December 31, 2010

On horizon

I feel that my future path is slowly emerging in the horizon, though it's still foggy and blurred.  Traveling beyond my safety zone helped me rediscover what I really care about.  Meeting many new people at SAW, trying something new (art workshop, food styling, horseback riding, glass blowing, kimono, etc) revived my sense of wonder.
In the new year, I am planning to start thinking about making some move, seriously this time.  But not too seriously.  For a while, I will spend time on studying and cultivating the ground.  A little by little.

I ended up not sending out any Christmas card nor I haven't even bought new year's cards. I don't think I can do it this year.



December 26, 2010

Random Photos

Otaru is famous for glass art, and I bought the above glass at a gallery shop. Love.  In case you are wondering, below is the not-so-pretty glass that I made in the 20 minutes trial class (too much bubble).  But it was fun. I am going to try it again.
The other day, in Tokyo, my family got together for a Christmas/Birthday lunch at a fancy restaurant.  I took some photos on my way back.  In the background, it's the Tokyo Tower.  Red leaves (momiji) were beautiful.

I've got some nice presents for Christmas from my family and friends.  Here I just want to show off a picture book my mom gave me.  It's an Italian picture book, totally gorgeous.  The title is something like "I wish I had", but of course I can't understand what it says.


Watched Burlesque in a theater (again) today.  It was fantastic!!!  Probably one of the best I've seen this year.  Cher and Christina Aguilera was amazing.  I can't believe Cher can still sing like that.


Went to watch a Japanese film in a theater for the first time in a loooong while, on a Christmas eve.  A part of the reasons was that the leading actor is my favorite.  But regardless of that, the film was very good and I'm glad I watched it.
The story is about a life of a man in 19th century (during Edo period), who was an accountant to one of the regional kings in Japan.  His family had been a middle class samurai, and had served as accountants for several generations.
The Japanese values shown in this film are surely outdated (of course, the film is about 19th century world), but the same values still form the baseline of Japanese culture, I think.  Diligence, seriousness, act without saying a word, never falter by unexpectedness, discipline from childhood, no complaining, frugality, etc.
I felt that the movie itself could have been better edited, but the story was great.

December 25, 2010


For your reference...

The Seaport (Otaru)

Glass art workshop / store
After I left Mashu lake area, I took a local train down to Kushiro on the coast, then took a long distance express train to Otaru.  My initial plan was to spend 3 hours in Kushiro, but I did not get off there.  I just could not see the asphalt and concrete ugly city after spending 3 magical days in the most beautiful place.
I am glad that I took the train during the day, instead of after getting dark.  The view from the train was fantastic, though a little monochromatic.  The train passes through the coast, the mountains, and the cities.
Ishikari Plain, after the snow and rain, shining in the sun
One of the historic bank buildings in Otaru
Otaru is a small town near Sapporo, the biggest city in the northern county.  Otaru used to prosper back in... I don't know, perhaps 80 years ago?  Or  perhaps before that.  There used to be many wealthy merchants doing business in this area, that bankers also gathered here to enable the trading.  That is why the town still has so many stone warehouses and historic bank buildings.  The town is a popular tourist destination, as well as a famous case study for urban designers.  We (I mean, those of us who studied city planning) all study a bit of history behind the revival of this town.  Naturally, I wanted to see it in person.

A historic building on sale
This old merchant's shop/house is on rent - nice black wall
It has a "Urban Design Award" plate on the wall... makes it sadder

Otaru is so lonely, looks so deserted.  Of course, part of it is my fault, because I came here at the least crowded time.  But, still.  A lot of beautiful warehouses and bank buildings are empty.  What is sad is that they seemed to have been in use until quite recently, and then just went out of business.  I am staying here for 2 nights but there are not really enough things to do.  I walked to the west-most part, then to the east-most part. I even went up the hill and came down (no tourist spot there).  I found just one very nice cafe during my entire walk.
Beautiful Ryokan (Japanese hotel) building - empty

This one still in use as a factory

Nice back ally

A cafe and a bar housed in an old warehouse

There are many other restaurants and cafes housed within the historic buildings, but they all look so-so, not really fantastic.  Otaru seaport is not strong enough compared to other seaports in the north, so the fishery industry has been on decline.  Tourism is doing great, but not enough to support the small town.  They need one more something to hold up the local economy.  Need more population in the central part.  The only crowded area was the gift shop street, but who needs that many gift shops?
A most unusual road-side tree I'd ever seen
Like this...

A glass factory where I tried glassblowing
On the other hand, I saw many interesting architecture around the town, and it was a delight.  If only the streets were not frozen...
Snowed, melted, and frozen streets...
For example, this is the most unusual looking church I'd ever seen.
A church...
Or, this looks like somebody's house.  But is it?
Or, this, the city's art museum, is equally striking.  This is the least museum-like building I'd ever seen.  But then, I kind of like the way it is.

Probably one of my most favorite buildings in the town is below.  Some sort of warehouse on the bay.  Looks modern, totally practical, yet somehow details are beautiful, for example its colors.  It also has 4 different types of floor-to-floor connections, which I found truly fascinating.

A warehouse with beautiful rust and gray combo

Some best parts of the town.

A row of warehouses along a canal, a famous tourist spot
Lastly, the cafe.

An old entrance to the building

I couldn't resist taking the pictures because:
(1) It has a great atmosphere of Japanese and Western styles mixed. This place is so like a favorite of my professor, who happens to have been heavily involved in this city (so the owner must know him).
(2) The building, according to the owner, used to be a general insurance agent office since almost 100 years ago till 30 years ago.  The small window-like entrance is the old office entrance (the last photo).  You see, Otaru used to be the prosperous seaport.  Hence, the marine insurance.  Well, I work for a general insurance company, so I had to take the record.

December 23, 2010

The Neverending Story

How many of you have actually read this book by Michael Ende?

If you didn't read it while being a teenager, I'm sorry but you missed your chance.  This is one of the books that had changed my life, and I am 100% sure it won't have the same impact if you are already an adult.

Being a sick child, I was often absent from school, weeks at a time.  My 4th grade homeroom teacher lend me this book, which belonged to her daughter in high school, thinking I had plenty of time to read this extremely thick book.

I was terrified by its thickness, but was instantly hooked.  I remember reading this book on my childhood house staircase.  I was climbing down the stairs reading, then the book captivated me that I sat down there for hours and hours.

The Neverending Story was the first book that made me scared while reading.  You are sucked into the world of Fantagien and can never come back.

So, when the book was sitting on a shelf in the manor, it gave me chills.  I could not resist.  The book always comes to me at unexpected times, I never seek it.  It just comes.

A perfect holiday reading.

(Oh, and the movie was crappy, I think.  It would have been better if they had decided to make the film 20 years later.)

The Manor

My second stop was actually the next station from the Swan Lake - Mashu.  It's a famous lake area in the east of Hokkaido, but the place I stayed was in the middle of nowhere, far from the lakes.  There is this English-style manor house/hotel.

My close friend recommended this place to me, and I scheduled my trip around staying here for a few nights.  It's a bit pricey if you stay on your own, but considering the place I am staying in Otaru, the quality of the food and services, this manor totally worth every yen I paid.

The day of arrival was snowy. It snowed through late in the evening.  I was very lucky, because until 3 hours prior to my arrival, there was no snow in this area at all.  Now, as you see, it's completely white all around. 

The ground floor of the manor was a living room with fireplace and a dining hall with a view to a field.  The upper floors house 8 guest rooms, but only 2 were occupied including by myself.  So, it was quite tranquil and perfect.
After settling in, I took a walk around in the snow.  I walked down to a brook, then took a big turn within the property.  The innocent snow turned into a bit like a snow storm, so I could not venture out of the site.

I came back in, warmed up in front of the fireplace, and read a little before dinner (I will write about the book in a separate post).  The other guest was an American/Japanese couple who live just 10 minutes from my place in Tokyo.  They were quite nice, and we chatted throughout our stay.
As it turned out, the owner of the hotel is a doctor (or I should say an owner of a hospital) near Tokyo.  He did his internship in the north, became friends with a local hunter, and decided to have a manor house there.  He also has a restaurant in Tokyo, to which I had been to many times.
Before going to bed, I looked out of the window and found the sky was completely clear and starry.  I couldn't resist going out into the snow.  It was close to full moon, and with the snow, outside was quite bright for a night.  Another magical moment.  Very very quiet, the only sound was the strong wind withering.
The moon was so bright.

The second day at the manor, I took a long walk in the snow. This day was sunny, sub-zero, and the most beautiful day.   There were lots of animal foot prints on snow, which turned out to be foxes'.  Snowy mountains were gorgeous against the blue sky.  Saw 5 swans flying south.

I just spent the day walking around, taking pictures, and tried a horseback riding (the manor has stables too).
I stayed at the manor for full 2 days.  I will go back there as soon as I get a chance.