Tuesday 20 September 2016

What is Kawaii

from the google chrome response to search for 'kawaii'
Recently I received correspondence from artsy.net noting my references to kawaii in this blog, notably the cute figures here,  see also a train carriage here, asking me to comment.

My attention was drawn to an article here on the evolution of Kawaii in art from the 1970s.

work of Yayanagi, not quite cute
I am conscious that while kawaii was emerging I was taken by a similarly hard edged but not cute style in the work of Yayanagi Go, two of whose works I acquired in the 1970s.

The work on the right is from an exhibition at the Instituto Tomei Ohtake in Brazil.

You will see some link to Yayanagi's individual style in this work of Takashi Murakami at Artsy.

The term kawaii was not however new in the 1970s, though Hello Kitty was certainly new then. Wikipedia traces the term to Lady Murasaki in the eleventh century and says that:
The original definition of kawaii came from Lady Murasaki's The Tale of Genji where it referred to pitiable qualities.[9] During the Shogunate period under the ideology of neo-Confucianism, women came to be included under the term kawaii as the perception of women being animalistic was replaced with the conception of women as docile.
So it's historically not an entirely flattering term.

Wikipedia goes on to explain the modern phenomenon as arising from schoolgirls beginning to write across the page and with modern pens, interspersing drawings. Among early shifts from the page to other forms was to cute pencil cases. This is a google search for Japanese pencil cases 1979.

It's reasonable to think that others shared my view of the triviality of kawaii as it emerged.

There has also developed a worldwide appetite for Japanese anime, an art form with some links to kawaii but going far beyond the cute.

It seems to me that Kawaii has deeper roots, not just some spontaneous shift in the 1970s. Take for example work of Kamisaka Sekka, 1866-1942.

from http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/kamisaka-sekka/

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamisaka_Sekka

from http://alchetron.com/Kamisaka-Sekka-1217229-W
Compare with the kawaii work of Yoshimoto Nara at Artsy, which definitely brings in a naive school pad doodle quality with a common tendency to English language and cultural borrowings.

The wearing of western style school uniforms dates from the Meiji era.  The shortening of skirts came in in club wear in the early 1970s from the European miniskirt. The fetish combination of short skirt and maid uniform more recently, notably as driven by Akihabara. But fetish is something else, otaku, which overlaps a bit with kawaii.

from http://www.gourmantic.com/2009/07/28/maid-in-tokyo/
There is in some of this (though not in all anime) a peaceful or childlike quality which may also have been a factor (I speculate) in the rise of this as acceptable 'new' art form in postwar Japan in a time when young women sought more freedom, though the art form itself may somewhat trivialise them. Also compare to the much more difficult art form of apprenticing as a geisha, the apprentices called maiko. People rush to photograph maiko in Gion, Kyoto in the evening, here images at Pinterest. Simplified stylisation and minimal gesture are of long standing in Japan, in contradistinction from mainstream European art. In collision and synthesis with postmodern, all the rest is commercial success...

Another perspective, 29 kawaii things, from the excellent Japan Talk website.

We cannot leave this subject without mention of music and without medicine from Cibo Matto.

or mention of Koenji, our favourite village of Tokyo
where evident that kawaii need not be seen as a cutesy separate thing 
but integrated into a culture of innovation

Friday 27 March 2015

Hanami begins in 2015

Hanami, the cherry blossom time, is beginning again in Japan, China and Taiwan.

Here at link are photos at The Guardian, from which this screenshot.

Saturday 16 August 2014

it's easy, or not so hard anyway

I just wrote an entry here about the photos of Japan and other places of Michael Alvis – see below.

I'm prompted by that also to write about how it can be easy and not too expensive to spend time in Japan. But having asserted that I'll leave you to measure ways and means within your own budget and interests. With hope that it can be done, because it's worth doing, because it will grow new dimensions in your mind, give new understanding of the world.

We read all the time about the importance of tourism in different places, as well as all the touting by the 'tourist industry'. But the internet makes it possible to bypass the tourist industry: we can find simple or complex flight itineraries, we can find accommodation away from big hotels, we can access train or bus timetables. Maps on smart phones make walking so easy.

I look in wonder at tour buses passing me by as I walk streets: I am feeling the air and the local life, they chat inwardly about Mrs Smedley up there near the driver, in air-conditioning, en route from one fancy rock lump to another.  And they are paying 10 or 20 times more than my local bus or train ticket, infinitely more than my shoe leather, as I move through local life, maintaining my fitness and startling my brain. Their pathway controlled and clocked, mine free and open to following new turns, looking around unexpected corners.

Over a decade ago, I became a widower, in my 50s. Thereafter meeting people in ways not explored for decades. Shocked to find how many people, of all genders, were deliberately shutting down variables and pathways to the new as they got older. Perhaps in defence against the world. But it seems to me that openness to the new is a better way of enjoying the world and surviving, and more than surviving, in a difficult age.

how we see things

I was delighted today to find this comment on one of my blog entries:

Michael Alvis16 August 2014 01:21
Thank you for sharing your wonderful travel blog about your visit to Japan. I lived in Saitama for 6 years (1988-1993, 1995-1996) and was back for 5 short weeks in 2009. After reading your blog, I feel the need to start planning another trip to Japan.

I'm pleased to find that copying and pasting that comment. the link to Michael's own books is preserved. Where you may find some common ground, do go and look at some of his Blurb books. I had not seen his photos of people on trains when i began taking mine. Here is something from one of his books, I acknowledge his humorous human perspective came first!

pages 34-35 of this book
Here is a breathtakingly beautiful book on Japan, one of a number he has produced, such inspiring hard work as well as vision.

Perhaps this photo, from Michael's Tennessee, sums up something important. Or some things. Maybe the text describes the brains of some of us photographers. But also the humour in it arises from the way we see. Or what I think Michael and I, hugely separated on the planet, have learned through photography, or applied in photography, the inability to walk past things that for the most part people may not see, the wonders of incongruity and the delight in ordinary human foible.

from this book, page 28

oh this probably fits the same mould, in these he's playing with metonym or rather synecdoche,

from this book, page 16
I bow (and grin) before this wondrous book, Oligomania

Tuesday 3 June 2014

making the Blurb photobook

I have just published a book through Blurb to cover our travels.

This is a very different thing from the blog.

It was somewhat tormenting to try and change the brain space from blogging to booking.

The result becomes something more than a photo album with some thoughts, but in the end mainly visual images.

The book of course lacks the movies accessible through this blog.

You can see some pages of the book in preview here.

I will write again*** when I see the quality of the book. This is not my first Blurb book as you will see at here.


As with many creative productions, somehow my first Blurb book remains my favourite It's hard for me to judge why I think that, perhaps it simply is the best, perhaps it represents first spark or greater inspiration at the time. The hardest thing to judge is how the images will appear on paper. There is a tendency for print to paper to be darker than as seen on a monitor. I do my best to counter that, lightening images or dodging parts of images in Photoshop. But then again you don't want it to look like it's been out on the washing line all summer either... These products have been recommended to me but life is too short.

Last week, to get past the block in trying to produce this book, I whipped up this in a day, getting up on Sunday morning, capturing the colour of my domestic environment (using the iPad, I'm still waiting for camera repair!) and assembling a little book before the evening, uploading to Blurb Sunday night and having it delivered (from a rural printery in Australia, in Glen Innes) the following Friday, five days). I printed that short book soft cover with image wrap. For this bigger enterprise and to have something solid to remember our wonderful trip, I chose hard back with dust cover and best paper. Anyway, I'll tell you what it looks like when it arrives!

Wednesday 30 April 2014

Day 9: bags at the Keisei Ueno Station, the pleasure of a break in the Museum of Western Art

We were down to last bits of money in wallets, last bits of brain to squander, last shreds of feet to wander... packed and taxied to the station (the entrance convenient to the taxi coming from our direction is the one with nothing but steps to drag our baggage down), tickets bought and seats booked on the Skyliner for later in the afternoon, bags consigned to lockers.

We had time to visit something among galleries in Ueno Park, some were changing exhibitions, we elected to go to the National Museum of Western Art.

Multiple railway stations, multiple museums in a large park. The park where we had started.

This museum has an unusual history, having been built around the collection of one man with a shipbuilding fortune... and only a small part of that collection, made during the early 1920s, much having been lost by misadventure in Europe before the remainder returned to Japan in the early 1950s, having been confiscated during the war. The building is by Le Corbusier, my photo of the outside rotten, please go to this link, the Museum's information on the building.

It is an elegant place and most people looked more elegant than did I, especially in the place where we stopped for coffee.

My companion looked refined.

I had the view of Japan outside, she had the view of Japanese style inside.

The Google Cultural Institute link offers a good view of some works.

The building itself is art, also satisfying with its simple statements of the Modular or Modulor.

There was some great work to see, though I do not seek to represent it here other than with people present, for the mood of the day and the place

We were not alone in seeking rest... and being tired is OK in Japan.

Though certain people who must remain nameless, 
because we don't know their names, had snagged the best seats.
You can buy your own Le Corbusier chaise longue here.
That ad (at time of writing this blog entry) says: 
"A gentle warning. Once you sit your body in the Le Corbusier Chaise Longue (LC4), you may never want to get up again."
The evidence is before your eyes. I saw no prospect of getting a turn on this one.
But if considering getting one, when you look at that advertiser's video at YouTube
you realise that the chair 
will look nothing without the museum, so be prepared to dig deep!
The same advertiser says that the other chairs here,
 the "Grand Confort Spécial" are filled with duck down. Again, not free soon...

Finally, we should not leave unmentioned that this fine museum stands with many other fine places in Japan in offering superlative toilet facilities. 
This a disabled/family toilet on the ground floor, I confess to declaring myself unable to get down the stairs to the regular toilets at this end of the day, which was certainly much the case, but it was an exhibit needing to be inspected.
Even some ordinary railway toilets boast the clever seat to hold the infant. 
Why do we not consider such thing?
The bidet and wash function buttons are on the wall. 
I was initially alarmed by the location of ... was it a urinal?? ... on the left wall, in an impossible position. It was a handwashing basin accessible from wheelchair. No taps of course, no touching anything. Similarly, pass your hand in front of the flush non-button, and it flushes. 

and so out into the late afternoon for a short walk around Ueno Park

before introducing ourselves to the departing-every-20-minute Keisei Skyliner (the sharper, pointier one, forget that mildly sluggish gaudy creation on the right)

to be whisked at enormous speed to Narita Terminal 2 in time to wait quite a long time for our flight out at 7.45pm, with just enough cash for a pleasant 'Indonesian' curry while looking out the window.*

Sayonara...  sigh... 
Such an amazing trip, such an excellent amount of time to feast, remain coherent, remain upright, be quickly and completely blown out of home preoccupations and into another universe.

* I note that in contrast to experience of queues in other international airports, as we approached the check-in area of Japan Airlines at Narita 2, as unentitled cheapest Economy Class passengers, we were met by a polite young person who directed us to an empty counter, went behind the counter and proceeded to do everything instantly and brightly.
And then off to Sydney for cheerless soulless cold dealings by Border Protection staff at the airport there, mean manners imitative of a Morrison. Hard landing home...

Day 9: bags packed, walk Asakusa, Sensoji, finally through the tourist magnet in our front yard...

We were packed early, checkout midday, a couple of hours to spare.

So we set out to cruise the neighbourhood, stopping for the lights with some elegant shoppers

and on into morning quiet time in the playgrounds of Asakusa, first past this opportunity surely to bless the entrepreneurial and entertaining world of Asakusa

where the fairground was having a warm up spin

and things becoming spruce

till we reached the eaves of the Sensoji, oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo

where we turned first to see the small and beautiful Asakusa Shrine, Anja-Sama, 
the Shinto shrine which honours and protects the Buddhist Sensoji,

which stands to the right, here, across this laneway, 
and where school excursions are the main early feature of the day

though some, including the drinks machines, are still languorously enjoying the sunny morning morning, 

while waiting for the wisteria, which we only get to see in first moments of bud-burst this week

See the blue sky? 
We have had fair weather since we arrived... and rain is forecast for tomorrow, after we have gone.

and then it's time to leave Sensoji, as regular tourists arrive

We head down a back street and find a fine park

before looking into the astonishing fancy food arcade under the Asakusa Tubo Station.

Then we head back to the apartment, crossing Nakamisedori, 
the covered shopping street that delivers tourists via Consumption Central to the Sensoji.

Here's the movie.
Watch for the conversation between the rickshaw man and his passengers,
his bewilderment that they want to be parked looking away from the temple.