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.