Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Big Man Shrinking

I am beginning to think that I am in the movie remake of Alice-in-Wonderland; always trying to find the right size to negotiate a whirlwind of new cultural experiences. Living here in our very small, Kyoto apartment is a daily exercise of being constantly aware of finite spatial limitations and how to get along with less action. Everywhere we go I am constantly amazed by the delicate nature of how the Japanese people negotiate the confines of space. Being an American, I am so use to such little physical restraint. Perhaps this is a big lesson on shifting my focus to micro space and to become more attuned with the meaning and value of action and repose.

Jane and I are here in Kyoto for five months due to her efforts. She was one of five Americans that received the 2011 JUSFC-NEA Creative Artist Exchange Fellowship. She is studying pilgrimage circuits, spatial relationships around  temples and shrines and at Washi (Japanese paper making traditions).

The Japanese have a long history in creating expansiveness within the confines of boundaries. This is most apparent in Japanese gardens. Limited to a select few specimens of plant material, moss, rocks and gravel these elements form a relationship which creates an abstract image that is reductive, contemplative and expansive. A good example of this is the Ginkaku-ji Temple (The Silver Pavilion).  

The Ginkaku-ji Temple garden is a conceptually complex garden which consists of two very contrasting sections. One is a more traditional (pond)strolling garden much like you would see if you looked at an old Chinese scroll painting.

The other section is a dry sand garden and more conceptually challenging. It consists of two sculptural mounds of sand; a truncated cone reminiscent of Mt.Fuji (or the mountain of Buddism) juxaposes the lower, horizontal mound which represents "the sea of silver sand"because by moonlight it ppears silver. This section is a garden to liik upon in contemplation, the other is one to walk through.

Combining the two types of gardens into one integrated whole offers the visitor a unique sense of balance and wonderment at a not silver, Silver Pavilion.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo

We arrived in Tokyo and the blossoms were just coming out. It is really an amazing event. To the Japanese these cherry blossoms symbolize transience as well as usher in a new yearly cycle.  

There wasn't too much obvious damage caused by the earthquake here in Tokyo. As a major metropolitan area, Tokyo seemed to be doing business as usual. The mood though seemed a bit somber which is to be expected given the recent events.

When we came off the plane we started to notice how many people were wearing masks over their nose and mouth. We thought this had something to do with the threat of radiation, but this wasn't the case. Many Japanese are strongly allergic to Cryptomeria (Cedar) tree pollen, so they wear masks.

One of our amazing experiences while in Tokyo has been staying at the International House. This hotel is affiliated with the Japanese fellowship that Jane was awarded. Historically, the "I" House has developed a rich forum of international exchange and partnership with the United States. The garden which the rooms look onto is contemplative and is reminiscent of another time; one that sponsors introspection and study.