Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sources of inspiration: Japan // Land of the rising sun // top 5 things to do // a little teaspoon of creativity

My biggest source of inspiration are my travels. I love to explore new foods, cultures and dig deeper for an in dept experience of a country. Japan has been on top of my list for ages. Land of the rising sun, girls dressed up as animation characters, strict rules in public. But I wanted to experience Japan first and foremost because of it's eclectic and vivid visual culture.

Japan is a heaven for the creative eye. Fashion, architecture, graphic design, it is all very distinguished and a feast for the eyes and ears. Everything is covered with a little layer of cuteness and happy. So yes, it is about time to post a little something about this trip. Here is a top five of things to do if you would visit this amazing country.

1 // Sushi Time
I love to eat local specialties and quirky foods that other countries have to offer. Japan can be challenging for some and veggies won't be having a rich food experience here since almost every dish contains fish. You will have visit some more modern and western style restaurants to find a dish without fish or meat. But the fish is excellent. My very favorite: Tuna Sashimi. It's tender and dissolves softly on the tongue.

If you are open for new things take a risk and enjoy a piece of shark or sea cucumber. Go to a fish market where you can get small bites local merchants prepare for customers walking by. But maybe that is too big of a challenge and a sushi lunch is more your style. Take a seat in a sushi restaurant and see all delicious pieces of fish come by on ceramic plates. Enjoy a free cup of fresh green tea with your meal or drink some warm sake on a chilly day. Japanese cuisine is at times interesting but pure and delicate and so pretty on their plates. Enjoy!

2 // A night out in Tokyo
Tokyo is a city of diversity. You can find modern clubs, gay bars and of course a dozen of karaoke bars. If you'd like a night out start with a visit to the Akihabara neighborhood where you can test your luck in a game room or visit a musical performance. Then visit a karaoke bar with some friends.

If you are not the clubbing or partying type you can also visit an Onsen. A traditional Japanese spa, usually hot springs but can be artificially made too. Here you can get yourself a relaxing massage or enjoy the typical Japanese bathing ritual.

3 // Modern design & architecture
Japan offers a great mix of interesting architecture, colorful graphic design and modern fashion. You don't have to visit an art museum to get a dose of creative inspiration, it's simply everywhere. Packaging, adds, everything is colorful, illustrated and with a little touch of naivety. Logo's are usually little tiny animal characters. Instead of photography, illustrations are used to send out commercial messages. Even the food is styled and pretty.

But Japan has a rich art culture. Tokyo has some amazing art museums that are worth a visit. There are some neighborhoods where you can find some amazing street art. Creativity is everywhere.

If you are interested in modern architecture get yourself a wallpaper book about Osaka and plan a day of architectural sightseeing. Frank Lloyd Wright was inspired by Japanese art, you can visit one of his structures in Tokyo: The Imperial Hotel, where you can see his love for Japan in his design. If you are curious about his love for Japan check out the documentary that was made: Frank Lloyd Wright and Japanese Art by Director Ken Love.

If you are not afraid of heights you can visit Japan's tallest structure in Osaka that was opened to the public in 2014. You can visit the top of the 300m high Abeno Harukas building and watch the sunset behind the Osaka Skyline.

If you visit Tokyo visit the Ginza area and see the amazing buildings that house large western brand such as Dior and Gucci. These shops are gorgeous from the outside. So enjoy them without spending any money.

4 // Fashion. Kimono's and unicorn pants
Everywhere you go you bump into girls dressed up in kimono's. Sometimes they wear the traditional wooden footwear but I have also seen the occasional comfy sneaker under these beautiful Japanese floral textiles.

Japan has an interesting sense for fashion. On the one hand there is the traditional formal Kimono wrapped tightly in the Obi that is also used to carry belongings. And somehow every Japanese girl know how to make a Munsuko, the bow on the back. I tried but never reached a perfect knot.

During work days there is also a trick dress code. A dark suit for men and a skirt and long coat for woman. But during the weekend every outfit transforms into something unique. It is like walking the streets of Milan. Every woman looks groomed and shows off her own individual style and taste in fashion. Hello Kitty pops up everywhere and grown men carry around colorful video-game-character patterned bags. If you would like to see Harajuku Girls go visit Takeshita Dori, a pedestrian-only street lined with fashion boutiques where you can find typical Harajuku style clothes, candy shops, cafes and restaurants.

5 // Cherry Blossom, mountains and national parks
Japanese cities are amazing and can be very crowded so if you have some time to travel around go hike in the mountains. Fuji is just around the corner of Tokyo and there are several National Parks that are worth a visit too. During April you can also see the famous cherry blossom bloom.

Japanese vegetation is like no other. There are numerous garden's which you can visit inside and outside of the cities. Usually temples and palaces are surrounded by lush green gardens and pastel colored cherry blossom in spring. It is breath taking and you can see Japanese people also enjoy these amazing gardens and parks to the fullest.

I had the opportunity to visit a small village near the old postal route. The homes are more traditional, the people are friendly and it is a breath of fresh air that is very welcome after inhaling the moist atmosphere in the subway tunnels while visiting the cities.

Nara National park is not so much a hike in nature but a green lush park with temples. The main attraction is the Todai-ji temple where the largest wooden structure even built houses an enormous Buddha statue. Know that this is a very popular place that is packed with the sacred deer that will eat your green tea ice cream when you look the other way. It is funny to see all tourist struggle with these spoiled animals.

Of course we are already working on Japanese inspired artwork. New Mother's Day postcards, new Geisha fabric. Stay tuned and follow our Little Smilemakers Facebook Page.