some patience.  

A short collection of drinks that were tried during the trip
There are a couple things I wanted to include here like funny posters, Akihabara, arcades, taiko drums, claw machines, and watching Japanese TV shows but I think I'll end the post here. Overall the trips been a fun experience (if you haven't noticed) especially being the only "Asian face" on the trip (It took more time to tell people I don't speak Japanese though).

Signing off,


07/18/2012 12:51am

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    17 Pratt Institute students of City & Regional Planning along with their professors travel overseas to study in Japan.  

    During our 17 days we will hear from 17 different voices about their experiences in Japan.

    1.  Isabel
    2.  Iwona
    3.  Karen
    4.  William
    5.  Sara
    6.  Graham
    7.  Johane
    8.  Sean
    9.  Ana
    10.  Roxanne
    11.  Alexa
    12.  Alix
    13.  Victoria
    14.  Christopher
    15.  Joseph
    16.  Lacey
    17.  Natalie
    18.  Jia