Is it March??

Holy cow, what happened to February?! Seriously, I could have sworn I posted just last week, but a whole month has gone by without even touching my blog. Wow… Sorry about that!

I’m working on a couple of big things right now, which is why I haven’t had any new artwork to post or interesting stories to share. At least for February that was about it…

Earlier this month I went to Tokyo, which is a pretty rare occasion for me and my wife considering the time and money required to get all the way down there. Fukui prefecture isn’t geographically as far from Tokyo as many other places, but its location right smack on the opposite side of the Japan Alps, and its lack of a bullet train line or an airport, mean that it is one of the most remote parts of Japan from the capital. The options for getting to Tokyo are either to drive 2 hours north to the next prefecture and catch a 1-hour plane ride over the mountains, or take a train south to the next prefecture and switch on to the bullet train, or take an 8-hour night bus ride. Each option is fairly expensive, either in time or money, so it’s not too practical to go there without good reason. My uncle coming to Japan on a business trip is certainly good reason, and we jumped at the chance to see him, and to do a little bit of sightseeing for one weekend.

If you’ve never been to Tokyo, it’s a little hard to describe the experience. I would say that it’s really really big, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. Tokyo is *really* big. Without getting into actual figures on geographical area and population, it has a similar feeling to New York City. Only, Tokyo feels more like 5 New York Cities squashed together. And for the most part, it is *clean.* Obviously there are dumpy sections, but overall it is mind boggling how clean an urban center can really be. Not just for lack of trash, either — lack of melted gum stuck to sidewalks, generally a lack of graffiti and urban blight, a lack of people peeing and crapping in alleys. I’m sure it exists and I would notice it if I lived there for any period of time, but when I think of Philly and NYC which I am most familiar with, if you step 10 feet off the “nice” areas, you can easily find yourself in a hellish world of terror and blight. In Tokyo, that hardly happens.

By far the coolest place we visited was the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku. It’s a fairly new museum, and covers the history of the Edo period (1600’s – late 19th century), considered something of a “golden age” in Japan for its relative peace and stability, and the development of the typical culture we associate with Japan — things like sumo, kabuki, ukiyo-e, and so on.

The museum is loaded with replicas of old Edo, and being a miniatures-freak myself, my already high expectations were quickly surpassed. There was an awesome replica of the former mansion of the daimyo of Fukui that was larger than my apartment. The real building itself was larger than a neighborhood in the city, so only a diorama of that size could truly capture the size of this palace. And to think each daimyo had one just like that in Edo. Next to that was a model of a neighborhood for comparison, and it was packed with tiny miniature peasants running about doing their business. Models like this were scattered about the entire museum, demonstrating the way society changed from the 1600’s all the way up to the Meiji restoration.

Aside from the breath-taking dioramas, my favorite part was the display on ukiyo-e. They had a number of gorgeous prints that were so much more vivid in person than they are on the computer screen where I usually see them. And there was a huge display showing the various stages of printing one of these images, as well as a full-sized replica of a print shop selling illustrations and early comic books, dirty stories, and things like that. I really wish I could have a studio like that.

The other really big highlight of the trip (aside from visiting my Uncle, which of course tops it all, but is of little interest to this blog) was visiting the grave of Oiwa. I wrote about her story last year during my A-Yokai-A-Day project. She is one of the most famous and terrifying ghosts in all of Japan, and she is based on a real person and a real murder. There is also a horrible curse supposedly attached to her, and anyone who performs her play or does a story on her generally is stricken with illness or death unless they first pay a visit to her shrine and ask for her permission. I wasn’t able to go last year before painting her image, but fortunately I haven’t died just yet (though I didn’t sell nearly as many yokai paintings this year as I did the year before… hmmm… cursed maybe?) — but I finally got the chance to see her grave and apologize for painting her without permission. Her grave is located in a tiny little neighborhood in Yotsuya, and is so peaceful and beautiful. The plum blossoms were blooming and it really felt like a nice tribute to a murder victim who has inspired so much art.

We did lots of walking around as well, the weather being perfect. We visited the old book shops in Jimbocho, and there were so many amazing treasures that I just can’t afford right now — old art books full of photos from the 1800’s, enormous full-color books full of ukiyo-e that I might probably have considered shelling out a few hundred dollars for if not for the fact that I would have had to carry around a book that weighs as much as a large child for the rest of the day… We also visited the Meiji shrine, and of course Akihabara. But I think the Edo-Tokyo Museum is my new favorite place in Tokyo.

Now I am back home and busy working on a few different projects. I wish I had some artwork to post, but most of my time is being spent working on my next yokai project, which is very very big and won’t be ready to present for some time now. When that project is a bit further along I’ll do a bigger feature on it. In the meantime, I am working on some posters and designs that I should be able to post soon, but unfortunately nothing just yet.

The Matsudaira Mansion

The Matsudaira Mansion

Old Edo

Old Edo

Edo-era department store

Edo-era department store

Edo-era department store

Edo-era department store

Meiji Tokyo

Meiji Tokyo

Edo-era book shop

Edo-era book shop

How to make ukiyo-e

The final steps of making an ukiyo-e print

Oiwa's grave-shrine

Oiwa's grave-shrine

The well Oiwa used to gather water at

The well Oiwa used to gather water from

Pouring water to pray at Oiwa's shrine

Pouring water to pray at Oiwa's shrine

Plum blossoms

Plum blossoms -- Spring has arrived!!

2 thoughts on “Is it March??

  1. I hope you and your family are okay! I am not great with Japanese locations and such but a kind thought never goes to waste. This comment is in regard to the large earthquake that hit Japan on March 11, 2010.

  2. Thanks so much. Yes, fortunately we are safe. Fukui prefecture wasn’t hit by the quake or the tsunamis, though I definitely felt the quakes and my apartment shook a bit. I could tell it was a pretty bad quake by the way it shook — gentle and long, meaning that it was far away and very strong. I was shocked when I turned on the news and saw it was the biggest quake to ever hit Japan! Then the live footage started coming in, and it was just heartbreaking. I’m fine, but a lot of people are not. It’s a horrible disaster.

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