I have just settled back to work on THE SNOWY NAP after a 10 day trip to
Japan with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. My husband, Joe plays the double bass,
and the trip revolved around concerts, with Andris Nelsons conducting. My
sister, Jeannie Brett Tsairis traveled with us. Since she is also an artist, I
had the experience of seeing Japan through her eyes as well. The arts and
culture of Japan are quite different, and we both found the trip inspiring.
Whereas the US revels in its diversity, Japan seems very intense and focused.
There is such a long history of Japanese culture it is easy to feel uneasy of
making judgments without adequate background knowledge.
One of the highlights was seeing a individual man's collection, Mr.
Takashita, of folding screens. Most in his collection were of natural subjects,
especially birds and wild animals. There was even a painting of a rooster very
similar to my Silver Phoenix. Phoenix are a long tailed chicken similar, but not
as extreme as the Japanese Onagadori fowl. It is said that Samurai warriors
crowned their armored helmets with the 20 foot tail feathers of this type of
chicken that carries a mutation that prevents the tail feathers from molting,
normally a yearly occurrence. Their tail feathers are really long.
Some of our outings were done in a group with an excellent tour guide,
Maya. We went to the museum dedicated to the Japanese artist, Hokusai. I have a
book of his artwork, and in it is a banner painted in about 1805 of Shoki, the
demon queller. In the painting, the fierce looking man wears a round hat with
tattered fringe hanging from its brim. Because of the hats similarity to the
hats worn by Okinawan fishermen, it inspired the hat on the father octopus in
THE MERMAID, my new book. I only mention this because it is amazing how
convoluted the trail is from sights seen to their remix in one's imagination.
Two years ago I was painting the hat on my character, and last week I saw
original woodblock prints from the artist. My sister and I had to practically
dragged away from the exhibits.
One very touching experience was going to the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. It was a
special holiday, Shichi- Go-San when very small children, girls ages 3 and 7 and
boys 3 and 5 wear traditional Kimono to the shrine, complete with ornamented
hairstyles and wooden platform shoes called "Geta". The little boys were very
proud in their kimonos sporting fierce creatures such as tigers and eagles. The
little girls wear elegant and fanciful obi tied in intricate designs. The
forest, which is almost 200 years old, is full of towering trees. To see the
small children walking with their parents through the paths under the trees
was unforgettable. I didn't feel comfortable taking photographs of the kids as
it seemed like a very personal visit to the Meiji shrine for them. I imagine
many traveled a great distance to be there.
When we were in Kyoto we stayed in a beautiful, traditional Japanese Inn in
the Gion area. An indoor rock garden was in the entrance area, and our room was
austere and elegant with Tatami mats and a low table where we were served a
Kaiseki meal. The dinner consisted of many small exquisite courses. Two
apprentice geisha, called Maiko, accompanied us. They brought a beautiful
antique screen into our room. One of the young women played the Kokyou, a
stringed instrument and sang. The other young women danced in an elegant
storytelling manner. My husband after numerous trips to Japan, really enjoys the
One of the highlights for me was going to the Kabuki theater. Many of the
Kabuki plays are on YouTube so I have become familiar, but still not very
Our last outing was to a cat cafe. The first one, in the trendy high
fashion district was clean and bright, with gorgeous well groomed and friendly
cats lolling about or introducing themselves. Many were long haired varieties
with colored eyes and unusual colored fur. There was a huge plywood tree with
platforms the cats could retreat to if they didn't want attention. Strangely,
all the cats seemed to get along well. The second cafe was home to all Bengal
cats. In that place, you sat on the floor, turned your jacket inside out, so the
satin lining was exposed, and instantly two or three Bengal cats would settle on
your lap to curl up and sleep. They were very beautiful. The rules were that you
could pet the cats but not pick them up, so when it was time to go we had to
summon the attendees to come and pick the cats up off our laps.
Now that I'm home, I am up at all hours working in the middle of the night
because of jet lag. I have several weeks before we start the national book tour
on our decorated bus. I will be introducing my new book, set in Okinawa, Japan
THE MERMAID. Because THE MERMAID has a tropical setting I will also talk a bit
about THE ANIMAL'S SANTA, because it is a seasonal book. I can't bring an
octopus or mermaid along with me, I'll bring "Little Snow", the character from
my Christmas book published in 2014. We are really gearing up for the book
signing tour. This weekend I'll be going out to buy the markers in order to draw
father octopus in his Kimono and round hat, and Kiniro, the mermaid. The best
part of the tour is meeting young artists. When children bring me their
drawings, it is like a wonderful gift, and it gives me positive feelings for the
Happy creating, Jan