Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Weekend (3.11 - 3.12): Yayoi Kusama's Eternal Polka Dots

The Saturday night before the art exhibition we met up with Nicole and Naoto, who were in town to see his brother and baby nephew. 
I swear, I'm going to tell you about last October when it was still full-blown summer further south of here and we were boating around tiny islands with them looking at art installations and appreciating simpler things. Totally getting around to it.

But, so anyway, we invited them to our place to hang out for a little, they gave us a lovely little cherry blossom box of sweets from Osaka, and then we took them to our beloved neighbourhood Thai place to eat and start drinking, expecting to continue at some of the other little bars around here.

"Whooo am I?"
(that is really what it says)

"Hm, good question, water buffalo, I've often asked myself the same thing."

The one above was taken by me, these were taken by Hannes.
Notice anything?

Okay you should definitely be noticing something by this point

This one would've been cute, buuuuut then Nicole got all super deadly cereal. Damn it.
Just kidding, it's still cute.

"What are you doing?"
"Are you trying to see how close you can get to the food?"
"Yes, so I can be in the picture."

The one little local bar we had never been to was full (it has classic Japanese-style bar seating for maybe like 12), and the bartender at the other one was a huge dick, so we awkwardly walked out after I announced that we were awkwardly walking out.

We ended up taking them to Al Andalus, the Spanish-Moroccan place we like so much but don't frequent because it gets expensive, and we randomly caught the tail end of one of their weekend bellydancing shows. Hannes and I had never seen the place so full. It was packed with really overly-excited and decidedly inebriated old salarymen, one or two of whom were passed out on their tables while their comrades cheered raucously for the thin, expressionless Japanese bellydancer.

It turns out that the restaurant makes their mojitos from a cheap mix that people apparently use in this often disgracefully sub-par country, which Nicole explained once the guys got their leafless drinks, since neither of us had ever seen such a thing before. Of all the places to actually make something right, we had fully expected it would be this one, since the homemade food is so good. A swing and a miss. 
The sweet Moroccan tea was a perfect end to the chilly night, though; it needed to end with something that wasn't alcohol, because Naoto was about at capacity.

"See this? You see what I put up with?"

We saw the cute couple off at the station and went home. A few days later, though, Hannes stopped at the Thai place - I'm pretty sure he qualifies as a part-owner of their business at this point - and with great concern they brought him a paper shopping bag Naoto had brought from his brother's place and left under the table.

So, you know, I message Nicole, and she's like, 
"Oh, good! We wondered what happened to that. He said he left his chocolate in it." 

I told her there was underwear in it, too, and this absurd exchange began. She had told me previously that Naoto's brother insisted the underwear was Naoto's, even though he was like, "I have never seen that in my life," and he ended up having to take it, but after drinking and the passage of a few days I had forgotten that detail. It became hilarious all over again. Hannes ate the chocolate. Nicole and I finally worked everything out so that we both understood what was found and whose it was and that they did not want it back, when I added, "Oh, and there's a shirt in here, too."

"What! Whose shirt is that?!

I sent her a picture of it.

"Neither of us have ever seen that shirt before. Whose is it?!"

The mystery was never solved; the underwear pitched, the shirt donated, and the chocolate eaten, at least we all finally had some closure.

And for our next Artsy Fartsy Girls' Day Out, we did the much-anticipated and massively popular Yayoi Kusama exhibition, My Eternal Soul, in Roppongi! Featuring special guest Meika! 

First we had lunch at ukafe in the Midtown Galleria, which has a nice atmosphere, those large windows there offering a nice view, reasonable prices for the area, and a vegan curry.

Why, here's the vegan curry now! lol
For whatever reason they also have a series of habanero hot sauces available to buy.

Cute but creepy!

The trees were of course wrapped like this for the exhibition, and it was pretty cute.

The architecture of The National Art Center Tokyo is really quite impressive; it was designed by Kurokawa Kisho, who did quite a lot of the other major art museums in Japan and is (or was) especially famous for that one capsule tower that looks like a bunch of separate stacked blocks.

Wow goddamn that's a lot of people! Welcome to every single thing people know about that you can do in Tokyo on a Saturday! Now get in line!

Actually, there was a really menacing-looking queue to buy tickets, but since Japanese venues never regulate how many people they allow to pour into an event like this, movement was free (although severely inhibited by the huge numbers of people, as always) within the exhibition itself.

There was also this bizarrely hostile episode where, once we were into this big main hall here and looking around, a museum employee came up to me and tried to tell me I wasn't allowed to take pictures. We all just kind of squinted at her, glanced around at the literally hundreds of people taking pictures, and NiQui was like, I'm sorry, what?

She tried to tell me "no professional cameras". I was like, this was a Christmas gift. Rejon was like, it is not a professional camera. And NiQui just kept trying to get any kind of answer or reason from her with "I'm sorry, why?" though of course there was none, and she eventually gave up her ill-fated quest and wandered off.
Later Hannes pointed out that any of the iPhones present would become professional cameras if, for example, a journalist happened to be using theirs with the intention of putting exhibition photos online or in an article later. This was an annoyingly clear-cut case of, "Ope, foreigners. Better come up with some random microaggression and single them out".

A few minutes later I saw my chance to approach a woman we had noticed on the way in who was decked out in colourful, handmade clothing and accessories that were clearly chosen and coordinated to match the exhibition delightfully. She carried her similarly-dressed toddler in her arms, and he wore a cute handmade hat. I approached her and gently asked if it would be alright to take a photo of them. She seemed a little surprised but was just saying something like "Oh, sure-" when her little boy started screaming "NO!", thrashing, spitting and kicking at me, and trying to knock the camera from my hands. I just sort of took a subconscious half step backward to get out of spitting and hitting range and stared. The woman apologised repeatedly and quickly scurried off.

Everyone else came up behind me, staring after them, equally shocked and wide-eyed. More than one "What... the fuck." was uttered. I explained that I had asked politely in Japanese, and it wasn't like I had suddenly snapped a pic without permission or tried to pat the little demon baby on the head or anything. A conversation about Japanese mothers not even attempting to control their hideously nasty children - mostly the boys - ensued, and I explained that that was the epitome of the entire class I had walked out on when I was still "teaching kindergarten", if that's what people think they can call it once it's descended into pure anarchy and despair. Some of the kids were lovely and normal, but every kid in this one class at this one school was exactly like that, which is a big part of the reason I had quit.

But everything was fine after that, and look how fucking cute we are!

Yayoi Kusama is 87 and produced this entire, massive body of work in a short timeframe specifically for this event. I wish we had been able to sneak photos of some of her earlier work, because it's very different and startlingly dark. And no, I don't mean when she moved to New York City and got naked a lot for polka-dotty happenings in places like Central Park and hung out with Andy Warhol and stuff, I mean before that. This stunning piece of work, for example, she painted in 1942:

I would highly recommend any chance you get to see her early works, whether it's at Ota Fine Arts in Tokyo or the Tate in London or wherever, because she has for so many decades been The Polka Dot Queen that what she's doing with the polka dots is, I think, not widely understood. Maybe with this exhibition and the massive amounts of press coverage it's gotten that's changed, but far from simplistic and reductive pop art products, her dots are therapy. She's struggled with mental illness and hallucinations her entire life, and this spectacular retrospective demonstrated that so clearly.

I loved these throws and would have liked to get one, but you know, this stuff is super expensive.

The final piece of this exhibition brought it all together perfectly. You first walk into that huge crowded exhibition hall and are trying to figure out the seemingly random titles Kusama's given to a wide array of very bright, abstract, and simplistic paintings, and then you go back to when she was young in the 1940's and are appropriately startled by what a deeply depressed and troubled state she must have been in. This continues through the 1950's, though she did start experimenting with dots and repetition and found her lifelong muse in pumpkins at that time.

Then there's the 1960's, and that decade essentially culminates with her rolling around, naked and polka-dotted, in a rowboat made of dicks. Actually, the ladder and dining set made of dicks were also magical. Seriously. Being a young, attractive, exotic, abstract artist in New York in the 1960's, things got very sexual, and she started creating proto-phalluses out of fabric, and then attaching them to things. They, of course, got polka-dotty. And she applied the repetitive principles of her general polka-dottiness to the phalluses themselves, until she ended up with a whole bunch of them, whole surfaces covered in them, like the cilia of your Ikea bathmat or small intestine.

The rest is pretty much history -

(this is my own photo and I will get around to posting about the Setouchi Triennale soon, I promise)

But so, okay, the final piece of the exhibition that brings everything together perfectly: 
The Obliteration Room.

The only Kusama exhibit I'd ever seen up until this point - though I have been in it several times - is the well-known but difficultly-named You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies mirrored light room at the Phoenix Art Museum. The last time I went, with Hannes and Ale, I took a short video, and the fact that I got one of the obnoxious kids who was ruining it crashing into one of the mirrors kind of makes it worthwhile:

When I say "the only" one I've been to, I mean the installations on Naoshima don't count, in my opinion, though the exhibition I really regret missing in Seoul a few years back would have.
The experience of these mirrored light rooms is pretty awe-inspiring for how simple they are. If handled properly, they are not like above: only a few people are allowed in at a time, and the door on the other side is not open to show you where the exit is, the whole thing is just black and sparkling and goes on forever. At first it's even difficult to be sure of where the ceiling and floor start, forget about the walls. And, you know, I get it. But I didn't get it until NiQui, Rejon, Meika and I were handed little sheets of generic office supply-esque round stickers and shown into this completely white room furnished with completely white objects.

We added to this hanging strip, it stuck to someone's hair and fell, and we put it back up again.
At first it was just funny that so many people with stickers had been through here that this happened, but if you think about it, the two-dimensional stickers achieved a three-dimensional level of obliteration beyond what they were intended to do. In this case, the fact that exactly one fuckload of people per hour passes through is a good thing.

We obliterated NiQui.

Meika tried to obliterate Rejon.

Are you seeing it? Just like with the mirrored light rooms, you can't tell where anything starts or ends. If you just keep adding polka dots, they blend together into one big indiscernible blob. The chair is gone, the phone is gone, nothing is anything, it's all just polka dots. It's like Kusama says, the whole universe is just polka dots, they're everything and nothing at the same time.

It was really an amazing experience, and these thoughts I've been typing hit home and were totally revelatory to me throughout the course of the exhibition, exactly as I'm sure it was intended to be. It was easily one of the best exhibitions I've ever been to despite the absurd level of crowding so characteristic of Tokyo.

These were outside; I'm not sure if they're always there or if they were part of the Kusama theme.


From the National Art Centre we cut through the neighbourhood over to Roppongi Hills, because no one was quite ready to go home yet, and the line to pay - the line to pay alone - at the exhibition gift shop was forty minutes long.
You might remember the shop and gallery associated with Mori Art Museum that I mentioned in a previous post, so I was like, well, they have a different selection of Kusama merch anyway, and more of her works on the walls.

So off we went.

Found this absolute gem of a slap before crossing the street.

And look! A/D Gallery, attached to the shop, was open this time! 
The free exhibition there was a real treat. These imaginary glass organisms sculpted by Shoko Matsumiya are created by carefully welding and gluing together shards of glass. You should really read that article, it's just fascinating.

Also quite impressive were the intricate pen illustrations of Asako Setoh.

But - yeah, sorry - let's go back to the even more intricate glass organisms, because they
are an absolute mindfuck.

These little ones look kind of like atoms!

Eventually, after looking at the Yayoi Kusama merch and overpriced but interesting zines and tiny papercraft scene-building sets, we exited, and the tulips out front on either side of the Spider were in full bloom.

As we were walking to the station I also noticed these random log deer decorations

And finally, here's my swag: a really cool, textured and thicker-than-usual pumpkin postcard, as well as miniature "Love Kusama" pins that are not pictured, one of which I sent my mom so that we'd have a matching set. Oh, and - that wasn't the only dot sticker we found on ourselves after we'd left even though they make you remove all of them on the other side of the room, lol.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Japanland: Little Edo 2.0

Look guys, I've finally made it to the first weekend of March, when I went back to Little Edo in Kawagoe! It's about an hour outside Tokyo, but then everything within Tokyo is always about an hour away too, so it's an excellent day trip.

This time Hannes didn't come, though, and as it turned out, neither NiQui nor Rejon had been before, so it was a real treat taking them to places I was all excited about and walking around together until it got dark.

Renkeiji was also our first stop when we went before, though this time I asked 
if we could go in so I could find a place to sit and eat the quinoa lunch I packed. 

This Buddhist temple has an unusual and rather sad little shrine for children
and - I would guess but am definitely not sure - for lost and aborted ones.

For some reason I had been unreasonably excited to come back to this little shop, くるみの木, or The Walnut Tree. Like so many things in Japan it's not possible to find anything about it online, but it's full of cute little textilesy crafts, has a cafe and a table of baked goods for sale that are even littler and cuter, and the last time I popped in the woman at the register gave me an information card explaining that their proceeds go toward helping the disabled. So, you know, it's charming and mostly-useless junk but it's for charity.

I bought one of these little kimono fabric pierrot pins last time, but I think the real charm is in seeing all of their patterns and tiny hands together in the box. Those little beanbag cat paperweight decoration things in the back with wee bells on their necks are also very tempting for absolutely no discernible reason.

Frumpy fugu sign

This here is what we headed to after the charming charity craft shop and cafe, because NiQui and Rejon were proper hungry for real food and I was even more excited about this place: a gluten-free cafe. The name is read "Muu".

This is like finding a unicorn in Japan, and look at how derpy that fucking creampuff is though. The signs advertise Japanese-style lunch sets and rice flour sweets.

I had decided before we came that I was going to try "at least three" of their pastries, and it was very difficult to move past this display case full of them, the table of non-refrigerated mini sweets behind it, and the shelves of adorable traditional Japanese gifts, crafts, and miscellany demanding our "Aww!"'s from all sides.

These things, like most things in Japan, are so tiny. Those individually-packaged (also like most things in Japan) cake loaf slices are the size of two business cards placed next to each other. Like, maybe. They might be a little smaller.

Once we finally got out of the entryway we also found that the rest of the place was equally lovable, because it was spacious and had a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

And here's the washoku lunch set, served in a flower-shaped basket!

It was definitely a hit.

In the meantime, I ordered a matcha latte but nearly died before I could try it because of how cute this random stupid handmade clip-on fabric froggo friend attached to the sugar basket was.

Clearly in cahoots with the cream puff, if you ask me

I also tried the tiny - but very dense and rich, don't be fooled - slice of chocolate cake.

And the roll cake!
Don't you love the presentation, too?!

Of course there were tiny handpainted Totoro, daruma, and Heian-style (like the dolls for Hinamatsuri) acorns on the register..

And of course this cultured fellow and elderly gentleman, who, along with the clip-on animals, was my favourite. Yos.


You can only find information, posts, and photos about this great restaurant and bakery if you search in Japanese, so one of my two tasks (see the other one, post-parrot) before spending another quaint and charming af day in Kawagoe is to translate 和カフェ夢宇's Facebook page and hopefully make them better-known and at least somewhat searchable in English. You can check out their website in Japanese if you want, though!

(they're freshwater eels and that is what eels sound like)

Look at this judgemental-ass kokeshi doll right here, 
he's never been impressed by anything ever

This was in the same shop as the kokeshi doll and isn't a particularly good picture, but there was something poignant about the sunlight on the old chair. Most of Japan is very dated and tired-looking, but that doesn't automatically give everything a nostalgic feel like I thought this little shop had.

I laughed really, unreasonably hard at this PSA poster featuring little Brotaro getting crushed to death in dramatic fashion by a dangerously unsecured china cabinet. 
Glass on glass on glass, why would the window also break lol

Oh and I forgot to mention this ridiculous Engrish sign we saw on our way in.
... I want to enjoy Asian Ethenic Viking & Party?


Hard to see because it was blowing around in the wind, but this mobile of little googly-eyed 
squid made from recycled kimono fabric was so cute!

Students painting a sushi mural

Sickeningly adorable little cork people in a restaurant's front window

And finally onto the highlight of the main shopping street, the classic Edo-era architecture.

And also something derelict and partially reclaimed by nature, because Japan

As cute as things in Kawagoe are in general, the highlight and cornerstone of a day walking around Little Edo seems to be this charming English-speaking man, Hiro, and his turquoise-fronted Amazon, who's been with him for 27 years. 

The weather was a bit cold for her and she wasn't nearly as active, interested, or friendly as she was when Hannes and I met her a year and a half ago, but her (slower) tumble in the palms of our hands was as charming as ever - just look at NiQui and Rejons' reactions!


"Are you gonna give me the bird or what?"

"Alright, let's see what this is all abou-"

"Ohh nooooo! Too cute!"
Background dude: "Damn, that is hella cute tho."


What a handsome bird!

Hiro is unfortunately very sick: he described his diabetes as "severe" and has fought off cancer twice. He lives with and takes care of his mother (?!) and would love to go to America, but it doesn't seem within the realm of possibility anymore. He told us about when he went to Australia on business 40 years ago, though, and how some racist little kids threw rocks and shouted at them and how they totally underestimated how much money they'd need to bring and just ended up going to the beach and hiking instead of doing the kind of sightseeing you have to pay for.

We promised to come back and talk with him again, and NiQui exchanged phone numbers with him. April and May have been incredibly busy, but I am definitely determined to go back. It's very difficult to find things here for special dietary needs, as I've complained about absolutely nonstop, but after some Googling I found a health food shop in Shibuya that, among other things, has sugar-free items. Before going back to Little Edo I want to get something for Hiro, because he's such a lovely man.

Also can you fucking believe he duckfaced for our group selfie? lol

Rich, charred, heavy, tiled, classically Edo-era mercantile. Approved.

We also found out that a charcoal shop is a thing? And that you can not only 
use it to remove shoe odor but wash it and use it for years?!

I'm proud of these two creeper photos. I really, really like them.

Here's the famous (reconstructed, because it has of course burned down however many times, also like so many other things in Japan) bell tower, the symbol of Kawagoe, along with the sweet potato.

Yes, that's right: the sweet potato! Japanese sweet potatoes are rich and delicious, and eating a plain steamed one is very much like eating sweet potato cake. From the left and from an adorable street stall, we had: Coedo beer (yes, sweet potato); purple sweet potato soft serve with a sweet potato chip stuck in it; purple sweet potato latte; cup of more giant, horizontally-cut sweet potato chips; and buttered and grilled sweet potato mochi. Delicious!
Also we are adorable and make a fantastic team.

Check out this incredibly old-fashioned milk machine! It reminds me of the one I noticed at Ryugashido Caverns outside Hamamatsu.

Lovely sunset is lovely, mhmm

We wandered back to the main street running perpendicular to the bell tower road, and were drawn into one of the cuter antique shops by this eye candy rich display of kanzashi.

And wouldn't you know it, she mostly had kokeshi dolls for sale!

That little old guy right there, haha.

We also dug through a box of random paintings and framed prints and photos, and uhhhh, Rejon's face says it all - we found one of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the nude? I told my mom about it later and she said we should open the frame and see if it's an original print, so I guess there are three things we need to do upon our triumphant return.

There's also a heckin' cute bagel shop with lots of vegetarian options.

Cute creepy toystore by night

Oh, the vending machine is a special Kawagoe- OH GOD FUCK
Terror Bird: "Soon."

The buildings became another layer of charming (I should go back through this post later with a thesaurus, that and "cute" are probably in here way too often) when the street lights blinked on.
It was very Spitited Away-ish.

And this camera is so good that it can full-on turn night into day if the situation calls for it?!

A lot of people have koi like this just, like, outside their houses, or even in a section of canal behind their houses.

Super kitschy antique and paper ephemera shop from which I bought a pair of teacups for like a dollar, which Hannes was not happy to see once I got them home

And one more shop, one of the main ones, on the way out.
These are the touristy ones and are mostly pretty pricey, but we couldn't help but be drawn in by the colourful floral displays.

Once a couple of years ago I took a crappy phone picture of this tea because the packaging 
design is so on-point; here's a non-crappy picture.

And more adorable vintage-style tea canisters!
Why is Japan so collectively godawful about using social media, English, and marketing 
effectively, but so good at the aesthetics of packaging design?

Urgh god fuck! See what I mean? 
Ramune, cola, and melon sodas - and they're just adorable.

I tried to focus on the woman behind the bar under the wine glasses, but I'm still learning how to use this camera and the flash went off with setting I had it on so that I had to run away awkwardly. Just like when I snapped a pic of the manga reader on the street in Shimokita with Makiko lol.

I think the top half of this almost looks animated or otherwise drawn.

And finally, the haul. Don't ask me why I built this day trip up in my mind and was so excited about things like the charity craft shop, but man oh man did I end up with lots of cute crap! Including one more of those googly-eyed creampuffs for later, and an apple custard bagel for Hannes! Now I just need to do all of those things I explained before, and we can go back and do it all over again..