|East bank of Kamo river and Shichijo bridge, Kyoto|
Although my husband Greg and I have visited Japan four times, everything about the trip we just returned from felt new to me: It was the first time I took a sketchbook. It all seemed a little familiar, and yet somehow fresh.
The first half of our trip was spent in Tokyo, Japan’s largest city and the place most first-time visitors see. Ironically, despite our multiple visits, we’d hardly spent any time in Tokyo previously, so this was our first opportunity to become better acquainted with this world-class city.
The highlight of our Tokyo stay was meeting up with Urban Sketchers Japan for an afternoon of sketching in the Yanaka neighborhood and its historic cemetery. We followed up with more sketching over ice cream and tea, and eventually made an evening visit to Tokyo Tower and then an izakaya (pub style) dinner – all while sketching, of course! One of the very best things about being part of Urban Sketchers is being able to connect easily with other sketchers anywhere on the globe! My thanks to Kumi Matsukawa for organizing a fun day of sketching and eating, and to all the Tokyo sketchers for their warm welcome and USk camaraderie.
|Yanaka cemetery, Tokyo|
|Yanaka neighborhood street, Tokyo|
|Tokyo Tower at night|
|Tina (left) sketching with Maki, Junel, Atsuko, Kumi and Chris|
|Tokyo sketchers at Yanaka cemetery|
|Tokyo urban sketchers|
Ueno Park was a favorite Tokyo spot for both Greg (a photographer) and me. One reason is that the spacious park gave everyone plenty of space to play. Although we weren’t feeling particularly oppressed by Tokyo’s crowds, I imagine that the city’s residents use Ueno Park as a much-needed respite from the daily crush of people. Another reason is that I found buskers! While I didn’t generally see musicians or other performers on Tokyo’s sidewalks as I often do in Seattle, Ueno Park is obviously a popular place for them.
|Accordion player performs at Ueno Park, Tokyo|
|Tokyo Sky Tree Tower behind statue at Sensoji Temple|
A major goal for this trip was to see (and, for me, to sketch) Mt. Fuji. We spent one night at Lake Kawaguchi at the foot of Fuji-san, hoping to see its elusive peak. It appeared only for a few minutes before ducking behind clouds again. Greg managed to photograph it a few times, but alas, I didn’t sketch it. (We were both soaking in a mineral bath at the time of its sighting!) I did, however, try to capture some of the hillside color.
|Hillside surrounding Lake Kawaguchi at the foot of Mt. Fuji|
|Shinbashi-dori, Gion neighborhood|
|Entrance to Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto|
|Statue of the Buddha at Kyoto National Museum|
|Pagoda at Sanjusangen-do, Kyoto|
|Egret and heron fishing on the Kamo river.|
Another example was when we had taken Kyoto’s well-known Philosopher’s Walk. A tree-lined footpath that takes about a half-hour to finish at a leisurely pace, it’s most popular in spring when all the cherry blossoms are in bloom, but November was also beautiful on the sunny afternoon that we were there. The icing on the cake was unexpectedly finding a busker on the path playing an unusual lute-like instrument. After several days of day-tripping and rushing through crowds, plunking myself down on a bench to sketch that busker seemed like the ideal, relaxing treat.
|Busker on the Philosopher’s Walk, Kyoto|
Our fourth visit since 2001, this trip brought different experiences than the first three, but it ended the same way: Whenever I leave Japan, it’s with a certain bittersweetness that I am leaving some part of myself behind. It’s not that I feel I belong there; as a Japanese American, the U.S. will always be my home. It’s not that the people there are “my tribe”; I actually have very little in common with Japanese culture and habits. It must be that my genes stir from recognition of all those people who vaguely resemble me. My roots don’t necessarily take hold in that foreign soil, yet they sense the ancestral familiarity that my consciousness can’t quite grasp.
As always, I left without understanding those feelings, but two things were clear: One is that I know I will continue to visit Japan, again and again, to reconnect with whatever part of myself I leave behind there. The other is that preserving Japan in my sketchbook enables me to stay in touch with that part long after I’m back in Seattle. Page after page, I still feel it – the home of my ancestors.
Tina is a Regional Correspondent from Seattle. To read her full travelogue and view more sketches, please visit her personal blog or Flickr album.