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.

San Diego Magazine

I can't believe I haven't shared this yet... but it's on stands now!

 I was asked to create a map for San Diego Magazine to accompany their article on the best asian food in the area.

It was exciting to do a project like this that combined so many of my favorite things; asian food, hand lettered titles and maps!

It also made me very hungry for noodles...

 Thanks to AD Gloria for an awesome project!

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!

Loose Lips Sink Ships

I realized I never put up the whole image of my Kappa or my other Japanese Sea Monster pieces! Here's my Kappa complete with children swimming nearby unaware to the danger that lurks below.

Here's another one of my favorite sea monsters: the Umibozu. Not to be confused with an umiboshi (a delicious Japanese pickled plum)

Very little is known of this illusive, enormous sea monster. They are said to dwell in the oceans off the coast of Japan and will capsize the boats of those who dare to speak to it. It's name, meaning sea monk, is probably due to its bald, shiny head. Some people believe they are the angry spirits of dead monks, and sometimes they will appear to shipwreck victims or fisherman. One account claims they will ask for a barrel and then use it to sink the ship. The only way to insure survival is to give them a bottomless barrel. Another account claims they posses powerful tentacles and can shoot fireballs out of their eyes! Few people have seen the Umibozu and lived to tell the tale... so if you do see one look the other way and pretend you don't notice it!

Naoshima

I've fallen behind in my posts again! I have a lot of new work to post, but I also have some awesome photos from some of my favorite places in Japan. Today I have photos from Naoshima; which is a small Island located between Honshu (the biggest island) and Shikoku (the smallest). My Aunt and I traveled to and around Shikoku for a week and spent a fantastic day on Naoshima. My art teacher recommended this island because it has 2 art museums as well as a series of old houses that have been transformed into installations. Shikoku has some of the best mikan I've ever tasted so we kept buying bags of them and eating them. Here are some growing on a tree.

We took one of the first morning ferries from Takamatsu (where we were staying) and headed to the island. With the help of some nice Japanese people we rented some bikes. The island was pretty easy to navigate with one main road that looped around the perimeter of the island. we made our way to the art houses. The installations had a very wide range in subject matter and materials. Here's one of my favorites.
Details from the houses we visited 

These houses were a series of traditional houses and spaces that were no longer being used. The artists were asked to create installations within the spaces and alter the original structure. 

The art house project as well as the museums on Naoshima are part of a campaign to bring art and tourism to these islands. As someone who is not Japanese there were times while living in Japan that I felt I was missing the point. (being a tourist in Japan can be frustrating with the lack of English signs and my poor knowledge of Japanese history)A few of the houses fell into that category but most of them did translate and were really fun to experience with my Aunt! We stopped near one of the houses at a small cafe and shared some dessert and coffee. It came with a tiny cup of cream and sugar and a biscuit.
Our dessert was red beans and different types of jelly with a syrup you could pour over the whole thing. It was light and fruity tasting!
We continued on our way and checked out the last installations. This piece was a Shinto shrine and perhaps the most beautiful of the series. These steps that look like ice were made of the same type of glass that camera lenses are made of.
I liked this sign too! The only kanji I recognize on it are for mountain and fire... hmmm
We made our way around the island and road by the museums. These giant gourds are one of the big landmarks of the island so we went and photographed it just as the sun was setting. My aunt near the gourd!
Now that's a big gourd!
Sun setting as we biked back to the dock

And in the next post... Photos and awesome posters from the Naoshima Bath! Complete with life size baby elephant!

Crap a Kappa!

What lurks in rivers, likes to eat pickles and is extremely difficult for me to scan? A Kappa!
I am in a fierce battle with our scanner... I've been powering through these monster drawings. Cranking out a new one each week! But now I'm having some technical difficulties with the scanner....uggghhh... more later!

Bamboo Cat

I know a lot of artists don't enjoy keeping a sketchbook. But for me it's the easiest way to jot down my thoughts and have a visual record of my process. If I'm stuck I'll look through old sketchbooks and pick up an idea. Here is a quick sketch I did back in September of a cat with bamboo coming out its mouth and ears. Also a ticket from the William Kentridge show I saw in Kyoto, they are showing some of his work at the MOMA right now. If you appreciate charcoal drawings or animation you should check it out!

The idea for this visual was based off of a cat that lived near my apaato. (It gave me the creeps!). The second root of inspiration (hee hee) was bamboo, I feel in love with its tentacle like roots. I can definitely imagine them attacking someone. For some reason my brain mushed these two things together and so I started sketching this character.
I did some sketches of real cats and also of the cat in different positions and shaped slightly differently.
I had an extra copper plate for the printmaking class and wanted to create a print of the cat. Here's a more finished sketch of how I planned to print it. Things got busy and I ran out of time. Last month I started looking through my sketchbook and decided to work on Bamboo Cat some more.
After the sketch I did a final sketch on a nice piece of paper and scanned it. Then I printed out a few copies of it on crappy printer paper and did some color studies.
I've found this is a great way to work things out before starting on the final. It seems time consuming, but actually the color studies are quick and loose. By the time I start the final I'm feeling pretty confident because I've already worked out the value and color relationships. I also love being able to change a color or add an extra pattern on the color study while I'm working on the final. Here I messed around with adding stripes to the stripes of the tiger and the outlining him in brown.
Here's the final! I was pretty happy with how it turned out so I think I'm going to approach the other Japanese monster drawings in a similar way.
Well that's it for now! As of this week I'm also starting on a website... finally! Yay!

Swimming, swimming, keep on swimming....

I just wanted to share some of the sketches and images from the Fish Market. I had a fun time looking through my photos and trying to identify some of the fish. From my sketchbook:

The more I drew the more I felt compelled to create images with paint, paper and pen that captured the textures and colors of Tsukiji.
Next, I thought about how I would explain the market to someone who had never seen it. Images that show the true juxtaposition of the market: intense concentration of the men working on a single fish to someone hacking at whole frozen tunas!
I was mostly struck by the organized chaos; the close quarters of the stalls and narrow alleys filled with booths and tables of fish carefully separated and labeled according to size and type.

The men working at the market seemed incredibly focused. Amidst all the confusion they knew where to go. Running from stall to stall, others carving fish and older men taking copious notes while overseeing the stall.

I loved watching customers interacting with the vendors. People talking about crabs, tasting fish roe and navigating the crowded alleys of Tsukiji at a rapid pace. (trying carefully not to be run over by people driving small vehicles).
How could I make a series of images of Tsukiji and neglect to mention sushi? On the left is what I had for breakfast one morning at the market; ikura, unagi and maguro (salmon roe, sea urchin and tuna over a bowl of rice with some cucumbers and a little wasabi) yumm... I know you might think its gross, but don't knock it till you've tried it! On the right are some other options of nigiri (fish on rice). I left space in the images or around them and i'll add some text but I'm still having a hard time with the writing.
Last image is of the overall market. I struggled with this piece and then I redid it completely. It falls flat for me.... I didn't feel like this captured the true chaos of the market and sheer volume of people and fish. But that's okay there are parts of it I still like.

 

So that's all for now! Happy Easter, Passover, Spring and April! The weekend was beautiful and the week is shaping up to be just as nice. I'm trying to get some time outside while staying productive before I return to DC next week for the Cherry Blossom race!

One Fish, Two Fish...

Being the largest city in Japan means that Tokyo is a completely overwhelming place to visit. There is so much to see, do and eat. However exciting it is initially, it can feel too big and I'm ready to leave after 4 or 5 days. I've visited Tokyo 4 times now and without a doubt one of my favorite touristy spots to visit is Tsukiji fish market.Tsukiji is the world's largest seafood market. If you want to check out the real action its best to get there early... like 5am. (That's when they auction off the tuna). In the last few years the market has been more restricted due to the fact that people are trying to work and having a bunch of gawking tourists probably gets old.

It was quite challenging to take photos that demonstrate how crowded and busy the market truly is. My family and I didn't even make it to Tsukiji until around 8:30am and it was still mobbed.
Obviously there are fish everywhere. More fish then you've ever seen! And in such a wide array of size and color. Surprisingly enough, if you visit in the morning things are fresh and it doesn't smell that fishy.
 Everywhere are piles of boxes, people pushing carts carrying boxes and people unpacking boxes.
I love the chaos of the market; people running from stall to stall. Everyone had a job and knew what they needed to do while us tourists tried to take it all in and stay out of their way.
This is a shot looking at the storage areas behind the stalls.
Live crustaceans!

and squid probably not so alive...

One of the most awe-inspiring sights is that of the bluefin tuna. Men running by with the tuna on carts or taking an axe to them or putting a whole frozen tuna through a bandsaw.
In general though, I think one of the best ways to get a sense of a cultural or a country is to visit markets. It's always interesting to see what other people eat and buy at the store. While in Hokkaido we visited a much smaller but still fantastic fish market in Sapporo. The benefit of visiting a market like this is that it's much easier to get around. The market mostly consisted of small stores and a lot of them would give out samples.
Hokkaido is known for its delicious crabs and we saw a lot of them for sale here!
Would you like some octopus? or a package of fresh fish? In Japan there is always an impressive fish section in the market. Usually you can find fish that is sushi grade, fish that is marinated and ready to cook and fish that has already been cooked with a sauce. There's always fresh sushi/sashimi and all kinds of other sealife I wouldn't know what to do with. In addition to the wide variety it is also less expensive to buy fish in Japan.
Two different types of crab and some ikura (salmon eggs). They had a table to sample various types of ikura which made me very happy as it is one of my favorite things to eat over a bowl of rice.
Spiney crab. Making a bid for freedom?
In addition to delicious samples we had the chance to interact more directly with some of the fish market guys. This guy saw us photographing the crabs and went as far as to let us each hold one of the crabs and take photos.
I know it looks really badass but the crab didn't put up much of a fight. The crab guy told us this crab was 16 years old; I guess that's why theses King crabs are so heavy and expensive. Here's Victo, Olivier, Steven and I with the crab! Some of my favorite photos from the trip!
We grabbed some tasty lunch after our perusing. I had a giant bowl of ikura and fresh crab on rice. This also came with a variety of small tasty things; shumai, meatballs, something cooked in tofu skin, white miso soup. It was so good!
Our trip to the market inspired me sooooo much that I started sketching fish and then men from the fish market. I got a little carried away and managed to create enough pieces to put together in a small book/zine. I'll put up some of the images from that next!

Monkey See

I'm back in the States! Still trying to get organized... But while I'm doing that I'll have more posts of photos. (I have soooo many) One of the many highlights of my trip was my Aunt B visiting me. We started in Kyoto and traveled Southwest managing to see quite a few cities in a week; my favorites being Miyajima, Matsuyama, and Naoshima. The first day she visited we decided to check out Arashiyama to explore the bamboo forests and the monkey park. Here's my Aunt at the entrance to the park:
The entrance to the park is at at the base of the mountains. Like many places in Japan the tickets are purchased out of a vending machine but then handed to an actual person. After making sure we didn't have any food sticking off of our backpacks we started our climb up the steep path to see the monkeys.
The monkeys were super cute! kawaii! (if you like furry animals with pink butts) but I've seen enough monkey attack videos to know that I didn't want to provoke them and so I made sure to give them plenty of space.

The monkeys seem pretty uninterested in the people walking around, they are mostly occupied with picking up things from the ground to eat and chasing each other.

As we made our way to the top of the mountain we saw the monkeys crowded around a small wooden building with fenced in windows. The monkeys liked to hang out here because from the safety of the building visitors are able to feed the monkeys!

For about 100 yen you can buy a bag of mikan slices, peanuts or apple pieces.

Feed me!

I do not have a photo of me actually feeding the monkey because they are tricky little guys and take the food quickly. But I did actually hold food out on my hand for them to eat.
The monkeys like to run around on the roofs and sides of the building. Sometimes the bigger monkeys would get upset and screech until the other monkeys got out of their way.
I really liked this monkey balancing on the post.
Looking at me!
Action shot!
We went outside to check out the view and I photographed this guy looking introspective by the pool.

Here's the building and my Aunt.
Monkeys on the roof also looking deep in thought.
The view from Arashiyama, which is the most Western part of Kyoto.

It was a beautiful day and here's some of the mountains in the North.
It's me with a one-eyed monkey! No really he only has one eye! He was also extremely camera shy, looking away when I tried to photograph him.
I am finally set up in my studio again with a scanner I can use in English.. this means I will soon be posting more of the work I did on my trip!

Have a Grrrrrrrrreat Year!

It's year of the Tiger! Haven't you heard? No, not that Tiger....
Anyways, I've been loving all of the Tiger themed costumes, keepsakes and ads.
Here's a tiger memo/pen holder I couldn't resist.
And a tiger bell I picked up at Meiji Shrine.. more on that later!
New Years is traditionally a holiday spent with family members whereas Christmas is seen as a holiday for couples. At first I couldn't make sense of that interpretation and then I started thinking of all the romantic comedies where people get together on Christmas. Maybe the Japanese have a point. I spent my New Years with my family eating shabu-shabu!
Shabu-shabu is a tasty dinner you cook at your own table in a large pot filled with a broth. It is called shabu-shabu because that is supposedly the noise the meat makes when it cooks. Our waitress was kind enough to review the technique with us and made sure each of us said "shabu-shabu" while cooking the meat. In addition to meat you are given lots of delicious veggies and tofu to cook in the broth too!
The meat is sliced very thin so that it can cook quickly! (in the amount of time it takes to say shabu- shabu)
There are seasonings and special dipping sauces: sesame for the veggies and soy-vinegar with horseradish for the meat. I'm not sure everyone loved it as much as the grilling meat at your table(yakiniku) but it was still delicious. After you're done cooking the meat and veggies you skim the pot (getting rid of gross floating fat) and add some noddles and finish off the broth cup o noodles style.
After the shabu-shabu we headed off to our next stop for the evening: karoke! On the way we walked by people pounding mochi in the street. To celebrate the New Years people traditionally eat mochi instead of rice. In their homes people have little displays set up with 3 mochi balls piled on top of each other and a mikan (or tangerine) on top. The shape is supposed to be reminiscent of a mountain. I got this plastic one and set up a little scene on top of my microwave.
We watched the drunk, jolly Japanese people pound mochi. One of the men spotted my father and grabbed him to give him a chance to pound the mochi! It was pretty awesome! We all cheered and Adam took photos. I really like the guy in the background laughing!
The rest of the night was pretty low key. However, the next day my family decided to start the year off right with a visit to the Meiji Shrine. The first shrine visit of the year is very important to the Japanese and called the hatsumode. Meiji shrine is one of the most famous and largest shrines in Tokyo so it seemed like a good choice.
We arrived and there were so many people walking the gravely path that the air was filled with dust. We waited in line for an hour or so as the line crept along slowly, luckily it was a beautiful day. Here's a great photo Adam got of the crowd.
Walking under the torii and enjoying a beautiful day.
Entrance to the shrine. Tiger plagues imitating the much smaller ones (called ema) you can write wishes on. The police were there dividing the crowd into smaller more manageable groups. They directed the crowd with a weird alien tiger sign. On this side the red writing tells the crowd to stop and the opposite side had green writing, telling the crowd to proceed with caution.
We walked up to the shrine and each of us threw money onto a giant white tarp covering the whole front steps of the shrine. There were lots of special lucky charms, arrows, o-mamori and hamaya that one could purchase. I picked out the tiger bell! As we left I made Adam pose in front of the long line of sake barrels by one of the entrances to the shrine. I always wonder what they do with all of this sake.
The next day I convinced my family to go investigate the Imperial garden, which was conveniently located a block or two from our hotel. The Imperial garden had 2 motes!
We were handed flags by Japanese boyscouts.

Then we were searched and led into a lane to wait for our chance to see the Emperor. In fact the Emperor only opens up the inner parts of the Imperial garden 2x a year. He does this on the 23rd of Dec and again on Jan 2nd. People come from all over Japan to see him and to wait in line.

It was very organized but I was skeptical we would make it to see him by his second viewing. He doesn't stand there the whole time but comes out and addresses the crowd periodically throughout the day. Claire and I waited patiently.
The line started to move and it looked like we might make it in time for the Emperor's second appearance!
We made it to the inner garden and waited.
On schedule the Emperor showed up with the entire family and the crowd went wild! That is to say everyone waved their flags enthusiastically until he addressed the crowd. The Emperor as far as I can tell has little political power but is seen as a symbol of Japan culturally and he is the highest authority of the Shinto religion. The Japanese Imperial monarchy is the oldest hereditary monarchy in the world.

It was noticeably different from an American crowd in that people didn't yell a lot, they just waved their flags. Go Japan!

Then everyone stopped and took photos. He was brief, probably wishing the crowd a fabulous New Years or whatever Emperors tend to say. Pretty soon after he was done and the crowd waved their flags again in support. Dad's getting a kick out of the whole thing and he has a slight height advantage so he can see.
We got someone to take a photo of us after we saw the Emperor.
I had a great time with my family and hopefully they are all recovering from Jet lag with fond memories of Japan. I have some other visitors coming the last week of Jan and the first 2 of Feb so I'm busy trying to finish up work. I also finished my little Red project but haven't had a chance to scan it. So that's it for now... Happy 2010!

Tanuki = Trouble

Happy New Year! I'm going to start off 2010 with a post I wrote back in November but didn't get around to finishing until now. I've been super busy with my Family we visited Kyoto, Nara, Gora and Tokyo! phewww.. They left just yesterday and I'm just starting to get used to being by myself again... but its soo quiet. I had a blast and I'll put up a post of highlights soon..Tanuki's are one of my favorite mythological creatures of Japan. They are the tricksters in Japanese folktales and known for being quite sneaky. If you ever travel to Japan you will start to notice these statues everywhere. Most often they are outside of restaurants or bars beckoning visitors to have a drink.

They are based off an actual animal called a tanuki. In English they are usually referred to as a badger or a raccoon dog, but in reality they neither and only native to Japan. Here's some sketches I did of the actual animal in preparation for characterizing the tanuki in my story. I didn't want to have my tanuki represented like the ones seen outside of bars because honestly he wouldn't make a very menacing bad guy.

After I finished some basic sketches I tried to stylize him and figure out which features to exaggerate but keep him recognizable. I really liked his little hat so I included that. But I wanted him to have more of a connection to the actual animal so I drew him on all fours.

I did some more research on the tanuki and came up with a list of traits that tanuki's are said to have. Most of them are symbolic but this definitely explains how these creatures are represented in statue form.

In stories tanukis are always up to trouble, they are skilled shape shifters and create illusions. Often they will pay for something in fake money that will turn into leaves after they leave. One of the most famous transformation stories is of a tanuki turning himself into a teapot. (which just seems like a bad call by the tanuki)

You may also notice his large balls. In Japanese slang they are known as kinbukuro or money bags. Some say the gigantic testes are a reminder not to be stingy. In Japanese testes are called kin-tama or (golden jewels) they are a symbol of good luck. In some legends the tanuki has the ability to stretch their balls more than eight tatami mats. (which incase you were wondering is about the size of my apartment) If you check out this article on Pink Tentacle you can see a series of prints by Japanese woodblock artist Kuniyoshi depicting tanuki using their balls for various everyday activities.

Well that's all for today! I'm going to try to catch up on the posts I missed while traveling the last few weeks with some belated New Years Countdowns and highlights of my families visit!

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!

Little Red Research Project

One of the classes I'm taking is a book class and for our assignment we were instructed to do a 12 page accordion book without words. I decided to use that as my guidelines for a reinterpretation of Little Red Riding Hood. In Japan she is known as Akazukin or Red Hood. The Japanese have lots of bento boxes, candy, hair combs and really cute post-its with Akazukin on them.
I had a lot of ideas about things I wanted to change in the story to make it feel fresh and more Japanese. I wanted the story to be contemporary but include traditional elements. Here's some of the first sketches of the characters. I looked through some Japanese fashion magazines and clipped out clothing I liked for the characters. I really had this strong image in my head of Lil Red in a bamboo forest, mostly because I think bamboo is so otherworldly and beautiful. From there I thought about other things I could change; have her riding a bike instead of walking with a basket.

Next I started thinking about the bamboo forest and the color palette I wanted to go with it.

Here's some bamboo reference I took.

I love yellows, greens and blues of the bamboo.

More bamboo

I painted a few photocopied versions of this before settling on colors for this one. I wanted to work with a limited range of colors for the bamboo but still make it feel inviting and lush.

Finally, I knew I needed to do a character study to get a handle on some of her movements and expressions. I figured it wouldn't hurt to include some background too. I love incorporating pattern into my work and I hate painting landscapes. So... I decided the best way to deal with this is to think of the background as small shapes and patterns. I think it works pretty well with my characters too.

So there you have it, the beginning of my Little Red Riding Hood or Akazukin. Next I'll post some sketches of my wolf, which is not a wolf but a Tanuki.

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!

Tokyo a GoGo!

I spent a few days in the end of October through the beginning of November in Tokyo. My trip was mostly seeing the sights, shopping, and delicious food. We saw a lot, so I'll just put up favorite photos and say a little something about them.
We went to the Ghibli Museum on the first day we arrived in Tokyo, its a museum of the work of animator Hayao Miyazaki. His most famous movies are probably Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and my Neighbor Totoro. I haven't seen most of his movies. But his most recent one, Ponyo was released in the US and I enjoyed it a lot. Here's from the roof: the building was especially designed for his work and its very whimsical. All of the details from the stained glass inside to the light fixtures have images from Miyazaki movies on them. You aren't allowed to photograph inside the building, but we took some photos from the roof.
It was a beautiful sunny day and Victo and I made our way from the overnight bus to the museum. We were a little sleepy but determined to see the museum.

On the roof of the museum there is a statue of the Iron Giant. Having just seen Ponyo right before I left it was great to see sketches and the gorgeous hand painted backgrounds from the movie. If you are a Miyazaki fan and are in Tokyo its a must!

I stayed in a the Ninja Hostel in Asakusabashi! It was cheap, clean and I got this cool cabin bed!
Here's the room of cabin beds.
The inside of my cabin included; a light, a shelf and an outlet so I could charge my phone.
Here's me looking out from my bed!
Victo and I spent a day sight seeing and we grabbed a beautiful bento set lunch near the Asakusa temple. It had soup, chirashi (sushi on rice) and a variety of delicious pickles. The outside of the container is painted to match the famous lantern of Asakusa.
Asakusa is a very popular tourist destination, its quite crowded with lots of other tourists each trying to get a photo of themselves under the lantern.
Past the lantern are stalls leading up to the temple filled with kitschy gifts, food, and other souvenirs.

I really liked these dog costumes, too bad they don't come in a larger size to fit Lexey or Chloe. Past the stalls are another set of lanterns and these abnormally large sandals.

The lantern is bigger than me!
The inside of the temple has these beautiful painted ceilings, last time I was here I tried to photograph them but I wasn't able to get a good photo.
Around the outside of the temple there are small shrines, a koi pond and a garden.
Yay Koi!
More street vendor food: takoyaki! (octopus cooked batter)
Seafood on a stick!
Olivier and I took a trip to the 53rd floor of Roppongi Hills, where there is an art museum and this great view of the city.
I spy... children standing in a heart shape outside!
Giant bowl of ramen in Shibuya or Shinjuku?
We also went to the Tokyo Design Week Exhibition where Olivier was attacked by a preying mantis.
We managed to meet up with friends of Victo's and Olivier's. Victo's friend Nori brought us delicious dessert from a great place in Tokyo. Banana tart and cream puffs!
Victo and Nori with the cream puffs!
Laeyn was able to meet up with us so we grabbed some dinner at a delicious Chinese place and we got some drinks too!
Harajuku, the younger fashion district, was one of my favorite places to walk around. There's great shopping there that appeals to a younger crowd, mostly teenagers and twenty somethings. In Harajuku you can find lots of creperies, sock stores, toy shops and trendy boutiques.
Shinjuku at night looks like lots of other big cities.
...Except that its even bigger and so very crowded. We had a great time in Tokyo; running for the last train, grabbing okanomiyaki , karoke and visiting with friends. I look forward to going back again when my family comes to visit!

"And it Burns, Burns, Burns..."

Growing up in the States means growing up with constant reminders of fire safety, fire drills and Smoky the Bear's voice ingrained in my skull. I don't know about you, but I always thought you weren't supposed to play with fire, let alone run through the streets with a torch on your back. Needless to say it was pretty exhilarating to arrive at Kurama and see the streets a lite with flame. We biked from Downtown where we saw the Jidai Maturi up to Kurama mountain. Most people take the train but since Kurama is a small village and the festival is quite popular you can expect to wait a long time for a train. Someone had advised us to take our bikes and it wasn't an easy bike ride, but it was well worth it. I was especially psyched when we went to leave and we were just able to coast on home.Anyways, we arrived at the base of Kurama, parked our bikes and started walking up the main road towards the festival. The air smelled like smoky pine and all of the houses were decorated or had someone tending a flame outside of them.
Many families opened up their front rooms and displayed old treasures, such as this armor.
The locals gathered around the houses and got these large torches ready while some of the younger children and their parents walked up and down the road with smaller ones. While carrying the flames people would chant "Saya, Sairo" which means "festival, good festival." It's sort of a walking chant like "one, two, one, two."
The men preparing to carry the torches wore loin clothes and these decorative sleeves that mimicked tattoos. A lot of them wore headbands or sashes and some had these skirts. Most of them also had traditional sandals and socks on. It wasn't freezing out but it was the end of October. I wouldn't want to be running around without pants on.
This guy is lighting the small torch so he can ignite the much larger one behind him. These larger torches require at least 4-5 men to carry them and are made from pinewood, probably from the local trees.
I'm not sure how important the original meaning of this festival is to the people living here now, but the act of passing on this tradition to future generations does seem very important. Even as a foreigner this point is evident with the participation of different generations. Everyone from small children to elderly men are given a part to play.
Local people and tourists watching while younger children hold much smaller torches. Many of the younger children were dressed up for the occasion in beautiful kimono.
The Festival starts at around 6 pm and goes on as late as 12.
Close up of men carrying torch by the crowd. The bearing of the torches is done by the strong and younger men.
This is what the torch looks like, its made up of much smaller branches and tied together with these big roots or vines. It smelled delicious.
This man is getting ready to carry a flame, I was trying to get some good butt shots, but he kept moving. Probably because it was cold out.
My buddies and I hanging out by the large bonfires reviewing photos and waiting for the action to begin.
Father and son carrying a torch.
We tried to find a good spot on the street to watch from but we kept getting moved along by the police. Originally the festival was to scare bad spirits or kami out of the area. It is said that the king of the tengu lives on this mountain. The tengu depicted on Kurama have large red noses, they are said to do all kinds of horrible things like abduct children.
Older men carrying rope and flames.
This festival was so different from the one we had seen earlier in the day. Jidai Matsuri was all about presentation and beauty. This festival was so much more representative of the basic beliefs of the Japanese people. It was really fun to experience the Japanese in a situation like this that allowed them to cut loose a little. Honestly, it feels that little of this festival has changed over the years and I think that alone makes it unique.
This guy is balancing the torch on his shoulders and holding on to the roots to keep it there. Wow!
Fire! We need more fire!!!
In case you couldn't tell, I had a hard time photographing the whole night. I somehow forgot that my camera's one weakness is low lighting, especially paired with fast movement. I still managed to get a bunch of shots I was happy with. This one gives you a good sense of how fast some of these men were running by with the torches.
This group is much slower coming down the road and they are struggling with this torch.
Hee hee! I can see his butt!
It was pretty exciting when these guys dropped the torch right in front of us. It was equally impressive how fast others were able to step in and assist. Do you think they practice?
At some point the procession seemed to move up the mountain so we walked further along and watched as other people carried large instruments like this. When they walked it would clang kind of like a bell. There were also very large drums that were played by women and people chanting to the beat.
They started to gather around this bend in the street and letting the torches burn while they held them in place. It was like watching a giant ice cream cone melt, except with fire.
Then many of the torches were stood up on their ends like this. This position was not so great, because it allowed the burning embers to fall and hit the guys holding onto the torch. Does this image can give you a good sense of scale?

The locals were adorned in these orange sashes and this allowed them behind the police tape lines and to interact more directly with the fire.

If you look closely you can see people still holding up the torches as they burn and the smoke is starting to build up.
Fire!
Other people walked around with ladles of water, just in case. They controlled where the fire was burning and help the torch bearers keep an eye on the flame.
It was very crowded in this part of the street but we all stood their watching, waiting to see what would happen next.
It continued to get really smokey and the festival carried on feeling very primal at times with the men struggling together to hold up these large torches of fire.
The street was absolutely littered in ember and bits of wood.
There was quite a lot of smoke and they continued further up the mountain towards the shrine. The crowd was allowed to follow, but only so far. We watched for awhile as the men carried a portable shrine down the mountain as well as other men who were sort of crowd surfing. At this point we were all starting to get cold so we made plans to head back. Unfortunately, the police wouldn't let anyone move for half an hour or so. Finally we were freed and able to walk to our bikes. We biked back down the mountain which was significantly easier then the way up. The lines for the train were very long and I've heard that in can take hours to get back from this festival.
What did I learn? I think we've been approaching fire safety all wrong. The key to being safe with fire is starting kids with small torches at a young age, gradually giving them larger and larger torches. When one is deemed a fully responsible adult then, and only then should they be given a gigantic torch to carry. It's also important that the bare minimum of clothing is worn, this ensures that attention is paid to what they are doing. Otherwise your likely to get a nasty burn... ouch.

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!