Japan. Finally…

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I guess thoughts of seeing Japan have been in my mind for many years but it took until perhaps 2006 until I decided I would like to travel there, and as the intensity of my focus on art over the last 5yrs and my style has been refined with a clearly japanese aesthetic it became clearer i should go. Further more in the last year with my introduction to some key Japanese artists namely Kaii Higashiyama I decided I must make it a reality. With 10 months steady work in a Glasgow glass studio where I joined a team on the final stages of work on Rosslyn Chapel, and the big sale of my archives at the start of 2015 I was able to afford to go and departed the week before Christmas to Tokyo.

I arrived on the 19th kilted and loaded up with my trusty rucksack, first used by my parents trip to Austria in the early 70’s. Like them that ol’ rucksack is still going strong. Cheers Karrimor.
My travel tradition is to take a night walk when i arrive at my destination, so pack safley dumped at the capsule hostel i took a stroll round this very unfamiliar neighbourhood. It wss very strange, like being jn a movie, the streets and the signs, the bustle of electrical cables going in every direction it was quite surreal for me.
The next morning i hit my first destination. The memorial hall for the Japanese artist Higashiyama.

It was truly inspiring. To get a in person look at his works, to get up close and examine the brush work was indeed a treat.

Higashiyama memorial hall

I intent to visit all the galleries housing his works across Japan and this was a great start. I visited a number of other galleries and got to grips with Tokyo’s subway network. After 3 days I decided to leave the city and attend to agenda number 2.

The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage walk. There are a number of routes and sections to the pilgrimage, I decided to make my entry to this from Koyasan. I travelled there by train on the 22nd and not long after departing Tokyo I caught a glimpse of the most famous mountain of all as the train sped across the landscape…..

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I was somewhat taken aback to see her there for real. Actual Mt. Fuji there in person. She was soon out of sight and we sped on, 2hr later I changed trains and began the last stage towards Koyasan. Here we began to enter the mountainous region of the Kii Peninsula. It very quickly became apparent this was a very good choice.

I darted from window to window, side to side snapping the unfolding landscape. We had only just begun and already this was truly astounding. Only a taste of what was to come and already I was thrilled.

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The final stage was a cable car up a 45° angle which took me into Koyasan station. This part of the journey was truly amazing and I took lunch at the top and then made my way into Koyasan town.

As its winter the day is short and it was already after 3, I found my bed for the night as the sun fell away and the night took hold. Again time for my night stroll, this time it would really be something special and left me without words.

“Mount Koya (高野山, Kōyasan) is the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), one of Japan’s most significant religious figures. A small, secluded templetown has developed around the sect’s headquarters that Kobo Daishi built on Koyasan’s wooded mountaintop. It is also the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum and the start and end point of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.

Kobo Daishi began construction on the original Garan temple complex in 826 after wandering the country for years in search of a suitable place to center his religion. Since then over one hundred temples have sprung up along the streets of Koyasan. The most important among them are Kongobuji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, and Okunoin, the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum”.

I entered the Okunion around 6pm,  totally dark the moon had not yet risen over the trees and I was completely dumbfounded by the presence of the place. The energy was off the charts, I couldn’t tell if the atmosphere was friendly or not. A few times I got the total fear. Also I felt a high level of serene peacefulness. No one was to be seen yet incense burned all around and was the finest smelling scent I’ve ever known. I was in there for 2hrs until I felt I had to leave more than a little spooked.

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Up early the next day, 23rd, I took a walk around Koyasan with a brief 2hr loop walk as a introduction to what I hoped to undertake. I was concerned my back wouldn’t last too long taking the weight of my pack, being in Japan for the next 3/6 months I have a lot of gear, mostly art materials which add an immense amount of weight. And the walk I intended to start with was a 4 day hike over some hard terrain. Also there is a severe lack of information on this part of the Kumano Kodo.  Let alone English information, the most I could find was this was the hardest trial to undertake. I really didn’t know what I was getting into….. but today was just for strolling and i explored the Temples of Koyasan which i enjoyed very much. The design, curves and lines on these buildings is the height of style for me. Combined with lush ancient forest, well what can i say.
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So my first walk was okay, I figured I could start the next day, walk an hour out of Koyasan and if I felt it was to be too much I could turn back.  So I set out at 8am on Christmas Eve in a cold drizzly rain. A mere 20meters up the trail i was faced with a trail going off into the woods, was this my path? The hostel host had clued me into some English maps off the internet I had saved on my tablet but even that was limited. I got a few meters into the woods and felt it was a bad idea so returned to the track and sure enough up round the bend found my first official sign and stamp location. Nearly messed it up on the first half hour. I decided if I didn’t see a sign I didn’t leave the path I was on. Rule number one!

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My pack felt okay I was going to give it a shot. The first day was meant to be 16.8km and I had caught wind of a bothy a little beyond that point. I intended to reach the bothy and spend Christmas day there. An hour into the trail I passed another walker heading into Koyasan, we passed and I thought it strange he was effectively arriving so early in the day. Sure enough half hour later I heard the jingle of the pilgrims bell and he had doubled back and caught up with me. He had misread his GPS and gone the wrong way. His mission was the same as mine so we decided to walk together.

Language barriers aside with talked and walked over the day, the trail becoming increasingly harder, the rain had passed at least. The day peak was around 1200 meters at Nosegawa Village and we reached the recommended day finish point of Omata-Bashi bridge around 3.30pm as the sun was beginning its decent. At this stage I was really struggling with my energy. It had been a tough day and my friend had maintained a good pace but now at the final stage I thought I was through. At the village bridge I thought he said it was another 8km to the bothy, there was no way I could manage another 8 and it looked like a steep stage. I finished the last water bottle and rose once more, I think I was beyond conversation and thought by this point, my friend edging further ahead from me on the trail,even the sound of his bell became lost to me at points. From 700meters to 1200 in what really wasn’t that far although it took about 40minutes of brutal incline winding up the forested hill side finally when I had nothing left the cabin appeared.

A sight I was truly happy to see, instantly abandoned my rucksack and felt a burst of strength to collect sticks and get a fire going, my companion was straight on the tasks he was very prepared. I considered there was no way i could of completed that day without having him there. The fire going we ate some noodles in the cabin then sat by the fire as the darkness came and the forest grew quiet.

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We sat by the fire and I got out the whiskey and we had a couple healthy drams. By 7 the moon appeared, being Christmas eve with the next day being a full moon it was so bright. Patches of moonlight fell amongst the deep forest it was some sight. I was so glad we had made it.

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I found a sleeping bag in the bothy store and fell asleep pretty broken, although the drams helped the pains. Alarms went of at 5.30am on Christmas day for breakfast as my walking friend intended to continue on. Christmas day was not for walking and I was happy to stay put! We had breakfast and off he went, the pilgrims bell disappeared into the still dark forest…

I got the stove finally working right and by 9am had a warm cabin. I spent the day collecting sticks to dry and burn through the day, took some photos of the mists rising from the valley, and had a rather lovely day. Christmas dinner was mighty…

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There was a fresh water spring by the cabbin and I took my fill of this incredibly fresh mountain water. A cold day, but the stove was cooking a treat and it has to go down as my most inspired Christmas choices ever. As darkness fell I lay in my warm retreat and treated myself to a Miles Davis album in the darkness.

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When I awoke the next day the fire still had life and took little effort to kick back into life, when I stepped out the door to greet the day behold a dusting of snow had appeared in the night. Could this get any better? I was kind of considering staying for a3rd night, I had enough supplies and wood and was in no rush to get anywhere so why leave? I started my day preparing and took in the astounding views around my spot.

At 10am a couple appeared so I invited them in for some coffee. An older couple in perhaps their 60’s heading out in the snow! Well if they could do it so could I and I figured maybe another night in this tranquillity was maybe a mistake. The weather was fine, perhaps I should just push on. After all maybe it just gets better……  The couple headed away and I quickly packed up and was on the trail maybe half hour after them.

It was even harder walking on the snow, which covered leaves and branches which covered rocks and slippery roots. I headed up the trail to the Hinoki-Toge pass at 1300 meters. What a view. The 360° view of the mountains around was amazing. But also bloody freezing. I was glad to be on the move again…. The trees were encrusted with a beautiful frost it was a frozen wonderland. How lucky i was with the weather, slightly different conditions and i could of been in a spot of bother.

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You may wonder at this stage about the photo selection on this post, I’m not actually including many shots of the views as if you wanna see it you can walk it yourself. And the photos I took will comprise the basis of my next body of work.

Perhaps I may even make some of these photos available was prints once I have time to review them. There are a couple storkers I am not putting on line, certainly not giving them to FB ! I’ve got around 600 to review but wanted to get this up while it was all still fresh in my mind, to be fair I can’t see me forgetting a moment of this anytime soon!

The decent down from this mountain was very hard, I think overall this was the hardest day of all. From the Obako-Toge pass down to Muira-Guchi was a dark endless forest. I walked alone and in thought. It was hard. My knee started to suffer the impact of the decline and at the worst point I was blessed with the gift of a birch stick which saved me on the decent. At points I was slumped on the forest floor in a deep silent forest with no end in sight and a lowering sun. It was hard to maintain focus and positivity and when I finally stepped out onto a main road and the hope of a village I was utterly broken.

The air turning cold fast I gave my last to reach some houses, I wasn’t really sure of my actual plan but perhaps I could find at least a shed to crash in or a guest house.. As luck would have it a man was working the field above me and I clocked him reaching in his pocket to pull out a phone, a minute later several people appeared. Guest house secured I was very happy, and as luck would have it the older couple from the morning were also staying there. He spoke pretty good English which was a life saver as the lady of the guest house had none.

We ate together a traditional meal and I took my first Japanese bath. God that felt good. The house was over 300yrs old and was registered as a heritage building. The man of the house saw me looking at the moon later in the evening and set the telescope for me. What a view! The moon appeared conveniently right in the dip of the two hills. This was the day after the full moon so it was still totally impressive.

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The next day we set off, an 8:39am start with the older couple I figured it would be nice to walk with them, I might of been younger but by no means we’re they less able. We left the house crossing the Kannogawa river and instantly began the day assent up to the Miura-Toge pass at 1280 meters. The day was to be a 19.2km hike to Totskuwa.

The morning was a steep uphill but I felt surprisingly fresh, probably the excellent breakfast and last night’s meal. It was not the sunniest day, a cold wind was blowing and at the summit of the pass it was damn cold. We didn’t hang around and dipped over then other side to take lunch in a more sheltered spot.

It was there I had a bit of a moment as the view bore a striking resemblance to the picture I have on the back of my business card, Tomioka IV, it was odd. Not sure the photo I took captures what I could see but…..

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This descent was quite relaxed, well not by the end of the 2hrs, a sunny warm air and the forest was really nice. We cut a good pace and reached the end of the 2pm. from there we had to take a bus away from the trail to get to the nearest accommodation, this is where I parted ways with the couple and it had been really nice walking with them, on the decent I let them walk ahead a bit so they could be together. At the end of the walk when we reached the road I clocked them doing this nice we gesture of thanks to each other it was really sweet. They had climed many mountains together across the world. A real inspiration of living and love.

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Totsukawa was a very small place, it was the first spa town I had reached so far. I tried the one in my accommodation but it was way too hot. Kind of put me off using the public town one. At dinner that night I was sat on my own at this big table, I figured they had put me away from this large group of school kids who were some kind of swim team. They were all ill and I almost left cause I certainly couldn’t afford to get sick. The meal was great but as I relaxed and felt satisfied with how it was all going my nose started to pour with blood just as I got up to leave. So there I was stuck up on this big empty table with 40 school kids between me and the bathroom, who all thought I was mental anyway for wearing a skirt (kilt). Plus I didn’t have my shoes and I certainly didn’t want to get blood on the special matt flooring. I could only hope they either left soon or the blood stopped. Neither of which was happening. What a predicament. I guess maybe it was a reaction to the spa or just my body relaxing after all the exercise and maybe travel stress. Although I really wasn’t stressed. Anyway I got sorted eventually and made a swift exit out hoping I hadn’t caused embarrassment. I spent 2 days there just to relax, the river was a mental jade green colour and there were huge eagles swirling about. I got dead excited when I saw my first one but turns out they are the equivalent of our seagulls. Heaps of eagles.

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Also it was raw egg time. Interesting. ……

Time to get walking I hit the last stage on the 29th. Another glorious day I was looking forward to reaching Hongu. This was to be a 10.4 km to Yakio then a easy 4.6 into Hongu.

The days peak was Hatenashi-toge pass at 1114 meters. This was a really nice days walk. The forest was really nice, it took a while as I decended the steps made for slow progress, but the forest was really very peaceful. Arriving in Yakio I got a finally wind to take the last 4.6km into Hongu. I also had to try and arrive as soon as possible as we were nearing new year and people had been asking me a lot about if I had booked accommodation. Which I hadn’t, neither phone or internet or general info or even a time scale plan on how long this was even going to take. So I had to make it into town as early as possible to secure somewhere. Wasn’t the easiest but I got into Hongu just before 5. I had a note of one place that was totally deserted. The rest of the town was closing up fast and things were not looking good.

Kind of killing the buzz of completing the 70km for Koyasan to Hongu-tashia !

I was getting a bit frustrated and was exhausted, I just wanted no boots and no rucksack. Walking a needless 10min down the wrong road and back and then back again I was not in the best place. I got that feeling when a place rejects you, it just feels wrong.

What needed to happen was just sit down and take a coffee somewhere. I looked across the street and behold the last open place CafeBonheur with coffee. Score. So I walk in and its really got a good vibe. I sat down and asked for a coffee straight away. It was taking ages to make but I didn’t really care anymore. As my calm returned I looked around the cafe and noticed books everywhere. First one I saw was the very familiar “Snowman” and as I looked around the other books look consistently art and particularly nice, my coffee arrived. I asked straight away as the guy was at my table if he knew of a guest house or anything nearby…. he didn’t really understand but went and got the girl.

“You want to rent the guest house”?

Me – you have a house? Great. I’ll take it! Problem solved and I took my sip of coffee which was the best I’d had in Japan so far. As the girl had pretty good English I asked her the next most important question, why all the books? It was her ‘hobby’ of sorts. She collected nice books, in particular illustrated ones. Well I was liking this place more and more, making quite glad the original place had been closed. It pops into my mind she might enjoy seeing my art book I had published before I left as a mini portfolio to show folk.

I figured I might as well go all in and have dinner, I relaxed had my coffee and the waiter took me the 2min walk up to the house. I had a shower, changed and went down for dinner, with my book. Well the food was outstanding, all organic and vegan. I’m not vegetarian but certainly not opposed  to it. It was delicious. After dinner I showed the owner my book she seemed really enthralled by it and we had a big chat about art and books.

My dinner, I devoured the starter before I thought to take a photo.

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On the 30th I walked round the temple of Hongu after a lazy start, and just had a relaxed night in my house cooking myself an enjoyable dinner. On the 31st I took a 10 min bus ride out to a river onsen. Kawayu Onsen is a unique hot spring town located along a river. To use the onsen, bathers dig a hole in the gravel riverbank into which hot spring water then flows. Cool river water is mixed with the hot onsen water to bring the water to a temperature particular to the bather’s desire. In the winter, a giant rotenburo called the Sennin Bath is dug in the same manner, and is available for free public use. What a way to spend Hoggers. Highly enjoyable experience. I walked back into town and had dinner at the house. I wasnt sure what to expect from new years here, the town so far was busy with temple visitors during the day but at 5 the place shuts down. The cafe I was renting the house from was the only thing open till 8 and I seemed to be the only one there.

I had a wee beer after dinner and took a stroll down to the cafe to see what if anything was happening. They were dead and the folk had no plans to be doing anything that night. I had a coffee and walk towards the temple, some street vendor food stalls were set up but it was all dark and deserted. I ambled home at 8 to just do a little sketching, listen to some music.

At 11.30 I went back out, the stars were phenomenal and the mighty tori gate was spot lit casting huge beams of blue light into the sky.I had no tripod so this was the best I could do…

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The place actually had some life now, people were filing their way towards the temple up the mighty steps all the lanterns were lit. I was stood in the que for the temple, I figured they opened the doors at 12, it was now around 11.55pm and I got the vibe there was no midnight celebration on the bells. So why was I in a que for a temple I didn’t need to get into. I clocked two monks lightning a mighty bonfire and decided to just grab a seat beside that. And sat by the fire as we passed into the new year. I was the only white person there, and certainly the only one in a kilt. I felt privileged to be there, I didn’t enter the main temple as I felt it wasn’t my place. It’s not my religion I’d be just a spectator so I kept by the fire.

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It was odd being surrounded by people but being totally alone. No happy new years, just the fire. I had some quiet reflections, was really happy then i got a little sad thinking about sad things.  Feeling on the down slide I needed a lift, and I had immense desire to here some music. I knew the tune, I had my phone,  I just didn’t have the headphones…..

I looked up and a kid was beside me with massive beat headphones. I clocked eyes and asked him if I could borrow them for a song. Well more a gesturing of sorts. Anyway he got it and I blasted my mind with a song by The Treacherous Orchestra “Numbers” which saved the day.

Lifted.

I had completed the Kohechi Trail of Kumano Kodo, 70km in winter completely unresearched or prepared other than steel toe cap boots, a kilt, ol’ faithful woolly jumper and a 1973 Karrimor rucksack. And here I was by a mighty fire in the grounds of a sacred temple in Japan on new years eve seeing in 2016. Mission success.

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My journey does not end here though. I took leave of Hongu on the 2nd to Osaka where I will be based for the next few months. I intend at a later date to cover the other trails although I feel I may of experienced the best, and under pretty uniquely special conditions.

I visited my first art shop today (Jan 4th) and am preparing to start some work in a special Japanese painting style using pigments. This i am very excited by. Combined with my ideas from those long hours in the forest.

As I’ve been haemorrhaging money for the last 2 weeks and I’m about to start a very experimental painting technique that’ll require a unique set of equipment I’ll take the time to remind you I have many lovely paintings and glass works at my base in Glasgow looking for homes. See the works section on this webpage for available paintings and glass or I can arrange a viewing for you, albeit remotely. But its perfectly possible. One hanger is already on its way to Japan.

All funds go into the extension & maximization of my time here. So if you have enjoyed this story and look forward to more then you know what to do! I’m dead excited about doing some work here, it’s a shame I’d like to share more of the photos I took but I have to keep something back to work with. Plus I don’t think work is appreciated or valued on a computer screen. Hiking hundreds of meters in the cold and snow and getting a great shot is not equaitable to a couple FB likes. It devalues the whole thing. The magic is lost. I’ve certainly got enough good shots to issue a couple prints so that’s one the cards.

Anyways, that was the tale of my first Japanese adventure and I certainly enjoyed that one,

Let’s see what’s next…..

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Part Two – From The Mountains To The City

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kumano hongumap
There were more trails to do that make up the greater Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, but I was keen to begin the next part of my trip that didn’t involve hiking quite so much. After spending around a week in Kumano-Hongu Taisha over the New-year period I decided to make my way to Osaka around Jan 3rd.

I felt during the hike I had captured a particularly special moment. The trail was so quiet, perhaps I was lucky, perhaps its rare for people to hike in the winter. Either way I think it would be a entirely different experience later in the year.
I had been extremely lucky with good weather, and as is often my way, general good fortune.
Deciding that completing the 70km Kohechi Trail route was enough for this occasion.
Finishing that off is for next time, I left the comfort of Cafe Bonheur and took myself down to the bus station.
As the sunrose we wound our way out of the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture to Tanabe, then a swift train through to Osaka. Out the mountains and into the city.   I felt as if I had been away for a lifetime. I could of stayed a lifetime. The Wakayama area is pretty special.
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Osaka had a very different atmosphere from Tokyo. Much more relaxed, although still a city of 2.665 million people.
I spent about 3 weeks in Osaka and it was very interesting.
The bicycle culture was very healthy, bikes everywhere. And they had this really cool locking system, a device is located on the back wheel and when parked you push a bar through wheel it ejects a key and the bike is immobilized. Nae problems. Funny the little things you notice.

I enjoy cycling around, you can cover a lot more ground and this gives you access to exploring places I think would otherwise be missed.  What struck me was the cars seemed to be overly careful to give bikes space and priority at crossings. This was unusual enough, but the bikes had free reign on going up & down whatever street in whatever direction. As long as they were at the side, this seemed to be okay. Not really safe, I didn’t see any accidents surprisingly.

There was a million boutiques selling everything you could imagine. Heaps of vintage clothes places, some good gear but fantastically overpriced. Especially old trainers and shoes.

On the flip side the record stores were so good I just stopped going into them. It was all too amazing. Everything was in mint condition, each sleeve not a dent or a crease. Japanese people must really look after things. And the prices were cheap. I had to get out, if I couldn’t walk away from one then the gates would be open and I’d want them all. But that didnt stop me indulging in the Vinyl while I was there…. I just had to keep it to the bars..

61-Osaka-Japan-GilliesI found some awesome Jazz bars, to be honest I didn’t think places like this still existed, or if they indeed ever did exist outside of a beatnik novel from the 50’s.

Tiny joints. Dusty and dark. Old racks of vinyl stacked from the floor to the low ceiling. Literally thousands of records.  An accumulation of objects built up over the years crammed into this tiny space, its the kind of interior that only happens over 50yrs plus of growth. Its random, but its not.. it all just works.
Old bar, old bartender in a equally old hat.
Smoking and changing the record at each side.

Old stickers scratched off the sides of dim lamps.

Ragged edged posters of old movie stars, concert & album posters of Jazz musicians.
When you step into bars like that, as the door shuts behind you so ends the entire concept of an outside world. The concept of an outside time.
After some drinks, after a chapter in a book, when enough sides of records have gone through their set of songs, at some point you stand yourself up and open the door leaving 1959 as it was.
Time lost in these places is special time.

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I explored a lot, walking and cycling to random areas. I particularly enjoy more residential areas, see what a place is really like and whats happening on a regular Tuesday morning, or being right in the middle of the morning or evening rush hour. Its just fun to be watching the gears of a city in full action.

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My main agenda was to visit my next Higashiyama Kaii Gallery located 220km away in the Kagawa Prefecture near a town called Sakaide. Famous for its oranges.
香川県立東山魁夷せとうち美術館 was my second Kaii Gallery. It was a long way to travel from Osaka but worth the journey.
I arrived in the small town in the afternoon after some very fast train travel, expensive but given the journey time, justified. Again I took note of the exceptional leg room on your average train in Japan, far cry from the cattle cars suffering of UK rail travel.
This gallery was very quiet looking, from a distance it just looked closed, austere even.
A warm welcome to be found though.

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I had a look round perhaps 3 times, just trying to take in each picture. I would of liked to have taken some photos of the actual space, it was a very nicely designed gallery. Not very big, although everything on display was excellent. No filler.

In the cafe I met a couple. A woman has taken her mother to an eye operation and after the mother had wanted to come somewhere peaceful. So this is where they had come.
The mother had never met anyone from Scotland, wearing the Kilt you become something of a cultural ambassador which I find pretty cool. All of the Japanese people I met asked the same question, why I had come to Japan?
I explained my interest in Higashiyama and in Art in general. They told me about another big gallery in the next town, if I had time I should probably visit. We parted ways and I went for another walk round the gallery.

When I left they had come back to say they would like to offer me a lift to the other gallery, and  they gave me some local oranges.

 

I can’t really review the Higashiyama work on display, I didn’t take photos in the gallery and I wouldn’t share them if I did. I would say that seeing these works in real life was infinitely more embracing than seeing them in a book. Im not sure I had a favorite at this gallery, it was just so amazing to see the pictures in real life, real size. Even seeing the frames, the dimensions of the actual pictures I find so interesting.

It was hard to walk away.  This is one of his paintings, I can’t remember if this was displayed at this gallery or not, I saw it at one of them.. either way just wanted to share an example of his work if you were curious.

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So I unexpectedly found myself in The MIMOCA, Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art.

The special exhibition at this time was ‘Genichiro Inokuma: All Kinds of Shapes and Forms’ and although not the kind of art I take time to look at I did enjoy the show. The gallery building itself was very cool with a number of awesome sculptures outside it. I really enjoyed peaking my head in the museum’s library room.
Desks fitted with these beautiful metal lamps, it all looked really stylish but totally considered.
They also had a creative space for children and were also holding an exhibition of work, or perhaps it was a competition, by what looked like differnt age groups or school classes.
Anyways it was nice to see the space being given over to the kids in a main gallery.
Genichiro Inokuma
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When I had my fill of art I took the train back eastwards to Osaka.  Even this was kinda fun, the first part of the journey was by local train, it stopped everywhere and took ages. But this meant I got a chance to just see regular folk, finishing work or school, heading home or heading to work. People seem pretty comfortable with just going to sleep on the trains. Those that weren’t asleep were locked into phones. Games or comics seemed to be the main preoccupation.

The second part of the journey was by express train and I was back in Osaka by night. These trains are in every way as cool as they look. Completely efficient, clean and comfortable. The passengers on all the trains and buses I took really upheld this unspoken standard behaviour of social conduct. There is a way to board the train, there is allocated seats. There is silence on the train. All organised.

Makes me wonder what a Japanese person would think about the last train out of Inverness to Elgin on a Friday night in all its mental chaos.

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While I was in Osaka I also got to experience a three-day festival dedicated to Ebisu, the god of business and prosperity at Imamiya Ebisu Shrine in Osaka. (lets see if any of that rubs off) Featuring a procession of women in colorful kimono carried on floats through the main streets.  The night I went along I spent a couple hours lost in an insane food market. Some of the stands were a little extreme in size, and the construction seemed to be mostly bamboo poles bound together by twine. Structurally safe? Nae chance. Totally overcrowded, fire hazards in every direction. It was pretty chaotic, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it.
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I was keen to find the art scene in Osaka, eventually I clued into an opening of a group show by SenseO in a pretty hip space called Pine Brooklyn, which was as totally hipster as it sounds, but made for a good exhibition venue. I was surprised how many white people there were there, it seemed as if I had opened a secret door to the white people hide out. And can’t say I wanted to stay. Loud obnoxious americans were the order of the day, but aside from that the artwork on display was really good, the whole exhibit event as an evening was excellent. Id like to take some of those elements into a show back home, my overall feeling was really need to raise our game.

Over the course of the night there was art to view, a minimalist performance between a trumpeter and a ghost dancer, a set by a band called ‘King’ with a pretty extravagant front man, video displayed, a live paint performance between 2 drummers a DJ and an artist doing a huge wall mural, very intense.

I really enjoyed the live paint, i’ve been trying to imagine myself doing something like that. Im not sure what kind of music I would have, I think either minimal folky ambience or jazz, somehow peppered with mental noise. I can paint fast, but to take it down into under an hour long performance would be interesting, as well as the unplanned play between the visual and the audio. Anyways something I would really like to try.

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Table of experimental Jazz goodies. king osaka japan

‘King’ Very cool band, awesome costumes. Kimono and guitar is a very cool mix. 107-Osaka-Japan-Gillies

Live art performance, with two drummers a DJ and 1 artist working on the back stage wall. The whole thing took about an hour, I was surprised how engaging the performance was. I thought the drums would of become monotonous pretty quick, but the build up of the set was impressive. If you’re interested in other photos they are available here.

So after a couple weeks in Osaka I made my way to the next stage which was to be Kyoto. On a final note it became clear to me that Osaka is living in the mid 90’s, no bad thing like. I heard a lot of Oasis in particular, like a LOT! The Osaka people really like the 90’s I guess, there did seem to be a wee touch of the grunge appearance in the Osaka youth. It was nice to hear the tunes again….

Sadly the one time I did find a funk night I was the only one there. Im not one to let an empty dancefloor stop me from having fun so it wasnt a problem.  The funk is hard to find in Osaka, does it exist at all?…..

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Next Up Kyoto & The Bamboo Forest



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Part Three – The Bamboo Forest & Kyoto

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kyoto

After some time in Osaka I made my way to Kyoto, only 56km away.  I was there for 3 days and this was a difficult part of the journey. I arrived with a pulled back and was having difficulty walking so my first day was a write off in recuperation. A result I guess of the last 6 weeks adjusting to an assortment futon sleeping mats, my rucksacks weight and my general rubbish back which just goes randomly now and again…

I did acquire some high grade magic Japanese medicine which really did the job. My general gesturing to the pharmacist to express back pain was successful.

Day two I was still having difficulty walking  but I took it easy and made my way out to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove a short train ride out of the city. This was the first point I really noticed an increase in tourists, and the area around the Bamboo Grove was very busy. But it was a beautiful day, blue skies and fresh air. And under the influence of this unknown medicine I was feeling rather relaxed.

Seeing bamboo this tall was amazing. I was hoping to get to walk amongst the bamboo but it was totally fenced off and you followed a path through the grove. There was also thick hedges along the path that was almost at head height, blocking the ground level view. Which was the main thing I want to see…. but still it was very cool. So many shades of green. I managed to get the camera through the hedge at points and got some of the shots I wanted.  But I’m not sharing them as they are more reference photos for me. But here’s a wee taste of the bamboo..

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

bamboo groveI was pleased to find an artist set up along the grove selling prints of his paintings. I kind of expected this to be a no go in Japan generally, especially in a high visitor area. I hadn’t even seen any kind of buskers so far, but here was artist Kinji Nakamura, sat out in the grove with a wee stand of prints. I later found a interview with him on the internet and he’s as sound as you would expect someone that paints forests to be.

Must say 1000 points for location and lifestyle choices. And I really liked his art too, so I bought a couple of his postcards. I’ve done the selling art outside gig, it’s tough. So happy to support a fellow artist living that way. And he certainly looked a happy chap. nakamura-kyoto-artistMy walk continued through the grove and up through Kameyama-kōen park. Mind its still late January and it’s very much winter scenery. There were a few buds on the trees and a little hint of spring, the remnants of the winter Plum blossom is the most colour I could find.  I made way up to a view point and then strolled down to the river. After reviewing the photos it seems my wardrobe colour scheme is essentially ‘January’. All the browns.

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Katsura River Kyoto

I walked along the riverside then spotted on the map that the Kyoto Art School was out here, so I walked over to that building but sadly there was no exhibitions on and I couldn’t get past the door man to speak to anyone in the art school for a look around..  I took myself back into town and found the Kimono forest.嵐山温泉駅の足湯  An inventive display of Kimono designs set in illuminated tubes placed around the Arashiyama train station! On paper an idea which I think sounds rubbish, but in reality it really worked. Bit of a design overload!
kimono forest 嵐山温泉駅の足湯

There was so much attention to detail in pretty much everything. This was in a kind of forecourt of the train station and with shops on the sides there was a few seating areas. Even a basic seat is pushed that little bit further in design, placement, lighting.
kimono-forest-Kyoto-Bamboo-Japan-GilliesFrom here I continued up the main street, went into a couple Temple grounds but by this stage I think I was getting ‘Temple tired’.

It’s hard after seeing hundreds of the most impressive and beautiful buildings ever to maintain an excitement for it. You turn around and here’s another temple even bigger than the last one! My focus was turned more on the little design features of the buildings and the gardens and plants.

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My target destination for the later part of the day was”Osawa Pond” on the far side of town next to the Daikaku-ji Temple. It was nice to be away from the people, have a little quiet time beside the pond. I was taking some photos of the ducks when I became aware of how many coy carp were in the water. So began the next hour of fish photos…

I did 2 paintings about 3yrs ago of carp swimming in blossom laden water and it’s a theme I could definitely explore further so I took a zillion photos for reference. That UV filter for the camera did come in useful!!

carp coy fish kyoto

After a long time with the fish I was pretty tired and made my way back into Kyoto. For just one day and with a hobbley walk I covered a lot of sites.

The next day I woke up late, I think as a result of the mental back medicine and nearly missed breakfast. It was absolutely chucking it down, one of the first days Id seen actual rain! So I decided to just keep my day simple and go to the art gallery. First stop Kyoto-shi Kangyo Museum Miyako Messe. Which was open but was deserted and had nothing on. So back out in the rain and round the corner to the National Museum of Modern Art. This was at least open!

Imai-Morihiko-fishingMy favorite painting in the museum was ‘Fishing’ by Imai Morihiko painted in 1989.

I can’t find any decent images on the internet of this work bar this tiny one. Shame, but it was a beautiful huge painting. I can’t even find much info about the artist!

There wasn’t a special exhibition on at this time, just the main collection on show. I had a good look round, the building was impressive and the art excelent. Although not the biggest collection I thought & I found the air in the building really stifling and eventually I had to leave.. It was nice to get some fresh air. The rain was still torrential, I darted across the road to the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art.

 

Here I found a total surprise exhibit from the SEIAN UNIVERSITY OF ART AND DESIGN, I presume it was a degree show of sorts. First off it was pretty cool they had secured a main gallery building to have the show in, perhaps its standard, perhaps just because it’s January and nothing else is on! Either way I was happy to look around and see what the painting standard was over here.  Well I left mighty impressed.

Im not that keen on taking photos of artists work so I didn’t take direct shots and tried to take a note of all the names.  Most of the paintings on display were massive. Like MASSIVE massive! Heres a link to the collection of photos I took. (And I managed to find a list of the show prize winners here.)

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Stumbled upon the degree show of the Kyoto Art School. It was firstly held in the main art gallery building, impressive…

Posted by Peter Gillies on Friday, January 29, 2016

Well after that day I was shattered. No more art could be appreciated! Perhaps I missed out a lot to see in Kyoto. I didn’t really explore the city center apart from visiting the art galleries. But I enjoyed what I did see and being aware I was hitting a bit of a ‘travel wall’ at this point I was trying to find a balance in resting, excursions and what I was doing at all!

The next day I had breakfast and decided to move on from Kyoto. After 6 weeks moving around I was feeling the financial burn. I made some investigations and managed to sort out 2 options. Working in exchange for room & board at a youth hostel on the coast, or heading up to the alps to work in a bar. This way I could spin out my time without spending so much money every day.

But what to choose? I’ll not lie, the idea of being by the coast freaked me out too much. It was hard enough putting the potential radiation risks away after The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster 5 years ago but being near the coast & the threat of potential tsunami’s, well it seemed safer to be in the mountains.

So I packed up and took myself to the train station to head north into the Japanese Alps…..

I’ll leave you with a sleepy cat and join me next time for part 4 adventures in the snow….

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Part Four – From Kyoto To The Japanese Alps

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hakuba japan

So I’m on the train heading up to the Japanese Alps. It feels like a good decision. My backs fixed up remarkably quickly, kinda put a dampener on my time in Kyoto but happily I’m back in the game, just. It’s a long journey, rolling through this Japanese landscape we slowly begin to climb into the hills.

As the houses get sparse and the hills close in around the train tracks I feel we are getting closer to the snow. The train goes into tunnels and when we emerge the landscape has changed again. Stopping at one station there is a wee hint of snow on the platform. I’m already way hyped..

A little tradition I have back home is listening to Neil Young when I’m going up the A9, about an hour out of Perth when you start getting into the mountains is my favorite bit. I guess it all started when I first lived in Glasgow when I was 17 and had my first CD player and had just got the Decade dbl cd and all I listened to was Neil Young, period. That CD would go on when the bus left and I did that so many times the sequence of the songs became bonded to the same points in the journey each time. In later years I only really make that journey at Christmas time, so it’s extra fitting when there is snow on the ground.  Anyways Ive got this bit I always play ‘Down By The River’.

Sat on this train rolling through the hills that song got a new setting.

Then one big tunnel, bang, we come out into a frozen paradise. I abandoned my seat to go between carriages to take photos. I really enjoy taking photographs from moving vehicles, it’s kinda more miss than hit but every few photos you catch a good scene. Everything is covered in ice and snow. Its like we just stepped into a deep freeze.

A change of trains and we are on the last stage, single track line to a town called Hakuba. Ive no idea where Im going, no idea about who I’m going to work for, what the bars like, what towns like. This is a rogue dice roll. But I’m looking out the back window of this train trundling through the snow and it’s a good choice.

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I like everything about this so far. So its kinda late in the day when we get into Hakuba. I step off the train and its fresh, its cold, its snowy. I give the bar a phone and my lifts on its way…

So over the next few weeks my life became increasingly like the pages of a Jack Kerouac novel.

Late weekend shifts in the bar, playing pool, walking down to the store on my day of for bread, eggs & a half bottle of wine. Sitting out on the balcony playing bits of songs on the guitar until my hand was too cold to make the chords. Going out in the afternoon to take photographs of the snow falling. Morning walks, afternoon walks.

The work was easy enough, most nights we were essentially dead. At the weekends a band would play and the place was heavin’. Nearly every drink in the bar was 500yen. Thats easy enough. Working out what the Japanese person just asked for, not so easy. I worked in a bar nearly 10yrs ago in Scotland and swore I’d never do it again, turns out I totally enjoyed working this bar and I’m pretty good at it to.  I think it’s a bit of stereotype Japanese people can’t hold their drink. News Flash, they can. I mean we ain’t talking Scottish Irish levels here, but by no means light weights!

Nearly every conversation featured this play of dialogue –

Customer – So you snowboard?

Me – Na

Customer -Ski?

Me – Na

Customer – (pause) sooo why you here?

I guess it is kinda strange to be spending time at a ski resort when you have zero interest in skiing. Not strange in my mind, I’m in my actual paradise visually. So Id explain about the art, what Im doing. I was pretty happy to just be in this one place for an extended time period, I don’t think I have ever seen snow like that in my life. There was a few times it snowed real heavy, but one time, I think it was week two there was an almighty dump of snow. That day was phenomenal.

It had been snowing all night and I got up had a massive breakfast and put on the waterproofs, grabbed an umbrella and ventured out into the forest area near the bar. This was such an exciting day i’m not sure I can describe it all. The sound was dead. The air kinda thick and dense. Air completely freezing, but a dry cold not wet. The snow, knee deep and fluffy like a powder you just waded about in.  When I got into the forest the trees were laden with snow.

Every now & again the snow would slide off the branches and i’d spin around to try take a photo of the impact dust cloud amongst the trees. Problem being this all happens in a matter of 3 seconds tops. You hear the slide sound of the branches which gives you an indication of the direction it’s happening, the silent drop then the impact which is just a bit of a dry thud but the snow impact creates a cloud of powder then a snow wind whooshes out. So I spent a good few hours trying to take photos of this happening, good job I brought the umbrella as it often happened above where I was, and I used the umbrella as a shield against the impact wind. All made operating the camera a bit of a challenge, plus frozen fingers.

When I got back inside at the end of the day I was reviewing my photos and it seemed kind of odd how similar this photo was to a drawing I had made 3yrs ago.  Not the first time this had happened, when I was on the Kumano Kodo hike I often found myself looking at one of my own paintings. I was really odd.

Top Photograph in the woods / Bottom Drawing 3yrs ago

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I’d really love to share more of these shots but it’s part of the journey that will feature in the exhibition I’m planning. Whether it’s using these photos as reference for paintings or using the actual photos I have not decided yet. But here is a wee taster of the 16gb I took..

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snow forest japan

This was probably the most fun day during the whole month. It was also the only time it really dumped with snow during the day and I could get out into it. Apparently this year was pretty bad for the snow and the season was not as long as usual. I wasn’t complaining! Better than anything I’d ever seen.

I did take a ride up the gondola to the top of the mountain which was pretty cool. I took a wee wander up a trail into what would be ‘backcountry’ heading up to peaks unseen, but the snow started coming in hard and I figured it probably wasn’t a good idea to be wandering up here.  It was hard to take in the scale of the mountains, it was just so impossibly huge. And if you got lost or stuck you’d be impossibly screwed! The view across to the other side of the valley was brilliant.

hakuba japan

hakuba japanese alps

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hakuba japan

So I could go on about the snow all day but in an effort to keep this in some way readable i’ll cut to the next bit, the final Kaii Higashiyama Gallery Quest……

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