Sorry that I haven’t updated my blog for two weeks. Finding Internet was quite the task in Tokyo. I could have sucked it up and bought the damn Ethernet cable from the hotel for five dollars a day, but I had better things to spend my money on, like stuffed Totoros and Joe Hisaishi CDs at the Studio Ghibli Museum. Woot! I also of course had to buy gifts for my friends and family. Again I apologize for not updating as often as I should have, but now that I’m home I can fully flesh out my adventure in Japan because a quick conversation simply cannot do the journey justice.
Journal entry for Tuesday December 2nd
Today we ventured to Ueno Park where we visited the Tokyo Natural History Museum, which so far has been the highlight of the trip. It was truly a mind-blowing experience. There were six floors to the exhibit, with an addition exhibit on fungus towards the front of the museum entrance.
The fungus was interesting because it mostly consisted of various species of mushrooms, plants both from land and water, and also little microorganisms for which they created little cartoon creatures for logos, video displays, and, of course, for purchase. I almost considered buying the ecolii bacteria but it was $20.00. We have to start collecting reference materials for the stories we’re going to illustrate for fantasy illustration, and the fungus turned out to be very inspirational. There were several interesting shapes, patterns, and textures on the mushrooms that could possibly work well for the creature design for the Godzilla – type story.
I then moved up to the dinosaur exhibit, where I couldn’t resist breaking out the sketchbook to draw. They were extremely awesome, especially the giant T-Rex that stood in the center of the exhibit. I also took time to draw a stegosaurus. I was drawn to it initially because the light hitting him created an interesting shadow on the wall behind him that I had to capture. Wow, I’m such an artist. From there I went downstairs to the prehistoric creature exhibit (the pre-dinosaur exhibit specifically) where I ended up spending most of my afternoon. I had a few favorite creatures here including: giant turtles, a pre-historic elephant whose skull I’m sure influenced the designers for alien, huge sea creatures that were scarier than the T-Rex, a beaver, various monkeys and lemurs, a moose, and several beasts with large horns and tusks. My theory that Asian children are the most adorable children on earth was confirmed when a group of kindergarten-aged school children walked by in their plaid uniforms and little red hats. To top it off they were all holding hands, and shrieked with delight when they saw the huge creatures. I can’t wait to be a father.
I moved on to the homosapian exhibit were they had these fascinating wax recreations of ancient human beings. They displayed each recreation (of which they had three) next to its respective skeleton unearthed in excavation. From there I ventured up to the third floor where they had a variety of preserved specimens both from land and sea tacked onto the walls behind glass cases. I took some time to sketch a few bugs, but soon lost the stomach for it after I saw discovered the cow stomach and intestinal tract, unwound in a display that still had tape worms and other parasites attached to it. Unfortunately I did not take a picture. I soon found a kangaroo rat that quickly cheered my woes. I broke out the sketchbook again.
A group of middle school-aged kids passed through the exhibit while I was drawing the bugs and a small group of then snuck up behind me to look over my shoulder. I think one of the kids coaxed another to ask me what I was drawing. So I showed them the bugs and flipped a page to show the other sketches I had done. They promptly started pointing at me to their friends and chanted the only English word they knew. Weird.
At this point I only had about thirty minutes until I had to meet the group, so I made a mad dash up to the top floor of the exhibit where they had an extensive taxidermy collection of almost every animal you can think of: dogs, camels, jackals, felines, hippos, an amazing collection of creatures. I’ve been the to both the natural history museums of Washington D.C. and New York City, and neither compare. This was by far the most impressive portion of the exhibit. The taxidermy collections as well as the variety of species exhibit were the most comprehensive and the most thorough scientific exhibitions I’ve ever seen. The variety of species exhibit was especially interesting because they displayed several specimens of the same or similar species on a wall and showed the myriad variations that exist with just one type of animal. The group of beetles for example all had the same basic shape and color, but had drastically different individual features: length of limbs, additional horns, shape of ridges and spikes, etc.
Overall the trip to the museum was a highly educational experience. Also it was pretty cool to see Mark Shultz draw dinosaurs.
After the museum closed, when gathered in front of the museum and took off for Akiharbara, another shopping district that is know for it’s amazing selection of anime and manga merchandise. I have to admit I wasn’t extremely impressed when we first arrived. The main section of Akiharbara was smaller than I had anticipated. Maybe we didn’t explore the area as thoroughly as others, but it was no big disappointment for me that we didn’t spend more than three hours there.
Japan is not shy about porn as I have unfortunately come to realize. They seemed to be a fairly reserved society, but in reality they are quite open about their sexual interests. For example, walking down the main avenue of Akiharbara, every once in a while you’d see an advertisement for a “happy” store with bare chested asian women pointing towards a stairway down into a pit filled with what I can only assume to be smut and naughty things. Zane, jokingly, tried to get us to go “explore.” Dixie and I did not approve.
Zane, Dixie, Natalia, and I were fairly hungry and decided to start the difficult pursuit of finding a place to eat before exploring the treasure trove of bookstores in the area. We followed our noses into a smoky restaurant where no one spoke English and we didn’t get service for at least a half hour, which did not help our growing hunger pains. We joined parties with Matt Shumway, Professor Jason Mauer, and Sanford Green and entertained ourselves by placing bets on who could survive eating the tentacle-filled hors d'oeuvres without throwing-up. Matt almost lost. Dixie and I didn’t even attempt. Natalia asked for seconds. We did eventually get service long enough to order drinks, but then had to endure the agonizing process of deciding what to eat. The English descriptions on the only English menu in the restaurant made did not make the food sound appetizing. Pork entrails and spicy cow tongue really didn’t do it for me. Beef and potatoes sounded safe. I also ordered a side of edamame.
Then about 15 minutes later we finally got food. The edamame was delicious and surprisingly so was the beef and potatoes over misu broth. The edamame came in a fun little wooded box with a rope handle tied to the lid. Natalia was brave enough to try to pork entrails, which actually ended up being the most appetizing meal on the table. We were all very impressed with our food, despite the uncertainty of the menu. Poor Zane however ended up with a meal significantly smaller than what appeared to be advertised. So far the food has been extremely impressive in Japan. I have yet to have a bad meal. I’m sure that by the end of the two weeks I’ll be sick of it, and I’ll eat McDonalds for a few days. I’ll try to enjoy it while it lasts.
I’ve probably already mentioned this, but it’s legal in Japan to smoke in a restaurant, which has made dining experiences fairly unpleasant.
After dinner we walked down the block to Book-Off, a fairly popular chain of bookstores in Tokyo that had five floors of books, CDs, DVDs, and video games. We originally thought this would be a good opportunity to find awesome art books but sadly we were mistaken. The store was difficult to navigate. That and the walkways were extremely narrow. We soon called it quits and decided to try another store. I couldn’t help but laugh at my stupidity in Book-Off though. I came across a shelf of manga porn and in my attempt to escape I actually fled into the section containing the mother load. I was fairly disoriented for a bit. I finally found my way out and saw Dixie about to make the same mistake. She was confused for a second when I yelled over to her, but the look on her face was priceless when she realized where she was about to end up.
On the street we ran into some fellow SCAD kids who pointed us in the direction of a good book store just down the street. We briefly looked around the toyshop on the first floor of the building and then made our way upstairs to check out the books. It wasn’t too long before we found the art and reference section. My mind was blown. The reference materials were wonderful. I wish I had enough money to by all of them. They had a series of books with photographs of a variety of things: buildings, martial arts combat moves, hands, household activities, etc. I ended up getting the reference book for hands and a book of combat moves with Asian weaponry. We didn’t find much else in the store. I pulled the same stupid move in this store as I did in Book-off. I accidentally walked into the cartoon porn half of the store. Yes, that’s right, an entire half of the store filled with comic porn. I quickly turned around, paid for my items at the cashier, and left.
Still slightly jet lagged, we decided to return home to get some sleep. We ended up meeting friends at Starbucks for a while where I had the opportunity to show Sanford the character designs I had been working on. He seemed impressed.
That’s about it for now. I’m so excited for the Ghibli Museum that I’m having trouble maintaining my composure.