Skip to main content

People in Japan Have Interesting Hobbies

Disclaimer: for those of you who are squeamish, the latter half of this post might not be for you. Read to the end at your own risk. The first half is fine, I promise.

Yoyogi Park has Bubble Guys.

They probably don't call themselves "Bubble Guys," to be fair, but it's what they were. Yoyogi Park, a sprawling green space that abuts the trendy Harajuku neighborhood as well as Meiji Shrine, is known for attracting performers on the weekend: colorful casts of musicians, magicians, dancers, and other miscellaneous artists. After a relaxing cup of coffee from Little Nap Coffee Stand, I was simply wandering through the park when I literally ran into the bubbles:

It was a little bit like something out of a fairy tale, or at least a kid's cartoon show. Maybe that one scene from Disney's "Cinderella," where she's scrubbing the floor amidst a sea of bubbles.

Men with specially-crafted chains and what looked--and smelled!--like a homemade bubble mix made from dish soap, artfully dragged their sudsy chains through the air to form bubbles the size of a small child, or used their wrists to flick the chains and make hundreds of tiny bubbles that popped and tickled against your face. Kids ran after the bubbles, trying to either catch or pop them (sometimes it was difficult to tell which). Parents watched indulgently. The whole thing just looked like a lot of fun.

This bubble did not make it: it popped while still half-formed, but it would have been a doozy!

I love events like this: semi-spontaneous gatherings where a small group of people with an idea to do something fun (maybe they just really like bubbles?!) leads to enjoyment for a bunch of people. It's sort of like an "only in Japan" moment, which I still, despite having spent a lot of time here, have on occasion. Only in Japan...would there be people who dedicate their weekend afternoons to making massive bubbles in a park!

One digression before I move into the potentially unsettling part of this post.

When you're a foreigner living in Tokyo, particularly when you're a women (doubly so if you have those stereotypical "Western" features like brown or blonde hair and blue eyes) and especially one who can speak a decent amount of Japanese, you get used to being a certain degree of social with complete strangers. People sometimes just like to come and talk to you: I've had people come up asking to practice their English with me and others who are just curious about where I learned Japanese and where I'm from. I don't mind these sorts of conversations--I enjoy them quite a lot! It does mean you get used to existing, so to speak, somewhat in the foreground. I'm not going to "blend in" anywhere I go in this country.

Tokyo is also safe enough that I generally don't worry about having these conversations. I can walk alone here almost anywhere and feel ten times as safe as I would in the US. What it does, however, is make the unsettling experiences stand out all the more.

As I was leaving Yoyogi Park I was approached by someone. Their opening lines went more or less as follows:
"You're beautiful. Are you going home now?"
"Where do you live?"
"Can I take you out for coffee?"
"Can I walk with you?"

And then they did, in fact, proceed to follow me as I walked out of the park towards Takeshita-dori in Harajuku. Thoroughly spooked--how was I supposed to get rid of them?!--I texted a friend to "Help. Call me." and then proceeded to use the excuse of "needing to take this call" to book it down the street and down as many side alleys as I could until I was reasonably sure I'd lost them.

So. To everyone out there: while it's usually totally fine to be friendly and talk to people (that's how you make new friends, after all) might I not suggest opening with lines similar to "where do you live?" and then following said person around without permission? Thanks.



Returning to the topic of "only in Japan," did you know that there's a small museum completely dedicated to parasites? It's called the Meguro Parasitological Museum and it houses a collection of over 300 different parasites. I'm not a fan of parasites. I hate the thought of anything that might be burrowing inside of me and feeding off/on me. Gross. Shudder. Ew. But something about this place was intriguing enough for me to find an equally non-squeamish friend to go with me, and we made the pilgrimage into Meguro.

The museum was fairly small--only two floors. The first floor mainly held preserved specimens while the second floor detailed the life cycle of parasites that affect humans and had some interactive maps that showed where in the world you could...acquire them. (Fortunately most of them have been eradicated from Japan.)

For instance, here's a collection of tapeworms and roundworms and other worms that could live inside of various animals (or you):

Here's a giant parasite that was extracted from the liver of a whale:

Here's some other creepy looking things:

And here's an 8.8 meter long tapeworm that was extracted from a man's intestines. One of the longest found to date, or so the signage said:

Yeah, I wouldn't want that inside of me, either.

The museum also housed some of the hand-drawn research journals from the 1950s and 60s when the institution was first founded, which were surprisingly intricate given the often minuscule size of the parasites in question and the comparative simplicity of available tools and microscopes at hand.

Now, how about some lunch? Food: just the thing after an adventure like this.


Popular posts from this blog

Taking a Breather

Sometimes when you're in Tokyo, as wonderful as its bustling atmosphere is, you just want to forget you're in the middle of Tokyo.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a guy from Sweden who regularly came to Japan on business and he said that despite how much he loved Tokyo he could never live here because of the lack of green space. Tokyo has its parks, of course, like all major cities, but if you want unspoiled greenery you have to be willing to head at least forty minutes outside of the sprawling metropolis limits. In winter this desire to surround oneself with greenery might not matter as much, but now that spring is seeping into the atmosphere and the upcoming sakura season is on everyone's mind (NHK even puts out an annual "forecast" for sakura!) the neon lights and concrete jungle start to feel a little oppressive.

That's when little hideaways like the Sato Sakura Museum and Kohmeisen come in handy.

The Sato Sakura Museum is a small museum in Nakameguro…

Short Hair, Don't Care: Model Behavior

I like to think I have a wide range of accomplishments under my belt:

Accidentally over-caffeinated myself conducting ethnographic research--check
Read 3+ books in a single day--check
Never (yet) pulled an all-nighter--check
Sung at Carnegie Hall--check
Published a poem--check

But now I can add a decidedly interesting item to that list:
Been a hair model in Japan--CHECK.

It's a bit of a long story.

It all starts with coffee, actually, like many of my adventures here in Japan do. I was checking out a coffee shop in the too, too cool area of Daikanyama (no, seriously, that entire neighborhood is just Too Cool for me, I don't even know why I was there). There I met stylist Yusuke, who asked if I wanted to appear in a PR photoshoot for the opening of his salon brand's newest branch, boy Tokyo, Harajuku. They're (wisely!) making a site to appeal to foreign clientele--it's a smart move because it's really hard to find a place that has stylists who truly are comfortab…

Feeling a Bit Blue

It astounds me that it's already the end of August. Time has seemed to pass in a bit of a blur: one hot, sticky mess of 100-degree days and only mildly more bearable evenings. I was also fortunate to visit the U.S. for a week (not Chicago I'm afraid, but Wheeling, West Virginia and then San Francisco) for a family reunion. It was lovely to see all the aunts, uncles, and cousins who I hadn't seen in person for several months, if not years. But given the short visit I essentially spent two weeks with my body clock completely confused about what time zone it was supposed to be in.  However, I'm now I'm back in Japan for the near future and have essentially settled back in to my usual rhythm of life. 
This past weekend I decided to engage with my arts-and-crafts side. The summer of 2009, when I first visited Japan, I was lucky enough to try my hand at aizome (indigo dying) in Kyoto. Recently I had a hankering to try it again, and e-stumbled upon a shop in Asakusa call…