Welcome to Kyoto

 

This year's lucky three artists for EWAAC Artist in Residence in Kyoto 2016 were selected and offered to one from UK, one from France and one from Poland.

 

Paul (British, photo left), Laurance (French, photo center) and Dominik (Polish, photo right) are first time visitors to Japan and

it was their life time dream to go to Japan especially to Kyoto.

 

They will stay for two weeks together and produce some works as well as visit famous places in Kyoto, Nara and meet with some of master-craftsman. 

Paul Dominic and I arrived yesterday in Kyoto. Paul arrived from Manchester, Dominic from Gdansk and myself from London and we were met by Yuki, the coordinator in Japan for EWAAC.
This morning, we walked to the fine arts shop on Karawamachi Dori via the bank of the Kamo river. Many people were strolling on the river banks to admire the blossoming cherry trees.
We stopped for breakfast in a little outdoor fair and enjoyed the mild weather, the river views and some street food (yakitori= small pork kebabs) . As we bought coupons for the food, we had to participate in a lucky draw and we won...the 1st prize! Yes! A 3000-yen voucher to spend in one of the restaurants by the river. Is'nt it a good omen ?
In the afternoon, we visited the Chion-in temple, erected in 1234, near the hermit Honen Shonin's place. After many fires, none of the original temples remain.  The current buildings have been rebuilt in the XVII century. Outside the temple lay the grounds of the Maruyama park: we strolled among families and couples (many wearing the kimono ), groups of young people, enjoying the food stalls, the beautiful cherry trees and as the sun set, the  lighting of the paper lanterns. Dominic had a go at the good luck tree ( you pick a piece of paper with your date of birth, there is a prediction written on it and if it is good you tie it up to the branch of a cherry tree). 
In the evening, back at the residence, we were welcomed by a delicious diner of sushi, tofu omelette and meat cakes prepared by Yuki and Tomoko, who works at the Jarfo Gallery. Later we were joined by Jo who runs the Jarfo Gallery and by two artists, Chikako Hosoma, who currently exhibits at the Jarfo Gallery and Kenseki Honjo, a calligraphy master. We presented ourselves and our work and we all admired  Dominic's portfolio. We also discussed the program for the next two weeks and it all seem very exciting.
Yuki left for Kobe after diner and she will come back to Kyoto next week-end to help us organise our exhibition.

April 3 (Sunday)

 

A great day with lots seen and done, thanks mainly to Laurence and her guide book and map. The first place we went to was Nijo-jo Castle, which was amazing. The crowds were light and we got to take in the beauty of the castle and grounds at our own pace. On the way there we enjoyed some delicious noodle soup at a small restaurant tucked away on a back street. From Nijo jo Castle we headed to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, where we were taken on a guided tour.

 

It was busy, but it was great to see and was well worth the visit. The whole day has had a backdrop of cherry blossom and peppered with fantastic food and drink. Tomorrow will start with more exploring, but the afternoon will be spent with some time in the studio painting and creating.

April 4 (Monday)

 

We are having a great time in Kyoto. Today morning we went through the Philosopher’s Path, which was full of blossoming cherry trees situated by the canal. The weather was nice and everything looked absolutely amazing. We  visited the Ginkaku;-ji Zen temple surrounded by extremely beautiful gardens. In the afternoon Laurence went to explore Nishiki food market and Paul spent some time painting in the studio. Jo Ishida, who runs the JARFO Gallery, recommended me to visit a Shunga Exhibition of Japanese erotic prints at Hosomi Museum.

 

This exhibition was a surprise smash hit event of 2015 in Tokyo. I had a great opportunity to see the woodblock print masterpieces by Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Utamaro and many other great Japanese artists. The exhibition was so popular, that  there was a very long queue, starting from over the bridge across the street until the entrance to the museum. Everything was very well organized. I was very surprised, that the queue continued also inside of the museum. The visitors guided by the staff were slowly moving in the queue from one print to another and so on until the end of the show. It was a very interesting experience for a European. I spent the rest of the day taking photos around the city. In the evening we had a very delicious meal prepared by Laurence.

April 5 (Tuesday)

 
Yesterday evening I went to the Jarfo gallery to watch a bhudist monk, Maeda Masahiro, give a wood carving class. Out of hinoki wood, he carves little Jizo figurines. As explained by Barbara O Brien, buddhism expert, " Jizo is the bodhisattva who vowed not to enter Nirvana until the Hell Realm is empty. His vow: "Not until the hells are emptied will I become a Buddha; not until all beings are saved will I certify to Bodhi." Many figures of Jizo populate  temple grounds, city intersections and country roads. Often several Jizos stand together, portrayed as small children, dressed in bibs or children's clothes...Jizo Bosatsu is the protector of children, expectant mothers, firemen, and travelers.".
 
Today we headed South of Kyoto to visit the magnificent Fushimi-Inari sanctuary with its 30 000 torii, huge vermillion red gates with a black base. They symbolise the limit between the world of the dead and the spirits and the world of the living. As we walked on top of the mountain, we crossed many shrines decorated with the fox Kitsune, which is associated with the Kami (god) Inari, protector of cereals and rice. We went through a bamboo forest a bit away from the main track and experienced a very deep sense of quietness and beauty. On the way down, we stopped for lunch in a tiny restaurant with a  beautiful view of Kyoto. We finished the day by visiting the Toji buddhist temple and its 5-level wood pagoda surrounded by a beautiful garden full of cherry trees. We sat on a bench, basking in the warm weather while enjoying a nice matcha ice-cream for Laurence and suhis for the boys.

Preparing for works

at their work place

April 6 (Wednesday)

 
Yesterday started off with some time in the studio getting works ready for the show next week. The rain was heavy all day,but it didn't stop us getting out and about. We had lunch in a great place where you had to pay using a vending machine. The food was really good. After much we went our separate ways for a while. Dominik and myself went the manga museum, which had some amazing work. You could spend weeks in there going through the collection.

Today we had a lesson in Japanese wood cut printing, with Atsuko Honda. It was a great three hours and we learnt a lot regarding the process, but I'm guessing we just touched scratched the surface. We all managed to create prints and the session was good fun. Laurence and Dominik are keen to study the process further. Kyoto continues to surprise and delight us.

April 7 (Thursday)

 

Today morning we went to see a beautiful garden next to Heian Shrine, then we had a very nice breakfast and coffee in the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art cafe. The weather was nice, and we had a great time sitting on the terrace surrounded by cherry blossom trees situated next to the canal. After breakfast we went to see the permanent exhibition at Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art. I especially liked the mezzotint prints made by Kiyoshi Hasegawa.

 

In the afternoon we met our program coordinator Yuki and we went together with Mr Jo Ishida to visit the Shiun Lacquer Studio run by the great lacquer artist Mr Yuji Okada and his son Mr Yoshio Okada. It was amazing to learn about the process of making the traditional lacquer luxurious and beautiful objects. It takes many months to prepare an object with the lacquer technique, some of them have even about 45 layers of lacquer. The training for the lacquer artist takes at least 8 years, and it takes a life time to became a master.

 

After visiting the Lacquer Studio we went with Yuki and Laurence for a long walk to visit a Kiyomizu-dera Shrine, which is a part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World heritage site. The main hall of the shrine has a large veranda, supported by tall pillars. I was very impressed by this great construction and the beautiful view of the city from the terrace. 

 
" I arrived at the outskirts of the old capital an amazed vagabond, which is how you should approach a city of 600 hundred temples and thirteen centuries of history"
Nicolas Bouvier, The Japanese Chronicles.
Regarding the temples, despite our best effort, we won't be able to visit them all...it does not matter, greediness is certainly not a Japanese dimension. More and more we take time to sit in the surroundings area of the main building (kondo) in the temple compound and observe life passing by: couples in European wedding attires or traditional kimonos ( or even extra traditional white head gear and white kimono  for the bride) having their wedding picture taken; people buying little good-luck charms; cleansing themselves with a cup of water using a long ladle made of bamboo, tin or plastic before clapping their hand twice in front of the saint or kami shrine and offering their prayer; we notice that there are not many children running around. On a Sunday, with such a sweet weather, there will a throng of families and strollers, running and playing children outdoor in England.
 
As for the amazed vagabond....this is certainly how we felt yesterday when we met with Teacher Yumiko for an hour introduction to calligraphy. Yumiko-san has been learning calligraphy (hiragana, a simpler version of Chinese characters, katakana, mainly use for foreign names and translating foreign languages in Japanese and  the five  different way of tracing Kanji the Chinese characters) since she was 8 year old. Useless to say that in an hour you can achieve...nothing but a few good laughs and the pleasure of observing Yumiko-san tracing with grace for us a few signs on the soft calligraphy paper with the brushes (all sorts for the experienced hand: hard made of horse or weasel hair, soft made of goat hear, black or bright orange lacquered handle) and showing us how a Japanese character developed from its the Chinese origin. There is good humour, a gentle patience and a lot of enthusiastic encouragement in our exchange with Yumiko-san...but when it is not good, well she lest us know with no doubt! Nobody is kidding nobody: in an hour with just got a tiny whiff of what the art of calligraphy is. I am lucky: "Lac" the short signature I use for my work, corresponds to a Japanese character meaning joy, fun . Please admire Yumiko-san's "Lac" character and bear mine as just a witness of this moment. We were amazed vagabonds before the class...we are even more amazed vagabonds after the class.
Japan is quietly sowing its seeds as each day passes by and the tree of us, not already gone, are already talking about coming back. Not very Zen, but this is another subject.

April 8 (Friday)

 
 
Today I had two wonderful experiences, completely  outside the tourist track but both very good examples of some aspects of the Japanese way of life .
I started the day by visiting a shop just opposite Jarfo gallery on Higashimaya-dori. Pass the entrance banner which brushes away the bad spirit, I entered Kamika, established in the Edo period and selling washi paper, calligraphy tools, incense (Kyoto among other things is famous for a very ancient incense industry). Everything exudes beauty, calm and refinement on the shelves: the little paper weights carved or made out of porcelain,  the beautifully decorated ink sticks, the lovely Kinpu, money gifts envelops wood block printed in the traditional way, the rows of finely ornate brushes. Mr Maeda, dressed in suit and tie, helped me to order my seal with the LAC character while his mother packed with great care the two little presents I bought. A perfect shopping experience.
A bit later, off in Jo-san car to a bamboo forest belonging to an artist friend of Jo-san, Nakamura-san. We are joined by a whole group of young artists and I am please to meet again with our wood cut print teacher. The bamboo forest has been in Nakamura-san for more than 200 years. They sell the young bamboo shoots as they are a delicacy very much appreciated by Japanese. I have to say, the ones we had today, first steamed then put on the BBQ had a delicious test.
Everybody starts working to lit up the fire, to cut the veggies, to set the tarpaulin. It is a bit weird to walk on the ground of the bamboo forest because it is uneven and soft as the huge bamboo roots rhizomes grow and create galleries. The meal start with soba noodles cabbage and bamboo shoots, generously doused with a sauce which smells like Worcester sauce, the whole thing being prepared on a big metallic plate heated on the brasier. BBQ Japanese style for sure, to start with a bowl of soba noodles and veggies!  Later came the meat and the sausages, and finally the ray fish wings. A bit chewy but very tasty. In the middle of this feast, with the soft swishing sound of the wind ruffling the tall bamboos as an acoustic back ground, we took a moment to introduce ourselves. I was particularly impressed with Yagamen-san work: when he exhibits his large size wood cut prints, he displays as well the original wood plate.
The 3  wood plates of real-life size soldiers created quite an effect erected in front of their prints!
To sum up the day, it was an experience of the exquisite manners and the warmth and friendliness of our Japanese hosts, as well a new episode in the discovery of the Kyoto cuisine, which is famous for using fresh seasonal ingredients.
 
 
 



Yesterday we had a great chance to learn about Japanese calligraphy. The teacher Yumiko So was very nice and patient. Laurence and myself tried to write our names in Japanese. It was extremely difficult to do it right for the first time, but it was a very interesting experience. The teacher Yumiko So has studied calligraphy since she was 8 years old, so it seems, that it takes many years to become a master. My stay in Japan is a great chance to broaden my horizons and get to know the differences between Japanese and European culture. 


Today I met my Japanese friend, with whom I studied at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. We went to see Sanjusangen-do Temple, famous from its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. It was a spectacular view of the statues, which seemed to look like the great army. I am overwhelmed by the beauty of landmarks and the architecture of Kyoto. It is a great experience, which would be the starting point of my future artworks. It was also nice to learn from my Japanese friend about the lifestyle of the Japanese people and the differences between Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka.


 
 
On Sunday afternoon Paul, Dominik, Yuki and I went to Jarfo gallery to hang  our work ( 5 prints that Dominik brought from Poland, 2 paintings that Paul painted in Kyoto and 5 paintings that I brought from London and 2 sketches that I did in Kyoto).
The whole process was  quick and relaxed with Yuki-san giving directions in a very professional way, and Jo-san and Tomoko-san giving a helpful hand. Dominik, very demanding and precise made sure that it all stood  up to professional standards.
The opening took place on Tuesday night and was  attended by many Japanese artists and friends of Jarfo and by supporters of the German-Japanese exchange program and of EWAA. Jarfo had set up a splendid buffet, seasonal Japanese strawberries, a beautiful salad in a two-tier lacquer box, Kobe beef grilled on the BBQ set up in front of the gallery, and of course plenty of sake and beer! For desert we had sakura mochi,  a type of wagashi (Japanese confectionery) made of sweet pink mochi(sweet rice or sometimes called glutinous rice).  It’s usually filled with sweet red bean paste and wrapped in a salty pickled cherry leaf. It will take a long time to learn Japanese but as long to embrace the diversity and elaboration of Japanese cuisine!

The evening was a renewed occasion to exchange with Japanese artists, some of them ready to go to Rostock for the German-Japanese Art Rainbow program. We met as well with Katayama Fumio who was very interested in discussing with us about our work. The evening ended up with all of us  standing in circle and unexpectedly, a young artist gave a very loud kind of war shout, we all clapped once, and it meant the end of the evening.
 
 I sold 4 paintings , 3 of the very small ones ( thank you Yuki for your suggestion to hang them) and one of the bigger one with the resine finish to nobody else that Mr Katamaya Fumio himself. Thank you Ken for suggesting that I Should take some already made paintings to Kyoto.
 
 
Today Dominik and I visited the Golden temple ( mixed experience: absolutely mesmerising....but far too many people). It was important for me to go there as the reading of Mishima's the Temple of the Golden Pavilion  had left a long lasting effect on my teenager mind and had started a crave for Japanese literature and cinema. 
 
Then we walked to to Ryoanji temple. Few people and two amazing gardens: the world famous dry garden with its 15 stones, and the compound garden, plentiful and exuberant with so many different types of cherry trees around a small lake. The Japanese gardens make you want to pause and meditate, it makes you fell quiet and contented. 
 
The Katsura imperial  villa that we visited yesterday in the West of Kyoto is another magnificent example of the art of Japanese gardens. TheKatsura garden was created to serve one main purpose: from the different tea pavilions dispatched on the high grounds or from every window of the main living buildings, the Emperor and his guests should  have charming and changing views. A funny aspect of the Imperial villa: as noble or state visitors arrived via the official entrance to visit the Emperor, a cypress stood as a screen so they could not have a glimpse of the garden before being inside and watching through the right window! 
 
On the way to Ryoanji-mae we stopped in a gallery promoting the Japanese traditional wood cutting print - ukiyo-e- the Gardo gallery. Works by great masters were on display as well as all the tools and technics necessary to complete a wood cut print. Dominik, as a printmaker and I, completely fascinated by this new medium introduced to us by Honda-san, were really happy to be able to enrich our knowledge of ukiyo-e-. I particularly liked the explanations regarding the registration marks or kento: it is a mark made on the lower right corner of the wood block carved with a special chisel and as deep as the thickness of a single sheet. When using multiple colours, the kento will be carved on every single wood block and the edges of the paper will be adjusted and overlapped accordingly. One of the Japanese phrase for saying something which has nothing to do with the subject at hand, comes from the idea of using the wrong kentos. 
 
Our artist senses have been even further satisfied as we found by chance the prefectoral museum dedicated to a unique Japanese artist which career spanned over  54 years: Insho Domoto. He designed the museum himself and he created an amazing diverse body of work from traditional Japanese paintings (Dominik's favourite painting was a very old cypress painting on a four-fold screen) to cubist type portraits or impressionist like country side sceneries  (Insho Domoto travelled extensively in Europe in the 50's) right to abstract landscapes. The walls of the museum are incrusted with glass work and stained glass as  well as metal work. A truly original place where we met only 2 other people!
 
On Tuesday 12.4 morning we went with Laurence to visit the Katsura Imperial Villa. The weather was nice and we had a good time walking in the great beautiful garden. There are several teahouses in the Katsura Imperial Villa. It drew my attention, that the entrance to one of them was especially designed to be very small in order to prevent entering the teahouse with a sword. The Imperial Villa was built on the V plan, especially designed in order to have a good amount of light during the day and for the proper air circulation. The windows of the buildings were made from a very fine paper. It is a very beautiful and peaceful place. After visiting the Katsura Imperial Villa we went by train to the Arashiyama town, which was full of tourists. We walked on a very beautiful bridge named Togetsukyo. We visited the great Tenryui Sogenchi Garden, which is the World Cultural Heritage, and after that we went trough the path surrounded by a bamboo forest. It was very inspiring experience. We took a special train from Saga Torokko Station to Kameoka Torokko Station. The railway went through the spectacular views of the emerald green water of Katsura River in a beautiful mountain landscape. In the evening there was an opening reception of AIR Kyoto 2016 exhibition. There was a barbecue party in front of the JARFO Gallery. There was plenty of food and drinks. I had a great chance to meet very nice people and to exchange some ideas with the Japanese artists. 

On Wednesday 13.4. we went to see the Kinkaku-ji - Temple of the Golden Pavilion, which is one of the most beautiful and popular landmarks of Kyoto. Despite the fact that the garden surrounding the Temple was absolutely full of people I enjoyed very much this place. It was very inspiring experience. On the way to Ryoanji Temple we saw a very interesting Japanese Woodblock Print Gallery Gado, which was founded by the artist Masao Ido. I was extremely happy to see this place on our route. It was a spectacular experience for the printmaker to learn more about the traditional japanese woodblock print Ukiyo-e technique. 
We visited also a Insho - Domoto Museum of Fine Arts. I was absolutely amazed by the variety of artworks made by the artist Domoto Mototsugu shown on his retrospective exhibition I especially liked one painting of the pine trees made in traditional Japanese style. 
Ryoanji Temple is famous from its rock garden. It was a very beautiful and peaceful place, where I had a chance to stop and contemplate in front of the minimalistic and powerful in its simplicity rock garden. Near the Ryoanji Temple there was a very beautiful garden with many kinds of trees, which was a perfect place to discover the diversity of the Japanese nature. 
In the evening we had a great chance to experience the Japanese lifestyle. Jo Ishida and Tomoko invited me and Lawrence to the great Sushi restaurant. It was a very big place where everything was automatized. Little plates with different kinds of sushi were transported to the customers on the conveyor system and the orders were made on the touchscreen. After the meal we went to the traditional Japanese sauna and hot springs pool. There were many little pools with different types of hot and cold water, and a hot springs pool outside. It was very relaxing to lay down after the bath outside on the bamboo mat. I was very astonished to see, that in one of the sauna rooms there was a big flatscreen tv behind the glass, so that it was possible to watch Japanese TV while having a sauna. 
 
 
Early ride by the Kamo river this morning,with the successive weirs and teh mountains range as a giant screen in front of me. Only a few cherry trees resisted this week heavy rains: I see an old lady, head in the blossom, pen and sketch book in white-gloved hands, but drawing the sakura flowers. A few joggers, a few walkers, a few homeless starting the day with a Saporo beer. 
And amazingly two fawns, grazing peacefully... I swear it was not a illusion due to a late night with too much sake. No, I actually saw two fans grazing by the river, in town, like a magical apparition. Where did they came from?
And just after a beautiful haughty crane, walking in a kind of graceful and regal way, ruffling its white feathers. If it were not for the electric power lines, one could feel that time has gone a few centuries back!
 
Yesterday we visited another place inspiring contemplation: the Shugaku-in imperial villa. It is one of my favorite places as  we had to take quite along train ride in a cute one coach train and ended up at the mountains foot in a remote place where life seems to go slower. The villa was ordered by the retired emperor Gomizuno' o in 1655. It commands exquisite views of the mountains range and of the paddy fields. The compound has in fact 3 villas. In the medium one, there is a famous set of shelves (indeed considered as one of the three most beautiful set of shelves in Japan): the five wood planks, sized diffrently, are disposed in a way that represents the Spring mist and are called Kasumidana. After the wood the stones: around the top villa, stones red or black, are arranged in set of two or three. This motive is called "hi-fu-mi- ishi". For a European mind it is quite astonishing that so much beauty can be achieved in such a minimalistic way as the luxury of the 3 villas are a combination of well thought amazing location, elegant materials, refined but light paintings as if too much ornaments should distract the walker from enjoying with all his senses ( I did not mention the numerous cascades, little streams, and weirs) the garden.
 
Sadly,we come to the end of our stay. My gratitude goes to EWAA and its sponsors for giving us the chance of such an amazing experience. I feel enriched as a person and as an artist and that window on the Japanese culture and Japanese way of life, will, I hope,remain opened.
 
 
 
 
On Thursday 14.4. We went with Laurence to see the Shugakuin Imperial Villa. We needed to book our visit in advance the same way as for the Imperial Palace and Katsura Imperial Villa. It was nice to go by a little train to the eastern suburbs of Kyoto. The Shugakuin Imperial Villa is one of the Japan’s most important large-scale cultural treasures. Its gardens are one of the great masterpieces of Japanese gardening. They were designed in a minimalistic way according to the taste of the retired emperor Gomizuno’o, who founded the villa in the year 1655. It was a very nice experience to walk in this beautiful and peaceful place. I would recommend it to the people visiting Kyoto. Later we went to see Sekizan Zen-in Temple, which was nearby. After lunch in a little local bar runed by a nice old lady, we went to see the Shimogamo Shrine, which was also interesting, with its wooden structures panted in bright orange color. I especially liked an idyllic place with the little wooden bridge over the little canal. 

On Friday 15.4. I followed the Laurence’s advice and I went on a bike ride along Kamo River. It was such a great idea. A little path along the river is going under the bridges and It was great to enjoy the view of the river with many water thresholds and the beautiful mountains on the horizon. It was quite many other bikers, joggers and people having a little picnic or feeding the birds. On the way back I stopped in a little park in Demachi - the place, where the Kamo River joins with Takamo River. In the afternoon I saw a very interesting “Zen” exhibition at the Kyoto National Museum. I especially liked the wood printing block for Mud and Water: the collected teachings of Zen Master Bassui, from the Nanbokucho period dated 1386 and the group of sculptures of Standing Ten Disciples (Judai Deshi) from Kamakura period in 13th century. 

In the evening we went with Lawrence to a nice restaurant with the view of the Kamo River to celebrate our last day in Kyoto. On the way back we saw three Geishas on the little street in Gion district. 
My stay in Kyoto was a great experience, which I will remember for a long time. I was extremely happy to spend a great time with Lawrence and Paul. It was a privilege to get to know Yuki, Tomoko, Mr Jo Ishida and other great Japanese people, who were extremely nice and helpful and gave me a chance to learn more about the Japanese culture.