(I’m writing this on Friday, our last full day in Japan)
J took M to work by riding double on his bicycle to get to the local train station. I waited outside on their wraparound type balcony to snap a photo, but didn’t time it very well, catching only J on the bike. Better luck tomorrow. While he was out he went to a local favorite bakery and brought back a selection of baked goods for us to have with our morning milk tea. We were ready to roll out a little after ten. On the agenda for the day was something M had found in a magazine article and saved for us. She knew about my interest and glass and had seen an article a few weeks before about a local small business creating glass c himes. Each chime was hand-blown, then hand-painted. They were a summer tradition, the gentle sound meant to provoke feelings of coolness as they caught the breeze in the middle of Japan’s humid summers. Recently, with the advent of air conditioning they were no longer needed to lend a hand to the imagination of coolness, but were still lovely to hear. The family had been creating these for decades, and they were called furin. The family business was tucked away in an older, blue collar neighborhood which required many train changes to get to. As we walked I remarked that it somehow made me think of a beach town. J responded it might be because I was smelling the water nearby; the neighborhood was not far from it. We passed many auto repair shops, a group of welders working on a large frame of a truck, not wearing any visors. We finally made it to the small, brown building. Out front, three large baskets held chunks of broken glass. We could hear a small hammering noise. Through a window were shelves, with round glass objects on them but the light was turned off. J called his wife at work and she called the place, to tell them there were three foreigners right outside unsure where to go. A thin woman came out and beckoned to us, walking past the room with shelves. J said she said “this is where you buy” and kept walking. We turned a corner and followed along the side of the building, towards what would be the backyard area. There were piles of bags holding things like hundreds of glass doorknobs. Another corner and suddenly we were in a small foundry, with two men exchanging large glass punties , one starting a small ball of glass and the other enlarging it and doing the actual blowing to make a small glass ball. He would then hand it back to the first, who by that point already had a new teeny starting ball ready to go. The first would then take the finished ball and rest it in a tray of very small glass shards, knocking it off the punty and sanding the bottom of the chime down quickly, then leaving it in the tray to start a new one to hand off to the older, experienced blower. They worked in silence once we approached. We all wondered how often foreigners came to see them in this tucked away, completely invisible from the outside family tradition. We all agreed that the vast majority of any visitors they had would have to be local Japanese.
After watching for several minutes we thanked them. I had tried to answer questions for J from my limited experience with glass blowing and my larger knowledge of glass in general, and he really seemed interested in what he was watching. We traveled around to the front building and went in the door where the objects were on shelves. On a raised platform sat the thin womaan and a man, we guessed her brother or husband. A Japanese radio station went on in the backround, mostly talking and no music. The man was sitting on a low bench surrounded by small bowls of paint thickly crusted from years of additions. He had a small brush and was painting designs on the now-cooled glass balls. The woman was working with a fresh batch of balls, sanding them down further and discarding any imperfect specimens. The prices were very reasonable so I chose one I liked with dragonflies. There were two with different tones and chose the lower toned one. J bought the other as well as one with a wave and a rabbit painted on it. The woman wrapped them up asking if J wanted extra padding for travel. He said no. When she got to ours, he said yes. “Aren’t you traveling too?” she asked. “No, not me, I live here!” he said. All three were placed in small white boxes and put in small plastic bags. We all said “Arigato” and left back into the small but busy indutrial street. Glasswork in a small family business! What a find! I was elated and J and DLJ were both happy as well. We were getting hungry so we made our way back to the train, stopping at a convenience store for a particular snack that J really enjoyed called *whats it called*. These were triangles of rice in crunchy nori (seaweed). Each one had something different in the middle of the rice. The outer packaging had three numbers showing the order in which you unwrapped it to get it to pop out smoothly. I chose one with tuna and mayonaise in the middle, DLJ had salmon and mayo, and J I think also had the tuna, he had said that was his favorite. These were awesome snacks, healthly but packing energy for the afternoon. J said many Japanese just have on of those for lunch. I wonder if the huge Japanese market near our house will have them.
We moved on, traveling to the museum. Alas, it was a Monday, and it was closed. But we still wandered around on the grounds, which were absolutely deserted. It was kinda fun. While J lamented his luck on the phone with his wife (M acted as our offsite navigator many times that day, at work with the Internet) we looked at the few displays outside, the trains and the large sumo building. The season had ended the previous day. While changing money in a hotel before going to the area, we had seen a sumo wrestler sitting in the lobby, his hair all styled and wearing the traditional clothing. It was neat to see one!
We next went to a nearby Japanese Garden, but it literally closed one minute after we arrived. J was frutrated by now but we were fine, every place we went was something new to see, so it wasn’t a big problem. But by then we were getting in the mood for our later destination: J and M’s favorite ramen place. I was almost drooling in anticipation of this all day. Back on the train and off towards a giant department store where we had actually started our day looking again for a watch. The store had watches, but they were much more expensive than the one we saw in Electric Town the previous day. But it was fun to see the sorts of things sold there, lots of modern furniture and accessories, and bunnies, puppies and beetles for pets!
M had mentioned a street we could go to to look for a watch. Ameyoko Street. We had no idea what we would find. Turning a corner, it was amazing to see. Lights everywhere, thousands of people, hundreds of market stalls with fresh fish, food, vegetables, crazy t shirts, urban clothing, jewelry. It was like a giant outdoor market. In between a few streets in a covered area was a hive of small shops and sellers, an endless maze of commerce. DLJ found a G-Shock he liked at a good price, slightly less than what we found the first day in Electric Town. He purchased it and we made our way back out of the market, passing pachinko parlors and milling crowds back to the more slick, wider streets of the shopping district near the train to take us back to near the department store.
The ramen place was one bulding down from the department store, a long narrow room with heavy wooden stools Everything was red and black and behind the counter were large vats with times written on them in black marker, the time they started each broth. We all ordered the same thing by coincidence, pork broth with all the extras. Waitresses shouted behind us finding seats for new customers. The room was so narrow that those in line stood right behind the diners. We were the only white folks in the room while 20 or customers slurped noodles to our right and left. Within a few minutes our ramen arrived, the broth and noodles in a bowl topped with a plate includng pork, onions, a season half an egg that had been marinated in soy sauce, seaweek, softened bamboo, and other mix ins. I moved half the batch from my plate to the bowl and grabbed a first clump of noodles with my chopsticks and sllllllluuuuurp, slurp, slurp….
AAAAAAH. Oh, sweet Heaven. The last time I had had even decent ramen was in Japantown in San Francisco at Sapporo-Ya, and this was transcendent ramen J had taken us to. So. Good. Each bite was just….oooof. I moved most of the rest of my plate of includes to the bowl. DLJ was a happy camper to my right. The waitresses called and the men behind the counter kept dishing up noodles and broth, sometimes stirring the giant vats with a wooden paddle and holding samples of the broth up to the light in a small vial contraption. It looked like they were testing pool chlorine. They took their broth seriously. I finished my whole bowl (a sign of reverence) and we got up quickly and left, as the wall behind us was almost completely lined with people waiting to sit and eat. I grabbed a card and we were out the door back into the busy street. I was elated.
DLJ stopped for some ice cream in the train station and we went back home. It was now past 7:00 and the trains were crammed with salarymen commuters. We packed in like sardines until our stop, transferring to the smaller train back out to J And M’s Oizumi neighborhood, then home with tired feet. At the corner by their house we heard a tinkling sound I had heard most nights when the wind blew, waiting to go to sleep. It was a sound like a bell. We looked in the yard and there, hanging off a tree branch, was a furin, a single glass chime in the evening air.
Baked goods for breakfast! I am really liking the ones with red bean paste in the middle.
Furin family business.
Blowing the chime.
Ameyoko street, the marketplace where DLJ found his new G-Shock. It’s solar powered!
More later, don’t want this one entry to be any larger than it already is.