Sunday, November 22, 2009

Little Red Research Project

One of the classes I'm taking is a book class and for our assignment we were instructed to do a 12 page accordion book without words. I decided to use that as my guidelines for a reinterpretation of Little Red Riding Hood. In Japan she is known as Akazukin or Red Hood. The Japanese have lots of bento boxes, candy, hair combs and really cute post-its with Akazukin on them.

I had a lot of ideas about things I wanted to change in the story to make it feel fresh and more Japanese. I wanted the story to be contemporary but include traditional elements. Here's some of the first sketches of the characters. I looked through some Japanese fashion magazines and clipped out clothing I liked for the characters. I really had this strong image in my head of Lil Red in a bamboo forest, mostly because I think bamboo is so otherworldly and beautiful. From there I thought about other things I could change; have her riding a bike instead of walking with a basket.

Next I started thinking about the bamboo forest and the color palette I wanted to go with it.

Here's some bamboo reference I took.

I love yellows, greens and blues of the bamboo.

More bamboo

I painted a few photocopied versions of this before settling on colors for this one. I wanted to work with a limited range of colors for the bamboo but still make it feel inviting and lush.

Finally, I knew I needed to do a character study to get a handle on some of her movements and expressions. I figured it wouldn't hurt to include some background too. I love incorporating pattern into my work and I hate painting landscapes. So... I decided the best way to deal with this is to think of the background as small shapes and patterns. I think it works pretty well with my characters too.

So there you have it, the beginning of my Little Red Riding Hood or Akazukin. Next I'll post some sketches of my wolf, which is not a wolf but a Tanuki.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why I'm here and not at home eating a burrito...

I don't think I've touched on this yet, but I wanted to come to Japan for a few reasons. Firstly, I am very much inspired by the traditional imagery and the culture. I love the patterns that are used on kimono, paper and ceramics.

Many of which are inspired by nature and the 4 seasons.

I love the color combination in her clothing.

Traditional family crests with modern graphic appeal.

An old saddle. with elegant textures and patterns fusing.

Secondly, I've always enjoyed Ukiyo-e (traditional woodblock prints) and I wanted to learn more about the myths they depicted. Some of my favorite Ukiyo-e imagery has fantastic pictures of ghosts, demons, monsters or traditional tales with animals. I wanted to come here and learn more about the characters in these stories so that I can incorporate them into my work.

Foxes hung at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, each is done my an individual who then writes their wish on the back.

Finally, contemporary culture here is equally inspiring. The juxtaposition of the two is what makes Japan so crazy and fascinating. What I love most about Modern Japan is the way the Japanese borrow and incorporate words, food and characters from other cultures into their own. They sort of end up giving the elements they borrow new connotations.

Here's some examples:
Betty Boop eyelashes anyone?

Or perhaps a green tea ice cream setto complete with red bean sauce, rice balls and green tea?

Or would you fancy a game of tug of rope with a pair of Santas? You have to win to get your Christmas presents.

And I bet this little blond girl mask keeps away the crows from this rice field.

I wasn't sure at first how I could incorporate all of these elements into my research project. But, then I got here and it all sort of fell into place. I wanted to continually research traditional folklore and incorporate the characters from those into traditional fairy tales/folk stories from Western culture. An audience from the West would gain a better understanding of Japanese culture and history. At the same time it gives any Japanese viewers a chance to see their culture and history re imagined. So far most of my Japanese teachers and peers seem interested in my project and curious about my impression of their culture and traditions.

Thomas the Tank Engine, but as a bike pillow.

A Halloween inspired floral arrangement
So yeah.... these are all things that inspire me. Having an opportunity to document what I'm seeing in Japan and reflecting about it is so useful and this blog is giving me a chance to collect my thoughts, adventures and inspirations. I'm not convinced anyone is reading this, but if you are then that makes me pretty happy too!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tokyo a GoGo!

I spent a few days in the end of October through the beginning of November in Tokyo. My trip was mostly seeing the sights, shopping, and delicious food. We saw a lot, so I'll just put up favorite photos and say a little something about them.

We went to the Ghibli Museum on the first day we arrived in Tokyo, its a museum of the work of animator Hayao Miyazaki. His most famous movies are probably Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and my Neighbor Totoro. I haven't seen most of his movies. But his most recent one, Ponyo was released in the US and I enjoyed it a lot. Here's from the roof: the building was especially designed for his work and its very whimsical. All of the details from the stained glass inside to the light fixtures have images from Miyazaki movies on them. You aren't allowed to photograph inside the building, but we took some photos from the roof.

It was a beautiful sunny day and Victo and I made our way from the overnight bus to the museum. We were a little sleepy but determined to see the museum.

On the roof of the museum there is a statue of the Iron Giant. Having just seen Ponyo right before I left it was great to see sketches and the gorgeous hand painted backgrounds from the movie. If you are a Miyazaki fan and are in Tokyo its a must!

I stayed in a the Ninja Hostel in Asakusabashi!
It was cheap, clean and I got this cool cabin bed!

Here's the room of cabin beds.

The inside of my cabin included; a light, a shelf and an outlet so I could charge my phone.

Here's me looking out from my bed!

Victo and I spent a day sight seeing and we grabbed a beautiful bento set lunch near the Asakusa temple. It had soup, chirashi (sushi on rice) and a variety of delicious pickles. The outside of the container is painted to match the famous lantern of Asakusa.

Asakusa is a very popular tourist destination, its quite crowded with lots of other tourists each trying to get a photo of themselves under the lantern.

Past the lantern are stalls leading up to the temple filled with kitschy gifts, food, and other souvenirs.

I really liked these dog costumes, too bad they don't come in a larger size to fit Lexey or Chloe.
Past the stalls are another set of lanterns and these abnormally large sandals.

The lantern is bigger than me!

The inside of the temple has these beautiful painted ceilings, last time I was here I tried to photograph them but I wasn't able to get a good photo.

Around the outside of the temple there are small shrines, a koi pond and a garden.

Yay Koi!

More street vendor food: takoyaki! (octopus cooked batter)

Seafood on a stick!

Olivier and I took a trip to the 53rd floor of Roppongi Hills,
where there is an art museum and this great view of the city.

I spy... children standing in a heart shape outside!

Giant bowl of ramen in Shibuya or Shinjuku?

We also went to the Tokyo Design Week Exhibition where Olivier was attacked by a preying mantis.

We managed to meet up with friends of Victo's and Olivier's. Victo's friend Nori brought us delicious dessert from a great place in Tokyo. Banana tart and cream puffs!

Victo and Nori with the cream puffs!

Laeyn was able to meet up with us so
we grabbed some dinner at a delicious Chinese place and we got some drinks too!

Harajuku, the younger fashion district, was one of my favorite places to walk around. There's great shopping there that appeals to a younger crowd, mostly teenagers and twenty somethings. In Harajuku you can find lots of creperies, sock stores, toy shops and trendy boutiques.

Shinjuku at night looks like lots of other big cities.

...Except that its even bigger and so very crowded. We had a great time in Tokyo; running for the last train, grabbing okanomiyaki , karoke and visiting with friends. I look forward to going back again when my family comes to visit!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"And it Burns, Burns, Burns..."

Growing up in the States means growing up with constant reminders of fire safety, fire drills and Smoky the Bear's voice ingrained in my skull. I don't know about you, but I always thought you weren't supposed to play with fire, let alone run through the streets with a torch on your back. Needless to say it was pretty exhilarating to arrive at Kurama and see the streets a lite with flame.

We biked from Downtown where we saw the Jidai Maturi up to Kurama mountain. Most people take the train but since Kurama is a small village and the festival is quite popular you can expect to wait a long time for a train. Someone had advised us to take our bikes and it wasn't an easy bike ride, but it was well worth it. I was especially psyched when we went to leave and we were just able to coast on home.

Anyways, we arrived at the base of Kurama, parked our bikes and started walking up the main road towards the festival. The air smelled like smoky pine and all of the houses were decorated or had someone tending a flame outside of them.

Many families opened up their front rooms and displayed old treasures, such as this armor.

The locals gathered around the houses and got these large torches ready while some of the younger children and their parents walked up and down the road with smaller ones. While carrying the flames people would chant "Saya, Sairo" which means "festival, good festival." It's sort of a walking chant like "one, two, one, two."

The men preparing to carry the torches wore loin clothes and these decorative sleeves that mimicked tattoos. A lot of them wore headbands or sashes and some had these skirts. Most of them also had traditional sandals and socks on. It wasn't freezing out but it was the end of October. I wouldn't want to be running around without pants on.

This guy is lighting the small torch so he can ignite the much larger one behind him. These larger torches require at least 4-5 men to carry them and are made from pinewood, probably from the local trees.

I'm not sure how important the original meaning of this festival is to the people living here now, but the act of passing on this tradition to future generations does seem very important. Even as a foreigner this point is evident with the participation of different generations. Everyone from small children to elderly men are given a part to play.

Local people and tourists watching while younger children hold much smaller torches. Many of the younger children were dressed up for the occasion in beautiful kimono.

The Festival starts at around 6 pm and goes on as late as 12.

Close up of men carrying torch by the crowd. The bearing of the torches is done by the strong and younger men.

This is what the torch looks like, its made up of much smaller branches and tied together with these big roots or vines. It smelled delicious.

This man is getting ready to carry a flame, I was trying to get some good butt shots, but he kept moving. Probably because it was cold out.

My buddies and I hanging out by the large bonfires reviewing photos and waiting for the action to begin.

Father and son carrying a torch.

We tried to find a good spot on the street to watch from but we kept getting moved along by the police. Originally the festival was to scare bad spirits or kami out of the area. It is said that the king of the tengu lives on this mountain. The tengu depicted on Kurama have large red noses, they are said to do all kinds of horrible things like abduct children.

Older men carrying rope and flames.

This festival was so different from the one we had seen earlier in the day. Jidai Matsuri was all about presentation and beauty. This festival was so much more representative of the basic beliefs of the Japanese people. It was really fun to experience the Japanese in a situation like this that allowed them to cut loose a little. Honestly, it feels that little of this festival has changed over the years and I think that alone makes it unique.

This guy is balancing the torch on his shoulders and holding on to the roots to keep it there. Wow!

Fire! We need more fire!!!

In case you couldn't tell, I had a hard time photographing the whole night. I somehow forgot that my camera's one weakness is low lighting, especially paired with fast movement. I still managed to get a bunch of shots I was happy with. This one gives you a good sense of how fast some of these men were running by with the torches.

This group is much slower coming down the road and they are struggling with this torch.

Hee hee! I can see his butt!

It was pretty exciting when these guys dropped the torch right in front of us. It was equally impressive how fast others were able to step in and assist. Do you think they practice?

At some point the procession seemed to move up the mountain so we walked further along and watched as other people carried large instruments like this. When they walked it would clang kind of like a bell. There were also very large drums that were played by women and people chanting to the beat.

They started to gather around this bend in the street and letting the torches burn while they held them in place. It was like watching a giant ice cream cone melt, except with fire.

Then many of the torches were stood up on their ends like this. This position was not so great, because it allowed the burning embers to fall and hit the guys holding onto the torch. Does this image can give you a good sense of scale?

The locals were adorned in these orange sashes and this allowed them behind the police tape lines and to interact more directly with the fire.

If you look closely you can see people still holding up the torches as they burn and the smoke is starting to build up.


Other people walked around with ladles of water, just in case. They controlled where the fire was burning and help the torch bearers keep an eye on the flame.

It was very crowded in this part of the street but we all stood their watching, waiting to see what would happen next.

It continued to get really smokey and the festival carried on feeling very primal at times with the men struggling together to hold up these large torches of fire.

The street was absolutely littered in ember and bits of wood.

There was quite a lot of smoke and they continued further up the mountain towards the shrine. The crowd was allowed to follow, but only so far. We watched for awhile as the men carried a portable shrine down the mountain as well as other men who were sort of crowd surfing. At this point we were all starting to get cold so we made plans to head back. Unfortunately, the police wouldn't let anyone move for half an hour or so. Finally we were freed and able to walk to our bikes. We biked back down the mountain which was significantly easier then the way up. The lines for the train were very long and I've heard that in can take hours to get back from this festival.

What did I learn? I think we've been approaching fire safety all wrong. The key to being safe with fire is starting kids with small torches at a young age, gradually giving them larger and larger torches. When one is deemed a fully responsible adult then, and only then should they be given a gigantic torch to carry. It's also important that the bare minimum of clothing is worn, this ensures that attention is paid to what they are doing. Otherwise your likely to get a nasty burn... ouch.