Monday, June 27, 2005

Another great weekend

The Beijing trip for August is officially dead in the water. The JTB cannot act for me with the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo and I will not be doing two trips down to get a Visa... I wouldn't want to pay for the tickets and then have a problem getting entry... know what I mean? But that's ok, I think I'll take the opportunity to take on Tokyo instead... Trip to Beijing postponned until Golden Week 2006... on to the Weekend Update!!!

On Saturday night after class, we had a little get together to kind of mark my one month anniversary in Utsunomiya. After a quick swing by Tobu to pick up Riyo and her friends, it was off to RickyRickyYa's for a little grub and some drinks on their patio. A good time was had by all and we were finally kicked out around midnight because of the proximity to a residential area... a few of the pictures turned out well... here they are:

Here is a shot of Myself, Scott and three of Riyo's friends. The far right one is Chikiko, I think and the other two are Akiko and .... I'm drawing a blank....


Here is a shot of Motoki, Masuko and Tatsuo. Masuko works for Kirin brewery... notice the shameless attempt at product placement? (look closely at the logo on her beer glass)


Here's Motoki trying to figure out how to get our phones to talk...


And here's smiling Motoki yet again.


Unfortunately, most photos of myself, Riyo and others were not of high enough quality (many faces were being made) for me to safely post them on the web without reprisals.... too bad but that's that, will try again later.

So Sunday, I met Scott and Yoshiyuki (Scott's student) at 9AM for a day trip out to Ashikaga for a museum tour and general gallivanting. I must admit I wasn't too excited about going to see a ceramics museum but hey a trip is a trip and the best way to get to know Japan is through its people right? So if its people go to ceramics museums... so will I.

Oddly enough, this museum tour turned out to be not so much about ceramics but more about passion, love, dreams and how to achieve them. What does this have to do with ceramics or the museum? Read on and you'll find out.

Mr. Hideo Kurita made his fortune in (or inherited them from) the clothing business but his true passion had always rested in Japanese ceramics\pottery and the story they tell. To say Kurita-san was a collector is almost an insult to the man. Not only did he collect pieces through conventional means but he sponsored and participated in major archaeological excavations to uncover more of these hidden treasures throughout Japan. In 1968, having amassed a large collection of priceless artefacts, Kurita-san exposed his collection in Tokyo. In the meantime, he had major plans which were either already under way or shortly to be undertaken. A rather interesting insight into the man behind the collection can be found in a quote in his introduction to the museum: "It is my belief that every cultural property should belong to the people and absolutely must not be monopolized by any private individual." In order to make his vast collection even more accessible, he began construction of the Kurita museum in Ashikaga, a project that has been under way since the early 1970s and which continues I assume to this day. We were lucky enough to visit this museum today and needless to say it has left an impression on me.

The first thing that stands out when one enters the museum grounds is the sheer scope of it. The Kurita museum is spread out over a hill and is comprised of a few dozen buildings surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens, trees and rock gardens. All the buildings are built in traditional Japanese style and the effect is like stepping back in time. There are 4 main exhibition buildings and a small village comprised of houses with more intimate displays along with many other buildings including a guest house which serves as a venue for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and a wood fired kiln used to cure pottery\ceramics. To think that one man's resources were poured into this place is awe inspiring. No expense was spared from the marble floors to the glass display cases and the lush rest areas provided for visitors. Nowhere is there the blatant money-seeking advertisement or money grabbing techniques I've seen elsewhere in Japan. The gift shop is in fact located outside the main grounds next to the parking lot and contains thousands of nice pieces and an exhibit of Inca pottery dating to 100 B.C. This museum, from start to finish was a labour of love and the attention to detail Kurita-san put into this is obvious. Another of his quotes is this: "All these wares have been collected by myself and displayed in stands designed by myself. In other words, it can be said that the Museum as a whole is a symbol of my love of the Imari and Nabeshima wares."

Another thing which struck me was Kurita-san's respect for the artisans which toiled to create this artwork that he so desires. Not only is he showcasing their skill and talent but this museum is obviously also meant to honour the men and women involved from the quarrying of the stone to the ones who fed the fires in the kilns to the final painstakingly detailed painting of each individual piece. To this end, Kurita-san chose the very top of the hill to erect a memorial in their honour. Due to the fact that many of the potters are nameless since the artwork they were creating does not lend itself to a signature, he called the building the "Unknown Potter's Memorials Temple." It is a beautifully designed building with a Buddhist statue on the roof, a shrine on the second floor and a nice personal reflection area overlooking the forests around the building. I think I like this Kurita-san guy...

So yeah, it's an amazing museum, very beautiful architecture and landscaping, well designed... and the ceramics are nice too... here are some pictures. Unfortunately for the photographer in me, all the ceramics were under glass which makes pictures a little difficult... I should get a polarizing filter....

One of the rooms in the main exhibition hall


Ceramic dish dating back to the 1500s


Ceramic dragon


The ground of the museum was covered in stones, which were raked the morning before we got there... here's a shot of the front of the main exhibition hall.


More rocks surrounding the hall.


One of the statues guarding the way to the second exhibition hall, also in the picture.


Golden shrine to the unknown potters, the stone on the alter is the raw material used to make the ceramics.


Buddhist deity Jibo-Kannon on the roof of the memorial temple.


Small temple on the grounds seen from above.


Potter's workshop exhibit


The gift shop was worth the visit just to see the timber that was used in it's construction... the ceiling must be at 5 stories above the main floor...


Inca pottery dating back to 100 B.C... over 2000 years old!!!


More multi-thousand-year-old Inca pottery.


After the museum tour, we moved on to Ashikaga Gakko (School) said to be the oldest surviving school or University in Japan and possibly dating back to the Nara period in Japan from 710-784. Many of the buildings have been damaged by fire in the thousand plus years the school has been in operation and the grounds were even used to train students to fight during troubled times, now that's dedication to one's school! The Ashikaga Gakko has very special links to Confucianism and has many statues and shrines honouring the Chinese philosopher. The school underwent major excavation and restoration work starting in 1980 and has been restored to it's state during the Edo Period (starting in 1600). There are still many markers and remnants to remind you of the school's rich history, one of which is the cemetery for the school's principals, some of the stone markers are so old they barely have a shape left to them...

Here's an aerial (kinda) shot of the school grounds, yes that is a moat surrounding it... troubled times called for the school to erect such fortifications.


Statue of Confucius created in his hometown in China in 1991 and donated to the Ashikaga School.


Yoshiyuki and I in front of the school.


The front entrance of the main school building.


The roof is constructed using the period accurate straw-thatching popular at the time. Unfortunately not exactly fireproof when a lightening bolt or flaming arrow hits it...


Traditional classroom inside the school, with lovely views of the koy ponds out the sliding paper walls...


Myself in said classroom... yes the doors are small, I had to duck to get through.


After the Ashikaga Gakko, we had a quick walk to a nice Shrine and Temple nearby. Here is an odd flower we spotted in planters on the way... any ideas what they are?


To enter one of the building we stopped in at, we had to remove our footwear as is customary in Japan... they had these lovely slippers for us to put on... my toes are just about where the writing is on the sandal... I have a feeling my feet are too big for Japan...


Scott and I at the Temple


A ladle used to scoop up water and clean your hands before visiting a Temple.


Old lantern next to some Agisai (Hydrangea)


Following our return to Utsunomiya after my first trip on a Japanese Expressway, I gave Motoki a call since we had made plans to do some Firefly watching. We hooked up with Stacy and Noriko (TOEIC student at AEON) and headed to the rice fields... it was a lot of fun. The fireflies here are neon green, I seem to remember the ones back home as more of a white/blue...

Happy Motoki was then kind enough to take me to Trial to get my desk and chair. Unfortunately they didn't have any more of the one we had looked at 2 weeks ago but I got a nice unit nonetheless and stayed up until 2AM to put everything together and organize the jumble of wires that had created itself with my temporary setup. So that's that... all I need now is Internet access, a cell phone case, something to put on my wall, and a better bike... but with time, all will fall into place...

I'm meeting Yoshi tomorrow morning and heading in to a Cable company to get myself some Internet... wohoo! Not sure how long it will take to actually get connected but it shoudln't be that long.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous S'mee again said...

Ya, ya. Big Feet. Sure, we all know what you were hinting at Mr. Flippers. "Big feet = LOTS of Under-Standing." Once again, fantastic pictures my friend. Though I am troubled that you can spend an evening in the company of ladies and forget their names. Motoki seems like such an interesting and fun person, you are lucky to find such a friend. From the pictures, he seems to be Japan's version of a cross between Bert and Patty.

Any plans on celebrating Canada Day?

5:29 PM  
Blogger Michel Lafleur said...

HA! Under-standing... yup that's right...

The two ladies whose names I forgot I unfortunately did not get to speak with due to the fact they did not speak English... I remember the other ones though... seriously, you have no idea how many names I have to learn... I think I'm doing pretty good. As for Canada Day... we're going out tonight after work to celebrate with a fellow UK (Aussie) member...

10:53 PM  

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