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Tokyo Times Part Two: Love at The Mori Art Gallery

Next up on my Tokyo Adventure was The Mori Art Museum in Roppongi!

The museum is having their 10th anniversary this year, and are currently holding a special show as part of the celebration.

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We were all pretty darn excited about it! And honestly I think it was one of the best art exhibits I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing. There were works by Yayoi Kusama, Jeff Koons, Giorgio de Chirico, Araki Nobuyoshi, and countless other well-known names, as well as some lesser known ones (who had equally as compelling works). The theme of ‘love’ may seem simple at first, but really it’s incredibly complex, as there are so many stages and sides to love, and everyone experiences it differently. There’s the love of a spouse, of a friend, of family, of an object or an activity. Really you could put just about anything in this show and it could somehow be justified! But the way they curated it was incredible! It was like each time you entered a new room you would walk into someone else’s love story, and were encouraged to join in with their experience. Some parts were beautiful, others sad, and some utterly hilarious. By the end my emotions were so conflicted I didn’t know how to feel, and I walked out in a kind of bewildered daze.
Now that to me is the sign of a good art show! (I even bought the catalogue as a memento)

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One of the most memorable works for me (among many!) was a work by Sophie Calle from 2007, titled Take Care of Yourself. (Sorry, no images as it really has to be witnessed in person) In this instance the work had a whole room dedicated to it, in which text, photographs, and videos were scattered across the walls at different sizes and heights, encouraging the viewer to take in the entire space. When you first walk into this room, you’re supposed to pick up a sheet from a stack of paper to the right of the entrance, and read it. It is a breakup letter. You soon learn that each image, video and piece of writing displayed in the room is culmination of the reactions of different women to this same letter. Sophie Calle, upon receiving this letter from a previous lover, did not know how to interpret or process it, and so sent it to hundreds of women around the world, asking them to do it for her.
It is such a simple idea, but so incredibly interesting to view. Some people responded with anger and others with humour – some with sadness and others with laughter. Then hearing the reactions of people around you while they read the letter themselves adds further to the atmosphere and complexity of the work. Brilliant stuff! If you’re in Tokyo between now and September 1st you should definitely check it out!

Lucky for us, there were even areas where you could take photographs!

YAYOI KUSAMA TIME!!!

_DSC012643_DSC013947_DSC013045_DSC013646I’m sorry guys, I just had to do a selfie and a group shot! I couldn’t resist the mirrors! SO MANY MIRRORS!! From left to right is Casey (me), Rebecca, Emma, Wing, and Reina.

Actually Emma (who has a pretty sweet little blog here) managed to get two free tickets to this exhibit because her sculpture sensei had a work in the show! None of us could believe it! Her name is Nishiyama Minako, and her installation work is in the second room of the exhibit.
Here’s a picture of it:

 

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(Image from here)

Titled The PINKU House, the work is a kind of life-size fold-out doll-house, made of plastic material (similar to that of a children’s jumping castle). Although the work is very kawaii (cute), innocent and childlike at first glance, there is a slight sense of suggested eroticism in work. The bed is positioned in the centre of the scene, protruding out towards the viewer, almost as an invitation. The red hearts and roses are also common symbols of romance and sex, and of course the artificial nature of the plastic fabric gives the sense of a cheap hotel room, or more specifically a Japanese love hotel, where people rent a room for a few hours to fulfil their sexual desires until their time is up, at which point the room is cleaned and prepared for the next couple.
When I saw this work it was installed in a black room with lights that made the house appear as if it was glowing slightly. This gave it an eerie quality, and amplified the slightly disturbing nature of the work. It was very successful I think!
Hopefully Emma will introduce me to her sometime soon. I very much enjoyed this work! The image above simply doesn’t do it justice.

Anyways, I’d best move on.
Here are some more photographs of the show (from the rooms we were allowed to photograph in)

Tsumura Kosuke: Final Home and Final Home: See Through

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One of the really interesting things about this show is that it not only included beautiful artworks, but also included photographs, films, and characters seen in Japanese pop-culture, raising them to the status of the other artworks in the show. I absolutely loved this! So often people turn their noses up at manga drawings, fashion photographs, or clothing designs and co-ordinates, dismissing them as worthless repetitive commercial items, but this so often is not the case. So much creativity, imagination and skill goes in to making a good manga or an amazing outfit, and I for one believe it should be given the greater respect it deserves. And this show did it for me. Right next to Yayoi Kusama’s work was a wall of Japanese street-snap photos from Fruits Magazine, and at the end was a room playing a video of a Hatsune Miku concert, with dozens of small screens scattered in front of you with different Hatsune illustrations. This was the point where I nearly cried. It was unlike any show I’d ever seen before, and I am so happy I get to go again with my sister in July.

After the show, we went to the observatory to check out the view of Tokyo!

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_DSC017557Emma and Reina lookin’ lovely on the 52nd floor!

By this time we were all STARVING as none of us had had breakfast! So lucky for us there was a Hatsune Miku themed cafe/restaurant set up just for the exhibition! AWESOME!!!

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_DSC019563 _DSC019964_DSC020566_DSC020065_DSC018860 _DSC019362There was also this wall in the cafe covered in stickers! Most people wrote love messages or drew their own little Hatsune’s. We were given some stickers too! But by the time we finished eating we’d forgotten all about it. Oops.
Anyways, for those of you wanting a review, in short the food here wasn’t special. It was kinda like the usual packet curry you get at a cheap restaurant, only decorated cutely. But like the moomin cafe the drinks were delicious! I got some-kind of lemon-lime cocktail with the zest cut out in the shape of stars. Very cute.

After this we went on to Shinjuku for some shoooopping!! Next up with be my final Tokyo post, and boy is it gonna be a big one! For those interested in Japanese street fashion, definitely stay tuned!

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Living in Iwakura

I don’t think I’ve written much about the place I’m staying at the moment, so before I go any further I’ll tell you a bit about Iwakura! Well it’s on the Northern Edge of Kyoto, surrounded by mountains and forrest. It may seem a little far out from the city on a map, but really the subway only takes about 20 minutes to get way downtown to Kyoto Station, and the area is so calm and scenic and peaceful I really couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, especially as a student! It’s far enough away from the city to avoid too much distraction, and the dorm I’m living in is conveniently located only a 10-minute walk away from my university. It has all the essentials, such as convenience stores, grocery stores, parks, home-ware and gardening shops, bakeries, cafes, restaurants (there’s a great Indian curry place near the subway station!), and many more places worth noting.
Here are some photos around Iwakura!

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Just outside the dormitory

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The Eiden line line train runs straight past the dorms and the school.Iwakura_20130410_01057

This little guy and others like him guard the streets. I call them “The Iwakura Watch”.
Iwakura_20130410_013615 Iwakura_20130410_014518 Iwakura_20130410_015321Iwakura_20130410_015422 Iwakura_20130410_015623These were from back in early April during hanami (cherry blossom season). This is the river that runs down to the Kokusaikaikan subway station. I walk or ride my bike past it almost everyday. Such a lovely spot. The crickets have begun chirping at night now too! I feel like I’m living in an anime… The area reminds me of some of the scenes in Niea_7.Iwakura_20130410_016726I’m not a creep I swear! These kids were just too darn adorable!
Iwakura_20130410_017430 Some flowers I found in a parking lot… of all places…Iwakura_20130410_017931 The main business area of the town. It’s always a little busier around here, and there are plenty of restaurants!Iwakura_20130410_018332Iwakura_20130410_018533 Iwakura_20130410_019036

Hey there Iwakura Rangers! Protecting the streets as usual I see!

Iwakura itself is really lovely, but the dorm I’m staying in is a completely different story…
I don’t have enough time or patience right now to explain in detail how horrendous the university dorms are, so I’ll save that for another post. But just to give you an idea… here are some photos I took of one of the windows in the kitchen…

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Yup. Most of those back specks are bugs… You don’t even want to see the floor…

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And my creepy hallway on the 5th floor.
Just last night I discovered a mukade (centipede) just near that vacuum cleaner. Lucky this was only a small one (about 12cm), but I hear they can grow to about 30cm! And it isn’t even summer yet! Time to tape the windows people!

Believe it or not it gets much worse than that my friends.
If you’re planning to study at Seika in the future, I would definitely recommend finding your own accommodation if you’re staying for longer than one semester. Four to six months is about all I would be able to take of this place, possibly a year if I really had to… but it would not be pleasant…
On the plus side though, it’s a great way to meet people, especially if you don’t speak much Japanese. There are always plenty of other exchange students around, and often they put you all on the same floor together (at least they did for me!). It’s like a constant party up here on the 5th floor! I think within the first 3 days we were already getting noise complaints… Oops.

Anyways, that’s all for now. Will update again soon with images from the Aoi Matsuri and a trip I had to Kiyomizudera with three friends from my class. Plus I went to a student-run fashion/music parade, and went back to Osaka a couple of times. Plus I’m going to Tokyo tomorrow… BUSY BUSY!!! Still need to get my Nara films developed as well… damn…
Alright better get to work!
I’ll leave you with some outfit snaps of Emma, Wing and I from our Osaka trip.

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We are oh-so pastel!

Food Adventures!

Since arriving in Japan I’ve been eating out a lot! Every new friend I make seems to result in another lunch date or dinner date. Some of the girls in my printmaking class have even been making food for me, which has been absolutely lovely!

Most of these foods, however, I’ve already experienced to some degree in Australia, such as sushi, katsu curry, udon, etc… The basics of everyday Japanese cooking. But there are also the slightly stranger foods…

Here’s the beginning of my Japanese food Adventures:

1. Deep fried Chicken Gristle

Yep. You heard right. Gristle.
I had this out one night with a bunch of the other exchange students and 3 Japanese people from our school. They took us to this really cool bar just off Shijo-dori where the walls were covered in posters and drawings, and you had to take your shoes off to sit down (a fairly common occurrence in Japan). As the menu was entirely in Japanese, we let the 2 Japanese guys order for us. The first thing that comes out is some simple tofu with spring onion on top. Fresh and delicious – a nice start to the meal. Next came out this delicious looking plate of battered deep-fried morsels – looking somewhat like KFC’s popcorn chicken. I was correct in assuming it was chicken… but not a part I would’ve expected… When we asked the guys what it was they didn’t know the correct word, so they just kept saying “joints”, which made us first assume it was bone marrow of some kind. Then we ate it… It was very crunchy, but still with a slightly gummy texture (which made it very difficult to break down), and we very soon realized it was not marrow, but the actual joints at the end of the chicken bones – the slightly transparent white bit everyone throws away. In all honesty it wasn’t that bad. The flavor of the batter was great, but the gristle didn’t taste like much, and the texture was not exactly pleasant.
My rating: 4/10

Here’s the bar.
(I apologize for this terrible photograph. Didn’t have my good camera on me)

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2. Uni (Sea Urchin Roe) sushi

Everyone I’ve talked to who has tried sea urchin has only ever had negative things to say about it, so when this was ordered for us at a sushi place and I finally realized what it was, I’ll admit even the iron-stomached Casey was a little apprehensive… And I began to suspect our two new Japanese friends were playing a bit of a practical joke on us. But having never been the kind of person to turn down a meal, Nea and I looked at each other… counted down from 3… and took a bite.
At first it seemed a little slimy – kind of like melted butter – and as I chewed I kept waiting for a hit of some strong flavor to invade my taste buds. But it never happened. Sea Urchin really does have a very subtle flavor, and is not fishy at all like I was expecting. Really I think it’s more of the texture that people here enjoy, the buttery creaminess of it, and of course the rarity of it. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you are going to eat it I suggest making sure it’s as fresh as possible. From what I hear this is supposed to be incredibly important. The sushi place we went to was particularly good in my experience as well, so I’m assuming the uni I had was above average in quality.
My Rating: 7/10

Here’s a photo of our new friends at the sushi place. I wonder what they’re gonna make us eat next…
(Once again I apologize for the dodgy photo)

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3. Yuzu Marmalade

This one has been on my bucket list for sometime now, and I’m very happy to say I can officially cross it off. For those of you who don’t know, Yuzu is a citrus fruit grown mainly in Eastern Asia, that tastes somewhat like a mixture of lemon, grapefruit and mandarin. It is practically impossible to find in Australia, as it doesn’t keep very well during travel, and as of yet there are only a couple of small growers in Australia that I can find. Pretty much if you want it in Aus you have to grow it yourself, or buy the tiny bottles of juice for exorbitant amounts of money.
How I came across this was last week we had a welcome party in my class for new students (me and two other students), so our classmates brought heaps of treats for us! My good friend Ririko made an amazing sweet-potato cheesecake (which I wish I got a photo of), and another girl made what they call “Dry Curry” – like a fried rice but with little bits of meat and curry absorbed into it. It was all very delicious! But sitting there quietly in a little jar was homemade yuzu marmalade, made by the mother of Atsuko, another friend from my class.
Now yuzu is quite bitter and sour, so instead of just eating it on its own, Atsuko suggested putting some chocolate spread (also made by her mum) on a biscuit, then placing a small amount of yuzu on top.
All I can say is it was a fantastic combination, and I was not the only one who thought so.
Atsuko was so happy to see how excited I was she gave me the rest of the jar! And the chocolate spread along with it! I wanted to cry I was so happy. Been snacking on it ever since. It is definitely my favourite food discovery so far. (Atsuko also told me how to make it into a drink. Will be trying that one next time)
My rating: 10/10

And now for a decent photo! FINALLY

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Kyoto City – a place where humans and nature collide

One thing that strikes me every time I come to Japan is the way the people here have managed to maintain a strong appreciation for nature and tradition, while living in such a fast-paced modern society. It’s something a lot of foreigners notice while traveling through Japan, and is perhaps at it’s most noticeable in Kyoto – the previous capital city, which has become a tourist hot-spot in recent years for it’s beauty and rich history.
This small city is filled with temples, shrines, vending machines, computers, trains, bamboo forrests, earthquakes, bikes, pachinko parlours, etc… You may be walking through a busy street downtown and suddenly find yourself inside a temple with incense and praying visitors. It can be quite surreal standing in front of a place like this, knowing that on your way out you’ll most likely be greeted by a vending machine, eagerly awaiting its’ next customer.

Now this all sounds a little sad, and I thought so too in the beginning. But in the three weeks I’ve been here I’ve been noticing just how carefully these things are navigated and arranged, and just how much the Japanese enjoy keeping a little touch of nature and tradition in their lives. For example, when you go to a temple, normally the vending machines are tucked away in their own separate buildings, or are only viewable on the way out, so as not to ruin the atmosphere. I’ve also noticed a lot of flower shops around the place, and small apartments covered from head-to-toe in pot-plants.

For my first project here in Japan, I’ve been documenting these small understated places and moments. Here are a few I’ve got so far:

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Note: These are all digital shots, but I’m waiting on the film versions to be developed. Hopefully they work out!

Let me know what you think! Suggestions are always appreciated.

A very strange cafe and an even stranger restaurant…

Japan is known for it’s weird and whacky themed cafes and restaurants, so it was only natural that I go to at least a few during my stay here! I’ve only been here two weeks and already I’ve been to a Neko (cat) Cafe and the Ninja Kyoto restaurant. As these places tend to be tourist hot-spots, I assumed they would be severely overpriced and likely of bad quality… But I thought I’d give them a shot anyway…

And oh boy am I’m glad I did! The neko cafe was warm, clean and inviting – 800 yen to sit with the cats for one hour, and 200 yen per beverage (and apparently you can find even cheaper places than the one I went to!) The only real downside was that the cats weren’t particularly playful… and instead of stroking them or scratching them we were advised to hit them on the backside, and not softly… which was possibly a little too strange for some of us neko-cafe-newbies to handle. But on the plus side, I got some pretty adorable photos!

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Oh, and at the end of our stay they handed out little business cards to us that were PERSONALISED TO EACH OF THE CATS. That way if you had a favourite you could remember it for next time. Genious!

Here are a few pointers for visiting a neko cafe such as this:
1. Take off your shoes before entering. Normally they supply you with a locker to put your other possessions in so don’t worry – your goods are safe! Just don’t let one of the cats swallow the key…
2. Wash your hands at the supplied basin before entering, and then again after exiting.
3. Do not wake sleeping cats or pick up the cats! If they don’t want to be patted don’t force them too much. You just need to relax and enjoy their company.
4. Do not speak too loudly in the cafe! It will depend on where you go, but if it is a quiet room please try to maintain the peace. Many people come to these places to relax, so it’s nice to be as respectful as possible.
5. Feel free to take photos if the place allows it, but do not use flash. And be aware that chunky cameras can look rather intimidating to the cats, so don’t overdo it or they may avoid you.

Ok, that’s all for the neko cafe! Now onto the Ninja Restaurant!

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I had been to this place once before on a school trip to Kyoto a couple of years back, and I always had fond memories of it. Some friends and I at the time simply stumbled upon it one night, and we were lucky enough to get a table!
First thing to know is that there’s three dining options here. There’s the buffet to the left, the a la carte restaurant in the middle, and from what I could gather a shabu shabu dining area to the right (with black ninja crepes!!). The main attraction here I believe is the a la carte option, which we went with. The names were just too crazy to resist! And the staff were just too adorable in their ninja outfits!

Out the front of the restaurant:

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The food: (Seriously you’ve got to read the menu!)

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Us and the staff:

Ninja Pose! (me above and emma below)Around Kyoto_20130415_00199 Around Kyoto_20130415_00188 Our super-cool ninja magician (kids would love it here!)

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Something that must be said about this place is how amazing the staff are. Sometimes their English isn’t the best, but they always apologize and try their hardest to give you an enjoyable experience. The lady in the image above even ran half way down the street after we left the store just to show us this scroll. I just wanted to give her a hug it was so adorable! And actually the food was very affordable considering how much service you get, and it was darn tasty too! I’m not sure how I feel about mayonnaise on pizza though… but it was certainly an interesting experience and definitely one you should try for yourself! I think all up we got an alcoholic beverage each, shared an entree, had a main each and then a dessert each and it only cost 3500 yen each. (In Australia you pay that kind of price for a main and a drink!) Although we didn’t do it this time, I would recommend doing a course menu, in which you get a sample of many of the dishes on offer (minimum 2 ppl). It seems to be very good value for money, especially if you’re catering for a group. (This place would be amazing for birthday parties! Lots of privacy with you own booths too.)
I will definitely be going back before my exchange is over.