Japan and I

Following my marriage to a Japanese citizen, in 2006, my visits to Japan have become a yearly event, just as my visits to my homeland, the Basque Country. They say that family is where the heart is, and ours are divided three ways between Japan, the Basque Country and UK, where we have set our base.
I have decided to write in this blog about my relationship with Japan through the familiarities I am finding between my own culture and my husband´s, and I am also keen to share the discoveries as I often feel that, as humans, we tend to focus on differences more often than we focus on similarities, and this tends to result in a segregation which I do not personally understand.
I also feel that Japan has often been portrait as the country of superficiality and excess in which the western reading of youth cultures seems to have focused on, and frankly, it is not the one I know. In a similar way, and having lived in the UK for almost 13 years, I have come to realise that my own culture is also one which is completely unknown and I see this as a chance to open a window to my own homeland too.
So let me please tell you a story, the story of my journey of discovery of a culture I share a lot with. This entry is only a little tester, but I hope that you like it.
(pic by Tsuyoshi Saeki, my lovely lovely brother… in law)
As an introduction, I would like to start in Tokyo. Most people imagine Tokyo like this, but this is “only” Shinjuku…a central area of town, but as it happens in every city, other areas are different and might surprise you.
Shinjuku is so bright at night that it almost feels impossible to get lost on the way back home. This is a great area of town if you are looking for a place to eat, to drink or generally to socialise. It is great for shopping too, and it is in Shinjuku that you will find Tokyu Hands, a great crafts paradise, with an upstairs floor accommodating another of my favourite shops in Japan: Yusawaya. The fabrics, patterns, details, buttons etc etc.. paradise.
I think if you go to Tokyo, and you like crafting, you should make sure that you visit a bookshop and look for the section dedicated to sewing. Japanese women make so many things that one feels totally behind. They make bags, clothes, knitted scarves, weaved ones, wrapping for gifts… the list is endless. And if they make so much, they need the inspiration, which is why books and magazines are a hit!

 

One of my favourite places in Tokyo is the Ueno area. Where all the museums sit side by side… You can spend the morning visiting some, have a lovely lunch at the soba cafe over the train station for very little and continue with more museums in the afternoon. So fantastique!
Architecturally, there are two great examples: the National Museum of Western art by the greatest Le Corbusier and the Gallery of Horiyuji Treasures by Yoshio Taniguchi and Associates (picture above) which is the most amazingly beautiful museum you will have seen. So careful with every detail… Even the chairs onthe entrance area have marks on the floor to exactly position them!

 

Nara is the old capital and in the year 2010 turned out 1300 years old! Its temples, were all dressed up for the occasion and we had a lovely time going from one to the other enjoying the company of hundreds of children in their spring break who wanted to practice their English with every foreigner, even those who, like my parents, did not speak English!
Nara has a real sense of old Japan… or at least the image of the old Japan as buildings are frequently re-built. Heijo-kyo Palace was rebuilt for the occasion and although, i have to admit that it was a bit weird to have to wait for a train that crosses the citadel to pass before we could reach the palace.
One of my favourite places in japan is Kyoto, and in Kyoto, the golden pavilion o Kinkaku Ji. It is so absolutely perfect! The temple, the lake the plants, the trees… I love it.
This is the place where I love most removing my shoes and walking along the timber boards, feeling the grain under my skin… Ryoan -ji, the amazingly beautiful and serene seascape like rock garden…
Arashiyama is a little town in the outskirts of Kyoto. It is beautiful, particularly in spring, but this place was the most amazing find for me… The house of a very well known Japanese actor Denjiro Okochi. If you looked for paradise….this place could be it.
And then there is Hakone… Lovely lovely Hakone… and the Hakone Open Air museum, which hosts sculptures from amazing artists like Antony Gormley, Henry Moore or my beloved Picasso. Gabriel Loire´s sculpture with its sweeping twisted staircase reaching a platform overlooking the gardens is simply magical.
And in Hakone as well, the most beautiful ryokan with onsen I have ever imagined to be lucky enough to visit… staying in the same room as one of the most well known Japanese writer.
And then, Fuji san, always present but not always visible…. you could not imagine Japan without thinking of the most iconic mountain in the planet.