An artsy first day of spring

People work hard here. There are certain Japanese words with no exact English translations that relate to this tradition of hard work. Every day, I hear, “otsukare sama deshita” more times than I can count. According to Google translate, the phrase means, “cheers for your hard work.” But, it is so much more than that. Further, when anyone leaves the office, he or she says, “osaki ni shitsureshimasu,” Japanese for, “I am sorry for leaving work before you.”

“It’s already 8:30 p.m. and I’m very sorry to be leaving work before you.”

Sike.

However, lucky for everyone in Japan, there are 15 public holidays every year. In America, there are about seven. So, that’s a whole week more of three-day weekends and mid-week breaks.

On one of these public holidays, Spring Equinox Day, a friend and I took a trip to Naoshima. Naoshima is most famous for its contemporary art museums, such as Benesse House and Chichu Art Museum, as well as the idea of living art—art that coexists with the community. So, we often stumbled upon art without even realizing it was art—if that can happen.

Red pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama

Red pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama

Street festival to celebrate Spring Equinox Day

Street festival to celebrate Spring Equinox Day

Chichu Art Museum is almost entirely underground. So, on this very rainy day, it wasn’t a bad place to spend the afternoon. There are works by artists such as James Turrell and Walter De Maria. However, my personal favorites were those by Claude Monet. Not necessarily because they were by Monet (although, who doesn’t love Monet), but rather because, before entering the exhibit, we had to remove our shoes and put on slippers. Then, we entered a huge white room and admired Monet’s Water-Lilies while wearing slippers… only in Japan.

After wandering around the museums and in the rain, we eventually made our way around the island to see the famous yellow pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama. She is best known for her trademark of polka dots—that can also be seen in her recent collaboration with Louis Vuitton. My friend and I might as well be in an advertisement selling expensive handbags, or at least promoting tourism to Naoshima… don’t you agree?

Yellow pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama

Too much fun in Tokyo

Tokyo is exactly what I wanted it to be. The people. The lights. The new. The old. The shopping. The food. The transportation. The fashion. The bars. Everything

As most of you know, I grew up in the rural part of the middle of somewhere. Not exactly nowhere, but nowhere enough that no towers, skyscrapers or sky trees inhibit the view of the horizon. I love watching the sun rise in the east and set in the west. I love pastures full of cows and fields full of corn. Basically, I love empty. I love nothing.

However, something about living in Japan draws me to cities. The feeling of exiting a station and being instantly surrounded by bustling energy is indescribable. Perhaps, if I had to, I would describe it as a feeling of intention, purpose and belonging. Places where being unique is actually more than acceptable, it’s borderline trendy. I have felt this lively spirit in many of Japan’s cities—Hiroshima, Osaka, Fukuoka and Sapporo. But, Tokyo set a new standard. A standard which I doubt, can be replicated by any city in the world.

Although I had already technically been to Tokyo for JET orientation, I had not ventured more than 100 yards or so from the orientation venue. Eight months after this initial Tokyo touchdown, I have successfully adjusted to culture shock, I no longer question my sanity for moving here, and I have adjusted to a new environment and lifestyle. Therefore, taking on Tokyo sans orientation seminars and meetings was actually downright amazing.

Basically, my friend and I did all of the “Tokyo things,” we couldn’t do the first time we were there. First, we visited Kamakura, a coastal town about an hour from Tokyo. My friend’s student’s son (‘s friend’s sister’s boyfriend… kidding) actually lives there. So, he showed us around Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, the Great Buddha, Hasedera temple and several other nooks and crannies.

We also visited Sensoji Temple and the Sky Tree in Asakusa, took “purikura,” or photo booth pictures in the technological circus of Akihabara, meandered in Harajuku, shopped and ate in Shibuya, drank and danced in Roppongi and to top it all off missed the last bullet train home from Tokyo Station.

Yup, if you’ve read this far, you’ve read correctly. We had such an amazing trip that we didn’t want to leave and almost didn’t. Somehow in between sensory overload, my inability to read a timetable and my complete apathy for time itself, we managed to miss the last (four hour) train to Fukuyama. But, we did manage to catch a train that took us to Okayama, the prefecture next to Hiroshima. Upon arriving, one of the most thoughtful and amazing friends in the entire world saved the day by making the long drive to Okayama to save us (she is extraordinary). Therefore, we managed to avoid a $200 taxi ride, sleep for two hours, then be bright city girls at work the following morning. Tokyo… you did us proud.