sechan19: (anne)
My first week went by in something of a blur. Multiple meetings with school administrators, my professor, and the realtor; piles and piles of paperwork; lectures, seminars, and workshop presentations; get-togethers with friends old and new. It's been great/busy/frustrating/scary/exhilarating/exhausting. Even though there's still so much to do (I've started learning hentaigana and kuzushiji for real, which is a massive brain-strain, and I've got a presentation coming up in the first week of November that's closer than anyone thinks), I know that sometimes you just have to take a break.

And so, I found myself at Kasai Rinkai Park on Sunday, taking in the day's spectacles with my friend Eunja and her son, Son'eu. I've talked about Eunja many times on this blog, but for those who are new a little bit of introduction is probably in order.

I met Eunja five years ago on a plane from San Francisco to Tokyo. Eunja, who is Korean and living in Tokyo with her husband, Kim, was returning from a visit with a friend; I was on my way to Japan for an additional round of language classes at KCP International. In the last quarter of the flight, we struck up a conversation (in Japanese as I don't speak Korean and she doesn't speak English), exchanged contact info, and vowed to meet up in Tokyo to hang out. Five years later, Eunja and I are the best of friends. She's been an amazing support to me in my travels in Japan, providing me with language assistance, accommodation assistance, and general moral support in everything I've done here. A year and a half ago, she and her husband had their first child, Son'eu, who is a complete delight: energetic, bright, and enthusiastic. I love hanging out with Eunja and her family, and I try to meet up with them at least once a week for a meal and conversation.

This week's excursion took us to Kasai Rinkai Park, a massive waterfront park in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward. The space boasts a giant ferris wheel, freshwater and seawater ponds, vast expanses for bird watching, barbecue stations for picnicking, observation towers, and an aquarium complete with penguins. Naturally, we did not even begin to see everything the park had to offer. But we did get ourselves some festival food (yakisoba, yaki onigiri, and sausages on a stick) and had lunch on the grass, while Son'eu rambled about the fields—seeming to be equally interested in running as far away from us as Eunja would allow and trying to figure out how to operate my parasol.

When Son'eu tired, we put him in his stroller and made for the Tokyo Sea Life Park, an aquarium dedicated to the recreation of the world's various marine habitats. There were tanks for the Great Barrier Reef, and the Caribbean, and the Pacific Northwest, and the Ivory Coast, and everywhere else in between. They even had a penguin habitat, which caused me to reassess the incorrect perception I'd held up to that point that penguins only live in cold climates. Apparently, plenty of species of penguins live in temperate zones. You learn something new everyday.

And another thing about penguins; they are noisy. And they sound kind of like donkeys. Or geese. Or donkey-geese. (Do we even have donkey-geese? We really should. They could be the most fearsome antagonists of an awful made-for-SciFi-movie. They wanted to create the single most ornery animal known to mankind; now they'll wish they hadn't...)

The trip to the aquarium eventually put Son'eu to sleep, although he fought it for a long time because fish are strangely mesmerizing and children always have to fight sleep on principle. But once he'd drifted off, Eunja and I sat down by the gift shop and chatted for a little while over sodas and ice cream. And then it was time to head back "home." I had emails to reply to and the week's schedule to draw up and lots of hentaigana practice waiting for me.

But it was a lovely day, and I can't wait for our next outing.
sechan19: (butterfly)
1) A middle-aged couple from Yamaguchi Prefecture ask if you're going to the Kyushu National Museum, and when you say that you are they suggest that you share their $20 taxi ride (in exchange for nothing but your apparently charming company) out of the goodness of their hearts.

2) You stumble across an amateur sumo competition on the grounds of the Tenman Shrine and determine that the right to wear nothing but a loincloth is extremely enviable.

3) You try plum soft serve ice cream for the first time and consider it one of the single best things to ever happen to your taste buds.
sechan19: (anne)
This morning's culture class was taught by a Mr. Yagino Koji, a seventy-three-year-old gentleman who was an absolute delight. He gave us a lecture on the history of Japan and its impact on the modern Japanese person, and was funny, earnest, and informative in his session. He amused us with his assertions that the Japanese are neither hard-working nor polite (his reasoning being that the introduction of democracy had led many Japanese to take an every man for himself attitude founded on the notion of perfect equality!), and he led us on a lovely walk through the East Imperial Castle Gardens and Ginza.

Mr. Yagino was eleven when the Second World War ended and has vivid memories of the American soldiers. Listening to him speak about his experiences was extremely heartwarming. He spoke very highly of the occupying forces, noting that the soldiers were always kind to the people - especially children, giving them candy and teaching them baseball. It was nice to have this perspective; it's hard to remember sometimes that we Americans don't always screw up and good to be reminded of that fact.

Mr. Yagino had been sent away from home to avoid the air strikes, and when he came home after the war ended the American soldiers began teaching the children how to play baseball. This apparently made the children very happy, as before the war they'd had to do tasks like memorization of all of Japan's 120+ emperors and much preferred playing baseball. Mr. Yagino reports that he was chosen by an American captain to play first base because he was the tallest in his class. The officer stood him in front the base and lobbed the ball, but Mr. Yagino didn't know what to do with it and it hit him in the chest! The officer then showed him how to catch and throw - making him, he claimed, Japan's first baseball player.

Mr. Yagino was full of fascinating information about Japanese life and custom, and I don't think I could cover it all, but I do want to report that - thanks to him - I finally found out why the Japanese always do the peace sign in photographs. Apparently, back in the 1970s, Sammy Davis Jr. did an ad for Suntory Whiskey. (Yes, Suntory Whiskey as in "For a relaxing time; make it Suntory Time.") In that ad, Davis Jr. flashed the peace sign while a tagline for the whiskey advertised the peace and harmony experienced while imbibing the immortal liquor. The Japanese have supposedly been flashing the peace sign ever since.


Apr. 27th, 2007 02:42 am
sechan19: (lin fengmian)
At long last, I take up my pasokon to narrate the tale of my day in Kamakura. I realize it's taken me some time, and I apologize for the delay - citing only my extreme preoccupation with school duties as an excuse.

Read the Kamakura narrative here. )

Check out the Kamakura pictures here. Please note that I didn't have time to get descriptions written yet, but they'll be coming along soon. Also, since I'm not a FlickrPro customer I had to condense the Kamakura set into the Enoshima set. Click on the Hojo Family Crest Lantern and go from there. =]


Apr. 24th, 2007 03:11 am
sechan19: (butterfly)
This weekend I participated in a class trip that was put together by my language school. I and about eight other American students were taken to Enoshima and Kamakura for a whirlwind walking tour of two of Kanagawa Prefecture's loveliest cities.

Read the Enoshima narrative here. )

Check out the Enoshima pictures here.
sechan19: (anne)
It was colder yesterday than it was on Saturday. The weather defied forecasters everywhere by refusing to snow and instead parading the deliciously warm temperature of 65ish throughout the day. Yesterday, however, despite projections of 46, the temperature never went much higher than 38 or so. At least, this was my estimate as I wandered around the city without my jacket or scarf. With the wind chill I'd venture to guess it was well below freezing. Thank goodness I took my hat and gloves at least.

I'm the kind of stubborn person who'd refuse to go back to hotel for warming accessories, so by the time we got home from our museum trek, which took us across Central Park twice, I was pretty nearly frozen. But I'd like to go on record as not having complained once. I made the choice to leave the hotel without a jacket, and I dealt with the choice with a bit of decorum. So there.

Our first stop across the park was the Asia Society's exhibition on arts of Sasanian Iran, a review of which can be read here. The collection was intriguing, although I was saddened that so little of the original show could be brought to the US purely on account of the government's narrow-minded policy on Iranian imports - as if ancient artifacts even fall into that category. Idiots.

Next we hit the nearby Whitney Museum. I went primarily for the Lorna Simpson retrospective that was being held there, and I was heartily glad to have seen a wide variety of her works - which focused on race, gender, and perception. Altogether, however, I was disappointed with the Whitney's use of space. Of five full floors, only one was comprised of pieces from the permanent collection. The rest of the space was given over to a number of temporary, traveling exhibitions. Now, certainly I don't object to exhibitions. Not at all. I just take a dim view of running the museum too much like a gallery. If your museum has a major collection to speak of, and its reputation is largely based on the strength of that collection, it ought to be paid more than the token lip service of a single floor.

After the museums we went back to the little French place we discovered on our last visit, Savann, and had another sinfully sumptuous meal there. We also debated some of the works we'd seen in the Whitney. One piece in particular had seriously offended my mother and spurred a debate in which I played devil's advocate to her staunchly held views on art and ethics. The piece, a deconstructed piano, did not qualify as art in her view because it was not a creation but a destruction.

I argued that the piece was probably designed to evoke a negative response and therefore encourage her to think about the ramifications of destruction. She countered that she could be encouraged to do so through the use of photography. And from there we leaped into a discussion on the marginalization of victims through photography, witness, and perceived empathy - a concept she flatly rejects.
sechan19: (lin fengmian)
In brief.

I'm a little too tuckered out for much more than a rundown. A lot's happened in the last week, and I think it's catching up with me. Nevertheless, I want to sketch the details out while it's still fresh.

In the morning yesterday we headed through an absolutely sun-dappled day across Central Park over to the Met. The weather was perfect, in the high 60s, with just the right touches of sunshine all over. We ate out at a Mediterranean restaurant called Zeytin's, where we had Gruyere stuffed philo rolls for starters and grilled salmon over sauteed spinach.

At the Met I able to return to the Japanese galleries and take higher quality photos of certain key images from the 13th through 16th centuries that intrigue me. We also had time on this visit to take in the European and Modern galleries. In one gallery, buried behind the endless Impressionists, was a late painting by Georges Braque - 1939's The Studio. I was utterly fascinated by the texturization of this image, spending timeless moments in front of it.

You never know what you'll find in the lesser visited galleries of a museum. I'm awfully glad I found this...

After the Met we took in the Broadway show Chicago, which starred Bebe Neuwirth as the irrepressible, irresponsible Roxie Hart. I'd signed on to the show with the sole desire of seeing Bebe Neuwirth, but I was truly blown away by the show. It was totally awesome. Crazy, zany, fun.

Okay, this isn't brief. So I guess I'll type up the lowdown on today's exploits tomorrow.
sechan19: (lin fengmian)
On a trip this evening, we traveled through a very dark and stormy night indeed. On the windshield of the car, sitting right in front of my superstitious nose, was a condensation mark that would not fade - and it resembled (very strongly) a pirate flag with the skeletal mask and crossbones of that emblematic banner.

Talk of evil omens!

Through my mind flashed remembrances of all the stories I'd ever read of people who got themselves into healthy helpings of trouble after seeing some kind of fabled, magical deathmark. But of course nothing of undue interest occurred on the way. Conversation, strange radio stations of the heartland, a little dinner, and the usual suspects you find on a road trip.

And a few you don't generally encounter.
For example, a road sign that read: "Flushing Bethesda."


Talk about darkness.
sechan19: (lin fengmian)
Going to sleep on two-thirds of a bottle of Beaujolais meant that I slept better than I had previously, but I still woke up stiff the following morning. As a result, I was eager to get up and get moving around to wake my bones and stretch my muscles out. Check out time was 11am, and we left the hotel at around 10:20am - after having washed, dressed, packed, and scanned the room in a final valuables check.

My flight out of JFK was not until 8:30pm, and Mom and I wanted to spend every available moment together, so we stowed our bags in the lobby and caught a taxi down to the MoMA. Modern art museums often feature works that draw an eye-roll from me, but I was delighted to view the wonderfully staged exhibition Manet and the Execution of Emperor Maximilian as well as some related works by Gerhard Richter. There were also a number of fine Fernard Leger's on view, as well as works by Carrie Mae Weems and Yayoi Kusama. I left the museum with a sense of satisfaction and before I had to see any pieces by Donald Judd (always a plus), although I was subjected to a Carl Andre (can't win them all).

Wandering the museum had worked up our appetite and we ducked into a little nearby Irish pub where we had absolutely delectable homemade tomato soup and simple, but filling, sandwichs from scratch.

Our next stop was the Onassis Cultural Center, which was hard to find because it was listed as being on Fifth Avenue between 51st and 52nd, and it was really on 51st (although the address was a Fifth Avenue address... strange). We went into the Rockefeller Center to ask directions, but they didn't know where the Onassis Center was, which struck me as bizarre. I suppose two suns hold not their sway in the same sky, or something. At the Onassis Center we saw the Athens-Sparta exhibit that I blogged about earlier here, and it was fairly interesting. It was a well-designed exhibition that featured some fascinating information about the early Greeks, and it was the only place we went that didn't cost a mint, so that was alright. All in all, not too much to write home about, although I wouldn't go by my opinion honestly - I like Greek art, but I don't like it that much, and I couldn't help feeling a tinge of exhaustion towards the end of the exhibit. I suppose that's why I don't study Greek art.

With our museum questing over, we took a cab back into our neck of the woods and got coffee and hot chocolate, relaxed in a nice, warm cafe, and chatted over the events of the weekend. Then we got the car out of the parking garage, picked up our bags from storage, and began the long, traffic-filled jaunt out to JFK airport. Mom dropped me there early, which is better than late any day, and I sat and sat in the terminal, as my flight was delayed due to weather. (The perils of flying during the winter.) I finally got home around 1:30am, and J. was a gentleman and picked me up, late as it was, took me home, and slept on the couch without a word of reproach.

And my great adventure had ended.
sechan19: (butterfly)
We decided to spend a laconic day in New York instead running madly about as we'd initially planned.

I slept badly last night - very badly, if the truth be told - as strange and disconcerting dreams plagued me. Mom had a sore back from all our tremendous wanderings of the previous day. In the place of aimless sightseeing, we stayed in the hotel for most of the day, although I ventured out in the late morning to collect coffee and breakfast materials from a nearby cafe, and to enjoy the new chill in the overcast air. Mainly we read: Mom a fantasy novel, myself excerpts from Said's Orientalism.

At dinnertime, I searched the web for nearby restaurants and decided that I wanted something decadent for out last evening in the big city. We decided on Savann, a French/Eclectic place that served delightful fare. I had a mint-yogurt rice soup for starters and pan-seared salmon over peas and risotto for the main course. They offered a fine selection of wines, and I chose a bottle of their 2004 Beaujolais, which was sprightly and sumptuous. The entire meal was a treat. We lingered over it, moving from course to course, drinking our wine and conversing on a variety of subjects. The entire process took nearly three hours and was a joy.

Tomorrow we'll go to the MoMA and the Onassis Center, as we had planned for today, before making the run out to JFK for the noble charger that will ferry me home.
sechan19: (lin fengmian)
We were indulgent this morning and lazed in bed until the late morning. Once up and on the move, we walked over to Central Park by way of a cute, little, hole-in-the-wall coffee shop that made decent butter croissants. Our walk through Central Park took us over an hour, as we strolled our way along its labyrinthine pathways - past beautiful rocks, through numerous and beautifully acoustic tunnels, along the banks of a cattail-studded pond, and around a strange obelisk. I took pictures of blooming Forsythia and of a trumpet-playing busker in one of the tunnels.

Our first stop was the Neue Gallerie, where we viewed a few absolutely gorgeous paintings by Klimt and I became annoyed with the audio guide - which relied mainly on leading-by-the-hand formal analysis and contained only rudimentary facts, although it was designed to keep the visitors looking at the works for a record two minutes. (Most museum-goers spend around fifteen seconds with a work of art before moving on.) There was an exhibition on Viennese design that was intriguing and featured a number of design styles that were clearly ripped off by Frank Lloyd Wright. (There was one photograph of a dining room that could have been straight out of Robie House, except for the fact that it predated Robie house by about ten years.) Mom and I took great pleasure in mentioning this to a group of women who were commenting on the similarities. It's been my experience that people often notice the Wright style in his predecessors but also tend to assume that Wright came first, which he did not. It's one of my life's missions to make sure that people understand the man was a hack, and sharing that information today was highly satisfying.

Read the rest of this entry. )
sechan19: (kusama)
At the Neue Gallerie this afternoon we stopped off in the bookstore after touring the museum. Mom looked at books on Viennese design, and I perused the art theory section. As this particular museum is dedicated to German and Austrian Art of the first half of the twentieth century, most of the works of theory were from German theoreticians - Adorno, Benjamin, Berg, etc.

As I was looking at the stacks (pulling a book out here, running a tracing finger along a spine there) a little old German man and his grandson, a full-blooded American boy, came up behind me. The grandson said to his grandfather, "Here's one," indicating a volume of the correspondence between Adorno and Berg.

"I have it in German," the grandfather said. "And honestly, I don't know why Berg bothered. It was a waste of his time. Adorno is deplorable."

"Why is that?" the grandson asked.

And it was at this point that Teva Jones turned to them and spewed forth her bossy, opinionated thoughts on Adorno. I spake thus: "He could never make up his mind about anything. He went back and forth ad infinitum under the guise of creating an aesthetic experience with his writings when really he was just refusing to take a position like any good theorist should."

The little old German man nodded his approval. "You're absolutely right," he beamed. Then he leaned in confidentially. "You know, Schoenberg despised him."

"Really?" I asked. (Arnold Schoenberg was one of Adorno's major influences.)

"Yes," he said. "Adorno was a student of Schoenberg's, even, and he hated him. You should read his critiques - they're right in line with your opinions."

"I will do that," I told him. "Thank you!"

"Thank you!" he said. And off they went.

A short time later, I ran into them in the coat check room. We said goodbye, and as I waited for my coat the little man came back. "I'd just like to add a further point about Adorno," he told me. "He was horrible towards women. It's a well known fact. He was just terrible to his female students."

sechan19: (butterfly)
I took a red-eye flight last night and slept as much as possible on the plane. When we landed early at JFK International, I called my mother and let her know I was at the terminal. She had gotten a very late start and consequently only managed about an hour of sleep. So we elected to go back to her hotel and catch a few extra hours of shuteye. I certainly didn't mind. I had planned a very relaxed day anyway - one gallery, an early dinner, and a refreshing evening in.

We woke up again at 11am (EST) - my flight had arrived at 7am - and checked out of the hotel around noon. We then began the lengthy process of negotiating New York traffic into the city. Even at midday the traffic is a killer. We found a nearby parking structure to store the car, and checked into our city hotel at roughly 1:30. In our sixth-floor room, we dropped our bags and determined what to do with our time.

I hopped on the Internet to check out some of the smaller gallery exhibits and discovered that the New York Performing Arts Library (which was hosting a pair of exhibitions) was only twelve blocks away. We set out for it, intending to find something to eat en route. At W 72nd and Amsterdam we discovered Seven's Turkish Grill and ate a simply delightful early meal there. Grilled lamb over rice with grilled tomatoes and peppers, and a heavenly lentil soup (flavored with cardamom and fennel) to start. I drank Turkish cherry juice for an aperitif, and the kindly waiters there offered us baklava dessert on the house. Such luxury!

With that sumptuous repast under our belts, we ventured on to the Library for their exhibit celebrating 75 years of collecting theatrical memorabilia, Stars and Treasures: 75 Years of Collecting Theatre. Included in the show were a number of posters, photos, letters, and programs, and a special section that was comprised of mementos donated, upon request, by famous theater actors like Bebe Neuwirth, Christine Ebersole, Christopher Plummer, Roger Rees, and Ben Vereen. Some of these mementos were accompanied by written explanations of their significance to the actor in question. The choices of what to give were fascinating.

Also at the library was a photography exhibit called In Character: Actors Acting, a collection of photos of various actors posed in an emotional moment - say coming home to find your husband kissing the babysitter, getting a blow job from your wife, or discovering your daughter was pregnant. Some were extremely fun, like F. Murray Abraham's portrayal of a twelve-year-old girl discovering she'd won a chance to go backstage at a Justin Timberlake concert, or George Seagal acting out the various expressions of a pregnant woman in labor.

I took a couple of photos that I'll post later, but the idea and the end product were both rousing and amusing. Many of the actors gave astonishing performances in their one moment of time.

With this completed, we walked back to the hotel by way of a corner market to pick up some drinks for the evening. Now Mom is reading quietly, and I'll soon join her. In a while we'll watch a movie and then tuck into bed for tomorrow's activities. We're touring the Metropolitan Museum of Art, stopping by the Neue Gallerie of German and Austrian Art, and then taking in the play, "The Vertical Hour," which stars Julianne Moore and Bill Nighy. I can't wait!

May 2014

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