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Archive for the ‘Art & Culture Magazines’ Category

I still have a few posts to post about our “field trip” day, but for now, I think it about time that I skip ahead and post the following, which I wrote on my last evening in Okinawa this summer.

The main worship hall of Azato Hachimangû.

Monday, Sept 20. Okinawa.

Boy, today was incredible. After doing some laundry, packing my bags, and otherwise just coordinating things to get ready to fly out tomorrow, I poked over to Azato Hachimangû, one of the Eight Shrines of Ryukyu, which turns out to be quite close to my hotel. Had things gone a little differently, I might have actually seen three of the Eight Shrines today – and having already seen four on my previous trip to Okinawa, that would leave only the one, Kin Shrine way up in Kunigami. But, even having not seen those other two today, it’s okay.

Azato Hachiman Shrine was quite small, and just sort of tucked away in a residential neighborhood. So, my trip there was quite brief, just a sort of check it off the list sort of thing. By then it was already 10am or so, maybe later, I don’t remember, and I was trying to catch a bus at 12:23, so I knew I didn’t have too much time to do too much else. I had been thinking of going to the Okinawa Prefectural Library, to try to see if I could take a look at some original (primary source) documents, or to at least see what was on the shelves and get a sense of some books I didn’t previously know about, maybe make some photocopies. But even just walking there and back might have taken up the great majority of the time I had, and looking at books or documents could very easily take far more time than I had.

So, I decided instead to head over to Sueyoshi Park, to try to see Sueyoshi Shrine, another of the Eight Shrines. The park is fairly large, and situated right between Gibo and Shiritsubyôinmae stations on the monorail; what I didn’t know is that the park is actually quite mountainous, that there are very few signs or maps once you get into the park, and that the shrine is way over on the far side. Of course, if I had bothered looking closer at my map, or at Google Maps, rather than just heading out, I might have realized this. But, that’s the way it goes sometimes. I got into the park, and just sort of took a path, up, knowing that shrines tend to be located at the top of hills more typically than lower down, and basically just taking my chances. The staircase ended at a dirt path roughly cut through the greenery… I decided to check it out, and soon found a small stone sign, indicating the site of a princely tomb called Ginowan-udun – just a sign, along a forested path, with nothing else of any ruins or structures immediately visible. Cool, I thought. Nothing much to see here; clearly nothing much remaining of the site, but cool to know it was here. But I kept walking, and a stony path emerged, along with an old-looking stone wall. So we’re no longer walking on just pure dirt any more. And then, then, I see a much more serious-looking stone wall, and a set of stone steps leading up through the wall. Oh ho. What is this now? I turn the corner and get a better look, and – whoa. A very large traditional-style Ryukyuan “turtle back” tomb. Wow. I’m not sure the picture does it justice. To stand there, before this immense thing, so relatively intact and so hidden amongst the forest of this public park, just sitting there, hidden… well, it was quite a feeling. And I certainly would never have found this site except just by luck, as I did.

I then poked around a bit longer, in the hopes of finding Sueyoshi Shrine, but eventually had to just give up, as I found myself all the way over at another end of the park, and yet still completely the wrong side, having never come across so much as a sign or pointer towards the shrine.

I made it back to my hotel just in time, pretty much, to catch the bus. I had left a fair bit of time, but after walking the extra three or so blocks to the post office, waiting in line for the ATM, walking back to the general area of the bus stop, asking at a major hotel right in front of the bus stop about just where exactly the bus stop was, how to pay for or get on the bus, and whether or not I need a reservation, and finding them utterly uninformed, I ended up finding the bus stop on my own with literally something like 1 to 3 minutes to spare. Fortunately, the bus came ten minutes late. So, yes, by the way, if you’re ever in Okinawa, and looking to get to certain parts further north, the Yambaru Express Bus is actually a really easy and relatively inexpensive way to get to Kakazu (Ginowan), Nakagusuku (that is, the Nakagusuku bus stop on the side of the highway; I’m not sure about how convenient this is for getting to the castle), Nago, Motobu, Nakijin, and Unten Port (and to the aquarium, I’d imagine). It doesn’t run too often – today, if I had missed my 12:23 bus, the next would have been at 3:something PM; and on the way back, there were buses at 4:20ish, and 6:05, which was the last one for the day. Glad I got a ride back instead of having to deal with that. But, you don’t need any reservation, you just get on, take a ticket that shows where you got on, and then a display screen on the bus shows how much you need to pay for each exit. So, for example, when I got on, the ticket showed a number 4. Then, when I got off at Nakagusuku, the screen said “1: 500 yen, 2: 450 yen, 3: 430 yen, 4: 430 yen” or something like that, and so I paid my 430 yen, or however much it was. So you just drop the right number of coins, along with your ticket, in the collection box on your way off the bus. It’s a nice cushy tour bus style bus, and takes the highway, so it actually goes quite quick – got me to Nakagusuku in 20 minutes. Going all the way to Unten will take the better part of three hours, and as much as 2000 yen (approx. US$20), but, still, it’s good to know that it’s so relatively easily doable – renting a car to get around Okinawa is not as 100% required as I had been led to believe. Now, sure, 3 hours each way doesn’t make for a good day trip, so I don’t know about taking this bus just to go to the aquarium, all the way from Naha, but if you need to get to Unten to take a ferry to Izena or Iheya Island, where you’re going to stay overnight (I’m told you kind of have to, the ferries run that infrequently), it could be worth it. Or, just to get up there to then mosey around that part of the island for some time…

Anyway, returning to my story of today, I had met Garrett Kam, a fellow UH & EWC alumnus, the previous week, and Garrett, a dancer of traditional Javanese and Okinawan forms, had let me know about a kumi udui performance going on in Ginowan, at 2pm on Monday (“today,” the day I’m talking about).

Right: a poster for an April performance of Yukiharai at the National Theatre Okinawa. This was the same performance, by the same troupe/school, which I saw that day in September.

Kumi udui, to put it quite simply, is the chief traditional theatrical form of Ryukyu. It draws influences from Noh and Kabuki, and to someone more familiar with those forms, like myself, it definitely bears resemblances to both, and fits somewhere between the two, featuring bold colored costumes like kabuki, but also very slow, drawn-out chanted speech, and subtle movements, like Noh. It also has some connections with Chinese and Southeast Asian forms. I had seen kumi udui before on YouTube, but never in person, so this was very exciting.

Ginowan City Hall, right next door to the shimin kaikan (Community Center) where the performance was held.

I got to Ginowan about an hour early; less, really, once one takes into account the time it took to hike up into town from the Nakagusuku bus stop, which is right on the side of the highway, near a highway rest stop. Still, I had some time to spare, so I stopped into a local bookstore called Miyawaki Shoten (now that I look up the website, I realize it’s a national chain, not even based in Okinawa), thinking, oh I’ll just see what they might have. Turns out Miyawaki’s “local books” (read: Okinawan history, culture, etc.) section is quite good, including full runs of several series I’ve only seen bits and pieces of before (e.g. a series of short, popular history 1000 yen books on each of the kings of Ryukyu), as well as other books I’d never come across before at all. Resisting the urge to buy more than I could fit in my luggage, I ended up with just one thing, a thin volume of the magazine Momoto, focusing on sites in mainland Japan related to the Ryukyuan missions to Edo (how perfect, given my research topic!). Momoto seems a really excellent magazine – each issue is quite short, so without actually reading them I couldn’t actually say just how thorough or actually informative they might be, but on the surface, they do seem to cover a good range of topics, with issues on Shuri, on Naha, and on Reversion (in 1972), though some of the earlier issues focus more on Okinawan lifestyle and the kinds of things that don’t really pertain so much to my interests. But it’s a relatively new magazine, just a few years old, and on the surface (yes, I am judging books by their covers. What of it?), they at the very least have very nice design aesthetic to them, plus I’m just taken, so to speak, with the idea of such an Okinawa-specific magazine.

I had thought about exploring the town a bit more, maybe trying to see something of the outsides of the highly controversial Futenma Air Base, which is right there, occupying the center of the town, and thus was never more than a few blocks away from the places I was today; I was also thinking of trying to make my way to Futenma-gû, or Futenma Shrine, another of the Ryukyu Eight Shrines. But, time was pressing, so I skipped all of that and just made my way to the Ginowan Shimin Kaikan (which they translate as Civic Hall, though it really means something more like “citizens’ meeting hall). Turns out it was not a public or publicly accessible performance, but rather a performance in conjunction with the annual meeting of the pension “friends” group of the Ginowan branch of a Japanese Agricultural Coops organization (JAおきなわ・宜野湾支店 年金友の会), or something like that.

Not really understanding what was going on, I went in and explained I didn’t have a ticket, and asked if I could buy one, and to my surprise, the fellow asked me immediately, “Garrett-san?” “Ah, no. Garrett-san’s friend,” I answered, and before I knew it I had been taken to the actors’ dressing room (!!). I spoke with them very briefly, and got to take some pictures and watch them put on hair and makeup, as they very kindly and generously allowed me to just sit there and watch as I waited for Garrett. I suppose I should have taken greater advantage of this, to stay longer and see more of the process (and get more pictures) – as it is, I only have pictures of some earlier / middle stage of the process, which is still super cool; I can’t imagine I’ll ever see such a thing backstage at Kabuki-za, for example. But I don’t have pictures of any later stages, or indeed of the costumes at all, since I presumed there were no photos allowed during the performance. Sadly, since it was this weird special private event, there are also no posters, flyers, or websites about the performance to keep to help remember it, nor to share with you.

So, I went outside to wait for Garrett, and he eventually came, and he was then invited backstage again, to say hello to the Sensei, who he had met some years before. I managed to tag along.

The show itself was interesting, and quite enjoyable, though considerably lower energy than Kabuki can be – in this respect, it’s not so much “entertaining” in a direct way, but rather something you appreciate, or try to appreciate, as a cultural expression, as a practice/performance of a traditional form. The story, a new interpretation of a relatively traditional story, was at its core about a young woman whose mother has passed away and whose father has gone off on official business. Her evil stepmother, very much in Cinderella-like fashion, forces the girl to do difficult household chores, in the snow, without an outer kimono (i.e. it’s quite cold). Why there’s cold and snow in a Ryukyuan play, beats me. But, she eventually collapses due to cold and exhaustion, sees the ghost of her mother, and is then found, collapsed, by her brother, and then by her father. I may be missing a few bits, but basically, in the end, the father gets upset with the stepmother, and makes to kill her, but is stopped by the children, and they all make up (somehow) and become a happier family, the end. The chanting and movements were quite slow, highly stylized, and minimalist, like in Noh, but of course quite different in style, coming out of distinctly Okinawan traditions, and being chanted in Okinawan language (Uchinaaguchi). The costumes, though, unlike in Noh, were brightly colored, and quite beautiful. The young woman wore a white bingata robe, covered in multi-colored patterns, and under it, a red underrobe, while other characters wore similarly bold costumes. The musical ensemble – sanshin, kutu, drum, and I think maybe a few other instruments, played classical (koten) Okinawan music as I am familiar with, though no specific pieces with which I am familiar. … I’m not sure what else to say about the piece exactly. I am quite glad to have gotten to see it, and certainly look forward to seeing more kumi udui in the future. At first go, it’s certainly not as captivating as Kabuki can be, but then, it was only on my Xth time seeing Noh that I first had a real sort of “experience” with it, having/gaining a certain insight, a certain appreciation, that I hadn’t appreciated before. So, maybe after seeing kumi udui a few more times…

A video of Garrett’s “Okijawa Hi Sigh” dance piece, combining Javanese and Okinawan elements. Thanks for filming & sharing this video to YouTube user angeline158.

Garrett’s friends Chiyo and Yuko-san then gave me a ride, driving us all to Okinawa University of the Arts (Okinawa Geidai), where Garrett shared one of his fusion Javanese-Okinawan (“Okijawa”) dances with the gamelan circle. I was quite thrilled to get to come along, having passed by but never actually been inside Okinawa Geidai campus, and more to the point, having heard – years ago – of the Okinawa Geidai gamelan group, which takes advantage of the musical similarities between Javanese and Okinawan musical forms, scales, and such, to play Okinawan music on the Javanese instruments. I don’t really know why, or how to express it, but ever since hearing about this, I just wanted to visit and meet this group, and perhaps even play with them, so badly. And today I got my chance. And not only that, but somehow I’d had an impression that this was a very serious group – this is Japan after all, and an arts university – and that any interactions with them I might ever have might be highly formal, and sort of exclusive – like trying to talk to them after a performance and them being, understandably really, too important and too busy to care what some random white guy grad student wants to say. Maybe I’m dragging this out too long, making too much of it. But, in any case, in the end, today at least, with the gamelan circle (a student club, not a formal class), it was just about as laid-back, friendly, and welcoming as could be. After Garrett shared his dance, we practiced trying to play that song a few times, and I actually got into it, despite having not played gamelan for several years; I’m no good at it, of course, but so long as you’re just repeating over and over, it’s not so hard to get into the pattern, and that’s where it becomes wonderfully meditative and kind of relaxing, as you just play 3, 2, 3, rest, 7, 5, 7, rest, 7, 3, 2, 3, …. going through X sets of four notes each, at a regular pace, and then repeating the whole X sets, around and around, as it gets a bit faster, and a bit slower, again and again, until finally coming to an end.

The Okinawa University of the Arts gamelan group performing a Tanabata concert, July 2014. The piece I’ve cued up here is a version of the classic Okinawan folk song Asadoya Yunta, performed as you can see on a combination of Okinawan sanshin and Javanese gamelan.

These are the kinds of adventures/experiences I dream(ed) of when I think about continuing my involvement in academia. To get to meet and speak with someone like Garrett Kam, who’s doing such exciting fusion work, and who is so knowledgeable and thoughtful about multiple cultures and about their co-mingling; to get to go backstage at a kumi udui performance at the Ginowan Shimin Kaikan of all places; to get to hang out and even practice with the Okinawa Geidai gamelan group… as I’m not as directly, explicitly, involved in the arts as some people are, who knows if these kinds of experiences or opportunities will come as frequently or as easily as they might otherwise, but here’s hoping that they do continue to come. In particular, if the Okigeidai gamelan group is indeed as laidback and welcoming as they were today, here’s hoping that if/when I find myself in Okinawa for a more serious length of time sometime, that I might be able to join them more regularly, practicing together, and just building networks and friendships, and some sense of actual belonging & involvement at such a place as Okinawa Geidai… what a thing that would be.

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I recently discovered the website nippon.com. Run by Nippon Communications Foundation, the people behind Japan Echo (published until 2010), with support from the Nippon Foundation… admittedly, these are not organizations with which I am familiar, but as compared to certain other sites, they do a truly excellent job of providing quality content. Nippon.com’s articles are not superficial treatments or basic summaries of the most canon Japanese tourist sites & cultural experiences, aimed at first-time (and possibly one-time-only) visitors to Japan; rather, they are aimed at those with a more serious interest in Japanese culture, who may be relative beginners but who are serious about learning more, and engaging with issues related to culture & heritage preservation, traditional arts, and historiography.

The articles on Nippon.com go far beyond the standard stories in several ways – both going deeper, as in the case of articles about specific goings-on in the kabuki world & interviews with kabuki actors in place of the very superficial and generic “kabuki is a traditional theatre form dating back hundreds of years, with colorful costumes and bold action. Even if you’re only in Tokyo for a few days, you should definitely try to check it out!“, and going beyond in the sense of discussing aspects of Japan way off the beaten track. Take for example Nippon.com’s series of articles – yes, an entire series – on Islam in Japan, including two on Tokyo’s largest mosque, and one interview with a Japanese convert to Islam who makes efforts to combat stereotypes and ignorance, and to educate people about Islam.

Apropos of nothing, a view along the Kamogawa in Kyoto. Photo by own.

I am particularly impressed by the site’s use of interviews with, and articles by, prominent experts on the subject, where many other sites and publications simply use their own internal tourism/journalism staff, who repeat commonly-held beliefs or attitudes, without any true expertise. One of the first posts on Nippon.com I discovered, which immediately told me this was a very different kind of site, is one entitled “Foreign Relations in Early Modern Japan: Exploding the Myth of National Seclusion.” The misconception that Japan was “closed” or “isolated” during the Edo period (1615-1868), the connected idea that Edo period Japan was “dark,” regressive, or backwards as a result, and the continued use of the term “sakoku” (lit. “chained country”), is truly one of my greatest personal pet peeves as a historian. I know it sounds terribly obscure and picky and geeky, but this is actually a big deal – it has a major impact on how we, as Americans, as Japanese, as Europeans or Chinese, view and understand Japan. Scholars such as Arano Yasunori and Nagazumi Yoko in Japan, and Ronald Toby among others in the US, have been arguing since the 1980s that Japan was not “closed,” that it was quite active in international interactions and cultural exchange, and that we should stop using the word “sakoku,” and yet, today, far too many sources (tourism websites, guidebooks, popular magazines, TV shows, even supposedly top-rate newspapers and, sadly, occasionally, scholarly works) still continue to reinforce these misconceptions. And since TV shows, newspapers, magazines, and tourist materials are so much more widely consumed than history books and scholarly journal articles are, these misperceptions persist. I don’t know their numbers – hits, readership – but Nippon.com represents a more widely accessible and more “popular” form of media – an online popular magazine, if you will – and Arano Yasunori’s article on their site is a truly excellent treatment to the subject. It is thorough and reflective of the latest research, and genuinely informative, as well as easy to read, clear, and engaging, with lots of nice diagrams and images, and all while being relatively short.

Ainu robes on exhibit at the East-West Center Gallery in Honolulu, Feb 2013. Photo my own.

Nippon.com goes further, with equally interesting articles on “The Ainu and Early Commerce in the Sea of Okhotsk,” “The Dutch East India Company and the Rise of Intra-Asian Commerce,” “Historical Trends in Eurasia and Japan: Mongols to Manchus,” and “The Extra-National Pirate-Traders of East Asia.”

The breadth and depth of articles on this site is truly incredible. I wish I had the time to read more of these articles, on everything from “The Xinhai Revolution and Sino-Japanese Relations,” to “The Dolls that Sparked Japan’s Love of Robots: “Karakuri Ningyō”,” to The Aichi Triennale and contemporary art in post-3/11 Japan, to the history of asadora (TV morning dramas).

I am really impressed with this site, and think it may be one of the best on the Internet, for high schoolers, college students, armchair historians, or anyone interested in learning more about Japan, through short but high-quality articles introducing a truer, more complex, vision of Japan – a Japan with a long history of interactions with Russia, a Japan with a contemporary Muslim population, a Japan wrestling with maintaining, preserving, protecting, and changing traditions.

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The Art of Japan: Kanazawa is a beautiful new website which has emerged recently. It includes numerous pages about a myriad of aspects of traditional and contemporary arts and culture in and around Kanazawa, the capital city of Japan’s Ishikawa prefecture, and is constantly being updated.

Above: The tsutsumi-mon, or “drum gate”, outside Kanazawa Station. A beautiful example of traditional lacquer arts combining with contemporary architectural creativity & innovation to represent a city as wholly modern, but drawing upon a rich past. Something Kyoto Station entirely fails to do. Photo taken myself, during my one brief visit to Kanazawa, in January 2008.

Back in February, the Art of Japan Kanazawa staff collaborated with Japan Society in New York to produce what looks like an exquisite evening of traditional and contemporary culture – including displays of Ishikawa crafts (pottery, lacquerware, etc.), a butoh performance, and saké served by a professional geisha from Kanazawa, one of the few cities which still has an active geisha district. How I would have loved to be there for such an event.

Other posts focus on beautiful and interesting places in the city, local events, and arts.

Boy, I so wish I could be in Kanazawa (or Kyoto, or Naha, or half a dozen other places) right now, to have the opportunities to explore such a city, to attend these events, to be surrounded by and immersed in these arts and goings-on. But more than that, I wish I could work for a project like Arts of Japan Kanazawa. It may not be the most prestigious thing (like being a professor or a curator at a major institution), but who cares? How I would love to be constantly immersed, engaged, with a vibrant Japanese arts & culture community, and to make a living at it. I wonder how many other cities have similar projects, similar websites.

….

Meanwhile, for sadly only a very short time, an incredibly major Japanese artwork is on display at the National Gallery in Washington DC. The “Colorful Realm of Living Beings” (動植綵絵, dôshoku sai-e), a National Treasure of Japan, is a series of thirty hanging scroll paintings by Itô Jakuchû (1716-1800), completed over the course of ten years. They are accompanied at the National Gallery by a triptych of hanging scrolls depicting Buddhas, on loan from Shôkoku-ji, a major Zen temple in Kyoto. The works are easily among the most famous of Japanese artworks, included in many if not all survey textbooks of Japanese art history; I don’t think it’s absurd to compare them to being a Japanese equivalent of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” but multiplied times 33, filling a room, and creating their own atmosphere.

Just seeing pictures of the installation, I can imagine the setting Jakuchû is said to have aimed to create – of the Buddha presiding before all the living beings of the world, and preaching to them. Standing in this room, you are surrounded by incredible images of a myriad of living beings, from roosters and peacocks described in exquisite detail, sketched from life, to fish, insects, and lizards in a variety of undersea and overland environments, and you feel that you too are in the presence of the Buddha.

One could easily write pages and pages about Jakuchû, his life, his art, but I’ll leave it for now. Check out my Samurai-Archives Wiki article on the artist, and the following:

As usual, embedding doesn’t seem to be working properly, but here is a link to a PBS has a wonderful brief video about the exhibition, including snippets of an interview with guest curator, Harvard professor Yukio Lippit: 18th Century Japanese Scrolls Make Rare U.S. Appearance.

I had no idea that a National Treasure could ever leave Japan – this is the first time that these works are on display, all together, anywhere outside of Japan, and it is incredible that this is happening. I wish I could be there.

The “Colorful World of Living Beings” is on display until April 29, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival.

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Passing on a message received from a mailing list; spreading the word:

The Bard Graduate Center has recently launched West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture.
The editors of this peer reviewed journal welcome submission of articles on topics including design, style, dress and fashion, architecture and landscape, vernacular and popular culture in Japan (and other parts of Asia).

For more information, please consult the website below:

www.journals.uchicago.edu/userimages/ContentEditor/1270063517420/WES_postcard.pdf

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Went into the City today to check out this art opening/gallery event with artist David Choe. Giant Robot is a neat boutique shop in the East Village, selling all sorts of Japanese art, pop culture, and design goods, from Murakami Takashi to American indy comics.

The art opening was a disappointment, unfortunately, however, as there was no art by David Choe on display at all. He was signing books and magazines and dolls, but, nothing much else to see or do. Which is a shame, because his work looks really interesting.

Still, I bought a copy of Giant Robot Magazine. The combination of the boutique and the magazine is really neat, even though the organization seems to be based on the West Coast (boo!) – I had the realization that their NY location is not their primary one, and thus they don’t really reflect the NY Asian culture scene so much as the SF/LA one, a very different creature indeed, and something I’m not sure I can quite relate to.

Still, that there is such a magazine devoted to (East) Asian pop culture is a wonderful thing. While I cannot say anything for the oft-impenetrable-seeming Asian-American community, for the rest of us, I think it great that the fan community of Asian pop culture has such a magazine (among others of course); I think it really shows something about the development of the trend, and the deep and broad interests of the fans, that such a magazine, devoted not solely to manga or J-pop, but to contemporary art, design, TV dramas, art films, and all other aspects of pop culture, should exist and should be relatively widely known. Indeed, it reflects a more adult sensibility, and a deep interest in a broad range of aspects of Asian popular/contemporary culture, which goes beyond “fandom” and into the realms of a more serious and adult field of interest.

The content of the magazine is actually really excellent. The issue I bought, #50 from last year, contains interviews with contemporary artists who showed at the US GEISAI, with Anna Tsuchiya, with major Taiwanese film star Chang Chen, and solid listings of music, movies, and television programs – not just those commonly available in America, those being put out by major American companies, or those at the forefront of popularity for Lord knows what reason (I’m looking at you, Naruto and Bleach), but an excellent range of material.

That said, even while I do think that reading the actual interviews and articles will prove quite interesting, the overall style and feel of the magazine is a bit too casual and informal for my tastes. While the content may reflect that adult sensibility and deep cultural interest that I spoke of above, the style and aesthetic still reflect a high-school fandom attitude. The style and feel reminds me more of American perceptions of what’s cool and wacky and fun about the Far East, rather than the style of a magazine actually about the Far East. Compare this to how “Art in America” or a half-dozen other art world magazines treat the subject, and I think you’ll have an idea what I’m talking about.

Too many Funimation ads; too much anime-inspired illustration by Americans. Too many ads for wacky random Japanese toys and such. I guess I’m just coming to this with the wrong expectations – it’s a popular magazine, not a professional art world publication nor an academic journal. Still, the overall style and format of the magazine is just not serious enough for me; it makes me want to feel that the writers don’t know what they’re talking about – that they’re inexperienced or naive American fans, rather than professional Asian culture journalists. The informal, casual, style makes it difficult for me to take the content seriously and to trust it.

When I buy issues of Tokyo Graffiti or Okinawa hands magazine, I feel like I’m getting a genuine look at the real contemporary Japanese youth/street culture. These are magazines produced in Japan by Japanese who are inextricably involved in the Japanese contemporary pop/street culture life. With Giant Robot, I’m not so sure I’m getting the same kind of genuine experience. Maybe my standards are too high, my expectations too unrealistic; maybe nothing in English will feel genuine enough to me purely because of the language. In any case, I remain intrigued by Giant Robot; this is not my last word on it.

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When I was interning at the art museum, there was an area on the book cart in the library section of the office, for books and magazines the museum didn’t want. Free to take. Most of them were things I had no interest in, but every now and then I’d take a few things home. Sometimes I didn’t even appreciate what it was, as my Japanese language skills were far poorer back then, but I looked at the pretty pictures and decided it was something that might be worth keeping.

Now that I am home from Japan and reorganizing my room, I’ve come across those things again. One in particular caught my eye -a magazine called “Asiage”, published by the Kyushu National Museum, which I am just a tad obsessed with. I was quite disappointed to not get to see the Museum when I went to Fukuoka/Dazaifu last month, and I really hope I get to go again soon.

Looking at the other issues, located on the museum’s website in PDF format for free, these seem to be very short (4 page) museum newsletters about which events and exhibits are going on each season. If only I were in Fukuoka… Still, they’re quite colorful, and there may be good tidbits in there.

In any case, this 120 page volume I have, was published right around when the museum first opened. Not quite a “number zero issue”, it seems to be a stand-alone publication. It is subtitled 「海の道、アジアの路」 (translated by the museum as “Ocean Ways, Asian Paths”), which is also the guiding theme of the museum’s main exhibition halls. From what I hear, rather than having separate galleries for Japanese, Chinese, and Korean art/history as many museums do, the Kyushu Museum focuses on cultural exchanges, and mixes Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, Southeast Asian, Okinawan, Dutch, and Portuguese material together in the galleries in order to illustrate this colorful and exciting aspect of history.

This ‘mook’, as the Japanese might call it, the publication being not quite a “magazine” nor a “book”, includes lots of interesting looking articles, focusing on a number of related themes. Various aspects of Japanese and Asian history as viewed from the perspective of the sea. International trade and cultural exchange. Countering the ‘sakoku’ idea that Japan was closed to the world, and detailing the exchanges that occurred during that period through Matsumae (Hokkaido), Tsushima, Nagasaki, and Satsuma/Ryukyu, trading with the Ainu, Korea, China and the Dutch East India Company, and China respectively. Articles focusing on Kyushu’s Jomon period heritage. On Okinawa. On Kyushu as Japan’s gateway on the world. And all accompanied by beautiful images in brilliant color.

I wish I could share the whole book with you. I feel weird talking about something and then saying “if you really want to know what I’m talking about, you have to buy the book.”

What really amuses me about this is that in the years since leaving the art museum, I have become extremely interested in all of these things. In Kyushu’s history and its role/identity as an international gateway. In the Kyushu National Museum. In Japan’s pre-modern and early modern international trade. In maritime history. In Okinawa. To have happened upon such a wonderful publication before ever knowing that this was going to become such a passion, without having been able to read much of the contents, and without ever having looked at it in the interim… How lucky!

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Picked up the January 07 issue of waraku yesterday at Book*Off in New York. Not the greatest selection, nor particularly pleasant prices, but still awesome that the Book*Off exists at all. And, now and then, one lucks upon a great find.

I was actually looking for back-issues of the magazine 「をちこち」 which I now realize is published by the Japan Foundation, not a normal periodicals publisher, and is thus that much harder to find. But, 和楽 waraku is also an excellent find – a thick, full color magazine of art, style, and design which I was introduced to by Hanna, who said that it is available only by subscription and not by individual issues at the bookstore.

I was disappointed to discover that the special article about Nakamura Kanzaburô was in a special supplement no longer attached to this used copy… but it does contain a nice article about shrines, with some gorgeous photos, another series of articles about Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shônagon, in anticipation of the 1000th anniversary of the commonly accepted date of the Tale of Genji’s completion, and a short walking tour guide of the 7 Lucky Gods sites of Kamakura. I look forward to reading it, though I know that I have a gazillion things to read and may not actually get through it any time soon.

On a side note, I am happy to have gotten my hands on the special China issue of National Geographic from this past May. It too has fantastic photos, and articles on a variety of subjects, offering a fascinating peek into today’s China – not just the pollution, the corruption, the Olympics, the Tibetan problems, but stories about life in rural ethnic minority villages, in the fast-lane of Shanghai life, an article dealing with the pressures placed upon children in China today, and the rapid cultural/social change that the country has seen in the last decade or so and continues to experience today. Just one more magazine I wish I had a subscription to.

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