Black & white
electronic : psychedelic : post-punk : witch house : shoegaze
The past few days, I visited Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, that is now only ‘lending’ the capital right to Tokyo, until the turmoil sets and old ways are restored. Being the symbol of geishas, maccha tea and drinking by the river, Kyoto is an amazing city retaining the past atmosphere; which means 1.5 day is definitely NOT enough to capture its magic. Unfortunately, I had only that limited amount of time at my disposal -plus a nasty 21:00 curfew. As I am not a travel guide, I will just mention some points and places that caught my interest.
First things first, I went to Kyoto with the Hikari bullet train. Contrary to my expectation, the ride was smooth, I didn’t notice any sound and I barely even realized when the train stopped at a station.
There is an insane amount of temples(tera 寺) and shrines(jinja 神社) in Japan. You can identify which is what by looking for a simple clue: A Buddha statue for Buddhist temples and a torii gate ⛩️ for shinto shrines. Sometimes it is not so obvious, due to religious syncretism. In Kiyomizudera, you pass next to the huge Buddha statue, only to suddenly find yourself caressing some rocks decorated with ropes that will bond you forever with your soulmate. If you pay some extra bucks(~500yen) and write your wish on a wooden block (special shrines come with special designs), you can improve your chances for your wish to be fulfilled. If you are concerned about your luck, there are various ways to better it; you can squeeze your body through a tiny hole on a pillar (I did it, thus I’m lucky for the time being) or walk the holy route under a thousand torii gates (I did it only halfway, but I am already fortunate, so I guess it’s enough).
Nara, the empire capital before Kyoto (around 8th century) is abundant not only in ancient temples, but also in deers roaming around freely. The most famous sightseeing location is the Todaiji-temple. It has been burnt down 2 times and erected 3. In order to avoid the fuss of rebuilding, metal decorative charms shaped as fish tales are mounted on the roof.
If you are tired, a vending machine will always be there for you. Of course, part of a vending machine’s duty is to blend into the background.
The bamboo forest in Arashiyama has recently been on the spotlight, thanks to films with samurais fighting fiercely among the bamboo. Sometimes, visitors mark their presence by scratching their names on the bark of a bamboo tree.
But because winter is not over yet, and we love nature, here’s a traditional technique to protect the young trees in your garden from the ice.
Enjoy the rest of the photos!
[Featured Image: Puppets from Indonesia]
Every year, for 13 consecutive years already, MIFA (Meguro International Friend Association) organizes a cultural-exchange festival with traditional clothes, dances, food, handmade items and so on. I had the chance to be there as a volunteer teaching my country’s alphabet, and got to participate at the scheduled events at the same time. In the end, I was shouting ‘I am Greek, I am Greek’ while wearing a Japanese kimono and having my hair done in Togo-style dreadlocks. The Japanese said that the combination looked all natural on me, so I guess that’s good enough.
Afterwards, I headed to Jiyuugaoka in order to buy a birthday present for a friend. If you like weird, cute, absolutely useless but irresistible thingies, Jiyuugaoka is the PLACE-TO-BE. The shops there are insane -the ones that don’t mimic France at least, I can say that I like those much- and sell everything that you never thought you’d want to, but absolutely have to buy. An because we are close to Valentine’s day, a lot of special offers made you want to hunt them all down. (Tokyo Bake Cheese Tart is a dream come true.)
At some point it was time for me to return back home, but two interesting design-related cultural paradoxes caught my attention. Isn’t Japan adorable?
Today (February 3rd) was not a usual Saturday. Today was the Setsubun (節分), which marks the start of spring. As it is celebrated at about the same time as Lunar New Year – there is some historical connection there- it involves purifying rituals. Because, you know, at the start of a new year you usually make resolutions that you will not keep and clean your house, so why not sweep some devil ogres along with the dust while you are at it? The Japanese oni (鬼) are a pain-in-the-ass kind of demons and for this reason require special handling. You can only drive them away by throwing soy-beans at them (豆まき mamemaki). But not any kind of beans, the ones that are purified at a temple by a miko (young girl priestesses) or maybe conbini stuff (they seem to also possess super powers, judging by their insane working hours). Nowadays, with globalization and everything, wild onis are hard to find, so in order to keep the ritual going someone wears a demon mask and the rest of the family chase them out of the house by throwing the above holy beans while yelling “Demons out! Luck in!” (鬼は外! 福は内! Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!). Furthermore, because Japan is the country of motaenai, nothing goes to waste. Which means that you have to eat the leftover beans, one for every year of your life and that will supposedly bring you luck.
The big jinjas in tokyo usually organize events for Setsubun, so my plan was to go to Zojou-ji and sneak a peak. However, I arrived there too late and there was nothing to be seen, even the temple ground was swept clean.
The traditional food of the day is ehoumaki (恵方巻), a super-long sushi roll that is supposed to be eaten will one is facing a certain lucky direction. I wanted to buy a special one from the temple and eat there facing south, south-east, but my luck had abandoned me today. I got a beni-haruka sweet potato and chilled at a nearby park.
Lawson had an interesting campaign today, with the 4 employees selling ehoumaki outside the store dressed up as blue- & red-masked onis and the accompanying miko. Contrarily to popular belief, demons and priestesses seemed to get along pretty well. On my way home, I came across Seijoishii super market (ultimate favorite because it sells greek chocolate ION) and guess what? I bought ehoumaki! The cheap one with 7 ingredients, because 1300yen for supermarket sushi is far too much. I also got some soy beans and a tiny ogre mask, but now two problems have arisen: 1. who will accept to be transformed into a demon, so that I can through beans at them?, and if they do 2. the mask is tiny, does not fit but to a mouse-head, how the hell will they put it on?
P.S. A nice advertisement for car tires inspired from the day.
This is my hometown, a thriving seaside resort destination. How beautiful the vegetable gardens used to be! The landscape was much sparser and only a limited number of houses stood there. At least, the two main roads and the red-tiled rooftops remain the same.
[source: FB @george.papamitros – θυρεατις γη (βορεια κυνουρια – αρκαδιας)]
[Featured Image: Valentine VR Paradise – a virtual reality store to do all your chocolate shopping, experience it here]
I’ve been living in Japan for quite a while now. I am lucky enough to have experienced Golden week, Tanabata, Obon, Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s. The only thing I am missing yet is the Chinese New Year. Nevertheless, I can strongly argue that freakin’ Valentine’s Day is the biggest commercial celebration in Japan. In the land where if you don’t buy the local-original-unique omiyage (お土産=souvenirs) you are a disgrace, and if you don’t buy a different gentei (限定=limited edition) product every day you are insane, the pink heart celebration is the ultimate gimme-all-your-money shop keeping tactic. Valentine season started a good one month before judgement day, since the 15th of January. We start with the basics, valentine’s cupcakes or coffee and proceed to clothes, towels, electronics, anything you can imagine. That’s the reason why my kiwi’s came as a lovey-dovey couple in a heart-shaped box.
Today was a cold, cold day. The coldest day in Tokyo in a period of 48 years, the news read. If you have to work in the morning, you feel the cold piercing through your skin even colder. And then you realize that the trains are late as hell, because a train wagon stopped in Ebaramachi – resulting in two connecting train lines falling into chaos. So, the “daiya” is interrupted – as the announcer repeats – and I will be late for work. As I get off the train, heading to Shinagawa, the bustling business center, I notice a couple of train employees handing out some small pieces of paper while shouting an announcement to the passengers. I remembered that Japanese companies are strict when employees are late, and for this reason train companies issue apologies and ‘excuse sheets’ when a train is delayed, even for a single minute. I curiously got one of the magic sheets – as I said, I was about to be delayed myself, thinking about handing it to my supervisor.
This is a train delay certificate (遅延証明書 chienshoumeisho) from Tokyou lines. The left hole indicates the delay period (40-60min) and the bottom hole the day of the month (26th). It is more simple than I expected, but what else can you expect from a proof of delay? My first though was how easily you can copy it, print it, and punch holes according to what you need. But someone is probably using the same line as you and words of the delay will spread if it is true, so you don’t want to risk it (they always discuss news about train problems at work). I proudly gave it to my supervisor, but he surprised me by saying that our company is not so strict and that it is the first time he sees something like that up close. Anyway, I’ll keep it as a memento of how even the little things bear enormous consequences in the land of the rising sun.