Painting in Japan

Korakuen Morning, 8x10, acrylic on canvas
Korakuen Morning, 8×10, acrylic on canvas

 
Most of you know my son lives and works in Maniwa-shi, Japan, a town in the mountains of Southwest Japan about an hour from Okayama. I recently visited him again, for the third time. He had moved to a new location since my last visit, so I was anxious to explore around his apartment in rural Japan for painting practice! It also happened to be cherry blossom time, so was anxious to see that!

On international trips, I usually take a small acrylic paint set. Acrylics are water soluble, and dry in minutes, so they are easier to travel with than oils. Since you cannot take turpentine on a plane, if you want to paint oils, you have to find a place to buy it after you arrive at your destination. Here’s my setup on the road—

My acrylic traveling kit
My acrylic traveling kit

 
I won’t turn this post into a travelogue and go into all the details of the trip, some of which I posted here on Facebook, but concentrate on the painting in this blog entry. In retrospect, I wasn’t satisfied with most the paintings on the trip except the last day, but here goes anyway…

My son’s new place is a little further out of the central town area, mainly surrounded by rice fields. There is a Shinto Shrine close by, so I did two paintings there on different days.

Shinto Shrine 1,8x10,acrylic on canvas
Shinto Shrine 1,8×10,acrylic on canvas
Shinto Shrine 2,8x10,acrylic on canvas
Shinto Shrine 2,8×10,acrylic on canvas

These are not the main shrine, but other structures in the courtyard. Although it was a relatively small shrine, I could have done quite a few paintings in the little nooks and crannies of this small area.


 
We decided to visit Osaka, the second largest city in Japan, and about a 4 hour bus ride away. Our hotel happened to be right by Dotonburi, the most famous district and party spot in Osaka. We kept quite busy around Osaka and a side trip to Kyoto, so I didn’t have time to paint except for one day. On that day while the others shopped, it was pouring rain, so found a place under a bridge on the river to paint. I also don’t usually do urban scenes, and it was a bit smelly as you know what people do under bridges in party areas…even in clean Japan!

The piece was going nowhere, but as it got darker, the lights started coming on, and I put them in as my focal point which helped brighten things up.

Dontonburi, 8x10, acrylic on canvas
Dontonburi, 8×10, acrylic on canvas
Dotonburi
Dotonburi

 
Upon returning to Maniwa, the blossoms were still not out, and due to the rain and cold, they kept pushing back the projected blossom open date. I did find one close to my sons place, so painted that…

Maniwa, 8x10, acrylic on canvas
Maniwa, 8×10, acrylic on canvas

 
So far I was not really satisfied with any paintings done the the trip and we only had a few days left. We spent the last part of our trip in Okayama. One trip was to Kurashiki Bikan, an old historic district near Okayama. It was a scenic spot, and I started a painting while the others shopped and looked around. There were just a few blossoms, so did a painting of a bridge in the district. We got there late, and I didn’t have much time, so the painting only got about half done.


 
One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan is called Korakuen (Koraku-en). Located in Okayama, Japan, it was built in 1700 by Ikeda Tsunamasa. We saved visiting Korakuen Garden until the last day so-as to catch the blossoms. Although they were not in full bloom, there was enough to paint, so did a painting in the morning, and one in the afternoon.

The morning painting is shown at the top of this blog entry. Here are a few pictures of the area–


 
The blossoms were not fully open yet so I painted the trees a little fuller with blossoms imagining what they will look like.

The afternoon painting was a little more interesting scene and turned out pretty well, but could use some touchup later.

Korakuen Afternoon, 8x10, acrylic on canvas
Korakuen Afternoon, 8×10, acrylic on canvas

Too soon we had to depart for home. I left all the paintings with my son in Japan so he could show them to friends and students.

A Thanksgiving in Japan with a Wise Teacher

It was a year ago that I spent a few weeks in Japan and Thanksgiving with my son, Justin, who has lived there over three years teaching English to school kids. He works and lives in the mountainous town of Maniwa. I have visited him several times, and cannot get enough of the Japanese countryside. Yes, of course the cities are where most visitors go and great fun, but after awhile, to me, the big cities start to blend into the same.

 
Well, this blog entry is not about Thanksgiving day, but about one day at a school where Justin teaches…a day I will never forget. Justin rotates around a half dozen schools teaching English from Kindergarten through grade school.

The Kusakabe Elementary School principal was interested in meeting me, so I went with Justin in his car to the school for his teaching day. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay the entire day sitting around a Japanese school, and it was a little too far to walk home, so figured I was there for the day. After the first hour I didn’t want to leave!


Kusakabe School
Kusakabe School


It was a drizzly cloudy day.

As soon as we arrived, the principal was expecting me, and he and some teachers royally greeted me. In Japanese schools, upon entering, you take your outside shoes off, and put your inside shoes on. They have slippers for visitors, so I ‘slipped’ into those, and followed the principal to his office. We sat down in some sofas in front of his desk, and chatted a bit, somewhat in English with Justin doing a little interpreting.

A few teachers came to greet me, and before you know it, I had rice paper, ink, and a Japanese brush in front of me and everyone expecting a ‘masterpiece’. Whoa! Japanese art such as this simplifies everything into just a few strokes. I am so unfamiliar with this, I just brushed out what I had seen the day before, Kamba Falls…and it didn’t turn out well.

 
The first class of the day Justin taught was pre-school. I have never seen such a lively bunch of precious little kids eager to learn. Justin taught a few words for the day…banana, ice cream cone (can’t remember all exactly)…he put them in a song, talked, continually interacted with the children, and invited me to to come up and draw pictures of the words he was teaching on the board.

I was so impressed by one student confined to a walker, seemingly the happiest of all. I didn’t know his condition, maybe palsy, but all the other kids just constantly came over and embraced and loved him.

Watching those kids with all their enthusiasm was one of the sweetest and lovely things I have seen in my life, and it made me realize why Justin loved to live and teach there.

 
After that, I went to a number of other grade school classes with Justin, but after an introduction, and a little talk, I would exit the class.

I wanted to go paint the Asahi River close to the school, so walked a few blocks with my acrylic travel kit, found a bench by the river, and started to paint.


Asahi River
Asahi River


Like I said, it was an inclimate day, and it soon started to drizzle and found it impossible to continue.


Paint kit by the Asahi River
Paint kit by the Asahi River


Heading back to the school, I asked them for a couple chairs to sit and finish the painting outside under the eves. Almost the entire time, I was surrounded by school kids asking me all kinds of questions in a few English words, using gestures, but mostly unable to communicate.

I finished the painting under the eves of the school, and at the end of the day, presented it to the principal as a gift to the school.


Asahi River, 8x10, acrylic on canvas
Asahi River, 8×10, acrylic on canvas


School was soon over, and all the school kids lined up to be dismissed to go home. The principal wanted me to stand with Justin as he spoke to the student body eager to go home. I had no idea what he said for about 10 minutes as he held that little 8×10 acrylic painting up over his head for all to see. Occasionally there were oohs, and aaahs from the kids, with everyone looking at me, and I just grinned and nodded not knowing at all what was being said.

Justin later told me what the principal said, in summary and paraphrasing —

Art is a universal language which we all can see and appreciate, and even though Mr. Neff can’t speak our language, and we can’t speak much of his, Mr. Neff brought an expression which we all can relate, enjoy, share, and bring us together.

 
I kinda like that principal!

   
EPILOGUE

The school framed the painting, and it now hangs in the entrance by the shoe racks.


Kusakabe School Entrance
Kusakabe School Entrance


Kusakabe School Entrance
Kusakabe School Entrance