Posts Tagged ‘Nishiogikubo’

Power Outage Update

March 14, 2011

It’s confusing out there!  Anyway, a visit to the home page of Suginami City Hall discovered this interesting bit:


“Areas scheduled for power outage:  Shoan 3-chome, Zenpukuji 1 through 4-chome, Nishiogikita 3 through 5- chome.  *Kami Igusa is out of the targeted areas.”

Does this mean other parts of Suginami-ku will not experience power outages?  No explanation is given.  To some extent—no, to a great extent—the confusion is understandable.  But a notice like this leaves questions unanswered that you can’t help but think they could have answered if they’d tried.   Or maybe the people down at City Hall are just as confused and exhausted as the rest of us…

In times like this, when voices of authority are not reliable, we have to rely on our own wits.  Even if you are not in one of the areas scheduled for an outage, it won’t hurt to stock up on water and batteries and candles just in case.

Suginami-ku home page: <;

Just now (1:10 PM) Tokyo Electric (Tepco) held a press conference to announce that Group 3 would also continue to have electricity for the time being.  About Group 4 (places like Shinagawa and Meguro) they will make an announcement later.  The Tepco spokesman looked peaked.  Everyone, in fact, who appears on TV to make announcements and updates is looking frazzled.   I want to send them all a loud THANK YOU for the intensive work they have to do without rest even though they all must be as worried and anxious and upset as everybody else.

Power Cuts in Tokyo

March 14, 2011

There seems to be little information available in English about the planned power outages in the Tokyo area.  This site has a list of the areas and neighborhoods, the group number they have been assigned to, and a schedule of the outages for each group:

The site is in Japanese, but there is a map with colored areas matched to times for scheduled outages which you should be able to understand even if you cannot read Japanese. [Update: The map has disappeared from the site.]  The only problem with it is that the 23 wards have no color, are left white.  Does this mean the 23 wards will not experience power cuts?  It is not clear.  Tokyo Tree‘s neighborhood is listed as being in Group 1, with outage scheduled for 6:20 AM to 10:00 AM, and 4:50 PM to 8:30 PM.  However, at 6:20 nothing happened.  According to NHK news, Tepco did not carry out the outage for group 1 at the scheduled time but are still apparently planning to carry it out at some point.  It is not clear to me why group 1 did not experience power cuts.

We have also been warned that loss of electricity will or most likely will mean loss of water supply, land phone line, and internet.  There is no mention of the effect on gas supply.  We are cautioned to unplug electrical appliances so that when the electricity comes back on, nothing has been left on.  Traffic lights may not be working.  People are requested to avoid driving, but if you are driving, you are requested to drive slowly especially when approaching an intersection without traffic lights working and no traffic cop around.   As of this writing, JR is operating the Chuo and Yamanote lines, but not others.  If you are planning to use the train or subway today, be prepared for delays or in some cases no train at all.  I just heard that the monorail is running on schedule.

Nishiogi Shopping

March 13, 2011

I just got back from another tour of the ‘hood.  Nishiogikubo’s Seiyu—proud member of the “WAL*MART Family”—is closed.  A sign on the shuttered entrance says they are closed till further notice due to the earthquake and refers shoppers to other Seiyu stores in Kichijoji and Ogikubo.  What do you suppose happened?  Possibly I was the last person to buy anything there before they closed.  At that time, while things had fallen off shelves, I saw no signs of damage to the building itself, which, after all, the recorded announcement kept assuring us was “safe.”  I would venture a guess that they were all sold out of everything, were it not for their referral of shoppers to nearby Seiyu stores.

If you hurry, maybe you can get that last set of tissue paper.

Moving on to Seijo Drugs to pick up some vitamins, I found the place crowded with shoppers and the line too long to stick around and wait in.  Out back the shelves normally full of tissue and toilet paper were nearly empty.  There’s a run on these items, and I passed people loaded down with them on the street.

Yesterday I had done a big shop at the Coop, but there had been no bread, bananas, strawberries or broccoli.  Today too no bread, and the fruit section was empty except for a few lonely kiwis and avocados.  Fresh vegies too were wiped out except a couple of bunches of celery, asparagus, and cucumbers.  Milk all gone, eggs all gone, rice all gone.  Shoppers were wandering around exclaiming, “But there’s nothing here!”  There is still some processed packaged food left, though, and for some reason lots of fresh flowers.  Signs above the empty compartments apologized for being sold out of just about everything due to the earthquake.

I then checked out Fuji Garden, right next door to the Coop, across the street from Daiso.  They’ve got lots of everything there, especially in the fresh foods department.  So if you want something besides kiwi and celery, pop next door for more variety.  What Fuji Garden is out of, though, is milk, bread, tofu, and fresh noodles. [The Coop (Seikyo) is located at Nishiogikita 1-2, next to the railroad tracks.]

Is this just a temporary glitch in the system?  Or are we really in for long-term shortages?  That remains to be seen.  I’ve got four and a half rolls of toilet paper at home and five box of tissues.  Let’s see what happens when I run out…

Photo Essay: Torii downed by earthquake

March 12, 2011

Main Gate completely demolished

Two entrance gates, or torii, of our local shrine, Ogikubo Hachiman, were damaged by the recent earthquake.






A tree also hurt

sign of the times



mighty posts have fallen






Inspecting the scene

side gate also hurt


Maybe this one can be repaired?

intact torii at another shrine

Photo Essay: Pond in Winter

February 2, 2011

On the last day of January, the sun was shining in a blue sky above Zenpukuji Lower Pond.  It was very cold, and the edges of the pond were laced with thin patches of ice.  The ducks moved slowly or not at all.  More birds than humans were hanging out at the pond that day; the jogging path around the pond was at first deserted, though as I made my way to the other side, a couple of photographers appeared, with high-powered-looking lenses hanging from their necks, and here and there I passed someone sitting alone on a bench contemplating the quiet water.


Except for a distant wailing of a siren, the sounds of Tokyo faded away.  Everything slowed down and grew still, and all I could hear were faint whistles and coos from the ducks huddled together in the middle of the pond.  As I stood beside the water, listening, people hurried by me on the path, in a hurry to get their walk done or perhaps just moving quickly to keep warm.


The ducks had other ideas:  Find a sunny spot and stop there for a while.  When you have to move, do so slowly.  They seemed to be demanding this of the humans, even cooperating in picture-taking as long as you too moved in slow motion.



This duck seemed aware of me, and paused long enough for me to shoot, but then immediately afterwards dove into the cold water with a soft splash.





Three-quarters of the way around the pond, I stopped to watch the lone egret resting on his sunny mound of dried grass.  He was surrounded by paddling ducks.  My eyes on him, I did not see what startled one of the ducks, who suddenly let out a loud quack.  All the other ducks immediately rose up out of the water as one, making a loud WHOOSH and scattering drops like diamonds all around them.  This happened too fast for me to get a picture of it—even the heavy-lensed bird photographers missed it—but I saw it.  It was like a fountain that suddenly turns on without warning.  Jets of water shot up in the air all at the same time.  And then the fountain just as suddenly turned off.

Through all the commotion, the egret did nothing, just kept to his post on the grass, like a meditating old arhat.









Back at the entrance to the park, the water at the edges was still frozen.  Pieces of ice glinted in the sun that was just beginning to reach it.

During the walk around the pond, I looked for signs of spring, but found only some tightly closed buds on a few trees.  But from the path I could see in the garden of a house that looks out on the park a plum tree that had beat them to it.







Slowly but surely/ the suns rays reach the pond and/ penetrate its ice




What If?

October 24, 2010

Almost every neighborhood in Tokyo has a Seiyu—part department store, part supermarket—located right near the train station.  When I first moved to Nishiogikubo in the early 1980s, there were actually two Seiyu’s:  one next to the station, and one diagonally across the street.  The former had a more up-to-date atmosphere in the groceries section, while the latter, two stories high, had a greater selection of housewares and furniture.  The one next to the station is still there but the one across the street closed down long ago and is now the site of a pachinko parlor.  The items you could buy in Seiyu in those days were not discounted but they were reasonably priced, and among all the cheaper sorts of women’s clothing, I often found something unique and to my taste: a winter jacket in black and white tweed—the only one on the rack—or 100% wool shawls in interesting patterns and colors to cover my shoulders and add some warmth to a Tokyo winter day.

Since the bursting of the bubble in the early ’90s, the merchandise available in Tokyo stores has slowly and subtly undergone change.  The riot of color that used to greet my eyes when I visited the appliance or household goods section of the supermarket has faded to white and gray or a limited choice of anemic pastels.  Jackets, like all the other clothing, come in two or three styles and colors, all subdued and ill-fitting and made in China.  Everything looks the same as everything else.

Seiyu, in the meantime, has been bought out by Wal-Mart, which may also account for the deterioration in quality and variety of the goods on offer.  As the Seiyu shopping bag proudly declares in English, they are now “part of the WAL*MART family.”  Prices are boldly advertised as being boldly slashed, and the racks and shelves have sprouted large gaudy red and yellow tags boasting the items’ low cost.  They hurt the eyes.  And no doubt hurt the earnings of smaller shops who cannot afford to discount their goods as drastically.  One by one they close down and leave the neighborhood:  the hardware store where you could buy a small pot for heating up milk, with flowers painted on the side; the boutique that sold women’s clothes in all sizes, all 100% pure silk; the corner fruit and vegetable store with all its wares out on the sidewalk so you could easily pick up a bunch of bananas as you walked by.

An article in the Daily Yomiuri, “Wal-Mart to open smaller stores in U.S.” (Fri., Oct. 15, ’10) tells us that Wal-Mart “sees a ‘true need’ for stores smaller than its supercenters….’After years of development we are now prepared to accelerate growth’ of smaller stores, [U.S. stores chief] Simon said.”

Let’s get this straight.  First you build these huge stores outside of town that offer merchandise at such low cost that you drive the in-town shops out of business and turn main street shopping centers into ghost towns; and then you decide that after all there is a “true need” for small shops in “urban markets”?  Well, if Simon says so, then I guess everyone else will just have to go along with it, but we here at the Tree are refusing to play the game.  Instead, we’d like to pose a “What If?” for you to ponder.

What if one day we go out to do our shopping and find that the only stores around are all “part of the Wal*Mart family,” and are all selling exactly the same thing as each other?  And what if, because they now own and operate every possible outlet for goods and food, Wal-Mart has a brainstorm and realizes that if they are the only game in town, and therefore there’s no competition left to put out of business by underselling them, then there is no longer any need to keep their prices so low?  Think about it.

Bathhouse Blues

October 12, 2010

A July 16 story in the Daily Yomiuri headlined “Condo supply in Tokyo up for 1st time in 6 years” ends with this enlightening analysis:  “The [Real Estate Economic] institute traced the rebound in the condo market partly to a reaction to a plunge in the corresponding period a year earlier that stemmed from the global recession.”  Oh, so that recession is over now, is it?

If you turn a blind eye to the growing numbers of blue plastic tents gathering in public parks and along riverbanks, or the permanently shuttered small businesses hidden in the shadows of skyscrapers and overhead highways, Tokyo does appear to be as  prosperous and glittery as ever.  Everywhere you go, something new and big is under construction.  Or else, in preparation for the new and big, something old and no longer profitable is under destruction.

To make way for the new, something old must be removed first.  In the case of the condos, the old thing, as the Tree has previously reported, is often a single-family home with garden attached, or a small shop, run by a family, specializing in one commodity, like hand-made picture frames.  In the case of at least one of the new condo buildings, recently opened for occupancy on a back street of Nishiogikubo, the old thing was a much-loved public bathhouse, Tama-no-yu.


According to the Tokyo Sento [public bath] Association, the number of bathhouses in Tokyo has fallen from 2,687 in 1968 to just over 1,000 in 2006.  [A recent story in the Asahi Shimbun (Wed., Oct. 13, ’10) sets the current number at 813.]  The bathhouses of Suginami Ward, where the Tree office is located, made up 120 of that 1968 figure, and fell to 40 by 2006.  I now count 30 on the map at the Suginami public bath website [].

What makes bathhouses so vulnerable to encroaching developers?  The main reason is probably that they are no longer an absolute necessity.  You can still find older apartments around without a bathtub, but these are now few and far between.  Most housing units in Tokyo are fully equipped with their own private bathing facilities.  People go to the public bath to relax or to catch up on neighborhood gossip, not because they have no other choice.  This means, of course, that fewer people use bathhouses now than they did in 1968, and consequently all bathhouses struggle to stay alive.  I do not know the specific trigger behind the decision to close the Tama-no-yu, but given the general economic circumstances for all bathhouses, any one thing could have occurred to push the family that owned and operated it over the edge financially.  It might, for instance, have been a death in the family which left the heirs with huge inheritance taxes to pay and only one way to pay them:  take down the bathhouse and put up a lucrative condo building in its place.

So take it down they did.  I had been planning to make a visual record of its destruction, but as soon as the bulldozers and excavators arrived and started pulling the building apart, the property was covered with plastic sheeting so no one could see what was going on.  A sign said the sheeting was to keep the noise level down.



Passing by the site one day, after the destruction had been completed and construction of the new had begun, I found a sign advertising the new condos, and informing us of the new building’s name:  GAGA.

No Comment

So, okay, I know what you all must be thinking now:  What was so great about the old bathhouse that you are lamenting its replacement by a shiny new “city mansion” with the glorious name of GAGA?  Oh, I don’t know.  Allow me to indulge in a little reminiscing for a moment….

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

I park my bicycle out front, grab my carry-all full of towel, shampoo, razor, soap, bottled water and comb, and duck under the noren that both indicates the bathhouse is open for business and marks a point of separation between the outer world of rushing Tokyo and this inner world where movement stops and you have nowhere else to go but into the hot tub, and nothing else to do but soak, for the next hour or so of your life.  Removing my shoes, I step up onto the wooden floor to my right, the one on the left being where the men go.  Here is a bank of old wooden shoe lockers.  I deposit my shoes in one of them and lock it by removing the small rectangle of wood that keeps it unlocked when inserted in a slide in the door.  I put this “key” in a pocket of my carry-all and step behind a screen.  Here is an opaque glass door leading to the women’s bath.


I slide it open and inhale the peculiar damp odor of the bathhouse.  Sounds echo from the bathrooms on both sides of a dividing wall that does not quite reach up to the ceiling, which is several stories high:  Voices calling out greetings, water splashing as it pours over a body, the clatter of plastic seats and basins against the tiled floor.


Immediately inside the door is the bandai, translated by our office dictionary as “the elevated seat between the women’s and men’s baths at a public bathhouse.”  A young man with wet hair and a red face is usually sitting here facing the door, behind a little counter where I place the ¥450 [about $5.50] fee.  He calls out “Welcome!” when you come in, and “Thank you!” when you leave.  On the other side of his seat he can see and talk to the men who are entering the other side of the bathhouse.  But the rest of us can’t see those men and those men can’t see us, which is a good thing, because I am now in the changing room, and all the women in here are stark naked.  I suppose if he really wanted to, the young man sitting with his back to the room could lean around and take a gander at the naked flesh, but I’ve never seen him do that.


There’s a glass case here by the door full of bathing needs like soap and towels in case you forgot yours, and another one full of cold drinks for sale.  You pay for all those things, too, at the bandai.  The changing room is spacious and airy and full of activity.  A TV is broadcasting the news from a corner near the door to the baths, and under that is a weighing machine.  In the middle of the room are two raised tatami platforms where you can sit and chat or put on your socks.  Against the further wall to the right are the lockers for keeping your clothes in while you bathe.


I grab a big wicker basket from the pile by the glass case and head for the nearest free locker.  I take off my coat and fold it up and place it in the basket.  Everything else, including everything I’m wearing, goes into the locker.  I put my towel on top of my coat and carry the basket along with my smaller plastic carrier full of bath items to the door to the baths.  I leave the basket near this door, slide it open and step into the bathroom.  It’s much noisier in here, much warmer and steamier.


I help myself to a plastic seat and basin from a stack by the door and look around for a free spot at the washing trough.  There are four rows of these:  One against each wall and two facing each other in a row down the middle of the room.  Each spot has a round mirror and a shower head and faucets delivering hot or cold water.  I place my seat in front of one of these spots and start my ablutions by pouring hot water all over myself with the basin.  I wash lightly with soap and water, pouring out the dirty water into a gutter at my feet that carries it away down a drain somewhere.  I thoroughly rinse all traces of soap away and then head for the bath tub.


There are three to choose from.  One has hotter water than the others, and water jets for both back and feet.  The one in the middle is larger and has slightly less hot water and water jets for the back.  The third one, full of white water, is a “milky bath,” billed as something that restores your youthful skin.  This is the most popular bath, but I prefer the ones with the water jets, which give a good massage to the aching muscles in my shoulders and lower back.  I stretch out full length and let the jets do their thing.  A woman says “excuse me,” and climbs into the tub next to me.


Behind us on the wall is half of a huge mural of Mt. Fuji, the other half being in the men’s bath.  Above us is the very high ceiling, painted powder blue as if to indicate heaven.  I stare at the windows way up at the top of the bathhouse and wonder how they open and close them.


No one stays in for long.  You get too hot if you do.  The trick is to take several short soaks in the bath, rather than one long one.  I usually take two or three.  In between the soaks, I scrub at the washing trough, each time getting a little bit cleaner.


After 40 minutes or so, I’m done.  I rinse off my stool and basin, returning them to the stack by the door.  I slide open the door and feel the cooler air all over my heated body.  I retrieve my towel from the basket and pat down by the bathroom door before padding over to my locker to dry off more thoroughly and get dressed.  Then I go over to the massage machine area, where other women are sitting under hair dryers or leaning back with eyes closed into coin-operated chairs that undulate all over your back.  I prefer the leg and foot massager.  I sit down on one of the tatami platforms and deposit ¥100 into the machine.  For ten minutes my legs and feet are pummeled and squeezed and kneaded by this mechanical device.  I drink lots of water, and then it is time to go home.


Wet-haired and red-faced, I put the basket back by the door and say “thank you” to the person sitting in the bandai, now a young woman, who thanks me in turn for coming.  I slide open the door and go out into the cool night air.  I unlock the shoe locker, remove my shoes and put them on in the entranceway before ducking under the noren and re-entering the rushing current that is life in Tokyo.

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That’s how it was, and how it is no more.  Instead of that we now have this:


Photo Gallery: Zenpukuji Pond, Late Summer

September 24, 2010

September 20, 2010.  Zenpukuji Pond, Tokyo.

Late Bloomer

Reading Room

Summer's End

Nishiogi Notes

July 7, 2010

NISHIOGI NOTES. As we have reported in previous issues, the Tokyo traffic pattern is one of constant rushing movement.  Since there are so many people and so little space,  if you do not keep moving, you are likely to cause a traffic jam.   But only sections of the city’s surface are involved in this fast-moving, straight-line pace.  You can always find an exit ramp along the way and leave the traffic pattern behind.   You then enter a space where time moves slowly, the route meanders, and the hectic rush is left behind.

One such space is the little river that wanders quietly through Suginami Ward:  the Zenpukuji.   It flows at a leisurely pace and winds between the houses that have been built up along its now concreted banks, an ever-present reminder of the possibility of a more contemplative, less stressful way of life.

Wild life, whose rhythms and traffic patterns tend to differ from those of urban humans (with the exception of slime molds, of course [see V. 3, n. 3]), gather here, too.  This egret wades deliberatively with dainty yellow steps along the river’s muddy edge, pausing, eyes alert, long curved neck held at the ready, then makes a sudden lunge at the water and pulls back with something in his beak.  Spotting me and my camera, he spreads his wide white wings and soars through the air to another hunting spot further downstream.