OBSERVATION OF THE DAY on Cherry Blossom or Hanami season.
Well no-one can say I haven’t done my utmost to get the most out of Hanami season but I think it was the walk I took in the Aoyama Cemetery that finally nailed it for me. While it is fun to search out the best photos – and I hope you enjoy the four below – it is really a time of celebration of something we take for granted much of the time – Springtime and all that it implies. Seeing people enjoying their friends and family at picnics or the lovely Hanami dances or even the multitude of traditional art on this topic reminded me that the cherry blossom is a really beautiful symbol of this time of year which is always filled with more light, new hope, endless possibilities and thoughts of the future. And, in my book, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
After getting a bit lost I finally found the canal at Meguro that you can stroll along to view the cherry blossoms at night. Full of romantic couples (and me) but nevertheless very pleasant and a whole new experience when lit up.
Night viewing of cherry blossoms along the canal at Meguro
My favourite spot to view – best blossoms and by far the least crowded was Aoyama Cemetery close to my hotel in Roppongi Hills. Not only was every corner I turned stunning, it was, like many cemeteries, a wonderful place to wander and contemplate.
Aoyama cemetery blossoms in their best environment
Next post will be full size pics of my four favourite cherry blossoms and a final observation on the whole cherry blossom thing.
Not only do people picnic and photograph the arrival of cherry blossoms but they also enjoy traditional dancing to celebrate the arrival of blossoms. Here are some of the dancers I saw walking along the river in Sumida Park a some cherry blossoms I saw there. Pay attention to the women in white with the pointed headdresses- they are dancing at a rapid pace with their sandals pointed forward the whole time – amazing balance – the guys just wear socks!
Dancers celebrate Hanami in Sumida Park
Ladies dancing on the points of their sandals in Sumida Park
Passers by in the Sumida Park enjoy traditional Hanami dancing
Cherry blossoms in Sumida Park
TIP OF THE DAY – what to buy in Japan that won’t cost an arm and a leg
If you are on a tight budget then the larger cities in Japan may not be your best bet – it is very expensive for virtually anyone visiting from any country (except possibly the Swiss!) so bargains are limited – best to spend your budget on food and sightseeing. However Japanese products are worth taking a look at. I love Onitsuka Tiger trainers and bought two new pairs – well under AUD100 and they have a very wide choice of colours. I would also recommend visiting the local brand drugstores that stock all sorts of cheap and excellent quality make up and skincare – I recommend Heroine mascara (plus their special eye make up remover) – it really does not smudge; the drugstore Shiseido range – much cheaper than department store version especially Miracle Whip make up remover and anything by Kose but especially their beautifully packaged oil reducing mini sheets. And finally a multitude of face masks in individual packets which are excellent and convenient for travel.
My new Onitsuka Tiger trainers
Am doing a lot of eating and chasing cherry blossoms -So wanted to share
Here is more Hanami – this time from Garden in National Museum of Tokyo
Enjoyed a traditional shabu shabu.
Shabu shabu in Roppongi Hills
At this restaurant you are part of the kitchen and the cooking. Well actually the chefs do all the hard work and we just ate it – phenomenal. Robitaya in Roppongi Hills.
Best and most entertains meal of the visit
This tiny whiskey bar seats about 7 people and boasts a permanent cat on the counter. Also whiskey was served over the biggest ice cube I’ve seen. As for whether I will ever get bored of sashimi? Nah…
More of everything I like – and I usually don’t like cats much but this one was ok.
While it is great to see the work of artists you know and love, one of the things I love about going to art galleries or museums is getting exposure to artists you’ve never heard of. So it was that I visited the Mori Art Museum at 8.30 pm on a Saturday night (yes I know, get a life!)mostly because I wanted to see the space itself (I’ve never been to an art museum on the 54th floor of a building before) and also to take in the night view over Tokyo. Then I saw the guest exhibit was by N S Harsha an artist based in Mysore (Mysuru) and was truly stunned with his work. My absolute favorite is the final painting below – a true masterpiece.
Much of it has social commentary built into it but he also displays a love for his local community and the people in it. As a result you will see he paints a lot of people and each one is different. In the second set of extracts from four massive paintings he actually painted over 1000 people and again they are all different and some are quite funny (see the grumpy Batman clad guy?) He is also interested in sleep’s restorative powers so people sleeping appear quite often.
N S Harsha – people sleeping and is that the Opera House I see around the man’s neck?
1000 people – a masterful canvas
And here you see something different again – huge installations in incredible detail. The one with the sewing machines shows different flags being made on one side but blank on the other – questioning the meaning of “nationhood” and whether a constant flag can really represent changing nations adequately.
Sewing machines, t shirts and cows
The painting below is huge and covers a gigantic wall and at a distance looks like it was painted in massive brush stroke but as you see from the detailed shot below it is actually made up of thousands of tiny stars and planets. Just fantastic.
N S Harsha paints infinity
And for those wondering about the Tokyo night views from the 54th floor – here they are.
Tokyo glittering by night from on high
For those who enjoy cherry blossoms I am going to provide some sample pics over the next few days and then finish with my four best shots. Here are some shots from Ueno Park over the weekend where many young people meet up with friends and enjoy full day picnics to celebrate Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) – come rain come shine as you can see.
Nothing, including cold and rain, stops people enjoying the cherry blossom season
Another way of viewing cherry blossoms in the dry and warmth is to visit the National Museum of Tokyo where you can find a range of art incorporating blossoms. It is hard to express what a big deal this is over here but hopefully the photos over the next few days will do that. It is stunning although I’m going to miss the very best days.
Classic Japanese art – just gorgeous
Now in Tokyo and as this is my 3rd leisure visit here I’m going to be focusing on two priorities while I’m here for four days – art and cherry blossoms – and food of course but you’d be expecting that. I’m staying at the Grand Hyatt Roppongi Hills – which is a new location for me and easily accessible by subway to the things I want to see. It is also on top of a very large shopping centre so I’m happy;)
For those who’ve been following this blog for a while you may recall my excitement when visiting MONA in Hobart to find a Yayoi Kusama exhibit. She is a wonderful Japanese artist who is especially famous for her love of polka dots and she is still going strong at 87. So I was especially thrilled to see that there was a large exhibit of her new works entitled My Eternal Soul at the National Art Centre in Tokyo very close to my hotel. Hope you enjoy this selection of her work as much as I loved my visit. It’s the first time I’ve seen so much of her work in one place and I was very excited about that.
Polka dots everywhere. Yayoi Kusama wows in her mega room of new works
Polka dots in all Kusama playful sculptures- you can’t help but smile
A few samples of the dozens of paintings exhibited. I want one!
and here is my haul of Kusama goodies to take home. Hand Towel (check), Tea Towel (check), iPhone cover (check), plastic zip folder (check), key ring (check)
My very own collection of Kusama memorabilia
TIP OF THE DAY – by far the easiest way to travel around Tokyo is by subway – it is fast, efficient and clean – and of course everything is on time. Wherever you get on just find the large subway map above the ticket machines, find the stop you are heading to and the price of the fare will be labeled on the map. Then , select your fare, throw in your money and out pops the correct ticket. An app I am very fond of for large cities is Citymapper as you just have to input the name of a place you want to visit or an address if you know it and it will immediately provide you with a variety of public transport options and how long it will take you to get to your venue. (Walking and driving options too but public transport is the one I think is most useful). I use it a lot in London and NYC too where they cover tube, rail and buses and it is now available for Tokyo too.
Best place to see spot one is in the Gion area between about about 5.45 and 6pm. The nearest experience I can compare it to is a safari! They pop out of buildings without you knowing which ones they will come out of and the you hear them first clip clopping with their sandals as they walk at a very rapid pace and then they dive into another building – where they entertain their clients. Again, similar to safari, you have no idea if you will see any and when you do you have to move very fast to get a photo while not blocking their way. Somehow I saw three and managed to photograph two of them as you can see below – but only just they move very fast!
Geishas on the move in Gion, Kyoto
Such a secretive and preserved tradition in Kyoto with young girls at age 16 still training over five years in a range of skills from make up to flower arranging to tea ceremonies and performing arts. Those in training and the one I met below are called Maiko (she was 17 and spoke some English) and they move to becoming Geiko (another word for geisha) once fully trained. Some ways to tell the difference (aside from age but everyone looks ageless over here) are that Maiko have a dropped sash bow at the back whereas the Geiko have a tight sash bow and also no ornaments in their hair. View the video below if you want to see a 30 second example of the Maiko below dancing – so graceful.
Maiko and me – the similarities end at “pimk”!!
Dainty young Maiko dances for a small audience
Click here to play video https://youtu.be/ZRENz3e904k
My friend Margot recommended a visit to the bamboo groves on the west side of Kyoto – it was well worth finding my way there on the train. The first set of pictures shows an artistic interpretation of the grove using kimono patterns in cones all over the station. Apparently they are lit up at night so very pretty. As you can see, even the train matches in nicely. And would you believe on the train platform there is also a sulphur foot bath you can use for a small payment to soothe your feet after a hard day’s walking and everyone waiting for a train can watch you. Didn’t seem to put people off. I thought this was really neat.
Kimono columns at Arashiyama Station
And then I walked on to the real thing. 15 minutes through this amazing environment – quite extraordinary and not like anything I’ve seen before.
OBSERVATION OF THE DAY – Train Travel – Gotta love it. Here’s how it goes. Get a JR rail pass before you leave home as unless you only plan one train journey it will likely be cheaper than paying as you go. Japan, as my friends in the UK will appreciate, has a train system that is owned by multiple suppliers so JR rail is only valid for the train lines they own (quite a few of the expensive ones eg. Kyoto to Tokyo) but you have to pay for other trips. But that is where any similarity to the UK train systems ends.
Trains are spotless and cleaned by staff in white gloves in many station stops and always immediately at the end of the line before turning round for the return journey. They are always on time. They always have a cart that comes through to sell you coffee and food – and it’s not half bad. They have a conductor who walks through the carriages to review tickets and greets and bows to the customers in each carriage (how come I never managed to get my work colleagues to do that to me I wonder?!?) and they are wearing smarter suits than I’ve seen in many office environments. At the end of the line when they are due to go in the opposite direction the seats make a balletic twirl and turn around meaning that everyone can face forward on every train but equally should they want to sit in a square they can do that too if they prefer.Everyone queues in an orderly fashion on the platform and remain orderly when the train arrives – no-one ever pushes in or shoves you. And most amazing is that every employee at the stations even the large and busy ones can speak “train English” – give them a destination and departure time and they immediately know which platform to direct you too – they seemed to have learned the whole timetable off by heart. Big tick as an excellent way to travel in Japan
Trains in Kyoto Station. Coffee and food is provided with a little bag to put your rubbish in once you are done
Saved my visit to Gion – the hub of Kyoto to my last evening. The main streets are heaving with people but as soon as you dive down the side streets and then the side streets off the side streets you shake them off and it is also a good spot to find geishas appearing out of nowhere as dusk falls. I remember reading and loving Memoirs of a Geisha many years ago and always had an image pretty much like these of the alleyways that people walked through back then – doubt it has changed much. Full of charm and intrigue all at once.
Side Alleyways of Gion – magical as day turns to dusk
I remain mesmerized by all the amazing food I see everywhere – whether it is on a street stall or, as below, examples from the massive food halls in department stores such as Takashimaya or Isetan. There is so much of it and everything – and I mean every single item – is both fresh and beautifully displayed wherever you go.What I can’t understand is where it all goes as no-one here looks like they overeat and there’s so much of it and it is always fresh? I have come to the conclusion that the visitors from the West must be scarfing a lot of it down.
Food glorious food in Kyoto department stores.
OBSERVATION OF THE DAY – Japan proves that tradition and modernity can sit side by side in harmony. From fan making to beautifully preserved buildings to extreme courtesy you can then jump to extreme fashion statements, cutesy gimmicks vending machines that sell hot and cold drinks and food in peel back opening cans and the latest hi-tech gimmick. Prepare to be constantly surprised – in a nice way. A few examples below including Hermes designed skateboards – Japan only.
Hermes skateboards, traditional fans and a restaurant giving a clear symbol of what it will serve.