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Japan

Friends of mine at London’s ICN Gallery told me about this artist some time last year and I have been eagerly anticipating her arrival ever since. I hurried out briefly today, while Atsuko was distracted, to check it out before I lost the chance. Like Fukahori Riusuke, this is one of those unbelievable Japanese artists that make me so happy that I stumbled on the ICN Gallery.

I saw the work with my own eyes and met the artist today but I still can’t quite understand how she does this. Saya Irie ‘simply’ erases imagery from banknotes, with a typical school eraser, then blends the rubber-dust with a type of glue and reforms them into a 3D sculpture of the object or person they once were.

Elizabeth Fry, Charles Darwin, Adam Smith and others all appear out from the two-dimensional surface in minute, precise detail despite standing just millimetres tall. It’s astounding. And it really makes you take a second look at the bank-notes we use on a daily basis but never stop to appreciate their incredible beauty. “Every popular thing is beautiful” is open until August 10th; try to catch it if you can…

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It was snowing and freezing cold; walking around the dark castle in Matsue was an eerie experience. It always seems to be terrible weather when I go to Matsue-jo but walking up the tight steps through layers of history is an incredible glimpse into the past. Matsue-jo is one of 12 castles still surviving in Japan and one of the oldest and best preserved and can be seen from almost every part of town.

Full suits of samurai armour now sit behind glass yet they still seem somehow alive. The detail in the helmets, masks and body panels is amazing; beautiful and terrifying in equal measures…

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Well as I am currently sat on a heavily delayed train out of London St Pancras this morning, with no access to my project files, I thought I would share a few more pictures. I was just day-dreaming about our most recent visit to Japan again; congestion and delays always make me think of our holidays, of open space and fresh air.

As we were heading to Miho Jinja, we drove along the Yonago coastline and just off-shore all you could see were fishing boats, each pointing in the same direction, frozen, presumably with their nets down. Atsuko’s sister could sense my fascination and stopped the car to let me take a few pictures although they don’t quite do the scene justice…

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It wasn’t hard to decide what to eat, or where. The local speciality was yaki ika grilled squid, and the tough old ladies running the car-park where we left the car ran a small stall, which we were expected to stay loyal to. It’s a straightforward dish, fresh squid simply barbecued on an open fire, with a special spicy and fruity sauce. Once cooked and curled, cut roughly with scissors and served in a plastic bag, it was completely fantastic.

There should have been shots of us eating it here but it was just too delicious and capturing the moment went out of my mind completely…

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As we stepped from the car, across the harbour to arrive at Miho Jinja, a heavy snow shower fell to greet us. Although the structure looks similar to many others, I had never been to a coastal shrine quite like this before. The site is dedicated to 2 different gods, 三穂津姫命 (みほつひめのみこと) Mihotsuhimenomikoto, god of agriculture / cycle of life and ゑびす (えびす) Ebisu, god of fishing and business. Families living in this area have lives built around fish and the fishing industries, and they come here to pray for the well-being of those going out to sea and for the long-term health of the sea life.

A lot of ceremonies take place here through the year and it was a lively shrine with a welcoming atmosphere. Shinto priests and Miko-san wearing ceremonial robes hurried to get out of the snow. We paid our respects at the shrines and each of the sub-shrines and were offered sake and dried fish. It was freezing cold, and people huddled around heaters to read their omikuji fortunes. As quickly as the snow had started, it stopped. We wandered back down the steps to find something to eat.

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Considering I brought back well over 4,000 DSLR photographs (!) from our latest trip to Japan, it’s surprising I needed to take more pictures on my phone, I know. Sometimes though, using an iPhone is more convenient, less intrusive and, alarmingly I must confess, sometimes takes better pictures. Even though it’s now basically Facebook, I am quite into Instagram and used it a lot while we were away; I like the square format, the immediacy is good and I find it fascinating to see how others use the app because it is the one time you find yourself on a level playing field, having identical equipment to even the pro-photographers.

If you are also using Instagram, feel free to post your username below, you’ll find me filed under iikkyu

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After ringing the bell at the local temple at midnight on New Year’s eve as part of a very nice countryside ceremony, we went to the beach on New Year’s Day for a long walk along the deserted sands.

It’s always joy to be with Atsuko’s sister, we all get on so very well and I have never seen two people laugh as much as they do when they are together.

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Just a 10 minutes drive from our place in Shimane is Tamazukuri Onsen, said to be the oldest onsen area in Japan. Although close to home, this time we stayed one night in a hotel so we could relax in the hot springs and have dinner with Atsuko’s sister. I really do enjoy onsen in Japan, I like the routine of washing on small wooden stools before the bath and I love the outside gardens the most. It is strange at first to be naked outside but it’s really nice to lie in naturally hot water watching the stars and while you sometimes have to share the large baths with others, it’s usually quite empty when we go. The waters contain healing minerals so regular visits to onsen really have a physical effect as well as emotional.

The following morning we climbed the steps to pay our respects at Tamazukuri Jinja. It’s a beautiful shrine but sadly the shimenawa rope has fallen victim to a relatively new tradition of people pushing coins between the straws to make their wishes. I personally don’t much like this and actually Izumo Taisha has prevented people doing this with netting. Before we left that morning, we sat at the river and ate a very modern and delicious version of mochi-ice-cream! Mochi is sticky rice cake (here) but these were balls of ice cream covered in sticky rice and topped with brown sugar crunch. I had mango and vanilla and the girls had orange, raspberry and green tea, it was amazing. A rare opportunity when I put my camera down was snapped up by Atsuko so there are even some rare pictures of me in this post!

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On one of the mornings when it wasn’t snowing too much, I wandered back down to Shinjiko and found that there were fishing nets in the waters beside the main bridge, not far from a tiny fishing port. Between unused, moored shijimi boats, I watched herons, cormorants, egrets, kites and more, all plucking fish from the cold water with relative ease. All of these photos were taken within a few metres of each other and because I was there for so long, the birds gradually got used to me and I was able to get quite close to capture these pictures.

I have been trying to take a decent picture of the japanese kites for such a long time (years actually) so I was quite pleased with what I was able to snap here. They move fast and never stay still in the air for very long at all. I’ll still try for better but I am temporarily satisfied with these. : )

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As many will now know, Izumo Taisha is the one of the places we make an effort to visit each time we return to Shimane. Previous visits (here) and (here) describe a little bit about the shrine. When we go, we have the peculiar feeling of being home. We enjoy watching people’s astonishment as they stand beneath the huge shimenawa and couples writing messages of love happiness on 絵馬 (えま) wooden boards. Perhaps most of all I like watching the miko-san hurrying between their duties around the shrine.

The miko-san wear a white kimono jacket and beautiful red 袴 (はかま) hakama, which are a special kind of traditional clothing. These trousers were originally part of an outfit worn by samurai and the seven deep pleats are actually said to represent the seven virtues of bushido, the ‘way of the warrior’ (rectitude / courage / benevolence / respect / honour / honesty / loyalty). I don’t really pretend to know much about these things but I observe and wonder, then I usually try to find out a little bit more about what I am seeing. As with most things in Japan, there is a great depth to shrine culture, so the more you learn, the more you discover that you don’t know. It’s interesting to remember though that most things experienced in Japan have meaning under the surface and I love this process of observation and education.

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