Monday, May 18, 2009

Progressively shorter...

Even though I haven't traveled anywhere in the last few weeks, I've still been pretty busy around Okayama. Our friend Tom got back from his pilgrimage on Shikoku and only had two days left in Okayama before he went to a few other cities and then back to England, so I had some good times kicking it with him and a few other people. One day we went on the Kibi bike trail, a great little path through the countryside with temples, shrines, and a 5 story pagoda where we picnicked with real bread, 3 cheeses, olives, apples, strawberries, chocolate, wine, and champagne. It was pretty fantastic sitting in the shade of the pagoda, but it was made even better by the huge fields of purple seasonal flowers in bloom. On his final day in town, we had drinks and jumped off the bridge by the castle into the river, a proper farewell in my book.

Other than that I've just been doing a lot of drawing, reading, studying Spanish, and planning for the whole European adventure coming up in a month and a half. Hopefully I can get a hold of my friend in Vienna, because I want to hang out there for a few days, then go to Prague for another couple days or a week, then to Frankfurt for a day or two, and then to Madrid where I can catch a train to Leon. I'm trying to save money for this whole deal, and I can't believe how difficult it is. My spending habits have become something I couldn't even conceive of a few years ago. I can do it though, even though I still have one big trip left here in Japan. I'm going to go to Takayama, a small and really old city in the North and then to Fuji and Tokyo. I'm quitting in a month and a half, but I still get a 2 week paid vacation in June. I count the days.

Here are some drawings I've been doing, I haven't posted any on this blog for a while. Cheers.







Thursday, April 23, 2009


Well even though I've had an amazing month traveling, I haven't been updating at all except for status updates on facebook. Sad eh? However, this last day trip me and Joe took is definitely worth writing about. And what makes this trip better than hanami in Kyoto? Monkeys!


On the way up to the park, monkeys were sprawled out in the road, and it was surprising to see the driver not slow down one bit or even move to the other side of the road. I definitely thought we'd witness some kind of horrible thing, but the monkeys just casually got up and slowly walked to the side of the road, following the car with their heads before returning to their positions. Once we got in the park, we were greeted by a little monkey and Joe put his hand down to say hello. Rather than being a gentleman and taking Joe's hand, the thing stole his ticket, ran away, and started eating it. I was ecstatic.

The next stop was at a feeding cage thing where we saw the monkeys going crazy for food. There was a man and his son inside a mesh cage, feeding screaming monkeys ripping each other off the fence to get their share. There were about 20 monkeys here and it was pretty impressive to see them all running around, screaming, and cleaning each other. There were two old men working here, and they kept the monkeys at bay with bamboo prodders and brooms. To get the monkeys' attention, they made a strange loud cooing sound, which we soon found to have much for power than we originally thought.


There were a few caged monkeys, including a baboon, and about 30 peacocks, but the best part of this whole adventure came at the end. We took our turn feeding a large group of monkeys further up the park, and were on our way down when we heard the same cooing sound from before. The old men were yelling as loud as they could this time, and we soon started seeing monkeys come out of the forest. At first just a few heads popped up over the brush, then more and more started to appear from the trees and by land. They just kept coming, and soon there were at least a couple hundred monkeys around us. I wish I had taken pictures of this chaos, but I really had no clue what was going on and was frozen in place.


There came a final coo sound, and all the monkeys started running across the street we were on towards one of the buildings. The first few that got there were led down to another area, and once all the monkeys were out of the forest, we followed the migration to check out what was going on. It was feeding time, and while the monkeys went crazy when we fed them, watching hundreds of monkeys fight in a big cluster for food was absolutely insane. Mothers carrying children were getting chased away or thrown, small babies bitten by bigger monkeys, and there was even a multi-colored mangy looking punk monkey that nobody messed with. To describe this in words, or even pictures, is pretty difficult. It was one of the most amazing, craziest, things I've ever seen, and even though the taxi to get to the park was expensive, it was well worth it.


After the feeding, I thought I'd try and communicate with the monkeys on a simple level. At first I tried offering one a sip from the cap of my water bottle, showing him that it was ok by taking a capful myself. When I put the cap out for him to take, he looked at me for a while and then made a strange grimacing smile type thing that was frightening. I tried a few more times with other monkeys, trying to give them rocks that they were collecting among other things, but nobody took to me. Maybe next time.

We also went to the beach and ate a lot of free samples of bread with olive oil made from olives grown on the island, so overall, the trip was pretty great even though we had a few mishaps with buses. I've got some drawings to post too, but they'll have to wait till next month when I get more space on Flickr. Maybe I'll finally get some of them Kyoto pictures up to, we'll see what the month brings.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Waterfalls and motorized battles

Another objective has been met: eating Kobe beef in Kobe. And holy crap, was it good. It's kinda funny that everybody here says Kobe beef is too fatty and that its not good, but while the meat is marbled with fat, its that good kind that adds a lot of flavor and just melts in your mouth. Our 10 oz. steak was on top of a heaping mound of garlic and topped with herb butter and onions. The final step before serving was lighting the whole thing on fire and waving the plate around on a little wooden board to put out the flames. Unbelievable.


As for the city, Kobe itself has a great feeling to it. When I got there by myself, I hiked up a small mountain lined with waterfalls to the Nunobiki Herb Garden that had great views over Kobe and the harbor. I hadn't eaten anything all day, and it was a pleasant surprise to find black pepper cheese, rosemary olive oil crackers, and assorted dried fruits in the gift shop. The perfect little assortment for watching the sun go down.


Once Joe got to Kobe we set off to eat, in search of Kobe beef but ending up finding a place just as good. We got another beef, Kagodashi, that we got to cook on a small stone heated by a little torch. This stuff was amazing, and they gave us salt and pepper, soy and wasabi, and ponzu with green onions to season each piece exactly how we wanted it. This place also had some great sashimi from a fish I've never eaten before, bonito. After our first plate of sashimi, I wanted another one but after seeing that we definitely payed for a high quality fish, we had to restrain ourselves and settle for a few more beers instead.

After that we were feeling pretty great, so we went to a jazz bar to sip on some whisky and enjoy a little live music. A great little trio played, and after a while a woman came up and started singing. Everything was really nice, and by now our pre-conceived "easy night" was turning into another one of them crazy nights. We headed out and started looking for a bar to hang out in, since Kobe doesn't seem to have many places to really get down, and chose a small bar randomly off the street. This place was really really small and there were 3 other younger people in there and a dart board. Our next decision seems obvious, we played some darts and then challenged the other people to a match. Let me note that neither me or Joe really played darts before. That said, these people were pros. They had some crazy style and each shot was right around the bullseye. They were good, but for some reason we were even better. We beat em 4 out of 6 games, and one of the guys kept telling us to go home. It was awesome, and I beat a girl wearing a skull necklace and black wristbands in a 1 vs 1 match.

We ended our night at another small bar with a foosball table with missing pieces. We got our first beer, and after a few minutes we were given tequila shots on the house. Confused but grateful, we started talking with the server and soon challenged him and his coworker to some foosball games. After a few more beers and two more free tequila shots, it was time to get to bed.


We did a lot the next day, but I want to focus on our little adventure in Harborland, a small shopping / amusement park area right on the water. Besides eating Kobe beef, we chose Kobe because we saw these crazy motorized animals in a few people's pictures and really wanted to ride them. When we first found them we didn't have any change, and got a bit pissed when we came back to see other people riding them. It worked out perfect though, because after a failed attempt at landing a large sausage from a claw machine, the giraffe and baby panda were facing each other on opposite sides of the little square designated for the animals. I chose the cross-eyed giraffe, and after a short countdown, our duel began. We were acting pretty stupid, waving our fists at each other and unleashing long strings of insults and it drew a small crowd. When we finally made contact, my giraffe stopped almost completely and a guy was out to fix it in about 5 seconds. While he was trying to untangle our animal mess, I continued to give Joe all I had, chasing him down and once his panda ran out of juice, I did a victory lap around his sorry excuse of an animal. We were applauded.


This post is already longer than I intended, so I'll end the stories here. Really though, Kobe was awesome with great food and some cool places to hang out in at night. Really really soon the cherry blossom season will start, and I'll be off to Kyoto to see them how they're supposed to be viewed. Looks like the last week of the pay period is going to be rough again.




Sunday, March 22, 2009

The short-armed champ and a few others...

More drawings, I'm too tired to write about Kobe right now so this'll have to do.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Some buildings and a quick line drawing of Jake P. I usually draw bums but Jake's so much more interesting. Check it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Small One, I promise...

So there's a lot of things to write about, but since I always write way too much and nobody wants to read it all, I'll just write about today and see how I feel. The weather for once wasn't cloudy and rainy on my days off, and me and Joe decided to spend it outside in the sun. We had kind of a late start since we both ended up staying up till 4 or so, but we headed into Okayama armed with sketchbook and guitar. We thought we could complete the whole artsy traveling show with a bottle of bubbly, so we stopped into Jupiter, found the cheapest bottle we could find, and went to the castle to sit by the river.

Joe's really good at guitar, and it's always fun to listen to him play. It makes it even better when he takes requests like Rockin' in the Free World and sings all out for them. Haha, sorry Joe, I had to mention it somewhere. It's also interesting because he's a blues and folk guitar player, which is practically unheard of here, so its fun to observe peoples reactions to the music.

While he played I drew him again and this one turned out pretty good I think. My proportions are still all wonky sometimes but I'm getting better at making decisions and being confident in them without needing to erase.

I've been drawing more and more lately, for my own enjoyment, but also because I got offered to show my work in a little coffee shop here in May. The woman who runs it doesn't speak any English, but we communicated well enough to come to some sort of understanding. On top of that, me and Joe might start playing guitar at the station and I'll try and sell my drawings. We'll see how it goes, but it'd be fun to play some real music instead of the J-Pop crap that comes out of that place. And of course, a little extra money is never harmful, especially when I seem to always run out of it a week before I get paid.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A little dancing on the beach and beer...

Well as the title says, I danced on the beach and had a few beers this last weekend. Nobody was with me, it was just one of those things that happens.

I went to Shodo-Shima, an island an hour's ferry ride away from Shin Okayama, just to get away from Okayama and to be by the sea again. I learned later that the island has a monkey zoo where local monkeys roam free and fight for food. By the time I got there though, I would have had to rush everything and I figured I could just go the next day. I also found a place to rent scooters, and the next day became more and more promising. My plans were to drive around the coast on the scooter, then head up the mountain to the monkeys and call it a day. Sounds pretty great eh? But when I woke to a rainy day once more, my plans changed to drinking a lot of coffee and drawing by the beach. Maybe not as exciting, but it was still nice and the woman at the coffee house gave me an orange.

At night, I ate some strange Italian concoction at a restaurant with weird music box music playing. This kind of music, instrumental covers of famous songs, is all over the place. My favorite restaurant has one CD on loop, with a pretty great version of Ticket to Ride on it.

Anyway, I got beer and was settling down for a night of drawing and listening to music. The water nagged at me though, so I left my room after a drawing and headed to the beach to sit for a while. It got kind of cold, and as the drinking continued, the music started to sound better and better. And then it just happened. I got up and danced for about 45 minutes to a bunch of funky soul music and then went back to do one more drawing before bed.

So here are a the drawings I did over the last couple of days. I really like how the sketch of the buildings came out, they're by the castle here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Some mo doodles...

A Rainy Day in Takamatsu...

Last week we went on a day trip to Takamatsu, the capital city of Shikoku, an island south of us on the Inland Sea. I hadn't really been outside Okayama since Osaka, and it felt great to be on the train heading somewhere new again. What made it even better was that the track was about 200 feet above the inland sea. It was really cool and a pretty amazing engineering feat. There were huge pillars that went right into the water holding up a massive track for two trains to run at once. So the hour train ride was interesting the whole way, and when we got off everything just felt good. Takamatsu is right on the coast, and one of the main reasons we were going there was to hang out for a bit by the water and have a few beers. Before we did that, there was a garden that we heard was pretty great, and after walking around in there for an hour or two, I'd say it was one of the most impressive things I've seen so far.

From the beginning, the garden was amazing. There were these really old trees that had bark that looked like a tortoise shell and branches that bent in all sorts of crazy ways. You can see tree limbs held up by crutches all over Japan, but I've never seen trees so contorted anywhere before. It looked like all of them had a terrible birth defect, but at the same time it was a really beautiful thing. After a path lined with these trees, we followed a path up a mound which was labelled as Little Fuji. What we saw at the top was something distinctly Japanese, something I can't say about most of the country, with no influence from Western Culture at all. The landscape looked just like a woodblock print or a screen painting, and it was what I always imagined when I thought of Japan. Trees were trimmed perfectly, and the patterns formed by everything seemed to have a very natural flow. I never really understood what all the hype about Japanese gardens was about, but after that view, everything changed.

Anyway, we kept on walking around the grounds, and soon found a bridge with a bunch of koi in it, all swarming around a group holding bread. It was hilarious watching their mouths extend a few inches out to try and suck up the bread, and we decided to feed them ourselves. I got way too into it, and started putting my hand down in the water and having fish suck the bread right out of my hand. It was really funny, and we got the group we first saw all into our little show. One of the men in the group grabbed my bread and started poking the fish in the eyes and stuff and I wasn't sure exactly what he was trying to achieve but it was a lot of fun.

After the koi, it started to rain. Lightly at first, but then it picked up and we thought it'd be best to head back to the main part of town. We managed to find the garden alright, but we got lost on our way back due to my terrible sense of direction. We ended up at a station on the opposite end of town, and then got off on the wrong stop on our way back to the main station. Haha, it ended up working out ok, because we bought some beer and potato snacks and found the tracks. On our way back, an old guy with a toothpick dangling out of his mouth opened up the door of his house and gave us a nasty look and a grunt. We didn't know what the hell he was doing, so we were kind of making fun of him when we heard a voice call out " SUMIMASEN, SUMIMASEN!" from behind us. It was the old guy, and he gave us two umbrellas for absolutely no reason. It was pretty cool and it felt good knowing that some people are genuinely nice and don't need a reward for helping others out.

We finally got back to the main station and the coast, but the rain was really coming down by then. We were determined though, and after an umbrella led charge to the coast we found a gutter under an overhang that was dry. It smelled a little, but it was really peaceful after spending a long time in the rain. We ate our snacks and drank our beers and then went up to a building by the station for a high class dinner. We thought we deserved it, and we really wanted some good sushi since we haven't really had any good stuff since we got here. We found a comfy looking restaurant and got a bunch of tasty sushi accompanied with a few containers of sake. Heaven.

We also went to the Naked Man Festival but I feel like I've typed too much already so I'll keep it real short. The festival is a bunch of guys dressed in only a sumo wrestler diaper all fighting for a stick that brings happiness. It was a lot of fun screaming at the teams while they ran around the festival grounds and giving them high fives. The guards were pricks though, and they kept pushing me back whenever I got a little too close to the runners. It was definitely a good night, even if the actual competition part of the festival was kind of weak.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I haven't gotten much sleep the last couple days so I need to go to bed, but I'll update soon with some more sketches and pictures from Takamatsu and the Naked Man Festival.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A fine day off...

Well today was really awesome. In spirit of my new desire to interact with the world instead of sitting in front of a screen, I headed out into Okayama today with nothing in mind. My plan was to walk around and find cafes to draw in, and that's exactly what I did. I found two great cafes today. The first one was a sunny cafe with windows lining a whole wall and a really cheery staff. I did one drawing there and had some coffee, then wandered the streets for a long time trying to find run down buildings and another cafe.

The weather was great, so between cafes I stopped by the river and finished the Murakami book I've been reading. I was there for an hour and a half or so, and even though I was a bit chilled by the end, it felt great to be outside with the sun on me reading a good book.

The next cafe I hit was on my way back to meet Joe for dinner, and it was labelled as a coffee saloon. It's kind of weird going into a restaurant or something here, similar to going into a bar with a regular crowd in a small town, but once you get situated everything is really nice. The saloon was filled with older women dressed in fake fur and scarves, all chatting with each other from different tables. The waitress / owner was an older woman who knew everyone there, stopping at their tables, even sitting down, and chatting like she was out with her friends. I was drawing, and the woman saw what I was doing and praised me with a million "Sagoyyy!"'s and approving groans. Later, she gave me a free pancake potato thing that was really good. That cafe rocked.

Tomorrow were going to Takamatsu on Shikoku, an island about an hour away, so I'll update again soon with some pictures and thoughts.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A few more...

It feels really good to just draw lately. The best part of it is that I can go places and draw instead of being cooped up in my apartment. Today me and Joe hiked up a mountain by where we live and sat drawing for a while at the top. The weather was great, the sun was out, and it felt really good to be doing something I really enjoy and be doing it in such an awesome place. I get paid tomorrow finally, and I'm going to begin making day trips every week instead of wasting my money and time at the bars here. I'm not here for that long, and I'm really inspired to just travel again and experience new things instead of doing the same stuff week after week. So here's the drawing I did at the top of the mountain, it was a little rushed and Joe kept moving but whatever, and a little ink page I did after we got back.

Oh, and another movie recommendation: Vicky Christina Barcelona. It's a Woody Allen film that came out last year, and I think it's amazing. I think it's funny that what's refueled my desire to travel is something that's completely passive.

And check out the music! I added a few songs I think are good for perusing my site. Just click play and let 'em load.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Being poor is good for some things...

Since I don't have any money till Friday, I spent all day drawing in my apartment. I haven't really used ink much until recently, and I really like the boldness of it. I used to be scared to use straight black, but I'm starting to gain a little confidence and the whole process is becoming enjoyable instead of being something I worry over.