Japanese Culture: Japanese Culture & Shopping In New York
Japan in New York: Japan in New York Diary
Joanne G. Yoshida
My daughter took her first steps on an airplane between New York and Tokyo.
That she learned to walk while in the air as we flew from one country to the other was a milestone that perhaps reflected our journey between two 'homes'.
The plane ride was a long fourteen hours for me; I held her hand as she tottered down the aisles the whole time, exuberant in her new stride. Since then she and I have made that trip a dozen times, as each year we go from our home in Japan (she was born here) to my furo-sato (hometown) in New York.
From the beginning Y loved going to New York and being with family there, but she also clearly exhibited signs of homesickness each time. She cried for the foods she missed, for her friends and bits of the culture that was home to her.
Over the years we have found the best medicine for her home-sickness is to find small doses of Japanese culture in New York. From sushi on the Upper East Side where the chef is from Beppu to a Japanese family-run restaurant in Westhampton, to a haircut at Hayato and some DVDs from Sunrise Mart, we are finding that the remedy to cure or at least put off homesickness is to find Japan in New York whenever we can.
One of our first stops in New York City is Kinokuniya, a three-floor Japanese bookstore in midtown across from Bryant Park. You might remember it from its original location across from Rockefeller Center. I used to go there when I lived in New York, in the years when I was getting to know Japan through its books.
The store relocated several years ago in 2007 to its present location, and expanded its focus from Japan to all of Asia and beyond, though to me it still has a very Japanese feel, from the basement gift shop of stationary items, origami, and tenugui (Japanese traditional multi-purpose hand towels), to the manga selection and extensive English books on Japan.
Kinokuniya is once again in a great central spot for finding Japanese books of all kinds, and it now has a terrific view from the second floor cafe overlooking Bryant Park. A branch of Cafe Zaiya, a Japanese-style pastry and sandwich shop, has bentos, sandwiches, and onigiri as well as a coffee and tea selection and is perfect for sitting and reading or people watching while enjoying your books. The day we went this trip the bentos were sold out, but there were still a few remaining Japanese style breads such as an-pan - a soft roll filled with sweet red beans - and dora-yaki -sweet red bean filling sandwiched between pancake-like rounds - which my mom and I enjoyed while my daughter got her fill of tachi-yomi, standing up and reading her way through the store. She also purchased a manga that she would read at the next stop.
Last time we were in NY for a surprise visit in spring, my daughter and mother got haircuts at Hayato, a Japanese hair salon on E. 23rd Street. My daughter liked it so much that she waited until coming back to NY to get her hair cut again. Maybe going to a Japanese salon while in NY gives her an antidote to her homesickness. When she is in the salon surrounded by sounds of Japanese and in the presence of the magazines and style that is comforting to her, it is as if she arrives home briefly. Plus, they do an excellent cut.
This time we made an appointment for 11:30am. When we left my mother's apartment to head for the subway, half of her block was cordoned off with yellow police tape. We had to walk past TV crews and what looked like a scene from a NY police drama. By the time we got to a crowded subway platform it was already 11:30. The train we finally got on was re-routed for track work and we had to bypass our stop. My mother who is an absolute "I Love New Yorker" was grumbling about what a mess it was. My daughter wished for more of a crowd. She loves rush hour, as there is no subway in Oita where we live and nothing in our small southern Japan city comes close to the rush of the NY crowds.
When we finally got off the train at 23rd St and were above ground again we soon spotted the banner for Hayato blowing in the breeze on the second level of a facade halfway down the block. When we arrived we were buzzed into the building and opened the heavy metal door into an airy loft space where the first thing we saw was a pitcher of iced fruits punch.
Generous and cushiony black arm chairs and matching sofa invited us to sit as a cool staff member dressed in black poured some punch (it was actually iced tea) for us to sip. We'd left the chaotic morning of New York and entered into this serene and timeless moment. That it was a hair salon seemed immaterial. The gracious welcome said that someone here knows how to create an oasis.
Going with a Guidebook
Going from New York to Japan and Japan to New York has begun to feel like passing through a series of sliding doors opening from east to west and back again. "Arriving" and "Departing" transitions are not clearly defined after living between both cultures for twelve years. We eat New York bagels in Japan and sushi in New York, go to Karaoke in New York and make our own knishes in Japan.
Our trip to New York this year started at a bookstore in Oita where my daughter bought a Japanese Guidebook to New York called "aruco, ニューヨーク ". Ever since she became old enough to discover her love of searching and planning, she has turned our summer family visits into whirlwind NY tours.
Although the guidebook had a minimum of Japanese restaurants or shops - maybe even just one, the Rice Ball Cafe Oms/b, which we did go to - the very act of going to NY with a Japanese guidebook keeps us in a Japan state of mind. The book highlights spots where we are sure to wait on long lines - something I never did as a New Yorker and wouldn't be doing now if not for our twelve year old tour guide with a big list of places she wants to explore!
A two hour wait outside the Clinton Baking Company was atarimae (the normal thing to do) for her. And apparently for another group on line who were holding the same Japanese guidebook. She states that the fun only increases when you know you are in a place that everyone is waiting in line to be in.
The Pop-Up Guggenheim
I did pop in my two cents to suggest a visit to a place I was interested in even though it was not on our 'tour' plan. I read an article in the New York Times that an experimental art venue - a Guggenheim outpost as a pop-up lab for ideas on urban living - would be set up in a vacant lot in the East Village while we were in town. It will be there through October 16 after which time it will go on a worldwide tour.
I noticed it was designed by a Japanese architecture firm, Atelier Bow-Wow, and that it was created to spur an international dialogue, so I thought I might be able to add it to this article. It sounded like an interesting crossroads. I got my mom and daughter to come along after the Clinton St Baking Company; we walked off our pancakes, a few blocks west on Houston and came to the temporary structure.
My mother bought a t-shirt in the T-shaped space that was being used for the lab, at a stand set up by a company called "a tee grows in Brooklyn". One of their shirts attracted me in red it read "I Love Brooklyn" with the Chinese character for "love" in place of a "heart". I wondered if I was stretching it to add a mention in my Japan in New York article.
We did get a chance to have some dialogue as I ran into a colleague from my years in New York who just happened to be amongst the speakers that morning. I was thrilled for this impromptu meeting with someone who inspired me greatly and has been an important role model in my life since the time I was living as an artist in New York more than a decade ago.
A few blocks down we spotted a globe being sold at a flea-market beneath a vintage poster also on sale for a Japanese theater production. A friend who we were with is from Japan and has lived in New York the exact amount of time that I who am from New York have been living in Japan. She spun the globe and we all put our fingers on Japan, not knowing quite where we were until my mom suggested getting the 6 train to go back home.
We still had enough ingredients that we'd bought at the Japanese supermarket in the East Village, Sunrise Mart, to put together a potluck dinner to which we'd add the leftover blueberry pancakes from the Clinton Street Baking Company. And after that, we'd check the guidebook to see what my daughter had planned for us tomorrow.
Suggested Japan in New York Links
(Japanese Guide book to New York)
Rice Ball Cafe Oms/b
Clinton Street Baking Company
Sushi One, Westhampton
Koito (Sushi Restaurant, Upper East Side)
Guggenheim Outpost as a Pop-Up Urban Lab
NY Times Article
Schedule of Events
a tee grows in brooklyn T-shirt Company
Just as we were leaving to go back to Japan, we found out about a Japan Street Festival. If you are looking for Japan in New York, a Street Festival is a fun chance to sample the foods and culture. Please check local listings when there.
For Calendar of Events, Japan Consulate, New York: