Favorite Installation Artists

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Japan - Tokyo, Part 7

Tokyo National Museum

Japanese buildings hold their secrets close.  Viewed from the front, they present a solid facade, a barrier.  Approached slowly and discretely from an angle, they begin to reveal their subtle beauty in successive layers.  Charming icons perch on gleaming tile roof lines that seem to scoop up handfuls of blue sky with each soaring curve.  You will be shown small pieces to savor fully before another another piece can be considered.  And so you must take time to appreciate what is being offered.

Tucked into a garden area between the larger buildings of the museum is the centuries old guard gate of the Ikeda feudal family.  Called Kuromon (Black Gate), it now offers the opportunity to be quiet.  Walk slowly, listen to birdsong, watch cherry blossoms float on the water.  Tokyo bustles outside, but this is not that place.

Will your mind to be still so that you are open to all that you can observe in the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures just across the reflecting pool.  Turn around and enter softly, for inside rests the soul of a people.

(Photo from Tokyo National Museum Brochure)

To create art is to communicate more than an image; the work before you is only the beginning of what is being conveyed.   In this single collection are over 300 pieces from the 6'th and 7'th centuries that use the language of art as metaphors for their aesthetic visions of themselves, their world and their views of life.  Of all the riches available, this is the one that speaks to me.  

(Photo from Tokyo National Museum Brochure)

Lady Maya and the Three Heavenly Beings

According to legend, Lady (Queen) Maya hears that she will bear a son who will be a great king or a visionary leader of all peoples.  She dreams of a good omen, a white elephant, who enters her side and will be reborn into this world of illusion one last time.  The child who would become the Buddha was born in 532BCE.  It was a world changing event.

Next door stands the Hyokeikan Asian Gallery containing archaeological objects from continental Asia. 

It is the home my favorite image of the Buddha.

A harsher light was coming from above, but I worked with my camera to get a softer piece.  This glowing Buddha appears illuminated from within by his own radiance.  Art communicates on many levels, perhaps this Buddha was calling to me.

Just a few steps away lies the Honkan Japanese Gallery, the largest building on the grounds, where the main collection is housed.

My first experience with the Japanese culture was over 35 years ago when I saw an exhibition of antique textiles in Washington, D.C.  It began a lifelong fascination with Japanese quilting and embroidery.  That was when I saw my first kimono.


There is nothing quite as grand as a kimono.  The vibrancy of silk materials combined with the artistry of perfect subject and color selections.  The glitter of judiciously placed silver and gold metallic threads.   Impossibly tiny quilting stitches designed to recall natural elements that resemble ocean waves, clouds or petals to name a few.  The design continues uninterrupted over the folds harmonizing with the drape of the material.  It is a walking masterpiece.

Just down the corridor is an exhibition of painting styles to include hanging scrolls, woodblock prints and folding screens.  Here is a wonderful example.

The Japanese are more interested in their actual lives, rather than an afterlife.  This screen depicting everyday life acted both to arrange space and provide a pleasant scene to observe.  Brighter colors and liberal use of gold leaf made a rich addition to the living areas.

There are so many lights in our world; the light of creativity, the light of illumination and the light that shows us the way like this one leading to the second floor. 

    But there is one light that shines above all others.  It is this.


Writing allows learning to be passed on to future generations, it preserves culture and is literally the field of all our dreams.   Japanese calligraphy evolved into two styles.  Wayo followed the classic Chinese form and was used by the nobility.  Karayo allowed sensibility to be conveyed in the written character.  I am intrigued by a temperament that would appreciate such a distinction.

This is my copy of the Tale of Genji which I have been reading for 30 years.  Written by the Lady Murasaki Shikibu of the Heian court in the 11'th century, it is recognized as the greatest masterpiece of Japanese narrative prose.  It is thought to be the earliest novel in the world.  This picture of day to day courtly life does not follow a plot, rather it is a glimpse into another world, 1500 years ago.  It extends to over 1000 pages, but dipped into a few chapters at a time, it offers an insight into the Japanese character unmatched by any other media.  This version is easy to read and is illustrated with many historic woodblock prints.

I could suggest no better introduction of a people than this work that brims with intelligence, elegance of expression and sophistication.  Consider Prince Genji and a companion as they reflect on mourning.  His companion departs and Genji picks up the fan she unobtrusively left by his side and on which she has written:

"This day, we are told, announces an end to mourning.
How can it be, when there is no end to tears?"

Genji writes an answer on the fan, replaces it where it had lain and takes his leave.  On it he has answered:

"The days are numbered for him who yet must mourn.
And are they numbered, the tears that yet remain?"

Yes, he tells her gently, there is an end to sadness.

In the preceding Tokyo posts, I have tried to touch very lightly on philosophy, religion, art, the military mind, food, temperament, historic precedence and modern day Japan.  It was meant to put the succeeding pieces in some contextual frame and act as a preamble to shorter, less detailed posts.   
(All editorial and photographic rights reserved by Arizona Skies.)
Tokyo National Museum - April 10, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

Japan - Tokyo, Part 6

After the Senso-Ji Temple, we took this delightful cruise to connect with the Shinkansen train that would deliver us to our hotel station in Shinagawa.  I was trying to picture my current position relative to the hotel and the river's course through Tokyo when this happened.....

Isn't that a jaw dropper!  I was so stunned, it was almost past when I snapped this photo.  And just beyond the boat, behind the elevated freeway, stand an impressive pair of buildings, one gold and the other black, that I will return to later in this post.  It's a great story.

It's time to board our craft which can easily hold 200 people or more.  Every seat is sure to be taken so try to arrive early at the departure dock.  There are two levels and with all the people, the bottom level will ride low in the water.  Kay and I were on this level and while I had no reservations, I made sure I was close to the exit.  Although there are many craft on the river, these boats cut through swells very well and the ride is smooth and easy.

This lady and her sister were waiting for their daughters.  In quite a good pantomime, she made it known that she wanted me to reserve the seats on my bench for them.  I smiled and responded with the universal closed fist and raised thumb to indicate I understood.  Once we were all situated, she raised her hand above her head, then using her index finger in a sweeping circular motion to include everyone else on board, said "Jap-pan-eese".  With a toothy grin, she used my thumbs up sign to point to herself, saying "CHIN-eese" and reached across the table to touch my thumb.  Well, all right!  Chinese!  Go team!


Views along the Sumida River are difficult to capture.  This watercraft, like all transportation in Japan, moves fast.  If one began at either end of the route, you would travel under fifteen bridges.  Hinode Pier on the Tokyo Bay end of the cruise connects with at least four alternate boat lines going to various tourist destinations around the inner bay area.  We found that planes, trains, buses, taxis and boats were uniformly fast, clean and efficient.

Two more views of the boat, fully occupied, riding low in the water.

At the beginning of the post, I mentioned that I would be returning to these two buildings.  The business area of the historic Asakusa District has always been the home of Asahi Beer corporate offices.  This is their new home.   Asahi Beer wanted the best designer in the world so they retained Phillipe Starck.  One could almost say there is the eclectic genius of Phillpe Starck and then there is everyone else.  For an insight into his incredible range, click here.

The shimmering building on the left holds the corporate offices.  It is designed to look like a glass of beer with white foam at the top.  The black building on the right contains the retail sales of Asahi Beer and upscale restaurants.  It is built to look like the packaging of Asahi Super Dry beer.  The lustrous black granite surface has dozens of tiny light portholes that resemble bubbling effervescence at night.  At the top is the golden foam as it appears when being blown off the surface of the beer.

Not everyone is impressed.  With people firmly in both camps, opinions differ and it has stirred quite a controversy.  There are those that are amazed at the creative ingenuity and like the skyscraper's impressive size.  Others feel it is a jarring note, too modern and tall for historic Asakusa, and look upward with a critical eye at Asahi's Super Dry golden foam.

 They call it "O Gon No Unko"
"The Golden Pooh"

Asahi Beer and Tokyo River Cruise - April 10, 2010
All editorial and photographic rights reserved by Arizona Skies.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Japan - Tokyo, Part 5

(Photo from Wikipedia)
Hozomon Gate of the Buddhist Senso-ji Temple
Home of Kannon Bosatsu
Pagoda (not open to public)
Asakusa District, Tokyo

Asakusa district has been preserved as the historic old Tokyo.  Within this area lie the largest percentage of shrines and temples in the city.  The Meiji Shrine in the previous post is Shinto, entered through the tori gate indicating the sacred ground of a nature religion.  Here we enter through the first gate, Kaminarimon Gate or the "Thunder Gate" proceeding through Hozomon Gate or the "Treasure House Gate" pictured above, to an inner courtyard.  From there forward we enter the Senso-ji Temple, which is Buddhist, a religion of personal enlightenment.  Far from conflicting, these two disciplines compliment each other well.

Buddhism came to Japan from India through China.  It follows the teachings of Gautama Siddartha, an Indian Prince who rose from the sufferings of all sentient beings through to true enlightenment or Nirvana.  Because it is unfamiliar, most westerners view Buddhism as being far more complicated than it really is.

Like Christianity with it's many denominations, Buddhism has several sects.  And like Catholicism with it's saints, Buddhism has it's gods or helpmates.  The Buddha is not a God.  He is One Who Has Reached Enlightenment, a state which is possible for every human being.  Buddhism's gods (in Japan, 'Kannons') are not historical beings as was the Buddha nor are they worshipped as gods in and of themselves.  Rather, they are viewed with tremendous honor and respect and used as a vehicle for supplications through which relief is sought from human affliction.  They are capable of Buddhahood, but have postponed that final step to stay in the world to help all humanity achieve Nirvana as well.  The same diety may be either male or female and assume the characteristics peculiar to the Asian country where it is located.  Thus there appear many manifestations of the same god throughout many Eastern countries.

Shrines and Temples should be treated primarily with respect as sacred spaces.  Historically and architecturally they are illustrative of the building capability and aesthetic preferences of the various shogunate periods.  However, their true brilliance is evident in the soaring heights of human imagination when contemplating the unknown.  They are all, truly, works of art. 

Due to crowds and accessibility issues on the Saturday I visited, my entrance was directly into the inner courtyard through an unremarkable side gate watched over by two guardian pigeons.

The incense burner is typical of temple furniture.  The incense is burned as an offering and the smoke is then fanned toward oneself as a good luck omen.  Senso-ji Temple is through the entrance and to the right. 

Senso-ji Temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo originating in the year 645AD, although a large part was destroyed in W.W. ll and rebuilt.  A form of Mahayana Buddhism called Tendai is practiced here.  The Temple has traditionally been the primary focus of several Shoguns in what has always been the most densely inhabited area of Japan, so it is far more ornate than most.

The Kannon Bosatsu is Guan Yin, the Goddess of Love, Mercy and Compassion, whose duty it is to listen or witness the cries of those in distress in this earthly realm. The image would normally sit in the red throne under it's gold canopy, however a 17th century Temple priest had a dream in which he was told that the Kannon should be hidden from public view.  And so for the last 300 years, it has remained behind the curtain. 

Coins in supplication may be placed in the receptacle.  Arrange your hands in prayer and clap twice.  Then chant, "namu kanzeon bosatsu".
"Kannon Bosatsu, I place my trust in you."

With the Temple behind us, my traveling companion, Kay, and I are now preparing ourselves to jump into this sea of humanity in the courtyard, pass through the Treasure Gate with it's three hanging lanterns in the distance and into the Nakamise-dori shopping area beyond.  The crowds will be even more condensed than where we are now.  The Nakamise-dori, which sells typical Japanese food and souvenirs, connects the Treasure Gate with the Thunder Gate more than a half mile away.  We will need to negotiate this in an hour and half to rejoin the rest of the group. 
Lets go!

And here we are, about to pass through the Treasure Gate to Nakamise-dori.

This pair of straw sandals, one on either side of the gate, are called O-Waraji, a charm against evil.  If they came in my size with arch support, I might have considered them for the plane ride home.

Hmmmm....what's over here?

"Ah," said I, nodding and smiling enthusiastically while taking two unobtrusive steps backward.  I will be forever thankful for the young couple who appeared between myself and this display a moment later.  Please understand, my seafood sensibility was formed in the Midwest.  Mrs. Paul's fish sticks were an adventure to us.  I will not try to identify these creatures.  I will never need that information.

This is fun.  All the little charms here will find a home on cell phones.  Actually, the furry ones make a lot of sense.  If you feel that texture among all the things a purse may hold, the phone will always be on the other end.

A break in the crowd!  We have a chance to see what's on the other side.

What a surprise.  The backyard of a little school peeks through between the busy stalls on the street.

Kay, in the foreground, is busy checking out a stall where we found some lovely postcards.  And in the distance is Thunder Gate.  We made it!

This smiling guardian god is a real cupcake compared to the slashing swords and fearsome glares those on the other side.

Here we are on the other side of Thunder Gate looking into one of the many streets that radiate out from Nakamise-dori.  Although it is important to keep track of your bearings and the time, both Kay and I felt perfectly safe in crowds like these all through Japan.  I would take the time to experience the sights and sounds of Tokyo, a vibrant city just on the other side of the Pacific Rim from us here in the U.S.  You will part as friends.

All editorial and photographic rights reserved by Arizona Skies.
Senso-ji Temple and Nakamise-dori, April 10, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Japan - Tokyo, Part 4

Welcome to Meiji Jingu
(Sincere Heart)

This is a Shinto Shrine, conceived and dedicated as a dwelling place for the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and His consort, Empress Shoken.  Shinto, Japan's ancient belief system, has no originator, no holy book and no sense of a religious conversion.  It is recognition of the gratitude felt for Kami (divine spirits) who inhabit natural living things including human beings.  It can be thought of as a benign, positive force of pure energy and witnessed as good virtue.

To pay respect at a shrine, you must cleanse yourself.
Fill the dipper, then rinse your left hand.
Rinse your right hand.
Pour water into your left hand and rinse your mouth.
Rinse your left hand again.
Raise the dipper and let the water run down the handle, cleansing it for the next user.

Now we are ready to pass through the tori gate, the largest in Japan, and enter Meiji Shrine.

Lanterns begin long before the tori gate and continue along long paths to the shrine.  These must have been lovely at dusk, with flickering candlelight guiding you along the twists and turns.

The way has been prepared.  People view the Kami with awe and gratitude.  Offerings may be left by throwing coins in the receptacle for this purpose.  The coin with the most significance is the 5 yen coin.  It is believed that offering these coins will connect you to a person who is still invisible to you but will be important in your life.
The shiniest, newest coins are kept aside for this purpose.

To make an offering:
Put some coins in the receptacle box.
Bow twice.
Clap your hands twice.
Bow once again.
You have now alerted the Kami, with respect, to your presence.

(the receptacle box is inside, a lady is standing in front of it)

(photos are not allowed inside the actual shrine)

I put a Ema here for my grandchildren.

As I was walking out, I was very fortunate to see a bride and groom in traditional dress who had come to the shrine for their traditional wedding portrait.  It is believed to be good luck as Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken excelled in matrimonial harmony.
(I asked permission to take these pictures and they may not be used by anyone else without this couple's permission.)

Aren't they a lovely couple!

Meiji Shrine uses the proceeds from saki to preserve the grounds for prosperity.  The graphics on the barrels are works of art.

The Emperor and Empress excelled at writing traditional Japanese waku poetry, a verse of 31 syllables.  Here are two examples that have a philosophic thread.

Even while yielding
To it's container's form,
Water too can pierce
Entirely through the hardest rock;
Such is it's enduring strength.
(Emperor Meiji, died 1912)

By self reflection
And questioning our own hearts
We should then perceive
The proper path to pursue
And nothing would confuse us.
(Empress Shoken, died 1914)

It is regrettably time to leave Meiji Shrine, but I wanted to emphasize one virtue that may be Kami inspired, cleanliness.  It was evident all through Japan.  This preserve is in a natural state.  The trees are now approaching 100 years and it is a true forest.  Nowhere, on any of the broad paths and roads, did I see any fallen leaves let alone discarded paper.  This was due to the effort of gentlemen like these.  (Again, I asked permission for this picture.  You are not allowed to reproduce it.)


The broom is made from dried brush from the forest.

Meiji Shrine, April 9, 2010.
All editorial and photographic rights reserved.