Monday, June 18, 2018

Art on the Town

Honestly, sometimes I would kind of kill for a weekend with nothing to do.  I didn't appreciate how nice that could be when I lived in Mongolia, and now there's way too much to see and do (particularly when the school steals a Saturday from us each month.  It isn't that I need my downtime that much.  It's more that my feet wouldn't mind a few days where I stayed the hell off them, and now that I've started arting again I could probably put it to pretty good use.
I bring this up because a few weeks back was Roppongi Art Night...and by night, they apparently meant weekend.  There were, of course, things that stayed open late, but I missed some really cool activities on Saturday afternoon, aka Nihonga time.  The Tokyo International Art Fair (as opposed to Art Fair Tokyo, which I visited in February) was also going on in Roppongi, but I couldn't convince myself to go before my lesson (read: I was enjoying my Denny's time too much that morning) and I had just enough time afterwards to make it there and find Maman before it was time for my Meetup group.
See, I decided I would make an effort to be social.  Although I've become better friends with my favorite colleagues, I've been watching Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii since I got back from Golden Week, and it has convinced me that I need an otaku friend in my life.  So when I saw that the Art in Tokyo meetup was going to Roppongi Art Night as a big group, I joined the waiting list, and eventually got a spot.
Did I find the fujoshi friend of my dreams?  No.  (Probably I should go to some sort of anime meetup if that's what I'm really looking for).  I talked to a bunch of people though, most of whom seemed like decent human beings, and exercised some rarely-used social skills, so I guess that's a win?  I'm open to going to another one, but I think the real joy of Roppongi Art Night is found alone.
Here's the deal: Roppongi Art Night is, by and large, installations scattered throughout a neighborhood of Tokyo.  Getting to see them involves walking around a LOT, and being part of such a huge group means standing around for possibly a lot longer than you would have on your own (I mean, how long do I need to stand in a field staring at a big, inflated plastic person?  Not a half hour, that's for damn sure).  More to the point, sometimes it's just nice to wander down a street, not looking for art, and coming across your favorite piece of the night, which is how I came across a shrine being guarded by two rows of foo dogs, covered with string and glowing in blacklight.  There was something magical about stumbling across something you weren't expecting to be there.
Particularly when it's not surrounded by people.  After grabbing a bite to eat, I made my way to the National Art Center, where DUNDU was going to perform with their giant, light-up puppets. They were fantastic, but I couldn't help thinking to myself that I would enjoy them a lot more if there weren't so many people around.  Of course, not being able to get close is a drag, but it was made worse by the fact that everyone and their brother were using their phones to take videos and pictures.  Admittedly, I did this too, but I tried to keep my phone down, and made an effort to experience it with my eyes, and not through the screen of my phone.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cat Herding in Mouse Land

I don't have a problem with Disney.  I want to lead with that.  Disney's great.  But I've never been to any of the Disney theme parks.  I'd never been near one til I visited the Evil One's ancestral home in sunny California, and I think she was a little disappointed that I didn't want to go, even if she understood my obsessive need to hit all the big art museums.  When I was in Hong Kong a few years back, I saw the stop further down the train line I was riding in from the airport, but didn't feel even the slightest temptation to go (most likely because I was more than a month away from my next paycheck).  I love a good rollercoaster, but Disney just seems overhyped, overpriced, and not the way this nerd rolls.
However, when I found out my current school has an annual school trip to Disney, I found myself thinking it would be a good opportunity to finally experience Disneyland for "free."  That was my attitude for most of the school year...but then, I got the news.  I was going with the class that has given more more white hairs this year than any other class.  It's not that I don't like them.  I do.  There are TONS of good artists in this class, and they have lots of personality, so they can be lots of fun.  But there's a fine line between fun and torture.  The majority of the class is also terrible at following directions the first time you give them, and in general they are pretty strong-willed.  This is not a good combination when visiting a crowded amusement park where you've never been before, and to be completely honest, I was terrified.  I could see myself losing a child because they weren't listening to me, and then being run out of the country by angry parents with pitchforks.*

So today I bring you a blog about guiding 10 anklebiters around Disneyland.  Here's my first piece of advice - step in and be the voice of reason.  Guiding elementary students is like herding cats.  They will be all over the place.  Two will be a block ahead of you and four will be trailing about a block behind.  Rein that shit in and keep them close.  Also, when you go to get your first fastpass and find out that you can't GET it, rather than running all over the park, just make an executive decision to start riding rides.  Trust me - an hour in line for Pooh's Hunny Hunt may seem like torture** but at least they'll all be right there with you, and when it's over they'll be too excited about going on another ride to argue with you.  Also, it will make the 13 minute wait for the Haunted Mansion seem ridiculously short.

We eventually did get that fastpass - for Splash Mountain, as it turns out.  It was the only one we got...and actually the only one we really needed.  The week after Golden Week is apparently a slow one at Disney, so we made it through most of the rides in 30 minutes or less.  Splash Mountain, on the other hand, had a really long line, and all my kids and I were incredibly satisfied to walk past several other groups from our school standing in the slow line. 

My mom always wanted to take us to Disney growing up, and a year or two back, she finally got the opportunity to go with the niblings.  This was not my mom's Disney trip.  For starters, I blew through a significant part of my paycheck during Golden week and didn't have a lot of money to snack on (I did enjoy the honey-flavored popcorn...just not as much as I like Topsy's cinnamon, and not to the tune of 350 yen a pop).  My personal approach to theme parks is that they are best explored with a full wallet (or an indulgent fairy grandmother, in the case of the niblings...there's no guarantee that she will buy everything for you, but she does have the power to command your artistic aunt to make you that hand-painted princess parasol).  Since keeping an eye on my small friends kept me from doing any browsing, and to be honest, mouse ears aren't my thing***, this was fine.  If we took them to USJ, I might be singing a different tune.

Apparently what it takes to get me to finish this blog is a night watch.  At the beginning of the school year, relatively fresh off a camping trip with my best class, my new administrators asked teachers to sign up for activity responsibilities, and I went with the grade 5/6 overnight.  It didn't seem like such a great idea by the time I was shoving my blanket and pillow in a bag yesterday morning, although it hasn't turned out to be that bad, and hey, I'm finally getting some writing done.  I'm planning to buy a new laptop while I'm home for the summer, so hopefully the next year's worth of blogging (not to mention courses for my master's) will be a little less onerous.

*It's possible that the damage inflicted by my Dark Lord and Master's threats during our first meeting in Korea went deeper than either of us realized.
**And it will be, FYI - they will all take turns swinging on the ropes and/or chains in the line, causing you to have visions of them toppling over backwards and cracking their heads open.
***And, you know.  American animation in general.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Going Dotty

At the time I graduated from college I couldn't imagine traveling somewhere without going to their art museum.  One of my first trips into Seoul during my first Korean sojourn was to see an exhibition of Marc Chagall at Seoul Museum of Art.  This hasn't been a constant, spite of a lot of recent art posts, I think I only went to one art show when I lived in Shanghai, and none as far as I can recall in the Middle East.  Strangely enough, it wasn't until I started teaching high schoolers again that I started to prioritize getting to art galleries again.  But I'm back now, more or less, and have been halfway considering starting a second blog, which would focus on my art and the art I see here.  Since it hasn't happened yet, here we art.

My first day out, I came across Kanazawa's art museum.  I toyed with the idea of seeing it, and made it as far as the entrance hall, but there was a crazy long line.  I'm too lazy at the moment to look back and see if I've told you this before, but I definitely have some lingering culture shock about going to museums here.  There were times in the Zanabazar or UB's Modern Art Gallery that I was the only patron.  I feel like that would never happen here.  The times I've been to a major exhibition I've felt kind of like it's a contact sport.  When I looked at the long line at the museum in Kanazawa, I decided I would live to see another day, and walked away.

I mean, c'mon.  I live in Yokohama, and Tokyo's a short ride away.  What am I supposed to see out in the styx that I can't see here?

The answer to that is, of course, Kusama Yayoi.  Even if you don't know her name, there's a pretty good chance you've seen one of her iconic pumpkins (especially if you were reading my blog six months ago).  Kusama actually has a museum here, but I lack the patience, perseverance, and timing to get tickets.  So when I was looking for what else to see in Matsumoto besides the black castle, and I found out their Museum of Art was in the middle of a huge exhibition, I decided I had to go.

I have to admit in the last few years I've dialed down my phallic tourism (mostly because I've run out of places to go).  One of the reasons I was so keen to see an exhibition of Kusama's was because I knew she had created at least one of her "infinity room" installations filled with phallic soft sculptures, and given my weird niche in the travel blog market, I sort of had to see one, and this time luck was with me!

Another thing that I really admire about Kusama is that her work stands as a testimony of the power of art.  I'm not going to go too deep into her origin story, but she suffered abuse as a child as well as battling mental illness most of her life.  Art was the thing that gave her the power to be strong.
And what amazing art!  Usually I don't really dig abstract art, but there is something really playful and energetic about her paintings that just draws you in.  Like the Kanazawa museum, there was a line up for tickets, but rather than turning away I just wondered if the other patrons in line with me knew, if they understood what she'd been through, and how fantastic it was she has been able to
turn her suffering into such joyful artworks...or if they just wanted to see the show because she was famous.
The crowds were one of two things that marred the experience for me.  The other was that I would have liked to sit down and work in my sketchbook.  When I was a student teacher, I remember complaining to my mentor, Lulu, that the Nelson-Atkins only allowed you to use a soft-leaded, graphite pencil in the museum.  We both found this absurd - after all, the Louvre will go so far as to let you set up your easel and oil paint on the premises.  I found myself thinking about this after both of the art museums told me all I could use was a pencil.  I thought it was particularly ridiculous at the Glass Museum in Toyama, since the works technically couldn't be damaged by the pens or watercolors that I carry around when I'm out adventuring.
As it turns out, though, sometimes inspiration strikes you when you least expect it.  Lots of places had koinobori up in the weeks leading to Children's Day, but it wasn't until I saw them flying in rows over a stream in Matsumoto that I was able to see how cool a subject they could make as one of my gou-ashi collage paintings. 
And once I got back to Tokyo, that meant that I was going to have to visit the National Art Center.  On the train I'd seen the poster for Koinobori Now, their show that featured, I dunno, hundreds, maybe, of stylized windsocks, each made of a different fabric.  They were hanging from the ceiling of a huge room, and although they asked you not to touch them, you could walk between them, and even sit down on the bean bags clustered throughout the room.  After walking through the stream of carp to the back where they had a paper craft set up, I came back and sat down on one.  I looked up at the ceiling, where a sheer fabric was attached, rippling in the breeze from a fan, illuminated by lights that gave the impression of light dancing off the surface of the water.  As I watched I felt the most relaxed I'd been all week - a great way to finish my Golden Week.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Fly by Night

As mentioned previously, one thing I love about Japan is the fact that it's possible to believe there's more out there.  I've always found reality to be a bit of a bore, and am sure that the addition of superpowers, other worlds, and magical creatures would be a vast improvement.  If I ever get the chance to create my own world, I guess we'll find out.

That said, the fact that Japan lends itself easily to the belief that there are otherworldly creatures hiding in the shadows means that night in Japan is creepier than night just about anywhere else. Japan is widely accepted to be safer than just about anywhere else, but then, I've never been all that scared of human threats.  Personally I think I can be as scary or scarier than anyone else lurking in the dark...but possibly not anything.  After all, who knows what the local population of demons is capable of?
That didn't stop me from going to the beach both of the last two nights I was in Toyama, hoping to see the hotaruika; there were plenty of other squid seekers hanging around and my AirBnB was only a couple of blocks away.  However, I did give the shrine at the edge of the beach a wide berth as I walked out to the shoreline.  Not even one more chance to drop a coin at Benzaiten's shrines in hopes of winning the competition at CLOUDS (which I didn't, and who knows?  Maybe that was why.  Then again, maybe it was the fact that the 400 "friends" I have on Facebook are so lame that I can't even rely on them to click a bloody link) could have lured me into those shadows.  By the time I got to Nagano, though, the idea of exploring its temple district after dark had a distinct appeal.  So once I got back from Matsumoto I made a quick stop at the Unicorn Hotel (yes, that is actually the name of the place I stayed) to drop of most of my crap, and then went hence to Zenko-ji.

Now.  Another thing I love dearly about Japan is that there are things open 24 hours (although not to the same extent as Korea).  However, when I got within a few blocks of the temple the streets were absolutely deserted.  The shops were closed, and the orange sodium streetlights either cast everything into high relief or shadow.  Caravaggio would have adored this night.  I, on the other hand, was at least a little on edge. The cool night air and lack of tourists was wonderful, but the contrast between the bright lights and the deep shadows meant it was hard to be sure what I was seeing.
I was about to walk out through the big gate when I looked back over my shoulder and saw a red glow set back a little further in the temple grounds.  If life were anime, I should have ran as fast as my feet would go.  Since it's not, I went to check it out, and found a Jizo statue enshrined with a couple of red lanterns.  Water trickled in a stream behind me.  Someone crunched along a gravel path to get to the parking lot.  It was not quite enough to break the spell.

I mentioned Benzaiten before.  I hadn't had much luck finding her shrines this trip, but in the dark of the Nagano night I came across banners for Bishamonten and Ebisu, so I figured there was a Shichifukujin meguri around, and when I looked it up back at the Unicorn hotel, I found that the shrine I was looking for not too far away on the shopping street.  The next morning I woke up and went looking for it, but was sad to see the gate closed and locked. 

I went around the corner, wondering if there was a side way in.  There was...sort of.  Most people don't realize that if you act as if you belong somewhere everyone will assume you do, but I wasn't quite willing to risk it.  Squeezing between the wall and fence that I was going to have to manage seems like the sort of thing that would either end in me being grievously injured, cursed, or both.  Instead, I decided that I would just enjoy the sunny, Children's Day morning.
The shopping street let out into the main boulevard up to the temple, which was set up with stalls for Children's Day.  I walked along it to see what there was to see.  Most of the stalls were still setting out their wares,  which was fine, since it's possible that my spending money met its end two nights previous in a rigged UFO catcher.  I came across my favorite bakery for melon pan, and while I was munching on my bread a band came marching up the street.  It was totally natsukashii, although it never ceases to strike me as odd when I see the crowd moving alongside the parade.  I followed it back up the hill, until I came to the arcade, where I found that, like some sort of key, the music had unlocked the gate, and I was able to go in and throw in my coin.  After all, I may have lost the current battle, but the war is far from over.

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Sampler of Cities

Here's a joke for you that rings all too true - what kind of hotels do art teachers stay in?  Sketchy ones!  It's been a while since I've stayed in an actual hotel, and I wasn't really planning on doing it now.  AirBnBs tend to be a better room for a better price, but the one I booked myself into in Nagano turned out to actually be a hotel...which just happened to be a few blocks up from a red light district.  I've done this on more than one occasion (notable exception: Amsterdam) and it never fails to amuse me that I can be so adept at it.
This has been a strange sort of trip for me, as evidenced by my inability to keep up my blog.  I ran around a lot, and saw some stuff, but most of the things I saw and did I've seen and done before.  Since I didn't want to bore all six of my faithful readers with the same old stories, it took me a little longer to come up with a different way of approaching this trip than "Lemme tell you all the stuffs I did."
The whole point of my Golden Week travels was to go to Toyama, but once I got off the Willer bus there, I stuck my bag in a locker and immediately caught a train for Kanazawa.  This was kind of dumb, because the bus goes on to Kanazawa from there, but I didn't  realize that when I booked the ticket.  Anyways.  If you can believe the hype, Kanazawa rivals Kyoto for its beauty and intact old buildings, which is a nice thought but untrue in my opinion.  Kanazawa was nice enough (except for the tourists and the hot sun beating down), but unlike Kyoto, I feel no need to go back.
For me, the highlight of Kanazawa was the gardens.  Ain't nobody does a water feature like the Japanese.  All throughout the place you could hear the laughter of water over rocks.  I wished I could have seen it back in late February, when the plum grove would have been blooming.  Instead I got to witness clouds of pollen launching themselves off thousand year old pines.  I went through a lot of tissues that day.
I headed back to Toyama that evening.  This was a city I actually liked quite a bit, and it's kind of strange.  I didn't actually do a lot there.  I went because I wanted to see the firefly squid light up the bay, and sadly, I missed it.  The hostess of the second place I stayed said they'd been on the beach the night before I came to stay with her, and though I went out both nights I was at her place, they didn't come back.  It was disappointing, but I wouldn't mind trying again next Golden Week.
Instead I got to see them in the Hotaruika Museum in nearby Namerikawa, but it felt like a bit of a cheat.  Since that quest was ultimately a failure, my favorite thing about Toyama - besides watching Avengers without having to book in advance or share armrests - was the Glass Art Museum.  Or, to be more precise, their "garden" of Chihulys.  These days I don't go full fangirl every time I see his work, but they had some amazing pieces, curated beautifully.  I looped around and went through the exhibit again after I finished the first time.  It was great.

I also made a side trip to Takayama.  Although I went there for the folk village, that wasn't the best part of Takayama.  What I loved most about it...okay, the thing I really loved the most is that someone made a theme cafe right across from the station based on erotic ukiyo-e prints.  I didn't actually go there - too many questions about what's in the secret sauce for this girl! - but I looked at the photos on Google maps and it was accurately named.  Besides that, my favorite thing was the temple district.  After finding a place for a late lunch, I wandered downstream to a huge torii, and found my way uphill to its shrine, then wound my way through old streets - the setting sun cast a golden light on everything, making me wish I had a little longer to explore everything.  Instead, I had to catch the train back to Toyama.

It actually turns out I really love the train.  It should seem like a huge waste of time to chug along the tracks on a local train.  Instead, I find it really relaxing.  You get to think, and read, and enjoy the scenery.  For about two hours I was planning to keep things simple and just take the shinkansen to get to Nagano.  It would have saved me four hours, but cost twice as much.  Since I don't get paid that kind of money, it's just as well I like the train.
Nagano was...not what I was expecting.  I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, other than the fact that my distant cousin had been living there and seemed to like it a lot.  It once hosted the Olympics and grew out of a temple district, and that seemed good enough to justify a trip.  Also, the bus back was half the price of getting to Toyama, and should have taken half the time, although I've now been on this bus for longer.. it turns out the traffic getting back from Golden Week is a pain, and I maybe should have splashed out on the Shinkansen this time.  Oh well, we're almost back to Shinjuku now, and it's given me time to work on this blog.

The final flavor in my sampler of cities is Matsumoto.  I argued with myself as to whether or not to spend the time and money to see Matsumoto.  The main draw there was their castle, which unlike most of the castles I've seen, is black, and yes, that IS a legit reason to want to see a castle.

But when I went looking for what else there was going on in Matsumoto, I found out they had an exhibition of Kusama Yayoi's art...which I'll talk about in a later post.  Suffice it to say that this was enough to decide it for me, since her museum in Tokyo is still sold out three months in advance.  Instead, I want to take a break here to talk about food. I'm giving my very brief time in Matsumoto top honors, because it had something that none of the other places I visited had - easy access to fast food.  When I walked out of Matusmoto Station McDonald's was waiting right across the street.  Macca's is my breakfast of choice when I'm traveling, mostly because I'm lazy AF and usually it's convenient.  Not so on this trip - there NEVER seemed to be one close by.  Since it was too late for breakfast, I stopped for lunch at the Coco Curry that was just around the corner before hoofin' it up the street to the art museum.  This had been another rarity, even though in Tokyo I can almost use it as a landmark.  Which just goes to show that traveling is all well and good, but sometimes it's just nice to stay home.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Work of Art

They say that fortune favors the bold.  Maybe I spent the better part of two months visiting the shrines of art's own Lady Luck, but at the end of the day, I'm a child of God, and God helps those who help themselves.  That means I had to start putting my money where my mouth wanted to be, and both make my art and put it out there.
Small Benzaiten shrine found on the corner up the street a few blocks from CLOUDS

Now it isn't like I'm starting all this from ground zero.  My class last fall produced some work that I wasn't totally ashamed of (and one piece that - now that I've resolved all its issues - I'm damned proud of), and my Nihonga paintings are coming along.  The problem is that since graduating with my pair of BA's, I haven't really tried.  Nearly the entirety of my involvement with art over the last 14 years has happened in my own classroom.  I really had no idea how to get to the other side - instead of looking at others' work, having people look at mine.  So I asked my good friend, Google.

He pointed me to Tokyo's pretty active art scene.  One of the things I enjoyed most about my course last fall was participating in critiques with my classmates, so I signed up for the Art Byte Critique group first.  Along with the actual critiques (in which I couldn't take part this month due to a conflict with my day job), they post open calls and other art events on their Facebook page.  While I couldn't win an artist residency if I tried, participating in contests seems manageable.

I say that now, but when I first started digging into their page I was in Mongolia, far away from all of my materials, and although I was able to lay down the groundwork for my entry in CLOUDS Art+Coffee's competition, I couldn't actually get started on it til I was back at home with my gouashi (yes, that's right, I've brangelina-ed my media of choice).  I spent the following week hurrying home from school so I could get started working ASAP, feverishly trying to finish in a week so I could deliver it to the gallery on my Sunday off.*  And then when I did, I discovered things work differently than I was expecting.  Apparently I should have emailed for all the details, so I would have known to deliver it a week later, and how much the entry fee was.  Oops.

(By the way, if you're reading this and you haven't voted for me yet, go vote now by clicking this link.  Consider it a way of paying me back for all the hours of free entertainment you receive from reading about my misadventures.  Unfortunately these days being successful relies on how involved your friends are willing to be as much if not more than on how good you are).

Speaking of of the problems of going off on this venture is the super awkward part where I have to meet new people.  It's less that I hate people (this time), and more that I'm enough of an introvert that most of the time people are optional.  Nevertheless, the next thing I decided to try was PechaKucha.  This is an event that actually started here in Tokyo, and has branched out all over the world.  On a PechaKucha night, presenters show 20 slides for 20 seconds each while they talk about their work.  I think of this as the sorta-networking equivalent of going on a blind date to the movies - even if your date sucks, you won't actually have to talk to them for two hours. 
Photo courtesy of PechaKucha Tokyo
My first PechaKucha was actually the 156th since its inception.  From what I understand, normally it is artists and designers talking about what they do, but this was a special event - for this "PowWow" they had presenters from all over the world talking about PechaKucha in their city.  During the two hours I was there I talked to all of two people, but I figure that's a start.  I left before the end, because I had an hour's ride on the train between me and home, but luckily the organizer for Yokohama was one of the presenters I got to listen to, and it's a shorter commute home from Minato Mirai than it is from Roppongi, so another awkward night is probably in the cards.

In fact, another awkward night came along the following weekend - the opening reception for the contest at CLOUDS.  The school had its festival that morning, so I was slightly sunburnt and sweaty, and Koenji is pretty far from Yokohama, so I was flying solo (although if by some miracle I win, I'm guilt tripping everyone into coming with me to THAT opening, which they should anyway because Koenji is a fun neighborhood).  It was a little surreal seeing my art on the wall, but also good.

The honest to goodness truth, though, is that all of this is incredibly daunting.  I feel like an outsider, in spite of spending my adulthood going to galleries, teaching students day in, day out, and actually holding two student shows in galleries in UB.  Walking in alone, both to PKN and the opening at CLOUDS, was terrifying in a way that I can't even quite explain, as if somehow everyone there was weighing me and finding me wanting.  However, since I've never been one to let my fear stop me from doing things, you get to look forward to more posts about how awkward my attempts to transform myself into an artist are. Of course, maybe it won't be that bad.  When I end up in a workshop with a group of art teachers, usually I manage to get along and hold my own.  I guess I'll see if it holds true when working alongside other artists this Wednesday night when I go to Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School - a life drawing event where burlesque dancers model which takes place in a bar (I know, sounds fun...try not to be too jealous!)  Even if that's a bomb, the next contest I'm entering is taking place in Germany, so if my drawing is accepted I won't have to worry about feeling awkward at the opening reception, since I won't actually get to go to it, and honestly, that's kind of a relief.

*At least not now...perhaps I'm developing a new retirement plan that involves traveling the world by making art at different residencies...  Perhaps by then I'll actually be a good candidate for one.
**Half-assed Mormons like me look forward to our semiannual General Conference, which is broadcast from Salt Lake City and is viewable online.  Thus, a Sunday off.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Courting the Muse

I mentioned a few posts back that the DVD release of the last season of Hozuki no Reitetsu was marked by a promotion at Animate, and that this promotion included an art contest.  What I did NOT tell you was that around that time I found a couple of Benzaiten's shrines around Yokohama.  She came up in my post about the Shichifukujin Meguri, the only female deity included in the lucky seven, and the patron of artists and musicians, so she holds a special place in my little infidel heart.  Because I really, really wanted to win that contest, I decided running around Tokyo visiting every one of her shrines that I could find would be an AWESOME use of my resources.  I mean, I'd put every bit of cleverness and ingenuity I had into my entry, but I was a visitor playing on the home turf.  I needed to lure her into my cheering section, if I could.

Okay.  So it's possible right now you're thinking that this is some next-level blasphemy.  Maybe you're even right.  I choose to look at it as me addressing prayers to my deity through a power spot.  Since the lightning hasn't struck yet, let's move on...

Honestly, at first this was just kind of for funsies.  The first shrine I found after leaving Sankichi, the pigment store near Kannai station.  I was on my way to Coco Curry (who I've mentioned probably more times recently than either Coke or Lonely Planet, so I'm going to start hitting them up for a sponsorship as well), and only knew it was affiliated with Benzaiten because it had a money washing station.  There's a long story about my Dad and I passing a lucky $100 bill back and forth, but for now suffice it to say that I don't need to wash my money, but I did drop a five yen coin in the box before hurrying on into the night.

The next shrine I found a few days later, as I was about to catch the train at Myorenji.  At the edge of Kikuna-Ike there is a small shrine, and as I walked passed the alley leading to the park it caught at the corner of my eye.  Since I'd just seen the train leave the station, I decided I had enough time to go see whose shrine it was, and when I saw the dragons and the symbol of the Triforce surrounded by waves, I knew that this was going to become a thing.  I was going to start my own Ichifukujin Meguri.
However, this is easier said than done.  It's not always clear who's enshrined where.  Google Maps spat out a few answers for me, but I suspected that there were a lot more, so for the first time in my history I became an expert* in iconography.  Back in college my croaky old art history professor talked about how you figure out which saint was which.  I cared slightly more when my Tibetan guide was telling me how to figure out which Bodhisattva was which, but for me, visiting old temples and churches has never really been about who's there.  Now, though, I learned that the goddess of water was usually located next to a pond - like this rather incongruous pond on a hill at Atago Jinja - sometimes on an island.
"The" Itsukushima shrine is a great example of this, and when I realized that I'd been to one of the three major Benzaiten shrines in Japan already it actually gave me a clue to finding more.  I was taking the train back from Shibuya after my lesson one Saturday when I saw a shrine on an island in a pond.  When I found it on my phone I realized it was an Itsukushima shrine as well, which helped me to find others.

Not only is water associated with Benzaiten, so are the animals associated with water.  I mentioned dragons, but the animal that is actually sacred to her is a white snake.  You don't always see the snake, though - her shrine at Kamishinmeitenso is one of the few I've seen with prolific white can even buy a small votive snake at the shrine office.

Instead, because there is almost always a water feature at Benzaiten's shrines, you'll see living animals - fish, frogs, and even turtles.  Maybe the fish are a coincidence...after all, this is Japan, and what would a pond be without some koi?  Maybe the same is true of the turtles, but since I almost never see them anywhere else, I'm suspicious that they were put there in connection with the shrines.  But I freely admit that I may be talking out my ass...I've been known to do it before.
Although the first few shrines were easy enough to get to - one was practically in Tokyo 2nd Ward's backyard - it wasn't long before I had to start clocking lots of kilometers on my Kansai OnePass.  There were a couple in Shinagawa, a few around Asakusa, one on the pond in Ueno, which I first saw four years back as I went looking for Ryokan Sawanoya.  Several were west of the city, including one in Inokashira that we walked past when visiting the Ghibli Museum.  I didn't make it to them all - there were five I identified but hadn't managed to visit when I left for Mongolia on spring break.  See, that was my deadline - the exhibition that the contest was a part of wrapped up on March 31, and that was what this was all about, right?  Winning a contest???

Actually, I made it to my last shrine - Sanno Itsukushima - on the last pre-deadline Sunday before church.  After clapping my hands and bowing my head, I began my prayer, but about halfway through I realized I hadn't mentioned the contest. 

From the beginning of my pilgrimage, I justified wanting to win the contest because it would mean that someone had acknowledged me as an artist.  "Being acknowledged" - having some sort of skill, being worthy as a rival, that sort of thing - is a recurring theme in anime, and there's a reason for that.  Having someone validate you helps to give you purpose, makes you feel like you can hold your own.  And I want that.  I really do...hell, who doesn't?  But although this is freaking cheesy to say (and I'm cringing just a little as I write it) nobody can really tell you your worth except you.  By that last shrine, I had realized that as nice as winning a contest would be, I actually cared more about being an artist, and simply winning wouldn't make me something if I wasn't it already.

As far as I know, a winner hasn't been announced (hey, maybe it wouldn't change whether or not I'm an artist, but winning would still be wonderful).  I've kept an eye on my email as well as their website and Twitter, without any word.  But an artist doesn't sit around waiting for someone to say, "Yeah, you're the real deal," no matter how much they want to hear it.  They've got art shit to do.  And so do I.

More on that next week.

*I use this term loosely.  I'm probably exaggerating.