Teaching In Socks

Visual Deception
September 8, 2009, 6:02 pm
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This weekend I went to the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art. The museum is a little far from me– about an hour and half away (one stop past Sannomiya); however, their current exhibition, Visual Deception, seemed like proper impetus to make the trip.

Tadao Ando designed the museum, so the building itself was part of the draw as well. I have been impressed with his buildings whenever I encounter them. The Contemporary Art Museum in St.Louis was probably my first cognizant exposure to Ando’s work. I also like the that a former boxer from Osaka who never received any formal architectural training has this great sense of shape and framing the amazing views his buildings create. It’s like someone gave Avon Barksdale a T-square.

Ando is perhaps most famous for his concrete construction method where many of the interior and exterior walls are simple, smooth (yet not flawless) exposed concrete slabs. He is not the first architect to use this method (so I’m told) but the way he uses it and his consistency with the material have made it a signature of his work.

play stairway to museum

play stairway to museum

The Hyogo Prefectural Museum was unlike the Contemporary Museum in many ways; namely it was bigger and used a much darker color pallet for the ceiling and walkway ornamentation (if one could call it that). A first I wasn’t sure how I felt about the building. From the exterior there are hints that it might be part of some terrible future dystopia imagined in the 80’s. Inside, however, the building is really quite elegant. There are a number of long, geometrically-magnificent spaces. The stairways range from the massive and wide forum variety to winding Escher-like narrow stairs that spiral down wall of rectangular corridor.  The darker pallet also helps to balance out large amount of light pulled from the outside. Without a dark colored ceiling the contrast between the spaces and the sight lines created would be lost.

While I enjoyed the building, the way the exhibition was highly imperfect. Apparently in Japan, and exhibition cannot sell out. This means people funnel in to the exhibit as quickly as they can. Unfortunately for me, this was a fairly popular exhibit.

more stairways

more stairways

My girlfriend and I were smart enough to buy tickets to the exhibition at the train station–who knew you could do that–and this allowed us to bypass the ticket-buying line which reports suggested was about an hour long. However, we still had to wait ten minutes in the Exhibition entrance-line. This was not terrible, however the opening room to the exhibition was extremely crowded. The room itself was large, however everyone was crammed along intermittent pieces of wall space  that held the works of art. The Exhibits signature pieces by Giuseppe Achimboldo (below) were particularly crowded.

This guys a vegetable

This guy's a vegetable

The entire scene was pretty much a foreigner’s nightmare museum experience.It hit a number of the bad museum experience pressure points;

  1. It’s lots of people who are used to being crammed into trains at rush hour, so they abandon all respect for personal space and cram around you as much as possible.
  2. It’s a crowd that skews slightly on the elderly side, so they are moving as slowly as possible.
  3. I am the tallest person, so if I’m in front, I am the one ruining it for everybody–as such I am forced to observe from the back of the pack
  4. There’s around round of “the new” flu  going around (perhaps this is swine flu II, I don’t know) so everyone is either wearing masks that don’t work or sneezing on people wearing mask.

It was a tad bit hellish.

After a few minutes I made the executive decision to forgo context and simply move to ahead of the crowd when possible and try to intimately view a few pieces of art rather than try to see everything trudging along with the mases.

It was a good decision. There were several rooms dealing with the Dutch and French master who developed and played with the depiction of depth and perspective. This was followed room tying in Japanese scroll and Ukiyoe printing into the development of visual illusions and depth before finally taking off with the modern pieces.

The exhibit had one a the more interesting collections of Magritte’s work that I had seen and I really did enjoy, what I perceive to be, his sense of humor about perception and reality. The highlight of the exhibition for me was a piece by Patrick Hughes, which depicts a Venetian style sea city. The piece is painted on a 3D canvas, where the triangular blocks of wood just out from the wall towards you. The scene is painted in such a  way that as you move the depth and lighting changes altering what you see and creating the illusion of an actual cityscape.

Overall the exhibit was pretty great. The modern pieces at the end were a nice pay-off. The crowds however did little to change my perspective that museum visits in Japan should be remain rare occurrences.

Missing all the action

After weeks of dead air,  Michael Jackson excess, and puff-pieces on smile detectors the last week has been Mfilled with an abundance of headline grabbing news.

Japan was fortunate enough to avoid receiving the worst the massive typhoon that devastated parts of Eastern China and Taiwan. However,  the residual storm hit Hyogo Prefecture (where I live) over the weekend and caused torrential flooding of the local river as well as a deadly mudslide in a town to the north. Everything in Ako is in working order, but it was the first time I had seen a helicopter since being near the U.S. Air Force base in Okinawa.

I also avoided both (yeah, 2) of the Earthquakes that hit Japan this weekend (thanks for checking in, mom). Luckily, neither were fatal, and both were too far north for me to feel them, but an American celebrity was deeply and personally affected. By my count Volcanos, sandstorms, and Giant Lizards monsters are the only thing Mother Nature has left at her disposal to throw at Japan this week.

However, Japan is a developed,modernized and media driven country. Thus, while significant, none of these natural disasters were given a fraction of screen time and attention on the Evening News as the arrests of two Japanese Celebrities–in separate, unrelated incidents–for drug possession.  Early last week, TV actor and singer, Manabu Oshio, was being arrested for using for Ecstasy. As a result, his management agency fired him for breech of contract and his wife, whom he had been separated from, formally divorced him.

Oshio must have prayed to whatever pagan-voodoo news media demon that helped out mark Sanford out of his mess, because Oshio’s story was quickly eclipsed popular TV actress and singer (yes, they are all double threats over here), Noriko Sakai, who fled law enforcement after her husband was arrested for possession of stimulants. Furthermore, it was revealed that her husband was a member of the Japanese Crime organization, the Yakuza, and that before fleeing, she left her 10-year old son with a family friend, a friend who happened to be secretly having an affair with Sakai’s husband. She had turned off her cellphone and withdrawn money and speculation brewed about who would find (or had found) her first, the authorities, or the Yakuza. Eventually after several days on the lamb, she turned herself into the Police and admitted to stimulant abuse. Even after the resolution of this affair, the news media seems to be obsessed with the details. Many of my student I have spoken to claim to be tired of the coverage–while in the meantime consistently bringing up the subject in conversation. It’s my predication that the cameras will stay focused on this until Kim Jong Il does something crazy (aka next week).

Meanwhile, as Japan News media burned, I most played Punch Out for Nintendo Wii and went to see Hachi–an American movie based on the true story about a Japanese dog. The actual dog, Hachiko, an Akita, is famous in Japan for waiting at Shibuya train station for nine years (1926-1935) awaiting the return of his master, who had suffered a stroke at work and subsequently died. While Americanized, the movie is quiet good.I can’t speak too much towards the dialog as the version I watched was dubbed in Japanese, but I will confess I violated my policy to never cry at a Richard Gere movie, and even disturbing is that I cried for a dog that said that Richard Gere’s character was dead. In spite of the flood I would have stayed dry had it not been for a pair sad puppy dog eyes.

train pain
March 3, 2009, 5:30 pm
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I went skiing this past weekend. I didn’t make it up north to Hakuba or Nagano, where the real choice slopes are in Japan, but I did venture out to the biggest ski resort in Hyogo, Hachi Kita. I get the impression that skiing  Hachi Kita is similar to skiing a half-decent mountain in New England. Hachi Kita wasn’t a hill, but it would have trembled at the size of Whistler & Blackcomb.

I’m not going to complain though; with the degree of difficulty turned down a few notches, I felt a bit like pro on the slopes. It did seem like a lot of people in Japan decided to take up Snowboarding as their New Year”s resolution, but didn’t get around to hitting the slopes until last week. Thus, In addition to my normal skiing, I got to practice a few evasive maneuvers.

Considering this was the first time I had seen snow since last March, I was really savoring the moment. My enthusiasm was also bolstered by the fact that it took quite a trip to get there in the first place.

Normally, one books a tour package that includes lift tickets and a round trip bus fare out of Himeji. However, there is only one bus per day and it leaves at 7:30 am from Himeji and then departs on a return journey from the mountain at 4 pm. From a purely practical perspective one might say it was a logical and wise decision for my girlfriend to book us on this tour. However, a bus departure time of 7:30 am means I have to wake up a make a 6:30 am train to Himeji. This becomes difficult when the soccer game I want to watch starts a midnight.

In my defense, I woke up at 5:45 am….and then again at 6:35 am. Just in time for her to ring my doorbell. Also, I my defense I made pancakes while we made contingency plans.  In the end, and at the risk of sounding like a Mastercard commercial (does Mastercard still exist by the way?) a $150, simple round trip, one day ski junket turned into this:

6:45 – Make pancakes and apologize profusely

7:00 – eat pancakes, cancel tour package for 50% refund.

7:44 –  Take a train to Himeji (30 min)

8:30 – Take a train to Teramae (30 min)

9:15 – take a train to Wadayama ( 1 hr)

10:27 – Take a train to Yoka (closest train stop to Hachi Kita)  (1o min)

Total train fare: $50

Take a bus from Yoka to Hachi Kita Oh wait, the bus company is going out of business and isn’t in operation on Sundays (because this makes logical business sense when you are operating a bus line between a train station and a SKI RESORT! seriously closed on weekends is part of good business model for this industry?

10:45 -Take a Taxi from the train station to Hachi Kita (30 min)

Taxi cost: $80

buy lift tickets: $70

ski from 12 – 3:15.

3:45 Call the bus company and ask if we can still get on the return ride home: success.

cost: cheaper than a taxi.

Total cost of that extra five minutes of sleep: Glad I REALLY ENJOYED SKIING (if you want to be jerk you can do the math yourself, or you can ask my girlfriend because she definitely summed it all together about a hundred times)