Travels through Japan: Kyoto and Kyushu

[Guest Post by Lynda Gray in Japan] This was my first visit to Japan. I took some sheets of hot pressed watercolour paper folded into concertinas – this one was the first of four. They look best when they have ‘flow’ – something that links the images together. This seems quite a challenge when you are travelling somewhere new.

It was blossom time and I had been tipped to take pink in my palette. I had done my reading, but nothing quite prepares for how lovely this season is in Japan or just how people celebrate it – sniffing and smelling the blossom – gazing at it in awe – picnicking under it – renting a kimono and strolling through it – photographing it and being photographed next to it and just generally feeling the wonderful fleeting impermanence of it all. In Kyoto pink was definitely part of the ‘flow’.

The city is beautiful, sitting in a basin surrounded by mountains with hundreds of temples and shrines throughout the city. The best known of these, such as Arashiyama, famous for its bamboo groves, are wonderfully impressive World Heritage Sites, but so were the crowds. Crowds and sketching don’t mix well for me, but it was easy to climb beyond the tourist traps and enjoy some quieter views.

I couldn’t resist the stamps, they seemed such a gift. Place stamps in stations and temples, postage stamps, hand-drawn calligraphers stamps and shops selling nothing but stamps. I bought two very small letter stamps and a small red ink pad. Pink and red, not my usual colours, but they seemed to work here. We went to visit Fushimi with its red shrine gates weaving atmospheric trails for miles over a densely wooded mountain – pink, red and stamps – I’d found my visual links.

I could have stayed longer, for a sketcher there never seems to be enough time, but this was travelling, so on to the southern island of Kyushu and the pottery towns of Imari and Karatsu where captive Korean potters helped to develop what was a domestic craft into an art in the 17th century. We stayed in Karatsu, where teenage boys bowed at us in the street. It has an impressive castle, dated 1608 but rebuilt in 1966.

The castle seemed to have visual links with the shrines and temple sketches of Kyoto so I carried on in the same concertina. I didn’t really do it justice, discovering afterwards it is called Dancing Crane Castle, mine is flightless and headless. The blossom was almost gone from here, only the faintest traces of pink remaining. I took a bit of artistic licence to keep my original colour flow, which was fast running out and moving into the watery blue and green of Kyushu.

On to the next concertina.

Lynda Gray is an artist from Kendal, Cumbria, UK. To get out of her comfort zone she likes to sketch with Manchester Urban Sketchers and to travel. You can see more of her work on her website.


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