My Neighborhood, Be Mine

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Remember Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? On an American TV show on the Public Broadcasting Station, this gentle, vested man would sing a welcome with lines like, ‘It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” and
“Won’t you be my neighbor?”
どうぞ よろしく おねがいします
Douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu
This is one of the important phrases we used when meeting our neighbors in our little neighborhood. It is a gift culture, a culture of quiet-love. We humbly held-out our little baby home-made challahs, braided egg bread, made by my elegant (Japanese) mother-in-law. That was six years ago, around the surrounding homes of our rented home. We moved around the corner, literally 71 steps, one month before our second child was due to make his appearance & hear our words, どうぞ よろしく おねがいします.
“Please be kind to me, as I will be kind to you.”
Show me your neighbourhood around the world
So now, neighbors from abroad, I get to show you my little and lovely Tokyo community.
This is the neatest project, ala The Piri-Piri Lexicon. Each of us bloggers, in showing our ‘hoods, must include the following snapshots:
a playground / play area
a local mode of transport
a typical house/building
a street nearby
a school, nursery or other education facility
a market, supermarket or other shopping outlet
 Here goes! Welcome to my neighborhood in Kami-Nakazato, Tokyo!
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We are at the top, or northern part of Tokyo, Japan. Our prefecture, or ward within Tokyo is called Kita-Ku. It is quite green and peaceful here. When coming back from loud and crowded Shibuya or Shinjuku, say, it is literally a breath of fresh air to step out of the train station and walk up the hill. In the summer, this main street is lined with fluffy crepe myrtle trees. There is a Japanese temple on this same street and when the strung lanterns are lit, it is as if lightening bugs lead me home.
Transport:
When I first moved with my husband, six years ago, from Florida, I was shocked—people here ride bikes on the sidewalk.
Every so often, you’ll spot a serious rider moving with cars on the street, but I quickly learned to share the sidewalk with all those healthy Japanese people, scooting around not in cars, but in sneakers, ringing their bicycle bells.

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This is typical transportation. You really don’t need a car; Tokyo has one of the most premier train systems in the world, and bikes make marketing and getting around much easier than simply getting around on foot. Battery-assist bikes take moms to the next level, as they can get up the hills with children and groceries, no problem. Plus, the added benefit of a car means super-expensive parking and finding spots for your vehicle. This is a mega-city with millions of people riding a most efficient train system. I hop on that, too. Doing everything but riding in my own car feels pretty green.

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Streets here are narrow and trucks have to get through. Needless to say, garbage trucks, moving trucks, basically all vehicles must be small and able to whip around tiny places. No jeep/truck crossovers here. Our former house just about dropped us out on this narrow street. There was no driveway; there is nothing close to a sidewalk when the actual street may almost be as narrow as an actual sidewalk! When leaving the house, I’d have to slowly sneak my nose, then forehead and eyes outside. Whizzing-by delivery trucks and motorcycles had come very close to clipping me!

When my mom first visited, she was shocked when I directed her down a particular street. She refused to call it a street, as it was more like an alley.

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Normal street/home sightings:  On sunny days, futons hang out of windows to air-out after the futon-owners smack them with special futon-hitters to spank-out any allergens and dust. Sun, of course, has its own anti-everything yucky properties, so airing-out futons is an important part of keeping house in Japan.

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Oh, and you will see lots of your neighbors’ underwear, as most homes do not have dryers. The people of Tokyo practice the art of line-drying. You will always feel a bit closer (or not?) after seeing your neighbor’s red undies…

Apartment buildings are called “mansions” here. Even when teeny.

wpid-imag0184.jpg       wpid-imag0205.jpg Our area is one of the older parts of Tokyo, in terms of physical features, shops, temples, and such, as Kita-ku did not suffer from the fire-campaigns that much of Tokyo, and 65 other cities in Japan experienced. This is an old and special part of Tokyo, for sure.

Flowers! Green! We are lucky to live so near to a renown garden. During their rose festivals and evenings of illumination, busloads of Japanese and international tourists pour in and enjoy the Western garden and traditional Japanese features. Brides clad in silk kimonos take their pictures here.

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See the cute aqua taxi? Just to the left is one of the buses bringing people to the rose garden. In a city where space is at a deluxe premium, being able to take the kids an easy two minutes to a park or garden is so appreciated. Space!!!! Speaking of space, or lack of it, most everyone has container gardens, as opposed to planting anything directly into the ground. Some people even employ strung PET bottles as hanging pots.

Fresh Air n Play:

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We look forward to our rose ice cream at the garden, too, made with petals and rose water!

Of course, there are more parks with playgrounds.

runnnnn

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We also have CHERRY BLOSSOMS in two neighborhood parks! I don’t mean to brag. It is not a fancy neighborhood. Houses are quite modest, plain, and small. However, our parks and gardens are written-up in the top five and top ten lists! Here is a peak at sakura/cherry blossom time:

rock park

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One of the local kids’ spots is actually situated under a bridge. In warm months, the city turns on the water so that everyone can enjoy water flowing over rocks. Hot Tokyo summers spent splashing in the shade of cherry trees is just marvelous.

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Looking up, the typical Tokyo neighborhood like mine is a grid of telephone cables and internet cables. Electricity serges overhead.

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FOOOOOOD: Our Tokyo neighborhood has oodles of noodle choices, like ramen, soba, and udon, along with tempura and sushi. My faaaaave, though, is a swankish spot called The White Fox, that is an artful fusion of Japanese and European. The chef is classically trained, comes from Michelin-stared restaurants, & is here, right in my neck of the woods!

Of all the possible places a New Yorker could have set up his pizza shop, he chose our area! NY pizza in Japan?! You should have heard me flip when I first found out. We are in their delivery radius and that, my dears, is a glorious thing. Won’t you be my neighbor now?

Here is a nearby open-all-night soba and tempura shop, a few strides from the train station. How about that poster?! This is a poster for a cool kind of fight/musical set in Tokyo!

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There are tea and coffee shops, too, from Starbucks to mom & pop shops. My visiting mother & I spent a relaxing morning in this neighborhood tea shop, Orange Pekoe.

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Nursery school life:

Both of my children are at a hoikuen, a public nursery school, supported in part by the government. In Japan, teachers are nationally certified and wonderful. Have you read Bringing Up Bebe, an American expat’s look at raising kids in Paris? The author toutes the creche, the Japanese nursery school system. Japanese hoikuens and yochiens also boast many of the same benefits and features! The kids’ meals are also wonderful. Being a foreigner and choosing to place your child in the local school system is such a fantastic decision. The school becomes the heart of your community & you are connected–voila!

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Here is a snapshot of our guy in his classroom, while his sister is underneath, enjoying a summer festival day in yukata, or a kind of summer kimono.

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As for markets & grocery shopping, there is a main walking street. Think old-time tofu shop (making several varieties), produce stands, bakeries, and three or so fish shops (duh, right! This is Japan).

Here is a picture of some tentacled goods:

tacos

See this post for more on octopus on the table!

Thanks so much for dropping by.

Always lots happening–the challenge is sitting down to give words to all the fun and change.

Wishing you the very-ery best,

Melibelle xoxoxo

temple look

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Poetical Neighborhetical

Later on, I will be sharing a post in part of the Show Me Your Neighbourhood series, started by The Piri-Piri Lexicon, the amazing blogger, learned in linguistics and part of a 4-language family living in Germany. I will be posting a more linear post, but here is a more poetic ode first.

Show me your neighbourhood around the world

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My neighborhood is tufts of snow, heavy hanging dandelion before they blow away,

sakura spring

chartered busloads of visitors eager for momiji, the palette of maple printed on pointed leaves.

My neighborhood is cicadas buzzing, students holding long staffs in hand for kendo practice after school,

and long kimono pants at graduation.

The steam of sticky rice pounded under a mallet or paddle.

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My neighborhood is a shizukana matcha–

a quiet area with neighbors smiling down from bikes and all of the glass removed fro would-be windshields as everyone goes on foot or skinny bike tires.

Here we know every cat, every garden and owner face-to-face.

This is a hammock in the trees, an onset set in the mega-city. It is running into the woman who helps me mail my packages overseas, still unsure how to address my domestic letters.

My neighborhood is Kita-ku, north Kaminakazato, started as a mystery, a strange address that might as well have been stationed in a shroud of clouds.

After six years, it is still mystery, but mine. It is every window, every doorframe.

Each celebration the pride of a temple. It is where I become a mom and brought home my two little birds.

It is dog walks and where to land the best pastry.

It is all of us growing right here, in these ways.