So Long 2013!

2013 has been an exciting one for me:

-I worked with new and fantastic clients!  Including some of my favorite publications, companies and artists!

- I took the Lila Rogers class, which gave me some new skills and motivation to license my artwork.

-I moved into our new place, one where we have a small backyard and can paint the walls. Woo hoo!

-I got married to my favorite person surrounded by our awesome family and friends.  All of the hard wedding planning was worth it because the day came together even better than I had hoped : )

- We traveled to Prague, Vienna, Salzburg and Zurich on our honeymoon!

I'm starting off 2014 feeling empowered and inspired!  Hope you are too : )

 

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.

Quilt Market Recap

So I survived my first Quilt Market!! I went armed with postcards, swatches of my work and some portfolios on my ipad to show art directors.  The first day left me feeling completely overwhelmed... so much fabric to look at, so many people and everyone seemed too busy to talk.

Luckily I was not alone and was able to meet up with the ladies who ran The Printed Bolt's REPEAT contest as well as Michele (winner of REPEAT!)

Me, Ellen, Madeleine and Michele hanging out in Carolyn's booth!

After a rough day of walking the floor we hit up the Modern Quilt Guild's meet up that night.  This was the place to be!!! Michele and I immediately spotted a few of our favorite designers and decided to be brave and go talk to them.

Carolyn's block of the month quilt "Local" in her first fabric line; Architextures.  

 Through out the weekend we managed to talk to: Melody Miller,  Rashida Coleman-HaleCarolyn FriedlanderLizzy HouseAmy ButlerAnna Maria HornerTula Pink and Sarah Watson.

This is Michele and I chatting with Anna Maria Horner!!

Let me tell you... every single one of these ladies was even more fabulous in person!!!  Each of them took the time to speak to us about our experiences at our first quilt market, or their approach to design, what they think of the Modern Quilt movement, etc.  It made me so incredibly happy.....

I'm definitely encouraged to continue designing fabric and maybe even attend the spring quilt market in Portland, Oregon this year...

Quilt Market Prep

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

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!

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!

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!

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 2 (Mochi, Temples and Buddha oh my!)

This is part two of my day trip. After leaving behind the deer we got to the heart and soul of Nara: Todaiji. This temple was originally constructed in the Nara period (710-794) and was rebuilt and fixed after quite a few destructive fires. The temple survives to this day but at 2/3 of its original size. Despite that Todaiji is still the world's largest wooden structure.
We arrived at the entrance to the southern gate, inside this gate are beautiful wooden sculptures but its hard to get a good photograph of them because they are behind some heavy duty chicken wire. Here's a close up of a giant foot!

We continued past the gate and arrived at the main building. We washed our hands and faces in the fresh water as is traditional before entering the temple.

 

Here I am posing far away from the temple! Last time I was here with Robin it was so quiet and empty. Not today!
This guy sits outside the temple covered in red clothing. It is said if you have pain somewhere you should touch him on that spot and then yourself and you will heal. I couldn't reach his shoulders or his back or anywhere else that I'm actually sore. I got his knee so hopefully it will help keep my knee healthy.
Little demon guy

Inside the temple is the Daibutsu; Japan's largest and very golden Buddha. The Buddha is made of copper and bronze, he weighs 250 tons and stands 30 meters tall. The photo doesn't do him justice. His hair is all individually made balls and the eyes were hand painted on at the Buddha's dedication ceremony in 752.

Another close up of featuring the golden guys floating around Buddha

There are other large, golden statues in the temple but I'm not sure of their significance.

Maybe this gives you a sense of scale?
This is one of the guard statues also in the temple
At the back of the temple is a hole in one of the pillars. It is said that those who can wiggle through it will be blessed with enlightenment. There's a line of children who are waiting to go through and their parents waiting to take photos of their kids looking through the pillar. This hole is also the size of Buddha's nostril on the statue. This totally cracks me up! I like the idea of small Japanese children crawling through Buddha's nostril to reach enlightenment.
Here's the other side of the statue with another golden figure that is also really exquisite. We left the temple and headed back through the parks of Nara. It was slowly getting dark and the temples were closing as they usually do around 5. As we walked through the streets in the city of Nara we came upon an impressive street scene. . .
The men in the mochi shop was pounding bright, green mochi and yelling loudly. The mochi is pounded in a traditional mortar called a usu with giant wooden mallets called a kine. A crowd was gathered around the shop to watch the men pound the mochi.
Next, the pounded dough was put into a machine that filled the mochi with red bean paste, the small green discs of mochi were then quickly dusted with a powder and sold to members of the crowd. After watching the excitement for a minute Victo and I decided we wanted some fresh mochi to snack on. The mochi guys kept a steady rhythm as one would pound the dough and yells ichi (one). On ichi's upswing the other yells ni (tw0) and he hits the dough. This seems to prevent them from hitting each other and seems very useful when someone needs to put a hand in to turn the dough they are able to do so.

The sun started setting as we made our way back to the train station. It was a pretty fabulous day; I enjoyed the ramen I had for lunch, the vintage postcards I picked up at a little bookshop and all the photos I got of the temple and the deer. It was a long way home ; we still had to catch a train and then bike back to the dorms but we made it back around 11 after enjoying a delicious dinner in a drinking place with lots of tasty food.

Coming up: A sneak peak at some sketches.

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...