Monday, April 17, 2017

February in Tokyo: Valentine's Day, the Free Art Gallery Circuit in Roppongi & Girls' Day Out in Ueno

It's already peppermint camellia season again.




Since we got back to Tokyo I've had a long and continuously rotating set of lists and screenshots of things I want to do, and one that came up in February was seeing a young superflat artist who goes by ob at the Kaikai Kiki gallery in Hiro-o. 
Rather than a wonky, drug-addled comic book style of superflat reminiscent of Aya Takano or even Ponyo, ob's is more lowbrow pop surrealist, like if Margaret Keane's waifs took on a vaguely more anime-ish quality and were perpetually shrouded in light blue mist.

10+ years ago me would be losing it over how casual visiting this gallery seems now, because that me was a pretty big fan of Takashi Murakami's collective throughout high school, which was its heyday. I invited along a pretty big group of people: Rejon, Meika, Audrey, Eman, and then Don and Gillian plus two of Gillian's flaky friends who briefly joined us later.

Unfortunately I'm a fucking idiot and didn't see anywhere on Kaikai Kiki's site that the gallery is closed on Sundays, which we found out once everyone was there and had walked uphill and found the place.

Who closes a gallery on Sundays.

(ノಥ益ಥ)ノ ┻━┻

The second part of the plan was to go back to Vege Herb Saga in Ueno Okachimachi, because ever since NiQui, Rejon and I went last fall after a similar artsy outing we had been wanting to go back. I had posted to everyone that it was a straight shot on the Hibiya line but that it would take like 25 minutes, and that seemed okay in theory, but felt like forever in practice. 

Seeing the replicas of the Lascaux cave paintings that were on display at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno at the time was my first choice, but at least two people had plans that evening, so I tried to match something shorter and still close by enough to be feasible with the vegetarian South Indian food to make it a half-day.

We were all hungry by this point, so even though Kaikai Kiki fell flat, this went over well.



Don, Gillian, and the two random friends who were never introduced to the rest of us (apparently they're perpetually inconsiderate and annoying so whatever lol) went on their way at the station, but four remained and were willing to follow me to something else nearby that I'd taken a screenshot of a couple of months before and never actually expected to see: Ueno Park is full of museums, but I bet you've never heard of the Shitamachi Museum, have you?!

Also the lotus pond is spoopy af in winter ._.


Oh! But wait, the plum blossoms are starting to come out, so that's okay.
(Hm, nope, still spoopy)

But so, the relatively obscure little Shitamachi Museum, situated inconspicuously next to that lotus pond, has recreated all the main aspects of what life looked like in the Taisho era (early 1900's). "Shitamachi" or 下町 literally means "downtown", so yes, this is more or less what Tokyo looked like not long after it opened up to the rest of the world and first became super trendy in the West.


A couple of tiny alleys and shopfronts..


A paper lantern with what to me looks like a suspiciously Nordic giant..


Vintage toys..


Playing with vintage toys like the ones Hannes and I played with at Bingoya a year ago..



.. ah, and Satan's Puzzle Corner!

These things were impossible! I can do those horseshoe puzzles where you're meant to get the ring in the centre off of thanks to similar field trips to the Pioneer Living History Museum ye olde weste towne as a kid, but fuck these rope ones! 
Audrey's face says it all haha.

Meika managed to figure out this one with a leather strap, and we all made her show us and then pressured her to figure out the rest of them, because Eman even asked a museum lady who came by who said that she specifically isn't allowed to show anyone. So Meika responded with what I've realised is her trademark sound, a worried and quavering little whine that sounds like "Noooo..."

After she showed us how to solve the only puzzle anyone did get, though, Rejon held it up in "by the power of Grayskull..!" fashion and hilariously and repeatedly congratulated herself, because honestly, just finding out that any of them were possible was pretty satisfying.


"Why yes, it is the Showa era now."


"Eman and I have moved in together. Shhh."
"Don't worry, I'll keep your secret. Congratulations."

This is the only time I've ever used #squadgoals and probably the only time 
anyone has ever used #multinationalsailorscouts 

...#nerdalert

On the way back to the station we walked through Ameyokocho, 
a famous shopping street that honestly just reminds me of Seoul. 
I want to go back and check it out one more time if I can.



There are lots of slaps on the corners across the street from Ueno Station, too.
Meika recognised this worn-out one on the bottom here as Filipino artist Garapata, and as I recently said, thanks a lot, because now that I know about her I really want one of her many-legged tote bags.

All in all it was a nice Sunday out, and no one seemed to mind too terribly that the gallery had been closed. Everyone got along pretty famously, as I had hoped they would, and you know, Audrey and Eman even went back in time and moved in together, so that's a pretty big step to take after just one afternoon. 

Before we all went home, because it was getting dark and we were tired from going here, there, and everywhere all day long, we decided to have a coffee together. The first place couldn't accommodate a group of 5 people and after they had seated at least that many Japanese customers ahead of us, we walked out and found a different cafe. 

Audrey told us all about her vegan cupcakes and the Eros Revenant promo video she helped make, and we somehow got onto the topic of sadomasochism. Eman had never heard the terms we were mentioning because, as she said more than reasonably in her own defense and in her impeccably-enunciated British accent: "I was raised in the Middle East!"
I wonder if she's had time to give Venus in Furs a try yet?



This is me glaring after finally visiting my company's majorly upgraded new office right across from the Scientology building in Nishishinjuku because it was snowing, and Yasu, who I don't really like, had said that it wasn't after just having come in from outside. 


And here are some nearby slaps, because why not


Cherry blossom season is just around the corner - I got these flowers and sweets for myself
because they were really cheap and cute! Why else?!



Netflix Japan got a Mexican series based on the life of Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, of all the completely random things. It's actually really well-made, though, and reminded me of when I studied about her and all kinds of other things I'd completely blanked out of my head from college.

It also reminded me of the weird rambling Czech professor in the man sandals who was lowkey fixated on her. 
In retrospect, though, it's a whole lot weirder that the psychotic and oppressive religious attitudes of the New Spain of hundreds of years ago, rooted heavily in misogyny and racism, are still prevalent today, and that the same type of people are still in power. A whole lot fucking weirder.


You know what else is really cool, though? This. It's its own genre, biopunk, and even though I liked The Water Knife, this came first and is way more detailed and lush. 
Hannes and I both loved it.

Finally, there's Valentine's Day, which was pretty eventful. I had work in the morning only and then went to Chien Fu for lunch, an almost completely vegan Chinese restaurant in Roppongi Hills.


Those hot delicious gomadango are sitting next to this American Nations book I keep talking about, though, not The Windup Girl; I went to Chien Fu and then around to free galleries in Roppongi Hills twice in February. There are a ton of them, actually, and later I want to make a more detailed post with a map and links.

This first time, though, on Valentine's Day, I went for a walk behind Mori tower looking for a free gallery I ended up forgetting to screenshot the map for and found a very fancy residential area I never knew was there, complete with a playground full of half-Japanese English-speaking kids and this here robot totem pole.

There are shrines and temples tucked into alleys and back streets all over Tokyo
casually creating massive juxtapositions like this.

There's also a gourmet mini cupcake shop in Roppongi Hills.
Not today, Satan!

The first gallery, called A/D Gallery, turned out (as far as I could tell at the time; later I went back with NiQui, Rejon, and Meika when it was open) to be this really great artsy shop near the Mori Art Museum I've visited so frequently. I mean, they have Yayoi Kusama originals and more dotting the walls and for sale at absolutely mind-fucking prices, so it still counts as a gallery, right?

Actually, I've intentionally avoided it each time I visited Mori, because I thought they just had more generic Roppongi and downtown Tokyo souvenirs and other goods, and let's be honest, because I didn't trust myself not to spend more money I didn't really have. This was a mistake! Go in there!

They have art zines that are pretty expensive, but you can flip through all the samples for free.

They also have absurdly intricate little papercraft diorama sets, though they're like 15 bucks.


Look at the detail! The petals, the baby ducks! What got me when I took a closer look at all the different sets was the totally superfluous addition of "Lost Dog" to the football game. 
NiQui nearly died getting sucked into the details of the cop's tiny bulletproof vest in the crime scene set. And yes, there is a chalk outline almost as fine as a single hair included in that one.

"A Grist of Time"; to save you the trouble of Googling like I had to a "grist" is just a seed.
Really cool oil painting in a really cool frame, though.

And it's hard to tell, but in this one, the golden skull is full of tiny circuits.
These two pieces by Akito Nakai were at Gallery Momo, which is so tiny and tucked away
into what looks like a utility closet but I really like it.


I've mentioned complex665 and how ShugoArts has this amazing 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque exhibition or installation room, and I've gotta say, they really outdid themselves once again.


These are Venetian glass sculptures by Ritsue Mishima, and the presentation made me feel
like I was at an alien museum.


I also took a selfie in one of her other pieces.
#shinyandchromeforever


I'm almost completely sure this one was actually done by a child and that the room 
I slunk into to see it was a private meeting room I wasn't supposed to slink into.


This wall-sized painting by Yuko Someya was just the kind of dark + whimsical
I really enjoy.
Oh hey, speaking of lowbrow/pop surrealism... This was a group exhibition with several artists, and this was the lone Hideaki Kawashima piece.  


These ones were by Shintaro Miyake and I kind of hated them a little bit, though he does quite a variety of interesting mixed media, sculptural, and mural experiments, like this alien jellyfish installation back in 2004 for example. But then, see, that's like, Prime Superflat Time. Of course I like it better than this ridiculous X-Files donkey.

And finally there was this incredibly intricate and bizarre Ei Arakawa exhibition, which incorporated these handmade LED screens with this bizarre musical script people were reading and that was being simultaneously displayed on other, smaller monitors.


The lights on all the handmade screens respond sort of obtusely and in a very basic way to the sound cues coming from the people reading the script, and flash sequentially. It was so weird.

These were all around Roppongi in February; there was some kind of contest or something.
The curry and rice that were clearly meant to be together was my favourite one even if it wasn't the cleverest or prettiest of the designs lol.


Still haven't figured out what this building is.


But this here is Art & Science Gallery Lab AXIOM, and I absolutely had to catch the
Ai Hasegawa exhibition there. You'll see why in a second. I think I made it on the last day.


Okay, so, here's the flow chart introduction to her concept. 

She has all kinds of issues with getting pregnant and having a child; it's rough on the planet and it's rough on you and so on. But what if an animal could be her child (as is increasingly the case for Millennials, and a great many Japanese women)? That would be nice! But which animal? 
She's narrowed the best possible choices down to the rare and endangered species on the right.


And that's how we end up with this Maui dolphin situation.


You really have to watch the video below, which was of course the centerpiece and
main attraction; it's so realistic! I wonder how she made it.


Also here are some slaps in a different part of Roppongi and
we're back to Valentine's Day now


This was at Kaldi, a small international grocery / coffee shop that usually does pretty well,
and man, they sure hit the mark for Valentine's, right? Such romance wow

I got these adorable earrings (with clear acrylic backs so they don't make my ears itchy and red!) from Rejon, and another early valentine from my mom that included this cute kitty lip balm, designed by a little girl who donates the proceeds to the Humane Society.

She sent Hannes a talking robot card and some robot socks that were really, really cute.

There was also Christmas Crunch that she had snagged but couldn't bring us for the holidays, lol. So, so unhealthy. So, so tasty. I sent my mom a little valentine too, but it sure wasn't no Christmas Crunch-grade stuff lol.

But anyway, back to Valentine's Day itself: for Hannes it's not a big deal, so I told Airina I'd be happy to go on a date with her, and she came and met me in Roppongi. Unfortunately this overpriced Indian place undercooked the chicken in her curry and then charged her for it anyway, but we did have a great conversation that went on for ages and ages.

My phone's camera blows and refuses to talk a half-decent picture 
at least half of the time, so here's a better one of her from a Yahoo Japan article. 
She's a professional wrestler and goes by Alex Lee, or アレックス・りー! 

A couple of weeks later, on another Tuesday afternoon when we both had time to meet, we went and saw Collateral Beauty, which neither of us had ever heard of and which was pretty heavy and sad but a really good movie.

Then, when I got home late that night, boom! Valentine's presents time!
The ones on the left are from me, and the ones on the right are from Hannes.

He ordered a light and fluffy gluten-free chiffon cake 
from a special fancy bakery in Omotesando.



The long smaller box had this little cheesecake loaf thingy in it, which was muy rico,
especially with some Bailey's on the rocks. We both really enjoyed this one.

And finally, here are some more plum blossoms down the street
from our apartment :D