A Weekend of Cultural Woofs

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Sakura season is coming to an end – by the time this goes to print I think all but the sturdiest cherry blossoms will have been stripped by the powerful winds that have been blowing through Yokohama/Tokyo the past few days. I have a sort of philosophy about Sakura and why it’s so popular here in Japan, but I will save that for another post.

Taking advantage of the beautiful weather, I took a weekend to enjoy some cultural events in the Tokyo area.

First, I headed to Naka-Meguro after getting a Facebook suggested post. It said, “Go to the Danish Royal Embassy and see the floral arrangements!” So off I went. I’ve never been around Naka-Meguro that much. It reminded me of Chicago’s North side a little bit, full of boutiques and a multinational collection of restaurants. Just outside the Embassy a giant tree was losing its leaves, so I got the strangest conflict of impressions, as the street, temperature, and scents made me think of autumn, even though spring was all around

The cost of the Danish exhibit “YELL” is 500 yen. And let me say, it’s worth it if you have the time to spare (it runs till April 27).

On the eternal debate between flowers and chocolate, I fall firmly in the flowers camp. There’s more variety with flowers, better smells, and as neither chocolate nor flowers last forever I’d prefer to have the colors and variety. Looking at master arrangements can be just as thought-provoking as more traditional artwork, and Mr. Bergmann’s arrangements evoke a range of emotions, from austere wheat spheres to loud and brash collections of stems and blooms. I was impressed with the sheer variety of plants on display.

I also enjoyed the temporary structure of the gallery – pine and canvas that suggested camping and emphasized the fleeting nature of the installments. I love it when space and purpose meet. I bet I’m not alone in this thought…

There are other pieces as well, as there appears to be an upcoming celebration of Danish-Japanese relations in May (I would link to the websites, but they are all coming up as “suspicious” by my virus software. I don’t want to post bad links). When I get more information, I will try to post it here.

After the Danish exhibit, I headed further into Tokyo to attend the second of my cultural events – the 10th annual Tokyo Wan-Wan Festival in Yoyogi Park! What’s a Wan-Wan?

Why this is!

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It’s the Japanese interpretation of a dog’s bark. I think it’s fun to compare how something as “universal” as a dog’s bark gets translated across the globe. I believe I read somewhere that dogs bark in different languages (*Google search* yep, here is an example). And the Japanese take almost too good care of their dogs. Clothes, strollers, custom grooming – these are the fanciest of dogs.

I miss my own dogs. It’s one of the hardest things about living abroad; leaving all my animals behind. So this was my opportunity to shamelessly pet some fluffy doges, doggos, and puppers. The festival was far larger than I anticipated, with rows of dog-related stalls selling custom treats, leashes, and clothing. There was a space for showing off the well-groomed dogs, a space for demonstrating tricks, and at least two or three other spaces the purposes of which I did not figure out.

This is obviously my shameless attempt to lure readers with pictures of dogs. Here you go:

 

After this, I went to Shibuya to meet up with some coworkers. I took a final photo of another, more famous dog, and went out for a night of carousing. Nomihodai (all you can drink), combini beers, and some mucking about in the famous crowded crossing of Shibuya square. I met some of my former students, and was luckily not so drunk as to agree to go clubbing with them. I also met an “avant-garde” jazz musician who was photographing his cover art along one of the avenues.

All in all, this was a fine day.  Sometimes I fear that I get so caught up in the day-to-day of working in Japan that I forget that I’m actually living in Japan. When I was in China, there were not many means of getting out of my city, but everything was so utterly different that my daily life did not have a recognizable routine. Here it’s different. I have co-workers, a full day of classes, and a pattern that repeats itself. My company enjoys and promotes this sort of unchanging repetition I believe, and that’s alright. Nevertheless, it’s important to take the opportunity to go out into the world, especially when the world offers such wonderful sights.

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Finding a Gym

Last semester, I had to walk three miles every day to and from school. I tried joining a 24-hour gym near my train station, but they wouldn’t accept me because I was not fluent in Japanese (yes, fluent, according to my friend’s boyfriend’s translation, who added it was code for “you aren’t Japanese.” Ouch). I did a little bit of yoga, but ultimately I considered the walk to be my “exercise.”  While my weight and body shape did not change that much, I inevitably toned up. Excellent default improvement!

My new company-assigned apartment is significantly closer to work, so I want to go back to working out at an actual gym. They are everywhere in Japan. There are 24 hour fitness rooms, large traditional gyms (like Golds), a growing collection of Crossfit specific gyms, massive community centers that have traditional Japanese sport rooms (martial arts, archery, etc.), all sorts of boxing and martial arts schools, and everything in between. Somehow I’m in a neighborhood with no neighborhood gym, save for a Curves the size of a broom closet. I’m not allowed to use the gym at my campus, so I had to expand my search.

After searches for “Gym,” “Sports Center,” “Fitness Complex,” and such, I found four good candidates for my new gym. I avoided gyms that were focused on Crossfit or offered any sort of “complementary” metabolism programs, since the advertised programs jumped in price once the complementary periods ended, and my Japanese is too weak to negotiate that kind of language.  I really wanted a pool, and my maximum budget was 10,000 yen/month (roughly $100/month).  From the map search, I started researching websites.

Research was difficult, as not every site had a good English translation. And comparing price points and distances, not to mention thinking ahead of my possible commute to and from work, I got frustrated. In the back of my mind, I remembered that the glorious spa and onsen complex in Tsunashima, Prime Fitness & Spa, has a gym. It was over my maximum budget, but only by about 2,000 yen a month, and I would get unlimited access to the beautiful on-site onset.  I tried to convince myself that I would happily go out of my way to access a gym I recognized, and that the onsen would be enough of a draw.

Then I cleared my head, and remembered what I learned from watching a lot of “House Hunters: International” back home. Going over budget is not a good option. While I enjoy onsens, I’m not a worshipper. And there was no way I was going to commute out of my way several days a week.  The price might guilt me into action, but I like having money to spend on other things (like my toaster oven, and the bread to put into the toaster oven).

The solution was to go and do some on-site visits – again, much like “House Hunters: International.” I do enjoy binge watching that show back in the States.

Gym 1: Jexer Fitness: Just under budget, had a pool, off a train line – I found this one by myself, after a bit of a walk. The place was friendly, very crowded, and just under by budget. I got a tour, and it was packed with people. I think this is because I visited on the weekend. Even so, I got a positive vibe from this gym. The women who worked the front desk were quite friendly, and were very patient with my lack of language skills.

Gym 2: Konami Sports Complex: Over budget, pool, six stories of options, closer to home – I took a friend who spoke Japanese with me to the Konami sports complex. This place had everything I wanted, but it was cold and lacked personality. That might sound like a strange thing to say about a gym, but nothing about this place made me want to go. And the price was almost comical – unlimited access cost about 15,000 yen/month. The cheapest monthly option allowed access to the gym four times a month. Yes – 8,000 yen/month to visit the gym four times a month.  So I said no to Konami.

Gym 3: Renaissance Lite: Under budget, old, has pool, ten minute walk to major train station – this was my last visit, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Removed from the train station, sort of tucked next to a school, this gym was old but immediately welcoming. Not as new as Tipness, not as big as Konami, Renaissance Lite gym had a pool, a training room (fitness center), an aerobics studio, and a rooftop driving range. What’s more, it had an included onsen in the locker room. Best of all, the price was only 6,500 yen/month.

Gym 4: Tipness – Modern, new classes and facility, recently renovated after the earthquake: I did not visit Tipness after I decided that I liked Renaissance. The website did not have an English option, and the price points were all over the place.

Hooray! I have a gym! It would not have been so painless if I did not have someone to help me. I’m glad that I did the research and the leg work. And in a fine twist, I’m now walking about 3 miles a day to and from the gym (which I do just about every day, as I want to save on my transportation budget).

I anticipate joyfully dumping EFL stresses in my gym’s pool/ cardio courses…