And now for a long intermission

It has been a few months since I’ve last posted in the ol’ blog but its been up until recently a very busy and fast paced rollercoaster ride back in the homeland. Now the slow down has left a sizable hole needing to be filled. The problem is not finding things to fill the void but simply what to fill it with first.

There is a great bit of story telling in the past months that needs to be done but to cut down on length and to support the power of brevity here is a bulleted list of things learned and experienced in chronological order:
  • People in the states are surprisingly wider and taller then I remembered
  • Not driving a car for a year doesn’t mean you forget completely and crash randomly
  • I have a surprisingly large amount of junk I don’t feel connected to at all
  • Reverse culture shock is as real as it is invented
  • Unpacking, finding a place to live, moving, registering for classes, taking care of all finances and preparation in under half a week is possible
  • Snow in April is disorienting
  • Sounds and smells seem to spark memories more profoundly then photos
  • I do have a future in animation
  • Living without Internet for 10 weeks is doable and healthy
  • Klingon and Esperanto have some things in common
  • Riding a bike while trying to take a photo can end in epic failure
  • Linguistics is not as scary and soul crushing as the term “Universal Grammar” makes it sound
  • Learning basic programming methods makes me want to get down and dirty with syntax and some languages I’ve dropped
  • I have yet to come to terms with my grandpa dying
  • 20 years is a long time in car years
  • The greyhound bus is a great place to meet “interesting” people
  • A 21 year old bottle of wine is surprisingly good
  • your childhood neighborhood may be sprinkled with drug fairies
  • Doing things is the cure for talking about doing things
  • I can survive without a car in Olympia
  • House parties at the Finger Complex rock!!!
  • Finding a part time job is a full time job
  • Riding a bike while trying to talk on a cell phone ends in epic failure
  • In search for a job, non-profit volunteer work happen to fall in my lap easily
  • Walking is about ¼ the speed of riding your bike somewhere
  • I probably saw over $300,000 dollars worth of fireworks this 4th of July
  • Any form of role playing games are mind gratingly addictive

It goes on but that is a good chunk of my life in the past few months. In the next couple of entries I’m going to wrap up the Tokyo trip and try and get on to the everyday happenings of life. Stay tuned.


Tokyo Trip 2008 (part 5): Some Literature on Gothic

The Yokohama Museum

Introduction to the exhibit

Taking a break from the scheduled museums, I decided to visit one that was off my radar and out of the way. Just south of Tokyo is a town called Yokohama well known for its China town and ports. There I found the Yokohama museum that had a special exhibit titled Goth. The title alone caught my attention and convinced me that I needed to see it. After visiting the exhibition I got to work writing out my opinion. The following is lifted directly from my notebook with a little editing.

"Gothic art what does it mean? The introduction to the exhibit does a good job of describing what the history behind the word Goth comes from but it seems to miss the mark or trying to label artist as goth that may have influenced the sub-culture movement of today. In short, there is confusion as to whether the exhibit is trying to encapsulate the emotion or intention of the sub-culture of goth or instituting and pigeon holing artist as “goth”. An example being, danse macabre, or dance of death, an idea that speaks to the fragility of life and how death unites us all. An idea and art style that has much older and deeper roots then the modern fad goth is today. The first exhibits were from artist from Mexico using this style which seemed a little out of place with the pictures of Japanese youth. I don’t know if you could say the German artist was goth either and the Japanese artist who had the wonderful animation display. The biggest attraction was the pictures of Japanese youth and Pyupuru, who documents her sex change through her art. Pyupuru’s exhibit especially tries to be loud and over the top on purpose with portraits of her covered in meat, mud, paint, etc. The main piece in her exhibit includes a gaudy wedding dress with the train of the dress filling up the entire room. There is no head but the dress is modeled with arms with one extending up giving the viewers the middle finger with a giant drop of blood hanging from that finger.”

“The pictures of Japanese youth as well provoke more questions then answers. Why is it they objectify themselves as dolls, beasts, etc. It seems to be mostly women and I guess Lolita means European doll dress. Seeing the photo shoots of the girls in their bedrooms dressed up makes them look as if they were objects in the room. It seems to say a lot of things about the objectification of women in this culture that has a tendency to put woman on a pedestal. I can’t really tell if dressing up like a porcelain doll is in defiance of this objectification or an absolute acceptance of it. The exhibits are thought provoking and it speaks to some of the realities of the culture and the time period in a way that people don’t want to accept. If gothic as it was originally defined encapsulates words like barbaric and dismantling then Goth culture today is a dismantling of the self?? More thought may be needed but dating and having friends who considered themselves goth and having my own perspective of what the term means I see it as a normal understandable lifestyle choice. However the exhibit and the way goth is presented as a gaudy and striking fashion statement puts the whole thing on some other worldly, outsider perspective. In the society of Japan these people are considered the freaks of society. There is a place in Tokyo where people go just to take pictures of people dressed up in gothic clothes hanging out on the street, playing games and doing activities for the singular purpose of creating photo opportunities for the many visitors. There was one exhibit at the very end where they took pictures of people who visited the museum who appeared or identified themselves as being goth. From my experience with this word in lower education I considered the exhibit to be a little degrading. It would be like if someone where to do an art exhibit on “Jocks” or some ill contrived social grouping of people. While the rebellious youth culture is there it is very apparent to me that what goth means in Japanese has taken a departure from what it means to me and possibly people in the US.”

I noticed no matter how much I edited this there has to be some kind of introduction or knowledge spreading of what exactly is goth. I felt that this is what the art exhibit was trying to do and yet in its flaws I can’t quite think of a way to describe it. The word goth itself isn't enough to describe all the different types and sub-types of fashion and one of the exhibits in the museum tries to explain. At its heart, the word “goth” to me embodies a fashion movement as well as a type of lifestyle. At the least I can show you some pictures of the type of outfits you will find in portions of Tokyo with galleries here, here, and here. Most of the people in these outfits you will find in a place called Harajuku just hanging out with loads of people taking pictures of them. The district is well known for its abundance of fashion shops all catering towards youth. There is an amazing article about this area and its fashion movements here.

My final statement in my notebook I think still stands but as far as questions they are still in abundance.


Tokyo Trip 2008 (Part 4): Words that bleed emotion

Side door to the museum

The third museum I visited specialized in calligraphy and is dedicated to Japan’s most famous modern poet and calligrapher, Aida Mitsuo (相田みつを). I had read some of his works from a book I borrowed from a friend but didn’t truly realize it was the same person until walking through the halls of the museum. His writing leaves a huge impact in a striking and bold way. I found a visitors advice on the museum pamphlet to be very intrinsic to the displays. “You can spend two hours here. One hour to look at the writings, and another to reflect on them and life”. Mitsuo's writing is designed to move, to calm and give the reader a parsed, shucked, and unwrapped view of the human experience.

I have yet to find much written about his life in English but here you can find a brief introduction.

Most of his works are easy to understand even for early Japanese language learners and his message is directed towards all people of all ages. His writing style has almost a child like appearance to it but is also well crafted. I think its amazing the truth that comes out in the words but also the strokes of the brush. It looks like every stroke is done with an intense pain or love. That emotion seems to be magnified by the simplicity of his writings. Take for example one of my favorite pieces titled road.

(this is my attempt to translate it)
A road exists because I walk it;
If I don’t walk, the weeds will grow

Personally, this piece says so much about my life and about my failures and successes. Some of those failures were simply not getting up to walk my own path. In other words, the simple act of doing can often lead to the route of success. Our paths are not always clear and often times we have to start our own paths straight into the unknown. It’s inspiring while also being based in truth, or more accurately, Zen philosophies (something that seems to be rubbing off on me these days).

All of the calligraphy pieces have plaques next to them with an English translation. Most of them are pretty good, some are a little off, and others you begin to realize how the calligraphy as an art form conveys a majority of the emotion in each work. There is actually an article on a translator of Mitsuo’s works and some great supplemental reading about Mitsuo here.

Traditional Japanese calligraphy contains specific schools of teaching and styles, some of which are unreadable to the average person. Mitsuo’s work is a departure from traditional writing styles. He also writes in a very personal voice as if he is talking to the reader, something that isn’t found in the traditional schools of calligraphy. Besides all this, his work emphasizes the importance of calligraphy as fine art and its ability to convey emotion.


The museum also contains works by a man named Hoshino Tomihiro (星野富弘), a gymnastics teacher who suffered a severe accident paralyzing him from the neck down. His works are a combination of watercolor painting and prose verse, which he draws completely using his mouth. His works are equally as inspirational for his words and his determination.

One of Hoshino's works

There is sort of a journey that takes place in his works with an internal struggle against himself and his condition that gradually shifts to an appreciation of life and all the simple, beautiful things nature has to offer. His works are an example of the harmony that seems to play out between text and images I often see in Japanese art. The images of flowers are in tune with the themes of the poetry and Hoshino’s handwriting. This is the beginning of one theory I have come to ponder. Does the combination of written word and visual arts constitute for fine art? Also, Does Japanese and Asian arts have a different viewpoint of combining written word and visual art from Western art history? Something I hope to explore and share more about here soon.

After leaving, I took a long sit, pondering over what I had just experienced and came to the conclusion that the works of this museum definitely leave you to reflect on the transience of life.

I’ll leave you with one of Mitso’s most famous pieces.

a lot of ways to translate this one but I'll write two just to be safe, wish I remembered what they wrote in the museum
"Just Human", "Human Being"


Tokyo Trip 2008 (Part 3): ADMT, a return to commercial art

AD Museum Tokyo

Second on my list was the AD Museum Tokyo which I had been looking forward to visit since I had discovered it online. It also reawakened my previous studies in Japanese advertisement and my appreciation and understanding of print ads. With the addition of a history of advertisement in Japan video and displays I felt the experience was enlightening.

The museum was located in a complex hard to explain with words. The directions to this museum were also complicated requiring a walk through giant under ground passageways. The museum itself had a very modern feel to it as if you were walking through tight hallways at an airport. The first display in the museum was modern newspaper and print ads. One of the conclusions I had made from Japanese and American advertising class was the importance of producing a good feeling or a ‘wow’ factor rather then comparing the product against a competitor. That conclusion I felt really showed itself in a lot of the print ads displayed in the museum. One of the ads was a series of seven different ads for several different companies all containing the gimmick of being cut out origami, providing entertainment as well as advertising a product. The ad while creative and inspiring also shows how the idea of service has a big role in advertising in Japan. The idea that if you give the customer the benefit of the doubt and treat them before or during an initial purchase they will feel appreciated and willing or even obligated to continue purchasing from said company. To better understand what I mean by service I’ll give you a few examples of what I experience on the daily. When going to the local bar I often receive a small dish before ordering as an added extra service. At the store when buying a drink sometimes they offer an attached toy or key chain, just for buying the product. Walking down a busy street you can often see people handing out free tissues. After leaving the local ramen shop I was handed a plastic fan for apparently no reason at all. With the exception of the first example these are all forms of advertisement. The tissues often come with leaflets for business or services, the toy has the brand name of the product it was attached to written all over it, and the fan, an advertisement for the ramen shop with the full menu on the back of it. These are all clever ways of providing service to the customer improving customer relations and creating new avenues for advertisement.

A brilliant ad for Nippon Express, a transport and logistics company follows along a similar sales pitch of providing a service. The kicker for the ad is huge museums and galleries are kind enough to lend masterpieces of art to Japan for displays. The ad then provides several famous pieces and sculptures on a black background with detailed explanations for each piece to educate the reader. It’s just crazy and heart warming enough to work. The company is showing they care about their customer’s intellectual well being and appreciate art. In addition their dedication to global communication and information of which their company is based upon. So far with the idea of service and the previous ads there has been a trend to dedication or loyalty to the customer that comes up in Japanese advertising and marketing, a new idea I hadn’t discovered in my advertising class last spring.

As the displays continue, the museum begins to focus on the history of advertisement starting with the Edo period. I was quite surprised when the displays were of ukiyo-e style prints and the museum referred to them as the “prehistory” of advertisement and mass media. I had known that ukiyo-e played a role in advertising but not to what extent with little to know information about it in my readings. There seems to be some confusion over the type of print that was used for advertising. The museum also refers to these prints as 錦絵, nishiki-e which seem to refer to ukiyo-e style prints that were made in the Edo period or created in the city of Edo. Some displayed referred to them as ukiyo-e while others did not leaving it a little confusing as to what is the difference. What’s very fascinating about the ads is the overtly subtle way of advertising the product. In the case of a store, one print has three beautiful women standing in front of a store with the sign for the store being the advertisement. For most of these pieces the art supersedes the ad. One example is ukiyo-e used to advertise kabuki plays. I actually got to see modern usage of this at the kabuki theater in Eastern Ginza.
probably not ukiyo-e but paintings done in the style in front of the kabuki theater in East-Ginza

Much like the movie posters of today these advertisements were eye catching with the focus on a particular scene or actor. I wonder with all of this subtly in ads (another example being several toothpaste ads I saw with no showing of teeth) at the beginning of Japan’s advertisement history and a focus on art selling a product has a connection with the way advertisement works in Japan today. I want to believe that is a factor but more research is needed.

Moving on there was a pop art display along one wall showing cultural items from the 1920’s to 1990’s. Along side this were print ads ranging the same time periods. The drastic change from wood block prints to paintings to graphic design elements by the late 50’s early 60’s coincides with the era. A fairly shocking piece was one done in 1944 during World War II entitled “Save petroleum, blood of arms”, that strikes an eerie resemblance to the Rosie the Riveter poster. It’s different in a lot of ways in that the woman on the picture does not have her sleeves rolled up nor is she smiling. The pose the working woman is in strikes me as docile, obedient, almost worried, with her shoulders hunched up to her ears. I don’t know if the purpose was to show the ideal woman or to show soldiers what they were fighting for. It is a very interesting war propaganda poster that has a lot to say about the time period and working women during the war.

The rest of the museum focuses on television ads and then back to recent print ads. The museum labels modern advertisement in Japan as focusing on recycling resources and protecting the environment. The appeal of these ads are humanitarian but also work hard to capture that “good feeling” while still others go for shock value. One shows the earth as being a bowl shaped pan with the words for the ad rising like steam. It was one of the more surprising ads because of its message and image style being more like that of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, trying to be a little frightening. I thought it to be a little unrepresentative of all the modern ads out today but it is true that a good portion of ads seen on television are about energy efficient air conditioners and heating units. It was also nice to see advertisement displayed in an objective manner where as Internet sites focus mainly on the bizarre and crazy ads that come out of Japan. They’re interesting too and they prove the point that the ad designer was going for the feeling and “wow” factor.

From a historical standpoint, the way print ads convey a message better then they have in the entirety of Japan’s history. Even if sometimes that message is a little vague. I think by showing modern ad’s at the beginning and ending of the history of Japanese advertisement you can see the evolution of clarity in design and message in todays ads.


Tokyo Trip 2008 (Part 2): Charlie goes to The National Musuem of Modern Art, Tokyo

This was my first stop on my explorations of museums and it turned out to be much larger then I could fully experience in a day. With a special exhibit and three floors of permanent to semi-permanent exhibitions I only had time to see about three fourths of the museum. The title of the special exhibit was called: わたしいまめまいしたわ現代美術にみる自己と他者 to paraphrase “I am dizzy: Seeing the self and the other through contemporary art.” The museums website takes this title and simplifies it to “Self/Other”, accompanied with this excerpt explain the exhibits purpose: “Today, in the chaos of diversity, how can we pay attention to "the other," the one different from oneself, and accept its values? To begin with, do we "understand" ourselves? This exhibition presents contemporary works from the collections of the national museums that explore new relationships between "the self" and "the other," by reviewing each of the acts of seeing, recognizing, and questioning the subject of such acts.¹ The exhibition was then broken up into sections with corresponding titles.

Parts of ID 400 by Sawada Tomoko 1998²

One of the pieces that really stood out was a photography piece titled “ID 400” by Sawada Tomoko, an artist who lives and works in Kobe. The piece consisted of four large portraits consisting of one hundred 2x2 photo booth pictures. All of the photo’s are of the artist however, she has a very different appearance whether it be make up, clothes, hairstyle, or accessory in each photo. The appearances range from extrovert and introvert looking from global to distinctly Japanese and spanning several time periods. You slowly realize that the pictures are all of one person. By doing this the artist reveals that there is an essence that cannot be changed no matter how much your personality does. The added uniqueness of these photos is the use of a photo booth to create the piece. Living in Japan you become very aware of the amount of photo booths that exist in close proximity to one another. Some for business, passports, and professional use like the one she is using here to the wildly gaudy, cutesy backdrops and design elements of Purikura are all a big part of the culture. Appearances make up so much of who people are in Japan that I felt this piece had a lot to say about how appearances are actually not everything. Here is an excerpt from an interview on this piece.

“The camera for ID pictures, that is my studio, stands inside the parking lot located along the Kobe Subway. As if it were made specially for me, there was a restroom in front of the studio. There, I continued to disguise myself as many different persons as possible, ten to twenty different characters, by wearing the clothes I brought, until the last train passed on the railway. Since it was a public restroom, other people came to use it. My works are in monochrome, so it is not so noticeable, but my make-up made me look unusual. Once a little girl came in and she froze the moment she saw me. Also, a young woman came in and instantly rushed out as if she saw something she should not have seen. I scared away many people.³

Hearing this I think back to the times I’ve gotten strange looks or had kids point or run to hide behind their mothers. Amusing nonetheless, her efforts to shed light on the contradiction of personality and identity were well executed.

Another piece from the special exhibition was titled “A Needle Women” by Kimsooja. four films projected on four walls of a small room play footage of a woman that appears to be of Asian decent with her back to the camera as a steady flow of pedestrians walk towards and away from the camera. The shot is set up almost exactly the same in each film but takes place in four different cities; Mexico City, Cairo, Lagos, and London. After a few seconds you see a steady pattern with the pedestrians making up a palette of a particular race and color that contrasts with women standing in the center. This piece was alone in the final section titled “The self gazing into the self facing society”. The room and the films playing all at once in every direction was disorienting but at the same time put me right in my shoes. I am a Caucasian male living in Japan. The most striking part of the film was the reactions of the pedestrians, as they looked to the women and then to the camera in mild confusion. In London, very few people paid attention to the lady while in Lagos, people crowded around her and openly stared at her if she was from another planet. Simply executed, this piece was very deep in conveying messages of how we see others, how others see us and how we see others viewing ourselves. It seemed to ask are we really that diversified and if so isn’t realizing and accepting our differences important in accepting ourselves. There were lots of artwork that I didn’t get to mention but for my first museum experiences I was feeling very aware of myself and not thinking so much about my intent of discovering some historical influence in modern art (which I did find but found to be not worth mentioning for this first entry).

The permanent gallery was a much more ideal place to explore the historical aspect of modern art in Japan as each section of the gallery was divided into time periods and art movements. The museum focuses on the Meiji era and the huge impact western art had on Japan in this time period. One of the most striking and moving pieces in the collection was Kannon Bodhisattva Riding a Dragon by Harada Naojiro done in the style of Western Christian religious, oil on canvas paintings. Being introduced to the style in question it is an extremely bizarre and startling thing to see. Done in a time period when western art forms were being introduced and encouraged in the Meiji era, this painting blends the iconic forms of Buddhism with the religious paintings of the west that forms to make an eerie fantasized version of the subtle and humanistic forms found in previous centuries. This was also during a time period when Shinto was declared the official religion of Japan and old ties between Shinto and Buddhist temples were torn down and some ancient relics destroyed⁶.

The last piece I will mention was done on what is called a byoubu (屏風⁷)or traditional folding screen. Painting on folding screens is a tradition that goes back 1200 years and had a variety of themes and styles throughout that long history. “A Thousand Cranes” by Kayama Matazo⁸ is a modern screen painting that uses an old medium to create a stunning modern painting. The composition consists of a detailed realistic view of the moon with a flowing wave of outlined shapes of cranes with abstract lines and shapes penetrating them. This is one of the most modern pieces done in the 1970’s and I would say one of the more original pieces that seemed to look for inspiration through traditional Japanese art forms. However, with a design and attention to detail that makes it very modern. It was an incredible balance between a traditional Japanese art form and an original modern piece.

From my first museum visit I was indeed dizzy and worn out from walking all day. I was starting to lose faith in my objective to discover the past in the modern. I was much more interested in mulling over the messages and ideas I had started pertaining about the self and others. With only a book and my own impressions, I wasn’t really sure I could come to any conclusions just yet. I did learn though the collection that the emphasis and push for western art in the Meiji Restoration led to a return to traditional art forms and after mastering western forms of art, a search for the self and a nation through those art forms. Just like in the special exhibit the search for the personal self and how to identify yourself with society is an ongoing theme in today’s world.

1. Special Exhibit 1F January 18 - March 9, 2008. The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. March 6, 2008
2. Sawada, Tomoko ID 400. 1998, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
3. Raho, David "The Many Faces of Tomoko Sawada" The First Word Blog. 17 February 2007. viewed 6 March 2008
Kimsooja A Needle Woman 1999-2001 Mexico City, Cairo, Lagos, London 2000-2001. The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

5. HARADA Naojiro Kannon Bodhisattva Riding the Dragon 1890. Gokukuji Temple, on loan at The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
6. Sadao, Tsuneko S. and Wada, Stephanie. Discovering the Arts of Japan: A Historical Overview. Kodansha International 2003: pp 252-254
7. "byoubu-e" JAANUS Japanese Architecture and Art Net User System 2001. viewed 6 March 2008
8. Matazo, Kayama A Thousand Cranes 1970. The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

Tokyo Trip 2008 (Part 1): An Introduction

Friday February 15 I left for Tokyo on a night bus with my friend Rick (that's her nickname). It was her first time to Tokyo and she was a little nervous going alone so I decided what would be the harm in going to Tokyo for one last time. Her plan was to visit with a friend so I started making plans of my own.

Ever since I had come to Japan I had been fascinated about Japanese art history and modern pop culture developments. It was unfortunate that I had not realized this earlier in my stay but I thought if there were ever a good time to try and explore these things a trip to Tokyo would be a great opportunity. I planned out a trip to go from Tokyo and travel back to Kobe visiting all the museums and galleries I could find along the way. The focus would be on Ukiyo-e, an art form I had longed to discover and research. How was Ukiyo-e produced? Why did it gain such popularity outside of Japan and what art movements did it influence in the west? How does this art form mark the birth of mass media in Japan and what influence does it have on Manga and pop culture today? Carrying all these questions, I was soon to find answers hanging in portraits in quiet hallways.

Objective two in my museum adventure was to explore Japanese art history and to gain a better understanding of it through museum visits and reading text. I used the book Discovering the Arts of Japan: A Historical Overview for my research and will be referring back to it through out these posts with a focus on the Meiji and Edo periods. In the end, it became much more then a look at art history but instead a lesson in Japanese history itself. While visiting modern art museums I was on a keen look out for pieces that reflected a style or art form from Japan’s past, making notes as to what was modernized about it. In this way I hoped to understand how the past influences Japan’s art today.

I am fairly new to art critique and inquiry through museums. Only having a few experiences from previous programs and high school art classes, I hoped to also improve my analysis skills. I was readily aware that anything could happen and my goals and opinions, which I held tightly, could fly loose at any minute. For example I had wanted to visit museums in chronological order, but instead, started with Modern art working my way backwards. This turned out to be equally as revealing which I hope to convey in the coming days.

View Larger Map
here you can see all the museums with purple cameras for visited spots, P for scheduled but passed galleries, and blue markers for museums I intended to visit if there was extra time.


The days are just packed

Having been out traveling for the past two and a half weeks, I've finally come back to my home base in Kobe to settle for a moment while I take in my last few weeks in Japan.

Its hard to think that a year has gone by and I've only posted 28 entries in that entire time. Everything has happened so fast and with less then a month left in Japan its time to start unwinding and get a little more reflective. I have lots of people to say hello to before I leave and a heap of trails to blaze and paperwork to square away. It will be quite a challenge, but I hope to do daily or every other day entries here for the remainder of my time. Some will be short and sweet others long and crafted with an academic purpose in mind. I'd also like to say for those who have been reading, or even those who have just started reading, a big Thank You goes out to you.

To start off I'd like to recap on my Tokyo trip from last month, explaining the intent and experiences of that adventure. I'll be looking at art forms from the Edo, Meiji, and modern time periods and coming to terms with an experience that changed my view on Tokyo. Also, I'll be posting pictures and reflecting on my time with friends in Miyazaki. For those curious in what will happen to the blog after I return I plan to use it for my life. The series Learning Language Corner will probably see a revival and documentation of the ominous and somewhat hovering term "reverse culture shock" will be explored. Anything can happen and I'm looking forward to the uncertainties of these coming months.

I had a lot of strange and worrying thoughts about returning home but I recently found a quote that I had promised myself I would live by but just recently rediscovered it. With it I feel like I can do anything and the anxiety I've been feeling almost melts away. I'll leave you with this quote until a soon to come update. Until next time.

"Never be afraid of the beginnings or endings, embrace all life with joy."


Freed on a Fleeting Friday

A dog can has cheeseburger too: a photo taken from the Osaka design major school

Last Friday was the last day of classes at the University of Hyogo to which there was a very quite and dull hurrah from the students in general. Its sort of interesting that the School year ends in February and begins in April. It makes summer vacation seem so much stranger. What I mean by that is the school year as I’ve known it ends in summer and begins in fall meaning there is a definite break up between school years. However the college system here starts in April and ends in February making the college experience itself feels more fluid or constant. This is all good but then summer vacation seems strange and unnecessary. Not saying I would ever give it up though. The thing is you start school for a couple months and then in the middle of July you get a two month vacation in the middle of the school year. The year is broken up into semesters but how are you suppose to keep the energy and the mindset of being in the same school year and going to the same classes after a two month vacation? Anyways that's all in the past and the end of classes has opened my eyes to the handful of small realities I will face and should face. One of them being that I will soon be off this little island heading for the landmass across the ocean I call home. I think another thing was that being a student at the college and spending my time in classes there has left me with so many things left that I want to do. I wouldn’t necessarily call it regrets but the monotonous pace of school life and the piling on feelings of struggle and being lost in a familiar place were a giant relief to break free from. It was also a break I took rather violently because on the day of my final class I rushed to the station to be whisked away to Osaka.

titled : 菰野石仏 (2006)

piece titled: 申賀の里 (1989) (sorry, I'm not translating these)

My reasoning for going was I had been informed of an Art Museum there that I had been meaning to check out. My idea for this quarter has been to study the arts and to try and gain a vocabulary or understanding of how people speak about art in Japanese. I guess in a nutshell, and this could be said for most of my time here, trying to fill the desire to be lost and confused. I have spent a little time checking out museums and some of the older art forms but I wanted something that was a little more modern. Well if I had done my research properly I would have realized that the museum I was going to is for contemporary art. Not that this bad though, in fact it wiped a way a very strange general conception I placed on visual art in Japan. That cutting edge modern or pop art is oozing from all pores of the art world. This I have my study of advertisement and my trip to Tokyo to thank for this generalization I think.

The unique, not at all dangerous looking, Umeda Sky Building (photo courtesy of Google photos)

The show on display was of an artist named Muragishi. His work on display was breathtakingly realistic and his paintings had a very rough texture to them. I kept thinking that they were done with oil pastels or charcoal but was amazed to hear that some of the paintings were done with traditional Japanese brush and paper. I’ve never worked in that medium so I could only wonder as to how it was done. The curator asked me what I thought of the exhibition and I said back to him well actually I came here today to learn how to say such things. He was very kind and told me what he knew about the artist and talked about some of his work while also suggesting some other places to visit. The experience in general was refreshing and thinking from the start of this trip that I’d be studying art made me feel like I was finally returning to something I had left behind.

Browsing the gallery took a lot less time then I thought so I decided to do a little exploring in a city I don’t frequent very often. Being near the Osaka station you can see the strangely formed Umeda Sky Building. I had heard it is well known for its overrated and inaptly named “Floating Garden Observatory” and decided it couldn’t hurt to go and check it out. Getting there I passed through some of the industrial areas right next to the train tracks. It’s really a side of Japan that I’m very unaware of a lot of the time. The cackling/sleeping homeless people in public spaces are another thing. On my way there I took a double take as I spotted a little design college. I walked inside to look at their student gallery and snapped a few pictures.

When I finally made it to the Umeda building I walked inside and got in line for what I thought was going to take me to the top but instead brought me into something completely different. Apparently the building was having a museum display titled “Mysteries of The Human Body”. To give you an image of what it was like just imagine hundreds of people staring at dissected, trisected, and pretty much cut up cadavers put behind glass. It was amusing and fitted pretty well with my coming to reality thoughts of late. The exhibit makes you feel really self-conscious and well, human, bound by the limbs, organs and tools we are born with. However, it doesn’t answer why we are built the way we are or how that has seemingly nothing to do with who we are and what we do and in fact make those questions stronger. To see cadavers is an interesting event in itself because being the conscious reflective beings that we are we can recognize the mass in front of us as human but it no longer moves or functions like one. Therefore, looking at it we associate with a cadaver as if it were an object. So what about somebody you know? The difference between a living breathing person and a dead body is so earth shatteringly significant that its got me and a lot of the rest of the world believing that we have to be beings with souls. Just one of many reasons I might add.

Above the Osaka sky line

I finally got myself in the right direction and got to the top of the building, which produced another awesome aerial view of the never-ending city that is the OsakaKobe area. It was a good spontaneous day and I think there will be quite a few more before I make it back.


An interesting look at Internet plagiary (a look into my animation past)

I was browsing the net reading a friends blog and to their dismay saw their own work being stolen on the Internet or being posted without permission. That's when I decided to take a look down memory lane.

Back in 2004 I had enough stress to focus it into a recreational four month project that started as a whim and turned into a something less of a whim and more of a something? It started when I heard a strangely amusing song called Bunnies by Horse the Band. Next thing I know I'm making a kind of music video for it. The whole thing was completely spontaneous until the last half when I started story boarding it. When I finished I submitted it to a site called albinoblacksheep.com they liked it and posted it on their site. When I emailed it to the band they liked it as well and I got a free t-shirt and a CD and a pat on the back. That's about as far as it went. Here is the original piece.


I noticed though that it showed up on Newgrounds, another animation site


I initially was pretty angry and left some remark as to what I thought of them doing. After that initial anger I realized I wasn't that upset and was just merely surprised that someone had spent the time to take it and re-post it and claim to be the creator. With a little more checking there were several other sites showing it and even a youtube version of it.



Whats interesting to me is all the mindless comments about how one band is better then some other band. The second one is actually authorized and owned by the label company and they have it posted on their site with a flash version of it as well.


You'll notice the sound and the singer is completely different. I was asked to change it from the original audio to a recorded track they were using for their new album. I personally liked the original audio and singer and the youtube view counts might agree with me.

So I didn't write this to talk about plagiarism actually, since I never wrote any copyright onto this work nor really intended to. What really freaks me out is every time I watch it its like seeing a familiar stranger. From the second I submitted it and it went onto some website I began to feel detached from it. As if someone beside myself had made it making it all the more mesmerizing and surreal. As I become less and less in control of its path through cyberspace its like an organism of its own just floating around. I'll read the comments of where it gets posted and I'll see things like "make some more!" or even the surprising "hey this isn't the original its at albinoblacksheep and Charlie Daugherty made it!".

I think also I can finally look back and write about it with some perspective without saying things like "isn't it cool?" or "why on earth did I make such an abomination".

The project started as my second or third test with the program Macromedia Flash (before adobe bought Macromedia) and it was during the end of my third year of high school. I remember that time of my life being like many normal teenagers: miserable, defiant of authority, full of pent up anger, and being dragged through things which you don't want to do but have to. I kind of feel like this video was like a chance for me to filter that energy into something productive and also in essence bottle that teenager into something that would last. Some of the intentional and unintentional inspirations for this were, Looney Tunes, Nintendo, Life in Hell, Rayman, and a childhood filled with watching VH1 and MTV music videos.

The chase or the running conflict is something that I found to be very interesting and seems to be quite popular in the internet animation world. As you animate a character struggling to get away it begins to reflect your own struggle to animate the character. It is for the most part, a mindless ride, but I like to think there are things that convey some sort of meaning. For example the rabbit in a suit standing in a factory that appears to be making chocolate bunnies out of live ones. It represents the corporation and the fear of corruption; that they are only interested in making a profit off of other people. The stairway and the giant carrot can represent our goals, dreams, or a search for truth. There are times when we are so close to reaching it but for some reason a reality, some realization, or something along the lines of fate pushes us back down. In all honesty, I don't think this is something that needs to be talked about too deeply but I find something new in it whenever I return back to it. It was definitely a time when I had a much darker view of the world.

Looking back on all this has made me realize that its time to get my hands dirty again and climb those proverbial stairs and take a bite out of that carrot. What my next project will be I can't really say yet but I've already started the planning. Hopefully I haven't been away from this stuff too long.


北の方から明けましておめでとう A Happy New Years from up North (Part 2)

The lone picture I have from the New Years

So I said that it was going to be before the end of the month when I posted the second half of my new years experiences and well, I made it almost.

As we last left off we were at around New Years Eve. However, I would like to delay the ride and steer back a few days before that to explain a few more things.

One of the big mysteries I was wondering about even when I first visited my host family is how in the world do they keep their house warm in the winter? A better question to answer first would probably be why this thought came in the first place. Having a fairly traditional house, sliding glass doors surrounds the two front sides of the house and the rooms inside are partitioned by more glass and paper sliding doors. Well to answer the first question is you put a portable heater in every room. It was sort of cold but luckily I came prepared.

I had brought a toothbrush and everything but I was at the store with my host mother when she asked me if I wanted a new one. One of their family traditions is to buy new toothbrushes for the New Year, which I though was kind of strange. However I noticed there was a high amount of TV commercial ads for toothbrushes and wondered if it wasn’t a more widely spread custom.

I guess you could say this was part the thing that was talked about with a reluctant anticipation was 大掃除 (oosouji) or roughly “big cleaning”. It takes on the meaning similar to spring-cleaning although instead of taking place in spring it usually takes place on the days before new years. In other words, things that only get cleaned once a year get cleaned. From their explanation it sounded like we were going to be head to toe in dust, washing windows, and polishing old trinkets. Thankfully the cleaning wasn’t nearly as severe as it had been explained. The only really cleaning I had to do was change the paper on the sliding doors (襖、fusuma) to the kids bedroom, which were pretty tattered from what seemed like past fighting or fits of anger. The kids had fun punching out holes in the paper before we ripped it off. It is actually really tempting to poke a hole in one every time I saw those sliding paper doors in the house. As if I needed to test the strength of paper.

So on the rare occasion when the kids got the chance to obliterate their bedroom doors I could only stand back in awe as they completely destroyed the paper on four sliding doors within seconds. What moments before were almost perfectly good functioning doors (almost) turned into wooden frames leaving absolutely no privacy between the room and the hallway. I started thinking how fragile these fusumas are and that they’re design makes for a minimalist approach to privacy. They also come with a sense of openness and versatility in that you can easily move the sliding doors out of their tracks and there’s no way of locking someone out of the rooms. Well after four hours, a lot of flying paper, and some serious scrubbing to get the glue off from the previous paper we finished our cleaning.

Anyways, back on track to new years. On New Years Eve I was told that there would be some events and that lots of people and patrons to the temple would come and visit to literally “ring in the new year”. The night came and the snow started to pile up. I was asked to shovel the walkway to the temple and the house so people could easily access the temple. I noticed that there was a huge pile of wood in the middle of the grounds and around 11:00 a bonfire was started. People walking by proceeded to throw items into the fire and there was a huge container of items next to the temple that people fetched from and threw to the flames. I wasn’t able to figure out if there was a particular name for this fire but apparently it is tradition to burn charms and good look mementos purchased from shrines and temples over the past year. I had a lot of fun throwing things into the fire and threw a few of my own charms and fortunes I had purchased from various adventures. It looked like some one had thrown a computer into the fire which didn’t make sense; then all of sudden I’m helping to throw the giant container into the fire as well (apparently they had made a new container for next year). I stood there basking in the flames watching the snow swirl down not knowing what the exact time was and not really caring.

Soon, as more and more people began to gather the crowd started shifting away from the fire and towards the temple bell where my host father, dressed in his traditional priest robes began to recite Buddhist scriptures and those who knew them joined in. What I think is amazing is these sutra or scripture readings are not done in Japanese but in a completely foreign language. The bell is then rung 108 times. Everyone got a chance to ring the bell at least once. I’ve done a lot of research as to why this is and asked my host family but its somewhat complicated and multi layered in its possible meanings. From what I’ve gathered it is a counting up and renewing or banishing of all the earthly human desires of your past, present, and future life based on the teachings of Buddhism (trust me to come back to this some day and correct/improve this explanation). We then drank sake and I talked with old men about how they believed Hokkaido is a foreign country.

It was a really interesting new years and it was probably the first one I experienced in recent memory where I was not chained to the temporal countdown or the ever-aging Dick Clark. I have to say that the western idea of New Years revolves around a single moment. A calculated event where 12/31/xx 11:59:59 crosses over into a new 1/1/xx+1 12:00 am and Hooray! I won’t say that doesn’t exist here but it seemed that throughout my stay New Years in Japan is much more decentralized by preparing for the new year and then in the days following New Years expressing thanks for the previous year and best wishes for the year to come. It is definitely a holiday for family seeing that everyone I know returned home for New Years (but not necessarily for Christmas).

In addition I saw some familiar faces like Hashimoto Sensei who taught Japanese and Yoshi, the English teacher at the High school I visited two years ago. Yoshi took me out to a shrine, as it is customary to visit shrines in the days proceeding new years as a “first visit of the year” type ceremony. Again shrines are different from temples (shrine=Shinto Temple=Buddhism).

I spent the days after New Years playing with the kids (sledding in a graveyard anyone?) and helping with chores. When it came time to say goodbye I was really unsure of whether I’d see them again but it didn’t matter because the train wasn’t going to allow for elaborate farewells. It was great like always and it felt like home away from home.

Speaking of which, as of this writing I realize I have exactly two months until I will be traveling back home. Guess I could make the best of it.


北のほうから明けましておめでとう A Happy New Years from up north (Part 1)

As I'm slipping out of a nasty cold, I’ve been looking back at all the things I’ve done in the past year and thinking on how I’m going to remember it all in the future. I should mention that I feel like the memories of winter vacation are rolling away like scraps of paper in an updraft as I try to stumble and catch them.

I didn’t do much for Christmas except making dinner with a friend and eating it with out ceremony. I spent a good 9-10 hours making and sending New years cards to fill the hole of tradition and consumer buying.

I was invited by my old host family to come and visit for new years and watch after the kids to whom I happily accepted. This being my third time visiting them I was beginning to wonder what the appropriate way to act was or how exactly a relationship changes after no longer being so much of a guest. Well the difference I noticed seemed to be pretty profound.

The first time I visited the Amao family I was treated like a guest and just as I was about to leave back for home began to feel like a part of the family. The second time was like some kind of reunion. Everything seemed like a party and a celebration. It took a day or two to reconnect with everyone but it was definitely a different experience being able to converse more and interact in ways I couldn’t under the host family program (which essentially means relax). The third time however was just as if I was a part of the family and heard the term once or twice when I was with the kids 三兄妹 or three siblings.

They picked me up at my apartment to drive all the way up north literally from one coastline to the other. They had been visiting the grandparents for Christmas and so they were in the neighborhood.

I was met by my host mother, Masae, and as I got into the back seat with Yurika and Yoshihide they hurriedly pushed a gift into my lap telling me to open it. It was a belated birthday present, an awesome scarf, some cards, and pictures of the kids. The drive there was quiet and relaxed. We finally get to Toyooka and stop at a familiar yakitori (fried chicken) restaurant. My host father or Ryushin is a pretty popular guy being a radio personality and a Buddhist priest so we would often run into people who knew him. There were a few people who asked who I was and before I could say anything Ryushin replied, “Oh, he is my long lost son from America.”

While I was there I spent most of my time playing with the kids and helping around the house. I did learn the word komori (essentially babysitter) and would introduce myself as such to guest and strangers. I also watched more television then I’ve seen in a long time. Watching all the new years specials reminded me how addictive and out there Japanese television tries to be.

There were a ton of cultural and traditional events and foods that I got to experience and trying to remember them all and their meanings was enough to make my head explode. I’ll explain a few here for fun. A shimenawa is a braided rope that is usually used to indicate a sacred space and used for warding off evil spirits. For new years these are hanged from the main entrance of the house to ward off evil spirits. I got to hang this from the entryway basically because they needed someone tall to do it. The decoration itself was made of braided rope some leaves and some type of citric fruit attached at the top. There were similarly decorated pieces that were used for putting in your car possibly for safe travel.

The food we had was traditional in the sense that on New Years Eve we had Soba (soba means buckwheat) noodles or what is called toshi-koshi soba or “year-crossing” soba. After that starting on new years day we had Osechi, which comes in boxes that are stacked on top of each other. I got to help make some of the food for this dish. The tradition is that in the first three days of the new years it was forbidden to use fire for cooking. The food comes in three boxes partitioned off for each dish. Most of the foods have specific meanings everything from longevity to fertility to good health to good harvest. The food is served cold with a hot soup or what is called zoni served with mochi (rice cake). We ate the food for about 3-4 days straight but there was pressure from Ryushin to go out for dinner instead. Apparently its good food but everyone seems to get bored of it after eating it for about three days straight.

The meaning of separate dishes and foods was kind of shocking to me because well I can’t think of a single new years tradition that happens except for the countdown and the banging of pots and pans and that's if I’m at my parents house. Here in Japan with the tradition of food that goes back almost a thousand years and the importance of being with family the whole thing really feels like an event rather then anticipation for some moment to pass. You’d understand what I’m getting at if you saw the seven days of new years specials on TV after new years day. So it’s been half a month and I’ve gotten up to New Years Eve. Any bets it will take me another half a month to finish this? Don’t count on it.