Japanese Days 2

Japanese Days 2

A continuation of a 3 month stay in Japan in 2007 and 2008 for the purposes of filming in Japan

22/12/2007 Saturday

Yesterday – Kamakura, the medieval city which was the basis for Edo which later became Tokyo. Its about an hours Journey from the centre and turned out much simpler to get there than we expected. We got off at Kita Kamakura (North Kamakura) and visited a number of temples and shrines along a pre determined route before finally ending up at the Shinto shrine. From here is a grand vista through a series of Tori gates which are set in alignment and lead all the way down to the sea a few kilometres away. Generally the temples and buildings in Kamakura seem older and compared to other shrines and places of historical interest, they have more earthy appearance as if they have been left more or less as they were built in the middle ages. I did some filming but not a great deal. I was more interested in getting shots of the eagles (I think they were eagles) which were always circling around the town.

We took a long walk through the town to the shrine nearby in Kamakura which has the largest Buddhist statue in Japan I am led to believe although I cant be certain about this. It was getting dark and I was worried about filming with no light. Happily the lights came on and in fact it was more interesting to film the lit statue than during the day. Also the moon was up and I was able to get some good shots/sequences of the statue in conjunction with the moon.

Just a note about a possible film. For the sound add echo to the tanoy voices and maybe other sounds underground. Tonight on the way home form Ginza on the metro the tanoy inexplicably began to distort with echo. A similar thing occured yesterday on the way back from Kamakura. The sound of the rails began to echo and reverberate underneath like the sound effect in Tarkovsky’s Stalker as they enter the zone on the train/cart.


27/12/2007 Thursday

A few days ago we arranged to meet with a Japanese man who is a teacher of Japanese painting. Natasha especially wanted to meet him as he had conducted a masterclass in Moscow which Natasha attended. We met him along with Tatiana and he took us to an architectural museum at the edge of Tokyo at a place called Mukagaoka Yuen. It is an open air museum where they have collected and rebuilt old 16th, 17th and 18th century traditional Japanese buildings. Fascinating place. These are not reconstructions but buildings which have been dismantled and re erected at this museum. You get a real feel of how people lived in those days. Afterwards we went for a meal at a traditional Japanese fast food restaurant. The Japanese teacher is a very nice man, very gentle and friendly. I got to know him a little bit even though he speaks little English. Yesterday we went to Kichichjo and helped Mrs Fujimoto change the flower compositions at the Chinese restaurant (at least Natasha did. Then we took the train back to Nakano where Tatiana met us and we went back to her home for a meal. Lovely new apartment and quite spacious in comparison to ours. It has three rooms and a long balcony. Then we came back to Shinjuko and had a meal in the Irish pub. Strange evening. The food wasn’t very good and the place was full of strange characters. One European guy came and sat next to us and tried to engage us in a disjointed conversation. I was glad when he decided to leave. Today Akira san called us and took us to visit a few local supermarkets and bakeries. Later we went and paid the rent for the apartment and then came back home and called into the supermarket and bought some food to take home.

On Christmas day we went to Roppongi. Its a great hang out for foreigners. We went to the top of the tower which houses the Mori art Gallery and I did some filming. Then we came down and walked around taking photographs and filming and just generally soaking up the atmosphere. About ten, after a meal in an Irish bar, we walked back three metro stops on our line before getting the train back home. We went through an area which we had visited on a previous trip with Akira san. Dark and quiet but perfectly safe. Walking around a dark city at night is one of my favourite pastimes – you see things from a totally different perspective. The people who inhabit a city at night are completely different as well. If you get lost in Tokyo there is always a metro nearby so there is nothing to worry about

30/12/2007 Sunday

Just trying to fathom out what the purpose or meaning of this trip to Japan is or could be. The main thing is that we are building a network of contacts and information here. This seems to be the main purpose and probably the most useful. Akira san phoned yesterday and took us around a few shops and bakeries so that we can buy food over the New Year period as everything here in Japan shuts down for a few days.

Met with Paul this evening at the Irish pub on Ikebukura. Him and Natasha exchanged impressions on Japanese culture with me in the middle translating. Very interesting observations on both sides. One of which conceded that Japanese people perceive human beings in the same way they would perceive an animal. Its just the way it is. They do not judge a human being or demand that it change in any way. This leads on to the next thing that beauty for Japanese is not concerned with the external features but the internal quality (essence). This is true for art as well. A painting should express the inner essence of an object not its outside view.

The other point that came up is that the Japanese value the collective over the individual.

31/12/2007 Monday

Last day of the year and getting ready to celebrate New Year here in Tokyo. Last night we went for a walk with Tatiana and her Japanese husband around Hibiya Park where they have set up Christmas/New Years illuminations. We drank some hot red wine there and took photographs. Then we came back to Ningyiocho and found a small restaurant where we had a traditional Japanese meal. First we had some starters done like shashlik. Then a large bowl was brought out containing raw chicken, liver, vegetables, mushrooms and fresh tofu in water and a sauce. The bowl was set on a burner and cooked together for 10 – 15 minutes. When it was prepared we shared it out into small bowls with bouillon from the cooked mixture. Later rice was added to the leftover bouillon and brought to the boil and we finished off the dish with the rice which had absorbed all the stock. Beautifully simple and delicious. Tatiana and her husband who is originally from Osaka are going to Moscow to celebrate New Year.

Invited Akira san to celebrate New Year with us but he is already busy.

03/01/2008 Thurs

New Years Night at Zojo-ji Temple

On New years night we decided to go to Zojo-ji temple to attend the 108 bell rings. We went on the metro and didn’t know what to expect. After arriving there about 11.00 PM we walked through the temple gate house to find the place packed with visitors, mostly Japanese but also many foreigners as well. The atmosphere was quite charged and the crowd spread over the several acres that is the temple territory. We headed straight for where the bell was and found a good spot to see and film everything. The event was being televised so there was a Television presenter up on the platform along with a Buddhist monk and they made up quite a good team bantering away in Japanese and providing the crowd with information. At last we could see the monks warming up for the off. There was a s brief musical interlude and chanting with what seemed to me Gagaku music, the musical instruments were more or less the same as this style of Music so I am assuming it was . Then the lights all went out a about a minute before midnight. It was completely dark and strange cosmic space like type sounds were relayed through the PA giving a mystical anticipation to the proceedings. Then with the countdown showing on the large digital clock midnight hit and simultaneously the Bell pealed loudly and a climatic thundering sound resounded from the PA and the lights flashed on around the temple as people released thousands of transparent “balloons” as offerings and wishes. Several hundred transparent paper balloons in the shape of birds were also released into the air from a cage near the stage and flew up past the trees. Some balloons got caught up in the trees but the site of these floating beacons of transparent light in the night sky was exhilarating. Then one by one in groups of four people came up to ring the huge bell hung from a wooden lintel in the building which contains the bell complex. Its not a very large building but big enough to house the bell and the people who participate in the ceremony, maybe up to fifty at a time if necessary.

I filmed quite a bit although it was difficult with the crowds and Natasha took as many photographs as possible. Afterwards we drank our champagne which we had brought with us as per Russian tradition and then walked around the temple complex. Lines of people queued to get into the main temples. We entered our selves and I filmed what was going inside. Monks chanting prayers and visitors making offerings. I filmed the crowds from the temple steps through the smoke created by the incense burner down below. I haven’t checked the material just yet but my guess is that it will prove interesting.

The next day we went to Mrs Fujimotos home for a New Years day meal. Most of her family where there and it was real insight into how Japanese spend New Years day. It is essentially a family affair with plenty of pre prepared meals so that nobody has to do any cooking for three or four days. Lively and heart-warming. We stayed to about six and then came back to the centre of Tokyo. Her family liked to listen while Natasha and myself spoke Russian to each other.

The following day went to the temple Harajuka. Thousands of people there going to the temple and making offerings. We really didn’t expect it to be so crowded. Incredible sight to see so many people at these sites. we walked around the grounds of the temple for a few hours. They stretch for several acres and are very beautiful. The whole effect of the gardens is calming and revitalising.

The same morning I walked around the river area where we live (Sumida Gawa) and filmed as much as possible. Bright clear morning and warm as well. I went over the other side of the river to where there is a “shrine” to Basho the Hiaku poet. There is a statue of him set near where he had his hut. Its on a kind of outcrop where it can be seen from a distance. Below are other small shrines set into enclosures which seem to represent cave entrances or so it appears to me. I’m glad we are living in the same area as Basho when he was alive in the the mid 17th century. I’ve been reading his short travel story “Narrow Road to a Far Province”. I’d already read it in Russian but I wanted to read the English version as well. Basho was an incredible writer, very simple and sparse but a depth and wealth of information and impressions and in some ways contemporary using a sparse and informative prose which we would recognise today.
As I was filming an airship glided into view and circled for an hour or so around the Tokyo skyline. The sight was ethereal and unreal as I watched it slowly and silently floating in the air.

07/01/2008 Monday.

New Years celebration seem to be over and done with here. Not much going on now in Tokyo. I have been filming here and there when possible. Yesterday we went out to Kichijoji and Natasha attended a calligraphy class. She spent a few hours doing stylised calligraphy of various Japanese words.

I have received an offer from a theatre festival in Zagreb to do some biomechanics workshops. I have contacted William to see if he is free. There is some funding for accommodation and airfares. Early days as yet but proposal looks interesting.

08/01/2008 Tues

Haven’t heard from William yet about Zagreb. Yesterday filmed around Ginza area and in the Tokyo International Forum Building.

13/01/2008 Sunday

Corresponding with William about Zagreb. He has suggested a fuller programme based on the work he is doing with speech, voice and exploring dreams as part of the experience of releasing an actors potential. Nothing concrete has been decided yet but I need to decide what role I would play in the light of this development. Perhaps it would be better if I acted more as a producer director facilitator.

Otherwise we have been going about Tokyo and filming as much as possible. Still a lot to do and not much time of our trip left. Only a couple of weeks to go before we return to Moscow.

Have been reading about Basho with much pleasure and I think I am beginning to understand his philosophy much better. One of his books is about a trip he made around the Isu. I would like to find out if he was anywhere near where we had been. There was an old temple there set up high on an outcrop of rock. It had all the weather beaten romantic appearance of those old temples in Chinese paintings perched on top of cliffs etc. Its probably a different place however.

Just looking at the arts and crafts of Japan. When you go into a shop or a department store they have craftsmen working actually in the shop. Beating bowls, making ceramic and pots carving traditional furniture or weaving textiles. For us these crafts are like museum pieces or for tourist attraction. For the Japanese it seems they are still part of the living fabric of Japan’s society.

Liaising with the Hayward Gallery about their Rodchenko exhibition starting in early February. Have talked to their merchandising department about selling Rodchenko film.

15/01/2008 Tuesday

Yesterday afternoon went to to Tokyo mid town region. It looks quite big on the map but in fact everything is centred around Roppongi and close together. The first place we visited was the Tokyo Arts Centre. Its a new building for contemporary art made out of mostly glass with a curving facade which imitates a horizontal wave. Inside two restaurants stand on upturned cones making a spectacular visual feature inside. The Gallery is very spacious. One of the exhibitions was an enormous exhibition of Calligraphy which seamed to stretch for mile upon mile of gallery space and in the end we only managed to see one floor. The other two we didn’t have enough time for. The other exhibition was of Japanese contemporary art from the early sixties of artists sponsored by the government to spend a year abroad. Excellent exhibition although as Natasha remarked nothing stood out in particular but all in all the exhibits paintings and installations added up to a significant body of work. Outside when we arrived a helicopter unexpectedly landed in an enclosure next to the museum, took off and returned again for a second landing and took off again.

Later we walked down to the mid town centre itself which seems to consist of expensive shops in an expensively decorated shopping mall. However there were some good sculptures there and plenty of unusual objects and visuals to film. I had hoped to film a particular sculpture which I had seen in a book. I didn’t really know where to look but when we came outside to film a “garden of light” there in the far end of the garden was the sculpture sitting there bathed in blue light. It is a tubular construction which is not unlike the curved Moore like sculptures that can be found in many parks, gardens and public places. This one however is made form sections of metal with some of it cut away to expose the inside of the construction which is like a net. The effect is a dynamic construction which seems to move and curve in the light. Streaming away from the “installation” are three swathes of blue light. At intervals of 10 minutes or so the central section comes alive with star-burst and shooting stars from white light which intersect and crisscross each other.

17/01/2008 Thursday

Yesterday we met with Tadoa….. at Yokohama. He wanted to show us China Town there and also show Natasha a shop where you can buy artists materials. After a quick walk around Chinatown and then a trip to the shop where Natasha bought some brushes and paper and other stuff, we got in taxi and set of for Yokohama Pier Park. This was a revelation. It is a pier built in the shape of a ship so that as you walk around it (either inside or outside) you feel like you are on the deck of a ship. With fantastic views of Yokohama Bay we indulged ourselves by filming and shooting as many pictures as we could. Tadoa san was the perfect host and guide. The weather was perfect. Clear bright blue skies and warm for a January day in Japan. Natasha and I had the impression that even though Yokohama is only about 30 kilometres from Tokyo it is much milder in climate. A cross between a seaside town and a big metropolis. The skyline is littered with modern skyscrapers. Tadoa’s English is a bit rusty but a very likable man. We sent him some photographs of Suzdal in an attempt to persuade him to come to Russia again. He was in Moscow last summer and gave a series of masterclasses in Japanese painting techniques. Came back to our Tokyo apartment early as Natasha was unwell and had a temperature.

I had a look at the material I shot and was very satisfied with the footage. I feel I really am starting to get the best from the camera.

Today we just rested.

23/01/2008 Wed

Natasha has been unwell with flu so we have spent the last few days at home in our cramped apartment. For one day I went out and about. Called into the Japanese National Cinema centre to find out about the film “A Page of Madness” The have copy but don’t show it to anybody. There maybe a copy at Matsuda Productions. I found their office but I need to find time to go there.

Yesterday was a good day we went to the Sumo wrestling Tournament at Ryokogen. The stadium is next the Edo and Tokyo Museum. I didn’t think we were going to be able to get tickets, but as it turned out it was relatively easy. As soon as you walk in through the gates you can feel the atmosphere. It really is electric and full of excitement and colour. I didn’t think I would enjoy it but you do get the feeling that it is an echo of Japan as it was and maybe is. The rituals and decor all hark back to an earlier time despite the modern dress of the spectators and the new stadium. At first I couldn’t understand why they throw salt into the ring. The point of this is to purify the ring as it is a sacred place. Watching the bouts you start to get an idea of the techniques and skills involved in winning a bout. It all happens quite quickly but the psychological build up helps to set the scene for the final clash of bodies.

31/01/2008 Friday

Winding down our trip to Japan. Very difficult to do at the moment as we have both been ill.
Finally said good-bye to Fujimoto san who invited us to a dinner with all her students. Good day out even though I felt dreadful. Had a meal with Akira san at his favourite restaurant but we will meet up with him again. Went to Harajuka once again and walked around the area known as Otosanmando Hills. A few days later I returned there and did some filming. Weather cold and wintry although it is sunny. Makes it difficult to go out much. Bought more books to take back with me.

Met with Tatiana for the last time and with Ullia. No doubt we will meet up with them in Moscow.

Have been liaising with the Hayward gallery. They have gone for the Rodchenko film but we are still waiting for delivery to them of 50 copies. I hope they arrive by 4th February which is the designated time we agreed. They have a press and media day on the 5th so they want everything ready by then. They will also use some of my material for their marketing.

03/02/2008 Sunday

We’ve come to our last day in Japan. Very difficult to sum up where we are in terms of evaluating the purpose and results of our time here in Japan. I imagine that will come in time once Natasha and I return to Moscow. Three months is a long time to spend in one place. At the same time the days have just flown by and its hard to believe that we will be returning to Moscow so soon. Last night we went for a meal with Akira san and he also asked us what the trip had brought us. He took us to a small restaurant in the Kiyosumi Shirakawa district which is where he lives and not far from our apartment as well. Its got a small low door which slides back and through which one has to bend low to enter. Once inside a small
and simply decorated room is revealed – tasteful and modest but extremely welcoming, The restaurant was empty apart from the beaming owner who greeted us. He obviously is friends with Akira san who told us that the restaurant was open today exclusively for us. We were treated to a wide selection of Japanese delicacies. Mostly they were fish dishes which I was unable to sample but Natasha was very impressed. My favorite was the salted cucumbers and a herb or vegetable with which the Japanese mustard ……..is made. Eaten raw it is slightly hot and has the same tangy taste as the mustard. Apparently this was a special restaurant. You can only dine there if recommended or invited especially by the owner. In that sense we felt very privileged. Akira san explained that such restaurants are very rare in Japan. The warm sake was very tasty and welcome on such a cold day as yesterday. Today it is snowing in Tokyo, I suppose to get us prepared for returning to Moscow.

Later we got a taxi to the hotel across the road from our apartment where we sat and had tea and desert. Akira san was worried that his work on Burliuk was leading him nowhere. We tried to persuade him otherwise and that it is valuable to many people. If it hadn’t been for his work on Burliuk the film I made would be much less interesting. I asked him about the film “A page of Madness” by Kingusa. He hadn’t heard of it. However there is a joint Soviet-Japanese film called “The Little Runaway” which was made in the sixties I think. We watched it not long ago in Moscow. By a strange coincidence this film was co-directed by Kingusa. A long way from the avant-garde style of “A page of Madness” but a great film all the same. It tells the story of a little Japanese boy who runs away from a tour in Russia to try and find his father. Its very touching and very well written and directed.

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