Sunday, July 27, 2008


Day six: Ramune / ラムネ

Festival stall, ¥100

Tokyo’s streets are notoriously hard to navigate. Few have names or run for more than a couple of blocks without splitting, turning, or dead-ending. For centuries, this rabbit-warren approach to city planning effectively kept would-be invaders from finding their way around, and today it has much the same effect on tourists. Addresses are given as a ward name (there are 23 in Tokyo) and a series of 3 numbers, which narrow in focus from a neighborhood, to a block, to a particular building. I spent most of today feverishly chanting chains of numbers as I tried unsuccessfully to find a flea market, a restaurant, a gallery, and two shops.

But of course the fantastic thing about being lost is that you find things you were never looking for. Around dusk I was trudging past boring chain stores (Talbots!) on a busy modern street and berating myself for having wasted the day, when out of the corner of my eye I caught the distinctive glow of paper lanterns. Leaving 2008 and the main street behind, I followed the string of lights down a narrow alley to a small shrine. As crowds gathered, and drummers began to set up, swarms of children in brightly colored cotton yukata set upon the festival stalls, throwing darts, buying goldfish, or munching fried noodles.

At one of the most popular stalls, a young man dispensed dark green bottles of ramune from a tub of ice. Introduced to Japan in the late 19th century, ramune is identical to British “fizzy lemonade” (or American “Sprite”), but its real appeal comes from its old-fashioned marble-stoppered glass bottles. Using a special tool, the vendor forces the marble down into the neck, where a kink in the bottle keeps it from falling either in or out. As you tilt the bottle to drink, the marble gives out a cheerful rattle that will now always remind of me of humid summer evenings and laughing children decked out little little paper lanterns.


Wendy said...

What do they do with the Marble?

Bernard said...

The marble stays in the bottle. It's a brilliant feat of engineering.