August 2018

how many does it take to turn things around?

a billion people

National Scandal
network critical

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07.08.2018 Tokyo – Yanaka, Auckland – Waiheke

APAhotelresort & Onsen in Shinjuku—left behind with the regret that we will not be revisiting the onsen, which, apart from gaijin who do not wash off soap, and leave scum floating, or, just as bad, who do not wash, and leave grease floating, was the pleasantest pleasance and is—at the distance of half a world from the bench at Oneroa where I write this—a regrettable regret, like that of having to leave Japan at all. Our room there was small but ideal and that too is left behind, from morning, packed and checking out—once more mediated by machine, with reception staff presiding over—, bound for Ueno and Taito city and Yanaka, valley of the temples, whence we could by direct line access Narita later, leaving our luggage in a locker. We were there to visit Scai Bathhouse—an art gallery.

Made our way through the cemetery, under the cherry trees, but Scai Bathhouse was closed; and found an annex to another museum, with the sake casks, an old merchant area this, renowned for textiles.

Observe, act—omit: this was the motto in place for the craftsmen exhibiting at a small store and gallery. The word for craft expressed this motto as the English expresses a certain practical virtuosity or craft. …Relations outside of their terms, I read in Deleuze’s book on Hume, but affirming the unity of ideas, of craft with craft, of observation, action and omission, in the Japanese. And omission was evident in the work displayed, not through the omission of ornamentation, which it was not lacking in, and not through simplification or reduction to essence, purity, but rather through excision: the cutting away to make space. The works worked to open out into the adjacencies of spaces, opening the whole glass or cup, pot or plate, onto parts, sections, the role of which is not to fill or bound space but to affirm space (in section)—: the walls and floor of a room are not positive to the negativity of the space they ‘make’, but that the space made is positive as well, not a void. So it is possible to be ornamented by such space and to be adorned or rich in it. (And, it might said at its expense—but it is always a price worth paying, worth its cost, in ‘space,’ as our 8 tatami room in Osaka proved, where there was a bounded negativity of wholly practical space. How spacious! some online commented; without opening neither onto interior—takonoma—space, nor exterior nature. … The question arises: can nature abhor a vacuum where there can be no nature without the cut? The opening, the window to the room, and the window internal to it, of its own nature?)

Headed for the National Museum of Tokyo, by way of the University of Art and Design, closed, but with a small exhibition supporting that for Kajouti, housed in an old building—again no photos. And went further, into the park, to the brick Art Museum—a bento box exhibition, celebrating the receptacle as well as the lunch ritual, with some artful examples of the former, opening like Chinese boxes, with spaces of different shapes and capacities for food and drink, compositions of form and function both beautiful and practical.

Crowds had gathered outside 10,000 years of Japanese art, and the entry was steep at 15,000 yen. Instead we returned through Yanaka, lunched on chicken hamari—explained to be the insides of the chicken, indicating guts and bits below lungs, explained to be distasteful to foreign visitors, turned out to be gristle from carcase, peppery and sweet, chewy and delicious. We ate at a small collection of traditional buildings, advertising itself as beer hall, communal space—turned out to have craft beer on multitude of taps—lunching women sitting at tasting trays with chicken bowls—, a florist and bakery, the florist looking suitably solemn and funerary, in the bouquets of orchids it had on display, for its proximity to the cemetery, and the bakery more boulangerie than pâtisserie, and a tatami space, also formal and traditional, women in kimono kneeling there: another kind of emptiness with a positive role, clearly in use by the local community; it recalled the experiments of art exhibited at the Mori Art Museum’s Genealogies of Japanese Architecture, of shared spaces, practical in housing, spiritual in templing—if I can say that.

Fumio Asakura’s house, on the return route, after a pop-up store renting bikes, with beautiful handmade inks and fillable pens, with crows hanging around—the reason for the snaps which appear to be of nothing, where there is sometimes a crow in flight: Mr Asakura came from wealth, was tutored in the European art of sculptural representation, and himself taught at his home studio, for no pay, and built the studio, with an 12 or so metre interior height, and traditional Japanese house. But the walls of the studio were not pleasing in raw concrete; there had yet been no Ando to soften the material: so Mr Asakura covered the walls and ceiling with a feathery silk dyed light brown, a silk unmatted, like a longpile velveteen, a fur. He later added a lift capable of lifting 8 metre tall sculptures, well more lowering them, into a basement, in order that his largest works might be relocated. An air of reverence prevailed. We were asked to remove our shoes, which we carried in plastic bags provided for the purpose.

There in the studio, with the flocked walls, flocked in dyed-lightbrown silk, was a seated figure, who looked like an English schoolmaster—as you’d imagine, although American, and although neither English nor American, the principal character in Stoner—, cast in bronze, solid chair, a thin man in glasses and formal scholarly dress, fully eight metres tall. He sat over the lift trapdoor. A series of life-size studies accompanied him: portrait busts, to life, and generic-faced female nudes in symbolic groupings; upstairs a collection of bronze cats, one with a rat; then, in the library, a human skeleton, Mr Asakura’s diminutive contemporary, the skeleton of a rat at his feet. The attendant informed us the roofgarden was closed, where Mr Asakura required his students to practice gardening and grow vegetables. His family home, a traditional Japanese house, was, however, open. Built around an old and beautiful Japanese garden, it too was old, beautifully proportioned and appointed in every detail—even to the verdigrised downpipes, square profile, in graduated sizes, proportionate to the rooves served—, with a tearoom, giving onto a pond, with koifish the largest either of us had ever seen, fish which might have been alive at the time of Mr Asakura and his family. The house was also huge—a mansion by standards local and contemporary, a product of family wealth.

Now I write this, already days have passed. The visual memory remains, the impressions become, however, like the female nudes of Mr Asakura, somehow generic. And I realise that having constrained myself to the remarkable over the course of these entries, that now the remarkable from its close-up urgency and specificity pulls out to longshot, tilt-angle even, and I could continue describing, as if describing a lilliput or fantasy, the places, each place, when I ought really to sum up—something of equal difficulty to retaining the life in the texture of description: I will note that beside me on the return journey, this time 9 and a half hours, our endbracket to our trip Shanshan typhoon approaching to “smash Tokyo”, I sat by a man who’d lived all his life in Tokyo. He told me—call me, as my friends do, Ai-san; it is my nickname—in his whole life he had never known a typhoon to approach from the north-east: it is a sign of change, he said.

One last note: such energy goes in to marking out oneself where I come from; people so aggressively individual; a need to be heard and seen here, where I have returned. The culture of advertising and public relations carries on this … need? Is it? Japanese ads are talkative, graphically overloaded, often crammed with too much information, but not so shouty, not so needy. In a place where spirits, dami, are in all things, animate and inanimate, there is not perhaps this competitive urgency; there is, however, no doubt another.

on tour

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06.08.2018 Shinjuku, Roppongi

The galleries and the art—you might as well say all other ends—are as nothing to the city. Benesse’s ethically informed and ecological business, putting the engine of capitalism to scaling up a public and cultural interest, are nothing beside the electricity bill of a single district, beside just the electricity bill of Shinjuku.

We went to Mori Art Museum today—again the policing of photography, so few snaps, an exhibition tracing genealogies of architecture in a Japanese cultural context—and the idea of scale was given graphic representation, of human scale: the measurement of a standing body, the reach of an arm, the height of a seat under a seated body, the headheight of one sitting on the floor, the length of a footstep and a stride. But there is also a scale to human dreams; there is a scale to a life: and to the dreams of one living. The question What is to be done? is abstract, purely speculative, beside the question What do you want to do? What do you want to do? expresses a human scale. However What are they doing? What are they doing behind their counters? What are they doing walking in the streets? What are they doing working? What are they doing paying for the service provided? What are they doing looking at the local colour? What are they doing using the subway? What are they doing at the nuclear plant? These are questions that scale up rapidly to encompass other ends: What? What, the energy you draw from the thermonuclear reaction is just for the trains? It is just for the lights? It is just so at night you can carry on selling yakotori at night? (The energy for the hibachi barbecues comes from charcoal … but the charcoal is shipped into the centre of Shinjuku … and so is the meat, as are the vegetables, the drinks. The glasses are from factories. The beer is from an industrial brewery. Consider the size of Asahi: Asahi also supplies streetvending machines; it manufactures peppermints … at least its brand is on peppermints.)

What is every good effort at improving human life compared to the dreams of one living now? Who is not Japanese, serving in Memory Lane, at a yakotori counter barely over a metre wide. But who is Chinese, as are the two women working with her. They are studying at university. What you asked was—put in mind of the women running the ramen place in Kyoto—Is this business yours? The answer given: We are not Japanese. We are Chinese. I am a student. What are you studying? Business studies.

Where do you come from? New Zealand. I would like to go there. To New Zealand? Yes. It is big. It is bigger here! No—more… space. Yes.

To try and get closer to the question: Will you find a Japanese man? No. Japanese man drinks too much. In New Zealand… No. New Zealand men don’t drink at all! Laughter.

Another of the young women was also studying business. In Japan for 4 years, she dreamed of going to New Zealand. This was her dream. She was shy, shy about not having very much English.

Stepping out into the street, after the most expensive meal we’ve had here, we were immediately among the throngs of tourists, all attracted to these few lanes and alleys—Memory Lane!—by a recommendations of others. Look at them, with their cellphones, getting as close as they could to the natives in the area, in their tiny bars, doing their native things in their native tongues, drinking and eating and talking—pressed tightly together in their native humanity. But we are not Japanese.

And then the play of lights above, in the streets, the signage, the displays just for the sake of display: the scale of the city.

The press of people is Japanese. Genealogies of architecture in Japan, from Japan, and the Japanese influence on the contemporary world—of architecture and architectural thinking—did not include the press of bodies, the scale of one compressed on the subway. I felt the bones of the short woman in front of me, in the squeeze.

We were trying not to panic. It was the Oedo line, Roppongi to Shinjuku, the return trip from Mori Art Museum, just after 6pm. The first train that pulled up, although we were only three or four people back in the queue, we did not board. The way to board, when the press is so great, is backwards, pushing back first into the others in the doorway cavity. Then, use the door jambs and overhead lintel for leverage to pull in your legs and arms. If the doors can’t close, they will reopen, so you can push harder back, and pull in the remaining foot or hand. You are holding your bag close against you.

The second train came and J. was determined. The price of success was to be squashed tight in the door area—those standing in the aisle protected their space; those seated were safe. We were squashed so tightly I could not raise my arms. And with a righteous indignation that is embarrassing, when the press increased, with one large guy determined to get on, we yelled Hey! This did attract attention. But the large guy, using the lintel to pull his body in through the door, did get on—the skin of his face would have been pressed against the glass windows of the door, like we had seen with the earlier train: vacuum-sealed skin, faces, arms, bodies.

The fear was that at the ensuing stations—we had seven to cover—more people would be waiting, more would squeeze on: and what if the train broke down? Or what if there was some kind of scare and the crowd got spooked? What if we lost our footing and fell?

At the next station, a few got off, and more got on, but we had made our way, like those puzzles where you slide letters around a square with only one space free, to the corner, to the door opposite the one where we boarded. We had breathing space. I could grab the hanging strap and handle. Another gaijin next to me: he was using his back as a baffle and concentrating on his phonescreen.

What we decided we had meant by Hey! was Hey! That’s enough! That’s not how we do things! … And it was really unnecessary. These people, determined to board, to the discomfort of others, would know there would be another train along in minutes. Another question—because once on, J. said let’s get off, at the next station; we didn’t: If we had not got on the train, had known what we were in for, how long would have had to wait before the commuting press subsided? Or would we have walked? Right across Tokyo.

The Golden Gai, like Memory Lane—tourist gaijin prowling, cellphones at eyeheight.

But the snaps you want—the world is not designed for you either.

luz es tiempo
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05.08.2018 Honmura Naoshima – Nishishinjuku Tokyo

Another day. Another homily on aesthetico-socio-politico-cultural difference (and I wondered aloud, if one could, did and decided to live here, say in Naoshima, for example, on grants from Benesse, making Minus Theatre, at the beautiful local hall, and in the outdoors, playing for the land, the wide Seto Sea, a thing which would be in keeping with the aesthetico-socio-politico-cultural and ethical undertaking of ‘public capitalism’, that is a very desirable thing, whether such differences evaporate and whether one is left with dissatisfactions attendant on any aesthetico-socio-politico-cultural setup.) A pinecone sits above the towel rail in the toiletbooth at Rojitoakira.

It is not an exceptional pinecone. I has not been, as far as you can tell, been picked out and chosen from all the pinecones—and there are a few lying around even close by in the green areas, in the children’s park beside Minimadera. Neither is it especially big; nor is it especially small, cute or kawai’i. It is not a miniature pinecone, that a small spirit might inhabit or play with. Neither is it a laughably large, a clumsy kind of foreign pinecone. It is not colourful. It is neither new, nor is it in a state of decay, rendered delicate by worms or other parasites or by conditions of decomposition, reduced to a tracery or skeletal state. Neither is it worn smooth and pleasingly tactile by long handling; of course not, it’s a pinecone! However, it’s not a representative pinecone even in its spikeyness. It is just a pinecone. Why then does it have its own small shelf, where it is exhibited on its own? What makes it worthy of being considered an object, a display object, an art object? Why has it been curated? Why is it on display? Why not anything, anything else?

We started the day in the kitchen, met with other travellers, a family from the Netherlands, teen children, boy and girl, mother an art teacher in Utrecht, father a graphic designer there. An interest in contemporary art has brought them to Japan, to Naoshima specifically, where they have spent 4 days. I ask the children if they share their parents’ enthusiasm for art. They look up from their cellphones. The boy shakes his head sheepishly: No! The girl laughs: no. But it seems she might just be swayed. The boy is more resistant. The family are touring by car. Today they leave for Kanazawa.

Who would have thought, says the father, that we would be staying opposite a James Turrell installation. This is Minimadera. The building the light work is in was designed by Tadao Ando, and there is an Ando museum less than a hundred metres down the road, towards the Port, where we arrived yesterday.

We have got up early—like the family from the Netherlands, ready for their longest single stretch of driving, 5 hours to Kanazawa (not that far by NZ standards)—to get to Benesse House Museum. Entry 1000 yen.

Town bus. But no courtesy bus from the Benessians. A walk, along the beach, uphill. OK at this time of day. But the cicadas already shrilling so shrilly the sound phases against itself, the waves coincide, merge, cancel, come in waves, jjjjjjjjjjJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj (or, as my computer was doing, my favourite travelling eee, until I fixed it, it fixed, in Kyoto, vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv…)

Here, notably, remarkably, among the Warhols, Rauschenbergs, the Klein blue torso, Sugimoto seascapes, a Giacometti—in the reception foyer!!! (a Diego, his brother, head on plinth; did I mention the Diego drawing at Benesse Art Museum? The drawings are irreproducable, a different force from the sculptures—sublime)—a work by Yukinori Yanagi, The World Ant Farm (1990). (And a Basquiat, striking, and a photo of him, equally.) A grid of all the world’s flags done in sand in perspex frames hung in a grid on the wall, each sand flag linked to each adjacent by a plastic tube, for ants. The ants have transported particles from one flag to the next. In some cases the flag is barely legible, a layercake of coloured sand. In others, the flags are wormholed, vermiculated. The grid is huge, over two by six metres, making up a single antridden flag of the world. (As the John Goodman father said to his daughter, struggling up the hill to the macaques’ park in Arashimaya, outside of Kyoto, when she asked, Why are there ants here? In a listen here honey tone: Ants and cockroaches are Everywhere.)

After Benesse, a walk down the hill, to another Walter de Maria: this one the eyeballs on the sea. Cool: and I could take snaps of it and its obligatory companions, the gilded cricket wickets.

A bakery for lunch: bread with butter and egg, so advertised; bread with banana—but just on top; bread with fruit—chewy, said J. Even the bakery had a sign—perhaps to protect the identity of the wild yeast they used—No Photos.

Minamadera issued us an 11.30am ticket. One of the Art House Projects, of which there are six—these are the highlight, possibly because embedded and an expression of their aesthetico-socio-politico-cultural context. They are old houses saved and repurposed as artworks… like the Ando concept for the decaying hall, I forget where, for which, threatened by demolition, he conceived an egg, not even touching the loadbearing structure around it, resting only at one point on the ground, foundation. An egg transected by an internal staircase. So, yes, we went to the Ando Museum. Then Kadoya Art House Project; see coloured lights floating snap above: I disobeyed rule. Lights are digital numbers, randomised. Then Minimadera, at last: 15 minutes of darkness, broken, as eyes—do they adjust at the same rate for all?—start to see a glowing screen and sidelights. Approach the glowing screen, says attendant. We do. Carefully in the rich thick darkness. We reach it, but it is a volume framed, the light, and we can put our arms and stick our heads into this volume, which, because so lowlit, has texture. It is light to touch. Tactile light.

Then Gokaisho—two rooms, 4 and half tatami squares, one with only the bounding structure, one with flowers, real and artificial of the camellia. The camellia sits in a moss island surrounded by a sea of gravel in the back yard. Then Haisha—the one that looks like a shed, cobbled together of bits of tin and driftwood; with, inside, of course, the Statue of Liberty. (Recalling Capt. Cook in the State House, called the Light House (!!!) on the wharf in Auckland, Michael Parekowhai, did you? You must have.) Then home to collect bags and get to Port for the return journey.

No hurry this time. And a Nozoma Shinkansen from Okoyama to Tokyo, to the APANishishinjuku-tower, where I write this, this morning, Monday, an onsen two doors down, second floor!

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04.08.2018 Osaka >> Naoshima

J. had booked for us online for Chichu Museum, Naoshima—art island—at 2 o’clock. To allow enough travelling time, we left our featureless room—without even tokonama, the ma-instilled space in a house where a scroll is hung and small flower arrangement displayed (and being in this featureless room in Osaka proved the importance of this positively charged empty space—without it, and without an outlook, the windows opening on to a half-metre gap, we were without exterior view as well as without interior view)—which, by the time we left we’d grown fond of, and this is our route:

Nipponbashi >> Namba-Osaka >> Shin-Osaka >> Hikari Shinkansen to Okayama >> where a curious train was pulled in named Malle de Bois for the scenic route, and we asked directions on the platform, were shown the same platform but told to go down it, past platform 8, further and further, until the platform narrowed and became platform 7 >> Chayamachi >> on the Port Line to Uno >> tickets were bought at the ferry terminal at 11.50; our ferry was due to leave in 5 minutes; the ticket vendor left her booth and pointed at a white building—it looked miles away; we ran >> by ferry to Honmura, across the Seto Sea, heaving greasily beneath us, as if the world were a lubricated ballbearing and we stuck on its top, or eyeball (like one of Walter de Maria’s marble massives, as will be seen… Our bags left at Rojitoakari >> by town bus from Honmura to Tsutsuji-so >> Benesse free shuttle bus to Chichu Art Museum, early.

…to be treated to… we were an half-hour early, starving, and told to wait outside the semipermanent reception building in the midafternoon heat, late 30s C. A few tables were set up in front of a sparsely stocked counter … I bought sugared almonds, and we had a bag of chili prawn crisps, and copious water from a waterfountain, inside. We had been given a laminated card to read with the simple rules of the house written on it. The politely oppressive ambiance surrounding high art was already palpable. Already I felt like rebelling.

The allotted hour came. A woman sat in an Ando concrete prism collecting tickets and reiterating rules—no photos, two areas require removal of shoes, obey staff. Staff all dressed in muted greys and cream, not screaming at us; all with haircuts and faces.

Shoes off for Monet? What for? Are we going to crush precious lily pads? And we had to wait. No singles rides or express tickets to art. … The Monet space had a floor made of thousands of marble cubes and the houseshoes either skidded or slapped on it. This thing was taking preciosity to a new level. I conceived a work where I either produced the shit myself or found a dog’s and trod it from one end of a white space to another. Toiletshoes.

James Turrell’s UV purple Mike TV set experience involved shoes off too, and a similar queue. Up tiled steps, then down into a UV-lit volume, told to stop… here, at the hand gesture of the attendant, with her muted tones and haircut. I noted the faint marks of earlier advances towards the Turrell screen, like a high-tide mark, where others had gone before us, with a more permissive attendant, and had gone… closer.

Walter de Maria’s work—another purpose-built hall, floating barrel-vault ceiling, several flights of stairs with a landing at middle and top, occupying the width of the room, with golden cricket wickets placed around and up on the walls—sets of three wooden posts painted gilt on gilt plinth, triangular and hexagonal prisms (there were pencils at the shop the same)—Don’t forget the injunction of this attendant, with her muted face and her tones: Touch not! And speak in low voice—as sound travels in this room. I have never spoken in a low voice, I informed her.—And on the landing, halfway up the huge gallery room, a monumental marble marble, a globe poised as if ready to roll down and crush whoever, whatever mouse, should happen to pass through the small low door… which, when at the top of the gallery, I fantasised about facilitating, or is it participating? No, it is engaging, and activating the space. The marble marble rolling down a flight of steps, gaining momentum, the one caught like a mouse in a Walter de Maria trap. Precious art.

<< Benesse courtesy bus to Tsutsuji-so << town bus to Honmura.

We checked in, and were handed a long checklist of all the do’s and don’ts of the little house, the house rules here: like, if in dormitory, please don’t keep reading light on and disturb those sleeping. Don’t eat in room. Doors open for cat. Checkboxes ticked, document signed, and stamped by proprietor’s representative. We booked for dinner at owner’s café for seven.

And it was an old house on the hill, with exquisite glasswear, not because delicate, but robust, and every surface, and as you see, the light-fitting, the furnishing, the rooms, redolent of an art of living without preciosity. And if delicate, cared about, recognised, valued more for being ephemeral—the mortal more to be valued for being so, and without pathos, or momento mori gothic or romantic sentiment; what passes and is here before us briefly requires more from us, more careful attentio, more gratitude in its moment of existing, more consideration, than that which lasts. … And I wanted to talk about how the economics are different, being put in mind of this difference, from NZ, by an article in the book, snapped above, by the founder of Benesse, who speaks about public capitalism. This is not the same as setting a dollar price on things in order to create value, say art things; not valuing them by price, but valuing them by spending on art as a social value, and a cultural good.

I also wanted to say something about how here identity is tied, at least in appearance, to role: the fireman’s blinking deliberate eyes from last night on Doutonbori.

(Culinary note: Seto seasalt crusted black bream; and, why not put your toasted sesame seeds in a grinder, to spread, with a bit of sticky slime, on your okra?)

on tour

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03.08.2018 Universal City, Studio & so on, to infinity and beyond

Hakutsuru since 1743—choice. Although, writing with Gekkeikan glass this balmy evening.

…speaking of culture: 2 gratifying aspects of culture and cultural acceptance we observe are 1) the presence of ashtrays; although it is not a nation of smokers as it might once have been, like some charming anachronism ashtrays have accompanied our dining experiences, if not the actual effluvia; although tonight we sat opposite two middle-youthed men in shirtsleeves, both trying valiantly to master the art of electrocigarette action (the younger man, trying to outdo the elder, tried to smoke harder and drink louder, while his cigarette insert kept falling out of the electro-gizmo, and he acted like he didn’t care, sweeping it off the floor with a nonchalance so contrived and demonstrative as to be theatrical); and other times young women smoking, the smoke effectively sucked out of the room, leaving the tang of chemicals behind, like a sour smell-rind; 2) despite the years of isolation being long gone by about 2 centuries and those of American occupation barely within living memory, despite the porky presence of gaijin reeking of the dairy (to mix scentences), particularly in a place like the Dot of Doutonbori, it is surprising the predominance of Japanese language outside the most tempting of eating-places, drinking-places, on menus and in descriptions of what lies inside the mostly inward-facing joints, bars, holes in the wall, restaurants, rooms for public life. This is accommodation without concession.

…yes, speaking of culture, today we went to Hogsmeade, Harry Potter Land, Hogwarts—at Universal Studio! …

We expected crowds—there were; we expected tantrum-inducing waiting-times—there were; but we also expected—the Japanese panache at carrying fakery to next level; we expected the generosity in adopting the misshapen popular artifices of cultures other than that of Japan; despite the Americolonial years, we expected the joy at inventions—that the Japanese seem to have invented anyway, like theme-parks, living hoardings, robots-are-as-good-as-life, loud in your face snakeoil salesmanship … and we expected it all to be beautifully performed, dressed, choreographed scenically. After all, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has won best ride in the world for @5 consecutive years. I think.

The trip came on on leaving our train at Universal City. Like the Tomoyuki Hoshino novel I’m reading, things got weird pretty quickly; and like with any trip left little time to wonder at psychological harm, ensuing identity disorders, or moral malaise (anyway, we’d been to an owl forest in stifling heat, in a suburb of Kyoto).

The check-in lady’s voice came at us with machine-gun machine-reproduced—for no conceivable reason, since she was just behind glass—ear-slicing consonantal bruitage. And we asked about express tickets. Would’ve added hundreds onto the bill, as well as kept us there until 1900 hours plus.

We braved the cheaper entry. Found Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, the snow glistening, and J. asked how they keep it from melting … Magic.

Rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden & so on. Ate churros. Checked out the Butter Beer.

Rolled out of the Wizarding World into Muggles of Amity Village, and onto the schlocky Jaws ride. What was our open secret? Singles! Japanese prefer to ride in groups, friend groups, family groups … so we are told. Still, with the Potter ride, the ten mins turned into about an hour, but beat the two hour standard wait time—unless you have express and can arrive at the designated 1900 hours. We rode singly. That’s how we rolled.

Next, Jurassic Park’s The Ride, in water, with splashdown.

On to The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – The Ride 4K3D. This was great—cartoon characters leaping into your field of vision, with 3D goggles, addressing each of you, each of me, individually, right up on your bonnet, and grill. When the electric baddy plugged his thing into the front of our car the Chinese lady two down screamed like she’d been personally electrocuted. Electrocution—it’s personal.

But the prize—apart from the overall artdirection of the Wizarding World—went to Evangelion XR 4D. This was a VR—full head-set (staff intensive, the team fitting me up, as I sat beside, as a single, an odaku guy, asked where I was from. New Zealand. Ah, sheep! Yes, I said, with fingers in beard, like me! Most disconcerting—when she’d fitted the headset and launched me into VR I heard You’re a sheep! You’re a sheep! A sheep!) hyper experience. Mosquitoe giant guys demolished the city and, cleverly, with a pilot and orientating details in field of vision, we hurtled through the apocalypse, bodies thrown one way, then another, because on an actual rollercoaster, while heads and sensory apparati were, through the headset, tuned into the virtual environments. And what works here is scale. This world was huge and in 360 degrees. … Mission accomplished, we slowed, me and the odaku guy, whom I’d neither heard nor seen a baby whisker of, into a massive hangar space, and outside the VR I heard clapping, the clapping the staff were routinely doing for new recruits, getting seated in their pods.

Tonight we found a skinny building to eat in, sat upstairs, two cynical electrosmokers doing their best to look cool.

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02.08.2018 NMoMAO, Nakazakicho & Namba eats

In the groove of the morning coffee—imported, from Brazil fl. 1995-2007, done in the dripfilter method, the mechanism bought not far from Resol, c. 2015—and usually soggy Danish. Yes, this morning’s was. That of Kyoto, however, was echt Franzoise. A leisurely preparation for the day, then subway to Osaka National Museum of Modern Art, or hereabouts. The heat immersive and swimmable.

Showing—a retrospective from the museum’s own collection and a collection from the Pushkin (including Déjeuner sur l’herbe). Items of note included—the light was unusual in the gallery, indirect, giving the impression of dim ambience; the exhibition followed a catachronology—Satashi Ohno’s polychrome style mashup: [look here:] figurative, symbolic & prismatic quantum lifepainting. The Saito, I’d encountered looking at artists ‘breaking the frame’ in Japan and Brazil; Saito’s work recalls Tapiès’s. Of course: Sugimoto’s photos. And some interesting Western pieces: Warhol’s Marilyns (anyone who thinks of Warhol as overrated ought to spend time with his amazing colours, his colour curation); Cy Twombly; a little Picasso, Cubist period; and Max Ernst—which never reproduce (the same can funnily enough be said of the Warhol screenprints). Oh, and of course, favourite it seems with collections in Japan, Gerhard Richter.

Next door to the NmoMAO, the curved building houses the Museum of Science, and two little boys had bought a windup plane, the sort with rubberband, were trying to fly it. I helped them. It flew.

The Sky Bridge. Tickets to be bought on the 39th floor, via glass elevator. (The snaps I’ve taken are from the descent; I couldn’t look out on the upway.) It is intended that you exit your elevator box and take an escalator, which runs in a tube, on a diagonal up to the Sky Bridge Platform, some 140m in sky, through space, unsupported. I looked up tube, that runs through sky, space some 140m up in it, and wanted to get back downstairs.

An Ando wall of vegetation outside the Sky Bridge Towers, under which we lunched on cheapnesses—I, out of sorts, did not want the flavours of the basement foodhall, all done out like early 20th century Osaka: and so we got a smelly fish set from a streetvendor and a puffdog from a Family Mart, and pork on stick.

Nakazakicho is a place we walked to then—not far, it was far, and via a ridiculous layercake of consumerstores, and Osaka Station. We went there because it was called boho central in some online cultural guidething. It had nice small buildings and the collection usual for artistic quarters in cities of secondhand clothing stores and cafés with questionable opening hours; but there were many hair studios. I drank a white soda.

We went to Namba to eat, down the end of the Dot, which I have been misspelling—it is Doutonbori. And ate well.

On the stroll home, we went westward, to Ameriburi and walked around.

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01.08.2018 Kyomizudera to Dottonbori Osaka

Last night in Kyoto, after Ramen, on the recommendation of algorithm, we went to a bar. Atlantis, with a terrace on the river, more underwater than underworld, however, invoking the Gion, like its nursery school, with barmen in bowties, white shirt, black waistcoat, Japanese enthusiasm for service, impressed in Western mold, and without any reserve or selfconsciousness—our barman happily informed us, as we waited at the lower airconditioned bar for space on the terrace, in English, he was learning French, in the hope of working in Paris? I ask. Yes, I hear they have some culture, he answers. Some, yes, we agree. … as for bar culture, the glassware cheap, even for beer, and Suntory overpriced. J. ordered a mojito, after we’d asked what was in a Tom Collins. Our happy barman showed us a bottle of gin with a Tom label. … request referred to head barman, who consulted a plastic-leaved book of bar magic. Mojito came with muddled mint, a garden of it, in ice shards, the flavour of cordial, not a whiff of alcohol. Space available, we took our places at the bar on the terrace, a fit so tight we could not turn for the view. The young barman here palmed a ball of ice, like a baseball, while chipping it into a perfect sphere, then deposited it into a ‘whiskey’ tumbler—and called it a hai-ball. … a female trainee essayed the pour of a tap Suntory, spoon in hand, ready to remove the froth.

Atlantis—proud of an adopted culture, which being American, is Japanese-like in its friendliness, but without the reserve that might grace it, which is to be had at even at the pokiest local bar.

Kyomizudera temple above—extraordinary—even if a religious Disneyland full of Chinese. (See how the cross beams have tiled roofs on them to protect from rainwater settling. And the outside scaffolding is bamboo and cedar in the main, but obscures a lot of the Hodo; whereas in Byodoin, the interior of the Hodo was under renovation, here the exterior.) We made the ascent early, before the crush, and the descent.

Returning to Resol, we reclaimed our bags and took the local trains to Osaka. (Osaka snaps start at the one of the man with fans in the back of his jacket to keep him cool.)

Dottonbori is not far from our windowless ryokan room—albeit with fresh tatami, overwhelmingly fruity in the night. Thronged with people, the Dot, and floors of bars and restaurants, fronted with oversized hoardings—and literalisations of logos, like the Dragon who smashes in and out of the wall: the mercantile culture of Osaka invented this kind of display while Europe was precommercial, otherwise know as the Dark or Middle Ages. Before financialisation. (And as a result, Japan is welcome relief from the global economic ethos—at least at ground level, but one suspects at a political level too, there prevail values which are not simply prices.)

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31.07.2018 Byōdōin Uji to Kyoto Gion

Sayonara Hanayashini Ukibuneen … The cormorant fishing which happens every night did not over our stay and it was all right. The lady who had befriended J. on the return from Kurama Kibune insisted—to searching in her purse for a 10 yen coin—that we must, so we did, visit the Jodo style temple depicted on the coin: Byōdōin.

Jodo offers a vision of Pure Land Paradise. In my notes for Ayarashiyama “nothing for effect” (or should that be affect—since the intention is also absence of affectation?). I was there thinking of the ropes around the giant cedar trees. A thick gold rope, hung with prayer paper, might ring the bough beside a nylon rope meant for purely practical purposes. That is the gold rope has its purpose, its intended effect, as does the cheap nylon one. One is practical and one is … not for effect, not to give the aesthetic effect of a special marking out; the tree marks itself out, the rope is not a mark. The aesthetic value is not being signified. It is symbolic, the thick gold rope, with tasseled ends. But it does not symbolise aesthetically, or represent through a special aesthetic attention which cannot be mixed with more practical more mundane intentions. It is just a thick gold rope. So Jodo does not represent a paradisal scene, a heavenly vision imported brought down to earth, represented by the artists, the craftsmen, the gardeners, builders, painters, in a temple or in a floating island in a still and artificial lake. No special mark in addition to the precise and careful and attentive construction of the Jodo temple or island need be made. Nothing is for effect. And the plastic pipe feeding the lake is visible, doesn’t detract. There is no incongruity in mixing the practical with the visionary. The high aesthetic doesn’t suffer for having a low element. There is no difference in levels. Paradise is not artificial is Pound’s refrain throughout the Cantos. But the separation is not necessary: spiritual paradise need not be specially cordoned off from practical requirements and utility, even to those practical requirements and that utility of the artificial—to the visibility of the support, of the hose which keeps the flowers and moss happy.

We walked again the path beside the river and the workers were filling in the sides of the path, done centrally with large pavers. They were using cement and a brown and caramel gravel mixture, which was watered and then wiped back with a handsponge, to show off the colourful stones in the cement. The work was slow. And there were two security guards to a group of maybe half a dozen. It was like a community service crew. Yet they were so careful with the sponge work and the washing down, and the work was slow. That you might think this could not be a work scheme—where was the efficiency!? Where the productivity?! Why the care and artistry?!

Byōdōin temple floats above a lake. It is easily superhuman, for its symmetries, for its beauty. The fact of its reconstruction during the Meiji Restoration matters not—as it would, say to know Chartres was put back together during the mid-19th century. It is also superhuman for having spaces of which no human body could avail itself, could not float in at the second floor, or second floor and a half. Nobody could enjoy the balconies there, or be accommodated in the rooms that have no walls. It is perfectly useless, most of the temple, which makes it very moving.

Within the temple complex the Byōdōin Museum houses the “only existing group of Buddhist statues from the 11th century”, a collection of 52 bodhisattva floating on clouds, dancing, playing musical instruments, all of wood, each exquisitely carved and extraordinarily well preserved. The museum is by Akira Kuryu, I had to look, because it continues themes that are in the temple building itself, a weightless quality—like Ando’s concrete. A sign reads at the entrance: no sketching or photos.

There are also snaps of Koshoji, on the opposite side of the river, here above, before leaving for Resol Hotel in Kyoto, near the Gion. The Gion itself a strange contraction of Caesar’s palaces to the standard-sized allocations of land for building in Japanese cities, several metres across the front, rising in chrome and marble and glass, to 4 or so storeys. The vibe approaching something strangely unpleasant, awry, like a smell hanging over of emotional extortion. But we ate supremely well at a Ramen bar.

[for some reason the first of this day’s snaps have shuffled down and settled at the bottom]

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30.07.2018 Kibune – Kurama / Kurama – Kibune

Japanese breakfast, followed by walk to Reihan line; to Chushojima; to disembark and board further Reihan line—a privately owned line—destination Demachiyanaga; whereto board Eisen (yes) line to Kibune or Kurama; to walk either from Kibune—whereat the Hiribun water noodles, grabbed in chopsticks from a water-race—to Kurama—whereat the Onsen, and the temple; or from Kurama—hot bath first, plus or minus religious experience—to Kibune—noodles, grabbed from swiftly flowing water in bamboo gutter, for lunchv? … decisions decisions … in the event, arriving at Chushojima, we stood in a boarding queue, and a youngish man approached after some hesitation to express his recommendation. He had obviously been working on such for some time; we had been waiting for the train for some time: and there was an air of restlessness on the platform.

I recommend, he said, after saying, that there had been a bad accident and the train was no longer coming or was coming but not any time soon: I recommend that you take a taxi to Kyoto station, then go by bus to Demachiyanaga to meet the Eisen railway, the only line heading up to—up into the hills of Kyoto, westward?—Kurama, Kibune.

We descended under the platform to consider, and arose at the platform for the line which had brought us thither, the Uji one of Keihan line. We thought it might be better … when an official interrupted us with news: bad accident yes, you can take the Keihan line to Ryojiza, change there for the subway, to Odegawa, from Odegawa to the Demachiyanaga station is close, a ten minute walk… This news was interrupted by him saying Sorry I have to drive this train. We followed him onboard, watching his hands on the controls, as pictured above. He is wearing gloves.

Disembarking at Ryogiza to walk to the subway we, he leant out the driver’s window and handed us a piece of paper with directions, including the information that Demachinyanaga was “clouse” to Odegawa. How he had written the note while I had been photographing his gloved hands on the controls is a mystery. With profuse apologies he waved at us and drove the train away to Uji.

We followed the directions on the note and within two and half hours were bumping along on the mountain railway called Eisen, along with families, and a group of four young women in kimonos. Christal Whelan points out that it has once more become fashionable for young women to choose to express themselves, to distinguish themselves from the postwar generations preceding them, by wearing this traditional dress—on outings into traditional outing spots—and even to use the old and disused feminine forms of Japanese dispensed with in the Meiji language reforms of the 19th century.

As it was near lunchtime on our approach to the pair, Kibune, Kurama, we decided to lunch first on fast-flowing noodles and walk to Kurama, perhaps to bathe there. The Eisen train, the Eisenbahn, continued on from Kibune to Kurama. And it is worthwhile to state at this point that the purpose of this expedition had largely been the walk between the two points along the Eisen line.

Others left the station to wait at the busstop. We headed out, like the four young women in kimonos, on foot, sandals, shoes, and so on. As we walked uphill we came upon the river restaurants of which we guessed the Hiribun was one, with seating in the river itself, some allowing the dangling of tired feet in the soothing and cool mountain water. These eating places had lanterns under bamboo awnings and low tables on the river platforms, done out in red. We had passed several before I asked after the location of Hiribun. Not far, 400 metres further on. On we trudged. Hiribun? Further on, up, pointing… Here, it was Hiribun, with nothing to distinguish it from the many eating places on the river we had so far encountered.

We were directed to a side office, which looked like a small store annex to the restaurant proper. Water noodles? Yes. Have you a reservation? No. You will have to wait 3 hours. But it has taken us three hours to get here. Perhaps we can walk over to Kurama and back and by that time we can eat noodles from the fast-flowing stream, which were seeming anyway less and less appetising, grabbing with chopsticks… at slippery noodles of time…

Leaving Hiribun disappointed, we asked at the places we had passed: 6,500 yen set menu for eats on the river was the cheapest. The water-noodle option had been around 400 …

Back down: a curry family restaurant option? More expensive kaiseki?

We went past a place with a vegetarian à la carte meal which looked appealing, perhaps we could share, continued. Before we reached the point of no return, we did. Turned back uphill, and went into a citadel of peace and tranquility in the utmost.

It is worthwhile at this point to say that the road uphill as down was clogged with temple pilgrims, superannuated hikers, tourists, and mainly internal tourists, and cars, cars too wide for the roads, cars too shiny and new for the hills, cars going up meeting vans and cars coming down, cars and vans having to fold in their side mirrors to pass one another, vans and cars reluctant to pass one another, cars and vans stuck until one or another should ease its way forward, winkle its way out of the jam, and buses, tour buses stuck between cars and vans and trucks, buses too big for the hilly mountain roads, buses unwilling to keep on going with the pedestrians on the road, pedestrians going up and pedestrians going downhill, walkers and hikers hungry for water-borne noodles, and hikers and walkers without bookings heading back down disappointed. Or coming to the shrines and temples with degrees of religious excitement… There was a mêlée outside.

And inside—peace. And food set at a reasonable price, being around 1,000 yen for one. We ate soba noodles and two fish (nami) and rice and two fish (nami) cooked by pouring over tea from a copper teapot.

We left Kibune for Kurama. Both cypress and cedars in the woods, and black bears, snakes and deer; we smelt musk a couple of times, but saw no beast. Kurama-dera, the temple complex is called; from Kibune up up up … then descent after, as it were, spiritual exercise. The waters purified, the innocence was refound, hope and belief in the world was reborn: it would be nice to be a bear, J. said. To come back as one? No. It would be a nice life.

We did not stop to bathe. By the time we reached Keihan line accident cleared, it seemed, and we saved 2 hours.

At night it was back to sushi train. [The night before we dined with the Japanese cast from Cheers: the jocose ones, with little English, discussing whether onsen was hotpool or spa, for ever, discussing and laughing over the dance the New Zealanders do before playing sports, trading profound insights over different aspects of our presence in their midst—then charging us a lot for having brought us less than we had ordered of teppanyaki; but very friendly with it, let it be said and known. Very warm. Only a little dear.]

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