Japan Trip Day 6

Today we got up super early. We knew we were leaving for Osaka in the afternoon, but we wanted to squeeze just a little more time in to see more of Kyoto. We hopped a city bus and about 45 minutes later we were at Kinkakuji. Another very well known, iconic temple, and well worth the trip.

The upper floors are covered in gold leaf. This is because (at least as I understand it) the upper floors hold the actual shrines, and the gold leaf is to represent on the exterior a reflection of what is held within. I haven’t had any time to color adjust any of my photos, so it’s a bit difficult to see just how beautiful this shrine really is, but here’s a link to a much better image if you’re curious.

After a short walk through the grounds there are lots of food vendors, so we each bought a few snacks. There were even special Kinkakuji Dango with gold flakes! They were delicious. (The other ones there are chocolate covered)

After we’d munched a bit we walked out of the shrine and… got more food! There was a very cute little Udon shop just across the street and we just couldn’t help ourselves.

After we’d stuffed ourselves we hopped back on the bus to our hotel, then hiked over to the JR terminal to hop back on the Shinkansen, this time for Osaka. I remembered to snag a photo this time =)

We were really hoping to get to Osaka in time to go see a movie that we had both been looking forward to (るろうに剣心 RurouniKenshin), but it was a bit of a scramble just to find our hotel and then the theatre… It was actually connected to Shin-Osaka subway station which is massive and crazy. So we found the theatre to hopefully see the movie the next day, then found a little Okonomiyaki place nearby. YUM!! Okonomiyaki is one of my favorite things and Osaka is the place to get it.

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Japan Trip Day 5

Haha, weeeell it turns out internet isn’t always as easy to come by here as I thought it would be, so I missed a couple days! I’ll just have to back track a bit… so I’m already on day 8, but I’ll go back to day 5 and go from there.

Today (Day 5) was all about the shrines! We had a goal to see four of the larger shrines in Kyoto and we made it to three of them today; Fushimiinari, Kiyomizudera and Yasakajinja (the shrine at the end of Shijo Street in Gion). The first, Fushimiinari was the one I was most excited for. It’s the head shrine dedicated to Inari, a fox god of wheat, money, business and luck (among other things). It’s most famous for it’s iconic Torii gate paths, each one donated to the shrine by a business hoping to gain Inari’s good favor.

The path to the entrance to the shrine is lined with thousands of plaques covered in the names of the businesses that have donated.

Then the road opens up to reveal the enormous entrance to the shrine.

Just inside the main entrance are rows of stores selling shrine souvenirs, mostly fox inspired (I got a little bobble head Inari charm! Maybe it will give me a little luck…). There were also lots of tanuki, snakes and manekineko

A bit further in the grounds open up, until you come to the main attraction: Paths to the inner grounds lined with literally thousands of Torii gates.

Then there are the charms when you get to the inner grounds. These are always a really fun part of the shines; they are charms made by the shrines for anything from recovering from an illness to passing an important exam.

And one last photo from Fushimiinari: Inari holding harvest wheat in his mouth.

Our next stop was Kiyomizudera… but it was a little bit of a fail on our part. We didn’t realize that the Kiyomizudera that we had heard about and seen so many images of was actually the observatory and the main shrine area, which is far less interesting, is much closer to the city. So we made it to the main shrine and there was nothing there, and by that time it was too late to get all the way to the observatory! Well it wasn’t a complete waste of time; as we were leaving the grounds, we saw a few of the local monks appear from inside the off limits area and walk into the main temple. A few minutes later a couple very young (and very late I think) monks ran into the main temple building as well, and moments later the daily chants began.

We stayed to listen for a while, then headed off to visit Yasaka Shrine before it got too late. Yasakajinja is the shrine we saw the day before, but it was already all closed down for the night. During the day there are vendors that line the path into the shrine that sell all sorts of things; antiques, clothing, and lots of yummy food. There are also (of course!) more charms being sold by the men and women of the shrine complex.

So it was a very full day of shrines complexes and trains and running around. The plan for the next day was to wake up early early, book it to just ooone more shrine, run back to the hotel then board the Shinkansen for Osaka… but that will be another post!

Japan Trip Days 3 and 4

It’s the end of day 4 already! This trip is going by so fast…

Last night was our first night without any internet/phone/tv/electronics etc, but it was by choice. We stayed the night at a very (VERY) nice Ryokan in Shuzenji on the Peninsula of Izu. It was a short train trip down from Tokyo; just a little over 2 hours on JR trains, then a bus up into the town and a short hike through a couple very tight little roads to the hotel.

When we got there, there were welcome staff waiting to take our bags and direct us to the “Welcome Tea”, where they sat us down in a viewing room, served us traditional tea with a candy and took our information to check us in.

At this point Lan and I were looking at each other with bug eyes… we were not at all prepared for such a traditional and formal Ryokan. There’s something really intimidating about it at first! When we finished our tea they gave us a tour of the hotel and showed us the entrance to each onsite onsen, then lead us to our room.

Technically we had three rooms. There’s the entrance where you remove your indoor slippers before stepping on the tatami floors, which leads to the small bathroom and both larger rooms. The first room (you can see a bit of it to the left in the photo) is a small changing room with closets for clothing and luggage and the futons during the day. The second largest room is the main area where the table is during the day and the futon are laid out at night. Then there is a small indoor balcony area that looks out over a river below.

After we’d had a little time to settle in, a woman came and introduced herself as Rumi, our room attendant. She was assigned to our room because she was practicing her English (which was very good). When we told her that we knew a little Japanese she began speaking to us in very slow clear Japanese first and then repeated herself in English so that we could practice as well.

At 6:30 dinner was served… and WOW. Rumi came in and set up our table, then served us five courses ranging from sashimi (tuna, alfonsino, and bonito among them) to hotpots; each time giving us about 10-15 minutes in between. It was a 2 hour affair and easily one of the best meals I’ve ever had. After recovering from the meal we explored the hotel a bit. Every hallway had something even more amazing than the last. This photo is of part of the interior of the hotel which the more expensive rooms looked out over.

When we’d explored everything we could, we headed down to the hot spring and soaked for a good hour… or two. When we came back upstairs, Rumi appeared again, this time with an assistant, to clear the table away, set up our futon and had us set a time for her to come back in the morning. Sure enough, first thing in the morning she and the assistant folded up our futon, set the table back out then came back to serve us our breakfast… another hour long affair!

Lan and I were both shocked by the amazing service of this place and nearly talked ourselves into skipping a day in Kyoto for another night at the Ryokan! But no… so we spent the morning exploring the town and the bamboo forest around the hotel before getting back on the bus to the train station.

While waiting for the Shinkansen to arrive we were talking about how sad we were that we hadn’t had time to go to the Mt. Fuji viewing area which was a 40 minute bus ride from our hotel. We were feeling a little like we had failed a part of our trip to have missed seeing such an iconic part of Japan…. when sudden behind us the clouds parted and there it was! Right in front of us and FAR bigger than I had imagined. It’s a really incredible sight. The land around is mostly very flat with small hills and mountains popping up every now and then… and then suddenly, out of no where, is this absolutely massive white capped volcano.

The rest of the journey to Kyoto was about 3 hours by Shinkansen, then a short taxi ride to Khaosan Kyoto Guest House, just a few minute’s walk from Gion! It was starting to get a bit late by the time we arrived, so we dropped our bags and headed out. Gion (and Kyoto in general) is such a bizarre place. It’s a very young/trendy area so the fashion is often outrageous and there are extremely high end retail stores everywhere you look. But then you’ll be walking down the street, blinded by the taxis and strings of lights and Host Club fashions, and suddenly bump into a thousand year old temple tucked away between a phone-charm store and Parisian specialty dessert restaurant.

The best example of this cultural juxtaposition is the main street of Gion, Shijo Avenue. It’s everything I already described; Armani, Prada, Gucci, specialty desert restaurants and stores selling every kind of expensive Kyoto-themed nicknack you could ever want. The whole street is lined with bright lanterns and taxis, limousines and cars speed through the six lanes in between the streets.

Then you get to the end of the street, and it all runs into this…

It’s Yasakajinja, a Shinto shrine with enormous and beautiful grounds that was founded in the year 656. The photo above of Shijo Avenue was taken from the steps of the shrine.

So tomorrow our plan is to explore more of the city outside of the Gion area, but also to visit Yasakajinja again during the day… I can’t wait! but right now it’s time for some much needed sleep I think.

Japan Trip Day 2

Today was a long day! I woke up with the sun and headed out a little bit after… but didn’t get very far. I explored a little bit around the hotel, but had to head back in and wait on Skype for my friend. Her flight finally got in, but she had no idea how to navigate to the hotel from Narita by the train system. It can be WAY more confusing than you’d think it would be, especially since we were both so unprepared when we landed. About three hours later she got in, safe and sound and after a quick shower we headed out to Shibuya.

Just outside the station in the opposite direction of the intersection, there’s a very cool swervy little one way road.

Then… there’s THIS.

Shibyu Crossing… it’s pretty nuts. Lan and I wandered around this area for a good hour or two and crossed several times and it’s a lot like a really intense game of human Frogger. You better be ready to hop.

Do you remember that very sad movie about the Japanese dog named Hachiko? Well he was a real dog, and he really did wait for his owner all that time, and this is his statue outside of the Shibuya station… being ridden by a very drunk man.

For those of you who don’t know the story; an Akida named Hachiko would follow his owner to the train station every morning on the man’s way to work and then wait until the man returned that evening, and follow him back to their home. In 1925 the man left for work, but never came back. He had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died. The dog continued to wait for the man at the train station until his death in 1935.

So after Shibuya we hopped back on the train and headed up to Shinjuku to wander around a bit more.

Mmmmmmm plastic food looks so delicious…

We wandered around for a few more hours, walking up and down the streets packed full of people. A few of them had on some really amazing Halloween costumes! When we realized it was getting a little late we started to try to find a train station… and got completely lost. We found a small local station, but couldn’t find where it connected to the Line that heads towards Shibuya and back towards our hotel. We ended up buying a ticket that was eaten by the machine and running back and forth through an underground mall which had signs leading us in opposite directions! When we finally made it onto the train, it was with a little sweat on our brows. We somehow managed to catch the very last train of the night!

So, lesson learned: Keep a better eye on the time… and try asking for directions first.

Tomorrow we leave for Izu and Arai Ryokan!

Japan Trip Day 1 Part 2

It’s already 8 in the morning! So instead of a long explanation of how I got here yesterday, I’ll be brief:

-The flight was 12 hours and not bad at all.

-The train trip from Narita to the hotel was…. LONG, but I was lucky enough to run into two very nice and very funny people heading in the same direction.

-The hotel room is teeny tiny, but comfy.

-My poor friend won’t be here until this afternoon since she missed her connection yesterday…

– I’m still not sure what to do while I wait fer her to get here! But like I said, it’s already 8am, time to head out.

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Here’s how I kept myself busy on the flight. My sister is dressing up as a woman transforming into an Alebrije for Halloween (BEST costume idea ever!) and I was super inspired. When I get back I plan on making this into a painting.

My itty bitty hotel room (it’s a lot nicer during the day when you can see the nice view out the window!)

And my breakfast! =)

Japan Trip Day 1

So every trip, especially long ones, has to have at least a little bit of bad luck mixed in with the good… It’s better to just get the bad luck out of the way asap, right? Well yesterday was just one of those days! At the risk of sounding like I’m complaining, let me just list the things that went wrong: I got no sleep the night before, I overslept in the morning, I had to print some documents but the printer was broken, there was a baby on the plane… I had to take a taxi to the nearest Apple store to fix my brand new broken ipod so I’d have music on the flight the next day, my card was refused in the taxi so I had to underpay the poor guy with all of my cash, and then it was just lots of frustrating waiting and lugging around my dirty old backpack and duffel through a mall and trying to get the ipod fixed and… yah. It was a little stressful! But here’s where it gets good (honestly actually).

When I finally arrived at the little hotel… all of the lights were off… I walked inside (the taxi driver was very nice and insisted on waiting for me to make sure I’d be okay) and a very frustrated woman at the counter gave me the brush off; told me their power was out, they had no lights, keys, computers, so she couldn’t even check me in to get me in a room. I would have just walked to the place across the street but I had already prepaid for the room. Oops. So I walk out to the courtyard and find a seat by the pool, and watched the other hotel residents wandering around with all of their phones for light (it was pitch black!). The lights flickered a bit every now and then, but still nothing a half hour later and I was getting a little chilly and a little tired of waiting around so I pick up my things and start wandering, and I’m so glad I did. I walked down this amazingly scary pitch black tunnel of a hallway into the back corner of the hotel where it looked like there was actually a little light… and walked in on the best thing I’ve seen in ages.

There were about 10 people, all huddled together at a bar with five or six little tea candles scattered around for light, and as I walked in everybody looked up with the biggest drunken grins. So I sat down, ordered a beer and introduced myself. There was a denim salesman, a Columbian, two men from Jerusalem (one claimed to be Jesus’ next door neighbor, apparently they lived on the same block) a magician, a grumpy Englishman, a middle aged stripper from Florida, and three musicians.

The lights finally came back on around midnight and everybody let out a disappointed “awww”. The party broke up soon after that and I finally got checked into my room, which was actually surprisingly nice.

Then there’s just one more piece of very very bad luck. My friend who will be meeting me in Japan… missed her connecting flight… So while I will arrive in about 13 hours (I’m waiting to board the plane right now!), my poor friend won’t be getting there until tomorrow afternoon.

So that’s all the bad luck one trip needs right? No more? Please? I need to go buy some good luck temple charms asap. o_o

Leaving for Japan

As of 5pm today I’ll be on my way to Tokyo, Japan where I’ll be busting ass to see everything I possibly can for the next two weeks! I head out from Puerto Vallarta to LAX where I get to spend the next seventeen hours…! There weren’t a whole lot of choices when I bought my tickets so it was either do the horribly long layover on the way there or on the way back. From there it’s a 12 hour flight to Narita where I’ll be meeting one of my best friends who will be with me through the whole trip.

Our schedule is pretty cram packed. We both realized that this kind of trip wasn’t going to happen again any time soon for either of us, so we went all out in our plans to make the most of our time there.

Here’s the game plan:

Tokyo -> Izu (Arai Ryokan and hot springs) -> Kyoto -> Osaka -> Koya-san (in the mountains east of Osaka) -> Tokyo

I had this whole long winded explanation of each place we were going, how we were getting there and what we’d be seeing all typed out… but I realized it was just my nerves getting the better of me. I am packing super light since we’ll be moving around so much but I am bringing my laptop with me, so hopefully (maybe) I can actually post pictures/drawings/updates while I’m there. I’m not expecting to be able to post every day like I normally do, but for my sake if nothing else, it would be great to have a sort of travelog record of this trip.
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The week after I get back from Japan I’m flying out again, this time to Chicago for a convention. I somehow managed to pull together a plane ticket and last minute room/board to get there, so hopefully with that trip I’ll be able to make some money instead of just spending it! (I’ll need it….)

Price List

I finally finished the price list I’ve been working on! Or at least mostly, I have a little work to do on the Illustrations section still, but everything else is up. This was long overdue, so it’s a relief to finally have that up. If you’d like to check it out, it’s in the left hand menu just below Contact Info. Or you can just click here if you’re reading this in a feed =)

I separated them out into my most common commission types: Illustration, Portraits and Character Design, plus “What Nots” for the smaller commission types that I only offer every now and then. These are all prices for “personal collectors” of course, not commercial use, so I added a brief info section on that option as well.

I’m also really excited to be working on some new Signage for conventions. In past years I’ve have a nice enough display and done fairly well at conventions, but my signs have been really lacking and I know that that’s hurting my business. I’m ashamed to say they are often last minute scribbled notes torn out of a sketchbook… Well not any more! I’m making a list of everything I need to display and I’m going to design them and mount them on foam board for a really nice look. I’m also getting two big banners for the table front. Hopefully I can step it up a level with this and really kick butt at the next convention!

Dog Sketch

Here’s a simple little sketch of a dog I used to know from Doggy Daycare.

A Samoyed named Sierra. She looked like a giant cotton ball when she curled up on the floor.

Cricket

About two years ago I was working at a Dog Daycare and boarding facility, and we got in one particular little dog… a miniature poodle, or at least that’s what they said. It was hard to tell what species she was, let alone breed. When I saw her my first thought was that I’d never seen a dog so old or decrepit, and that she had maybe weeks to live (I wish that were an exaggeration). She had no fur on her back and the skin there was hard and cracked, and she was so morbidly obese that her tail had been enveloped in layers of fat and her legs were bowed under the weight of herself. She couldn’t walk more then 2-3 feet on her own before having to sit down. Her eyes were glassy and had a permanent crust around them, and you couldn’t get too close to her face because her teeth were literally rotting and the smell was awful. She was in pretty bad shape.

Apparently the dog’s former owner was an elderly woman with dimensia. She would hold Cricket (the dog) all day and pet pet pet her back (which is why there was no fur). I found out later that the woman also fed Cricket from her own meals; she’d never had dog food in her life. When the woman was put into an assisted living facility the dog couldn’t come with her, so the family decided to board her with us. They spent thousands of dollars to keep her at our facility, but never bothered to take her to the vet… Needless to say I have some serious issues with how this little dog was treated, but that’s beside the point.

Here’s where the story gets a little happier. After she had been with us for a little more than three months, I approached my manager who then approached the owners and asked them if they would be willing to give Cricket away. They got back to me quickly enough and even offered to pay for her first vet bill (I think they were just happy to have a quilt-free way of getting rid of the dog).

Cricket is completely unrecognizable now, and still going strong! She’s lost most of the excess weight that she had (her tail reappeared from beneath the fat… though it’s a little crooked), although her body will always be a bit misshapen because of it, and all of the fur on her back grew back in. The vet ended up removing almost all of her teeth; she has just three left but she makes it work. She eats regular dog food now and she gets so excited about if that she jumps around when it’s breakfast/dinner time! Jumps!! For treats she eats apples too. I don’t know how with only three teeth… but like I said, she makes it work.

So anyway… TL;DR she was in pretty bad shape, but she’s living the good life now =) and look! I found a page of Cricket sketches!

Hahaha, oooh here’s a picture I found of her. Her first Halloween with us I dyed her tail pink (and a little bit of her butt and legs… she kept sitting down haha). She loved all of the extra attention she got.