Sunday, December 14, 2008

12 Days 'till Christmas...

So we have 12 days until Christmas and I'm working my fingies off on my true loves' presents. My project basket is bursting with crocheted Christmas magic.

If you're wondering who that green stripey guy is at the top of the basket, that's my piece de resistance! He's Brobee, a character from Yo Gabba Gabba, a kid's show on Nickelodeon that's quite the hit these days. (Interestingly enough, the show's creators are none other than the Aquabats. You remember the Aquabats? The ska, pop-punk, kooky band from the 90's?)

Yes, so Brobee caught my attention at first because he looked like a cinch to make. He doesn't have many colors, so I could easily make him using yarn I already had. He also has no tiny details such as whiskers or eyelashes, which sometimes don't age very well since yarn can fray. And his stocky form meant that he would be a really durable toy.

I also considered making Muno, the red cyclops guy, but ...meh. There was something about Brobee that called to me. I can't quite put my finger on it. Something about his look that I related to.

But then when I watched this video, I was sold. What a character! See if you can watch the same without:

  1. Getting the song stuck in your head all evening

  2. Feeling genuinely sorry for the carrots (I mean, call me a sucker, but I was sad for them)

  3. Wondering smugly if there will be a "party" in his colon with that undigested chicken bone n'all

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bowling, Anne style

I think it's high time that I posted some of my work, no? I've been on a pasta bowl kick for a while. They're functional, frequently used, and they have a nice flat surface, the perfect canvas for whatever glazes and slips you can whip up.

After visiting Japan, I was inspired to start on a series of bowls with characteristic little notches on the rim. Kind of like a backwards spout. I like the outcome. With one purposeful little tweak, I'm actually giving the finger to my early days as a potter, when I insisted that everything be perfectly round and symmetrical.

Peace on Earth

Visiting this beautiful country--where nature is diverse and lush, the people friendly and prosperous--it's hard to believe that just a generation ago we dropped nuclear bombs on their land.

Who knows what the next sixty years will do to Sudan, Iraq, the Congo, the Holy Land, etc. I just hope I live to see peace and prosperity spread a little further across the world.

My heart goes out to the victims of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, to their families, and to all of us who abhor such acts of violence.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mr. Ose is small

Being the sturdy, corn-fed, 5'9" American woman that I am, I worried that I might feel somewhat large compared to the Japanese. Surely I would tower above everyone. In my head, my visit to Tokyo played out somewhat like this:

So you can imagine my relief when my height turned out to be quite average among the men. On a crowded street, I wasn't just a disembodied head bobbing along on a river of black hair. No, no I was okay. Even in heels (which, incidentally, I couldn't believe had made it into my suitcase considering my state of mind beforehand.)

But that's not to say I felt like the daintiest pixie in the land. Oh no, most of the women were just as petite as I had imagined.

Especially the older generations

Now, I'm usually not one to recommend interesting articles from the Times, but there's an interesting article in the Times you ought to read.

It basically states that Japan is indeed going through a growth spurt. Its voice is cracking and it's starting to notice girls.

And that's more than I can say for New York. Friggin' Oompa-Loompas. I swear, when we got off the plane at JFK, they all sang the "We Welcome You to Munchkin Land" song from the Wizard of Oz.

I'm afraid at the rate things are going, pretty soon Japan will have us in a headlock and make us say uncle.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Money Talks

Meet Black Daikoku, God of Wealth, Farmers, and Worldly Success.

Coins fall out when he shakes his magic mallet. In his other hand, he carries a sack of treasure. He's depicted standing on two bales of rice, representing wealth.

I was quite impressed when I saw him at the Kiyomizu temple, Kyoto.

Of course, I really wanted him to like me (ie. grant me lots of sweet moolah). So I approached him with confidence and pleaded my cause.

Did it work? I don't know. Talk to my team of offshore accountants. Ha. Cha Ching!

Pretty in Pink

Visiting this beautiful country is an experience I will never forget.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Pimp My John

I was prepared to be impressed by the technology in Tokyo. In my pre-trip imagination, it was the city of the future. I was thinking something like the Jetsons, but in anime, naturally.

Of course, nothing prepared me--least of all the jet lag and language barrier--for the technological complexities of the Japanese toilet. This thing has more features than my car.


Now imagine, if you will, a certain someone who shall remain nameless, stumbling off a 14-hour flight from New York. She sleepwalks her way through customs, nearly collapsing face-down on the baggage claim. Her 8-hour bladder is stretched beyond maximum capacity. It drags her into the closest bathroom and plops her down on this technological wonder.

Peeing with the ferocity of a racehorse, she perks up just enough to survey her strange new surroundings. What an interesting doorknob this bathroom has. And the doors. They're truly private, extending from floor to ceiling and side to side without cracks. And what, come to think of it, is she sitting on? What are these buttons for?

She makes a game attempt to read the instructions, but impatience interrupts her as her finger finds one of the buttons.

Hm, the illustration is of a musical note. Could it be an iPod/toilet? Only one way to find out.

She presses the button and is delighted to hear the sound of rushing water. Not real rushing water, mind you, sound effects! Why of course! To mask the unpleasant symphony one could otherwise hear in a public restroom. Brilliant.

Now she's on a roll. The task she came here for is quite over, but she's in no hurry to leave. She finds another button. Hm, this one shows a rounded "W" shape--meant to represent a bum--with what appears to be a gentle flow of water splashing it. Why yes, that could be nice. After all, her own bum is a world-travelling bum. It has experienced bidets, sitz baths, public baths, toilets that flush in the opposite direction, eco toilets, and the woodsy sans toilet experience.

She presses the button. This time, sounds coming from under her are quite mechanical and urgent sounding. Shifting parts, gears in motion. Like she's sitting on a Transformer about to change into an upright man-bot.

The toilet rattles, shifts and then, silence. Um, she thinks, is it...

Suddenly, a cold sharp sting hits her square in the bum hole. She yelps and jumps off the seat, pants around her knees and water dripping down her legs. The jet stream continues, now without an exposed bum hole to absorb the sheer force of the blast. It pounds against the stall door like a lawn sprinkler, and showers down onto our poor New Yorker's luggage.

Yelping again, our girl quickly surveys the instructions in search of an off switch. Nothing. She reaches under the stream for the buttons, indiscriminately jabbing at a few. This only makes the sound effects return. She presses the bum splashing button repeatedly, thinking that will switch it off. Nope. In fact, as the toilet continues to spray the door like a firefighter, she realises that pressing the button--a dozen times--only requests another dozen cycles.

Finally the last square inch of the stall is covered in toilet water; the stream grows flaccid and gradually abates.

Mustering up as much dignity as she can, she dries herself, pulls up her pants and wheels her wet suitcase outside to face the line of snickering women waiting for the stall.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Spooky Kabuki

Watching Kabuki was absolutely the most impressive theater experience I've ever had. In the words of Ferris Bueller, "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend it."

English speakers were offered headphones with some translation, mostly the type of stuff you'd get from a helpful buttinski (Example: an actor recites two minutes of visibly angry dialogue and then spends ten minutes slashing opponents with a samurai sword. The translation follows, "Jirozaemon expresses outrage." Oh gee, ya think?!)

Really though, the productions were all so stunning and engrossing that I couldn't take my eyes off the stage. Watching these characters take their entrance, magnificent in full make-up and costume, was something I will never forget. Oh, I'm getting chills just thinking about it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Inn Your Dreams

We stayed in a wonderful little inn off one of the main streets in the historical district of Kyoto, Higashiyama. I loved every bit of it--from the very sweet and helpful proprietor, to the Japanese style hot tub baths, to the garden and entrance way--it was really special.

I even got to sleep on a Japanese futon (well, several actually). And was delighted to discover that the word futon is actually of Japanese origin. So I slept on the real deal.

It's actually quite wonderful. Provided you stack, like, two or three of them. Oh, and you have major jet lag.

Tea Ceremony

You can read a nice little article about the Japanese tea ceremony here. To sum it up, the tea ceremony is a real exercise in punctiliousness.

As a potter, I was most interested in the ceramic tea bowls used for the ceremony. These quirky, asymmetrical bowls just seemed really incongruous with the orderliness that characterizes the whole event. I would have expected the cups to be equally as fussy. But no, these bowls struck me as very spontaneous and free-form. They're the hippies of the tea ceremony, clearly.

Although I didn't know it at the time, when I first started learning pottery my pieces actually followed this Wabi (Wabi-cha) aesthetic style of ceramics.

Yes, many of the tea ceremony bowls look a bit like the sloppy, lopsided crapola I first produced on the potter's wheel. While I proudly gave these finished disasters to my mom, Wabi artists are selling theirs in pricey little Kyoto shops for $2,000 each.

I can appreciate the beauty in imperfection, but this leads me back to an old debate of mine (which I usually have in my head, middle of the night, half-asleep, when I think I have the world all figured out) on how Art, categorically speaking, accommodates a number of products that I wouldn't even consider good craftsmanship. Me, I have much more regard and appreciation for the skill it takes to produce the perfectly round, and charmingly detailed bowls at the right over the misshapen and hastily glazed pieces at left. But I know many potters who would prefer these imperfect, organic forms and would consider the others too sterile.

A part of me can't help but wonder if aesthetics like this really grew out of a deficit of talent. The Raku family has been renowned for their ceramics for 15 generations. Fifteen generations! Are you telling me that each and every one of them was a quality potter? Who knows? Perhaps at some point during generation five, Larry Raku wasn't too great on the wheel and total crap at glazing. But heck, it's a Raku piece. Raku means quality.

Don't get me wrong, I do like the Wabi style. Really. If for no other reason than it's gotten me to relax as a potter and resist editing my work to death.

More Wabi style (not mine):

During the cold winter months, the cups are thrown extra thick so that the tea retains heat. Whatever imperfections come out of the form and glazing process, attention must be given to ensure that the cups are pleasant to hold.

Anyway, if you don't get the chance to participate in a tea ceremony, you can always shell out $10 for a cup of coffee in Tokyo like we did. Certainly no less a cultural experience.

Umami Dearest

Having thrived on a diet of Umami, I now feel qualified in my attempt to describe this mysterious "fifth taste." Oh, and thanks Wikipedia!

Here goes. Umami's savory and hearty flavor basically comes from chemicals (amino acid) called glutamates. Glutamic acid pops up in many aged and fermented foods such as soy sauce, certain sharp and bitey cheeses, Vegemite (I'm talking to you, Sydney). As a sodium salt, monosodium glutamate, which we know as MSG, is used with a heavy hand in the food industry.

Also containing a high glutamate content are mushrooms, asparagus and tomatoes.

Umami, correct me if I'm wrong, roughly translates to good-eatin'

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Thanks in part to Hollywood and its tendency to tart up just about everything, you might be thinking that geisha are little more than high-class prostitutes. I know I did. I hadn't the foggiest idea what they did for a living, other than totter around in ridiculous shoes and act all coy and giggly.

So when you think of business men shelling out the big bucks to employ their services, it does give one pause...

Ah but not so! Before I set foot in Japan, I learned not to even suggest such a thing unless you're hurting for a long-winded, impassioned explanation. So, I'd be in big trouble if I spread that misconception. You can instead think of geisha as performance artists.

Their marketable skills include dancing...

Playing the shamassen (and some sort of cup/clapping game)...


And my favorite geisha game, Tiger.

Here the opponents stand on either side of a partition. Hidden from view, they each assume the position of a tiger, a hunter, or an old woman. When they're ready, they come out to face each other and... A) tiger kills old woman, B) hunter kills tiger, C) old woman--not kills but otherwise overpowers--the hunter (she's his mom!)

It's a bit like our Rock, Paper, Scissors, no? Except now you're using your whole body. And I imagine there's a lot more easily-triggered, flirty giggling. So, you've got your next party game! Particularly if you just want an excuse to wrestle someone to the ground.

Geisha can also be trained singers... And storytellers... And, you know, whatever... (not hookers!) All good fun.