As Japan modernized and aligned with the rest of the world during the Meiji period of Japan (1868-1912), not only science, politics, religion and technology changed, but also art. Japanese artists were eager to understand and to master the new modern art styles of Europe and wealthy patrons sent out scores of promising artists to study abroad. One of these was a young man from Nagano prefecture, Rokuzan Ogiwara (1879-1910) who studied modern sculpture in both the US and France where he received instruction from the famous Rodin himself. Rokuzan was also a christian convert from an early age and a member of the temperance movement. His rather short life was ended by tuberculosis.
Almost as interesting as the man and his work themselves are the museum put up in his name in Hotaka, Azumino City. The main structure is built like a church and was funded by donations from local school children and teachers who also took part in the construction itself, which took many decades to finish in 1958. There is another completely modern concrete construction as well, and an almost ancient looking logg house construction put up completely by local students and teachers. Junior high school kids were pretty crafty back then! Everything in the garden and tiny museum grounds is designed, from the concrete tables to the hidden spouts of the rain gutter. It is easy to tell that a lot of people put a lot of effort in this place.
You can read more about the museum here on their official website.
If, like so many other tourists in Tokyo, you are planning to visit Asakusa this Golden Week I recommend making a slight detour to the seventh floor of the Asakusa Tourist Information Center building to see the Kyugetsu Ningyo, or Japanese traditional doll exhibition that is currently on display there. There is no entrance fee and it is a great stop after having taking in the views of Asakusa from the 8th floor viewing balcony. The dolls are handmade by different members of a traditional doll making society and are all wonderfully exquisite. There’s a good mix of traditional types as well as modern versions and some avant-garde types. The dolls are of a type called Kimekominingyo (木目込人形). The doll bodies are carved in wood and clad in silk by a unique way of pushing the material into intricately carved folds in the wooden body base. The heads are often sculpted in clay and attached after all other parts have been made.
There are also several fantastic Oshie “paintings” (押絵), which is a kind of collage that is made by wrapping sculpted pieces of clay or thick paper in silk to create a pop-out 3D effect. It can be very beautiful when done correctly, as in the works of art exhibited here. There is a description with good photos here, it seems easy but I guess it really isn’t. It is the same technique as used in the traditional hagoita new year’s decorations. I wish I had time to learn more about this fascinating art form!
Many cities around the world are fortunate enough to be equipped with a subway system. The smallest city with a subway system is Rennes in France, but the largest is Tokyo. In fact, we have two subway systems here! The biggest of the two is Tokyo Metro with 9 lines and 176 station, a private company owned by the Tokyo government and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. The smaller company with only 4 lines and 99 stations is the Toei Subway, owned by the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation. Both systems cover most of Tokyo with the notable exception of the two southernmost wards, Ota and Setagaya which relies almost only on the Toei Subway lines.
The latest addition to the Toei Subway lines was the 2000 Toei Oedo Line that runs almost in a circular loop (with a long tail), completely underground and also the deepest of all Tokyo subway lines: it is 48 meters underground at some points, and tunnels under large rivers three times. When the line was constructed in the 1990s it was decided that all the stations would have an architect and an artist responsible for the look and feel of each station. Although quite toned down, some stations do indeed feel a little “wacky modern”, like the Oedo line Iidabashi station which has a biological theme. Kachidoki Station is the most heavily trafficked single line station in Tokyo with over 82 000 passengers per day. The number has grown so rapidly that new exits has been added and there are plans to extend the Yurikamome line to Kachidoki to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics 2020. The artistic theme of the station was decided by the architect to be “out of the ocean”, to keep with the artificial island nature of Kachidoki itself and the colors of the station and the platform is a green-blue palette. I recently passed the station and had my camera with to take a photo of the rather unusual art piece decorating the ticket gate hall, a huge mural in the style of a classic Italian painting! A rich underground world inhabited by mythical mermaids and Gods looking up at the high-rise buildings towering above the water.
I have always loved this mural and I recognized the style from somewhere, the soft colors, the near perfect representation of an italian tromp Trompe-l’œil renaissance work of art, reminding me of Giulio Quaglio or Andrea Pozzo or even Michelangelo. So I finally checked who the artist was and found it was none other than the famous mural painter Masao Hanawa (塙雅夫)! One of the most famous window dressers in Japan he has won many awards for his work he is also the creator of several murals in everything from museums to hotels both in Japan and abroad, churces and even Disney Sea here in Japan! It is funny how your eyes and heart knows art that your mind can’t even remember sometimes.
I talked to the station manager for a bit and it seems I am not the only one stop and wonder about this mural. He told me it is the most talked about artwork in all the Toei Oedo Line stations. No wonder, it is easily the best, despite the humbleness and “not quite so modern” theme. It also seems like Mr. Hanawa is a graduate of the fantastic Zokei University of Arts (that I have blogged many times about before).