Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Courting the Muse

I mentioned a few posts back that the DVD release of the last season of Hozuki no Reitetsu was marked by a promotion at Animate, and that this promotion included an art contest.  What I did NOT tell you was that around that time I found a couple of Benzaiten's shrines around Yokohama.  She came up in my post about the Shichifukujin Meguri, the only female deity included in the lucky seven, and the patron of artists and musicians, so she holds a special place in my little infidel heart.  Because I really, really wanted to win that contest, I decided running around Tokyo visiting every one of her shrines that I could find would be an AWESOME use of my resources.  I mean, I'd put every bit of cleverness and ingenuity I had into my entry, but I was a visitor playing on the home turf.  I needed to lure her into my cheering section, if I could.

Okay.  So it's possible right now you're thinking that this is some next-level blasphemy.  Maybe you're even right.  I choose to look at it as me addressing prayers to my deity through a power spot.  Since the lightning hasn't struck yet, let's move on...


Honestly, at first this was just kind of for funsies.  The first shrine I found after leaving Sankichi, the pigment store near Kannai station.  I was on my way to Coco Curry (who I've mentioned probably more times recently than either Coke or Lonely Planet, so I'm going to start hitting them up for a sponsorship as well), and only knew it was affiliated with Benzaiten because it had a money washing station.  There's a long story about my Dad and I passing a lucky $100 bill back and forth, but for now suffice it to say that I don't need to wash my money, but I did drop a five yen coin in the box before hurrying on into the night.

The next shrine I found a few days later, as I was about to catch the train at Myorenji.  At the edge of Kikuna-Ike there is a small shrine, and as I walked passed the alley leading to the park it caught at the corner of my eye.  Since I'd just seen the train leave the station, I decided I had enough time to go see whose shrine it was, and when I saw the dragons and the symbol of the Triforce surrounded by waves, I knew that this was going to become a thing.  I was going to start my own Ichifukujin Meguri.
However, this is easier said than done.  It's not always clear who's enshrined where.  Google Maps spat out a few answers for me, but I suspected that there were a lot more, so for the first time in my history I became an expert* in iconography.  Back in college my croaky old art history professor talked about how you figure out which saint was which.  I cared slightly more when my Tibetan guide was telling me how to figure out which Bodhisattva was which, but for me, visiting old temples and churches has never really been about who's there.  Now, though, I learned that the goddess of water was usually located next to a pond - like this rather incongruous pond on a hill at Atago Jinja - sometimes on an island.
"The" Itsukushima shrine is a great example of this, and when I realized that I'd been to one of the three major Benzaiten shrines in Japan already it actually gave me a clue to finding more.  I was taking the train back from Shibuya after my lesson one Saturday when I saw a shrine on an island in a pond.  When I found it on my phone I realized it was an Itsukushima shrine as well, which helped me to find others.

Not only is water associated with Benzaiten, so are the animals associated with water.  I mentioned dragons, but the animal that is actually sacred to her is a white snake.  You don't always see the snake, though - her shrine at Kamishinmeitenso is one of the few I've seen with prolific white snakes...you can even buy a small votive snake at the shrine office.

Instead, because there is almost always a water feature at Benzaiten's shrines, you'll see living animals - fish, frogs, and even turtles.  Maybe the fish are a coincidence...after all, this is Japan, and what would a pond be without some koi?  Maybe the same is true of the turtles, but since I almost never see them anywhere else, I'm suspicious that they were put there in connection with the shrines.  But I freely admit that I may be talking out my ass...I've been known to do it before.
Although the first few shrines were easy enough to get to - one was practically in Tokyo 2nd Ward's backyard - it wasn't long before I had to start clocking lots of kilometers on my Kansai OnePass.  There were a couple in Shinagawa, a few around Asakusa, one on the pond in Ueno, which I first saw four years back as I went looking for Ryokan Sawanoya.  Several were west of the city, including one in Inokashira that we walked past when visiting the Ghibli Museum.  I didn't make it to them all - there were five I identified but hadn't managed to visit when I left for Mongolia on spring break.  See, that was my deadline - the exhibition that the contest was a part of wrapped up on March 31, and that was what this was all about, right?  Winning a contest???

Actually, I made it to my last shrine - Sanno Itsukushima - on the last pre-deadline Sunday before church.  After clapping my hands and bowing my head, I began my prayer, but about halfway through I realized I hadn't mentioned the contest. 

From the beginning of my pilgrimage, I justified wanting to win the contest because it would mean that someone had acknowledged me as an artist.  "Being acknowledged" - having some sort of skill, being worthy as a rival, that sort of thing - is a recurring theme in anime, and there's a reason for that.  Having someone validate you helps to give you purpose, makes you feel like you can hold your own.  And I want that.  I really do...hell, who doesn't?  But although this is freaking cheesy to say (and I'm cringing just a little as I write it) nobody can really tell you your worth except you.  By that last shrine, I had realized that as nice as winning a contest would be, I actually cared more about being an artist, and simply winning wouldn't make me something if I wasn't it already.

As far as I know, a winner hasn't been announced (hey, maybe it wouldn't change whether or not I'm an artist, but winning would still be wonderful).  I've kept an eye on my email as well as their website and Twitter, without any word.  But an artist doesn't sit around waiting for someone to say, "Yeah, you're the real deal," no matter how much they want to hear it.  They've got art shit to do.  And so do I.

More on that next week.

*I use this term loosely.  I'm probably exaggerating.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Time To Sneeze

I've decided that one of the Japanese things to approach with dread and complain about til it's over is allergies.  I've avoided saying the "a" word over the last few years, even as I began to suspect (contrary to longstanding personal beliefs) that I might actually have a couple.  It's possible someone maybe should have thought about this BEFORE planting five bazillion cherry trees here.

A year ago with Five we were a little too early for sakura-mania.  This year, on the other hand, they were early and I more or less missed them while I was in Mongolia (not that this has prevented me from going through an entire roll of TP in 24 hours, finally forcing me to resort to buying actual kleenex).  Although I've come to the conclusion that I like plum blossoms way better, not writing about sakura season in a blog about Japan seems like a cardinal sin.  So here ya go.

First of all, sakura treats.  I'm not entirely sure if it's right to say that cherry blossoms have a flavor, but everything seems to be sakura flavored, so they must.  This year I had the opportunity to try sakura Cinnabon, sakura frappuccino, and a few different kinds of mochi treats, including the Haagen-Dazs sakura mochi ice cream thing.  My verdict: fun, but overrated.  It's always interesting to try special flavors, especially when they're pink, but they weren't the most amazingly delicious treats I'd ever had.

Although the craziest part of sakura season happened while I was chillin' in UB with my homies, the Yamatane Museum helped to make up for it by having a special sakura exhibition.  I got to take part in something similar when I went to the National Museum four years ago, but this time there were no prize buttons...just lots of really interesting nihonga.  Even more than the flower pictures, though, I enjoyed seeing the changing style of the paintings.  There were several pictures that made me think, "This is different," and when I looked at the label, I realized it was from 1940, or the 80's.  Skills of an artist, yo.


Finally, I visited Araiyakushi Park on Sunday in a last-ditch effort to feel like I'd enjoyed the spirit of spring.  (Mostly because I was going all the way to Koenji and figured what the hell, why not?)  They had a festival listed on Savvy Tokyo with performances including taiko, and since I haven't seen any taiko in a while, I figured it would make up for the fact that most of the flowers would be gone.  I did find one tree in bloom - the double blossoms apparently bloom a little later - and ate some festival food, but after working on a painting for five hours that morning, my head wasn't really in the right place.  Also, drunk people at picnics aren't nearly as interesting when they're not your drunk people, so I didn't stay very long.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Rock and Mineral Show

Oni-chan, 2018.  Pigment on shikishi board.
I've been hinting at the fact that I would soon write about my current painting endeavors basically since I started taking Nihonga lessons.  I actually kind of hoped I would put it off a little later by writing about the art scene in Mongolia.  Then I tried to actually revisit the art scene here, and it wrecked me.  Sunday I went to the Union of Mongolian artists, where they were taking down a show they'd just closed.  Best Gallery, in the same building, was open, but their work failed to move me.  Tuesday I decided I should try not to spend the whole day hanging out in Engrish's office, so about lunchtime I walked down to Zaisan Square, hoping to see what Articour had.  They were gone.  Yesterday I had plans to meet Wild Ass for lunch.  When she asked to reschedule for 3:20, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to check out the downtown galleries, starting with the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery.  Closed for renovations.  Onward I marched to Blue Moon, where they were getting ready to open a show of photographs from Pyeongchang.  So I attempted a new gallery, the UB Art Gallery.  Closed, maybe for good.  I hadn't originally planned to make it to Ongi Gallery, but at that point I was getting desperate, so I trekked even further off the beaten path,  until I had the ger district in my line of vision.  I'm still not convinced that Google maps wasn't trolling me, but I found out where it was supposed to be.  Feeling somewhat defeated, I took a taxi back downtown, looking for the new location of the 976 Gallery.  And I found it...but it too was closed.  At that point I began to think that maybe I was just cursed.
Oni-chan, 2018.  Detail.
So, right, Nihonga.  I think the first time I heard of it was in conjunction with Murakami Takashi, and I was interested in doing it, but hadn't seen anyone advertising English speaking lessons until January, when I came across an article in Tokyo Weekender about my sensei, Maria.  Since wrapping up my painting course in December I hadn't been able to get myself working again, and given that I'd been working with Japanese subject matter, this seemed like a good way to move forward.  I got in touch and booked my first set of 5 lessons for 20,000 yen.  Since my first lesson took place on Setsubun, I chose to make a demon my subject.  It went pretty smoothly for the most part - I was especially pleased with the way the hair turned out - although I did have an issue at the very end when the whites of the eyes cracked.
Just getting started and knowing a little about the process made me want to know more, so a week later I used my day off for National Foundation Day to visit the Yamatane Museum.  They specialize in Nihonga paintings, and even though the museum wasn't big, and the exhibition focused primarily on one artist, Yokoyama Taikan, I enjoyed being able to see examples beyond mine and Maria's.
I also went shopping, although it took me a while before I actually bought anything.  Maria's studio is close to Uematsu, one of the art supply stores that specialize in selling pigment.  She had mentioned there was another in Yokohama, owned by the same people but called Sankichi.  When I figured out where it was (and that I'd already been there) I went back so I could actually appreciate what I was seeing - rows upon rows of color.

See, what makes Nihonga different from the painting I've done my whole life is that you mix your paints, adding nikawa, a kind of glue made from fish, to finely ground minerals, and then thin it a little with water.  Unlike oil, watercolor, acrylic, or pretty much any other kind of paint, you can't mix colors to create new ones.  If you want to use orange, you have to buy orange pigment.  You can't blend your red and yellow.  The pigments come in different grain sizes and each mineral has a different density, something I didn't figure out until my second week, when I was wondering why the color I was using didn't mix up like the ones I used the week before.

Most famous of all these shops is PIGMENT, which I read about even before I came to Japan on This is Colossal.  When my shrine hunt (post for another day) took me close to Tennozu Isle I took the opportunity to finally check it out.  Their selection was incredible - they had seemingly everything - but I resisted the temptation to buy ALL THE COLORS!  I've decided there has to be a method to my madness, and am attempting to act accordingly.  I figure if I buy the colors I'm going to use when I need them, eventually I'll end up with a wide range of colors over time without breaking my budget in any given month.
I put this idea into practice a few weeks back when I bought grey, brown, purple, and green pigment for the branch as well as a tissue thin purple iridescent foil for the blossoms.  Although I'm still working on my ume painting it's getting much closer to being finished, and I'm really excited about the progress I've made with it.  I'm still struggling to get all of the effects that I'd like out of my new media, but by far it's the most exciting part of my week, and I've already got my next idea ready to roll out when I finally do finish this one.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Home Sweet Hell

Not that I'm a great Japanese scholar (...yet...), but from what I understand, the original meaning of the word otaku was something like, "homebody."  Of course now, it has far wider reaching implications, but I found it an apropos factoid, because the last few weeks before vacation I was working on my apartment, and the more I got done, the more I wanted to stay at home.  This is, of course, not unrelated to the colloquial usage of the word otaku.  While it is possible to decorate your apartment without setting off the nerd alert, it's not much fun, especially if part of the reason you wanted to live in Japan was the opportunity to life the life.  However, being a classy grown-ass woman, I was determined to have a classy, grown-ass apartment.  This meant putting my mad art skillz to good use.
It all started one Saturday when I painted an Edo furin.  I'd gone to Asakusa with a friend, and after visiting Senso-ji and the shrines, wandering around eating ice cream we stumbled across an alley where several arts and crafts activities were set up...and they were free.  There were several options, but the glass windchime was the winner, and it only took me about two seconds to decide I would try to paint a pattern of Chinese lanterns - my favorite character's namesake.

While I'd already thought about planting some Chinese lanterns, I had yet to actually find them.  I've had pretty good luck with plants since moving to Mongolia, but green thumb or black, it's too late in the year.  Apparently Asakusa hosts a festival centered around them in early July, but that's still a long way off.  Instead I bought Christmas lights and used washi paper to make the bulb part of the plant.  I used a lantern and yet more washi paper to make my own goldfish plant.  These "flowers" are another part of Hozuki no Reitetsu, and although they don't (obviously) grow IRL, a crafty girl like me laughs at the constraints of so-called "reality."  I had paper lotus petals I got the last time I visited Jogyesa in Korea that I knew would be perfect for scales, but I was going to need something to build the body on.  I thought a paper lantern would do the trick, but it was challenging finding a plain, white round one.  In the end Daiso saved the day - their round, white lantern wasn't as sturdy as I would have liked, but I managed it, since I wasn't willing to wait around to find a better one.  When I had it finished, it turned out to be the perfect size to balance on the top of my floor lamp, once I'd taken the lampshade off.
At this point I had to admit that I was turning my bedroom into my (not-so) secret otaku hideaway.  I chose to rein in my mania in the rest of the apartment.  For starters, I had Mongolian art that had to go up.  I'd also put a few little Ghibli touches in when I first arrived, and since it had been too long since I'd sewn anything, I made a Totoro throw pillow for my chair.  One thing I really appreciated about my apartment when I got here was the fact that for a few more yen every month, my landlord provided me with some furnishings and appliances.  Most of what you see is what came with the place.  The closet space is really nice - it was one of my worries with the other apartments I was interested in.  For about $600 per month, I've got a pretty decently furnished place of 32m square (and no, I don't know what that is in tatami mats anymore than I could tell you how many pyeong my Korean apartments were).
Most of my plants stay in the kitchen, although I've thought a little about making a nice sitting area on my balcony (which I probably wouldn't ever sit in...there will be way too many mosquitoes come summer).  One of my ongoing goals for the year is to be better at adulting, which means I've cooked slightly more since coming back from the holidays.  I also set up my "art station" in the kitchen.  After a couple of weeks of my painting class last fall, I got tired of hunching over the coffee table in the living room, and bought a table and chair from IKEA.  I haven't actually used it much since finishing the course, because it's too darn cold in the kitchen - I keep the door shut so the living room stays warm - but it's waiting for warmer weather.
My place has a few Japanese bits, too.  For starters, there's the handwash station.  To one side of the kitchen there's a little vanity with a sink, shelves, and cabinets - mostly I use this to get ready in the morning...because my toilet has its own sink, just not the kind you would recognize.  When Five and I went to Kansai last spring, our first guesthouse had this kind of toilet - the water is released above the tank so that you can wash your hands with the water that fills it.  It also has a small or large flush function, so that saves a little more water.  Mine also has a fancy toilet seat, with a warmer and a bidet (which most of the time I don't use, but once a month I absolutely love it.  Girls, you know what I mean).


My bath is separate from the toilet, and it's fancy, too.  I put the plug in and press a button, and it beeps at me when it's full.  It's awesome.  One thing that is a pain, though, is that it doesn't dry out very well, especially in the winter.  I had just been leaving the fan on, but I was getting mildewy areas, so I've started squeegeeing the whole thing, then using my "mop" (an IKEA find - something like a Swiffer but with a reusable pad) to wipe up the water afterwards.  My laundry facilities are in the same closet, which is a little too convenient as most of the time I don't bother to put away my underwear.

So anyways, there's your grand tour.  Although there are things I miss about my place in Mongolia (aka, the radiators and the fact that I was never too cold), I feel like I got really lucky with my new apartment.  The only thing I could really wish for is being closer to a train station, or at least a bus stop, but since there's a vending machine that has cans of coke just two blocks away in each direction, I can live with that.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Otaku Report, Vol. 2

What they say is true: there's nothing like new love to make you see your world in a different light.
Okay, possibly I just made that line up.  And possibly, by "new love" I'm talking about my new anime obsession, Bungou Stray Dogs.  However, the sentiment remains true:  I've been seeing Yokohama through rose colored glasses, and if that color is the tinge of blood shed by the Port Mafia, so what?  I'm not sure what finally made me decide to watch Bungou Stray Dogs.  I believe I first read about an anime set in Yokohama last fall, and even saw some sort of promotion for the movie which is currently out, Dead Apple, a couple of months ago, but I have a certain amount of reluctance to get too caught up in an anime with that many pretty men in it, because traps.
I was not planning to write the second (long overdue) Otaku Report this weekend, but rather about the Koganecho Bazaar.  I only found out that there was a stamp rally going on in Yokohama last night, and let me tell you, it was a feat of Google Maps engineering, figuring out how to get there as well as around all the sites that were participating, but that was my plan.  I would be a good art teacher, and check out the artist residencies, leaving the second half of the rally for another day.  To that end, I spent at least twenty minutes taking possibly the only bus in Japan - nay, possibly the world! - that simultaneously smells of old people and unwashed private parts, just to get to the neighborhood from the Kanagawa Museum of Modern Literature.  But when I got to Koganecho it was kind of a bust - there only seemed to be about one gallery open - so here we are, dancing around the fact that I spent my morning collecting stamps like a giddy eight-year old.
That is, essentially, what a stamp rally is.  You go around a museum, or a city or whatnot, collecting stamps, turning them in for a small prize at the end.  Since Bungou Stray Dogs is set in Yokohama, it's kind of a perfect way to get people excited about seeing the sights.  Admittedly, I've been through these sights previously, but not since I started watching the anime, and far be it from me to miss an opportunity to fan girl out.
Stamp rallies can be hard on the feet, and some of them offer special one-day passes that let you use public transportation (in this case, certain lines of it) as many times as you like.  Next time I'll definitely buy one.  I didn't really think about how many buses and trains I'd be using, and they are expensive enough here that they really add up.  Since I didn't end up spending long in Koganecho, I ended up finishing about four hours after I started, at the Animate by Yokohama station, with just enough time to get to my Nihonga lesson.

You may be tempted to infer, based on the length of time it took me to put together another Otaku Report, that the tide of my devotion had ebbed.  You would be correct, at least partially. I still keep up
with several shows and manga, but grad school and art have done a pretty good job of keeping me in the real world since Christmas.  Add to that the fact that winter just plain sucks - cold without too much going on - and it turns out to be difficult scraping one of these posts together.  I do have a couple of things for you, though...
The National Art Center of Tokyo had its first show about an animator last fall, for Shinkai Makoto.  I don't want to compare him to Miyazaki, because it's apples and oranges, so let's just say that I've seen a lot of anime during the last few years, but I can only remember the names of two animators, and let you draw your own conclusions.  Unfortunately you couldn't take pictures in the exhibition, but I did buy a gorgeous catalog from the shop.
Hozuki has still had a few things going on, but most of them are in Japanese, so I didn't see a lot of point...my study of the language has been more or less stymied by the fact that it's ridiculously difficult.  The most exciting thing for me was that, in celebration of the DVD release of the first half of the second season - deep breath - Animate hosted a "Museum of Hell" at 4 locations, which included a drawing contest.  Entries were artwork of the cat - often referred to as looking like a curse - drawn by one of the show's antagonists, Hakutaku.  If I understand Google's awkward translation right, the winners will receive a drawing, or possibly just an autograph, from Natsumi Eguchi.  (I've got my fingers crossed that it's the first - I really want some legit manga art).  I spent some time sketching ideas out before deciding on my entry, ganbatte'd my heart out, and brought it in to Yokohama's Animate, the exhibition's second stop.  There's still a couple of weeks left before the promotion wraps up in Osaka, which means I'm stuck waiting til then to learn my fate.
My final bit for this edition of the Otaku Report comes to you courtesy of Sensei.  She got the coveted tickets for a couple of us to the Ghibli Museum.  This is a big deal since the museum is so popular that you have to book tickets in advance, sometimes months.

When I visited Tokyo in 2014 this was the one thing I hoped to do that I missed out on, for that exact reason.  It was a great experience, although I didn't get to watch Mei and the Kittenbus.  Instead I learned how endearing the struggles of pond life could be...a subject I have no doubt would be far less interesting in anyone else's hands.  You couldn't take photos in here, either...these two I snapped while waiting to get in, before I was told the restriction on photography extended to the entrance as well.  I'm not totally sure what I was expecting, but seeing the process Miyazaki uses as well as memorabilia from his works was pretty cool.  There was also an exhibition about the way food is used in so many of the films.

Well, that about wraps up this edition of the Otaku Report.  I'd tell you to stay tuned for the next, but since this one took so long, that might not be wise.  Next week I'll be back in the wilds on Mongolia, but if I don't do anything new or exciting there, I still have that back post on my interior decor to finish, and maybe I'll teach you something about painting.  So stay tuned anyways.

Monday, March 12, 2018

State of the Art

A week of teaching is a little like swimming to the bottom of a body of water.  It always feels a little chancy, and when you hit the bottom you still have to come back up before you get a nice lungful of air.  In this analogy, the weekend is the air I breathe.  Back in January that body of water was Lake Michigan.  It took forever to make it to the bottom, and by then I wasn't sure if I'd be alive still when I broke the surface.  By contrast, my weeks now mostly feel like the deep end of the old Glenwood city pool - I'm down and back before I have time to worry.
I started last week a little worried about my lung capacity.  My school was holding a PYP training, and if I had attended it, I'd currently be on my eighth day of a twelve day stretch - a dive to the deepest point of the Mariana Trench.  Since I'd already had that particular training, I begged out of it and ended up doing a different kind of professional development - attending the Tokyo Art Fair.  Once upon a time (about five and a half years ago) I wrote about the UB Art Fair, and how underwhelmed it left me.  I cited the Brookside and Plaza art fairs that I used to go to back in my college days.  Since writing it, I've realized that those KC art fairs would be considered as quaint to some people in the art world as the UB Art Fair seemed to me.  To the high rollers of the art world, those local artists were selling their pottery and photos for chump change.  Those guys look to catch bigger fish.
High rollers, of course, have a bigger buy-in.  When I first read about the Tokyo Art Fair, I was a little shocked to see admission was 3,500 yen (although you could get in for 3,000 if you bought in advance).  This very nearly made me fold; Japan isn't a cheap place to live on a good day, and my expenses here are much higher than ever before, except for possibly in those bygone college days.  Then I found out about a late pass, where you could get in for 90 minutes on Friday night for a single coin (one that is worth about $5...be careful giving your spare change away here!)  My friend Sensei helped me buy it, and at 6:30 Friday night I was heading through the doors.
Those high rollers were looking for investment pieces, works by artists with a certain amount of name recognition.  I saw a few of them - some Kusama, a few pop artists, including Lichtenstein, I think, Hokusai - but I didn't really spend much time on those (okay, mayyybe I stood in front of the Hokusai prints for a few minutes wishing I could buy one, but c'mon.  Hokusai!).  What I was hoping to see at the Tokyo art fair was works by Japanese artists.  Of course, I'm always on the lookout for artists who use that otaku aesthetic in their work, but since I began my painting lessons (which I'll write about someday.  Really, I will) I've been particularly on the lookout for examples of Nihonga art.
The art fair didn't disappoint in that respect.  Not all of the paintings that I admired were painted with mineral pigments, of course.  Being the weeb that I am, I enjoyed seeing the approach that these artists took with traditional Japanese subjects, regardless of the media they worked in.  My favorite by far was Shiki Taira's LoveX2 Youkai Show.  As I walked past the Art Gallery Natsume stall, I was struck by her paintings of youkai, Japanese demons...and then I saw that in one of them they were fighting with a figure - executed in the traditional style of Japanese portraits, who was, nonetheless, very clearly Dracula.  It was totally subarashii.  If I were still living my Mongolian high life, I probably would have had to buy it, but I had to be content with the exhibition catalog she gave me (and no, I didn't realize she was the artist at the time, or I probably would have devolved into a blithering fangirl).
There were plenty that I was able to recognize as Nihonga, though.  Most of them had what I'll call the "Panda effect" on me.  A few years back, I had an awesome student whose work made the self-esteem of a decent percentage of the class shrivel up and die.  I truly believe that art is a skill, not just a talent, but it is challenging to stay motivated when you realize exactly how far ahead of you another artist is.  After some of the setbacks I've faced in my second Nihonga painting, that is how these artworks made me feel.  At the same time, I had to admire the technical skill that went into them, especially since I am learning how difficult it is to use mineral pigments, which made me even more determined to continue my studies and make some kickass art.

What can I say?  I'm a walking contradiction.
The art didn't stop on Friday night, though.  The fair had several other components, including a hotel taken hostage by art, 3331 Chiyoda, and an award exhibition.  A combined ticket to get you into all of them goes for 5,000 yen, which was still too rich for my blood.  Art In Park Hotel, though, has a free preview section, and I thought long and hard about going to see that as well, but in the end, I only had time for one art show before my painting lesson on Saturday, and there was only one possibility for that.

Later this week I'll be taking my tenth graders out to learn a little more about architecture.  The Venice Biennale has an architecture exhibition, and the Japanese Pavilion has made it's way to Gallery MA in Roppongi for a show.  We've specifically been studying linear perspective, since I don't have a lot of space for 3-D work in my classroom.  The works in EN: art of Nexus, combine small architectural models and computer generated designs, which makes a great contrast to the art we've been making.  Another thing that I loved about it was the fact that the architects had used real case studies as the point of departure for their works.  I think I have a tendency, in my teaching, to leave the project too open-ended, allowing my kids to make the things they want, rather than giving them a problem and asking them to find a solution.  This is a positive in some cases, but looking at these models and reading about the solutions the artists came up with made me realize their critical thinking skills would be more developed if I sometimes set a problem instead.

Although I tend to play off my desire to live in Japan as the great otaku dream, it's weekends like this that remind me there was a lot more to my decision than that.  There are so many things that I can experience here as an artist and a teacher that even with my challenges it's more than worth it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Guise and Dolls

I may have mentioned it before, but Japan has a huge doll culture, going back a long time.  One part of this culture is Hina Matsuri, or the Girls Festival.  This festival involves setting up an ornate display of imperial court dolls, which - like a lot of Japan's dolls - are believed to absorb misfortunes, in this case of the girls of the home.

This weekend was Hina Matsuri, but this post actually began last week, with the precursor to Hina Matsuri - Nagashibina.  In the past, rather than just set the dolls up and wish for good luck, the tradition was to release the dolls on the river, and they would carry the bad luck and catastrophes away with them.  But there are very few places that still celebrate Nagashibina.  Fortunately I'm just a "short" ride from old Edo.  On the banks of the Sumida River each year they hold a Nagashibina ceremony, and since the Tokyo 2nd Ward now meets in the afternoon, I saw no reason not to check it out.

Online it mentioned that the ceremony would be cancelled if it rained, and as I got dressed I noticed that it was pretty gray out, but I headed towards Asakusa anyways.  I was worried about being able to find the right spot, but once I made it over to the Sumida River, it was pretty easy to figure it out - I haven't seen anything that big and pink since....well, never mind.  For the record, it took place on the Asakusa side of Sumida Park, pretty close to the station (coincidentally, one block over from the Coco Curry...if you use Coco Curry as a landmark...)

The big pink things were slides set up to launch your emperor and empress down the river.  Hypothetically this meant that they didn't flip over at the bottom like a kayak, but it didn't always end up that way.  When I first read about Edo Nagashibina, I wasn't sure what to expect as far as the dolls went.  There are doll memorials where actual 3D dolls are sent out to sea on their final voyage, but these were just paper dolls, which makes sense because you wouldn't want to add MORE pollution to the river.
I mean, besides a thousand paper dolls, anyways.  They didn't make it very far before the paper became waterlogged and they started to sink, but I've seen paper like this before in Japan, and it dissolves as it sinks.  Probably still not the most ecologically sound practice, but if it saves girls from misfortunes then who am I to judge?

Alright.  This is where I'm gonna take a break from my regularly scheduled blogging and rant a bit.  America.  Seriously, what the fuck?  Here I am in Japan, which is pretty much the safest place ever, and over here we're protecting our children with beautiful traditions.  In the end, yes, it's probably pointless, but nobody ever died because you sent a paper doll down the river.  Meanwhile back home the only solution you can think of is MOAR GUNZ!!!  I've had so many conversations in the last two and a half weeks, trying to be rational and calm with people whose kneejerk reaction is "THESE ARE MY RIGHTS AND YOU CAN'T HAVE THEM."  There is no empathy.  There is no ability to imagine that someday some asshole with a gun might hurt someone they love.  There is no realization that if that happens, it will not be where they and their guns can do a damn bit of good.  It will be at their school, out shopping, or in a movie theater.  But they will at least have their rights, so bully for them.

The fact that we have to rely on businesses - whether it's Dick's stepping up and saying, "We'll be responsible about what we sell," or companies withdrawing discounts to NRA members - is just sad and pathetic.  I applaud the hell out of them, but we actually already have people whose job it is to make our country a saver place - our lawmakers.  Shame on them.  We have students - kids who should be enjoying a so-called carefree adolescence (as if that time has ever been carefree in any age) - stepping up to show us the way.  Shame on us.  And so even though every time I go on facebook these days I feel exhausted and sick, I'm determined not to remain silent.  I've done that long enough, worried about offending family and friends, but the truth is the idea of a child I care about losing their life makes me sick, and I don't want anyone else to go through that.  So even if it means being patient and rational and trying to talk sense with people who don't want to hear sense, when all I want to do is scream, Imma ganbatte.  Imma register for my absentee ballots, and start writing letters and making a public nuisance of myself, because this shit is bananas.  And I don't mean that in a good way.
Right.  Rant over.  There was also a boat out on the river decked out in pink, that had girls launching their dolls onto the river.  I read somewhere that there is a lottery of some kind to be involved in Nagashibina, but without being able to read Japanese I wasn't sure how or where you apply, and since I don't have any daughters to take place in the ceremony, I didn't care enough to ask Google for help figuring it out.

This past Saturday was the actual Hina Matsuri celebration.  I considered a couple of ways of celebrating on my own - as a geek, for starters, although I ended up running out of time to make my display.  I also thought about going to the Mitsui Museum, or the Hyakudan Kaidan, both of which had displays of Hina dolls.  However, in the ass-backwards tradition that is inherently me, I decided to celebrate with an entirely different kind of doll.

See, Jindai-ji was holding its annual Daruma doll market.  It's the second oldest temple in Tokyo, originally built in 733, which kind of makes it worth a visit in its own right.  Or it would, if Chofu wasn't kind of out of the way; I had to take the train to Chofu station (two transfers), then a bus, and finally walk down the hill and around a corner.  It's probably still worth a visit, but I like to whine, and if it weren't for the fact that I used Darumas as part of my doll unit I might not have felt so inclined to make the trek...but I have my reputation as the creepy doll person to uphold, so I do what I must.
There was the usual festival atmosphere, with the avenue leading up to the temple crowded with food and game stalls.  Finally I fought my way through the crowd to the temple proper, which was overrun by small, round, red things - Daruma dolls.
Daruma is a type of wishing doll.  When you buy him, he has no iris or pupil - just a blank white eye.  When you make your wish, you're supposed to darken in a circle on his left eye (your right).  Then you hold the sight in his other eye for ransom until he's made your wish come true.  When that happens, you fill in the other eye and bring him back to the temple.
At Jindai-ji there were monks who would do this for you, with some nifty, super official calligraphy.  I didn't want to be rushed into making a wish when I wasn't sure what I wanted most, so rather than waste a wish I chose to go the DIY route with my eye-darkening.

In retrospect, I should have wished that our government would win their balls back from the NRA in a game of cards, or else grow a new pair.  Another good option would have been to have my countrymen wake up to the "evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days."  Oh well, live and learn.

There were several different colors of Daruma, and a couple of the merchants had a color chart, but none of the ones I saw were in English.  Since I wasn't able to pinpoint the meanings of the colors, I decided to go based on the colors I liked.  The big gold ones were really striking, and I was tempted for a while to get a black one, but in the end, I decided to get a gold one with red decorations, since red is by far the most traditional color.  It was just a small one though, because I was only four days into this month's paycheck and already wondering how I was going to afford all the things I wanted to do.  There were also a few different styles, like a maneki neko or a shiba inu - most of which seemed to have their eyes already.  These made me curious about how they were made, but I feel like holding his eyesight ransom is bad enough...dissecting him to see what he looks like inside just seems over the top.