David Chart's Japan Diary

July 25th 2004

Another trip this week, this time to Tokyo again, but that'll be the last for a while: the final round playtest reports on Ars Magica are now in, so I'm going to be busy with final revisions for a while.

Before the trip the week was pretty much normal schoolwork. I did have an extremely satisfying experience: explaining Descartes's cogito ergo sum in Japanese, to one of the teachers. (We'd just covered the grammar used in the standard Japanese translation.) And a rather weird experience. I phoned a Buddhist temple to make arrangements to stay there for a night on a trip later in the year. The hold music was 'The Entertainer'. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

So, the trip. Friday I headed up by the normal train, and popped over to Shinjuku in the evening to have a look around Kinokuniya, the bookshop. I can almost read standard novels, it seems, and I had another look at Japanese histories of Japan. There are a few interesting-looking series around, which I may pick up in a few weeks/months. Not quite yet, though.

Saturday was the main day, and I packed quite a lot in. In the morning I headed over to Harajuku, and went to the Ota Memorial Museum. This is one of the most famous ukiyo-e (woodblock print) museums in Tokyo, and they have constantly changing exhibitions. The current one is 'Children in ukiyo-e', which was interesting. I hadn't seen most of the prints before, and they included 'do-it-yourself' kits, where you cut out the images to make a suit of armour or something like that. Some of them looked incredibly complicated. There was one, depicting several scenes from folktales, which looked virtually impossible to do. You'd have to be a real virtuoso at cutting the bits out, and if you were that good I have to wonder whether you'd need the kit at all.

Anyway, it's a good small museum, and one I'll probably visit again at some point; it's very close to Meiji Jingu, which means there's a nice park handy as well.

From there, I followed the rest of the Harajuku/Aoyama walking tour in my guide book, and met up with Yuriko outside Omotesando underground station. We stopped at a cafe, and while it cost about as much as I was expecting, Yuriko thought it was expensive. Maybe being a tourist makes you more sensitive to the fact that the place has lots of staff, nice decor, and a location on one of the main shopping streets in Tokyo in the middle of a lot of expensive boutiques...

The garden at Nezu Yuriko in the garden at the Nezu Institute of Fine Arts.

We went on to the Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, which is a nice museum with a beautiful small garden. This is another place that has regularly changing exhibitions, and the current one is an exhibition of Buddhist calligraphy; copies of sutras. The oldest scroll there dates from 712, and there were a lot from the eighth century. I rather liked the scrolls in silver on dark blue; I thought it looked very effective.

The permanent collection also looks interesting, but our look around there was slightly abbreviated, as Yuriko had to get back to the office, and we wanted to look round the garden. The garden, while small, is very good. It uses the topography, which has quite a few slopes, to make it seem bigger, as you can never see the whole thing. Yet another place that didn't really feel like central Tokyo on a Saturday.

We walked back to Yuriko's office together, so I've now seen where she works and met her bosses and workmates; that always helps with the mental images when people tell you what's going on. Since they were busy preparing for the Video Art Screening (see below), I left pretty quickly, and headed on Koishikawa Kourakuen.

Koishikawa Kourakuen Koishikawa Kourakuen.

This is another garden. As a small garden, I think it's possibly the best I've been in. It can't match Okayama's Kourakuen, or Ritsurin in Takayama, but in the space it has, it is, I think, more appealing than Hama Rikyuu. Again, a lot of the charm comes from using small hills and wooded areas to break lines of sight, so that the garden feels bigger than it is. Further, the use of rivers, bridges, ponds, and islands struck me as particularly good. I took a lot of photographs here.

The only problem with Koishikawa Kourakeun is that it isn't on the way anywhere else, really. Hama Rikyuu makes a good part of a trip that includes Sensoji, but Koishikawa Kourakuen really needs its own special trip in an afternoon. That makes it harder to show to people.

Anyway, as a result of that I've nearly finished my Tokyo guidebook. One more garden to go, and a visit to Tsukiji if I can work out how to be in Tokyo on a weekday. From the garden I took a quick trip back to Sawanoya to pick up the key to the front door, and then I headed on to the main reason for the trip: the Video Art Screening.

This was organised by Yuriko's company, and has been Yuriko's main job for the last few months. It was very interesting, and the brief conversation with the curator in the taxi afterwards was also interesting. My initial impression was that only the first and last videos really matched up the medium, but that conversation led me to think slightly differently. Two of the videos were really videos of performances. The second one was technically very impressive; the artist had learned to sing 'Stairway to Heaven' backwards, so that when you played the video backwards it came out comprehensible. He filmed the video outside St Paul's, and the pigeon walking backwards along the steps in the background was amusing. As performances, they had merit, but I wouldn't really describe them as video art. The last two were not, I think, made to be watched straight through. As things you encountered bits of in a gallery, they would work better.

Tokyo Tower Destroyed! Godzilla destroys Tokyo Tower. Unfortunately he has his head tucked in to avoid killing himself on the beam, so you can't see his mask.

After that, we went on to a club to see a live piece of performance art. We arrived a bit early for the performance, and Yuriko had to say hello to a lot of people, so I found myself talking to a Japanese woman who was a friend of a friend of Yuriko's. I can now do small talk with strangers for an hour in Japanese. (Noises off: "Wow! You can't do that in English." I can hear you...)

The performance was great. It may not have been high art, but a skateboarding ninja has a lot going for him. The best bit, though, was the skateboarding Godzilla (alas, only a head-mask), jumping into a destroying polystyrene models of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings, Roppongi Hills Tower, and, finally, Tokyo Tower. I don't know whether I'd say it was deep and meaningful, but it was extremely entertaining, and that's just as good a role for art as anything else.

After that I got a bit of a late night, and it was a fairly early start this morning; I got back about midday, so I've done laundry, shopping, and such. My dinner is currently cooking, so I'd better sort this out and upload it.