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Gap Year Abroad

7 posts from June 2014


Sketchbook 19+20: Kimono

My host mother gave me some souvenirs handmade from different obi, so I drew the patterns. Also, at the Kyoto Kimono Fashion show, I drew my favorite kimono from the show and demonstrated the tied obi from behind.



Sketchbook 18: Kyoto Trip

These are sketches from photos I took at Kyoto and Nara. I drew Kinkakuji and Toudaiji.


Sketchbook 17: Shrine

My host family took me to the shrine that their family has gone to  for generations. It was in the countryside and about a three hour drive from Matsudo, Chiba.


While we were there, the family prayed and had talismans blessed for the new year. It was a very interesting experience!

Sketchbook 16: Manga

These drawings were for my gap year presentation on manga, or Japanese comic books. Here, comics aren't just for kids. In the train, salary men read them and middle schoolers trade magazines of them. There are many different genres, and at most bookstores, an entire level is usually dedicated to just manga. You can also usually rent manga from video rental shops. 


I made a mock cover and character list using CIEE students as characters, using watercolor and ink. Normally the coloring process is either digital or colored with copic markers, but I don't have my design computer with me, nor do I have the money for copic markers.



I also made a timeline, mimicking the styles of famous mangakas from different time periods to show the progression in drawings over time.


Finally, I had a diagram detailing the supplies it takes to draw manga, as well as the process. First a rough draft in pencil, then clean pencil lines, then an inked draft, and then applied screentones for shading. Since I don't have access to screentones again due to the prices (and I usually just add them digitally anyway), I used pencil to mimick the effect.






CIEE took a day trip to Nara on May 26th. This is a picture of Toudai-ji, the temple I've most wanted to see here in Japan. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and contains a statue of a large, golden buddha. There is also a hole in one of the large pillars, and I watched, amused, as schoolchildren squeezed through, posing for a photo. It's a tradition at the shrine, and it is believed that after coming out of the hole in the pillar, the child will be blesssed with wisdom from Buddha.

Sika deer, like at Itsukushima Jinja, rome the complex, sometimes looking a little lost.


The deer are sacred and tame enough to be petted, but also will become agressive if they think you are holding food. It was said that the gods rode into Kasuga Shrine on the back of a deer, and little ornaments and souvenirs are carved from their antlers.


At Kasuga Shrine, there was a traditional wedding. The bride's hood is called a wataboshi, and serve to hide the bride's horns of jealousy, selfishness and ego that the Japanese believed would emerge during the ceremony, and symbolizes the new wife's obedience to her new husband.

After lunch, petting deers and browsing for souvenirs, unfortunately it was time to ride the shinkansen back to Tokyo. They say that Kyoto is the cultural heart of Japan, but Nara is indeed the spiritual heart of Japan.



Standing outside of Kyoto station in the sunlight, the glint from the glare of glass is distracting. For a major station in Kyoto, the design of the building contrasts with what is Kyoto, and seems something that would better belong in Tokyo. But this is the struggle that modern Kyoto faces- to preserve the old way or bring in the new?

Kyoto, after all, is the traditional capital of Japan. Geishas, handicrafts, and temples are what first comes to mind, not large skyscrapers and monsters of glass and steel. We traveled to Kyoto on May 24th by Shinkansen. Because the bus system is incredibly reliable in Kyoto, we were free to do as we wanted.

I visited Kyoto back in 2009 when I was in Japan for the first time. I stayed in the Hotel Okura, grabbed a map and my little sister, and trekked across the city. Navigation was pretty easy since the layout of Kyoto is relatively simple, unlike Tokyo. I also met a Maiko, or a geisha apprentice.


So this time, even though I revisited some of my favorite temples, I tried to see some new things. I revisited Kiyomizudera (which was under construction) and Kinkakuji. But I also went to Fushimi Inari, the fox shrine with rows and rows and rows of torii gates. I also saw a kimono fashion show, which had free entrance. 


Later, after dinner, we made our own sensu, or Japanese folding fans. My design was inspired by the designs of Kyo-yaki or Kyoto-styled pottery.

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Afterwards I went walking out with some friends. Kyoto at night lights up from the shopping streets and rows of small lights, making it seem almost magical. I walked by several handicraft stores. Although Kyoto has changed from the past, it still retains its roots and culture through the people.


My first Kabuki

So, the 梅雨 (rainy season) has officially hit Tokyo. It’s been raining nonstop since Thursday morning, and according to the weather forecasts, it’s not supposed to stop until a few weeks from now. Well, at least it gives me plenty of opportunities to wear my rainboots. :) 

Today, the main point of this entry is the kabuki performance I attended this past weekend. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. My host family had told me it was “interesting for the first few minutes, and then you very quickly stop understanding the story. It gets too hard to follow.” I had my predisposed notions of wildly painted faces, elaborate costumes, and slow, ancient Japanese filling my head as I took the subway from my home station to Hanzomon, near the Japanese National Theatre. 

And I’m glad to say that my experience with kabuki was anything but boring. 

 The first hour (the performance was three hours long) the 20-something year old actor who played a minor character came onto the stage and just talked. He explained kabuki for beginners, in essence, since that was the theme of this performance. Various actors reenacted famous scenes from other kabuki plays, showed off different styles of intricate makeup (which, believe it or not, the actors apply themselves), and in the midst of it all, the actor leading the demonstrations gave behind-the-scenes information on what goes on before, during, and after a kabuki play. He even lifted a screen in part of the set to reveal four musicians- a singer, a flute player, and two koto players- setting music to the background as he spoke. Then he would search for the moving elevator platform that would take him below the stage, where he could change costumes to show the audience. 

 When the play finally started, everyone was enraptured. The story was about a young husband and wife, who are incredibly happy and who live together with their newborn baby. But, one night, when the man is off of guard duty at Edo Castle and is drinking and enjoying himself with the other guards, one incredibly drunk guard goes slightly crazy and tries to harm the men. In self defense, the main character slashes at the drunk man with his sword and accidentally kills him. He is sent away for 37 years, only after which are he and his wife finally reunited. 

 The story itself wasn’t the main focus of the play, in my opinion. It was the actions the actors took, and how every movement was contemplated fully. There were no non-deliberate actions or faces made. I was fascinated by the movements- they had grace and stature, yet managed to simultaneously make the movements look natural. A gently outstretched hand, a slow gait, perfectly straight posture- I can only imagine how much practice it took to perfect each movement. The male actors playing the female parts had to put a lot of work into keeping their shoulders back and walk with shorter steps. 

 The sets were breathtaking. Every time I took my eyes off the actors to stare at the set again, I noticed something new. A small painted shrine set in the mist of the mountains far in the distance. The tiny cherry blossom petals, sent down from the ceiling, that fell gently around the sakura tree. The way the set itself melted directly into the painted background, like there was nothing distinguishing the two.  There were only two sets- one for the first and third acts, a traditional Japanese house, and one for the second act, a teahouse deck over a reed-choked river. The attention to detail was astounding.  

 The play was written within the last 100 years, so the language was closer to modern Japanese than I was expecting, and I could even understand some of it without the English translation in my ear. The costumes and makeup were also not as elaborate as they are in many other kabuki -simply, barely painted faces, wigs in traditional hairstyles, and basic kimono. And yet, it was still easy to pick up the feeling of a kabuki performance. This is real kabuki- the costumes and makeup add to the dramatics, but the actors themselves carry the show. Their gestures, combined with the lilts of their voices and the way they get completely into character, add more to the story than lines ever could.  

All in all, a great way to spend a rainy Saturday. Now here’s hoping the rain lets up before I leave to go home. :)


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