Dec 2, 2008

Adventures in Tokyo: Day 3 - Meiji Shrine and Harajuku

Written Tuesday December 2nd- 5:30 A.M.

I’ve discovered quite a bit since coming to Japan. Last night I discovered that if you go to bed at 7:30, your wide-awake at 4:30. I’m sure this is true no mater what time zone your in but it was an interesting experience for me. I was exhausted after a long but exciting day yesterday, and really needed to crash. I was too tired to think so I figured if the above scenario did take place (which it did indeed), I would fill out today’s blog entry this morning. So I took my shower, got ready for the day, and now I’m sitting in the Mc Donald’s down the street enjoying a cup of coffee. Hopefully everything is still pretty fresh as I sit here typing, but I’ll give it a try.

For some reason I didn’t realize that we were shacked up in a French hotel until I arrive at breakfast yesterday morning where I was greeted by the slightly obnoxious French host who took my breakfast ticket. Apparently this guy remembers us from years past, and dreads our arrival each year because we are of course, loud Americans. I have to admit we were the most rambunctious group in the restaurant. But Ray Goto, being good ole’ Ray Goto, sees this as a challenge. I’m sure we will see a great battle of epic proportions towards the end of the two weeks.

Breakfast in the hotel was amazing. Croissants, fruit, rice, bacon, salami, ham, hard boiled eggs, various types of pastires, meat balls, and several other options. It was a great opportunity to fill my stomach for the day. I wasn’t hungry again until dinner, and when $12 is cheap for a typical meal, you really learn to take advantage of every opportunity to save money. Japan, I’m starting to “discover” is very expensive.

After breakfast, we walked a few blocks to the conference facility where we had our workshops with the guest professors. I started the morning with Sanford Greene, a professional sequential artist and concept designer for animation who is currently working on a project for Marvel. We spent about an hour with him, viewing designs he completed for cartoon network and Warner Brothers animation, talking about the industry, and thumbnailing an actual Marvel script that he gave us, providing us the opportunity to flex our storytelling muscles. Later in the week we’re going to move to character design for animation, which I’m really excited about. His artwork is absolutely incredible. He has this edgy style that combines the fun of cartooning with the structure of a more naturalistic, mainstream look. I’ve been struggling with my own artwork recently trying to find a happy medium between the two. I love the fluidity or the more gestural qualities of animation. This type of drawing allows me to really free my hand, and explore a more whimsical manner of expressing the object I’m drawing. It has a certain vibrancy or life to it that attracts me. Whereas trying to drawing realistically, for me, can get stale and static very quickly. Sanford’s drawings really inspire me, because his work captures the best qualities of both. He has the simplified shapes and the expressions that you typically see in animation, but there’s still that natural structure to his work that, in my opinion, makes his art universally appealing to both markets, instead of exclusively appealing to one in particular. I would love to find this in my own drawing.

Next we visited Mark Shultz, who is actually teaching our Fantasty Illustration class. Wow! That’s all I can say. This is going to be a fun class. He has given us two stories to choose from: a science fiction story of Japanese heritage that is similar to Godzilla, and an ancient Japanese ghost story. We are also given the option of weather we want to do book illustrations or key frame illustrations for an animation pitch. Can you guess which one I’m going to do? I can’t decide between the two stories though: Create a super cool monster, or a scary as hell ghost creature. Any who, we’ll be spending our time with Mark learning how to effectively collect reference material for our projects, and developing various illustration techniques for both wet and dry media. Can’t wait!

The subway, like everything else in Japan, is extremely clean. Again, I’m shocked. No litter, no gum on the ground, bright florescent lights, white-washed ceilings, and beautiful stoned floors, something you wouldn’t even dream of seeing in New York. The Japanese culture is really starting to grow on me. I’ve been thinking to myself more and more, why can’t American be this way. Even the people are clean. No one where’s jeans. Trousers, sweaters, nice jackets are staple to Japanese culture. Everyone wear’s high end brand clothing: Coach, Chanel, Gucci, Prada. And on top of that, everyone is in great shape. Beautiful skin, beautiful hair, slim, trim and fit. I’ve only seen two hefty people hear, and they we’re just slightly overweight. No one is obese. I assume the pervasive need to maintain the image of society is somehow connected to the socialistic mindset of the culture. It’s not about the individual; it’s about the society as a whole, and maintaining the image of the population. I’m beginning to understand way foreigners don’t like Americans. We’re fat, dirty, and loud. After seeing the environment for myself, I finally understand.

We arrived at the Meiji Shrine yesterday afternoon, and we were pretty much left to fend for ourselves. The professors took off. As long as we were ready for class the next morning we were free to do whatever. But that also gave us the added stress of having to find our way back to the hotel by ourselves, which later turned out to be easier that I originally expected. The subway in Japan is actually easier to navigate than the subway in New York.

The Meiji Shrine was breathtaking. According to my guidebook, this is Tokyo’s most venerable shrine, opened in 1920 in honor of Emperor and Empress Meiji, who were instrumental in opening Japan to the outside world more than 120 years ago. My experience there was truly unique. Not only was it a beautiful day, but also the sun starts to set at 1:00 in the afternoon, so the lighting was perfect for taking pictures. I’ve included some of my best photos from the day with this blog entry. Zane, Dixie, Martaa Natalia, and I spent most of the day together. We had to wash our hands and mouth before entering the shrine, to show our respect to the spirits. We first entered a small village type setting, and then entered the main courtyard, a vast, open expanse that led up to the section of the shrine. There has never been a time in my life where I had such an intense need to sketch, but we not allowed. Apparently, the Japanese believe that sketching something steals the spirit of whatever it is your drawing. This confused me a little because I would think that taking photos would follow under that category also, but this was not the case. Oh well.

I was stopped by a group of elderly Japanese women to take a picture for them. Apparently I did it wrong the first time so I had to take another one, but I enjoyed interacting with them for that brief moment. I wish I new the language. I wish I could tell them “your welcome” after they thanked me. I wish I could tell them how beautiful their country is, how happy I am to be hear, and how stupid I feel for not knowing anything, but all I can do is bow slightly and hope that my facial expressions and body language get across what I’m trying to say.

We continued down a trial just off the main section of the shrine and happened upon a field wear people sat and relaxed in the warmth of the fading sunlight. There were people reading, children running around, families enjoying themselves over by the coy pond, and my favorite a group of people sitting in a circle singing songs together. We were allowed to sketch here so we found a spot on the ground and drew in our sketchbook for about an hour. Japanese people are so still when they sit. They hardly move at all, making them perfect subjects for drawing I drew an elderly woman, sitting quieting on a bench, I drew a few trees, an interesting bush, and a few studies of the landscape. The foliage is so different here. Crows were everywhere. Big crows. They are considered the guardians of the shrine, and it’s funny when the call to each other, because they sound exactly like human trying to imitate a crows call. Christian would have appreciated that.

It was getting late in the afternoon so we decided to leave the shrine and find a place to eat. We crossed the street into the Harajuko, one of Tokyo largest shopping districts, and ran into fellow classmates. They pointed us to a small ramen shop just up the street. I got a bowl of ramen soup that had slices of row, chucks of pork, a hard-boiled egg, and a few other ingredients. It was delicious. I’m eating very well in Japan. The food here is fantastic. I love trying new things and discovering new favorites. After we ate, we helped Natalia find a friend of hers that she had planned to meet a few weeks ago. We then ventured into the streets of Harajuko, which reminded me vaguely of east village in New York, but more compact and stores everywhere, even stores on top of stores. Merchandise all over the place, but again, bright colors and lots of activity. We stopped in a few places, my favorite being our trip into Kiddyland. There were six floors of toys, including a whole floor dedicated to Snoopy.  I found some awesome Wall-E stuff that I wanted to buy but I figured I’d save my money for later. It’s only the first day and we still have two more weeks ahead of us. Hopefully though we’ll get to go back so I can get a stuffed Totoro from the Miazaki section.

My energy died pretty quickly, so Martaa and I found our way back to the hotel while Zane and Dixie continued on. I crashed as soon as I hit the bed. I think tonight I’ll force myself to stay up so I can get my body into more regular sleep schedule. I’m not sure what we’re going to do today, but hopefully I’ll get the chance to write later tonight if I’m not too exhausted.

It’s been great so far, and it’s only going to get better. It’s hard to imagine. 


Alyssa said...

Wow, Matt! I am so impressed with you! It sounds like you are really living life to the fullest! Your art classes sound really cool and it sounds like you are learning a lot which I sort of find hard to believe, seeing as what an amazing artist you were even in High School! I hope you continue to have the BEST time in Japan! I miss you a ton! Call me over Christmas break! Me, you, Maddie, and maybe Mikey J will all meet up at Tim's!

Erina said...

Matt, I'm so glad I came across your blog! I'm glad you are enjoying your trip, and that you are getting to absorb so much in so little time.

I'm thinking you and Dixie could partner on a presentation for Lead or for one of our Ambassador meetings based on your experience. It sounds like your experience there has given you some new insight as to what it means to represent a culture. Perhaps your fellow student leaders could benefit from some of these lessons!

Have fun and keep writing!

Erica said...

What is this? Matt has a blog! I'm so excited for you, I can't wait to read about all your shenanigans!

Hope you're having the time of your life in Tokyo!!!

Anonymous said...

okay, not really sure what happened when I left that comment, but this should get you to my blog :)