Monday, September 27, 2010

Nagoya Day Trip

Yesterday, I had to go to the immigration office in nagoya, about a 2 and half hours bus trip away, to get my re-entry permit. This will allow me to leave Japan and come back throughout the year without any issues upon re-entry. What I was expecting to be a day-long activity only ended up taking about 40 minutes, so I was free the rest of the day to sightsee! I wasn't really planing on sightseeing, so I didn't have any stops in mind. I did make it out to the Nagoya Castle, though, and then just walked around for awhile.
Later I enjoyed some Matcha ice cream. My absolute favorite!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Finally Moved In

Here's where I'm living for the next several months!

Tool Truck

Before I start class in a few days, I had to pour a hefty chunk of my grant money on a collection of Japanese wood working tools! Which I purchased from a travelling tool truck that makes trips to the school every few months.
Here's my fully equipped collection!

Takumi Juku's main wood shop is pretty huge. The ceilings are really high and it has plenty of windows that look out into the mountains.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Neighborhood

Famous Nakabashi Bridge, it's kind of the symbol of Takayama.

A Bowling Alley!


Before I could sign up for a bank account, sign the apartment lease, or get a cell phone, I had to get one of these. A Hanko is a personal stamp that acts as a signature, and is used on important documents. I just got mine made, it has three Japanese Kanji which spell out my last name- Ri Ga and No, from top to bottom.

My Address!

Louis Rigano
Mezon La Monado No. 402
Hanasato-Machi 3-8-4

Thursday, September 23, 2010

First Few Days In Town

They've been a blur. I am probably forever indebted to my professor/ sensei/ translator Osamu Shoji, aka Shoji San. He is the advisor on my Fulbright Project. He is also a master wood worker who worked as an assistant to the late James Krenov (a super famous wood worker who has had a huge influence on modern craftsmen). Shoji San is himself one of the most respected wood workers in Japan. In April, he will retire from Shinrin Takumi Juku and head to Tokyo, to work on restoring and repairing furniture in the Meiji Shrine (The biggest shrine in Tokyo). I might tag along!

These past few days, he has been helping me out with everything, including translating everything (I'm almost entirely helpless in rural Japan without knowing the language). We went to the town hall and got my Alien Registration Card, applied for the National Health Insurance Plan, applied for a bank account, and I'm in the process of obtaining a cell phone (I needed an address first) etc. He has also helped me find an apartment- which I found today! We looked at a bunch of places all around town, including the one in the middle of nowhere I mentioned in my last post. However, that one thankfully I did not pick! I'm in the middle of downtown Takayama, a block away from the train station. I could not have asked for a better location! Also, I live directly above a design store! What are the chances?! The apartment is a few miles away from the school, but I was assured that I can get a ride from one of the students at school, some of whom live in town as well. The apartment is pretty small, but no so bad, it's also really cheap! It's on the 4th floor and has really nice lighting. Plus, it came mostly furnished- I got a laundry machine, refrigerator, tv, table (which is also a heater (the Japanese are so ingenious)), and stove (though no oven). No bed, so I'll be picking up a futon when I also get some small things such as a pillow, blankets, pots, pans, plates, and cups. I move in this Saturday! I'll post the address then.

Till then, here are photos of the building, when I move in, I'll put up photos from the inside!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

To Takayama!

I have finally made it to Takayama! After nearly a year of anticipation and speculation, here I am! The 5 hour bus ride from Tokyo just might have been the most breath taking trip I've ever taken! Here's a quick overview (Though photos do not do it justice):
Today I spent touring Shinrin Takumi Juku, the woodworking school I will be at for the next several months. It's awesome! The woodshop feels very familiar and I met the other students, who are all very friendly. I also checked out an apartment that I'll probably end up renting. It's super cheap, pretty clean for the most part, and furnished! And really small. The school is a few miles away from downtown Takayama, and my apartment is almost directly between the school and the town, which is probably my best option. Thought this means that I'm living in the middle of nowhere! I can definitely say that this will be the most rural place I have ever lived. 

Just before dusk I got to my hotel, which had a pretty magical view of the town. 
The town itself is equally as magical too! Rows of tiny shops and restaurants, classic architecture, and a river crossed by some very scenic bridges. (Expect more photos soon!)

After walking around for a bit, I found a small, well lit restaurant with a menu in english. I dined on a regional specialty: Hida-Beef. It's supposedly comparable to the famous Kobe Beef. It was interesting, and super fatty. I don' think I will be ordering it again anytime soon. I only explored for a few hours before calling it a night, just hanging out in my hotel room for now. I'm excited to see the town in the daylight!

Last days in Tokyo

My last 2 days in Tokyo were amazing! My RISD pal, Karin, took me on a tour of Tokyo! The highlight being the view of Tokyo from the Mori Tower.

The 53rd floor of the building also has an art museum, which had an amazing show up focusing on nature in art and design, very relevant to my project! 

Tokujin Yoshioka's bench is the largest piece of single cut optical glass. Breathtaking in person. It is inspired by a waterfall's movement. 

Here's Karin peeking through a paper forest! This piece took up a whole room, and was meant to be interacted with, as if from the view point of a forest animal. Pretty cool...

While on the walk back, we passed an alleyway that was lantern-lined. We heard a drum beat and walked down. There was a tiny festival of some kind!

The next day we visited the Imperial Gardens. It was super humid, but that kind of added to the experience. I couldn't believe that such a huge garden was right in the middle of downtown Tokyo!

Tokyo- 6 places, 1 day

I decided to extend my stay in Tokyo for 3 additional nights. This past Monday was a holiday in Japan and I was advised not to travel then, so I was in Tokyo till this morning! On Saturday, another one of the Fulbright Fellows and I decided to make the most out of the day, so we pretty much did the grand tour of Tokyo.  What we saw (in order of appearance): The Meiji Shrine, Harajuku District, Shinjuku Distric, Ueno Park, Ginza District, and then finally the Tokyo Tower.

First stop was the Meiji Shrine:
Then we witnessed a wedding! (Apparently this happens every weekend...)
Harajuku was next:
Shinjuku! (Home of the busies train station in the world):

Ueno Park:

And finally Tokyo Tower by night!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tokyo Street Fashion

Orientation In Tokyo

Orientation wrapped up yesterday. It was only 3 days, but so much happened, and with jet-lag still in effect, it seems like I've been here for a long while. It's been amazing! Made 10 great friends and explored Tokyo indepth! Quick run through:

The first night, there was a huge and lavish reception for the new Japan Fulbrighters at the American Ambassador's private residence. It was really swanky, with an open bar and some of the fanciest Japanese food I've had yet. It was a great time to meet people, a lot of expats and government people, and other supporters of the Fulbright program including a Japanese architect who wants me to visit him in a nearby city to eat at a Sicilian restaurant. How fun!
Security was tight, too.

Following the reception, we had a Fulbright Fellow karaoke session. Unlike the American interpretation, karaoke in Japan is done in private rented rooms, with flashing lights and pleather upholstered sofas.

There was a beautiful view from the building's stairway: 

Another Fulbrighter and I went to the Tsukiji Fish Market the next morning. The best time to go is when it opens at 6am. We got up at 4:30 to make sure we got there in time. The equates to 3 hours of sleep the night before! Anyway, Tsukiji is the biggest Fish Market in the world. I can totally see why, we walked around the building for at least an hour, navigating through narrow corridors, hoping over puddles of salt water and fish parts. haha. Then we ate a bowl of Sashimi! The best I ever had, by far. (I don't know why, but photos were not allowed in the tiny restaurant) The restaurant was more like a tiny bar, right off to the side of the market.

That night, after lectures and discussion over the details of the grant, all of us took a subway to a distant part of Tokyo. We were invited to dinner at a pub called Popeye's, by the head of Fulbright Japan. A really cool guy. The reason he took us all to this place was because they have 72 beers on tap! A really great note to end the orientation on.