Monday, June 7, 2010

Man's Best Friend

Due to technical difficulties some of the students are unable to post to the "Japanese Visual Culture in Context" blog. Please read Allison Wilson-Adams's story, "Man's Best Friend" by clicking on the link.

Body Talk

Due to technical difficulties some of the students are unable to post to the "Japanese Visual Culture in Context" blog. Please read Allison Wilson-Adams's story, "Body Talk" by clicking on the link.
Due to technical difficulties some of the students are unable to post to the "Japanese Visual Culture in Context" blog. Please read Allison Wilson-Adams's story, "T-Time" by clicking on the link.

Up Front

Due to technical difficulties some of the students are unable to post to the "Japanese Visual Culture in Context" blog. Please read Balsam Ali's story, "Up front" by clicking on the link.

In Praise of Shadows and Art: Tokyo National Museum

On Friday, our second to last full day we traveled to Ueno to visit the Tokyo National Museum. Tokyo National Museum is located in Ueno park where there are what seems to be a handful of different museums and dozens of different areas, parks and exhibits. Tokyo National Museum actually had about 6 different museums in side of the area but the main one for focus on this trip was the Japanese Art exhibit in one of the museums that highlighted everything from Edo period lacquer ware to swords and Noh costumes.

The Honokan gallery is located on the second floor and features art from many different areas. What probably caught my eye the most weren’t the statues and figures in the first room of the gallery but rather the darkness of the area and the silhouettes that precede the statues on the walls. The darkness of the rooms and the light glaring at the “art” reminded me of our reading on the In Praise of Shadows. This goes back to the older Japanese appreciation for dark instead of light. We are sometimes surrounded by this idea that we are in museums everything must be bright and sterile. In many art galleries or museums I go to the brightness defines how we see the art. IT must be clear, easy to dissect and contain an uncomfortable cleanliness to the area.

However when one enters Honokan each room is different and the nature of each area is to understand the art behind the walls through information defined on the walls and themes to understand the way in which those once lived. As naively American as this sounds I want to be able to understand fully what I am looking at when I see it. Very few places have given me this opportunity on the trip to really understand what I’m looking at and the way of the art due to the lack of English translation.

When it comes to art and message if we do not know what the artist or creator is thinking can we really appreciate the work to it’s fullest?

For more information on the Tokyo National Museum please visit

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Those Damn Yankees

Although much of the rest of the group had returned to America, four of us found ourselves in Yoyogi park (fully named Yoyogi-Kamizono-Cho). This massive park had a little of something for everyone. There were many green spaces with lush plant life (we saw someone sunbathing nude), bridges over beautiful bodies of water (we saw Harajuku style for the first time here), and then we found a massive asphalt surface (where we saw some Japanese Yankees).

I was not familiar with "Japanese Yankees" (as our Japanese friend described them), but I will try to give you a mental image before posting a video. If you remember the days of Grease and poodle skirts; well, think of the "greasers", the bikers with slicked back hair with a totally "bad" attitude. Now imagine a snapshot of a gang of those bikers in today's society. Now imagine those dudes being Japanese.

We stumbled across the area not knowing what we were hearing, but there was some American rock and roll from the 60's blasting loud. As we reached the massive circle, we realized that these full grown men were a working snapshot of the 1960's in America. They were drinking (and throwing) beer, dancing with each other, and posing for hundreds of onlookers.

There's no possible way for me to have captured the essence of this experience, but I have learned that there really is no way to truly capture Japan to share with people who have not experienced it. I hope you enjoy the following video, as it will be the last one I'm posting. I apologize for the low quality of the footage; I was not comfortable getting much closer to the Yankees, honestly. Feel free to check up on my thread on to read more about my adventures in Japan. I suppose this is my Sayonara for this blog.

Amazed by that which is not seen.

In Japanese visual culture, the result of a creation is not as important as the process itself. This was told to me before coming to Japan but I didn’t really understand until I saw examples for myself. There is a huge contrast between the traditional culture of Kyoto and the modern culture of Tokyo and it would be easy to list or describe them. But, over time, this ‘process before result’ concept is something that I’ve seen all over Japan. For example, the man-altered sand formations at Ginkakuji are impressive. But this is partially due to the mystery as to the process of their creation. If you consider that it was raining heavily only two days before these pictures were taken, you can begin to imagine the amount of work It took to make them.

In the following picture, taken at Ryoanji, It is unclear if the roots of this tree moved the wall over time in order to become a part of it or if the wall was built around the roots of the tree. Either way, the roots are not in the way. They make up the missing piece of the wall, and help water to flow along the canal while simultaneously hydrating the tree.

More modern examples of this were seen at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. Some exhibits had videos which detailed the extensive amount of time needed to create the exhibits. There were artists present discussing the processes of creating their work. Other pieces being displayed were on such a scale that the time required to create them could only be hinted at.

The presentation at Wieden and Kennedy, a particularly creative ad agency that redefines how such an agency should function, not only showed us projects they had worked on but also videos revealing the creative process of the group.

This kind of insight to the creative process causes one to connect with the effort put into various projects. Whether you are in a traditional or modern part of Japan, what is done is not always as important as how it is done.