Thursday, December 30, 2010

Capsule Hotel!

My last night in Tokyo I decided to spend at a capsule hotel. Capsule hotels have become pretty famous for not only being a really bizarre and somewhat frightening alternative to the traditional western style hotel room, but for also embodying Japan's cultural down-sizing and dealing with a high population (especially in crowded Tokyo). They are claustrophobic, as you can imagine, but actually not so bad! I slept well enough! They are pretty much just glorified bunk beds, with tv's, lights, a fan, and a built in alarm clock! The hotel had several floors and many rooms, each room with a bunch of corridors and I would estimate about 100 or so people per room. Plus the hotel was right next to the train station in the center of Tokyo!... but which also happens to be right in the middle of the red light district! I think next time I will stick to a regular hostel, cheaper and a lot less busy.

Afternoon In Yokohama

Yokohama is Japan's 2nd largest city, with about 4 million people! It's only about a half hour subway ride away from Tokyo, so it's really accesible. It's also right on the ocean and has a beautiful harbor area. The day after Jessa and Shawn left, Angelica and I had a few hours together so we decided to go somewhere new! Always a good choice!

A Culinary Tour of Tokyo: the Holiday Version

The past week in Tokyo has been amazing! Instead of a recap of what happened, I will recap with a play-by-play of the different types of foods my fellow Fulbrighters (Angelica, Jessa, and Shawn) and I ate over the course of the holiday! We decided to make the theme of the week "Americana", in honor of us not being able to be home in the states over Christmas. Our trip included two days at Tokyo Disneyland, and a Christmas dinner at Outback Steakhouse!

First up is this delicious Mickey shaped ice cream sandwich! Disneyland over christmas was a blast, even though it was absurdly busy! We figured: what better way to spend Christmas 3000 miles away from home than Disneyland, the happiest place on earth?

Churros are a amusement park standard, this one is Mickey shaped too! Ahh!

Dozens of popcorn carts were spread out all through the park, each with a different flavor ranging from soy sauce and butter to honey (the latter one being delicious), this pic is of some pretty amazing milk tea flavored popcorn. Milk tea is super popular in Japan, and also one of my favorite drinks that I have discovered since I got here!

For our big Christmas dinner following our time at Disneyland, the Outback Steakhouse was the only logical choice.

After the required Blooming Onion appetizer and our main entree, we went crazy and split three desserts, the Chocolate Thunder From Down Under, as it is called! A choice I stand by! And the first real brownie I've had since leaving home! Amazing!

Near our hostel was a restaurant that had some crazy desserts displayed in the window. So, on our last night together, we finally went. We all split this impressive and unbelievable dessert: a loaf of toasted bread, cut in to squares, covered in vanilla ice cream and coconut!

Before saying our goodbyes in the train station, we bought a few cupcakes! This one is matcha tea flavored!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Louie's [Diner] in Japan Vol. 4

Cinderella's Castle, Tokyo Disneyland

Sunday, December 19, 2010

New work!

Here's the link to the full project on my website, please check it out!-

Yesterday, I finished working on a furniture project which focuses on notions of distillation in Japanese philosophy and aesthetics. Two things in particular have served as initial inspiration. While walking through a park in my town, I noticed a bench, actually two benches. These benches, I decided, were the purest expression of a bench that I have ever seen. It was a log, a tree trunk, that had been cut vertically down the middle, which yielded two benches. With one cut, two perfectly functioning benches were created. The other was a bridge that crossed a stream. Large rocks were gathered and placed in the stream to form a bridge one could step across. I couldn't imagine a more purer expression of a bridge. Context, perhaps, is what is most important here. I became fascinated with paring big concepts down to their most fundamental state, simultaneously uncovering new, and maybe better, ideas and solutions.

Friday, December 17, 2010


At the pottery studio, we have recently experimented with new glazes, including this metallic silver. It is pretty challenging to get the kiln to the exact temperature that will allow the silver to fire properly. But we lucked out and it came out perfect!

School Day

Yesterday, my friend Krystel, an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) who also lives in Takayama, invited me to spend a day with her at one of the schools where she teaches English. This particular school is way out in the countryside and home to under 30 students from 1st to 6th grade. Some grades are comprised of only 2 kids! I played some number games with the students, ate lunch with them, played a few games of basketball in the gym, and took part in a very serious game of tag. It was a blast!

Also, I made two good friends!

One huge difference between the Japanese school system and the American system is that here there are no janitors, instead all the students do their part everyday to clean the school. I was shown how it's properly done:

Monday, December 13, 2010

More work!

34 cups, 4 bowls, and a vase!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

First (Actual) Snow

I'd say about 3 or 4 inches worth... that melted within 48 hours. It started to snow while I was at the wood shop and kept on snowing through the night.

The next morning, I went to my favorite view point in one of the parks in town, which is on a hill where the ancient Takayama Castle used to stand and which overlooks the whole city.

Latest Project

3 sake sets and 4 mugs!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Signs of the Season

I came back from the wood shop 2 nights ago and was surprised to see a huge three-story light-up Christmas tree on my apartment building! I've been pretty surprised at how well decorated Takayama is for the holidays! (If you look 2 windows to the right of the tree, on the 4th floor, you can see my window- with my christmas lights!)

Later that night I went out for a walk, at the time it was just barely drizzling. I didn't bring an umbrella. Less than 20 minutes later, it was a full-on snow storm. Though short-lived, it was amazing!

Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara

Following Thanksgiving, a few other Fulbrighters and I headed to Kyoto for a few nights to explore the Kansai Region. This is where I studied in Japan 3 years ago on a RISD ceramic department trip. The great thing about this part of Japan is that all of the major cities are really close together and connected by a comprehensive, and cheap, train and subway system. It's possible to travel between Osaka to Kyoto to Kobe and to Nara in under an hour and for under about ten dollars. This time of year it is particularly busy in Kyoto. The week I was there it was perhaps the busiest of the season, people trying to see the last of the Fall foliage before it is too late.

The first thing we did after getting off the train in Kyoto was get some lunch. Italian. We had pizza and pasta. The first time I had pizza since leaving home!
Later that night we explored Kyoto on foot. This stream runs along Shirakawa Dori, which my guidebook claims to be one of the most beautiful streets in all of Asia!

The next day we headed to Kobe, home of the world famous Kobe Beef. A huge Earthquake devastated the city in 1995, and the rebuilt city is beautiful and highly modern. It also has a nice China Town.

Kobe is a Port City, and has a pretty spectacular harbor.
Back in Kyoto for the night, we were strolling down a particularly well lit side street, and found ourselves walking right behind a Geisha, a real one! There are fake Geishas all over the city, as a tourist thing. But when you see a real Geisha, you know they're real- the make up, kimonos, and overall presence is unquestionable.

Later in the trip, we headed to one of Kyoto's famous temples, Kiyomizudera Temple. Kiyo mizu roughly translates to holy water. The walk to get there was extremely crowded, and meandered through hilly and windy streets.

That night we hiked my favorite Shire in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Shrine. I visited here 3 years ago and it was incredible, however, I didn't hike the entire path so this time I was determined to do the whole thing! The shrine is really unusual. It is comprised of thousands of red torii gates that line a 4km path up the side of a mountain. There is an amazing view of Kyoto from the top!

The last full day, Jessa, another Fulbrighter and I traveled to Nara, Japan's ancient capital. There are plenty of famous shrines and temples in Nara, but secretly, no one goes for them, everyone actually goes to see, and play with, the famous Nara deer. The city's parks are loaded with friendly deer!

Nara's most famous temple is called Todaiji, and it is the world's largest wooden structure. Incredibly, it burnt down several centuries ago and was rebuilt, at one third it's original size due to material limitations. Which means it was actually a lot larger that it is today. Also, the proportions of the building are very deceiving, it appears smaller that it is, notice how tiny the people in front of it are!
Inside the temple, one of the pillars has a small hole cut out in the base. It is said if you can fit through it, then you will attain enlightenment in your lifetime. So I tried it... with success! Not on my first try however. I had to take off a few layers before I could do it!

Wow, I did it!!
The last morning back in Kyoto, with only a few hours before I had to catch my bus back to Takayama, I headed to walk the Philosopher's Path, which is a  famous path that runs along a river where an ancient philosopher used to walk. I was also here 3 years ago and I remember an excellent ice cream stand where I had sweet potato ice cream. I was able to find the same stand! I provided the picture I just took, as well as the same picture from three years a go for a comparison!
Circa January 2008.
Sooo good!