The World Wide Wakayama Chronicles; Day Four

10-29-13; Tuesday

A rainy morning delays our start and even though we had to get up at 4:40, we do get to relax in our room until the 12 noon departure. No point setting up a photo shoot with no sun. Time to relax, catch up on email and do homework.

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki

For lunch, we walk to a nearby okonomiyaki place where we watch the cooks make delicious omlette-type thick pancakes containing eggs, flour, seasonings, and various meats. My favorite is the squid okomomiyaki with its firm and chewy chunks of white meat. The guys in the crew start to drink even though it is only noon. We find out later, that they all end up having to take naps in order to sleep off the effects of the alcohol. squid_lobsters

okonomiyaki-squid

We meet in the lobby at 5:00 pm to go out to supper where we are treated to a huge feast at the same restaurant as the nights before. The restaurant owners create dish after dish of wonderful food and it is tempting to eat much too much. The beef, in particular, was so tender; some of the best I have ever tasted.

beef-was-melting-in-mouth

Back in the hotel, after the usual mother-daughter arguments about use of the computer and time limits, we head to bed at around 9:00 pm with the windows propped open for the cool fresh rainy air. It has been a very relaxing day as the weather has made it impossible to shoot any photos. Tomorrow, we will have to make up for the day of rest.

The World Wide Wakayama Chronicles; Day Three

Gallery

This gallery contains 30 photos.

10-28-13; MONDAY Makeup and hair prep isn’t until 7:20 this morning, so we get to sleep in a bit. Good thing since Elsa had stayed up past 1:00 am Skyping and D&D adventuring with friends. Mama is not too happy about this. … Continue reading

The World Wide Wakayama Chronicles; Day Two

10-27-13; SUNDAY

The alarm rings at 5:00 am and we scurry to get ourselves to the make-up and hair room. The stylist is there waiting and Elsa goes first. He starts in trimming Elsa’s unruly mop and I go back to our room to pack since we will have to leave right after breakfast. When I get back to Elsa, I see that the “trim” is turning into a real hair cut, but it looks very nice.CIMG8297

The stylist apparently has cut the hair of some famous folks here in Japan, including the actress, Aoi Yu, who has a name like someone saying all the vowels in the alphabet. Arai-san says that he has just returned from Hawaii and the temperature difference is quite a shock. While he finishes with Elsa, I decide to do some of my morning sit-ups on the tatami which turns out to be not such a bright idea as the friction results in raw spots in the skin near my tailbone which I don’t discover until later.

The stylist re-braids my hair into the French braid I arrived with, brushes on a touch of makeup, and I am done. After a quick breakfast, we pile into the vans and drive to the famous temple at Koyasan for the first modeling shots of the trip. CIMG8300

For a listing of all of the temple lodgings available in the area, go to the following website: http://eng.shukubo.net or click on the embedded link: Welcome to Koyasan

When we arrive, the photographer has already set up the shot. The temple grounds are almost deserted in the early morning and we are able to get in lots of shots in a patch of warm sunshine before the crowds arrive. CIMG8309

After the shooting session, we follow the sounds of monotone chanting and find a large group of saffron-robed monks doing their morning obeisance at the various shrines throughout the temple grounds. They walk in formation with wooden geta-sandals clattering on the ground, then stop, turn, chant, bow and then continue to the next station.

CIMG8307

CIMG8312

CIMG8313

After shooting at Koyasan, we take a long drive over twisty mountain roads to an ancient onsen inn called Ryujin Onsen, or “Dragon-God Onsen.” When we arrive, we are met by the bowing, smiling owner. Two girls clad in onsen yukata with over-jackets are set in place, holding towels in their laps for the background scene while Elsa and I walk in front of the ryokan towards the camera while they take shot after shot in the cool morning air. I feel sorry for the girls who sit on the front porch with bare feet and geta, so Elsa and I hand them our kairo hand-warmers. Guess there will be no time to actually soak in the “Dragon-god” onsen. Maybe next time.

waka_ryujinonsen

Photo from Kumano Travel; click photo for link

Back into the vans we pile and on the way back to Koyasan for more photos, we stop at a little restaurant and have lunch. I order tsukimi soba or “moon viewing” soba. It comes with a raw egg floating on top of the noodles looking like a yellow moon in the dark soba sky.

Yojimansan from Flickr

After lunch, Elsa and I run over the the nearby suspension bridge to run out over the water, the wooden slats bouncing under our footsteps.CIMG8326

The lunch location turns out to be a poor choice as several people, myself included, experience stomach pain and digestive problems after eating the soba. The drive through the mountains to our hotel is a bit miserable and I try to keep my eyes up and looking out the window to ease the nausea.

We finally make it to the hotel, drop off our bags and head out for dinner. The restaurant is run by a sweet old mom-and-pop couple and it is quite good. I really appreciate the salads and the amazingly tender beef that practically melts in one’s mouth. Elsa and I get to leave early so that we can shower and get to bed at a decent hour. We happily discover that we can get internet access in our rooms. I check my email and Elsa settles in to chat with her friends. It’s been a good day overall. CIMG8317

I am working on learning the names of some of the hard-working support staff: Misaki-san and Sayaka-san, Miyuki-san (who is my age), Arai-san; (makeup); Morikawa-san; (photographer).

The World Wide Wakayama Chronicles; Day One

A Paid Paid Vacation

10-26-13; SATURDAY

Morning

Our adventure starts at an audition. Japan Railways West is looking for a normal, average-looking middle-aged woman who will act out the role of an archaeologist traveling with her daughter through the World Heritage Sites in the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture. They especially want to highlight the ancient pilgrimage routes. It sounds intriguing, so I go to the audition. They wonder if one of my daughters is also available for this job… and before we know it, my 17-yr. old and I have been hired. Yeah, they are still thinking we are normal, so we’ll just play along.

Link to UNESCO’s page on the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.”

We beg for a few days off of work and school and off we go. Saturday morning, Oct. 26, we are up at 5:00 am and out the door by 6:15, splashing to Tama station under a downpour ‘cuz taxis are for wimps… and people who plan ahead. We are dressed for the mountain trails, so I get to wear comfy clothes and my hiking boots.CIMG8245

The modeling agent meets us by the Shinkansen station at Shinagawa and makes sure we get to the right platform. She is very sweet and helpful and wishes she could go on this adventure with us. We take some photos but realize that we won’t be able to make anything public until after the JR West ad campaign launches sometime next year. The agent says that they will give us an ad poster when they launch. I suddenly realize that this is not going to be images just for the website… we may run into our photos on the walls of train stations; which is kind of a creepy thought.

JR West operates the trains in and around the Wakayama Peninsula:

Wakayama_Train_Routes

Now, as I write this, we are on a high-speed Shinkansen that is zipping us along under cloudy skies towards Kyoto. Flooded rice fields, swollen rivers and thickets of bamboo flash by the windows of the train. Elsa is napping with her head on the tray in front of her. We both travel light with just a few items. Most of the weight in Elsa’s bag is taken up with art supplies. I think she packed some clothes too.

Here is a link to a detailed PDF map of the area where we will be traveling in Wakayama, Nara and Mie Prefectures.

Wakayama Map Detail
Wakayama Map Detail

Afternoon

After a yummy lunch at Gusto where we eat with gusto, we pile back into the three vans that are carrying 13 people in order to shoot photos of 2. I don’t quite understand why this would take that many people. Later we learn that more are arriving. Huh? How are they going to find enough work for that many people, I’d like to know.

Before starting the climb into the mountains of Koyasan in Wakayama, we stop at a grocery store and stock up on fruits and nuts… and lots of bottled water. Maybe they will finally start making Elsa and me do some real work. So far, we have just been sitting and eating and practicing our Japanese skills. We’ve actually been learning a lot. Elsa is “e ni muchuu” which means “crazy about drawing.” She shows her sketch books to the stylists in the van and they are very impressed, and they know all of the manga references that Elsa gushes about. CIMG8258

We arrive at a lovely ancient temple ryokan where we will spend the night in traditional Japanese-style rooms. After a quick fitting for the clothing we are wearing tomorrow for the shoot, we are given time to relax.

Interior Garden of Ryokan
Interior Garden of Ryokan
Ryokan Room Interior
Ryokan Room Interior

Since I’ve had more than enough relaxing for one day, I go for a walk and watch the glow of the setting sun light up the turning leaves above the tops of temples that line the streets. My attempt to find a trail into the forest is stymied by fallen logs, no trail and sopping wet undergrowth. I give up and stick to walking the charming tourist town streets. CIMG8275CIMG8274

CIMG8265CIMG8266

I arrive back in time for a vegetarian feast. This meal is really amazing with many beautifully arranged dishes. Each diner has a miniature nabe pot of veggies and savory mushroom bubbling over a little flame. Inside the little pot is a beautiful autumn leaf shaped out of rice flour paste. Sigh.  IMG_0296

We share stories about Japan cuisine attempts… like the time one of our friends sat down to a meal of soba and drank the dipping sauce (tsuyu) straight down. He apparently thought it was Coke. And the time our elderly friend, Alma, came to visit Japan and encountered wasabi for the first time. Not knowing what it was, she scooping up the mound of potent green horseradish and popped it in her mouth. Despite this shock to her system, she did live for many, many years after this surprise.

Waka4

After a soak in the onsen bath I am ready to sleep. It’s only 8:00 pm, but we need to be up by 5:00 am tomorrow and out the door by 6:30 am. Elsa has shut herself in the futon closet with cozy blankets and is chatting away on her phone. Hopefully she will emerge soon so that we can get some sleep.

Rosemary Wells’ Wisdom for Writers

Rosemary_and_RuthIt was on a very Good Friday, just a couple days before Easter, when I attended a Master Class taught by children’s book creator, Rosemary Wells and sponsored by our local Tokyo SCBWI chapter. The evening was well worth the trip downtown riding sardine-packed trains on a raw April evening.

From our opening introductions to the final story of the evening, Rosemary Wells gave the Tokyo SCBWI participants practical and pithy advice. Although I will not be able to distill the evening into three sentences (as we were required to do in our self-introductions), I will do my best to “omit needless words.” (Strunk and White) Rosemary’s advice was to be “preçis” or precise, because “no one wants to slog through endless wittering in a children’s book.”

Rosemary_Precis

Cut your picture book text down to four sentences per page at most. Leave some story exposition to the illustrator. Write what you know and find out what you don’t. “The art of writing for children is like being a contra-alto,” said Rosemary. “It requires unique talents.” We listened carefully, as this “off the cuff” talk struck a chord in all of us and should help us perfect our pitch in story creation.

“My stories are non-fiction,” began the author who creates beloved stories with bunnies and kittens as the protagonists. “They are based on life experiences.” As a writer, one has to have a sieve in the brain to collect memories and feelings. Max and Ruby are characters drawn from her own children. She described hearing her older child, the “Ruby” of the pair, attempting to instruct her younger nine-month old sibling, upon whom “Max” is modeled. “Table… T-A-B-L-E… TABLE. Say it!” To which the nine-month old would respond, “Bang.” Max’s dragon shirt and general countenance was drawn from a toddler with a withering glare wearing a shirt that glared as well, sitting in the heaping shopping basket ahead of her while she waited and waited one chilly raw night to bring one carton of milk home. The character, Yoko, began with a group of three girls from Osaka who attended Rosemary’s daughter’s school. They were teased about the sushi and seaweed in their traditional Japanese lunches which her daughter thought was totally unfair. Family memories and personal memories are the story starters for the author’s books. “Go back to your childhood,” advised Rosemary, “and remember.” Max and teenager2

“The art of illustration is a challenge,” explained Wells. “Try not to repeat in pictures what the text says.” The artist should look for elements that the text does not overtly mention. Find humor in the text. Marry the text without being the same as the text. Rosemary prefers the word “illumination” to the the word “illustration” harking back to the time of the beautifully, gold-leaf enhanced drawings with which scribes would enhance the scriptures. The pictures should make the story glow with deeper meaning and draw the reader further into the story’s embrace.

Rosemary Wells has been in the business since she was twenty. Now, at age seventy, she has seen publishing rise and fall. Publishing is “in the trenches now,” she explained. “Publishers grab for too much and authors cannot make a living. Publishers have wrecked things a bit,” she said. Rosemary has seen her own royalty percentages cut in half over the years. It is especially difficult for new authors. Still, she gave us hope by encouraging us to write what is true and deep. “Present it simply,” she advised, “with no affectation.” “Write for yourself,” she said, despite our protestations that editors ask writers to categorize themselves. On the other hand, she said, “You may not argue with your editor. Work without ego; listen to your editor and do it better. Only after you have produced 10 starred review books can you go at it with the editor.”

gc0405wells-01.jpg

And while a trained and experienced editor will have valid criticism, Wells did warn against listening to all the advice that one might hear in a writer’s group. “Advice given from a reader’s perspective is valid,” she admitted, “but amateurs may not know what they are talking about when giving publishing advice.” This is not to say that Wells does not encounter any friction with her own editors. She sometimes disagrees with their choices, but they are the ones paying to have the book printed, after all. She sent around a recently published book along with its original “dummy” so that we could note the changes that were made. She also mentioned that she does not illustrate for other authors as she will inevitably end up changing the original text and make changes all the way up until the deadline, and sometimes, even afterwards. The advantage of being both author and illustrator is that the two always agree on the finished product.

max could not relax

The importance of authenticity in writing for children was emphasized again and again. Children are dealing with life issues and they know they have to handle it on their own. “School is like a big bus. You get on with a bunch of people you don’t know and then they lock the doors of the bus and you can’t escape. You are stuck with these people for years.” Parents and teachers do what they can to help, of course, but Rosemary explained that it is as if they are on the outside of a thick Lucite bubble. They can see the struggles the child is going through, but in the end, the child must find his or her own solution. It is an author’s job to write about the person and the true emotions. The story should be about an individual, not about a problem or a conflict; “the person, not the peanut allergy.” Adult agendas have no place in children’s books. Children love stories that show characters overcoming obstacles with humor and grit. Be authentic and write simply. Young readers will love you for it.

Thank you, Rosemary, for sharing yourself with us.

– Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud

belovedofbeasts.com

Princess Ramona, Beloved of Beasts

Princess Ramona, Beloved of Beasts; by Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud, illustrated by Therese Larsson

 

 

 

 

The Kites of Hamamatsu

IMG_0137

A happy cacophony of bugles and drums greeted us as we approached the walking trail to Nakatajima Dunes where the annual Hamamatsu Kite Festival is held. Continue reading