Monday, 26 September 2011

Sumo saturday

On saturday we went off to watch the sumo wrestling, a tournament that has been going on for two weeks and ended yesterday. We were up in the gods but still had an amzing view of the intriguing proceedings. The "fights" go on all day, but only really get exciting when the top blokes come out from about 2pm onwards, and it's a lot of fun.
The stadium is massive and if you want to sit near the front, you have to book cushions on the floor. If you're too near the front, you risk getting squashed! The "ring" has a temple-type roof over it and I'm wondering if this is because the area is sacred.
The top wrestlers come out in a dramatic ceremony. Each of their names are read out individually and they climb up into the "ring" in their full regalia, to massive cheers from the onlookers.
While they wait for their turn, each wrestler sits at the side of the ring. Some have their own cushion which is dutifully brought in and out as they need it.
There is a lot of showiness before the fight. Salt is thrown several times and the classic leg lift and thigh slap is also done to great effect.
Once both wrestlers have their fists on the ground (please excuse the copious amounts of bum shots) the match begins.
The matches are often over in seconds, but can be quite dramatic. The loser is the first man to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of his feet.
Sometimes it looks pretty painful - especially when you've got a two ton sumo wrestler hurtling towards you!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Celebration time

In our limited time here in Tokyo, we've become aware of the many festivals that happen over the year. One that I love is the o-mikoshi festival. This is usually held in the depths of August where the humidity is at its worst. For some reason, they are being held later than usual and we've seen many over the last few weekends in our neighbourhood. On sunday we came across this one in the heart of Shibuya. I love them as they are loud, fun and friendly affairs which create a carnival-type atmosphere that usually ends in a huge drinking session. I'm not sure how you get involved, but everyone seems to be enjoying themselves as they carry the portable shrine (this varies greatly in size and is thought to be a vehicle for gods) on their shoulders, chanting loudly. The tradition is said to date back to at least 749 and I hope it lasts for many more years.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Raffles Hotel - Singapore

Last week Neil was in Singapore for work, so I decided to join him for a few days and soak up what the city has to offer. We were lucky to be staying pretty centrally and opposite the famous Raffles Hotel with its beautiful Colonial-style architecture and oases of tropical gardens. My mum was reminding me that we visited Singapore many years ago and the hotel was still surrounded by lush lawns and tropical trees. Sadly this has all now gone and busy roads have taken the place of the serene gardens.

A boat trip - Singapore

One of the first things we decided to do was to hop on a boat trip and pootle around the waterways of Singapore. It was nice to do as the weather was hot and humid and it was good to be out on the water. One thing that struck us straight away was how built-up Singapore was, but also how it had a slight feeling of Disneyland about it....

Night Safari - Singapore

Before we went to Singapore we got lots of advice of things to do from friends who had lived there. A lot of people raved about the Night Safari, so we headed over there on sunday evening for the 7.30 opening time and lined up with everyone else to get on one of the organised trips. I have to say, it was very well organised and beautifully landscaped. Each animal is in an area without railings (there is a very large, deep trench between you and them) and only slightly lit, so that they don't get too disturbed. It was fab to be up close to the lions and tigers (and tapirs have become my new favourite animal - I never realised they were so big though!), but it is still essentially a zoo where animals are kept captive - something that doesn't quite sit well with me.....

Marina Bay Sands - Singapore

Soon after we got to Singapore we became aware of this monstrous building looming over the waterfront. It gives the impression that an enormous wingless airplane, or liner has landed on top of three buildings and is precariously balancing there! It is the Marina Bay Sands hotel and as well as staying there you can see shows, dance in the nightclub, gamble in the casino or get your cultural fill at the Art Science museum. We didn't visit the hotel, but got to see the nightly light show from the bayside.....

A view from the top - Singapore

While I was in Singapore I got to see a two exhibitions. One was a fabulous photography exhibition by the photojournalist Abbas, an acclaimed photographer who has spent the past 45 years roaming the world and documenting major political and social events. Each black and white photo tells an amazing story.

Another exhibition I saw was very different to Abbas and was the work of Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist whos very bright, very spotty art covers feminism, minimalism, surrealism, pop art and abstract expressionism.

This exhibition was held in an exclusive building on Orchard Road, so after seeing the show, I went and saw the view - quite stunning.

Little India - Singapore

What I loved about Singapore was the mix of different cultures that have amassed on a relatively small island. One thing that must be done in Singapore is a trip to Little India, where it is like stepping into a pocket of India. All the shops and restaurants are Indian-owned and there is an amazing array of wares, foods and smells to check out.

Botanical Gardens - Singapore

A trip to the Botanical Gardens on saturday were a welcome break from the hustle of the city and obviously somewhere where many Singapore residents like to hang out. Families came with picnics, joggers were trotting around the circuit, and there were some beautiful plants and foliage to check out. We loved the garden dedicated to orchids and were amazed at how many famous people had an orchid named after them, including Maggie Thatcher!

Chinatown - Singapore

A trip to Chinatown on saturday night was a feast for the senses. We had been recommended to try out a hawker centre, and so decided to try out a well-known one in Chinatown. Hawker centres are places that have all sorts of restaurants under one roof and you buy items from many different ones and then sit at a communal table to scoff it all. We had a popular dish of chicken and rice washed down with a cold beer, and then went to watch a stunning dragon festival celebrating autumn.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

September morality poster

Anyone who comes to Tokyo and rides the train will be well aware of the copious amount of snoozing that goes on. I've always been amazed at how many people do it and how easily they do it. There is often a lot of head-lolling and you never know when you might get a sleepy stranger's head veering towards your shoulder. This is why September's morality poster is so fitting....and very cute too. The caption reads "Please be careful not to lean against the person sitting next to you should you fall asleep".

Monday, 5 September 2011


I recently finished reading a book called 'The hare with amber eyes'. It is written by Edmund De Waal and tells the history of his family through the journey of a collection of netsuke which his family owned. They started in Japan, where one of his relatives bought a collection of over 160 of them. They then went to Paris, Vienna and then back to Japan, passing through the generations and surviving the second world war en route. It was an interesting way to tell a story as well as a history of the 20th century.

A netsuke acted like a toggle, and was attached to a cord that simply fastened the kimono in place. They were originally simple, utilitarian wooden toggles, but they became more elaborate as time went on and became intricately carved. By the 18th century, all sorts of materials were used from ivory and bone, to coral, jet, amber and even metal. Many subjects were carved, but most depict characters from Japanese history.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Yokohama Triennale

Yesterday I had a bit of a sore head after my Bulgari outing, but I met up with my friends Tatsuya and Arthur for a trip to the Yokohama Triennale. It was a really lovely day of meandering around the two main galleries that were showing works from artists from all over the world. Each gallery was quite different to each other, with one being the Yokohama Museum of Art and the other was the Bank Art Studio, an old warehouse on the waterfront. We started off there and I loved the space - a raw, open area that showed off the work amazingly well. Our favourite piece was by Christian Marclay who created 'The Clock'. It is constructed out of moments in movies when time is expressed or when a character interacts with a clock. He has excerpted thousands of fragments of film and edited them together so that they flow in real time. It was amazingly done and quite compelling, especially with big sofas to lounge on!
I loved this tree idea where the tree 'grew' through three floors of the art space.

From a distance this wall looked like it belonged in a nightclub. Up close I realised it was hundreds of pushpins/drawing pins meticulously lined up to create a disco wall.
This cluster of beautiful blue glass globes looked like enormous teardrops suspended from the ceiling.
This exhibit was very tactile and I loved the swirls of colours. It turns out that each swirl consisted of cut up used clothing and was inspired by cans of film, evoking the notion of a 'life film'. The core is made from underwear fabric, followed by a t-shirt, blouse, and ultimately reaching the jacket - like a slice cut from a tree. At first you just see the interesting colour choices and appreciate the layouts, then as you look closer you see Nike labels and zippers sticking out, which makes it become more everyday.

These sculptures were made from sea salt and looked like sea urchins suspended in mid air.
I'm not completely sure what this was meant to portray, but Arthur enjoyed getting a steaming.