Monday, 25 April 2016

A big feature of travel in Japan this time of year is Sakura (prunus serrulata), flowering cherry blossom trees.

When we arrived in Tokyo, the trees were full of buds ready to burst into flower but the cold weather kept delaying them. There was the odd flowering tree here and there and much fuss was made over each one, however, the big spectacle was yet to come.

After nine very busy days in Tokyo, we left to travel South West.  We visited Nagano, Kanazawa, Nara and stopped for a day in Kyoto. We wanted to revisit the Philosopher's Walk, a pedestrian path along a canal, which is planted on either side with cherry trees. We first visited this famous path in Autumn and were really looking forward to seeing it in spring.

Sadly, the hoards of tourists, both Japanese and other, created such a traffic jam that our taxi was stationary for 20 minutes and we abandoned our plans and got out of the taxi. We walked back and enjoyed the Sakura along the banks of the river near the station.

Sam, blending in with the lanterns that are put there to light up
the cherry trees at night


On our way back to Tokyo we spent one day at Hakone, a magnificent mountainous area and a favourite tourist destination for so many reasons, including views of Mt Fuji, Lake Ashi, hot springs (onsen) etc.  But for us, it was the Open Air Museum that drew us there. I had visited it in 2014 and was so impressed that I wanted to see it again. I also wanted Sam to see it. He loved it too.

It features over a thousand sculptures and art works by many artists including Picasso and Henry Moore, who is heavily represented. Below are a few pieces

'Family group' by Henry Moore
A tribute to my Greek heritage 

'Close' by Anthony Gormly
A little fun with photography
'Miss Black Power' by Niki De Saint Phalle
This statue is huge

'Spheric Theme' by Naum Gabo
When we returned to Tokyo for our departure, we were greeted with cherry blossoms galore. I think one of the features that makes this such a spectacle is that the trees are all the same, they are mass planted, usually along river banks and they flower all at the same time.

On our last day we visited the Royal Palace moat which is surrounded by cherry trees with their branches, some more than 10 metres long, draping down towards the water.

We waited in a queue for half an hour to hire a row boat and enjoy the sakura from the water.

The view from underneath the branches. What you don't see is the way we got stuck
and struggled to row ourselves out of the very low branches.

Bye for now,

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

I have long wanted to visit the Snow Monkey Park (Jigokudani Hot Springs) in Nagano to see the Macaque monkeys. We were probably a little late in the season as there was no snow but it was an opportunity that might not arise again any time soon. So we took the Shinkansen from Tokyo, then a bus then a 45 minute walk up a muddy mountain path to reach the hot springs and the monkeys. It was worth the effort, however, because we were rewarded with scenes of these adorable animals playing together, grooming each other and soaking in the hot water.

And now for our Fukui experience. We arrived there mid morning, dropped off our luggage at the hotel and took a taxi to drive us to the Sogetsu kiln, about a 45 minutes trip.

At the kiln, we were welcomed by Masumi Kishimoto San. She asked me what kind of container I wanted to make but I only had a vague idea. So I explained using a lot of hand gestures and Kishimoto San asked me to draw my ideas. One of my designs was very geometric and required an accurate template to be made out of cardboard before cutting it out of clay.  This is where my dressmaking skills came in very handy.

My second container was less structured but I was grateful for Kishimoto san's expertise and guidance because I was too hesitant to squash my clay to achieve the desired effect.

At the kiln I felt that I was walking on Sogetsu hallowed ground.  There is a small garden, still in its winter bareness between the kiln and the residence and when I commented on how pretty it was, Kishimoto San told us that it was designed by former Iemoto Hiroshi Teshigahara. And the residence is used by current Iemoto when she visits the kiln.

The photograph below is of Hiroshi's kiln.

The bronze sculpture, below, nestled in the font garden is one of Sofu's.

Masumi Kishimoto San, who is in charge of the kiln, had been Hiroshi's assistant for 16 years and, very proudly, showed me one of his picture books. She also pointed out that the table I was working on was Hiroshi's table.

I worked happily for over three hours. I made two containers with Kishimoto San's patient and knowledgeable assistance, which made the experience a truly enjoyable one.

Once my containers have dried, they will be fired and glazed, in the Echizan style, then fired again, then sent to me. It will take about three months but I'm prepared to wait.

Sam, who waited very patiently, and I were offered tea and biscuits and left there, in the drizzling rain, feeling quite elated. I could easily have spent a week in that kiln playing with clay.

This is the last post from Japan because, sadly, we are leaving tomorrow morning for home.

Sayonara until next time,