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Archive for November, 2007

After the Post-Gazette article appeared I received a very moving email from Masashi Narita, a medical trainee here in Pittsburgh:

On Dec.7th 2006, I was asked the same interesting question from different persons ” Do you know what is the day today?” I can recall immediately that the day is unforgettable memorial day for Americans, especially veterans at VA hospital. I talked this episode to my fellows and friends of Americans and Japanese. Some of Americans understand that Pearl Harbor attack is the same memorial event as 9/11. Some of Japanese did not know the date of Pearl Harbor attack. From this experience, I understand that the importance to keep remember what has happened in our country’s history regardless of glorious or shame for us, as well as to think about the loser’s view point.

I had expected that someone may ask me the same question on August 6th or 9th this year. Nobody did it.

I can understand your emotional issues at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. I also visited there after 9/11 attack. I could not make any difference between the tragedies, the terror and the war.

Masashi put into words what I was feeling: there is no difference between these tragedies.

When I wrote my original post about visiting the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima I certainly had in mind the controversy over whether we should have dropped the bomb. I knew too many veterans of WWII who were certain they would have died in the Pacific, had the war continued. Regardless of how we might feel about the issue there is no going back. The important thing is to learn the lessons of the past and there are many of them here. Over the years I have gone from feeling, as a child, that we Americans were on the side of the angels, to knowing that we are capable of the same horrifying deeds our enemies have visited upon us. There are no angels on earth, at least not in any government.

Stacie, an artist who blogs at Nomadic Creations, wrote a profound piece about a conversation with the Rwandan owner of a nearby gallery.

It was a unique opportunity to really see the world through someone else’s eyes, and to understand how so much alike we all are, and not always in such a good way. Like many people, I have filters on my senses. Something like the Rwandan Genocide couldn’t possibly happen here, or our country would never get into another civil war. It can happen though. When an economic divide becomes so great…terrible things can happen.

Yozefu said he had been back to Africa two years ago, and that the thing that most impressed him was the capacity for forgiveness that many villagers have embraced as the survivors have returned home. It is unimaginable for me to think about that level of forgiveness.

Read the entire post here, and learn about the Rwandan genocide, here. Honor all of the victims of these atrocities with understanding, forgiveness and remembrance.

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Photographs

I started uploading pictures to a Flickr account. My first group are from the tori no ichi celebration I went to in Tokyo. You can see it here. The celebration is held to insure prosperity for businesses on rooster days in November. Vendors at the temple sell bamboo rakes to help rake in the money. When they make a substantial sale they clap and chant.

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Hotels

I made most of my hotel reservations online, with some trepidation, because i was unsure about locations and because a number of them required payment in advance. I think if I had been able to work with Japanese websites advance payment might not have been required. First let me say everything worked out beautifully; there were no nasty surprises. All of the hotels were decent, locations were OK and everything promised was delivered. I’m not sure you could do that in any other country.

My first hotel in Tokyo was Ginza Capital Main. I made the reservation with Agoda and paid in advance with a credit card. The hotel was located near the Tsukuji Market, and more important, near two different subway stations. The room came with breakfast, either Japanese or western. I chose the Japanese and was quite satisfied. It was more breakfast than I normally eat, but it carried me through most of the day with only a snack for lunch. I never got a picture of the hotel, but here are some views from my window.

Tokyo hotel view Tokyo hotel view 2

After four nights in Tokyo I went to Nagoya and stayed at the Comfort Hotel, and, although part of the Comfort Inn chain, I had to make the reservation through Rakuten Travel using a debit card. Their website would not accept a credit card. The hotel was conveniently located near the train station and was adequate. Breakfast was similar to what would be found in a comparable hotel or motel here in the States.

Nagoya hotel view

My stay at Murasaki no ryo, in Kyoto, was arranged by Steve’s former student and was a gift to me.

The Palace Side Hotel, in Kyoto, was recommended to me by my Japanese art history professor. It was a great choice, one of my best hotel experiences ever. After five nights in Japanese business hotels and two nights in the Japanese Guest House, I felt very strange being in a place where people would actually communicate with me, both the staff and most other guests being English speakers. I rather enjoyed the isolation imposed by the language barrier. After all, I hadn’t come to Japan to be with other western people.

Palace Side Hotel

Slowly I began to appreciate the hotel; it has turned out to be a wonderful place, very special. The staff, all of whom speak English, are unfailingly helpful. Occasional concerts in the lobby, a communal kitchen, a meeting room with a weekly scheduled party, all foster a sense of community. Many people stay for long periods; you see them night after night. Most of the guests are actually Europeans, we Americans don’t seem to be coming to Japan this year. I’ve met some interesting people. The Israeli couple who helped me at Shugakuin were staying here; I ran into them again the next day. They have a small kitchen in their room, send dishes and some food from Israel and are able to keep kosher here. They were referred by friends who live in Kyoto.

My Italian friend with the great passion for Japanese gardening was referred by his course managers. I ran into a musician carrying a huge instrument, a bass or cello. He was European; had come to perform. His manager put him in the hotel and arranged an extended bed for him; he was very tall. Everyone seems to have come from some kind of referral, almost like a private club.

My hotel in Osaka, the Namba Plaza, was also arranged through Rakuten Travel. It was probably my least successful choice of location, but, again, the hotel was adequate.

Namba Plaza Hotel Night view from hotel

I was able to make the reservation for the Comfort Hotel in Hiroshima through the Comfort Inn website and did not have to guarantee it. I had the staff at the Hiroshima hotel make a reservation for me at the Comfort Hotel in Tokyo for my last four nights. I had not done this ahead of time because I wasn’t sure of how many nights I wanted to spend in Tokyo.

Shalmit made the last reservation for us: the Tokyu Inn in Matsue. It was a very easy walk from the train station, probably the best thing about it. Considering that Matsue is not a great tourist destination and is way off the beaten track, they could have made the rooms larger or the price lower.

Matsue hotel view

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Editing

Since my intention is to turn this blog into an artist’s book I would like it to be a fairly inclusive document. I’ve gone back and added links to information about things I’ve mentioned and more pictures. Click here to see what I’ve done. I’ve been going through my pictures, deleting the worst ones and posting some of them in place. I have only done a couple of posts but will continue working. I also intend to create some slide shows and videos. I haven’t decided how I will handle those for the book.

Here is a slide show of pictures from two markets at Toji Temple in Kyoto.

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Tuesday, November 13

Plugged in at the airport. It was another beautiful day, blue skies, fluffy clouds. I got to Tokyo Station about 8:30 am, just in time to cope with those waves of people coming off the train. It’s not too bad if you have patience, but I’d hate to be one of the hurrying ones. The Narita Express is reserved seat only, so I was glad I decided to check on it ahead of time. Finally put everything in a locker and headed for the National Museum Crafts Gallery. The building is situated next to a park. Rather than going right in, I went for a walk in the park. There were beautiful trees, but not as old and beautiful as in Kyoto. I passed a man feeding about a half dozen very fat cats, then saw crows almost as large as the cats.

Fat cats

There are lots of crows and they make a beastly amount of noise. Traffic noise from a highway next to the park is drowned out by the crows.

The exhibit at the crafts museum had highlights from 30 years of their exhibits. Good show, but I would have liked to see their permanent collection. I know; I can’t have everything.

The Imperial Palace is across the road from the museum. You can’t go into the Palace, but you can walk through the East Garden. It was a great way to spend my last day in Japan. The garden includes most of the area where the original Edo Castle was located. Nothing is left now except the stones on which the castle keep was built.

Original castle stones

A special area called the Ninomaru garden was originally laid out in the 17th century by Kobori Enshu. Although destroyed in a fire, it was rebuilt according to the original plan.

Ninomaru garden

I continued walking back to the station and stopped at Maruzen. I hoped they would have a good selection of books in English. It was OK, but nothing I wanted. Kinokunya in New York is much better.

I was mildly concerned about money. When I arrived I exchanged $1000 for yen. About a week ago, I ran out of yen and exchanged $300 more. Each time the exchange rate got a little worse, thanks to our sagging economy. By this morning, I was down to about $33, or 3500 yen. I don’t like getting that low but I didn’t want to come home with yen. So it nagged at me all day. But it all worked out. I actually got here to the airport with about 1800 yen and I’ve managed to spend most of it. Now I’m just waiting for the plane to board.

Sitting at O’Hare: I can’t believe it’s all over. I spent at least the last six months planning the trip, and now it’s done. I’m feeling bereft.

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Monday, November 12

Another good, long day that began with bright, sunny skies, and because Monday, no open museums, so I took myself to Asakusa to the Sensoji Temple. I vividly remember coming here 20 years ago and I’m certain all those tourists weren’t there. It was a zoo. To the right of Sensoji is Asakusa shrine, an oasis of peace with very few tourists. I saw a number of marvelously clothed children who were there for the 3-5-7 ceremony.

children’s big day

To the right of the temple is a pagoda and a small park, also peaceful places. I did finally visit the temple. That wasn’t too bad. Most the tourists were photographing the gates and the souvenir shops that line the street leading to the temple.

Temple

The temple is very close to the Sumidagawa River. I wandered down and found the port for the river cruise, which was lovely, but not nearly as much fun as the cruise in Matsue. This was a large boat, lots of passengers, too much noise. The best place seemed to be at the back of the boat, so I stayed there and photographed.

Explain this one to me

Some of the architecture in Tokyo is really weird, some of it is elegant. The bridges were wonderful, especially the Shin Ohashi

Shin Ohashi

and the Chuo Ohashi bridges.

Chuo Ohashi

The boat lands at the Hama Rikyu Garden, the highlight of which is a 300 year old pine tree.

300 year old pine tree

Amazing, particularly that it’s still growing in Tokyo.

Tree trunk

My next destination was Sengakuji Temple, a small site surrounded by large buildings, with a fascinating history. This is the burial ground of the 47 Ronin of Chushingura fame.

Incense seller

He is lighting and selling packets of incense to be placed at each of the graves. He places the burning packet in a bamboo tray.

I learned the story of the Chushingura a couple of years ago in Florida, when I went to a show of Ukiyo e prints by Kunisada. The story, a tale of loyalty and revenge, first became a Bunraku and then a Kabuki play. Prints about the play were made by Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi, as well as Kunisada, and others. Some of the prints are obviously scenes from the Kabuki. Others, like the Kunisada, portray Kabuki actors within landscapes based on reality, and not within the framework of the proscenium.

Kabukizia

I had made plans to meet Shalmit for dinner and go to one act of Kabuki. I finished at the temple about 4 and decided to go over to the Ginza and hang out there. I went back to Mitsukoshi, had a few samples, including another kind of great chocolate, and walked around a little on the street. It’s really an unbelievable area.

Xmas at Mikimoto. The tree has red, white and blue lights.

The play was really good. I saw a Kabuki performance years ago in Chicago. Knowing nothing about it, I really did not appreciate it. Tonight was really different. Also, we got English earphone guides that whispered to us about the action throughout the performance.

This is my last night in Japan. After I check out of the hotel tomorrow I’ll go to Tokyo Station and leave my assorted belongs in a locker, then check on the train to Narita, which I plan to take about 3 pm. From there I’ll spend time in the National Museum of Modern Art and the Crafts Gallery. Then the train, retrieve my large suitcase that I sent to Narita on Sunday and on to the plane.

I won’t post again for a couple of days, but I have several posts in progress and many, many more photos. I have not decided how to handle the pictures. I may post them on Fat Old Artist, because I like the way it handles photos, or I may go to Flickr. Any suggestions would be welcome.

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Sunday, November 11

I began the day by going to tori no ichi, a market festival held on the days of the rooster in November. I really didn’t know where I was going. I foud out the festival would be held at Otorijinja, a 10 minute walk from Iriya subway station. I came out of the subway and stood on a corner trying to figure out in which direction to walk. A man came over and asked where I wanted to go. He stopped another man who told me he was going there and would take me. He spoke quite good English and we chatted during the seemingly long walk. I thanked him when we got to the shrine and couldn’t wait to pull out my camera as he and his wife walked away.

Entrance to the shrine

At the entrance to the shrine two priests wave gohei, zigzags of white paper to attract the kami.

Vendors

Then the crowd proceeds to the shrine where they rings bells, again to attract the spirits, and pray for good fortune, health and prosperity. This is a holiday whose focus is attracting good fortune.

Ringing bells

On either side of the pathway vendors are selling elaborately decorated rakes for raking in good fortune. When the vendors sell a particularly large one they clap and chant. I shot a video, but will have to wait to post it until I get home.

Display of rakes

I wanted to buy a rake, but found out the vendors are the ones raking in the most good fortune.

Fortune tellers

When I had enough of the crowds I left thinking I would walk to another temple in Asakusa, but found I had walked in the wrong direction. I still don’t know how I did that.

Finding myself far from my intended destination with no idea how to get there, I got on the subway and went to the Suntory Museum in Roppongi.

21st Century Shopping Complex in Roppongi

This is where I saw the great exhibit of painted screens. Now they have an exhibit of Choju Giga scrolls, national treasures. The scrolls date from the 13th century and depict frolicking animals and people. It was a good exhibit, but far too crowded.

From there I walked over to the Mori Art Museum to see a highly touted exhibit of contemporary Japanese art. It was a fun exhibit, perhaps a little more interesting than a comparable exhibit of contemporary western art, but very similar. This is the first I’ve looked at any contemporary art here. My ticket to the museum also gave me access to the 53rd floor observatory called Tokyo City View. Although it was cloudy and getting dark it was still a spectacular sight.

Aerial Tokyo

Not finished with this day I went to the Ginza to visit Itoya, a stationer that sells special papers and also to pick up some dinner. I started at Matsuya, another department store with food, but decided I liked Mitsukoshi better and bought my dinner there.

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