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.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

We'll all be cyborgs soon...

Check this out, science continues to amaze me.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Micron and Markers reunited...

So I gave up on the markers a while ago, but for some reason I pulled 'em out and did these two characters. I had all my colors planned, and the first thing I realized after coloring the guy's robe was that I used the wrong color. Real tight, but I think it turned out pretty well anyway. The scan doesn't really do the colors justice but whatever.

Friday, February 6, 2009

First sketch in a while eh?

A little drawing for Brandon's band I did the other night.

Oh, and even though the message is a bit too obvious at times, the movie Happy Go Lucky was really good. Kind of an affirmation that just because a lot of people aren't satisfied with their lives, its ok to be happy yourself and not let their attitudes towards things get to you. Being happy, and trying to make others feel the same way never hurt anyone. Cheesy, but that's me.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Osaka plus a few...

Wow, I've become really crappy at keeping this up to date. I haven't been terribly busy since I go back from Osaka, but the ability to watch movies and just hang out feels great after a day of work. Also, the 11 Second Club continues to take up most of my free time, and I'm really happy with this months entry even though there are still obvious problems. Other than that, work continues to be incredibly repetitive, but there are still things about it that will keep me here for a few more months. Like I wrote before, I teach twice a week in Kurashiki, and the students there are really great. I met this one woman who is a really high level, and it's really awesome to talk to somebody in a normal manner, who I can tell that I slept in my closet because I drank a little too much the night before. She even pokes fun at Japanese culture and all the crazy things that go on here. Good stuff, and as always, its nice to see people enjoying lessons and your company even if they don't understand you very well.

Osaka was another awesome trip that totally drained my paycheck one week after I got it. Haha, this trend will stop soon, but just being in those big cities is so exciting. The food is wonderful, and the lure of dance clubs is too strong to resist. The one thing about our trip was that it was raining the whole time. It was strange, but it never really bothered me. I guess I was too distracted by all the neon lights and hordes of people around me to get annoyed or think that the trip could have been better if it would've been sunny. I went up on Wednesday by myself and just got oriented in the city so when I met up with Joe later I would have some clue as to where we were. Luckily, Osaka was much easier to navigate than Tokyo, as all of the entertainment and nightlife is focused in just a few areas.

At first I just walked around the Shinhaibashi and Namba areas. The main shopping street is a few miles long and covered the whole way. Designer stores and 100 yen shops alike line this whole walkway, and its unbelievable how massive the place is. Being taller, its even crazier to be able to look far down the street and see no gaps in people. It really was like a herd of animals following each other. I stopped in a few shops, and ate at an awesome ramen place, and by that time Joe was arriving on the Shinkansen so I headed back up to Osaka station to meet up with him. After a little confusion, we finally got out of the station and were met by a brass band playing in the street. They were really good, and even did a cover of Waterfalls. The best part though was seeing how the crowd around them reacted to their music. When band members tried to get everyone to clap to the rhythm, instead of just feeling the music, the people watched the timing of the band member clapping and tried to match him. Anyway, they got me into brass bands, and if you like that kind of stuff, check out Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Their CD Voodoo is awesome, and they play with some great musicians like Dr. John.

Anyway, we checked into our hostel whose directions were "Take the colored road and look for the sign." It was surprisingly easy to find, and we got a great deal for a private room, about 25 bucks a night. Now that everything was set up for the night, I showed Joe some of the cool areas in Namba and we ate dinner. By now, we were ready to start drinking, so we headed to the area that our guide books suggested and ran into some hussie guy trying to get us in a club. It sounded like a lot of people were in there, but we decided to wait until later. For some reason the clubs here don't really fill up until 1 or 2 in the morning. The night was pretty dead, but we found a bar where we were the only people and took shots of tequila and had beers. This place was huge, and they had a shark swimming with a bunch of other fish in a tank in the middle of the bar. We stayed here until 1:30 or so, and headed over to Club Azure for some dancing. Again I was shocked by Japanese rhythm, and insetad of just dancing, most people were doing practiced routines. There were lots of people doing the robot and little pop moves, but a lot of the time their moves were off beat. I really love these situations because I get even more loose than normal and really enjoy just feeling the music. Dancing was a lot of fun here, and we stayed out super late and ate Yoshinoya at like 5:30 or 6 in the morning before drifting off to sleep.

From Osaka

From Osaka

The next day we met up with Karrah, a girl who teaches in Kurashiki. Our main plan for the day was to go to the aquarium, and we ended up spending a few hours there because it was so awesome. The Osaka aquarium is famous for its two whale sharks, but I was impressed with every exhibit in the place. It all started with otters. First river otters, and then giant sea otters that put on a great show for us. There were seals, some turtles, and then out of nowhere, a sloth. I've never really seen one up close, or seen one move, but this one crawled down out of the shadows and across a rope to where a woman was waiting to feed it. They really are amazing animals, and their claws are out of control. Their movements seem fake, and each push forward was smooth and controlled. I was impressed already, but the exhibits were just beginning. I won't write everything, but the whale sharks, and the tank that held them, were some of the coolest things I've ever seen. The water was crystal clear, and there was a huge variety of fish and other aquatic life in the tank. Right next to it there was a huge manta ray and some octopuses, and it was an over-stimulation similar to the neon lights in the streets. My battery ran out in the aquarium, but I got some good pictures while it lasted so check em out. When we got out it was a lot later than we thought it would be, but it was well worth it. Just outside of the aquarium was the world's largest ferris wheel, so we decided to go on out just to do it. It wasn't anything crazy, but it offered some nice views of the harbor and the surrounding area.

From Osaka

From Osaka

Next we headed into town and did a little shopping, stopping in at my favorite store, Zara where I found two shirts on sale for 20 bucks each down from 80. Oh, me and joe also got really awesome shirts from the aquarium with goofy whale sharks on them. They look like they're out of the 80's and you can't really tell what the image is, somebody here's confused it with a cadillac already, but they're cool nonetheless. We got some good food, and before Karrah left, we went to Osaka castle. It was a really long walk up to the castle itself, but the whole journey was a lot of fun and really beautiful. We walked through forests, and saw the original foundation stones from 1200 or so when the castle was first built. How humans built structures like these so long ago amazes me. It seems impossible that stones that large could be moved at all, no matter how many people were pushing and pulling. Since it was raining, there was nobody around, and when we reached the castle it felt great to be alone with such a magnificent building. It is a reconstruction, but they did a brilliant job with it. Normally, the new castles, shrines, or temples end up looking gaudy and ugly, but it was obvious that they took the time and hired the talent to make this castle feel like it once did. We hung out around the castle for a while, looked out across the city, and then headed back down so Karrah could catch her train back to Kurashiki. It was still kind of early, so we wanted to try going to one of the jazz clubs that were mentioned in our books. Stupidly, we left our books at the hostel because we thought they'd be a burden, so we ended up in a hostess bar part of town that felt real sleazy. Every building had women outside dressed in expensive clothes waving to passerbys, trying to get them to come in. It didn't take long to realize what we'd gotten ourselves into, so we decided to just choose a bar and drink until it got a little later. We chose one called Oldie's Bar or something like that, but it wasn't anything like we thought it would be. We walked in and immediately got a strange look from both the bartender and the one woman inside. He sat us down, and started calling out to girls. It was great because a few girls came out, and then he said that a set would be 10,000 yen each, or about a hundred bucks. We just laughed and left, and on our way out, we saw through a girl just putting on her robe through an open door. Hostess bar = brothel??? Haha, it was pretty funny, and we found a little restaurant that we could just drink at, so we sat and had a few beers, swearing to ourselves that we'd take the night easy and avoid shots of any kind.

We headed back to the area we were in the night before, and went to a different club that was supposed to be pretty popular. This place had a lot more people, and some that could actually dance, and for the first time girls actually approached us and talked for a while. Of course their English wasn't very good, and a few were pretty messed up on an assortment of drugs, but it was fun nonetheless. I met this girl DJ who gave me her number for next time we go to Osaka. She said I was a good dancer and rubbed my sideburns, we had an instant connection. Haha. We soon forgot our promise to ourselves to not take shots, and began a sort of ritual. A shot of tequila, a beer, and then back to the dance floor. Again, we stayed out super late, ate Yoshinoya, and then went to bed.

From Osaka

From Osaka

It's difficult to really explore a city in a few days, and really experience the night life on Wednesday and Thursday nights, but I had a great time while we were there. My fascination with Japanese cities hasn't died out yet, and every alleyway continues to grab my attention. Our next stop is Kyoto, which I think will be a lot different than the last two cities we've visited, but I really can't wait to see all the temples and the old districts that have been there for centuries. I'll remember my camera charger too, so I won't run out of battery so early into the trip.

From Osaka

From Osaka