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."