We woke up this morning to a rather bleak day, which kind of changed our plans.  Originally I’d wanted to go to a museum and then stroll to Ginza because they block off one of the main streets to traffic on Sunday afternoons.  Instead, we decided to visit a couple of museums and then see where the day took us.

Imperial Palace East Garden

We began our sightseeing by purchasing two umbrellas at the hotel gift shop.  Everything we planned to do was within walking distance so we figured we could handle a little rain.  Then we walked across the street to the Imperial Palace grounds.  I was surprised there were so many people walking around because it really was raining hard.

Upon entering the gardens, you are given a white plastic "pass" which you must return as you exit, which is a tidbit I thought I’d include for anyone who ends up visiting some day.

We are very lucky.  Cherry blossom season is begining a couple of weeks early this year and on this day we were seeing the very beginning of it.  Even though they weren’t any where near full bloom, it was easy to see how absolutely magnificent it will be when there are more.  We will probably return to this area when we get back from Kyoto just to see them.  I absolutely love this photo:

After returning our passes to the guard, we exited the Imperial Palace Gardens:

We were on our way to the National Museum of Modern Art, the Science Museum, and finally, to Yasukuni -jinja, which is a controversial Shinto shrine dedicated to Japan’s war dead.

Our first stop in this trio of sights was the Science Museum.  Though I read that it was primarily for children, it also claimed to have fun, interactive exhibits that both Mick and I were interested in seeing.

We entered the museum and were amused by a vending machine featuring one of my favorite actors, Tommy Lee Jones, hawking a beverage called Boss:   
All I could think of was Bill Murray saying, "For relaxing times, make it Suntory times…"

A word about the Science Museum–if given a second chance, I’d skip it.  I could see that it would be a great place A) if you are a child, B) you understand both written and spoken Japanese, or C) you have even a slight bit of scientific knowledge and can figure out what the exhibits are meant to be.  Since I fall into none of those categories, the museum was of interest only because it was a place where there were lots of typical Japanese families enjoying a day out.  Frankly, that can only go so far.


Our next stop was a place of great interest to me:  Yasukuni-jinja.  I had read about it’s controversy–namely, that it’s account of Japan’s involvement in WWII is considered revisionist, or at least downplays Japan’s culpability.  More on that later though.  The path leading up to the shrine was full of stands selling all sorts of yummy treats–unfortunately the rain put a damper on things and many of them were closed.  I could see how the place would be hopping in good weather though.

There were lots of visitors to the shrine, mostly Japanese.  This is a holy place in Japan.  It was completed in 1869 to enshrine the remains of two and a half million war dead–these souls are considered deities.

A common sight at shrines are little strips of paper with prayers for good fortune tied to trees and in various other places.

While we were at the shrine, an event was going on and a school marching band was there.  I didn’t get to hear them play but I would’ve loved to, having been in marching band myself in high school.

One of the more controversial aspects of this shrine is that in 1979, a number of Class-A war criminals were surrepticiously enshrined here.

Yasukuni’s War Museum was fascinating, and luckily, most of the exhibits feature English translations.  There was so much information there it was hard to absorb it all, but reading about it from the Japanese perspective was very interesting.  I will not say whether I thought it was revisionist since I’d like to do more research, so I will just say that it was a good starting point for me.  Frankly, I never understood why the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and I still don’t entirely, but I intend to learn more.

There was a performance going on outside of the museum but we couldn’t tell what it was.  Women dressed as geisha were on stage singing and dancing.  I don’t know if the one below was part of the performance or not:

On the way back, we encountered a pathway for cherry blossom viewing:

Unfortunately, the blossoms are minimal at this point but it was gorgeous just the same.  We both want to come back here when we get back from Kyoto, and hopefully, there will be more blossoms.  There were a lot of Japanese visitors here, getting a head start on the viewing.

The rain had stopped by now and we were starving.  We found a random restaurant on the street where they unfortunately spoke not a word of English.  Our pointing skills came in handy here, though not as handy as one might hope.  I chose a noodle dish and Mick chose a shrimp dish, but when he ordered the waitress paused as if waiting for him to order more.  When the food came, it turned out that Mick had just ordered a small appetizer.  Altogether it was enough food however.

Ginza by Night

We decided to walk to Ginza, which was about a mile away or so.  On the way, we stopped at Monsoon, a name which some of you might recognize.  It is one of our all time favorite restaurants in Santa Monica, and it turns out there are several in Tokyo:

One of the waiters spoke English and we ordered sake, which was sorely needed at this point.

Afterward, we headed to the busy part of Ginza, which was a lot more fun and beautiful at night than it was in the early morning hours.  We stopped in a couple of stores, including a department store which was as luxurious and expensive as one would expect in Ginza (which I’ve heard referred to as the Beverly Hills of Tokyo).  Frankly, Ginza is a whole lot more exciting a place than Rodeo Drive.

What shall we do tomorrow?          

Here we are, safe and sound in Tokyo.  We arrived on Friday evening, which was actually late Thursday night for all you Americans out there.  The flight was uneventful and not altogether unpleasant, though as with any long plane trip I generally feel like killing myself (anything to put me out of my misery) about halfway through.  This one was no different.  Three things to note, however:

1)  While we were taxiing, the music playing was the "Theme from Taxi."  Not sure if it was intentional, but I thought it an amusing touch.

2)  There was a camera during taxi, take off, and landing that showed the pilot’s view.  I’d never seen that before, and being a nervous flyer, I’m not sure I need to see it again.

3)  The airline food was beautiful (Japan Airlines).


When we arrived at our hotel on Friday evening, it was about 7pm Tokyo time, which was about 1am pst.  Both of us were exhausted, so we tumbled into bed, understanding we’d be up very early the next morning.  We figured it was okay since we’d planned to visit the Tsukiji Central Fish Market, hoping to see the tuna auction around 6am.

We set off around 5am and had a pleasant walk through the streets of Ginza on our way to the market.  It was nice to get a look at Tokyo before the bustling crowds ensued.


I actually didn’t realize just how pleasant it was until we toured Shinjuku later in the day, but more on that later.

Upon arriving at Tsukiji Fish Market, we saw workers everywhere, zipping quickly here and there on little carts carrying all manner of sea creatures.  Mick had warned me about the carts–boy, he wasn’t kidding.  They were everywhere, and the drivers didn’t seem too bothered by the idea of hitting a happless tourist.


It was not immediately evident where we were meant to go, but a nice Japanese man working the market noticed our confusion and laughingly pointed where we were supposed to go.  Once in the auction area, I felt happy to see many tourists just like us.  There is a passage way where visitors can watch the auction, and it was packed with a variety of faces, both western and asian.


On the floors of the auction rooms, huge frozen tunas were lined up for close examination by potential buyers.  Sure, there were a lot of fish, but what was really amazing to me is that this happens every day.  Here is where the wholesalers purchase the tuna from the fishermen, then it’s moved to the actual market where it’s then sold to restaurants and retailers.  To put it in some kind of perspective, about 2246 tons of fish worth over US$15.5 million are sold here daily.


The actual market itself was, to me, a whole lot more interesting than the tuna auction. 


Multiply what you see in this picture by, oh, I don’t know–1000, maybe more.  The atmosphere was less chaotic than the auction, but no less intense. 


Mick and I had no idea what most of what we saw was, but we were reasonabley sure it was all edible and that with any luck, we’d get to try it in some Japanase restaurant or another.



As is the tradition, Mick and I finished our visit to the market with a sushi breakfast at one of the nearby sushi places.  There were several to choose from, and most had long lines.  The one we chose was called Ya Ma Za Ki, which featured picture menus in English and Japanese and frankly was no different ordering wise than being in the US.  Our chef, who was very nice, spoke English, though he appreciated my attempts to order in Japanese. 


The sushi was delicious–much more flavorful than I’ve had in most places in LA and the texture of the fish was lovely.

The walk back to the hotel was punctuated by a cursory visit to a McDonalds:


Various other sites included the Wako building, which I hope to blog about later and Kabuki-za, a famed Kabuki theater.


An afternoon in Shijuku

After a brief nap, Mick and I headed out by taxi to another area of the city called Shinjuku.  We’d pondered on whether or not to take the train, but I think both of us were feeling a little tired and unsure of ourselves.  With taxis right outside the hotel it seemed a lot easier just to take that than braving the scary world of the subway.

Our first stop in Shinjuku was the Japanese Sword Museum.  It was a small, out of the way museum (seemed like it was in a back alley) that had swords on display from about the 13c to the 19c.  Unless you are interested in swords, I wouldn’t make the trip, but Mick is very interested in them and has done a lot of research into them.  A few years back I bought him a modern Japanese katana made in the traditional way, so both of us were interested in seeing this museum.

Next we wanted to go to the New York Bar in the Park Hyatt Tokyo (of Lost in Translation fame) but were disappointed to find it didn’t open until 5pm.  We settled for beers in their lounge:


As you can see, I look like I needed some form of alcoholic beverage at that moment.

The Park Hyatt offered views of the city that kind of put it in perspective a little.  Tokyo, at least to my untrained eye, is a bit of a mish-mash.  That seemed apparent as we gazed from one side of the Park Hyatt, which was high rises:

To the other side, with reminded me of a kind of permanent shanty town:

I don’t mean that to be negative, just that the contrast was interesting to me.

Next we made our way to Isetan, which is a high end department store on Meji-Dori and Shinjuku-dori.  On the way, we ducked into a pachinko parlour, something that I was looking forward to seeing since as a kid we had a pachinko machine.  Pachinko is technically illegal in Japan, but they get around the law by making you purchase tokens for the machines.  Payouts are in the form of little metal balls which you exchange for "prizes," which you can then "sell" at another window for cash.  I really wanted to play, but everything was in Japanese and it was too loud to communicate with the attendant so we ran out like scared children.

Isetan reminded me of a less luxurious version of Selfridges in London.  By "less luxurious" I mean that the building itself was rather plain and utilitarian, however the brands sold and the prices, are not.  Every high end designer I’d ever heard of and a whole lot I hadn’t were represented here.   As much as I sometimes wish I was, I’m just not the designer clothing type and I can’t justify spending so much money on something just for a label (sure, I know they’re quality goods, but you know what I mean).  I went to the Paul Smith department and almost bought a bag or a rain hat, just to say I did, but I resisted the temptation.  Now I wish I hadn’t, because it is raining dreadfully here at the moment and I wish I had that Paul Smith hat (or any hat, actually).  Isetan was interesting, but not being hardcore shoppers, Mick and I explored a couple of floors and left.

Our next stop was another department store called Takashimaya Times Square because Mick wanted to meet with an American artist named Rodney Allen Greenblatt who was having an exhibit there (they are going to be collaborating on Mick’s next article for Game Developer Magazine).   Not being sure where Rodney was in the store (14 floors) we explored this one in much more detail than we had Isetan. 


Floor after floor of almost anything you can imagine was being sold here and a whole lot of other things you could never imagine even existed.  We had a lovely lunch of tempura on the 14th floor, then resumed our search for Rodney.  When we finally found him, there was a long line of Japanese waiting to talk ot him and get things signed, as well as a crew filming him.  Mick decided to just email him later.

I wish we would’ve taken more pictures in Shinjuku because frankly, it defies description.  I think perhaps we were scared into submission but the crowds, noise, and flashing lights.  We did, however, decide to brave the train home and a nice Canadian named Damien noticed we looked confused and he helped us buy tickets and rode part of the way home with us.

We ended the day in the tradition of weary travelers in Tokyo:

In bed, in our kimono robes, and with a bottle of sake from the mini bar.

The adventure will continue tomorrow…

Today is take off day.  The dogs are going to the kennel (sob!), our bags are packed, and we’re ready to get our groove on in Japan.

Of course as soon as the suitcases came out the dogs got nervous.

Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re looking forward to their vacation as
much as we’re looking forward to ours.

Even though this is technically a blog about my creative endeavors–namely making jewelry, knitting, and painting–I am temporarily turning it into a travel blog for our trip to Japan.  My plan is to write a daily post about what we’re doing and to include a photo or two if I can wrestle the laptop away from Mick.  We’ll see how that goes.

The flight is about 11 hours, which is about the same as the time it takes to fly from Los Angeles to London.  When we arrive at Narita Tokyo Airport, a shuttle will take us to the Palace Hotel which is very near to the Imperial Palace:

The Imperial Palace (photo:  Imperial Household Agency)

I think what I’m looking forward to most in Japan is the food.  And the sake.  Is that pathetic?  I guess it is a little pathetic.  I’ve never thought of Japan as a big food place but my research (and friends) tells me it is.  And god knows I loves me some food.  I plan on trying everything, even things I never in my life thought I’d eat.  Except onions.  I hate onions.

I’ll leave you with that for now…

When I began painting pet portraits in 2001, my dogs Kramer & Stuart were my inspiration.  I quickly filled my house with paintings of them, and while these portraits remain some of my favorites, I harbored a secret desire to paint huge pictures of them to hang in my dining room.

It took a couple of years to get around to it, but when I did, it only took a weekend to do both of them.

acrylic on canvas, 36×36, 2003

, acrylic on canvas, 36×36, 2003

I really like using latex wall paint for my portraits because the consistency is good to work with, especially for backgrounds.  After choosing the photos on which the paintings would be based, I painted each canvas with latex paint I had left over from painting rooms in my house.  Next, I transferred the images on to the canvases by drawing grids on both the sample image and the canvas (scaling up).  Using a pencil, I simply drew what appeared in each square of the sample photo in the corresponding square on the canvas.  This is a little tricky, but it actually went pretty fast and I was pleased with the result.

Once I had transferred my images onto the canvases, I simply painted in all of the details.  In some ways, the size of these canvases made the process more difficult in that it was harder for me to capture such important details as the expression in the eyes or the blend of the fur.  And truth be told I’m not 100% satisfied with the results, although these paintings have a central spot in my home and I love them.  And others love them as well–I get a lot of compliments from visitors and I’ve gotten more than one commission from people who know my dogs, have seen the work hanging in my own home, and want one for themselves or for a gift.

Besides, no pet lovers home would be complete without giant-sized portraits of their loved ones, right?  (Or am I just obsessed with my dogs?)

This is a beautiful sock:  Bayerische

I mention it because I am feeling very unfulfilled knitwise (no pun intended), and when I see a sock like this I am reminded of just how much I have to learn.

I looked at a lot of sock patterns today because I suddenly felt very sure I needed to knit myself a pair of socks for Japan.  The main pair of shoes I am bringing are slip-ons that aren’t worn with socks, which on one hand is great:  many of the traditional places, like shrines, temples, and some restaurants, require you to remove your shoes before entering.  Sometimes slippers are provided, sometimes not.  At any rate, having easily removable shoes is clearly a plus.  However, being a little unsure of the whole barefooted aspect of this ritual, I did a little research and luckily, someone had blogged the answer for me:

"I felt so odd in the fellowship-hall-mausoleum, like I should whisper, and I was embarrassed that I had bare feet in the provided leather slippers, because I’d worn sandals to the temple. Miyuki said bare feet were no problem, but 99% of the people I’ve seen have had socks. The young women wear knee-highs peeking out at the tops of their stiletto-heeled boots, and everyone seems to wear socks or stockings. I’m going to start carrying a pair of socks or knee-highs in my handbag for when I wear sandals. I wonder if it’s sort of too casual to go barefooted, for health reasons, cleanliness, etc."

This confirms my suspicion that I may indeed feel uncomfortable with bare feet, despite an impeccable pedicure.

The easy solution to the problem is to just bring a pair of socks with me, thus my sudden compulsion to knit myself a special pair.  Socks are kinda hard though, and I only have three days left until take off.  Plus, it’s fairly obvious I’ve got a whole lot of more important things to do in preparation for the trip than to knit socks.  So there will be no newly knitted, fabulous pair of socks.  I just have to accept it and move on.

See, I told you I was on an

Circle & Square earrings

In this design, I simply soldered a combination of pre-made sterling
"squares" and a round jumpring in a pattern I liked.  For some unknown
reason it puts me in the mind of a lotus flower, however, my husband said it
reminded him of a cross.  My jewelry instructor said they’d be pretty with
stones attached, but for now I’m going to stick with just the metal.

Circle & Square earrings

It is just 7 days until we leave for Japan and I am busy at work on my kimono sweater:

Kyoto Sweater

The actual pattern is called Kyoto.  Instead of Tahki Cotton Classic, I’ve chosen to use Debbie Bliss Cotton Cashmere.  I also chose some drastically different colors, but the turquoise blue is good with my skin tone.  I was torn about what color to use on the bottom but ended up with the yellow because it’s pretty.  Yellow is not generally my color, but since this is the sash it won’t be against my skin so I’m hoping it won’t matter.

Unfortunately, the chances of me getting it finished in time for the trip are slim at this point.  I was well on my way to being done but after re-checking the gauge on a couple of the pieces I realized I had didn’t have enough stitches per inch, which would result in, at best, a much-too-big sweater.  I decided to start over, which is a painful prospect, but it has to be done.

The picture above is of the finished pieces prior to me deciding to start over, so at least you can see the color combo.

It will still be chilly in Tokyo when we go.  I am thinking about buying a few skeins of cashmere to knit myself a fabulous scarf to wear on the trip since I most likely I won’t have this sweater.

In the jewelry studio, I’ve kind of been on an earring kick lately, though
I’m not sure why.  I usually find them tedious to make because you have to
make two of the same thing.

These earrings are a modification of a pair I made years ago but never wore
because the way they were constructed caused the teardrop shape to go upside
down, which looked weird.  In the modification, I took off the stone,
soldered a jumpring to the top, and soldered an additional, smaller teardrop
shape in the center.

18k gold hammered teardrop earrings

These earrings are easy to wear and very light, but have a substantial look
to them.  I might even have to take them to Japan with me.

18k gold hammered teardrop earrings modeled by Holly West

I’ve said this about

but I’ll say it for jewelry as well:  one of the great aspects of
being a jewelry designer/maker is the ability to make pieces for special
occasions or even just a simple night out.  Such was the case this weekend, when
I made this bracelet in preparation for a dinner out with friends:

Egyptian Bracelet by Holly West

It is made from mostly from 10k gold, although the clasp is 14k and the
hammered rings are 14k gold fill.  The beads are green tourmaline and
citrine, with a red garnet briolette that functions as a charm.

Egyptian Faience Beads

The focal point of the bracelet, however, is really special to me.  A
couple of years ago while visiting an antique shop in Oxford, England, I
purchased a string of
Egyptian faience
beads which were at least 2000 years old.  They are
not expensive, but I love the idea of using antique beads in my work, especially
when they are this old.

It’s taken me almost two years to find a design for them that I like, and I
will probably use them in similar ways in the future.  My only concern is
that bracelets generally get knocked around a bit and they might be too fragile. 
That said, if they’ve survived 2000 years thus far, they can certainly survive
any wear they’ll get on my wrist!

This particular bracelet is not for sale, but

email me
if you are interested in purchasing a similar design.