April Calendar

A few days late... but here's this month's Calendar!  Inspired by all the beautiful photos I've been seeing of cherry blossoms in Kyoto... Here's one of the best places to view the cherry blossoms, Kiyomizudera.  

Here's an old image of Kiyomizudera from 1909 and not much has changed.  Kiyomizudera is probably the most famous Buddhist temple in Kyoto and has a fantastic view of the city!  Someday I will make it back to Japan just to see the cherry blossoms!

 Growing up in DC I loved seeing the cherry blossoms transform our street every year.  My birthday is in April so it always feels like an extra present!  Here's my dad, me and Ernie enjoying the blossoms.

Click on the small calendar to download it and use it as a wallpaper.

Ebisu Comfort Food

I threw myself another curve ball by picking a dish that was tricky to illustrate.  When I lived in Japan oyakodon was my go to comfort food on a cold winter day because there is nothing better than a warm bowl of rice topped with eggs, chicken, and a sweet salty broth.  Oyakodon literally means mother and child (get it?? haha)

After returning to the US I looked everywhere for a satisfying oyakodon, but was mostly disappointed... Until I went to Ebisu !

Since then, Ebisu has become one of my favorite restaurants in RI.  This is the food that reminds of my time in Japan!  Their menu does not have sushi, but instead focuses on bowls of rice, ramen and even shabu-shabu!  Traditionally, oyakodon is not made with the crispy breaded "katsu" style chicken, but I think it's even better served this way! If you go to Ebisu, look for it on the menu as Katsu Don for $9.95 .

Ebisu is located at:

38 Pontiac Ave. Providence, RI 02907 and you can reach them

@ (401) 270 7500

Of if you want to make some oyakodon at home, here's a recipe with katsu style chicken. (I haven't tried it but it's based on a Momofuku recipe, so I bet it's awesome !)  And here's a faster and more traditional recipe option.

Take a hike!

It's the final round of the REPEAT contest. I'm thrilled to have made it to the very end! Here are the final colorways for my collection; Take a hike.

It was quite a challenge to get all of these patterns and color ways done in under two weeks!

I'm leaving tomorrow for an exciting trip and I'm not sure how much internet access I will have.

but I wanted to share these patterns before I get back because I had a lot of fun working on them.

Here are two additional patterns I made, but did not submit for the contest; a stripe pattern and a chevron.

I'll be excited to see what the other finalists; Michele and Krissy come up with.

I think Ive learned a lot over the duration of this competition and I would love the opportunity to share my work at the quilt market!

Go check out the other finalists: http://theprintedbolt.com/ and vote for me for the Reader's choice award! Thanks guys!

Attack of the Umibozu!

Do you remember this piece I did awhile back? It's the fearsome Umibozu!  He was part of my Yokai aka Japanese monster series.  Anyways, I was thrilled when Tiny Showcase contacted me to team up with them and print it!

   Tiny Showcase is based in Rhode Island and they feature the work of some of my favorite artists! Their prints are typically small and done in limited edition runs of 100 making them affordable and unique.

Oh and if thats not good enough, Tiny Showcase donates $250 of their sales of each run of prints to a charity of the artist's choice.  I selected the Tomorrow Fund because they offer tons of emotional and financial support to local families of children undergoing cancer treatment.  They helped Robin's family a lot when he was sick, so thats pretty cool in my book!

Sashiko

     For our third challenge of the REPEAT design competition we were asked to draw on our life experience to create two prints.  I wanted to create prints inspired by the time I spent living in Japan.

While studying at Kyoto Seika I would peruse the library for reference material and I loved checking out books filled with traditional patterns usually on Japanese textiles or paper.

     Often these books were written in Japanese, but I still loved looking at the images.  I thought it would be cool to incorporate designs from a traditional Japanese textile into my patterns this month.  I went back to the RISD library to see if they had any books with Sashiko stitched fabric in it and they did!  In fact they have a whole series of  books featuring traditional Japanese textiles!

     I checked out a few and was thrilled that the books had some captions in English!  It turns out that this type of stitching is often used on garments typically worn by workers such as fisherman, farmers and woman divers.  Sashiko is a very traditional stitching technique used to reinforce the fabric.  Some of the designs were also seen as a talisman to protect woman divers from danger.  How cool is that?

Anyways, I had no idea that this type of stitching had such a practical application, I just really loved the different patterns.  All of these images are scanned from the book I checked out called: "Kogin and Sashiko Stitch" it's book #13 in the series.  If you want to try sashiko yourself, there is an excellent tutorial over at The Purl Bee.

Here's some of the other color ways I thought about using for my Sashiko inspired print.  If you haven't already head over to The Printed Bolt to check out all of the patterns for this round and vote!

Providence Patterns

I first came to Rhode Island on a college visit. I explored the city nervously, trying to picture myself here as an art student for the next four years. After a tour of the campus and wandering around I fell in love with Providence's architecture and of course RISD.

Since 2003 I've been living here on and off again (yikes!) There are definitely times when I take it for granted, or forget my initial reaction to the city of Providence.

Visiting Japan was a similar experience. Everything looked so different; the buildings, people and transportation are all scaled smaller. Tall people might find this disconcerting... but I loved being able to reach the handholds in the subway.

I also loved living in the picturesque countryside of Kyoto. No matter how grumpy I felt a quick ride on my bike always brightened my mood. There is really nothing better than casually biking past fragrant fields of rice, vegetables, streams and small houses. I also developed an affinity for the surrounding mountains, they offered a fantastic backdrop and landmark visible from almost anywhere in the city.

At first when I came back I had to fight the urge to point out how different everything is in the US. "Look at my giant coffee!" "Can you believe how loud those people are talking?" Coming back allowed me to see Providence with fresh eyes and of course appreciate the time I spent in Japan. ( The blue painted under porches in New England always makes me smile)

With that in mind I felt compelled to draw patterns of Kyoto and Providence for my East vs. West collection. Here's my Providence drawings...

After coloring it in the computer and about 3 trials of printing and tweaking the colors:

And a close up!

Here's the Kyoto side complete with trains and mountains!

Yay trains!

The fabrics were printed and being sewn into reversible totes, mostly so you don't have to pick one over the other.

They are for sale in my etsy store! A few other items are there that I made for the sale Claire and I did around Thanksgiving. The sale was a bust but at least I got a lot of work done!

Hurrah for getting things done!

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!

Day trip to Nara- Part 1 (Oh Deer!)

Even though we are just one week into the new semester there was a long weekend and 3 day holiday from Monday-Wednesday. I'm not sure what the holiday was for, but I was happy to have extra time to myself and the opportunity to squeeze in a day trip to Nara. My buddy Victo and I were feeling ambitious so we biked from the dorms to the station (about an hour though mostly downhill) and then we hopped on a train! In about 40 minutes and only spending 690 yen ($7.50 each way) we arrived in Nara and walked up towards the temples. Nara is famous for its sacred deer so there are lots of fabulous deer souvenirs everywhere! Here's a poster with a deer and the Sento-kun the Nara mascot. Sento-kun is a Buddhist child monk with a rack of deer antler's sprouting from his head, this is supposed to relate to both Nara's rich Buddhist history and the "wild" deer that live in Nara.

 

On our walk towards the park and temple we passed many stores featuring deer signs, and displays.

Even the textiles on some of the buildings featured a deer motif.

Souvenirs and gifts ranged from stuffed animals, socks, deer headbands, cell phone charms, puppets and most importantly cookies to feed the deer. Do you see the stuffed Stitch in a deersuit? Amazing right?

We finally made our way from the city up to the park. It was very crowded, probably because it was a holiday. The deer were free to roam the park, but many of them seemed to lurk behind the fences. This gave the deer a chance to get away from the crowds. The deer are considered wild animals but in truth are very tame. I didn't see any children get bitten by the deer at all. However, I saw some children chasing and throwing cookies at the deer. Here's a little girl with a female deer. Is it me or do the deer look a little different from the ones we have in the States?

It was pretty hot out (mid 80's) so most of the deer were pretty subdued sitting in the shade and some were hanging out in small ponds trying to cool down. This deer spotted a boy with a cookie for him.

"tabetai, tabetai!" means "eat, eat!"

 

The deer weren't much smarter than my two Labradors. This one walked around with a cookie on his butt for at least 5 minutes. I also noticed that the deers horns were clipped or cut off the male deer; maybe to prevent them from fighting or mauling visitors. This deer must be a young male because he still has his horns.

A lot of the deer seemed very tired and no matter where they chose to sit they were constantly being visited by small Japanese children bearing cookies they wanted to feed the deer.

I liked watching this little boy try to talk the deer into eating a cookie.

Here's me with a deer friend.

It's a pretty good life for a sacred deer of Nara. After we made our way past the deer we ventured on to see the main attraction of Nara: Todaiji. Coming up in part 2: Todaiji and other Buddhist stuff. Also coming soon: beginning sketches! yay!

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...