Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tokyo Design Festa Vids May 2008

Tokyo Design Festa May 2008

The Tokyo Design Festa is a semi-annual event where artists, craftsmen, performers, musicians, film-makers, and what-not gather from all over the world to exhibit their creations.

It's a weekend of artistic chaos!


Ghostly Lady from Tokyo Design Festa


Here's a little avant-garde weirdness from Tokyo Design Festa.

She's from Taiwan and was one of the performers at the Design Festa


Drumming Rabbits - Usagi Taiko Group


This footage is from the Tokyo Design Festa of the female Taiko Drum Group known as Usagi. Usagi means rabbit in Japanese.

http://usagi-8.com


Crazy Angel Company


Here's a bit of a big band I caught at Tokyo Design Festa called Crazy Angel Company.

They have a lot of energy and it shows in their performance.

http://www.crazy-angel.com


Scenes from Three Bands from Tokyo Design Festa


Here's a small slice of the music scene in Tokyo.

This vid is brief snippets of three bands I caught at Tokyo Design Festa.

Mimi-Unagi
http://mimiunagi.buzama

Luxury
http://luxuryweb.nobody.jp

Tsubaki
http://tsubaki.bz


The Eyeball Love Globe Group


Take a dip into the surreal and the avant-garde with the Taiwanese performance group - the Eyeball Love Globe group.

The Eyeball Love Globe performed at the Tokyo Design Festa this past May and have done so a few other times before being one of the popular re-occuring performances at the exhibition.

http://www.eyeball.com.tw

the music for two of the segements is from Seven Cycle Theory:

http://www.myspace.com/sevencycletheory


Shinobi-Try - Ninja Dance Group


Shinobi Try is Ninja Dance Group who mix martial arts with dancing

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Shout-out for Tokyo Design Festa May 2009




This is a quick shout-out to all Tokyo dwellers and visitors to check out the Tokyo Design Festa this coming weekend: May 16-17 from 11:00-19:00.

The Design Festa is a weekend of artistic chaos - wild performances, musicians, painters, sculptors, etc...

Design Festa

For those who can't make it you can follow the madness semi-live on the blog at:

Design Festa Blog

Thru-out the weekend, photos, videos, and interviews will be uploaded within minutes more or less of all the craziness.

Tokyo Design Festa May 2008

Check out my vids from last year's event at this playlist:
Design Festa Vids

For artists out there if you feel like coming to Japan and exhibiting your work check out the site and watch the fun!

Tokyo Design Festa

Artistic Chaos!!!
The Tokyo Design Festa – a chaotic ensemble of art


The Tokyo Design Festa


Anime fan wearing an all handmade costume

As I entered the futuristic-looking Tokyo Big Site building on Odaiba Island, I was greeted by a person with the head of fish. Beyond him/her/it and all about the place wandered a colorful assortment of strange characters which appeared to have been born in fertile imaginations bred on Japanese Anime, Gothic Horror, and Salvador Dali. It was then that I knew I had reached my destination: the Tokyo Design Festa.


Fishhead man advertising


Getting a leg up or two at Tokyo Design Festa


Usagi – Drumming Rabbits – Female Taiko Group

Design Festa is a chaotic showcase of artists, musicians, craftsmen, designers, dancers, and performers – the sublime mixed with the avant garde. The Design Festa takes place twice a year in Tokyo and has been going on for 14 years.


A Wild Wall

Artists come from all over the world to participate. Booths are set up to showcase their creations and crafts. Visitors can look at, handle, and purchase their favorite pieces. In addition they have the chance to talk with the artist to learn more about them and their artwork.


An artist below one of her works


Painter creating art at the Festa

For artists, the Design Festa gives them the opportunity to get their work noticed and possibly sold. The event is a breeding ground for future art as a lot of networking goes on between artists which can lead to potential collabrations.


Pint-size masters at work


Ninja getting down with their badselves


A twirling ghost

There is so much to see, do, and absorb in a weekend at Design Festa. The place is literally a beehive of activity. There are performances to see, workshops to attend, bands to hear, painters to watch, and oddity to puzzle over.


Geisha Gone Godzilla


Panda Man! He eats, shoots, and leaves.

Some of the booths offer short workshops to teach visitors a bit their craft. I tried my hand at the ancient art of Japanese calligraphy. Calligraphy in old Japan was considered an all important skill. In the far off days of the Heian Period (794-1192), a person’s calligraphy was believed to be a mirror of their character. I would have been laughed out of the Heian Court with my paltry attempt at the turtle kanji character. My turtle looked a bit more like a sickly chicken strung up by clumsy anti-poultry vigilantes. My teacher, a ten year old girl, was patient with me and guided me as best as she could.


Me with my Calligrapher Teacher


Anime School Girl Calligrapher

At a makeup special effects booth, visitors were able to get horrific body scars which didn’t hurt a bit. I got myself a nice deep scar running down my arm which later fooled a few drunks at my local bar.


I got scarred at Tokyo Design Festa

There were several fantasical creations from this booth wandering around surprising the unwary and small children. One was tall elegant alien creature frighteningly realistic but fortunately sweetenly demure.


A very realistic alien courtesy of special effects make up

Another creation was a ghastly sculpture of a half-tree half-woman monster with the severed head of a man in her/its hand. Her/Its roots were nourished with the blood and gore of other men. It was a macarbe cocktail of environmentalism and feminism blended horrifically together.


Environmental Feminism at its goriest


A samurai fiercely guarding his booth

Along with the countless booths, there are a variety of showings throughout the day in different sections of the event area. Bands, short films, musicians, eclectic performers can be seen outside, upstairs, and in the main hall. I was able to see rock bands, taiko drum groups, naughty nurses, a gyrating eyeball man, and a dancing ninja troupe.


A band performing at the outdoor stage


Guitarist licks lips as he rips licks


The Bufferins – naughty pain relievers

One of the popular returning performance groups is Mr. Eyeball Love Globe from Taiwan. The group is headed by man with an enormous eyeball as his head. His outfit is covered with a similar pattern. His story from his flyer is that he is an alien here to spread love. The Eyeball group was one of the most out-there groups and attracted a lot of attention. They have been to Design Festa several times before.


Mr Eyeball Love Globe Group from Taiwan


Avant-Garde at its Warholian best

Design Festa takes place twice a year in May and November. For more information please check:

http://www.designfesta.com/

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Video Clips of Japanese Snow Monkeys

Here are a few short clips of Japanese Macaque or Snow Monkey taken at Jigokudani Park in Nagano Prefecture.

Japanese Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Park in Nagano



Japanese snow monkeys get excited as feeding time approaches.

Dignified Snow Monkey Enjoying his Bath




This scene reminds of the art film Baraka which had a scene of a snow monkey (might even be the same one) staring contently from his hot springs bath.

Japanese Snow Monkey enjoys a hot springs massage



Just like humans, Japanese Snow Monkeys like to unwind and relax at hot springs.

Baby Snow Monkey with Mother



A Baby Snow Monkey with its mother. Another baby monkey darts by on the left.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Japanese Snow Monkeys

Japanese Snow Monkeys Enjoy a Warm Dip to fight Winter’s Chill

Generally when one thinks of monkeys and their environment, one imagines tropical jungles, not snowy hills. This is what makes the native Japanese monkey, the macaque or “snow monkey,” so unique. The Japanese macaque is the only species of monkey that lives as far north as it does. Macaques can be found in several places in Japan in environments raging from subtropical to sub-alpine. The northernmost group of Japanese macaque grow thick furry coats in winter.

Japanese Macaques have thick winter coats

In the 1970s Life magazine first featured the Japanese macaque monkey enjoying a wintry dip in a hot springs near Nagano. Thus was born the international fame of the so-called “snow monkeys” of Japan. With their thick fur coats, almost human-like faces, and their deep, soulful eyes, the snow monkeys quickly won the hearts of people worldwide.

Playing in the snow

Macaques grow to 79 to 95 cm (2 to 4 feet) and weigh 10 to 14 kg (20 to 60 pounds). The males are generally larger than the females, but females outnumber the males in their social groups. Macaques live about 30 years and reach adulthood around 3 or 5.

WARNING!!!!
DO NOT stare into thoughtful eyes
Monkey and visitor exchange glances

Although the snow monkeys possess such wonderful and thoughtful eyes, visitors should NOT stare directly into them. Staring is seen as an act of an aggression and a visitor looking to commune with the spirits of nature may suddenly find their nose communing with the sharp teeth of an enraged snow monkey.

Macaque groups, called troops, have a strict hierarchy. An older male monkey with several male helpers rules a troop, deciding on where and when to migrate, as well as providing protection from other troops. Troops are composed of males and females of various ranks.

Enjoying a Massage at the Onsen (Hot Spring)

Males will move from troop to troop, but females will stay in their troop their whole life. Female rank is very important, as their babies will retain the hierarchical rank of their mother. Troops leaders have sometimes received their status due primarily to the position of their mother within the troop.

Photographers swarming to get pictures of oblivious bathing monkeys

Macaques are known to transmit acquired knowledge to each other. Scientists observed a female macaque washing a sweet potato before eating it. She was the first one to be observed doing this behavior. Soon after, the rest of her troop began washing their sweet potatoes before eating them.

This behavior then apparently spread rapidly through all macaque groups in Japan. This phenomenon led to the Hundredth Monkey Meme that after a certain number of monkeys learn new behavior this behavior somehow will spread throughout monkey-kind. It was also believed this that theory explains how ideas are spread in human societies. The theory, though discredited, persists, particularly among New Agers.

Baby monkey enjoying a bath

Monkeys hold a special place in Japanese religion and folklore. In native Shintoism monkeys are seen as the messengers of river and certain mountain gods. With the influx of Buddhism and Chinese culture, in which monkeys also had an important place, monkeys flourished, and their legends spead accordingly. Monkeys became demon-quellers and the protective spirits for childbirth and for warding off evil. The famous “hear, speak, and see no evil” monkeys are believed to have originated at the Tendai Shinto Buddhist complex on Mt. Hiei, north of Kyoto.

The Monkey and the Jellyfish
How a Clever Monkey Saved His Liver
A Thoughtful Monkey and Gullible Jellyfish

Japanese Monkey Tales often exalt the cleverness and resourcefulness of monkeys. One of the most popular stories about monkeys in Japan is the story of the monkey and the jellyfish. A long, long time ago the great Sea King’s wife was sick and for some reason the only thing that would cure her was a monkey’s liver.

Since monkeys lived on land and fish is the sea, it seemed a hopeless task to procure one. However, one marine creature was the obvious choice for such a quest - the jellyfish. With its strong bones and hard shell, the jellyfish was well-suited to go onto the land and seek out a monkey. The jellyfish soon found a curious monkey to whom it impressed with its description of the Sea King’s Palace. The jellyfish offered the monkey passage to the wondrous realm of the Sea King upon its hard shell.

The eager monkey agreed and off they went. Along the way, the monkey grew concerned about the nature of their conversation which seemed revolve around livers particularly his own. The jellyfish eventually went too far and let slip the purpose its visit. The monkey was naturally alarmed as anyone would be if they found themselves in the middle of the ocean on the back of a jellyfish’s shell and discovering that their liver was to be the guest of honor rather than themselves.

But with cleverness being his birthright, the monkey hid his fear and began to lament. He told the jellyfish that in his haste to go to the Sea King’s Palace, he had unfortunately left his liver hanging in a tree which of course is what all monkeys do when they go climbing. The jellyfish not being the smartest of Scyphozoans believed him and rushed back to land with his liver-less monkey. When they reached land, the monkey leaped into the trees and instead of monkey liver, the gullible jellyfish received only monkey laughter. The Sea King was noticeably put out when he heard the quaking jellyfish’s report. He ordered the bones of the jellyfish to be removed and its shell to beaten to a pulp. And today the jellyfish and its descendants float about boneless and shell-less while giving monkeys a wide berth.

In areas like Nagano, where snowfall can reach record depths, the macaques seeking respite from the cold head for hot spring areas. North of Nagano city is the hot spring area of Yudanaka, which is popular with humans and simians alike. In the early 1960s a female macaque arrived here and found the hot springs to her liking, and others soon followed. A park was later created in the area where monkeys and their distant cousins humans could mingle.

A Dignified Snow Monkey enjoys his bath with admirable restraint

Although the Monkey Park goes by the ominous-sounding name “Hell’s Valley” (Jigokudani), the monkeys seem unperturbed by it as they play and bathe with reckless abandon. To them, Hell’s Valley is simply heaven. At the entrance to the park is a hot spring center for humans, where they can share a bath with monkeys if they so desire. There are two outdoor baths that adventurous monkeys will wander down to in order to observe the bathing rituals of humans. For those who might be put off by monkeys gawking at them, there are indoor baths as well.

The macaques of Japan number between 35,000 to 50,000. Due to destruction of their habitats and shootings by farmers, the macaque population has declined, and they are now on the endangered species list. Those wanting to learn more about Japanese snow monkeys and watching them live can check the following website: http://www.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/

Onsen bath complete with Snow Monkey Companion
Getting there
Snowy path and a snow monkey face carved in snow

Getting to the monkeys requires a bit of time if one is not staying in Yudanaka itself. From Nagano City, take the Nagano Dentetsu train to Yudanaka. It takes about an hour or so. From Yudanaka station take a 15 minute bus ride to Kanbayashi Onsen. Go up the hill and follow the signs to the beginning of the trail. It’s a 30-minute walk along a narrow trail. In winter, the trail is covered in snow so one must be careful of slipping and from falling patches of snow from evergreen branches. 


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Japanese Snow Lantern Festival in Hirosaki Video



In Aomori Prefecture, the city of Hirosaki puts on a simple but elegant snow lantern festival early-mid February. They construct japanese garden-style lanterns out of snow and place small portraits on them which are illuminated at night.

The portraits depict Japanese women, samurai, and legendary Chinese heroes particularly from the epics - Three Kingdoms and the Outlaws of the Marsh.

The music they play in the background however leaves a tad to be desired but it makes for a bit of surrealness.

Music by:
The Secret Commonwealth

Japanese Snow Lantern Festival

Japanese Snow Lantern Festival
Brightening up the Winter Sky

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Snow Lantern Festival of Hirosaki

Winters are long in Tohoku, the northern region of mainland Japan. Snow and ice are common fare there. A skier’s boon but a common man’s burden. In ages past before sports skiing and winter fashion, winter was something to be dreaded and suffered through. It is no wonder that a multitude of snow festivals dot the Tohoku region. These festivals are the locals’ way of making Winter seem little less unfriendly and little less bleak.

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Hirosaki Castle

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One such festival takes place in the city of Hirosaki in the Aomori Prefecture which is the northernmost area of the Japanese mainland. Capitalizing on the beauty of winter, residents of Hirosaki create lanterns made completely made of snow in early February.

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The lanterns for the most part resemble the type of lantern found in Japanese gardens and shrines. There are hundreds of these spread through the grounds of Hirosaki Castle. Some of the snow lanterns however are rather avant-garde shaped with just a hint of the essence of a traditional stone lantern.

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Avant-Garde Snow Lantern

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Mickey Mouse Snow Lantern Shows Off Japanese Obsessive Love for all Things Disney

Where in the stone lanterns there would be empty spaces for the placing of candles, painted portraits are set. The portraits resemble closely that of Hirosaki’s Neputa Festival in Early August. The Neputa Festival consists of large oval shaped floats with painted scenes from Japanese and Chinese stories.

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Snow Lantern with Mt. Iwaki

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The Snow Lantern Festival’s portraits depict the faces of Japanese women, samurai, and legendary Chinese heroes from the works of the Three Kingdoms and the Outlaws of the Marsh. In the evening, they are illuminated from within much in the same way the Neputa floats are.

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While the Neputa Festival goes back centuries, the Snow Lantern Festival goes back only decades - three to be exact. The Festival started in 1977 as a way to bring the community together during the long cold winter. It has since become one of the five biggest snow festivals in the Tohoku area.

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One of the few non-lantern structures to be seen at the festival

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Throughout the Festival, local volunteers patrol the grounds looking to repair the lanterns and clearing the pathways. They place the portraits on the lanterns and fasten them in place with short bamboo sticks. Across the old moat, dozens of small kamakura - or snow huts - are set up each with an individual candle.

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A Volunteer Repairs a Snow Lantern

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Three hundred miniature Kamakura snow huts dot the the bank of the castle moat

Hirosaki’s Snow Lantern Festival may not be a major extravaganza like the Snow Festival a little further north in Sapporo but it has a pleasant charm of its own. The Snow Lantern Festival in this respect represents the Japanese character best - simple but elegant; the quintessential concept of Japanese wabi-sabi.

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The only drawback to all this charm and elegance, however, is the music they choose to play in the background. Instead of playing traditional Japanese music particularly the guitar-like shamisen which Hirosaki is known for, they play less than quality modern music that is a cross between old style enka and modern pop music from mediocre artist without financial clout to sue the city for playing their music.

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Music aside, the illuminated snow lanterns and the miniature kamakura snow huts with Hirosaki Castle as a backdrop make for a winter fairy-tale land.

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Tokyo, Japan
Vagabond traveler currently hold up in Tokyo. I've done a far bit of traveling and had a few interesting adventures along the way. This blog is a chronicle of adventures past and present and those yet to come. I’ve been to about 30 countries though some no bigger than a kitchen table. I’ve run with the bulls of Pamplona, hiked the Inca Trail, got mugged in Mexico City, floated down the Nile in an old boat, climbed the Great Pyramid of Egypt, got ripped at Oktoberfest, and rode the notorious Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Party Train.