Travel Japan: Culture

Just returned from a two week trip to Japan visiting family. We stayed in Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka with a smattering of day trips like Hiroshima, Enoshima, and Kamakura sprinkled in for good measure.

Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Temple in Kyoto, Japan

I love Japan. I love the abundance of temples and shrines throughout the country. I love the dichotomy between the stoic and imperial history and the flash and energy of the big cities.

I love the courteousness and politeness and how clean everything is. I love how when we looked confused at a train station, someone would come up to us and offer help. Even when we were trying to figure out what to eat, someone approached us and ask if we needed help. When we explained our dilemma, they suggested we try a local delicacy, takoyaki, a fried ball of yummy diced octopus served with a kind of BBQ sauce and mayo and topped with finely shaved bonito flakes and told us how to get to their favourite spot for it. Very helpful indeed.

Outside Shibuyu Station, Japan

Outside Shibuyu Station, Japan

We weren’t surprised with the number of people who approached us. We knew were weren’t confused on which train to take next but it’s the graciousness and helpfulness of the Japanese that makes them so lovely. That and many people want to practice their English with other English speakers, so we amused them by asking them more questions. We were very impressed with how well they spoke English. Maybe it was my pale Canadian pallor or my blonde curly hair, but I was a popular target for a girls’ school English project at one of the temples in Kamakura. We were approached twice by groups of girls who asked us questions like how long we’d been in Japan, where we’d been, if we watched the Olympics and our favourite Japanese dishes.

English project at Kamakura, Japan

English project at Kamakura, Japan

In 2019, Japan will host the Rugby World Cup and of course in 2020, Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics and Paralympics. As such, there’s a big push for students and public service workers to learn English in time for the Olympics. Major train stations and cultural destinations have or are undergoing renovations, and while some signs are in both Kanji and English, there’s still room for improvement. I can’t tell you how many times I picked up a brochure or looked at a map that had English headings only to be dejected to see that all the content was in Kanji! Arrrggghhh!

Stay tuned for the next post Japan Part 2: Food where guess what I’ll talk about? That’s right! Some of the yummy, delicious, weird and wonderful food of Japan.

Falling Back to Earth : Cai Guo-Qiang

I don’t consider myself an “artsy” person. The closest I’ve come to being artistic was when I was 11 years old and painted a picture of a flower for my parents. I was very proud of it. They must have been equally proud because they hung the painting in the laundry room, where all fine art pieces are displayed. I like art. I think. I like art for the reasons why other snooty people like art – it makes me sound like I’m smart, cultured, sophisticated, a lover of all the finer things in life and more in touch with the world. I’m a self-actualized human being sitting proud at the top of Maslow’s pyramid where creativity, morality, and lack of prejudice reign supreme. Yup, that’s the most honest and unbiased description of myself I’ve ever heard. I appreciate art for the skill that goes into each piece. The blood, sweat, tears and years of torture involved in an artist’s life. I spend way too much time trying to decide what my iPhone wallpaper is going to be so I can absolutely sympathize with artists on the labour of love aspect.

Cai Guo-Qiang's "Heritage 2013" at Brisbane's GOMA

Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Heritage 2013” at Brisbane’s GOMA

Contemporary art has never really been my thing. I went to an exhibit once at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) but was drawn more to the old masters where in my opinion, antiquity brings credibility. But on my last visit to the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, I walked through Cai Guo Qiang’s (pronounced Tsai Gwo Chang) art piece, called Heritage 2013, which depicts 99 life-sized models of animals from around the world gathered around a drinking pond. Check out the video on Cai Guo-Qiang’s amazing exhibit Falling Back to Earth and hear from some of the top art experts about his work.

It was something that I’ve never seen before and something that I don’t know if I’ll ever see again. It was surreal to walk around the pond and see the meticulous detail that went in to all 99 animals. This was definitely something that I couldn’t replicate and I admit I was impressed.

Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition, Falling Back to Earth is on display at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) running until May 11 2014.