Monday, January 14, 2019

Monkey Business

Just before the holidays I got my contract for next year.  It included a significant pay raise and inclusion of airfare, but I realized that just wasn't enough.  Officially, I'm paying for my master's out of pocket, and here I just can't do that AND afford my rock and roll lifestyle.  Unofficially, I'm just not happy at my school.  Teaching anklebiters is tough enough; teaching ones that backtalk and take FOREVER to instruct because they. Will.  Not.  Be quiet! is - turns out - impossible.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg, but that's a discussion for a more appropriate forum.

This got me thinking about what I want to do before I leave Japan.  Hopefully I'll be back, but who knows what the future holds, so I decided to carpe the fuck out of of the diems I have left, which is how I ended up deciding to go to Jigokudani this weekend.  We had a three-day weekend (an actual one, as opposed to one where the school makes us work on the Saturday), so I booked a room at a ryokan and off I went.
One thing I'm really going to miss when I leave Japan is my pocket wifi.  Most of the fact-finding I did about getting to the monkey park I did on the Shinkansen Saturday morning.  When I got off the train I went straight down to the Nagaden train station to get the Monkey Pass, a 3-day pass that gets you into the park free and allows you to ride any of the trains and buses as much as you want.  At the bottom of the stairs I was met by a signboard that said they were being sold at the bus stop.  On the other side of the station.  I fought my way through crowds of gaijin with skis and snowboards (whom I prayed weren't going my way...some were, but I didn't end up throwing any of them off the mountain) and eventually paid my 3,500 yen and went to get snacks before getting on the 1:15 express bus, which takes you nearly all the way to the park. 
It's fortunate that I've been missing Mongolia lately.  If not, I might have been a little resentful of all the snow.  I saw snow for the first time in Tokyo that morning, and it lasted all of 10 minutes.  In the mountains the trees were weighed down with the stuff.  Blondie had warned me to wear good hiking boots, and between my Skechers and my penguin walk, I didn't fall down off of the mountain.  I probably should have rented the crampons - my legs and hips were aching from my unaccustomed gait.  The signage as you go through the onsen town says the park is 1.6 kilometers away...but that really means once you hit the trail. 
Finally I got to the entrance to the monkey park, the end of the 1.6k...which was followed by a steep climb up stairs and along a little more trail.  Before long I hit the cabin - a kind of museum/gift shop/toilet/lockers facility where they stamp your monkey pass, since it's only good for one visit.  This is also the only place you can eat snacks in the park - if the monkeys see or hear plastic, apparently they mob you.  I left my backpack in a locker and went down toward the stream and bathing pools, where the monkeys were doing monkey things.
And luckily, one of them wasn't shy about getting in the water.  It's hard to predict animal behavior, and I probably would have felt a little cheated if none of the monkeys were actually IN the water.  Maybe I should have gotten there earlier, but I got the shots I came for, so I left happy.
And I am happy to report that none of them jumped on my head.  Monkeys always make me a little nervous, and you'd be justified in asking why I keep going to see them.  In this case, I have to say it was the draw of that - as Blondie put it - perfect NatGeo photo.  For an hour or so, I got to pretend I was out on assignment, taking shots of these majestic wild beasts.  All of which is, of course, a fiction - they're not that wild and I'm definitely not a pro-photographer.  However, this term's course for my master's is in photography, so hopefully by summer I'll be a little bit more of one.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

This Could Be Love

If you've been reading this blog any length of time, you should know by now that not only do I teach others to make cool ass shit (cause I'm an art teacher, yo), I also make cool ass shit myself.  This is relevant because back in October I got a message from my friend Cori (from the Wayback in Mongolia), asking if I wanted a Cricut Maker.  Her hubby is a mechanical engineer for the company, and during a discussion of anime my name came up and since I'm the target market they offered to send me one if I was interested.

I'm definitely more crafty than tech-y, but I feel like only an idiot lets the opportunity to get new toys slip through their fingers (particularly if you have half-formed dreams of actually making money off your hobbies), so I told her yasss - onegaishimasu!  A few weeks later, a DHL guy was handing over a very large box, and I was facing the fact that until that moment, the whole thing had kind of felt like I'd dreamt it up, and I had some major housekeeping to do before I'd be able to set it up.  I left it sealed in its box as I swept the floors and rearranged my work surfaces.  Then I realized that my iPad is old AF and can't use Cricut Design Space because it won't update to iOS 10.  Luckily my school just bought a class set of iPads, and by promising I was planning to use the Maker for art club and that I would give up my firstborn child* if I broke one, I got permission to borrow one at night or on weekends as needed to get me started.  With that, I was finally ready to break open the box!
It crossed my mind to do an unboxing video for my new toy, but I don't have a cameraman and I've never really seen the point of watching someone else open up something exciting.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that it came with materials for my "first project," so once I got through the intro screens of the app I decided to try it out.
It's a cute card but relatively simple to make.  First I had to load a pen into the tool holder thing, and the Maker took it from there, drawing out the lines that you see.  The fact that they were drawn, not printed was kind of a surprise to me, and had me thinking about what all you might be able to do with a robot to do all of your drawing.  Next it used a blade to cut the cardstock down to size as well as cut out the letters, the tail of the kite, and the places where I inserted the blue.  So far, so good.

That said, the point of having one of these things - for me at least - isn't to make other people's projects, but to make my own.  I decided its first real test would be to cut a pair of glasses for one of my plushies.  Having mislaid my old pattern, I had to redraw it.  Then I had to scan it.  I could have done this at school, but it's mendoksai to use the scanner there, so I used the much more straightforward method and visited my friendly neighborhood combini - all of them have English-speaking copy machines that also print photos (or, you know, the Golden Kamuy paper sumo pdf, which was like Christmas coming early) and scan.  Eventually it made it to the school iPad I borrowed and I uploaded it to Design Space.
When I said above that I'm not very tech-y, I meant it, but as long as it's not too complicated a program, I can usually figure things out.  I think Design Space was created with users like me in mind, because it didn't take too long to figure out how to get it to cut out my glasses.  I was even able to alter the dimensions of it in the program to solve the slight proportion issue my drawing had.  The one issue I had was that I didn't have the right cutting tool for craft foam, so the cuts only went about halfway through...still far enough to be able to "punch out" the glasses.

I had my doll pattern already scanned and ready to go, so I uploaded it and tried cutting out a couple of head shapes.  That went pretty well but I wasn't too sure what to do next.  A week later I had my answer.  After cutting out the head I finally started making my Sugimoto doll, but so far he was bald.  Around two years ago I spoke to my Dark Lord and Master about business strategies** and he'd suggested making kits.  I've been toying with the idea but wasn't sure how to go about doing the hair.  This finally forced me to work on a solution.  I sketched out a pattern for Sugimoto's hair, scanned it in, uploaded it, and set the Maker to work.

At first I wasn't convinced that all the effort was worth it, and for one doll, it might not be.  That said, the pattern was a pretty complex one.  After putting the cutting mat into the maker, it went to work and was beautiful to watch.  Since one of my drawings didn't scan as well as it should have I had a chance to test how the two techniques compared.  After watching the rotary blade make quick work of the pointy bits on Sugimoto's hair I had to sit down to trace and cut the final piece.  I ended up with Sharpie all over my hands and it took probably about the same amount of time from start to finish as getting the pattern into Design Space and cutting it with the Maker.  I can see vast potential for the whole "make a kit" idea with that - I could design the basic hair shapes and customers could choose which one they wanted to make, using their own Maker to precisely cut the design.
With the end of the term and coming up on Christmas break, I didn't get any further than that, but I had plenty of ideas.  Now that I'm back from the holidays, with a new iPad of my very own, and very little motivation to leave the house hopefully I'll start putting those ideas into action.  Stay tuned.

*Joke's on them, though - I'm never having kids!
**Most people pay big bucks for the kind of advice he gives me for free.  What can I say - it's one of the perks associated with the lease on my soul.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Otaku Report: Vol. 3

It's been about a year since my first Otaku Report, in which I tell you all about the fun weeb things I get to do because I live in Japan.  It seems apropos that I should give a shout-out to the best damn student of all time in this, the third edition of the Report. I mentioned to somebody before vacation that I was hoping to see an old student, and they thought I was being nice (no, they clearly don't know me well if they think I have nice impulses).  For me, I just thought it was sad that they'd clearly never had a student who was such a badass they'd actually want to spend time with them after graduation.

The Kawaii Kingpin and I didn't really break any new ground on the Way of the Weeb that week (there was more time spent in bookstores but that is all I'm going to say on that subject).  That didn't actually matter to me.  See, to make a Bungou Stray Dogs reference (this IS the Otaku Report, after all) I'd been feeling kind of Dazai lately.  A little too detached - you might even say no longer human.  Relating to people and interacting socially had become mendoksai.  It's probably a defense mechanism; after all, there are probably limits to how many times you can rip your still-beating heart out of your own chest, and yet that's the leaving nature of the expat lifestyle.  So I feel like I've been the lite version of my normal brew.  On the other hand, hanging out with the Kawaii Kingpin was just normal for me.  We didn't really do anything, just ate, talked, and shopped, but it was the best time I've had in a long time.

did consider dragging him somewhere touristy with me - he left himself WIDE open when I first got into town by mentioning sightseeing - but I couldn't quite bring myself to do that to the best minion of all time.  Since he likes masses of people about as much as I do, it seemed pointlessly cruel (also, I'm still hoping he'll make it to Tokyo before he graduates and it would be nice if he actually wanted to see me).  I did drag him into Round One for a few games of big fat Space Invaders, but I don't think he actually minded that.

Speaking of Space Invaders, I first saw it at the Round One near Yokohama Station earlier this year and I've been itching to play it ever since.  Shaggy and I (but mostly Shaggy) used to play the Atari version of this game when we were kids, so it held a certain amount of nostalgia for me.  The Japanese arcade version of it is so lit, though - you actually sit in the gunner's seat and have this big ass laser thing to shoot the aliens with.  Playing with the Kawaii Kingpin revealed a fundamental difference in our approach to the game.  I was trying to keep from dying, while he was racking up points, with the end result being that he killed me on the point spread, but since he's a hardcore gamer it would have been surprising if it had ended any other way.
Back to Bungou Stray Dogs, back in September I got to go to the stage show at Sunshine Theater in Ikebukuro.  It told the story of the "black" period, or basically the first few episodes of season 2, which focus on why Dazai left the Port Mafia.  This might be disappointing if you're a fan of the Armed Detective Agency, or even of Akutagawa, who only appears in silhouette.  Since (for once) my favorite character is central to the story, I was okay with it.  Sensei had to help me buy the tickets, and she was a little worried because it wasn't in English, but I reassured her that I'd do just fine.  My Dazai plush was not quite finished because I managed to melt his bolo clip in the school's toaster oven, but since he was pretty much done I brought him with me anyways.

It may have taken me five short trips and one year of full-time living, but I finally got the chance to see a kabuki play.  After school let out in June I was messing around in Tokyo and saw an Art & Live poster in the train station.  When I looked it up it turned out to have listings of different fine arts events in Tokyo...one of which was a kabuki play that tells the story of Naruto.  After my second time watching Noh (aka, trying not to nap in public), I was questioning whether or not Japanese theater was for me, but if ever there was a kabuki for me, it would be Naruto.  For starters, some of the character designs already look like the old ukiyo-e prints of kabuki actors.  I also figured I could deal with the language gap, since (thanks to the anime's prolific flashbacks) I knew the story front and back.  I wasn't entirely sure how they'd manage to boil 700 manga chapters down into a play, but I was game to give it a chance.

Well, I should have figured that one out from something Blondie once told me.  She complained about how long the kabuki she saw was, and that she left after the first part.  I naively thought that this would be like a classic western 3-act play, with a short intermission thrown in.  As I later learned (according to Wikipedia), kabuki's concept is more than just entertainment...it's an escape from the world.  Personally I prefer to escape via a good book, but hey, to each their own.  Suffice it to say that intermission, when it came, was 45 minutes.  I went to the bathroom.  I went to buy postcards.  I drank some water and twiddled my thumbs, because I didn't bring a bento - and STILL I waited.  It was August, and in spite of the air conditioning it was hot in the theater, so I got drowsier and drowsier.  FINALLY the second act started.
The costumes were gorgeous, and I loved some of the ways they achieved special effects.  Sadly I don't remember them all that well at this point because it's been three months since then, but I remember thinking that they'd managed to tell the story while remaining true to the medium.  I was fighting to stay away to the end, but then the second, FORTY-FIVE MINUTE intermission started, and I decided it was time for me to go find the nearest Coco Curry.

Although I don't dote on my students here like I did in Mongolia, I don't hate them all.  Recently one of the girls in elementary asked if I watched Touken Ranbu, and I felt just awful, telling her shiny little face that I'd missed the opportunity to go to the Swords of Kyoto exhibit while I was on vacation.  There was a stamp rally, too, but I couldn't figure out where all the stops were and I've already written about one of those, so the final item in this Otaku Report deals with pop-up shops.  I was ecstatic to learn that one had just opened for Golden Kamuy on the 6th floor of the Marui department store at Shijo Kawaramachi (I'd be even more happy about it now...episode 20 was not precisely my kind of fanservice, but it was in the ballpark).  I didn't really care for the special design character goods - one of the things I love about those characters is their normal character designs, so putting them in different contexts didn't really work for me.  That said, anytime you can visit a shop selling ONLY goods from one of your current favorite anime, I call it a win.  Now I just have to hope that Goodsmile will get their acts together and make me a Sugimoto nendoroid.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

High-Sticking

I know that I used up a lot of words in the last few posts bitching about how unmotivated I was last week.  It took me til yesterday to figure out that the real problem was not, in fact, that vacation was over and I preferred lying in bed watching anime and reading to studying and going to work (although that is, of course, true).  It is one of the great ironies of my life that I like cool weather and dark days but the lack of light wreaks havoc on the feel-good chemicals in my brain.  Some years I'm better at coping than others.  This is starting off like an "other."

That said, serotonin's got nothing on a beat for making this girl happy.  Yesterday was a national holiday, Culture Day, and while it didn't get me a day off school because it fell on a Saturday, at least there were lots of cool things happening because of it.  Not that I cared about most of those things.  My priority was Asakusa's taiko festival, and I am serious when I say priority.  I rescheduled my nihonga lesson and everything in order to accommodate getting there from the other side of Tokyo.
I've written enough about taiko that it really shouldn't need an introduction, but in case you're new here, taiko is the most exciting music in Japan (and yes, that includes the first opening songs for Naruto Shippudden, Durarara!!!, and Noragami).  The taiko festival involves three-and-a-half hours of non-stop drums, with some shinobue (flute) and shamisen (that thing Kubo was playing in the movie) thrown in for good measure.  But really, the drums are what it's all about.

Each beat reverberates in your chest, shocking your heart harder than a defibrillator.  Merely watching taiko is hard, I think - the biofeedback pulls you into the music, makes you need to move, dance, do something.  Or maybe that's just me.
Besides the music itself being exciting there are several reasons why taiko is saikou.  There's something really playful about the performance of it.  It's not just people standing around making music - there's a lot of movement.  The musicians were jumping and dancing around, twirling their sticks and throwing them in the air.
I've taken lessons before, and am hoping to start doing so regularly this week.  I speak as the voice of experience when I tell you that it is hard, sweaty work.  There is a certain form you're supposed to have - not just the way that you hold the drum sticks, but the huge, exaggerated arm movements.  To be able to keep up the energy that it takes to play those drums is difficult, but just about every musician I looked at had a smile on their face.  They were having fun, and that was infectious.
I loved the fact that taiko really is for everyone.  There were kids banging those drums.  There were also old folks.  There were just as many women playing as men, and there were more than a couple musicians carrying extra weight, but they still rocked just as hard as anyone else.  It's hard not to love an art form that welcomes everyone.
Also, it occasionally involves boys with their shirts off, and I am definitely a fan of that.  Speaking of which, if any of the drummers who were there that day noticed me staring a little too intently, or thought that smile on my face was kind of creepy, rest assured, I'm no yandere.  It's just that you guys are my heroes.  Okay, maybe I'd be willing to date some of you, but I'd never resort to stalking (if only because I reserve that for the boys of Drum Tao).  All joking creepiness aside, it was one of the best things I've done this school year, and gave me the strength to get my homework done (mostly) and face another week of anklebiters.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Places of Worship

Back in my Mongolia days, I wrote more food posts than anything else.  As a Japan blogger, my bread and butter has become shrines and art.  And that's all well and good, but it can get a little boring, so I developed a strategy I cleverly (or not) call one-and-one.  Basically it means I tried to limit myself to one of each on any given day.  I've mentioned most of the art I went to see, and two of the museums I went to aren't really worth mentioning (hideous work, hideous building, but otherwise...).  I will give a shout out, though, to the Forever Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Forever Museum is set up in an old-style house in the heart of Gion.  Seeing the traditional architecture and gardens is nice, but I actually was most interested in it because they had a show of Kusama Yayoi's work.  This has sort of turned into an unintentional theme for my travels in Japan...I still haven't been to her Tokyo museum but every time I've gone out in search of adventure I've bumped into her work.
This time around had me wishing I could bring my IBDP students to it.  It was an excellent example of what a cohesive body of work looks like - not just because half of the images were her pumpkins but because the pieces that weren't still looked like hers.  I was a huge fan of the "garden" they put together with a variety of her prints of plants.  Who knew that spots could make even weeds so delightful?  But of course my favorite was the big boat o' dicks, or as she titled it, A Boat Carrying my Soul.  I mean, who doesn't love seafaring vessels covered in phalli?
Two of my shrine visits actually were really shopping trips.  I'm about 90% finished with my current plush projects, but I've been intending to make Immortal Sugimoto from Golden Kamuy.  That said, it just wouldn't be me if I didn't add an element of challenge, and I decided that I wanted to use antique fabric to make his clothes - particularly a military uniform, if I could find one.  So as soon as I got into Kyoto I went to Kobo-ichi - the monthly temple market.  This is where I bought the katana handguard the last time I came to Kyoto, so I had high hopes as I wandered through the stalls selling all sorts of things.  Sadly, the closest I got was some dark blue, handwoven fabric, but it would do in a pinch.

While I was in the neighborhood I made a quick side trip.  This spring I read a bunch of (translated) Japanese literature (yes, I was watching Bungou Stray Dogs at the time.  By this point you should know I'm a weeb) and I got curious as to whether or not the gate referenced in the title of Akutagawa's Rashomon was a real thing.  The interwebs did not fail me, and I learned that once upon a time it was near To-Ji, but now there's just a stone marker where it used to be.  Apparently its state of decay was why he chose that as the setting for his story, and it's been gone a long time.  Still, the nerd in me loved getting to the root of a story like that.
Later in the week I tried my luck again at Kitano Tenman-Gu's market.  This one had a more festive atmosphere, but the end result was the same - no military uniforms.  I found a few swatches of fabric that made it worth my while, but moved on.
My last day was actually a double header - it began with a shrine and ended with a temple.  Fushimi-Inari-Taisha is actually pretty much my favorite place in the entire world, and I couldn't imagine leaving Kyoto without seeing it again.  Since I didn't feel like sharing, this meant another early roll-out, but one week away from the classroom is not enough to get back into night owl mode, so that wasn't too hard.
The quality of the light coming over the mountain at 7 in the morn is enough to break your heart, and the air was cool and still.  I knew then that I didn't want to come back.  As hard as it was to leave two years ago, without a guarantee that I'd have work in Japan the following year, at least I had my weebs waiting for me in UB.  I'm three days into the first week back, and I'm still trying to figure out how to get through the rest of the school year, and where to go from here.  But the fourth grader who asked me Monday about an anime she liked helped me to believe I'd somehow manage.
My last dance was with Shoren-in.  It was the first night of their autumn illumination, and while the trees weren't at their peak, there's still something to be said for a temple at night.  You take off your shoes and walk through the buildings, and just soak up the atmosphere.   And if you're really lucky, maybe you'll get to feel like you're finally standing on the beach at Toyama, watching the hotaruika washing up on the shore.  That's the feeling I got, anyways, as I stood in the garden with the blue lights shining around me.  Not that I'm not still planning to go back this May, because you gotta experience something like that in real life, not just your imagination.  But it was a nice way to end my trip.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Where the Wild Things Are

The post-vacation blues are hitting me hardcore right now.  With the exception of Sensei's fantastic Hallowgiving feast, I basically didn't leave the house the last two days.  I just slept and avoided my homework.  Now I'm sitting in my classroom, which is way too quiet because Horn Blower is on maternity leave, totally demotivated because I got to rehash the glory days during my discussions with the Kawaii Kingpin last week and I can't.  I just can't.  I'm sure I'll get over it eventually, but I can't even use the best holiday of all time to derail my funk because this is a "non-denominational school" so we don't celebrate it.  Sucks to be me.

I've been preparing on my own though, in my own way, by watching some spooky anime.  I started with the most gorgeous piece of horror you could imagine, Mononoke, and chased it with a more child-friendly anime with a long, distinguished history:  Gegege no Kitaro.  At the time, I didn't know that it was going to lead right into my vacation, but I started to figure it out on day 3, as I passed the Toei Studio and thought, "Wait a minute, why do I know that name?"

I stopped on my way back, but overall I felt like it was a huge waste of money, and mama always said, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."  However, you may infer from my backwards peace sign that I wasn't super happy.  That said, it at least got me thinking, and once I start thinking, that's when you have to watch out.  "And now," cried the Great One, "let the wild rumpus start!"
Because basically Kyoto is an old city filled with youkai, yurei, and all sorts of other spiritual beings.  My first encounter with them came courtesy of an article on Sora News.  It turns out that Kitaro's origin story comes from a shop in Higashiyama.  Four-hundred years ago this candy shop was repeatedly visited by a woman at midnight to buy candy.  When the curiosity of the shop owner finally got the best of him, he tailed her to a nearby graveyard, where she disappeared.  When he got to the spot where he vanished, he found a fresh grave and heard a baby crying from within.  The legend goes that the mother's ghost was trying to keep the child alive, and the shop now calls their specialty "ghost child-care candy."  Is this story full of holes?  Maybe, but supposedly it's true - the baby who was rescued from the grave went on to become a priest.  Or so they say.  I tracked the shop down and bought some of the candy, and it was alright, but I don't think I would come back as a ghost for it.
After that, I really had no choice but to visit the Mizuki Shigeru exhibit at the Ryukoku Museum.  I discovered a poster for it while wandering around Teramachi.  He's the mangaka responsible for Gegege no Kitaro, and it was interesting to see the artwork, and the ways his illustrations were different from more contemporary manga.  That said, nothing was in English.  I went in knowing that, so I don't really have any regrets especially since you don't have to read kanji to read art.  But it might have been nice to actually learn something...for example, why a museum devoted to Buddhism had an exhibit about a mangaka.  But I digress.  The art was good.  I got ideas.  It was not as crowded as many museums I've been to.  Overall it was a win.

If you're thinking this should probably be part of an Otaku Report, you're not wrong.  There's actually one coming up, but this post kind of turned into its own thing.
Let's hope that eyeball doesn't stand up...
I thought I'd seen everything after a trip to the bookstore my penultimate night in Kyoto, but then I went to the Hosomi Museum for their exhibition called "Shunga* and Youkai."  It's a slightly misleading title, because you think it's going to combine both themes simultaneously.  While there are some works that do - the scroll that showed a walking penis and vagina, for example, or the tanukis who were cuddled up under their own scrotums, giving new meaning to the phrase "hot as balls" - on the whole the exhibition showed either shunga or youkai in ukiyo-e.  Which is actually for the best...I'd already been scarred enough that week.
I had one last close encounter with the unseen world while I was on vacation, and it happened on Youkai Street.  Taishogun street - as it's officially called - is a shopping street near Kitano Tenmangu.  The catch is that many of the shops are inhabited by monsters.  According to yet another legend, once upon a time a bunch of discarded household objects felt hurt and abandoned by humanity, so they became youkai and returned to march on the area.  These days the sculptures, handmade by the shopkeepers, are pretty friendly and go about their business without causing any issues.  They hold events though, which I sadly missed - both the Night Parade of a Hundred Demons and the Mononoke Ichi happened before I got there.
With that, the school day is almost over.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and since I'm not dead yet I suppose I'll manage to get through tomorrow, too.  After all, it's only 35 working days til Christmas break...

*Shunga is a genre of Japanese erotic art, basically the forerunner of hentai.  So the next time someone tells you, "It's called hentai, and it's art," they're not totally inaccurate.  Just FYI.  

Friday, October 26, 2018

Child's Play

Ever since moving to Japan, my adventures have involved riding the rails.  This time around I was staying in one place, and while it is a nice change from several hotels in a week (or a new one every night) I was going to miss long trips on the tracks.  And maybe I even thought I might just take a couple of day trips - there's a cat island out on Lake Biwa, and I meant to take the scenic train out to Kameoka - but it didn't happen.*  And mostly that's just fine.
I also didn't do that doll workshop I mentioned, because sadly, I ain't rich people (we get paid tomorrow and maybe I kept debating up until last night if I could scrape the funds together.  This time maturity won out over my usual impulses).  That said, Ando Doll Shop very kindly invited me to visit the shop anyway and observe.  Since I had a little time to kill before meeting the Kawaii Kingpin this afternoon, I decided to drop in on them.  

The shop was kind of exactly what I would expect a shop selling traditional dolls to be, but haven't actually seen.  They were in the middle of shipping out a huge order when I stopped in, but the lady who had emailed with me about the workshop stopped to show me around, and invited me to take pictures.  The first floor had the workshop where the craftswomen were working on creating the dressing for the dolls.  There were an assortment of different dolls at the front of the shop, but the main showroom was on the second level.  We went up to the second floor and I was blown away by all the Hina dolls, their specialty.  Not only were there different sizes and colors, there were even different styles of faces, some more traditional, others more modern.  While we looked around my guide told me how each level represents something different - the emperor and empress are a wish for a happy marriage, the angry, sad, and happy courtiers on the bottom level, hope for an expressive face, the maidens serving food and drink represent a hope to never go hungry, and the musicians a wish for refinement and culture.  She explained that they currently had a display in a nearby hotel as we stood in front of a display costing 8.8 million yen.  The quality was simply astounding, and made me realize not only why the workshop was so expensive, but also that it was undoubtedly worth every yenny.

When I have money again, I'm totally coming back to make my own doll.  Besides the fact that they were that good, my new friend asked me if I liked anime as we went down the stairs.  She'd noticed Hoozuki hanging from my bag, and we had a bonding moment.  She also told me about the swords of Kyoto exhibit at the National Museum, and if I had more energy at this point in the game I'd definitely be checking that out.

I didn't really intend to turn this into doll week, but it kind of worked out that way.  Heading back from Kuuya-no-taki on Tuesday I passed the Sagano Doll House Museum, and decided I should check it out.

They had a huge assortment of dolls, and I can't remember any of them being Hina ningyo.  Some of them were bigger than actual children.  Others were so tiny I couldn't for the life of me tell you how they put the tiny little kimono together for them.  The ojii-san who sold me my ticket actually came over and showed me their collection of automatons, little mechanical dolls that did simple tasks like tumbling down the stairs.  It was very cool.

The upstairs level had even more dolls, and almost felt like a storage room.  The Japanese have a very broad definition of what a "doll" is - everything from puppets to clay figures could be considered a doll.  The upstairs room was lined with cabinets, and another ring of them divided the outer part of the room from the inner.  Literally all of them filled with clay figures.  Not in a, "Oh look, what a nice display, I can see your collection very clearly," sort of way, but rather in a "I hope you don't intend to bring any more of these home," way.

When you really understand the evolution of Japanese dolls, I think anime figurines actually make total sense.
What I loved the most about the museum was the air it had that reminded me of my Great-Mom's house, specifically her doll room.  Inside the museum time felt as if it were standing still.  The dolls were not new, but rather were old and showed wear.  I think I was the only patron during the time I was visiting, so the silence was thick and had a tangible sound.  The outside of the building was a traditional Japanese garden and you could wander around the grounds.  The plot behind it was a graveyard, adding to that slightly spooky sense of forgotten places.  It was perfect.
I had one more run-in with dolls, also - strangely enough - in Arashiyama.  Thursday morning I decided I would take the so-called "romantic" sightseeing train to Kameoka.  After riding nearly an hour out and wading through the tourists shooting in the bamboo grove I found my way to the train station.  Which was packed and I couldn't get a ticket for another hour and a half.  I decided I had better things to do and started towards what Google Maps told me was the nearest bus stop, conveniently outside of the central tourist area.  On my way, I came across Aightowa Doll Workshop and Cafe.  They had a small gallery where you could see their work, and while the cost of admission was 300 yen, you got three postcards with your admission.  Unlike the dolls in the shop or the museum, these weren't traditional Japanese dolls.  Some appeared to be made of felted wool, others seemed to be sculpted with silk, and there may have been some porcelain ones, too - it was hard to tell.
There were two things that particularly intrigued me.  First, the clothes on the dolls appeared to be all handmade, and were an extraordinary range of styles from around the world.  The fabric the clothes were made from seemed to have been collected from all over the world.  Since I went to two different markets this week looking for either a military uniform to cannibalize or cloth that could pass for it, I had great respect for their attention to detail.  The other thing that caught my attention was the backstory of the place, which was started by the owner to become self-sufficient.  It made me think maybe starting a doll business isn't all that far fetched.  In fact, a friend from my early Mongolia days messaged as I was going into the Saga Doll House to find out if I would be interested in a free Cricut Maker.  Apparently I'm their target audience, and I expect I'll experience a huge level up once I master this most powerful new weapon.  So you'll have that to look forward to reading about this winter.

*Because I puttered around too long in the first case, and because I wasn't willing to waste an hour and a half in Arashiyama waiting for my turn to be a bloody tourist.  But in both cases, I did try.  I'm not sure that makes either better.