David Chart's Japan Diary

March 22nd 2006

This entry is a day late because yesterday was Vernal Equinox Day, a national holiday here, and Yuriko and I went out. Japan also won the World Baseball Classic, which makes them the world champions. This was an unexpected result, to put it mildly, as the USA was competing in the tournament. Work has gone fairly well. Teaching has now picked up to the level I want, so I'm a bit busier with that. I finished revising the new book, and my previous one for that company has been released and is being generally well-received. I really need to update my books page, but I've not had time yet. Maybe this week.

So, work has been fine. What about the rest of life? Last Sunday, we went to a museum exhibition in Yokohama. The exhibition was of Shinto art from Kanagawa, and it was very interesting, particularly as one of the people responsible for organising the exhibition gave a talk introducing it. (She was female and fairly young, and thus, in Japan, unlikely to have been formally in charge. She may well have done all the work, however.) There were several dozen people there, and she was rather surprised at the size of the crowd. Going round and looking at all the exhibits wasn't really possible, as the crowd filled one of the exhibition rooms, and half-filled the larger ones.

Unlike Buddhist art, Shinto art is not generally displayed. Originally, Shinto deities had no form at all, but under the influence of Buddhism anthropomorphic imagery became more popular. However, the images were still kept hidden away from most people, and in some cases they were considered so sacred that the shrine priests did not see them. She said that some of the rooms containing the images were not opened for a century at a time; looking at the state of the wooden images, this was plausible.

It also meant that, when it came to images of the gods, no-one really knew what there was. As a result, the museum staff went round the shrines asking whether they had anything, and turned up a few previously-unknown thousand-year-old images. They are not, as she said, lost artistic masterpieces, but they are a thousand years old, and make an interesting contribution to the history of Japanese art. One notable point is that the style is very heavily influenced by that of Buddhist images, but the Shinto images have rather different facial expressions. Buddhist images always look calm, but Shinto images usually look worried. (Well, not exclusively worried, but they certainly look as though they have emotions and uncertainties.)

There were also a number of painted scrolls of the history of certain shrines, Buddhist images from back before the Meiji Revolution when Buddhism and Shinto were very closely entwined, and some treasures from important shrines. Overall, it was a very interesting exhibition, and I bought the catalogue. We ate at the museum (OK, I guess), and then had a quick look around the permanent exhibition before it closed. That looked interesting, and we may go back at some point to take things a bit more slowly.

This Sunday, we did nothing. We stayed in, taking things easy and just spending time together. It was very good.

Yesterday, we went shopping. All the shops are open for national holidays, of course. We bought the last bit of furniture for the first stage of furnishing the flat, and also had a look round a garden shop to get some ideas for plants to put on the balcony. That's going to need careful thought; it's big enough that we can put plants on it, and still sit out, but only if we are careful about both the plant pots and the chairs.

To compensate me for having to look round household goods shops, we also popped into a bookshop. For a couple of hours... I bought a new history book, as I've decided that the series I was reading before was a bit too advanced; it assumes that you know all the basics, and covers the academic debates over interpretation and evidence. It's very interesting, but I think I need to fill in some more details of the background first. Thus, I've started on a new series, which is being published this year, and has lots of nice colour pictures, as well as giving a general overview of the period. I've only just started it, obviously, but so far it seems to be targeted at just the level I need, with the right amount of detail.

Shopping for books is still a bit tricky; I can't read quickly enough to skim them in the shop, which means I have to make guesses about the level. Still, if I keep practising, that ought to get sorted out eventually.

I think that's about it. It hasn't been the most exciting couple of weeks, which is generally a good thing. Too much excitement is hard to live with.