October Calendar

Happy October!!  I couldn't resist making a jack o' lantern and ghost themed calendar... I love Halloween and all of the cheesy pumpkin carving, face painting and candy binging that goes with it.  Hope you enjoy this calendar, even if it's very late.

Click on the little one to download and save as a wallpaper for the rest of the month!

Pumpkin Soup with Fresh Sage

I'm so glad I can finally share this!  I started working on this recipe during the heatwave this summer and I couldn't imagine wanting anything hot... But now that its mid October, it's starting to look and feel like autumn.  I've been craving warm soup when it gets chillier at night and maybe some homemade hearty bread too.  I can't wait to try out this recipe!

I had a lot of fun playing with the textures and leaves of the Pumpkin and I was thrilled to see it printed so beautifully.  I'm so glad I reached out to Edible and we were able to collaborate on something, this is definitely one of my favorite pieces this year.  Huge thanks to Editor in Chief, Genie McPherson Trevor of Edible Rhody!    I hope I get to work with Edible Rhody again very soon.

If you're in RI you can pick up the latest issue of Edible Rhody at Bottles, Farmstead, Chez Pascal, Olga's Seven Stars, Pastiche and many of my other favorite places.

September Calendar

Today definitely feels like the beginning of autumn.  It's already a little chillier at night and I'm definitely craving some soup!  Between work, moving and planning a wedding... I let July and August get away from me. But I'm getting hitched at the end of the month and after that I'll look forward to things getting back to normal.

Click on the mini calendar to download it for free!  Happy Friday!

Rasoi Thali

Hello dear readers! It's been far too long since I've posted a Chowda Scout piece... Rest assured, I have been eating lots of great food in the state of RI!  This latest dish is from my favorite Indian restaurant; RASOI.  I chose to illustrate their Vegetarian Ayurvedic Thali.  A thali is a traditional Indian meal served in a platter.  It's usually a balanced sampling of nutrition, flavor, texture and color!

Tuesday- Thursday Rasoi offers thali's from different regions of India.  It's a fun way to try little portions of a variety of dishes.  I forgot to write down exactly what was in this one... but I think it included: a saag (or spinach dish), eggplant and potato curry, mushroom& pea curry, lentil dal and a mango rice pudding that was insanely delicious...  Also with some basmati rice and fresh naan!

The thali was quite a challenge; the metal platter and dishes, drawing curries, puddings and lentil dal was even harder than I thought it would be... But I wanted to try to convey the bright colors,  and delicious spices used in Indian cooking.  On a technical note I've also been working on adding texture and layers of translucency to my work.  I struggled with this piece for awhile but I'm pretty happy with where it's at now!

Anyways, I hope this piece makes you hungry for Indian food... In addition to having weeknight specials, Rasoi also has a delicious Brunch buffet on the weekends.

Quilt Market Prep

I've printed my postcards and cut fresh swatches of fabric! I'm on my way to the International Quilt Market in Houston, Texas to show my fabric designs. Anyways, I'm looking forward to meeting designers, fabric companies and some of the fabulous people involved in The Printed Bolt REPEAT contest! Wish me luck!

Olga's Sourdough Waffles

If you live in the Providence area you probably see Olga's Cup and Saucer bread at all of the local grocery stores and cafes.  For years, I've been buying their bread and never tried the cafe.  

I finally made it there for brunch with the bf, my sister, her friend and we all left extremely satisfied.  The brunch menu has many of the usual staples, but I recommend ordering anything that features Olga's fresh artisanal bread such as: toad in a hole on sourdough, poached eggs on grilled scallion cheddar scones or brioche french toast! (Which is exactly what my brunch companions ordered)

But on to the waffles!!! Olga's waffles are made with the bread starter they use to make their sourdough bread.  The waffles were thinner than the Belgian style waffles one usually encounters.  They were crisp, flavorful and topped with scrumptious cinnamon-y apples, toasted walnuts and a little maple syrup on the side!!  The fruit topping changes depending on what's in season, which always makes me happy!   Look for Olga's bread at the local farmer's markets or stop by the cafe @ 103 Point St Providence   They do breakfast during the week 7am- 11am as well as lunch 11am-3pm.  Well that's it for now!  If you have ideas for where I should go next: leave a comment or email me – Jessica@firstpancakestudio.com

Hudson Seed Valley Packet

I love getting email updates from past projects!  Hudson Seed Valley Library recently send me an image with my final seed packet and it looks awesome!!! I can't share it yet, but I can show you the post they did about my proposal for the project.

This project with Hudson Valley Seed Library creates seed packs featuring original work designed by artists.  They also create an accessible and affordable source of regionally adapted seeds.  When I saw their call for work in March I submitted some images.  I was thrilled to be selected to create a packet for the Panther Edamame variety and I had it finished in the beginning of June.  Anyways, here's a little article about the packet I did for Hudson Seed Valley on their website.  Also check out some of the previous art packs.

Red Stripe Grilled Cheese

For my first Chowda Scout post I'm sharing one of my favorite sandwiches... the grilled cheese.  Grilled cheese is one of those sandwiches that is easy to make at home, but its always more enjoyable if someone else makes it for you.  Really what is more comforting than a grilled cheese?  This is not just any grilled cheese, the Red Stripe  grilled cheese comes packed with a well rounded combo of pesto, pear and prosciutto.

The sandwich also comes with your choice of fries or a small bowl of tomato soup & a crisp pickle for $11. I always go with the soup because it's flavorful, without being too heavy and is topped with a delightful dollop of creme fraiche!  I greatly enjoy dunking my sandwich into the soup... even if it's not very ladylike.  So if your craving melty cheese, head over for lunch during the week or late lunch on the weekend (3-5).  During the week their "pick two" is the way to go.  You can decide on two items from the soups, salads or 1/2 a sandwich for $8.95.  Not bad. The one on the East Side is at 465 Angell St. 

Have an idea for someone I should go?  leave a comment or email me - Jessica@firstpancakestudio.com

Dead leaves and a dirty ground

It's been a gorgeous Fall and I can see why Kyoto is famous for its Autumn leaves. The last few weeks of November are one of the most popular times for tourists to visit, second only to the vast crowds who come to view the sakura (cherry blossoms). Among the most stunning of the leaves are themomiji or Japanese Maple.
Here's one transitioning from yellow to red or is it red to yellow? And this is a cool photo of Victo.

We visited a popular Zen rock garden, Ryoan-ji and photographed the leaves there. The leaves are much smaller than then Maples in the US and are also famous for their brilliant red color.
Up close of the momiji in the tree before they fall to the ground. Near the end of Fall they lose some of their brilliance and start to litter the ground in drabber shades of their former selves. Covering roads, moss and filling ponds, still quite vibrant!They fill all of the Japanese countryside and cities, just as festive as Christmas lights. I like the bold silhouette of this tree against the fierce orange of the leaves.

 

A garden Near Himenji castle when the leaves were starting to change.
A fabulous shade of yellow seen through an archers window at the castle.

From yellow to green

Green to red
A Ginko tree at the park near my house morphs into a flashy shade of yellow.
Victo admiring the vibrant momiji. 

Near the temple was this old aqueduct and leaves covering the roots of the trees
Buddha is enjoying the leaves, cant you tell? 

The shapes of the leaves also contrast with the traditional roofs and add some vibrancy to the normally subdued colors of the zen garden. 

Some monks we saw visiting the Zen garden, I felt compelled to take a photograph because his robes looked so good amongst the fall leaves. 

Orange and the weird evergreens
The red leaves are covering the ground nearby the Nanzen-ji Temple. It supposedly has some of the best leaves but I think we came a little too late.
An assemblage of Autumn colors.
Takagaraike park near my house is a great place to view trees up close and to enjoy the mountains as well.
More trees around the pond at Takagaraike. I go running here and get to enjoy the leaves as well as the tiny Japanese dogs dressed in sweaters. (I'm not kidding, sometimes they wear raincoats too!)
On the weekends Old Japanese couples gather around the pond with giant cameras and photograph the ducks, turtles and fish that live here.
One more shot of the mountains going bald. It's a shame these photos don't do the leaves justice. In person you can see the light shining through them and the colors are even brighter. 

A view of the autumn leaves from Himenji Castle.
I've been busy the last few weeks, so I hope to have some more posts of work and trips before my family comes for the holidays!

Why I'm here and not at home eating a burrito...

I don't think I've touched on this yet, but I wanted to come to Japan for a few reasons. Firstly, I am very much inspired by the traditional imagery and the culture. I love the patterns that are used on kimono, paper and ceramics.
Many of which are inspired by nature and the 4 seasons.

I love the color combination in her clothing.

Traditional family crests with modern graphic appeal.
An old saddle. with elegant textures and patterns fusing.
Secondly, I've always enjoyed Ukiyo-e (traditional woodblock prints) and I wanted to learn more about the myths they depicted. Some of my favorite Ukiyo-e imagery has fantastic pictures of ghosts, demons, monsters or traditional tales with animals. I wanted to come here and learn more about the characters in these stories so that I can incorporate them into my work.
Foxes hung at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, each is done my an individual who then writes their wish on the back.

Finally, contemporary culture here is equally inspiring. The juxtaposition of the two is what makes Japan so crazy and fascinating. What I love most about Modern Japan is the way the Japanese borrow and incorporate words, food and characters from other cultures into their own. They sort of end up giving the elements they borrow new connotations.

Here's some examples: Betty Boop eyelashes anyone?

Or perhaps a green tea ice cream setto complete with red bean sauce, rice balls and green tea?

Or would you fancy a game of tug of rope with a pair of Santas? You have to win to get your Christmas presents.

And I bet this little blond girl mask keeps away the crows from this rice field.

I wasn't sure at first how I could incorporate all of these elements into my research project. But, then I got here and it all sort of fell into place. I wanted to continually research traditional folklore and incorporate the characters from those into traditional fairy tales/folk stories from Western culture. An audience from the West would gain a better understanding of Japanese culture and history. At the same time it gives any Japanese viewers a chance to see their culture and history re imagined. So far most of my Japanese teachers and peers seem interested in my project and curious about my impression of their culture and traditions.

Thomas the Tank Engine, but as a bike pillow. A Halloween inspired floral arrangement So yeah.... these are all things that inspire me. Having an opportunity to document what I'm seeing in Japan and reflecting about it is so useful and this blog is giving me a chance to collect my thoughts, adventures and inspirations. I'm not convinced anyone is reading this, but if you are then that makes me pretty happy too!

Fall is Fierce

It's the end of October and Fall is finally here; the leaves are changing colors, the vending machines are stocked with warm beverages and I froze my ass off biking down a mountain from the Fire Festival at Kurama. It was an eventful day with Jidai Matsuri in the morning and Hi Matsuri at night. I took a lot of great photos and enjoyed the spectacle of it all.
I shot over 800 photos throughout the day so its going to be hard to narrow them down... I'm gonna try.
The Jidai Matsuri is known as one of the "big three" festivals of Kyoto. The festival is a procession of clothing representing the different historical eras which Kyoto was the capital of Japan. (794-1868)

 

First up is the Royal Army of the Meiji Restoration. This movement was made up of young farmers who volunteered themselves to team up with the Royal Forces against the Shogun.

 

Patriots of the Meiji Revolution: this guy has a green train!

Then we have the Edo period (1600-1868): a lot of these women are dressed up as specific famous women from history. This lady above is dressed as a famous dancer.
Close up of Edo ladies with cool hats, the head wraps kind of reminds me of Star Wars.

These are images from the procession of Toyotami Hideyoshi, a very important figure in Japanese history. Hideyoshi implemented the practice that only samurai had the rights to bear arms, he built the Osaka castle and had a large influence over the Japanese tea ceremony.

He unified Japan under a single authority, but was never shogun.

I think this guy is from Lord Oda Nobunaga's entry into Kyoto. Lord Oda Nobunaga was a powerful feudal lord and came to assist in the reconstruction of the city. He successfully repaired the Imperial Palace and brought peace to the citizens.

More guys from Lord Oda Nobunga's procession... I think. I love that blue!

Whats in the box? Maybe presents!

I think now we are getting into the Muromachi period (1388-1573) These people are representing the triumphant entry of General Kusunoki Masashige into Kyoto. When the Emperor Godaigo was returning to Kyoto, this General who was very devoted to the Emperor went to Hyago to welcome him back.
I can't get over the beautiful armor these men wear.

 

Or these bright blue outfits either.

A pause in the parade gave me time to get a nice still.

Also a close up of this guys outfit... Who doesn't appreciate a good floral pattern?

Mini gongs,as you can probably tell there wasn't a lot of performance involved in the festival. The gongs and some of the wooden instruments were played while the participants walked.

Wooden stick instruments and colorful socks!

Women of the medieval ages would come up to the city to sell bundles of fire-wood and flowers on their heads.

 

Biggest umbrella ever! Did you know that only two things frequently get stolen in Japan? Bicycles and umbrellas. Bicycles because drunken business men take them when they need a lift home. So it's important to never leave yours unlocked, umbrellas because the Japanese use umbrellas in all weather; sun, rain and snow. You will actually see umbrella locks at crowded places....

More men in multi patterned outfits with armour and swords. I totally dig it.

That hat looks really heavy though.

 

For the most part the horses seemed very nervous or downright unhappy about being in the parade. A few times I thought I was going to see someone get tossed.

Traditional weapons, shoes, armor and hats. The parade started near us at Kyoto City hall and ended at Heian Jingu Shrine. We had a great view of the festival from where we are but it probably wasn't as picturesque as having the Shrine in the background.

These ladies with clothes on their heads are from Katsura in the west outskirts of Kyoto, they would go into the city and sell fish and vegetables.

Here is the wife of Toyotami Hideyoshi, her name is Lady Yodo.

Then we have the Kamakura period (1192-1333) with many members of the Yabusame archers.

They are wearing deer skin on their legs to stay warm as these are their traveling clothes.

Next we are onto the Fujiwara period (897-1185) Less patterned outfits...

An archer with an exquisite hat.

Then is from the Heian Period (794-1185) This is Tomoe-Gozen, her husband was a general and she fought by his side wearing male armor. Maybe this inspired Mulan?

Women from the same era with outfits that seem very Chinese inspired.

I think the children look kind of creepy with their faces painted this way, like giant dolls that have come to life.

There were outfits like these throughout the parade for they were a traditional clothing for the common people.

More court nobles, wearing different colors according to their rank.

more blue!

This child has the wings of a butterfly and an imaginary bird called a karyo-binga. It says these outfits are worn in Shinto rituals by the children and they are called gagaku.

Anyways, I thought they looked great.

Then we have the sacred carriages; one for Emperor Komei, the last ruler of Kyoto. The other is for Emperor Kanmu the Emperor who moved the capital from Nagaoka to Kyoto. They are attended by priests from the shrine.

This guy's glare is intense.

Some more people from the procession, clad in pink and carrying large lanterns?

I have no idea what he's carrying but it reminds me of a lollipop.

Phew, that's it, that's all I'm posting! As you can see people of all ages participated in the parade and foreigners and the locals lined the streets to catch a glimpse and to photograph the annual procession of Jidai Matsuri. I tried my best to include a lot of my favorite costumes and to put them in order, which was quite a challenge.

The Festival ended and my buddies and I made our way to a ramen place for some quick lunch and then hopped back on our bikes so that we could catch the Hi Matsuri at night in Kurama.

Coming up... Fire, nudity and biking a mountain! What's not to like?

Mountain Girl

I actually have been doing lots of work here, despite the fact that I haven't posted it yet. For my printmaking class we are allowed to make prints of any subject matter we choose.Like most of the foreigners here I am in awe of Kyoto's gorgeous mountains. The mountains surround the city on all sides and seem to go back forever. The first time it rained it looked as if the mountains were steaming, like smoke from an angry dragon or something.

I thought about this a little more and had a great image in my head of a creature living in the mountains. It would be a giant, cloud breathing, angry, naked girl.

Anyways I did some quick sketches and color studies to figure out how I wanted her pose. I didn't go with this pose below because I thought the other one was more interesting.

Then, I painstakingly transferred the sketch onto my copper plate with some transfer paper. Next, I used my etching tools to carve the image into the plate. I printed it a few times and worked back into the plate until I was more or less happy with it. I can always work on it a little more later.

Of course after making this image I reflected on why I had made it. Was it because I feel like a giant freak being "the foreigner" here? Or maybe I was inspired by all of the Japanese myths I've been reading. Or could it be that I was subconsciously inspired by RoaldDahl'sBFG, one of my favorite children's books of all time? It's probably a mixture of all of these things.

I colored this one with gouache just to see what it would look like in full color.

Here's a close up where you can see the lines a little better. Anyways I'd love to get some feedback! That's one of the things that are hard to come by when you don't speak the language. Let me know what you think! Hopefully this week I can also put up some images of my trip to Kobe or the Fushimi Inari shrine we visited over the weekend.

Heian-Jingu dance party!

Last weekend it was my goal to: make it to Nijo-jo before closing time, shop at Uniqlo and eat some sushi! I managed to get all of these things done and photograph the student festival at Heian-jingu as well. Victo and I biked down to the shrine, met up with some friends and checked out the festivities.

The festival was made up of students ranging in age from Primary school to College. They carried in floats representing their schools and performed dance routines, some traditional and others more modern.
These students were decked out in Halloweenish colors. Midway through the dance they pulled down the top parts of their outfits to reveal orange shirts underneath. This stripping reveal seemed to be a popular move with a lot of the other teams as well. Many of the traditional dances were performed with these wooden blocks. The blocks remind me Spanish dancers with castanets. 

A large number of the dances were also narrative or had specific characters. These girls were cat dancers. They prowled around with catlike movement and wore these funny masks.
The dance teams were made up of both men and women. For the most part everyone wore the same outfit. I was very impressed to see so many Japanese guys in floral prints or pink, but I guess that's just something that I find surprising as a westerner.
Everyone also had special dancing shoes. I really like these tabi style ones, don't they look like ninja turtle feet? Most of the costumes were so inventive and interesting with strong traditional influences.These outfits seem really anime influenced to me. This dance had a narrative too, some sort of love story with a man giving a woman a flower. This team only had a few boys though so I think some of the girls on the team also danced the boy part.

These were some of my favorite outfits and dance group... but hey I'm a sucker for green and sparkly gold bows.

I just thought these outfits were really clever with the types of movements they were performing. I love seeing the bit of the red pants when they leap or kick their legs up. These costumes didn't impede their movements and created beautiful silhouettes.
Right? And you can see the Heian Shrine in the background too!

This group was an all girl group, they were loud and reminded me a lot of cheerleaders. They started out with white tops and these horrible pink/blue sheer sleeves. About half way through they performed the strip move to reveal these bizarre black bean shaped breast plates... I don't really get it, but I enjoyed watching them dance.

We watched some more dancing by some of the younger students and took a break to find a snack.

I split a cup of these with Victo. They served these little balls in a cup and you got your choice of strawberry or chocolate. (shyocolato) on top. The batter was a pretty basic batter, not too sweet and I liked watching them cook these. We also got some takoyakior balls like this but with octopus on the inside. Those were also delicious, but I ate them before I could get a photo... yum!

We walked through the games area of the festival and I couldn't help but photograph this group. I love the outfits!

I saw a group playing duck,duck, goose! Did you know that duck, duck, goose is only played in the US? One night I was comparing childhood games/songs with some of the Europeans and as it turns out they had never played duck, duck, goose. The other American and I made everyone get in a big circle in the middle of the park late at night and play. Many of the Europeans deemed the game unfair... haha. It was a lot of fun. Also, you can just barely see the very large torii behind the park, this designates the entrance to the shrine.

 

Stuffed koala moonbounce. Something about this really disturbs me, can you guess what it is?
We left the festival to check out the shrine before closing. There were still lots of dancers milling around in their fabulous costumes.

They were nice enough to humor us by posing in front of the shrine.

This is the entrance of the shrine and is called a shimenawa. These large ropes and zigzag paper strips marks the boundaries of a sacred space. The other way to tell you are at a Shinto Shrine is the large torii that is usually painted bright orange at the entrance to the shrine. You can barely make it out behind the kids playing duck, duck, goose.
Inside the shrine is the main offering hall. People come here and make offerings of money and pray. People visit shrines for lots of different reasons. Shrines are a popular place to visit at the start of the New Year, for festivals, weddings and when babies are born.
At first I didn't realize that this tree had paper tied to its branches. These are fortunes or omikuji, they are bought at the shrine and have various fortunes in them from very good; daikichi to very bad; daikyo. You unfold one and see what your fortune is, then you tie it to this tree. If its a good fortune it will come true and if its bad it will be averted.
Here's a shot of some school children hanging out by the inner part of the shrine. All of the school kids wear uniforms here. I guess its also normal for them to go hang out in large groups at shrines. I can't imagine kinds hanging out at churches casually in the states, but maybe that's me.
These wooden plates you can purchase at the shrine are called ema. Visitors write their hopes on the plates and leave them to come true. People often wish for success in business, good health, passing entrance exams, wealth or love.

The sun was setting and the light made everything look beautiful within the walls of the shrine.

So naturally Victo and I kept taking candid and posed photos of each other and the boys too. We were both wearing new stuff we bought in Japan. I was wearing my new Uniqlo skirt and some leopard print leggings. Now I look so Japanese! But doesnt Victo look cute? I don't think she realized I was taking a photo.

 

 

Then we made the guys line up and do a model shot.... classic
We had to leave because they were having the closing ceremonies here and we didn't have tickets. But, we did check out this band warming up. I don't even know what to say about this outfit. Haight-Ashbury meets Japan?

Then we biked a little farther south to Shijo for the much anticipated sushi dinner. The river is still crowded at sunset because it's only just starting to feel like Fall. But hey, I'm not complaining!
All along the river were couples sitting together almost perfectly spaced. It really made me miss Robin : (

Of course I felt much better once we got our delicious chirashi bowls! A bunch of us got the same one cause it was a great selection just for 980 yen and a free miso soup with our student ID's! Yumm what a great day!

Apaato!

I've officially been living in Japan for a month. The language barrier still sucks and I haven't gone out for sushi... boooo. But I have gotten a few things ticked off my checklist:
-signed up for classes -bicycle -cellphone -My very own flat or in Japanese: apaato!
I moved into my new apaato last Thursday. It's about 15-20 mins by bike from campus and less than 5 from Takagaraike Park and Pond. The park is nice to cut through on my way to classes and I can go running around the lake in the mornings.
Most Japanese apartments require utilities, a deposit and key money in addition to rent. Key money is essentially a gift given to the landlord for a couple months rent that they dictate. Some places I looked at had a low rent but when adding on the key money it was double the rent! The apartment building I'm staying at is geared for foreigners, its furnished and there was no key money. (sweet!) The rent with utilities is about the equivalent of what I'm paying in Providence for rent and utilities. Not as cheap as the dorms (photo above) but at least I get my own kitchen!
So here's my place! It's on a busy street that heads into town and under a motorway but the traffic isn't that loud. I'm also really close to a couple of grocery stores, stationary shop, bakeries and a hyaku-en store!
I bought all of these things at the hyaku-en store or (100 yen store) for 1,995 yen!
Although my apartment is furnished it was missing some basic cooking utensils and I was desperately in need of some hangers. I've spent less than $50 though and made some big improvements.
Here's the entrance way where you leave your shoes and switch into house slippers.
Here's my kitchen table/desk/work space in the apartment and my tv/bookshelf!
My bed and kitchen area: the mattress is a traditional futon but its on top of a frame. It's pretty thin but at least they gave me a real pillow. In the dorms they had these other pillows that drive me crazy. The pillows are really small, like half the size of a normal pillow and they are filled with tiny plastic pellets. I suppose they offer lots of support to your neck if you sleep on your back. However, I sleep on my side or stomach so sleeping with one of those pillows is like having your face stuffed into a bag of legos.

Kitchen area complete with one burner and virtually no counter space. Making dinner involves a lot of musical chairs with various pots, pans and ingredients.
Here's my bathroom! On one side you have the potty and on the other the shower. There is a drain in the floor that allows this all to work properly. Even today bathrooms in Japanese homes have drains in the floor like this and usually a vanity where you can sit and scrub with soap. Then, you can rinse yourself off with the hose before getting into the already filled bath tub.One family will keep the bathtub filled and everyone will use the same water before it is changed, which is why you scrub and rinse yourself off before getting in the tub.
Shower heads here are usually a hose and the wall has places at various heights for it to fit. There is also a lower down faucet, this makes sitting down and washing much easier. Or if you prefer you can put the hose in the highest knobby thing and stand up and shower.
Here's the potty. There are some crazy high tech toilets in Japan, but mine is not one of them. However, it seems pretty standard here to have a toilet with two flush options chiisai or ooki (small or large) and before the new water refills in the toilet it runs through a sink at the top of the tank that allows you to rinse your hands.

One of my favorite features of my room is this light pull. It's a little guy in a peach. You can close him up in the peach and make the string short or pull him far away from the top and make it longer and easier to reach from bed. He also glows in the dark! That's it for this week, we've been getting a lot of rain from the typhoons and I haven't been able to go out as much. Keep your fingers crossed!

I WANT TO RIDE MY BICYCLE...

"Bicycle" by Queen could be an anthem for the entire country of Japan. For the last week I've had it stuck in my head... Bicycles are still the most popular way to get around Kyoto probably because the sidewalks are maintained, people don't often steal them and they are a great way to stay in shape. I suspect that at birth the Japanese are immediately presented with a tiny little bike. Kyoto citizens of all ages seem to commute on bikes. There are all types of strange bike accessories to accommodate the different needs that one might have while biking. Biking at night? blinking light! Biking in the rain? umbrella holder! One of my favorite gadgets is a headrest for children so when they fall asleep in a bike they have a pillow. These come in a variety of different cartoon characters. When I arrived here at the dorm, Okasan and Otousan (Mom and Dad in Japanese) offered me a bike for the time being. I'm very grateful they had a spare because I was able to ride around with the other English speaking girls instead of taking the train or traveling on my own. It gave me a good chance to get to know the city and the other exchange students. Unfortunately, the bike's breaks are a little shot.... and by a little I mean the back one doesn't work and the front one makes a horrible screeching sound. (rusty door+ imminent danger= my breaks ) 

Here's me with my original bike. It had many of the features one would want in a bike; a basket, chain guard, lady handles, a nice bell... but I kind of wanted breaks.

Poor bike... I realized that I needed to find a new bike and so my search began...

The other exchange students and I talked over our dilemma. Most of them were in a similar situation using a bike that was a little dangerous for downtown Kyoto. We decided to investigate our options. We looked at many used bike shops and also some new bike shops, such as this one. I can't imagine there being a shop just of bikes this large in the US. The prices range from about 12,000 yen to 300,000 yen.

 

It's hard to get a good idea of how popular the bikes are until you try to park yours and just see lines and lines of bikes. Here's some of the bikes at school. I started looking to see what other students had and investigating the many interesting varieties of the Japanese bicycle.

 

Here's is a very popular option: The folding bike. The hinge in the middle allows you to fold the bike in two and take it on the subway or get a little bag for it and carry it. I'm not sure if these are used in the states but they are supposedly very comfy to ride. The wheels are smaller than normal bike tires but both men and women gracefully ride these.

This is more of a road or racing bike. It has a very light frame and seat. This one also has some gears and is without a gear cover. This particular bike is made by a company based in Kyoto. These bikes are very expensive but also of a very high quality. Having a road bike to get around is practical in Kyoto because cyclists often ride on the sidewalk. This seems to be more of a masculine bike or a bike for the serious bike enthusiast.

 

Here's a photo of a bike I found that shows what a typical child's seat looks like on a bike. In Japan the kids tend to ride on the front of the bike instead of the back. However, if there are two kids then one will be in the front and one in the back. This bike also has a an electric assistance on it... maybe for going up hills?
I had to include this one because it's a Hello Kitty bike!! It's hard to tell the scale but this bike is quite little and meant for adults. Us Non Japanese people have noticed that bikes are ridden very low here. I was always taught to put the bike seat up so that your legs can be nearly straight when peddling. That's not common here and as a result you see a lot of people riding tiny bikes and its very hard to find a bike that is larger. This is not really a problem for me because I'm only 5'4", but it is a problem if you're taller than the average Japanese person.
After lots of looking and test driving I decided on what I wanted in a bike and splurged for this bike from the Eiren bike store in Downtown Kyoto.
I think the real charm of these bikes is that they exist in a culture that is so caught up in technology and innovation. Although there are much more snazzy bikes, there is still an appreciation for bikes such as this one. Although it is without gears it does pretty well going uphill and I manage to carry all of my groceries home in the basket or anything else I purchase. So far I'm really enjoying living somewhere that is so bike friendly.
My baby!

Kyoto at last!

So I made it. I'm here and Japan is as weird as I remember it. The trip over was long and exhausting, but so far I don't feel too messed up by the time difference. Already I've gone out for karoke, eaten some yakisoba, and shopped at the 100 yen store. (hyaku!) So really I've experienced some of the best parts of Japanese cultures. It's good to be back here understanding more of the language, but I'll feel a lot more comfortable when I have a cell phone, bike and can answer basic questions more gracefully.

The weather is extremely hot and for some reason people dress with lots of clothing on. I haven't gotten a photo yet but they wear full sleeves and pants (sometimes scarfs too!) in 85 degree weather. I really enjoy being in the country side and seeing the rice fields, vegetables and the mountains are quite beautiful.

I went on a walk with one of the other English speaking exchange students. We both marveled at the rice fields and gardens most of the families seemed to have.
I am quite impressed by how efficient a lot the city transportaion is but I dont want to spend 1,000 yen on a roundtrip to downtown.... Which is probably why most people bike.
We saw some beautiful fish and turtles at the Takaragaika pond.
We stopped at a grocery store on the way and I bought some nutella and tangerines. The tangerines are sour and a good deal at 289 yen. The nutella was more expensive but what else would I eat on my weird Japanese toast?
Upon trying to leave the park we took a different trail and ended up at the top of this hill. It was unplanned but lucky because we got some nice photos of the city.
So here is my home for the next 6 months. It really hasn't sunk in yet...