Friday, October 31, 2008

Blobpus Exhibition @ The Ghetto in Tokyo

Tonight was the opening party for the new Blobpus exhibition. It's being held at The Ghetto - a funky kind of bohemian collection of shops near Shin Okubo station. There's even a skate ramp in the building!!!

Kaji-san and Michiko-san were there to welcome folks and talk about kaiju.

The exhibition includes a mix of Blobpus toys, including some great collabs, and some very cool new dioramas and customs. Plus of course there are exclusive toys for sale!

Pics of the exhibition:

These were done by Michiko-san:

Exclusive toys for sale:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kanazawa: Part 2

Mention Kanazawa to someone, and the first thing you're likely to hear is "Kenroku En". There should probably be an Olympic event to time the thing.

Andy: Hey, Kaoru, I just got back from Kanazawa. It was really-
Kaoru: Kenroku En!

Judges: 7.8, 8.5, 8.6, 8.2....

Seriously, though, it's one of Japan's most famous gardens, and rightly so. The first impression of the place is it's HUGE! I'm used to more intimate gardens like the one in Kobe and Kokobunji (RIP: Magic Box). The garden in Kanazawa dwarfs anything I've seen in Japan. So you get a real sense of its noble past and can sometimes imagine groups of lords and ladies walking down the sand covered paths.

Located on one of the city's higher points, the garden offers some great views.

Unfortunately, it can also attract huge crowds, who come in by the busload. As I found, though, they mostly congregate near the large pond near the main entrance. So by heading just a few minutes in a different direction, you can find plenty of quiet (and sometimes even empty) spots.

There are several places to enjoy a spot of tea or a meal.

Right next to the park is Kanazawa Castle. You can get there by crossing a bridge joining the castle grounds to Kenroku En.
Kanazawa Castle isn't as imposing as, say, the castles in Osaka or Nagoya. However, it's certainly picturesque.
The castle gets a lot fewer visitors than Kenroku garden, so you can wander the grounds in relative peace and quiet.
A view from the castle garden:
One of the impressive things about the castle is the size of the adjoining fields and courtyards. Mostly empty now (except for groups of tourists and schoolchildren, like in the following pic), you can imagine armies of thousands of warriors standing in formation in front of the castle. I bet it would make a pretty cool place to film a movie about Japan's feudal past!
I met this fellow in front of a coffee shop a few streets down from the castle. Samurai Kitty!

Famous spot: Omicho Market. I picked up a nice potato salad and rice dish from a vendor for a cool 350 yen. Made a nice lunch.
Couldn't help myself when I saw these veggies at a supermarket. Yummy!
A shot of the modern side of Kanazawa:
This historical area, Nagamachi District, deserves several hours of exploration. Unfortunately I was running out of daylight and could only spend an hour or so here.

I visited a former residence called the Nomura Samurai House. I found it a bit more plain and less interesting than the geisha house in Higashi Chaya. Not sure if that's because samurai lived in nearly empty houses or if it's because this particular one is short on artifacts.
There was a nice shrine:
And a small display of swords, coins, and other small items.
Well-fed fish in the garden:

Next I went to a candy shop recommended by my Japanese teacher.

She had suggested I buy the stuff in the jars, but I went with the homemade taffy, since it's easier to share with people. At the rate I'm eating it, though, how long will it last???
Taffy comes in a few flavors. I bought the multi-pack. :O)

Finally I visited the 21st Century Museum. Very interesting round glass building. The rooms inside aren't laid out in a traditional grid pattern, so you have to look at the map a lot to make sure you don't miss anything. There are some nice exhibits of modern art, from paintings to more exotic installations. The museum is worth a visit, but it irked me that in order to see everything inside, you have to buy 3 separate tickets totalling more than 2,000 yen. But for 1,000, you can see most everything, so that's what I went with.

This is the king of all exhibits, a story house designed by Nara Nishimoto. You can actually go inside and see all sorts of drawings and other themed works.
Giant foosball table!!

The other exhibit I enjoyed was a selection of prints of the works of Makoto Saito. Very interesting stuff! Here's a link to the (very brief) Wikipedia article about him:
Well, that's a wrap up for the Kanazawa part of the trip.
Yesterday I took a seven-hour bus from Kanazawa to Tokyo. Not too bad, since the bus was mostly empty.
Coming up next is Pachisummit and then Design Festa, with maybe a surprise event or two in between!

Kanazawa: Part 1

Kanazawa, in Ishikawa prefecture, is a hidden gem in central Japan. It's one of the places that gives you a great feeling for both the traditional and modern faces of the country. Personally, I think it's a more interesting place to visit than some of the high profile cities like Kyoto, which are well marketed, but a tad too developed and commercial for my taste.

Kanazawa has a famous garden, castle, historic districts, picturesque riverside walks, temples...Interestingly, most tourists seem to be Japanese - which goes to show the locals sure do know where the good stuff is!

Here's a short video I shot on the train from Osaka. The trip goes past some gorgeous countryside.

Kanazawa station itself is something to behold!

On my first day in the town, I went to Higashi Chaya, one of the historic districts known for geishas and the samurai and other nobles they entertained.
A tour guide. I don't believe she's a geisha, but I didn't want to ask!
I visited Ochaya Shima, a famous teahouse where geisha played instruments, danced, and poured tea for their guests.

I met this friendly couple from Tokyo, and we took in the district's sites together.

Something else which Kanazawa is famous for is gold leaf. The town provides most of the flat shiny stuff used in Japan. As I learned, gold leaf is used on everything from pens to chopstick handles to fine art. And, it's not that expensive. I took a tour of a small production house/shop called Sakuda. Using photos and real world examples, they explained how gold leaf is produced. Then, to my great shock, they gave me a piece to eat! Down it went and a few yen richer my gut became!
This artisan was preparing some dolls for an upcoming holiday:

At the shop, I ingested more gold - this time, in a cup of tea!

The shop sells all sorts of interesting, shiny things accented with gold leaf.

Why, it's Ron and Nancy!
In the store's restroom, men are instructed, via graphic aid, where to place their feet while doing their business. Maybe the John-Mat would be better suited for the Geisha district? ;-)

I decided to walk back to the hotel. A beautiful river runs through Kanazawa. After crossing it, I couldn't resist the urge to wander along one of the paths, though it was pretty dark.

I got a palpable sense of what it must have been like to walk along the river 200 years ago. It's quiet, serene, and lined with understated tea houses. That's another thing I appreciated about Kanazawa. From restaurants to shops to ancient historic sites, there's a subtlety and humility present.
So there's a genuine feeling of discovery when you go through a door or slide back a curtain, never knowing what interesting sites you'll uncover. But above all, and especially along the river, I enjoyed Kanazawa's calm and strong organic design sense. (I'll write about that more in another post...)
Tea house along the river:

Here's the Oni (demon) restaurant. I was curious, so I peeked inside, but it was empty, so I decided not to push my luck!

Well, that's all for now. Click here for Part 2 of my trip to Kanazawa.
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