Monday, March 11, 2013

Onsen in Winter

This beautiful photo is from the Takaragawa Onsen. Enjoying a hot, relaxing soak in the onsen while snow piles up around you is a "must-do" when in Japan. Don't you agree?

Onsen

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Taking A Look At The Classical Fighting Art Of Yabusame

It is a little known fact that before the samurai of ancient Japan incorporated the sword into their martial arts training, the samurai practiced the classical fighting arts of the bow. The Japanese martial art of shooting a bow with incredible accuracy while on horseback became known among the samurai as "The Way of the Horse and Bow". In the true fashion of the Japanese culture, they no doubt took a cue from the Mongolians and improved what another culture had to offer.

The bow has become a ritual rather than a practical instrument in Japanese martial arts training. Introduced to the culture in ancient times, it was different from the European bow from which it was derived. The main difference is the handgrip.

In Japanese classical fighting arts, the handgrip of the bow is placed closer to the bottom of the bow tip rather than halfway in between. This makes the top section of the Japanese bow slightly longer than the bottom for a different type of feel.

Up until the 4th Century, archers were considered infantry and traveled on foot. It wasn't until much later, during the 10th Century, that the bowmen took to horseback and martial arts training in the bow became an elite sport of the samurai.

From 1192 to 1334, the Kamukura Period, archery on horseback was used as a part of the samurai's martial arts training to keep them in shape during peacetime.

Over time, this form of archery went from a form of martial arts training to a highly ritualized Japanese martial art: the art of Yabusame. It was believed that each time the arrow struck its target, the energy of the hit and the courage of the rider would be transferred to the audience, and most of all, the gods.

Yabusame today is a very serious ritual among the Japanese. The classical fighting arts of Japan all have something to do with ritual. In fact, there is not one aspect of Japanese culture not bound to tradition or ritual.

Yabusame takes the Japanese martial art of archery and sets it above all others, even that of the sword. This ritual is so sacred it is frequently performed on special occasions reserved for visiting dignitaries, royalty or presidents. At one time only the most skilled warriors were chosen to be Yabusame archers. This was, and still remains, a great honor.

Yabusame, one of the classical fighting arts, is still recognized in Japan. While only two schools in the country continue to teach Yabusame (Ogasawara and Takeda), there are still many skilled students carrying the tradition.

This Japanese martial art training skill still manages to entertain people during festivals and celebrations throughout the country. Though its use is considered more ritualistic and impractical, it will continue to have an appeal for many decades to come.

Knowing the art of martial arts is an asset for protection. Get more useful information about classical fighting arts from Mike Selvon's portal, and leave a comment at his martial art blog.









Monday, October 29, 2012

Japanese Historic Woodblock Prints

Woodblock Print
Unknown woodblock print from the 19th century

japanese woodblock
Tamamo-no-Mae, the evil kitsune of Japanese legend. Woodblock print by Yoshitoshi, from New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts. (1889-1892))

Ukiyo-e woodblock print by Kitagawa Shikimaro, Japanese Edo era: 1600s-1800s

Woodblock print from the mid-1800's by artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi, original currently located in the Brooklyn Museum

Utagawa Toyokuni's Edo period Ukiyo-e woodblock print

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dominic Walsh Choreographs to Japanese Mythology in Uzume

The set-up:
This past weekend, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater presented the world premiere of Uzume, a collaboration with Asia Society Texas Center that showcased the talents of taiko master Kensaku Satou and DWDT staples Domenico Luciano and Hana Sakai.
The execution:
Uzume is inspired by the Japanese myth of how light was brought back into the world. When the storm god Susanowo wreaks havoc on the earth, his sister, the sun goddess Ameterasu, becomes distraught and hides herself inside a cave. There is no convincing Ameterasu to leave her sanctuary until she is captivated by a strange noise. The sound is Uzume, the goddess of the dawn, dancing madly on a wooden tub. Intrigued, Ameterasu leaves her cave, thus bringing light to the world of darkness. It's no wonder that Walsh has turned to this story for inspiration; in this narrative, it is dance that brings light to the world.

The movement is spellbinding. Luciano and Sakai emerge from the washi set design as if they were breathing life into inanimate matter. Their bodies in the opening sequence are mangled and disjointed, each gesture accented with force, each turn of the head punctuated by a spasmodic pulse. Luciano's long body is perfect for the classical maneuvers and familiar poses of ballet that make up half of Uzume's choregraphy. But his magnetism is also a result of his superb attention to detail; what he conveys with his fingers and hands is more than what many dancers are able to convey through their whole bodies.
One of the most exciting sequences is a solo by Sakai that requires her to bourree to the crescendos of the drum. While her feet move in rapid torrents, her upper body contracts and extends in unnatural, yet beautiful, shapes. She dances with verve and supernatural purpose, a swan possessed. The costume design intensifies the ballet/Japanese dance fusion of both Luciano and Sakai and masks the inherent strength of their performance. Moving across the tissue-papered stage, they give the impression of origami dancers set loose on restless wind.
Attention must be paid to the other half of this flawless equation. Taiko drummer Kensaku Satou is a whirlwind of a performer. Having no previous experience with taiko, I was under the assumption that a percussion form from Japan would be a meditative, zen-inducing affair. On the contrary, Satou drumming was an invigorating, life-giving force that not only accompanied the dance, but shaped it.
Taiko, at least Satou's performance of it, encapsulates beat, rhythm and melody. During one pulsating sequence, his drumming had an almost jazzy, funky flair, and he played directly to the audience. In this supremely enjoyable moment, Satou could have been a New Orleans street performer. He certainly has the swagger to match, and a smile bright enough to power the entire Asia Society complex, and then some.
The verdict:
Mesmerizing. Even if the particulars of the Uzume myth are forgotten, the performances of Luciano, Sakai, and Satou will not be. Uzume is like every other Dominic Walsh production: not just a dance concert, but an experience to be cherished forever.
The performance took place this weekend at the Asia Society Texas Center.

http://blogs.houstonpress.com/artattack/2012/10/dominic_walsh_choreographs_jap.php

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Matsuri celebrates Japanese culture



LIHU‘E — Matsuri translates to mean festivals, and during the Kanyaku Imin, or 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawai‘i, the Matsuri Kaua‘i was born.
“Last year, we didn’t have a Matsuri because of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan,” Kaua‘i Film Commissioner Art Umezu said. “This year, the Japanese people vowed to return and the Matsuri, the 27th, was again held.”
Saturday, a steady throng of people flowed through the Kaua‘i War Memorial Convention Hall, hosted by the Kaua‘i Japanese Cultural Society, eager to experience the Japanese culture, including the familiar bento, Japanese dance, crafts, and this year, a newly-introduced Kendama skill contest.
The Kanyaku Imin was celebrated in 1985 and the Matsuri seed was nurtured by a group of dancers and karaoke singers to perpetuate the Japanese culture and strengthen Kaua‘i’s bond with the people of Japan, states a mayoral proclamation celebrating the Matsuri Kaua‘i 2012.

Mayor Kazuhiro Miyamoto of Moriyama City arrived with a dozen visitors, stopping to enjoy the ‘ukulele classes with the Lihu‘e Senior Center before joining Tsugio Kawashima in a tree planting ceremony at Kaua‘i High School to reinforce and solidify the Rotary Exchange Student program started by Kawashima who was one of the first people to call and offer help to Kaua‘i following the destruction of Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992.
These sister city relationships between the County of Kaua‘i and Japan are also part of the Matsuri celebration, Mayor Miyamoto, enjoying his first trip to Hawai‘i and Kaua‘i, offering his greetings to Matsuri guests followed by a program of song and dance by its visitors.
The County of Kaua‘i currently enjoys sister city relationships between the City of Oshima-Gun, Yamaguchi Prefecture, the City of Ishigaki, Yaeyama Gunto, Ryukyu Islands, the City of Moriyama, Shiga, and the City of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.
In addition to the presentations of karaoka, dance, martial arts, taiko drumming, kimono kitsuke for adults and children, chado, or tea ceremony, origami, oshibana, mochi pounding, bonsai demonstrations, and a mini bon dance, two films were offered for free.
“Dale Rosenfeld just saw one of the films and was almost moved to tears,” said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau.
Joyce Takahashi expressed a similar sentiment, referring to “Can You See Our Lights,” a chronicle of the efforts by residents of three northern Tohoku towns, Rikuzentaka, Soma and Minami Soma, as they repaired and rebuilt their lives following the earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan last year.

Despite the challenges the people faced, the townspeople banded together and continue to host their annual summer Obon festivals to honor the souls of the departed.
“Fukushima Hula Girls” follows a troupe of hula dancers from the Spa Resort Hawaiians, a large, Hawaiian-themed park in Iwaki City, as the dancers travel to the devastated areas in Japan, providing encouragement, joy and smiles.
Both films were offered at no charge to Matsuri Kaua‘i guests through the Kaua‘i Film Commission, the Office of Economic Development, and the Honolulu Japanese Consulate.
Matsuri Kaua‘i 2012 is brought to the people of Kaua‘i through the Kaua‘i Japanese Cultural Society, the county’s Office of Economic Development, the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority and the County of Kaua‘i to showcase the island’s different groups’ talents and to perpetuate the Japanese culture.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gardens in Japan

Arima Grand Hotel of Arima Onsen in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, Japan

Enjoji in Nara, Nara prefecture, Japan

Byoodoo-in's Pheonix Hall in Uji, Kyoto prefecture, Japan

"Sorakuen" in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, Japan

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Transient Salt Art Exhibits

Motoi Yamamoto’s salt installation called Floating Garden on display at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in Charleston, S.C. in May 2012.
Most art gallery visits are more about don’ts than dos: Don’t touch, don’t lean too close, don’t use flash photography, don’t talk loudly, don’t run and so on. But Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto has a very different view about his exhibits. He doesn’t just want people to touch his delicate installations of salt, he wants people to sweep them up.

It’s all part of the creative art process, he says.
Mr. Yamamoto’s monumental salt installations are delicately composed constructions that take hundreds of hours and thousands of pounds of salt to create. And at the end of each exhibit’s run, visitors are invited to literally get to work with a broom and collect salt for returning to the sea.

"Labyrinth" at the Bellevue Arts Museum during an exhibit from March to May 2012.
This will be the case when Mr. Yamamoto’s exhibit at the Laband Art Gallery, which opened Sept. 8, in Los Angeles, closes in December. The exhibit is his first show on the U.S. West Coast.  He has also held exhibits in Tokyo, Kyoto, Milan, Hamburg and Paris.
It hasn’t always been this way. Mr. Yamamoto had been creating salt-based installations for nearly a decade before the idea crystallized of a formal ceremony to return the salt to the sea, back in 2006.
“Before then, I resisted the idea of my art work getting broken up at the hands of other people. That’s probably because the inspiration behind the work – the reason why I use salt – is directly tied to my sister’s death,” said the Kanazawa-based artist. “Because of this connection, in my heart, I was reluctant to let other people intervene.”
In 1994, the artist’s younger sister passed away from brain cancer. They were very close as she was the person who most understood his art, and her death, coming in his early years as an artist, had a huge impact on his work, he said.

To cope with her death, Mr. Yamamoto turned his grief into elaborate art pieces made of salt, an item traditionally used in Japanese funeral rituals. His art has gone on to soothe his grief to the point where he felt able to invite the public to get involved in his installations and help return the salt he uses to the ocean. In this way his art has evolved into something that isn’t only about his sister’s death, but also celebrates life, he says.
In creating his installations, Mr. Yamamoto transforms several tons of salt into intricate wonders of tiny detail: twisting crystalline labyrinths or unlikely canvases of cherry blossom petals. The detailed and mammoth scale of his work conveys vulnerability and a sense of loneliness.
His piece “Utsusemi,” recreated several times since its debut in 1998, is an architectural construction of a crumbling staircase. “It represented how much I missed my sister. I wanted to see her again, but it was impossible no matter how much I felt that way,” he said.


Working with salt in this way is a grueling process. During a previous exhibition this year at the Halsay Institute of Contemporary Art in Charleston, S.C., Mr. Yamamoto spent about 100 hours hunched over with his salt-filled plastic bottle to create the installation on site. It took 10 hours a day for about as many days to make a swirling whirlpool-like image for the exhibit. “It’s like running a marathon,” he said, describing the exhausting process.
Looking ahead, Mr. Yamamoto says he’s not ready to give up his penchant for salt just yet. “I’m not tired of it yet. But at the same time, I don’t think my medium has to be salt in the future. I’m open to other things,” he said.



Mr. Yamamoto has experimented with photography and sketching, but is most widely known for his salt installations.
http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2012/09/10/transient-salt-art-exhibits-sweep-up-when-you-leave-please/

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Salaryman shares art collection tips

Art collectors might be generally perceived as aristocrats who have amassed enormous wealth, but Daisuke Miyatsu breaks this stereotype. As a self-confessed "salaryman collector," the Japanese art addict has spent over 2 million yuan ($315,000) on more than 300 artworks including some by Olafur Eliasson, Nara Yoshitomo, Koki Tanaka and Paul McCarthy.

On Saturday, Miyastu gave a lecture at the CAFA Art Museum detailing his personal experiences and offering advice to budding collectors.

Miyatsu, born in 1963 and a native of Ichikawa outside Tokyo, has collected art for the past 18 years. He told an eager, dozens-strong audience at the lecture that his fascination with contemporary art began when he saw works by American pop art pioneer Andy Warhol in high school. A chance encounter with famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in college fueled his desire to become an art collector. 

Miyatsu, who works in public relations, is like many salarymen in Japan in that he rarely has time away from the office to indulge in hobbies, such as art. "Everyday I have to get up at 5 am and work until 9 pm. I use my free time for art research and collection," he explained.

Miyatsu is a pragmatic art collector, primarily because he knows his tastes must fall within his budget. 

Patience is also a key virtue, he noted, explaining how he once waited 11 years to secure a window art installation by Eliasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist. 

Miyatsu, who has never sold his collected pieces and finances his purchases from his salary, makes a point to always purchase certification of artworks. He has even built what he calls his "dream house" filled with books and art he has collected. 

As for his artistic philosophy, Miyatsu advises people to collect art that reflects society. Young artists' works hold the greatest appeal to the savvy salaryman, who in recent years has taken a particularly keen interest in video and new media from Taiwanese artists. "As a collector, I want to create something with artists," he said.

http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/730837.shtml

Monday, August 27, 2012

Japanese floral arranging art features practical and spiritual aspects


Whether hailing from East or West, people around the world don't hesitate to meditate on the beauty and spiritual power of flowers.

Ikebana, Japanese floral arranging with its emphasis on shape, line and form, has had an aesthetic secular appeal in the West.

It's probably because of its simplicity and airy spacing of colorful blossoms, tiny ferns, palm fronds and dried twigs in vases or other containers.

But Ikebana also has roots in Buddhism, a religion of the Far East. 

And that aspect may be harder to grasp or appreciate in a workshop.



Artist Tamiko Laincz, a native of Japan, demonstrated that recently while creating floral arrangements for senior citizens at an art class workshop at the Heritage of Green Hills, a retirement community in Cumru Township.

In a lecture and demonstration, it wasn't easy to convey both the practical and spiritual aspects of the floral art, but Laincz managed well either by studious intent or unself-conscious default.

Her handiwork elicited admiring comments from the seniors who witnessed her designing three distinct arrangements: one straight or upright, a second slanted or curvy and the third low and horizontal.

When asked to pick a favorite arrangement, the more than dozen observers gravitated to different ones depending on whether they preferred large, colorful flowers; simple leaves and smaller flowers; or a more naturalistic look of plants and dried branches, twisting in nature, appearing to bend in a breeze and then forever frozen as if captured in a photographer's snapshot.

For Laincz, 51, of Wynnewood, Montgomery County, there were practical artistic challenges in forcing stems to stand erect in needle bases or massaging leaves without breaking them, so they would more easily flow in certain directions.



She was sometimes forced to prop up her artistic vision with green tape or wire hidden underneath low-lying leaves to achieve the natural look for which she was striving.

All the while, she explained how the art of Ikebana in Japan is about 500 years old and was connected to Buddhism with monks using flowers to decorate altars.

"Flowers have always been associated with spiritual enlightenment: the Buddha on the lotus, for instance," Laincz said. "But they also served as beautiful offerings."

Later in history, Laincz said, it became common for the Japanese to designate a sacred alcove in the home where a vase of flowers and sometimes incense and candles were prominently displayed.

"Simple Ikebana (which means life flower or giving life to flowers) has certain rules, but is based on one simple vertical line, up and down," Laincz said. "And you always look at the arrangement from the front, not the back. While there are pretty flowers to see, eyes also are drawn to stems and leaves.

"There are not so many flowers filling all the space as is often the case in the Western style of arranging. Three, five or seven flowers maybe, with plenty of air between."

Laincz said water fills the bottom of containers, which also can be decorated with marbles or pebbles.

Over time, more freestyle forms of Ikebana developed such as horizontal and slanted, she said, and that led to associating the floral arranging more broadly with a meditative exercise, requiring concentration and silence, uniting body, mind and soul in a creative endeavor.



And that was Laincz's challenge, explaining Ikebana to others while actually doing it and experiencing its most personal requirements for individual creativity.

What was required was to carefully study each leaf, twig and flower, to take the measure of their shapes and angles before carefully placing any of them in an arrangement.

But Laincz seemed to achieve that goal when undertaking her second arrangement, the slanted design, where all her movements indicated she was doing what she felt. She was immersed in an artistic, meditative moment.

How could one tell?

The room was quiet. Laincz stopped lecturing. The minutes seemed to stretch.

Those who required talk looked away or whispered among themselves.

And Laincz, suddenly self-conscious behind a floral delight, looked up, broke her concentration and politely apologized for a spiritual silence.

Contact Bruce R. Posten: 610-371-5059 or bposten@readingeagle.com.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

This Awesome Robot Art Was Built With Broken Toys and Old Electronics






Andrea Petrachi is a sculptor. He doesn't use clay or marble. Instead, he creates with broken toys and discarded electronics, from electric shavers and audio connectors to old doll heads and figurine parts. His work is a mishmash of plastic and metal, joined in their common bond: they've been tossed aside for trash.

His work looks like the coolest mecha and robots Japanese anime never saw. With titles like "Otaku", the Japanese influence is undeniable—even if he doesn't always use Japanese electronics or toys—and it's no wonder his art is making its way through Japanese cyberspace.
For Petrachi, however, he thinks his work symbolizes our insatiable consumer appetite. From the vicious cycle of buying, breaking, and trashing, his art emerges.
Check out more of his work in the link below. Giuseppe Fogarizzu took all the wonderful photos in the above gallery.
Himatic [Andrea Petrachi via GIGAZINE]

Monday, August 13, 2012

Japanese artist Kusama strikes deal with Louis Vuitton



Tokyo —
Polka dots are Japanese avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama’s lifelong inspiration, obsession and passion.
And so they’re everywhere — not only on canvases but on installations shaped like gnarled tentacles and oversized yellow pumpkins. As part of her retrospective on exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, they also sparkle as “firefly” light bulbs reflected on water and mirrors.

Kusama’s signature splash of dots has now arrived in the realm of fashion in a collection from French luxury brand Louis Vuitton — bags, sunglasses, shoes and coats.

“Polka dots are fabulous,” Kusama said in a recent interview with The Associated Press, looking much younger than her 83 years in a bright red wig, a polka dot dress she designed herself and one of the new Louis Vuitton polka dot scarves.

Dots aside, Kusama cuts an odd figure for the fashion world. She has lived in a psychiatric institution for decades, battling demons that feed her art.

Still, in her Tokyo studio, filled with wall-sized paintings throbbing with her repetitive dots, Kusama said the collaboration was a natural, developed from her friendship with Louis Vuitton creative director Marc Jacobs.
Louis Vuitton had already scored success 10 years ago by collaborating on a bag line with another Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami. The latest Kusama collection is showcased at its boutiques around the world, including New York, Paris, Tokyo and Singapore, sometimes with replica dolls of Kusama.



“The polka dots cover the products infinitely,” said Louis Vuitton, which racks up 24 billion euros ($29 billion) in annual revenue, a significant portion in Japan. “No middle, no beginning and no end.”
Dots started popping up in Kusama’s work more than 50 years ago, from her early days as a pioneer Japanese woman venturing abroad.

Like most middle-class families in Japan those days, her parents, who ran a flower nursery, were eager to simply get her married. They wanted to buy her kimono, not paints and brushes. She knew she had to get away. And she chose America.

Dots may be fashionable today. But when Kusama arrived in New York in 1958, the fad was “action painting,” characterized by dribbles, swooshes and smears, not dots. She suffered years of poverty and obscurity. But she kept painting the dots.

She put circles of paper on people’s bodies, and once a horse, in “happening” anti-war performances in the late 1960s, which got some people arrested for obscenity but helped get media attention for her art. While in New York, she befriended artists like Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keefe and Joseph Cornell, who praised her innovative style.

Since then, the times have caught up with Kusama.

In 2008, Christie’s auctioned her work for $5.8 million. Her retrospective at the Whitney Museum was previously at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Tate Modern in London. Earlier this month, a major exhibition “Eternity of Eternal Eternity” opened in her home town of Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture, complete with polka-dot shuttle buses.

“I’ve always been amazed at Kusama’s ability to pick up on and meld current trends in thoroughly original ways,” said Lynn Zelevansky, Carnegie Museum of Art director.

“During her New York years, her work fused Abstract Expressionist, Minimalist and Pop art elements, with an added dash of sexuality and the baseness of bodily functions. She was a precursor of feminist art of the 1970s and much of the work that was produced in the ‘80s around the AIDS crisis,” she said.

Dots had a rather sad beginning for Kusama. Since her childhood, she had recurring hallucinations. A portrait of her mother that she drew when she was 10 years old shows a forlorn face covered with spots. Immersing herself in her art was a way of overcoming her fears and hallucinations.

Since her return to Japan nearly 40 years ago, Kusama has lived in a psychiatric hospital and remains on medication to prevent depression and suicidal drives. But she commutes daily to her studio and works viciously on her paintings.

Kusama, who has also made films and published several novels, acknowledged she doesn’t know where she gets her ideas. She just picks up her brush and starts drawing.



“I think, ‘Oh, I drew that? I was thinking that,“’ she said in her characteristic unsmiling matter-of-fact style of speaking.

Over the years, Kusama has made quirky but stunning works like “Macaroni Girl,” a female figure plastered with macaroni, which expresses the fear of food; “The Visionary Flowers,” giant sculptures of twisting tulips, and “Mirrored Corridor,” a room with mirrors that delivers an illusion of a field of phallic protrusions speckled with dots.

The works are triumphant, humorous celebrations of potential, vulnerability and defiance — like Kusama herself, who at one moment, declares herself “an artistic revolutionary,” and then, the next, mumbles: “I am so afraid, all the time, of everything.”

Her latest project is an ambitious series of paintings with whimsical motifs such as triangles and swirls, along with her trademark dots, in vibrant, almost fluorescent colors.

As Kusama worked on No. 196 in the series, the look of concentration was childlike yet fierce as she painted red dots inside white dots, one by one.

“I want to create a thousand paintings, maybe two thousand paintings, as many as I can draw,” she said. “I will keep painting until I die.”

By Yuri Kageyama
http://www.heraldnews.com/newsnow/x1602170822/Japanese-artist-Kusama-strikes-deal-with-Louis-Vuitton

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A stopover to soak up some Japanese culture



We're a couple in our mid-60s who will be returning from a trip to Britain in September, and stopping over in Japan. We arrive at Narita on a Sunday at 2.20pm and leave the following Wednesday at 7.50pm. We would really like to stay in onsen/ryokan accommodation and soak in the hot springs for that time. Do you have any suggestions as to how that might be achieved, with recommendations for train travel?
- D. Grainger, Canberra.

Japan has about 3000 onsen - natural hot springs - and the Japanese were enjoying the soothing effects of communal soaking for many centuries before it occurred to Californians to do likewise.

Hoshi Onsen could be just your cup of green tea. Bathing at Hoshi Onsen takes place at just a single ryokan, Chojukan, which is a beautiful, traditional ryokan in mountainous country about 2½ hours from Tokyo by train.

Built in 1875, the ryokan sits on both sides of the narrow Nishi River, joined by a covered wooden bridge. The detail in the 37 guest rooms is refined and exquisite, and scrupulously maintained by the Okamura family, the sixth-generation descendants of the original builders.

At its heart is an indoor mixed-gender bath. From 8pm to 10pm the bath is reserved for women. There is also a smaller women-only bath, open all hours, and an outdoor hot-spring bath with separate bathing times for women and men.
Scroll down the webpage mentioned above to find directions from Tokyo. If you want a window on the Japanese soul, nothing beats a skinny dip.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Japanese potter infuses her culture in her craft


The Pine River mother of two never considered she’d ever live anywhere other than in Japan; she was born and raised in Akita, Japan. She had majored in fashion in college and had studied to become a master traditional Japanese dancer. She had danced since she was 4.
After her college graduation, she took a job managing a clothing store in the local mall where she kept seeing this intriguing American college student. One day they struck up a conversation.
This was not easy since she and Jason Marcum, a Pequot Lakes High School graduate, spoke very little of one another’s languages at the time. They initially had to carry a dictionary with them on dates.
Jason Marcum was in Akita studying at St. Cloud State University’s sister university for a year.
The couple hit it off and in 1997 she packed her bags for what was supposed to be a three-month trip to Minnesota to meet his parents and get married. She ended up living here for nearly seven years. It took more than two years for her to get her Green Card.
The couple then moved back to Akita in 2003 when their daughter, Misato, now 12, was 3, and their son, Kyosuke, now 9, was just 6 months old. They lived and worked in Japan for about four years and then moved back to Pine River in 2007. Jason owns Grove Homes Inc., group home in Pine River. Their children, who are bilingual, attend Pine River-Backus Elementary School.
After moving to the United States, Midori Marcum was unable to finish her apprenticeship and become a master dancer. Not finishing her apprenticeship is one of her biggest regrets. Dancing brought out her creativity.
When she moved to Pine River, she needed to find another creative outlet. She had always wanted to try her hand at pottery and took a four-day crash-course pottery workshop at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd, a birthday present from her husband. She was immediately drawn to the art. Her grandmother, who raised her while her mother worked, enjoyed pottery so Marcum grew up with an appreciation for the craft.
In Japan it isn’t easy to become a potter; you have to study under a master potter as an apprentice. “It is a much more closed world there,” Marcum explained of becoming a potter in Japan. “There is more freedom here to just pick it up.”
Three years ago she started Midori’s Peace, her own pottery business, and last year she opened her own pottery studio on Highway 371 in Pequot Lakes, where she has her own kiln. She sells her work at her studio and at arts and crafts shows throughout the Brainerd lakes area. Her next shows will be at the Chokecherry Festival in Pequot Lakes Aug. 11, the Hackensack Art and Book Festival Aug. 18 and the Arts off 84 Art Crawl from Pine River to Longville Sept. 1-2.
Marcum said her pottery toad houses are a popular item but so are her coffee mugs and bowls. She tries to infuse her Japanese culture in her pieces while creating functional art.
“I like people to actually use it,” she explained of her pottery. “I don’t want it to sit on a shelf and collect dust.”
She named her studio Midori’s Peace because she said she has to be at peace in order to create her art.
“You have to be at peace to make something beautiful,” she said with a smile.
For the past two years, Marcum also has decorated ice cream cakes at the Dairy Queen in Pequot Lakes. It’s another way for her to use her creativity.
She also enjoys oil painting and would like to work in leather craft someday.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Science meets art: Japanese artist turns preserved animals into masterpieces





Those preserved animals you dissected in science class are now also artwork that prices up to $20,000 yen or $250. Iori Tomita, a 28 year old Japanese artist, transforms dead animal carcasses into colorful art through a long and tedious scientific process that can take him months, even a year.
Designboom reports that Tomita removes the skins of animals preserved in formaldehyde then soaks the creatures in a mixture of blue stain, ethyl alcohol, and glacial acetic acid. He then breaks down the protein and muscles through the enzyme trypsin to give them a ghostly transparent look. The bones are then soaked in potassium hydroxide and dye and preserved as stained masterpieces in glycerin.
Tomita first learned his trade as a fisherman and has cultivated a niche where science meets art and skeletons meet artistic immortalization.
 “People may look at my specimens as an academic material, a piece of art, or even an entrance to philosophy,” Tomita said on his website. “There is no limitation to how you interpret their meaning. I hope you will find my work as a ‘lens’ to project a new image, a new world that you’ve never seen before.”
Tomita’s art is apart of a long line of strange and unusual art including a cat that was transformed into a helicopter. Tomita’s art is not sold outside of Japan yet but has caught on with 20 to 30 year old Japanese women. Tomita plans to branch out to “art centers like Paris, London, and New York,” according to the Huffington Post.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Atomic Lollipop brings Japan's youth culture to Toronto



This past weekend saw the second annual iteration of Atomic Lollipop, an ambitious event somewhat loosely based on Japanese youth culture that's presented by newmindspace and a few co-conspirators.

The turnout appeared to be better and perhaps a little bit older on average than last year. There was definitely a much higher ratio of cosplayers to ravers although there are boundaries being crossed between these two groups these days with plenty of partial costumes being worn by the dance crowd--think partial furry gear like full tails and ears along with the more fashionable furry boots and lots of beads.

There were events for pretty much any inclination, with surprisingly large turnout for crafts workshops, which made sense once you realised just how much cosplay was going on. There were also plenty of vendors on-hand selling posters and other decor--figurines, manga and comics, makeup and accessories, candy, and caffeinated "Atomic Lollipops." There were even live snakes and other reptiles on display for people to touch and feel.

Out in the "playground"--for those willing to brave the heat and glare of the sun--there were deejays pumping out tunes from the big colourful Otakubaloo stage and some fun fair activities to take part in including a mechanical bull, bouncy castle, bouncy jousting, a big ferris wheel, and even cotton candy. For those who prefered to stay in the dark there was a games room (done up like a giant rec room) with all sorts of electronic and board games.
From what I could see this was a big success and will continue to grow in importance as an altternative to the more mainstream and established cons battling it out in the convention centre.
Find more photos here:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Speaking stones - Suiseki


Hobby Suiseki is the art of viewing stone. It can be as beautiful as music or poetry, says M. Ponnuswami as he shows his collection to K. Jeshi
In the book “The Japanese Art of Stone Appreciation” , authors Covello and Yoshimuro describe how during the reign of the Japanese Empress Regent Suiko (AD 592-628), Chinese emissaries presented the Empress with a landscape stone. The Chinese, during their travels to Korea and Japan, are credited to have introduced the art of stone appreciation or Suiseki (Sui meaning water and seki meaning stone). A stone worthy of enjoyment, very similar to a painting, songs or poems. “A viewing stone invites you to introspect,” says M. Ponnuswami.

LOVE FOR BONSAI

A person, who admires and appreciates bonsai (a life member of Bonsai Club International, he is recognised as an international consultant by the World Bonsai Friendship Federation, U.S.), he also collects unique stones. “Suiseki was introduced as a complementary art to Bonsai. Now, it’s recognised as a separate art. Even as a small boy I was fascinated by the unique shapes and figures ofgonthu (gum) you find on the trunks of trees,” says Ponnuswami, who is Advisor (Soya) of Sakthi Sugars Limited.
His soon-to-be published coffee table book “Suiseki- The art of Stone Viewing” features images of 200 stones from his collection, all hand picked from streams, deserts, river beds, rocky mountains, sea shores and crater sites. The stones are usually displayed on carved wooden bases or on trays of sand. Ponnuswami’s collection of more than 500 stones have come from places as far as Jaipur, Udaipur and from the banks of the Yamuna, and the Cauvery. He also has a collection from the mountainous sites in Erode, Coimbatore, Karur, and Vavipalayam, a crater site near Palladam. Some of his semi-precious and crystal stones have come from quarries in Kangeyam.
Awareness in Suiseki is picking up in India, he says. The Bonsai clubs in Mysore and Bangalore give demos on how to collect stones. In 1998, Ponnuswami travelled all the way to China to show his collection. “I had to travel business class, because the stones alone weighed around 20 kgs! It’s an expensive hobby,” he jokes.

Magical shapes
The stones that lie on river beds and ocean shores are eroded into interesting shapes with holes and hollows. The surface of these stones suggest great age and evoke the grandeur of nature. You find rhythm and harmony in the patterns on these stones, he says. Pointing to a ‘Colorado Rock, intact with a multitude of layers, Ponnuswami explains, “It takes thousands of years for a single layer to form. So, imagine how old the stone is. It is possible to determine the age of stones from the marks on them.” The process of imagination is akin to meditation. When you start looking at it deeply the stone begins to reflect an image, he says. Some times the rocks represent mountains and natural wonders of the world; and at other times they may evoke ancient people, animals, and mythical creatures. He calls a green and white marble stone from Rajasthan a ‘Scenic Mountain’, with the white miniature lines on it representing waterfalls. “I came up with the names after a lot of contemplation,” he says.
While a rugged stone depicts ‘two friends in deep conversation’, a shiny yellow stone looks like a shoe. Most stones from his collection fall somewhere between fully explicit and totally abstract. Some are subtle, quiet, elegant and sedate while others are uncertain, vague and often puzzling.
He has a pre-sunset collection made up of beautiful stones in flaming yellows and oranges. He got them from Rajasthan. “You should have an eye for the stone, spot its unique structure, and formation, and appreciate its beauty, in order to be a collector,” he says. Some stones throw up interesting shapes when viewed from different angles. The shiny black stone that stares out of the cover of his book is shaped like an otter. There are also formations that look like the sphinx, a penguin, a loon bird of the U.S., and even bulls!

Meditative
A ‘saint’ rock in green and white is meditative. There is a stunning cheetah (a sea coral) that he found at Rameswaram. Another semi-precious yellow stone was picked up at Vavipalayam. An ‘Island stone’ is reminiscent of a chunk of cake. ‘Mountain full of streams’ is artistic and depicts the vastness of a mountain range. There is even a stone that looks like an old lady with wrinkled lines.
Suiseki is open to interpretation. A bright purple semi-precious stone looks like a flower in bloom to me, but Ponnuswami explains how to him it looks more like a mother and baby. Another stone in hues of pastel pink, violet and white represents the face of an eternal beauty (Elizabeth Taylor?). Turn the same stone around and it looks like a person with a haystack on his back. Ponnuswami believes every stone is priceless and awakens your soul. He says, “that is the beauty of Suiseki.”