Workshop weeks

We spent our second week in Tsubame nearby the Japanese sea. The week differed a lot from the first week.

The first week was about getting to know the Japanese culture by visiting several museums, restaurants, and other attractions. For example, we visited Reikihaku – National Museum of Japanese History, Buke-Yashiki Sakura Samurai Houses, Narita-san Temple, Koshikawa Korakuen (Japanese Garden), Tokyo Tocho Building 45th floor, ICC Gallery, Kagaku Miraikan and Big site. Chiba University students guided us and it was fun! We lived in Tokyo during the research week.

Bullet train transported us from Tokyo to Tsubame-Sanjo.

We spent the second week of our workshop in Tsubame, where the local industries’ associations hosted us. By visiting several metal factories we gained the knowledge how the metal products are made in Niigata Prefecture. It was fascinating to see how the whole working processes go. For example when doing knives, copper teapots or cutlery. Besides the tours, in different metal factories, we were generating our own ideas of products in a group of three students. I was working with Eimi Haruna and Go Otsu.

These two weeks in Japan were a really instructive and unforgettable experience. I got to know wonderful people who were truly friendly, helpful and hospitable. Also, the Japanese culture opened more for me. I am thankful for everyone who made this workshop possible.


The pictures are from the second week.


week 2

For the second week we stayed in Tsubame located in the Niigata region. When we didn’t visit the factories to learn more about the manufacturing methods from the skilled craftsmen, we got to know the local culture. The people we got to know were all so nice and hospitable. The local sento (bathhouse) was literally next door from the place were we stayed. It was run by Tama-san;s parents. It felt really authentic and I enjoyed it so much. My favourite place!

The last couple days were when we came up with the ideas that we later pitched to the companies. We were working in groups of three or four and there was a wide range of knowledge in all of the groups. I was working with Eri-san and Junko-san. Our teamwork went well. Under the week we had time to experience a lot of stuff. The local vegetable and fish market, sento & a nice onsen, nearby seaside town and a kimonoshop just to name a few!

The coast town was amazing, especially the food. I had octopus, seafood miso, lots of different fish. It was truly amazing, the weather was so nice too with the salty smell of the sea in the air.

It was really a different experience from being in Tokyo, which is only good. Many people visit just the capital and in that way they don’t get to experience the diversity of a country. I had a blast and this is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Week 2, Tsubame, Niigata prefecture

Our second week in Japan took us out of Tokyo to Tsubame, Niigata prefecture, a city of roughly 80,000 people North-northwest of Tokyo. Our chosen mode of transportation was the Shinkansen bullet train,
which took us through the snowy mountains in roughly two hours, covering 200 clicks in the process. The trains are neat and clean, with attendants selling everything from snacks to beer.
A fine way to travel in my opinion. Upon arrival, we were shuttled to a shop selling the products of local industries. Mostly items made of metal, although I can’t be sure if that was the
defining factor. The shop had an exhibition of the local’s finest work in front, giving us a quick sneak peek at what was to come.

For the duration of our visit to Tsubame, we were housed in the local industries’ associations brand new dorm for visiting interns. The fridge was stocked and remained so
for the whole week.

During the week, we visited a wide variety of local metal industries, ranging from precision-cut sheet metal to hand-crafted teapots made by hammering
a single copper plate until it became a teapot, snout and all. Local industries’ products have had quite a bit of success with international design awards,
red dot for example.

All of the factories gave interesting tours with some taking us through the actual factory grounds, mere meters from the giant machines churning out metalware, while others had
purpose-built touring facilities showcasing the manufacturing process of their particular industry. The concentration of the workers to their task, whether it be grinding a certain angle to a blade or polishing spoons
ten at a time, made a lsting impression. I felt I could also detect a modest, and deserved, pride in their work in many of the people we met.

I had often thought about traveling to Japan, and seeing the Japan outside of Tokyo was always part of the plan. In that sense, the week in Tsubame delivered. I was struck, for example, by how it seemed that no patch of land was left unused.
Rice was cultivated between roads and houses, which were already wall to wall. As only 11.5% of Japan’s land is arable, using it seems only prudent.
Japan has 339 people per square mile, compared to Finland’s 17, so I was expecting to be in a crowd where ever we went, but Japan outside of Tokyo was not as packed as I expected.

The trip culminated in the unveiling of our workshop projects in the ballroom of a local hotel. After our presentations to local industrialists, there was a party. After the party we headed to
a local bar for the second time this week. After me and Linda entered, we were shown a console of some sorts. Thinking that this was just a novel way to choose the playlist, we chose Journey’s don’t stop believin’.
To our shock, a couple of mics were shoved in our hands. KARAOKE TIME!

We did some shopping for souvenirs the next day before heading to Tokyo and eventually home.


Day 6, Kamakura

It is incredibly easy to find a place to eat, and so far everything has been really good. The Tokyo area is full of things to do and experience, and it was pretty easy to navigate there with proper applications and a working internet connection. We got to know Ueno maybe the most, since the Airbnb that we stayed in was in the neighbourhood. Akihabara and its endless gaming buildings, shopping centers and neon lights was quite chaotic yet exciting, and Saturdays visit to Kamakura was pretty big contrast to the hectic city feeling. In Kamakura we hiked the mountain and visited several shrines with Yuki-san and Akie-san as our guides. We were told that there’s over hundred of them in there, from small, almost doll house-like shrines to huge temples.
We tasted ichigo daifuku, which is small rice cake filled with custard or red bean jelly, topped with a strawberry from a street vendor. These types of things can’t be found in Finland, although i now wish that there would be. We hiked for few hours, and in the middle of the mountains found a french café with amazing view and great coffee. It felt so absurd that there would be a cafeteria, but we all were in need of a break and the perfect cup of latte was sorely needed.

After coming back to Kamakura we went for lunch (veggie tempura was of course really good) and for a stroll at the beach. Kamakura is situated between the ocean and the mountains, so at the time when it was the capital it was well sheltered. Me and Emil took off our shoes and dipped our tired feet in the cold water of the pacific ocean, as it is a sort of a custom to do this every time there’s a chance. There was a woman and a little girl gathering seaweed at the shore at the same time, and it would have been cool to gather some myself also, but i most likely would have not known what to do with it.


Day four: Science and malls



Our day began with us commuting to The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, or Miraikan. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a giant Gundam statue in the distance. I was told that we would later go have a closer look. In Miraikan, there were three floors filled with various exhibitions, some conceptual, some more straightforward scientific. There was a life-size copy of a rocket engine, for instance, and a 1/10 scale model of a neutrino detector. Luckily a demo featuring Asimo, Honda’s humanoid Robot, was about to begin just as we arrived. Asimo was pretty impressive, jumping on one leg and kicking a ball. In my opinion though, it spend way too much time just droning on about the future and stuff. Maybe it’s interesting to the local kids, but my goldfish-like attention span was not compatible with such speeches.

Breaking the law


In the planetarium we saw a show telling the story of our universe . Pretty standard stuff, but with beautifull visuals. Downstairs, I got to try a segway-meets-unicycle experimental vehicle by Honda. It might be a revolutionary way to move around in the future, but I doubt it. Sitting with my hands on my legs (spreading your hands was not allowed for some reason) I didn’t feel especially dynamic.

After the museum, we went to DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, the shopping mall with the giant Gundam statue. The statue was impressive, complete with colored lights to represent, for example, the exaust from the jets that this particular robot has on its back.
As if DiverCity was not enough to fullfil the consumer in us, we headed next to Akihabara, the point zero for all things electric in Tokyo. The noise and lights soon proved to be a bit much after a whole day of sightseeing, and we left with some small souvenirs, to return another day.


Day 5: Museum & strolling around in Tokyo

We went super early today to Tokyo National Museum and it was great! My favourites where the wooden Buddha statues and the dope katana swords. But the crown jewel according to me is the kimonos. They were so beautiful! There was one of the garments that was used under the armor and was made of the warriors wives and children clothing material. The katanas & earlier swords were astonishing. I can’t understand how they can be so smooth and perfectly looking considering that they’re forged.


Everything we saw there made me realize how much history Japan has and how much it is being reflected in the current society.

Juuso and I went later today to Shibuya for a tour to walk around not just in the centre, but also in the neighbourhood. When walking towards some cool clothing stores we found lots of nice surprises. One of the nicest things were a shop with just cat products. The owner was a lovely old lady. She kept the store from the ground floor of her apartment. Her cat was super nice too, but we weren’t allowed to pet it because it apparently enjoyed to scratch people. After reaching our clothing pilgrimage goal, And wander, we parted and I headed towards Ebisu. By foot!! It was so nice, 10/10. I saw lots of stuff when walking trough different neighbourhoods. Some of them where funky or atmospheric in their own way.


In Ebisu I arrived to a shop called Kapital. It’s a Japanese brand that could be described as ametora. Japanese/American style. Their clothes aren’t just super cool, they’re like a fusion kitchen.


I took a tube that stoped near to our flat but I walked the wrong way after getting out. It was kind of funny. And stupid. Now Im home after a long day, It’s been really enjoyable.

Ume, Tocho, ICC Gallery and Shibya

Day 3

We started the day by travelling to Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens. Three nice Chiba Universtiy students accompanied us through the day. The Garden was lovely although the weather was a bit chilly. It wasn’t the time of Sakura (cherry) blooming just yet, but for fortunately for us, Ume (plum) bloomed with beautiful hues of white and pink.

After the visit, we headed to Tokyo Tocho Building’s highest floor. It was mesmerizing to see whole of the city above roofs. We decided to eat lunch nearby and ended up eating sushi at a local restaurant. Gochisousama deshita!

Then we took a metro train to ICC gallery to see an interactive design exhibition. We all were touched by the pieces displayed. We saw the influence of Japanese culture and different perspective in some of the pieces quite clearly.

After the cultural visit we headed to Shibuya, we have to admit that shopping was in everybody’s mind at this point. We all were eager to experience the hectic atmosphere of the shopping district. We spent hours browsing neon signs and blinking adds. In the end, we found some nice things to buy too.

On the way home we stopped by a nearby local undon restaurant, it was so cozy and small, felt like we were sitting in a frame of a Japanese cartoon.


Niklas & Minttumeri

Day two: Some history

One of the more life-like dioramas


We began our day with the usual hazzle of six people trying to ready themselves fast for a long day of sightseeing. Our first destination was Sakura city, and the National History Museum of Japan.

The museum’s main exhibition consisted of a more or less chronological representation of Japan’s history, with quite a few very well executed dioramas in all sizes, stylish retro 3d-maps with lots of blinking leds etc. I found the exhibits about eh Ainu people and the Ryukyu kingdom especially interesting, along with the Meiji era and the clash of traditional japan and the modern world. As Japan had been more or less closed to the outside world for centuries, the speed with which they adopted all the inventions the industrial world had to offer seems breathtaking. English narration through headphones was available as were discount tickets for students. All in all, I think the museum offers a thorough and honest look into Japan’s past.

A rare view uncluttered by modernity


After having lunch at the museum, Tatsuya, one of our ultra-kind student counterparts here, took us in his car to the Sakura Samurai Houses. The Samurai houses are a group of houses built in the Edo era for middle class samurai and periodically restored ever since. My guess is that not much of the original houses remain, but by sticking to the traditional methods of rebuilding, the houses have retained their original form. It was interesting to actually walk around in this type of building with its wooden floors covered by tatami and screen doors. Judging from how cold we all felt when not in sunlight leads me to believe that the samurai were not too bothered by cold weather. The only thing that bothered me was the fact that almost every wall had either a poster explaining something, a fire extinguisher or some other piece of modern paraphernalia rendering true “edo-era” photos impossible.

Mysterious cleansing ritual at Narita-San


As the sun was already setting, we traveled to Narita-San Shinshoji temple in Narita, an hour’s travel by train from Tokyo. The temple was impressive for it’s size and style. With many courtyards and pagodas and various buildings of religious significance not always clear to us, Narita-San made an impression. By this time I was starving and freezing, but still managed to operate the camera well enough to snap some decent photographs of the mighty structures at dusk. After placing some coins into a wishing well in one of the main temple buildings, someone noticed what looked like a vending machine a few meters away. When asked, our hosts replied that it was a “lottery ticket vending machine”, how about that?


Daijoubu desu!

Deep fried oysters

We arrived to Japan on Sunday morning, and the first two days can be described as being a mixture of incredible excitement and disorienting jet lag. Tokyo seems to be overflowing with everything; visual information, people in the subway at traffic times, colors, advertisements, sounds, buildings, and subway/train lines, and we haven’t even visited the most visually saturated places yet. There seems to be an endless stream of new things to look, and basically everything is new.

Our airbnb apartment is in Ueno, which is this amazing and cute part of Taito, just a short commute away from Tokyo station. The neighbourhood is surprisingly peaceful (given that we are in Tokyo), and seems like something that could be straight from some movie, and all this still seems a bit surreal.

We visited Chiba University and met the professor Takayuki Higuchi, the student coordinator Keiko Sugita, and students that we are going to spend the next week with when we start the workshop in Tsubame-Sanjo. Tatsuya-San, our super friendly and helpful student liaison took us for lunch to a place next to the Chiba University, and it was amazing! The place had a shelf full of manga, the walls were covered with pictures of cats, and the deep fried oysters i had were delicious. I’m also learning a bit of Japanese as we go, and learning phrases like daijoubu desu – which means that everything’s ok – are getting familiar.

For tomorrow we are planning to go visit National museum of Japanese history, Sakura samurai houses and Narita-san temple, and we are looking forward to see the sites 🙂


Countdown to lift-off

Aalto ARTS Arabia campus


A fortnight to go until we leave for Japan. As you can see, the sky was overcast like most of the days these couple of weeks. Still, we remain in high spirits as we prepare for the rigors of international travel. The essays are coming along nicely. We are learning a lot of not only Japanese food and culture, but our own as well. A collective effort of listing all that we would need for the travel and workshop has already yielded some impressive results and prevented hardship in the future.

For my part, I have spent the days frantically trying to learn even elementary Japanese and deflecting ever-greater demands of Pokemon-themed souvenirs from my kids. I can´t wait to see what our workshop will be like.

Take care,