a portrait

15Aug16

13957533_1246139358752920_1148107756_n.jpgMy friend Hiroki Iwai drew this wonderful portrait of me. It’s one of my favorite things ever.


The Chondaras

07Aug16

Matsumoto accordionistus

Is Okinawan pierrot cabaret what you’ve been craving? Then The Chondaras (ざ☆ちょんだらーず) are for you. Consisting of a core group of five members, all of whom appear in clown makeup and costumes that might be categorized as tropical vaudeville, The Chondaras cover everything from mellow Okinawan classics to frenzied originals – including a kind of cinematically crazed pseudo-Black Metal number about a giant red hot chili pepper that’s invading Japan. The Chondaras is fronted by Matsumoto Eijiro (松本 英二), of former Niseuo fame, though as a member of The Chondoras he goes by the alias Matsumoto-chondara (松本ちょんだら〜). Other members include Ryouta-chondara (亮太ちょんだら〜), Kana-chondara (加那ちょんだら〜), Kin-chondara (金ちゃんちょんだら〜), Hayabusa-chondara (隼ちょんだら〜), and Kimi-chondara (きみちょんだら〜). The Chondaras!

flower dance

on the mic

flowers

snakeskin


711, 707

Several of my photos were recently on display at the Petaluma Mail Depot as part of the Petaluma Postcard Project, an art project that attempts to, according to the press release, encourage Petalumans “to become pocket-sized art collectors with a series of limited-edition postcards featuring the work of local artists.” While I haven’t actually lived in Petaluma for ages now, I still make my way back to that old hometown whenever I can, and my mailing address in the United States still bears a Petaluma postcode.

I was contacted by the head of FMRL (Future Media Research Lab), author and cultural impresario Daedalus Howell, who asked if he could make some postcards featuring the photograph above. While it might seem counterintuitive to include a photograph of Hiroshima’s famous streetcar line in an exhibit that celebrates a Sonoma County town that’s famous for its chickens, dairy products, beer, and wine, the 707 on the front of the streetcar that appears in the photograph is the key to it all. “707” is the Sonoma County area code and a new train line — the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, or SMART train — is soon to be barreling along the 707 corridor.

The show also features offerings from several Petaluma artists, including work by co-curator Karen Hess, who has produced a series of photographs of dyepots that use naturally sourced dyes, the ever-brilliant Michael Garlington, and Shannon Ferguson, of Longwave and Falcon fame, who has produced a limited edition lathe-cut vinyl single featuring the song “Graviton.”

You can read a fantastic write up of the show here. And even though the exhibit itself is now over, you might just be able to get yourself a postcard or two here.


the 11th year

31Mar16

blossoms

March 29 marks the anniversary of my arrival in Japan, where I’ve now lived for a total of ten full years, almost a quarter of my life. I celebrated the beginning of my 11th year of living in Japan with a trip to Sennyū-ji temple (泉涌寺) in Kyoto with the poets Yoko Danno and Kiyoko Ogawa. Sennyū-ji’s main hall features three golden Buddha statues, seated serenely below the gaze of a slinky dragon that’s painted across the ceiling sky. In a side building nearby is a statue of Kannon, brought over from China, that is so subtly carved that it seems to be living. It’s a beautiful, feminine Kannon, though the statue still retains the mustache and light beard associated with its masculine origins, which somehow makes it appear perfectly in transition, a Tiresias-like (god)dess of mercy.

Just up the hill, where the sutras are kept in an enormous contemporary stone storehouse, the cherry trees were in near full bloom and the mejiro were fluttering around, full of manic spring energy. We decided to head up to Unryū-in (雲龍院), a smaller temple located in the grounds of the Sennyū-ji temple complex, to treat ourselves to some matcha and wagashi. We were also treated to a small statue of a running Daikoku with mirthful, glittering eyes, as well as a series of incredibly beautiful gardens including a dry sand garden with a giant chrysanthemum form in the middle that looked somewhat like a fugu nest. After viewing the famous satori no mado (悟りの窓 — “window of enlightenment”), powdered green tea and the most delicate of handmade sweets was served to us in a room looking out on the main garden, alive with the speedy whirring of birds in springtime.

A perfect beginning to year 11.


mirthful

This last autumn — way back on October 17th — I trucked over to Sasayama to attend the annual Sasayama Autumn Festival (篠山秋祭 — sasayama aki matsuri), which is officially called the Kasuga-jinja Religious Festival (春日神社の祭礼 — kasuga-jinja no sairei) and presumably has its origins as a harvest festival. The matsuri coincides closely with the annual kuromame (black soybean) harvest and I was able to bring a nice bag of the black beans back home to Osaka. If your bean needs happen to be much greater than mine, there are delivery services available near most of the stands that pop up along the edges of the bean fields at this time of year and you can send home enough boxes of beans to make your heart content forever.

There are several festival-related events, but one of the major events is the parade of neighborhood yamaboko* — tall, gorgeously attired floats that are pulled through the city streets while young musicians play processional music that dates as far back as a thousand years or more. Sasayama’s parade of yamaboko floats is similar to the famous yamaboko junkō parade that is often considered the highlight of Kyoto’s month-long Gion Matsuri, though on a decidedly more intimate scale. In Sasayama you can avoid the crowds that plague the Gion Matsuri events and instead enjoy the sound of parade chants, processional music, and massive wooden cart wheels on pavement in relaxing, close-quarter, high-fidelity stereo surround.

It’s hard to convey what the yamaboko parade feels like through photos alone, so make sure to check out the video included below for a more sonically satisfying rendition.

(*It seems that in Sasayama the yamaboko are actually referred to as hokoyama, a reversal of the kanji used in Kyoto to describe the Gion Matsuri floats: Kyoto’s 山鉾 becomes 鉾山 in the Sasayama area.)

yamaboko hotel

the yamaboko awaits

ready to roll

yamaboko sunshine

The other major event associated with the Sasayama Autumn Festival is the procession of the mikoshi, lantern-garlanded portable shrines, through the city streets. I’m not absolutely sure about how many mikoshi were involved, but at a minimum there were seven paraded through their respective neighborhoods in the late afternoon and early evening, eventually culminating  in the assembly of all the mikoshi at Kasuga-jinja shrine after an hours-long march through the city streets.

The musicians who ride in the mikoshi are children who have been  chosen from the neighborhood that houses each particular portable shrine. On the day of the festival these young mikoshi riders are made up and outfitted in traditional costume and then undergo a ritual purification ceremony. Once the ceremony has been performed they are no longer allowed to touch the ground and have to be carried everywhere instead; even inside their own houses they need to step from chair to coffee table to sofa, as in a game of ‘hot lava.’

the mikoshi riders

At dusk the mikoshi begin to make their trip to Kasuga-jinja, carried on the shoulders of some twenty or so young men who wear traditional matsuri uniforms that display the name of the neighborhood where the mikoshi is based. As dusk falls, the mikoshi make their way through the city streets, lanterns swaying with the shoulder-rhythms of the mikoshi bearers who are themselves pacing to the rhythms of the songs played by the young musicians riding inside.

mikoshi tour

lantern break

Because the mikoshi are heavy, there are frequent  rest breaks on the way to the shrine. The mikoshi bearers stop to hydrate, have a smoke, and just generally give their shoulders a break.

During one of these rest stops, I made sure to pop into a local sake shop and picked up a small bottle from a Sasayama brewery with an image on the label that I remember being related to Sasayama’s other famous festival, the Tamba Sasayama Dekansho Matsuri — a bon-style dance festival that’s especially associated with this tune.

The fact that rice wine is an important local product is made evident by its prominent appearance as an offering in the many provisional altars on display throughout the area during this period that are dedicated to the festival gods, as well as individual floats and mikoshi. In the photo below you can see a sacred Shinto mirror, associated with the presence of divine spirit, as well as offerings of mochi rice cakes, sake (nihonshu —  日本酒 — in Japanese), and envelopes full of cash donations.

offerings

The shrine itself is massed with spectators — easily five hundred people or more — who are there to see the procession of the mikoshi, which is a wildly energetic affair, to say the least. The mikoshi are paraded before the main stage of Kasuga-jinja where the local grandees have assembled with the kannushi, the shrine’s priests, at the forefront.

The display of the mikoshi is also a display of the prowess of the mikoshi bearers and it’s not enough to simply walk the mikoshi by the front of the shrine stage; instead, the mikoshi are paraded around the shrine grounds at speed, almost like motorboats navigating the confines of a small body of water — the paths they take are fluid and always changing in relation to one another, and constant adjustments are improvised in relation to new and unexpected vectors of motion. The mikoshi teams chant loudly, aggressively boisterous, and when they approach the stage they hoist the mikoshi high into the air, displaying not only the mikoshi itself but also the strength and endurance of the mikoshi team.

waiting in the glow

display of the mikoshi

heavy lifting

The parading of the mikoshi is manically kinetic, a sense that’s not captured very well at all in the photographs that I managed to take while at the festival, though you can get some small sense of it if you watch the video below until the end. (You’ll also get a very nice sense of the long tradition of the kind of cheesy synth music that is a hallmark of regional promotion videos in Japan.) Imagine a circus in which the trained elephants parade around drunkenly, continually in danger of falling over into the surrounding crowds of spectators, and the display of the mikoshi might be something like that — only with music, loud chanting, lanterns, and the brightly-painted persimmon shrine acting as backdrop.

Of course, no Japanese matsuri is complete without rows and rows of festival food stalls, and the Sasayama Autumn Festival is no exception.  There are toys and games galore, as you can see in the photo below, but I myself am always most attracted to any type of fried mochi on a stick, or those delicious tamago senbei fried eggs on shrimp crackers with an oil-slick of sauce poured over and just a smattering of mayonnaise to top it all off.

check the goods


diurnal

02Mar16

fractal nightmare

Three complimentary copies of Jane Joritz-Nakagawa’s new book of poetry, Diurnal, arrived in my mailbox the other day. The handsome chapbook is published by Grey Book Press and comes in three colors (I’m keeping the silver one). You can get your own copy directly from the Grey Book website.

There are twenty-four numbered poems, each composed of seven two-line stanzas. Here’s a bite-sized bit of (13):

first tremor
entwined with touch

belly in the journey
maneuvers the wind

even the world
nothing follows

direction of the body
grass full of consolation

It’s beautiful work. And equally as beautiful is this Susan Laura Sullivan review of another of Jane’s books, Distant Landscapes.

The cover features a wraparound image that’s based on a photo I took years ago while on a very foggy hike up Mount Kongo. I’m really pleased with how the cover turned out, and delighted that Jane asked me to provide the image for it.

diurnal

 


pile o' Chiaki Harada goodz

Last year’s Self Matsuri coincided with a Harada Chiaki (原田ちあき) exhibit at Gallery Shikaku, a fantastic gallery in Nakatsu with a large selection of small-press underground publications and other art objects for sale. Here’s a link to the exhibition page, which features some of her work and a couple of videos as well.

Harada’s painting combines pop elements from schoolgirl manga with a deeply surrealist streak that feels somewhat like Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s work might have been like if he had chosen painting over film (but with more insects); there’s also a dark eroticism that feels closely allied with the grotesque horror manga of  Suehiro Maruo.

While her paintings are fantastic, it’s the pop manga aesthetic of her viciously funny sendups of Japan’s overly fetishized schoolgirl culture that really stands out for me. In some ways, Harada’s work reminds me of the deeply parodic painting of Keiko Sootome (五月ケイ子): one of Sootome’s favorite subjects is a balding salaryman and the deeply emotional trials and tribulations of salaryman life. Mouhatsu Senryuu (毛髪川柳) — which might be translated as Comic Haiku about Hair — is a book that features paintings of a mostly hairless salaryman in various states of ecstasy and pain, with short haiku-like commentaries written out below. For example, one painting features a sad-looking bald salaryman dreaming of a field being sown, with a smiling face with a head full of hair and joyful, glittering eyes emerging from the field. The accompanying text reads “Sowing the seeds of hair implants in spring will bring a rich harvest in autumn.” (春まいた/植毛のたね/秋たわわ)

Harada’s pop manga harvests much the same territory, but using schoolgirl culture as the ground for her acerbic comic commentary. Her short book, Hitori-zumou (ひとりずもう), which I think would be translated as Wrestling Alone, features page after page of manically happy, hysterically sobbing, mooning in love, viciously spiteful, and melancholically lost schoolgirls, often done up in brightly-colored comic book Zip-A-Tone, à la Roy Lichtenstein. Except that in addition to this you need to add a host of bizarre elephant companions, some scissors and ropes, a couple of extra limbs, lots of stuffed animals, and an octopus. One image, for example, features a young woman bending over backwards in shock while a stuffed pink elephant emerges from a slit in her chest. Expressionless, she mouths the words, “Only because of my malicious gossip, you’ve easily been able to deepen your friendships. Take it freely.” (私の陰口で君たちの安い友情が深まるのならどうぞご自由で.) In another scene, a giant schoolgirl face looms in the sky above a snow-capped mountain. In the foreground a woman wearing farming clothes walks along a path, but her face has been replaced by the Twitter icon. The enormous schoolgirl says, “My job is to check the SNS feeds of those I hate on a daily basis.” (嫌いなあいつのSNSを毎晩観察すろのが仕事.)

The exhibit itself was great fun, and Harada-san was there in a bright red uniform, signing her books and just generally being cheerful. There was a big turnout, mostly of very hip and artsy young women, and I ended up coming away from the show with a couple of books, some garish buttons, and a bag of stickers.

You can check out some of her online manga, very different than the work in Hitori-zumou, here.

Harada Chiaki makes the signspatrons of the artsteardrop of the insect heart




Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 85 other followers