Boston & Kyoto: Sister Cities.

From a 2009 article in The Boston Globe‘s online paper, boston.com:

Boston, Kyoto Celebrate 50-year Bond

(excerpt) “For Boston, it’s the mother of all sister-city relationships. This week, Boston and Kyoto are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Boston’s first formal partnership with a foreign city.  A week-long flurry of public events included yesterday’s Japan Night at Fenway Park, honoring the four Japanese players on the Red Sox roster, among them Hideki Okajima, a native of Kyoto. Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa of Kyoto threw out the first ball. With him were a dozen boys from the Boston area who have just completed a baseball-focused exchange tour of Japan, a year after 12 young Japanese ballplayers visited Boston in a similar exchange. . . .”

I was last in Boston in August 2008.  Here are just a few photos I took in that wonderful American city . . .

On the way to The Barking Crab (great seafood).

Looking back, on the way to The Barking Crab (great seafood).

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Locals love this place as much as visitors.

Locals love this place as much as visitors.

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Boston's famous rail system:  The T.

Boston’s famous rail system: The T.

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Look carefully:  you'll see the rainbow.

Look carefully: you’ll see the rainbow.

And there’s my dear, beautiful Kyoto.

Anyway, hang in there Boston / ボストン頑張ろう!    The world’s with you.  .  .

Recommending Three Recently-Published Books.

This is a first for LetsJapan.Wordpress.Com  I have books, new books on Japan, to recommend (plus a “Bonus Book”).  They’re friends’ books, in fact, so besides the treat you’d be giving yourself, you’d be doing me a great favor by checking out what my friends have done.  Also, I have a personal connection with each book, even if that connection’s a little tangential.  I bet you will, too.  .  .

1.  Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage:  900 Miles to Enlightenment.

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Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage:  900 Miles to Enlightenment, by Amy Chavez.

“I had always wanted to do the Shikoku Pilgrimage ever since I heard about it when I first came to Japan in 1994. There are, of course, many ways to do the journey. If you do it on foot, it takes 5-6 weeks to complete. By bicycle, you’ll need about 10 days. You can also visit the temples by bus or car. To cover all 88 temples, it will take at least a week, even by car. Most foreigners are interested in walking it. It’s a great physical challenge as well as an opportunity to feel the countryside and Japan’s ancient culture. You’ll miss a lot of that if you do the pilgrimage by car. . . .”  Amy Chavez, in this interview on  Femina Intrepida.

Personal:  I’ve not yet done the 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku.  However, I’ve been to Mount Koya, where Kobo Daishi — founder of Shikoku’s temples (not all of them, but he started the whole shebang) — set up a vast, and mysterious, temple complex.  More than that, I’ve been many times, more than a dozen I estimate, to Kobo Daishi’s home temple, To-ji, in Kyoto.  At one of To-ji’s main building’s 88 scrolls — one for each of the Shikoku 88 — are unfurled around it, stones set in the ground below each scroll.  Any one can do a “Mini Pilgrimage” by going round the building, stepping from stone to stone, and making a reverent, sincere, bow before each scroll and offering-up a prayer.  Here’s a photo I took on May 21, 2008, of people doing just that:

1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008.

1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008.

Amazon.com Link, reviews.

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2.  The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn.

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The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn

By (his wife), Setsuko Koizumi.  Edited & Illustrated by my friend, Hayato Tokugawa.

“There was no one who did more in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than Lafcadio Hearn to bring the inner thoughts and ideals of Japan, its religions, its superstitions, its art, its way of thought, all that animates its people, to the West. He lived in Meiji Era Japan and became one of its citizens, linking East and West, but received no public recognition, no decorations; yet, the world places a crown of laurel upon his head.Todai moto kurashi.”The foot of the beacon is dark.”In Reminiscences of Lafcadio Hearn, Setsuko Koizumi, Mrs. Hearn, has written wonderful, affectionate recollections of her life with Lafcadio Hearn in a book that is simply written, almost naive at times, sometimes funny yet at other times almost tragic, providing insights into herself, her family, and her husband and his wonderful writings on Old Japan.”  From The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn.

Personal:  LafCadio Hearn arrived in Japan in 1890 to begin a new life as a school teacher in Matsue, a town in Southern Japan situated on its western coast, on the Sea of Japan.  The first Hearn I read was a slim book of diaries.  I read it in 1990, 100 years after Hearn landed, not many months after I landed in Japan and began teaching in a Middle School, not too far from Matsue and Japan’s western coast.  I was amazed to find that much of what Hearn had written — impressions and insights about his students, the school system, his life as a teacher, etc. — were things that I could have written 100 years later.

Amazon.com Link, reviews.

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3.  Crossing on the Paris.

This one, Crossing on the Paris, is different.  It’s a historical novel.  It is not set in Japan, but rather, on the great (and very real) Trans-Atlantic Ship, The Paris, in 1921.  It was written by my friend Dana Gynther.  It’s her debut novel.  Dana and I have known each other since we were both undergrads at the University of Alabama in the early-to-mid 1980s.  Dana lives with her husband and two daughters (one whom I understand is simply nuts about Japan) in Valencia, Spain.  This book is a wonderful read and is No. 2 on Amazon.com’s “Downton Abbey Reading List.”

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Crossing on the Paris, by Dana Gynther.

Being confined to a relatively small space—an ocean liner is an enormous boat, but a boat nonetheless—for almost a week does open a door to many possibilities. While doing research, I found that most people who made crossings back then claimed that time passed differently on board, that days felt like weeks. In this short time span, it was not uncommon for life-long friendships to form, for deep, dark secrets to be revealed to other travelers, for near-strangers to get engaged. In this book, all three women are travelling alone; reaching out to others is part of our very human willingness—or desire—to make friends, to share, to feel connected.  Dana Gynther, in this interview.

Personal:  I mention my personal connection with Dana at the beginning of this section.  Beyond that, Dana and I correspond occasionally, reminiscing about days gone by in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dana giving me sage writer’s advice as I complete a first-draft manuscript on my Japan adventures over the years, and so on.  Moreover, I’m just honored and humbled to know such an incredible writer, one who can put the reader into the scene, into the moment.

Amazon.com Link, Reviews.

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Irises

Irises*

As I walked through my neighborhood yesterday (one of those cool but not cold, tantalizingly Almost Spring days) I spotted something that immediately took my mind to Ogata Korin, the 17th and 18th Century Rimpa Master (I’m sure this happens to us all).  Here’s what I saw yesterday.  You can see the sidewalk running by on the left-hand side of the photo:

Irises. 7th Avenue South. March 9, 2013.

Irises. 7th Avenue South. March 9, 2013.

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This is a detail of one of Korin’s (1658-1716) six-panel screens (byoubu – 屏風), Irises:

Korin (1658-1716). Irises.

Korin (1658-1716). Irises.

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Last month, in the post immediately preceding this one, I went to town with a homage to and much nostalgia about Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942), also a Rimpa Master, but who brought the school into and modernized it for and with the 20th Century.  Sekka painted irises, too, in the 20th Century.  Here’s one of his “Irises,” which is a photo of a Sekka post card I bought about ten years ago at the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art:

Sekka (1868-1942). Irises.

Sekka (1866-1942). Irises.

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Almost five years ago, in May 2008, I guided a group of University of Alabama-Birmingham students, a history class, through Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Hiroshima and elsewhere in southern Japan.  I can’t take all credit because I merely worked together as a team with the class’s excellent professor.  At any rate, we — the professor and I — took the class to Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, in Kyoto.  One of those “must see” places in Kyoto.  I had been many times before.  Even though the day was a bit overcast, the irises were bang-on beautiful.  It should be noted:  both Korin and Sekka were from Kyoto and would have certainly seen the irises of Kinkaku-ji, as I have and you are about to  .  .  .

Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto. May 2008.

Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto. May 2008.

If you look at the extremely right-hand side, mid-picture, of the photo above, you’ll see irises.  The photos below are of those same irises.

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Irises at Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto. May 2008.

Irises at Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto. May 2008.

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Irises and Kinkaku-ji.  Kyoto.  May 2008.

Irises and Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto. May 2008.

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*There are both wet and dry-land iris varieties.

Sekka (雪佳神坂) – Ten Years Since Kyoto・L.A.・Bhm

光陰矢のごとし

Time flies like an arrow . . .

Late August 2003  —  Our day started in Birmingham, Alabama.  A flight to Detroit. Then Northwest (back when there was a Northwest) Flight 69 to Kansai International Airport, out in Osaka Bay. Then the Haruka Line:  fifty-five minutes by train from the airport, through Osaka and inland to Kyoto.  That ended our day’s trip.  It was her fourth or fifth visit to Japan, my eighth or ninth (though my first to trips were to live in Japan, years before). We were there on an antiquities buying trip for our business.  We were also there to be on hand at the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art‘s August 29 opening of the Kamisaka Sekka exhibition.  A retrospective of the artist’s work that would almost mirror the journey we had just made.  In other words, it would begin in Kyoto and wind up in Birmingham.  I was to make a speech at the opening, just some remarks, actually.  On behalf of the Birmingham Museum of Art‘s Asian Art Society, which my then-wife and I served as co-presidents.  I would make my remarks in Japanese.

Sekka Exhibition Poster. Train near Kyoto. 2003.

Sekka Exhibition Poster. Train near Kyoto. 2003.

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After several months in Kyoto the Sekka Exhibition traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and, then it came to Birmingham, where its Asian Art Curator had originated the idea for a comprehensive Sekka Retrospective.

Ticket. Birmingham Museum of Art Sekka Exhibition. 2004.

Ticket. Birmingham Museum of Art Sekka Exhibition. 2004.

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Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942).  Sekka was a native of Kyoto.  His life spanned four Japanese Eras:  the last couple years of the Edo Period (1603-1867), the Meiji Period (1868-1911), the Taisho Period (1912-1925), and the couple decades of the Showa Period (1926-1989).  The Edo Period was marked by the multi-generational reign of the Tokugawa Shoguns, with a succession of Emperors “ruling” as virtual captives of the Tokugawa Generalissimos.  Japan was almost entirely closed off, isolated from the rest of the exploring and developing world during this 250-plus year period.  But art and artists and artisans thrived.  When the Emperor was “restored” to the throne in 1868 and a new era of Constitutional Monarchy began in Japan, the country exploded with foreign ideas and influences — from political, to technological and industrial, to military, to fashion and design, to social, to artistic.  This was the era, the Meiji Period, Kamisaka Sekka came of age in.  However, he was an artist steeped in 1,000 years of quite Japanese expressive traditions; traditions of form, style, technique, iconography.  Sekka’s was the Kyoto-based Rimpa School (tradition, or style), which flourished during the latter two-thirds of the preceding Edo Period.  Many Rimpa School works define to both Japanese and foreigners alike a great part of the “look” Japanese art.  The Rimpa School often borrowed from both ancient Japanese (Heian Era — 794-1185)  and Chinese styles, then modernized and updated (to the 17th through 19th Centuries) the classic techniques and subjects.  Much of what is considered “classic” Rimpa style is bold, sweeping, dramatic and often near-abstract, though the subject of the painting (whether on screens, sliding doors, fans, or boxes) is never in doubt.

Here’s Korin’s “Irises,” a classic Rimpa work:

Irises. Korin Ogata (1658-1716).

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Working within the general Rimpa style, Sekka took that Rimpa “look” and made it his own, updated it again, often gave it a touch or whimsy, irony or humor that was rarely employed by earlier Rimpa Masters (but, in fact, harkened back to an artistic mindset not uncommon back in the 12th and 13th Centuries — see, for example, the “Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga”).  Whether in painting, woodblock carving, screens, textiles, ceramics, furniture or other media, Sekka took a style that was of  17th and 18th Century Japan and made it accessible to and of the 20th Century.  And that’s what made Sekka so important as a master, perhaps the Master, or at least, as the exhibition called him, “Pioneer,” of modern design in and for Japan.

Sekka’s Puppies and Snail (1920):

Puppies and Snail. 1920. Kamisaka Sekka.

A few more Sekka images .   .   .

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Sekka_12

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Kyoto Opening, August 29, 2003 —  The exhibition’s first stop was the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art (京都国立近代美術館). Along with the Birmingham Museum of Art’s Curator, I and my then-wife represented the BMA and City of Birmingham at the opening.  According to my contemporaneous notes, the opening crowd numbered 534 Sekka enthusiasts.  According to this article in ArtDaily.com, the exhibition “opened to record crowds” that night in Kyoto.  I had been asked to offer a few remarks to the crowd during the short opening ceremony, which I did in Japanese, although I’m ashamed to say that it was one of my less-stellar performances.  Still, the crowd was polite and they came for the art, not to test my Japanese speech-making skills.  What was sort of funny was that about nine months later, when the exhibition opened at the Birmingham Museum of Art, my wife and I were just two people in the crowd; our “VIP” status long gone.  Immediately below is a photo featuring several of the six people (myself included) whom the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art treated to an exceptional dinner follow the August 2003 opening.

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Post- Exhibition Opening Party, Kyoto. August 29, 2003. faces purposefully cropped-out.

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Kamisaka Sekka Exhibition Poster. Yanagi Antiques, Kyoto. 2003.

Kamisaka Sekka Exhibition Poster. Yanagi Antiques, Kyoto. 2003.

Edo-Kyo (江戸京)

Edo-Kyo (江戸・京) is a sushi-sashimi restaurant tucked down at the bottom of some off-street stairs along San-Jo street in Kyoto.  To get to it begin at the several-storied CD & DVD store at the corner of Kawabata and San-jo. Walk down San-jo past The Pig & Whistle. Edo-Kyo just a couple dozen steps further, on the same side of San-Jo as the CD store and Pig & Whistle.  Look for the sign on your left, then go down the stairs, through the split curtains (“noren“) and through the door into the restaurant-proper.

Top of the stairs Edo-Kyo sign and entrance.

Top of the stairs Edo-Kyo sign and entrance.

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Down the stairs. . .

Down the stairs. . .

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Master sushi chef, Jun-san, welcomes all patrons. . .

Master sushi chef, Jun-san, welcomes all patrons. . .

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Featured in a chapter of my upcoming book:

Edo-Kyo combined Tokyo’s old name “Edo” with the first half of “Kyoto”, designating a wide-ranging cuisine of sashimi and sushi and lightly grilled seafood.  It’s a single, white room with one long bar to the left and a with a contemporary calligraphic work spanning the entire, long wall to the patron’s right as they enter, having come down a set of stairs and through a door from the street above.  Cool jazz plays low and all chefs, servers and patrons speak in equally low, reserved voices – because you want to, not because you have to.  It’s a Comfortable Place, friendly and not pretentious.  There’s no fresher sushi in town.  It’s expensive, though.  I always had the vinegared octopus salad.  We both enjoyed the various cuts of tuna sashimi.  The flame-grilled scallop, with sea salt and lemon, is worth a trip to the other side of the world. . . .

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And while, yes, the scene painted in the excerpt set out immediately above was one I shared with my former spouse, I’ve visited EdoKyo many times over the intervening years with Japanese friends, with the Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Texas Christian University, with the Executive Director of the Jackson County (Alabama) Economic Development Authority, the (now retired) President of Nippon Steel & Sumikin-Intercom, and various other friends and acquaintances.  EdoKyo’s simply a favorite spot and I’ll oh-so-lament the day I go and find out it’s no longer there.

2013 ~~ Happy Year of the Snake! (へび年)

Happy New Year . . .

明けましておめでとうございます

Ah*ke*ma*shi*te    Oh*meh*de*toh    Goh*za*i*mas

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According to the Chinese calendar, 2013 is the Year of the Snake.  This ancient calendar runs in 12-year cycles.  2012 was the Year of the Dragon and 2011 was the Year of the Rabbit.  2010, the Tiger.  Below you’ll see a photo of a snake, a young cottonmouth, I took in the U.S. Deep South Alabama earlier this year.

Cottonmouth.  In the Deep South piney woods.

Cottonmouth. In the Deep South piney woods.

Positive and negative attributes of persons born in a Year of the Snake (2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941 . . .) -

 *  Positive: The Snake can be amiable, compromising, fun-loving, altruistic, honorable, sympathetic, philosophical, charitable, a paragon of fashion, intuitive, discreet, diplomatic, amusing and sexy.

*  Negative: The Snake can also be self-righteous, imperious, judgmental, conniving, mendacious, grabby, clinging, pessimistic, fickle, haughty, ostentatious and a very sore loser.

Quoted in toto from this site.

More characteristics (which I quote from the same, above-linked site) of persons born in a Snake Year:

The person born in the year of snake is the wisest and most enigmatic of all. He/she can become a philosopher, a theologian, a political lizard or a wily financier. Such person is a thinker who also likes to live well. The snake – person loves books, music, clothes, and fine food; but with all his fondness for the good things of life, his innate elegance gives him a dislike for frivolities and foolish talk.

They like communicating and like interesting conversations, although if the conversation becomes repetitive their attention may soon wander. It is almost impossible to fix their attention for long talking about the weather. They prefer to focus on new interesting unusual ides and intelligent discussion in general.

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Your author actually has a little, recent, history with snakes in Japan.  Below is a photo of yours truly, taken at the City of Hitachi’s Kamine Zoo in 2008.  They thought I’d be all scared and freaked out by having a snake hung round my shoulders.  They had little idea that I spent much of my childhood in the woodsy wilds of South Alabama .  .  .

Yours Truly, at Kamine Zoo. Hitachi, Japan. 2008.

Yours Truly, at Kamine Zoo. Hitachi, Japan. 2008.

Here are a few ways the Year of the Snake is being commemorated and celebrated in Japan:

“It’s a great year, you know!”

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So, Happy Year of the Snake and Best Wishes for Health and Prosperity in 2013!

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