Saturday, 24 November 2007

Tokyo + Kyoto in 2 days

For the full range and size of photographs, please visit Flickr Japan Winter 2007-8 set

With the wisdom of hindsight, I now know that 23 November was Labor Day or 勤労感謝の日 Kinrō kansha no hi. Labor Thanksgiving Day is the modern name for an ancient rice harvest festival known as Niiname-sai (新嘗祭?), believed to have been held as long ago as November of 678. Traditionally, it celebrated the year's hard work; during the Niiname-sai ceremony, the Emperor would dedicate the year's harvest to kami (spirits), and taste the rice for the first time. The consequence of this was that many Japanese people joined up the Friday public holiday with the ensuing weekend and took off to popular holiday locations. Hence, coinciding with autumn festivities, it was impossible to book a hotel in Kyoto and I spontaneously stayed a night in Tokyo at my old haunt, Hotel Fukudaya in Shibuya, in order to catch a very early shinkansen to Kyoto on Thursday for the day only. I have been working on the shakuhachi piece, Yamagoe that was introduced to us at the workshop on Monday. I was practising this when Fukudaya suddenly emailed that they had a cancellation and thus I caught the next train from Chichibu down to Tokyo and spent the afternoon seeing the Roppongi Crossing exhibition at Mori Art Museum 53rd floor.

Involvong 36 artists, Roppongi Crossing is a series of exhibitions produced by the Mori Art Museum to introduce Japanese creative talent working in a wide range of genres. The first in the series was held in 2004 – and is, to this day, used as a reference point for contemporary Japanese visual culture. For Roppongi Crossing 2007 four curators focused on the idea of 'intersection,' selecting artists whose work has an energy and sphere of influence that spreads beyond the confines of conventional artistic categories. Their art takes a variety of forms, including painting, sculpture, photography, design, video, manga, games, and even unlikely genres such as dollmaking and bathhouse mural painting. In addition to artists who are emerging on the scene right now, the list also includes others who drove the scene in its formative period in the 1960s and 1970s, and whose feverish output continues unabated today. Surprising juxtapositions provide an opportunity to discover unexpected similarities and also to trace some of the unseen webs of influence and homage that connect the artists of the last three decades. Delicate handwork, carefully thought-out concepts and a tendency for interactive mechanisms are just some of the other characteristics that unite the works in the exhibition, many of which are new works produced especially for the show. Surveying this interlocking web of art, linking genres and generations in the present, a faint but common beat can be detected – a beat like a pulse that reverberates throughout the Japanese contemporary art scene and provides a clue as to where it is headed in the future. Some works were beautiful or fascinating on a level of artistry, intricacy, hand work and expertise, quite a few some were shocking or disturbing, some included new media interaction, e.g. with RFID tags or game interaction and drum-kit driven Max/MSP drawing and some were too pop art or industrial for my personal taste but almost everything was interesting to me. And the presentation and curation was flawless.

Curatorial Team: Amano Kazuo (Art Critic; Professor, Kyoto University of Art and Design); Araki Natsumi (Curator, Mori Art Museum), Sato Naoki (Art Director, ASYL); Sawaragi Noi (Art Critic).

Participating Artists: Ages5&Up, Ameya Norimizu, chelfitsch, Deki Yayoi, Enlightenment, Enoki Chu, Fukaya Etsuko, Hara Shinichi, Haruki Maiko, Hasegawa Tota / TOMATO, Higashionna Yuichi, Ikemizu Keiichi, Ito Gabin, Iwasaki Takahiro, Kito Kengo, Kobayashi Kohei, Majima Tatsuo, Maruyama Kiyoto, Nakanishi Nobuhiro, Nawa Kohei, Ogai Takeharu, Sakagishi Yoshiou, Sato Masahiko + Kiriyama Takashi, Sekiguchi Atsuhito, Tanaka Iichiro, Tanaka Nobuyuki, Tateishi Tiger, Tsujikawa Koichiro, Uchihara Yasuhiko, Uchiyama Hideaki, Ukawa Naohiro, Yamaguchi Takashi / d.v.d, Yokoyama Yuichi, Yoshimura Yoshio, Yoshino Tatsumi, Yotsuya Simon.

One floor below, level 52, is Tokyo City View, approximately 180 degrees around the side of the building with floor to ceiling windows over Tokyo. Finally, to the glittering lights in darkness, Fuji-san could be seen emerging as a silhouette against a crimson hued sky of 5pm evening. The mischievous mountain had eluded view in clouds, humidity, pollution, fog throughout summer and at last its majestic profile emerges.

Shibuya is my old 'stomping ground' so I caught up on Mont-Bell camping shop where I found a bear-bell with a difference: it has a magnetic silencer to stopping the itinerant ringing that can make a bear-bell so irritating but it can be exposed noisily in the mountains in Chichibu when hiking. I also stopped in at Mano Mangia for Pizza Genovese and enjoyed a chin-deep hot bath at Fukudaya, one of the few traditional Japanese luxuries not fully available in my caravan.

Bright and early, I headed out and managed to actually beat the Yamanote peak reaching Tokyo station at 7am to queue for an unreserved shinkansen seat to Kyoto. I shared the adjacent seats with two ladies travelling also to Kyoto. They pointed out that 58 minutes into the journey I could look out the right side of the train for the view of Mt Fuji. We shared a taxi to Kiyomizu-dera, where they were attending the adjacent Shrine and I scurried up the long hill through craft, sweets and pottery shops to the much heralded autumn fire on the mountain. This refers to the brilliant colours of red Japanese maples and softer hues of other autumnal trees turning. The autumn festival there lasts from 15 November to 12 December and you can trust nature to comply exactly with the Japanese calendar, or is it that it is so finely tuned? Indeed it was fairly resplendent though an extra week might have been superior. The ancient temple is set high on a mountain nestled into rising woods above of cyprus trees. It is famous for its inspiring views, clarity, healing spring water and spectacular wooden balcony. The overcast weather and occasional sprinkles slightly subdued the vibrance but this was more than compensated for at the following temple stop: Tofukuji. Inside the grounds of Tofukuji, a major temple consisting of many little temples, shrines and sub-temples, is Myoanji, home of the Fuke sect and origins of Komuso (Zen mendicant monks playing shakuhachi with a basket over their head). Again, it was a festive occasion and workmen rapidly assembling lighting rigs and TV crews in trucks arriving signified that an important evening event was about to occur and the crimson trees were to be illuminated. Ignoring this, I headed for the gardens of Maples and the sun emerged fleetingly even as the cold was closing in with a chilly wind and early afternoon darkness was approaching. The covered wooden walkways take you out into the canopy of flaming trees and dapples, wind-dancing leaves to a valley lined with red and deep orange. Further on, a temple garden includes a pebble/rock garden, moss garden and square stepping stones and other intricate nuances in the mediation part of the functioning temple. Ideally, one would spend a day here and investigate so many more details and little shrines and residential gardens of monks.

Next stop was from the Old Kyoto book, a traditional-style shop of Mr Toru Sekigawa's (owner, son of original owner): Nishiharu Ukiyo-e woodblock prints in Teramachi-kado. This is one of the oldest parts of commercial Kyoto, the covered market area, selling many kinds of traditional wares, foods, crafts and nowadays tourist items. According to the book, Mr Sekigawa does not sell any print he cannot authenticate and date and he gladly entertains interested visitors who know enough to know what to ask for. (Nothing is on display until requested). So I felt rather sheepish going in with my specific request about a certain artist and specific piece, whose title I knew only in English approximation from the Tokyo Ukiyo-e exhibition (something my mother fancied). Nonetheless, he was gracious about my naive enquiries and brought out large folders full of related prints of the 'beauties' or elegant women in kimono, as they were known. Other styles of prints include those like my kabuki print of the actor playing shakuhachi. I settled on an 1849 print of a lady viewing a bonsai which, although not the sought-after one, I at least think has artistic interest. He also foraged though his book of hand-written notes on artists dating back to 1740s when the art-print process started. Each picture had Sekigawa's notes written or typed stating the subject, artists, date or estimated date, life-span of the artist and state of restoration or authenticity. It felt very strange to be able to browse through these ancient documents, even to touch them, some 250 years old, so close to the original stains, paper, marks. On those that he had lovingly restored, the resurrection from worm damage was certainly imperceptible and exquisitely executed. From the violin business, I know that skilful restoration is best demonstrated by its invisibility and integrity with the original. Like when we visited the indigo-dyeing house, it made you deeply appreciate the skills and knowledge of these old masters conducting their traditional crafts and business in Kyoto but one couldn't help but also feel that this must be a fading era of no-longer-practised talents.

It was worth the rush, taxis from place to place and standing half the way home on the packed bullet train, and satisfying to fit so much into two days. Things like seasonal changes obviously can't wait so carpe deim!