“Floating worlds: Japanese woodcuts” exhibition at Brighton Museum

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

 

I have visited exhibitions on Ukiyo-e (Japanese Woodblock prints) in Japan, France and London before, but never in Brighton. After reading some positive reviews on the “Floating Worlds: Japanese Woodcuts” exhibition at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, I decided to head to Brighton to see the exhibition before it ended.

Oddly enough, even though I have visited Brighton several times before, I have never been to the museum nor The Royal Pavilion. As I was approaching the museum located within the Royal Pavilion garden, I was immediately impressed by its architecture, which was built in a similar Indo-Saracenic style as the nearby Royal Pavilion.

 

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

 

Opened in 1873, the museum was one of the first purpose built museums in England. A major refurbishment costing £10 million took place in 2002, moving the entrance from Church Street to the Royal Pavilion garden, and its galleries redesigned with new interpretation.

The museum has a interesting collection of pottery, which was the collection of one of its founders. Henry Willett, a wealthy local brewer.  I was also surprised to see the 20th Century Art and design collection in the main gallery featuring artists and designers like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Eric Ravilious, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Grayson Perry etc.

 

brighton musuem  brighton musuem

brighton musuem

brighton musuem  brighton museum

brighton museum

brighton museum  brighton musuem

 

The ukiyo-e exhibition occupied two rooms upstairs, and it showcased woodblock prints from the Edo period (1615-1868), which are part of the museum’s collection. Guided by haiku poetry, the exhibition enabled visitors to learn more about lives in Edo ( Tokyo) through the exquisite prints.

The term ‘ukiyo-e’ literally means ‘pictures of the floating world’. The ‘floating world’ referred to the ‘pleasure quarters’ that were filled with teahouses, Kabuki theatres and licensed brothels in Japan’s cities during the Edo period. The hand-carved and hand-printed prints depict actors, courtesans and geisha, who became style icons of their day. I love the detailed patterns on the kimonos of the courtesans and geisha, which reveal the splendid craftsmanship of the period.

 

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Besides the ‘pleasure quarters’, the exhibition also explored the Hanakotoba, the Japanese language of flowers. Meanwhile, countryside and the transient seasons are common themes featured in ukiyo-e, alongside with Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji, which was illustrated either explicitly or implicitly in the background.

 

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Unlike the extremely crowded and overhyped Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum, I utterly enjoyed this low-key and wonderful exhibition. It is hard to appreciate an exhibition in a stressful environment (where people kept pushing, chatting and refusing to move), hence the quiet and spacious setting of this exhibition truly enabled visitors to appreciate the poetic quality of the prints. I only wish that the museum will showcase more of its ukiyo-e prints to the public in the future, because they are just too beautiful to be locked away.

 

brighton museum

Drawings by the visitors at the exhibition

 

Tribute to Mono-Ha exhibition at Cardi Gallery in London

mono-ha cardi gallery

 

While I was walking around Green Park one afternoon, I stumbled upon a poster outside of the Cardi Gallery with this title: ‘Tribute to MONO-HA’ (13 March – 26th July 2019). I was not only surprised but extremely excited since it is rare to see collective work associated with this art movement outside of Japan.

Mono-ha, meaning ‘School of Things’ in Japanese, is a pioneering art movement emerged in Tokyo in 1968 that rejected traditional art practices in reaction to the rapid industrialisation of postwar Japan.

The movement, led by the artists Lee Ufan and Nobuo Sekine, was one of a number of groups engaged in ‘not making’ (others included the Neo-Dada and the short-lived Hi-Red Center). The young artists of Mono-ha never formalised into a group, and they never organised any group exhibition under Mono-ha, hence, this exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to see their works under one roof.

 

Kishio Suga's perimeters of space  Nobuo Sekine's Phase of Nothingless

Nobuo Sekine's Phase of Nothingless

Top left: Kishio Suga’s perimeters of space; Top right and bottom: Nobuo Sekine’s Phase of Nothingless

 

Curated by Davide Di Maggio, the exhibition features seminal works by Koji Enokura, Noriyuki Haraguchi, Susumu Koshimizu, Lee Ufan, Katsuhiko Narita, Nobuo Sekine, Kishio Suga, Jiro Takamatsu, Noboru Takayama, and Katsuro Yoshida.

Mono-ha emerged in response to a number of social, cultural and political precedents set in the 1960s. Most of these artists were studying at Tama Art University back then. Influenced by Zen Buddhism and Taoism, they rejected values of Western modern art, and explored the properties of natural and industrial materials, such as stone, steel plates, glass, light bulbs, cotton, sponge, paper, wood, wire, rope, leather, oil, and water, arranging them in mostly unaltered, ephemeral states. An important aspect of Zen Buddhism is ‘to see things as they are without distortions’, therefore, their aim was not to ‘create’ but ‘rearrange’ ‘things’, drawing attention to the interdependent relationships between these ‘things’ and the space surrounding them. They aimed to challenge pre-existing perceptions of such materials and relate to them on a new level.

 

Koji Enokura  mono-ha cardi gallery

mono-ha cardi gallery

Noriyuki Haraguchi

Top left: Koji Enokura’s Quality 1973; Bottom: Noriyuki Haraguchi’s Untitled, 1970/2015

 

Although Mono-ha created an original new vocabulary, its recognition as truly one of the driving forces of Japanese post-war art production begun only in the early ‘90s, first as an influence on Japanese artists and later in the West, where it was seen as a critically-engaged movement thanks to the contemporary relevance of its language and themes, so deeply linked to both nature and industry.

Since we are now living in an unsettling time with many political, social, religious and environmental issues, the works of Mono-ha are once again regarded as relevant to our current society.

 

Relatum III (a place within a certain situation), 1970

mono-ha cardi gallery

Lee Ufan’s Relatum III (a place within a certain situation), 1970

 

Two weeks before I visited the exhibition, I learned that Nobuo Sekine –a key member of the group– passed away in California at the age of 76. Some of his works like ‘Phase of Nothingness, and photos of his famous ‘Phase—Mother Earth’ (1968) can be seen at the exhibiton.

 

Susumu Koshimizu's From Surface to Surface  Katsuro Yoshida's cut-off

Susumu Koshimizu's From Surface to Surface

mono-ha cardi gallery

Top left & 2nd row: Susumu Koshimizu’s From Surface to Surface (1971) industrially manufactured wood (15 pieces); Top right: Katsuro Yoshida’s Cut-off; Bottom: Kishio Suga’s and Koji Enokura’s installation

 

mono-ha cardi gallery

mono-ha cardi gallery

Lee Ufan’s Relatum 1969-1995 Iron (5 parts)

 

 Lee Ufan's Relatum, 1969/1995-2015 Stone, cotton-wool, iron

 Lee Ufan's Relatum, 1969/1995-2015 Stone, cotton-wool, iron

mono-ha cardi gallery

Lee Ufan’s Relatum, 1969/1995-2015 Stone, cotton-wool, iron

 

Susumu Koshimizu's paper  "Phase—Mother Earth", 1968

Nobuo Sekine's 'Phase of Nothingness– Cloth and Stone' (1970)

Top left: Susumu Koshimizu’s Paper, 1969/1995; Top right: Nobuo Sekine’s ‘Phase—Mother Earth’, 1968 Bottom: Nobuo Sekine’s ‘Phase of Nothingness– Cloth and Stone’ (1970)

 

Noboru Takayama's Underground Zoo, 1968/2015 Wood

Noboru Takayama's 'Underground Zoo

mono-ha cardi gallery

Noboru Takayama’s ‘Underground Zoo’, 1968/2015 Wood

 

Noguchi for Danh Vo: Counterpoint at M+ Pavilion, Hong Kong

m+ pavilion   Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi

 

I have always been fascinated by Japanese American modernist artist, designer and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi‘s work, yet I have never visited his museum in New York even though I used to live there. I have seen his work at MOMA and at other art institutions in America, but oddly enough, I have rarely seen his work being shown outside of America. Hence, I was quite excited about his exhibition in Hong Kong before my visit.

The ‘Noguchi for Danh Vo: Counterpoint‘ at M+ Pavilion exhibition is based on an ongoing conversation between two artists who never met: Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) and the contemporary Vietnamese Danish artist Danh Vo (born 1975). Vo, who has in recent years explored and researched Noguchi’s life and art, and has included Noguchi’s work in his installations with increasing frequency. This exhibition shed light on each artist’s protean body of work.

 

 Isamu Noguchi This Tortured Earth  Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi    Isamu Noguchi Ghost

 Isamu Noguchi bamboo Basket Chair

 

Occupying the main exhibition space were Noguchi‘s sculptures, furniture, lighting and worksheets. Noguchi‘s biomorphic sculptures remind me very much of another artist from the same period: Barbara Hepworth. Yet he was also a brilliant designer and landscape architect; his iconic coffee table designed in 1944 is still in production (now by Herman Miller/Vitra) after more than seven decades. Another classic design series are his Akari Light Sculptures, inspired by his trip to Gifu in Japan where it is famous for its manufacture of paper parasols and lanterns. Over the years, he created a total of more than 100 models, consisting of table, floor and ceiling lamps ranging in size from 24 to 290 cm.

In the middle of the room, there was a Chinese-style pavilion Untitled (Structure for Akari PL2) designed by Vo to hang Noguchi‘s paper lamp sculptures, and for visitors to rest. It blended extremely well with Noguchi‘s works.

 

 Isamu Noguchi    Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi    Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi Leda

 Isamu Noguchi    Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi

 

Outside of the building were a few cargo containers where Vo‘s works were exhibited. Like Noguchi, Vo‘s life was shaped and influenced by Eastern and Western cultures. Due to his refugee background, Vo often addresses the issues of history, identity and belonging in his work. His conceptual works often weave archival fragments together and personal references. He also doesn’t believe in providing explanatory material, hence, it’s up to the visitors to interpret his work. Last year, Vo held a sold exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, so he is undoubtedly one of the most prominent Asian artists working today.

 

Danh Vo  Danh Vo

Danh Vo  Danh Vo

Danh Vo’s conceptual art work

 

 

Manhole cover designs in Japan

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Sakura motifs are often featured in Japanese manhole cover designs

 

If you have visited Japan before, you have probably seen the wonderul manhole covers on the pavements all over Japan – it would be hard to miss them! The popularity of these manhole covers has been growing rapidly both locally and overseas, and often the ‘manholers’ would seek, photograph these covers and share them online to websites like Japanese Society of Manhole Covers (日本マンホール蓋学会), and the Manhole lid museum. Meanwhile, Osaka-based photographer S. Morita has been photographing manhole covers around Japan for several years, and there are close to 2000 designs on the site. However, if seeing the photos doesn’t satisfy you, then you could attend the Japanese Manhole Cover Festival or summit in Tokyo where a variety of manhole cover designs are exhibited, along side with souvenir to bring home.

 

Only in Japan: A factory tour of the Nagashima Imono Casting Factory

 

The history of the manhole covers in Japan is mentioned in the book, Drainspotting: Japanese manhole covers by Remo Camerota. In the 1980s, the modernisation of the sewer system in rural Japan was unwelcomed by the local residents, but a civil servant Yasutake Kameda solved that problem by introducing customised manhole covers in every municipality. By enabling each city/town/village to design their own unqiue covers to showcase their specialities or identites turned out to be a huge success, hence it has become a cultural phenomenon over time. Although each cover is designed specifically for the location, it would generally feature elements such as the town emblem, famous landmark, special event, war battle, official bird, local flowers or local mascots etc. The ones with firefighters indicate that there is fire hydrant underneath it.

Although I am not a manhole cover otaku, I have been photographing these manhole covers whenever I came across them over the years during my trips to Japan, and will continue to do so in the future.

 

Floral theme

manhole cover  manhole cover

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manhole cover  manhole cover tokyo

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Local symbols/ specialties

manhole cover nara  manhole cover nara

Deer and nature in Nara

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Nagoya’s Amenbo (or water strider) is the symbol for Nagoya City Waterworks and Sewerage Office as this insect only lives in clean water

manhole cover

Grapes in Furano, Hokkaido

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Washi paper making in Fukui

 

Local lanndmarks

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Osaka castle

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Shiragawa-go

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Nature

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Firefighters

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Toko firefighters

 

 

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Boro textiles at Amuse museum (closed in 2019)

amuse museum Boro – real astonishment exhibition

Boro – real astonishment exhibition

 

After spending so much time in the rural countryside, I found it hard to cope with the hustle and bustle back in Tokyo, and felt slightly dazy and detached from reality. My original Airbnb booking was cancelled by a host in Tokyo at the last minute, (the 2nd Tokyo cancellation on this trip), and at the last minute, I found an apt hotel in Asakusa, which turned out to be excellent and very reasonable.

I usually avoid going to Asakusa whenever I visit Tokyo because it is always packed and very touristy. This time, however, I thought it might be fun to explore an area that I am not familiar with especially while I was staying minutes away from the famous Senso-ji.

One day, I walked past an old building and saw the name Amuse Museum with a shop at the front. It was the poster and indigo textiles that drew me inside. I had never heard of this museum before and had no idea what was exhibiting inside, but seeing the textiles compelled me to purchase an entry ticket. And once inside, I was completely blown away… I couldn’t believe that I stumbled upon this museum right after my Japanese textiles workshop! Serendipity, perhaps?!

 

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

 

This private museum opened in 2009 and specialises in Japanese textile and ukiyo-e. The amazing collection consists of 30,000 pieces of Boro clothing and textiles (from the 17th and 19th centuries) collected by folklorist and ethnologist Chuzaburo Tanaka, of which 786 items have been designated as Important Tangible Cultural Properties.

Derived from the Japanese boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired, boro grew out of necessity rather than fashion. Its concept is almost the opposite of what fashion has become in the 21st century – you can even call it the precedent of ‘slow fashion’ and ‘upcycled fashion’.

There are two Japanese terms and concepts that are deeply ingrained into the Japanese culture: Mottainai meaning ‘a sense of regret concerning waste’, and Yuyonobi meaning ‘the beauty of practicality’. In the old days, impoverished rural farmimg families (especially those who live in the north like Tohoku) would mend, repair textiles (clothes and bedding) through piecing, patching and stitching to extend their use. Since the region was too cold to grow cotton, hemp became the most popular choice of material. Later, when old cotton clothing from the south made its way up to the north, scraps of indigo-dyed cotton would be used, and sewn with sashiko stitching (a type of functional embroidery) to reinforce and to quilt layers of cloth together. These ‘rags’ and garments would be handed down over generations, as the testimonies of decades of mending.

Interestingly, this concept is similiar to the robes worn by Zen Buddhist monks in ancient times, when monks used to collect rags and sew them up to create their one-of-a-kind patchwork robes.

 

amuse museum

boro textiles

amuse museum

amuse museum boro

amuse museum

 

For many centuries, Japan was a relatively poor country, and it was around the Meiji period (from 1868 to 1912) that the overall living standard started to rise. This meant that much of the Boro textiles were discarded, and new clothing was bought as fixing or mending became a tradition of the past.

Thanks to the effort of one ethnologist – Chuzaburo Tanaka – we are now able to admire this intricate and fantastic ancient craft and art form, and appreciate its unqiue value.

The special 10th year anniversary exhibition: Boro – Real astonishment showcased a collection of boro textiles along with 34 photo images published by Kyoichi Tsuzuki (the photographer and author of “BORO Rags and Tatters from the Far North of Japan”). This is a touring exhibition, and will be touring until 2020, so people outside of Japan can learn about this outsider art/craft form.

 

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

 

Besides the temporary exhibition, the permanent collection also showcases a rotating collection of 1500 pieces of boro clothing and textiles, alongside with other antiques and folk arts from Mr. Tanaka’s collection.

I was particularly glad to see the indigo-dyed firefighter’s jackets hikeshi banten often mentioned by Bryan at the textiles workshop. Made in the Edo period, these reversible jackets often feature a plain side and a decorative side. Firemen would expose the plain side while fighting the fire, but after the fire had been extinguished, they would reverse their jackets to display the decorative side to a cheering crowd. Hence, many firefighter’s jackets were decorated with tsutsugaki (a resist dyeing technique that is similar to Katazome) symbolic images that were meaningful and important to the firefighters. Indigo dye was chosen for its antibacterial and flame-resistant qualities, as well as its resistant to ripping and tearing, cutting and abrasion due to impact. With roots dating back to the 1600s, indigo-dyed fabrics were worn under the armour of samurais to keep bacteria away from wounds and to repel odor and dirt. Therefore, the indigo dye was used not for aesthetic reasons but for its excellent practical properties.

 

amuse museum  amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museumamuse museum

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amuse museum

 

Although I saw Akira Kurosawa‘s “Yume” or “Dreams” years ago, I could barely remember the costumes featured in that film (I watched it again after seeing the exhibition). It was fascinating to learn that the costumes featured in the film were lend to the director by Chuzaburo Tanaka himself. The folk clothing was beautifully showcased in the last segment of the film, Village of the Watermills, and the scene where the villagers all paraded down the village was heartfelt and memorable.

 

yume costumes kurasawa  yume costumes kurasawa

yume costumes kurasawa

The folk costumes featured in Yume/Dreams

 

The museum also has an interesting collection of woodblock prints, and it houses an indigo-dyeing studio where visitors can take part in workshops.

 

woodblock print amuse museum   woodblock print amuse museum

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Woodblock prints and Indigo-dyeing studio

 

After my inspiring tour of the museum, I went upstairs to the rooftop and spent some time admiring the panaromic view of Asakusa and watching the sun set behind Senso-ji (there was literally no other visitor there!). Spending a few hours at the museum made me forget that I was in Tokyo; while watching the sunset was the icing on the cake, it was a perfect end to my day.

 

senso-ji asakusa

 

N.B. Sadly, I learned that the Amuse Museum closed in March 2019, but hopefully it will revive again in another venue somewhere in the city. Fingers crossed.

 

 

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Japanese textiles workshop (Part 2): Katagami & Katazome

Ise-Katagami Artisan Isao Uchida

katagami  katagami

Top: a visit and demonstration of katagami by the Ise-Katagami artisan Isao Uchida

 

Like I mentioned in my previous entry, my knowledge on traditional Japanese textiles techniques was quite minimal before the workshop. I have done some shibori techniques like itajime and pole wrapping, but I have never done any stitch shibori nor Katagami and Katazome before, and so when I received a stencil cutter and some stencil paper from Bryan in the ‘homework’ box before the workshop, I had to google frantically to get some ideas on how to create three unqiue patterns.

So, what is Katagami? It is an ancient Japanese paper stenciling craft that dates back to the 6th century. The specific paper required is made up of several sheets of washi (Japanese mulbery paper) pasted together with kakishibu (a tannin-rich persimmon juice), resulting in a strong and flexible, brown-coloured paper. Patterns can then be cut out with a razor-like cutter or punched out with various tools. It is also possible to overlap multiple stencils to create intricate and beautiful patterns.

 

katagami

katazome  indigo fujino

katagami

 Botom: a vintage katagami stencil from Bryan’s collection

 

We had the prilvilege to meet the Ise-Katagami artisan Isao Uchida who demonstrated a skill that he has practiced for several decades. He had just been named as the ‘Living National Treasure (Ningen Kokuhō)’ by the Japanese Government, and he came to pay Bryan a visit before attending the ceremony with the Prime Minster that eveing.

The craft of katagami is often accompanied by katazome – a traditional craft of stencil resist-dyeing using a paste made from rice husks, lime and water. Using the katagami paper stencils, the rice paste is brushed onto the cloth and when dried, it is immersed in the dye, like indigo. In the old days, katazome was used primarily on kimono fabrics, but now it has become a dying art form as the demand for kimonos have decreased significantly in modern Japan.

During the workshop, we spent a full day working at the katazome paste maker and dyer’s home/workshop, Hiroshi Noguchi, in Hachioji. Mr Noguchi is the a sixth-generation paste maker and dyer who specialises in indigo katazome. He works with his son, and his young grandson (the eighth generation), who showed immense interest and enthusiasm with the family bsuiness.

 

Hiroshi Noguchi  paste maker

indigo vat

paste maker  indigo dyeing

Hiroshi Noguchi

katazome paste maker

paste maker

paste maker  Hiroshi Noguchi

paste maker

  

At Mr Noguchi‘s workshop, we watched him making the rice paste from scratch, and his son preparing the paste for us to use. When the paste was ready, we applied it onto the cotton cloths laid out on long boards through the stencils we had each designed. Since it was a very hot day, the paste dried fairly quickly in the sun. These long cloths were then hung horizontally outside and we all had a go at applying a special grey dye onto them.

Aside from the long strips of cloths, we also cut up some shorter ones and dipped them in the indigo vats. Since the paper stencils are very strong, we could easily wash them and reuse them over and over again.

 

paste maker

Hiroshi Noguchi

katazome paste maker

katazome

katazome paste maker  katazome

 

The experience of working at Mr Noguchi‘s workshop was novel and humbling. It was encouraging to see that this craft has been passed on for so many generations, and that he was generous enough to let us use his workshop. I highly respect Bryan for trying to protect these traditional Japanese arts and crafts from disappearing by bringing his students here in order to support these artisans. With so many anicent arts and crafts vanishing globally due to our ‘fast culture’, it is time to review our lifestyle and support artisans who have spent their entire lives dedicating to one specfic craft or art form.

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s masterpiece: The Enoura Observatory in Odawara

Japanese rail

Japanese rail

Japanese rail

The cute Nebukawa Station first opened in 1922 but was swept away (along with a train full of passengers) by a landslide a year later. Hundred of people were killed during this disaster, and there is a memorial at the station that commemorates this tragic incident

 

After I left Atami, I took the train to the nearby Nebukawa Station as I had booked a tour to visit The Enoura Observatory, created by contemporary artist and the founder of Odawara Art Foundation, Hiroshi Sugimoto (who was also responsible for the renovations of the MOA in Atami). All visitors have to book the tour online, which includes a free return mini bus rides between the observatory and the train station.

Since it opened in the autumn of 2017, the observatory has been receiving international coverage and praises for its merge of nature, art, history and architecture, and it was highly recommended to me by a Japanese friend.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

Like both places I visited earlier in the day, this site occupies a hilltop position that overlooks the Sagami bay. The site comprises a reception area, a gallery space, two outdoor stages, a revived Tensho-an tea ceremony room, a restored Muromachi Period (c. 1338-1573) Meigetsu Gate, and rock gardens featuring various rocks and stones collected from all over Japan by Sugimoto .

At the long gallery space, visitors can view Sugimoto’s photography work titled seascape. The artist has had a long fascination with the sea, and he explained: “my earliest childhood memory is of the sea seen from the window of the Shonan train, running on the old Tokaido line from Atami to Odawara.” And this memory was the inspiration behind the project.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

Drawing ideas from ancient cultures and their relationships with nature, the 100-metre gallery is also a viewing platform where sun ray would reach the gallery space on the morning of the summer solstice.

On the morning of the winter solstice, the optical glass stage would glow as it catches the light on its cut edges. Its auditorium is a full-size recreation of a ruined Roman amphitheater in Ferento in the Lazio region of Italy, with the glass stage designed to look like it is floating on the surface of the sea.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

 

The winter solstice also sends light through the 70-metre light-worship metal tunnel to illuminate a large stone at the other end. An aperture has been built into the tunnel to admit light, with a well beneath it. The chisel marks on it suggest that it dates from medieval times. The bottom of the well is covered with pieces of optical glass, where the individual raindrops can be seen as they fall into the well when it rains.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

As you walk around the maze-like site, it is hard not be to awe of what you see or encounter. It gives you a sense of anticipation and appreciation for nature and beauty. Every element here is precisely positioned to lead you somewhere and to make you look. In a way, it is like being ‘manipulated’ to see the nature around you through architecture and landscape design, which is quite ambitious and bold.

 

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

After spending some time here, it felt quite peaceful and contemplative. I think the project has succeeded in merging nature, architecture and design together harmoniously. It would be wonderful to revisit the site on the days of summer/winter solstice for a more enchanting experience.

 

Houkusai & Hirashige’s ukiyo-e exhibition at MOA Atami

moa museum of art

 

After my visit to Kyu Hyuga Bettei, I headed back to the train station to take a free shuttle bus to the MOA Museum of Art situated on the top of hill that overlooks the sea. Like Miho Museum in Kyoto, this private museum was opened in 1982 by the Mokichi Okada Association (MOA) to house the art collection of the multimillionaire and religious leader (Church of World Messianity) Mokichi Okada (1882–1955).

There are 3,500 paintings, calligraphy works, sculptures, lacquerware and ceramics focusing on Japanese and Chinese art. The museum reopened in 2017 after a major renovation by contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto and architect Tomoyuki Sakakida.

 

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

 

Interestingly, in order to reach the entrance of the museum, visitors have to go up a series of long escalators in a tunnel-like setting with colour-changing lighting. And when visitors reach the top, there is a dome showcasing some projected imagery with sound installations. The whole experience (before you even reach the museum) is immersive and uplifting, which makes you anticipate and look forward to what is to follow.

 

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

 

Finally, after I left the first building, I was out in the open with the sky and sea on one side, and a massive pinkish contemporary building on the other. And before stepping onto the the long and wide staircases, I was greeted by Henry Moore’s bronze work, “King and Queen”. I was incredibly lucky with the weather, and the view of the sky and sea was spectacular on the day of my visit.

I was also fortunate enough to have been able to see the special exhibition: “Hokusai and Hiroshige―The Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji and the Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido“. Although I have seen several exhibitions on the ukiyo-e by Hokusai and Hiroshige, I have never seen the two complete series side by side, so I was really excited about it.

 

moa museum of art

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

 

Published in 1831 by Nishimura Eijudō press, Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760-1849) 36 woodblock print designs were published initially, with 10 more added later on. The two most famous prints are “The great wave of Kanagawa” and “A mild breeze on a fine day” or The Red Fuji”, and they both depict the power and calmness of nature. In every print, the revered Mount Fuji can be seen from different angles, sizes and colours.

 

hokusai

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“Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido” by Utagawa Hiroshige

 

The Hoeido press published Utagawa Hiroshige’s (1797-1858) “Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido” in 1833-4 after his expedition with the Shogun from Edo to Kyoto the previous year. The series of woodblock prints feature the landscape of the 53 post stations along the The Tokaido route, which connected Edo with the then-capital of Kyoto. If you want to learn more about this, you can check out this map that features the locations and prints by Hiroshige.

The compositions, the use of colours and tones, and most importantly –humanity– are expressed vividly by the two great masters. It was a real treat to be able to see the complete sets at this exhibition.

 

Nonomura Ninsei  MOA

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MOA

 

Besides the temporary exhibitions, there are some exquisite National treasures that can also be found at the museum. One of them is Ogata Korin‘s masterpiece from the Edo period “Red and White Plum Blossoms,” painted on a pair of two-panel folding screens. The other is another Edo period Tea-leaf jar with a design of wisteria by Nonomura Ninsei. And in another room, there are also some photographic works by Hiroshi Sugimoto of the sea shot from Atami.

There is even a Noh theatre inside the museum where performances and concerts are held regularly.

 

MOA

MOA

MOA

MOA

 

One you step out of side of the building, a path would lead you to the Japanese tea garden, Ippaku-an and Shotei tea houses and the reconstructed Residence of Ogata Korin (a famous Japanese painter, lacquerer and designer of the Rinpa school) based on the documents from the Konishi Archive.

It was incredibly calm and meditative to walk around the garden, and I only wish I had more time to spare here. I would recommend a visit to this stunning museum especially if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Although Tokyo offers many world-class museums, it is the beautiful nature and environment that makes this museum stands out from the crowd.

 

Mino washi museum & Akari Art Gallery

mino

shared taxi mino  mino

 

One of places I wanted to visit in Mino was the Mino washi museum. Yet the museum is located about half an hour’s drive from the town centre, and there are no buses that could get me there. After enquiring at the tourist office (inside a washi paper stationery shop), the lady there told me that she could book a ‘shared taxi’ for me to pick me up and bring me back at the requested times. After lunch, I waited outside of the bank and a mini van showed up. To my surprise, this was the ‘shared taxi’ that was booked for me. This is a community shared taxi service called Noriai-Kun, and it reminded me of the Songthaews/ Red trucks in Thailand, but of course the Japanese version is more comfortable and safer. After the driver dropped off a few passengers, he drove along the river and I was able to enjoy the scenery outside of the window. When I arrived, I asked the driver about the cost, and I thought he indicated 1000 yen, but it turned out to be merely 100 yen!

 

mino washi museum

mino washi museum

mino washi museum

mino washi museum

mino washi museum

Mino washi museum

 

The Mino washi museum is a modern building with several exhibition halls, paper-making workshop space, a shop and a cafe. Aside from learning about the history and the making of washi paper, visitors can also watch the demonstrations of paper-making and then try it out at the workshops. Due to limited time, I did not do the workshop, but I enjoyed seeing a temporary washi paper art exhibition that showcased works by local artists.

 

mino washi museum

mino washi museum

mino washi museum

Mino washi paper products sold at the shop

 

In the town centre, a visit to the Mino Washi Akari Art Gallery is a must. From the outside of the building (a former Mino City Industrial Association Hall built in 1941) and even after I entered the building, I had no idea of what I was about to encounter. Yet as soon as I walked into the dark exhibition area upstairs, I was astonished by all the stunning washi paper lanterns on display.

 

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery  washi akari art gallery 

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery  lantern

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery

 

Every year October, Mino City hosts an Akari Festival where washi paper lanterns are lit and displayed along the main Udatsu street at night, turning the town into a lantern wonderland. At the gallery, visitors can admire all the exquisite and delicate lanterns created by professional artists, students, and the prize winners of the lantern competition held annually at the festival.

I was completely blown away by what I saw. And I think the exhibition showcases not only the craftsmanship, creativity, dedication, but also great respect for the traditions by all the artisans.

 

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery  washi akari art gallery 

lantern

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery

2nd row right: winning work of 2010; Bottom two rows: Winning work of 2017

 

 

Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum in Kyoto

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I have wanted to visit Japanese potter, Kawai Kanjiro‘s former house – now his Memorial Museum for a long time. Yet for some reason, I never made it until this trip… it was a timely visit as the museum was like a quiet sanctuary compared to hassle and bustle in the centre of the city.

Born 1890, Kawai Kanjiro was a prominent figure in Mingei (Japanese folk art) movement founded by Japanese philosopher, Yanagi Soetsu, in the 1920s and 30s, as well as the studio pottery movements led by Bernard Leach. According to Yanagi, everyday and utilitarian objects made by the anonymous craftsmen are ‘beyond beauty and ugliness’. They are inexpensive and functional ware made for ordinary people, rather than ornaments to be placed on shelves as decorations.

Kawai acquainted and collaborated with British potter, Bernard Leach (who founded Leach Pottery with another well-known Japanese potter, Shoji Hamada) throughout his life, hence he often combined English with Japanese elements together to create pottery pieces that are asymmetrical.

 

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Luckily, Kawai‘s beautiful wooden farm house seems to be under the tourists’ radar, so I was able to wander and absorb the subdued and tranquil setting. Designed by Kawai and built by his brother in 1937, the house had been left untouched since his death in 1966. It is not hard to see the influence of Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of wabi sabi (the aesthetics often associated with ‘imperfection’) at this house, in particular when he talks of ’emptiness’ in the his essay titles “We Do Not Work Alone”:

“When you become so absorbed in your work that beauty flows naturally then your work truly becomes a work of art… Everything that is, is not. Everything is, yet at the same time, nothing is. I myself am the emptiest of all.”

 

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One of the most impressive sights at the house is his huge kiln at the back, which has been well preserved. Beside pottery, Kawai also did wood carving, furniture design, metal casting and calligraphy, and these works can be seen around the house/museum. I found the museum and his work utterly inspiring, and I think it is possible to imagine the kind of person he was from his craft, designs and writings. The aesthetics of this house is so sublime and understated that it would take some time to grasp it, and you may need to return again to appreciate it fully.

 

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