Christmas- uneventful as usual. In Japan people celebrate Christmas Eve with Kentucky Fried Chicken and decorated Christmas cake, but I decided to make something “Mexican” to satisfy a strong craving. So it was “fajita-tacos” (tacos on flour tortillas), mexican rice and chicken soup. Would have been better with margaritas, but it was still pretty yummy. Christmas was like any other day- Jiro worked and I did the usual around here. A good friend in Oita had a party so we drove up and enjoyed turkey, trimmings and lots of good conversation with an international crowd. So now we are heading in to the end of the year and New Year preparations.
Jiro and I ended the year with a three-day trip to Naoshima- it was the first time we had done an overnight trip together since we’ve been in Japan. We arranged for his mother to stay in a short-stay facility and we were able to leave without any concerns. We caught a three-hour ferry from Usuki to Yahatahama in Shikoku and then drove 3 hours to Takamatsu to catch another ferry to Naoshima. So our three-day getaway was two days of getting there and back and one day of exploring the island. We had some time in Takamatsu before our ferry so we made a quick stop to Ritsurin Park- one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. We only had time for a brisk walk and a cup of tea, but after 7 hours of driving, it was nice to power-stroll in such a tranquil setting.
We finally arrived in Naoshima around 5:00. We checked into our inn and borrowed bicycles to explore a bit. Since 1985 the Benesse Corporation has been developing the island (and surrounding islands) as a cultural center. “Our fundamental aim is to create special places by situating modern art and architecture within the nature and the unique culture of the Seto Inland Sea, a landscape with a powerful cultural and historical resonance.”
The island has 4 areas of interest. The Benesse Art Site on the southeast end of the island has three museums, the Lee Ufan Museum, the Chichu Art Museum, and the Benesse House. All three buildings were designed by Tadao Ando. The visual impact from the exterior is minimal and natural light illuminates many of the spaces.
The Benesse House is a hotel complex with a 3 floor modern art gallery with several site-specific works. I especially enjoyed work by Yukinori Yanagi, Richard Long, and Jannis Kounellis. Photography is forbidden but I found a set on Flickr. Yanagi’s World Flag Ant Farm was fascinating and whimsical…ants burrowing through interconnected flag panels made of sand. Some flags had completely collapsed, and others had just one burrow in and out to the next flag.
Ando designed the Chichu Museum to exhibit work by three artists- Claude Monet, James Turell and Walter De Maria. I have never experienced art in a setting that was so integrated. The Lee Ufan Museum which opened this past summer is a collaboration between Ando and Lee Ufan. When I approached the museum on foot, I wasn’t sure if there was anything more than the building. Hesitantly I walked across the stones and discovered the entrance behind a large wall. I walked down a long narrow passageway which led to a sculpture in a high-walled courtyard. The rest of the museum is divided into small rooms and gallery spaces with simple and elegant sculptures and paintings. Everything is lit using natural light and I felt as if I had entered another realm.
The next area we visited was Honmura, on the east side of the island. Seven abandoned houses and buildings have been converted into art installations by contemporary artists and architects. Each building is done by a different artist and the style ranges from the pop art of Shinro Ohtake to the hyper-realistic wood carvings of Yoshihiro Suda.
We accidentally stumbled upon the renovated Shinto shrine Go’o by artist and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto while taking a walk to get our bearings. We often see shrines while walking the countryside in Japan so when we noticed the glass staircase it seemed so spectacular because we had no idea that this site was one of the buildings of the Honmura Art House Project.
That afternoon after a vegetarian lunch at Genmai Shinshoku Aisunao and conversation there with a 94 year old islander we headed over to Miyanoura, the other port on the island where there is a public bathhouse designed by Shinro Ohtake (the pop artist mentioned above.) It had been raining and cold most of the day so it was nice to get warmed up. The design and decor of the bathhouse (I love Yu) is playful- a huge elephant stands on top of the wall separating the men and women’s baths, but it was a little overwhelming. Physically I was relaxed, but visually I was over-stimulated. There were a couple other things to see in that area (” 007-The Man with the Red Tattoo Museum” & a ceramic studio) but we were ready for a rest and headed back to the inn.
Originally the main industry of Naoshima was copper refining located on the northwest end of the island. We drove out to take a look, but didn’t stop. Mitsubishi operates a refinery there, but now it is part of the Eco Island Naoshima Plan and there is a waste recycling plant. There is a lot of local effort to improve the overall environmental quality of the island and the surrounding sea.
The entire island is a canvas with several art installations on the beaches. The most famous are the brightly colored polka-dot kabocha pieces by Yayoi Kusuma. Art appears in the most unexpected places- even the school (designed by architect Kazuhiro Ishii) was different than the typical grey concrete boxes. There was even an enormous elephant in the playground.
After returning to our inn, Jiro started feeling sick and ended up sleeping til morning. I ate a huge dinner prepared by the inn and then read Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. I don’t know why I had never read it before, but since the movie is now out, I wanted to read the book first. It’s a pretty sad tale, and I decided to skip the movie because I don’t want to watch a sad movie now. I eventually will want to see it but I don’t think it’s a good film for the holidays.
The next day Jiro felt better and we made the long drive back to Kyushu. Ba-chan survived her stay at the care facility and we will now try to take an occasional overnight trip. YAY! (aargh- this morning she revealed that she was uncomfortable at the facility because there are many people staying there who are completely demented and that two of the women in her room got in a fight. I got her to start talking about the one person there that she spent time with and enjoyed- hopefully the pleasant memory will replace the unpleasant one).
I don’t think we’ll go back to Naoshima until there is additional art to see. I would like to go at a different time of year to see how the art appears under different lighting, and am glad we went during the off-season to enjoy the art without large crowds.
So a few weeks before this trip, Jiro fell at work and was injured. It was a Sunday and I convinced him to go to the hospital to get it looked at after he started complaining of chills. Well, the first hospital took an x-ray and declared no broken bones and sent him on his way. However, a nurse there recommended that we go get him checked at another hospital. By now he was vomiting and in extreme pain. So the next hospital ran a CT scan and found that one of the veins in his kidney had ruptured and he was bleeding internally. They ended up inserting a coil into the vein to stop the bleeding and he came home feeling completely well-10 days later. It was a huge worry, but it all turned out well- what a relief!
Of course, while he was in the hospital, his mom had her first wandering episode. For some reason she thought she had a hair appointment and decided to walk to the hair salon. She uses a walker (called a “silver car”) to get around, but recently hasn’t been using it at all. She made it down to the end of the road and fell. Somebody found her and got her back home, but she doesn’t remember who it was. At first she didn’t tell us what had happened, but a neighbor called and let me know. It’s been a rough year for her- she’s got a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s now and she is a lot less active than she was two years ago.
So life here is crazy and I really am thankful for a chance to get away. I hope 2011 brings lots of calm moments. There are lots of links in this post to lots of interesting art and artists- enjoy! I’ll upload some photos to Flickr soon.