We spent twelve days traveling back and forth across Japan, from Hokkaido in the North to Kyushu in the South. We took two inner-island flights and the rest of time we moved around by train. The unusual features of this junket were the morning visits to the elementary schools, and the presentations in the theaters in the evening. This trip was well organized, and even gave us two days off in the middle to recharge.
That said, the days can seem like weeks with all the different people and places we can go. We would usually meet in the lobby of our hotel by eight or nine, and drive to the first stop which was usually a school. We’d always be briefed on what was going to be happening, and then we’d get mics and makeup and go to it. Those stops were our longest, but always seemed like the quickest. After the visit we’d head to either a TV station or back to a hotel to start interviews. We’d always have two rooms working at once, so the interview crews could set-up in one room while we were working in the other. We never knew what we’d find when we walked into those rooms. It could be a one-on-one print interview, a taped TV show, a radio show or a round table. The trick was to adjust to the personality of the interviewer and the angle of the outlet as quickly as possible to give them what they needed. Some reporters worked for media publications, but some worked for children’s or teen magazines. The duration of each session was between twenty to forty minutes long. When we finished the interview we’d switch rooms and start our next interview while they changed crews in the room we just left. That would last till noon-ish when Dean and I would either get lunch with everybody in the restaurant or eat alone in our rooms if we happened to still be in the same hotel we woke up in.
The afternoon was always the toughest, with interviews stretching another four or five hours straight. By the end its always a challenge to stay focused, but it was important to make the last interview of the day to be as good as the first. After we wrapped in the hotel we’d make our way to a theater to introduce the film and answer questions from the audience. When we arrived we’d be briefed on what was going to be happening, we’d get makeup and mics and we’d head in. The pictures of us with the Football players was from one of those theater appearances. Usually we’d be finished around six-thirty to seven or so, and we’d either ride or fly to another town, or return to our hotel.
Just for the heck of it I decided to take a picture of most of the people we met in the span of thirty hours, just to give you an idea of what it looks like from our point of view. The pictures cover the afternoon of Monday June 28th through the evening of June 29th.
We start in Osaka then travel to Shizuoka. The last pictures are from the theater we appeared at and the ride to the train station where we departed for Tokyo.
We left Osaka on Tuesday morning and took the bullet train to Shizuoka so we could visit Tachibana Elementary. This was such a beautiful school. When visiting schools you always leave your shoes at the door, which is immediately relaxing and makes you feel very welcome indeed. The office we received our briefing in had cases filled with little treasures from all over the world. Africa, Russia, Hawaii. I’m pretty sure the head Master/Principal told us that they were mementos from their student exchange program.
We met the 6th graders in their gym, and received a warm welcome from everyone. I think every single kid had a Stitch of some sort in their hands, which made Dean and I feel right at home. The kids did some dragon drawings. We usually sit it out for the first few minutes before making our rounds, but this time Dean noticed there was a chalkboard behind us, so he grabbed some blue chalk and started drawing Stitch. I thought this was a good idea, so I drew Stitch on the opposite end of the board. Dean’s looked nice when he was done, and my Stitch looked rather like a five year-old drew it, which is the way I draw, especially on chalkboards. I’m pretty sure if we ever visit this school again, Dean’s Stitch will still be there. My side of the chalkboard will probably have some lesson plans on it.
Oh, have I mentioned that these teachers were amazing? I couldn’t follow everything they were saying but I didn’t need to. Incredible energy and optimism. You can tell when kids are connecting with teachers and vice-versa. This was a lucky bunch of kids. And a lucky bunch of teachers as well. What a great school.
There were a lot of fantastic pictures from this morning, and as usual I’m having a hard time narrowing it down. I’m sure that when I finally each the end of this trip on my Blog, I’ll have to have a few postings of all the images I didn’t have room for before. Not to mention the Video. At least I have something to keep me busy till Christmas.
There are still a lot of places I want to share, but I thought I’d change gears this morning and talk a little about some of the drawings I’ve done while traveling.
I’ve always owned sketchbooks, but I’ve never really been a sketchbook sort of guy. I’d buy them because they looked cool, but they’d remain empty because of two reasons. I only drew at home, where I always had piles of paper that were easier to draw in than a book. And, had I drawn in a pretty book there is about a 100% chance I wouldn’t like the drawing and it would be entombed inside a pretty leather book for future generations to see. Which would mean I’d have to throw the book away.
My friends never had that fear. My friends in school carried sketchbooks with them all the time, and constantly drew in them. Because apparently, drawing was fun for them. They did it non-stop. Drawing was compulsive and gave them great joy, like sledding or eating candy or swimming.
“Hey, guys, it’s summer! Grab your swimsuits and goggles, we’re going swimming!”
Could have been substituted with…
“Hey, look. A sketchbook. Grab your pencils and erasers, we’re goin’ drawing!”
There would be hundreds of drawings inside their books. Thousands. Drawings of people sitting, people walking. A used coffee cup. A spoon. A chair. A lump. Pretty much the drawn equivalent of Twitter or the updates on Facebook, only back then they couldn’t punch a button and let their followers in Finland know they’d just seen a seagull make poopy. Instead, they took the time and effort to reproduce these things in their book, and thoughtfully not share them.
But now I was asking to see inside their book.
“What’s the lump?” I’d ask.
“Oh, a sand dune I saw at the beach.”
The BEACH? He took this book to the beach and then drew in it? Seriously? When I went to the beach I brought a Frisbee. Or a football. Or a kayak. Or a friend. But this guy brought a sketchbook.
I asked why.
“So I could draw what I saw.” He said.
Seriously? Instead of doing anything else? Anything? Like maybe something fun? Or falling down some stairs?
But he was having fun. Having fun drawing people and seagulls. Had I attempted this, I would have done a horrible drawing of someone jogging with their dog, become frustrated that I drew it in a BOOK, and wonder if I could remove the page without wrecking the book. I’d get impatient and try to tear the page out so as to leave no trace it ever was in the book in the first place, then wreck the binding and end up throwing a twenty-dollar sketchbook in one of those beach garbage cans that have big labels on them reminding you to throw things inside the trash can instead of letting a sea turtle swallow it.
Drawing for me was the opposite of riding a bike. I could ride my bike all day with no destination, because riding was fun. For me, drawing is a destination-oriented activity. I draw because I want a drawing of a mermaid. Or a comic strip. So I draw because I want to do a specific drawing. Its a lot of work to get it right. A lot of erasing is involved. And when I get it right, it was worth the effort, and I’m happy I did it. But I would never think to do it while at the beach, or when I was traveling.
But all that changed about twenty years ago when I was on a little island named Lanai. It was right after Hurricane Iniki had swept through the Hawaiian Islands, and had scored a direct hit on Kaua’i. It was only a few days after the storm had passed. Lanai was deserted. I was one of only about six people at a beach hotel that normally would have had thousands of guests. Seriously. Six. I never saw the other five.
I wandered the empty corridors and pathways alone. I ate at the breakfast buffet with no one else. My spoon clinked softly in the deserted dining room. Waiters stood around, watching me. Waiting for me to finish my eggs so they could clear my plate. I was like some super-rich kid living in my dead parents mansion. In this scenario I had no friends, just a dedicated staff that saw to my every need. Because I was insane. At least that’s how it felt.
There were probably twenty staff for every guest, so there was nothing for them to do. Except wait for me to do something. I suddenly felt as though I wasn’t doing enough. So I walked around a lot. And swam a lot. And I booked a drive through the interior of the island in a jeep. A blue Geo. A tiny jeep that happened to be evil. No, not evil. Cursed. More on that another time. One night I drove the little doomed jeep inland to a big lodge and ate dinner in their fancy restaurant. The lodge catered to a well established crowd that had been coming there their whole lives. The quiet of the dining room, the very old guests, the empty corridors. It had this dreamlike, otherworldly vibe. After dinner I took a walk to the little Victorian hothouse behind the lodge that they grew orchids in. It was placed well back against a forest. In the daytime it must have been pretty. But now it was night. It was lit up brightly all by itself against the forest. It seemed to beckon me. I walked up the hill to it.
It was unlocked.
Inside it was extra humid and the air was still. The smell of flowers was overpowering and it was difficult to breathe. The interior was bright, so everything outside the windows was as black as ink. I was suddenly aware how clearly anyone outside this little greenhouse could see me. I had found the perfect place to be murdered in. I would be discovered by the gardener in the morning. The inside of the hothouse would have a pink hue because of the sunlight tinted by the blood splashed on the glass walls and ceiling.
At least that’s what I suddenly decided, so I got out. I paused for a moment just outside the little house to get my bearings. I was still a hundred yards from the lodge. It suddenly became very windy. And the next thing I’m not making up.
Something in the forest screamed. It wasn’t an animal, I’m certain. It sounded human. And it wasn’t more than a few feet inside the tree line. I ran for the lodge. To this day I don’t know if someone was having a bit of fun or what. I jumped into the blue Jeep and drove the dark road back to my hotel. I was freaked out. Wind gusted against the jeep. My headlights lit the fence posts that lined the road. I passed them quickly. They were bleached out white, and looked like petrified ghosts. Every ten posts or so there was a white owl perched on one. I figured they were waiting for mice to be lit up by cars driving past. Screams in forests, white owls watching from ghostly posts, deserted island. I couldn’t wait to be back in my empty hotel. I dropped the car with the lonely valet and made my way to my room.
I turned a corner and was shocked to see the concierge just standing in the middle of the hall. Like those twins in The Shining except there was only one of her. A gust of wind swung a heavy overhead lamp on its chain. Her shadow moved back and forth on the floor and wall in time to the swinging lamp, so that the squeaking chain made it seem as though her shadow needed oiling. She had nothing to do and wanted to talk. Things had changed, I was told. Although there wasn’t any damage to property and the airport was functioning like normal, things were different now. Shifted. A beach near the hotel was gone. The sand had been swept away, exposing a base of round black lava rocks. Trees were chopped up. A lot of birds were missing their eyes.
So for no good reason I decided to take a stroll to the missing beach before I went to bed. The pathway was dark, but with the hotel just a few hundred yards away I was sure I couldn’t get lost. I made it to the missing beach, and saw that a thunderstorm was closing in. Lightning flashed inside the clouds. It was all strangely beautiful. A cat started crying somewhere beside me. I parted the tall grass and found a black cat hiding. It stood up and hissed. With the storm closing in I headed back to the hotel. I lost the path a few times but made it back.
The next morning at the deserted buffet I thought about all the stuff that happened and wondered how I would remember it. I hadn’t brought a camera that night because it had been too dark to take pictures. And then I remembered I had brought one of those empty journals. So I decided to draw some of the things I saw. I sat at the table and drew the cat in the grass. The owls on the fence posts. The hallway concierge. The orchid house of murder. As I drew, a little red bird came to help himself to my butter. Sure enough, he was missing one of his eyes and a foot. I drew him too.
And later on, after I got home, I looked through all the photographs I took. And the drawings. Much to my surprise, I liked the drawings better. Even though they were far from accurate when compared to how a photograph would have depicted them, emotionally they were more true to the scene. Because they carried with them the vibe I felt when I drew them. The cat was weird and elongated. The concierge more haunted-looking. The owls more ominous. The hothouse more malevolent. As years passed I didn’t look at the photographs from that trip that much, because they look like any other pictures you’d see of a hotel or Hawaiian hills. But I looked at those drawings again and again. They always felt fresh and brought back vivid memories.
So now I carry a sketchbook when I travel, just in case I need to record something a camera can’t.
Like this crow. Or raven. I can’t remember how to tell them apart. Something different about the way their tails are shaped but I can’t remember which is which. Anyway, I was walking around Sapporo when this big crow slapped me on the back of my head with his wing and then flew up into a tree and yelled at me. I tried to get a picture of him but even though he was really close, all the pictures turned out blurry. Probably because he was a ghost. So I went back to my room and drew him. And I already like this drawing better than the photograph even if the photograph hadn’t been blurred by evil.
Oh, and the next picture is where I was drawing in the first Hotel I stayed at. It is my closet at the Tokyo Peninsula Hotel. The closet in my room was nicer than the studio in my actual house. The last picture is of the pages in my sketchbook warping because of the humidity change from California to Tokyo.
Time is short this morning, but I didn’t want to start my day without posting some more pictures from Osaka Midori Elementary. I’m a bit behind in my days, so I’ll be playing catch-up for a while. I’m already back in Tokyo, and I visited several places after this. More on that later.
The point of this post is to bring you some of the images we captured on our visit to this beautiful school. Whatever they’re doing there, they’re doing it right. These kids were amazingly talented, and just glowed with enthusiasm. We spent the morning talking with as many as we could while they worked on their drawings of dragons. A testament to how fun this all was for us, is that Dean forgot how hot it was while he was making his rounds. I think it was actually hotter and more humid there than in Florida. No one else there seemed to notice. If we ever need to colonize the planet Mercury, these kids would be a good choice.
As usual, our visit was too short. Before we left we were presented with several gifts.
But the memories of that day are the most enduring gift of all. We can’t thank them enough.
Yesterday morning we dropped by Osaka Midori Elementary. Whenever we do this our first stop is always the principal’s office so we can be briefed on what’s gonna be happening. But before the briefing started I looked out the window and saw a bunch of kids playing dodgeball in the playground below. Man, it looked like fun. I took a few pictures, not expecting I’d get anything interesting since I was at least two hundred feet away and everyone was so small in the frame. In cases like these I take some shots anyway. You never know.
When I brought these up on my screen, I was amazed. Now I get why people take pictures of sports.
….I unexpectedly became cool.
Before I came to Japan, appearing in a photograph next to real football players was something that was only going to happen to me through the wonders of Photoshop. And the possibility of being presented with a real jersey was about the same probability for me as winning the Giant Slalom or living in Key West with a dolphin friend that I solved mysteries with every week.
But all that has changed.
Today I got to stand on stage next to Ryuji Bando and Akihiro Ienaga. They play football for Cerezo Osaka. They are calm, thoughtful and soft spoken, as opposed to me, who is noisy and moves around too much. But they don’t know that and so they gave me a jersey that they had signed. They gave one to Dean too. Then they took a picture with us.
I really don’t know how to add to that. So I’ll just stop here.