Tuesday, 31 August 2010
After a fab day, we trotted to the station, looking forward to a comfy ride home in the Romance Car, only to find that for some reason the Romance Car had been cancelled! Our lack of Japanese language meant that we never really knew what had happened, but we just joined the masses on a chug-a-long train that slowly cranked it's way along a track. We had no idea where we were going or how we were going to get home, but knew we were vaguely in the right direction. We ended up on a slow train back to Shinjuku and felt very ravaged by the end of it all. We will try and remember the Romance Car as this image of space-age sleekness instead of the disappearing train....
After heading back down the mountain on another ropeway and then a cable car (we really did seem to try every form of transport this weekend!), and having lunch and a beer in Gora park, we headed to the Hakone Open Air museum, a really beautiful place set into the surrounding landscape and beautifully curated. We spent a good hour and a half wandering round the grounds, taking in the Henry Moores and Picassos that were scattered around and taking in some live jazz that was being played on one of the lawns.
After the stunning views on the cable car, you are spat out at Owakudani - fittingly called Hell Valley because there are bubbling pools of sulphur everywhere! A stream of people head to these stinking pools, take a photo of the bubbling mass, eat the famous black eggs that are supposed to be very healthy, and then trot off again. Part of me felt that I should have tried the eggs, but the combination of the foul stench and the searing heat put me right off them - can't imagine why! Even Hello Kitty had her own black egg outfit...
After stepping off the pirate ship, the station for the ropeway is right there, so there's no way of missing where you're supposed to go next! A very organised cable car system takes you up the side of the mountain so that you can look down over lake Ashi and the surrounding hills..... and then suddenly.....Fuji-san appears in all his majesty!!!!! I have to say, I let out a little scream when I saw him and even though he was covered in cloud, he was stunning. I can only imagine how amazing it must be on a clear day and fully intend to head back again to see him in all his majesty. We could even hear deep booms coming from his area and although it was probably just thunder, I like to think he was saying hello....
After an amazing sleep, with the lake breeze and the crickets chirping, we had a tasty buffet breakfast which made up for the lack of a meal the night before. We fuelled up, checked out and then headed to the Pirate Ship - yes, they have reproductions of what can only be described as galleons that charge backwards and forwards across lake Ashi, ferrying hundreds of tourists on the Hakone loop. We had to do it at least once and it was included in our special discount pass, so we joined the masses and sailed serenely up the lake, taking in the stunning view and soaking up the gorgeous sunshine.
The Hakone trip can easily be done in a day, but we decided to take our time and stay overnight. After a bus trip from the station to the lake and a wander down the cedar tree avenue, which was beautiful, we were ready to check into the hotel and relax. The Prince Hotel is right on the banks of Lake Ashi and has stunning views of Mount Fuji and the surrounding area. It was so lovely to be somewhere quiet and peaceful, where the air was clear and we could breathe! The hotel has a slight feeling of being lost in time, but I loved some of the original decor.
After a nap in the room with the lake breeze filtering through our window, I went for a massage and then we went for dinner. It was a gorgeous meal, but tiny and extortionate! We came out of there £100 lighter, with hungry bellies and nowhere to go as we were in the middle of nowhere! Luckily we found a convenience store in the hotel and stocked up on Pringles to take back to the room. By 9pm, the place really was a ghost town, but then on a wander round the grounds, we realised that everyone was in the onsen, steaming themselves and wallowing. Every guest room provides a set of pyjamas for each guest and people put their jim jams on in their room and then scuff down to the onsen in their provided slippers where they wallow in the calming waters looking over the lake. It sounds gorgeous but we sadly did not partake. We love the idea of doing it, but would like to go together and the baths are separate for male and female. Maybe one day we'll feel a bit flush with the cash and reserve a room in a ryoken with its own private onsen....
We went to Hakone last weekend, which was a lot of fun. Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and is less than 100km from Tokyo. It is situated around lake Ashi and has stunning views of Mount Fuji. We were really excited about seeing Fuji-san "in the flesh".
There is a well used route that most people seem to do when they go there and it involves a series of trains, ropeways and trams to get you around the "circuit". You can get a special pass that lets you use all of these for a discounted price, which was well worth it, and to get to Hakone, most people take the "Romance Car" train from Shinjuku station. I have to say, we were partly expecting to find a bright pink carriage with rosebuds on every seat, but it was just a regular train. It was a comfortable ride and we were well impressed with the seats that went right into the nose of the train so that you felt you were driving. We desperately wanted those seats, but so did hundreds of other people....
Thursday, 26 August 2010
Wednesday, 25 August 2010
I went to my pottery class yesterday and collected a bizen pot that I made last week. Bizen is Japan's oldest pottery making technique and involves no glaze. The pot is fired at a much higher temperature than it would if it had been glazed and interesting affects can be created using different natural elements. With my pot, I wrapped straw around the pot and then put it in the kiln at about 1000 degrees. The straw creates red and brown scorch marks where it touches the pot. There are many very interesting affects (click here to see) that can be achieved using this technique and I'm excited to try more.
Tuesday, 24 August 2010
I'm always intrigued by the endless foot attire there seems to be on offer here. I love the "toe socks" or gloves for your feet (a pair of which I had when I was young), but am more intrigued by the little lacey "socklets" that women wear here. They only just fit over the toes and back of the heel and I guess it's to avoid getting smelly feet, but ends up looking a bit like an after thought. I also can't help thinking it's just another excuse to be cutesy. You often see women wearing these little lacey numbers with sandals and other open toed shoes which seems to defeat the object of wearing open toed shoes....
Monday, 23 August 2010
Yesterday, Neil and I headed to the streets of Sangenjaya to check out a Latin-themed festival. Neil was in his element as we were surrounded by bikini-clad, be-feathered ladies doing high kicks all the way down the street! The judges looked rather sombre in comparison, with their token feather in hat. It's a serious business judging something like this, but someone's got to do it! It was a lot of fun and the music was fab.
Sunday, 22 August 2010
August is a traditional time to have fireworks in Tokyo and there have been various matsuris going on all over the city this month - it could have been a celebration for us as we have now been in Tokyo for a year! Can you believe that?! Anyway, my friend Suzy was having a gathering at the fireworks along the Tamagawa river, so we decided to head there and meet her gang, with Chris and Becky in tow. Suzy was a star and had got there at 9.30am and set up her blue tarpaulins - just like the ones used for the cherry blossom season. Everyone stakes their plot, and then trots off, knowing that on-one would dare nick it! Very civilised. We turned up about half an hour before the fireworks and joined the throngs of people, some kitted out in kimonos, which is the traditional thing to do. We decided not to wear ours, which was a bit of a shame, but I didn't fancy trying to squat on a tarp whilst wearing one for the first time. Not a pretty sight! Anyway, the fireworks were spectacular and we had a prime position by the river as we sipped sake and ate sarnies. A perfect way to celebrate our first year here.
Saturday, 21 August 2010
I'm feeling a bit sorry for myself at the mo as I went Scottish dancing on thursday evening and did my foot in. I am now cultivating a clubfoot/cloven hoof! I went to a very nice doctor (called Mr Fuji!) and he took some x-rays and has referred me to a foot specialist. In the meantime I am thinking of investing in a pair of these ninja shoes to embrace the hoof-ness.
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
I went to my pottery class this morning and collected the pots that I glazed last week. I always hold my breath when I collect anything glazed as you never quite know how they are going to turn out. Anyway, I was pretty happy with the results and the melted Perrier bottle pieces in some of the pots has worked pretty well. My teacher has her kilns in her home (actually in her kitchen) and was telling me how it takes two days for the kiln to cool down. I can't even imagine how hot it must get in there as it's supposed to have been 40 degrees outside today!
Saturday, 14 August 2010
On thursday evening I met up with Geenie, Tatsuya and Steve who I know through my gallery meetup group. Geenie organised the evening and suggested an izakaya called Hakobune in Shimbashi. We sat at a big table with a large pit in the middle - like one big BBQ - and each set of diners has their own mini grate where they cook up the raw food of their choice. It was a great experience and I got to try oysters again (and actually liked them this time) as well as scallops, large snails (which weren't rubbery at all!) and some tasty fish too. It was all washed down with a chilled glass of sake.
Thursday, 12 August 2010
My friend Suzy is doing the costumes for a production of "Midsummer Night's Dream" and I helped her to make some papier mache horns! It was great to get messy and play with glue, and I couldn't resist taking a photo of her props cupboard - see pic!
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
I had my pottery class this morning and a ton of pots to glaze. It's quite overwhelming as there are so many options, but I tried a number of different techniques and colours. I'm looking forward to seeing how one of the techniques works. We broke a Perrier bottle and then put some of the shards in the bottom of some of the bowls we had made. The glass melts in the kiln and creates a pretty base. They were being put into the kiln as I left, so will hopefully see them finished next week.
I went to see a fab band last night - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - on the good recommendation of my friend Wanda. I'd never listened to their music before, but stocked up on some albums and did a crash course on them before I went. I have to say, I love them! Even better seeing them in concert in a great little venue in Ebisu called the Liquid Room. It's difficult to put them into a category, but they sound bloomin' great - for a sample, click here! After the concert finished, one of the band members came out into the bar, stood on one of the tables, and did a gorgeous acoustic set, one of which was a cover of "I am the Resurrection" by the Stone Roses - see above. I couldn't resist taking a photo of all the cameras going off too....
Sunday, 8 August 2010
After the exhibition, we went and had a delicious tempura lunch at one of the hotel's restaurants. It's a rather old-fashioned hotel, but has a beautifully landscaped garden out the back which includes a pretty red bridge over a pond with carp swimming around and even a waterfall!
I had picked up a flier for this exhibition and realised it was also in the Akasaka area, so after the temple we walked to the New Otani hotel where it was being shown. It was beautifully displayed and consisted of many simple yet delicate wood carvings of female figures with Modigliani-inpsired statures, but Eastern-inspired faces. Some figures had a delicate feature, like a tiny bird or dragonfly balancing on it's finger, while others were performing weird and wonderful shapes. In most cases, each lovely figure had a delicate pair of earrings - some natural wood, others painted a shocking red to stand out against the natural wood. It was a small exhibition, but I'm really glad we went.
Neil had to go to work this morning, so we decided to meet up at midday and explore some of the area where his work is - Akasaka. We realised that there was a temple, Hie-jinja, in that area so trotted along there to check it out. To get to it you walk through a huge stone torii gate and then up a picturesque avenue of red torii leading up the hill to the temple. It was stunning, but I'm afraid I was a bit pre-occupied with the cicadas. They sound amazing when they are in the trees around you, but I suddenly realised they were also perched naughtily on the steps. They are big ugly buggers and I don't like them! Rather embarrassingly, I let out an almighty scream! But was very brave and made it to the top in one piece.... Once up there, it was very serene and a little haven amongst the surrounding buildings. We were impressed with the monkey statues flanking either side of the steps leading to the temple. These ones had red capes, rather than bibs, and we loved the mother and baby who both had a little cape on.
To finish off my week of exhibition-going, on friday I went to the Hans Coper exhibition with my friend Susan. I had become aware of his work after visiting the Lucie Rie exhibition, which I fell in love with. He worked alongside her for many years, but whereas she was the queen of glazing, he was the master of architecture and produced beautifully structured pieces that were both usable and stunning as sculptural pieces.
This seems to have been a week of exhibition-visiting for me. I went to see a Chagall exhibition on tuesday, the Basara one on wed and then this one on thursday at the Ebisu Photography Museum, just before heading to my Scottish dancing class! I was interested to go, having recently seen the flier advertising the exhibition. It shows a very atmospheric scene of women standing on a roof in the dusk. I had no idea what is was about, but wanted to find out more. It turns out that this was the winning piece for 2009 and shows women of Tehran shouting their dissent at allegations of vote-rigging at the recent presidential election. The exhibition covered many different subjects from war (which were pretty harrowing) to sport, art and nature, and everyday life. It was very thought provoking and I'm so glad I went. Click here to peruse some of the images.
Thursday, 5 August 2010
The subway "morality posters" seem to be taking a different slant nowadays and focusing on the positive, rather than the negative side of subway travel. I love this funky dude with his kinky afro, surfer dude shirt and geta (traditional Japanese flip flops).
I went to a very interesting exhibition last night with my gallery group. It was at the Spiral building in Omotesando and was called Basara. This apparently is a term associated with the challenge of ideals during the Muromachi period and the exhibition focuses were on the aesthetic sensibilities of Samurai, as well as the Bousouzoku (motorcycle gang). I loved the mixture of traditional Japanese imagery or techniques, mixed with a modern idea, such as the motorbike made out of inlaid laquer with a wicker seat (see bottom right). Later in the evening, some tattooed Japanese gentlemen displayed their work to a crowd of onlookers.
Wednesday, 4 August 2010
The sunflowers have finally arrived! They have taken their time and some have grown faster than others, but they look stunning. I walked past the plot earlier and love the fact that the flowers are surrounded by a chorus of chirrupping cicadas who sound like they are partying like they've never partied before! It's such a tropical sound and very fitting in the searing heat....
As well as being a popular month for fireworks, August is the month when Obon occurs. It is a Buddhist festival that lasts for three days and has evolved into a family reunion where they return to their ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors' graves. As well as having fireworks throughout August, there are lanterns hanging everywhere. Most of them have beautiful writing on them, but we realised this is just the name of the company that has sponsored the lantern, so not quite as romantic as we originally thought....
I met up with Michiko for lunch yesterday and she took me to a gorgeous restaurant in Ueno park. We sat on tatami mats at a long bar, overlooking the park through long windows, where we could see the humungous butterflies flitting around from tree to tree. It is the type of restaurant that I wouldn't normally have gone to, mainly as I wouldn't know what to order - sad but true - but Michiko ordered for the two of us and it was delicious as well as beautifully presented!
Monday, 2 August 2010
It's been very hot and steamy lately and even the pigeons don't feel like doing much! I was on my way to the movies when I caught this shot in Shibuya yesterday. We spent most of the weekend at home, or hopping from one air conditioned building to another, whilst desperately wiping our sweaty brows in between. At least here they have a tasteful array of "sweat rags" to make you feel chic even when you're wiping the sweat away....
The movie I went to see (with my movie group, where there were a grand total of 80 of us!) was "Inception" with Leonard DiCaprio. I highly recommend it and am now in awe of Marion Cotillard, who is also in it. She's great!