Mourning a tremendous loss to the 食堂 community - How to Japanese - November 2021
This is How to Japanese, a monthly newsletter with something about Japan/Japanese and a dash of いろいろ.
Just a short newsletter this month since my life is てんやわんや (tenyawanya, topsy turvy) with prep for what is hopefully my imminent departure to Japan at the end of the month (!).
As I started to pack and sort through all my Japan-related paraphernalia, I came across my ID card for the National Diet Library. It literally fell into my lap when I was sorting through a messy stack of keepsakes. I don’t even know if it’s still valid, but it was a relief to find, and my very first thought upon seeing it was: “Is the 食堂 (shokudō, cafeteria) at the NDL still open?”
Unfortunately I discovered that it is not:
Catastrophe struck suddenly. The cafeteria on the sixth floor of the National Diet Library has gone out of business as of October 20, 2020.
In the process of discovering this information I also came across Nagasawa’s blog post quoted above. It’s a complete rollercoaster.
I have two assignments for you this month:
1) Read the blog post and be thrown back in time to an age when blogs were still awesome.
Nagasawa, a dictionary expert, narrates the entire process of going to the NDL step by step with hilarious color commentary and includes drawings to illustrate the areas in the library where photos are prohibited. He even goes back the next day to try the bentos that are now on sale on the sixth floor, although after seeing them he opts for a (very heartily portioned) set lunch at one of the other cafes instead.
2) Go to the most adorably run-down 食堂 that you know of and get a set lunch. The 500-850 yen set lunch in Japan is undefeated (has this pricing scale inflated at all in the last 10 years?), and you never know when the one you enjoy most will disappear.
The NDL 食堂 was beloved enough to have had its own social media presence: maybe a staff member to put out the occasional tweet or photo on Facebook about lunch options or wait times or closings during holidays. But at the same time, something like that was impossible. It was too pure.
I remember the facilities being spartan and the prices rock bottom: You viewed the colorful plastic replicas of lunch options in their display case, paid for a ticket at a machine, and then walked up to the appropriate counter (the curry counter, the gyudon counter, the omuraisu counter, etc.) which were sectioned off and visible through narrow, horizontal windows with metal shelving to hold the trays.
There is a lot of love for the 食堂 on Twitter. So much that someone even put together a newsletter collecting memories of it when it closed last fall!
I will have to investigate this and see if I can get a copy. Stay tuned.
Strangely enough, I seem to have mourned the loss of the 食堂 while I was visiting 13 years ago:
Sometimes when an experience is particularly unique and irreplaceable it feels to me like a sort of premature nostalgia, if that makes any sense. It’s qualitatively different from knowing that you likely won’t be able to do something again. It’s calmer, less wistful, and more powerful. And—at the risk of enraging linguists everywhere—more unique.
My trip to the National Diet Library in December of 2008 was one of those experiences. It was a crisp Saturday, and I got up early so that I would have time to walk up the hill from Shimbashi past Hibiya Park and arrive at the library around the time it opened at 9:00. I listened to the B.S. Report on my iPod Mini on the walk, and the area was almost empty of other people.
At the library, I made a user ID and a card, and I put my bag into a locker—you’re only allowed to have transparent plastic bags inside the library. I spent a few hours in the morning researching a random topic (that so far has been inconsequential), and then I had lunch in the 食堂 on the top floor.
Check out the blog post for the rest of the story and a link to my Neojaponisme piece on Murakami, which I researched at the NDL.
ポッドキャスト： How to Japanese on Krewe of Japan Podcast
I was on the Krewe of Japan podcast talking about how to develop reading skills in Japanese. Helping others read more fluently in Japanese is something I’m passionate about, so I hope this is helpful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions, and definitely join the USJETAA Japanese Reading Group Facebook group to stay up to date on our monthly readings.
Season 1 podcast guest Dr. Paula Curtis has an expanded article covering the recent harassment from 右翼 supporters on Twitter.I am very grateful to @apjjf for the opportunity to publish my article, revised and expanded, on historical denialism and the online harassment of scholars that emerged from bringing visibility to comfort women history and standing by academic integrity.apjjf.orgTaking the Fight for Japan’s History Online: The Ramseyer Controversy and Social MediaAs a historian of premodern Japan active on Twitter, I seldom find myself embroiled in controversies in real time. I occasionally get pushback when I discuss the legacy of female emperors or nation
Beck played an acoustic concert in NYC earlier this month. Someone took a decent video of it.
I’m still checking it out, but the set list includes a lot of classics that he doesn’t play much anymore. Notably “Hollow Log” at the 10:28 mark! I used it as the soundtrack for the TikTok I made of my train ride up to Aizu back in 2015.
I am all in on “Wheel of Time.” I read the books when I was in middle school and was skeptical going into the launch, but I watched the first three episodes this weekend, and while the aesthetic is very different from “Game of Thrones,” I’m digging it (despite the over-reliance on Characters Running/Horsing Through Big Beautiful Landscape shots). The “Cowboy Bebop” live-action adaptation has also been exceeding my expectations! I’m not as far in, but now I’m feeling bad that I retweeted early harsh criticism of the show. So far the show is…perfectly fine. It captures a lot about what makes the anime great, even if John Cho isn’t cartoonishly pencil-thin as Spike Spiegel. The early criticism now seems forced, writers in search of a “hot take.” I hope that I can say this again at the end of 10 episodes.