I am an octopus



A few weeks ago I went to Kobe with my friend Miyuki Nakao to visit the Yokoo Tadanori Museum of Contemporary Art.  Though I’m absolutely wild about Tadanori’s art and have been to see three different exhibits of his work since I’ve lived in Japan, for some reason I hadn’t yet visited the Yokoo Tadanori Museum, even though it’s just a quick train ride from my house.  Miyuki and I walked past a display of full-blossom cherry trees at Oji Zoo on the way there and then spent a few hours at the museum, which was featuring an exhibit that focused on the relationship between Tadanori’s work and Japanese pop culture (mostly from the 60s and 70s).

The exhibit was great, but just as amazing was the late birthday present that Miyuki handed to me before getting off the train on the way home — a bilingual edition of Richard Brautigan’s Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt translated into Japanese by Genichiro Takahashi (高橋源一郎).  The amazing part of the present isn’t the book itself — which is, it goes without saying, pretty great — but rather the cover, which is handmade from felt and features a representation of myself as octopus.  Those glasses, those earrings, that hat, and especially that camera, are all the precious things this octopus would certainly keep with him where he to move back to the sea with only a few possessions.  The back cover features a few more tentacles, holding aloft a cup of coffee (surely so that the coffee doesn’t end up getting adulterated with salty sea water).  Coffee is also one of the possessions I would take with me, were I to move back into the ocean following the call of that primordial ‘oceanic feeling’ that is supposed to exert its pull on all of us.

After the museum, Miyuki and spent a little bit of time walking around the neighborhood and ended up finding a small, but very satisfying, antique store stocked with an endless supply of fascinating artifacts.  What I liked most about this little shop — other than the fact that the owners were incredibly nice — was its scatterbrained combination of ultra-cheap vintage pop detritus and high-class handmade craft antiques.  I like that kind of mixture of the high and the low.  And there was also a stack of records there — all for just 100 yen each.  I restrained myself and only ended up taking home two.  One of these records features “folk, popular, classic, and lyric” music from Korea.  Welcome to the Land of Morning Calm is a two-LP set produced by those well-known purveyors of fine music, the Hyundai Motor Company.  I’m especially looking forward the court music on side three, which should be a treat.

The other record I picked up is the soundtrack to the 1978 – 1979 Japanese television show, Spider-Man.  It’s going to be bad, but I’m hoping it’s going to be so bad that it’s good.  In some ways the Japanese version of Spider-Man is way better.  First of all, instead of being Peter Parker, boy reporter, Spider-Man’s secret identity is Takuya Yamashiro, a 22-year old motocross racer.  Not only does Spider-Man have a super-cool motorcycle in the show, he also drives a futuristic race car and sometimes pilots a giant robot called Leopardon.  He fights a series of biological weapons called “Machine Bem” that are unleashed by the evil Iron Cross Army.  Here are my very favorite Machine Bem, from a long list of them: Machine Bem Cat Demon Monster (怪猫獣 Kaibyōjū), Machine Bem Killer Unicorn (キラー一角獣 Kirā Ikkakujū), Machine Bem Cockroach Machine (ゴキブリコンビナート Gokiburi Kombināto), Machine Bem Magni Catfish (マグニナマズ Maguni Namazu), and Machine Bem Toothache Alligator (ムシバワニ / イレバワニ Mushibawani / Irebawani).

I also couldn’t resist picking up this pair of kokeshi (こけし) dolls for only 500 yen each.  I have a small collection of kokeshi, and I prefer the older style like these, which tend to be rustic and minimalist in a way that also makes them appear strangely modernist in style.  I especially like the elongated neck of the one on the left, and the simple use of red paint on the one on the right to delineate both scarf and hood and frame the utter simplicity of that perfectly drawn face.



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