Japanese Days

Japanese Days 1

This is the first part of a journal of a three month stay in Japan for the purposes of shooting footage for a film about Japan. The trip took place from October 2007 until February 2008.

Arrived yesterday in Tokyo. Settled quickly into our apartment which is in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo. Still feeling tired but already managed to get to the Sogetsu Ikebana exhibition at the Takishimaya Dept store on Nihonbashi not far from where our apartment is located. Incredible exhibition very high level. Today we went to the exhibition again a met up with Fujimoto san and some of her students who were exhibiting there. Natasha took photographs of many of the compositions. I was especially struck by the composition of Akane Teshigahara which had a central place in the exhibition it measured several square metres and was constructed with large branches and set inside where golden orange flowers – Hibiscus I think. The whole effect vibrated and pulsated with energy and life. The branches had been painted with what seemed like two types of ochre paint (dark brown and Red) mixed with dust or powder so that the surfaces were matte and gave off an effect of volume. The effect was vaguely like surrealistic paintings, although this was a sculpture.
Have sent off e-mails to Paul, Akira san and Sumida san. Maybe will meet up with them sometime soon.
11/11/2007 Sun
Received answers to our e-mails form Akira Suzuki and Paul Cunningham. Akira san lives about 15 minutes walk away from where we are living. I was just looking at the map and we are right in the area where Basho lived during the 17th century. Last time we were here Akira san took us all around the area and I remember looking across the river at a row of cherry trees which were about to start blossoming and thinking how good it would be to live around this area. By accident that is exactly where we have ended up, following in Basho’s footsteps so to speak. Basho is a writer who made journeys all over Japan writing about what he saw and felt on the way in the form of Haiku (three lined verse).
Gradually settling in more and getting acclimatised.
12/11/2007 Mon
Settling in a bit more although its still difficult. Went to the second part of the Sogetsu exhibition at Takashimaya Department store. Natasha took more photographs. Earlier we were at the Sogetsu headquarters on Asakusa where Natasha had some business to complete for herself and for her students. We went into the cafe there and had some tea. Brilliantly designed building. Very contemporary even though it was built at the end of the fifties. The 12 or 15 stories high design is as modern now as it was then. I like the exhibition hall in the lobby with its exhibition space and “waterfall”.
This evening met up with Akira san and he took us to a restaurant and we had a meal together. Very inexpensive and tasty. We will go there again. Nice to know that there are some reasonable places to eat even in the centre. We talked a lot about David Burliuk and the film and about art in General.
He was invited to the David Burliuk celebration in Ukraine this year by the Governor no less with all expenses paid in The Ukraine. Unfortunately he didn’t go. It was good to meet with him again he is such good company and easy to talk to. I hope we can spend some more time together.
Its getting late and the Tokyo night feels fresh and warm despite it being early autumn. Natasha is sleeping as I write. I’ll finish off a few things and then also get some sleep and try and regulate my time patterns to Tokyo time.
16/11/2007 Friday
Gradually getting some kind of rhythm into our stay here and settling down.
Already visited the National Museum of Japan. Excellent exhibition of art from the Tokugawa period – special exhibition- The whole place was packed with long queues to get in. Splendid exhibits from this period. Yesterday we met with Paul Cunningham at the Dubliners Pub in Ikibukara and had a meal together. Not very Japanese but good company. Before that walked around the Imperial Palace Garden complex in stunning autumn sunlit weather. Incredible garden laid out in between the fortifications and moats which make up the perimeter of the Palace. Finding our way around the metro much easier now. Today met with Madam Fujimoto who took us to a shop where they sell dry floral material and then went for a meal at small traditional Japanese restaurant. Natasha and Fujimoto san had the fish dishes and I as usual stuck to the meat dishes. Very tasty all the same. Changed money at Tokyo station and then went to pay the rent at Koyibashi. Came back home and called into the Royal park hotel for coffee and cakes in the lobby cafe. Very relaxing and we stayed about an hour.
We’ve got our tickets to Kyoto for tomorrow. Getting everything ready this evening.
20/11/2007 Monday,
Arrived in Kyoto on Saturday in the afternoon by train. Saw mount Fuji in the distance from the train window, although it looked quite close due to its immense size and height.
Yesterday kept the day fairly simple and went around the nearby museums not far from the hotel. The Kyoto National Museum and the Museum of contemporary Art. Also we visited the Heian Shrine, the huge Shinto shrine. Behind it and attached to the shrine is a widespread garden with long walks and a bridge with balconies. Along each of its sections is framed unique views of the gardens as if framed in a picture or painting. Another example of how Japanese use nature to create art ie using the materials of nature itself to create art.
Finding our way around the restaurants and cafes so that we can eat relatively economically.
Today we went to the the temples and shrines close to our hotel. Nanzenji Temple and the nearby Garden, Eikando Temple complex and the Silver Pavilion. Beautiful autumn colours of the trees makes the whole scene come alive with greens, yellows and reds. After translating Natasha`s article which I helped her with, I understand a great deal more now seeing the gardens themselves and knowing their history.  Had pork noodle soup in a Japanese cafe. The owners were so pleased to see us they gave us a free desert. Very nice people and we will go back there. Weather is spectacular and sunny even if a bit cold. Long walks good for our health as well in the mountain air.
21/11/2007 Wed
Yesterday was a long day. Started early in the morning at Nijo castle. Large complex with palace inside the castle perimeter and gardens. Inside the palace is a large building which has walkways inside which squeak like birds singing or geese honking. This is apparently was a security warning. However it occured to me that it also had an artistic dimension in that it completely complimented the pictures of geese and other birds on the walls and doors which adorned the palace. Reminded me of some of the things that Eisenstein said about Japanese theatre and cinema. Also Mazurik talks about this as well.
Had tea ceremony in a raised building overlooking one of the zen gardens which we looked at for about half an hour mediating on its beauty and refinement. The Russian tour group who arrived at the same time as us and even travelled on the metro with us by coincidnce looked at us with envy. In the far distance a swan glided along the side of the castle wall in the moat.
After this we walked to the centre did some shopping and called into the Ikinbono building which is on the site of the first temple which was built in Kyoto and is still standing. The Ikinobo building is even more impressive and modern than the Sogetsu building. Swans and carp swim in the ponds which border the building. More swans.
We got back to the Hiean shrine and bought tickets for a Gagaku concert with the ensemble from Tenri. Remarkable performance of Hiean court music and Gaguku dance set to a medieval novel called The story of Ginju – about court life from a female point of view. Met with Mr Sati who we met when we stayed in Tenri before. Afterwards had a Japanese meal and came home.
22/11/2007 Thurs
Terribly cold today but all the same we braved the weather and visited several temples . Diansen In and the dry rock garden temple which for the moment the name escapes me. Its the most famous and most photographed. At one temple the Abbott was on duty and he signed a copy of the guide book we bought. Lovely middle aged man with a totally unaggressive nature. He would find out what nationality you were and sing a song from that country. For me he sang its A long way to Tipperary. Even for his age he had the most youthful of hands like a youth of 15 or 16. He couldn’t` remember his Russian but as we were going out the door he came out after us to say “spasibo”. Such a gentle and genuinely kind man. Managed to film a bit and got some quite good footage which also may prove useful. Spent a long time riding on buses to get there but we managed to figure out the system. Also we booked a visit at the Imperial villa which Natasha says is well worth a visit.
Yesterday we visited Movie World – the Japanese film studio entertainment complex. There is a complete Japanese town from the medieval period which they have built and make samurai and historical films there. I filmed some of the sets more for practice than anything else but maybe there will be some useful material at some point.
27/11/2007 Wed
Achieved a lot in The last few days since last entry. Spent an entire day at Gion, a region in Kyoto not far from us which seems mainly for Japanese locals. Originally it was a Geisha region but now it is a place for shopping as well although the Geisha district still remains. Went to a tourist show of various traditional Japanese performance arts. Not very good. Later had a Japanese meal Shabi Shabi. Day before yesterday we went to Imperial Villa Tenri Riyku. Beautiful gardens which I filmed as much as possible. Got some good material I think despite being hustled along by attendants. Yesterday we went to the Hosia Museum which houses the Sekka Rimpa collection. We have the books of his work which we bought in Tokyo the first time I was in Japan but to see this material close up is so much better and striking.
01/12/2007 Saturday
Back in Tokyo after two weeks in Kyoto. Some last minute photos and then we checked out of the hotel and got a taxi to the station. There we had a meal in the hi tech architecture of Kyoto station itself. The architecture is built with metal, concrete and glass but the view from the upper floor looks out onto the distant mountains through a curving network of steel girders which echo the form and lay of the mountains themselves. Its another example in my view of the combination of architecture and natural landscape which the Japanese have used in the design of their living spaces since ancient times and still continues today long before modern architects grasped this concept. A wide eleven story staircase sweeps down from the top floor to the ground floor offering a vast vista of the cavernous interior of the main station area. From Kyoto we of course got on the wrong train because we were rushing and were both quite tired. The wrong train went to Tokyo in any case we just arrived 30 minutes later than we expected. Tokyo is completely different from Kyoto naturally – hectic and modern and grander in scale. Before we left Kyoto we discovered the “Kyoto International Community House” which was only 5 minutes form our hotel. Good place to relax in a large spacious atmosphere with all the facilities of a large luxury hotel but none of the noise. Set in a beautiful garden and close to all the temples in that part of Kyoto and with its own library I wish I had found it earlier, when we first arrived. Tomorrow we will meet with Akira san and go to an open air antique market if the weather holds out and it doesn’t rain.
Filming in Kyoto generally went well and I think I got plenty of material which will come in useful.
02/12/2007 Sunday
Spent most of yesterday resting at home, then in the evening went out and found a cheap nearby restaurant which served up huge portions of Japanese food. Walked further on to a bridge which crosses Sumida gawa and along the wide toe path which borders the river. Saturday night and so quiet – nobody to be seen except for a flotilla of river boats with dimly lit lanterns on each side going up and down the river.
03/12/2007 Monday
Met Akira san at the metro and went to the open air antique market not far from where we are living on Suitengumae and set in the grounds of a temple. Prices quite high but numerous relics form bygone Japanese times, even an ancient saddle was for sale as well as old Japanese tools ( I have no idea what they might be used for) and vases and prints. What took my eye was old scrolls of Japanese writing which look as if they have come straight out of the Heian Period of the middle ages. They only cost a hundred yen and without doubt were produced a lot later but they would make good props in any film. We will return there another Sunday ourselves and buy some more items. Natasha already bought some old lacquered boxes and bowls.
Then we took Akira san for a meal and I handed him a copy of the film “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde“. We met (at our apartment) later in the day after he saw the film at home and gave his approval. I think now he saw the sense of what I was trying to do and his comments showed that he did in fact understand the main structure and ideas behind the film. I think he was pleased that he played a prominent role in the film’s structure. He made mention of Mary Holt who I think is Burliuk’s Granddaughter and lives in America. He thought she would be very interested in the film. She takes an interest in Burliuk’s work and has many of his works to which she owns the rights. He also believed that the Ogasawara Island archive might be interested in the film. Next year is the 40th anniversary of the handing over of the administration of the Island to Japan after the war. We all then went for a second meal nearby. The restaurant was more traditional than the one we had been to earlier which had been in a department store. This restaurant was split up into little rooms for only 8 or so people. Very intimate and comfortable. We ordered hot sake which tasted very good.
04/12/2007 Tuesday.
Today we went to Asakusa. We didn’t really know what to do with ourselves and after sending a parcel to someone in Moscow we decided to go there for the rest of the day. Cold and crowded but still a beautiful place to go. They have refurbished the temple complex and it looks in very good condition now. Received an e-mail from Akira san this morning and he found the site with the film on. He suggested I give a copy to his friend (Also Mr Suzuki) who owns a gallery in Tokyo and where we had a personal showing of the painting by Burliuk “Oshima” which was a remarkable experience last time we were in Tokyo. He also suggested sending a copy to Mrs Samidu on Osagawara. She runs the cultural department on the Island and we met her when we visited the Island a few years ago. Kapitonenko who heads up the David Burliuk Foundation in the Ukraine is a different story and we will write to him and see what he says. Sent a copy to Mary Holt as Akira san suggested.
05/12/2007 Wednesday
Waiting for Kandinsky to come on line at Amazon. They now have all the material and its just a question of time. Spent all day today going around shops. Bought a Theatre Noh tape. Things a bit slow at the moment.
09/12/2007 Sunday,
Just returned from the Izu Osezaki Peninsular where I went diving. The diving experience is something else but the place where we were diving was extremely beautiful and I and Natasha made the most of it filming and photographing as much as possible. The part where we were is about a 20 minute train ride form Mishima. Its not hard to get there but if you don’t know the way it can be quite stressful making all the connections and arriving in time for a bus which would take us to the dive site. We managed to make the bus which wound along a coastal road with step hillsides and incredible views of the wide bay. After about ten minutes a fantastic vista of Fujiyama opens up on the right hand side, truly a magnificent sight. Managed to get some decent footage of this which could also be seen from the dive site. It was often obscured by clouds but I think I have got some good stuff. Then we walked around the small peninsular near the site. There is an old temple with carvings of dragons and lions which resemble the gnarled distorted trees which have been twisted by the fierce winds and typhoons which often effect this part of Japan. Natasha believed that the carvings were no doubt inspired by the shapes and forms that the trees suggested. There was no evidence of it today however. The weather was clear and like a blue skied summers day especially unusual for December. Nice group of people, mostly foreigners, my instructor was Norwegian and Jim who runs the school is a genuinely friendly and extremely lively American who has lived in Japan for twelve years and is married to a Japanese woman. His wife is one of the most good natured people I have met for a long time and she was very helpful to Natasha who had to put up with me being absent on the first day. There was another American, Del who is a businessman who extends his business trips to go diving. A nice person, gracious and thoughtful. Alex I think is German and has worked here for 5 years and speaks what seems like very good Japanese. A Polish guy turned up later and it was good to be able to talk Russian with him. He has been sponsored by the European Union to do some work here or on some kind of business exchange. He hasn’t enjoyed it but he is going home on Tuesday so he is happy after a nine month stint here.

Reading articles about Japanese Film Directors and these relation to western film and Japanese society.

Yesterday walked around a park not far from where Basho spent much of his time in Tokyo and not far from where we live. I think it is called Kiyobashi park but I need to check.
It might be worth contemplating that because Japanese culture has many of its sources in nature, its culture cannot be appropriated completely by an ideology because nature always so to speak has the upper hand or at least the last say. It is a thought worth pursuing.
Some thoughts on Basho’s poetry – Those three line poems are appropriate to those fleeting moments of inspiration, moments which seem like a second or a micro second but contain a volume of information which far outweighs the particle and so for this reason we would refer to it as quality rather than quantity or the place where quality and quantity interface (I’m not sure myself) but certainly a place which we would characterise as valuer rather than matter.. Basho,s poems capture the moment which is fleeting but leaves a lasting (temporal, hence the interface)imprint. A longer poem would not be true to or contemporaneous or commensurate with the moment of inspiration. This thought could be expanded a little more.
14/12/2007 Friday
A couple of difficult days. Not much going on and its turned colder. Managed to get a phone together and so we feel a bit more connected to people. We tried to find the Gallery of Mr Suzuki in order to give him a copy of the DVD but that didn’t work out either. Yesterday went to the Mori art Gallery on Roppongi Hills. Roppongi Hills seems to be a hang out for foreigners in Tokyo. Very modern and all the things that foreigners like, cafes restaurants hotels, clubs etc There is an exhibition of modern and contemporary Tokyo art. A kind of snap shot of whats going on at the moment in Tokyo. View of Tokyo from the top of the tower is stunning. We both enjoyed it and some of the exhibits were impressive and inspiring. had a Chinese meal afterwards and then came home.

Day before yesterday went to Shinjuka after meeting with Ulia, a relative of one of Natasha’s students. Shinshuka is about ten stops up from us on the Maronouchi Line. She took us there and showed us where there was a good book shop for foreigners. There we bought several books for studying Japanese and I bought some books about Basho. Just looking at the characters and learning about them is fascinating. One thing I noticed, the character for madness or lunacy is a combination of the character for a king and a dog. This is to imply the the king is a mad dog. It reminded me of the mad king in Shakespeare’s Lear and led me to wonder if there is some common archetype at work as it seems that Shakespeare was unlikely to know Japanese. I am struck by how pictorial these characters are. I knew this already but when you actually start to study them there are all kinds of echos and resonances which require a great deal of thought.

Yesterday met with an other woman, Tatiana who is a friend of Estelle Winter in Moscow. Sat for few hours in the hotel opposite us and talked for a while. She is married to Japanese man whom she met in Malta. Now she lives with him in Tokyo. She is a modest and friendly young woman who seems to be happy with her life in Tokyo and doesn’t miss Moscow.
Sent Akira san an e-mail. I would like it if he would come with us to the gallery of his friend Mr Suzuki.
Met with Michiko yesterday and we walked around with Natasha and myself for a couple of hours and then visited the Rikugien Gardens in Tokyo. It is lit up at night in such away that the trees and other features appear as sculpted shapes. The whole effect takes on enchanted and other world appearance as the light brings out the colours and features of the gardens so that they are seen in a completely new aspect from that which would be presented during day time. It is typical of the gardens from the Edo period and is pond and mountain style garden based on a waka poem from the 15th year of the Genrouko period (1702). Afterwards we came back home to Suitengumae and had a meal together.
Today, early this morning we took the JR train out to Minami Urawa, which is almost at the end of some line in east Tokyo. It took about an hour. It always amazes me how quiet the streets are here in Tokyo. There was an Ikebana display there plus Japanese traditional dancing which is called I believe Bon odori. We missed the Ikebana but at the concert hall we stayed for a few hours and watched the dances. Based loosely on Noh music and other Japanese dramatic forms, these dances are performed by woman and tell stories through mime and and movement. The first thing that struck me was that watching the dancing helps one to understand Japanese traditional music better as the movements of the dance are almost in perfect harmony with the rhythm of the musical pieces.
The other thing I noticed was the sleeves of the Kimono when the arms are raised form a complete picture or decorative scene as if the wearer was a walking living painting or work of art. It seems as if the Kimono is not just a piece of beautiful clothing but a pictorial codex and the wearer a bearer of such a codex. The body itself becomes a device for storytelling through symbolism and decoration and signs.


The day before yesterday we returned to Shinjuku again and I spent most of the day filming in and around the area. Got some more material which hopefully will be useful. Night stuff especially good. I tried to find DVDs of the Japanese director Teinosuke Kinugasa who made the film “A page of Madness which is considered one of the early masterpieces of Japanese avant-garde cinema. It hasn’t been released on DVD, in fact none of his films have been released on DVD. Fist one will be in April 2008. Yesterday we went to a new office tower complex by the river. It also would be a good place to film. Natasha was there for an Ikebana demonstration. We’re both very tired so we are taking a day off today and just resting. We wont do much and just get ready for tomorrow – visit to Kamakura, temple complex just outside Tokyo.

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