I am nomad. Hear me roar.


Saturday, 31 July 2010

Just any other day in Kyoto


This is what I love about Japan.

I'm sitting in the park, eating my lunch, eating away at the silence with my keyboard clacking, and a steam train rolls by.

A steam train.

I hadn't even realised that there were tracks concealed beside me through the trees, but there it goes puffing, and tooting away anyway. Odd. I will investigate. Priorities though, finish lunch, then investigate. I shall uncover the mystery.

Manga Mayhem

After turning into an alien, I could handle a little more red tape and decided to go open a bank account. Turns out however, bank branches in Japan are only open between 9am and 3pm. These work hours are awesome for the branch attendants, but were not overly convenient for me at the time, maybe I could secure a position in a bank then they would be very convenient for me too.

My disappointment was put on pause though, when I discovered my proximity to the Kyoto International Manga Museum. In fact, the uber-geek in me almost fainted with delight.
The title library is probably more fitting, as the museum holds a vast selection of titles that may be taken down and read on-site as well as holding special exhibitions.

The first of the exhibitions that are currently on, is a figurine display, exploring the development of the modern figurine from the ancient clay dolls. There were ol'skool SCI-FI figurines from Godzilla, Mothra and Gamera, as well as Anime/Manga 3D depictions of everything from Sailor Moon, to Evangellion and Sakura Cardcaptor. I was in little miniature geekie heaven. The craftsmanship of the figures was remarkable and most were prototypes never released by the manufacturers. One of a kind. Awesome.

The other special exhibition was on RM Drawing Works, a series of illustrations that really have a life force of their own.

There are also other exhibits, one a collection of children's books dedicated to teaching conflict resolution without resorting to violence, something maybe the worlds collective governments should see, another on the history of Manga as an artform. Through which I learnt that Tetsuwan Atom was the first ever weekly TVManga. I had known previously that my dear little Astro was important to the development of Anime as we know it, but I did not know he held such an instramental role. So in his honour, after drinking in as much as I could from the rest of the displays, I padded soberly to the English section of the shelves, took down the translated version of Issue One and began to read.

Australian Alien

Today after finding one ward office in Kyoto, discovering it was the wrong ward office in Kyoto, and going to a second ward office in Kyoto, I registered as an alien. I don't have my fancy Alien Card yet, I have to go back in a month to pick that up, but it is still official. I am an alien.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Good Clean Behaviour

I gather from the curious looks that I have been getting that it is not normal behaviour to stay and wait for your laundry to wash at the Coin Laundry. Less so, in lieu of a chair to be sitting cross legged in front of your designated washing machine, clacking away at the notebook in my lap. But seeing as approximately one quarter of my worldly possessions happen to be contained within this one washing machine, I just can't quite bring myself to leave it. Strange, I know.

Parting of the Ways

After a full day of trekking at the Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine on Tuesday, and calligraphy exhibition at the Kyoto National Museum on Wednesday, Captain M and I made our final trip to Kyoto station ending our travels together with a fitting kind of symmetry, right back where we started. We made good travel buddies.

Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine

Deer Oh Deer, A Giant Buddha!

On Monday, we journeyed out to Nara, having finally returned to the idea of temples and shrines. The first stop of the day was Horyuji, which amongst its buildings houses murals of immense religious importance, ancient depictions of Buddhist paradise.

Her Royal M-ness and I then, made our way on to Nara city, lost track of time at lunch, and just made it to Todaiji Temple before closing in time to see the Giant Buddha, which is housed in the largest wooden structure standing on earth. The building itself is a wonder but it hardly compares to the bronze and gold sculpture contained within. The Great Buddha is breathtaking. I had read the statistics about how much gold and bronze in kilograms that it took to build before I saw the Buddha, it really didn't prepare me. It is just enormous, and beautiful.

Outside the temple, close to 2000 of Japan's National Treasures roam the grounds, they exist in the form of a herd of deer, which before the introduction of Buddhism were believed to be messengers from the gods. So accustomed to the presence of people around their temple, the deer have little problem with being photographed and even petted. Stalls selling deer biscuits are located all around the area, but very little coaxing is required to draw a doe or buck close, even an empty hand will work. It is magical. On the other hand, because of the deer most of Nara has an earthy aroma, like the Easter Show and is a bit of a minefield when walking, the experience though, is worth dodging the deer pellets.

Kimono Watching

The previous couple of days have been hectic. Agent M was on the last legs of her trip, and we were trying to cram as much of Japan in as we could. On Sunday, we began by discovering the department stores, it was insane. Sales on, people everywhere, almost enough to induce a panic attack. Twelve floors of mayhem, and only a few purchased items to show for it. By the time I reached level twelve I had almost had enough, however level twelve subdued me, it contained Kimono, and not just the light summer kimono we had seen in various other stores throughout our travels, but silk, hand painted, made to measure, gorgeous, formal, Kimono. The prices for these wearable artworks started at what converted to approximately $5000AUD. Yes, started. Clearly though they were only for very special occasions, they were exquisite.

After perusing the wares at the department store, we continued our Kimono watching at the festival that was being held in Osaka that day, it is called Tenjin Matsuri and was centred around the Osaka Temman-gu. People were out in droves and many in their traditional garb of summer robes, like all good girls M and I after having walked down through all the food stalls we found a place to sit and watch the fashion go by, giving our own Joan Rivers style commentary as each 'look' walked past. Having had our fill of the fashion, we made our way to the shrine itself, where the further festivities were in full swing. Groups of performers were padding out enticing rhythms on drums, that called to your feet and hips to join in, and a male dancer on stage met the beat with his traditional form. Children were handing blessings and prayers to costume lions for good fortune, slightly anxious about the man in the suit. Fortune tellers, sat reading palms and horoscopes, to all who would pay to listen, as the sun began to set.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Minds Eye

I caught the attention of a small child the other day. She pointed at me from her mother's embrace, absolutely fascinated by me. Initially I assumed it was my appearance, that maybe she had not seen someone of Anglo-Saxon decent before, as it was, this could have been likely, she was a very young child, barely able to talk. The mother was very embarrassed by her offspring's' behaviour, I smiled kindly to alleviate her concern and went over. 'Cute, aren't you?' I spoke to the child in my broken Japanese. 'Thank you' the mother responded in broken English that mirrored my attempt. 'Sunglasses - different' she said to me, it turned out it was not my appearance but my apparel that had captured the little girls interest. I removed the glasses from my face and gently placed them around the child's head so that she could see the darkened aspect through the lenses. Her eyes widened and she smiled. Taking this interaction in mind all day I noticed that I was almost the only person wearing the face wear that had seemed so alien to the toddler. I wondered whether the heavy lid, and beautiful almond eye that the locals in this area are so well know for, had developed over the years to protect the inhabitants from the strong glare of the sun here. That maybe it is an evolutionary defence mechanism, like the way, higher levels of melanin are present in the skin of cultures that have evolved in areas close to the equator. And how for some reason my background and my skin has absolutely no defences, rendering it completely useless, and more to the point, at the moment, sunburnt.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Tenjin Matsuri

Hotel House Rules

For anyone who has ever been in contact with my shoes, I have been breaking the rules already.

8:15am August 6th 1945

I was overwhelmed by Hiroshima, weeping for lives I will never touch, voices I will never hear, people I will never know.

Poster Child

The M-osaurus Rex and I set out for the National Museum of Art Osaka, and found a strange building housing 2 exhibitions, almost completely underground. The entrance and foyer existing under a tall fish-like sculpture of metallic piping, are the only sections of the building above ground, it has 3 levels below it.

The lowest level contained a very vibrant collection of poster art by a gentleman called Tadanoki Yokoo. There were over 700 posters in the collection, each being more eclectic and iconic than the last, not one that was ordinary in the entire collection. It was intense and bombarded our sense of sight but we loved every second of it.

The other exhibition was not quite as memorable. The work put me in mind of animated series' such as 'The Maxx' and 'Aeon Flux' but didn't have the same level of impact. I came out of the exhibition at a bit of a loss, maybe feeling that there had been no point to the works, or no meaning, or maybe I just didn't get it. Over all, I have to say I didn't like it very much. M-osaurus Rex was found a few of the works more likable than I did.

On the way back to our hotel we stumbled across the basement food hall of one of the department store attached to the train station. It. Was. Fabulous. If we had found that the poster collection had overwhelmed our eyes, this just ensnared every sense at once. I didn't know what to do or where to go first. There were aisles of jellies and macaroons of every colour and flavour imaginable, rows of bento containing their little degustation treats, towers of tempura, a plethora of piscean pieces, and bread, proper savoury sour dough that I hadn't yet seen in Japan. The smell of the food wafting over us, was enticing, and we succumbed, purchasing our dinner on the spot, a combination of salads, sushi, tempura, beer and bento. Oiishi desu ne. Delicious.

Views and Vitreous China

Yesterday the Divine Ms M and I were totally castle-ed, shrine-ed and temple-ed out, a state I never would have thought possible before. Instead we found ourselves at the Umeda Sky Building, also known as the Floating Garden, which the Lonely Planet describes as 'a space age version of Paris' Arc de Triomphe'. This is a pretty good explanation of the structure which stands 173 metres high and has the most spectacular view of the Osaka area from inside the viewing deck, up on the open roof Skywalk and, as we found out later that night, the bar.

We visited the Sky Building twice that day, once fairly early in the morn, to admire the aspect of the city, and then just on sunset we returned to see twinkle of lights reach out to the mountains on the horizon. There are mountains in all direction from the top. It appears that Osaka is ringed by hills and is almost perfectly flat until it reaches their feet. My theory is that it is in the middle of an enormous extinct volcanic crater, but I have yet to research to determine if this is correct.

Between our two visits to the Sky Building we filled our day with the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, which holds a fascinating display of 11th - 13th century Japanese and Korean pottery, outlining the use of a wide selection of glazes and techniques that was very interesting. We accidentally over stayed closing time at the museum and after the guard had very politely kicked us out, we returned to the view at the Skywalk and the viewing deck, until we were once again very politely booted out of those too, so we found the bar, and cocktails.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

White Heron

DJ Spin-doctor M and I, today, explored the 'White Heron' also known as Himeji Castle, which firstly involved us hopping the Shinkansen to Himeji, a 'small town' between Osaka and Okayama, now I say 'small town' because that is what it was referred to as in one of the guidebooks, it is actually a metropolis about the size of Canberra. Small town indeed. I short walk up the main street leads us to the Castle grounds, we decide that food is the highest priority at that point so we fore go the main castle, and detour to nearby Kokoen, which is a reconstructed version of the Samuri quarters, and also most importantly contains a restaurant. We treat ourselves to a dainty yet satisfying lunch set of noodles and unagi (eel), and continue on through the beautiful gardens of the Samuri. All of the gardens are so meticulously kept here in Japan, and today I saw how, the Kokoen had gardeners everywhere, trimming single leaves off trees, sweeping footpaths, one was even vacuuming the scum off the bottom of the pond so that it didn't build up too much.

After the gardens, we wandered up to the main castle, the top tower is closed at the moment for restoration, as the castle is a World Heritage site, being one of the few remaining wooden castles in Japan, most of which have been destroyed over the years by fire.

The castle is a magnificent fortress, built quite obviously for strong defensive purposes, but ornate and beautiful at the same time. It is situated high on the hill. DJ M and I are going to have some serious 'Buns of Steel' by the end of this trip. Up all the stairs, we had a clear view over all of Himeji, and found the storage warehouses and windows for arrows that make me think that Playschool has been taking their ideas from the Edo period. We hiked all the way back down, down is always so much quicker, and Shinkansen-ed our way back to Osaka.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Rolley-Polley Temple

The 'M'-ster and I began the day navigating, our way by Subway to the Open Air Museum of Traditional Japanese Farmhouses, which as it so happens is really interesting from the outside, as this was all we saw due to the fact that it was closed. Ooops. We decided instead to check out a temple that we had seen billboards for at one of the train stations. So using my 'emergency' Internet connection, this is an emergency I swear, I charted a route, which turned out to only be one more station along, followed by a bus. Perfect.

We make our way onto the bus, anxious that we are going the right way as it leaves the city, climbing into the hills, weaving in and out of lorries at break-neck speed, up on the narrow mountain road. We arrived, slightly shaken at our destination, the temple, Katsuoji, is the temple for good luck at games. When worshipping, the faithful, take these little rolley polley figurines, most of which are bright vermilion, but some in natural wood, and place them all over the temple. There are thousands of them. The temple of good luck in games, becomes almost a game itself of 'Find the Rolley Polleys' who hide in nooks and crannies everywhere. Up in the eaves, some sit, others in the cracks between stones in the walls, hundreds like sentinels, sit facing out at the valley below. M and I scale the stairs to the highest temple building and park ourselves on the benches outside.

Whilst seated there, a deep voice, emanating from what seems to be the mountain itself begins to chant. The long slow melodic song of prayer is joined by the padding of a hand drum, and they echo out over the entire valley. M and I sit, staring out over the beautiful vista, Osaka city way off in the distance, listening to the monk, and soaking up the experience. Having the farm house museum be closed could not have been more perfect.

Fishies & Fine Art

Yesterday, Code Name: M and I bid farewell to Kyoto and set our sights on the Hotel Monterey Osaka, as we had scored ourselves a really good deal on accommodation. So we dropped off our luggage for the day and headed out into Osaka. A short train ride lead us to the bay area and the Aquarium, which we had heard was really amazing. What we had heard, hardly prepared us.

The Aquarium building is 8 floors of stylised whale-tail goodness, themed around the aquatic life of the waters of the Ring of Fire, starting with Japan. The Japanese river-life exhibited includes the fascinating giant salamander, the large amphibians, were hiding at the back of their watery enclosure, barely distinguishable from the rock and wood debris surrounding them, in great contrast to the gambolling antics of the river otters in the next pen, playfully tumbling over each other and sending schools of fish into a panic.

Just when you think you can't possibly find anything cuter, you reach the sea-otters. Much larger than their river cousins, with heavier coats to brave colder waters, floating on their backs, with their tails waving gently as rudders, burying their furry faces in their paws to groom themselves. Lick the paws, pad the face, lick the paws, pad the face, lick the paws. So cute.

The enclosures continue, through seals, dolphins, penguins, and a large slice of home in the form of the Great Barrier Reef, until you reach the main tank. Stepping up to the glass, and leaning against the pillar beside it, I begin to admire the large manta rays and various breeds of shark, when an enormous silhouette casts a shade on where I am standing I look up, I am forced a step back in astonishment, as a whale-shark effortlessly glides up and over the ledge I am standing under. When it is feeding time, I watch the enormous fish in awe as it rises to the surface, my jaw actually drops, as the whale-shark inhales vast amounts of water through its gaping mouth and expels it out the gills in deep vacuumous breaths. Heaving in the water and burly it is being fed, exhaling through its gills, and repeating, heaving in the water, and exhaling again, heaving, and exhale, until the meal is complete and it returns to the depths.

I keep walking, following the exhibits, losing M in the crowd and catching up again, til we reach the petting zoo, I wash my hands, and plunge them into the tank, a stingray sidles up to me, my fingertips close on the top of it the texture is smooth, silky almost, the feel of wet felt or velvet. A shark swims within reach, I run my hand over it, rough but wet, like a cats tongue.

Plagued by tourists, M and I decide to leave to return later in the day, when the waves of people have ebbed. Not knowing what it holds we decide to examine the nearby Suntory Gallery, we know that Suntory produces Midori and Makers Mark and this is good enough for us, so we dawdle over. By pure chance, it turns out the gallery is holding an exhibition of Impressionist and Modern Art that M had been very keen to see. We purchase out tickets and head on up. The collection was marvellous. It held some beautiful works by Monet, a couple of very charming Renoir's, one especially, titled 'Les Sirenes', a depiction of two gorgeous fertility goddesses, singing men to their doom, caused me to start humming Queen's 'Fat Bottomed Girls'. Another couple of works, one by Giovanni Segantini, 'Vacca bruna all'abbeveratoio' and 'Les Mimosas' by Bernard Buffet really ensnared my eye, due to the painterly fashion of the brushstrokes used. The paint applied heavily, but with such skill, I could not help but nose almost to the glass, to glance across the plane of the canvas to appreciate how high the paint stood above the flat of the taut fabric. It was an amazing accident that we ended up seeing what is likely to be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Project M and I returned to the Aquarium to see the fish once more, and I emerged with a serious craving for sashimi, which I did not have the opportunity to satisfy until tonight. We checked into the hotel, marveled at the quality, congratulating ourselves on the deal we had received, and settling in for the night, turtlepack in the corner looking decidedly out of place, me curled up in a plush twin bed.