May 28, 2009

Dear Diary, my tiny shopping spree

It was rainy in the Kobe, Osaka area today.  It was also my day off.
Since I needed to get out of the house after being cooped up a lot, I went to Motomachi, Kobe.
The suppressed shopaholic in me went a bit bonkers at my favorite bookstore.  You can seen what I bought here.

The following picture is a stack of papers I bought at a Fair Trade store at the very end of the Motomachi mall.
Made in Bangladesh and very beautiful.  The textures are rather unique too.

Then I went to a lovely store that sold all things Japanese.  
Kimonoesque patterns for hair bands and clips.

I wish I could have taken pictures but the books were pretty

May 24, 2009

What inspires you?

and I have one "painting" on exhibit too!  It was my very first attempt at painting with my appleworks software.  I didn't know I even had it until I read June's blog about a similar software for microsoft users.

This is my second sorry attempt at "painting".
This made me wonder.  

When and how do we start to develop our artistic tastes?  I think they change over the years, as you are exposed to new and different genres.  But deep down... for me, I think it all leads back to ... Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry .

The Golden Book Series along with hundreds of other picture books still make me smile too.

Architecture by Gaudi and Karavan make me want to cry.
Women like Audrey Hepburn and Mae West make me want to sit up straight and not slouch. 

Photographers like Ansel Adams, Karl Blossfeldt and Elliott Erwitt make me want to grab my camera and go outside ... and sometimes make me want to throw my camera ;-)'

Arists like Yoshio Tokunaga make me want to look for different materials to use in art. 
Tokunaga creates pictures by ripping and cutting flyers found in newspapers. 
I tried to find something about him on the internet but was unsuccessful. The book I bought at one of his exhibitions a couple of years ago says that he was born in 1929. 

He began this art form of tearing advertisement flyers and pasting them onto a canvas back in 1979.  Tokunaga lives in Fukuoka Prefecture (where I used to live) and is hopefully still creating beautiful works of art.

The pictures aren't very good (bad lighting day) but I hope you get the idea of what he does.
Mostly all paper and glue.

Most recently, people, art and photography that inspire me are found at blogs!  
Just look at some of the blogs on my blog lists and you will know what I mean!

May 22, 2009

i-ro-ha #1

Pictures were hard to choose for the first edition of "i-ro-ha" because I haven't been able to go out for photo walks this week!  I made do with what I have...
The first letter to be introduced is "I" case you do not have  Japanese compatible software it looks like this:
"I" ...  pronounced like the English letter E, except a bit shorter.

Words that start with this letter… iie = no 
(pronounced "eee-eh")

    ie = house
(a house in Dejima, Nagasaki that is now a museum)


and an author whose last name starts with "I" … Itsuki Hiroyuki

Born in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1932, he spent his childhood in (what is now) North Korea. Some of his early novels are based on his experience there and the tragedies he witnessed.

Itsuki studied Russian literature at Waseda University and went on to be an editor, and writer (of lyrics, journalism and novels).

He has also written many essays including the one I’d like to introduce today. 
“Tariki – 100 hints for living” was first published in Japan in 1998.
There are 100 short chapters on different ways at looking at tariki and incorporating it into daily life.
Tariki is hard to explain. 

If you look it up in the dictionary, you will get things like “help from without”, “salvation”…

After reading the book, this is what I thought he was trying to say: it is ok to rely on "sources" outside of yourself for life and personal salvation.

Some people may call the "source(s)" God, for some it is spirituality, for some it may be called inspiration. But no matter what your religion, culture or beliefs are, it is hard to say that you will never depend on anything or anyone beside yourself. It doesn’t mean to start being lazy and let everyone else take care of you. It is more like an awakening experience, realizing that you are one with everything…  

Like if someone next to you in a pool starts to bob up and down it will effect you and you will have an effect on someone else etc.  We can not cut ourselves off from nature and others around us even if we do not see the chains that bind us.

He also mentions the Japanese word “akirame” which translates to “resignation”.
He explains that it comes from the meaning “akiraka ni kiwameru” which translates to “clearly investigate thoroughly”.

In other words,
“go ahead and give up (resign), so long as you have clearly investigated (the matter) thoroughly. Have courage to look reality in the eye.”


Oh, another word that starts with today's letter "I":
   iro = color 
(with the kanji character for iro  underneath it)
and when you say it twice “iroiro” 
it means “a variety”!

May 20, 2009

back to the basics

With so many things to talk about and very little talent, I have been thinking of new ways to introduce Japan. Not only the things I know of well but also the things that I have taken for granted.   Something I can work on for a week or two in between my usual rants...

So, I thought, why not go back to the basics…the “abc” or, like it is said in Japanese, the “i-ro-ha”.

If you have tried to learn the Japanese language before, then you might be thinking…”i-ro-ha?”.

The first three characters (letters) in the Japanese alphabet are “a-i-u”… but in the Heian Period (794-1185) somebody thought of a new way to teach *hiragana and the meaning of a Buddhist chant all in one poem… the “i-ro-ha”.

It is: 
i ro ha ni ho he to chi ri nu ru wo
wa ka yo ta re so tsu ne na ra mu
u i no o ku ya ma ke fu ko he te
a sa ki yu me mi shi e hi mo se su n

I bet there are tons of great translations out there but since this is a learning experience for me as well, this is my own literal interpretation...

Colorful flowers smell fragrant but they fall
Our lives are also not forever
Climbing over the fateful reality of the mountains
I will not watch shortsighted dreams or be intoxicated

Japanese literature aficionados must be cringing now but feel free to add your own translation! ;-)

Oh, and it is also said that there is a secret message inside the poem…but let me try not to bite off more than I can chew at one time.

So, I will soon start my “i-ro-ha” of Japan. Starting with the hiragana letter “i” (い).
I will introduce a word(s), people or things that start with each letter. Some of the things might be old and some new. You may know more about something than I do and I will not pretend to know more than I write so feel free to comment!

A new page in my blog opens...

with "i-ro-ha" and my very bad handwriting...
(the 2 letters with the red arrows pointing at them are not used very often anymore but sometimes appear in names and poems, like the "i-ro-ha")

*The Japanese letters hiragana (a phonetic alphabet) appears during the Heian Period, making the written Japanese language more accessible to a wider audience (Instead of just the high ranking officials and monks). They were designed from the Chinese characters being used until then. 
Of course we still use a lot of the Chinese characters (kanji) now but thanks to hiragana and katakana (another form of phonetic alphabet used exclusively for foreign words or onomatopoeia) it is much easier to read and write Japanese once you have learned the basics. 

May 18, 2009

Uh oh...

Today was a Happy Monday, but I have had no time to visit blogs or decide on what I would really like to talk about... Japanese style present wrapping, religion,manga, historical figures... I have quite a line up!

I try to stay focused on good things but there are times when you need to talk about what is happening despite how you feel about it...

The new strain of influenza has hit Japan too.  The sudden increase in numbers of people who are infected surrounds the area that I live in.

The local government has advised people to stay indoors if possible, gargle, wash hands thoroughly and wear masks.

Most of the schools in the vicinity,  including universities, will stay closed for at least a week.

It's hard to see in this picture but there are several schools in my area as well...
                                                          (Can you see the blimp?!)
Anyway, today I went to search for masks...all sold out.  There were news clips on TV with people making long lines to buy masks... which to me seems kind of weird because I'd prefer to avoid crowded areas.

In related news, the Japanese government has totally "lost face" with this outbreak (currently over 100 patients).  They were going to keep the influenza virus at bay...
At bay...
This is Suma of my nearby bays.

According to this article in the Japan Times (click here) the Japanese government thought it was something that would come from the outside...  

Anyway, chin up and move forward in a calm way.  The universe might be telling us that we need a little time off.  Stay at home and be grateful for our families and stuff...

May 14, 2009

Why I have been visiting gardens these days...

The view from my room...I'm not necessarily a country girl but I am not a complete city girl either. So, when I see a place with beautiful flowers and trees, I kind of get sucked in...

After visiting the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum I walked to the neighboring garden.
They had a rose garden that wasn't in full bloom yet but there were a few beauties.

There were some interesting fellows too...

and some of my favorites as well...

Then I realized that these flowers and trees were surounded by buildings just like me...

On the way out I found a building covered in ivy with a nice garden in it too.  It was hard to believe that this was a Chinese restaurant.
Too bad it was a bit expensive for a "regular day" but the Mr has promised that we can try it on a "special occasion".

Takarazuka...Treasure Hill

About 5 miles north from where I live is a city called Takarazuka (which translates to Treasure Hill).
Since there were a lot of small slopes to walk up I wasn't sure when I was actually on the 'hill', but that is beside the point for today's post.

Most people in Japan associate Takarazuka City with the theater troupe that goes by the same name.

The Takarazuka Revue is a group of women that perform musicals...
Phantom of the Opera, The Rose of Versailles etc...

They are trained since high school under strict supervision by teachers and superiors. 
To get accepted into the school you need to be able to dance ballet and sing.

The fans of the Takarazuka Revue also well known in Japan for their enthusiasm. They are more like worshipers and since the history of the troupe dates back to the 1920s, the audience consists of a wide range of age groups.

I am not a Takarazuka fan (I think it is the makeup that scares me away...) but I do like theater so, to see one of their stages is on my "to do" list...

So, what was I doing in Takarazuka?

There was a man who lived in Takarazuka  when he was a young boy.
This young boy was a fan of the Takarazuka Revue, and he loved to draw and write stories.
He studied to be a doctor in university but he ended becoming a man who inspired people...
This man was fascinated with much that he used the character for the word bug (mushi虫)in his name...手塚 治虫 Tezuka Osamu.

Welcome to the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum.
the inside...and the outside...

That bird is the famous phoenix...the bird that is reborn from its own ashes.

There were people from around the world visiting the museum on this cloudy day.

Maybe you know these guys...
Kimba and his father...kind of like the Lion King except earlier...
Tezuka Osamu is known for writing manga for both adults and children.  His animations have been praised not only for their characters but their cinematic shots as well.  
His stories have focused on things that transcend barriers... the environment, technology, war, religion, self sacrifice, patience and love.

...and if you are wondering, "who is this boy?"...
He is Atom.
In other parts of the world he is called Astro Boy.
He is going to be in a movie (movie trailer can be seen here).
I have mixed emotions about how the characters look, but if this movie will help make Tezuka Osamu more well known around the globe, well then I am dancing a happy dance.

Here are some of his other characters that "posed for me" in the museum.

After I left the museum I walked to a park.  I saw a greenhouse, so how could I not take a peek?

May 12, 2009

Oh, OK...I suppose I should at least try...

So many beautiful haiku poems have been adorning some of my favorite blogs...
I tried to pretend not to notice.  I live in Japan, the land of the haiku.

So I had to run away.  I'd put to much pressure on myself.  Then I went for a walk...


pink cherry blossoms

in the wind is loneliness

petals scattering

turn a leaf over

and you will discover

a new universe


carp swimming in air

flowers blooming everywhere

springtime in Japan


watching children run

hearing laughter in the sun

a happy day off
Well, at least I tried...

If you haven't already read some of the great (and beautiful) haiku poems out there in blogland...please visit:

and of course for a treasure load of Basho haiku please check out a hazy moon!

May 11, 2009

Children's Day

May 5th ... Kodomo no Hi (or Tango no Sekku).
Children's Day was established as a national holiday in 1948.  

Originally it was a holiday to respect boys, pray for their happiness AND give thanks to mothers.

(There is a separate day for girls on March 3rd :  Hinamatsuri or Momo no Sekku)

Now that Mother's Day is a part of Japan's 
gift giving culture, Children's Day is focused more on children.  Since Girl's Day is not a national holiday there is sometimes controversy on 
why 'boy's day' is a holiday... SO these days most events held on this day are for both girls and boys.

However, the "traditional" decorations for Children's Day are for boys: the Koinobori (carp flags) and helmets that were used back in the days of the Samurai.

Since I do not have any children I don't have a real set of these decorations but I do have a small furoshiki that I use as tapestry to celebrate this day.
The helmet is at the bottom left ... On the bottom right is a taiko (Japanese drum).
Here is a picture of real Koinobori...the picture is blurry because I spied the flags on a mountainside!  The wind was perfect, the carp flags looked as if they were swimming in the air!

and this is a unique Koinobori in the making, at a park in Takarazuka.

Children were making these yellow pieces of material that the park "rangers" were adding unto a rope (like a clothes line) forming the shape of a carp.
Why a fish, and why the carp?

Well, it seems to be a lucky fish.


It was the only fish that was able to swim up a waterfall (in China) and successfully become a dragon.

My next post will be a little bit more on what I saw in the city of Takarazuka and a very unique boy!

a whirlwind of a week it has been and what is coming up next on The Art of Living in Japan

See what I am dealing with at home?  Golden Week wasn't so "golden" since I got to work (that's not the bad part...really, I'm not being sarcastic).  The Mr of the house was at home most of the time and well, that means bigger mess, less cleaning up... and of course there is "that room" with my stacks of books that just won't squeeeeeeze into my bookshelves.  Darn!

Most of the books in the above picture have not been read yet...
half of which are proof copies I received last year when I was still in the book selling biz.

I am open to any suggestions, besides those that have to do with getting rid of the books ;-)

Oh, and uh...

♥Happy Mothers Day!
My excuse for not blogging very well is...5 days of work, one day off and another 5 days of work...

Please let that be a good excuse for not talking about Children's day on May 5th.
That is what that big yellow fish made of organically dyed cloth is for... oh, the mystery...
I'll try to explain this later... I promise.

Through all "the busy" I did visit a museum.  Can you guess what kind?

And I read two Japanese books in a row.  Something I hardly ever do.
Will talk about these books soon as well.