Are you back?

"Shibuya Electric" - a drawing from 2004. (Poor image quality due to the fact that I had to scan from a photo as I don't have an image of this drawing on computer.)

“Shibuya Electric” – my one and only Tokyo drawing which I drew in 2004.

I wrote an email to my good friend and fellow artist, Anne McCaughey, asking “Are you back?”  After her maiden trip to Japan, I was dying to find out what her impressions were.

She replied  “Japan was beyond words.  Mark [husband] and I both loved it so much and I can quite see why you are so in love with Kyoto and the world of the Geisha and Maiko.  I couldn’t quite believe that Tokyo, which is so vast, could come across as such a gentle and gracious place.  Even being in residence in Shinjuku with its bustling hub of a station and 2.75 million people using it daily, it was much less intimidating than I had expected.  What a beautiful nation!!”

"Kyoto à la Mode" coloured pencil drawing of Katsuyuki and Mameyuri, 2010.

“Kyoto à la Mode” coloured pencil drawing of Katsuyuki and Mameyuri, 2010.

I met Anne for lunch.  She told me that during her Japanese holiday, several times when she and her husband looked lost, it wasn’t long before somebody approached them to ask if they needed help.  I have also relied of the kindness of strangers.  Here is a recent example:

Recently I was en route to Kyoto from Kansai Airport on the Haruka Express train.  It had glided away from the station and I was expecting a trouble-free trip.  About 20 minutes into the journey the train came to an unscheduled halt.  We stopped at a tiny station – and sat – and sat.  Eventually a white-gloved and black-uniformed conductor entered our carriage.  He removed his hat, bowed to the travellers and proceeded to gravely explain the problem.  After his speech (for it was a speech) he bowed again.  He glanced at me.  I gave a sort of hopeless smile and said “wakarimasen”  (“I don’t understand”).   He acknowledged my simple communication and walked off.

After a short interval he was back, accompanied by a passenger.  The young man introduced himself and told me that the conductor had asked him to explain what the reason for the delay was.  There was an accident down the line.  We would probably be able to commence our journey in about half an hour.  Transfer to buses had been considered but it was decided that we would wait.  Well – where else would a conductor search for an english-speaking passenger who could explain the situation to a visitor from abroad?  Probably nowhere else.  Even in a country as keen on order as Japan, unforeseen things happen.  Here was a typical example of the courtesy of Japanese people.

I ask myself why I continue to draw Kyoto.   I have such happy times there and this is a factor in wanting to mentally relive the experiences as I work at my pictures over here (in Perth).  I’m an outsider looking in plus I don’t speak the language.  At the same time I feel quite at home there.  I had thought that perhaps I had gotten over it (especially when I was working on Paris for two years) but Japan’s lodgement in my heART appears to be permanent.

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About juliepodstolski

I am a realist artist who works in coloured pencils.
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9 Responses to Are you back?

  1. shirley winstanley says:

    Hi Julie I always loved reading your posts. So thank you. I tried booking into the APA Gion Hotel but they haven’t released their bookings for next year yet. I was hoping to be in Japan late March ie 24/3/14 to say 4/4/14 something like that, with 2 rooms, one for me and one for two other women who are happy to share. I called Hotelclub but they couldn’t help either and I don’t want to go unless I can get that hotel at that time… any ideas?? Again – thanks Shirley

    • Hi Shirley, did you find out when Gion Hotel will release rooms for next March? If you are determined for that hotel, then you need to find out when they release them and book at that time. It is a nice hotel but very plain. Its best feature is its location.

      Alternatively, you could try booking a house in Kyoto, since there are three of you. I was told about the website ‘vacation rentals abroad’ which I used to find a great house in the beautiful Higashiyama area (a small walk from Gion). The owner of this house (and two other houses now) is a truly lovely young man named Nobu. He will do everything he can to make his guests’ stay comfortable; book tickets to events, give you all the information you need – anything. You may like to send him an email and say hi from me at the same time. Staying in a house can really be a delightful way to experience Kyoto. When I last looked on Vacation Rentals Abroad site there were many to choose from.

      It occurs to me that I should note that staying in a traditional Kyoto house may mean steep stairs (this is sometimes the case) and may also mean sleeping on futons. My friend, Anne, who I write about in this post, didn’t enjoy futons though personally I found them to be much more comfortable than I had anticipated. ie I had no problem with them at all.

      Shirley, Kyoto Royal Hotel and Spa is just as good an option as APA Gion Hotel. Though maybe it is a policy of all Japanese hotels not to open their bookings until nearer the time as you are finding with APA Gion.

  2. I enjoy your writing as much as your drawing Julie. You conjure a wonderful picture of ‘your’ Japan, then capture it in your drawings. It seems so gracious, almost old-worldly, yet it would also be one of the most contemporary countries in the world.

    • Thanks Anna. I feel that Japan is old wordly in its manners too. In fact I think it has similarities to Jane Austen’s England. Maiko and geiko walk in order of seniority just like the Bennett sisters did when walking to and from church with their parents in Pride and Prejudice. And people bowed to one another and enquired of one another’s health in Jane Austen’s England – they way they still do in today’s Japan. I find it endearing. When one buys something at a quality department store, the salesperson will come out from the counter, hand one the wrapped item with both hands and bow. Now you don’t get that round here!!!

  3. shirley winstanley says:

    thanks Julie for this reply and information

  4. If only our train conductors, or ticket inspectors as they really are in the UK, were so welcoming and helpful to strangers in a strange land. I witnessed two female inspectors working as a team literally entrap a couple of Ukrainians tourists who were on the wrong train, so that they had to pay a sizeable fine for travelling with the wrong ticket. I tried to intervene but the burly and tattooed Transport Policeman accompanying them made it clear what might happen. The truth is they had quite by accident got onto the wrong train and were easily able just to get off and return to London at the next stop without any fine being levied but by suggesting they wait at St Albans station for their friend to catch them up in a car and collect them to take them to where they were staying, it transpired that they had now willingly made a journey without a ticket. Trapped quite deliberately into making a mistake that cost them. What must they have thought about the UK and our values. I was ashamed but it aptly illustrated a worrying trend in our country to punish rather than assist!

  5. My New Zealand brother and sister-in-law had a nightmare experience recently trying to change trains in the Czech Republic at around 3 a.m. – on their way to Krakow. They thought they were getting onto the correct train but were hurled off not once but three times. It is too complicated to try to explain but when they finally DID get to their carriage, it was like entering a Hieronymus Bosch scene, my sister-in-law said. The carriage was full of people who were completely drunk and somehow a couple of them had to be prized out of THEIR booked seats. Needless to say there was no sleep to be had that night and they arrived in Krakow shell-shocked and exhausted.

  6. Jim & Beth Marshall says:

    What a lovely story you tell Julie, about your interrupted train trip. As I write I am sitting in a hotel room in Kyoto – our first night here – and we are considering what to do/ where to go first. It’s raining for a start so we are dawdling and hoping it’ll stop! We’ve been in Japan for a week so far and we too have encountered only friendliness from people we have met along the way.

    I’m looking forward to exploring the areas that you’ve drawn.

    PS the drawing of yours which we bought a few months ago looks lovely hanging in our flat in London!

    Beth Marshall

    Sent from my iPad

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