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! 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Tokyo, day 4

Friday, November 25, 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! 

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! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Travels ; Tokyo

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

We've arrived in Japan! Navigating the airport was overwhelming because we had to pick up our wifi device, and also exchange our Japan Rail Pass for actual tickets before we could take the train. With a little back and forth, we found both. Then, we had to navigate the trains. The trains here are a bit different than other cities that I'm familiar with. 

We arrived on Monday evening, so instead of rushing to Tokyo from the airport, we stayed the night in Narita at a hotel in the little downtown area. We walked around and found a yakitori (grilled skewers of meat) place for dinner, and also had some takoyaki (fried octopus)! That, paired with some much needed beers after a 12 hour flight, was perfect. Afterward, we walked around Narita admiring all of the lovely shop-fronts. 

This morning (Tuesday) we took the Narita Express train to Tokyo. It was the nicest and most luxurious train I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The doors inside the train cars were glass and automatically opened - super futuristic. The seats were assigned and were more plush than our airplane seats. There were areas for luggage, and the windows were huge so that you could watch the scenery change from forests and hills to city.  

Once in Tokyo, we met with our AirBnB host who gave us the keys to his apartment in Shibuya. We've got a Lawson's (convenience store) right across the street which is great for and snacks that we might need. We're also close to two different train stations, making navigating a little easier on us. We're also surrounded by the most amazing shops. Each one is cuter than the rest. Narita was only a little taste of what Tokyo has to offer when it comes to amazing design and style. 

This is a famous bridge that is usually seen lush with cherry blossoms. Being that it's fall, we've come to see them nearly empty. Most of the trees here still have their leaves, but cherry blossoms must be more sensitive and lose theirs first. I have heard that the maple leaves are just beginning to change, and those are my absolute favorite. 

I thought Chicago had a lot of green spaces, but Tokyo surprised me with all of it's parks, shrines, trees, and plants. I love the contrast between the bright lights of Shibuya Crossing and the Shibuya Shrine just around the corner. 

Found this little statue next to a staircase that leads you from one street level to another street level. Like Chicago, Tokyo has different levels intersecting with each other. While walking along the shops, you might come upon some stairs that take you up (or down) to another street level full of more shops. It's disorienting but it completely adds to the charm, making everything more mysterious when you discover it. 

I'm in love with the different kinds of candies. On the plane here, the woman sitting next to me was snacking on this pre-packaged cake and it smelled so good! I got a glimpse at the label and I hope to be able to find it for myself. 

Shibuya Scramble Crossing. There is so much noise at this intersection. Not just from people, but from video screens on buildings, music playing from loud speakers, and each one attempting to talk over the next. It is unlike any place I've ever been. It puts Time Square to shame, and definitely feels like it's own sort of theme park. 

That's all for now! We're headed out shortly for some dinner and drinks in Ebisu. I hope to be able to post again in a few days! Having the wifi device with us is the most incredible thing. It makes it so easy to get around, to stay in touch, and to post whenever I find time. However, I don't want to guarantee that I will post, just in case I find myself too busy exploring. 
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