“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

 

 

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.

 

Art, nature & permaculture in Fujino

fujino

 

Most foreigners who visit Japan tend to stick to big cities or well-known onsen/resorts, and they rarely travel to the rural parts of Japan. On this trip, I completely fell in love with Japan’s rural countryside. The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage was a highlight, but I also loved Fujino, a rural town (with population of just over 10,000) located in the northern edge of Kanagawa Prefecture and about 1.5 hour outside of Tokyo. Officially, the town name doesn’t exist anymore after it was merged into Sagamihara city (it became Midori Ward in 2010), but locals still fondly call the area Fujino. Surrounded by mountains and tea plantations, the numerous hiking trails are big attractions for hikers who live in Tokyo due to its proximity and beautiful scenery. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Fuji (which we did one day) up on the hill.

 

fujino  fujino

fujino

fujino  nature fujino

fujino

spider web

 

Actually Fujino is not near Mount Fuji, its name means wild wisteria town. As soon as you step out of the railway station, you would see a ‘love letter’ art installation – an envelope sealed with a heart held by 2 hands – midway up on a mountain opposite the station that welcomes visitors.

So what differs Fujino from other rural towns in Japan? First of all, it is the first official Transition Town in Japan, and the 100th in the world. The world’s first Transition Town was initiated in 2005 by Transition Network founder and permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins in Totnes in Devon (see my earlier blog entry here). The Transition Town Movement is an international network of grassroots groups that aim to increase self-sufficiency through applying permaculture principles to reduce the potential effects of peak oil, climate destruction, and economic instability.

Hence, Fujino is considered a hub for sustainable communities that use local resources, farming, traditions and culture to increase self-sufficiency and tackle peak oil and climate change.

 

fujino

flowers

fujino flowers

fujino flowers

fujino flowers

 

Besides permaculture, the area has also been attracting artists for decades. During the times of WWII, some sixty of Tokyo’s most prominent artists (including Tsuguharu Foujita, Toshio Nakanishi, and Genichiro Inokuma) evacuated to this village, with the goal of building a ‘city of artists’ here. Since the 1970s a number of foreign artists, artisans and craftsmen have also moved here.

Although Fujino never became a world-renown ‘art city’, a ‘Fujino Furusato Art Village Plan’ was launched in 1986 to promote it as an art dwelling community. In 1995, a multi-purpose art centre called Fujino Workshop for Art was built. It has a 300-seat concert hall, rehearsal studios, craft-making studios and accommodations. The venue provides workshops in pottery, woodworking, and natural dyeing for local children, adults and visitors.

 

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

fujino  fujino

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

After doing the Kumano Kudo pilgrimage in Wakayama, I was pleasantly surprised to find a Kumano Shinto Shrine up in the mountains

 

Soon it was followed by the opening of the Fujino Art Village, an art and craft market where local artisans and craftsmen sell their work in 9 individual huts. The village is not massive, but it is a good spot to find one-of-a-kind handmade crafts and designs and support local artisans. You can find glassware, woodwork, leather goods, ceramics, and home accessories here.

 

fujino art village  fujino art village

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tsumugu fujino art village  tsumugu fujino art village

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fujino art village  fujino art village

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Fujino art village

 

At the art village, you can also enjoy lunch at an organic cafe/restaurant. From Fri to Sun, the cafe becomes a pizzeria serving stone oven pizzas with organic produce made by potter, Touhei Nakamura (also a friend of Bryan). In addition to the standard pizzas, he also serves some unconventional ones with an Asian twist, and they are super delicious with very thin base and crunchy crust.

 

fujino art village

Touhei pizza  fujino art village

Touhei pizza

Touhei pizza

 

While staying with Bryan, we had the opportunity to meet his artisan friends who live locally. One of them is a basket maker and his basketry works are incredibly beautiful and intricate.

 

basketry  basketry

basketry

basketry

 

Bryan also took us to visit a potter who lives in a very secluded place… we had to walk downhill along a trail off a road for about 15 minutes in order to reach his home studio at the bottom of the valley.

While the potter normally sells his pottery through a gallery, we got to buy his very reasonably-priced work from him directly, and needless to say, we were all more than happy to part with our cash in exchange for some exquisite handcrafted pottery.

 

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pottery

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A secluded potter at his home studio

 

Last but not least, we also visited a secluded art gallery and cafe called Studio Fujino founded by graphic designer/art director, Yuko Higashikawa. After working in Milan on exhibition planning for some time, she returned to Japan to pursue a slow life. Her galley is surrouned by nature, and its secluded location means you are very likely to miss it if you are led by a local. (N.B. Unfortunately, I learned that the gallery closed its doors two months after our visit, but I hope it will revive in a different form in the future).

 

 studio fujino studio fujino   studio fujino

studio fujino

 studio fujino

Studio Fujino

 

After spending 10 days being surrounded by nature, it was hard to leave this place behind. My only wish is that I can return again in the near future.

 

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Hiroyuki Shindo’s Little indigo museum in Miyama

miyama

 

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much planning you do before your trip, things would still go wrong… but miraculously, some kind strangers/ locals would appear out of nowhere to help you out. I am sure many people have had these experiences when they travel, and I think it is probably the most ‘rewarding’ part of traveling. This happened to me when I traveled from Kyoto to Miyama, a small remote village in the mountains 50 kilometers north of central Kyoto.

Miyama is famous for its traditional, thatched roof (kayabuki) farmhouses scattered around the valley. I have read about The little indigo museum before my trip, and I really wanted to visit this museum. However, the journey from Kyoto to Miyama would require a train ride followed by a very infrequent bus service, which would take around 2 hours. Hence, I decided to spend a night there and I contacted the local tourism office 3 months ahead to book a room at the village’s only minshuku.

 

miyama

miyama

 

Yet a few weeks before the journey, I found out that the museum closes every Friday – the day I was planning to visit. I wrote an email to the museum asking if they could open earlier on Saturday before my bus journey back to kyoto, but I didn’t hear back and I got slightly worried. Meanwhile, the weather in Kyoto also changed drastically – from sunny 27 degrees to heavy rain and 17 degrees overnight.

Finally, the night before my departure, I received an email from Mr Hiroyuki Shindo, the owner of the museum apologising for the late reply and said he would welcome me at the museum on Friday afternoon. It was a relief for me (for a while) until I arrived at the station for the bus transfer, where I found out from a Japanese couple by the bus stop that the bus was not coming. Confused, wet and frustrated, I ended up sharing a taxi with four strangers (including an elderly Japanese lady and a Taiwanese tourist) heading towards the next town for the bus, which was about 30 mins drive away. The whole experience was quite surreal, but I was glad to have met these kind strangers and we had an interesting conversation during our taxi ride.

Two bus rides later, I finally reached Miyama, and I quickly rushed over to the minshuku, but no one was in. I decided not to wait around and and headed straight towards the museum.

 

little indigo museum

litle indigo museum  little indigo museum 

little indigo museum

little indigo museum  little indigo museum

little indigo museum

little indigo museum  little indigo museum

 

I couldn’t believe the journey it took me to get to the museum (1 train, 1 taxi and 2 buses), and the downpour didn’t help either. Hence, it was a consolation when I was greeted by the friendly and hospitable Mr Shindo and his wife when I entered the house.

Housed inside a 200 year-old thatched roof farmhouse, the museum was established by Mr Shindo in 2005. The museum on the top floor displays some of his larger installation work and his collection of indigo textiles from around the world. On the ground floor is his indigo dyeing studio, where both he and his son work. He said that his son and family have moved back to Miyama from the city and is now working in the studio while he takes a step back from work.

Although Mr Shindo was not born in this village, he has lived and worked here for over 30 years. As a world-renowned indigo/textiles artist, his abstract and bold contemporary textile works have exhibited around the world in leading museums. I was notably awed by the precision of the dye in his works. When I asked him if teaches/conducts workshops, he shook his head and said that it would be impossible to learn this craft within a few hours or even a few days. I understood what he meant and agreed with him.

 

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little indigo museum

little indigo museum  little indigo museum

little indigo museum

 

I was impressed and intrigued by Mr Shindo’s beautiful collection from different parts of the world, which includes several traditional woodblock prints featuring shibori textiles. One particular item caught my eye and it was an indigo-dyed rucksack with straw backing. Mr Shindo explained to me that it is a vintage bridal rucksack that used to carry the bride’s essentials on the wedding day. I think the rucksack could still be used today (perhaps not at a wedding) and it would not even look outdated.

 

little indigo museum

little indigo museum

little indigo museum

little indigo museum

little indigo museum

 

After the museum tour, Mr Shindo invited me for some tea downstairs and we spent the next hour of so chatting about indigo, his work and my trip etc. I told him that I became interested in shibori after seeing a Japanese textiles exhibition at MOMA in NYC years ago, and to my surprise, he said that he also took part at that exhibition. I also learned that he is good friends with textiles artist, Hiroshi Saito, whom I ran into a few days ago at the temple, and Mr Shindo was amazed by my chance encounter with him.

Acknowledging my interest in shibori, Mr Shindo took out an A4 size box full of shibori techniques which he produced when he was a youngster. He explained that there are hundreds of shibori techniques, and it took him a long time to compile and create this reference box. I have never seen anything like this before and I was quite blown away by what I saw. Later, when I told him that I would be visiting Arimatsu the next day (a village famous for shibori in Nagoya), he quickly told me where to visit and even drew a map for me. Before I departed, I bought a DVD on the history of indigo, as well as some coasters and a scarf made by Mr Shindo and his wife.

 

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little indigo museum

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I had such a fascinating conversation with Mr Shindo,and I completely lost track of time. I must have spent over 2 hours at the museum, and it was getting dark outside, so it was time for me to head to the minshuku. Yet within 15 minutes’ time, I was back at the museum feeling confused and anxious…

I was in shock when I got to the minshuku and the owner said that there was a ‘mistake’ and his place was ‘full’! He couldn’t speak much English, so he suggested that we return to Mr Shindo’s and ask him to translate. It turned out that he had overbooked and despite the fact that i had booked months in advance, all the rooms were occupied that night. I couldn’t believe my luck, and I was feeling anxious as I was told that there is no other accommodation in the village. Finally, a phone call later, he said that he could drive me to a bigger guesthouse nearby as they have a room available. He was very apologetic and said he would cover the extra cost of the room as it was his fault. I didn’t care where I would spend the night as long as it was safe, clean and warm, so it was a relief to know that there would be a shelter for me that night.

 

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After a short drive from the village, we arrived at Miyama Nature and Culture Village Kajikaso. Before I left the museum, Mr Shindo assured me that the guesthouse is decent and has a nice onsen, and he was right. After a stressful day when almost everything went wrong, I couldn’t have been happier to be bathing alone outdoor in bath covered with pink cherry blossom petals while the rain fell onto my head and skin. After bathing outdoor by the river at Kawayu Onsen and inside a cave facing the sea in Kii Katsuura, this was my third onsen experience on this trip, and it was as blissful as the previous two. Yet the most unexpected surprise came in the morning when i walked into the dining room for breakfast – all i could see was pink cherry blossom outside of the window, which was utterly stunning.

Around 7 am I received a call from the reception informing me that Mr Shindo was in the lobby to see me. I quickly got dressed and went downstairs to meet him. Mr Shindo said he felt bad that I never got to see the village yesterday because of all the misfortunes I experienced yesterday, and he offered to show me around before I headed back to kyoto. He said he would come and pick me up after breakfast and would also drop me off at the bus stop afterwards.

 

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Words could not describe how grateful and touched by his offer, and it completely took me by surprise. With only about an hour to spare, he drove me to the Chii Hachiman Shrine, a historic local shrine that has been designated as the Kyoto Prefectural Cultural Property. Although the rain hadn’t stopped, the mesmerising view of the village, thatched-roofed farm houses and misty mountains looked almost magical and fairy-tale-like to me.

 

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After saying goodbye to Mr Shindo, I left Miyama full of gratitude and joy. My disastrous day turned out to be one of the most memorable day of my trip, and I felt blessed that I was helped by all the strangers I encountered on the day. And most of all, I would not forget the generosity and kindness of Mr Shindo, who is not only a master of his craft, but also an incredible person. If you love indigo textiles, then a trip to Miyama’s Little indigo museum is a must on your itinerary even if it is not the easiest place to get to. I guarantee you that it is worth the effort and time.

 

The wonders of Musee Guimet

musee guimet

 

Undoubtedly, Paris is a city with many outstanding world-class museums and art galleries, but sometimes the sheer volume of visitors at Louvre, Musee D’Orsay and Grand Palais is simply overwhelming and off-putting. Hence, I would rather spend my time lingering at some excellent but lesser known or less popular museums. And one of my favourites is Le musée national des arts asiatiques – Guimet/ Musee Guimet, which houses one of the largest collections of Asian art outside of Asia.

This museum was established by Emile Guimet in 1889, and it showcases 5000 years of Asian art with a vast array of sculptures, murals, decorative objects, ceramics, paintings, furniture, textiles, graphic prints and manuscripts etc. It is easy to spend a few hours here, and it rarely gets very crowded.

During my visit, I was very pleasantly surprised by French contemporary artist Prune Nourry‘s exhibition “HOLY, Carte Blanche to Prune Nourry”. Throughout the museum, installations of her past ten years’ work could be seen. I thought the most impressive was the giant Buddha statue that has been broken up, and strategically placed on different floor levels like old ruins. On the top floor was the head of the Buddha (where one could walk into it through the ears), a hand on the floor below, and the feet were placed on the ground floor, all of which were covered with red incense sticks. This intentionally fragmented installation reminds me of the blown up Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. It is poetic and mesmerising.

Her Terracotta Daughters sculptures created in 2013, consisted of an army of 108 girls, the eight original ones of which will be shown in the museum, refers to the first emperor’s terracotta soldiers, and is a tribute to the millions of girls that will not be born because
of pre-birth selection.

 

 Prune Nourry  musee guimet Prune Nourry

 Prune Nourry

musee guimet Prune Nourrymusee guimet Prune Nourry

 Prune Nourry

prune nourry  prune nourry

“HOLY, Carte Blanche to Prune Nourry” exhibition

 

Japanese graphic artist Hokusai‘s sold-out exhibition at British Museum revealed that traditional Japanese woodblock printing still fascinates the Western audience in this day and age. Unfortunately, the exhibition was so packed that I found myself constantly being blocked by older women who did not want others to get close to the prints or paintings.

Luckily, the exhibition “Paysages japonais, de Hokusai à Hasui” enabled me to enjoy Hokusai‘s famous prints up close without crowds nor disruption. Aside from Hokusai, there were also prints by other famous ukiyo-e artists like Hiroshige, Utamaro, Kuniyoshi and Hasui. The exhibition also showcased some rare vintage photographs of Japan, which were extremely fascinating.

 

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The “Paysages japonais, de Hokusai à Hasui” exhibition

 

musee guimet  musee guimet

The “113 Ors d’Asie” exhibition

 

Even though the British Museum has an excellent collection of ancient Buddhist art and sculptures, I think Musee Guimet’s collection is quite staggering too. I particularly love the ancient Buddhist sculptures from Afghanistan that were evidently influenced by the Greeks. The hair and the draping of the robes were more Western than Eastern, which demonstrated that ancient cultural exchanges did have an strong impact on the development of Buddhist art in Asia.

 

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musee guimet  musee guimet

musee guimet

musee guimet  musee guimet

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musee guimet

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musee guimet

musee guimet  musee guimet

 

Not far from the museum is Hôtel Heidelbach, a well-hidden annexe that houses a Buddhist Pantheon gallery, a lovely Japanese garden and a tea house for tea ceremonies. Entry to this gallery and garden is free, and it should not be missed.

 

musee guimet Japanese garden

The Japanese garden and tea house at Hôtel Heidelbach