Archive for the ‘Events’ 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.

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.

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.


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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The Tumblr blog When You Work at a Museum posts wonderful, hilarious gifs every day. Having worked at a museum, and being someone who hopes to work at one again, I love these light-hearted pokes at museum life.

A recent post kind of irked me, though. It is titled “The public program has been over for 30 minutes, but the entire audience is still hanging around for some reason.

I’ve worked at museums, and worked events, and I very much sympathize with and understand the desire to be done when you’re done, and to be able to close up and not be forced to linger on. Museum staffers work full days, 9-to-5, if not more, in addition to then staying late to prepare for, set up, and run these events. And for those in certain departments – e.g. Film, Performing Arts – they do this day after day, and of course they’re tired.

But, at the same time, whether as staff or as a visitor, I find that very often I want to talk to others about the experience, to maybe meet others who share my interests, and to otherwise participate as a member of a community. Going to an event and leaving immediately afterwards without talking to anyone is not a way to be or become a member of a community, or a “scene” (e.g. “the NY contemporary art scene,”). Now, I know that museums often cannot afford to provide food & drink (and the labor of setting it up & taking it down) for a reception after every single event, but, all I’m saying is that those events where I got to meet new people, reconnect with familiar faces, share my reactions or thoughts, share in my interests with others, maybe get to ask the staff/curator/performers questions. There’s nothing like a museum event to make you feel like you’re “in,” like you’re a part of something. And there’s nothing like getting kicked out of a museum event with no opportunity whatsoever to talk to anyone about it, to make you feel like you’re an absolute nobody, like you are not, and never will be, a member of any kind of inner circle with that institution.

Tumblr user librarykris responded “From my opinion as an audience member, the measure of how good something is is how long I want to hold on to the experience and stay in the space.” To which the OP responded with some comments I’ll address a bit below. But, there’s more to it than that. I think there is another side of this – it’s not just about wanting to savor the experience, or to have the experience itself last longer. It’s also about wanting to talk to others about it, sometimes especially wanting to talk to the staff, the speaker, the performers. It’s not just about engaging with the art, or the ideas, the presentation, but it is also about engaging with a community, feeling one is a member of the Museum of [insert name here] community, an active, engaged, included member of some circle, some group, some community. It’s about feeling that one is engaging with, or be(com)ing a part of, the art world.

An art opening at the Y Center Gallery in Honolulu, May 2010.

The OP then also says “The above attitude is especially annoying when inconsiderate jabronis think that a museum is the same place as a bar, club, cafe, etc.” How is a museum /not/ a place for such things? Have you never been to an exhibit opening? A museum is precisely the place for such things. Think about the stereotypical art gallery opening. Think about the conversations you have at such an event. Think about how it feels to engage in such an event, to be enjoying art and mingling with others who also love art, to feel like you’re part of a community, an art community, part of the art world in whatever way.

People who love Edo period painting, or contemporary Chinese art, or whatever it may be, all together in a room together all at one time, drinking wine and eating cheese and crackers and talking to one another about the art? People who know me, who remember me, who actually want to talk to me about these topics? I want in. /That/ is the museum experience I’m looking for. The lecture/performance/screening is just the first half – I want to get to know these people; I want to hear what they have to say, their insights and impressions, their recommendations of other shows and artists and events. Think of all the people you’ve met as a museum professional, the wonderful interactions you’ve had, the intense conversations about art or theatre or travel or cultural politics, the recommendations and suggestions and introductions you get from your coworkers on a regular basis. Even just as an intern, I have gotten to see artworks up close, to meet big-name artists, to talk with curators, collectors, and others and have great, stimulating conversations – this is what we get to do behind the scenes at the museum, or in the halls of academia, but there are tons of others – collectors, fans, museumgoers – who want that experience too. And if we show them a lecture, or a show, and then just kick them out, we are only providing half of that.

So, yes, I know better than most just how long hours you work. I know you’re tired, and I know you have to do it all over again the next day (or the next week). And I do very much sympathize. But, running an event and getting to relax afterwards and enjoy the reception, talk to people, be a member of those circles, is the best part of the job (that is, so long as the high-roller donors aren’t obnoxious pricks). Unless, that is, you prefer paperwork and coordinating logistics for a fun event over the fun event itself?

Look, I know what kinds of conversations go on behind closed doors, and we do all need to let off a little steam sometimes. But, please don’t go ranting in public (on the Internet) about your patrons being inconsiderate ignoramuses. We are not just randoms. We are not merely patrons or visitors, filling seats. We are not the anonymous masses, to be simply ushered in and then ushered out. We are artists, students, scholars, collectors, aspiring museum professionals, or just avid museumgoers & lovers of culture – in short, many of us are precisely the same kind of people that you, as a museum professional, as a lover of culture yourself, should want to mingle with, relax with, chat with. You might be surprised at who you’ll meet, the connections you’ll make, the conversations you’ll have. After all, isn’t that what a museum is all about? A space for people to come together and be part of something special, to feel welcome in a space where we can share in our love of art & culture.

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I’m looking forward to visiting the Metropolitan Museum within the next few days, chiefly to see their exhibit Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom, which promises to be a precious rare opportunity to see Korean National Treasures. But there’s always so much going on at the Met, and right now they also have a small exhibit on obelisks, in conjunction with the upcoming conservation of the so-called Cleopatra’s Needle, which stands just outside the museum in Central Park. Allison Meier of Hyperallergic.com posted this fascinating review today (complete with lots of pictures):

When Cleopatra’s Needle was commissioned by Pharaoh Thumose III around 1450 BCE for the Heliopolis sun temple, the island that would be Manhattan was mostly woodlands. Yet through an unlikely journey the 69-foot, 220-ton length of red granite would arrive in 1880 in New York City and become one of the icons of Central Park. Now the obelisk is needing a little care after centuries of movement and decay, and in anticipation of the Central Park Conservancy’s Spring 2014 conservation project, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is hosting an exhibition on the obelisk, which rests just outside its walls.

Cleopatra’s Needle actually isn’t just an exhibition on that one ancient artifact, but a small exploration of obelisks as a whole, from their symbolism of the sun in ancient Egypt, to monuments of power for Rome, to connections to the past in the Renaissance, to their proliferation through Victorian cemeteries and Egyptomania. The exhibition is only two small galleries, but it still gives a rather thorough overview of the major points of obelisk lore. …

Read more at Hyperallergic.

Photo my own, taken Dec 19, 2013.

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Caroline Kennedy, the new ambassador of the United States to Japan, traveled to the Imperial Palace this past Tuesday to formally present her credentials to the Emperor.

What I find incredibly interesting is the manner in which she traveled to the palace. In a horse-drawn carriage that looks like it could be straight out of the Meiji period, complete with horsemen and footmen in gloriously anachronistic dress. Is this typical? Is this standard? Have all US ambassadors, or all ambassadors from any country, to Japan, traveled to offer their credentials in this same manner?

It’s an Imperial carriage, as indicated by the gold chrysanthemum crest on the sides; Kennedy, like Ulysses S. Grant more than 130 years ago, is being received and welcomed like royalty. So, that’s certainly interesting, and I’m sure there’s something to be said for Japanese attitudes towards JFK and the Kennedy family. I’d love to see that something said, explained out, by someone more thoroughly familiar with the subject. Maybe comparisons to Grant’s visit in 1879, or descriptions of the history & tradition of the ceremony surrounding previous ambassadors’ presentations of their credentials. Instead, I am somewhat surprised, and disappointed, to see that, of the admittedly few news articles I have read on the event, none make even the vaguest attempt to address the history of this practice, or its symbolism or significance. What political/diplomatic symbolic message is Japan sending to its citizens, to the world, to Ms. Kennedy, by having her ride in this sort of carriage? What does it mean, what does it signify, indicate, or represent, that this is done in this style, in this manner, rather than any other form? What message does it send that this ritual is draped so extensive in the aesthetics and forms not of any other period, but specifically of the Meiji (or perhaps Taishô) period?

I love ritual and performance, tradition and culture, and I love that they’re not doing this in an utterly post-war late 20th century sort of way. Black Towncar, everyone in suits, whatever. Boring. And, I absolutely understand why they wouldn’t have Ms. Kennedy ride in, for example, a more traditional Japanese palanquin. Not only does that send totally the wrong message about Japan’s modernity, but, there is no way that a palanquin ride is comfortable. Not to mention that any kind of palanquin, sedan chair, or rickshaw would be just asking for accusations of Orientalism on Ms. Kennedy’s part, and rightfully so, as it would so easily resemble and be compared to images of Western women (and men) riding around 19th century Japan, China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa, etc., in such conveyances. Thankfully, those involved seem to recognize the discursive dangers inherent in such an option and have avoided them.

Image from the Daily Mail. (c) AFP / Getty Images.

However, Meiji was a period when Japan was doing its best to emulate the Western powers, in a wide variety of ways, in order to prove itself modern, including the adoption of European diplomatic/political protocols and elite/aristocratic material culture. “Look at us, we’ve got horse-drawn carriages! And floofy hats! And these cool waistcoats! Look at us, being modern! Just like you!” Except that today, these protocols appear a full 100 years out of date. Or at least they do to an American eye; I guess I can’t really speak to what a Brit might think, given the period style of much of the ritual & ceremony that goes on over there. Are we still not past that feeling of a need to prove ourselves “modern”?

Furthermore, by recalling Meiji, this recalls a period which, for all its many positive and laudable attributes, was also a period characterized by political structures and culture which directly laid the groundwork for the ultra-nationalist, imperialist, militarist, and expansionist politics & culture of the 1930s-1945.

Of course, such associations are only one possible interpretation. I am merely playing around with some of the possible connections that might be drawn. … I have no doubt that all in all this was simply meant in order to add an additional layer of pomp and circumstance, of aristocratic tradition, and, for all the potential suggestions of absurdity, or of negative connotations, there are some wonderful resonances with, again, for example, the visit of Gen. Grant, drawing a wonderful link to the past, and recalling a time when the material culture of politics & diplomacy was considerably less blah.

Image from NBC News. (c) Imperial Household Agency of Japan via AFP – Getty Images

I eagerly look forward to a more scholarly in-depth analysis, perhaps from an art historian. Japan Focus?

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A colophon by Dong Qichang (d. 1636), on a handscroll painting formerly attri. Dong Yuan (d. 962). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

*Stanford has placed online what appears at first glance to be a very nice guide to Classical Chinese. It starts off by going over the basics – that a given character can have many meanings, and play the role of multiple different forms of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb) depending on where it is in the sentence, and the incredible importance of paying attention to character order (i.e. “word” order). The guide then goes into further detail, explaining individual particles as it leads the reader through selections from famous classical texts, including the Analects of Confucius and the writings of Mencius.

Now that I’m beginning to look through it, I’m not sure how effective self-studying from this guide, alone, might be. But, as a reference, it could be quite nice. And, especially since what little I know of Classical Chinese I learned by way of Japanese, seeing it explained, in English, without that Japanese intermediary, could also be helpful (though, weird as it might sound at first to say that I’ve studied how to read Chinese in Japanese, actually, since Japanese uses the same characters, I think it’s actually more understandable, at least for me, than going straight from Chinese to English).

*Meanwhile, on a completely different subject, as I mentioned briefly in my previous post, there was a massive spill, or leak, of hundreds of thousands of gallons of molasses into Honolulu Harbor, on Sept 9.

Right: Not a picture of the spill, but just a photo I took, some years ago, of the city.

Though molasses is, essentially, just sugar, and though one might therefore assume that it shouldn’t be such a problem, an NPR report explains that the molasses somehow pulls the oxygen out of the water, suffocating the marine life. And, since it sinks to the bottom rather than floating on the surface as an oil spill would, it is far more difficult to clean up. Plus, this particular part of the harbor is relatively shielded from ocean currents, meaning that the natural flow and exchange of water between the harbor and the ocean will not, on its own, clean up the spill for years. One report I read, though I can’t quite remember where, said it could be decades before the ecosystem revives back to the levels it was at before this spill, a spill which some are calling the worst environmental disaster in the history of the State of Hawaii. A Hawaii Public Radio report by my friend Molly Solomon tells us that Matson – the company running the molasses pipeline – knew about the leak a year ago, but did not take proper action to see it fixed; the report discusses briefly the possibilities for liabilities, lawsuits, or fines that Matson may face.

*Much thanks to BoredPanda, for sharing with us a series of photos of Costumes of Still-Practiced Pagan Rituals of Europe. I quite enjoy traditional costume, especially festival performance costume, from many different cultures, but, while we may enjoy “privilege” in a great many other aspects of our lives, one place where those of us of European descent get shafted is in having a national costume, or traditional dress, to dress up in when occasion allows. It’s beautiful and wonderful to see these examples of a deeper, older, cultural tradition still practiced in Europe which goes beyond the multitude of things that, beautiful, interesting, traditional, cultural though they may be, are unavoidably seen as utterly typical, normal, today.

*Switching gears yet again, The Justice, the student newspaper at Brandeis University, reports on the myth & history of Usen Castle. Now, I know this may be of little interest to anyone who didn’t go to Brandeis, but, here’s the story in a nutshell: we have a castle on campus. It is of course not a “real” castle, and, I think, looks it, when you consider the conical fairy-tale turret-toppers and such. But, it’s still really cool, and I’m still sad I never got to live there (it’s a sophomores-only dorm, and I didn’t make it into the Castle in the housing lottery that year).

Getting to the point, as at any college campus, a number of rumors and stories swirl around Brandeis campus about the true origins and history of the castle, some of them perpetrated and perpetuated by admissions tour guides and other official sources. In most accounts, the castle is said to have been based on a specific castle in Scotland (never named, or specified, in the story), which the campus architect saw and liked, but to which he was denied entry, and as a result, the castle looks like a castle on the outside, but follows a less than standard plan on the inside. I’ve also heard stories about it being formerly used as an animal hospital, and about Eleanor Roosevelt having lived there at some point. This week’s Justice article banishes these myths and gives the real story.

*The BBC reports on a recent large-scale public art project in which the silhouettes of 9000 bodies were created on a Normandy beach, a simple but powerful visual reminder of what took place there in June 1944, and just how many people lost their lives on that beach. As one of the organizers/artists is quoted as saying, “”All around us there are relics of the Second World War, but the one thing that is missing are the people that actually died.”

The silhouettes were created simply by disturbing the sand within roughly body-shaped stencils – the disturbing of the sand itself, I realize as I write this, gives a sort of symbolism of the project disturbing the beach, disturbing the peace the beach sees today, disturbing its current modern-day identity, and disturbing our own, what’s the word, our glazing over in our awareness of the battle. Of course, everyone knows of the storming of the beaches of Normandy, but how many of us have ever really given thought to the level of the violence, the number of the bodies, right there on that beach?

We are forced – powerfully, violently – to remember. And then, the tide came in, and washed away the entire artwork.

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What wonderful fortune to get to be here in Okinawa for the annual 10,000 person Eisa Festival! I’d long thought about eventually getting to see such festivals in Okinawa – along with the Naha Tug-of-War and the Dragon Boat races – but, really, what luck that it should happen to land within the one week that I’m scheduled to be in Okinawa this summer.

Unlike the time I nearly missed Gion Matsuri by waking up “late” at 10 or 11am (in my defense, it was a weekend, and I was out until 4 or 5am doing karaoke ^_^), this festival didn’t start until quite later in the day, and I’d been in the habit of getting up at 7 or 8 anyway. So I had the whole morning to poke around Shuri in search of obscure historical sites. I had certain ones in mind, such as the home of this or that famous courtier, but in my attempts to find them, I got quite turned around, and spit out again just outside the castle, which is not where I was trying to be… But, then, with the kind help of a friendly local fellow who called out “Hello! Good morning!” to me as he washed his dogs in his garage, I was pointed down a little side street loaded with wonderful little historical sites, including some I’d been having some serious difficulty finding on my own.

Right: These sections of stone walls are all that survive of the residence of Sai On (1682-1761), one of the most celebrated, and arguably one of the most influential government officials in the history of the Ryûkyû Kingdom. But, that anything survives at all is, I think, pretty impressive. Whether the plot is a parking lot because people aren’t rebuilding on it out of respect (or ‘orphaned’ property ownership issues) or something, I don’t know, but it certainly does help one to clearly see the size of the plot.

Some, disappointingly, consisted of nothing more than a sign, plaque, or marker, meaning I have nothing really to show (e.g. on this blog, or on a Wiki article about the site) for it. But, even so, it was great to get a little bit more of a feel for the layout of Shuri as a town/city. After all, if you visit only the castle, only the big-name sites, and temples and such, it becomes easy to forget to think about basic questions, such as, where did the nobles/aristocrats live? And in what sort of homes? Even if nothing survives of the homes themselves, there’s still something pretty cool, pretty impressive, about being able to find/know, roughly, the historical location of a given aristocrat’s home. And while it’s very difficult to really get a good sense of the feel, the atmosphere, the patterns of aristocratic life at that time, given how much the streets have changed, even so, there is still something to be gained from seeing the size of the residential plots, the arrangements of the streets, how far even prominent officials’ homes were from the castle, and how they’re interspersed with natural springs1, shrines, temples, and the like.

Adani-gaa-daki, an utaki – a shrine of the native Ryukyuan religion, neither Shinto nor Buddhist – in Shuri.

My adventures in Shuri worked out wonderfully, ending just in time for me to grab a delicious lunch of Okinawa soba and then make my way back to Kokusai-dôri for the festival. I missed perhaps the most exciting and photogenic part, as all the different eisa groups parade down the street, looking like a just incredible crowd, all in brilliant colored costumes and such. Not because of time, so much as simply because I didn’t understand how this all worked, or where the best place to stand would be. But, so it goes. I’ll know better for next time.

This was followed by the main event of the festival, performances by a series of eisa groups, simultaneously in a number of locations, mostly along Kokusai-dôri. I was quite confused at first, as one group would perform, and then a whole bunch of other groups would pass right by, without performing for our particular space, leaving huge gaps of 10-20 minutes during which, if you just stayed in that one spot, it looked/felt like the whole parade, the whole event, had just dissipated, ended, fallen apart. So I walked up to another spot, and caught another performance, but then things would dissipate in that spot, and a whole bunch of other groups would walk right past, while yet another group would start performing where I had been to begin with. I had asked one of the staff how it all worked, and whether I should stay in one place or if I should walk up, or if there were any better or best place to try to watch from – he’d said to just stay in one place and I’d get to see everything. As it turns out, I finally figured out after a few hours, it is impossible to see all the groups, all the performances. If you stand at Spot 1 (just outside the Mitsukoshi, let’s say, at a certain point along the street), you’ll see groups A, C, D, and F, but not B or E. Groups B and E don’t perform at Spot 1 – they just walk right past, skipping it, to perform instead at Spot 2. And if you walk from Spot 1, to Spot 2, in order to catch them, well, now you’re missing Group C or D, back at your original spot.

As a result, I spent most of the day hearing really exciting-sounding performances from down the street, only to miss out on actually seeing them as they skipped over my spot and walked right on past. Of course, by the time I knew their performance sounded exciting, it was already begun, and too late to walk over there and check it out – and, by the time I saw them pass by my spot, rather than stopping, it was already crowded enough at the next spot that I couldn’t simply walk over there to see them. Oh well.

Somehow this post has gotten terribly negative and kvetchy. But in truth, it was a great time, a really incredible show, and a wonderful experience. As I first began walking up Kokusai-dôri, just as the festival was starting, and I heard & saw the last group in line performing, tens of them all in matching costumes and with (nearly) perfectly matching choreography, performing to a lively Okinawan song I liked (though, lol, I actually can’t remember what it was at all), I have to admit, I nearly cried, I was so excited to get to be there to see this. And, yeah, sure, most of the groups performing songs I know and love were the groups whose performances I missed, and yeah, the one group I’d actually heard of and would have gone out of my way to see – Ryûkyû-koku Matsuri Daiko – I didn’t realize that’s who it was until it was too late, and so I missed their performance too.

But, oh my god, were the kids cute, and the teens and grown-ups passionate and talented and clearly having a ton of fun. And I think the really key part that I enjoyed the most is that this is not a professional performance – it’s people being people, having fun, supporting one another, coming out to see their friends’ groups, cheering on groups from other towns who they don’t know, chatting with other groups and sort of connecting within that common bond of being eisa performers, and sometimes even joining in dancing with one another’s other groups. I saw parents cheering on their kids, a man spraying kids with a hose to help them cool off… In some groups, you could see those in their teens or 20s actively helping and guiding and encouraging the little ones, and while many of the groups were really quite excellent, well-practiced and well-prepared, there were a lot that were also just having fun and doing their best – a lot of groups from elementary or middle schools, and at least one from some kind of home for those with mental disabilities.

And the groups came from all over the island (some maybe from other islands? I’m not sure), all with different colors and costumes, and different styles. Some played relatively traditional eisa music, some danced to more popular songs – some even used mainland Japanese mainstream J-pop songs; some had more of a powerful, strong, martial arts element to their style; and some had live sanshin playing, though most had it piped in.

All in all, it was just wonderful to get to see eisa performed here in Okinawa, at the 10,000 Person Eisa Festival, along the Kokusai-dôri. I’ve been fortunate to see and enjoy many eisa-style performances at the Hawaii Okinawa Festival, which of course only whet my appetite for more, and made it all the more fun to recognize songs or dances… seeing this really added to my experience of yet another side of Okinawan life and culture. Not just the historical sites and museums, the restaurants (food, cuisine), and the very much aimed-at-tourists live performances at shimauta bars and the like, and most certainly not only the US military bases issue, but, this too. People practicing two or three times a week with their neighbors or their classmates, at middle schools and temples and community centers, and getting together to parade and dance and perform for one another, all together, in an annual, “traditional” festival celebrating Okinawan culture and identity.

PS I somehow suspected that, at such a big-deal event, I just might run into someone from East-West Center, or Akisamiyo! (the EWC/UHM Okinawan students group). I’d heard stories of EWC people running into one another, unexpectedly, halfway across the globe, and I figured just maybe it would happen to me. And what do you know, it did. Ran into one of the guys from the Akisamiyo! group, here for a term or two as an exchange student at Ryûdai. Small world. Or something.

(1) If you’re not just talking about the castle, and big sites like that, but are looking for smaller, backstreets sorts of historical sites like I was, about half the sites you’ll find on a map, or in wandering, are springs. Personally, with apologies, I find it difficult to get too interested about this. But, they clearly played a major role in both the practical lifestyle and spiritual geography of the city.

Once again, all photos and videos are my own. You can see all my Okinawa photos from this trip on Flickr.

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Ack, did I really never post about the symposium at which I presented this past February? And the associated small exhibition I co-curated? I’m ever so sorry.

Here’s the story. Some time ago, the National Museum of Japanese History (国立歴史民俗博物館, or Rekihaku for short) was planning to do an exhibition on processions and parades in Early Modern Japan, and decided they wanted to borrow a handscroll painting from the University of Hawaii collection to include in that exhibit. The University of Hawaii – and most especially Tokiko Bazzell, the Japan Specialist Librarian – decided to take advantage of the opportunity, to hold our own small exhibition, in conjunction with the return of that scroll painting from its being loaned to Rekihaku. I’m sure there were all kinds of behind-the-scenes considerations and negotiations, and then, completely unexpectedly, I found myself being invited to co-curate this small exhibition, alongside my MA advisor, Dr. John Szostak.

As I was graduating, I was not able to be on campus to work hands-on directly with the objects, or with the gallery, in order to help figure out what would fit where, or anything like that. But, having handled some of these objects before in person, and drawing upon my MA thesis research, I was able to contribute gallery labels, to suggest which sections of the scrolls to show, etc. It was an absolutely privilege and pleasure to get to have my curatorial debut be in Hawaii, and to be an Okinawa-related exhibit; and, of course, it was a privilege and pleasure to work with Tokiko-san and Prof. Szostak on this.

Long story short, the exhibit, entitled “Picturing the Ryukyus: Images of Okinawa in Japanese Artworks from the UH Sakamaki/Hawley Collection,” opened at the University of Hawaii Art Gallery, and showed from February 7-22 this year. While the Rekihaku exhibit featured a wide variety of early modern processions and parades, from sankin kôtai daimyô processions and festival parades to Korean, Dutch, and Ryukyuan embassy processions, ours focused in on just Ryukyuan (i.e. Okinawan) subjects. The highlights of the exhibit were a 1671 handscroll painting depicting a Ryukyuan embassy procession in Edo in that year, the oldest such Ryukyu embassy procession scroll extant, and another scroll, this one sixty feet long, and in much brighter, bolder colors, depicting a 1710 procession. The 1710 procession is of particular significance as a mission which set new standards in dress, ceremonial, and form of the embassy, precedents which would stand, to a large extent, for the remainder of the early modern period. Plus, it’s simply a wonderfully beautiful object. Given its incredible length, however, we were only able to show a small section.

Here is me talking about the exhibition:

(Backup video link)

Other objects in the exhibition included a scroll painting depicting Chinese investiture ceremonies in Ryûkyû and related subjects, copied by the Japanese artist from a Chinese source; a set of colorful woodblock prints depicting a procession of the 1832 embassy, the year of a so-called “Ryûkyû boom” – 1/4 of all popular publications produced in the early modern period were produced in that year; and, finally, a Meiji period accordion book depicting “customs and folkways of Okinawa.” All beautiful objects, and all just wonderful to see on display like that. I’m sad that the exhibit is gone, existing now only in our memories, in installation photos we’ve taken, and in the various documents we produced in the planning and preparation. But, fortunately, all of the objects are still quite visible and accessible online, either at the Sakamaki-Hawley Collection Digital Archives webpage, or through the UH Library’s Treasures from the Libraries webpage.

You can see all my photos of the installation here.

The exhibition was accompanied by a set of public lectures, and a symposium, held in conjunction. Prof. Kurushima Hiroshi from Rekihaku, Prof. Szostak, and myself, presented on a panel alongside two of the truly top experts in Ryukyuan history, Prof. Yokoyama Manabu of Notre Dame Seishin University in Okayama, and Prof. Gregory Smits of Penn State. It was kind of nerve-wracking to be up there along with such prominent scholars, but was really quite pleasant, and extremely informative, in the end. As they say in Japanese, taihen benkyô ni narimashita 大変勉強になりました.

I apologize to not summarize or comment upon the talks here, as I have been doing for the AAS talks I attended last month. But, many of the talks, associated PowerPoints, and even video of the presentations, are now available online, on a UHM Hamilton Library webpage. These will all eventually be added to the University of Hawaii University Repository, also known as ScholarSpace.

And, the full audio from my talk at the symposium can be found via the Samurai Archives Podcast. In the next episode of the podcast, I talk with C.E. West, Shogun of the Samurai Archives website, about the presentation, the symposium, and the exhibit. Now that the following third and final episode in the series is available, I’ve added the link to that here.

Meanwhile, you can also read about the Rekihaku exhibit here; I myself did not get to see the exhibit, which sounds like it was spectacular, but, at least I’ve managed to get my hands on the catalog, and a mighty beautiful catalog it is, for just 2000 yen.

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