tokyo dreaming: todai and ebisu


On Friday I took the train to the Komaba campus of Tokyo University (Todai) to meet my longtime friend and colleague, Mary Knighton, who ‘graduated’ from the position I hold at Osaka University to take a position at Todai. Mary and I entered graduate school at Berkeley in the same year, took several classes together, and became fast friends. I really owe my stay here in Japan almost entirely to Mary, since it was entirely through her that I knew anything about the exchange program between Berkeley’s American Studies Department and Osaka University’s Graduate School of Language and Culture. In fact, when I first came to Osaka it was Mary who really helped set me up — without her I would probably have gone for weeks (if not months!) without a phone, an internet connection, and proper introductions to my neighbors. So I was really excited to visit Mary toward the end of my first year in Japan, and toward the end of her first year at Todai. We had a great lunch together, and we talked. And talked! Neither of us really like talking on the phone, so it was quite a blabfest since there was a year or so of gossip and rumor to get out of the way. After lunch I did some research at the Todai library while Mary got some work done in her office, which is located on the 8th floor of a newer tower on campus (the view of Shinjuku in the photo was taken from the 8th floor of this tower).

After hanging out at Todai for a bit we headed for Ebisu Station where we met Mary’s husband Scott, an architect, on the station platform. I had only met Scott once before — at the San Francisco MLA convention (whenever that was) — but I liked him immediately because he’s the kind of guy that it’s impossible not to like immediately. We had some time before dinner, where we would be meeting Mary’s colleague Paul Rossiter and his girlfriend Maya, so we decided to go to What the Dickens? for a beer. What the Dickens? is a British-style pub located at the top of a building in Ebisu, and it’s magnificently done up in handcrafted wood furniture and dark wood paneling, from floor to ceiling. In fact, with it’s nooks and crannies and dark wood overtones, What the Dickens? quite frankly looks just like my mind’s-eye view of The Inn at the Prancing Pony from The Lord of the Rings. Highly recommended.

After a few beers, we wandered around Ebisu looking for the Monsoon Café, a pan-Asian type place, where we were going to have dinner. Even with three different maps, we couldn’t find it. It was Mary who finally had the good sense to drag us to the police box so we could get directions. As Scott put it, the lesson here was “Even with three maps, you sometimes need a fourth. And a policeman.” Which can certainly be true in Japan. In any case, we did finally make it to the Monsoon Café where Paul and Maya had kindly kept a table for us and quickly made sure that more red wine was on order. Paul is a poet, and I have his book The Painting Stick (Pine Wave Press, 2005) sitting in front of me now. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far it’s witty (and not in even joyful would be a better way to put it. He says the best part of it may be the cover, which is a painting of a goat by Joseph Beuys, but with lines like the following, I think he must be wrong:

plethoral drumcussions

(from “Concerto Piccolo” — sorry Paul, the web coding hasn’t allowing for proper spacing here)

In any case the evening was spent discussing jazz, discussing culture, discussing the food we were eating, and drinking scudfulls of red wine. We finally said good night on a sardine-crowded midnight Yamanote train. I can’t wait to go back.

On a side note, I saw Paul and Maya again last week in Kyoto where we had dinner in a basement izakaya called The Air-Raid Shelter. It was fusion food, and totally delicious. We drank them out of their entire cellar of red wine and we ended up delighted with the “death potatoes,” essentially frenchfries cooked in chili oil with a delicious peppery dip on the side. It’s the hottest thing I’ve eaten since I’ve been in Japan. The Air-Raid Shelter played Japanese reggae the entire time we were there and it was unbelievably great. I’ve heard some Japanese reggae before, and wasn’t so impressed, but it turns out that, like everything else, you have to know what you’re looking for. There wasn’t one bad song the entire time we were there. It also turns out to be a small, small world — Maya knows one of the owners of PressPop, who happen to make Dan Clowes’s Little Enid dolls, a fine example of which is sitting, moping perhaps, in my storage unit in Oakland. PressPop also publishes the Japanese editions of works by Adrian Tomine, Jim Woodring, etc., and they produce the Archer Prewitt mini SoF’Boy vinyl figurine, which it turns out both Maya and I have sitting at home.


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