Lisa's Musings

there's little i control

roof to roof

well - i'll try to sum up kyoto in one post. it's a city in japan that houses an incredible amount of national treasures and historic buildings. it used to be the capital of japan. it has a more traditional [for me read :: stuffy] feeling than the other parts of japan i've been too - but if you want to see old buildings and art and old culture [there's a textile center that has kimono fashion shows multiple times a day] then kyoto is a must.

above is nijo castle built by the tokugawa clan in the 16th/17th centuries. it's amazing and one of my favorite places we went. the floor squeaks - on purpose - so that it was hard for ninjas to plan secret attacks [do you know i always wanted to be a ninja?]. it's a sprawling multiple building complex with 2 motes. the rooms have AMAZING screens [things i have studied in books] and the ceilings are also decorated in really lovely patterns [each room differently].

i couldn't help but think about there are moments in my work that are rooted in the aesthetics i kept seeing. what is interesting to me about this is that i'm not doing it on purpose. it seems inherent and natural is it that i was exposed to some japanese artifacts when i was a child and they sank in? or is there really something to be said for a cultural point of view? is there something in my make up that almost forces me to look at space in an asian manner?

trash trash trash trash

all my photos from nijo here


unfortunately you weren't allowed to take photos inside, but sanjusangendo houses 1001 statues of buddha. all lined up - gilded gold - the same but slightly different [since they were carved by different artists]. this also seemed to be a theme. the repetition of things - but in a means where they are not exact replicas. this is another HUGE thing in my own work. i love the small alterations, imperfections, moments of the hand.

the other sanjusangendo photos here [only a few]

a red roofline

we stayed across from the imperial gardens/palace . it used to be where the emperor stayed. it's really lavish with multiple gardens. but you have to make a reservation to go, and you have to follow a tour - so this wasn't my favorite place. it did have some nice moments though.


these red buckets were everywhere. they all had water in them from the rain, but i'm not sure what their purpose is. mom - any help?

**update** so chez shoes confirmed my suspicion. these are fire buckets... and my mom says : "The Kanji letters say: "Shou(shoo)-ka-yoo" meaning, "for fire extinguishing"...People can recognize red buckets for if little water can extinct any fire???". and i have to confess that was my reason for questioning their use. how could such a little bucket put out a fire? well - they look cool anyway! thanks guys! ****


i have to admit i got a kick out of looking for "behind the scenes" moments at all these tourist attractions. i also fell in love with the stark white and dark brown buildings

all the imperial palace photos here

for sheer wow factor - you've gotta love

kinkakuji - the golden pavillion

kinkakuji or the golden pavilion. originally a shogun residence it was converted to a temple after his death as he was a devout buddhist. it's on the edge of kyoto so it's surround by lush green hills.

all kinkakuji photos here .


in start contrast is ginkakuji or the silver pavilion [but there is no silver]. zen sand gardens, and a lovely green garden that climbs through the hills.


also originally a private residence - can you imagine living in that?

Very Important Moss

along the trail was this moss growing tray. on the sign in english it says "very important moss (like VIP)". love that.

all ginkakuji photos here

from above

fushini inari is the shrine of red gates - just outside of kyoto. too many tori to count. you just walk through them - wandering up and around the hills. if you take a side path you might be lucky enough to find an old old nook of shrines. foxes and red gates are the norm here. there are old, new, stone, red, big, small, medium gates. you just follow them. it's a really different kind of shrine experience. [but again with the repetition]

shoes on the roof

along the trail are also small business/homes. they sell food, drinks, incense and the other accoutremonts you need to pay tribute to your ancestors. the image above was from one of those pit stops.

all fushini inari pics here

small buckets

the granddaddy of temples might be kiyomizu . it's more like a complex of buildings - in various styles. it's really kind of mindboggling.

for water


these are some of my favorite quiet, behind the scenes moments of kiyomizu. there are plenty more pics here . the roads to and from kiyomizu are lined with crafty shops - some more trinkety in nature, but also some gorgeous ceramics and cloths and traditional snacks/sweets.

blue mail

we did a lot of walking in kyoto. mostly because the subway system isn't so great and we are not big bus riders [buses are the way to go there]. so i ended up taking a lot of pictures of random things along the way. my around kyoto pics are here

and speaking of walking.... in thinking about all these places the word pilgrimage kept coming to mind. to visit most of these places you have to either walk a up a hill, travel some distance or are greeted by a gate. even if you aren't religiously inclined something about these places made me really pay attention to my surroundings. maybe because they are also integrated into nature, maybe because it's so apparent that there's historic ritualistic residue. so many people. coming. to make wishes, to pray, to change their future.

a japanese friend of mine explained to me that she thought that shinto shrines are more interested in luck, fortune, and keeping away bad luck/spirits and buddhist temples are used more for weddings, funeral, and "serious" affairs. i sort of liked these ideas and have been thinking about how i see luck, fortune and "serious" affairs in my life.

well... we're almost there. still tokyo to go. i tried to warn you i had a lot of pics!

have a good weekend!



:: warning :: lots o' images here! ::

in koumi there were at least 2 lakes. [maybe more - but i'm not sure]. we stumbled upon one after breakfast one morning. what i loved was that at some point i think this was a splashy "resort" - but all the cabins, the swan boats, and the eateries were a bit worn down. this only made me love them more.

hello swan

i wish we could have ridden in one - but alas had to go back to installing.


this could be anywhere no? clearlake? some lake on the east coast [winnipesaukee]? why does that comfort me?

finland festival

if there's one thing that the japanese love - it's a reason to festival. seriously. this little town has a sister city or something like that in finland. so once a summer all the finnish people that work for nokia in tokyo come out to koumi and set some giant bonfires to celebrate the coming of summer. there was a BBQ - giant vats of yakisoba and mutton and paella [yes totally cross cultural] , there was bingo, there was a senegalise inspired drumming band, there was drinking, there was dancing, there was one big and one little fire [and some pitlyiza's dutifully sacrificed].

lake fire - later

as it got dark candles were lit on the water, on the grass - it was really sparkly and lovely and very summery. what i loved was as the evening came to a close wham bam! everything picked up - designated groups did their designated jobs - tables, trash, recycling... all guests picked up 10 candles and brought them back to boxes to be put away. the smallest and the eldest and everyone in between did their part.

the rest [and last] of my koumi photos here

the first saturday we were there a bus was rented and we were taken to nagano. the drive was really beautiful. more hills, more green, more farms.


there are these gambling "fun" centers all over japan. if you walk by one and the door opens you will think you lost your mind. it is SO loud. freon air blasts towards you - mixed with the sent of stale tobacco and concentrated boredom/hope. [las vegas slot machines?]


yes - the lanterns are everywhere. yes - they are almost too iconic. no i'm not sick of them yet.

tool envy

we were so fortunate to be invited to meet/see a traditional sword maker's studio. we didn't get to see them hammer at the metal [we were too late] - but we got to see all other aspects of the process. what i found most amazing is that artisans are responsible for individual aspects of the sword. he only makes the blade, someone else the handle, someone else the case, someone else the tie that goes around the handle, etc. etc.

this actually seemed like a philosophy in japan. figure out what you do. and do that. only that. and do it well. really well. there are stores dedicated to one product. [azuki [sweet red bean] filled pancakes, sembae [rice crackers]] and they survive. even thrive. of course there is diversification [7-11 or 7 and i holdings to be exact], but somehow i couldn't help but feel that the search for order just permeated all aspects of life.

i did love the reverence for traditional craftspeople. they literally can become "national treasures". how cool would it be if we acknowledged the gee's bend ladies in this way? of course there is the argument that if the emphasis is on the traditional you leave very little room for contemporary or avant garde [i heard this from a few university students].... but i believe that if you want to break rules you might as well know them - and there is a way to maneuver around traditions, or even subvert them if you are so inclined. [think murakami, or nara - maybe there aren't a gazillion well-known contemporary artists, but there are some]. i still think a culture that is interested in holding onto and honoring their traditions and art in general is better off than one that doesn't.

in the studio

the sword smith had a little shrine in his studio. way up high in the corner of the darkest, dirtiest part of his studio. [it was like a movie set. one light bulb swinging, fire blazing, swords in various states of pounding lined up]. it was lovely.


we also visited the tanaka museum and gardens . the home of a VERY wealthy merchant this is the epitome of high japanese traditional art/design. there were so many "ahh" moments here.


we got to have tea in a second story room. with views of one of the gardens [all the gardens designed to have areas of interest in all seasons]. i loved all the references to nature and seasons. i also love how traditional architecture is supremely interested in the outside and inside and how they function together. rooms that have doors that open to courtyards - different kinds of doors/screens to filter light/weather.

small chair



sigh again.


fluttering heart.

what was really special about this museum, though, was since it was a personal home they actually had some personal affects on display. there were toys from 1900-1950 [yes i was gasping] that the family children played with. there was clothing and other textiles, small pieces of jewelry. it was really a treat.

zenkouji shrine

we then went to zenkouji shrine . most famous for a buddha that people rub to cure their ailments and a dark hallway that you walk through "blindly" until you find a good fortune "key" in the wall. there were several buildings associated with the shrine and all kinds of good things to digest and look at.

sitting six

the bibs and hats are to protect the spirits of children and babies that have passed.

ramen dinner

per jen's request, i'll try and talk a bit more about food? jen just wait until i talk about the MARKET!

after our very very long day we went to a ramen specialty place for dinner. mine is the front one. white sesame miso ramen. the one in back was the black sesame. spicy with seaweed garnish, fresh green onions, chinese style marinated slices of pork, a bit of asparagus. perfect.

all the photos from our nagano day trip are here . in case you want to see more.

i think i'll save the artwork for last - so next comes some city stuff!


so... were it not for our little earthquake this morning at 4:42am i might have actually slept the whole night through last night! ah well. maybe tonight.

thanks for the warm welcome home! so kind of you. maditi - there will be LOTS of polas - but i think i'll save them for the end.... [btw have you seen maditi's new blog? - all visuals no talking. yum]

i have been wracking my fuzzed brain for words to start to describe what i did on my trip. in many ways i think i'm still processing the whole experience [along with a bit of culture shock of "home". i was at the supermarket the other day and it struck me just how much easier it is to buy things and banter in your native tongue. duh, right? but so true. in my head i was thinking OK how do i ask for one fish cleaned and gutted - oh yeah - i don't have to try and translate.... relief].

let's see if i can start from the start. the first 2 weeks of my trip were all spent in koumi . it's a small town nestled in the hills of the nagano [think winter olympics] prefecture of japan. it's most known for skiing and hot springs [there are 5!].

lettuce fields

this is what the area was like. it was almost surreal. lots of farms. lots of old traditional style buildings with tile roofs. nestled between rice paddies and buildings were shrines - burial plots with markers, statues, offerings.... the hills looked like traditional asian ink paintings :: mountain in mist

after a very long day of travel [planes and trains] i was picked up at the train station by a van full of guys [they all arrived 2 days sooner than me]. i'd be lying if i said i wasn't a bit daunted being the only female. in the end i could take and tell a joke with the rest of them, so it all ended up good. [but really there ARE gender differences folks. of this i am now more than certain!]

our cabins

luckily, each artist had their own cabin. each cabin had a kitchen, a bathroom with one of those infamous japanese toilets [more on this later] and a big tub and a second story for sleeping. before we got there we didn't know that we'd each have our own space - so i was elated [imagine sharing a bathroom with 5 men?!]

koumi machi museum

this is the museum. 2 D photos do not do this space justice. ando really really is a genius. the way he uses scale is phenomenal. at one point we were lucky enough to go inside a really traditional home [the home in which the curator of the museum grew up - and his mother still lives]. inside it was explained that the size of the room height wise was always made in proportion to the # of tatami mats on the floor. to me ando is totally playing with what are culturally ingrained ideas of proportion. skinny hallways that take in and reflect light - ceilings that reach beyond human scale [maybe giraffe scale?] - curves that mimic traditional tiles - curves that meet and point the eye in new directions. the building is so modern [cement] but fits PERFECTLY in the serene setting. it was an honor to be involved with this structure for 2 weeks.

i also find it interesting to think about the idea of multiple use. in traditional housing in japan one room can be both the living and dining room. big closets store unneeded and alternate materials for the room. i started to think about museum and gallery spaces as multiple use rooms. the artist conforms to and simultaneously alters a space with the work that they hang. it really started to sink in that it is not only the spaces we build or create, but how we habitat them that alters our relationship to not only the space, but the objects that inhabit the space.

in the end the best way for me to describe these two weeks is art camp. similar to grad school where intense work is being done but with out the drama [read insecurities/personality conflicts] of grad school. we all got along. we laughed and joked and help each other make our works. we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. and like camp we all knew this was finite. and special and could never be recreated.

bento lunch

a sample of the food we ate. this was a fancy day [we didn't go out to eat every lunch] - but yum. i love the little sampling of different types of food. sweet and savory - crisp and soft.

koumi onsen

between working really really hard we went out an about. we were asked to give workshops at local schools and at the museum itself, but we also got the star treatment. an onsen [hot spring bathhouse] was just being completed next door to the museum and we got to go on a private preview day. above is a photo of the cafe at the onsen. the water was warm and the view from the baths [indoor and out] were stunning. see for yourself.

the best part of the onsen, though, was the hot rock room. you lay on a bamboo pillow on a very very warm rock - the whole room smelled like lavender. you could literally feel the knots melt from your body and the toxins flow out your sweat. better than a sauna - at least for me!

currently west -workshop

here's me in the paper - funny huh? this was one of the workshops we did at the museum. andrew and i helped the kids and adults in our group build a giant circle out of bamboo trimmings. i felt a bit like andy goldsworthy. what was so rewarding, though, was the excitement, the interest, the questions of the participants. what really stuck with me? every time i handed a kid a pile of bamboo they would turn, smile and say "thank you" - in english - with so much sincerity. we broke into 3 groups and each group completed a task. at the end a japanese member from each group spoke about the experience. it was so heartwarming to hear them say they'd never done anything like this - that they wouldn't have thought of art in a landscape, or art on this scale or that they could make art themselves. heartwarming, no?


going to the local schools was also really fun. one of the guys - bill - was over 6 feet tall. many of the kids in the town had no interactions with any foreigners except for their irish english teacher and TV. so bill - he was an oddity. they came up to his thigh. in the end, though, we all stood out like sore thumbs there.

walk the line

the students were so much more well behaved and engaged than those that i've met here in the states. part of it, i think, is that their lives are much more regimented [for which i can see good and bad points], more is expected of them and socially there is more pressure to succeed and do well in school. there is also pressure to conform - [another +/-]. for example, while drawing with them if they were told to draw a circle they wanted to know what color and what size - they didn't want to do it incorrectly. and they would all look at one another's papers to make sure they were all doing the same thing. i couldn't help but think that art isn't usually about conformity. especially contemporary art. foreign X 2.

above is the red line on the floor of the school - you march on one side of the line so that traffic flows smoothly. this principle is repeated in adulthood in all the subway and train stations. there are yellow lines all over - you are supposed to walk on the left or right side of them depending. i guess if you are groomed for that from age 5 - it all makes sense.

below are some of my favorite images from the schools.

home ec



if you want to see all the school photos they are here

the first set of photos from koumi are here

all photos are living together in the koumi set

next i'll talk/show more about the installations we did, the trip to nagano we took and some other local sites/events.

before i go - ash started talking about our new book - the year of magical thinking - on ship. i'm so excited to talk about this book. reading it was really a profound thing for me.....

hope you all have nice weekends planned!


tadaima [i'm home! in japanese]

it's hard to believe i'm back. we just missed the big typhoon and earthquake. we didn't miss a horrible and delayed flight home [warning :: reconsider flying united].

my trip was a complete whirlwind - full of sights, sounds, tastes that i am still processing. i'm not even sure how to begin sharing what i did. do i start from the start? do i work backwards? do you really want to see every single photo i took? [no, really, you don't]

being home is both good and totally overwhelming. i'm not even sure where to begin. jet lag and i have become furiously fast friends and companions.

hopefully after a couple more days of sleep catch up i'll be able to start to ease back. i just wanted to pop in and say hello! and i missed you all!!


My Photo
Name: lisa s
Location: oakland, CA, United States

hello and welcome to my blog. i'm a mixed media artist living in oakland, CA with my husband, 2 dogs, 1 cat and my baby daughter. i try to post once a week about things that inspire me, what's going on in my studio, and little tidbits of my life. thanks for visiting, reading and commenting!

please please please :: i am happy to have you use an image of mine on your blog or somewhere else, but PLEASE just ask permission before you do. and please don't hot link. it really is important that we respect one another and the work we do. and if you are too shy or busy to ask, could you at least link back to me? thank you in advance!


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