Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Traditional Japanese Wood Block Printing in Tokyo

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

While in Tokyo, one of the things we signed up to do was a traditional Japanese woodblock printing class. I know of the printing press Mokuhankan from YouTube, where he showcases how he makes his prints. Steven showed it to me ages ago. Being that Steven took printmaking classes in college, he was interested in doing this class. Not only does the studio create prints to sell, but they offer classes for people like us to try our hand at traditional Japanese woodblock printing, which is different from the technique that Steven learned in college. They also have prints that they sell onsite, some truly gorgeous ones like their reproduction of Hokusai's Great Wave

While we didn't carve the woodblock itself, we used four different colors and pre-carved woodblocks to create an image from the story of Japan's Peach Boy. After we went through our class and learned the traditional process, we got to peek upstairs at two of the printers working on pieces for the shop to sell. Seeing how many different colors they were using, and how clean their lines were, and how truly professional their prints looked, even at early stages, was very humbling. After trying it myself, I had a new appreciation for the precise skill that goes into woodblock prints. In the photos, you can see that it looks like they are sitting on the floor while working. There are actually holes in the floor for them to extend their legs while they work, which is very akin to Japanese style, versus us in the States working at desks. 

After that, we took a look at their prints for sale. I love their series on Mt. Fuji from different view-points. We visited Lake Kawaguchiko that has a great view of Mt. Fuji, and it's truly a magnificent sight. Steven really liked this one print of a scene at a bath house. However, we ended up buying a print that neither of us expected. It's truly stunning, unlike any other print I've ever seen. We're still in Osaka, so it's all wrapped up for us to bring it home in our suitcase. Once we bring it home though, I can't wait to get a frame for it and put it somewhere in the apartment where I will see it everyday. Will definitely share some photos of it once it's up! Although, I suspect that photos will not do this particular piece of artwork it's justice. You'll just have to come over and see it! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Tokyo, day 2 + 3

Wednesday, November 23, 2016
For our second day in Tokyo we went to Kagurazaka.
We had lunch at this okonomiyaki restaurant and it was so delicious. It was a small place, only a few actual tables, and like most of the guests, we sat up at the bar. The woman that was cooking made these savory pancakes on the grill right in front of us.  After walking through the area exploring all morning, this was a deliciously satisfying lunch. 

For dinner, we went to Ebisu Yokocho. Yokochos are small alleys full of different restaurants and bars. Most of these are somewhat of an indoor-outdoor setup. You can sit up at the bar, or at a small table. It was an incredibly lively atmosphere. Ebisu is the neighborhood where our AirBnB was, so we didn't have to travel far for this yokocho. There are various yokochos throughout Tokyo, and for the most part, we had dinner in these kind of alleys. 
We sat down at the only two free sits in the entire yokocho that we could find - it was that popular of an area! We ordered two beers, fried chicken, and salmon roe and rice. The salmon roe was juicy, but the fried chicken was out of this world. In Japan, we see a lot of fried chicken, but it's not like America's fried chicken. They are small round nuggets, but the breading has a great combination of spices, and for the most part, they use dark meat. The dark meat is so juicy and tender, and the spices in the breading are so delicious. I have to say, this was the best fried chicken I have ever had - and our friend in Chicago makes the best fried chicken in the entire city! 
It was a busy day of walking and exploring, so we were still hungry. We walked around the yokocho and found a busy place that specialized in teppanyaki that you make at a hotplate at your table. Of course, we had to try it. We only had to wait a few minutes for a table to clear for us to sit for dinner, round two. We grilled our own beef in a spicy sauce with mushrooms and cabbage. After all of the meat was gone, they brought out udon noodles for us to quick-fry in the remaining juices. It was so delicious! 
The next day, we hopped over to a road called Kitchen Street which is known for it's endless shops of kitchen items. Everything you could possibly need for cooking and eating you can find here. I went specifically with ceramic shopping in mind. I wanted to bring back some unique ceramics that were also affordable, in case they break when in my suitcase. There's this shop but I couldn't find it's name in English, but they had a great selection and I bought a few items for home. 
Not far is Tokyo Skytree, which isn't something that we were too interested in - we have skyscrapers in Chicago! However, there is a Studio Ghibli store! Since we aren't able to go to the Studio Ghibli museum on this trip, I wanted to make sure we were able to at least buy a find goodies. (If  you want to go to the museum, you have to purchase tickets three months in advanced, on the first day the tickets go on sale. We waited two or three days after tickets went on sale and the entire week we were in Tokyo was sold out.)
All of their Noface items were a bit too pricey for me to justify, but I did find some cute soot sprites that are small enough for me to bring back home. You can barely see my soot sprite that I'm holding in my hand in the photo above. 
That's all for now! I have a lot more photos coming, but Tokyo was truly over-stimulating. There is so much to do and see, and the city itself it very "loud" on all of the senses. After Tokyo, we spent a few days in Kawaguchiko, which is a little town in the mountains on a lake with Mt Fuji in the distance. It was some much needed relaxation after Tokyo. While there, I didn't upload any photos so there's a bit of a delay. 

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and we're in Kyoto! It doesn't feel like Thanksgiving here, naturally. Japan doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving (duh) but it does celebrate Christmas so the city has been decorated with a combination of holiday decor as early as mid-November, as well as maple leaf decor - in celebration of their spectacular autumn! To everyone celebrating Thanksgiving, enjoy! 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Tokyo, day 4

Monday, November 21, 2016
We visited Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. It was quite the tourist destination for many, and it was the first large shrine that we saw in Japan. Having been in Kyoto now for a few days, we've seen some incredible shrines. My favorite thing about this all the little touristy shops nearby had gachapon machines outside of them! Gachapon machines are like little gumball machines, but you get little toys and keychains out of them instead of candy. I've been on the hunt to collect all of the Gudetama ones. He's a lazy egg from Sanrio, what's not to love!

There's a ton of street food in Japan, not just in Tokyo. We make it a habit of trying anything that we've never had before if it looks good. These were dango - a little, sweet dumpling made with rice flour and topped with black honey and sesame flour. The black honey can be smelled from a block away! 

We explored Asakusa a little bit and found a small, cramped antique shop. It had a lot of great little pieces, like the chest of drawers. I opened one drawer and it came so far out that I kept finding little treasures deeper and deeper in the drawer. 

For lunch, we attempted to find a well-known tempura restaurant, but of course, there was a long wait for a table. We were hungry, so instead we sat down at one of the outside restaurants, with a tent as the only covering. It was also packed with people, only two stools left, so that was a good sign for us that it would be a good meal. It was midday on a weekday, and everyone was drinking. It was a lively atmosphere. 

We're still in Kyoto, visiting temples and shrines. We found an outdoor market at a shrine yesterday and bought so many goodies for home! I found the perfect handmade ceramic bowls to serve matcha tea in at home. It was hard to only bring two pieces home, when his entire collection was gorgeous and affordable! He doesn't have a website, but I have his email address is anyone is interested. We also found sheer panels that you hang in the doorway. Every restaurant and bar has them here, and we want to hang one in our house. It was a great shopping day for us, and normally I avoid shopping at all costs on Black Friday in America! 
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