Image of snow monkeys with their babies on their backs strolling down a street in Shiga Kogen Japan
Historic temples, Japanese pop culture, powder skiing, snow monkeys in the hot springs, and the World Peace Buddha on a fine arts travel course to Japan.

Japanuary 2018 – See & Ski Japan

Ceramics professor and Japan enthusiast Sheri Leigh O’Connor led a group of students on this year’s “Japanuary: See, Ski, Japan”. This winter’s travel course went to Tokyo and the northern district of Nagano, in the Japanese Alps. In Shiga Kogen, famous for powder skiing, they stayed at the Biyu no Yado, a very special Japanese ‘ryokan’. Ryokan are traditional Japanese style hotels with tatami mats, futons, and amazing meals. Dinner is served ‘kaiseki’ style; multiple courses with little bites of gorgeous, sculptural edible art.

Nagano Prefecture is full of remarkable examples of Japanese art, architecture, and culture that the students visited. The Roman Museum is best known for local artist Kodama Katei’s “roman glass”, which radiates a mysterious light. The Matsumoto Castle, the Zenkoji Temple, and the ukiyo-e art at the Hokusai Museum are famous worldwide. The Daihiden Temple houses the 25 meter tall bronze Sekai Heiwa Kannon (World Peace Buddha Statue). Nagano is also home to the adorable snow monkeys, who keep warm in the winter by soaking in the ‘onsen’ (hot springs).

After a great week in northern Japan, the group returned to Tokyo for a few nights. They had a fun time staying in Akihabara, known as “Electric Town”. In Akihabara there are all kinds of manga and anime stores, and the famous – and outlandishly bizarre – Maid Cafes. For contrast, the students also visited Tokyo’s oldest temple, the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.

SNC student Sam Shinkle sent his impressions of his first trip to Japan!

SNC fine arts student Sam Shinkle performing costumed karaoke during a travel course to Japan Sam Shinkle at the mike!
image of snow monkeys in the onsen Shiga Japan Snow monkeys in the onsen.
SNC students in a Fine Arts travel course to Japan learning Japanese brush calligraphyLearning Japanese brush calligraphy.

Many people have heard stories about the incredible snow conditions and the unbelievably fresh sushi in Japan. Most have least heard about the magnificent cityscapes of Tokyo. But I was not prepared for the jaw dropping countryside, the varied cuisine, and the rich culture and history.

We began our first evening deciding what to eat from the vast array of restaurants on the streets in Ueno, Tokyo. Half of us decided to enjoy a hot bowl of fresh of ramen. After we finished our umami flavored broth and chewy noodles, we went on a walk around the streets of Ueno. We went to seven story arcades, and convenience stores filled with delicious snacks. We found treats ranging from rich, sweet, melty kiss chocolates and warm boss coffee in a can to fresh fried chicken. We ended the night at a karaoke bar, singing badly translated songs until the place closed. (See picture!) The next day we took the bullet train up to the beautiful mountainsides of Nagano Prefecture. We arrived at the hotel, soaked in the onsen, and slept on japanese futons set up on our tatami mats.

The next morning we woke up to a warm sunrise and a delicious breakfast. We took a bus, filled with travelers from across the world, into the mountains. There we were welcomed by the perfect conditions for a powder day in Japan! After a morning of both on and off-piste skiing, we went to the resort restaurant at the base. Most American ski resorts offer a basic selection of elementary school lunches. Here we chose from curries, soups, rice, pizza, chicken, and most other things you could imagine. After lunch we took the lifts up to untouched trees.

The next day we went to visit the snow monkeys of Yudanaka. We watched the monkeys soak in natural hot springs, play on the massive snowbanks, and huddle in groups to stay warm. After a lunch that Sheri O’Connor insisted was “the best soba (buckwheat noodles) in Japan,” we went to the Daihiden Temple.

Striking this huge drum at the Daihiden Temple is thought to drive out any evil spirits inhabiting youDrive out evil spirits.
the Sekai Heiwa Kannon (world peace Buddha Statue) at Daihiden Temple in YudanakaThe Sekai Heiwa Kannon (World Peace Buddha Statue)
SNC students Madison Johnson and Brett Sikora with sculpture models proposed for the Sekai Heiwa Kannon (world peace Buddha Statue)Madison Johnson and Brett Sikora ring the bowls.

A large, bronze buddha greeted us. As the sun reflected off the eyes of the buddha a bell was struck. Its deep base resonated through everything surrounding it. An older Japanese man walked us inside to show us a great drum, which is said to chase out the evil spirits within us when beaten. He then brought us downstairs to a room filled with smaller buddha statues. Each statue is a different pose of Buddha that was considered for the Peace Buddha outside. We walked around the circular room ringing a differently pitched bowl at every statue. The buddhas watched our breath condense in the cold air as we filled it with different frequencies of the vibrating bowls.

We spent a few more days in the area, taking in the culture, food, and of course the powder. Then we returned to Tokyo for a few more nights before heading back to the states. After ten days of traveling I returned home filled with wonder and amazement at what Japan holds. I came back determined to return – so I’ve already enrolled in the next Fine Arts department Japan trip! It’s “Ceramics, Sushi, and Sightseeing in Japan”, part of the summer art workshop series here at SNC.

Japanese artist Kodama Katei’s “roman glass”, which radiates a mysterious lightRoman Museum glass
view of Yudanaka and the surrounding mountains in JapanView of Yudanaka
Matsumoto Castle in Nagano JapanThe Matsumoto Castle

About the fine arts at SNC Tahoe

The Fine Arts department at SNC is a a close-knit community of students and faculty making art with passion and intention.

The undergraduate program offers Bachelor’s and Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degrees. Students concentrate in two-dimensional practices (drawing, painting, printmaking, and photography); three-dimensional practices (ceramics and sculpture); digital art (video, graphic design, digital photography, digitally generated or manipulated work); or interdisciplinary art.

The popular Japan travel courses are offered at least once a year, with some spots open to community members. A Fine Arts travel course to Italy will be offered in Spring 2018.

The graduate level MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts program prepares serious studio artists for their professional career. The low-residency format meets the practical needs of working adults without sacrificing the creative stimulation of the campus community. Distance learning semesters alternate with two 10 day on-campus residencies each year.

SNC Tahoe’s Summer Art Workshops bring nationally known artists in many disciplines to teach intensive week-long workshops. The workshops are open to students, community members, and visitors.