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Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

It’s always nice to feel a bit still connected to goings-on at Japan Society in New York. Sadly, I won’t be in town to see most of this, but I thought I might share briefly about some stuff going on over there.

FILM:
First, an upcoming film series they’re doing. Entitled The Dark Side of the Sun: John Zorn on Japanese Cinema, the series includes one film a month, from October to February, all chosen by “maverick avant-garde composer, musician and arranger John Zorn,” and representing a wide variety of genres and styles. None have been shown at Japan Society before, and so far as I am aware (but then again I’m not very knowledgeable about film) none are the typical standard ones you’re likely to have seen before.

Here’s the line-up, very briefly:

*Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands (荒野のダッチワイフ)(Saturday, October 18, 7 PM) – a 1967 film directed by Yamatoya Atsushi, described as “about a hitman (Yuichi Minato) who is hired by a rich real estate agent to find an abducted woman (Noriko Tatsumi). This simple setup gives way to a hip and chaotic worldview full of hard-boiled characters, sexy action, and hallucinatory imagery.”

*Crossroads (十字路)(Saturday, November 15, 7:30 PM) – a 1928 silent film directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa (1896-1982), and accompanied live on shamisen by experimental musician Yumiko Tanaka. I don’t know much about the film, or the director beyond having seen his film “Page of Madness” (狂った一頁), but, live shamisen? You can’t beat that.

*Top Stripper (丸本噂のストリッパー)(Thursday, December 11, 7 PM), a 1982 pink film directed by Yoshimitsu Morita, who we are told “was one of the handful of young, radical directors who were given the opportunity to explore the visual medium via the constraints of the pink genre.”

*Matango (aka Attack of the Mushroom People)(Friday, January 23, 7 PM), by none other than Ishiro Honda, director of the original Godzilla. Mushroom People. What more do we need to say?

*Finally, the first-ever official showing in the US of Ôshima Nagisa’s 1964 film It’s Me Here, Bellett (私のベレット), preceded by eight experimental shorts by the godfather of anime, Tezuka Osamu. Friday, February 20, 7 PM.

Here’s a blog post from Lucky Girl Media about the series that may fill you in further.

PERFORMING ARTS:
The film series – specifically the Nov 15 showing of Jûjiro – also intersects with a running theme of this year’s Performing Arts season schedule, “Shamisen Sessions,” a whole bunch of events I wish I could be there for, beginning with the rightfully sold out Sept 27 concert by Agatsuma Hiromitsu – easily one of the most famous Tsugaru players active today, after the Yoshida Brothers – and pop/jazz singer Yano Akiko, who has recorded with the Yellow Magic Orchestra in the past.

The Society’s performing arts programs are always great, but I think it is somewhat rare to have this many traditional (or traditional-related, given the experimental and exciting things some of these performers are doing with shamisen) events in one season. I don’t play shamisen myself, though I’d like to try/learn someday, and just listening is always wonderful. I would love, too, to hear any of these performers talk about their thoughts on tradition, on continuing/maintaining and experimenting with traditional instruments and songs, and on the place of traditional non-Western instruments in modern/contemporary music.

The season also includes shamisen performances, workshops on shamisen, Nihon Buyo, and Noh, and a concert with Okinawan sanshin player Yukito Ara (*dies*). In addition to the “Shamisen Sessions,” another series or theme this year is “Stories from the War,” which includes a series of performances of Noh plays new and old in May, and in January a performance written and directed by huge-big-name contemporary artist Miwa Yanagi. I don’t see anything on the website indicating whether Yanagi-san will be there for a Q&A or anything, but, wow it would really be something to meet her.

GALLERY:

Of course, god forbid any of these performances should be shown during Christmas break, when many people, like myself, come home to New York and would love to get to see such things, but, at least the gallery will be open, and this fall/winter’s show, Garden of Unearthly Delights, which just opened earlier this week, and shows until January 11, looks to be an incredible one.

It features Ikeda Manabu and Tenmyouya Hisashi, two of the artists from the Bye Bye Kitty exhibition a few years ago, plus teamlab, with whom I’m not so familiar, and continues, as I suppose I should have expected gallery director Miwako Tezuka would, in the wonderful exciting trend of Japan Society introducing New York, and the United States, to brilliant, creative, inspiring Japanese contemporary artists who are not Murakami Takashi or Yayoi Kusama, and who draw upon traditional imagery, motifs, and styles, to create some really incredible, vibrant, new and very 21st century work. This isn’t the 1960s anymore, and MoMa can keep its ostrich head in the sands of the past, but Japan Society is pressing forward with some of the newest works by some artists who are really pushing the boundaries and doing wonderful exciting stuff.

The show includes Tenmyouya’s first ever installation piece, based on or inspired by Zen rock gardens, as well as some animated pieces by teamlab clearly based on the work of Itô Jakuchû. While I don’t like the idea of saying “if Jakuchû were alive today, he’d be this (or that) sort of artist, and he’d make this or that sort of thing,” there really is something about these animated pieces – at least what I’ve seen of them so far in promos for the exhibit – that strikes me as falling within a continuity of his work, as not being opposed to it or a break from it. It’s bird-and-flower painting for the 21st century, not a break with the past but a continuation of it, a continuation of engaging in the same themes, the same aesthetics, and just bringing it up to the present (or the future). Ikeda and Tenmyouya’s work, meanwhile, remix past and present, erasing the borders between the two, and helping us imagine the past as being perhaps not so unlike our own time, and vice versa.

I really cannot wait to see this show. In the meantime, maybe I’ll prepare by watching some interviews with the artists.

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Following my week in Kagoshima, I spent a week or so in Okinawa. So much to say about my trip, and yet… Well, where to start? I was in Okinawa chiefly for an International Conference held by the East-West Center & East-West Center [Alumni] Association. But every time I try to write about East-West Center, I find it really difficult, and I end up rambling and second guessing myself, and just sort of going all over the place. My thoughts about, and relationship with, the East-West Center are quite complicated. I might end up putting up a post about that in the near future, if I ever manage to write one. We shall see.

But, in the meantime, maybe we should just start by focusing on everything but the conference. The conference ran three days, Weds through Friday, Sept 17-19. On the middle day, we had a half-day tour to the Peace Memorial Museum at Mabuni, and to Shuri Castle, the former royal palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, located in Naha (historically a separate city from Shuri, but which has now grown to gobble Shuri up), just a few short monorail stops away from the conference hotel.

Our half-day tour was a pretty lengthy one – 2pm to 7pm, if I remember correctly. And yet, somehow, within that space of time we only had one hour at the Peace Memorial Museum, and one hour at Shuri castle. Granted, it takes considerable time to drive from one place to the next, but, geez.. surely there was a better way to schedule this out, no?

The Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum at Mabuni. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Regardless, I’m glad to have gone. I’d never been to the Peace Memorial Museum at Mabuni, and now that I have a somewhat better idea of what it entails, at least I know what I’m getting into if and when I make my way back there. It’s a very well done museum, actually, telling the story of the Battle of Okinawa. Very sleek, professional, up-to-date looking, in terms of the style of presentation. Another museum I visited on my own, earlier in the week, the Battle of Okinawa Holocaust Photo Gallery (沖縄戦・ホロコースト写真展示館), operated out of a small corner building in Naha, has a very different aesthetic, being comprised of little more than photos hung on the walls. If one were to really take the time to really analyze both museums more closely, I’m sure a lot could be said for differences in their approach, and in their message. Are either more extreme in their politics than the other? I’m not sure. The chief message of both seems summed up well by a quote from the OPRI’s English website:

There are many problems in the world. But, war is not the answer to the problems. Look at these pictures. War creates another problem.

There is a great deal to be said about the Battle of Okinawa. Entire books, upon books, have been written about it. I, personally, am not sure that I would go so far as to associate it with the Holocaust (as this smaller OPRI museum does, and as some other groups are known to do), given that the Japanese government, for all its wrongs, for all its horrific atrocities, never made the explicit, intentional, directed, and highly coordinated effort to truly extinguish another people that the Nazi German government did. The Okinawans, by contrast, were less targets of genocide, than ignored, uncared for, collateral damage, as two great armies met one another in battle, trapping the Okinawan people between them, trampling their culture, their history, their land, and their lives, with neither side – not the Japanese government which claimed them as Imperial subjects and rightful citizens, nor the American government with its eternal rhetoric of bringing freedom and combatting oppression – doing nearly enough to watch out for, take care of, the Okinawan people and their interests.

Right: Naha destroyed, and a famous photo of a girl with a white flag. Public domain photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

I really struggled to find images to put here, looking for the one or two that would, by themselves, without any other images, convey what happened here, and convey the tragedy and the emotion of it. But in the end, I think it is difficult, if not impossible, to find individual images that can do that. It takes looking at tens or even hundreds of photos, a whole room full of photos, and reading about what happened, immersing oneself in the subject even if only for 10-15 minutes, but really surrounding oneself, immersing oneself, to really “get” it, to feel it for ourselves, to be emotional as if it were our own families, or our own people, to truly appreciate just how horrific this was, both for those killed, and those who survived, and all the impacts and implications that come as a result.

Or maybe it simply takes a conscious effort of thinking about it based on the stories and experiences of our own families, our own peoples. While I am not Japanese or Okinawan, and certainly cannot claim to understand or appreciate their own sense of their own identity in quite the same way as a person of Okinawan descent would, as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I think there is something to be said for connections, similarities, in how that period of history impacted our families and our identities. It is not only by studying Okinawa’s history, and talking to Okinawan people, but also by reflecting upon my own exposure to stories, documentaries, and museum exhibits about the Holocaust, that I think, or I should like to think, I can appreciate something of the emotion, the experience, the impact upon Okinawan identity, that comes out of this. As I sat in Yom Kippur services a few days ago, in Yizkor services in particular, thinking about all those we have lost, about my own grandparents who went through so much, about all their friends, relatives, neighbors – my relatives, my people – six million of them, who died in the Shoah, I thought too about the Okinawans, their experiences, their suffering, their tens of thousands of deaths. And I felt a connection, rightfully or not, feeling a deep sadness, not only for those individuals who suffered through this, for their suffering, their terrible loss of potential, loss of happiness, and in far too many cases loss of life, but also a terrible sadness at the loss of potential at what Okinawa and its people might be today, might have been, if not for these terrible events. We are all each of us irrevocably changed by even the death of a single loved one; how much more so by terrible grand scale sweeping events such as these.

This is why museums such as the one at Mabuni are so important, especially for outsiders – in this case, for non-Japanese. We have to learn one another’s stories, see the similarities, and sympathize. We have to learn to not see others – Jews, Okinawans – as Others, but rather as people just like ourselves. We have to imagine ourselves in their situation. Imagine losing your home, your mother, or your brother in such circumstances. Imagine losing your friends, your neighborhood, your school. Losing your livelihood, your entire world turned upside down, and losing perhaps even your life, where only years earlier, things were so much happier and safer. It is a story which repeats itself far too often, in far too many places around the world.

I plan someday to read more deeply, more thoroughly, about the Battle, what led up to it, and the aftermath. My specialty in the earlier period doesn’t allow for much opportunity to really take out time to study more in depth about these subjects. I hope, too, to someday post something more well-organized, more thoroughly thought through and planned out on the subject. But, for now, from my brief scattered notes from the exhibitions (there was no time to read, let alone copy down, everything), just a few scattered points and thoughts:

By 1944, the entire island was “mobilized” for development of airstrips and other military construction and preparations. On October 10, 1944, the Allies launched their first air raids against the island, resulting in 668 deaths, and leading to mass evacuations, with as many as 70,000 Okinawan civilians fleeing to Taiwan and Kyushu, where they thought they would be safer. In the meantime, the Japanese strengthened their positions, building a massive command center beneath Shuri Castle. As troops deployments to Taiwan increased, the Japanese stepped up their recruitment of Okinawan schoolchildren into the military. The Okinawan people were caught between conflicting expectations and demands, as the Japanese simultaneously treated them as full Japanese citizens, demanding them to sacrifice their livelihoods, their land, their very lives for their country and for their Emperor, while at the same time treating them as decidedly lesser, and Other. Okinawans were trusted enough to be impressed into military service, but were distrusted enough that those speaking the Okinawan language – not generally intelligible to Japanese – were often executed as spies. In the end, in some of the toughest fighting of the entire Pacific War, the Allies invaded Okinawa, and took the island, over the course of April through June 1945. Many Okinawans fled south, fled /towards/ the Japanese positions, believing their own country’s military would protect them from the Americans. Many, ultimately, found themselves pushed, between the two armies, with nowhere left to go but over the cliffs, to their deaths upon the rocks in the sea below. The cliffs right behind the Peace Museum are one of a number of locations where this took place. Only in retrospect, in hindsight, is it clear that had they stayed in the north, so many more might have survived. Just over 12,500 Americans lost their lives, along with 188,136 Japanese nationals, including roughly equal numbers of Japanese soldiers and Okinawan civilians. Roughly 1/4 of the civilian population of the island was killed, and nearly all, at least in the southern half, were rendered homeless. Shuri Castle and all the historical sites surrounding it were pounded into dust, and countless irreplaceable documents and artifacts of Ryukyuan history and culture went up in flames. Around 10,000 Koreans, most of them laborers, were also killed. Today, nearly 70 years later, around 3,000 tons of unexploded ordinance remain on the island, and it is expected it will take another 35 years at least to finish clearing it all away.

A few of the many, many memorial stones at Mabuni Peace Memorial Park. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The museum itself reminds me, as one might expect, of the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. Most of the rooms are quite dimly lit, and combined with the 1940s photographs themselves, it gives a black and white and grey feeling. A few rooms are built up to look/feel like the inside of caves, where so many Okinawans hid from the fighting, and where so many died, convinced by the Japanese that they should commit suicide, gloriously sacrificing themselves for their Emperor, like so many shattered jewels, rather than allow themselves to be captured by the Americans. A few spaces had latticed bars which reminded me of the Japanese-American National Museum in LA. One of the later rooms of the exhibition feels like a chapel, or a schoolroom, with rows of desks, each of which bears a book filled with firsthand accounts. Towards the end of the exhibits, the narrative switches to the post-war story. The United States continued to occupy Okinawa, the entire string of islands under US control, until 1972, twenty years after the Occupation had ended in the remainder of Japan. A photo of Roger Baldwin, one of the founders of the ACLU, is from his 1959 trip to Okinawa, during which he heavily criticized the US Occupation. It was only after much protest, and indeed some rather violent riots, that the US finally released its grip upon Okinawa, returning it to Japanese sovereignty (as demanded by the Okinawan people; relatively few pushed or voted for independence) in 1972, but continuing even today to hold roughly 20% of the land area of this tiny island as military bases.

We did not get a chance that day, during our far too short visit, to see anything of the park itself which surrounds the museum. I understand it is filled with numerous memorials to all those killed in the battle, regardless of their nationality. Now that I have been there once, and have some better sense of what the site is, I look forward to going back some day to see it again more fully.

In my next post, Shuri castle.

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The surviving moat & outer stone walls of the Edo castle complex.

While in Tokyo a few weeks ago, I finally visited & explored the former site of Edo Castle, the seat of power of the Tokugawa shogunate, today occupied by the Imperial Palace, and in particular the Eastern Imperial Gardens. Somehow I had had it in my mind that the Imperial Household had taken over portions of the castle, keeping them still-standing, or had at least built the Palace right over the former site of the shogun’s castle. I guess I should have realized the first wasn’t true, since I just read in Takashi Fujitani’s Splendid Monarchy about how Edo Castle burned down in 1873, and the Imperial family relocated to the Akasaka Temporary Palace (today the Meiji Kinenkan, it would seem) until 1888, when the new Imperial Palace was completed. So, yeah, the palace that stands today is entirely a Meiji (or later) creation, not simply occupying the old shogunal castle. Not only that, but the Palace is not even built over the former site of the castle’s central areas, but is instead off to one side, with the former site of the castle’s honmaru (chief bailey) now converted into the Imperial Palace East Gardens, and easily accessible to the public. Though there is nearly nothing at all left to see today of the castle buildings, mostly just empty space, in a way, it’s arguably preferable that the Palace was not built atop the same castle site, since at least this way it’s publicly accessible (the in-use Palace buildings, of course, are not).

I found the tenshu dai – the surviving foundations of where the castle’s tower keep stood until 1657 – to be surprisingly small. Sure, it may look fairly sizable in this photo, but notice that it tapers – once you get to the top, and look at how far you can walk in any direction before you fall off, you realize the actual building that once stood here must have been pretty small. I realize that this was a multi-storeyed tower, and essentially chiefly just a visually impressive symbol and guardhouse – though the tenshu is the most iconic aspect of Japanese castles, in fact it did not house any residential or administrative functions; it was not, really at all, the chief structure of the castle’s operations. But, even so, it is surprising to me to see just how small it is, smaller than the front yard at my childhood home.

Right: It’s difficult to tell from the photo the size of the honmaru, but this is it. This space of green grass, plus the next one over there in the background.

The honmaru, too, was surprisingly small. Okay, perhaps it can be easy to let our romanticized idea of the greatness of the shogunate (or of any regime, any state) blow our expectations out of proportion. But, even so, it seems quite small – what today is no more than an empty space of green is not so much larger than my backyard back home. And this relatively small area is supposed to have contained not only the entire Ôoku, but three audience chambers, a kitchen, and numerous connecting corridors. To look at the map given on the plaque displayed on-site, you’d think it was so much larger… It’s difficult, really, to properly imagine these buildings, with them being so absent. And yet, at the same time, at a site like Shuri Castle, which I visited a couple weeks later, and which comes to mind, as one walks through all these reconstructed rooms and buildings, it’s difficult, by contrast, to get a sense of the total amount of space, as you do by looking at this empty green space.

As the next chapter I’m working on takes place right here – it concerns the reception of Ryukyuan ambassadors in shogunal audience – and believing that Edo Castle still in a sense stands, because it’s become the Imperial Palace, it comes as something of a weird, interesting realization, to realize that it really doesn’t. Edo castle is gone, burned down in the 1870s and never rebuilt, and the Imperial Palace, though I know very little about what it actually looks like (there are apparently tours you can book; but surprisingly little scholarship on its architecture or decor), is an entirely separate set of structures, not even on the same site, but located in a different part of the grounds, and surely constructed with a much more Meiji than Edo aesthetic.

I am also surprised at the extent to which this feels like so many other castle sites I’ve been to. This is supposed to be the East Imperial Gardens. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad that they haven’t changed it over too much, that there are still identifiable spaces, empty though they may be, that can be pointed out as being the former site of this and that building, but it’s just that I thought they would have reformatted the grounds somehow, making them more thoroughly into “gardens,” rather than what we have, a lot of empty lawn, surrounded by bits of relatively natural-looking forest.

Two brief CG recreations of what Edo castle might have looked like, by YouTube user secondcoafujie.

It is a weird feeling to be standing here on this empty patch of grass – as empty as if it were Central Park’s Great Lawn – imagining that it was right on this spot that the Ôoku, the audience halls, and certain administrative buildings once stood, and where *so much* went on. The list of prominent figures who had walked this space, right here, right on this spot, at one time or another only 150-300 years ago, includes all sorts of super big-name functionaries, from Arai Hakuseki and Matsudaira Sadanobu to Tanuma Okitsugu and Ii Naosuke, not to mention every shogun, and indeed just about every top-ranking daimyô. Korean, Dutch, and Ryukyuan emissaries were received in these audience halls, and every major Ôoku figure – wives and concubines of the shoguns – from Kasuga no Tsubone to Atsuhime/Tenshôin would have spent a good proportion of their lives within these walls. Yet, still, impactful as that idea is, it’s still very difficult to even feel “imagine who walked these halls,” because the halls, the walls, the very floors, are no longer there at all.

I hope next time I’m in Tokyo to remember to book an Imperial Palace tour. I haven’t even done that in Kyoto, either. I did, however, visit the Sannomaru Shôzôkan, the Imperial Collections Museum. It’s a very small gallery, displaying only one temporary special exhibit at a time, but the Imperial collections are, as might be expected, pretty incredible. This summer, up through Sept 28, they were showing a number of scroll paintings by Tanaka Yûbi, depicting events and accomplishments in the lives of Iwakura Tomomi and Sanjô Shigetomi, two very prominent Meiji figures. Because the works are relatively new (only about 100-120 years old), and because they’ve been in the Imperial Collections, being well-cared for all that time, these scrolls were in stunningly good condition, with just gorgeous, beautiful bold colors. I wish I could have taken photos. There is a catalog, however, and much more easily obtainable than those at the Reimeikan or Shôkoshûseikan – a rest area in the gardens / park, just outside the museum, had quite a few catalogs for sale, and in fact, on sale, at reduced prices, so I picked up quite a few of them, along with historical maps of the castle grounds.

The Higashi Gyôen (East Imperial Gardens) are closed on Mondays and Fridays, but are otherwise open to the public during the days, for free, no reservation or Imperial/Kunaichô registration required. Simply enter via any of several of the castle/palace gates.

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I’ve recently gotten my hands on a copy of Andreas Marks’ Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers and Masterworks, 1680-1900 (published by Tuttle). It is a mighty hefty book, over three hundred pages long, hardcover. And at $35 right now on Tuttle’s own website (on discount from the real cover price of $50), it’s not an unreasonable price, either, which is a wonderfully welcome rarity when it comes to these kinds of books – large, hardcover, filled with full-color images, you’d expect them to slap whatever the hell pricetag they feel on it, asking for $60, $80, or even $100. In light of that, $35 seems almost reasonable.

But let’s get into the meat of the book, shall we? It opens with an essay by the author, introducing and summarizing the topic of woodblock prints, overall, with a refreshingly particular focus on the commercial, ephemeral nature of the prints – subject to the market, to popularities of the time – and a focus on the importance of the publisher, and others, not only the print designer (the “artist”), in the design and production of these prints. Combined with the brief introduction by Stephen Addiss, which says essentially the same, the book makes clear that it is working to try to push (or simply participate in, or be reflective of) a shift in the way we think about ukiyo-e. This might be my axe to grind more than Marks’, but for too long, ukiyo-e has been seen as some elevated art form, to be appreciated for its aesthetic and design elements, the artists lauded and celebrated as Japanese Michelangelos. But, as Addiss and Marks emphasize here, designers worked closely with publishers and others, who had a great deal of influence upon the subjects that would get published, and the style and designs they wished to sell; and, that print designers were further subject to the demands of the market – they had to design prints that would be popular, prints that would sell. Not entirely unlike the relationship between a comicbook artist, his editor, and the fans/consumers today, perhaps.

This introductory essay is followed by a nice little sidebar which talks about the different kinds of names artists held (yômyô, zokumyô, gasei, some given by parents, some by teachers, some chosen oneself as an art-name), Western vs. traditional Japanese dates, and the various sizes of prints in both cm and inch equivalents (e.g. ôban as 27x39cm or 10.6×15.4in). Far too many authors in my experience – not just in art books, but in Japanese Studies more broadly – aren’t clear whether the dates they’re giving are Western dates, or references to a Japanese date, and aren’t so diligent about informing the reader about different types of names, so it’s nice to see Marks put this in clearly and explicitly.

Most of the rest of the first half of the book is taken up by biographies of artists, ranging from one paragraph (in the case of Kiyonobu II) to the better part of a full page in length (in the case of Utamaro), interspersed with multiple, large, full-color images of selections of each artist’s works. His use of single names – e.g. Kiyonobu instead of Torii Kiyonobu – in the main headline or title of each bio rubs me a bit the wrong way, like he’s buying into, or perpetuating, the elevation of these “artists” as personalities, as individual geniuses, but then again, he could be doing this in order to help highlight that artists’ names were multiple, and sometimes misapplied. For example, Hiroshige has come to frequently be called Andô Hiroshige, using his family name inherited from his father; but as Hiroshige is an art-name, I have read elsewhere that he would never have used these together. Utagawa is the name of the studio or school in which he studied, and so he earned the right to use the Utagawa name from his teacher, but he’s not a typical Utagawa artist, and went on to do other things. Then, Ichiyûsai is just his own fanciful studio name he invented himself. So perhaps there is something to be said for not perpetuating a canonization of any one of those names as the chief one? But, even so, to see “Sukenobu” and “Toyohiro” instead of “Nishikawa Sukenobu” and “Utagawa Toyohiro,” I cannot help but feel there is an energy of mythologization, as if we were to pluck these people out of their specific historical context and place them into a canon of the greatest artists, all so great they’re known by just one name – Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Madonna. As someone who is not a specialist or expert in European art, I feel it all the more, because I genuinely don’t know the fuller names, in many cases, of even the most famous European artists. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn feels like the name of someone who might have lived in 17th century Amsterdam, but “Rembrandt” transcends time and space, and cultural and historical specificity in a way that I think we need to stop thinking about our artists.

Given Marks’ introduction, his emphasis on the importance of publishers and of the market, I find it strange, and off-putting, then, that he would continue to do this sort of thing with the single names, and in fact that he continually uses the word “artist” – including in the title of this section – rather than pushing the discourse by using a term like “print designer.” If you believe that these individuals were not uniquely divinely inspired geniuses, but were instead commercial designers hired by and restricted by publishers and by the demands of the market, then don’t call them “artists”! Call them print designers – and encourage the popular perception today, among collectors, dealers, enthusiasts, to change!

Skimming through the book, I expected to find bios that look great at first glance but are actually far less informative, less thorough, than one might wish for. I’ve certainly seen plenty of books of this sort, on a wide range of topics, which look great on first glance, but when you get into actually reading them, you realize they say so little about each individual thing – lords, clans, events, port towns, individual merchants – as to be essentially worthless for learning anything about those individual things. Many of the older Taiyô Bessatsu (“The Sun” Special Edition), sadly, seem to be of this sort.

However, as one reads a bit more closely, Marks’ Japanese Woodblock Prints does not seem to be doing that. Sure, granted, one could write an entire book on Utamaro, Hokusai, or Hiroshige, and of course many people have. Marks’ book certainly cannot be said to be as thorough as any of those, nor as meticulous as Richard Lane’s work listing every known work by a given artist. But we don’t need Marks to do that, to be that, because we already have Lane. What Marks does here, what he provides here, are good, solid, biographies of a great many artists, including many who I imagine are given short shrift in most other publications – even three paragraphs on Chôkyûsai Eizan is three paragraphs more than I think I’ve ever seen elsewhere. And it’s not a light bio full of useless fluff – in these three paragraphs, Marks informs us of Eizan’s birth year, the name of his father, the neighborhoods he lived in, the artists he studied under, the year and age of his death, and the name of the temple where he is buried. Granted, we only get a brief bit on what types of works he produced, and his stylistic influences, but for me at least, this is actually better. Marks provides the kind of concrete biographical details that most art historical treatments, more focused on style, genre, and influences, would pass over. And, besides, even for a minor artist like Eizan, we’re given five full-color images of examples of his work, one of them a full-page illustration, giving us a sense at a glance of his style – we don’t need it described out in lengthy paragraphs. So, in this way, I do think that Marks’ book is a wealth of knowledge, a real deep, solid, source to consult for names and dates and the like, a true compendium of artists.

The fact that Marks includes publishers at all is also fairly revolutionary, since “traditional” scholarship on ukiyo-e has always focused on artists almost exclusively, elevating them, and all but ignoring publishers and others involved in the process. Newer scholarship including Marks’ works have tried to instead emphasize that ukiyo-e was a commercial venture, and a process that involved multiple figures. The print designer only ever painted designs for prints, often with considerable influence from the market (i.e. what would sell, what was popular) and/or input from publishers – we really should be comparing them more to designers, illustrators, comicbook artists and the like, who do not simply produce whatever they want, out of their personal emotional expression and individual genius inspiration, but instead are hired or commissioned by publishers to produce specific products, often with particular content and in a particular style. In ukiyo-e, the designer’s design would then be carved into blocks by a professional block carver, and printed by hand by a professional printer, with the original designer very often /not/ having the final say on colors. Furthermore, it was whoever held the woodblocks (a person called the hanmoto, often the publisher) who had the right to reproduce, or even to alter, images – in this way, too, the ukiyo-e print designer resembles the comicbook artist; the basic design, the likeness, the character, of Wolverine and Batman are owned by Marvel Comics and DC, and not by the individual writers or artists who originally designed them. In short, print designers were not “artists” in the Renaissance/post-Renaissance modernist / post-modernist way we tend to think of artists today; they were not the individual inspired genius who produced whatever he chose, and was celebrated for his inspiration, as we tend to think of Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Pollock, Rauschenberg, today. And Marks addresses this in the book, not only in essays, but also by including such a large section on biographies of publishers. Apologies for repeating myself, but I am surprised, therefore, that he would nevertheless employ the word “artists” in the title, and throughout the book. I wonder if this was pushed upon him by the publisher, in order to make it more accessible to a wider, more popular audience, or something.

Some of Marks’ publisher’s biographies are quite good, quite thorough and informative as they are for the artists. With others, however, I have some difficulties. In some of these bios, he explicitly discusses who took over a publishing operation (and the name of the head) in each generation – who was the second Tsutaya Jûzaburô, and the third? Were they biological sons, or apprentices adopted in? Or were they son-in-laws, who married Tsutaju’s daughters? For some of the publishers, we get these narratives. For others, from Marks’ biographies, you might almost be inclined to think that a given publisher – the same individual person – was actively active in publishing for decades and decades, since he spends so little time talking about how many different people took on each publisher’s name, when they succeeded one another, etc. Moriya Jihei, for example, is described as having been a member of the Jihon toiya, or “Picture Book and Print Publishers Guild” in 1807, worked with Utamaro around that time, with Hokusai in the 1830s, was a member of the “Old Faction,” or moto gumi, of that same guild as of 1851, and as of 1876 was still active. That’s an active career of nearly seventy years; not just a life of seventy years – this man would have to have been at least 80-something in the end, and that’s if he started when he was 12. Was this the same man? Who knows? Marks doesn’t seem to even /acknowledge/ the question.

In any case, and this is an important point – I do not have Marks’ Publishers of Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Compendium, published only a year earlier, immediately at hand, but from what I remember seeing in there, I would not be surprised if much of the content is duplicated. So, be careful. Don’t buy both thinking you’re going to get 100% all-new content.

By way of saying something overall about this book, in the end, I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for out of a book on woodblock prints. For someone looking for their first book on woodblock prints, I think I would recommend Frederick Harris’ book, which I reviewed recently, over this one. Whereas Marks’ book is devoted chiefly to individual bios of individual artists and publishers, Harris’ book will take you through the styles and genres, the chronological progression of the evolution of the art form, the introduction of different materials and techniques… much of the foundational narratives and other concepts and knowledge about the history and development of woodblock prints in general. You won’t get such a clean narrative from Marks’ book – outside of the essays, within the bios, I’m not sure you’ll really get a good sense of when and how woodblocks got started, when and why landscapes became a big thing in the 1830s, when and how Prussian blue was first introduced and why that’s a big deal, or how prints flowed commercially and functioned discursively, as well as you would with Harris’ book. But that’s fine. Because not everyone wants or needs such a general, and introductory, sort of book. I am more than happy to have Harris’ book on my shelf as a great foundational, and broad-coverage book to turn to, but when it comes to ukiyo-e in particular, such a popular topic, popular among art collectors and just general public armchair enthusiasts, as well as those who just dip their toe into Japanese things only a little, those who are just buying it as a neat present, or as a coffee table book, there are a wealth of introductory-level books out there on ukiyo-e. So I am glad, too, to have a book like this one by Andreas Marks, which does something very different. He allows those other books to cover that other stuff, and focuses in on providing bios of tens and tens of artists and publishers, many of whom I’d only ever find the tiniest bit about in most of those other books. So, the next time I’m looking for something on Adachi Ginkô, Utagawa Kokunimasa, Eishôsai Chôki, or Toshinobu, I’ll have somewhere to look. Or even, if I’m looking for some names & dates sort of details about the life of Hiroshige or Hokusai (e.g. when did he take on the name Hiroshige? 1812.) without having to wade through pages and pages about style, I’ll have this book to turn to.

Much of the information on the publishers does seem to duplicate what’s in the compendium, so I’m not sure whether or not it’s valuable to own both; this is something I’ll have to look into. Also, I must note that while Marks does include many lesser-known ukiyo-e print designers here, there are still plenty he does not cover. If you want to learn anything about Ekin, or Hiroshige II or III, you won’t find them in this book. And you also won’t find much about ukiyo-e painting, a topic still woefully overshadowed by the popularity of prints. I’m still waiting for books (there might be a few out there, but waiting for them to become more numerous and more dominant) which talk about ukiyo-e as a school, or movement, or genre, that included both prints and paintings and illustrated books, all at once, pushing a shift in popular perception from the idea that “ukiyo-e = prints” to the idea that prints are no more major, no more important, no more emblematic of ukiyo-e than books or paintings. The vast majority of these “artists” were doing all three, and some would likely privilege paintings or book illustrations over prints, in fact. It’s about time we get the popular public conception to acknowledge and accept that.

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The two main buildings of the Shôkoshûseikan museum, with the Japanese national Hinomaru, and Shimazu clan crest flags waving before them.

Friday, Sept 12.

On my third day in Kagoshima, I finally made it to the Shôkoshûseikan. Putting all that nonsense with Kagoshima Station, and with the station staff telling me there was no way to get out there except by taxi, I found out about the CityView bus, and just took that. It’s a tourist bus, to be sure, but it operates much like a regular public bus – wait at the bus stop, get on, pay the right amount (I think it was less than 200 yen) when you get off. Simple as that. No reservations or tour package membership needed. And it lets off right in front of Shôkoshûseikan.

The Iso Ijinkan, or Iso Foreigners’ Hall.

I had noticed in the last few minutes of the bus ride a few smaller sites – monuments and the like – which I wanted to check out, so I put the whole Shôkoshûseikan compound on hold for a bit, and walked back down. There I found the Isoijinkan (Iso Foreigners’ Hall), a major famous Meiji piece of architecture which also serves as the setting for the only kabuki play of which I’m aware that has anything to do with Ryukyu. Sadly, it’s a postwar play, not an Edo period one, so it’s not really something that falls within my typical purview of study. Or, rather, I should say, of course I could go and analyze it or whatever if I so chose, but it won’t reveal anything about Edo period views or attitudes.

Anyway, it’s a gorgeous and very Meiji-looking building, which was used as housing for British & other foreign engineers. I wish we had more structures like it still in use. Two other Western-style wooden buildings located just down the street, which look like they would be right at home in old 19th century California, house other galleries and such; one is a glass studio. Later in the day, I glimpsed people working with the furnaces, and blowing glass, but I never did end up making it back over there to check it out any more closely. The other of the two buildings was originally built as an office managing the Shimazu clan’s gold mines, but I’m not positive what it’s used for today. Other monuments included one for Satsuma’s first Western-style shipyard, and of its first industrial spinning mill (today the site of a 7-11).

I then returned to Sengan’en, the large gardens adjoining the Shôkoshûseikan, and home to the lord of Satsuma’s secondary residence, the so-called Iso Palace. In the Meiji period, after the castle was taken over by the central government, the samurai class abolished, and the daimyo (lord) re-titled, re-situated into the new aristocracy, this became his primary residence. By that time, the palace was already surrounded by – i.e. the gardens were already filled with – industrial foundries, power plants, and the like. Today, the Shôkoshûseikan is just two museum buildings, but originally, back in the Bakumatsu & Meiji period, all of this would have been one large complex, with the lights (and other things?) at the palace being powered by a hydroelectric dam (!!) on-site, as early as 1892. ʻIolani Palace in Honolulu likes to boast having electricity (or is it phones?) before even Buckingham Palace or the White House, and this was only six years later than ʻIolani.

One aspect that’s particularly interesting about all of this is that the Shimazu began the process of developing these various technologies – steamships, reverbatory furnaces for forging cannon – before Japan “opened” to the world. This is something the Shôkoshûseikan museum exhibits will emphasize to you time and again. Whereas most of the rest of Japan’s modernization/industrialization in the 1850s-1860s (and later) was done with Western experts, Western equipment, etc. directly imported from Europe and the United States, this earliest (and rather successful & impressive) effort by the Shimazu was done chiefly from Western /books/ alone, with Satsuma scholars reading Western materials, looking at pictures, and using their own Japanese techniques and raw materials to attempt to construct these technologies. Though as I’ve said before I’m not too interested in being a Bakumatsu/Meiji Satsuma fanboy, one has to admit this is all pretty damn impressive. I wonder how unique it is. Were Chôshû, Mito, or others doing anything at all of the sort?

Of course, it’s not just industrial technology that was a major activity at the Shûseikan factory complex. It was here, in the mid-to-late 19th century, that Satsuma wares (ceramics) and kiriko glasswares were developed and produced. Satsuma can boast all they like about these great “traditional” art forms, but so far as I’m concerned, beautiful and impressive as they are in certain ways, inventions of the Bakumatsu and Meiji periods are generally not “traditional” in my book. Especially since kiriko glassware was only produced for a very short time in the Meiji period, and then went unpracticed for the better part of a century before being revived in the 1980s. I can just imagine someone in 1890 saying “look at these marvelous glasswares; we’ve been producing them in Satsuma ever since a few years ago; they’re a great long-lasting traditional famous craft product of our region,” or someone in 1930 or 1950 saying “remember those great glasswares we produced for just a few years in the 1880s? Yeah, they really symbolize and embody Satsuma culture, Satsuma identity.” Ha.

Anyway, the gardens are pretty extensive, including not only the former sites of quite a few industrial factories and the like, but also a lengthy hike up the mountain to see a great view of Sakurajima, and out over the port. A small exhibit discusses Jigen-ryû swordsmanship, of which Satsuma is oh-so-proud, and lets you try it out a bit yourself.

The main entrance of the Iso Palace.

A tour of the palace itself (for an extra 600 yen, and incl. a very rushed/brief tea ceremony experience at the end) is quite nice, though no photos are allowed, and though the tour is only about 20 minutes. I might have preferred to walk around on my own, at my own pace, as at so many other historical houses. We are taught that Shimazu Tadayoshi, last lord of Satsuma, kept his topknot and much of his traditional or samurai-style practices, e.g. in terms of his clothing, and the furnishings of his residence, though we are also shown fairly lavish Western-style reception rooms, complete with elaborately carved European-style wooden dining room table and chairs, a chandelier made in England & powered by the nearby hydroelectric dam, Satsuma kiriko glassware, and a European set of “china” (serving set – plates, teacups, silverware).

One of the highlights for me, of course, was a small pavilion gifted to the lords of Satsuma by the king of Ryukyu. It’s a pretty plain-looking thing, just a small tile-roofed and stone-floored rest space, like that you would find in a Chinese garden. I wonder if it was originally more lavishly painted, perhaps in red and gold. Today, it looks quite plain, in unpainted wood. Still, it’s a neat thing to see. And for those who are interested in sites related to the great heroes of the Bakumatsu/Meiji, this exact pavilion was the site of a famous conversation between Katsu Kaishû and Shimazu Nariakira.

Unlike a lot of formerly waterfront sites which are now further inland, due to redevelopment (land reclamation) and/or natural sedimentation or whatever, Sengan’en remains quite close to the waterfront today, with just a single road, and set of train tracks, between the compound and the beach. It’s really something to think of the Shimazu lords, relaxing in their gardens, right on the sea.

Above: The main torii at Tsurugane Shrine, looking out over the water; you can see just how close Shôkoshûseikan and the Sengan’en gardens are to the water. Both compounds run right along the waterfront, with only (today) a single road, and a set of rails between the walls of the compound and the beach. Below: The innermost cloister, so to speak, of Tsurugane Shrine.

The Sengan’en / Shôkoshûseikan compound also includes a Shimazu family Shinto shrine, called Tsurugane Shrine, and the two buildings of the Shôkoshûseikan Museum proper. There’s some pretty incredible stuff in here, including mainly armor, weapons, and other objects belonging to the Shimazu lords, going all the way back to the Kamakura period, as well as letters & other documents associated with the Shimazu, portraits of them, and the like. The exhibits are pretty well-done too, looking very sleek and up-to-date in style. Sadly, here too no photos are allowed, so I was forced to simply take notes best as I could, rather than photographing the gallery labels and having their full text available to look over later. The exhibits begin with the pre-modern and early modern (that is, up until 1860s) history of Satsuma, with a particular focus on (1) Satsuma as semi-independent, doing its own thing politically and economically, and possessing its own distinctive culture, and (2) Satsuma as a maritime place; the phrase “Kaiyô kokka Satsuma” (Maritime State Satsuma) appears a number of times. Following this pre-modern / early modern portion, the remainder of the exhibits – the majority – focus on Satsuma’s industrialization efforts in the 1850s-1870s or so, at the Shûseikan itself in particular.

After my frustrations with the meager offerings at the Reimeikan museum shop bookstore, I had sort of pinned my hopes on the Shôkoshûseikan; sadly, they did not have any of those Reimeikan offerings, nor too many of their own catalogs, though they did have lots of other neat stuff. Lots of clear files (file folders) with neat designs – incl. family trees of the Shimazu and Tokugawa, and synopses of the Bakumatsu & Meiji periods. Cell phone straps in a variety of designs. Plenty of books about Bakumatsu & Meiji Satsuma. I picked up a cellphone strap of the Satsuma/Ryukyu five-pointed star official National Decoration that Satsuma gave out at the 1867 World’s Fair, where it boldly appeared with its own separate booth, to the consternation of the Tokugawa Shogunate, who was trying to represent Japan as a whole. (Incidentally, Hawaii had its own pavilion at the 1970 Osaka Expo, far on the other end of the grounds from the USA pavilion. But I’m not sure anyone thinks too much of it…)

I eventually asked one of the staff about the possibility of obtaining catalogs from previous exhibits, even though I figured that their non-appearance on the shelves most likely indicated they simply weren’t for sale. To my surprise, she came back from the back room with three catalogs, and when I asked whether they were for sale, she said that for someone (like me) with a genuine interest, I could have them for free! Bam. Sometimes it really doesn’t hurt to just ask!

I spent two more days in Kagoshima after that, but there’s not too much to say about those days, which were quite a bit more bara bara, as I just visited a lot of bookstores, did a little clothes shopping, got caught in the rain, poked around a few sites I hadn’t been to yet, went back to the Prefectural Library, and failed to get into the Kagoshima University Library, which is apparently closed both on weekends during the summer, and on national holidays (that Monday was Respect for the Elderly Day).

Right: Tagiruba, a small yatai bar at Kagomma Yatai-mura, specializing in buri, among other things.

Highlights of these last few days included the Museum of the Meiji Restoration – which does allow photos, thanks so much!, and which features some dramatic and not too cheesy video / animatronics shows about the period – and getting to spend my last dinner in Kagoshima at a tiny yatai bar eating actual local specialties and chatting with people. The whole thing may be really touristy, I don’t know, but at least at the bar I was sitting at, there seemed to be some regulars, close friends of the main guy behind the bar. For some reason, this whole month I’ve had trouble finding good places to eat, and have ended up more often than not at family restaurants, fast food places, and the like. But in Kagoshima, I did find one place with excellent tomato ramen, and this yatai, this was an excellent way to end my time in Kagoshima. It’s a small maze of something like fifteen (maybe more) little stalls, each with only about ten or fifteen seats, at most, and each offering different local specialties. Most of them served pork of one kind or another. One specialized in Amami Islands cuisine, which would have been really cool, but it was just too too crowded. In fact, they were all crowded, and it took me four or five times walking through, and almost giving up twice, before I finally found a seat at the one place I did end up at. And the food was excellent. Buri (yellowtail) sashimi, buri “fried fish” chunks with tartar sauce, cream cheese tofu (which is a lot better than it sounds – really delicious), and good drinks and conversation.

Thanks, Kagoshima! I had a blast. The next day, I was off to Okinawa.

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Thursday, Sept 11.

By the way, I’m warning you ahead of time, that even though I spent about a week in Kagoshima, I’m probably only going to post about the first few days, since those were the most packed with exploration and such. The last few days certainly had their adventures (going all the way to Kagoshima University only to find out the library is closed on the weekends during summer break, clothes shopping, finding myself in an entire shopping mall with only washiki toilets, spending nearly $100 at the Junkudô /after/ just barely managing to fit everything in my suitcases), but it’s not quite the same, and I don’t really have a whole narrative to tell.

But, for day two, we do, more or less in the normal “travel blogger” fashion. It was Thursday now, and I figured what better time to head out to the Shôkoshûseikan. I was still bitter about the Reimeikan being sold out of pretty much anything they had ever published, and so I was really hoping to have better luck at the obnoxiously named Shôkoshûseikan (try saying that three times fast). In addition to seeing the museum, the neighboring gardens, and all of that, I was also really hoping that they might, just might, even have for sale in their bookstore some of the Reimeikan books that the Reimeikan themselves didn’t have. It’s been known to happen – I went a few weeks ago to the Currency Museum (located right across the street from the Bank of Japan), and was bummed to find out that their main museum catalog – which explains within it all the different kinds of Edo period coinage, their equivalent values, etc. – was totally sold out. A day or two later, I was at Rekihaku, whose museum shop sells catalogs from museums all across the country, and bam, they had like fifteen copies, regular cover price, nothing rare about it. Of course, they had nothing from the Reimeikan at Rekihaku (REIMEI~KHAAAN!!!).

Incidentally, while at Nakano Broadway later in my Tokyo trip, I managed to obtain a good number of pieces of Edo period currency (some replica, but some authentic, all quite cheap), which are not only fun collectibles or whatever, but will also (somehow? I guess?) make for good things to pass around and show to my students.

Anyway, so I took the shiden (streetcars, *ding ding*) out as far as they go, to Kagoshima Station. I knew that Kagoshima Chûô (“Central”) Station, in the center of town, was a much more major center of activity (yes, I’ve used “central” or “center” three times in the same sentence now. sue me.), with an attached shopping mall and all of that, but, boy, wow, Kagoshima Station, off on the north/east end of the city, is easily the smallest, saddest, most rundown-looking Shinkansen (bullet train) station I have ever seen. I asked there about a train to the Shôkoshûseikan, and they looked at me like I was crazy. No such thing. Suggested I take a taxi. Now, I knew that the touristy “City View” buses went up there, but I had been trying to avoid the touristy stuff. All-day packages can be expensive, and, I don’t know, whatever. As it turns out, you can actually just pay 190 yen (about US$2.00) each ride, and ride it like a public bus, no reservations, affiliations, or package deals required. But for that day, I figured it was already too late in the day to bother going all the way back to Chûô Station, to find out how this worked, and to pick up the City View bus. So I decided to walk around that part of town, and hit whatever sites I could within walking distance of Kagoshima Station. And I’m rather glad I did – got to some sites that looked quite far off the beaten trail, but were well worth it, and by the end of the day, I had hit pretty much every major site in that part of town. A good, solid job of it.

The adventure began with two public parks relatively near the water. Gionnosu / Ishibashi (“stone bridge”) Memorial Park features a number of neat-looking old stone bridges. Why we care, I remain unclear. Haven’t really gone back to read the plaques and signs I took pictures of. But, that park was also the site of some of the coastal batteries which were used to fight back against the British Royal Navy, which bombarded Kagoshima in 1863, after a British merchant was killed in Yokohama the previous year by retainers of the lord of Satsuma. The park also features a “grave of the unknown soldier” style memorial monument to those killed in the Satsuma Rebellion, especially on the Imperial (anti-Satsuma) side. I mentioned this rebellion in my previous post; there are several memorials in the city to the 6,000 or so killed on the Satsuma side, and I would visit a cemetery dedicated to them later this same day (later in this post), but of the 6,000 or so Imperial Japanese Army soldiers who died fighting them, roughly 1,270 were buried here, with the cenotaph / memorial sculpture being erected in 1977, on the hundredth anniversary of their deaths.

I snapped some pictures of Sakurajima, and made my way down to the beach, where a pretty elaborate monument stands to St. Francis Xavier, the first Christian missionary to come to Japan. He came to Kagoshima in 1549 and remained for about a year before moving on to Hirado. The Shimazu lords never converted to Christianity, and in fact their domain was one of the earliest and strictest in enforcing bans on the religion, but Xavier and those who came after him converted quite a few of the other Kyushu daimyô, and by 1614, according to some sources there were as many as 300,000 Christians in Japan (the vast majority of them Japanese). The monument features a bronze statue of Xavier, floating above the ground, arms up in a sort of missionizing gesture, next to a length of wall with a relief sculpture tableau of samurai men, Japanese women, the Shimazu clan crest, and Western-style sailing ships. There is another monument to Xavier in Kagoshima, closer to the center of town, but I did not get around to seeing it.

Next was Tagayama Park, the site of the medieval (pre-Edo period) castle of Tôfukuji-jô, of certain famous medieval/Sengoku battles, and, of a massive bronze statue of Tôgô Heihachirô, admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy and hero of the Russo-Japanese War. Though Tôgô is buried in Tama Cemetery in Tokyo, he has a second grave here, and his statue, as seems appropriate, watches out over the water.

Returning down into town, I followed my tourist map, kindly provided at the tourist info center at Kagoshima Chûô Station, and kindly featuring many historical sites clearly labeled, and found my way to a monument marking the birthplace of Mori Arinori, the first Minister of Education in “modern” Meiji Japan. Right nearby the monument stands a small, beautifully bright red (likely recently repainted) Shinto shrine, a branch of Kasuga Taisha. But what was not on my map, and which I count as a wonderful little discovery, is a marker at the shrine and associated sign explaining that though this spot is no longer so near the water today, four hundred years ago, there was a dock or harbor right near this spot, from which the Satsuma fleet departed in 1609 for its fateful invasion of the Ryûkyû Kingdom. As with the Ryûkyû-kan site I mentioned in my last post, there’s nothing much to see here today that really constitutes learning or understanding or appreciating anything new about that event, but, still, there’s something pretty cool about just being on that spot, and reading about it. The invasion force consisted of roughly 3000 samurai and around 5000 soldiers and workers on around one hundred ships, led by Kabayama Hisataka and Hirata Masamune. They gathered here at Kagoshima, then moved down to the port of Yamakawa, departing Yamakawa on the fourth day of the third month on the lunar calendar, in the 14th year of Keichô (1609 on the Western calendar), and after a number of skirmishes, facing and defeating resistance on various islands, the samurai took the Ryukyuan royal palace merely one month later, with the king surrendering on the fifth day of the fourth month. I could go into the details of what happened after that, and all the repercussions, but you can read about that elsewhere. For now, let’s move on. This is sure to be a long post anyway.

The Kasuga Shrine branch shrine in Kagoshima, near the docks where the Satsuma fleet departed in 1609 for the invasion of Ryukyu.

My main goal for the day, once I looked at the map and assessed the sites labeled thereon, was the Shimazu clan cemetery at Fukushô-ji. It’s a bit out of the way – a bit of a hike through residential neighborhoods and such a good 10-15 blocks away from where you would be otherwise. But I think it was totally worth it. Before that, though, on the way there, I passed by a few other sites. The former sites of the mansions of the Shigetomi and Imaizumi Shimazu branch families (the latter being the birthplace of the famous/popular Atsuhime) lie right along the main street which leads up to the Nanshû Cemetery; unfortunately, though, both of these sites remain private property today, and so there is nothing for the tourist / historical adventurer like myself to see but the impressive outer stone walls. I wonder how one gets to live on such a site – I’m sure that in many cases it’s simply passed down directly, through the generations, to the present day, and in other cases, it’s simply a matter of being very wealthy and able to afford to purchase such a large area of land (does historical significance actually factor into the price? I’d imagine it must, right?). But, still, I cannot help but wonder who it is that lives in such places today…

The Nanshû Cemetery. I’m not sure I have a photo that really shows this properly, but unlike most cemeteries, which wind around, all the stones here are arranged in neat lines, all facing the same direction. The gravestones thus combine to form a single, large, monument & memorial to a single event, and to those who died fighting.

Passing by those sites, I did eventually find myself at the stairs to the Nanshû Cemetery. This is the graveyard, and associated Shinto shrine, where Saigô Takamori and many of his fellows are buried. It’s surely a lower-case-m mecca for Saigô fanatics, and I intentionally had not even put it on my list. These pro- and then later anti-Imperial rebels, and their rebellion – their samurai code, their honor and bravery in battle, their exciting and dashing individual exploits – are so romanticized by armchair historians / enthusiasts it makes me want to gag. But, so long as I was already there anyway, I did hike up the stairs, and check it out. And, I have to say, it’s pretty neat. They have nice, clear, bilingual signs pointing out the graves of particularly significant individuals, and explaining a bit of why they’re of significance. To my surprise, only a very few of these already have articles about them on the Samurai Wiki. I guess maybe Satsuma Rebellion figures aren’t quite as mythologized as I’d thought, at least not as much as the Bakumatsu-era sonnô jôi rebels (sorry, Imperial loyalists) who came before them.

In any case, finishing up with that, I was finally ready to turn for the Shimazu clan cemetery. I was stopped by a kind old man who runs a sort of souvenir shop / rest area just outside the Nanshû Cemetery, who invited me in for tea. We spoke for a bit, and he tried to get me sold on the whole Saigô Takamori thing. I tried to explain that I think Saigô & Friends overshadow the earlier history of Satsuma, and that people like Shimazu Shigehide (lord of Satsuma, 1755-1787) kind of get the shaft, but he wasn’t really interested. The tea was quite good, as were of course the black sugar candies he gave me, though there was something else he offered, I can’t quite remember what it was, which started out dry and crunchy-seeming, but which quickly grew chewy, very chewy, and just could not seem to be broken up or swallowed. I chewed and chewed and chewed… after all of this, of course I felt bad to not buy anything, but, and I even feel bad to say it, his merchandise was all rather lackluster. There was really nothing there I was interested in… so I bought a bottle of Aquarius (kind of like Gatorade) and moved on.

The grave of Shimazu Iehisa, first Edo period lord of Satsuma.

After a bit of a walk, a few wrong turns, etc., I found the Shimazu clan cemetery. It’s an interesting place, in that the temple the cemetery used to be associated with – the Shimazu clan “family temple,” or bodaiji 菩提寺 – was abolished in the Meiji period, and a high school built in its place. So all that survives today is a rather extensive cemetery, but no Buddhist temple associated with it. I was a little confused at first, as I saw a small construction crew working inside the grounds, and just one gate slightly open, with all the more major-looking gates closed. Was I allowed to go inside? Would that one gate only allow me into some small portion of the cemetery? I never want to push my way in somewhere I’m not supposed to go, without first doing my best to understand both written signs and unwritten indications; I don’t like to Gaijin Smash. But, fortunately, in the end, no one gave me any kind of trouble, including groundskeepers and the construction workers, so I guess it was okay that I was there.

And, boy, wow, just about everyone is there! Atsuhime, daughter of Shimazu Tadatake, and perhaps the most famous/popular Shimazu, in large part due to a recent extremely popular TV show, is not buried here – she’s buried at Kan’ei-ji with her husband, Shogun Tokugawa Iesada. But, just about every Shimazu lord from the 14th century onwards is buried here, from Shimazu Motohisa (b. 1363, d. 1411) to Shimazu Nariakira (1809-1858). The interwebs tell me that the last lord of Satsuma, Shimazu Tadayoshi, along with his successors as family head, are buried nearby, just over at 常安峯 (Tsuneyasu-mine? Jôanbô?) in Dairyû-chô 大竜町, but I sadly did not have that information at the time, and therefore did not go and seek it out.

It didn’t quite occur to me at the time, but there’s a reason there are able to be so many Shimazu graves all in one place, and why this is the first/only time I’ve seen such a thing. It’s because the Shimazu are one of the few samurai clans to actually be based in the same territory throughout so many centuries. Many clans also did not come into existence, did not coalesce into that family name, until later in history, too. This helps explain why the Shimazu clan cemetery can include roughly five centuries worth of Shimazus (from someone born in 1363 to someone who died in 1858), while the Hotta clan cemetery at Jindai-ji in Sakura only houses a few Edo period generations of family heads.

All the gravestones at the Shimazu clan cemetery take a peculiar form – a form I’ve previously seen chiefly only in Kamakura (or at least, I thought so. Now that I look back at my Kamakura photos, I’m not so sure…). I hesitate to leap to any conclusions or over-generalizing statements about the connections between Shimazu / Satsuma culture and Kamakura culture, though there was one panel in the exhibits at the Shôkoshûseikan which explained that right up until the Edo period, the Shimazu maintained more strongly the Kamakura period modes and customs of samurai banquets, receptions, and the like, and were quite proud of their upholding these ancient traditions. They did incorporate some Muromachi influences, but, from the Kyoto or Edo point of view, this wasn’t something to be proud of, so much as a matter of being terribly behind, terribly out of fashion – they saw it as a mark of being provincial hicks, essentially. So, finally, at some point very late in the Sengoku, or early in the Edo period, the Shimazu found that they could no longer keep up the old ways, that their guests much preferred a different mode of reception, and that in order to be good hosts they needed to adopt more contemporary customs. Whether this fully accounts for what I think I’m noticing in terms of the style of gravestones, I don’t know. There may well be also an aspect of the Shimazu emulating Kamakura-era gravestones in order to emphasize their connection to the Minamoto clan, the first shogunate family, from whom the Tokugawa also claimed descent. The founder of the Shimazu name, Shimazu Tadahisa, is buried next to the first shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo, in Kamakura, and, as I found out on this trip, it is the Shimazu family who have since the 18th century been funding the maintenance, and occasionally the replacement, of Yoritomo’s gravestone in Kamakura. A replica of that gravesite, produced as part of the testing phase prior to creating an actual replacement, stands today at Tsurugane Shrine at the Shôkoshûseikan.

So, after taking some time to poke around nearly the entire graveyard – one section of the Shimazu clan cemetery is only accessible by a different gate, which was most definitively barred – taking photos of all the nearly identical looking gravesites in order to be able to put them up on the Samurai Wiki, I made my way back into town, and back to the hotel. The next day, I would try again to get to the Shôkoshûseikan, and that time, I succeeded.

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The main entrance to the Tenmonkan shopping arcades.

Weds, Sept 10.

Phew. So, here goes. I arrived in Kagoshima on a Tuesday. It’s always stressful looking for a place to stay, because you just don’t know the neighborhoods well enough, don’t know how nice the place is going to be – how clean is clean? what level is really tolerable? – I’ve had very good experiences with hostels in Japan in the past, have always found the rooms more than clean enough, the arrangements more than good enough. But even so, fingers crossed, you never know. As it turns out, not only is the place I’m staying – the Green Guesthouse – quite nice, but it’s also a lot more walkably close to the center of town than I’d thought. For anyone interested in coming to Kagoshima and paying only around $30 a night for a small but quite doable single room, plenty clean, free A/C and Wifi, I definitely recommend the Green Guesthouse. I got a single room, but from what I’ve seen/heard, it seems like even the mixed dorms don’t have too much of a rowdy backpackers kind of feel – the place is pretty quiet, everyone’s pretty respectful of the shared spaces (e.g. shower)… Incidentally, I found the place through agoda.com, a hotels website I’d never heard of before, but which turns out to be quite nice for looking for places in Japan – including affordable hostels, minshuku and the like – without the site assuming you’re interested in the expensive and gag-inspiringly-standard Western-style business hotels and resorts.

Moving on. I woke up on Wednesday, and started out in search of breakfast. Before long, I’d already found a few historical sites, monuments, statues, right in the central Tenmonkan shopping arcade area – namely, a monument to the monk Gesshô, and a statue of Godai Tomoatsu. I later also found just a few blocks from the hotel a small stone marking the birthplace of the founder of Kawasaki.

What remains of the main gate of Tsurumaru Castle, with the Reimeikan visible in the background, in what was previously the honmaru, the central portion of the castle compound.

After grabbing some stuff at a local pan’ya (bakery), I made my way in the direction of the castle, which is also the direction of the City Art Museum, and some other similar institutions, with the castle grounds themselves being home today to the Prefectural Library and the Reimeikan cultural and history museum. Nothing much survives of the castle today, except for the impressive stone foundation, and nothing’s been rebuilt like at some other castles. But, the Reimeikan has a great model on display, to help one imagine what it looked like. One distinctive feature of Tsurumaru castle, aka Kagoshima castle, was its lack of a tenshu (keep tower). To be honest, I don’t know that much about the actual military/defensive purpose of such a keep, but it certainly would have looked impressive, and it’s interesting that the Shimazu, the third most powerful samurai clan in the islands, felt no need for such a thing.

But, before I got to the former castle grounds, I stopped at the City Art Museum, which, sadly, was a bit of a disappointment. They have one small room of Impressionists and the like, and another small room of local Kagoshima artists, from Hashiguchi Goyô to Kuroda Seiki. It was cool to see something of the local art history, e.g. which Kagoshima artists were major in the Meiji period, and which Meiji period artists were major in Kagoshima, and they do have up on regular display a painting by Kuroda of Raphael Collin’s studio,

Right: Kuroda Seiki’s “Atelier,” Kagoshima City Museum of Art. Image of this public domain painting hosted on All About Japan, allabout.co.jp

as well as a couple of paintings by major Paris artists with whom Kuroda and other major Japanese painters of the time had contact. But I was really hoping for more historical stuff – for example, I know they have some pretty detailed old Edo period maps of Kagoshima city – and just for more in general. Kagoshima is a prefectural capital, and former seat of the third most wealthy samurai clan in the country. You’d think they could pull off a bit more. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Seattle Art Museum, San Francisco Asian Art Museum, and Honolulu Museum of Arts, are all in (no offense) secondary cities, cities far smaller and in various ways less prominent, less powerful, than New York or Los Angeles, but all of these are huge art museums compared to what Kagoshima’s offering.

That said, the Reimeikan, the city’s (the prefecture’s) museum of local history and culture, was wonderful. I really really wish I could have taken pictures in there, even more so than when I usually say these things, since the exhibits were so extensive, so informative, and so well put together. There are models of cities and castles that span nearly an entire gallery, recreations of Taisho era city scenes, incredible-looking artifacts (e.g. festival costumes from the Amami Islands), and lots of really great diagrams and charts, not to mention paintings and other art objects. The gallery label text, hypothetically, I could stand there for hours and hours and hours, reading every word and taking meticulous notes, but you can’t capture these visuals that way. And their general museum catalog, while it does do a better job than I’d expected, still doesn’t quite live up to what I think I would get out of taking photos (including having photos to include in my PowerPoints when I lecture, for example).

The Kagoshima Prefectural Library, located on the former site of the castle’s Ninomaru, or the second(ary) section of the compound.

The Prefectural Library was a pain in my ass for a variety of reasons, but I don’t want to get off on a rant here. Suffice it to say that for a public institution (which should thus be more open and accessible), one large enough & major enough to be a prefectural level institution (which should therefore have its shit together), and yet small enough (being a provincial one, far from the center) to be more friendly and open, these guys were far more difficult to work with than the National Archives, or the University of Tokyo’s Shiryohensanjo, one of the most elite institutions in the country. I walked right into the latter two, with no appointment or anything, just a letter of introduction, and within, let’s say half an hour, I had documents in hand. Edo period manuscripts, handscroll paintings, whatever I requested, with little trouble. The Okinawa Prefectural Archives last year was quite easy to deal with too, though there admittedly I had had arrangements made for me ahead of time by a professor from the National Museum of Japanese History. In any case, it turns out that at the Kagoshima Prefectural Library, one needs to apply for permission to see the objects, and permission could take as long as a week; furthermore, even the books on the shelves, you can’t just take pictures or photocopy as much as you want – these things are tightly controlled by the librarians. Which, admittedly, is pretty standard policy, actually, at many Japanese libraries, though I’ve never seen it so strictly enforced.

What really annoyed me, though, which is of course not the library’s fault, but even so, is that when I got fed up and said “Screw it. I don’t want to spend all this time and/or money photographing or photocopying museum catalogs and putting up with all your applications and permission slips when I can just go next door and buy the catalogs myself!”, it turns out that not only is the Reimeikan museum sold out of these particular catalogs, but as far as I can tell, they are owned by only a very very few university lending libraries outside of Japan, and are totally unavailable on Amazon.jp or kosho.or.jp (a great site that links & searches used bookstores across Japan). So, all in all, a public prefectural library that happens to be one of the only places that actually owns these books, a library that exists in order to make information available to the public, is making me jump through so many hoops to get at these books. I’m going home in about a week; I don’t know when I’ll be back in Kagoshima, and while I appreciate that having it on the shelf here does make it pretty readily accessible to Kagoshima city residents, the library’s chief constituents, that still really doesn’t help me out any. And isn’t the purpose of a research library to be there to provide access to resources for researchers?

In any case, moving on, I visited a number of other small sites around town. I had been worried that for a relatively small and rather out of the way city, Kagoshima would not have much in the way of tourist signs, let alone ones in English. After all, how many tourists on the standard Tokyo-Kyoto-maybe Hiroshima circuit make it to Kagoshima? But, actually, the signage is excellent, with nice clear signage pointing out sites, and good clear maps spread throughout town to point you to the next one. I wonder how many foreign tourists they really do get? I’ve actually seen quite a few Westerners in my time here, though whether they’re tourists, or what, I of course can’t be sure.

Among the smaller sites I saw that day were the surviving stone walls of the Shigakkô, a private academy started by (guess who?) Saigô Takamori, just outside the castle walls. The former site of the school is today home to a medical center, but, here’s something, a series of marks in the walls are said to be damage from bullets (did they have “bullets” in the 1870s? Too late for musket balls, but…) from the Satsuma Rebellion, the event fictionalized in “The Last Samurai” (the Tom Cruise movie). By the late 1870s, the samurai class had officially been abolished, and a great many things about the country were changing quite rapidly – culturally, socially. The Rebellion has often been portrayed as having to do with samurai honor, a last stand for the old ways, something like that. Now, I am absolutely no expert on this topic, so, I don’t know, but some things I’ve read recently indicate that, really, it was more about the samurai’s government stipends being taken away. Throughout the Edo period, loyal retainers and vassals were paid by their lords, out of tax revenues exacted from the peasants/commoners. This put a tremendous economic strain on the finances of nearly every daimyô domain, and would continue to put a tremendous economic strain on the finances of the new Meiji government, the new “modern” Japanese nation-state that was still in the process of being born. So, the stipends were eliminated, and as in most other societies, everyone now had to /earn/ their living themselves (or, you know, live off inherited wealth). This, I am told, is much more so what the Satsuma Rebellion was about. I’m sure it’s more complicated, and I may be wrong entirely – let me know in the comments. I’d be interested to learn more about it.


After the Shigakkô, I made my way to the nearby Nagata Middle School, which today sits on the former site of the Ryûkyû-kan, a residence and administrative office for visiting officials and scholars from the Ryûkyû Kingdom. As you know if you’ve been reading my blog, the Ryûkyû Kingdom, which ruled over Okinawa and the associated islands to the south, was somewhat independent at this time, with its own king and royal court administration, and its own scholar-bureaucrat class based on the Chinese model; but the kingdom was also a vassal (or something – I’m still trying to figure out the right terms) to Satsuma domain, that is, to the Shimazu clan lords of Kagoshima. Most of what I have read focuses on the Ryukyuans’ activity in Edo, on those occasions when they were received in audience by the shogun. But, during this time they were far more regularly traveling to and from Kagoshima, and engaging in various activities within the castle town – this Ryûkyû-kan is where they stayed, and where they did most of their business. There’s basically nothing to see of it today except a stone marker, but even so, what a shame it’s on the grounds of a middle school! I’m not going to just walk into a middle school – in the US, people might think you’re a pedophile or something. I don’t know the precise ins-and-outs of the legalities or the security measures schools might have regarding these things here in Japan, or in the US, but, I’m definitely not going to just let myself in through the gates of a school. … Fortunately, though, after checking with the tourist information desk, who graciously called the school for me, it turns out it’s not the most unusual of requests, and they have a system for it. So, I went back another day, found the principal’s office, and while feeling extremely awkward about being this strange adult foreigner man who has suddenly appeared at the door to your office, explained myself, and the principal was actually really kind and sweet about it. I got a little lanyard badge to wear saying I was an authorized guest on the grounds, and then I made my way across the practice field, attempting best as I could not to disturb the kids practicing – though they really didn’t seem to mind – got my photos, and got out. What I’ve really gained or learned by taking photos of this monument, since there’s basically nothing else to see of the site, I don’t know. But I’m glad I went that extra step and did it.

It was a busy day… and it wasn’t over quite yet. I made my way back to the castle grounds, only a few blocks away, and climbed up the little mountain hiking course behind the castle, to the lookout point on Shiroyama (“castle mountain”), from which Sakurajima is well visible, or would be if not for the fog and such. Sakurajima is a massive volcano, one of the most active in the world today, which is just a tad too far away to really be said to “loom over the city,” but which is certainly quite large in the vista when you’re up above the city and can actually see it at all. The trail then led down to Terukuni Shrine, with its massive bronze statues which I mentioned in the previous post.

Having now hit all the major sites in this section of the city, I planned for the following day to go out to the Shôkoshûseikan, in the hopes I might have better luck there than at the Reimeikan in terms of seeing documents or getting catalogs. That didn’t end up quite happening… though I made it there eventually.

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