Japan Trip Day 9

The next day, our last day in Japan, went a whole lot better. We woke up absolutely determined to finish everything that we had missed our first time in Tokyo because of flight delays. Our first stop was Yokohama, an area not far outside of Tokyo. There we went up the Landmark Tower to the 69th floor, which only took about 15 seconds on the direct elevator, and the view was incredible.

When you go down the Tower you get dropped in the middle of an enormous mall that’s a little maze-like, but while we wandered around trying to find the exit we couldn’t help walking into the Pokemon store that was so loud and full of people you had to yell just to be heard, and the Ghibli store that had just about every Ghibli-themed nicknack you can imagine. We were going to stop by the Ferris Wheel that’s next to the tower as well, but we decided we didn’t really have the time and the Osaka one was much more impressive anyway. We did browse through a little flea market that was set up nearby though. It was mostly young women cleaning out the old cloths/bags/accessories from their closets, and a few people with antiques.

When we made it back to Tokyo, our first stop was Meiji Shrine since we’d missed that on our first day. The shrine is amazing, huge, beautiful and crowded! It’s located in the middle of some of the busiest areas of Tokyo and it’s a major site so there are always people there, but that makes it a great place for people watching. I WISH I’d had more time there. I could have sat and drawn all of the different types of people in that crowd for hours. But we did take lots of photos.

I was taking a photo of the shrine entrance, but when I looked closer I saw that I had caught these two in the side frame and it was so much better then the picture I was trying to take. It’s a little boy and his mom dressed up in traditional dress for a special occasion.

We were also so amazingly lucky; there were two weddings going on at the shrine while we were there. This first photo is of the later wedding, since they were still preparing and taking photos.

Ant then this photo is of the first wedding to take place, as the bride and groom had their wedding photos taken just before the ceremony began. (Is it just me, or is the groom making a really funny face? lol)

While we waited for the wedding procession to begin, we walked into the inner grounds and photographed some of the people walking around. There were kids everywhere, dressed up in their finest.

Then, just as we were about to leave, the wedding processional began. Everyone in the square made a path for them to walk through to the main building.

And the wedding party bringing up the rear (one of the girls got a little distracted by something interesting on the ground…)

And then they were gone! The crowd went right back to being crowded and we headed to the exit to snap one last photo of the all the people in the shrine.

Just a few minute’s walk out to get out of the forests surrounding Meiji Shrine (and a short pit-stop for beef bowls and ice cream), and we popped out into Harajuku. You know that awful Gwen Stephanie song, Harajuku Girls? Yep, that’s the place. Right next to Meiji Shrine, there’s one of the craziest shopping districts you’ll ever see.

We walked around there for a little bit before heading off again, this time for Ikebukuro (another crazy entertainment/shopping district) to try just ONE last time to see the movie we had tried and failed to see three times now. We got to Ikebukuro with no problems, since it’s just a few stops away from Harajuku, but once there we realized just how difficult it was going to be to find the cinema with the incredibly vague directions google had given us. It was like walking into a mini Shibuya… but somehow, I’m still shocked, we actually managed to find our way to the right cinema (there were several). It was tucked away down one of the streets and on the 6th floor of an arcade. Our fourth try finally worked out and we walked into the movie as the previews began, and I have to say, it was SO worth it!! We saw Rurouni Kenshin (るろうに剣心) and I’ve never been a big fan of Japanese cinema before, but this movie completely changed my mind. I would have watched it twice if I could. The funny thing is, everyone was almost completely silent during the whole film, and even stayed (still completely silent!) until after the credits and the light came on. I normally do that because I like to wait for the crowd to move out, and so many movies have extra clips at the end nowadays… but I’ve never been in a theatre where every single person stays. 0_0

By the time we got out of the movie it was getting a little late, so we used the rest of our time to do a little last minute shopping/browsing around Ikebukuro. When the stores closed around 9 we swung by Hamamatsuchou to see Tokyo Tower. We didn’t have time to go up it, but the light show going on around it was worth the trip. I wish I had a photo but my camera just couldn’t handle the night shot. Maybe if I’d had a tripod, but it just turned out an orangey-yellow blob. I did at least manage to get one last photo of the shrine next to the tower. The Shrine is called Zojoji and features rows of small statues called Jizoubosatsu (地蔵菩薩  – じぞうぼさつ). They represent the souls of unborn/still born children and those wishing to pay their respects dress the statues in warm knits and bibs, and place windmills, candy and small toys around the bases.


Japan Trip Day 7

Today was a special day trip from Osaka up into the mountains. From Nanba station we bought a train/cable car/bus pass for Koya San that included discounts to most of the temples and some restaurants in the area. From there it was about a two hour train ride through smaller and smaller stations until we were winding through the mountains.

It was a long ride so I had plenty of time to amuse myself by sketching the other passengers on the train.

When we finally arrived we immediately got lost (like we do). We ended up taking the wrong bus and thinking that the temple we were heading for was much closer then it actually was, we just started walking. We ended up walking in a long loop around part of the town and several temples, but it wasn’t so bad considering everywhere you look there’s something absolutely amazing. This post is going to be a little photo heavy… but just look at the place!

Since Koya San is so high up it it was definitely chilly and all of the leaves were changing colors. There were some trees that were so bright they didn’t even look like they could be real.

After a little more wandering around we caught another bus (the right one this time) to Okunoin Temple. This temple is the resting place of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, and surrounding it is the largest cemetery in Japan: almost 200,000 gravestones dating back over a thousand years. It’s the beginning of the traditional pilgrimage route through the peninsula so the roads are packed with men and women carrying walking sticks and dressed in white cotton outfits with bells.

If you take your time, the walk to and from the central temple could take you all day. There are two entrances, the shorter one where the bus drops you off and the long one that starts in the middle of town. We began at the entrance by the bus station and made out way to the central temple. There is a small bridge near the center of the grounds that leads to the main temple, over which no photos are allowed. It’s a beautiful large building which you are allowed to enter and inside you can see the priests of the shrine at work or at prayers. On the way back, we just happened to accidentally bump into family grave site of Hideyoshi Toyotomi…! My Japanese history may be rough, but even I know who this guy was.

We managed to find the longer path on our way back out and it was worth the extra time. The paths are small, surrounded by enormous trees and gravestones in every direction. There are small yen offerings tucked away everywhere you look; in small bowls set out in from of shrines, placed on top of grave stones tree trunks and stones, and even tucked into the bark of trees. There are also tiny idols that you can find all over the place, often so hidden away you may never see them.

When we finally made our way out of the graveyard we realized it was a little late… and we still wanted to make it to the movie that we missed the day before! We had to sit and wait (shivering… it was cold) for about a half hour before the bus came, then it was back to the cable car down to the train station and back towards Osaka. Unfortunately for us it took a good 2 1/2 hours for the train to get back. We had completely misjudged our movie time again and missed it for the second time.

Oh well, there’s still time!

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.

Inspiration: Aboriginal Australian Art

When I was little my family and I were lucky enough to live in Australia for a few years. Of course, like most kids, I didn’t really appreciate just how amazing it was to have been there. I didn’t realize until much later just how much of an impact that experience had on me and my influences, specifically Aboriginal art that is so hauntingly beautiful and expressive.

(I couldn’t find any credits or details about this one, only that it is painted on stone)

(again, couldn’t find any credits for this one, but it looks almost exactly like a small piece that I have hanging up)

I love pointillism, and styles that leave out important lines rather than rendering every detail. They let the audience actually participate in the art by allowing their minds to fill in the blanks and create the rest of the image. I think that’s why I love sketches so much since they’re so often just the idea of the image without being fully rendered.

The subject matter of Aboriginal art is also beautiful, often very abstract representations of mythology and the natural landscape of Australia.

(Ngapa Jukurrpa – Water Dreaming by Felicity Nampijinpa Robertson from www.aboriginalartonline.com)

(Yanjirlpirri Jukurrpa – Star Dreaming by Alma Nungarrayi Granites from www.aboriginalartonline.com)

(Artist Charlene Carrington from aboriginal-art-australia.com)