Tag: Japan

Amy’s Art: Kimono Cat Collection – The Passau Kunstnacht Exhibition

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Kimono Cat Collection

It was Kimono Day in Japan yesterday (November 15th), so I thought the perfect way to celebrate the occasion is by finally posting about my Kimono Cat Collection exhibition!

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Fukunae, Tsubasa, Ageha and Tama

The Kunstnacht (Art Night) here in Passau is on in midsummer every year and it is arguably the biggest event on the social calender. Every art gallery and atelier in the Altstadt throws open their doors to the public and the majority of the townspeople turn up; crowding the streets, perusing art, wine-ing, dining and having a great time.

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Fukunae and Tsubasa

I attended the event for the first time last year, and I was absolutely blown away with the lively atmosphere and the sheer number of galleries that were usually hidden behind closed doors and crooked alleyways lit up and shining like gems in the night.

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Tsubasa and Ageha

The local schools were also open with music concerts and refreshment stations and the bars had ministands along the streets offering food and cocktails. I was so awestruck with this one night wonder that I vowed to be a part of it the next year if I still happened to be living in Passau.

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Ageha and Tama

So fast forward to July of this year: I was still in Passau and I was still determined to be a part of the Kunstnacht. I sent the organisation messages to plead my case months beforehand, along with photos of my Kimono Cats but I received no answers in return. I was busy with work at the time and I hadn’t finished my latest Maiko cat anyway, so I eventually lost hope and left the matter alone.

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My cute little gallery room (if you squint you can just see my cats!)

The day of Kunstnacht rolled around and I was at work about to finish my shift when my Schnucki came bursting in, saying that he had called one of the organisers for me and that they still had an empty space that they needed to fill. The meeting with the room owner was in an hour and he asked me if I wanted to take it: I said yes, of course!

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My three goauche paintings – ‘Himawari’, ‘Haru’ and ‘Bouquet’

We promptly went to meet the owner and his room – it was a pretty little thing that had just finished its renovation that day. It was so new that the owner didn’t want to put holes in the walls by hanging the other artists’ paintings, so they were all propped up against the walls around the room. The centre of the room was empty, so we carried an old garden table up from the backyard to put in the middle of the room, as the centerpiece for my cats.

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Watercolour and ink ‘Heian I’

After meeting with the owner I was in full panic mode – I had to get ready for this exhibiton within a few hours and I had no idea where to start. I rushed off to buy some much needed supplies like the matching white frames for my paintings which also happened to be on sale (lucky!).

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‘Heian II’

Once I got home, I was on triple speed trying to get everything ready. I carefully wrapped up my cats up in white stuffing that I had just bought and loaded them into a box, praying that they wouldn’t break. Then I had to make and print out short explanations about the cats (that I never ended up using) and business cards. I left total destruction in my wake, my room looking like a bombsite afterwards.

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After getting ready I headed off with my laptop (so I could put on some music in the gallery) and clutched my box of cats for dear life as I walked, knowing one wrong move could damage everything. I got to the gallery early and set everything up (my cats were safe and sound, thank goodness) and then I could finally breathe a sigh of relief, sit down and enjoy the night.

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A lot of people came in throughout the night and my cats were a hit – making people laugh and there were comments about Pokémon more than once. To my delight, children were also enthralled with my cats and there were even some offers to buy them from the adults.

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All in all it was a fantastic night and a real dream come true for me. I am eternally grateful to my Schnucki for making this opportunity for me possible and I hope that I can take part in another exhibition soon!

 


So, did you enjoy my impromptu exhibition? Which one was your favourite piece?

This night was a dream come true for me!


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Amy’s Art: Kimono Cat Collection – The Making Of Fukunae

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Welcome to the making of the fourth feline from my Kimono Cat Collection! This is where I show you the process and behind-the-scenes of how I made my latest clay creation, the lovely Maiko cat called Fukunae. So, without further ado, let’s begin!

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Preparing the armature

First things first, I always start by making the armature, which is the skeleton of the model. I used 2mm aluminium wire for the main frame and 1mm wire to twist tightly around the arms so when I put clay on later it can grip onto it better.

This cat was going to be without a tail (you’ll see why later) which made things a lot easier for me construction-wise. After twisting the wires into the desired shape, it was time to squish blobs of Apoxie Sculpt around the torso and paws of the cat to make sure the armature would be stable and strong.

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Bulking up at the cat gym

Now it was time for my feline to hit the gym and ‘bulk up’ (with tinfoil, that is). I’ve found with my three other cats that it’s really worth the extra effort and time to shape the body shape you want properly when bulking up the frame (especially the head) because it can make the next sculpting step a lot easier!

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First Sculpey layer after the oven 

After the bulking up, it was time to put on the first layer of Super Sculpey, which in Fukunae’s case was to smooth out all of her limbs and head shape and add ‘fur’ to the bits that wouldn’t be covered by kimono. And then it was off to the oven for the first bake!

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Layer two after oven

Now it was time for layer number two! This stage was more interesting because I could start making the under layers of the typical Maiko’s kimono, including the draping collar and the kimono front she would be holding up.

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Front view of the second layer after oven

I also added hair decorations and the shoes with Apoxie at this point, even though I wasn’t sure if it would survive in the oven (it did brilliantly, just saying).

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Third layer after oven

And then it was time for the final layer – the draping furisode sleeves. I left these until last because I needed the under layers to cure before I could start on these fiddly long sleeves that always got in the way of everything when sculpting!

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Whisker time

So there we have it, after three bakes in the oven, it was finally time to add the whiskers! (These are left until after the baking stages are finished because I am pretty sure they would melt otherwise). The whiskers were made by threading thin nylon thread into Apoxie and letting it cure overnight.

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Back view after oven

Here is the back view of Fukunae after all on the baking stages. She can stand up on her own very elegantly and she is probably the lightest cat I have made so far. (This is a good sign as you want to use as little clay as possible, because the layers have to be thin enough to cure properly and it also saves you more clay for your next projects!).

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All Gesso-ed up and ready to go!

So, after all of the foundations were finished, it was white out time! I painted light coats of Acrylic Gesso over the sculpture and let it dry, which makes it a great canvas to paint on later. After the Gesso, I also did a few coats of white acrylic paint to make sure everything was smooth, even and ready for colour!

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First layers of acrylic

Now, this was where the fun really began! I love painting the sculptures and the kimono pattern I was basing this one on was much easier to paint than Tsubasa’s repetitive pattern, so I had a lot of fun with Fukunae. It was also a joy to do softer spring colours and pastels this time, with some tiny details in the coloured strips. Plus, painting the Maiko hairdo was a different change too!

On a side note, I finally bought myself a cutting mat (the green mat you can see above) and it is a life saver when rolling out clay and measuring and cutting straight lines. (I can see why everyone has them now haha) I highly recommend getting one for yourself from the start!

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Work in progress

I whizzed through all of these stages with Fukunae up until this point so quickly – in under a month, in fact! I was determined not to leave her untouched for weeks on end like my other cats, but unfortunately this super productive streak of mine didn’t last (I wasn’t surprised).

Even now, I have her sitting on my shelf ninety-nine percent finished, so I really need to get that last one percent done and you can all finally meet her finished and fabulous!

 


So, did you like the making of Fukunae?

Watch this space to meet the finished version!


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Amy’s Art: Kimono Cat Collection – Meet Tsubasa The Graduation Cat

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KIMONO CAT PROFILE

Name: Tsubasa (翼)

Height: 22cm

Gender: Female

Kimono type: Furisode and hakama (振り袖と袴)

Occasion: University graduation ceremony

Time of year/season: March/Spring

Name meaning: Tsubasa means ‘wings’ in Japanese and it symbolises the ‘wings’ she has gained from completing her education to fly off freely into the adult working world. 

Her Story: After three years of university studies, Tsubasa is proud to graduate dressed in her furisode kimono and hakama. She’s unsure of what the future holds in her new full time job that she’s due to be starting soon, but for the moment she’s enjoying the graduation ceremony with friends and excited about their graduation trip around Europe!


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KIMONO CAT EXPLANATION

Hakama (袴) – Tsubasa is wearing a hakama, which are wide pleated trousers worn over kimono for formal occasions. A lot of women wear the hakama for their university graduation, but they can also be seen at the Coming of Age Ceremony. The hakama can be worn by both women and men, and other occasions where hakama are worn include weddings, funerals, tea ceremonies, shrines and martial arts like kendo and aikido.

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Me wearing my mum’s furisode kimono and hakama for Japan Day

At university graduations, women typically wear their hakama with either black boots with a slight heel (like Tsubasa’s) or the more traditional zōri (草履) sandals. Men’s hakama are usually stripy in design while women’s hakama are one colour or dyed in different hues.

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University degree, graduation ceremony sign and bag

The book that Tsuabasa is proudly showing off is a booklet containing her university degree which she received on stage at the graduation ceremony. Traditional books in Japan still tend to open from right to left but the majority of modern books now have adopted the Western way of left to right.

The graduation ceremony sign reads: ‘Congratulations on your graduation.’

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Tsubasa and Ageha

 


So, did you like meeting Tsubasa? Which Kimono Cat is your favourite so far?

Feline number four is already underway so keep your eyes peeled for updates!


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Amy’s Art: Kimono Cat Collection – The Making Of Tsubasa

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My third feline of my Kimono Cat Collection is nearing completion and I can’t wait to show you all! This cat hasn’t taken nearly as much time to finish as the other two, and the construction has been smooth sailing compared to the drama and frustration with my second cat Ageha. So let’s begin with the making of Tsubasa..!

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Armature skeleton

As always, I started off by making the armature which is the skeleton of the sculpture. I used 2mm aluminium wire for the main frame and 1mm wire to wrap tightly around the arms and tail. This allows the clay to have something to grip onto later. Then I lumped some Apoxie Sculpt around the torso and wire ends to make the frame strong and secure and left it overnight to cure.

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Bulking up with foil

Now it was time to bulk up the sculpture with tinfoil. I already knew the shape outline I needed, which was to have the foil gradually flare out from the waist to the feet (you’ll see why later!). It looks rather bizarre at this stage, doesn’t it?

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First layer after oven

Now it was time to start the best part: sculpting. As usual, I used Super Sculpey Firm and made the first layer, and then put it in the oven at 130 degrees Celsius.

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Second layer after oven

After that it was time for the second layer, which was always much more interesting because it included the clothes and more detail on the face, like eyelids.

Unlike the other two cats, Tsubasa was going to be wearing a hakama, which are pleated formal trousers worn over kimono. I was unsure as to how I was going to make the hakama pleats, but it was easier than expected when I just cut long, thin strips of clay and layered them over each other. I loved how it turned out!

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Third layer (kimono sleeves) after oven

Normally I would have been done after two oven bakes, but I wanted the hakama to cure before I did the long kimono sleeves (this one was a furisode again) so I put her in the oven before making the sleeves, so they wouldn’t get in the way.

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Apoxie whiskers, paws and tail

Now that we were all done with the oven, it was time to get the Apoxie Sculpt out again. I inserted nylon thread into the Apoxie to make whiskers, and then made paw pads and smoothed out the shoulders. I even made the whole tail out of Apoxie this time!

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Ready for some colour!

So, with all the main things done, it was white out time! I always enjoy this step of painting a few coats of Acrylic Gesso (even though it ruins my brushes because it’s so gritty) and then a few coats of white paint to prepare the sculpture for colour.

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Nose dilemma

A detail that annoyed me was this inverted nose that Tsubasa had, so after the Gesso and white paint (great timing for adjustments…not!) I decided to fashion her a new one.

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New nose

After reconstructed nose surgery – much better! (Voldemort may have been in need of this service too…)

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Shake that tail feather

The painting process of Tsubasa didn’t nearly have as much agony as Ageha’s did, but there were still times when I left Tsubasa on the shelf untouched for days on end. Asides from that though, everything went according to plan and I got her finished quicker than the other two, even though it still took the course of over two months.

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Tiny accessories!

As I was nearing completion, I made the accessories for Tsubasa which included a book, a bag and a bow for the front of her hakama.

I wanted the book to be able to open, so I cut out a small rectangle of tinfoil and then pressed thin squares of Super Sculpey to either side. I left a thin strip of foil untouched down the middle, so it would be able to open and close and to my great delight, the idea turned out perfectly after the oven!

The painting process definitely takes the most time and as any artist could tell you, sometimes it can be really hard to know when to just stop and call it finished. I could probably keep painting over little details of the sculpture forever, trying to get it ‘perfect’, but I’ve learnt from these last two cats that there comes a point where I have to put down the paintbrush once and for all, and say that it’s finally DONE. So I did!

 


So, did you like the making of Tsubasa?

Click the button below to meet the finished version!


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Düsseldorf: Delicious ‘Japan Town’ And Europe’s Biggest Buddhist Temple

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EKO House of Japanese Culture

When I told people that after Switzerland, we were going to Hamburg via two nights in Düsseldorf, people scoffed: “Düsseldorf. What are you going to do in Düsseldorf?

They couldn’t believe we would use precious family holiday time in Germany to stay in Düsseldorf for two whole nights. But we knew something they didn’t. We had a hidden agenda with Düsseldorf…a hidden Japanese agenda.

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Gateway into the temple and gardens

Düsseldorf is located on the Düssel and the Rhine rivers and was a city long known as an international business and financial hub. Something that is less known about the city is that Düsseldorf has the biggest Japanese community in Germany (about 11,000 residents) which is also the third largest in Europe – after Paris and London.

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It is also home to the biggest Japanese Buddhist Temple in Europe, with an adjoining study and event centre called the EKŌ House of Japanese Culture. After getting a little lost in the sleepy suburb of Niederkassel, with some local help we finally found the front gates to the place…only to find them locked.

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Stone basin to wash your hands (the kanji says ‘pure water’)

My family were disappointed, to say the least, after coming all of this way and finding it closed. As they started walking away, I obnoxiously pushed all of the buttons on the gate intercom in frustration. A loud buzzing sound suddenly came from the gate and we blinked in surprise as the doors swung open. We were inside – with the whole place to ourselves!

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The temple gardens

The whole complex was built in 1993 and is well maintained as they host a number of Buddhist festivals, tea ceremonies and events every year.

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Düsseldorf also puts on a Japan Day every year around May or June and it is the largest festival of its kind in the world – attracting more than a million people. They have Japanese food stalls, kimono fittings, Japanese musicians, calligraphy and always finish off with a fireworks show. (I’m determined to go to this year’s one!)

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Since the 1950’s, Düsseldorf has housed more than five hundred Japanese companies and the workers and their families include both temporary and permanent residents.

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Lines of patrons waiting for Kushi-tei of Tokyo Grillhouse

The main Japanese quarter in the Düsseldorf city is called Immermannstraße, a long road lined with Japanese book stores, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, bakeries and even a Japanese hotel called Hotel Nikko. Before going there, I was envisioning a typical China Town sort of street overflowing with tourists, food stalls and noise but this ‘Japan Town’ was completely different. If you didn’t know about it, you wouldn’t even realise it was there.

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A shop dedicated to just Onigiri – I was in HEAVEN

This Japan street came alive out of necessity to the Japanese business workers, so everything was practical and functional – not a tourist trap at all. Walking the streets and hearing Japanese people go past made me feel like I was back in Japan. We had lunch at a ramen place called Takezo, which had the best ramen I’d had in a very, very long time.

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Japanese Consulate General on Immermannstraße

The problem with living in a tiny town like Passau is that there aren’t many Japanese people living here, which means I can’t get my hands on Japanese food or products – something I was used to getting easily in New Zealand. So I’ve craved for Japanese food since being in Germany. Like really, really badly. So badly that my mum has had to send me Japanese food products like udon and curry packs in the mail from NZ!

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Japanese kindergarten

Düsseldorf also has a Japanese school, supplementary school and even a kindergarten. I really wonder what it would have been like to grow up in the vibrant Japanese community of Düsseldorf. I went to Japanese supplementary school when I was younger too, but that was in Christchurch where we don’t have a fraction of the Japanese population!

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Even though people doubted our choice in going to Düsseldorf, we were so glad we did. We all had the best Japanese food and shop experiences that we’d had in ages and it was most definitely on our list of travel highlights! I want to go back just to eat there!

 


So, did you like Düsseldorf’s Japan Town?

Would you like to visit here too? 


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Amy’s Art: Kimono Cat Collection – The Making Of Ageha

 

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My second Kimono Cat is finally near completion and I’m so excited! This one has taken far too long for my liking – and not because of reasons you may expect (more on this later).

So, as I did with my first Kimono Cat called Tama, here is the making of my second feline called Ageha. This making is much shorter than Tama’s one because I knew more of what I was doing this time.

I think you can appreciate something a lot more once you know the process of how it was made, and it’s no different with art. When you find out how much time was spent, how many different materials were used and the setbacks it took to get it to completion, you may just begin to see things in a whole different light…so let’s start!

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Hello armature!

First things first, it was time to make another armature out of aluminium wire! This one was much easier to do because I could scale the size and height against Tama.

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Comparing the armature to my concept drawing

As you may be able to tell from my concept drawing, the kimono this time around was going to be a lot more challenging in shape and in pattern design. From the start, I knew that I wanted this cat to be taller than Tama and I also wanted her to be able to stand on her own, rather than have a base. So I proceeded with these things in mind.

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Friendly armature

Next, it was time for my trusty ally, Apoxie Sculpt. I squished it around the torso and also at the ends of the wires to make nice, rounded endings which hardened overnight. My Schucki saw the armature like this and said that it ‘looked friendly’. I agreed!

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Alien or astronaut?

Now it was time to bulk up the armature with tinfoil! I raced through these first few steps quicker than last time because I knew what to do and I found I was better at bulking up the armature this time around.

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Lounging around in a mug

Next, it was time to get the Super Sculpey Firm out again and start sculpting the first layer. Ageha was going to be a based on a slinky Siamese cat, so I wanted to make her with nice big ears and Dobby-like globular eyes. I found that I used a lot less clay at this point than with Tama and I got better results quicker, which I was delighted with.

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After-oven Dobby

Once I had this first layer of clay down, it was time for the first oven bake. I put her in at around 130 degrees Celsius for about an hour and everything cured according to plan with no mishaps. I liked how the ears turned out!

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Testing out the kimono sleeve lengths

After sculpting on little details like the eyelids, it was time for the really fun part – the kimono. This kimono was going to be a furisode, which meant that the sleeves were going to be really, really long. It took a few tries of rolling out super long and thin pieces of clay and draping them on the arms to get the length and shape right.

(Note that she is standing on her own without a base – yahoo!)

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After-oven for the second time

Then it was time for the oven again. Since this kimono layer was really thin, I put her in there for about 35 minutes at 130 degrees Celsius. I had a moment of terror when I took her out of the oven and found that the sleeves were still floppy, but they cured safely after I left her alone overnight. Phew, so far so good!

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Whiskers and paws

If you’ve read the Making of Tama, you would know that I put her through the oven four times because my layering technique was messy and I didn’t know better, but with Ageha I was done with the oven after two times. Which meant that I could then insert the whiskers and make paw pads with Apoxie Sculpt (these bits are so much fun!).

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White out

Now that everything had gone to plan clay-wise, I got out my Acrylic Gesso to start prepping the sculpture for painting. After a few thin coats of Gesso and white paint, Ageha was ready for colour!

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Blocking out colours

At this point I was super excited because I had gotten through all of the clay stages so fast that I thought this sculpture would be finished in no time – all I had to do now was paint it. For some reason I always underestimate the painting part…because this was when the real nightmare began.

This kimono was based on a real one that my mum owns and I knew the colours and patterns that were going to be involved this time around, so in theory it should have been easy to replicate it. Oh boy, was I wrong.

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First coat of the kimono pattern

I painted the orange base colour for the kimono at least four or five times until I finally got the shade I was looking for…and don’t even get me started on the intricate, super fiddly pattern of butterflies and flowers. They drove me absolutely mad.

I love drawing detailed patterns on paper but when it comes to painting them on a sculpture with paint, it really drives me up the wall because I can’t get them as perfect as I want them to be. Sigh…the daily struggles of a perfectionist, huh.

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Broken tail emergency 😦

In this period of frustration where nothing was going right, I accidentally knocked the sculpture over and her tail snapped clean in two. This was the point where I very nearly gave up. I think I put Ageha back on the shelf then and didn’t touch her for more than a week, maybe even two.

Eventually I did go back to her and start working on her again, albeit very slowly. I fixed her tail by filling it with Apoxie Sculpt and then painting over it again.

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Accessories!

Once the sculpture itself was nearing completion, I decided it was time to make the accessories. These three were fun and relatively easy to make – I especially liked how the obi and bag turned out. I made the obi by pressing a flat piece of Apoxie Sculpt to the back of the sculpture where the obi would go and then I sculpted Super Sculpey around the Apoxie mould so I could get the perfect size and shape.

One thing you have to know about me is that I only do things when I really feel like it. Sure, you’re probably thinking: ‘I’m like that too,’ but I take this personal ‘quirk’ to the most extreme degree.

Along the way of making my second Kimono Cat, there were times (especially at the start) where I would work on it a lot every day, making tonnes of progress really quickly but then there would be times where I would just…stop. Regardless of whether it was going well or not, I would just stop working on it for no apparent reason. Days passed, sometimes even weeks until I would be in the mood to pick it back up again.

That’s why this cat has taken so long to make – almost to the point where I was sick of it! But hey, I (somehow) pulled through in the end, as did Ageha. So I’m proud of us.


So, did you like The Making Of Ageha?

Click the button below to finally meet the finished Ageha!


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Kyoto: The Most Famous Sights

I absolutely adore Kyoto, it’s like a second home to me. Not only is it where my mother was born and raised, but I also studied there during my exchange year abroad, which was hands down the best year of my life so far. I’ve been there so many times and yet I can never get enough of it!

Kyoto is known as the historical and cultural center of Japan and it was the imperial capital of the country for over a thousand years. The city is home to over 2,000 Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples and it is one of the best preserved cities in Japan. So without further ado, here are some of Kyoto’s most famous sights:

The Golden Pavilion

The Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji is a famous temple in Kyoto and it is one of the most popular buildings in Japan. The temple is covered in gold leaf and the surrounding gardens are based on Muromachi Period garden design. You can’t actually enter the golden temple – you can only walk around it and through the gardens (I know, I was disappointed by that too).

Warning: The Golden Pavilion is extremely popular with tourists and Japanese school trips and it can get very crowded, so avoid going at peak hours!

Japanese wedding ceremony at Kamigamo Shrine

Kamigamo Shrine in northern Kyoto is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan and it is classed as an UNESCO World Heritage site. Kyoto’s Kamo River runs north-east through the city (this direction was believed to be inauspicious) so Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine further south, were both built to protect Kyoto from misfortune.

Kiyomizu Temple at night lit up in autumn

Kiyomizu-dera is another famous temple of Kyoto and it is also classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main building is supported by wooden pillars that are 13 metres high and not a single nail was used to build the whole structure. Every autumn, there is a light up event held there where visitors can go at night and see the temple and surrounding trees’ red leaves illuminated by lights.

Heian Shrine’s massive torii gate

Heian Shrine or Heian-jingu is a Shinto shrine in Kyoto with a huge torii gate at its entrance – one of the biggest in Japan.

Heian-jingu Shrine

 

Kyoto Tower

The Kyoto Tower was built in 1964 and it is the tallest structure in Kyoto, standing at 100 metres high. The shape and colour of the tower is supposed to represent a candle and the observation deck allows visitors to see a 360 degree view of the city.

Kyoto Maiko and Geiko

Maiko and Geiko are famous icons of Kyoto and are masters of traditional Japanese dance, song, calligraphy and musical instruments. The Maiko are young apprentices who are typically aged 15 to 20 years old. They train and master their skills until they are old enough to be a fully fledged Geiko.

The Gion district and Pontocho are famous Maiko and Geiko spotting areas, but be careful that they aren’t just tourists dressed up in their costumes! (I also got to dress up as a Maiko in Gion and I was mistaken as the real thing by people passing by!)

Ginkakuji – The Silver Pavilion

The Silver Pavilion or Ginkaku-ji is a famous Zen temple in Kyoto which was supposed to be layered in silver foil, but was never finished. The gardens around the temple are beautiful and I secretly liked them better than the Golden Pavilion’s garden. You could even get a nice view of the city from the Ginkaku-ji’s gardens.

Aoi Festival

The Aoi Matsuri or Hollyhock Festival is one of three big  festivals held in Kyoto every year. It is a festival of the two Kamo shrines I mentioned earlier – the Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine. Over six hundred people dressed in traditional Heian costume participate in the festival procession, which starts at the Kyoto Imperial Palace and makes its way to Shimogamo Shrine and then Kamigamo Shrine.

Gion Festival

Kyoto’s annual Gion Matsuri is the biggest festival of all and one of the three great festivals of Japan. The Gion matsuri is a month long and the parade at the end of July involves huge wooden floats draped in historic tapestries to be pulled through the main streets of Kyoto.

In the nights leading up to the parade, main roads in the city are only accessible by pedestrians and are full of food stalls and viewings of traditional Kyoto houses and family heirlooms. It was the most amazing festival I have ever been to!

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Shrine which I covered in an earlier post, is my favourite shrine in Kyoto. Thousands of red torii gates standing one after another wind their way up the Inari mountain and the result is just magical.

Cherry blossoms by the Kamo River

The Kamo River that runs through Kyoto is a popular place for locals to walk, bike or sit beside – especially in spring when the banks are lined with blooming cherry blossom flowers. In summer near Sanjo, restaurants open up their famous decks that overlook the river and the banks are full of couples sitting by the river enjoying each other’s company.


So, did you enjoy Kyoto? Would you like to go there?

You can’t go to Japan without visiting Kyoto!


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Japan: The Cat Café Experience

Cat Café Nekokaigi

Warning: This post contains a lot of cute cats.

While I was living in Kyoto, I got the chance to visit one of Japan’s most famous cat cafés called Cat Café Nekokaigi. The café is located in the heart of Kyoto and if you haven’t guessed already by the name, it is a place where you can play and relax with cats whilst sipping leisurely on your tea or coffee.

So basically, it’s the best café ever.

Lids for the drinks to keep the cats out

The admission fee was 900 Yen for an hour and an extra 400 Yen for every thirty minutes after that. You could order hot or cold drinks there which were 200 Yen each, but it wasn’t compulsory to buy drinks. After stowing away our bags in the lockers provided, we ordered one iced coffee and one iced chocolate, respectively.

And then it was time to play! There were about six or seven cats lounging about the room who you could play with using the cat toys provided – or you could just sit back and relax whilst observing their funny feline ways.

Surprisingly, cat cafés do not rank that high on the zany Japanese idea list compared to the likes of the prison-themed cafés, ninja restaurants and of course, the infamous maid cafés dotted around the country. A cat café seems pretty normal compared to that, I think!

A lot of apartments in Japan are either too small to have pets or don’t allow pets at all, so Japanese cat lovers flock to places like this to get their feline fix.

There have been a lot of experiments and studies done about the healing power of animals and being surrounded by cats seems like a pretty perfect way to unwind and de-stress!

Although it was really fun to play with the cats, I couldn’t help but wonder if this café was their only home. The room was big, but it didn’t have any access to outside (it was located on the second storey) and I hoped the cats weren’t cooped up in there all day, every day. Some of them did seem a little bored with all of the constant attention.

The café’s poster child

Other than that, it was a really fun experience that is perfect for any cat lover!

The very fitting Nekobus clock in the café

For more information about the café and their resident cats visit:

Cat Café Nekokaigi – Japanese Website

Cat Café Nekokaigi – English Website

So cute ♥

So, did you enjoy the Japanese cat café experience?

Would you like to go to one too? Do you know of any others?


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Amy’s Art: Kimono Cat Collection – Meet Tama The Yukata Cat

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After two and a half months of work, Tama is finally complete! I am so relieved. And what better time is there to showcase her than today, the 7th of July, which is the famous tanabata festival in Japan!


KIMONO CAT PROFILE

Name: Tama (たま)

Height: 19cm

Gender: Female

Kimono type: Yukata

Occasion: Summer festival

Time of year/season: July/Summer

Name meaning: Tama means ball/bead in Japanese. It is probably the most cliché Japanese cat name of all time. Maybe her mum was running out of ideas by the time Tama emerged.

Her Story: Tama is just growing out of kittenhood and she demands to be taken seriously, but being the runt of the litter means that no one actually ever does. She’s not so adult-cat enough yet to deny the fact that she still loves eating taiyaki and fishing out a mizu fuusen or two at the summer festival though. Plus, it’s a good chance to be seen in her beloved kingyo yukata!


 

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KIMONO CAT EXPLANATION

1. Yukata (浴衣) – Tama is wearing a yukata, which is a summer kimono that can be worn to casual events like festivals, firework displays, parties and at Japanese inns or ryokan (旅館) after bathing. The yukata is usually made of cotton or other light fabrics and is unlined.

Women, men and children wear the yukata, with younger people generally wearing bright, colourful patterns and older people wearing darker colours with little or no pattern. Tama’s yukata has a goldfish or kingyo (金魚) pattern to represent summer and because, well, she’s a cat. I also included bubbles in the design because of her name.

The yukata is known for its short sleeve length (See A) and womens’ yukata sleeves typically reach their wrists, while the mens’ is shorter and reaches just past their elbows. Yukata, like all kimono, are always worn with the left side over right (See B) because the opposite – right over left – is used to dress bodies for funerals.

When putting on the yukata, you must always leave a a folded portion hanging out from under the obi – this is called the ohashori (おはしょり) (See C). Then the left side of the yukata must come around to line up with your outer right leg (See D).

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2. Obi (帯) – The yukata is kept in place by tying a long sash or obi around the waist. Womens’ obi are usually a contrasting colour to the kimono and is the center piece of the whole outfit. Although obi can be tied into over a hundred different knots for different occasions, young womens’ yukata usually use the butterfly knot or the chou chou musubi (蝶々結び) like the one Tama has on (See 2). It resembles a big ribbon and is one of the easiest knots to tie (even I can tie one on myself!).

3. Geta (下駄) – The geta are sandals/clogs made of wood and are the footwear worn with yukata. Geta are worn with bare feet, unlike other kimono sandals where you have to wear special socks or tabi (足袋) with it. Womens’ geta are usually sized a little bit smaller than the feet wearing them.

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4. Mizu fuusen (水風船) – Mizu fuusen is a game stall found at Japanese festivals. A mizu fuusen is a small balloon hanging from a rubber band with a little bit of water inside, which you can loop onto your finger and hit with your hand in a yo-yo motion. With the stall game, you are given a small hook tied to paper and the aim of the game is to fish out one of the balloons in a pool by hooking onto the rubber band loop before the paper hook rips in the water.

5. Kingyo sukui (金魚すくい) – Like mizu fuusen, kingyo sukui is also a game stall at festivals. The game is similar to mizu fuusen but this time you have a small paper hoop to try and catch a real goldfish from the tank. If you catch one, you usually get to take the goldfish home in a clear bag filled with water, like Tama’s. And yes, that is real water in Tama’s bag.

6. Taiyaki (たい焼き) – Taiyaki is a fish shaped cake that is sold at festival stalls or yatai (屋台). It is usually made with a sweet batter and filled with a red bean paste, but they can also be filled with other flavours like vanilla custard, chocolate or even cheese.

7. Matsuri uchiwa (祭りうちわ) – Summer nights are hot in Japan and a lot of people carry around fans to keep themselves cool. People bring their own, buy one or are even given free fans by workers at the festivals as a form of advertisement. Tama’s fan is a classic Japanese festival fan which has the kanji meaning of festival or matsuri (祭り) written on it.

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Tama basking in the sun at the local park

 

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So, did you like meeting Tama?

Did you learn something new about Japanese culture?

Stay tuned for the next lovable feline in my Kimono Cat Collection!


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Japanese Cartoon Series That Were My Childhood

I don’t know what it is about shows you watch as a kid, but whenever you think of them, you only remember how awesome they were. If you were to watch them again now, you might notice gaping holes in the storyline or realise how strange/weird the story and characters actually were…but we still love ’em, right?

Get ready to be hit by a tidal wave of nostalgia, 90’s kids!

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Sailor Moon is an undisputed classic. Being one of the most popular manga series of all time, it brought female superheroes into the limelight and there it stayed.

Sailor Moon is about a middle school girl called Usagi who becomes friends with a talking cat called Luna, who gives Usagi a magical brooch that enables her to become superhero Sailor Moon. Usagi teams up with other girls who become fellow Sailor Soldiers and they fight against the dark forces of the world.

Favourite characters: Sailor Venus and Chibi Moon. Plus, the talking cats Luna and Artemis (I always liked the animal companion characters in any show!)

Moonlight Densetsu – The Japanese Sailor Moon theme song. I still remember all of the words to this…and yes, I had a Chibi Moon wand stick that would light up and I would run around the house waving it around.

Doraemon

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Doraemon is a Japanese cultural icon – every Japanese person knows him. The theme song is Japan’s national anthem (not actually, but it should be).

Doraemon is a robotic cat from the future who goes back in time to help a ten year old boy called Nobita. Using all sorts of futuristic gadgets out of the four-dimensional pocket on his stomach, he gets Nobita out of trouble daily.

The coolest recurring gadgets that Doraemon had (that I always wanted) was the Doko demo door (a door that you could go through to anywhere in the world), Takecopter (a propeller you put on your head to fly), Time terebi (a television which allowed you to watch events in the past or future) and the self explanatory Time Machine in Nobita’s desk.

Doraemon released some pretty awesome movies back in the day – I’m talking about the old Doraemon with the proper voices, not this recent New Generation one – and my favourites were Nihon tanjo (Birth of Japan), Kumo no okoku (Kingdom of Clouds), Buriki no meikyuu (Tin Labyrinth), Mugen san kenshi (Three Visionary Swordsmen) and Nankai Daibouken (Great Adventure in the South Seas).

Favourite characters: Doraemon and his sister, Dorami-chan

Detective Conan

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Detective Conan is probably the epitome of my childhood. I was watching from the very beginning, when it started in 1996. I have seen basically every single episode and film over the years, excluding the very recent ones. I don’t know a life without Conan.

Detective Conan is about a seventeen year old detective called Shinichi who witnesses a deal being made by a shady organisation called Kuro no soshiki (Black organisation). Shinichi gets caught by one of the members and is forced to ingest a drug that was supposed to kill him, but it actually made him turn back into a child – into his seven year old self. He chooses the name Conan Edogawa to hide his identity and continues solving cases and investigating the Black Organisation to hunt down their mysterious boss referred to as Ano kata.

Some seriously epic Conan movies have also been released over the years and as always, the old ones are the best. My all time favourite Conan movie is Hitomi no Naka no Ansatsusha (Captured in Her Eyes) – it just gets me everytime.

Other awesome ones include the first one, Tokei-jikake no Matenrō (The Time Bombed Skyscraper), Jūyon banme no Tagetto (The Fourteenth Target), Seikimatsu no Majutsushi (The Last Wizard of the Century) and the one set in Kyoto – of course I like that one – Meikyū no Kurosurōdo (Crossroad in The Ancient Capital).

Favourite characters: Conan/Shinichi, Ran, Haibara and Kaito Kid

Cardcaptor Sakura

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I read the manga of Cardcaptor Sakura more than I watched it, but it was still really good. The artwork in the book is so beautiful and I always just really liked her side kick called Kero-chan, who talked in an Osaka dialect.

The series is about a ten year old called Sakura who releases a set of magical cards known as Clow Cards, which were made by a sorcerer named Clow Reed. Cerberus (Kero-chan) who is the guardian of the cards, assigns Sakura to retrieve the cards which all have a magical ability and cause havoc around the town.

Favourite characters: Sakura, Tomoyo and Kero-chan

Black Jack

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Black Jack was written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, who is most famous for creating Astro Boy and Jungle taitei (Kimba the White Lion) and he is one of Japan’s most beloved manga artists.

Black Jack is about a legendary doctor who takes on patients with peculiar conditions and often does good deeds and teaches arrogant and greedy people life lessons. Even now, it is a really good watch.

Favourite characters: Black Jack and Pinoko

Black Jack opening song – Gekkohana 

Black Jack 21 opening song – Destiny by Hitomi Shimatani (I love this song!)

Hamtaro

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I actually watched Hamtaro in English because it was on after school on television when I was around eleven or twelve years old. I’d always wanted a pet hamster but since we didn’t have hamsters in New Zealand, this was as close as I was going to get!

Favourite characters: Bijou and Pashmina

Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z

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Like every other kid in the world at that time, my brother and I were hooked on Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z. This was when there was still only 150 Pokemon that you could catch and we knew all of them off by heart. We had a huge stack of Pokemon cards between us and we would get the newest, coolest cards from Japan and be super smug about it when playing with our New Zealand friends. Oh, the good times.

Jigoku Sensei Nūbē

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Jigoku sensei (hell teacher) Nūbē is about a teacher who protects his students against supernatural phenomena by using the demon that his sealed in his left hand. The ghosts or monsters that appear in the series are usually based on old Japanese folklore, which I loved the idea of.

Favourite characters: Nūbē, Izuna and Yukime

My favourite ending song – Spirit by Pamelah

Himitsu no Akko-chan

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Himitsu no Akko-chan has been around for ages – there are so many remakes – but I distinctly remember watching the 1998 version. The series is about a girl called Akko-chan who has a magical mirror that allows her to transform into any person or animal. There was even a live action film of it released in 2012…here is the trailer:

Himitsu no Akko-chan 1998 opening song

Favourite characters: Akko-chan, the cat and the penguin

Ninja Sentai Kakuranger

This isn’t strictly a cartoon as such, but I still remember watching it with my brother a lot. There was a Power Ranger boom in Japan in the 90’s and although there were Power Rangers, Car Rangers and who knew what else, Kakuranger was our favourite because who can go wrong with Ninja Rangers, right?

Plus, the opening song was just awesome.

Favourite characters: Tsuruhime and Ninjaman

 


So, are you feeling as nostalgic as I am right now?

Did you watch any of these shows when you were a kid?