Friday, February 28, 2014

Rainy day


Thursday was a rainy day in Tokyo, but as myself and little man have new rain boots, the weather was welcomed in style.  Nothing of note happened, but I did enjoy an adorable little sweet mid-morning snack, and the plum blossoms outside of the Diet Library were quite lovely. It was the perfect day to celebrate life's little luxuries.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cute in Japanese Art かわいい日本美術

Exhibition poster.

This week I visited the Yamatane Museum of Art to view the exhibition Kawaii (Cute) in Japanese Art. The show aimed to trace 'cute' in Japanese art from the 16th-19th centuries, and was divided into three sections: cute children, cute animals, and cute little objects. The theme was interesting, but quite broad, and many of the objects were loosely linked to the theme and to each other. The works in the show were fantastic though, and it was particularly wonderful to see Ito Jakuchu's Birds and Animals in the Flower Garden, an amazingly progressive 18th century work that uses a grid technique, as well as a variety of paintings by Uemura Shoen.
Front entrance to the museum.

The cute theme was extended to the catalogue, which is half the size of a regular exhibition catalogue, and which includes little conversation bubbles about the objects. The museum cafe also featured cute treats based on the artworks in the exhibition, but at around 1100 yen for a treat and some tea, I abstained. Some of the marketing for the show also targeted women, saying that the female staff was able to create an exhibit with female sensibilities. This was probably the most troublesome part of the show- why does cute have to be associated with women or women with cute? Most the objects in the show were created by men, and marketing to women as the passive consumers of a cute culture of puppies and babies is quite insulting. Furthermore, the exhibition would have been stronger if it had included some of the contemporary kawaii culture that pervades present day Japan, or some of the artists that address this culture in their works, such as Murakami Takashi or Yoshitomo Nara. Overall, while I have some disagreements with the theme and the marketing, the exhibition did include a great variety of fantastic objects, and was decidedly worth the trip to Ebisu.
The catalogue- is it cute? 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Happy Up!

Ok, people. It's time we all happy up.

I had a bottle of peach water from the vending machine at work last week, and it included the great bottle cap caption you see above. Happy Up! Of course the peach water helped to elevate my mood, but I think we can all use to try sending some positive vibes into the world. Go do something nice for someone today. Send someone chocolates. Buy someone a drink. Give a gift to somebody. Give a hug. Smile at a stranger. Skype a friend. I received a tiny box of Christopher Elbow chocolates in the mail over the weekend, and it really did make my day. I know everyone is tired of winter (I see all those whiny Facebook posts), and I get that February is the lamest of months, but embrace the cold (I'll be seeing whiny Facebook posts about the heat all too soon), curl up with a blanket, drink some hot chocolate, and love that you are alive today. 

Happy Up!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Tokyo National Museum 東京国立博物館

 Tickets, tickets please.

Last week I went to view the two special exhibitions at the Tokyo National Museum- Masterworks of Japanese Painting from the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Artworks by Living National Treasures. I had two complimentary tickets, and so my mom and I made an afternoon of it, having a lovely lunch in Ueno before viewing the two shows. 

Plum blossoms at the TNM.

 The exhibitions were both quite fantastic, but I was quite struck by the differences between the two exhibitions. The Cleveland show, while admittedly focused on painting, exhibited historic works- Buddhist painting, landscape painting, paintings of beautiful women, with subject matter that is commonly thought of as "traditional" Japanese art. The works in this exhibition highlighted subject matter that I am familiar with, and materials that are straightforward for art historians to explain. In other words, the Cleveland exhibition focused on the canon of Japanese art. On the other hand, the Living National Treasures exhibition highlighted objects that commonly fall under the category of decorative art- things such as ceramics, metalwork, textiles, basketry, and lacquerware. Prior to the late 19th century, these types of objects were held with high regard in Japan. It was with the imposition of the European hierarchical art system in museums and universities that painting and sculpture came to be of a higher regard than other art forms. Some of the history of the classification system also relates to gender roles in Europe that then impacted the larger art system- decorative arts are gendered as feminine, particularly textiles, but also other forms of domestic arts or crafts, while painting and sculpture are gendered as masculine, and by extension painting and sculpture are viewed as superior. As I walked through the selections in the Living National Treasure exhibition I kept questioning the reasoning for continuing this system of hierarchy. The objects in the Living National Treasure show were just as, if not more, impressive than those in the Cleveland painting show. Objects that were created in the 20th and 21st centuries were juxtaposed with historic works using the same techniques, and many of the artworks were of phenomenal construction and design. Unfortunately, objects classified as decorative art or craft are not generally taught in art history courses, and in the U.S. these objects are not given as much attention in the museum setting. Things are changing with contemporary art, yet art history remains steadfast in the privileging of painting and sculpture over other forms of art. I'm curious to know what others think about the classification of objects- is it frustrating? Justified? Feel free to leave a comment below.

In front of the main museum building at TNM.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Winter Plum Blossoms 寒梅 

In the depths of February, something that makes life in Japan a little bit better is the appearance of plum blossoms. Despite cold temperatures (there are still snow piles to be found around the city), the hearty plum trees put on a show of beautiful pink or white flowers which have the most heavenly scent. In my neighborhood the trees can be spotted in a few places, and today we saw them at the Hakusan Shrine and walking home from the park, serving as a reminder that spring is near.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reception at the Ambassador's Residence

 Pre-game cocktails with Ti, Mimi, and Talia.

 On Wednesday evening I attended a reception at the Ambassador's Residence to welcome the new heads of JUSEC (the organization that oversees Fulbright) and CULCON. A few friends and I started the evening with cocktails at the Inter-Continental before heading over to the party.

Front door of the Residence.

 The Residence is a beautiful building, built in the early 1930s. It was the location for the famous photograph of the meeting of General Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito in the days after WWII.

 The front hall.

 Of course, the food was fantastic too- lobster, crab, duck, polenta, salad, cheeses, and so many delicious things. I may have eaten my tax dollars in lobster.

 Not my photo, but a nice shot of the dessert table.

 Also not my photo, but yum.

There were speeches by the Ambassador, and the new directors being honored.

  Ambassador Kennedy speaking about intercultural exchange.

Of course the highlight of the evening was meeting Ambassador Kennedy, who took the time to greet the Fulbright grantees and to ask about each of our research.

Group photo of Fulbrighters and Ambassador Kennedy (not mine). I'm just to the right of the Ambassador.

 Also not my photo, but here is the back of my head as I speak with the Ambassador about my research. Doesn't she look genuinely interested? 

As was to be expected the Ambassador was surrounded by people throughout the two and a half hour reception, and was carefully whisked through the crowds by her two handlers, who were ensuring that she had face time with all of the right people. It was a lovely event though, and a great opportunity to meet Caroline Kennedy and many other people, as well as to see the Residence itself. You can see more photos of the evening here.

Mimi and I as we left the Residence. America!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Endless Tokyo 延々東京

Southwest view.

On Sunday afternoon we took a trip to the top of Sunshine City, to the Sunshine 60 observatory. The view really provides an idea of the endless expanse of Tokyo, stretching off to the horizon in every direction. Above is the view to the southwest, with a completely white Mt. Fuji barely perceptible in the far distance, and Ikebukuro Station in the foreground. Below is little dude staring off towards the north- as we can see Sunshine City from the roof of our apartment, in theory our building is in this photo, somewhere above his head near the river. The other photos are of the different directions. When I'm on the ground I don't feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the city, but seeing from above how it stretches so far, and with such density gives a very different perspective on Tokyo.

 North view.

 The view to the east, with the bay off in the distance.

 To the south, Shinjuku in the distance. 

 To the east, a view of Skytree.

Looking down at the Toden Arakawasen, or the streetcar.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum 東京都美術館

 The poster for Masterpieces of Nihonga

 Last week I visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum to view the Masterpieces of Nihonga exhibition, currently on view. The show lived up to the name- it truly was an exhibition of masterworks. The scope was broad, covering nihonga (neo-traditional Japanese painting) from its innovation in the 19th century up to today. It was interesting to see how the 19th century works, those which defined the genre, differed from those that are being created today. The term nihonga is relatively slippery- the literal translation is Japanese painting- and vague in nature. Generally it refers to painting using traditional materials such as mineral pigments and natural brushes, and with a traditional subject matter, such as landscape or Buddhist deities. These parameters aren't always the case though, and problems arise when considering where or by whom a work was made, and the flexibility of subject matter. The term was used in the 19th century for the revival of traditional painting, and contrasted with yoga, or Western-style painting, which was done in oil and using subject matter common to the European tradition. These categories have always been blurred though, and as with most things, are best seen on a spectrum. In any case, it was nice to see how the exhibition coordinators dealt with this ambiguity, and what types of works they included.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

In addition to the nihonga show, the museum was hosting a bonsai competition and small exhibitions of artworks by Tokyo citizens, most of which were calligraphy.
My Sky Hole, Inoue Bukichi, 1985

The plaza of the museum housed a work titled "My Sky Hole" by Inoue Bukichi. The work (above and below) consisted of a large mirrored ball set atop a steel plate. On one side at the top there was a hole in the ball, which made it appear in the reflection that there was a hole in the sky.
My Sky Hole, Inoue Bukichi, 1985  

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Snow! 大雪!


We're in the midst of a historic Tokyo snowstorm today, and it is fantastic. Over 20 centimeters (about 7 inches) of snow has fallen by 9 p.m., something that hasn't happened in over 20 years. It's beautiful, and fun, and quite the spectacle. Little dude and I went out for a walk around 2 p.m., and very few people were out. Stores were closed, and the streets were tough to walk on. All day the t.v. has had a warning bar on the side "major snow in Kanto" and a feed with all the train delays and shutdowns. We had a great time building snow people, making snow angels, and catching flakes on our tongues. The rest of the day was spent watching the Olympics on t.v., eating nabe (veggie stew), and enjoying some warm indoor playtime.

 Our local shrine in the snow.

 Snow covered plants. 

 One of four snow people we built today.

 Hot cocoa from the vending machine on the way home from our snow adventure.

 Snowy streetcar.

 More snowy foliage.

Round two- we went back out to play in the snow again near dusk.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

生活 Life

 As of late, most of my days have had a view similar to that pictured above. Coffee, books, computer. Of course there is exercise, and mealtime, and general evening and weekend relaxation tossed in, but the monotony of January and February weekdays is always a bit of a comfort to me. It is a time to work, and relish a simple (mostly) indoor routine, a time to drink warm beverages, and to slow down a bit. No holiday stress, no summer buzz, just life. Life with sweaters and blankets. I also think that this simplicity allows for room to take particular joy in the little things. Things like focusing on my yoga practice, or taking it easy with a movie night. 

Today four little things really made my day better. 

First off, the primrose plant that is gracing my desk. Most of today was grey and rainy here in Tokyo, and the bright pink flowers that came as a thoughtful gift from little man and my mom really helped me to get through a rather mundane day at my desk.

Second, some upbeat music courtesy of Gramatik (and YouTube). The chill yet energized tone was a perfect match for a day of research.

Third, getting out for an afternoon of coffee shop reading. A cookie and matcha frappucino also boosted my afternoon mood.

Last, but not least, it snowed! As it didn't change from rain to snow until the late afternoon, it didn't accumulate very much, and I'm sure it'll melt early in the morning, but it was so uplifting to see some real winter weather. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the different reactions of the passers by while I sat in the coffee shop window, especially the people who had the same expression of wonder and joy that I had from seeing the puffy white flakes falling on the Tokyo landscape.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Niigata Ski Trip 新潟スキー旅行

 Waiting to board the E4 Max Shinkansen.

In addition to our Kyoto travels, we took an overnight trip to the mountains over the winter holidays. We started with an hour long Shinkansen trip up to Echigo Yuzawa. The trip included a lot of tunnels, and when we emerged from the last one, the ground was covered with snow.

We took a short bus trip, and arrived at Joetsu Kokusai

 Joe prepares for the day.

 The clouded in view from part way up the hill.

 Training for the 2030 Olympic gold medal.

 Snowball maker!

 One of our favorite parts of the resort was the Kid's Paradise, where little dude enjoyed sledding, snowball making (and throwing), tubing, and general snow mayhem.


The hotel as viewed from the base of the lifts and Kid's Paradise.


The hotel hallway. A bit of a Shining-esque feeling, but also very cool.

 A selection of local beer.

We awoke on day two to fresh powder falling outside of the window. The snow continued to fall all day, making for a fantastic day of skiing.

The hotel interior.


Our rental skis at the end of the day.

After a second day of fantastic skiing, we took the bus back to the train station, and picked up some snacks for the ride back to Tokyo, including snowball doughnuts, or giant doughnut holes with powdered sugar, as pictured below.