Saturday, 31 March 2012

Book Waterfall!

Finally - there is now a rather flattering artistic expression of the inside of my head (provided at least 60% of these really are Japanese textbooks, trashy fantasy, noh and folk tale collections)

Courtesy of the brilliant artist Alicia Martin, via Boing Boing and My Modern Met.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Of Kappas and Cucumbers

There are lots of famous supernatural creatures in Japan, but my favourite (but only just ahead of Tofu Kozo, Adzuki Arai and the nightmare-giving Nue) has to be the Kappa. They live in water, like frogs, but they look more liked a turtle crossed with a man who looks a bit like a duck. They love to play pranks - some harmless, others much, much less so. Children are warned, when they're small, not to go near water (which has to be fun for swimming teachers all over Japan...)

People make extremely funny, slightly rude musical films about kappa: Underwater Love (onna no kappa) is one of them:

My friend claimed to have won the lottery because of the cute kappa charm we bought her from Kyoto in January, which looked something like this

Kappa even have a 'maki' sushi named after them

And here's where we get to the heart of the matter. I love kappa because they love CUCUMBERS almost as much as I do. This pic from Boing Boing would be food porn to us:

There are five cucumbers in the fridge right now. This time tomorrow, who can say how many will be left? Seventh heaven in Setagaya. Mmm.

Monday, 26 March 2012

My Noh Notebook

One of the (many) best things about being in Tokyo for me is being able to see as much noh as I want. It's one of the few things you absolutely can't get in London. But two weeks into being back, I hadn't actually been to see noh, live! Some people might say I hadn't done too badly - I'd seen some noh video clips while I was working at the National Noh Theatre, and had lots of fun at both kabuki and kyogen shows - but for me, nothing but a proper afternoon of noh was going to scratch my 'traditional Japanese arts' itch.

Luckily, the last Sunday of every month is 'normal noh day' at the Kita Nohgakudo (the school I belong to, hence my being able to afford tickets) in Meguro. I love going there: the only Kita noh days I've missed since last September were because I was in London.

Noh: the strange awake-asleep atmosphere, the music I don't think I'll ever be able to do justice to describing in words, the fact that no video or photos are allowed in the theatre, AND the dearth of great noh 'action pics' to nick off the internet, make my monthly outings rather difficult to post about! Taihen (oh dear)! What to do?

I got my thinking cap on. When I took it off, 'draw' popped into my head. Seemed as good an idea as any.

So, I decided to resurrect my long dormant schoolgirl drawing hand and start sketching during the performances - pencils are one of the few things they allow you to take in with you. Here are some early ones, not much more than graffiti in my Japanese vocab book, from January's performance of Tsunemasa, (ghost of a famous lute player laments the manner of his death) Mutsura (a poem gives a maple tree eternal life and enightenment) and Tosen (chinese official rescued by his children):

This month, I had a bigger notebook and an itchier hand, but a slight crisis of pens. My red editor's fineliner pen held up ok through Kiyotsune (ghost of famous war hero tells his wife about his torments in warrior hell)

but before the afternoon was over, the red pen ran out, so I had to make do with black biro for Rodaiko ('The Prison Drum' - a wife is imprisoned and driven mad on behalf of her samurai husband, but eventually released by the Lord of Matsuda)

and Kuzu (emperor Tenmu's life is saved by an old couple who later turn out to be gods)

The only annoying thing about noh theatres is that they are never near any shops. Next time, I will (try to) remember to bring some proper pencils!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Blow-up dolls and Floating Globes: Roppongi Art Night 2012

Roppongi Art Night was full of the most incredible collection of inflatable installations, ranging from the billowing (but ever so slightly lame) cross-between-marilyn monroe's-skirt-and-a-giant (clean) tapeworm

to something made of the same material which, with some fibre optic assitance, looked rather more fun

and a giant blow-up 'Hanako' doll (traditional doll from Tohoku), which was so polite (it kept on saying 'have a lovely time' in Japanese) that you couldn't really get annoyed with how 'teensy bit uninspired' looking it was.

And it was fun to pose with, too, even though her makeup was clearly a lot better than mine

But the 'inflatables' theme entered a whole new league whenever we came across anything by Yayoi Kusama, star of the show and creator of the amazing Pumpkin, which was on display last night at Tokyo's National Art Center

But, brilliant as it was, for me it was overshadowed by her new polka-dot wonderland piece Footprints of Life, on display just down the road at the Design Site

The inflatable (looking) sculptures rose out of the lawn and were actually rather cute... except that they also reminded me of the spooky, menacing one-eyed dream-boulders in Catherine Storr's Marianne Dreams. Eep!

Eventually I overcame my moment of terror and immediately wandered off on my own and almost got swallowed up by some other giant thing out of someone's brain

Luckily I escaped just in time for the main event - another Kusama creation, following the 'giant blow up doll' theme, but this time inspired by Lego

she even came complete with her very own pet dog! Aww.

The darker the sky got, the better everything looked. A quick turn round a maze or two (and a incongruously Japanese dinner (even the prices were in kanji) considering how international the area is) later, what better final view than this firefly balloon pond which seemed to absorb and deaden the cheers coming from the giant lego stadium round the corner.

A tranquil romantic end to a busy night!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A Guide to Noh - Volume 1!

Editing this english language book of noh play summaries hoovered up weeks of my time since I've been in Tokyo, so, it was a great moment when the Japan Arts Council finally gave us the finished cover mock-ups

It wasn't just the dustjacket that looked nice, either

In fact, I almost like the lilac and silver underjacket even better!

Sadly it's not on the shelves in time for my trip to Kita Nohgakudo to see the play Kiyotsune this afternoon...but next time, it might be!

Shibuya in the Rain

On a rainy night in Shibuya, the gridlock of umbrellas on the Hachiko crossing...

...actually looks more striking than the flashing neon skyscrapers which surround it

Friday, 23 March 2012

Early Blossoms in Umegaoka

In preparation for the big 'ohanami' blossom-viewing bonanza in April, we decided to go for a practice run. The plum blossoms bloom earlier (and smell nicer) than the cherries...but apparently they look less impressive.

That's not what I thought when I saw a grove of plum blossoms on an afternoon stroll in Hanegi Park.

Against a wall of white flowers, the little clusters of bright pink were especially lovely

The flowers were so thick it was easy to get lost...

...but we muddled through somehow.

I was very pleased.

Hanegi Park is in an area of Tokyo called Umegaoka - 'Ume' means 'plum'. Which, I suppose, is why there really isn't a better place to see early blossoms, than here!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Spring Flowers in Shinjuku, Salt in Shibuya

March 20th is Spring Equinox Day in Tokyo - the first official 'Springtime' national holiday. I'd had half a plan to go to the theatre, but the day was so beautiful and sunny - even warm! - that being indoors seemed horribly close to a sin. So, we went to the park instead.

We'd been meaning to go to Shinjuku Gyoen - the most beautiful park in Tokyo, slap bang in the middle of the skyscraper district - for months. And what a day for it. The crowds of early-bird photographers of the famous spring blossoms under the trees made this one look uncannily like a giant cheerleader's pompom

then, passing a pond on a turn through the Japanese formal gardens, I couldn't resist communing with my inner frog

 After fully returning to humanity, it was off to Tokyo Wonder Site, Shibuya branch. This week's installation, a video of a guy standing infront of all kinds of international sites, deliberately looking a bit gormless, was fun to watch. And not just because it reminded me of myself a mere hour beforehand

Next, the Tobacco and Salt museum, a shrine to two of my most favourite things. I'm still not absolutely sure why they share a museum...but I was happy anyway! A giant salt crystal from Iran, hundreds of cigarette packet designs and a postcard of a cartoon witch smoking with her pet later, I went home, ate ready salted crisps and rolled a Cutter's Choice.

It's a serious underaking, relaxing in Tokyo.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Guitar Gods in Daita

Before I came to Tokyo, I believed it when people said that gigs in Japan are polite affairs: the audience claps at exactly the right time, after the song is over only - no jumping around, no shouting and screaming.

I shouldn't have. They were dead wrong.

When I went to see the great Guitar Wolf play a one-off gig 5 minutes from my house (lucky me!), the noise and arm-waving of the packed-out crowd...

and the general 'starriness' of the band...

who weren't above some pure, unadulterated rock god style cheesy showing off...

...more than made up for the small size of the venue. I'm just sorry I didn't get a picture of the moshing, crowdsurfing and 'random bloke brought up on stage to play guitar' antics that also went on. Next time, maybe.

Rock on! An extremely welcome 'return to Tokyo' treat.

Terrified by Temple Dogs - Part 1