#ThisIs2016

Today I bring you a post that is unlike any of my others. Typically I am light hearted and very excited to talk about the art, travels, and inspiration I find. But this one is about something I carry very close to my heart and relates to my desires to renew my cultural history that was repressed, as well as address current affairs, and a chance to advocate for a multicultural citizen's right to vote in this election. The only people who own this country as a part of their birth right are the Native Americans. The rest of us should accept the true and positive meaning of what it is to be a part of the American melting pot.

It wasn't until about three or four years ago that I really made it a point to identify as someone of Japanese descent, and chose to promote that side of my ancestral history through my art. Before then, I was just multicultural like everyone else in this country. With the recent racist segment featured on Fox News, where a reporter ventured into China Town NYC to learn what "natives from China" feel about the current election, I am compelled to share two videos. The first showing the obvious ignorance that continues in our current modern day America (as shown through one of my favorite shows, The Daily Show), and the second video of Asian-Americans responses to the idiocy we have yet to eradicate from America. Both are examples of why we need to keep voting educated and with progress for human rights in mind. Encourage positive, inclusive and progressive rhetoric.

-Went over to my friends house for dinner. His parents were from a different country. They said something to each other and laughed. When I asked my friend what they said I was told, "can someone pass the rice."
-Had a high school teacher who I once saw as a friend/mentor repeatedly call me "Ching Chong Novy." I honestly believe it was meant as a term of endearment, but that doesn't make it right. Same with the few other "Asian related" nicknames I received in high school.
-In high school had a friend repeatedly ask me "how can you see?"
-Had people repeatedly ask me to help them with math, or tell me that math is probably my best subject. What I should have done was offer to help them, and then we would have both failed. But at least I would have proved a point.
-Have been told "well, most Asians are usually good at art."
-Played a lot of instruments as a child. When I told that to people... "well every Asian kid is always a musical prodigy." Too bad I took 9 years of piano lessons and the only thing I can remember how to play is the first half of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." Yep. I'm some musical genius. 
-Have been told since I was 14, "You have big boobs for an asian girl."
-Had a former best friend's boyfriend say goodbye to me after dinner and then patted me on the head and said "...little China Doll!"
-When I told strangers that I was going to Japan for my husband's and my honeymoon I was asked, "so is that where you're from?"

The list goes on, and I know I've had it easier than many.
It wasn't until I was in high school that I realized many of my classmates thought I looked different than them and therefore WAS different. I didn't try to confront this behavior until it was the end of my college years. The worst part of it all is that for a long time, (just as so many other people of color I have seen do), I laughed along and even encouraged and made derogatory comments at myself and own race to cope with the fact that I was made to think that I was different than everyone else.

I'm writing this, not to make all my white readers feel bad and guilted if they have ever slipped up and done this before, but to let them know #thisis2016 
#change #hope #TrumpDoesntDeserveToSeeMyBirthCirtificate

A Lumatic 6th Month Anniversary

Today is Michael's and my sixth month anniversary of being married! 09-04-2016. So in addition to telling the world that I love my husband and these past six months married have been honest and beautiful, I also need to take a moment and brag about my friend, Tyler Hromadka, owner and creator of Lumatic Imagery (formerly 505 Photo Studio).

Lumatic Imagery is a photo and videography company based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Now, of course I am biased and think his work is fantastic, but let's take a step aside from our friendship, and the fact that Tyler was Michael's best man at our wedding and his wife was one of my bridesmaids, and focus on his artistic and professional integrity...

For instance, Michael and I received the video of our wedding, filmed by Lumatic Imagery. Take a look, listen, and watch the way each frame is trimmed to meticulously match the music. Both songs chosen were also used at our wedding--but how do the songs so perfectly match the length of the footage? Through seamless stitching of both the motion picture as well as elongating each song. Every transition and frame, paired with each measure perfectly captured the feel of our special day. I have seen other videos for various weddings his company filmed. Each video truly captures the unique experience and individual personalities of the brides and grooms. Furthermore, Tyler was in our wedding, therefore did not film it himself. This just goes to show that he employs other talented individuals who he trusts with his name on the line. That is the sign of an entrepreneur who is going places.

So if you are getting married in the Indiana or near midwest area, do yourself a favor and choose Lumatic Imagery

 

 

Love Story For Love Birds

Two weeks ago Michael and I were truly honored to attend the wedding of our two amazing friends. We were even more elated to go because it was in London! (Cue reading rest of post in poor attempt at a British accent)

Our dear friend Katey has been going overseas for a few years now and along the way met her now husband, Nathan. After a while of suffering through a long distance relationship across the Atlantic, she decided to attend the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art to receive her MA and be closer to Nathan. After a while of being in the same city, let alone the same country, they have made their boarder-defying love even more official--white dress and all!

Wedding time at St. Mary of the Angels!

Wedding time at St. Mary of the Angels!

All of us at the Prince Edward pub reception.

All of us at the Prince Edward pub reception.

Among the plethora of wedding traditions, I have begun my own by gifting a painting to each of our friends who get married. This one couldn't have been made easier for me. Nathan wrote their love journey down (literally) into a beautiful story, to which I won't embarrass them by publicly posting the "manuscript" here. All you need to know is that it was honest and sincerely written--not something you would necessarily expect from your traditionally dry humored and self-deprecatory British citizen!

Although I was able to gift them a depicted chapter of their relationship, they gifted me the experience of rendering the piece. For a brief time I was able to share in their journey. They also gave Michael and I the enjoyment of meeting all of their friends who left a wonderful lasting impression upon us. 

Nathan and Katie, we love you and are so thrilled to have been apart of your day, share your amazing friends, and have an excellent excuse to travel.
Keep the love flying, love birds!

"Love Birds" by TGNovy, a wedding gift for Nathan and Katey Too.

"Love Birds" by TGNovy, a wedding gift for Nathan and Katey Too.

Dancing Wedding Crane

Just a couple of weekends ago, one of my oldest friends (not in age, but in friendship length... we've known each other literally my entire life) got married! She and her handsome-always-camera-ready fiancé said their "I do's" and are now husband and wife for life!

I'm happy to show off the piece I did for them. The work depicts a crane in three tones of metal leafing--silver, gold and copper--upon a quickly drawn sumi-e inspired brush stroke.

In Japanese culture paper cranes are folded to bring good luck. There are many popular stories of 1,000, or 1,001 paper cranes being folded to bring their creator good fortune or a "wish." In Japanese weddings, the crane is a symbol of longevity and prosperity. The cranes are folded for the newlyweds to bring them and their marriage luck, fortune, longevity, fidelity and peace. To Amy and Brandon, I wish you all of these things!

But those two won't need much luck. They already have a great relationship, and have been together for somewhere in the ballpark of seven years. They are two amazing people who will have one amazing life together!

Take Me Back to Tokyo! (Honeymoon, Tokyo)

Alright, here we are at the last post about our final and familiar stop in our Honeymoon adventure in Japan. Michael and I opted out of Kyoto, and decided to spend a little more time in Tokyo, a city that we had become familiar to us in part because we had been there at the first leg of our trip, but also because it reminded us of a bigger, cleaner, Chicago. Here we go...

Day 11 (oh yes, still on day 11)
We left off on our spontaneous decision to return to Tokyo early instead of staying in Kyoto. We took the Shinkansen back to the big city and were in for another 4 hour train ride. Michael enjoyed the scenery while I slept. When we arrived, Michael was really nervous about finding lodging in Tokyo. We didn't have a hotel reserved, so he took a page out of my book and got pretty anxious about it. Oddly enough, I took a page out of his book and was very relaxed about having to find a last minute reservation for two nights in Tokyo. I figured, it's just like Chicago! There no way a city this large doesn't have at least one room available for two Honeymooners. So we sat in the Tokyo JR Train Station to get some free wifi for our phones to do a search and officially cancel our reservation at the Guesthouse in Kyoto, and lo and behold, we found a place in Akihabara, Tokyo called the APA Hotel. Perfect!

Michael loves taking pictures of me anywhere I fall asleep that wasn't a bed.

Michael loves taking pictures of me anywhere I fall asleep that wasn't a bed.

Our spontaneity paid off. The APA Hotel was great. Small, but clean, and we had the comfiest bed yet! We decided after checking in, we were running very low on fuel, so it was a must to go grab ourselves some food. As was our common eating trend this trip, we had ramen. Good ol' ramen! And some gyoza. Yum! After fueling up, we headed out for a night to explore Akihabara!

Beer foam on the nose.

Beer foam on the nose.

Making my mouth water!

Making my mouth water!

Akihabara is a great neighborhood in Tokyo. It's very hip, trendy, has lots of lights, and places with a lot of reference to animation, like robots, anime, etc... We checked out the Gundam Cafe. We didn't go in, but took a look around the gift shop and took our pictures with the robot outside. Apparently it is a "Robot" inspired coffee house that also serves a full menu (which I have read on Trip Advisor has great curry), and they provide big screen entertainment featuring robots, anime, and I suppose a futuristic atmosphere.

Gundam Cafe and some robots.

Gundam Cafe and some robots.

One of the most memorable moments of that night we were not allowed to document through pictures: the Maid Cafe. I had read about Maid Cafes and been told that we should visit one by a friend who had been to Japan before. It was definitely fun and weird. Michael had a little less fun I think. We walked in and the hostess rang a bell--around 6 to 10 female-only servers in unison said something we did not understand in Japanese (probably a unique greeting) and waved at us. The servers and hostess are dressed in baby pink outfits that border between Little Bo Peep and a french maid. They had knee high stockings with platform patent leather Mary Jane shoes. Their hair was up in ponytails and makeup done up to enhance how big their eyes and how rosy their cheeks were.

We were seated right away and handed a laminated menu. The hostess pointed to a section of the menu that told us (in English, thank god), that photographs were prohibited except for food photos, we were not allowed to share a dish, and a mandatory gratuity would be added to the bill (which is weird for Japan). We accepted. Sitting around us was about half a dozen men. I was definitely the only women in there who was a customer, and probably one of very few female clients they ever get. It seemed to me that each of the maids catered to each individual customer. Ours was the only one who spoke English. They guy sitting next to us had a maid that seemed to "really enjoy" looking at all the photos he had on his phone. And two younger men who were together had a maid that was more casual, leaned on the table, and was totally playing the "flirty-charming" card. When we looked around we noticed another weird thing, each man who was sitting alone had a stuffed animal at his table. One guy had it carelessly placed on the seat across from him out of sight, and the oldest guy in the room had his stuffed animal sitting directly across from him on the table facing him wile he ate and didn't engage in conversation with any of the maids. 

Michael and I began to feel that the Maid Cafe idea began as a fun playfully sultry cafe for gentlemen, but turned into a place where men come to battle loneliness... hence the stuffed animals, the warm welcome, and each maid trying to cater to each individual customer. Kind of sad... but in a fun way?!

We decided to order dessert. We each got ice cream sundaes. Michael, strawberry. Me, chocolate. When they arrived they looked delicious and artfully crafted. They were served in those typical tall cone shaped frilly glass cups. You would assume that there were about 3 standard sized ice cream scoops in there... but after we each ate the top layer scoop, we discovered sweet bread cubed under mine! Michael had cornflakes under his. It was good, but so weird! And left us feeling a little cheated out of ice cream. Two expensive ice cream sundaes and a weird experience later, we thanked the maids and left for our hotel. What an end to our first night in Akihabara!

Day 12
With another day gained in Tokyo, we decided to visit the happiest place on Earth, again. Disney Land Tokyo here we come! We did DisneySea during our first Tokyo trip. So we wanted to see what Disney Land Tokyo would be like. It was kind of like a "greatest hits" park. There was Cinderella's Palace, something that looked a lot like Frontier Land, Splash Mountain, Tower of Terror, Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World, the Peter Pan ride, and a few other staples along with some new ones! 

Throwing up the peace signs and Michael with C3PO at the Star Wars flight simulator ride!

Throwing up the peace signs and Michael with C3PO at the Star Wars flight simulator ride!

One of our favorite ride was the Star Wars fight simulator (no surprises there). I was a little skeptical at first because I'm not a big fan of wearing those 3D glasses and didn't really believe that the simulation would be as good as a roller coaster. I'm glad to say I was wrong. The whole time it really did feel like we were moving at a racing speed! Both times we rode it, the story was different. It was still all spoken in Japanese, but we now had begun to expect that. Definitely made for an amazing experience. 

For dinner we decided to try an "American" themed restaurant. We had hot dogs! But these were the Japanese take on what they thought an American hot dog was like... It was definitely a new experience. The bun, was kind of like Challah bread--sort of sweet, and the hot dog was like kielbasa--slightly sweet... The ketchup and mustard packets actually ended up being the highlight of the meal. The simple engineering on how you can pop the packet open without creating multiple pieces of waste was pretty darn cool.

At the end of the night we made sure to park ourselves near the castle with a good view of the street. Then the light parade began. Over a million LED lights were used to illuminate each float and costume. The Genie from Aladdin was our favorite float. Genie's entire body was made up of little LED lights that chased, changed colors, showed patterns and swirled around. One of the funny things about the characters was that all the "face characters" (the ones who are dressed up but don't have a mask on, like the princesses, princes) were all ethnically... white. I suppose this was to be expected since Disney runs a pretty extensive foreign exchange program. The "mask characters" (like Mickey, Pluto, Goofy, Mini) were all probably Japanese along with the dancers. 

Michael & "Small World" dancers.  Hello there...

Michael & "Small World" dancers. Hello there...

The Japan part of "It's a Small World!"

The Japan part of "It's a Small World!"

Michael and I in front of Cinderella's castle, and across the lagoon from Splash Mountain.

Michael and I in front of Cinderella's castle, and across the lagoon from Splash Mountain.

After the light parade we walked to a bridge over the river with another good view of the castle. The final show for the night was about to begin and we were pumped. There was inspiring music, and the castle was suddenly illuminated in moving pictures. The projections were made with these 3 dimensional perspective projectors I had heard about before. Basically, from one point, you can clearly project on a 3D object without the image going in and out of focus on the different depths of the building. We watched different scenes of the most famous Disney movies flip by along to enchanting music, teared up a little bit, and then the show came to a close with some fireworks. Disney knows how to do it! There was also one last pretty cool moment of the night when the sky lit up orange for a few seconds. Michael turned to me excited, and said "It's the volcano!" He was right. At that time the volcano in DisneySea went off during their Fantasmic show in the Mediterranean Harbor! Crazy how powerful that fake volcano is! Another end to another great day.

The light parade and the castle ready to be illuminated in images! (That fairy was like 16'+ high!)

The light parade and the castle ready to be illuminated in images! (That fairy was like 16'+ high!)

Day 13
The next morning we had to check in at our new hotel. Before we did, we ate breakfast at the APA Hotel. There was the Japanese breakfast and the American breakfast. The American one we sampled the previous day before heading off to Disney Land, and the Japanese one we sampled today. Very different. Let me begin by explaining the traditional Japanese meal: one cup of miso, one cup of rice with seaweed and sesame seeds on the side, a little pickled ginger and some other root vegetable, and a serving sized fillet of fish--pretty delicious if you ask me. The American version contained: one cup of chicken noodle soup, Texas toast, an oval shaped bit of scrambled egg, a small pork kielbasa sausage, and ketchup--not bad... but different.

After filling up on another unique dining experience we were ready to head out. Bags packed we headed over to the Tokyo Green Hotel, which was right across from the Tokyo Dome. It being across from the Tokyo Dome didn't really mean anything to us, we are not sports people, nor do we bid of horse racing, and we had no interest in the Japanese boy band concert that would be playing. BUT we did discover that there was an awesome amusement park on the Dome campus. Now being across from the Dome seemed way cool. 

Our hotel room was the biggest room we had yet! AND we had a king sized bed! This was crazy awesome compared to the small standard sized Japanese hotel experience we had so far. There was even room for a couch and a place to sprawl out all our luggage and gifts on the floor.

Look how big this room is! We also made sure to put on the complimentary robes and jammies.

Look how big this room is! We also made sure to put on the complimentary robes and jammies.

Not sure what the "Wooo" button was on our TV remote, but wooo! Look at that view of the Dome!

Not sure what the "Wooo" button was on our TV remote, but wooo! Look at that view of the Dome!

Later that day, we took a trip over to Michael Heaven.. oh excuse me, Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo. Oh yes, this would be our third trip to visit Pokémon, but our first trip to the bigger "Mega Center" that was built recently. There wasn't much going on this day, probably because it was a work day. So no activities or battles. Just Michael, me, and a few other tourists. Regardless, Michael had fun (I did too), and we took some time to walk a bit around the rest of the mall where the Mega Center was located. 

Nearing the Gates to Michael Heaven!

Nearing the Gates to Michael Heaven!

Michael and all his friends.

Michael and all his friends.

After finishing up at the mall, buying a few more souvenirs at the Daiso, we headed back to the hotel for a little rest.

Next on our list was dinner (ramen again), and then to explore Harajuku. It was night time, and a bit rainy, but we took our umbrella and decided to see what the neighborhood had to offer. Harajuku is best known for its kawaii (cute) and trendy aspects. It's also the place where you go to see the amazing Japanese street fashion like lolita. When we got there, we were not met with many people in costume or lights. The rain probably drove most of them away. But for being a rainy night, there were still quite a few people still wandering the streets and roaming in and out of the stores.

Harajuku on a rainy night! Not quite as bustling as we expected.

Harajuku on a rainy night! Not quite as bustling as we expected.

Harajuku offers a lot of "cute" stores. We poked out head into a few, like a candy shop that gave out a free gummy when you entered, and many that were owned by Sanrio, which is most known in the states for creating Hello Kitty.

Baby Sesame Street Store,  Michael in a candy store,  and this heavy metal Hello Kitty. Stay Real.

Baby Sesame Street Store,  Michael in a candy store,  and this heavy metal Hello Kitty. Stay Real.

Couldn't pass up the chance to take photos at these Sanrio booths. Just so silly.

Couldn't pass up the chance to take photos at these Sanrio booths. Just so silly.

But the highlight of that evening was probably when Michael and I were casually walking down the street headed toward the train to go home, I hear someone shout "OH. MY. GOD." When someone is shouting on the streets in Chicago you ignore them. But in Japan, it was definitely meant for us. I looked up and saw my friend who I have known since middle school, and even attended college together. What a coincidence! My friend Adam had been traveling around the world with his boyfriend Jared. It just so happened that they had made their way across Asia and into Japan at the same time we were there! We said hello, shouted in excitement a bit, and then made plans to grab dinner together the following night.

A little crazy coincidental reunion with my friend Adam... casually on the streets of Harajuku.

A little crazy coincidental reunion with my friend Adam... casually on the streets of Harajuku.

Once back in the hotel, we took a rest on the bed and watched some Sumo wrestling on the TV. Our night was just about to get a little more crazy. We started to feel this rumbling and figured it was some heavy piece of equipment or kids rumbling down the hall. But it didn't stop. The rumbling grew and then the building started to shake and sway. Earthquake. At first when I figured out what was going on I briefly thought "Cool! My first earthquake!" And that thought immediately changed to "OH SHIT MY FIRST EARTHQUAKE!" I got very nervous then Michael and I stood under the doorway and waited for the building to stop swaying. Michael kept his cool. We looked on the TV and there was the warning sign flashing by. We ran to the window when the building was still to see what it was like outside. Everyone seemed to be carrying on as if nothing had happened. I guess this is pretty normal in Japan. We learned the quake itself was a 5. But in our area it felt more like a 3 or 4 out of 10 on the scale. So not that bad. We probably felt it for longer on the 10th floor of the hotel than they did on the street. After that it was time to attempt some sleep...

Sleep tight Tokyo, don't let the earth quakes bite.

Sleep tight Tokyo, don't let the earth quakes bite.

Day 14
Post earthquake, Michael and I decided to explore Harajuku in the daylight. Still rainy, but a little brighter. We decided to check out a different side of Harajuku to start the morning off, so we went to a shrine, specifically, the Togo-Jinja Shrine. On our way to the shrine we found beautiful grounds with a pond and koi fish, and followed a cat (or bakeneko...) up some stairs and found ourselves at the foot of the shrine.

Beautifully aligned under the torii.

Beautifully aligned under the torii.

Michael at the koi pond.

Michael at the koi pond.

So serene and peaceful.

So serene and peaceful.

Me at the koi pond. Sometimes a rainy day still makes for a pretty one.

Me at the koi pond. Sometimes a rainy day still makes for a pretty one.

We learned that Heihachirou Togo was the commander of a combined fleet that defeated the Russian Baltic Fleet in the Battle of Tsushima during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). It was said they fought against the strongest men. Due to his expertise in leading the Japanese to victory against the odds, many come here to pray for victories. He was coined the "God of Victory." The shrine was rebuilt after the war and the US Navy fleet admiral, Chester William Nimitz admired Togo so much that he donated to the shrine and wrote to it.

Togo-Jina Shrine

Togo-Jina Shrine

Eventually we decided to go immerse ourselves in the kawaii atmosphere and headed into the heart of Harajuku. One of the more memorable moments was in Kiddyland, a shop with primarily Sanrio memorabilia. Each level of the shop featured something unique. One floor consisted of mostly Star Wars stuff. Another floor was primarily Hello Kitty (tons of Hello Kitty), and then there was another floor which had some 1/16" scale models you could build. SO tiny! 

A picture tells a thousand words. God I love this photo.

A picture tells a thousand words. God I love this photo.

Street outside Kiddy Land...  "My Neighbor Totoro" Totoros!...  and Michael and his buddy, Vader.

Street outside Kiddy Land...  "My Neighbor Totoro" Totoros!...  and Michael and his buddy, Vader.

Who would have ever thought Kiss Hello Kitty would be a thing? #OnlyInJapan

Who would have ever thought Kiss Hello Kitty would be a thing? #OnlyInJapan

We eventually took ourselves over to a place we had hear sold great souvenirs that were more hand made quality and antiques. Didn't disappoint! The Bazaar was great. It looked like a temple and was filled with tons of hand made goods. We picked ourselves up a sake set, some chopsticks and a few small beckoning cats.

The Bazaar. Such a cool building with great antiques and souvenirs!

The Bazaar. Such a cool building with great antiques and souvenirs!

Harajuku was so green and pristine!

Harajuku was so green and pristine!

Michael and I on a bridge overlooking the street in Harajuku with the Bazaar behind us.

Michael and I on a bridge overlooking the street in Harajuku with the Bazaar behind us.

That evening we met up with Adam and Jared at a nearby station. We all agreed on sushi. We did a little hunting and eventually came upon a little sushi restaurant a little walk away from our hotel. We had a great time catching up and learned a bit about their own adventure traveling around the world. Jared started in New Zealand and Australia, and then Adam met him in Asia. They covered most of Asia and Japan was one of the last places on their list. Their plan was to just keep traveling west across Europe and keep on going until they run out of money. I have to say I'm envious, and extremely excited for them! Now that Michael and I have seen Japan we definitely have the travel bug. Can't wait to come back again!

Eating at this restaurant was definitely a true Japanese sushi experience. We did not order a thing. It was all just brought out to us. Everyone got the same thing. Green tea, red clam miso, and a plate of assorted sushi with some ginger on the side. We all enjoyed our meals, and were disappointed by it. All of the sushi was top notch. But we were delivered some pieces none of us would have probably ordered in the first place. I learned I do not like cuddle fish, and I still can't do octopus or squid. Everything else was up our alley though.  We followed up with dessert at McDonald's. Oh yes, McDonalds. Just ice cream though, (we didn't try their mos burgers), and Adam and I got a chance to reminisce about high school speech team and college.

Jared, Adam, Me, and Michael. Such an awesome time with these great people!

Jared, Adam, Me, and Michael. Such an awesome time with these great people!

Eventually the meal came to a close. We were all so glad to have seen each other. Adam and Jared were especially happy to be able to have full conversations with people who spoke English. They hadn't been around that in a long time. We all left with a little bit of home sickness, but had such a blast catching up with those two travel moguls.

Day 15
Our final full day started off with a "re-do" of our first full day in Tokyo. Since the Imperial Grounds were closed the last time, we decided we wanted to check them out today. Unlike the rainy day on our first attempt to see the grounds, today was bright, sunny with a cloudless sky. 

We headed off to the Imperial grounds and entered through a sort of pavilion with some water art. Once we got to where we thought the entrance was, we were stopped by some security because we were apparently headed toward the only entrance/exit that is designated for the Imperial Guard members and persons of importance. SO, we turned around, made sure to notify all the other tourists taking the same path we were and sought a different entrance. 

These are some BIG doors! Michael and I standing in front of the gates onto the East Gardens.

These are some BIG doors! Michael and I standing in front of the gates onto the East Gardens.

After crossing a beautiful bridge we passed the first wall and were met around a corner by towering gates. The grounds were simply beautiful and pristine. I'm sure they would have left an even bigger impression if we had visited just one month earlier and the cherry blossoms were in bloom. One of the most interesting parts of the grounds was a burned down site of a donjon. The site was burned down along with nearly the rest of the buildings and towers that resided there during the Edo period, but its foundation and some charred rocks still stand. It's hard to imagine that the acres of gardens and beautiful landscaping was once covered in a town of bustling people, daimyo, shogun, and an emperor (well, there still is an emperor, and he's pretty darn adorable).

Michael next to one of the walls of the previous donjon.

Michael next to one of the walls of the previous donjon.

Site of a burned down donjon. Foundation still standing!

Site of a burned down donjon. Foundation still standing!

Only three of the watch towers remain. One of which we could only look upon from afar. The name of the tower was Fujimi Yagura, which translates to Mt. Fugi View Watch Tower. On a clear day, one was able to look out from the top floor of the tower and seen Mt. Fugi. Incredible! The sign next to the path that lead up to the tower (which was blocked off) read:

"'Yagura' is a building for both storage and defense. There used to be nineteen keeps in Edo Castle. Of the nineteen keeps that surrounded Edo Castle, only three still remain: Fushimi-Yagura. Sakurada-Nijū-Yagura and Fujimi-Yagura. Fijimi-Yagura is the only three storied keep. It was named for Mt. Fuji which could be seen from there in former times. This was a very important building in those days, since it served as a substitute for the donjon destroyed by fire in 1657. It was also used as the place, from where the Shogun enjoyed the views of fireworks at Ryōgoku and of Tokyo bay."
Fujimi-Yagura: Mt. Fuji-View Keep

Fujimi-Yagura: Mt. Fuji-View Keep

Makin' faces on the East Gardens. No reason.

Makin' faces on the East Gardens. No reason.

We left the grounds to go out and find some sumo wrestlers. Our arrival at the Ryogoku Station was met with a stretch of bikes all lined up against a bridge (still fascinated how they all just leave their bikes, sure not like we do in Chicago!), and YES, a sumo wrestler casually walking down the street. It was like seeing a celebrity. They are not as big as my imagination perceived them to be, but still all around 6'-5" or taller and had an even bigger presence. 

Bikes and more bikes!

Bikes and more bikes!

(First sighting!) Just a Sumo Wrestler enjoying his walk.

(First sighting!) Just a Sumo Wrestler enjoying his walk.

We knew that there were tournaments going on all week, but tickets were crazy expensive so we agreed to just watch it on the TV later that day if it was on... which didn't matter much because we learned tickets were sold out anyways. Our hope was to go to the Sumo Museum instead of seeing a tournament. But our plan didn't exactly go as expected. The museum was situated inside to the grounds as the Ryogoko Kokugikan (sumo stadium). So upon trying to pass the entrance gates, we were denied because on days where tickets are sold out, they do not allow admittance for just museum goers. This really bummed me out as I was really looking forward to learning about my new favorite sport. 

Sumo magazines for sale outside the stadium.

Sumo magazines for sale outside the stadium.

Michael's hand, against one of the bigger sumo hands.

Michael's hand, against one of the bigger sumo hands.

Three Sumo Wrestlers! It's like seeing celebrities to me!

Three Sumo Wrestlers! It's like seeing celebrities to me!

Michael and I outside the stadium grounds. So festive!

Michael and I outside the stadium grounds. So festive!

We detoured our plans and instead went to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. This museum was quite large and had tons to look at. One of the most impressive parts was this large open room that had a huge bridge. The bridge was a replica of a quarter of a full scale bride that used to exist in the Edo period. From the bridge you could see the level below. Situated at the bottom was a full scale replica of a Kabuki Theatre. Just jaw-drop-ingly cool.

FULL SCALE Kabuki Theatre.  It's HUGE!

FULL SCALE Kabuki Theatre.  It's HUGE!

The museum also had a few interactive things to do. Like pick up Edo period pales with rice or fish in them, or try to sit in the traditional "litter" vehicles (the boxes that someone of importance would sit in and was carried around by their minions). I believe they are called Kago, in Japan. We also learned that the Edo period Japanese thought that too much blood to the head was bad for women after childbirth, so women were forced to lie down sitting up for weeks after birthing a child. This repeatedly made them sick and weak and was actually (and obviously now) terrible for their health. The more you know!

Michael just barely fit in the Kago.

Michael just barely fit in the Kago.

I fit just fine.

I fit just fine.

These were super heavy... (rice)

These were super heavy... (rice)

But not too heavy for Michael!... (fish)

But not too heavy for Michael!... (fish)

It was about midday, and we decided to check out this Buddhist temple that was not too far away. I still brought my book with me just incase there were any monks there who were able to sign my book. There weren't :(

Beautiful from a distance. (back)

Beautiful from a distance. (back)

And beautiful from up close. (front)

And beautiful from up close. (front)

The temple was very pretty. There was some sculpture art of children playing, actual live children playing on the grounds, and the temple was magnificently huge. The marble facade was different from the wooden ones we had seen more recently in Nara. If I remember correctly, the temple was used as a place of refuge during a fire in WWII... I think.

Rubbin' the belly of a tiny tine Sumo Wrestler.

Rubbin' the belly of a tiny tine Sumo Wrestler.

Me next to a HUGE lamp on our way to the sumo shrine.

Me next to a HUGE lamp on our way to the sumo shrine.

After the temple, Michael looked up a shrine that is well known as the place where the sumo wrestlers go to pray. I assumed it would be along the lines of the "God of Victory" shrine in Harajuku, but I was very mistaken.

Met next to stone pillars. I'm assuming they are for prayer.

Met next to stone pillars. I'm assuming they are for prayer.

What looks like a dog shrine with incense burning inside.

What looks like a dog shrine with incense burning inside.

This place had many sculptures and places of prayer and lantern gardens. But the most striking thing was that I think it had a lot to do about animal spirits. This really rang on a deeper level for Michael and I due to our love of animals. There was a tall stone shrine that looked like it was a place that had something to do with birds because people placed bags of bird seed at its base. There was a row of wooden sticks with calligraphy which had pictures of peoples pet dogs on them (this area made Michael tear up a bit). And then we saw a man and his cat praying or meditating at the base of one of the larger places of prayer. It was a really beautiful place. 

Many photos of dogs and a few cats on rows and rows of these wooden panels.

Many photos of dogs and a few cats on rows and rows of these wooden panels.

Man praying. His cat is just in front of him. He's petting it.

Man praying. His cat is just in front of him. He's petting it.

Before we left, I did make sure to snap a picture of an area filled with buckets. There were a few buckets that had my mon on it so I just had to make sure I got a photo of it.

At the Sumo Shrine there were these buckets and a few of them had my mon on it!

At the Sumo Shrine there were these buckets and a few of them had my mon on it!

The last thing on our list to do in the "sumo area" was to find some sumo stables, which is where the wrestlers practice and live. I believe they are called beya. We had read that most of the stables will let you watch them practice. Well, the stable we went to had a very tall fence around the front. Michael had the idea to lift me up and to see what was going on on the other side. I did not want to do this because I believe that people who put up fence usually put them up for a reason. Michael's argument was "we might never be here again!" and quickly swooped me up so my head was poking just above the top of the fence. Well instantly, two or three wrestlers looked up from their dinners, saw my obvious head poking above the fence, and one then exclaimed "ooooOOHHHHOow!" It all happened in a matter of a second. I threw myself out of Michael's arms, grabbed his wrist and booked it a half block away and around a corner into an alley. Michael stopped me and panting, asked me what happened. I told him that they saw me and shouted "oh." We both started laughing. I suppose the wrestlers probably thought it was either hilarious or disrespectful when my head popped up into viewing range, but regardless, I'm sure I made quite a show for them in that second. 

Upon returning home and doing more research we now know sumo wrestlers practice really early in the day, and you have to call or email and request a visitation from their stable master. Next time...

The sun was setting and we were getting hungry. So we set off back to the Tokyo Green Hotel. It was our final night, so we wanted to do it right. So we obviously had ramen for dinner at our favorite ramen chain. We also made sure to try out that roller coaster we saw at the Tokyo Dome. We assumed the line would be short or have barely any people in it because it was a week day. Well, never underestimate how much the Japanese love amusement parks. The line was surprisingly long for a weekday, but still manageable for us to endure the wait. 

Thrill seeking, here we come!

Thrill seeking, here we come!

Up some stairs, through a winding line, and there we were, next in line. At the moment of take off they take a photo of you as you begin to climb the first drop. We seemed to ascend for like ten minutes. It was probably close to like one minute. But we just climbed so high! I was definitely getting nervous when we climbed. I'm usually not that scared of heights, but this one got to me.

I have read when skydivers jump, their adrenaline kicks in and as a result makes the fall feel like much longer than it actually is. So basically, when your body feels like its going to die, your brain slows down time... The fall from this roller coaster took forever. I began with my eyes closed, and had enough time to make a conscious decision to open them, and then realize that I could see all of Tokyo from up here, and how beautiful it was in the twilight, all while screaming my face off.

Truth be told, it was awesome, after the initial "I feel like I'm going to die," feeling, it was a smooth thrill ride with loops, and turns, and there was even a section where we went through part of a building. The part that goes through the building is where the second camera is stationed. So we definitely purchased the before and after picture when we left.

Stats of our flight on the left, and on the right... the pictures of us during take off (bottom right), and mid flight (top left).

Stats of our flight on the left, and on the right... the pictures of us during take off (bottom right), and mid flight (top left).

After about two minutes of racing hearts, we decided to take a normal slow ride romantic ride on the ferris wheel. I'll admit that after the rollercoaster the swaying of our car when it reached the top freaked me out a bit and I didn't want either of us to move an inch. But eventually I relaxed enough to take a few pictures with my new husband and to look out at the amazing view. We could even see Tokyo Tower from there. It was the perfect way to spend our final moments of our final night in Japan. Together, in the sky, looking out at this truly amazing city.

Ferris Wheel Ride!

Ferris Wheel Ride!

Kisses up high!

Kisses up high!

The following morning, we woke up, purchased a suitcase to fill with souvenirs, ate breakfast, and casually headed off to the airport. Saying goodbye to Japan was not as hard as I thought it would be. Part of me was ready to go back to our home, and the other part of me knew we would be back soon. 

Now that I am home, I miss it. But I suppose that's how things go sometimes. A truly beautiful country with wonderful people, and even better rollercoasters. 

Final views of the roller coaster and Tokyo Tower way in the distance. (The next tallest building to the left of the rig one one the right, looks like a needle.)

Final views of the roller coaster and Tokyo Tower way in the distance. (The next tallest building to the left of the rig one one the right, looks like a needle.)

Goodnight, Tokyo. Goodnight, Dome. See you again one day!

Goodnight, Tokyo. Goodnight, Dome. See you again one day!

A Hot Step into Kyoto (Honeymoon, Kyoto)

Continuing the journey of Michael's and my honeymoon (from how much I've written about this trip it would seem we were gone for a moth or more. But really, it was just two weeks)...

Day 11
Waking up at a leisurely pace the next morning, we finished packing and were sad to say goodbye to Nara, but excited to say hello to Kyoto! Kyoto is only about an hour train ride away from Nara. We headed off to the Nara JR Station and settled in for a bite at a French bakery for some breakfast (those Japanese sure do love their carbs... specifically the French baked goods). We had another good look around their bookstore, bought a few more souvenirs.

Once it was time to board we settled ourselves into a couple of seats and got as comfy as we could for an hours ride. This train was a bit more like riding a cleaner version of the CTA. Since we were going to a smaller train station (not the bigger Kyoto Station), the train was a bit smaller too. Getting to see a bit more of Japan's countryside again was a great way to start the early afternoon.

Somewhere in between Nara and Kyoto.

Somewhere in between Nara and Kyoto.

Once we arrived we had to check in at our Guesthouse. We decided to do a little more of a "traditional" stay in Kyoto since it was a little more of a historically "old world" kind of city. Guesthouses in Japan are a little more typical, and is close to something like an Airbnb. You stay as a "guest" in someones home who provides lodging. It's kind of one step beyond a Ryoukan (similar to American bed n' breakfast) and a Business Hotel (like a standard American hotel).

We checked our map and knew we had to go about a mile south east of the station. In the train station we saw these great posters. One was demonstrating what not to do on the platforms and the proper way to handle lost cell phones and vomiting, and the other was an add for the Kyoto Zoo which was nearby and looked like a bunch of animals participating in a group massage.

When we started our trek, we anticipated we would have to go up a hill to get to our Guesthouse, but we did not anticipate how steep it would be, nor how heavy our bags would feel since we had them busting at the zippers with how many souvenirs we had accumulated. We went up the hill, which was actually the foot of Mt. Daimonji Yama. We knew we had to find the next, and only right turn, onto a road that would lead further up and to our Guesthouse. After walking about a mile and a half, we realized we must have passed it, but couldn't remember seeing any other roads. So we hiked back down with our bags. We stopped at a small hut with vending machines to grab a bottle of water and see if there was anyone inside to help us figure out where we needed to go. No luck, no people. So we continued back down the mountain and found a small stone path about six feet wide and covered in foliage. We took one look at and just knew this had to be it. So we turned and started heading up the stairs.

It doesn't look steep... but I promise the incline increased.

It doesn't look steep... but I promise the incline increased.

Man! was this quite the feat! We walked up a full flight of stairs dragging our thumping suitcases and backpacks behind us. Then we reached this pretty bridge that ran over a river and were stunned at the sight... MORE DAMN STAIRS!

One look at it and there was no way we would get our bags up those steps only to learn we were in the wrong place... So Michael valiantly offered to climb the mountain alone to scout out if our Guesthouse was there while I waited at the bridge with all of our baggage. 

So here is a little excerpt of Michael's solo adventure:
When I was sure that T was safe and sound under the shade of a tree, I crossed the bridge and began to ascend the stairs at a jog. I didn't like the idea of being separated from T (even though she was stationary) in a foreign country where our phones didn't work, so I did my best to be quick about finding our Guesthouse. When I finished climbing the stairs in the middle of the above photo, I kept on going, up the stairs within the red circle. I continued on the path before me, now shrouded in trees, when I started to realize that there was no way I was going to find this place without help. T had put a photo of the Guesthouse into our itinerary, but the photo was of the second floor... just the second floor. It was the only photo available online! How was I supposed to find a house based on a poor quality image of only its second floor?? Luckily, I saw a monk (no joke) on the path below, for you see, the path had split, and I had chosen to take the higher path by climbing the second flight of stairs. I ran to the monk (no joke!) and showed him my itinerary, and asked him about the Guesthouse. After a second he nodded and pointed me onwards, deeper on down the path. I thanked him, and continued at a more tired jog. All around me were tall trees, through which the near-noon sun filtered. It was beautiful, truly, and a turn revealed a steep gorge just a few feet from the path. On either side of the path, houses began to pop up, some nice, some not so nice. Well, eventually I was able to find the Guesthouse and unfortunately it looked like one of the latter. My first thought, honestly, was "T is going to hate this place." I'll spare you the lengthy details, but all in all, I got a pretty bad vibe from this place. So I headed back to T, the sweat at my brow, the burn in my legs, and the weight of this discovery heavy on my mind...

Michael came running down the path about 15-20 minutes later and when he reached me, heaving and crouched over from running, he began laughing and told me "T, you're gunna hate this." HA! Sooooo, we regrouped, and throughout all of our potential decisions. I suggested we go back to Nara and see if the Sun Hotel would take us for another two nights. Michael suggested instead of going backwards in our itinerary, that we move forward to Tokyo, our final destination. This seemed to make a lot more sense. Aside from Tokyo's probability of having a vacant hotel room for us, we would now get to spend a little more time relaxing in a city we had already familiarized ourselves with.

A tired Michael after he ran down the mountain and we made the decision to go back to Tokyo.

A tired Michael after he ran down the mountain and we made the decision to go back to Tokyo.

So we hopped back on that train, and found our way to the Shinkansen bullet train!

Truthfully, we were bummed to say goodbye to Kyoto so early, but we were also really happy with the expected extra two days of relaxing in Tokyo. We realized that if we were to have stayed in Kyoto, it would have only been one full day, with two days of traveling primarily. AND we learned how hilly and mountainous Kyoto was... this would have meant a 45 minute walk or more down the mountain to be in the main part of the city and an even more tired and arduous walk back up at the end of the night. One day (after our next trip to Japan to visit my family in Yamanashi in 2018) we will plan our third trip. We decided this one would be just Nara and Kyoto. Kyoto deserves more time and I think we would have really loved it and felt like only one full day would not have done it justice. So next time, we will do it justice!

Now take me back to Tokyo!

Left my Heart in Nara (Honeymoon, Nara)

Continuing Michael's and my two week honeymoon in Japan, we left Osaka on our eighth day in Japan. Next stop... Nara. This was my favorite place, so prepare yourself to read a long post, or just look at a lot of really great pictures!

Day 8
Early the next morning, we had our bags all packed and headed off on a nice long walk to the JR train station. Nara was next on our trip and we were excited to see a new place that was bound to be different from this big hip city.

Roku at the JR Train Station!

Roku at the JR Train Station!

The train ride was about an hour long and we arrived at the Nara JR Station several hours before our next hotel check in. Luckily, the Japanese love to shop. So attached to the station was a small shopping center. There was a full grocery store, dining food court, tourist shops, and a book store... so we were able to keep ourselves busy. One of the things we quickly noticed in the tourist gift shops were this little cartoon deer. It seemed to be everywhere. We also watched a little bit of a sushi making class that was going on at the sushi stop we ate at, and ventured into a book store which was still very cool to look around even though we could not read anything.

Standing in front of our Sun Hotel!

Standing in front of our Sun Hotel!

We headed to our hotel about an hour early hoping they would let us check in early. And of course, those accommodating Japanese people were totally ready for us and graciously welcomed us into our home for the next 3 days.

Michael and plush Roku. So cute!

Michael and plush Roku. So cute!

So many Roku!

So many Roku!

After settling in we once again headed back out! We had read about the Sanjo Dori, which is a street that leads up towards the mountains with a lot of great shopping and restaurants running along it, and wanted to check that out. The Sanjo Dori is simply lovely. Busy with pedestrians, but very few cars driving through; classical music playing in all of the speakers down the street, and lined with really unique shops that focus more on things that are a staple to Japanese culture, rather than just fashion or western gifts. We spent a lot of time in this one shop that had a lot of hand made figurines and calligraphy brushes.

Inside a shop with lots of trinkets.

Inside a shop with lots of trinkets.

Handmade deer figurines.

Handmade deer figurines.

We made a stop into this awesome antique store and had a great chat with the two women working there. One of them spoke English so she was really helpful and translated for the other shop worker. We ended up returning to the antiques store two more times throughout our time in Nara we loved it so much! We were able to purchase quite a few gifts for family and friends, as well as a ink and brush set for myself, and some wood carving tools for both Michael and I.

The antique shop we frequented. 

The antique shop we frequented. 

One of the worker ladies making a trade.

One of the worker ladies making a trade.

Really tiny dice being sold at the antique shop. Michael thought these were really cool.

Really tiny dice being sold at the antique shop. Michael thought these were really cool.

Across the street from the antiques store was an arcade. Arcades in Japan are very different from those in the US. They're multi-leveled, allow smoking, have games that are basically gambling games, and are filled with not only children, but many grown businessmen in their suits, and very old men and women from the town. The first level is always the kid friendly one. This is where Michael and I stayed the majority of the time. Michael found a Mario Kart game that we could both play and compete against each other and I have to admit was really fun. I think we ended up playing it about 5 or 6 times throughout our trip. 

We took a picture every time we played the Mario Kart game in the arcade. Fun every single time!

We took a picture every time we played the Mario Kart game in the arcade. Fun every single time!

Since it was getting dark, we decided to save the park and shrines for the following day and just head straight to dinner and to turn in early. It took us a while, but we eventually found an udon restaurant in one of those outdoor shopping strips with a covered walkway--perfect, since it was a rainy day. We were the only ones in the udon restaurant, probably because it was a little before their rush hour.

Me and my udon! Delicious!

Me and my udon! Delicious!

Michael's expression was priceless. SO much udon!

Michael's expression was priceless. SO much udon!

I ordered a standard sized bowl of udon. Michael ordered the sumo sized bowl of udon. They weren't kidding. With great difficulty, he finished it. On our way back to the hotel we grabbed some food at the grocery store for breakfast and headed back to the Sun Hotel.

Proof that Michael won his battle! Michael: 1, Sumo Bowl of Udon: 0

Proof that Michael won his battle! Michael: 1, Sumo Bowl of Udon: 0

Day 9
The next morning we woke up ready to see some shrines and the Nara Park deer we had read so much about. It was a perfect bright and sunny day--such a change from the rainy time we had in Osaka. We walked along the Sanjo Dori toward the park. The great thing about Nara is that there is a little bit of everything. The farther out from Mount Wakakusa, the more urban it gets with tall buildings and more main stream businesses. The closer in to the mountain you get there are family owned shops and homes which lead into the parks, wide open spaces, and the shrines at the foot of the mountain. We were mountain bound!

One of the few young street artists we saw with Roku sign behind him near the Nara JR Station.

One of the few young street artists we saw with Roku sign behind him near the Nara JR Station.

Our walk along the Sanjo Dori in the morning was so serene with the sun shining and classical music playing on the street speakers. All along our way we kept seeing that sweet deer cartoon character. We learned his name is Roku, and that he is kind of like the mascot of Nara. He's everywhere! And quickly became one of my favorite parts of Nara. Roku is a deer (cartoon) born in Nara Park and has a sweet and adorable story to tell about his innocent love for another little girl deer named Hana (flower). But Roku also loves to tell tourists all about how wonderful Nara is. We followed the Roku signs and the road to a large pond and knew that this was where the shrines and park officially started. 

The first part of the park we came across was the turtle pond called Sarusawa Pond. It was bright green and still, except for the little turtle heads popping through the water to look for a rock or log to sunbathe on. We turned around north of the park (I think), and headed up a large staircase toward what we hoped were some shrines and temples. Nara didn't disappoint!

Some sunbathing turtles at Sarusawa Pond!

Some sunbathing turtles at Sarusawa Pond!

Our first deer friend was very photogenic!

Our first deer friend was very photogenic!

We saw our first deer, and went around a corner and saw our first temple. It was a hexagonal shape and just gorgeous! The architecture on these buildings are simply stunning. Knowing that they have been around for centuries and have stood through the weather and earthquakes with little maintenance is hard to believe. Architecture sure isn't the same anymore.

Nanendo Buddhist Temple, simply stunning!

Nanendo Buddhist Temple, simply stunning!

As we walked around this great temple, we eventually found ourselves at a pavilion that was set in gravel and had several old world structures and temples on it. There we saw a few more deer sightings and more temples. We stood in the shadow of two pagodas--one that was three stories, and another that was a towering five stories. Whew!

The pavilion with temples, shrines, and shop. Buddhist on the left.

The pavilion with temples, shrines, and shop. Buddhist on the left.

Beautiful three story pagoda.

Beautiful three story pagoda.

Five story pagoda & Michael for size reference.

Five story pagoda & Michael for size reference.

We also were able to find this shop that sold books. They were blank, but we quickly made the connection from some pre-travel research I did that they were sold to tourists so you could gather calligraphy and stamps at each shrine or temple. Well this was totally a tourist trap but still worth it! We gladly got sucked into buying the book and paying an additional 300 yen or so at each location to get a monk to write some script and stamp our book! It was like the grown up version of getting marine life stamps at the Kaiyukan Aquarium in Osaka or getting signatures from characters in Disney. 100% worth it to us. We also didn't fill the whole thing up so we plan to bring it with us again when we go back to Japan hopefully in 2018.

A Monk who signed our book we purchased at the store. The stamp and calligraphy were simply beautiful.

A Monk who signed our book we purchased at the store. The stamp and calligraphy were simply beautiful.

Next on our list was a bit unexpected. We continued our journey and across from the
Nara National Museum there were a string of shops and restaurants. We found ourselves at the entrance of a Seismic Isolation structure museum. It was called Okumura Commemorative Museum.

Michael outside the museum.

Michael outside the museum.

Weren't lying about the free tea!

Weren't lying about the free tea!

Michael, deer crackers & origami!

Michael, deer crackers & origami!

The sign out front wasn't lying, we were immediately offered free tea and water. The greeters and workers there were exceptionally nice (which is saying a lot for Japan since everyone seems to go out of their way in the service industry to make you feel comfortable). Two gentlemen working there gave us the rundown of how seismic isolation structures work and how they are necessary for buildings when you live in an area where earthquakes are normal. Basically this place could have been called the "How-We-Prevent-Our-Buildings-From-Falling-Over-During-Earthquakes Museum." With a place in my heart for architecture and Michael's love of science, we found this place really interesting, and a nice air conditioned oasis with free tea!

Basically the buildings are constructed on top of this type of seismic isolation structure. The seismic structure sandwiches the building on top, gears/wheels in the middle, and the earth at the bottom. So when the grounds moves back and forth during an earth quake, it displaces the movement keeping the building on top more steady with minimal swaying.

Both Michael and I got to try out the simulation machine. Michael went first. The machine took us through simulations of the past 2 major earthquakes that Japan had endured. It literally shook us back and forth like a real earthquake, but then did it again using the seismic isolation structure so we could feel the difference. Boy was there a difference! We went from jerking back and forth to simply swaying a bit from side to side. It's surprising how few buildings in Japan have this kind of structure considering how many earthquakes they get annually. The crew there works to raise awareness about this incredible bit of engineering and to make sure all buildings built from now on implicate this bit of life saving technology. 

As we left, they sent us off with smiles, waves, and a few deer origami. 

Michael go on the seismic isolation and earthquake simulator!

Michael go on the seismic isolation and earthquake simulator!

My turn next! 

My turn next! 

We continued our walk and it was all of a sudden when the park opened up and we got this amazing sight of deer after deer in herds. For every deer there was maybe 1.25 persons. So many deer! It truly was a little transcending and weird all at the same time. 

The deer are very different from any domesticated animal. Even through they are docile and used to humans being around them, they keep to themselves for the most part unless they think you might have food... which most of us humans did. At the corner of nearly every block there are little stands with people selling deer crackers in little packages of ten. 

Michael and I getting "greeted" by deer once they learned we had crackers. We quickly ran out and needed more.

Michael and I getting "greeted" by deer once they learned we had crackers. We quickly ran out and needed more.

A lot of people treated the deer like you would a dog: petting them on the head or antlers, trying to get them to "come," scratching their necks or back, or even in the way they approached them. But you quickly learn that these deer are not like dogs. They do not like having their antlers or heads touched. They could care less about you unless you have crackers. They will invade your stroller if you have treats in there. They like their personal space.

Basically... "you've been warned, now carry on."

Basically... "you've been warned, now carry on."

We also marveled at the signs in Japanese with pictures telling visitors that the deer may bite, kick, head butt, or charge, and to proceed with caution. In the U.S. a magical place like this would never have been allowed. Someone would have sued the park the second their kid got bitten or they got themselves into trouble. But in wonderful Japan, they don't hold your hand. They hold you to a higher standard of respect and community and to respect the rules. Love the way they think and run their show.

Their little tongues were so soft and quick! 

Their little tongues were so soft and quick! 

Aside from deer being pretty much everywhere, there were also shrines and temples... pretty much everywhere. Even so, we couldn't get enough!  

Better view of the grounds entrance. So massive!

Better view of the grounds entrance. So massive!

Michael & I outside of Todaiji Temple!

Michael & I outside of Todaiji Temple!

We unknowingly walked toward Todaiji Temple which houses the worlds largest bronze Buddha, and let me tell ya, is it large. Pictures can't quite show the magnitude of this big Buddha. The Temple is rather magnificent as well. It is wider than it is tall, but still seems to feel like it has an unreachable ceiling when you are on the inside. The rafters, cross beams, and pillars seem to ascend out of comprehensible sight.

Todaiji Temple! Big Bronze Buddha here we come!

Todaiji Temple! Big Bronze Buddha here we come!

Michael in awe! Pictures don't do Big Buddha justice!

Michael in awe! Pictures don't do Big Buddha justice!

Very steep stairs to the lowest interior deck in Todaiji.

Very steep stairs to the lowest interior deck in Todaiji.

Outside Todaiji Temple there was a smaller Buddha made of wood that sat cross-legged around 5' tall on top of a 4' pedestal. He was cloaked in a red rain poncho which was pretty cute, but it also made him look a little terrifying at the same time. We read on a nearby plaque that whatever part of the Buddha we touch is where we will be healed. I could only reach his knees and feet. But that was okay since that's what was sore from all the walking.

Healing Buddha. Looks like he has an ice cream cone too!

Healing Buddha. Looks like he has an ice cream cone too!

My ice cream cone! The Japanese love their soft serve!

My ice cream cone! The Japanese love their soft serve!

We needed a rest so we made our way to a little restaurant at a high landing on the side of the small mountain. We grabbed some ice cream that was served in a stand so you didn't have to touch the cone and could set it down upright. You can always count on the Japanese to have an invention for everything. We also poked out heads into a shop and found a few fun items for sale that definitely haven't made their way to the states.

I don't even think I needed a caption for this one...

I don't even think I needed a caption for this one...

I get the what, but not the why.

I get the what, but not the why.

There were numerous places of worship, meditation, and prayer. I imagine a hundred years ago before tourists discovered Nara this was a very quiet place of restful solitude. Nara is still rather quiet despite the hundreds of daily tourists and school groups. The trees, wooden structures, and open spaces absorb a lot of sound; and people also seem to realize on some level that Nara is a special place of peace.

School group with yellow hats at the top of the stairs!

School group with yellow hats at the top of the stairs!

The lanterns hung so still! Beautiful shrine.

The lanterns hung so still! Beautiful shrine.

Lanterns... temples... incense... meditative ladle drinking... prayer clapping... up and down stairs... There was a lot more to see. We eventually stopped in a small shrine that used to be used as a kitchen where rice was made. Because of this they sold rice spoons that you could write your prayer on a leave. We discovered this sort of thing was a common practice in different forms at the temples and shrines in Japan.

Hundreds of wooden plaques with prayers and hopes and wishes written on them from so many people.

Hundreds of wooden plaques with prayers and hopes and wishes written on them from so many people.

You can either get a wooden plaque, a piece of paper, a rice spoon, (or any number of other objects that pertains to each individual shrine), write your prayer or wish on it and leave it. When it comes true you usually come back and make a donation or to give thanks. It's a really beautiful way of prayer. We also found at this shrine these plaques that had boobs on them and kimonos that definitely resembled something of the phallic nature... not sure if this was intentional or not, or what purpose it served. But really "unique" nonetheless!

Prayer rice spoons, boobs, and "kimonos"... sure.

Prayer rice spoons, boobs, and "kimonos"... sure.

Good evening deer friends! See you tomorrow!

Good evening deer friends! See you tomorrow!

We made our way back toward the Sanjo Dori. This was the most fulfilling day I think we had so far on our trip. Just a masterpiece of a city and we only saw a small portion. We said goodnight to the deer, and hello to our bed in the Sun Hotel--a good night's rest for another beautiful day in Nara to come!

Day 10
After writing "Day 9" I realized how much more we did in one day than we had in any other day while in Japan. So many things to see and luckily, we got another day to explore beautiful Nara. We began our morning with a stroll off of our normal Sanjo Dori trek per Michael's request. What a good idea! On our walk we came upon a Toy Museum!

Diagrams of ancient Japanese toys.

Diagrams of ancient Japanese toys.

School kids getting to play with some recreated toys!

School kids getting to play with some recreated toys!

It was free, very small like a little house, and ran by an older gentleman who was ready and willing to teach us all about how ancient toys in Japan were made. There were also several school kids learning along with us (although I'm sure we learned less since we don't know Japanese very well).

The koi travels up the waterfall using the dial...

The koi travels up the waterfall using the dial...

Then transforms into a dragon once it reaches the top!

Then transforms into a dragon once it reaches the top!

We eventually found ourselves at the Sarusawa Pond again. Back up the stairs and into the park. This time we decided to take it a little slower and easier. I was starting to get a migraine from carrying my purse on the one shoulder, so this began the part of the trip where I got to be purse free and Michael bore the burden. He's such a trooper! 

Michael with my purse. He is an unashamed husband!

Michael with my purse. He is an unashamed husband!

This deer surprisingly enjoyed a pet for about a second.

This deer surprisingly enjoyed a pet for about a second.

Vending machines next to century old oil lanterns!

Vending machines next to century old oil lanterns!

Prayer clapping at a shrine.

Prayer clapping at a shrine.

We went to a small lake which had a beautiful bridge across it. We walked along the edge of the lake and eventually crossed the bridge. We saw quite a few koi below in the water. We also caught glimpses of a couple in traditional kimonos taking photos. We think they were engagement photos.

Beautiful Nara keeps getting more beautiful!

Beautiful Nara keeps getting more beautiful!

A stop at a few more places of prayer, and then took a page from the deer's book and rested in the shade. We sat ourselves down on a rock as to not accidentally sit in the coffee bean-like deer poop that seemed to be everywhere. We just sat and observed. It was calm and serene. 

Deer Cracker stand! 150 Yen for ten!

Deer Cracker stand! 150 Yen for ten!

Michael and some babies!

Michael and some babies!

Our shady spot with the herd! Time for a good sit.

Our shady spot with the herd! Time for a good sit.

Eventually two young men about our age joined us in the shade about 20 paces away. They too just wanted to watch and observe after feeding the deer a packet of crackers. Soon a French family of three joined our herd. This is where things god a bit silly. The French family had a little boy about three years old who was pretty tentative towards the deer. But once he fed them some crackers he gained too much confidence and began to run after them and chase them. Michael and I were pretty nervous he was going to get kicked! But alas, the little boy grew afraid of them once again when one of the deer took their map out of his stroller and ate it. Just minutes later we were joined by another family. This time a very hip Japanese family with a little girl about one or two years old. This little girl cared more about her belly button than the numerous deer around her. She just kept lifting up her shirt and looking at her newly discovered button. Eventually the deer got to the hip Japanese family's stroller too. But they definitely had food in there. They probably went shopping or had leftovers in the bottom of their stroller and just didn't think about the deer loving tourist food. So their stroller was raided and the dad had a run for his money playing tug of war with his shopping bag against a deer.

The French Family pre map VS deer moment.

The French Family pre map VS deer moment.

The Hip Japanese Family post dad and stroller VS deer.

The Hip Japanese Family post dad and stroller VS deer.

The two guys near us were just as amused as Michael and I were at this hilarious sight with the French and hip Japanese family. 

Eventually we nodded goodbye to the two guys and headed back to the hotel. On our way to the hotel we crossed a bridge and a girl was handing out flyers for the we Nara Visitor's Center. There was going to be a Japanese harp demonstration by a Maiko (essentially a Geisha in training). Who could say no to that!

The Workers at the visitor's center were as polite as ever. Many of them spoke English which was very useful. The demonstration was also translated to English. The Maiko, who was beautiful, only spoke Japanese. After she played a few songs, she offered to teach any volunteers how to play a few notes. She showed us a typical score and compared it to just the few notes we were going to play. The full score for one song looked like an Microsoft Excel spread sheet with symbols and hieroglyphs in each box! Both Michael and I gave it a go and volunteered. It was definitely not as easy as we thought. The strings are much more stiff with a lot more tension than that of a guitar or bass. And each of the bridges could be moved to make different notes. We also wore tiny finger picks to play each string. I was a bit better than Michael. But I think we both can rule out being Japanese Harpists in our future careers.

Michael learning and the Maiko giving him the "okay!"

Michael learning and the Maiko giving him the "okay!"

Me learning to make a different type of sound rather than the strum or pluck.

Me learning to make a different type of sound rather than the strum or pluck.

It quickly became time for a nap to try and get rid of my growing migraine. Michael ran out the the grocery store next to the JR Station and picked us up a little to eat. But eventually we needed something more substantial and Michael researched an amazing Ramen restaurant nearby. This ramen place left all the others behind in the dust. My only regret was not being able to appreciate it fully due to the migraine.

Eventually we said goodnight to Nara for the last time and headed to bed. Next stop, Kyoto in the morning! Or so we thought...

Goodnight Nara! Goodnight Deer! Goodnight Roku!

Goodnight Nara! Goodnight Deer! Goodnight Roku!

On to Osaka ! (Honeymoon, Osaka)

Continuing the recount of Michael's and my two week honeymoon in Japan, we left Tokyo by way of the Shinkansen... the bullet train. 

Day 5 Continued
As the train arrived, attendants dressed in either pink or blue stood at each entrance. Once the doors opened they hauled ass and quickly stepped inside and began to vigorously clean the train and prepare for the next wave of passengers. They were so fast and efficient. When they were done we hopped on and found our seats. Yes, it's fast like a bullet. Yes, it's like being in the future. Yes, it's a smooth ride... however, you sort of sway back and forth as if you are on a boat. This made me feel a bit motion sick. So I mostly slept during the four hour trip to Osaka. Michael, on the other hand, stayed wide awake and took in all the sights along the way.

                        The Shinkansen attendants getting ready to clean at bullet speed.

                        The Shinkansen attendants getting ready to clean at bullet speed.

                           Michael ready for some sight seeing... me taking a snooze.

                           Michael ready for some sight seeing... me taking a snooze.

It was great seeing bits of the countryside of Japan. We noticed from the landscape that there are not large vast farmlands like there are here in the Midwest. Instead, things are broken up into appropriate ratios--for instance, every small town there has small farms surrounding it, and for every large town there are larger farms surrounding it. So we found ourselves with a consistently changing landscape and was very refreshing. It was unlike the US, which has large cities surrounded by tons of suburbs, surrounded by hundreds of miles of farms that feed everyone in the country.

                                       View from the Shinkansen of Japanese towns.

                                       View from the Shinkansen of Japanese towns.

Once we arrived in Osaka we had one thing on our list before finding our hotel: the Pokémon Center. The Pokémon Center was attached to the train station along with another hundred stores. We quickly learned how much the Japanese LOVE to shop. Nearly every major bullet train station and metro station either has a mall sitting on top of it, or has an underground web of stores connecting each terminal... not to mention the many shopping districts they have all over Tokyo and Osaka that are entirely separate from the train systems. Many of the outdoor shops simply boarder the streets and have a glass roof-like awning (in case of rain). 

     Michael petting a Snorlax... getting a vending machine pin... hugging a GIANT Pikachu!

     Michael petting a Snorlax... getting a vending machine pin... hugging a GIANT Pikachu!

Being in the Pokémon Center was a magical experience for Michael. He had a lot to look at. I can only imagine it was a stimulation overload for this life long Pokémon fan. There was even a tournament of kids playing on their Nintendo 3DS's. A sales girl came over and started speaking in Japanese and handed each of us flags. We figured out that we were supposed to wave them and cheer on the kids playing in the tournament. After many cheers and Michael's purchase of a Pikachu ramen bowl and spoon, we headed out to find our hotel. 

                      Pokémon Tournament! Waving flags and cheering on the competitors!

                      Pokémon Tournament! Waving flags and cheering on the competitors!

Walking the streets of Osaka was definitely a unique experience. The majority of the streets were only one car width wide, and nearly all the streets were one-way. It was almost like Osaka was made up of a system of alley-ways lined with shops and colorful lights between each building. 

                                         Streets of Osaka on our walk to the hotel.

                                         Streets of Osaka on our walk to the hotel.

Our hotel was in in prime location. We were just around the corner from an even larger shopping center, the canal, the Dōtonbori, the Nihombashi bridge, and a market center. We checked in and promptly headed back out to find ourselves something good to eat.

                               Dotonbori Canal at night and the Dōtonboribashi Bridge

                               Dotonbori Canal at night and the Dōtonboribashi Bridge

Before arriving in Japan, we read that Osaka is considered "the nation's kitchen." Well, it is. There are restaurants everywhere! Each restaurant specializes in something unique and they all seem to keep in good competition with one another... both in food and in their storefront appearance. At night each restaurant lit up in their own unique way. There was a restaurant with a giant crab as big as a minivan above the door with legs that moved up and down and eyes that moved in and out; another restaurant that had a green dragon which wound its way in and out of the walls and alongside the corner block; an oyster bar that had a giant clam above the entrance whose mouth opened and closed slowly; and several other places with signs ranging from giant glowing puffer fish to a giant plastic octopus suspended in the air. In Osaka, it's go big or go home.

Our first taste was ramen, and oh man was it good. We slurped it up, paid the bill, and headed out for some more sights on our walk back to the hotel.

                                  Go big or go home. Each sign more grand than the last!

                                  Go big or go home. Each sign more grand than the last!

                                                         Our first super slurpy ramen!

                                                         Our first super slurpy ramen!

Day 6
The following day we woke up to a lot of rain. Michael was hungry, and the Japanese style breakfasts weren't cutting it. With all our walking around we needed more calories. So what better place to go than a Hawiian-American themed restaurant!? Michael was a bit more adventurous with his breakfast and ordered "Eggs n' Slut." Yes that's right. When he asked our waitress what "slut" was, she got a quizzical look on her face and said "It's hard to describe." Yeah, no kidding. So Michael ordered it and we made sure to document it. It was kind of like a soft boiled egg mixed in with a semi sweet creamy sauce similar to Hollandaise. Michael said it wasn't actually that bad... just weird. Luckily his dish also came with three pancakes and some protein.

        Michael at the Hawiian-American themed restaurant! The seating was very... "hang loose."

        Michael at the Hawiian-American themed restaurant! The seating was very... "hang loose."

                           Michael's Eggs n' Slut. We never found out what Clock madam was...

                           Michael's Eggs n' Slut. We never found out what Clock madam was...

It continued to rain as we headed off to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. The building was quite a sight. I have always been a little "iffy" with my stance on zoos and aquariums, but I just love animals so much that I couldn't help but get excited over getting the chance to see a whale shark! We arrived and were met with a crowd of school children all wearing colored hats that determined what group they were with, the stench of fish, and a beautiful exhibit of wildlife from the Pacific Rim. 

                             Michael and I at the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan on a rainy day.

                             Michael and I at the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan on a rainy day.

Our adventure through the Kaiyukan brought some beautiful sights of enchanting creatures. Arriving at the whale shark exhibit was breathtaking. Seeing a creature that large and magnificent was nearly indescribable. But after watching it for a few moments I began to feel a quite melancholy and sad. Even though its tank is massive, and it has a lot of other little fish and manta rays to keep it company, Michael and I just couldn't help but feel that this beautiful creature just shouldn't be here.

                                                            The magnificent whale shark.

                                                            The magnificent whale shark.

We started getting a bit more sad after seeing the high intelligent mammals like the dolphins, seals, and otters. Despite our conflicted feelings, the Kaiyukan still does wonderful things to help bring awareness to the environment of the Pacific Rim, as well as some conservation work. Our spirits were definitely lifted by seeing the reactions of all the school groups in their hats and getting a chance to collect ADORABLE stamps along each section of the aquarium.

                       "Green Group" of school kids screaming with delight at the manta ray!

                       "Green Group" of school kids screaming with delight at the manta ray!

                  Collecting my stamps!

                  Collecting my stamps!

      Life size suspended great white shark!

      Life size suspended great white shark!

After finishing up at the Kaiyukan we headed over to a shopping mall/tourist attraction down the road. It had tons of shops (of course), and we momentarily cheered ourselves up with a surprise visit to the Lego Discovery Center! There wan't much for us to actually do there except look at all the different kinds of Lego sets. It was a lot like an average trip to Target for us except bigger, more Legos, and everything was written in Japanese.

                    Michael flashing the peace sign at the Lego Discovery Center in Osaka!

                    Michael flashing the peace sign at the Lego Discovery Center in Osaka!

We found a Zoo Café and decided to give it a try. We had hear a lot about the Cat Cafés, Dog Cafés, Bunny Cafés, and even Owl Cafés. The "Café" part really just means that some of the places will serve you tea. But the main draw is that its a place where you can visit animals and cuddle and play with furry friends. Similar to our experience at the Kaiyukan, we left feeling conflicted and a bit sad. The café was split into sections. The first was filled with guinea pigs and bunnies. This was great. It was a nice way to pet and feed domesticated animals. The next section was filled with cats and dogs. Also great. Some of the animals were really friendly and there was one cat that could jump onto your shoulder. The dogs were for the most part friendly, but otherwise just curled up in their beds and just wanted to be left along. That part bummed us out a bit. Then we went into the final section of the café. It was a room about the size of our Chicago apartment and contained one full grown llama, one owl, one tortoise, three or four capybaras, several patagonian maras, and about four to six kangaroos.

      Me and a kangaroo.

      Me and a kangaroo.

   Some Patagonian Mara.  

   Some Patagonian Mara. 

  Michael and the tortoise.

  Michael and the tortoise.

Too many animals for such a small room with frosted windows so they can't see out, laminated floors, and florescent lighting. This part definitely left us feeling sad and upset. While it was really great to see kangaroos and capybaras up close, I would rather see them in a real zoo with simulated habitats. We can get on board with having the domesticated animals in the cafés because some even try to promote adoption. But seeing such a variety of these wild animals cooped up together was off putting to say the least. We left a bit depressed, but were able to once again cheer ourselves up just a bit when we saw these rice cakes shaped like boobs.

                               Oh yes, rice cake boobs. The things you'll find in Japan.

                               Oh yes, rice cake boobs. The things you'll find in Japan.

We went back to our home base and found another ramen shop. As we stuffed our faces with more comfort food we reminisced about our day. It just had an overcast of "sad." We realized that is was probably a combination of the constant rain since we reached Osaka, the conflicted feelings of animals in captivity, but also because we realized we hadn't had a substantial piece of fruit or vegetable since we arrived in Japan! We had so far survived on primarily carbs of all kinds. So we made it a point to wake up every morning and grab some fruit at the local 711 or at a market shop every morning. We sure began to feel a change in our moods once we started doing that!

         Outside our favorite ramen shop.

         Outside our favorite ramen shop.

                My perfectly swirled ramen!

                My perfectly swirled ramen!

Most people assume, including ourselves at first, that the Japanese eat really healthily and are able to maintain such slender figures with good diets. Well, from our experience, you simply don't eat vegetables or fruit unless you buy them at the grocery store or market. The Japanese LOVE fried food, LOVE French breads, LOVE Italian pasta, and LOVE doughnuts, and stay thin through walking everywhere and magic. Nearly every kind of carb we tried had just a hint of sweet. Again, most people assume, including ourselves, that the Japanese "don't really like sweets." We learned while the Japanese don't really have anything quite as sweet as a Twix bar, they will slightly sweeten nearly every type of carb they can get their hands on... even bread.  

               Three photos overlapped of Michael and a fun sign outside an Osaka restaurant.

               Three photos overlapped of Michael and a fun sign outside an Osaka restaurant.

With our bellies filled with ramen noodles, we headed back to the hotel to sleep off the carbs and get a good rest in for the next day.

Day 7
Another early morning brought us first, to grab a 711 breakfast, then on to the Kuromon Market. The Kuromon Market was a lot like the Tsukiji Market, except with less fish and more miscellaneous shopping. It was an outdoor experience, but like a lot of "outdoor" shopping it is "enclosed." What I mean by that is while we were outside, there was always an overhang or glass roof above us so the shoppers don't get wet if it rains, or overheated when its too sunny. This market had several markers hanging form the ceiling to help show where you were on the map. There was a giant fish, octopus, lobster, and I think a crab, and a few others. 

                                                        Inside the Kuromon Market.

                                                        Inside the Kuromon Market.

We decided to add a little more adventure to our day and try a new dish. We saw a guy making these fired circular dumplings that looked delicious. So without hesitation we ordered it. They gave us eight of these dumplings which was way more than we thought we would need. We sat down and tried them.

               Takoyaki, swiftly prepared in special semi circular cut pans and artfully served.

               Takoyaki, swiftly prepared in special semi circular cut pans and artfully served.

Well... it wasn't what we expected. We ended up biting into a semi soggy fried ball with a piece of octopus in the middle. Takoyaki, "tako" meaning Octopus, and "yaki" meaning fried. Not that it was bad... we just really don't like octopus, and the creamy center was just a little too fishy for us. We felt bad not eating any of them, and had eight of them to either hide, or eat for fear of offending the cooks. So we subtly sat there and waited until no one was looking and slipped them into the garbage, smiled and rubbed our bellies as we left. We had a bit of a bad taste in our mouths after the takoyaki experience, so I grabbed some salmon sushi which didn't disappoint, and Michael decided to try red bean mochi. Although mochi has a weird pasty texture, I enjoy it for the most part. Michael on the other hand felt he made another bad food decision. 

  Me and my salmon sushi!

  Me and my salmon sushi!

    Michael trying mochi...

    Michael trying mochi...

 ...realizing he doesn't like it.

 ...realizing he doesn't like it.

We strolled around the market and found a lot of interesting shops selling all sorts of things. We found a plethora of souvenirs like Hello Kitty Slippers, chop sticks, fake food on keychains, and a place where you could pay to receive a fortune. Michael got a "Great Blessing" that read "Now is the important time." We also walked through a number of kimono shops. Some sold cheaper ones as souvenirs, and others you could sit down, speak with one of the craftsmen/women, and have your measurements taken and then one made for you.

     Yes, some of those slippers say "Toilet."

     Yes, some of those slippers say "Toilet."

        Michael getting his "great blessing."

        Michael getting his "great blessing."

          (Left) Realistic fake food keychains. (Right) Fake food showing what the stand served.                                                            Fake food was everywhere!

          (Left) Realistic fake food keychains. (Right) Fake food showing what the stand served.
                                                           Fake food was everywhere!

Eventually we made our way over to the Ukiyo-e Museum. It wasn't very big--maybe the size of one brownstone in Chicago. But that ended up being the perfect size. It had just enough to captivate us for an early afternoon. The museum was packed with woodblock prints of the early Edo era when Osaka was filled with a vibrant Kabuki theatre crowd. Michael's favorite piece depicted a scene from a kabuki play where a shogun was having a palace built. But when the palace was finally finished it had become dark. The shogun was so pissed off he waved his fan and willed the sun to come back up so he could see his accomplishment. My favorite part of the museum, aside from learning how the woodblock printing process was done, was this beautiful dress on the topmost floor. It captivated me. It would have been around $700 USD, and I would have never worn it. But it just took my breath away.  

                                                  Michael's favorite woodblock print.

                                                  Michael's favorite woodblock print.

                   This gorgeous dress!

                   This gorgeous dress!

   Me outside the Ukiyo-e Museum in Osaka.

   Me outside the Ukiyo-e Museum in Osaka.

Following the museum and my regrets on not purchasing that dress, we made our way through some more rain to the Umeda Sky Building and Floating Garden Observatory. The Umeda Sky Building was a really unique piece of architecture. The building essentially two separate building that mirrored each other. When the construction on those two building completed, they literally raised a connecting circular section in between the two and eventually attached two escalators that would led from one building through the circular cut out and to the top of the observatory. Watching the videos on how the building was constructed was fascinating.

           The Umeda Sky Building model.

           The Umeda Sky Building model.

   The escalator up to the observation deck.

   The escalator up to the observation deck.

Once up there we realized just how vast Osaka is. It's like a Chicago that goes on forever. When you're in the Sears (Willis) Tower, you can see when Chicago ends and the suburbs begin, but Osaka just seemed to keep on going for miles and miles. The tall buildings just grew into the distance.

                          View from the observation deck. Osaka just keeps on going!

                          View from the observation deck. Osaka just keeps on going!

Eventually we decided to go to the upper outdoor deck. We assumed that this was the "Floating Garden Observatory" part. Not so much. The name was a bit misleading, but I suppose it was more about the mindset and the "rise of the middle class," but it looked a lot like a concrete slab on top of a building in the shape of a circle. It was still cool to be outside that high up, but we did not linger because of the rain.

                              Sitting in one of the observation booths, Game of Thrones style.

                              Sitting in one of the observation booths, Game of Thrones style.

Next on the Osaka Bucket List was another trip to the Pokémon Center Osaka. Oh yes, we went again and it wasn't far from the Umeda Sky Building so there was no excuse not to go. We got there and of course took a nice look around again. This time there was no tournament and had a bit more of a relaxed experience. Michael tried out a few games this time and we had some fun looking at all the "life sized" Pokémon statues.

                   Pokémon Conter Osaka round 2. Michael trying out all the games in Japanese!

                   Pokémon Conter Osaka round 2. Michael trying out all the games in Japanese!

                  Acting like a Pikachu...

                  Acting like a Pikachu...

Daimaru saleswomen. We technically weren't allowed to take this photo... Whoops!

Daimaru saleswomen. We technically weren't allowed to take this photo... Whoops!

We eventually made our way around the rest of the shopping center. Bought a few items at a UNIQLO, and figured we might as well take a look at the umbrellas in the Diamaru Department store since it had been raining so much. We saw that the umbrellas in the window looked to be of a pretty good quality and had beautiful patterns on them. So we figured if we bought an umbrella, why not get a nice one to use as a well made souvenir? Well that plan was foiled when we saw that the umbrellas were 30,000 yen! That's just a little less than $300! We quickly learned what a high end department store it was! The cute outfits that the department girls were wearing should have tipped us off.

We were pretty tired by the end of this day. Lots of walking and lots of sight seeing, and even a lot of repeats. We went to our favorite ramen shop again. We may have been made up of mostly ramen by the end of our trip, but it sure was a satisfying big bowl of noodles each time. A perfect way to end our last full day in Osaka, just as long as we mad sure to eat our vegetables and fruit at 711 the next morning!

                          Last bowl of Ramen in Osaka, and a Kirin beer to wash it all down!

                          Last bowl of Ramen in Osaka, and a Kirin beer to wash it all down!

A Long Time Coming! (Honeymoon, Tokyo)

I'm about three months late in writing any posts on Michael's and my honeymoon since we went back in May. But with over 2,000 pictures to sift through and 1,600 in the final batch to organize...well, it was a slow, time-consuming process. 

Japan has truly stolen our hearts. Now that we have been back to reality for the past three months or so, Michael and I find ourselves reminiscing about our adventure, the culture, of all the things we miss, and how we just can't wait to go back.

Day 1
We began our trip with a 4 hour flight from O'Hare Airport to LAX, a three hour layover, and then an 11.5 hour flight over the Pacific on Singapore Airlines (whew). Needless to say, landing in Tokyo was a relief. With the time change, we actually ended up arriving a day and a half after we left Chicago!

Day 2
We arrived! After obtaining our JR Passes (Japan Rail Passes that let us ride most train transportation for free), we hopped on the train that took us to Tokyo Station which was just a short walk from our hotel. We got in late at night. Unlike Chicago, New York or LA which seem to have certain areas that run 24/7, Japan goes to sleep. Nearly everything shuts down around 9-10pm so workers and partygoers have a solid reason to go home and get some sleep before the start of the next work day. This meant that Narita Airport was nearly empty, and the train we took into Tokyo Station was only partially filled and totally silent. When Michael and I arrived and we took our first steps into the station we fully expected that it would be relatively silent. Nope! From our first step into the station, to our last steps out, we were constantly in the way. There were people everywhere! I suppose the rule about Japan actually being a "city that sleeps" didn't apply to Tokyo Station.

                                Our first glimpse of Tokyo coming out of Tokyo Station.

                                Our first glimpse of Tokyo coming out of Tokyo Station.

  Our first tiny hotel room, and the English translated sign above the sink in the bathroom, love it!

  Our first tiny hotel room, and the English translated sign above the sink in the bathroom, love it!

As we checked into our hotel, we were greeted with just about the coolest thing ever... an message. Prior to our trip my Grandmother Grace had sent her cousin who still lived in Japan a letter asking if they were still in the Tokyo area, a few photos of Michael and I, and our hotel schedule. By the grace of miracles, Buddha, and the Shinto god of letter sending, they got it and were able to send us a message in return to the hotel! Once we got into our room I was able to send them an email back and ask to coordinate a time to meet. This was by far the best way to be greeted in Japan: by family you didn't know you had and that no one has seen or heard from since your grandmother was a little girl. Michael and I knew this trip would be unforgettable, but we did not anticipate how transcending it would become.

Day 3
We woke up around 3:00am the next morning. Not by accident, but because we wanted to get to the Tsukiji Fish Market and see the tuna auction which happens before the sun wakes up. We hopped in a cab because the trains were not yet running. After a bit of confusion with the driver, we learned that we were supposed to let the cab open and close its own doors for us. Oh yes, thats right. The vehicle would just open and close its own doors for us. Well, even though we were up before the break of dawn, we still missed the tuna auction. So we got ourselves some breakfast at the nearby 711 (which are actually really great places to get a healthy cheap meal, unlike in the states) and then found a wifi station at the market to sit, eat, and check out their vending machines!

         Just outside the Tsukiji Market at a shrine. It's about 4:30am and the sun is still asleep.

         Just outside the Tsukiji Market at a shrine. It's about 4:30am and the sun is still asleep.

                           Our first breakfast in Japan at a 711! Look at all those pastries!

                           Our first breakfast in Japan at a 711! Look at all those pastries!

We had about four hours to kill before the rest of the Tsukiji Market opened. So we had a LOT of time to walk around and explore. Unfortunately, most things were still closed since it was so early in the morning. But it was cool seeing some of the shops get set up before the crowds came. We spent a lot of time in the wifi room at the market so I could journal a bit about the plane ride and the email from my relatives. Michael had a lot of fun checking out the vending machines. They are so quirky and fun. You can't even imagine the things you'll find in them. They had one machine for these weird cartoon plastic yellow-ish blobs on clouds, another selling underwear you can put on your water bottle, and our favorite was plastic sushi with tiny cats on them. This was our first souvenir! We got a tiny white and cream cat with a pushed in flat face that had a pink school backpack atop a bed of plastic rice wrapped in seaweed. Oddly enough, about two months after returning home to Chicago, we discovered Urban Outfitters was selling them... just a bunch of posers. At least we know we tracked down the original!

        Wifi room at Tsukiji Market with tons of vending machines and a table for me to journal.

        Wifi room at Tsukiji Market with tons of vending machines and a table for me to journal.

While we killed time, we hopped on into a nearby Buddhist temple while a service was going on. It was great to hear the chanting and smell the incense all around. We also couldn't help but notice how many bikes and mopeds were around! Nearly everyone bikes, and what was neat is seeing people just hop off their bike and leave it at the bike parking stations. No need to lock it, no need to take the front tire with you... just totally safe. People would walk away knowing that their bikes would still be there hours later after the work day was done. This was one of the many things that reassured us how safe it was in Japan. We did learn later that some of the bikes have a key attached, that when you pull it out, it locks the wheels from moving. But still... SO much more trusting and safe than here in the states.

                       Buddhist Temple

                       Buddhist Temple

                         Buddhist Service

                         Buddhist Service

Finally, around 10am, we got to try our first piece of sushi and oh man, was it good! Tasting something that fresh is still nearly indescribable to me. The texture is like butter, and the taste of the tuna was just so tender and flavorful! 

              The gentleman who is cutting us our first piece of sushi. As fresh as fresh gets!

              The gentleman who is cutting us our first piece of sushi. As fresh as fresh gets!

Finally, after a long wait, the market opened up and we were allowed to walk around inside. Being inside of the market was a lot like our first moments in Tokyo Station. People were everywhere and we felt like we were constantly in the way. It was great! We were just suddenly immersed in this new life and new culture and were totally subject to the way they ran things. I'll be the first to admit that it was overwhelming. But it was very exciting nonetheless. I did get a little uneasy at seeing so many dead fish. While the Tsukiji Market is wonderful by keeping so many people employed and providing such amazing quality, we did learn that the majority of these tuna being sold, (which are huge and sold for tens of thousands of US dollars/100s of thousands of yen), have not yet reached puberty. Which only adds to the diminishing number of tuna in the wild. If they are being caught prior to an age where they can reproduce, then it just goes to show how fast the ecosystem is being effected today. But what's a Japanese fisherman to do? The demand is high, and the human population is vast. As much as Michael and I love sushi, we try and be more conscious of our impact, even at a small level. We do not eat tuna nearly as much, and hope to continue to educate ourselves on how to help our world. Even if it is at a small level.

                 Inside the Tsukiji Market.

                 Inside the Tsukiji Market.

                 Tuna literally as big as me!

                 Tuna literally as big as me!

Eventually we said good bye to the market, the hustle and bustle, and made our way next door to some beautiful grounds. The Hamariku Gardens were once ran by the Shogun and used as hunting grounds for the samurai between the 17th and 19th centuries. Eventually the shogun used the grounds for boating since it was set in Tokyo bay and the landscape changed with the tides.

            Tokyo skyscrapers just beyond the beautiful grounds and lake in Hamariku Gardens.

            Tokyo skyscrapers just beyond the beautiful grounds and lake in Hamariku Gardens.

Pretty little tea house we weren't allowed in.

Pretty little tea house we weren't allowed in.

We enjoyed this passive aggressive way of telling us to not trespass.

We enjoyed this passive aggressive way of telling us to not trespass.

           Michael next to a 300 year old pine. The lower branches were being held up by stilts!

           Michael next to a 300 year old pine. The lower branches were being held up by stilts!

One of the things we noticed at the gardens was how they kept people from trespassing on sections of the grounds where they did not want visitors. Sometimes they used obvious language and signs that told us to "not go there" and other times they literally used the landscape to keep people from going any further. In some areas they had a large ditch dug to keep you away from traveling any closer, but would fill that ditch with tall growing grasses or plants to act as a fence. A rather brilliant idea. However, in Japan people are much more respectful. I don't think that would go over as well in the US.

Our next stop was the Imperial Palace. To get there we took our first ride on the Tokyo Metro. Wow, are they efficient in Japan. You pay based on how far you travel and are issued a small ticket that is about 1.5" by .5" and shows how much your paid. To get on the platform you insert your ticket into a machine, much like you would here in Chicago or New York, and then you get a small hole punched into it. To get off the platform, you must once again put your ticket into the machine which then swallows it--taking care of its own waste! If you loose your ticket before your arrival, you must purchase a flat rate ticket as a penalty which is the incentive for making sure you don't loose your ticket. On our trek to the Imperial Palace we came across some weird public art, a Taco Bell that had a long line of women (yes, just women) spilling patiently out the door, and some great urban landscaping.

                                        Our tiny tiny train tickets for the Tokyo Metro!

                                        Our tiny tiny train tickets for the Tokyo Metro!

 Weird public art (maybe cow people?) that peaked the interest of Michael and some school kids.

 Weird public art (maybe cow people?) that peaked the interest of Michael and some school kids.

Eventually we made our way over to the gateway of the Imperial Palace grounds and gardens only to realize that it was closed! The grounds are open every day except major holidays and when an important official is visiting. Even though we did our research and it was supposed to be open that day, sometimes plans still get foiled. So we changed our plans and went to the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art. We at least got to see the massive walls to the grounds and some people sketching outside the walls.

    The entrance to the Imperial Grounds and a Guard standing on the wall that protects them. 

    The entrance to the Imperial Grounds and a Guard standing on the wall that protects them. 

While at the museum we found an exhibit that specifically focused on WWII and the Kamikaze Soldiers. It was a very opening experience and had Michael and I at a loss for words. 

Our plan was to go back to the hotel, rest for a bit then go back out and hit the Tokyo night life. Well, per Michael's suggestions to take a nap, we promptly fell asleep and let the jet lag take over. We didn't wake up till after midnight when everything near our hotel closed. So we stayed up, watched Captain America on the iPad, and got ready for our next day.

Day 4
Now I have been to Disney World in Orlando around 5 times. Michael has never been. So his first Disney experience EVER got to be in Tokyo Disney Sea! We had a bright and sunny start to our day and took the train to Disney Sea. On our way we started to see people already dressed for the occasion. The Disney train was very cool and, of course, played inspiring and uplifting music to set the meed for the day. Once in the park we were greeted by a rotating Earth that had water spilling from the top and splashing into a fountain at the bottom. We walked through a Mediterranean village which was the Mira Costa Hotel, under a tunnel, and then met an amazing sight! A great big volcano!

(Left) "A fun wish is a yellow crystal the color of acorns." (Right) A woman showing Disney spirit!

(Left) "A fun wish is a yellow crystal the color of acorns." (Right) A woman showing Disney spirit!

        We were greeted by a giant rotating Earth that had water pouring down from the top.

        We were greeted by a giant rotating Earth that had water pouring down from the top.

The volcano lived in the center of Disney Sea. All the other parks surrounded it and were "formed" and divided by the cooled lava rock and magma that had swirled to the foot of the volcano. Of course, it's all man made. The volcano is actually the ride "Journey to the Center of the Earth." Michael had never been on a roller coaster before except the small ones at state fairs (this day had a lot of "firsts" for Michael). So I started him off slow with a themed ride, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," then a roller coaster that just went up and down "Journey to the Center of the Earth," then a roller coaster that went in spirals "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull", then to one that went in a 360 degree loop "Thunder Mountain," and finally a drop "Tower of Terror." He loved the coasters more than I did by the end of the day!

     Michael and I next to the Volcano, which emitted smoke, and erupted at the end of the day!

     Michael and I next to the Volcano, which emitted smoke, and erupted at the end of the day!

   Michael making a sacrifice at the temple.

   Michael making a sacrifice at the temple.

           Inside the Indiana Jones temple.

           Inside the Indiana Jones temple.

One of our favorite parts of Disney Sea was how many of the Japanese people dressed alike. It was definitely a cultural thing. But we just loved it. It was mostly groups of girls, but every now and then we would see a group of guys or a dating couple that chose to dress alike. And when I say "alike" I really mean the exact same. Some of them dressed the same down to the shoes they were wearing and the bags they were carrying. There was even a group of four or five guys that were all wearing black pinstriped suits, with dress shoes, black ties, sun glasses, and giant plush Mickey hands.

                                       Many  of the groups we saw with matching outfits.

                                       Many  of the groups we saw with matching outfits.

We noticed that the Japanese do a lot of "waving" in Disney. It sounds simple, but it was probably one of the most endearing parts about being in the "happiest place on earth." Everyone waves to you when you are on a ride that is about the depart, or returning on a ride. They wave to the Disney train every time it passes, and its passengers wave back. Michael definitely tried starting the waving trend every time we got on one of the rides. 

At the end of our Disney Sea day we saw the Fantasmic Water and Lights show on the Mediterranean lagoon and then waved good bye to a pretty amazing day.

                    Pirate ship, a Medieval castle, and volcano on the Mediterranean lagoon.

                    Pirate ship, a Medieval castle, and volcano on the Mediterranean lagoon.

Day 5
I woke up easily the morning after our Disney Sea adventure. Today was the day that we were going to meet my Grandmother Grace's relatives... my family! The previous night I received an email telling me who all was going to meet us. I'll admit that, I was so overwhelmed by how many there were, that I sobbed with happiness in the shower that night (like literally weeping with joy).

We got up early and had breakfast which the hotel provided (a very uncommon situation in Japan...usually you have to pay for all hotel breakfast's), and then headed back up to the room to pack up our things. Once we finished packing we headed down to concierge to check out and also ask the attendants if they could do a little translating for us. I knew that not all of the family would speak English, so I wanted to say a little something for them in Japanese. So with the pathetic help of google translator, and the expert help of the hotel staff, I got my little "welcome" and "I'm so happy to meet you" paragraph translated. Then Michael and I waited for their arrival.

Something I'll never forget was seeing my Grandmother's cousin, Kameno Kubota and her husband, Shyuji Kubota, walk through the hotel doors. We immediately recognized each other. After lots of bowing and greeting and excitement, Kameno and Shyuji brought out papers that we later realized was a family tree (it was all written in Japanese). Then the rest of the family started arriving. We got to meet Kameno and Shyuji's son, Shigeru Kubota, and their daughter, Emiko Okada, and Emiko's husband, Mitsuru; Two if Shigeru's daughters, Momoka and Sakura; And Emiko and Mitsuru's daughter, Yoriko. Shigeru, Momoka, and Yoriko all spoke a bit of English, which allowed us all to bypass the meaningless small talk and get right into getting to know each other. Yoriko works in business and got married yesterday, Momoka was in her school's art club and is also involved in longbow archery, Sakura plays the piano, the Okada's have a little chihuahua, and Shugeru's youngest daughter, Sumire, was just too tired to come meet us, hah.

                                                        Michael, Me, Kameno, Shyuji

                                                        Michael, Me, Kameno, Shyuji

                                               Michael, Me, Momoka, Sakura, Shigeru

                                               Michael, Me, Momoka, Sakura, Shigeru

                                               Michael, Me, Yoriko, Mitsuru, Emiko

                                               Michael, Me, Yoriko, Mitsuru, Emiko

After several long conversations, relocating to a coffee shop nearby, and then more long conversations, Kameno wanted to ask a question through this pocket translator she had (that kind of resembles a Nintendo DS). When she passes us the translator it read, "How did your romance begin?" HA! Well we told her how Michael and I met and started dating, and we all had a few good laughs. Then she wanted to ask another question, so when she passes us back the translator it read, "Will you come back while I still live?" We weren't expecting such a touching question, but of course, our answer was a resounding and most definite yes. 
Beautiful Japan, here we come again.

A Wabi Sabi Wedding

Nearly one year ago on May 26th, I wrote a post about Michael's and my engagement and how our two artistic souls were committing to be imagination-mogul partners forever. Now on the anniversary of our engagement (May 23rd) I appropriately write this post about our wedding. We did it!

The past two months have been a whirlwind of joy, tears, family, friends, and creativity. Even through our wedding Michael and I tried to express our most creative sides. Almost immediately after we got engaged M and I started folding white paper origami flowers! We started collaborating on the designs of our wedding invitations, programs, and even place cards. We would start folding flowers together, then I would assemble them into bouquets, corsages and boutonnières. And when I eventually got tired of flower producing, I would fine tune the digital designs of all the stationary. At that point, Michael began pulling together all of our favorite songs and organizing the music. And when we both got really tired of it all, we brought in a few members of the bridal team as back up. And they sure did help us out in the hours of desperate need! Even my dad took a drive over to help me fold and cut paper for the invitation late one evening! He really is the only other person on this planet I trust to make 90 degree straight angles on paper.

We also did our best to incorporate our incredibly talented friends into the mix so they could do what they do best. Best Man, Tyler Hromadka, owner and creator of Lumatic Imagery in Indianapolis provided our videography; friend and pianist, Aaron Aptaker, wooed us with his music; friend and Chicago actors and entertainers, Trent Eisfeller, Tommy Isaia, and Ryan Semmelmayer, serenaded us with their charm and beautiful voices; friend and Chicago actor, Jason Goff was one of our two officiates (we couldn't have gotten hitched without him...literally); friend and LAMDA graduate actress Katherine Kerman performed one of our readings with eloquence and the appropriate amount of bluntness that the reading demanded; and finally, friend and owner-creator-designer of Stella Blue Design, Angela Gianfrancesco, designed our beautiful wedding rings.

It was a handmade and custom day. We did a lot ourselves, but we could not have done it without the help and support of those most dear to us. Planning a wedding by no means is anything of a small feat--especially with the expectation, market, and resources the American wedding world now demands. The best thing Michael and I did was make the day our own, and to now and then just take a look around the room to soak it all in (advice we previously received from other wedding graduates).

There's a lot of pressure to make it a perfect day. Which is tough when you are something of a perfectionist. Letting go with the understanding that inevitably something will go wrong is difficult. And things did go wrong. Wabi sabi. But there is solace in knowing that the only part that really matters if its perfect or not is the actual "marrying your partner" moment. Which we did. We got married. And it was perfect.

Post WORTH Still Worthy

This past weekend was a whirlwind of anxiety, excitement, family, friends, supporters, and art. The WORTH Exhibit had a wonderful turnout with over 200 people the first night and over 150 the second night. I don't think any of us expected the place to be so crowded! Thank you to everyone for helping make this event worthy, and for showing your support for us artists by purchasing a piece or merchandise, and for showing your support to the people of Haiti through your donations to HUT Outreach. You can still show your support to the artists and to HUT Outreach: All art will continue to be for sale through each artist's independent website, and donations can still be made to HUT Outreach through their website.

TGNovy
Joni Arredia
Brandi Devers
Jamie Lange
Linda Sullivan

HUT Outreach


Loyal at the WORTH Exhibit

The time has finally come for the WORTH Exhibit! My co-artists and I have been working so very hard to bring this gallery to life. I am very pleased to announce that I am featuring two pieces that are a part of an upcoming series, titled Loyal, in the WORTH Exhibit. 

The two pieces are portraits of my Japanese-American Grandmother and Grandfather, who were both victims of the internment during WWII. Today is the 74th anniversary of when FDR put out the order announcing the Japanese internment, and it is appropriate that I am able to release the first two pieces in a series that honors all of those wrongfully interned.

Please take some time today and tomorrow to go see the WORTH Exhibit! Support local artists and donate to a great cause.
Palette & Chisel 1012 N. Dearborn Chicago IL 60611
February 19th & 20th, 6-10pm

Left: The portraits of my grandfather Kaz Horita, and grandmother Grace Horita, and a description of the Loyal series.
Top Right: My grandmother Grace Horita standing next to her portrait.
Bottom Right: An original print of the capitol by a Japanese artist gifted to my grandfather in the mid 60s when he received recognition of the internment by President Lyndon B. Johnson. At the time, my grandfather was the President of the Eastern Division of the Japanese American Citizens League. It was not until 1988 that President Regan signed the Civil Liberties Act to compensate more than 80,000 people of Japanese descent who were interned during the war. The legislation offered a formal apology and paid out $20,000 in compensation to each surviving victim. The law gained congressional approval only after a decade of campaigning by the Japanese-American community. 


WORTH Exhibit

Coming up this February, my work, along side 4 other Chicago based artists, will be featured in the WORTH Exhibit! This is a one-of-a-kind art gallery, featuring one-of-a-kind artists.

This gallery not only serves the purpose of supporting local Chicago artists, but is also benefiting Hut Outreach, a Women's Health Center in Les Cayes, Haiti. In a joint effort between the artists and our host location, Palette and Chisel, a total of 20% of all sales will be donated to Hut Outreach.

Such a small amount can help so many people of Les Cayes Haiti. Please don't miss your chance to come view and purchase incredible unique works, and to support a worthy cause!

Between now and February I will be posting little teasers of the work I will be displaying at WORTH. Join me at one of the opening receptions: February 19th & 20th 6pm-10pm!

Check out the WORTH and Hut Outreach Facebook pages!

With the New Year Comes New Shows!

The 2015 Fall and Winter rep with Emerald City Theatre Company has been quite the ride this time around. In the past several months we have opened and closed Magic Tree House, Dragons Love Tacos, and A Charlie Brown Christmas

I hope each and every one of you got a chance to see one of these shows! If not, you're luck will have it that Magic Tree House remounts at Broadway Playhouse this March! And Dragons Love Tacos will begin its tour of schools in the Chicago area!

I leave 2015 with memories of fire(works), both creatively and literally in Dragons Love Tacos; with sounds of the New Orlean's blues in Magic Tree House; and with the cheer of holidays past in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now, it is time to bring in 2016 with a bouncing cat in Skippy Jon Jones, and the remount of Magic Tree House! 

Keep a lookout for one of my scenic designs with Emerald City Theatre Company, coming up this spring! For tickets and show times, visit Emerald City Theatre Co.'s website!

Michael My Crusader, Now Crusader for Life

This past Memorial Day weekend was filled with more then I thought it would be. On Saturday evening, the 23rd of May, Michael officially and publicly asked me to marry him. Earlier in the week we joked about when he would pop the question, "for real." He said he would ask me every day until he "really" proposed. So he asked me everyday till Saturday evening, in front of our families, closest friends, and a Greek restaurant filled with bystanders. It was superbly executed and I couldn't be more ecstatic! Saturday I gained a fiancé, parents-in law, and a sister (which is a big deal for an only child). We were also lucky enough to have Michael's best man present, Tyler Hromadka, lead photographer and creator of Lumatic Imagery, who graciously captured the entire event.

My mission in this blog is to inform and promote art in my favorite city: Chicago, and in other wonderful parts of the world. So this "engagement post" is also about art, because Michael and I dedicate our lives to art and a studio artist and designer, and as a writer and creator. We have always been artistic partners, and we will now continue to do so as future husband and wife. 

Additionally, I want to touch on the sparkly part. Our engagement ring was purchased at a local boutique, Stella Blue Design. We are proud to say that we picked this ring together with the help of the Designer and Founder, Angela Gianfrancesco. Our work of art is a vintage piece: one big beautiful sapphire surrounded by twelve diamonds held in a yellow gold setting. We did not know how much we would value this ring, since it is just a "thing" after all. But we now understand, after picking it out together, experiencing the final stages of dating and beginning stages of engagement, how much this "thing" really symbolizes. It's one special work of art and I am endlessly proud to wear it.

Much thanks goes out to my parents and Michael's, and to our friends who were able to be there for this special moment in our lives. Next date night, take some time to go to The Athena, where the engagement was hosted and where the food is exquisitely... "OPA!" Also, if considering a sparkly purchase for a loved one or even for everyday wear, check out Stella Blue Design! Last but not least, we can not thank Tyler Hromaka, of Lumatic Imagery, enough for capturing this special time in our lives. Your work is beautiful.

Happy futures everyone!

Architectural Artifacts, Inc.

This Memorial Day weekend much happened. One notable thing was my trip to Architectural Artifacts (also...getting engaged, but that deserves it's own post). Michael's family was in town, so we took his sister and boyfriend to a special spot in Chicago. Architectural Artifacts is situated in a three story warehouse, that is jam packed with everything. And I mean everything.

Each time you walk in there you can find something new: from old blocks of a printing press, baby doll parts in a giant iron basin, chandelier crystals, sculpture, stain glass windows, a small vintage airplane, a carriage predating the 1900s, a room filled with old cello and bass backs, and even to an old coin operated horoscope game.

This place is is a goldmine of our creative past. It serves as a beacon for art preserved, appreciated, and for sale to be reincorporated back into the public world. Next time you have time off, take a quick trip over to Architectural Artifacts at 4325 North Ravenswood, Chicago, IL 60613, off the Montrose Brown Line.

Upholstery for Stella Blue Design

Designer and Founder of Stella Blue Design, Angela Gianfrancesco, recently asked me to do a "plush" job for her. Two vintage chairs needed to be re-upholstered for her boutique and I was ready to put my theatre-prop skills to work and get started. 

By no means is this a "how-to" blog post--just a documentation of my experience and possibly a few helpful tips for anyone who has also found themselves with a furniture piece that needs a little love. Measurements were taken, fabric and upholstery foam was purchased and delivered, a braided piping was chosen for the trim and I picked up my staple gun, flat head, and pliers and got to work.

First step was to rip off all of the fabric and discover what was under there. Luckily there was nothing living beneath the decades of foam decay...and boy the upholstery foam had literally turned to dust. I was surprised to find that the chair padding had been sloppily, stuffed with excess fabric pieces and foam scraps...probably accounts for the "lumpy" quality the chairs got over time. 

After all the fabric and foam was tossed into the garbage I took all of the staples out. This is the most tedious part of re-upholstering anything. It's time consuming and blister-inducing. After the old fabric, foam and staples were gone, I discovered the original support webbing. This was surprisingly in good condition, so I left it along with the bottom cover which had the original vintage furniture label on it. Next step was cutting the fabric and foam to size...and I'm proud to say no scraps were used to stuff these chairs. I made sure to cut the fabric with much excess to allow for stapling around the edges.

After all the foam and fabric was stapled on, I cut off the excess fabric and got out my hot gun and the braided piping. Some home-upholstery jobs make their own piping using the same fabric so it all matches. But in this case we went a little more decorative. Attaching the piping was the final home stretch. Once that was done, it was time to vacuum and clean the chairs off and they were ready for display. You can see them in their full finished glory at Stella Blue Design on Southport Corridor at 3714 N Southport Avenue, Chicago, IL 60613!

Work Werq

This past Thursday, a good friend invited me to attend an exhibition called Work Werq held by FLATSstudio. The exhibit featured work and performance art by Asian-American artists in Chicago who focus on migration, globalization, gender, queer politics and identity, and ultimately tell us what it means to be Asian and American in many different ways. 

The piece that I was most drawn to, (pictured below), was by artist Aram Han Sifuentes. The piece titled, U.S. Citizenship Test Samplers, 2012-present, was comprised of several swatches and one long and unraveling roll of linen. All pieces had embroidered into them one question from the U.S. Citizenship exam. Each sampler was made by a noncitizen and is on sale for $680--which is the cost for applying for naturalization. The full amount paid for a sampler goes to the maker of the sampler. A truly moving piece.

After I left the exhibit I read more on the title of the event: Work Werq. What is werq? Well, "werq" is an urban slang term that means "to wear," your clothing, skin, attitude, strength "with ferocity." The whole title is intended as a call and challenge for rethinking formations of Asian-American identity. While featuring artists that bridge the gap and work within two separate cultures, the exhibit also calls to attention how one can carry themselves with ferocity and how that impacts our identity, our past and future. 

This exhibit struck hard with my pursuits as an artist and with my ethnic identity. I have always viewed myself as an "American." It was not until I was in high school that I realized others see me differently because I look "ethnic." It was not until recently that I have attempted to discover the history that was involuntarily withheld through my grandparent's internment. Once I realized others saw me differently, I began to see myself as different. This is a problem that exists more so with immigrants today due to the road blocks that are put in front of our melting pot.  It has taken me a long time to werq my wardrobe and my identity as an American with an Asian descent. It has taken much emotional will, and remains a battle to mindfully tell myself I am an American. After years of growing up in a predominately white world, I choose to intentionally place each foot in a different world.

Below, check out more photos from the event!


Bakeneko by the River

This past weekend Michael and I took a trip south to see one of my best and oldest friends, Natalie, and her wonderful husband Alex. We traveled with hidden intentions. Besides wanting to spend a weekend in good company, I wanted to finally give Natalie and Alex their embarrassingly belated wedding present.

Natalie and Alex got married in November of 2013. Just a week before their big day, I had a nearly completed painting. But I wasn't satisfied with it, so I scrapped it and and then stewed over the same idea for a year until I finally got the courage to put something on paper again.

This time it was good enough to be given. I titled it Bakeneko by the River. In Japanese, "neko" means cat, and "bakeneko" means something much more. The Bekeneko roots itself in Japanese mythology as being a cat that is transformed into a supernatural being and is capable of tormenting it's household or terrorizing those around it. This particular part of the painting was inspired by their cat, Mona. That little cat is truly the sweetest and most burdened feline I have ever met. Also depicted in the painting are several koi calmly swimming up a golden river. Koi, in many Asian countries, symbolize perseverance, luck, and fortune: things that define a lasting and blessed marriage. 

Below is a sneak peak of Bakeneko by the River.
To see the full piece, check out the Art page on this site!