Jun 28, 2015

four drinks

Friday, I invited some colleagues over and we sat and had a few beers on our patio, talked about the office. Afterwards, we all went to an adios house party thrown by Lys, our most recent and now departing Mexican intern. In that span of about seven hours, by my count, I had a total of three domestic beers, and between two and three shots. It turns out that four drinks is probably my new line that should not be crossed.
Saturday was not a total loss: it was a reminder of how wonderful it is being not deathly ill. I can't remember being so nausiously hungover ever. Sunday was mosly recovering from Saturday, although I made breakfast and dinner for Saori and I. Welcome to 30. (Actually, I should point out I was not the oldest one at the party: two guys there were a few years older than me.)

Jun 22, 2015

rain tide

The hot summer has given way to the time of rain in Stuttgart. It's been really quite cool out and very wet. I miss the heat and sunshine. Maybe after the rains, we'll get a real summer again.

I had my last A2.2 class last Thursday. I would have gotten a completion certificate but for the fact I missed 7 classes. Oh well, can't do anything with these certificates anyway. We ended class early and went to have a beer together at the bar downstairs, Amadeus. It's been a fun and diverse group of students. Indian engineers, a Japanese businessesman, an Aussie housewife, an Italian English teacher, a Spanish architect. The thing that really ties them all together is their loneliness in Germany, which ranges from light tiredness and alienation to desperate longing for social contact.

Now that I'm on to the B levels of German, I have a few choices. I can either sign up for another round of the night course, I can sign up for an intensive course, or I can study on my own and use what I learn at the office where everyone speaks German to me anyway.

The intensive course is probably too time intensive to get approval from the office. Also, it's really expensive, $800+ for two months, classes every day, but it gets you really fluent really quickly.

I've been learning a bit about the history of the German language, and it's connection to English. English, Dutch and German came from the same root language, and really didn't split apart that long ago. In the middle ages, when modern "high German" evolved from the old German, there was a phenomenon called consonant shift. Starting in Switzerland, and slowly moving north,  many of the sounds of consonants shifted.

For example, apple in English was aepple in old English, appel in Dutch, and apFel in German. Old German schip (ship) became schiFF in the high German.

T shifted to Z, and D shifted to T. It's revealing then when you look at a word like "Zeit" (time). Shift the consonants back and you get "Teid" (tide) which is another way of looking at time.

Jun 20, 2015


My office asked me if I wanted to go to an 'Expert Seminar' and learn about window systems last week. I asked if I was going to be in German. Ja, naturlich. I said, Ja, gerne. It was at least going to get me out of the office on a friday afternoon. And, truth be told, I was curious what German 'lunch and learns' were like.

I went with Benni and we headed over after lunch to the Garden Hilton at Neckarpark. The Garden Hilton has been pushing a lot of PR about how wonderful Stuttgart is lately, for reasons that remain infathomable to me. The location of the hotel is great- if you are either going to the Mercedes-Benz museum, the stadium, or whatever event is going on at the Wasen, like Oktoberfest.

We found our way to the conference rooms where I ran into an ex-colleague, Luis, who apparently found work in less than three weeks. Right now is apparently a great time for architects in Stuttgart, lots of work, lots of jobs. My office isn't seeing it, for reasons that remain unclear to me. However, despite our current win/loss record the office doesn't give me the feeling of being strapped for capital.

Anyway, what made the presentation by the manufacturers interesting for me was 1) the fact that they told us how old they were first thing, as in, "my name is so and so and I am 43 years old..." 2) I learned some new german vocab for window parts, and 3) after the sales pitch, everyone knocked on the tables, which is apparently something people in the Uni here after the professor concludes a lecture.

Of course there was swag. A piece of recycled plastic they are now using as a thermal break in a window system, and a surprsingly useful compact USB power reserve charger.

After the spiel, we all walked over to the Mercedes-Benz museum and bought us all a guided tour, focusing on the architecture.

The MBM is a bit of a missed opportunity in my book. The outside is a mess, it looks like a glass building and a steel panel building got sucked into the same black hole and froze in a warped state. The glass has a wavy frit pattern on it for no reason other to suggest movement.

I can accept the rounded triangle form since it reflects also the interior spiraling circulation and the rotary engine movement (which Mercedes-Benz engineers devised). The spiral circulation, the triangular form, this is enough. Let the building stand on it. But they don't. They tart it up with fritt patterns, an overabundance and over use of different materials, lighting, themes, etc.

For me, this is somewhat symptomatic of German design. There is a rigorous and meticulous design process which produces something highly efficient, well-thought out, and well-made. But something that makes a thing warm and human is also stripped out of it, or was never a part of it to begin with. Cameras, clocks, cars.

There is a mechanicalism at the core of German-ness. There is an expression in German das klappt or das klappt nicht. Klappen is a kind of onomatopoeia, the satisfying sound of something closing correctly, like a car door or a cabinet door or really anything mechanical with a flap where metal has to meet metal in a precise way. The expression has come to mean if something, anything, works, or fits, or makes sense.

But this reductivist mechanism can be depressing and cold. Nobody really wants to live in a "machine for living in". So Germans decorate and ornament. They build refined clock movements and conceal them behind gingerbread, kitschy, deliberately rustic wooden facades in the form of cuckoo clocks. Overly adorable signage and lawn gnomes and balcony plants to hide and distract from the ruthlessly sterile utilitarian housing behind it.

In sharp contrast, the Japanese have always emphasized the human-ness of their designs. They make things that elevate what it means to be human- there is a heavy use of wood and natural materials because not only does it feel better, but there is a psychological and physical connection to nature. Laquer bowls designed to be held and viewed in the dim light of a candle, when the laquerware technology originated.

Anyway, I have once again rambled far afield here.
We were out of the museum at 5pm, an hour before I would have gotten off normally, so we sat down at nearby bar and translated the words I wrote down at the seminar, drank a beer, and waited for our colleauges to come join us.

Jun 15, 2015

Engagement photos

One of the main reasons we went to Japan was to take engagement and wedding photos with Saori's family. It was something that she really wanted to do, it meant a lot to her family, and I was just sad that we couldn't get her grandmother involved because of her health. 

Saori and her mom had to make reservations at the photo studio about a month before, and we cleared our schedules in Japan around the event. The night before, Saori and her mom went through cubbords pulling out carefully wrapped family kimonos to pick the kimono for the engagement photos. It was really interesting to see the  beautiful and ornate patterns, which are actually very unusual and uncommon. 

The next day, the entire family trooped in, minus Saori's sister Ayumi. Her dad Shigeru-san, her mom Yoshiko-san, and her brother Kazuma. Only her brother came in already dressed, looking really good in a very nice suit. It also helps that Kazuma has a scarecrow physique- a hair taller than me with long thin arms and legs. 

The staff at the studio seated us in the waiting lobby which was full of kimonos, hibiyas (men's traditional formal dress), poofy princessy dresses for little girls, and a bunch of different styles of suits. They handed Shigeru-san and I a slim catalog like a menu and asked us how we would like to be dressed. I picked out the most austere and traditional hibiya for the wedding photo, and the most conservative traditional european suit for the engagement photos. 

They pulled Saori and her mom out almost immediately to the dressing rooms to start getting them ready since they take the longest. This is not Olan Mills- they had very specific staff for each part. In addition to the photographer, there were assistants who dress you, who do your hair, and who put on your makeup (although none for me, and I just dragged a comb across my head). 

The men hung out in the waiting room, watching a big group of little girls prance around in thier dresses, chatted a bit, and looked at the other kimonos and hibiyas. It was a lot of just hanging around. Finally I was called to the to back and they started the process of dressing me in a hibiya. 

On my own I put on a special undergarment like a loose pair of long underwear, except with a giant scoop front, and I figured out how to put on the tabi booties that you wear with the geta sandals. My dresser came in and got to work padding me up. Traditional Japanese clothing is a lot like origami, or giftwrapping: it's not about what the gift is or how it looks as much as giving it a special packaging to highlight it's value. The material is very stiff, with lots of folds and layers, and apparently, it's better to have a big build especially in the chest. So they gave me a padded vest and shoulder pads, and then wrapped me around the midsection tightly with something like an ace bandage to hold everything in place, and tighten the stomach. 

Yoshiko-san was being prepped in the dressing room beside mine, and she occationally yelled through the curtains the translation of whatever the dressing assistant was asking me to do. I didn't recognize her at first, actually, the tranformation was so surprising since I rarely have seen Saori's mom in a lot of makeup or that kind of formal attire.

Then came a robe kind of shirt thing, and then I stepped into a very wide pair of pants which was almost more like an apron or a skirt, and then they tied another belt over the inside belt, before helping me put on the black over jacket-outer robe thing. This one, like the others in the studio, had a seal of two crossed feathers on it, which was, I guess a pretty generic "family crest" which is what is traditionally supposed to be there. (Dew was wearing the same thing I was, except his was from Yoshimi's family because it had her crest on it). The jacket was connected with a white cord and a big white poof like a bunny tail. They handed me a closed fan, and then I stepped into the sandals, and I was ready to rock and roll. Or just roll since I felt really constrained wearing the garment. I robot shuffled back to the waiting area where Shigeru-san was already waiting wearing his. He looked really good in a hibiya. 

I felt really self-conscious in mine. Looking in the mirror, I had impish and perverse thoughts about asking for a set of swords to stick in the belt, or a traditional samurai hairpeice. It was a serious thing we came to do and I wanted to look appropriate and dignified, which is a challenge when you are not accustomed to the attire. It's a bit like the difference between the mindset of wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat to a western theme college party as an ironic costume and wearing them seriously to a country wedding, rodeo, or funeral. 

Anyway, we were finally all called together and I finally saw Saori fully dressed and coifed. She looked exquisite. She was wearing a really elaborate all white kimono, much more elaborate and more layered then what I was wearing. The fabric and peices on her kimono were so structural and thickly folded that it seemed almost like she was wearing a really elegant space suit. 

They ushred us into one of the two studios, a fairly large room, where we spent probably the better part of an hour taking various photos in different postures, with the family, without, with different backdrops and lighting, leaves dangled in front of the camera, etc.
The photographer positioned us like manaquins, with our hands at particular places and doing particular things. I mostly just gripped the fan I had been given. A fist clutching a fan is apparently the way to do it. We looked at him, we looked at each other, the family looked at us, I looked at a particular spot on the wall. The photographer spoke some english and he told us to lean one way, to lean the other, to tilt my head down so the glasses didn't catch the glare. We stood, we sat, we kneeled, we even bowed. We started each series with serious faces, or very quiet smiles, and then he asked us to smile more, more, more, laugh! As he clicked away.

After the first round, we went to change for the second round. Shigeru-san and Yoshiko-san had to stay dressed, although Yoshiko-san sat down for awhile. She didn't say anything (in English at least) about how tight or uncomfortable her kimono was, but I noticed she said much less.

For the second series of photos, I was changed out of the hibiya (breath of air!) I put on a black suit which came with a vest, and a short black tie as wide as a hand span. Shiny black shoes which were too big. The first pants I tried on were too tight (seriously grabbing my big thighs), so to stay more formal, I swapped them for a larger pair. Looking in the mirror, I was reminded of a meji-era banker, althouh the suit felt more "natural" than the hibiya. 

Saori wore a blue and orange kimono which was the most beautiful one I have ever seen. Even for a gringo, the quality and beauty of that dress was apparent, and made all the other kimonos hanging up on the racks in the wating area look like cheap rental crap. Saori's grandmother, the one whom we had wanted to see, gave that kimono to her daughter, Saori's mother to wear when she was 20, and she wore it again for her engagement photos. So it was wonderful that Saori could wear it as well.

In the second studio, we shot a new series of photos with different backgrounds, in different arragnements and poses, some cheesier than others. One of the last ones we did, we used a bunch of paper cut out props, which were a bit much but were actually kind of funny at the end. The photographer went really quick although he did ask us if we wanted partiucular poses and I suggested a few things, too.

The studio offered a series of pacakges, but the one we ultimately went with was the "deluge" option- We get all the photos they shot, unedited, uncropped, on a USB drive. It was very expensive, but Saori's parents surprised us with an incredibly generous gift to help. The photos meant a lot to them as well. 

At the end, I am really glad we did it. Going through grandma Case's old photos, especially the really old photos stretching three or four generations back, I could not help but notice that many of them were studio portraits, carefully printed on quality card stock. They are the images they wanted to be kept, the visions of themselves they wanted to present to the future.

Jun 14, 2015

Pretty good salsa

Today I felt in the mood for Mexican food, so I got up and made some huevos rancheros with some fresh made salsa. The salsa was really good, so I'm writing down the recipe here:

Roughly chop:
3 fresh tomatoes
1 medium onion
1 Chipotle pepper from a can
1 fresh jalapeño or medium spicy pepper
1 large clove garlic or 2 small

Throw into a blender with 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon salt. Pulse blend so that it's not a puree but still a textured and chunky sauce. Taste for salt.

Might try adding a bit of lime juice and cilantro next time, although it was perfect with the cheese quesadillas we made for dinner.

Jun 8, 2015

Night at the inn

We spent a night at a traditional inn, which is a facinating experience that you really need to experience if you want to understand Japanese culture. I spent one night at such a place last time I was in Japan six years ago in Nara. We went to another one this trip.

We arrived late to the inn at the Myushinji temple complex in Kyoto. We had to leave our car behind and carry in our luggage including towels and bath supplies. In the dusk, we walked along the cobblestone paths lined with the old walls, with ornate temple gatehouses splitting off to the left and to the right. We were actually so late to the inn, they closed the main doors, and we had to duck through the small sliding door beside the main gate.

We walked through a small garden and entered the vestibule of the inn complex. These inns are difficult to really understand on first sight- it may present itself at first as a small tradtional japanese style house. Actually, the typical layout is a series of buildings and halls connected by walkways and paths. The host greeted us at the vestibule, where we leave behind our shoes. She laid down the ground rules (in Japanese) and then lead us to our rooms.

This inn, like many other tradtional inns, were built in temple complexes stretching back hundreds of years to accomodate traveling buddhist monks. They are the literal equivilant to staying in a monestary (except the hosts are not usually monks). There is a strict curfew- if we hadn't checked in before 9, we would not have been allowed to stay. There is a lights out time, and particular times when you can take a bath. Why? Because there is only one bathroom in the inn (that is, the room for bathing, there were separate male and female toilet rooms available anytime).

The guest rooms were all located in one large building with a narrow creaky wooden corridor running around the outside. Inside, there was a heavy wall running through the center of the building, with the guest rooms formed on either side, separated by sliding paper walls. There are identical paper walls separating your room from the corridor. Forget ninja asssassins, small dogs could get you in this hotel (which is why they don't allow pets). The corridor is separated from the outside by thin sliding glass walls which rattled around in their old wooden frames. The guest rooms are tatami, the tight woven straw flooring. They actually feel really nice on bare feet, and there is the light smell of fresh straw when you get closer to the floor to sit or sleep.

Your bed is a futon, basically a series of pads you fold out and matresses you lay out on top of them. The matresses are all quite thin for western standards- no internal springs, foam, or structure. But you are sleeping, at the end, on the tatami floor, which provides all the support you need.

There was only two other guests at the hotel that night- a couple who stayed in a room a few rooms down from ours. This hotel makes you incredibly aware of yourself and your surroundings. No wifi, no TV, no radio. It's a place for contemplation, or contemplating nothing. The thin walls make you speak very quietly. The age of the temple complex and the buildings do not so much demand respect as simply state their longevity and hundreds of years of dedicated care. Everything you see is as clean, ageworn, and meticulously detailed as a musician's prized violin. You think about the size of your body, the way you walk and the sound of your footsteps on the wood floors, or the texture and scent of the tatami. Stripped of the usual media distractions, with quiet conversation your only entertainment, these inns are quite sensual. Not in a sexual way (partly because it would feel like sex in church, but also because everyone can hear you if you so much as cough), but because the experience becomes so much about what you see, hear, and touch directly.

They give you a loose tradiational robe to wear, and you take that to the bath, where you strip down to nothing in the bathroom anteroom, which is filled with baskets where you leave your clothing towel, etc. There is something about being nude in basically a public space which makes you very very aware of yourself and what all your body parts are doing and how you move through space. The main bathroom has a series of faucets with hand held shower heads for scrubbing and washing off while you sit on small stools, and then you can soak in the big wooden tub, which is used by all the guests (although not at the same time). You come out, feeling clean, and you wear this very simple cotton robe as you quietly pad your way back to the room, conscuious of the feeling of the stiff fabric on your skin.

Saori, her mom, and I spent some time in the garden in front of the inn vestibule (but inside the inn grounds) watching the moon and listening to the drip of water, and the strange coaking of frogs. Saori's mom was saying that you can only find these frogs in places with very pure water, which I don't really understand but there you go.

We ate some traditional red bean paste sweets and hot tea that the inn left for us in the rooms, and then we unrolled our beds, brushed our teeth, and went to bed.

Jun 4, 2015

Dew's wedding

What was it that made Dew's wedding so special?

Certainly the location helped. It was like Japanese Switzerland set on a hillside leading down to a forrest with snow-dotted mountain peaks in the distance. The weather was warm but breezy and brilliantly sunny, but no one can help the weather, apart from picking the best time of the year for a given location.

So the lesson here is: for an outdoor wedding, someplace beautiful, and time the weather for warm (but not too warm).

I liked the amount of structure to the event- there was a time to greet the wedding couple, there was a time for the wedding ceremony itself. Those were really the two "mandatory" events. Additionally, there was a time where Dew and Yoshimi cut the cake, er, roast beef, a time where they were toasted by their families, and a time where Yoshimi came out in her second wedding dress (not the Kimono) and they had a little procession a few times with the families and with Dew's coworkers, but these were really "just pay attention if you are interested" kind of moments. The ending of the event was actually around midnight, when they told the remaining people that we had to go to our little guesthouses. It was all remarkably casual structure, especially for Japanese.

After this wedding, I am convinved that a sit down dinner is not what I want to do. I don't need big round tables where you are basically stuck for service and rounds of speeches and watching people dance. A buffet and a variety of seating options worked really well.

Speaking of food and drinks. I love love love the fact that this wedding and the Tojo's wedding had an open bar. Limited selection, sometimes limited supply, but free. I really want people to not have to pull out their wallets and pay as they go for a drink. This is not a high school reunion.

The food was spectular. Not fancy- grilled vegetables and local cheeses set out early as appetisers, and then a big slab of meat and grilled sausages and meats later on for a heartier fare. The only problem was that at least as far as the roast beef was concerned, there was only enough for everyone to have a taste and then regret not having more.

I missed the dancing at this wedding. At all of the weddings I have been to, dancing and music have been a key part of the wedding festivities. People drink and dance or simply enjoy watching the dancers. I like the idea of having a dance floor area, but then it requires lots of people to dance, musicians and/or a DJ and a soundsystem etc. Can be tricky for an outdoor wedding unless you rig something up. I love live music more, I would be content to have good live music over a dance floor and a DJ.

Other things I liked about the wedding- tons of candles and lanterns. The pavillion they made was draped with tul, which caught the strung lights and the entire thing glowed in the darkness like a giant lantern.

Saori loved all the flower arrangments everywhere. We need to have lots of flowers at our wedding.

They also had lots of photos on sticks. It was a small detail, but you would come across a quiet moment and stumble across a cute photo of the couple.

I also liked the age range. There was Dew's grandmother whom everyone ported around in a plastic lawn chair, and Mark D's kid who ran around. It feels more right to have have older as well as much younger people there, that the wedding is a moment in a continuum, part of a bigger spectrum of life.

I liked not having to worry about driving afterwards.


The flight back to Stuttgart was not so bad. It helped that we were both exhausted and basically passed out whenever the opportunity presented itself. I slept on the bus to the airport, and more than half of the 12 hour flight to Istanbul. In Istanbul we picked up a kilo of turkish delght at the "old bazaar" at the airport, and then it was a short 3 hour flight that we slept through back to Stuttgart. We got home a little after 11pm.

I went into work the next day, got up to speed on what the situation was in the office and started working on my latest project. Took off work around 3 when jet lag really started kicking in and went grocery shopping with Saori since we basically came back to an empty refrigerator. Fortunately, perishables are cheap in Germany.

Worked a normal work day yesterday, until a little after 6. I am so out of the habit. Around 3pm, I started looking around for a beer, or an iced coffee or something. Not used to this whole "professional" thing.

Thankfully, today is a state holiday because it's Corpus Chirsti. Already really hot outside, at least 30 C. We walked to stadtmitte and back. Everyplace was filled with people with red banners visiting a huge multiday "church days" festival of religiosity. One of the squares was even taken up by a bunch of Martin Luther themed booths and tents.

Still tired from the jet lag and the heat.

Jun 2, 2015

Japan Itenerary

We spent a little less than two weeks in Japan, which felt impossibly short. Here is how we spent our time.

5.20 Late landing at Narita airport. 2 hour bus ride to Yokohama, where Saori's mom and dad picked us up and drove us to thier house. Pan fried fish for dinner.

5.21 Recovery day shopping in Aobadai in Yokohama UNIQLO shopping, Mr. Donuts, long walk to the local mall to hunt for pressure cookers with Yoshiko-san, fake French cafe, talking to Yoshiko-san's english classes.

5.22 Up and out early to central Tokyo. Tsukiji fish market, sushi bowl lunch at the fish market. Walking through Ginza, more UNIQLO shopping at the flagship store. Watched half of a Kabuki theater performance at the main Tokyo kabuki theater, standing at the back. Hibijako-en park stroll, stumbling across Japanese Oktoberfest, talking with Japanese brewers about smoked german beers.

5.23 Early train to Tokyo central station. Met Dew's friends who drove us all to Nasu for Dew's wedding festivities. Dew's surreal and fantastic and wonderful wedding. After party at the 'Gaijin house' until 3 AM.

5.24 wake up in a guest house full of people, take down of the wedding site and distribution of leftover flowers, vases, etc. Caught a ride with Sekizawa-kun (bride's dress designer) and Sebastian (german photographer). Drove over to a remote and beautiful ancient resort town at the bend of a mountain river, iced matcha on the riverbank, discussion of art and ceramics in the town with Sekizawa's friend who is reluctantly the 17th generation to take care of the old inn. Showa cafe coffee and cake. Crazy ride through night time Tokyo with a frozen navigation system, and a new driver with a lead foot.

5.25 Family engagement and wedding photos taken in a studio with full ceremonial dress, which took about four hours but we ended up with a full USB stick with all the photos. Small earthquake. Coffee in Matchida where the photo studio was. Meeting up with Dew and Yoshimi and  Hiep in Shinjuku, driving over to Gonpachi, the restaurant where they filled the "Crazy 88" fight in Kill Bill. Walk over to hidden trendy bar These library for expensive but delicious custom fruit and spice cocktails. Night drive through Mejidori to see Omotesando new architecture and Harajuku.

5.26 Up at 5am to drive to Kyoto. Stopped to eat at Biwa-ko (lake) for a rest stop lunch overlooking the lake before heading on to Kyoto to join the crowds visiting the Golden Pavillion at Kinkaku-ji. Pressed on to the zen rock garden where we sat and counted the 15 stones, and then walked along the river and Arashiyama. Soba and grilled eel dinner, and then walking through Myushin-ji zen buddhist temple complex to the traditional inn with wood floors, tatami floors in the rooms, one shared bathroom, and paper screens.

5.27 Up at 5:20 am to to hear the buddhist monks chant. Stumbling like a zombie through the ancient temple complex. Breakfast at the inn of the tradiational vegan monk's breakfast. Kiyomizu-dera temple, walk through the historic wooden neighborhood of Kiyomizu, throwing our own noodle bowls on a potters wheel. Yasaka shrine,  walk through Gion, and coffee break. Counting the 1001 life sized buddhas at the temple Sanjusangen-ji, quick visit to see the funereary statues at Aoashino Nenbutsu-ji, the lovely moss gardens and towering bamboo groves at Gio-ji, and lastly the Jojakuko-ji temple to see the renovation of the main hall. Luxury bath at the Ranzan hotel, large set dinner in our yukata, night stroll along the river with Saori in our yukata and sandals.

5.28 Elaborate breakfast at the Ranza hotel, mandatory $5 coffee break at the hotel lobby. Toji-in temple with the  paintings of Daruma, bamboo garden walk. Fushimi Inari shrine with the torii covered mountain paths and stone foxes, household protection ceremony administered to Saori and I by shinto priests. Yakisoba lunch from one of the stands outside of the shrine. UNESCO Phoenix hall at the Byodin temple complex, museum, and tour of the interior. Drive across the mountainous green interior to the pacific coast, to the tiny fishing village of Hamajima. Elaborate traditional seafood dinner, inn bath with a whale fountain, falling asleep on tatami with sound of waves outside.

5.29 Seafood breakfast, drive to Ise, visit to the grand shrine of Ise, sweets (akahuku) and cold tea, ferry ride from Toba to Irago, drive back to Yokohama.

5.30 Saori's parents drive us to just recently opened Nezu museum in Omotesando by Kengo Kuma to look at swords and fashion accessories from Edo Japan. Coffee and cakes at fancy cafe, Jioya and makisushi dinner. Large, long earthquake, watching "Thermae Romanae".

5.31 Slow morning, wandering through Matchida for shopping, ramen lunch at a famous ramen bar, last spin through UNIQLO and MUJI. Saori's mom made us a big dinner of grilled fish, drinking beer and sake, packing.

Notes from Dew's wedding

This blog post is a reference for weddings and it may go into nauseating detail. But it was a really good one.

Technically, Dew and Yoshimi were married several months ago, in a small beaurocratic exchange of paperwork in a Tokyo government office. But where is the fun in that?

Dew is an ususually idosyncratic Japanese architect with a flair for the dramatic and playful. Yoshimi is a sweet and lovely accomplished Ikebana flower arranger, who comes from a family of dairy farmers. A farm wedding was in order.

Saori and I received an invitation in the mail and then a follow up once we had replied. The follow up was a detailed A3 sheet with instructions for where to meet in Tokyo, the overall theme of the wedding, notes on attire and lodging, and brief bios of the various people who key players in the wedding.

We met at the arranged time at Tokyo central station, which was probably selected because it is at the center of the Tokyo transportation network and the Japanese bullet trains. Two of Dews local friends were there with small flags with the logo Dew made particularly for the wedding. We checked in with them and waited about half an hour before one of our hosts announced we were all getting on the bus, and on we went.

The trip was a straight shot to Nasu, about three hours long, which is at the far end of what seems like a reasonable bus trip. We unloaded at the site, a countryside area dotted with small inns with rental cabins and farms.

Dew had been out on the site repeatedly over the past few weeks, pouring simple foundations and building the pavillion, and he had been there for the past day or two with a dozen or so friends and family doing the final set up.

I would estimate that the total size of the wedding party was around 150 people, the vast majority of whom seemed to be friends of Dew and Yoshimi as well as the apparently the entire KDA office.

Dew was wearing the traditional hakama robes for weddings, with the emblem of Yoshimi's family on it. Off the bus, we dropped our luggage at the guesthouse and joined a reception line at the guesthouse to officially greet Dew and have him welcome us. According to Saori, Dew kept a lot of the traditions from typical Japanese weddings. Also at the guesthouse, Saori changed dresses into something more formal. The guesthouse had bathrooms (or at least, a bathroom), and segregated male and female areas for changing. It was also the bride's dressing room.

Anyway, after meeting up with friends and saying hello to Dew we followed people down to the pavillion. The pavilion was made up a large ring of simple plywood tables sitting on wooden sawhorses, surrounded by a ring of posts and beams, from which white, gauzy tul was fixed and hung to about a half meter of the ground to form a continuous billowy enclosure. The tul was bought from Ikea, and I have no idea where he got the plywood.

The ring table had a sign in wedding book, and each couple were issued a disposable camera which were numbered so they would know who took which photos. We also had our picture taken with an instant develop camera which we signed and then the photo was taken to be placed on a stick around the site. The entire site was actually filled with photos of Dew and Yoshimi affixed to small sticks. There were at least two people doing sign in and explaining the cameras, etc.

The ground was dirt and grass, basically, which is why Dew warned people against heels. We walked around the table, part of which had been laid out with a spread of olives, cheeses, vegitables, and small appetisers and hors d'vours. Beers were served out of a large galvinized feed bucket filled with icewater. Three types of beer, all local, although they also had red and white wine. Everything was open- no cash bar, no tip jar. I never felt like I was asking for too much or that there was too limited of a supply (although the beer did run out towards the end of the night).

The pavilion was surrounded by a variety of seating from tree trunk stools to benches, haybales covered with small simple Ikea floor rugs to proper picnic tables and chairs. Also scattered around were tons of candles and lanterns and flowers.

We drank and snacked for about an hour or two and then we were led to the crop circle, a patch of barley field which had been spared from mowing except for a wide circle in the center. At one end, there was a small dais created with a stack of wooden pallets which is where Dew waited with his mom and the officiator of the service, Astrid K, one of the heads of KDA in Tokyo where Dew works. Mark D, the other head, was also there. He was the pilot of a drone which buzzed around and filmed the whole thing from the air, which was actually kind of irriating when the ceremony was happening.

Yoshimi made a dramatic appearance in her wedding kimono riding on her dad's farming tractor, appearing to float over the eye height barley. She came into the clearing escorted by her father, who took up a position also at the front as she came up to join Dew on the small dias.

Astrid delivered the vows in Japanese- she used the similie of baking a cake to describe marriage (pinch of this, a cup of that, etc.) and asked both in turn if they wanted to make this cake. "Hai" all around, and everyone clapped. Simple ceremony really. Then everyone came up and congratulated the couple with hugs, bows, and handshakes. Then it was time for lots of photos as people came up and took photos in groups with the couple.

There was a professional photographer there, but he was probably redundant as I would be hard pressed to pick out the professional from all the people shooting the couple with DSLR cameras. He did take some group shots from a ladder though. Additionally, there were at least two people coordinating the entire thing on the ground with ear peices and clipboards making everything was going smoothly.

We went back to the main ring and the reception commenced. It was kicked off by the best roast beef I have ever had. The marbeling was exquisite. It actually served in lieu of the cake since Dew and Yoshimi carved the first peice together. Everyone lined up and got a new plate of food including a few thin slices. There were a series of toasts where everyone cheered the couple, and Dew drank from a carton of milk from Yoshimi's family farm. Dessert was brought out consisting of a chocolate mousse.

A few different cuts of meat came out to be grilled on a big steel drum grill in the center of the ring, where more chairs were set up, including some link pork sausage which was not only the best sausage I'd ever had, but also best ever had by the German guy I was talking to.

We ate, drank, and chatted for at least four or five more hours. When it got dark, they switched on a grid of hanging bulbs strung over the pavillion, lit the candles around, and everything looked fantastic.

Yoshimi and Dew called everyones attention to the gift bags and explained what was inside. The gift bags themselves were made of waxed canvas with a colored strap, a gift itself, and included a small soap and a small jar of jam packed in paper shreds from Yoshimi's hometown. The people who were going back to Tokyo that night, then filed by, thanking the couple, and bringing the bags with them to the bus which drove off into the night, to deliver them all probably around 11 or 12 back to central Tokyo.

And that was the end of the official wedding. The 40 of us remaining as special guests for the night stayed and drank and ate and chatted on for another few hours, late into the night. We were split into four groups and we walked over to the guest houses. Each guest house was basicaly a small Japanese cottage with a small kitchen, a bathoom, and some rooms with stacks of futons. Saori and I were in the Gaijin (foreigner) house along with many of the KDA people including the K and the D themselves. The 14 of us spread out futons and basically covered the entire floor.

But first, there was an afterparty mostly fueled by Mark D, Dew's boss, who made a run to the local convenience store for more beers, ice, gin, and Shu-Hi, a canned mixed drink with shochu and grapefruit. We sat on the wood deck outside the door of the gaijin house and drank and talked until about 4 am when the battery on Mark's iphone died and he couldn't show the remaining three of us any more Eddie Izzard clips on YouTube.

The next day the people who stayed the night helped break everything down and clean up, fueled by the copious iced tea and farm fresh yogurt laid out by the pavilion.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende