Sunday, August 31, 2014


When two of your taste-making, trend-setting, style-conscious friends suggest a place to you, you need to make it happen.  S and G had just been to Japan the month before, and S gave me a few of their favorite spots but really pressed hard on Naoshima Island.  It was out of our way, most of our days were already accounted for, but... I had to trust her on this one.  And, ohmygod, it was one of the BEST parts of a trip full of best parts.

Naoshima is an island with an industrial past that has been re-branded as an art island, thanks mostly to the Benesse Corporation.  It's also like a shrine to Tadao Ando, which you know I like.  We stayed at the Benesse House Hotel, which was worth every penny.  By staying there, you have access to the Benesse House Museum after hours, so you can have a nice dinner and a few drinks and then look at some damn good art.  Yes!

Besides the Benesse House Museum, there's also the Chichu Art Museum, which (please please please follow that link!) was also built by Ando (did I mention that all of the Benesse House buildings/museums were, too?), but is basically underground.

Oh shoot, I'll borrow a picture here:

See?  Built into the ground!  Ando for the win!

So the Chichu has a tight collection of art, but the best part of it by far was the Matisse room.  You take off your shoes before entering the naturally lit room and, I swear, those paintings just GLOW.  It is so wonderful to see them in a minimal space, it gave me new respect for Matisse and Impressionism in general.  The paintings looked so modern and fresh--and it was trippy to view them in probably the same light as he did while painting them.  WOW.  B and I found ourselves alone in this room for some minutes and it was one of those blissed out, how-am-I-so-lucky-in-this-life moments.  Because, check it:

You feeling me?

So Naoshima's basically this island with art scattered throughout.  But there are still many folks living there and going about their daily lives.  In the Honmura village, some of the old houses have been transformed by artists as part of the "Art House Project."  We went into a mind-blowing one by James Turrell and Tadao Ando, that my words won't do justice so I'll be brief.  You entered with a small group into a totally dark space, clinging to the walls until your guide instructed to you sit (and you trusted there was a bench behind you).  We all waited some time--I don't know how long--5 or 10 minutes and just watched while the space transformed before our eyes.  It was incredible, pure and simple.  After we all could "see," our guide led us to the front to have a better look at what was actually going on, though it wasn't entirely clear how it was executed.  Oh damn, it was cool!  I'm not gonna describe it so you have to GO THERE.

There is also a museum dedicated to Ando's architecture on the island that was pretty great, too.

And, of course, Yayoi Kusama's painted pumpkins.  The red one greets you upon arrival from the ferry, and the yellow guy is just outside the Benesse House.

Selfie with pumpkin.

Pumpkin hugger.

We wandered the grounds of Benesse House, just outside our room and found this nifty pavilion by Dan Graham.  How did I not know of him before?  Actually, not knowing about his work or his "pavilions" made the experience better.  We had enough time (i.e., there was no one else wanting to check it) to figure out the piece on our own, alone.  At first, we were all like, big whoop... until B went in the other side and then we realized what was going on and we had a daaaaaaamn moment.  We were transposed together, in the same space.  And our backgrounds were also collaged together.  I felt like a hologram!  Was I a hologram??  Oh man, we stood there for a while, just experiencing it.  Can we get one of these for the courtyard of our apartment building or something?  Hello, Mr. Graham??

And here's a shout out to the James Turrell piece that was in our room.  So nice to be trusted with good art.

The view from our patio.  The yellow pumpkin is just behind those trees.

We took a spot of bubbly here before dinner.  There were fish leaping out of the water, a Swedish family to our right (!), and you can almost make out the yellowy goodness of the pumpkin in the center back of the frame. *sigh*

We did a mini ceramics course (well, if you can call it a course if the instructor doesn't speak English and you don't speak Japanese) before we caught the ferry back to Uno.  It was nice to have a hands on art experience after being inspired by all of the real art.

Oh, Naoshima.  We will be back.

Where Are The Rides?

Quoting Betsy on that one.  Wouldja get a load of this supermarket in Osaka?  We thought it was an arcade from the outside.


I mean, SUMO!!!!

The sporting part of our Japan trip continued, and we headed to Nagoya to catch one day of the sumo tournament there.  You can't just roll up and see sumo matches whenever you're in Japan.  There has to be a tournament on and even then, the tournament might not be on in the city where you are.  So it takes some planning.  (Side note, you can visit the stable [yep, the place where the sumo wrestlers live and train is called a "stable"] in Tokyo and watch them train but it's not the same as a tournament.)  We only went to Nagoya for the sumo, but it turned out to be a nice city--nothing remarkable, just a nice and regular city in Japan.

The stadium opens at 8 am or something, and the bouts start with lower level wrestlers and guys in training.  Most people turn up mid-afternoon, when the matches get better feature the bigger name guys.  Here are some of the higher ranked wrestlers arriving.  I don't know who these guys are, but I got caught up in the frenzy of their arrival--there's something funny about finding yourself thrilled over seeing someone that everyone else thinks is a celebrity.

We were shown to our box, which had space for two persons and a table.  You take off your shoes when entering your box and sit on the floor.  (There are regular old seats, but they are further back in the stadium.)  Here's the old guy next to us with his scorecard, binoculars, and Sapporo.  He is obviously a seasoned spectator.

We had some pretty darn good seats!  Everything I read beforehand made me expect the matches would be "boring" and more about the pageantry in between bouts and less about the bouts because they were over so quickly.  Boy, was I misled!  The buffalo stancing before bouts was pretty great--and not at all too long.  They do those high side leg raises and throw sand on the ring.  Boo-yah!  I was feeling that!  Then they squat down and eye each other until one of them makes a move to get to wrasslin'... or they stand up again and front a bit more with the salt throwing and all.  How is this boring??

Once they start, it's on!  Some bouts are short, wherein one guy tosses the other guy outside the lines (sometimes pretty raucously, taking out the richies in the front skrilla seats), while other bouts go on for at least a minute--even almost stalemating while these two giants are stuck in position, mid-grapple.  Finally, someone is forced out of the ring (this is how you win) and the match is over.  Sometimes it's hard to tell who goes out first, and then the referee calls up some other robed referees, they confer, and then the winner is chosen.

Here's a photo mid-match.  I took some video, but I'm having trouble loading it.  (But check my instagram here and you can see a video midway down the page.)

The last few matches get really heated and the crowd is super into it, cheering and chanting for their favorites.  One of the favorites is Endo.  Follow the link to see a pic of his fancy apron.  They all wear these fancy aprons when they first parade around the ring.  But yeah, if the crowd doesn't like the outcome of the match, they throw their seat pillows toward the ring.  (This is what you'll see in my insta-video.)  It's like pillow confetti up in that piece!

Here is some sumo swag.  Don't know who these guys are, but I love the handprints.  There are lots of wrestlers from Mongolia and a really good guy from Bulgaria on the circuit these days.  They also serve chankonabe at the stadium, but they only make a limited amount and it was sold out by the time we arrived.  Anyway, this is the stew that the wrestlers eat to gain weight.  Yeah, I probably didn't need any of that.  

Sumo fans.

Yakult Swallows

We went to the baseball game in Tokyo.  We couldn't get tickets to a Tokyo Giants game, so we went to see the Yakult Swallows instead--not that this was disappointing at all.  In fact, maybe it was better than going to the Giants game... everybody goes to a Giants game.  The Giants play in a fancy domed stadium, while the Swallows play in the old Meiji Jingu stadium, which was built in 1926 and has hosted the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

The first difference I noticed between good ol'American baseball and the Japanese version was the food sitch.  As in, most people bring their food to the game, so there are vendors lining the sidewalks leading to the stadium selling all sorts of bentos, beers, and snacks for you to bring into the game.

Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to try Japanese baseball stadium food, we got a snacker of edamame and a tea-soaked egg.

We splurged on good seats (thanks to Miya for arranging!) on the first baseline, on the Swallows side.  A couple of things to point out here.  (1) There are cheerleaders.  (2) There are distinct areas where all of the Swallows fans sit and where all of the Carp fans sit.  (3) The fans only cheer for their teams when they are batting. (Of course, it is well organized even at the baseball game in Japan.)  (4) These cheers take the form of songs, with instruments, and each player has his own song that is repeated by the fans every time he goes to the plate.  (5) The Swallows fans are known for their umbrella dance, and they bring mini-umbrellas and then stand up during the 7th inning stretch to perform.

Here they are umbrella dancin'!  

And there are "sexy" beer girls (some sexier than others), going around with backpacks of beer.  Here is the Sapporo girl making sure the guy in front of us isn't thirsty.  Note that she is not really wearing her baseball cap, but that it is folded and hair-pinned to her head.  Many girls were sporting their hats this way.  Haven't they heard of VISORS?!

Oh man, fans were indispensable while we were in Japan.  They were handed out everywhere as marketing props, but you couldn't beat 'em for some one-handed air conditioning just about anywhere.  (I would walk down the street fanning myself, local-style.)  

The rules.  Good thing we didn't bring any jet-balloons.

The stadium food consisted of hotdogs, fries, cheese-filled potato wedges, some kind of roast beef sandwich, and these plates of assorted sausages.  Oh, and ice cream and other frozen treats.  I'm sure there was more, that was just in our section.

Speaking of frozen treats, here's B with a frozen beer and a hotdog.  Why, oh why, aren't they hip to frozen beer in the US?!

Swallows swag.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Japan Eats!

Here's a hodgepodge of some of the best things we ate and drank in Japan.  Oh boy, I was on the gluten and the ice cream and the booze over there.  I mean, we were on vacation.  Judge not!

Sake sitting in its own puddle.  Yep, you drink the sake out of the bowl after you finish the glass.

This is Jetty and Tomo.  These guys are key to your izakaya experience.  Trust what they order; it's the best stuff.

Hmm... there's some salmon collar, an omelet with cabbage, and assorted yakitori (un-skewered).

This is Tomo's legacy to me--the umeboshi hi.  The smushy mess at the bottom is an umeboshi plum, that dietary wonder.  The glass is filled with soda water and shochu and, I swear, it's the ultimate hangover beater.

Proof that Juna is the coolest 1-year-old.  Here she is sleeping off the day at the izakaya.

We went to another izakaya that is so hard to find, but so worth the confused taxi ride there.  Our taxi driver realized where we were trying to go and confirmed with Miya, "It's the famous one that's really dirty, right?"  Right.

Oh boy, was it good.  The owner was so involved and so proud of his meat.

Here is some "sake stealer" (the pink stuff), which is basically fish guts.  It's super salty and it pairs with sake magically.  

Here is the owner, cutting off fine pieces of this marbled beef for us to try.  Mmmm.

This is obviously intestines, but it's a mix of chicken, pork, and beef.  Yums.

Grate-your-own wasabi.  This is the real deal.

Melt-in-your-mouth beef, with a dollop of wasabi.

Part of our satisfied crew.

Of course the hot dog comes with a cute li'l individual ketchup and mustard packet.

Carrot and orange flavored ice cream.  

I thought these donuts were cute...

Until I saw THESE!

And the Billiken reigns supreme in Japan.  At least as far as candy goes! 

The best izakaya night in Kyoto.  This crew was the best!

Just the regular ol' bento boxes you could buy at the train station blew our mind.  What a healthy and balanced (and beautiful) meal!

We had to try all of the local favorites in Osaka.  This is okonomiyaki.

And this is takoyaki.  Those fried balls are filled with octopus.  Yums!

We went to the cutest "camping" themed restaurant in Osaka, where they served all of the food like this, with shovels as spoons and water in a thermos.  So cute!

This is the summer eel that's a specialty of the Kyoto region.  

 And this is agedashi tofu, which is basically deep-fried tofu.

And I'll leave you with Byron and the cutest watermelon ice cream ever.