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Archive for the ‘アニメ・マンガ’ Category

Prior to flying to Okinawa to begin my research year in earnest, I had a few days in Tokyo, mainly organized around the need to go in to Japan Foundation headquarters in Yotsuya for a one-hour orientation meeting, to get situated with paperwork and so forth. But these few days were also a good opportunity to see the city a little bit, catch up with some friends, meet (however briefly) a whole bunch of other grad students currently doing their research years as well – many of whom are staying in Tokyo, but many others of whom, like myself, left within the next day or two for Okinawa, Fukuoka, or Sendai.

And, while in Tokyo, of course I squeezed in a bit of history wandering. I don’t know how the blog posts will go from here for the remainder of this year. I would really love to keep up with writing about every place I visit, every thing I do, to engage with these things not only in the moment but also by writing about them afterward, and thus thinking about them a bit more, and also feeling I’ve produced something that I’ve shared – feeling that I’m contributing in some small way to informing or entertaining others, the Internet; that I’m doing public history, maybe, in some small and amateurish way, if that’s not too grandiose a thing to say about my ramblings on this little blog. But, then, of course, on the other side, as much as I would like to do that, blogging is time-consuming, and I just don’t know if I’ll be able to keep it up, while also devoting appropriate levels of attention to my research, which is what I’m really here for, and what I’m getting paid to focus on. So, we’ll see. In the meantime, though…

The entrance to the PARCO Museum, done up for its first ever exhibit, “STRIP!”

I arrived in Tokyo on Monday night, Sept 12. On Tuesday, I skimmed briefly through the first ever exhibit of the newly opened PARCO Museum, an art space located on the 7th floor of the PARCO department store in Ikebukuro. Their opening exhibit is of drawings by mangaka Anno Moyoco, who I know best from her Yoshiwara-themed series Sakuran, which was turned into a live-action movie in 2006, starring Tsuchiya Anna and with rocking music by Shiina Ringo. There is so much going on in Tokyo at any given time – it’s awfully tempting to immerse myself in that art world, to become (again) someone well familiar with the latest goings-on, who has been to the latest exhibits, and who has real thoughts on exhibit design, aesthetics and artistic choices of the artists themselves, and so on and so forth. But, boy, that is a whole other ‘me’ yet; I would need three of me, three clones, just to be all the different people I want to be – the Historian / grad student / researcher; the art historian, museumgoer, art world member; the history nerd visiting and blogging about obscure historical sites; the culture nerd attending and blogging about and getting involved in festivals and performances… Still, I’m excited to return to Tokyo in a few months and get involved in all that again.

I’m not sure I have too much to say about the Anno Moyoco exhibit. I’ve grown so detached and distant from the worlds of anime, manga, and pop culture otherwise in recent years… The exhibit design was pretty cool, with walls and curtains and other elements evocative of the worlds or aesthetics of each of Anno’s different manga. While I understand the arguments for letting art speak for itself, I think that immersive exhibits are a worthwhile, impactful, experience unto themselves, and artworks in their own rights. And this one did a great job of that.

Screw Hattori Hanzô. Who cares? Totally over-hyped weeaboo bait. This here is a memorial monument (kuyôtô) for Tokugawa Nobuyasu, son of the great Tokugawa Ieyasu; poor Nobuyasu gets no attention, no recognition at all, and why? Just because he died decades before he might have ever gotten the chance to succeed his father as shogun? Feh.

Poking around Yotsuya prior to my meeting at Japan Foundation, I found my way to the small local temple of Sainen-ji 西念寺, where I grabbed some photos of the grave of Hattori Hanzô (“ninja” retainer to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who is probably a pretty cool figure, but who has been blown far out of all proportion by sammyrai geeks), and of a memorial stone (kuyôtô) for Tokugawa Nobuyasu, a son of Ieyasu’s who gets majorly short shrift and is treated as merely a footnote – if that – in the vast majority of scholarship on Tokugawa Ieyasu or the shogunate. Granted, he died some twenty years before the founding of the shogunate, but, still, he’s still a person, a figure, who had at least some significance. Doesn’t really deserve to be relegated to the dustbin of history just because he didn’t survive to be more explicitly influential.

For anyone looking to visit these sites yourself, Hattori’s grave and Nobuyasu’s memorial stone are just around to the side of the main hall. As you enter the temple’s main plaza, just walk straight and a bit to the left. I was wandering around in the cemetery itself, trying to look around for them, and got chastised. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last – I do my utmost, of course, to be as respectful as possible towards the fact that it’s an actual cemetery, and I hope that people (Japanese mourners, temple staff) see that; the vast majority of the time, in my experience, people associated with the temple understand and appreciate that people like myself are interested in these historical spots, and they are almost always plenty willing to guide you to the right place. But, yeah, it’s a balancing act. Some temples have signs pointing you in the right direction; some don’t, and so you just try to be as respectful as possible while trying to find what it is you came there for.

I then took a very brief run through the Fire Department Museum, a surprisingly large (seven floors of exhibits?) museum, with free admission, that stands adjacent to the Yotsuya Fire Department. Didn’t really have time to engage properly, but just ran through taking photos of the displays on Edo period firefighting; I’ll come back to these at some point in the future and read the labels I photographed, and learn a tiny bit more about how Edo (Tokyo) functioned at that time. I really love museums like this, because they just have so much stuff, and they just put it all out so nonchalantly. Can you imagine ever seeing more than one or two or three Edo period firefighting-related objects on display at the same time at the Metropolitan Museum, or LACMA? Can you imagine actually learning anything of real volume, real extent and consequence, about early modern Japanese firefighting, at the Freer-Sackler or the Museum of Fine Arts? I know that for the average general American museumgoer this is all terribly obscure. But it’s not so exceptionally obscure, is it, really? You don’t have to be a super crazy deep “history of firefighting” nerd to be interested in this stuff – all you have to be is someone who’s heard of it and wants to learn more; someone with an interest in Japan, or in premodern societies more generally, curious about how fires were fought – for example – prior to the advent of modern techniques and technologies. All you need is to take it that one next step – from having ukiyo-e woodblock prints of firefighters because that’s “art”, and perhaps a fireman’s robe, because that’s “textile art,” and taking the next step to include a historical fire-fighting tool – even just one – so that museumgoers can learn something not just about the art and the artist and the aesthetics, but also about the subject matter itself. What was life like in Edo? How did the city work?

Following my Japan Foundation orientation, around 4pm, I then met up with some friends for happy hour (and what for me was a very late lunch, which is actually about the time I normally eat lunch) in Harajuku, followed by some brief clothes shopping adventures. I don’t know if I was just tired, or because I’ve just finished packing up my entire life back in California and thus am particularly keenly aware of how much shit I already own, or because for a change I know I’ll actually be back here for a many-months-long stay and so there’s no need to go crazy right now today, but somehow the whole Harajuku thing just wasn’t grabbing me that night. In a few months, after I’ve gotten a better sense of what clothes I do and don’t have, what styles I’m yearning for, and so forth, I’ll come back and I’ll buy all the things.

Wednesday saw more general random history wandering. I was meeting up with a friend in the Akasaka/Nagatachô neighborhood, so while I waited to get together with her, I found my way to the ruins of the Akasaka-mitsuke, the approach to the Akasaka Gate of Edo castle. Marky Star has a wonderfully thorough explanation about mitsuke and so forth here, so I won’t bother to rehash that. Still, it was neat to see some stonework surrounding a small former section of the castle moat, along with its associated bridge (Benkei-bashi) – to get some sense of what had once been there, much more so than if it were just a few stones and a marker saying “you can’t see anything at all, but just imagine…”

Adjacent to this is a massive, shiny, very new-looking residential+shopping complex, which we are told stands on the former grounds of the Kishû Tokugawa Kojimachi mansion. Here too, while there is less explicitly to be seen of anything surviving from that time (such as a gatehouse, for example), I was happy to see as many plaques and markers as I did, explaining even just a little bit the history of what once stood there. For a moment, I got mixed up and thought this was maybe the Kishû Tokugawa Akasaka mansion which in the Meiji period became the temporary imperial palace for a time, but later in the day we visited the far more famous Akasaka Palace, and I was reminded that that was built atop the former site of the Akasaka mansion I was thinking of – and so the one more immediately adjacent to Akasaka-mitsuke was a separate mansion.

Incidentally, directly across the street from the Akasaka-mitsuke ruins I could see (across the street, in the distance, behind serious gates) the official residences of the heads of the two Houses of the Japanese Diet (i.e. the two houses of parliament). Had I taken the time, I could have easily sought out the Diet Building, the Prime Minister’s residence, the headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party, and so forth, all of which are clustered right around that neighborhood.

Instead, I poked around in a slightly different direction, walking left instead of right, or something to that effect, and happened upon a building associated with the Korean royal family, who in Japan’s Imperial period were incorporated into the Japanese European-style peerage/aristocracy, or kazoku. Not something I think the Japanese government or whoever are necessarily trying to hide, per se – that the last members of the Korean royal family were present and resident in Tokyo in the 1900s to 1940s – but just a corner of the international history that just doesn’t pop up so much on the Japan side (of course, this is quite prominent in Korean history); empire is one thing, but what happened to the royal family, as individuals, where they lived in Tokyo, and so forth, gets brushed aside in the face of the much more boldly and starkly obvious issues of Empire and imperialism and colonialism – political history and all of that. Still, I think it fascinating, the place of Koreans, Ryukyuans, Chinese, within Japanese culture and history.

What’s today known as the Classic House at Akasaka Prince, standing on one portion of the former site of that Kishû Tokugawa Kojimachi mansion, seems to be the restoration of a residence constructed in 1930 for the last Crown Prince of the Korean Kingdom; this 1930 building seems to have replaced one built in 1884 for Prince Kitashirakawa by Josiah Conder – arguably the most significant architect of the Meiji period, or at least the most widely featured in introductory Japanese Art History survey textbooks.

So, that was pretty cool. Meeting up with my friend, we then poked around Hie Shrine for just a bit – they were having a gagaku concert and some kind of festival procession the next day in conjunction with Mid-Autumn Festival and also the 300th anniversary of the accession of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune, all of which sounds quite exciting but I won’t be able to attend.

We then made our way to the Akasaka Palace – the more famous one, built in 1909 on the former grounds of the Kishû Tokugawa mansion which had been appropriated and modified to serve as a temporary imperial palace from 1873 to 1889. Whereas I imagine the 1870s-90s palace to have been largely unchanged from its architectural style, layout, construction, character as an Edo period daimyô residence – wooden construction, tatami mat flooring, shôji and fusuma screens for walls, ceramic tile roofing, and all the rest – the Akasaka Palace built in 1909, the one we know today, is a glory of Meiji architecture, in a Neo-Baroque style inspired by palaces of Germany, Austria, and France. Originally constructed as a residence for the Crown Prince, it has since the 1960s (if not much earlier? I’m not sure) been used to provide lodgings for top-level visiting foreign dignitaries, such as heads of state. Sadly, we failed to consult any public opening schedule or public tours application process ahead of time, and so were only able to see the palace from a distance, from outside the impressive gates. Kind of like visiting the White House. But that’s fine.

So, that’s it for Tokyo for now. Just a few scattered adventures, and now, off to Okinawa. I expect I’ll be doing a lot of exploring and adventuring in Okinawa – historical sites, traditional arts performances, museum exhibits – so, watch this space. Then, in the spring, I’ll be back in Tokyo, and the more mainstream Japanese adventures will continue.

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Thanks to Japan Society’s Blog, a bunch of neat bits of Japan-related goings-on.

*”Wafrica”, a collaboration between a Cameroonian car designer and a 150-year-old Japanese kimono maker, showed some gorgeous and innovative designs recently at Omotesandô Hills. I think they’re fantastic, but cannot help thinking that if it were white people combining kimono with traditional/historical European fashions, it would be denounced (from at least some corners) as Orientalist. Apparently blacks can’t be Orientalist… or can they?

*Apparently, manga character Professor Munakata (宗像先生) has been going on archaeological-related adventures for many years now, touching upon extremely controversial subjects, such as territorial disputes between Japan and Korea, but has never before been to the West. His latest adventure touches upon the controversy surrounding the Elgin (Parthenon) Marbles, but from what I gather from the article in the Economist, it’s more about some totally crazy schemes to steal the Rosetta Stone, destroy St. Paul’s, and such, that Munakata-sensei has to foil. I wonder how directly they really actually address the controversies.

*Growing up, my father always told me you can find anything in New York if you look hard enough. Well, to a great extent, Okinawan culture has been the exception, so far as I’ve seen. I am not aware of any Okinawan restaurants, certainly no shimauta (live Okinawan folk music) bars, and I’m not even sure if there’s anywhere to study Okinawan language or sanshin except perhaps through private arrangements (by contrast, here in Hawaii, while there’s no real sanshin schools per se that have their own buildings and everything, the University offers classes, and there’s a Hawaii Okinawa Cultural Center that has its own land and buildings and everything). Yet, getting to the point, apparently we do have Junko Fisher, who has started teaching Okinawan dance, and Okinawan history through dance, at libraries throughout Queens. I still don’t know where to go to get my andaagi fix, but it’s a start.

*Meanwhile, the NY Times has finally put out a review of the “Samurai in New York” exhibit still up at the Museum of the City of New York until Nov 7. They write: ‘“Samurai” is one of those small, in-the-hallway exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York that delivers more than you’d expect,’ and I couldn’t agree more.

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It’s been about two weeks since I promised you a post about Murata Range 村田蓮爾, a manga artist whose work was on display at the Kyoto International Manga Museum when I went there a few weeks ago.

I had been familiar with Murata’s work for some time, mainly from his covers for the manga magazine ROBOT, for which he is apparently also editor and compiler. A friend has a number of volumes of this, and I have long been interested in buying some issues, though I was a bit scared off by the price tag, and wavered between the cheaper English version and the more expensive (in the US, that is, as an import) but more “authentic” Japanese version. In any case, I loved the art, but admittedly had not paid attention to the name of the artist. Even looking through this exhibition at the Manga Museum, I remained oblivious to what big-name series Murata had worked on, if any. Actually, I remain a bit unclear on this even after having researched it on the internet – he’s worked on series including Last Exile, Blue Submarine No 6, and the Animatrix, but if I’m understanding this right, he’s only done concept art, not actual animation work.

His art is beautiful. Just stunning. His characters are cute and innocent, his colors and lines as crisp and clean as could be. The Japanese word kirei, one of the first words learned by students of Japanese as a second language and generally translated as “pretty” and used for that meaning, actually has a strong connotation of “clean”, “organized”, “put together”, and the more I think about it, the more I think that this clean & pretty element is really one of the key things that appeals to me in both anime/manga art, and in older Nihonga painting. You can see it in the complete lack of painterly-ness (that is, in the invisibility of any brushstrokes), minimal use of lines, soft, even shading of colors, and just general ‘clean’ feeling. This girl, for example, though she is sweating, doesn’t look sticky or gross or disheveled in any way. She has no blemishes on her skin; her clothes aren’t wrinkled, her hair isn’t ruffled or messed up. And while there are shadows in the places there realistically ought to be (such as on her neck), the whole scene is painted (? or digitally composed? or…?) as though quite brightly lit with a clean white light, like the kind of spring or summer sun that returns color to the world after the dreariness of winter.

The subject matter of Murata’s works is usually one of cuteness and innocence – there are lots of works depicting schoolgirls, for example, though he does depict cute boys, and older, more toned young men as well – and so of course that contributes to one’s reaction to the piece, but I really think that the way line and color are treated play a huge role in making these works, and so many others by many other artists, give off the feeling of a perfect spring day. A breezy, sunny day that makes you just want to smile, and go out and enjoy the day with no cares in the world.

The exhibit was quite small, just one room. But, for a solo exhibition, there were a good number of works there. Any more and there would have been a strong danger of just being repetitive, that is, overkill. The exhibit consisted largely of magazines and the like in cases, and perhaps most interesting for more dedicated fans (and aspiring artists, or those who just doodle for fun), preparatory sketches and the like, something that I guess is seen more rarely.

I quite enjoyed the large, blown up digital prints along one wall. I have not read ROBOT, or any of the other very similar magazines Murata is involved with, such as FutureGraph, but I gather that many of the stories contained within are sort of one-off stories. Not fully encapsulated, they could function as episodes within a much larger plot, but they are presented as just one-off, cute glimpses into the lives of certain characters. I think, if I remember correctly, there were three or four of these short, maybe 10 page stories, posted up on the walls. I read one in which two young schoolgirls chat while riding a train… what about, I barely even remember. Maybe about their friends, and which friend was moving away to another town, or something. What really appeals is the environment and atmosphere created, not solely through the art, but also through the dialogue and plot, which, if not memorable (apparently), are still crucial elements in this creation of an ideal, romanticized, carefree cute schooldays atmosphere.

Of course, the other key element that I’ve been completely glossing over is the fact that these stories, all of those in ROBOT, by a variety of writers/artists, are in gorgeous full color, unlike the vast majority of manga out there, which is in black and white. There are economic reasons for this, basically, as I understand it, stemming from the fact that most manga is published in cheap newsprint anthologies and only later republished in tankobon individual volumes. But all of that is a story for another day.

There is a lot, I am sure, that can be said about Murata’s work, about manga/anime aesthetics and subject matter more broadly, etc etc. But I think I should like to leave it at this: enjoy the pictures.

The exhibit remains up through August 29.

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