Saturday, November 8, 2014

3 Weeks in Japan: Part 2 - Osaka and Nara

By Mike Daikubara in Osaka and Nara, Japan

Osaka is roughly 500km west of Tokyo and it's a pleasant 2-1/2 hours Bullet train ride. This time I was still so jet lagged that I slept through the entire train from Tokyo without having an opportunity to eat my 'Bento box' lunch on the train! bummer.

It's been a long time since I visited my wife's parents home in Osaka and I was really looking forward to it. Every time we visit, they take us out to their favorite 'Kushikastu' restaurant near their home. Kushikatstu is a deep fried skewer - basically anything on a skewer with breading that is deep fried. Osaka is well known for lots of inexpensive but really good food and they definitely brought these Kushikastu to an art form!

We sat at the counter at this restaurant and ordered the seasonal 'Omakase' - basically the chef's special of about 16 skewers. 1 at a time the chef prepared and placed the kushikatu on a plate divided up into 4 sections and it was up to you to dip them into the 4 corresponding sauces for the optimal taste. A dream like experience and taste, I was able to eat and sketch at the same time in the beginning then gave up since I had to focus on eating!

Ingredients from the Top:
- Mastutake Mushroom with Sudachi
- Beef
- Shrimp paste
- Takenoko Bamboo shoot
-  Large Shrimp
- Clam
+ 10 more unsketched skewers..

Next day I headed out to a place I wanted to go sketch for a very long time - Tsutenkaku.
Almost all natives know of or have heard of the famous land-mark tower in Osaka.
This place is quite surreal with tons of people eating kushikatsu and drinking 8AM in the morning!
This scene below is probably the most famous view of the Tsutenkaku tower in the background looking through the busy restaurant district. Up front is also the famous blow fish sign and a sculpture of Biliken - A god of happiness that everyone in Osaka seems to love and in this district alone I saw a good dozen or so of this sculpture.

Another view or Tsutenkaku from right underneath.
The store in the back is a very famous Kushikastu restaurant with a sculpture of the owner holding 2 skewers in hand which is quite comical! It was morning yet there was a long line to get into the restaurant.

I watched the construction site in fascination as the concrete trucks came one at a time to dump fresh concrete which was then piped all the way up to the 5th floor. I watched about 5-6 trucks come and go and everything was so well orchestrated and went so smooth.
oh, I ended up being able to see Tsutenkaku tower in the right hand background too.

At home I watched my mother in-law play online Mahjong game.
She occasionally teaches Mahjong to friends and is really good!
In this sketch she's a little upset that she lost.
Next morning my wife and I took a trip out to Nara - a 45 minute train ride.
Nara for most people are known for 'Daibustu' (Great Buddha sculpture) and the deer's that roam around the park.

We went straight to the Great Buddha at Todai-Ji and was it massive! - considered to be the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha. This was a special day and I can't remember what the occasion was but this place was packed with tourists from all over the country and from the world.

Koumoku-Ten and Tamon-Ten sculptures by the sides of Buddha. Quite large too but looked small in comparison to Buddha.

Everywhere you looked, there was wild deer roaming around the Nara city. They were all wanting the special 'Shika Senbei' snacks that were especially made for deers that were sold throughout the city.
Most of them were quite tame, but there were signs reminding people that these were actually wild animals. I loved the icons showing what they can do!

Most of them had their horns cut off. I found out that 3 days earlier, there was an yearly horn cutting ceremony that Nara has been doing ever since the 1600's! I heard that they do this to prevent accidents right before the deers go into mating season. I did see 1 deer with a massive horn though. He just quietly sat there as tons of tourists took photos of him.

At Todai-ji there was a new museum that had opened up and I was really excited to check it out.
I purchased tickets, and just as I was about to enter the exhibition was this sign:

From the top:
- Turn off your cell phones
- No Photography/ Video
- No Pen light/ Laser pointing devices
- No Sketching (!!!)

Wow!, I've never seen a sign this explicit stating that sketching was not allowed!
You were allowed to take notes (writing), but sketching was not allowing!
All displays were behind a glass panel so it couldn't be about ink/paint or anything...
I was quite upset and ended up seeing the entire exhibition in just a few minutes.

Additional Thoughts:
As I spent couple of weeks in Japan, there were couple of things I noticed about sketching. 
- Sketching as a hobby seems to be gaining popular especially with the retired people and the elderly which is a good thing.
- I saw a number of sketching groups (usually a dozen or so people) sitting and clustered in 1 location spreading out equipment.
- Large groups of people clustered and sitting in 1 location can stop the flow of the traffic of people especially in a busy tourist location in the small spaces in Japan.
- I can now see why this museum would have a 'No Sketching' sign to prevent disruption in the flow of people but I think it should have been more like "No sitting" to prevent this.
- I personally believe sketching while standing with all equipment in the pocket/bag does not disturb anyone and the majority of the time this is how I sketch in busy areas too.

It was quickly starting to get dark and I had time for maybe 1 or 2 more before it got completely dark.
Kasuga Taisha is another very famous shrine in Nara build in 768 AD.
Here's the entrance gate.

Climbing up to the top of stairs, they sold Fortunes rolled up and held in the mouth of a small wooden and Porcelain deers. My wife bought the wooden one and I purchased the porcelain one. We both got 'Chukichi' - which isn't excellent but it's not a bad fortune either. 

Back in Osaka, I went to go sketch the 'Glico' sign with a person raising 2 hands and 1 feet.
This is another famous landmark that every Japanese native knows about - except at this moment they're in the middle of constructing a new sign and therefore have put up this temporary poster backdrop with a photo of Ayase Haruka taking the same pose. She's a very popular actress.
As I sketched, lots of events were going around me:
- tons of tourists were taking photos with the same pose with the sign in the background.
- a homeless person continued to pretend to be talking with someone on a cellphone for about 30 minutes.
- a number of high school boys were taking videos of them performing the 'Gangnam style' dance with the sign in the background.
- A boat tour (the yellow boat on the left) came every 15 minutes or so and would push a remote control button which would make the giant red octopus (in the middle of the sketch) move and sing a song that went "Takoyaki~ Takoyaki~ ". This song stuck to my head.

A block from the Glico Sign.
I wanted to capture the bustling streets of Dotonbori.
There was this giant octopus and once again every few minutes would start singing a song.
Osaka is quite well known for 'Takoyaki' and this store was part restaurant and part museum showcasing the history of Takoyaki.

Kuidaore Taro electric sculpture - another landmark of Osaka.
He kept on pounding on his drums (well not really since the sound was digital and not from hitting the actual drums)

We had a nice afternoon featuring authentic Japanese snack combo which was a really nice way to relax.

to be continued.....

Monday, November 3, 2014

3 weeks in Japan - Part 1: Tokyo

I recently took a 3 weeks trip to Japan to see my family, relative and friends. The main focus was to help my father settle into his new life after losing his mother and wife this spring.
The trip was not all fun but I did have a few moments here and there to slip in a few sketches which is always a great way of relaxing the mind in reducing the stressful situation.

Boston Logan Airport in the past year started offering direct flights to Tokyo! A 13 hour non stop trip beats having to take connecting flights which typically took over 20 hours.

I was looking forward to the Japan Airlines inflight food which was excellent when I took the plane in spring. Unfortunately this time it wasn't very good...
One flight attendant found this sketch to be of interest and asked if she could take this picture to show her colleagues later on. I kind of felt bad that I wrote bad things about the food in the sketch.... oh well, it was at least the truth.

They used to call the airport "Narita New Tokyo International Airport" and while there's 'Tokyo' in the name, the place is actually a good 1-1/2 to 2 hours outside of central Tokyo in Chiba Prefecture. I took the Limo bus into the city which is convenient but still had to transfer into a Taxi finally making it to may fathers home.

Next day early morning, completely jet lagged I decided to get a capture of my parents home. This home was built close to 40 years ago and at one point 6 people lived in here. It's now housed only by my father and he recently renovated the inside to make it a little more convenient to live.
For a short time I once lived in this house too and it brought me back childhood memories.

In Shinjuku a funky building caught my attention. A dark cigar shaped building with lots and lots of white stripes. At first I couldn't tell if there was a rhyme or reason to the stripe pattern until getting close to the building afterwards. The building was 'Mode Gakuen' - a fashion, makeup, design school. Definitely an eye catching building.

1st Sushi in Tokyo. You just can't go wrong in the rotating sushi places in Japan where you can sit there as long as you like picking out your sushi of choice that comes along your way. It's quite a challenge to sketch in the really small space but I managed to fumble around with my sushi plates, beer and my sketch book.

I took an afternoon stroll around the Imperial Palace and was able to get a sketch of one of the gates that used to protect the castle. I found out that this spot was a historically famous assassination location from 1860. This are is now a popular jogging/biking spot.

Meeting a local friend at Ebisu train station, he told me about the hidden sculpture at the station. The Daikokuten sculpture was indeed hidden all the way in the back alley of an employee smoking area. Just couldn't figure out why it was in such a hidden spot.

I've never really watched 'Gundam', but it was a popular animation series which started in the 80's and seems it continues to be quite popular even now. We took a stroll to Odaiba to see the life sized mechanical robot which was quite impressive.

A walking distance to Gundam was the Statue of liberty. It was quite small and reminded me of the one in Las Vegas. I assumed this was a fake version but found out that this statue was officially approved by the French government.

To be continued......

Friday, October 3, 2014

Boston Fire Museum

I've passed by this building numerous times but have never been inside until last week. Open on Saturdays (and sometimes on Wednesdays) to the public, this building was the Boston Fire Museum which was jam packed with fire fighting memorabilia from the Greater Boston area.

The place is owned and operated by The Boston Sparks Association and the volunteers here were energetic and really friendly. They let me sketch here a long time and even gave me some snacks to eat!

"The Abe Linclon" (1882)
This vehicle pumped water using a Steam Engine mounted on the back of the truck! This meant that they constantly needed to have the coal in the back burning just below boiling point so they could be ready to go put out a fire at moments notice. This was a very impressive machine.

"The Plum" (1926)
Kids were allowed to climb onto this truck. They were even given plastic fire fighting helmets to take home. This place was a very children friendly place and even offered rental space for birthday parties.

This fire truck was still in use and was parked outside of the Museum.
I really liked the Boston Sparks Association logo mounted on the side - a skull with a bottle of water and Coffee. Two of my favorite drinks - one for my thirst, and one for my addiction!


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

I sometimes wake up in the morning with a strong urge to sketch a specific topic.
In the past I've had an urge to sketch classic cars, buildings, construction machines, people etc

This morning it was Dinosaurs and since I've sketched most of the dinosaurs in my area, I drove 2-1/2 hours to New Haven Connecticut to go see the Peabody Museum of Natural History in the Yale University campus.

This was my first time in the area and I was equally impressed with the school campus and the architectures in the area. I think I might even make another trip down here just to draw the buildings in the area!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Studio Takeuma from Kyoto Japan

Those of you that use Flickr might recognize his sketches but I wanted to introduce Takeuma-san from Kyoto Japan. I just love the short capture of thoughts he includes in the sketches he does.
Here's a few samples of his work with a rough translation of the story captured in his sketches.

Hope you enjoy and be sure to check him out at Flickr!

2014 January 2nd: Happy new year. There was a man with a red suit case either going or returning from a trip. He had a lot of presence and also looked really happy. I had eye contact with him a few times while I sketched him. He knew I was sketching him but he let me go. Thank you very much.

2014 July 24th: There was a person working standing up with a Mac in one hand looked like his shoulders were getting tense. A seat opened up so he sat down and continued to work on the computer. The bow tie looking thing is his headphones.

A little boy kept on calling for the tigers attention so the tiger came over over real close and the little boy started crying. "What do you want me to do?" I felt like this is what the tiger was saying.

2013 November 19th: Kyoto Zoo. How the tiger walks: Right front leg -> Left rear leg -> left front leg ->right rear leg

 2014 January 9th: The weather was nice in Kyoto but was gray when I got to Tokyo. Lots of people had their umbrella's on the Yamanote train. It looked like it was going to start raining any moment but I was going to go back to Kyoto quickly and I wasn't going to let it rain - was what I was thinking but I'd be bummed if it was raining back in Kyoto. There was an elegant looking elderly gentleman that looked very much like a person from Tokyo. It turned out he got off at the same stop as me and took the bullet train. He was from Nagoya.

2014.08.19 at Wakayama
2014.08.19 at Wakayama 
2014 August 19th: I once again went camping to Wakayama with Nariyuki Circus and came to the sea. The mountain and skies seen from inside the ocean was beautiful. I sketched while getting wet from splashes of water.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hotel Sketches sometimes feels like hard work - Yet I'm still addicted!

I've drawn every hotel room I've stayed in the past 8 years by measuring and drawing on location.
It started off as just a simple way of remembering my trip along with all the other sketches I do during a trip.

Recently this is starting to feel a little bit like work since no matter how tired I am, I need to spend 4 to 6 hours drawing the room. Sometimes I get the temptation to just want to relax by watching TV over a drink or two.

Last weeks trip to Rhode Island felt this way.
My wife took a picture of me and told me I didn't look happy working on the drawing - and it's true, it felt like a chore.

Yet now that the trips over and I look back at the sketch, I'm glad I captured the room.
It was a difficult to capture room but quite a unique one compared to mainstream hotels.

I have a feeling I'm going to continue sketching hotel rooms with this mindset for many more years to come  :)