Saturday, October 29, 2016

Postcard from Japan: Tuesday, October 25, 2016, Part Three

Two of Hara Akiko's dolls
In the afternoon, Akiko-san decides we should go to her house in Iwata which is about an hour's drive into the countryside.  Her hour of driving is at the speed limit, so it's a leisurely drive.

Her Iwata house is from her former marriage and acts as a vacation house or a "summer" cottage.  This is the house where I visited her last time in 2005 so it is very familiar to me, even my "old" bedroom upstairs with a real Western bed (and Western toilets--- more on those later).

Although it's a large town, Akiko-san found that living in the city has been better for her creativity and selling her work.  No one ever came to her shows in Iwata because there were so few people interested in her work.

I asked if we could go out and take a walk.  I'd been sitting and riding in cars a great deal more than I had expected and walking felt so good.  It was also a gorgeous warm day.

Mitsuke Jinja
Her steps down the streets led us to the local Buddhist temple, Mitsuke Jinja.

Entrance sign to the Azalea Garden

Some bushes are reblooming in late October.

A gnarled tree trunk in the temple compound.
Because we're coming to the temple from the backside, we go into the azalea (tsutsuji) garden first.  This is huge with solid 6' tall azalea bushes planted along  meandering paths dense with foliage.  Some of the bushes are actually having a second blooming even though it's late October.

As walk up to the temple, there are large red stands holding hundreds of small wooden tablets, called gankake, on which people have written wishes and prayers.  These are purchased from the temple and then hung on the racks.

Bull statues stand at each side of the front.  A pet cemetery was built to house the cremains of locals' pets.

This small building houses the remains of
locals' cremated pets.
The front of the temple is open to visitors who walk through the compound and stop to pray.

Red torii signify the entrance to a temple.
We've now walked from the back of the temple compound through it to the front.  A little backwards but we continue out the front and follow a narrow road that leads around the side and back up to almost where we started, and on the way back to Akiko's house.

The view of the old houses, especially those with the old slate roofs is impressive, especially to those from the city where most homes use new tiles.

I am enthralled with the moss that clings to the edge of the old stone waste ditches along this road.  The ferns hanging from the embankment inspire me.  I'm hoping someday to use these visual textures to transfer images to fabric.

Postcard from Japan: Tuesday, October 25, 2016, Part Two

Bingata style print on fabric of banana leaves in Okinawa.
This is the first full day that Akiko-san and I have together.  She evidently loves to plan because as soon as I get back to her studio from my walk, she pulls out her daily planner.  The night before, she had immediately started calling her artist friends to schedule us to meet with them.  So today we're going to the famous Serizawa Keitsuke's museum of his work of the Okinawan bingata style of katazome stencil printing on fabric.  We weren't able to take photographs inside but I took pictures in Okinawa.

The bingata technique is originally from Okinawa.  Serizawa Keitsuke was born in Shizuoka in 1895 to a family where his father was a draper (merchant selling cloth primarily made into clothing or as piece goods) .  He went to Tokyo to study design, and returning to Shizuoka, he married into the Serizawa family (his wife was Serizawa Tayo and so took her family name).   He studied with Yanagi Muneyoshi, the leader of the crafts revival movement in Japan at that time.  Serizawa decided to become a dyeing artist because of his studies with his teacher and his love of the Okinawan bingata technique.  He visited Okinawa several times after 1939 to study bingata.  He improved bingata and other dyeing techniques using a stencil paper he developed, calling the new technique "Katazome."  He won world-wide acclaim for his work, finally achieving credit for his abilities in Europe with an exhibit in Paris in 1976.  By 1956 he was designated as a "Living National Treasure" by Emperor Hirohito.  Serizawa died in 1984 at the age of 88.  His huge collection of work was transferred from his house, next to the museum, to the current display of almost 800 works from the 4500 in the collection.  It's a rotating exhibit changed three times a year.

The bingata style is explained in a later post when Akiko and I visit Serizawa's student and assistant, Yamauchi-sensei, tomorrow.
Yayoi village from 2000 years ago was unearthed in
Shizuoka city a number of years ago.  Re-created on
site, it radically compares to the current local buildings
and electrical lines of modern life in Japan.

Yayoi house
Next door to the Serizawa museum is the Toro Park which houses a learning center of Yayoi cultural artifacts from 2000 years ago.  I was so surprised to visit this museum because I remember learning about Yayoi culture in Japanese art history class at Waseda University in Tokyo back in 1972.

Inside the learning center, a village is recreated so
that school children can learn about their
history.  The thatched roof building is a
storehouse for grain and other food.
Their houses were thatched with a long stemmed grass that took 3 years to dry before being used.  You step down into a roundish room that has wood beam rafters above and a fire for cooking below.  Fish and meats were put on twig rafters above the fire to smoke.

They also grew rice and flax.  The linen fibers were woven on a continuous warp backstrap loom.

Loom beaters and equipment.
Shizuoka has a very temperate climate and never receives snow (Akiko has a lush bird-of-paradise plant growing in her yard.)  But it does become cool and at those times in the Yayoi villages 2000 years ago, villages wore animal skins to keep warm.

Yayoi ceremonial building where villages would assemble.
The other fascinating item was that when we entered we were told that one of princes of the Japanese royal family was visiting.  An entire line of black suited men and women were lined up inside the front door---Secret Service agents?  We never did see the prince (second son, not the Crown Prince) but it was exciting anyway.

Postcard from Japan: Tuesday, October 25, 2016, Part One

The flower, tachiaoi, is Shizuoka's theme on most of the
manhole covers which seem most often to be on the
sidewalks.  There are covers in the streets but
I don't have to venture out onto the big main streets,
only the small back streets. 

Small round well access.
The next morning I venture out after making green tea--- oh, I do love the flavor!  Of course, one of the first things I start taking pictures of are the manhole covers.
There are even rectangular manhole covers.

Access to well water.

Firefighters' water access.

One of the other fascinating things you see along any road near businesses or residential areas are beverage vending machines.  When I was a student long ago the first one I'd ever come upon actually talked.  That's a really scary experience when you're by yourself and you're not expecting a voice!  Many of the vending machines offer beer and the other students and I wondered if the voice was telling us we weren't old enough to get beer out of the machine.  Of course, she was just thanking us for our purchase.

It's barely 7:30am so the sidewalks are rather quiet still with only little kids walking to school and a few business men going to work.  I love the ceramic mosaics ringing the trees along the main street.  In the photograph, the rings look flat to the ground but actually many of them are elevated to accommodate how the roots of the tree have risen above the sidewalk.

And more manhole covers, although an adult couldn't fit through many of these.

Shizuoka used to have a castle, like Himeji-Jo pictured in my last Saturday's post on Oct. 22.  Shizuoka's castle, Sunpu-Jo, was destroyed during WWII, but the city has been slowly rebuilding it and so there's a manhole cover representing it.
A cover celebrating Shizuoka's castle, Sunpu-Jo.  It's
the water turn-off connection.
Access to water turn-off valve.
I'm realizing that I should return soon to Akiko's but I actually have walked around in a circle, so I spent a while figuring out exactly what little back street to take to her house.  Everything is on a grid, fortunately, but I walk for a little....

Postcard from Japan: Monday, October 24, 2016, Part Two

I arrive at the Shizuoka Train Station at 5:37pm, haul my suitcase, shoulder bags and myself off the train, and wonder where I'm going to find my friend, Hara Akiko-san.  Everyone is walking in one direction so I decide to follow the crowd but find the elevator which is so much easier with a heavy suitcase.  The escalator works well, too, but the elevator comes first so I use it.  I get through the ticket turn-style (ticket in and now I'm officially off the Shinkansen).  I'm standing in the open area near the front door and within a few minutes Akiko-san arrives and is surprised that I'm already downstairs (the Shinkansen is never early and never late).  We hug and are amazed, of course, that we both look the same (probably not since it's been 10 years).  Her car is close by and her house is not too far away since she lives in the city.

I can't tell you how wonderful it is to see Akiko-san and be at her studio/gallery.  We are kindred spirits, both artists and both textile lovers and love unusual and unconventional work.  Long discussions ensue on the meaning of abstract art and how a particular artist works and how they do what they do.  Akiko and her family used to live in Grand Rapids as her former husband worked for Yamaha (music division) and my former husband knew all of the Japanese community in Grand Rapids.  Akiko had started making dolls while there and so it was a natural affinity for each other and our work.  She returned to GR in 2006 when the Handweavers Guild of American had Convergence (sponsored by the Michigan League of Handweavers) to attend the conference with me.

Ceramic hanging pieces.
Each month she has an invited artist exhibit and sell their work at the Pop Up Studio.  (The name implies the same spirit of fun and adventure that Akiko is in real life.)  On Friday when I leave, she'll prepare for the next show of wood furniture.
My favorite cup!

Her studio is open, wood floored, with high industrial ceilings painted white.  Everywhere is the unique work of her friends.  She doesn't just display it, she uses it constantly.  Rice is cooked on the gas burner stove in a handmade ceramic pot, green tea (Ocha) is poured from a close friend's unusual small pot.

Hashi-oki:  small flat pieces on which to rest chopsticks.
Ceramic plate with transferred printing and added squares
of glazed and ceramic collaged pieces.
I sleep on futon in the open studio that night.  (She sleeps upstairs in the apartment where her mother and brother live.)  There are huge floor to ceiling glass windows and a big glass door in front of which even huger white metal doors are pulled in front as security  "curtains."  Usually futon (a 3"-4" thick padded mat the size of a twin bed) is set on tatami, very closely woven (rep weave) rice straw rectangle, to form a firm base.  Here it's on a wood floor so Akiko-san brings another cotton covered foam mat.  Two layers of duvet type covers are on top and a pillow with a towel over it.  (The towel over the pillow is always hard for me to handle.  As you turn in the night, the towel moves and comes off since it's not a slip cover but just wrapped around the pillow. Oh well. I sleep really well anyway.)  I've mentioned to Akiko-san that I'd love to take a walk in the morning when I get up and she shows me how to light her burner to make hot water for Ocha, where there's something to eat if I'm hungry, and I promise I won't get lost and will return.  She sleeps until about 7 or 7:30 and I'm up at 6am.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Postcard from Japan: Monday, October 24, 2016, Part One

Noren, curtain at restaurant door, that indicates it's open.
I'm leaving today to travel on to Shizuoka.  I arrived on Friday afternoon so it's been a short visit but it feels like a week.  Tomoko-san has to leave for work at 6:30 tomorrow morning so leaving today gets her free time to prepare to teach her high school English classes tomorrow.  And she has to take the train also since her school doesn't allow anyone to drive in with a car unless there's a special dispensation.
The restaurant's sign.

There's about 4 hours before my train leaves, so we go to lunch to a restaurant that is famous for its tempura and Okayu, a rice gruel that is rice cooked in extra water that makes a very smooth watery soup.  The restaurant is excellent and famous enough that people line up at 11:30 in order to have a chance to eat there.  So we stand in line for 30 minutes along with others, and it's worth it.

We're able to sit right at the "bar" so that we can see the tempura-ya-san cook.  (I don't like aiming a camera at someone to take a picture unless I ask them first if it's alright with them.  Taking pictures is okay with them and hopefully with the other people sitting around the bar.)

He cooks and serves tempura to each person as he makes it so he is constantly busy.  Each piece is dipped in flour first, then the tempura batter, fried until it is just brown, and then served immediately.  A dark red laquered pedestal with a thin sheet of paper is the serving stand for the tempura. The tray in front of each of us has a bowl with grated white daikon root (upper left corner), small cooked tofu, pickled vegetables, a large bowl of shredded cabbage (bottom right) with flower-cut carrot and daikon shapes.  A bowl of soup comes later in between the huge tempura pieces of shrimp, green beans and shredded vegetables.  Then there's a bowl of Okayu, a rice porridge or gruel that sounds unappetizing but is very nice simple flavor with all the other tastes of oil from the fried tempura, vinegar of the pickles, and the bitterness of the daikon.  We are very full when we leave.  "Gochisoo sama deshita" is what you say when you've enjoyed a meal and thank the hostess and cook.

Front of Shinkansen--- so big it takes 2 pictures.
It's now time for me to get on the train to Shizuoka.  Again, it's really difficult to say goodbye to Miura Tomoko-san.  I'm hoping that she can come to visit me in Michigan as it's been about 25 years since she last visited.

We'd gone to the train station the day before to reserve a seat so I knew I'd have a seat, and a seat by the window.  The Shinkansen, or bullet train as we call it in the US, is fast.  I'm taking the Hikari, second fastest, from Shin-Osaka to Kobe, about a 2-hour trip.

From front, back to passenger cars.  I'm not going to
Kyushu, as this train is named, but trying to get a
picture of the train when moving is impossible.