All posts by Stefan Chiarantano

Many things interest me about Asia. It's the people, the food, the history, the arts, and Buddhism. I like to roam about either on foot or by bike or by train or by scooter. City life intrigues me. I am drawn to the attractions of cities but also to the countryside and its slower pace of life and proximity to nature.

Zuigakuin

It was a cloudy morning when I set out to visit Zuigakuin on Mt Takigo in Hatsukari. I’m now staying in Uenohara which is perched on a mountain. The JR station is located in the valley below on the other side of the Chuo expressway. I walked to the station below. Along the way birds of prey were circling above the mountain tops. There were very few people about. I passed a young girl walking her dog and a father pushing his child in a stroller. The ramps that connect the city to the JR station below provide wonderful vantage points to take in the surrounding scenery and beauty of the mountains. I stopped now and then to take in the greenery. The leaves were a deep green and some were turning color.

Hatsukari is about 30 minutes away on the Chuo line from Uenohara. I’m visiting Zuigakuin, a Zen temple and retreat house. I haven’t called ahead to announce my arrival nor do I have a map as to how to get there from Hatsukari JR station. All I know is that the temple is about a hour and a half walk on foot from the station. I soon discovered that Zuikaguin is perched on top of Mt. Takigo, 700 meters above the JR station.

The JR attendant gave me my starting point and told me to ask someone when I got to that point for directions. Then, a Japanese couple approached asking if they could be of some assistance. They were very kind and drove me to this point. They asked if I was planning to stay there. “No, I’m just visiting.” I said. From there, I inquired at a garage and was told to follow the road beside it. So, I did and walked on. It was so quiet and the air was crisp and fresh. I could hear the gushing of water from the river running beside the road. I was sweating profusely. Sweat was dripping my forehead and flies hovered around my head. I could distinguish different birds sounds coming from the neighboring woods. I was feeling a little nervous. Perhaps, I thought I should have called ahead. I continued on with my doubts. When the road forked up ahead, I was lucky to come upon an elderly Japanese woman who gently pointed the road to follow.

When I came to a marker which read Zuigakuin 2 kilometers ahead, I thought great. Then I came upon another marker which read Zuigakuin 1 kilometer ahead. I thought I’m nearly there. Along the way, I passed a small Shinto Shrine. Its Torii was fashioned out of logs of wood.

When I reached the two tall marble gate posts, one on either side of the road, to the entrance of the temple, I was excited. When I neared the temple which I could see through the woods, I heard the sound of a car approaching and pulled over to the side to let the car past. The driver stopped and rolled down the passenger window. It was Moriyama Roshi, the Zen master. By this time, I was sweating profusely and out of breath. I said, “Hello. I’m visiting the Zen temple but don’t have an appointment. I hope it’s okay.” He got out of the car and introduced himself. He got back in and then asked if I wanted a ride up. My aching feet told me to say yes, so I did.

He escorted me inside and told me to take a rest inside a lovely tatami room which overlooked the surrounding nature. On the walls of the tatami room hung photographs of Moriyama Roshi, his disciples, and students. There was a shelf with literature, some of his books, and Zen material. He asked me how much time I had and I said “a little” since I didn’t want to intrude on his daily routine.

We spoke in English which was a relief since my Japanese is very poor.

He gave me a tour of the center. We first visited the Zendo, the meditation hall which was very spacious and airy. The high ceilings gave it a majestic feel. Blue cushions were laid out on elevated wooden benches running along the walls. It was divided into two sections, one for lay practitioners and one for monks and nuns to sit zasen. A beautiful carved clapper in the shape of a fish hung from the ceiling. At the entrance to the Zendo was a drum, and a very small kane hanging from the ceiling. A statue of Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom was centered in the section reserved for monks and nuns. Then, we visited the Hondo where Buddhist chanting takes places. It’s a spacious room with tatami flooring. There’s an altar with a statue of Buddha flanked on both sides with statues of Bodhisattvas. The chants are taken from the Zoto Zen Sutras by Kokuzozan Daimanji. The three jewels, Buddha, Darma, and Sangha, are chanted three times. Here’s an excerpt from one of the chants:

Makahannya Haramitta Shingyo
Avalokitsvara Bodhisattva, doing deep prajna paramita
clearly saw the emptiness of all the five 0 conditions
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain
O Shariputtra form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form;

After that, we visited the living quarters and the kitchen. The Hondo, living quarters, and kitchen are fashioned out of a 200-year-old farmhouse that he has lovingly restored. The house is without electricity. Water is drawn from a neighboring stream and filtered. Water for bathing is heated in a steel drum. Gas burners are used to cook simple, vegetarian fare. He served me green tea.

The center welcomes novices, lay practitioners, and guests who want to get away from it all and experience communal living in a Zen environment.

Moriyama-san’s lineage goes back to Dogen, the founder of Zen Buddhism in Japan. Moriyama-san spent 6 years in Brazil. Dogen found enlightenment in China and brought back his knowledge, the transmission of light, to Japan over 700 years ago during the Kamakura period.

Before leaving, I paid another visit to the Hondo to leave a donation to show my appreciation and for being graciously welcomed without an appointment. I left with the knowledge that I had come across an enlightened being, an arhot, whose presence I won’t forget.

The descent to the station was invigorating and the quiet filled me with a sense of peace. As I was getting closer to the JR station, I encountered two groups of hikers whose loud animated conversations jolted me back to reality.

The JR attendant asked me if I made it okay, I replied “Daijobu des”, which means okay. He smiled. While I waited for the train to arrive, I contemplated the beauty of Zen.

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.

Japan Stationary Museum

It’s on the first floor of a building near Asakusabashi Subway Station. It’s easy to get to and find, and it’s free to enter. There’s a collection of writing and stationary objects that occupies the first floor. The museum is overseen by two senior custodians who are very friendly and kind. They expressed surpise when I walked in out of the blue. Actually, I was the only visitor they had had so far in a while I think.

Unfortunately, the tags for the items are written only in Japanese but don’t let that stop you from visiting. I had a walk through first, jotted down some questions and then approached the custodians for clarification and assistance. We managed somehow with my limited Japanese and their much better English.

There’s a Ming dynasty seal made of rock crystal on display. It’s so unusual. Usually, seals are fashioned out of some kind of metal. There’s also a miniature gold seal on display that caught my eye. The custodians informed me that it was a gift from the Emperor of China named Kobute to an unknown Emperor of Japan. It dates from the Yayoi period, 57 AD. It weighs 108 grams of pure gold (99.9%). It was found in Kyushu by a farmer. It must be the oldest seal in Japan.

There are replicas, copies, of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s pencils on display. There are two of them. One measures 11.4 cm and the other 7.2 cm in length.

There are many inkstones on display. There’s one very large inkstone that has a beautiful embroidered flora and fauna motif along its edge. It is of an unknown age and worth a small fortune.

There’s a brush on display that must be one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. The custodians told me that it was made with the tails of 50 horses. It weights 14 kg and is 170 cm tall. It was used for advertising. There’s also a very tall Shaffer pen on display as you walk into the museum. It dates from 1920 and is 160 cm tall. This too was used for advertising. There’s also a 1905 poster by A.W. Faber “Castell” on display. There’s another interesting sign on display. It’s American. It says, “School Tuck Shop” Est. 1901 Proprietors: The Misses Molesworth.

There were so many things that caught my eye. There’s a variety of adding machines (mechanical, battery, or electrical), writing instruments new and old, ink stones, abacuses, hibachi (warming the hands), writing boxes, and stationary products such as pencil cases. I loved the graphics on the The Paper Slates on display in the cabinet. There’s also an autopen on display.

Also, on display were three photographs. One dating from the Taisho period and the other two from the early Showa period showing the packaging of glue and its shipment.

I found the trip very interesting since many of the items on display in the collection I still currently use. I have two manual typewriters dating from the 40s and the other from 70s that I still currently use. There’s a desk top computer on display very similar to the one I still use. I still rely on a battery charged adding machine to tally up my totals. It just showed me how quickly objects have become obsolete nowadays.

I’d like to thank the two senior custodians Mr. Hidemi Tsuchida and Hisayoshi Horioka for their kindness and assistance. As I was leaving, they presented me with a Japan Stationary Museum pen. I was so touched by their thoughtfulness.

If you have an interest in early writing instruments, seals and the like, do check them out. You might be pleasantly surprised as I was.

Nearest Station: Asakusa-bashi
Address: 1-1-15 Yanagibashi, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: 03-3861-4905
Home Page: http://www.bungu.or.jp (In Japanese)
Business Hours: 1:00pm-4:00pm; Closed Sat, Sun & Holidays
Admission: FREE

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.

My visit to the Yasukuni Shrine

yasukuni

His private visits to the Yasukuni shrine provokes the ire of many Asian countries. Why does Prime Minister Koizumi visit the Yasukuni shrine? I didn’t know. As it so happened, I had moved to Shinjuki and was living within walking distance of the shrine. So, one April morning, I made my way there to find out.

In my mind’s eye, I had thought the shrine itself would be larger and more imposing than it was. I was struck by its simplicity. I had double checked with one of the security guards on duty. “Sumimasen” I asked. “Yasukuni koko?” I said and gently pointed to its direction with my hand. He nodded his head and uttered a “Hai.” He then instructs me on Shinto protocol in Japanese and reminds me to clap twice. I reply with an “Arigato gozaimasu.”

The complex is bustling with activity. There are many visitors present. There’s a live performance taking place on a makeshift stage. I notice that there are many Japanese seniors in attendance.

I walk towards the shrine. I instinctively sense the reverence of the place. Many are offering their respects. It is a special place. I can see that. I can feel it. It is a place of worship.

After, I visit the war museum. I learn about the Yasukuni shrine. The shrine is where the Japanese revere their own who have died for the nation. The shrine dates from the Meiji period. The registry of souls also dates from the Meiji period.

The fallen become guardian divinities and protect Japan from evil.

I spend many hours working my way through the exhibits on the two floors. Many of the exhibits have been translated into English. There are exhibits on loan from the Imperial Family. I begin to realize that there is a connection between the Imperial Family and the Yasukuni shrine. There is a moving images presentation on Japan’s military past which I watch. I take a seat in the back. I notice that many Japanese are weeping silently. The atmosphere is charged with emotion.

I take a break and sit in the lounge area on the second floor to collect my thoughts. I feel weary. I am feeling tired. I feel slightly overwhelmed by it all but I continue on with my visit.

I make a mental note. There’s a reference to Nanking. There’s a reference to the GHQ occupation policy. There’s a reference to the Emperor Showa repudiating his divine status. There’s a reference to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Kamikaze exhibit leaves me feeling terribly sad. The photo portraits of the Kamikaze overwhelm me. There is a volume of their correspondence that has been translated into English which I read. Their words leave me feeling numb.

I explore the grounds of the enclosure. There’s a sumo pit on the premises and a lovely Japanese garden. My visit to the shrine leaves me with a deeper understanding of Japanese people and Japanese modern history. I come away with the understanding that the Yasukuni shrine, the Imperial Family, and the Sakura (cherry blossoms) shape the identity of the Japanese people. Yes, the shrine houses the names of Japan’s convicted war criminals but also those who fought for a modern Japan.

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.
photo by: HIRATA Yasuyuki

Homelessness in Japan

I have come across homeless people in my travels in Japan. I have seen the tent communities in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park. The homeless make their homes using sheets of blue plastic, cardboard and bits and pieces of other materials. They are neat and tidy. The communities are very orderly too.

Recognizing the characteristic blue plastic, shimmering in the sunlight, they had made their homes along the concrete shores of the Sumida River in Tokyo.

In Maebashi, there were some homeless people living along the Hirosi River near a public toilet facility. At Ueno Station in Tokyo, the homeless had set up makeshift housing near the station. At Shinjuku Station one evening, I came upon a small group of men huddling on the steps leading out to the east exit holding pieces of cardboard. No doubt they planned to use it as a floor covering to mitigate the effects of the hard, cold concrete floors of the subway station.

At Takasaki station, some homeless people were living just outside the station. I came upon a dignified looking middle-aged woman sitting in a very large cardboard box. When I saw her head sticking out of the box, my heart skipped a beat. I would see her most times outside the east exit on my way to teach a night class near the station. Perhaps, she wouldn’t accept my money and against my better judgment, I offered her some. Gesturing with my hand, she accepted it.

In Shinjuku, there were homeless people living along the main strip in stairways of boarded up buildings located close to my neighborhood. Whenever, I’d come face-to-face with someone, I offered them some money, which they accepted.

Now, I’m in Hamamatsu. I’m staying around the corner from the Shin Hamamatsu Station. When I leave very early in the morning to catch the red line to take me to work, I see many homeless people sitting on the benches with their belongings. One early morning, I see an elderly man rummage through a garbage bin. They weren’t just living at Shin Hamamatsu station but also at Dai Ichi Dori Station. None of the homeless people I saw were ever panhandling.

Canada has homeless people. The streets and parks of downtown Toronto, where I am from, are full of homeless people. Homeless people are found throughout the land.

I have been told that the homeless in Japan are on the streets because of shame and their own accord. They have lost their jobs. They have lost their social positions. They are on the streets because they are too ashamed to admit to their families their changed circumstances. How tragic! Honor and shame values continue to exercise a pivotal role in Japanese life despite its Westernization even though these values have been pushed to the background in the West.

Why is it that the individual must bear the brunt of a society’s mishaps and economic failures? No one deserves to be on the streets.

It can happen to anyone. It can happen to you, to a family member or to a dear friend. Marital breakup, domestic violence, child abuse, mental illness, job loss can all contribute to someone falling through the cracks and ending up on the streets.

As someone who has worked with the homeless in Toronto in my career as a social worker, I have seen how government policies can contribute to this problem. The Harris government when it was in power in Ontario in the 90s was directly to blame for the dramatic increase in homeless people in the province. He chopped away at social services and implemented policies that made individuals ineligible for assistance.

Any society that fails to take care of its most vulnerable citizens cannot be called a just society. There are no excuses for homelessness. This problem isn’t going to go away. For it to diminish, the root causes of homelessness need to be stamped out.

Many homeless panhandle as a means of generating much needed money. In Japan, I have hardly ever been solicited for money. It happened to me just the one time in Hamamatsu.

In Toronto, homeless people beg and do so in an aggressive and sometimes belligerent manner. They come up to you and get in your face. I have seen this happen on a regular basis. It’s offensive but I think it’s the only way they think they can get someone’s attention. Sometimes, I’ve seen panhandlers get nasty and turn ugly with passersby who have ignored them. They scream out profanities, wave their hands and throw themselves about.

Some panhandlers on the other hand I’ve noticed employ a less offensive approach. They try to make eye contact with a passerby hoping to get his or her attention and by doing so; they can size them up for a donation. Eye contact is crucial. They know it. Eye contact forces recognition of the other. They use it to call attention to their plight – “please help me!” Some panhandlers are savvy and can usually figure out whom to hit on for a cash donation: they many even have a sixth sense.

I remember the time when I was in a Madrid cafe having breakfast with an acquaintance from the hostel, a blind man came in and approached us for money. I offered to buy him breakfast, which he declined. He told me that the patron (the owner) would refuse to serve him and preferred a cash donation instead. On my walks through Madrid, I came upon many panhandlers. Many were Romanian gypsy women begging on church steps. The Madrid subways were always full of homeless people sleeping on cardboard boxes.

On my way to the station to catch the red line to take me to work, a homeless man that makes the station his home wished me good-luck, ‘Gambatte’. How kind of him to do so! I was so glad when I ran into him on the street before I was to leave Hamamatsu because I wanted to give him a little money. He was so grateful and was totally taken by surprise! On my way to the JR station, a homeless man asked me for money by making the Japanese gesture for money, which is the Okay gesture, but done horizontally. ‘Here you are.’ I said.

Homelessness is a global issue. Responsibility lies not only with government but also with the general public to mitigate its effects. Let’s show compassion!

Originally posted on ThingsAsian. Photo by the_toe_stubber

Sitting Zazen

If you are interested in personal growth and development, perhaps, you might consider giving zazen a try.

It doesn’t cost anything to do. You can do it anywhere. You don’t need a guru or have to join a temple or belong to a religious affiliation.

What you need is time and a commitment to the practice and a willingness to be open to the process as it unfolds.

It can help you gain some measure of control over your life, help you understand who you are, and what makes you tick. I am supposing this is of interest to you. It also provides a means to gain some detachment from the world around you.

It’s been said that sitting zazen can lead people to the state of enlightenment. I don’t know how many people in the world have enlightenment as their goal but the practice of zazen can help people function and cope with the world around them.

Sitting zazen is a practice of Zen Buddhism. Zen teaching, introduced in Japan during the Kamakura period, was brought to Japan by a Japanese who had studied Buddhism in China.

Sitting zazen is a way of seeing and looking and a take on life. It can help you look at things in a new and fresh way.

An important concept of sitting zazen is a beginner’s mind. What is a beginner’s mind? It is an open mind, a mind unburdened by habits, prejudices, pre-conceived ideas and beliefs, and free of anxiety.

A beginner’s mind is open to possibilities, new ways of seeing, and is situated in the moment. It observes and sees things as they are and is awake to what is happening before it.

A beginner’s mind is cultivated by sitting zazen. Because it is in the sitting we can notice the busyness of our minds and develop an awareness of our thoughts that parade daily through our mind.

While sitting zazen, focused breathing is practiced, which is a means of quieting the mind and gaining awareness.

First, relax your diaphragm. Then, focus on your breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Focusing on the breathe helps to get in touch with the present moment. Awareness begins to set in. For example, I’m focusing on my breathe. I am sitting in my apartment on the living room floor. I can hear the din of traffic coming into the apartment. I can hear the ticking of the wall clock and dripping of the sink faucet. What happens is you to start to see things as they are.

In sitting zazen, one doesn’t block out, cling to, or react to any of the thoughts or feelings that come into mind.

The aim is to let your thoughts and feelings be. The goal is to be mindful of them and to develop an awareness of them.

The ultimate goal is to accept and surrender to them as they are.

Self-awareness is a tool for personal growth and development. Perhaps, you might give sitting zazen a try. Good-luck to you!

photo by Kanzeon Zen Center
photo by Kanzeon Zen Center

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.

The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

I spent a lovely afternoon taking in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. The was my second visit. I was here a few years before to see the Van Gogh exhibit. On exhibit are the works of Japan’s artists spanning from the Meiji period to the present. You start on the fourth floor and work your way down. And there’s a lounge on the fourth floor that provides a breathtaking view of the Imperial gardens across the street. So, you can take a break and take in the views.

As mentioned, the museum highlights mainly the works of Japanese artists from the Meiji period to the present but it also features the works of Paul Klee, Alexander Rodchenko, Wassily Kandinsky, Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet and Bertrand Lavier to name a few.

The museum pays homage to its own as it should. A country should honor its own artists. The museum reminds me of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum which also honors its own. Now, I wish Canada did the same. Come to think of it, it’s probably asking too much, so, banish the thought.

How happy I was to come across the works of some of my favorite Japanese artists. They include:

An Apple Exists on Top of A Pot

1916

Kishida, Ryusei (1891-1929)

Portrait of Vasilii Yaroshenko

1920

Nakamura, Tsune (1887-1924)

Maiko in a Garden

1924

Tsuchida Bakusen (1887-1936)

Street in Paris

1918

Fujita Tsuguharu (1886-1968)

Five Nudes

1923

Fujita, Tsuguharu

Street Performers

1926

Togo, Seiji (1897 – 1978)

Gas Lamp and Advertisements

1927

Saeki, Yuzo (1898 – 1928)

* * *

Actually, there are many more works which appealed to me. Their scope of subject matter and technique (Western and traditional) left me breathless at times. I also loved the artwork of Azechi, Umetaro (1902-1999). There’s a small gallery devoted to his works.

There are two photographs on exhibit by Shiihara, Osamu (1905-1974) that intrigued me. They are:

1941

From “Wandering Jews”

This is a black and white photograph of a middle-aged man asleep on a bench. He’s dressed in his best. He’s unshaven. He’s curled up. His felt hat is partially covering his face.

1941

From “Wandering Jews”

This is a black and white photograph of a group of men. Two men are sitting on a bench in the foreground. Five men are seated in the mid-group. The man in the middle in the mid-ground is looking at the camera. He’s embracing the man on his left who is looking at him. They are all dressed in business attire. I wondered if they escaped the horror of the Nazi death camps. I hope they did.

I also enjoyed seeing the photography of Hiromi, Tsuchida (1939 – ) called “An Autistic Space” from 1970. These black and white slightly blurred photographs of portraits and urban scenes were very appealing.

So, if you have an interest in Japanese art, it’s definitely worth visiting the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.

National Museum of Modern Art
A few steps from Takebashi Subway Station
Hours: daily 10:00 to 17:00, Friday 10:00 to 20:00
Closed: Mondays and New Year’s Holidays
Admission: 420 yen, free the first Sunday of every month

For more info: The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Official Website: http://www.momat.go.jp/english/

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.

Ueno Zoo

In loving memory of Ling Ling…may she not be forgotten nor the friendship she symbolized.

Today I visited Ueno zoo and was pleasantly surprised. I had gone mainly to see the star of the show, Ling Ling, a giant panda. I have never seen a panda before. She alone was worth the price of admission. She was charming. She was sprawled on a platform dozing. Sometimes, she would roll on her side and scratch her tummy. She was adorable. She was oblivious to all the gawking and ogling of the little children and grown ups that had lined up along her cage.

I hadn’t expected to see such a diversity of animals on exhibit in such a small area. Although I sometimes wondered how the larger animals felt being caged in as they were in such tiny enclosures. There was a pair of polar bears, a mother and her cub (I think) that were pacing back and forth in a small enclosure. There wasn’t much space for them to move about. Poor things. I suppose zoos have become now a means of protecting endangered species for posterity, which is a good thing when you come to think of it but should the animals be made a spectacle? It’s food for thought anyway. Nevertheless, zoos serve an educational purpose especially where the young are concerned teaching them about the importance of protecting wildlife.

Other animals that caught my fancy included the Asiatic lions, the tiger, the gorillas, the Andean condor, the giraffes, the Galapagos Tortoise, the Komodo dragon, the dwarfed crocodile, the Hippos and the pygmy hippos, the giant Aardvark, the Asian elephants, the Okapi, the raccoon dogs, the Styan’s Red Panda, and the flock of pink flamingos.

The penguins were adorable too. They were mainly standing about but a few were swimming in the pool. There were King Penguins, Macaroni Penguins, and Jackass Penguins. Why would anyone name a species of penguins “Jackass” I wondered. There enclosure was next to the sea lions, their natural predators. I hope this is an oversight.

I enjoyed having a peak at the various species of cranes on display. There was a pair of Red-Crowned Cranes (Crus Japonensis). One was asleep standing on one leg with her head tucked underneath her wing. There was a pair of white-naped cranes, a pair of black-necked cranes, a pair of wattled cranes, and a solitary secretary bird. How sad I thought to be without a mate. They all started to screech for some reason. It was quite funny. They would tilt their head, open their beaks, and belch out a screech. They were amusing.

Also, on exhibit were various species of bears. There was the Hokkaido Brown Bear, the Japanese Black Bear, and a Sun Bear.

The five-storied pagoda I soon discovered was enclosed within the confines of the Ueno Zoo. I got a chance to have a good look at it. It’s quite beautiful. I was able to walk around it. A moat surrounds it filled with waterfowl.

Also, within the grounds of Ueno zoo, I came across what looks like a walled burial ground. There’s nothing on the zoo map to indicate it but it’s there. It’s near the Toshogu shrine and wonder if it isn’t the burial ground of the Tokugawa shoguns. There was an enclosed column of nine stupa like structures. And on the other side, there were two smaller enclosed areas, one having two of these stupa like structures and the other three of them. When I was peaking over the wall, I noticed the area was neglected and unkempt. It looked desolate and wondered why it was so.

I also came across “Takatora Todos Tea Ceremony House”. Here’s the description which I copied from the plaque.

Takatora Todo, a military commander, was ranked high by Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Ieyasu Tokugawa. This tea ceremony house was built about 350 years ago and used for the reception of shoguns who paid a visit to the the Toshogu Shrine for Worship. It was erected in memory of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the founder of the Tokugawas Shogunate. Now a trace of its former elegant appearance still remains.

Actually, it looked unkempt and neglected.

My aching feet were demanding I take a break so I stopped and had lunch at one of the many concessions located in various sections of the zoo. The food wasn’t bad. It filled the spot and was reasonably priced.

So, if you have time on your hands and you want to do something different, why not visit the Ueno Zoo. Perhaps, you might be like me and be pleasantly surprised.

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.

My visit to Ueno Park

I recently visited Ueno Park with a good friend to take in some of its sights and attractions. It a must see for any tourist to Tokyo. This was my first time and my Japanese friend gave me a tour.

We strolled through the park chatting and taking in the lovely park grounds. It was a lovely sunny day and the park was full of people strolling about. There are a lot of things one can do at Ueno Park. There are many museums and even a zoo one can visit. We decided on seeing the Art Deco Show on exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.

We enjoyed the exhibition spending a few hours taking in the artwork and installations. It was interesting and what intrigued me the most was the Josephine Baker film loop on display. She was captivating on film dancing topless to an exotic number. It evoked the Paris of the twenties.

photo by <a href='http://www.flickr.com/photos/35528613@N06/3407943574/' target'blank'>johpat eros</a>
photo by johpat eros

We then paid a brief visit to the Kiyomizu Temple. It’s a beautiful Shinto temple, a replica of the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. As I felt adventurous, so I purchased my fortune and discovered thanks to my friend’s translation that it was a good one. I had been told that you leave behind your bad fortune by tying it to a stand dedicated to that purpose and you take the good fortune with you. I was mistaken. My lovely friend told me it was the other way around. She said: “If you take away the good fortune, the Gods would forget it.” And so, silly me tied my fortune to the temple stand.

As we were exiting the park on our way to the Ueno market across the street to grab something to eat, we came upon an information booth. Here I learned more about the tragic fate of Japanese nationals kidnapped by the North Koreans. The number of kidnapped are estimated to be in the hundreds and not in the tens as reported by the press. If you didn’t know, North Koreans arrive in their submarines off the Niigata coast. They land on shore in the cloak of darkness and kidnap any Japanese nationals they come across who are then taken to North Korea to teach North Koreans the Japanese language. Regrettably, this issue doesn’t get much press if any in North America.

The market was teaming with people. There were so many restaurants and food kiosks that it made picking one difficult. We tossed a coin and decided on a sushi restaurant. It was great. I highly recommend a visit to Ueno Park and the Market and more so in the company of others. It’s a lovely way to spend a day!

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.

The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

Located within Ueno Park, it displays Matsukata’s French collection that survived the second world war and was returned to the Japanese people. The French collection was recognized as French property under the terms of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1951). As a goodwill gesture, a total of 365 art works were returned to Japan including 196 paintings, 80 drawings, 26 prints, and 63 sculptures. One of the stipulations of the French government was that a national art museum be established to house and display the art works, and this led to the Japanese government to found the National Museum of Western Art. Many important pieces were returned but others found their way into French museums or were sold.

Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950) began collecting at the same time as Dr. Albert Barnes. He was a successful entrepreneur and used his fortune to collect European art. He was the third son of Count Masayoshi Matsukata, a Japanese Prime Minister. Kojiro Matsukata graduated with a PhD in Civil Law from Yale University in 1890. He first worked as his father’s personal secretary. He then became a senior executive of the Kawasaki Shipping Company eventually becoming its president. In 1922, The New York Herald described him as the ‘mysterious Japanese’ who had been buying art at extravagant prices.

His motives for collecting European art were philanthropic. He was motivated by the desire to provide Japanese artists with the real thing since many of them were creating oil paintings without having seen an example of the real thing.

Paul Durand-Ruel acted as one of his art dealers as did the London artist Frank Brangwyn. There was also Yashiro Yukio, and Tsuchida Bakusen, a Japanese painter living in Paris. Leonce Benedicte, Director of the Musee de Luxemborg, Paris also located paintings for Matsukata. Kojiro Matzukata also purchased many pictures form the collection of Wilhelm Hansen.

The Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 had dire consequences on the Japanese economy which consequently affected Kawasaki Shipping Company. He resigned as its president in 1928. His vast collection became part of the Kawasaki assets, with a significant portion being sold and scattered. He had already shipped many works to Japan in 1919 and 1920 but the 100% import duty persuaded him to leave the reminder in London and Paris.

His London collection was reported to have been destroyed in a warehouse fire in Knightsbridge on October 8, 1939. The French collection was seized by the French government as enemy property when Japan entered the war.

The Museum boasts one of the finest collection of Rodin sculptures in the world. The forecourt of the museum is the display area for Rodin’s sculptures – The Kiss, Gates of Hell, Burghers of Calais, and The Thinker. Also, on display is Emile-Antoine Bourdelle’s Hercules the Archer 1909. Within the museum, The Age of Bronze, Orpheus, Balzac (Last Study) and Man with the Broken Nose are exhibited. Also on view is Jean-Baptiste Carpeau, The Neapolitan Fisherboy.

Works that caught my attention included:

Petrified Forest Max Ernst

The Loving Cup Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1867

Madame Jean Renoir (Catherine Hessling) Andre Derain 1923

Salome at the Prison Gustave Moreau C1873-76

Roses Vincent Van Gogh 1889

Water Lilies Claude Monet

Eugene Boudin Beach of Trouville 1867

The Garden of Gethsemane c1518 Lucas Cranach (The Elder) (1472 – 1553) Jesus is praying. His three disciples are asleep. His jailors are entering at the Gate. There are many. An angel is looking down on Jesus. The Angel is holding a challis.

Joos van Cleve (c 1485 ? – 1540/41) Triptych: The crucifixion Flanked by the kneeling Donor and His wife. Christ is crucified on the cross. At his feet to his left are the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and a disciple (John, Peter?) and to the right, are the Roman Soldiers. Above Christ is a depiction of God.

Follower of Joachim Patinir (1485 – 1524) Triptych: Rest on the Flight into Egypt The Madonna is nursing the baby Jesus.

Jacopo del Sellaio (1482 – 1493) Votive Altarpiece: The Trinity, the Virgin, St. John and Donors (c1480 – 85) The trinity is depicted. Christ is crucified on the cross. The Holy Ghost which is depicted as a dove stands above Christ’s head, God the Father is in the background supporting the cross with his hands.

Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine (c.1547) The baby Jesus is caressing St. Catherine’s cheek and looking into her eyes. He is grasping his mother’s veil. St. Catherine is deep in thought and is staring into space. She is touching the chest of baby Jesus with her index and middle fingers. St. Joseph is looking on squatting in the background.

Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574) The Garden of Gethsemane (c1570?)

The angel is in the process of blessing Jesus with his right hand which is held in the air. In his left hand, he is holding a golden chalice. Jesus has his arms outstretched. He is kneeling and looking up to heaven. The jailors are led into the garden by Judas, his traitor, and his three disciples are fast asleep.

Joachim Berickelaer (c1534-c1574) Christ Carrying the Cross (1562) Christ has slipped. His left hand is supporting the cross draped over his shoulder and his right hand is resting on a rock. A Roman soldier who is standing to the right of the cross is about to whip the Lord. An elderly man has come to Christ’s help. He is attempting to lift the cross. Another Roman soldier is standing over Jesus and is about to hit him with his right fist. There is a precession of soldiers and passersby behind Jesus. There are many people standing and watching the procession on both sides. The Virgin Mary has collapsed and is being assisted by three women attendants. A beautiful young woman with her hands in prayer is looking on. Ahead of Jesus are two prisoners with their hands tied behind their backs. They are flanked by Roman soldiers. At the top right hand corner of the picture, there is a scene of the crucifixation. Jesus is tied around the waist with a rope. He is being pulled by two Roman soldiers. They are flanked by the executioner who is carrying over his shoulders a ladder from which is hanging a basket holding tools such as a hammer.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria Attributed to Simon Varet (1590-1649)

Philip de Champaigne (1602-1674) Mary Magdalene Oil on canvas. Before her on the table is a wooden makeshift cross, a book (the bible?) and a vase with a lid. She has her hands clasped in the prayer position. Here eyes are looking upward.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria Attributed to Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (1675-1741)

Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) Greek women imploring the Virgin for Assistance 1826

1. Christ carried town to the Tomb 1855 Eugene Delacroix

2. The Education of the Virgin (1852) Eugene Delacroix

Claude Monet (1840-1928) 1 Charring Cross Bridge in London 2 Waterloo Bridge in London 3 Yellow Irises

Fernand Leger Red Cock and Blue Sky 1953

Do visit The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. You won’t be disappointed.

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.

How to Get There

JR Yamanote Line, 1 minutes from Ueno Station, Park Exit 
Keisei Line, 7minutes from Keisei Ueno Station
Ginza or Hibiya Subway Lines, 8 minutes from Ueno Station

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The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

Doing the tourist thing in Komagane, Nagano

Today I did the tourist thing. I have written this piece from the Shibuta Kyukei Cafe Studio. It is located beside the Komagane Kogen Art Museum. It’s a lovely café overlooking the town of Komagane and has an artist studio attached. The artist’s wife, the manager of the café, was kind enough to let me have a peak at her husband’s studio. He paints the male body on a large scale.

There remains just a little more than two weeks before my teaching contract runs out. I have decided to take in some of the cultural and historical sights of Komagane before I move on.

This morning I cycled to a locally famous Shinto Shrine. It is called Bijyogamori. Bijyoga means beautiful girl and mori means many trees. It is also called Omikemori. I have been told that Omike means God of Eating. I stayed a while exploring the temple grounds and walked through the grove that encircles the temple. There is a cedar tree on site that dates to 858 AD. It is huge. It is immense. It is awesome. It draws your attention. A fence protects it. The Japanese believe that God resides in cedar trees.

Before visiting the Komagane Kogen Art Museum, I re-visited the Kosenji Temple to take some photographs. On my last visit, I had forgotten to bring along my camera. Also, I wanted to have another look at the temple. It dates from 860 AD. I’m glad I did come back because I discovered that it has a lovely Japanese garden and a small museum.

“Do you want to see the garden?” asked a female attendant. “Sure” I answered. “It’s 500 Yen.” She said. “Here you are” I responded. She escorted me inside. The museum was fascinating. There was a life size replica of Hayataro, the wolf dog. If this really was his size, he was huge. Actually, there was a namesake, a German shepherd, housed in a pen in the museum courtyard. He didn’t pay any attention to any of the goings on around him. He was sprawled out in his cage, eyes shut, and chilling.

There were only two other guests in attendance taking in the gardens and the museum. There were many altars with statues of Buddha and Buddhist deities. The garden was breathtaking. The pond was crystal clear, full of purple irises and goi. Some of which I was told were over 30 years old. There was a waterfall. Azalea bushes hugged the edges of the pond. In the background, there was the cedar grove. It was lovely! So, I stayed a little while taking in the beauty of the Japanese garden.

As I was leaving the Komagane Kogen Art Museum, it had started to rain. It was pouring heavily. As I was without an umbrella or a raincoat, I decided to just wait it out in the lobby. When out of the blue, the cashier/attendant presented me with a plastic umbrella. How kind and thoughtful she was to consider my situation! Actually, this is what makes the Japanese so special in my books. When I left the cafe/studio, it had stopped raining so I could return the plastic umbrella to the attendant with an arigato gosaimasta.

I enjoyed my visit to the Komagane Kogen Art Museum. It’s a lovely museum. The exhibit of coloured photographs of Binares, India left me with a lasting impression in particular the one photograph of two dogs devouring a dead body with a crow in the foreground and the Ganges River in the background. They had on permanent exhibit works by one of my favourite Japanese artists, Yayoi Kusama.

While I was sitting in the cafe writing and drinking a cup of tea, the sounds emanating from the temple bell as the numerous visitors to Kosenji were striking it continuously kept me company.

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.