Monday, 29 July 2013

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, "This is what it is to be happy.” ― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Well, if you've been following me over on twitter and facebook you will know my life sort of took a bit of a very sad pear-shaped turn and I have had to leave Japan. So for now I'm back in the countryside but will hopefully moving back to London very soon with my lovely friends Memz and Charlotte , I have lived with creative people in the past and I really miss it, it's so nice to live in a creative atmosphere, so y'know every cloud and all that. In the mean time my god do I have still have SOOOOO much of Japan still to share with you. So for this perhaps a little sad blog post I present you with monkeys. Because they're brilliant. 

So yes monkeys in Japan. It seems to be coming as a surprise to some people I'm meeting that Japan gets rather warm. And every warm place I've been so far has had monkeys and Japan is truly no exception. These amazing things are Japanese macaques otherwise known as snow monkeys.

We were greeted by this gorgeous little baby and err ..all these cameras.

I got the train into Nagano prefecture and then hitch hiked (in the ridiculous heat) to this gorgeous place known as Jigokudani Monkey Park. The word park should be used lightly, they're pretty wild and can almost definitely move on if they want, and are all around you, there are no barriers.

The place was so beautiful and I think it was actually a bath house.I desperately want to draw it so I have a few pictures of it from different angles.

So the monkeys are known as snow monkeys because during the winter this area gets a lot of snow (we actually passed some snow drifts that still hadn't melted on the way here). When there is snow on the ground they bathe in these hot springs. 

What no one told me is that they can swim..sort of..well this guy was trying very hard!

His resemblance to Thom Yorke amuses me no end.

He then proceeded to chase other bigger monkeys out of the water! These were naughty monkeys, we couldn't have any food on us or even plastic bags on display as they know they often have food in. We even saw two steal someone's walking pole! 

It really was the most gorgeous place, even with the difficult hitch hike it was so worth it. I can't wait to go back when it's snowy. 

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Mystery of the Japanese Trousers

Asakusa Matsuri. One of the biggest Shinto festivals in Japan! We wandered around Asakusa's winding streets surrounding the beautiful Sensoji Temple (that I visited in one of my first Tokyo blog posts here). 

The festival is to honor the three men that founded the huge Sensoji Shrine. We spent our time watching the floats go by and eating all the amazing street food on offer. Wish I had taken more photos!

This was a scoop of milk tea ice creand a scoop of cream cheese ice cream. Soooo goood.

I'm still trying to figure out why these women were dressed this way. The Asakusa Matsuri is famous in part for its costumes made up of traditional dress. However I'm yet to manage to find anything about these outfits, not even anything about ladies in trousers! Either way I will keep searching and I thought they looked so wonderful I was inspired to do that little bit of digital collage at the top there. Click through to buy a little print of it on Society6.

They really do look so wonderful, I hope I find out more about them soon. 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

"It was the myth of a rainy night.” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

It's summer in Tokyo, which means rain. Honestly how did I not know this, it's either preposterous heat or a kind of sort of drizzley rain..Never a proper storm (if you follow me on twitter you might be aware of my irritation at this). 

I'm not overly complaining, I actually like rain and I love a good 28 degree day but it did mean I had to go and get an umbrella and in the spirit of ~*OMG TOKYO EVERYTHING'S SO KAWAII NE?? n__n *~ I bought an umbrella that looks like an ice cream.

this was a great decision and I could talk about how I've never had such a cute umbrella before but this is my umbrella at home soooo....

umbrella - Swimmer
      earrings - some tiny shop in Shibuya
                 top (actually a dress) - Rydia via Kinji Resale
belt - Laden Showroom
skirt - Uniqlo
tights - Avanteguarde
creepers - Underground

Get ready to see more of this umbrella because it honestly looks like it's about to rain again...

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Stone Foxes and Kabuki on Children's Day

Ok if I tell you I took these pictures on Children's Day, and Children's Day here in Japan is the 5th of May you'll understand how far behind I am in my blog posts. I'M JUST SO BUSY. Anyway...OK so this isn't actually about Children's Day but Kabuki.

Ok so it's sort of about Children's Day. On the 5th of May we learnt that one of the schools nearby would be performing a kabuki play. Kabuki is something very new to me, it's hard to get tickets (I saw a huge queue for a proper kabuki play) it is all in Japanese and often they last all day. This is kind of nice however as you're meant to devote a whole day to relaxation and entertainment. 

So kabuki is a form of theatre that has been around since the 1600s and is known for being flamboyant and made up small acts that I believe document parts of daily life. The kids in this can't have been 13 yet and they did an incredible job and it wasn't tooo confusing..For the most part I think we were following the lives of people in some kind of court. We seemed to have warriors (one of which was this ADORABLE little boy who I think was about 8 and had the cutest high pitched squeaky voice that they must have told him to put on), a princess, and maybe some kind of shogun or samurai.

OK it wasn't easy to understand and we left after a few hours to explore the shrine the play took place in and to eat takoyaki (I think I can attribute any weight I have gained here in Japan to takoyaki..) but I DID enjoy it and I'd love to learn more about it. A friend of mine recently saw a play about samurai that had subtitles so if I could find a kabuki play catering to foreigners I would love to take another bash at understanding what was going on.

This shrine was very small and thus I'm finding it VERY hard to find anything about it..even its name. What's cool about it was that it seemed to have some kind of tall volcanic structure behind its tori gate. 

What I do know is these little guys are kitsune or foxes. And guess what, they're a yokai! They have been appropriated into Shinto, like so many yokai. And while like many foxes depicted in folklore they do like to play tricks, they also are guardians and take messages from this world to the world beyond.

I've obviously still got lots to learn about the things I see while exploring this country.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

A Popular Monster

If you've been following my blog since I got to Tokyo you may have noticed my interest in Japan's "yokai", a kind of monster that makes up part of Japan's incredible folk lore. There are very few yokai more famous than this guy here, the kappa. 

There is a kappa festival and unfortunately that is the only day the little kappa shrine is open. So the blurriness of these photographs is attributed to me attempting to take pictures through a window into a dark room on a sunny day...yep.

So why are kappa so famous? I really don't know. I'm currently reading a book about yokai and many stick the specific places or there are only one of them, kappa are pretty prevalent so maybe that's why. The entire area surrounding the shrine is known as Kappa-bashi and is full of statues and iconography devoted to the kappa.

Kappa means water child. They live in rivers and streams and grab unsuspecting children to their deaths in the shallow water. Most yokai are born out of general fears or suspisions (one of my favourites comes from how people often feel a bit scared to go to the loo when it's dark hah!). The kappa probably comes from women warning their children not to play near fast moving water.

This is supposedly a kappa foot. Kappa are pretty much thought to be giant Japanese salamanders, which are these things ..I'm a bit in love with them, I like anything a bit ridiculous looking, they're pretty hefty though as they get up to a metre and a half long and are kind of aggressive.

People give cucumbers, the kappa's favourite food, to ask for safe journeys across water. Cucumbers are really closely associated with kappas because of this custom and if you order cucumber rolls at a sushi place they are usually called kappa-maki. 

Kappas, like many yokai and bits of folklore were appropriated into the Shinto religion, but it's still pretty incredible to experience a shrine to something that possibly doesn't exist and completely predates religion as it is.

Get ready for more yokai and monster exploration in Japan as I recently made the discovery that very near my house an exhibition will be taking place on yokai and the artists that have depicted them over the years! Tokyo continues to amaze me with its secrets.