It’s that time again. I have a ton of tabs open in my browser, of things I’d like to share with you, on a few different topics.
*Let’s start with the sad news that Prof. Karen Brazell passed away this past Wednesday. She was Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, and Director of GloPAC, the Global Performing Arts Consortium, an organization which maintains GloPAD (Global Performing Arts Database), an excellent resource for information on theatre and dance from Japan and around the world.
I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Brazell, but have quite enjoyed, and made much use of, her book Traditional Japanese Theater, an excellent anthology of Noh, bunraku, kyôgen, and kabuki plays in translation (in English), which I have made much use of.
You can read more about Dr. Brazell and her career at GloPAC’s official announcement on her passing.
*The Gothamist reported yesterday on the a new “travel agency” that has opened in Brooklyn. The Bureau of Unknown Destinations will, for a price, organize a mystery journey for you (within a few hours by train from NYC) to an unknown destination. As the Gothamist (or the Bureau itself?) describes it:
You’ll be presented with a free round trip ticket for a train adventure (along with a notebook and a small, somewhat absurd, task). Begin your day by tearing open a sealed envelope and revealing the mystery of where you will find yourself by noon. Set forth, free of decisions, into the great (or perhaps, in this case, the small) unknown. Test your sense of destiny. Have lunch someplace new.
Sounds wonderfully artsy and maybe just slightly hipster, but in a good way. Seems like the kind of thing some of the professors in the Art Department here at my university would get a real kick out of. I’d be happy to give it a try when I get back to NY…
Though, how cool would it be to get to buy a mystery trip (all expenses paid) to, for example, somewhere in Europe? Assuming it’s not too expensive, I’d love to find myself in Dublin, Prague, Munich, Amsterdam, Leiden, Copenhagen, Nottingham, Edinburgh, York, Caerdydd, Venice, Florence, Rome, Pisa, Padua, Athens, Tallin, Krakow, Warsaw, Paris or Oslo, sent off on an adventure to a city I might not ever get around to going out of my way to visit otherwise. But, then, I guess that’s a whole different thing.
*In archaeology / art world news, the charges against Robert Hecht (above), an American art dealer accused of extensive involvement in the black market of stolen antiquities, have been dropped in Italian court, as the statute of limitations has, apparently, expired.
Looking through my past posts, it looks like I’ve never actually posted about this before, but Google “Robert Hecht”, “Marion True“, or “Giacomo Medici,” or even better, pick up the book “The Medici Conspiracy.” The book reads like a crime thriller, tracing the adventures of Italian Art Squad carabinieri and US authorities in tracking down a string of evidence leading them to some of the biggest black market antiquities dealers active today, and eventually launching a raid on Medici’s warehouse in Geneva’s “Freeport,” loaded with looted antiquities and extensive documentation on his network of looters, buyers, dealers, etc., a network which included Getty Museum curator Marion True, and art dealer Robert Hecht, perhaps most (in)famous for his involvement in the acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum of the Euphronios krater, which has now been returned to Italy.
I am, of course, not the only blogger writing about this development. Chasing Aphrodite is one of a number of blogs more specifically devoted to (and expert on) the subject of antiquities looting which is reporting on the end of Hecht’s trial.
(Incidentally, another excellent book, not directly talking about Hecht or Medici, if I recall, but on a very similar topic, and with equally thrilling narratives, is Stealing History. In it, Roger Atwood shares amazing stories, from crazy stings in a parking lot on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike to catch people smuggling ancient Peruvian gold to discussions of the market in stone Buddhist sculptures literally chainsawed off of monuments in Cambodia.)
*Meanwhile, in the exciting but far less scandalous/controversial world of Japanese archaeology, a few fragments of pottery have been found in Mie prefecture bearing fragments of the famous Iroha poem which contains each kana (syllabic characters such as いろは in contrast to kanji characters such as 伊呂波) exactly once.
The fragments are believed to date to the 11th or 12th century, and are said to now be the oldest known extant example of
hiragana writing the iroha poem being written in hiragana. Frankly, I find this a bit hard to believe, given that it’s been dated to the late Heian period, a period today known for its vibrant traditions of poetry, etc. Considering all the numerous examples of poetry and other writings we have from the Heian period, could it really be possible that this late Heian pottery is the earliest extant example of hiragana writing? If they said it dated to the Asuka or Nara periods (6th-8th centuries), it would seem much more amazing and believable on first impression (kneejerk reaction). But, then, what the hell do I know? If the experts say this is how it is, then, apparently, this is how it is. An important find.
Much thanks to Joseph Ryan of the Ancient Japan blog for pointing out that had I not been so lazy, and had actually read the Japanese, I would have realized/noticed that this new find is not the oldest known extant example of hiragana writing, but only the oldest known extant example of the iroha in hiragana.
*The Asahi has also reported on the discovery of a possible residence of Emperor Shômu in Shiga prefecture. Shômu (r. 724-749) is best known for having established a system of provincial temples, and commissioning the Great Buddha of Tôdai-ji, which remains today the largest bronze Buddha in the country, housed within the largest wooden building in the world. The construction of Tôdai-ji, and especially of the Buddha, was an incredible undertaking, involving a major proportion of the total resources of the Yamato State (i.e. Japan), and a major symbol to the rest of the Buddhist world of Japan’s devotion.
The Asahi article (in Japanese) includes a short video of aerial footage of the site recently uncovered in the city of Kôka (甲賀市) in Shiga prefecture, along with photos of the site, and artists’ renderings of what the buildings may have originally looked like. The remains of pillars sunk into the ground, along with other archaeological evidence, indicate a pair of buildings with the distinctive form of Nara period imperial residences; it is believed this may be the Shigaraki Palace, a set of residences constructed by Emperor Shômu, where his predecessor and aunt Empress Genshô (r. 715-724) would have resided as well.
The two newly discovered structures were found near the center of a much larger archaeological site, in an area of about 500 square meters which local experts have been surveying since September 2010. It lies directly to the north of a previously uncovered chôdô (朝堂, “[Imperial] Court Hall”), an 8th century Imperial Court governmental administrative building. Twenty-eight postholes, each about 1.3-1.5 meters in diameter, have been found, running in a grid six postholes long from north to south. As a result, experts have suggested that the original buildings were roughly 24.9 meters wide and 14.8 meters long.
Similar buildings were found to the west in 2001-02. Since those were not located to the north of the administrative buildings, they were not believed to be Imperial residences; however, these newly discovered structures are believed to be just that.
*Cover of “Traditional Japanese Theater” from Amazon.jp.
*Photo of rails somewhere in upstate New York taken myself
*Photo of Robert Hecht from ChasingAphrodite.com – if you’d like me to take it down, just say the word.
*Photo of iroha pottery taken by Inoue Shôta of the Asahi Shimbun.
*Photo of Shigaraki-no-miya palace site taken by Yagi Takaharu.
*My thanks to Japanese copyright law, which considers the use of photos to be a “citation” or a “quote”, and not an intellectual property violation.