Monday, October 20, 2014

Ghosts of Halloweens Past

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Being in Japan during October has made me feel super nostalgic for the kind of Halloween I'm used to celebrating. It's my favourite holiday, and I've always gone all out with filling up the month with movies, music, decorations, treats, activities, and outfits to get in the mood and relish the spooky halloweeny vibes. This will be my first year with no trip to a pumpkin patch, and maybe my first time not carving a pumpkin if we can't find one- and the total lack of candy corn has really been getting me down.

All those fun traditional October things like farm fall festivals, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, haunted houses, carving parties, spook alleys, new england historic cemeteries with perfectly gothic mausoleums and headstones, and treats like apple cider donuts and brach's candy corn and pumpkins are nonexistent here. They do have a lot of their own kind of halloween treats, trying to get into the holiday, but I've noticed it's mostly just the wrappers and packaging that have orange and black or ghosts and pumpkins, and once you open the product, it's just the same inside as always.

Anyway, usually I'm super productive and inspired during October. Last year I was busy all month, making, creating, crafting, baking, cooking, experimenting, photoshooting, decorating, etc. I felt so inspired by my surroundings- the fall and halloween vibes in new york are great- and I had a new idea almost every day. There are plenty of factors why I'm nowhere near as productive this time around- I've moved to a new place- I don't know anyone or have any connections, it's still green and hot here in october, Ryan has started a job where he's gone all day and night, the culture here just doesn't celebrate the holiday in the same way, and I generally feel very stuck here when it comes to looking for and buying things like craft supplies, brooms, halloween or photoshoot goods, etc. No inspiration is coming to me and the means to carry out any inspiration I do have feel limited... So I've been looking back through my archives and reliving some halloween glory days.



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I though it could be fun to share a compilation of photos I've done in the spirit of Halloween. Some photos are from New York, some from Boston, and some from Utah, all within the last three years. Some were at halloween events or locations and some were themed ideas I hatched up and took at home or nearby parks.We really did have some great Halloweens. There were so many amazing historic places to visit and so many fun themed activities- especially between New York and Boston. And I'll never take pumpkins and candy corn for granted again.



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Monday, October 13, 2014

Happy October at the Owl Cafe

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Something about Harry Potter always feels pretty Halloweeny to me- I know it's obviously about witches and wizards and magic and castles and and boasts plenty of dark and gothic scenery/vibes etc- that seems fairly quintessentially Halloween. You get broomsticks, you get scary bad guys in hooded cloaks, you get giant monstrous spiders, you get ghosts and their death day parties, reanimated corpses, and some pretty dark magical murders. When October rolls around I always find myself wanting to plough through all the books and movies to 'get in the spirit' of the Holiday. This year I'm multitasking by listening to the books on tape while I knit so I can hopefully finish my mustard sweater in time to wear it for this season.

I think I just really love immersing myself in the atmosphere of JK Rowling's world. She's so wonderfully descriptive and ever since I started reading the series when I was 11 I've always loved the imagery of the huge sprawling maze of an old castle, lit by candles and torches and filled with friendly ghosts and secret passageways and hidden nooks and crannies and the most interesting magical secrets. The movies did a great job of bringing it all to life, and I especially love the festiveness at Halloween that comes across in both the books and the movies with all the beautiful ambient decorations and perfect setting.

Another thing I always found charming about this wizarding world was the humans' relationship with magical creatures- especially owls. As a kid I was always obsessed with animals and wanted to be surrounded by as many pets as possible, and longed to befriend all kinds of wild animals, I was totally enthralled by the idea of having this cute little best friend owl that would be free to fly around but would always come back because of this special loyal bond. When I got wind that Tokyo had opened a few owl cafes, I felt like it would be the perfect festive October outing. And I even still had my gryffindor scarf...



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So when I was researching owl cafes, I knew I really wanted to visit one that had a barn owl. Barn owls have been one of my very favourite animals for a long time- like, my patronus would definitely be a barn owl. There used to be a pair that lived in the old wood barn on the farm property belonging to my....I think it was great uncle? Whenever we would visit my grandpa's cabin in central Utah, we would always stop at the farmhouse and barn on the way up the mountain. I loved watching the barn owls swoop in and out of the rafters and sleep huddled up together in the old wood beams. I thought their faces were the cutest thing, and they've aways seemed kind of ghostlike to me. I found this cafe called Cafe Baron, named after Baron, the owner's barn owl, and it was the best fit for what I was looking for.

The cafe was small, quiet, and simple, tucked away in a little side street in Koenji, a cutesy suburb in Tokyo. The owner was very kind and soft spoken, and you could tell he loved and had a great relationship with his two owls. He had them trained super well, and you could barely even feel their touch while holding them- they gripped so gently with those sharp talons. The great grey owl was hilarious- he kept hopping from chair to chair in big awkward leaps, and when he walked along the floor his movements looked like some comical puppet come to life. I was pretty excited because he was the same type of owl as Errol, Ron's owl in Harry Potter. You might recognize that cartoony feathered face from the movies. He was a very curious guy, and a lot of fun to watch. We ordered hot drinks in cute wooden owl mugs with owl biscuits and a mont blanc (chestnut cream) pastry. The quality of the drinks and treats were top notch and really exceeded our expectations. We thoroughly enjoyed the flavours, and appreciated that nothing was too sweet.

Baron the barn owl had me captivated as soon as we came in the door with his adorable charming little face, huge round eyes, and peaceful demeanor. He would hang out sometimes on a perch or a shelf, or a shoulder, and then suddenly and completely silently drift off to a new location when he got bored- and seeing him swoop and fly back and forth was stunning. I could have stayed all day watching him and enjoying lovely owl themed treats, and I'll certainly be back.



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Happy October and Halloweeny Times!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Autumn Chestnut Festival

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I've been keeping my eye out for festivals coming up in the Autumn months since I've never been in Japan during this season before. The moon viewing one we found toward the beginning of September was nothing short of magical, and I've been excited to seek out what sorts of other cultural celebrations go on this time of year. One big festive Autumn 'thing' in Japan is the chestnut harvest, and all things chestnut flavoured. Every snack item you see around conbinis and grocery stores starts popping up in fun seasonal varieties like chestnut, kabocha (japanese pumpkin ) and sweet potato. I've been checking in every store I pass for fun things to eat in these seasonal flavours, and after trying chestnut ice cream, pino, mushi pan, cookies, breads, custard, and pastries, I think it's safe to say it's quickly becoming one of my favorite flavours. I still want to try basic roasted chestnuts that I keep smelling from street vendors, and I'd love to try to make my own paste and bake fun things at home.

When I saw an advertisement for a local Kuri Matsuri ( chestnut festival ) I got so excited and marked it on our calendar weeks in advance. It was about an hour by train out to the Okunitama Shrine where the festival was held, but as soon as we got off the train we knew it was worth it. The sounds of traditional drums and flutes filled the air, the roasted and grilled smells of festival foods came wafting all the way to the station and we could already discern the magical glow of hundreds of paper lanters lighting the street leading up to the shrine. What I didn't realize, is that while this festival commemorates and celebrates the chestnut harvest, and the offerings of chestnuts to important clans during the Edo period, it also coincides with a large kagura dance celebration as well. So it was a pleasant surprise to walk past all the lanterns and vendors to the end of the road and find a whole street filled with wood floats lit by lanterns and filled with live music and dance performers in traditional costume.



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Each float represented a different neighborhood around the Tokyo and surrounding areas, and it was interesting to try and listen for the different songs coming from each one, and to see the varying costumes, designs, and colours. Some people were dressed like dragons, or gods, or demons, and some people wore masks to look like Edo-era peasants or farmers or noblefolk. The dragon-costumed dancers moved so fast and frenetically that I couldn't get a shot since it was so dark and I needed a longer shutter speed. I filmed them though- the dancing was really cool- and I'm hoping to put together a video soon of the different dances and details of the festival.

The lanterns were all made and painted by members of the local neighborhood during the week leading up to the festival. Sadly, we missed the lighting of the lanterns earlier that day because the trip took us longer than we had anticipated, and we got on some of the wrong trains and had to backtrack. It certainly was breathtaking anyway, though, to be able to stroll along the shrine's path lit only by dim flickering lanterns. It was such a beautiful night. This festival had all the works I was hoping for- beautiful ambience, interesting culture activities, significant history, all sorts of fun festival food, and quintessential festival games. And once again, I was so excited to be able to wear a yukata in this atmosphere.



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My favorite game, which I'm not very good at yet, is the goldfish-catching booth. There is a shallow tank filled with fish, and you receive a small bowl and a rice paper paddle and the goal is to use the paddle to catch fish and place them in your bowl. The trick is, the rice paper is very thin and once it gets wet, it breaks very easily, and once it's broken, you're out! I've only caught a fish once, the last time we were here, but it died the next morning:/ I tried this time, but wasn't able to catch anything. BUT- this is Japan- and everything is better here- and this particular booth ended up giving everyone a fish at the end of the game no matter what. The lady gave me two! Say hello to Tai and Yaki, the newest additions to our family, who are, at this point, still very much alive.

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