I’ve just come back from an amazing two weeks spent exploring Japan, it was my husband’s first time, so we stuck to keeping our itinerary simple along the main sights; so we interailed from Tokyo- Kyoto- Okayama and Naoshima island. I’ve come back so inspired and buzzed! Japan is definitely a country with so much to offer, with a depth of traditional craft and culture- Japan is so insanely stimulating to the senses and at times can be exhausting. But I get such an energy from Japan, I think it’s the fact they take care to look after every detail, whether it’s the slightly archaic paper ticket system of the train system or the little ekiben lunch boxes that kept surprising us, with the cute pickles and individually boxed compartments.
We took this trip as I’ve travelled to Tokyo for fashion buying inspiration trips before, and I’m often left gutted that I don’t get to see much else other than all the shopping districts, but I also feel lucky enough to have had amazing glimpses of what the country had to offer, so I had to come back on my own terms.
This time, we tried to fit in as much as we could, as far as our legs and heads could take us! In Tokyo we visited the Nezu Museum, this is a stunning museum that houses traditional Japanese and East Asian art. It also has a stunning traditional garden behind it’s modern architectural exterior. At the time, there was a fantastic exhibition of original Edo-era paintings, which include the famous Ogata Kōrin's Irises , Tawaraya Sōtatsu’s flowers and grasses screens and Sumiyoshi Gukei’s Tales of Genji and scenes from Kyoto. I fell in love with the dramatic use of negative space and unsual placements used on the screens, and the gorgeous detail and colours that are still vibrant today, especially the indigo blues combined with the gold leaf. Here are some examples above that I’ve sourced from the internet. Unfortunately, since the museum did not allow photography I have had to use similar examples found online. For me as a designer, this was a bit gutting as I often go to these places in search for reference material and inspiration. However, getting the chance to get up and close to these screens was a really special opportunity to see how they drew and painted.
We also visited Daikanyama T-Site, which is a super hip and specialised shopping area, with the most amazing book store, I really recommend. This docile neighbourhood is a quiet haven away from the bustling Shibuya and was a nice escape for the afternoon. We discovered Hokusai’s Manga books, that are an absolute illustrator’s resource!! He basically was the first manga artist of the time! And had such quirky weird imagination but also such an eye for drawing life. We ended up buying a lot of research books and stationery whilst here….our suitcases were full! And Japanese know how do to stationery!!! Tag in Kyoto was once of my favourite store to buy pens and paintbrushes, along with the usual Tokyu Hands.
Tokyo is such a vivid contrast to Kyoto, it has a real buzz (apart from the continuous weird sounds, like elevator voice overs, music from stores, pachinko slot machines), you do have a Lost in Translation moment, especially if it’s your first time. It’s strange though, as I have seen Tokyo become more and more westernised, and it’s interesting to see that English is appearing a lot more. It makes it easier as a traveller, but I also enjoy escaping to the quieter hoods like Shimokitazawa and Koenji. Kyoto has this Parisian elegance, where we stayed in Sanjo was quite a hip area, with low-lying traditional Japanese houses and restaurants with noren decorated with different themes. I loved the quietness and the gentle grid systems of the city that seemed to go on for miles!
With the many shrines and temples we visited, there was a few that were a real highlight for us, this included Daika-kuji Temple and Nijo Castle, these held some really gorgeous paintings, and interiors that were really inspiring for me. I really loved the ceiling motifs, each one different to each other and all with different meanings. Nijo have been restoring all the original paintings inside the castle, so we got to see some really vibrant pieces, I really loved the oversized pines, representing power of the Sho-gun and the tigers, which were painted from imagination, as all they had were skins to base their ideas of what tigers looked like.
The one thing I realised after two weeks in Japan is that the landscape is wild and extreme. There are highmountains with tall pine and bamboo jungles contrasted with flat rice paddies with bustling cities and towns squeezed in. This extreme brings a massive respect to the details of nature, which you can see in their art and they translate this beauty so well. I really recommend visiting Naoshima too, as it was a massive contrast to the rest of the trip. The island is like an instagram hot spot with Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkins dotted around the island. But what I loved about the island was, was that there felt like there was an air of mystery and hidden treasures to be found. The way Tadao Ando ‘s architectural museums are blended into the environment and dotted around the island and exploring by bike was a heaven-send after weeks of walking! Anyway, I definitely want to go back, but next time do more rural and rustic areas like Kanazawa and visit traditional craft houses. There is so much to explore here, and I feel that every one who visits has a completely different experience to the other.