Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tokyo - spirit, style, system, sign

Fishing fish through a paper seeve...
Somehow, this popular pass time at the yearly Matsuri festivals
(celebrating the change of seasons)
struck me as super Japanese: it's all about the attention for the detail,
about inventing a system to be smarter than the fish,
and there is one chance only to succeed.
At this particular stand in Azubu Juban,
a mother seemed even more engrossed in the game than her daughter,
who seemed happy enough to see the fish swim around...

Tuna sliced super thin is another delicacy
(non-vegetarians told me)
I like the idea that food can be about the suggestion
more than the stuff
Roland Barthes compiled beautiful ideas about Japanese culture,
among others
the chopsticks and how they split the food
instead of brutally cutting it, like our knifes and forks
in L'Empire des Signes

Lunch at Le Bain in Nishiazubu, near Keiko & Koen's house.
The way Japanese describe things is almost as delicious
as the way they prepare and present food:
" In adjacent tea room tea, sweets, and alcoholic beverages
can be enjoyed in most serene atmosphere.
Light lunch is also available."
And what to think of
"This is good for drink" (above the tap in my hotel room)
"Train will arrive soon" (on all subway platforms)
I just loved it. I felt looked after by some benevolent voice.
Someone invented comfort food,
but Japan had comfort words first.

And then there is Japan's spirituality.
The other day I read this beautiful thought

"man's spirituality is man's finer,
subtler way of paying attention"

And now I ask you, what is finer than a grain of salt
(or 3 small heaps on your doorstep,
to keep bad spirits away)

Japanese tradition masters the aesthetics
of abstention, in all its details
standing in front of the half lifted curtains
at one Tokyo's main temple just before closing time
I couldn't help comparing the sense of relief I felt
to the sense of oppression that some (catholic) churches give me
somehow by not showing everything, by keeping parts hidden,
so much more is conveyed;
it makes the mystery of spirituality physical, in a strange, subdued way.

below are some images of serene scenes I encountered
at temples, but also building sites, or in my little Ryokan in Chidohiro

"C'est un agencement, un agencement d'énonciation (...)
Un style, c'est arriver à bégayer dans sa propre langue. (...)
Etre comme un étranger dans sa propre langue.
Faire une ligne de fuite. (...)"
- Deleuze, Gille en conversation avec Claire Parnet
dans: Dialogues, 1996, Edition Champs Flammarion

What is style, and where does elegance come from?

Tokyo provided me with countless possibilities of elegance
I selected the most inspiring ones for this blog
- Elegance is doing something elegant
(gathering autunm leaves and wearing tabi socks)
- Elegance is crossing the busiest crossing
as if you are alone on the world
- Elegance is a river that flows silently (and thoughtlessly?)
through a city I can't describe
- Elegance is generosity
(leaving a coin in a pleat of Buddha's bronze casts)
- Elegance is the odd one out that doesn't think so
(a deity standing out-of-place, but without doubt,
between countless bamboo stems at the Bamboo Temple,
- Elegance is he who dares to do what cannot be done
(Philipe Petit who spanned a wire, AND WALKED IT
- or should I say danced it - between the two Twin Towers
on August 7 ten years ago, see Man on Wire)

- Elegance is knowing who to pay respect to, and how.
Cemeteries in Tokyo literally transport you into a kind of
go-between world: not an end point, but a treshold.
The wooden panels
displaying the names and dates of the deceased
are so vulnerable
compared to 'our' stone engravings
that they make the passage of time
visible and thereby understandable
(in a bodily way)

-Elegance is at its best when it flirts with humor...
(These dog deities are very serious matter by the way)

My fortune (good)
How could I not start to believe
When things are said so precisely,
and nothing is left out???

My favorites:

"Missing Thing: It's hard to find it. Look for it below."
"Travel: No problem. Take your time."
"Love: Control your feeling.
"Illness: Be Faithful first."

Miwa's fortune (Best)

When the everyday becomes fashion (with a smile)

When Keiko took me to her birth place Kamakura
We visited many temples
And at the second one, upon leaving,
I found my shoes aligned alongside other
white, off white, and beige shoes
I made me want to just leave this arrangement here
like this. It was too perfect. For more beautiful work
on arrangements have a look at
HOKO Studio's recent exhibit in Singapore

The downside of all this beauty and sense of style
is the necessity to keep up appearances
to not lose 'face'
(see the traditional theater forms: Kabuki, Nó, Bunkaru)
which millions of girls of boys 'happily' do

how sweet can sweet be

95% of japanese books that are sold are manga
even politicians use manga to gain support for their policies

Everyone wants to be found,
says the homepage
of the Lost in Translation website...
When I looked up at Tommy Lee Jones
on a friday morning at Shibuya,
I felt a little confused.
The billboards with willfull Tommy "Boss"
decorate entire teen (!!) districts
Big Japanese firms such as SONY
use Western icons only in their promotional material
and ignore their own talent
it's a worrying thing

another downside of tokyo superlative city life
is when you don't fit in
when you're neither young nor employed nor married
Hiro, editor at Axis, sent me a link about
by Kyohei Sakaguchi on homeless people in Tokyo

Satoshi, researcher at Musashino Art University with Miwa,
is currently conducting interviews with homeless people
in Ueno Parc, in which he is finding about their peculiar status
(registered yet illegal) More on this soon.
Japanese systems to make city life smooth:
(or in SONY language: to make the hinge hingeless)
- subway arrows, down on the left and up on the left
(and sometimes the other way around,
which seemed to only confuse tourists,
perhaps because the Japanese simply follow the arrows
without worrying about the logic of the overall system?!)
- subway waiting lines
which make sure no one will ever force his or her way through
at the last moment: you simply line up behind the passenger who arrived
before you, right where the doors open (and then you neatly line up on the left
so you can let the commuters out before you rush in)
- tokyo parking elevator
which inspired John Körmeling to conceive his car wheel (see movie)
- the umbrella cloak room system for rainy days
- the sushi eat what you want system at Shinagawa Station (Zuid WTC like)
- a tradional wedding at Meji Temple on a Sunday morning

and how do you come lose of such a city?
this picture was taken at tokyo's in-city themepark,
just outside of suidobashi subway
- beautiful umbrella's lift visitors
up in the sky and open up before gliding back down
it's better than a 50ies movie

a question I asked myself on the first days
how can such a densely populated city

feel so quiet?

A transformer along the Yurikamone Monorail
in the Tokyo bay area, undoubtly a monument,
I thought at first sight...
Or should it be seen as an un-monument?

Tokyo: my last words
(for now)
for you are:
plug me in....

This song Plug Me In by Hotel Pelliroco somehow summarizes
all I felt when immersed in this city that is
system, style and spirit all in one.
If you ever go, try to find CODA,
the smallest bar I have even been to,
thanks to Hiro.
I spent long long hours there with Eleni,
enjoying being alive, joking with Satoshi the barman
and listening to the DJ's amazing choice of music:
Pure Mélancholie.
Go out of Naka Meguro to your left,
walk until the road goes up on the express way,
there take a left along the small river, and
CODA is the tiny bulb on the tiled grey wall
somewhere left of a huge 400m express junction wall....
(see you soon)

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