Thursday, March 27, 2008

My New Baby

Last Friday, Ian and I went to pick up our new baby from the Vancouver Animal Shelter. Her name is Keiko, she is about one year old, and appears to be a Lab/ Golden Retriever/ maybe Border Collie cross.

So sweet and gentle, she is a total love pig. She was brought in off the Musqueum Reserve by two kids, so who knows what her back story is. She is quite sensitive and insecure, so we have our work cut out for us as far as training goes, but so far she has been a delightful companion.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Few Last Things From Japan

It's been a while since I posted - sorry! I've been doing lots of catchup since getting back from the trip, and have to share the computer with my husband, who wants to be online even more than I do. The answer is not more stuff, I'm sure of it!

Anyway, I wanted to mention a few things that I haven't yet covered in my Japan trip photos. On the trip I made to New Mexico in January, I visited Los Alamos, famous (or notorious, depending on your place on the no nukes spectrum) as the place where the nuclear bomb was developed. At that point, I already knew that I would be visiting Hiroshima the following month, so went out of my way to check out Los Alamos so that I would see both sides of the story.

It was very interesting to compare how the two museums handled the presentation of the same item on exhibit. At the Bradbury Museum in Los Alamos, the gallery is bathed in sunlight, and the signage is bright and positively phrased. The life size model of Little Boy, the bomb that was detonated over Hiroshima and killed more than 100,000 people, is placed on the floor, so viewers stand over it. It seems surprisingly small, almost innocuous.

At the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, on the other hand, the model of Little Boy is placed overhead, where it looms more menacingly. One encounters it in a darkened room having already viewed items of clothing, hair and skin belonging to victims of the bomb. People in the museum seem very sober, sad and don't say much. It is an almost overwhelming experience to view these exhibits - very moving and emotionally draining.

I feel very privileged to have been able to witness both versions of the story. In Canada, we read John Hersey's book Hiroshima as part of our Grade 8 or 9 English class. I think that was a formative experience for me, and led to my involvement in the peace movement. My horror of nuclear weapons has not diminished over the years, and it's pretty obvious that my sympathies are on the side of the story that says nuclear weapons must never be used again.

Moving on to my search for signs of the crafty revolution...

Mrs. Mandu's friend Fuji-san showed me a bowl of life size vegetables and pincushions that she had made out of scraps of chirimen silk. They were charming and beautifully made. All things cute or "kawaii" are very popular in Japan, but there is still a generation that values the subtle, elegant aspect of the handmade.

And one last recommendation for all of you who long to visit Japan. Track down a copy of the 2004 movie "Kamikaze Girls". I tell everyone that yes, Japan is exactly as depicted in this movie. Vivid, baffling, funny, rude, violent and delicately feminine. And if I haven't tempted you enough, how could you resist any movie where embroidery is a major plot device?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Much Anticipated Textile Post

One of the main reasons I went on this trip was the lure of Japanese cloth. No other culture has the technical and aesthetic brilliance, uniqueness of materials or the diversity of techniques as does Japan.

Now, I know I tend to gush in my posts. Consider all I have said before, add a grain of salt, and believe me when I say that the textiles I saw on this trip surpassed anything I could have hoped for. And I didn't go into one museum - they probably would have had to ship me home in an air ambulance if I had, since I would have exploded from multiple textile induced orgasms.

Textiles can be found in all places in Japanese society, not just as the usual clothing and linens. A sacred, handmade rope unites the wedded rocks of Meoto-iwa in Futami. Buddhas are dressed in handknit hats and sweaters. The omizuku, representations of lost or unborn children that surround temples, are also dressed in knit or crocheted hats and cloth bibs to console their spirits. And on the profane end of the spectrum, furoshiki - wrapping cloths - are used to wrap a whole shipment of dishes behind a restaurant.

I went to a fabric store in Kyoto. The shelves were jammed with bolts of traditionally patterned cloth, while samples of the more elaborate designs that could be ordered hung on the walls. The sheer variety of appliques, buttons, ribbons and cords available was eye boggling.

I picked up some treasures at temple market. (I did get about a dozen kimono, but will show them later.) These thread include natural dyed cotton yarns, a skein of wild, un-degummed silk, a ball of thread made from old fishing nets, and coarse hemp twine. I also got samples of traditional specialty linen cloth that is now only made in China - it being too expensive to produce in Japan.

I found some vintage buttons, and skeins of silk thread.

Mrs. Mandu showed me some incredible silk shibori. Shibori is a very refined resist dyeing technique, where threads are tightly wrapped around cloth in various ways to create patterns. Like tie dye, if it were created by legions of genius fairies.

And here are a couple of dolls from her collection. Note the temari balls.

And a few quilts.

Now, I have to mention that a couple of my illusions were shattered. I have drooled over the images in Japanese craft books for years now, reveling in the world of beautifully organized workrooms, stacks of charming, whimsical fabrics and handmade toys, zakka, quilts and embroidery. I was disappointed to see very little evidence that the women of Japan actually live out these fantasies. In all my travels, and believe me, I have radar for the handmade, I saw one kinda cool looking girl with a hand stenciled skirt, and two ladies showing off their hand sewn and quilted purses. And that was it!

And, I did visit a craft supply store as well. There I found lots of gorgeous materials and notions that we never see in Canada, but also kits galore! Kits for patchworks handbags, for arumigami, for slippers made from rags. There were pre-dyed socks and gloves for soft toys, and pre-cut felt for dolls and other crafty projects.

I realized I had been bamboozled! My naive North American belief that the Japanese craft world consisted entirely of master craftsmen, of Living National Treasures, was dashed. Just like us, the Japanese have succumbed to an industry driven by advertising, in which the craft magazines are but catalogues for the products that can be purchased. The only difference between a craft store in Japan and Michael's in Canada is that their goods seem more artfully designed.

But then, I was just a tourist. Jean Pierre tells me that many craft traditions are dying out, that the young generation had no interest in learning the skills. But I was surprised not to see craft practised at even a basic level. If I had been there longer, maybe I would have found that there are indeed rebel crafters, artists with their own vision, even circles of craftspeople who meet to make things and share ideas. Maybe making things isn't something one shows off in public, but does in the intimacy of one's home.

And my disappointment is mild in comparison to the joy I felt in seeing so many truly beautiful things.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Bliss, Bliss, and More Bliss

The usual stresses of travel aside, I certainly got to experience more peak moments on this trip than I usually do in a year. Here's the Top 5 (I'm finding it helpful to make lists, it seems.)
1. Dinner our first night in Tokyo. We found a wee restaurant called Robata - a grill/buffet with a very wabi sabi style. I was thrilled to find we were seated next to a spinning wheel. The food was amazing - and Ian was actually much more enthusiatic than this terrible picture would indicate.

2. The onsen (hot spring) in Karuma, north of Kyoto. We took a tiny train like something out of Spirited Away, into a little valley in the hills. The onsen was very traditional - men and women separated, a scrub down before entering the deep outdoor tub for a soak. Snow falling, steam rising, aahhhh.

3. The ryokan (Japanese inn) Sansei-ko in Nara. This was the courtyard outside our window in the morning light. Our sleep on the tatami mats was the best we had on the whole trip!

4. Finally meeting Mrs. Mandu and her friend Fujii-san. Mrs. Mandu is an art and antique dealer in Suzuka, quite the aristocrat, and we have formed a relationship over the years. She sends me bits of fabric through our intermediary Jean Pierre, and I send her completed quilts. She was charming, elegant and warm - the icing on the cake was a impromtu tea ceremony she performed when I asked if she knew how. I couldn't believe my good fortune.

She showed me her museum, holding her collection of treasures gathered over the last 40 years.

Just one piece of shibori to swoon over - I'll do a post devoted to textiles next time.

5. Dinner at a famously secret restaurant in Suzuka. 12 seats, open kitchen and a genius chef. We ate the most glorious food, like something out of Babette's Feast or Last Night. Probably the ultimate food experience of my life!

Another highlight was sitting in on a service at the temple in Miyajima - the priest was chanting and playing a huge drum - very resonant and powerful.

In Tokyo, a tiny perfect plum tree ouside someone's home.

Night scene in Tokyo's Ginza area. Women do still wear kimono!

To see Ian's version of events:

Friday, March 07, 2008

I Left My Pants in Hiroshima

I have realized that I am a somewhat witless traveller. Combine that with my obsessive need to control things and I begin to resemble something out of a Godzilla movie! Just to get it out of the way, here are my 5 top travel errors:
1. Not choosing a photogenic jacket. Instead I went for the Goretex parka with the alarmingly reflective stripes.
2. Forgetting that I am not 19, and that carrying an overstuffed backpack is not only unwieldy, but makes people think I live on the street.
3. Forgetting that I broke my back last summer, and that carrying an overstuffed backpack will give my physiotherapist an extra six months of work.
4. Leaving my comfy yoga pants and favourite top in the hotel room.
5. And my worst travel error: Arrogantly assuming I know which way is North. And arguing with my husband about it.

Other than all that, I had the trip of a lifetime. We took 5 gigs of pictures so sorting them out has proved to be a bit of a marathon. I think I will divide them up into a few posts.

Here is the largest wooden structure in the world. It's a temple in Nara.

Here's one of the largest Buddhas in the world. He resides comfortably in the giant temple.

Before one enters a shrine, there is a place to ritually cleanse oneself.

Everywhere one looks, there is an exquisitely wrought detail. Here is a row of lanterns. I probably saw thousands of lanterns, of all kinds of materials, each of them beautiful.

Here's another lantern!

This is a graveyard for the monks of the temple.

And, leaving the spiritual for the material, here I am having fun in the temple market.

Piles of kimonos. Cheap. $2 to $10!

More tomorrow, I promise!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Plum Blossom Time

I just got home this morning, and am pretty much brain dead due to an unhappy baby who screamed all the way across the Pacific. Let me get a few ZZZZ's and I'll be back tomorrow. Meanwhile, plum blossoms from a Kyoto temple will have to do!