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Posts Tagged ‘fukuoka’


After Kagoshima, I activated my Japan Rail Pass, and took the (relatively) newly opened Kyushu Shinkansen up to Fukuoka. The main purpose of stopping over in Fukuoka was to see a procession scroll held by the Fukuoka City Museum. I do wish that I had planned a bit better, gone over to visit Kyushu University, checked out their library, maybe met up with a friend/colleague or two. But, everything was just so up in the air. I focused on getting permission and arranging an appointment to see this one scroll, and then just figured I would take the opportunity to see the rest of the City Museum, the Kyushu National Museum, and whatever else I might happen upon.

The only other time I’d been to Fukuoka (visiting a friend for a weekend in 2008), I made the mistake of trying to visit the Kyushu National Museum on a Monday. I had forgotten that National Museums (and a lot of other places) are closed on Mondays. And I had heard such amazing things about this then very newly opened national museum, which supposedly had such new and innovative approaches to the way its displays were organized. So, I was glad to get to finally go and check it out.

The Kyushu National Museum.

Sadly, the Kyushu National Museum turned out to be quite the disappointment. Firstly, because unlike the Tokyo National Museum they don’t allow photography, meaning I couldn’t capture anything of the really incredible artifacts on display, which can’t be seen anywhere else.

These included a 1591 letter from Nguyen Hoang to the “Ruler of Japan” (i.e. Toyotomi Hideyoshi), which I actually blogged about a short while back. The earliest extant communication between Vietnamese and Japanese rulers, ten years older than what was until very recently believed to have marked the earliest such exchange, this letter was designated an Important Cultural Property in 2018. I researched and wrote about late 16th – early 17th century Japan-SE Asia relations in my first MA thesis, and for more than ten years now have been excited to eventually get to see some of these letters. But now that I finally have, I wasn’t permitted to take photos for my personal enjoyment, or to post here. I guess the best I can hope for is either that Kyûhaku will eventually change their policies, or that the object will eventually go on exhibit somewhere else, that does allow photographs.

A series of seals from Korea were also of great interest. Coming from the collection of the Sô clan, samurai lords of Tsushima, these seals have a rather special historical pedigree. By which I mean, I’m sure there are plenty of Korean seals out there created for all different purposes and which made their way around the world for all kinds of reasons. But these are some of the very seals which the Sô clan lords were given directly by the Korean court to use as authorization to trade. These are not simply examples of something sort of similar, these are the very objects I have read so much about, in discussions of Tsushima’s special position in the history of Japan-Korea trade relationships. The Korean court granted seals or tallies to certain groups and individuals, which they could then use to identify themselves as authorized merchants. The Ming court gave tallies to various samurai warlords for similar purposes, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the Tokugawa shoguns later gave “red seal letters” (shuinjo) to authorized merchants in a similar fashion. In fact, the 1601 letter which I mentioned above, exchanged between Nguyen Hoang and Tokugawa Ieyasu, discusses just such trade concerns and red seal authorization papers. Of course, any such system is going to lead to the creation of forgeries – fake authorization documents (or seals). Such forgeries appear prominently in discussions of Korea-Tsushima interactions, and so to see them on display as well was fantastic. No photos, though. Boo.

One more I’ll mention is a scroll painting by Sesshû, one of the most celebrated Japanese ink painters of all time, depicting “peoples of various countries” 国々人物図巻 and including beautiful and detailed depictions of Qing/Chinese individuals of a great many ranks or social positions, from King to monk to peasant.

Entrance to the “Cultural Exchange” permanent exhibits gallery at the Kyushu National Museum.

Sadly, the organization and design of the exhibition overall was quite the disappointment as well. I had heard wonderful things, that it was going to be so innovative. But unfortunately it feels little different from any “international contacts” and “cultural exchange” section of any other museum, just expanded somewhat.

The exhibits are organized only very roughly into any semblance of chronological order or by geographical or cultural logic. There is not much of a coordinated narrative, but rather just a splash of many different examples of exchanged. A few items related to red seal ships and Vietnam, a few related to the Sô/Tsushima and Korea, a model of a Chinese temple in Nagasaki. But no discussion of Korean or Ryukyuan embassies to Edo, or of Dejima or the Nagasaki Chinatown. At least not in as clear and explicit a way as in the British Museum, for example. And no sense of the overall history of interactions between Japan and any one other culture or country. Things aren’t really placed in a context. We get some Ryukyuan ceramics but no discussion of the embassies. Some items related to interactions with Vietnam, but no models or paintings of the red seal trading ships that constituted one of the central forms of interactions in the 16th-17th centuries, and no discussion of Ayutthaya or anywhere else in SE Asia at that particular time.

Overall, the entire thing is very scattered, very bara bara as they say in Japanese. Outside of large numbers 1,2,3,4, on the walls, there’s no real structure guiding you through the galleries – it’s all open plan and you’re left to wander around in no particular order, and thus within no particular structure of narrative order or context.

As cool as it is to have so many SE Asian artifacts on display, it doesn’t feel so revolutionary so much as it just feels like the Asia galleries of the Tokyo National Museum.

In some sections, objects from all over Asia are displayed together, with no context or framing device at all. In one room, they have a Gandhara Buddha, a Buddha head from Afghanistan, Goryeo & Sui Buddhas from Tsushima (very cool examples of very early cultural interaction), and a large bronze Bishamonten that’s apparently the only surviving bronze of its kind by the Ashiya 芦屋 foundry. But no labels saying “Buddhism appears differently around the world,” or “each culture’s Buddhist sculpture was influenced by others, including from as far away as Afghanistan.”. Nor anything about the history of Chinese and Korean Buddhist sculptures entering Japan.

I can see why they didn’t have a catalog of their regular exhibit, but only catalogs of “treasures of the collection”: because there is no real logic, no real narrative.

Portraits of the Kuroda lords and other artworks, at the Fukuoka City Museum.

By contrast, the Fukuoka City Museum was excellent. They allowed photos throughout most of the exhibits, if I’m remembering correctly, had lots of fantastic stuff on display, and followed a clear and structured chronological narrative.

Easily one of the most famous objects in the Fukuoka City Museum collection is a golden seal from the year 57 CE. The oldest object with writing on it ever found in Japan, it was a formal royal seal granted by the Emperor of the Han Dynasty to the ruler of a small kingdom called Na, based at that time somewhere in the general vicinity of what is today the city of Fukuoka. Who knows what happened to the seal for 1700 years, but sometime in the 1700s, a farmer found it (!?!?) on a tiny little island just off in the bay, near the castle-town of Fukuoka. In the museum today, the tiny seal, only about one or two inches square, is dramatically displayed in its own small room. Immediately afterwards are displays including 18th-19th century manuscripts writing about this discovery.

From there, the museum goes on to tell a thorough but not too overly-detailed narrative of the history of the area, in a very well-organized and engaging way, with lots of wonderful objects on display and good thematic divisions, gallery labels, etc.

They allowed photos of much of the exhibits but not everything, and for whatever reason I never really wrote down any notes while I was there. So I have nothing too deep to say, except that it seems a very well-done museum. I really love local history museums like this one, where they have a really grand worthwhile story to tell – the history of one of Japan’s greatest and most intercultural port cities throughout the pre-modern period, the home of a most ancient kingdom, and later of various palaces and castles of great historical significance, including becoming home in the 17th-19th century of the Kuroda clan, one of the great samurai families, who left behind tons of great treasures. We don’t learn nearly enough about any of this in, say, the National Museum of Japanese History or the Tokyo National Museum, let alone in our survey histories (or even our much more in-depth seminars or the like), and so it’s wonderful that here it is, a museum telling this story.

The Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, was another exciting stop. I had never actually heard of this museum before, but as it turned out it was just down the street from the place I was staying at.*

Once I learned that there was an “Asian Art Museum” specializing in modern art from across Asia, I got excited that it might be some Nihonga, Yôga, Guohua, and the equivalents across the region. Maybe it’s just purely because I had an MA advisor who specializes in such things, but I’ve really grown quite interested in that period towards the very end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th when Japan, China, and I presume Okinawa, Korea, and elsewhere as well, began engaging with “modernity” in art, wrestling with whether to make their own traditional modes of art “modern” in some way, either making them into “national arts” or “national traditions,” or ditching them in favor of Western styles and modes of art (which were seen at the time as obviously more “modern”) and adopting that as the new national art. And all at right around the same time as much of Europe was in fact leaving behind such expert masterful realism in favor of various modes of “modernism”, beginning with Impressionism.

In any case, there was not to be found any such discussion or display of issues of modernity or modernism at this museum. Here, “modern” really means “contemporary,” as in contemporary art of the last decade or two or three, meaning a very different set of types or styles of artwork than Nihonga or Yôga. Which isn’t a problem – it was still very cool.

Still from Yamashiro Chikako’s video piece, “Your Voice Came Out Through My Throat” (2009).

In fact, to my surprise, the very first work in the gallery was by an Okinawan artist. Yamashiro Chikako (b. 1976) is an Okinawan video artist. In her 2009 piece 「あなたの声私の喉を通った」(“Your Voice Came Out Through My Throat”) – I’m sorry I haven’t been able to find the video online – a survivor of the Battle of Okinawa tells of his experience, and his voice is heard even as we watch Yamashiro’s face, mouthing (seemingly speaking) the words. Complete with her tears and facial expressions. At one point, she stops talking and just cries, losing her composure at the thought of these horrors, as the voice continues describing them.

I really appreciated the way that Yamashiro’s work was displayed. I had been in Okinawa just a few days earlier, and I really felt – really got the feeling – that this is pretty much just how it would have been shown in Okinawa too. Catalogs for key recent exhibits of Okinawan contemporary art, including Okinawa Prismed and Okinawa Bunka no Kiseki, were placed for visitors to read, alongside catalogs specifically about Okinawan women artists. Yamashiro’s work was displayed very straightforwardly, without exoticization, I felt.

And the Asian Art Museum allowed photos! Very surprising for a modern art museum, and especially for one in Japan. Truly, a most welcome thing.

Modern art from across Asia is shown, not country by country, but by periods and themes. I was a bit disappointed to not see more Nihonga and Yoga, but the great range of stuff from across Asia is pretty great in a different way.

Still lots to see in Fukuoka, though. I’ve got to go back sometime.


*Incidentally, a nice place worth staying at. Sadly, I didn’t remember to get photos of this place, or to take good notes either. But from what I can remember it was extremely clean – that white, bright, new aesthetic that I just don’t understand why the business hotels with all their brown don’t aim for. I had a small room all to myself – bunk beds, if I remember correctly, but I guess you can book the room rather than only booking by the bed. Small but perfectly clean, good showers/bathrooms down the hall. The whole place had a slightly funny nautical theme, like you’re staying in a modified spaceship or cruise ship or something. I dunno. But in any case, they also had a nice sunny common room on the top floor. I’m not super into socializing with other hostel-stayers; I’m a bit too old for that partying backpackers sort of vibe. Or maybe I’m not too old and it was just never my thing to begin with. But, free wifi, plenty of tables, a nice big kitchen up there. And just a good, bright, clean, aesthetic. Not gloomy or claustrophobic like the business hotels. Plus, WeBase Hakata is pretty conveniently located – only a couple blocks from the subway, the Asian Art Museum, and a major theatre venue.

All photos my own.

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Arne Kalland, Fishing Villages in Tokugawa Japan, University of Hawaii Press, 1995.

In his discussion of fishing villages in Chikuzen province, Kalland provides an almost dizzying degree of detail about Tokugawa era fishing techniques and equipment, what kinds of fish were caught, and how they were used or prepared, and also about the complexities of economic logistics, tax structures, and regulations pertaining to fishing in Chikuzen. This book is surely a profoundly valuable resource for anyone studying Tokugawa period fishing villages, fishing, and the like, for the incredible level of detail he provides on a wide variety of aspects of fishing life. And, as such, it really fleshes out our picture of Tokugawa Japan, covering a very significant yet often overlooked sector, beyond the cities, beyond the samurai & townsmen, beyond even the agricultural peasantry.

However, for my particular project, since the Ryukyuan missions merely passed through these villages, I think Dusinberre’s brief Edo period chapter may be more directly applicable than Kalland’s entire book; in that brief chapter, Dusinberre mentions more about Korean missions, where they stayed while in Kaminoseki, how many houses they took up, and other key aspects of the logistics and burden of reception of these embassies than Kalland does in his entire book, mentioning next to nothing about inns, the harbor/port reception of any kind of official visitors, or the urban side of fishing villages otherwise. Kalland’s book is immensely valuable for one thing – for those interested in fishing villages – but I wish there existed an equally detailed, extensive, book on commercial port villages, more directly connected into networks of trade and travel.

That said, the one chapter on corvée labor (kako) could prove rather useful for my project, as Tokugawa systems of corvée – how people were called up, what types of tasks they contributed to – remain among the lacunae of my knowledge. Here, Kalland reveals that among the chief types of labor villagers in coastal villages were obliged to provide was, simply, the contribution of their boats and their labor for the transportation of officials and their associated cargoes. Though Kalland only speaks specifically of Fukuoka domain, it is easy to imagine, or extrapolate, that similar systems probably prevailed in other domains throughout much of the realm. Suddenly, we get a much clearer idea of how sankin kōtai missions, and Korean and Ryukyuan embassies, as well as any number of other official travels, were conducted: through considerable official appropriation of villagers’ boats and bodies. The numbers Kalland provides are a bit difficult to wrap one’s head around; that the reception of the 1748 Korean mission cost Chikuzen villages somewhere in the range of 120,000 man-hours worth of time/effort certainly makes an impression, suggesting the incredible magnitude of the corvée burden, but it does not give such a graspable, understandable, impression of the impact upon an individual fisherman, or upon a village. Still, combined with the figures and information given by Dusinberre as to how many houses in Kaminoseki and neighboring villages were taken up by Korean missions, we are able to begin to get some sense of the scale of the imposition.

Okinawan fishing boats on display at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. Probably somewhat different from what they would have used in Chikuzen, but this is the closest thing I happen to have among my own photos.

Kalland’s focus on Chikuzen province (or Fukuoka han), however, presents some challenges. As demonstrated by numerous scholars, Mark Ravina in particular, Tokugawa period domains functioned in some important ways like (semi-)independent countries, and varied dramatically in their policies and political, economic, and societal structures and functionings. Thus, it is difficult to know how much of what Kalland shares here can actually be taken to be indicative of economic structures, etc., in any other province. Where the likes of Roberts, Sakai, McClain, and Dusinberre, writing on Tosa, Satsuma, Kanazawa, and Kaminoseki respectively, are to one extent or another clear about how their respective cases are indicative examples or atypical exceptions, Kalland’s engagement with this issue is lacking. He is neither sufficiently explicit about how or why Fukuoka might be an exceptionally distinctive case (as Satsuma would be in a variety of prominent respects), nor explicitly argues that his findings should be taken as applicable to the rest of the archipelago, leaving the question open and vague. As he describes, in many Chikuzen villages, fishermen did not actually own their own equipment, but used equipment owned by an amimoto, an entrepreneur who basically did the investment into the equipment and kept a good share of the return; or fishermen entered into net cooperatives, sharing the costs of the equipment. Did these amimoto and net cooperatives function similarly in other provinces? Did they even exist? Even without going into detail about other provinces, Kalland might have at least discussed whether anything he detailed was or was not typical for the archipelago as a whole. Was the domainal administration of Fukuoka more or less regulatory than in other provinces? Were tax rates particularly high, or particularly low? Were amimoto or net cooperatives particularly powerful or numerous, more so than in other provinces? And if so, why? What about Fukuoka’s location, or about the wealth/prestige of the Kuroda, made economic, social, and political structures regarding fishing exceptional, or typical? This sort of approach, as discussed to one extent or another by Sakai, Roberts, Ravina, and Dusinberre, would have dramatically enhanced the accessibility and usefulness of Kalland’s text.

Echoing my comments on Dusinberre and Amino, however, Kalland’s emphasis on fishing villages, and his arguments against seeing Tokugawa Japan as merely a dichotomy between urban merchants and rural farmers, are of great value in combating a conception which ignores coastal & maritime activities entirely.

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