Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Flowery Speech

It's the most wonderful time of the time, that is.  I've learned that in different countries "the most wonderful time of the year" means a lot of different things, but I have no doubt that in Japan, it's spring.  The weather is warm and the trees are in bloom.  What could possibly be better?

Although it's not a specific "thing," the blooming cherry trees were definitely on my list for this trip to Japan.  You don't have to be that culturally aware to realize that the sakura blooming is a big deal here.  The whole city is cloaked in the most delicate shade of pink because of the cherry trees.  The owner of the ryokan where I stayed made sure to tell me that it was a great time to visit Ueno Park, which was nearby, and I had to agree, since I'd stumbled past as I was trying to get there.  But after my wander through the cemetery studded hills of Taito, I came through the park and got to see the full extent of the blossoming madness.  The sides of the walkways were roped off, and people were enjoying picnics (with an abundance of trash receptacles on hand, organized by content).
It was also interesting to see people taking photos of the moon through the trees.  I managed to catch one, myself, although personally I like the way the lantern lit up the tree.

After breakfast at McDonald's on my last day, I made my way to the National Museum.  I grew up in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, which has the best collection of Asian art in the Americas, and this had a significant impact on the art teacher I grew up to I was really excited to see the Tokyo National Museum.  Wandering through their halls gave me a sense of déjà vu, not only because of their amazing art, but I found the layout to be very similar to the Nelson's - it's a beautiful, easy to navigate space.  And even here, the blooms were the stars of the show.  As I was taking a look around the entrance hall, I noticed something about the cherry blossoms, and a lady giving out little pink buttons.  I asked her what it was all about, and she explained that it was the "Sakura Rally" - you went through the museum to find the different pieces of art with cherry blossoms in it, and got stamps at each piece.  I thought this was genius, and started thinking about how we might be able to use this for my upcoming student art show.
There were pieces of pottery decorated with sakura, of course.
And those famous printmakers wouldn't have been worth their salt as artists if they hadn't included some cherry blossoms in their pictures.  There was a whole wall taken up with ukiyo-e prints that included cherry blossoms, but I was particularly taken with this one - I love how they showed the rain.

Right now I am up to my neck in the school's recycled fashion show, and two different girls are working on designs centered around the kimono, so of course I took several pictures of blossom-spangled kimono.  This was one of the amazing things about the Tokyo National Museum - they actually let you take pictures of most of the pieces of art.  Maybe this is because the Japanese are such shutterbugs; whatever the case, I appreciated it a LOT.  The labels of the artwork had a struck-through camera symbol on them if you weren't supposed to take photos of it.  Other than that, you could take photos of everything, as long as you kept your flash off, which (of course) a fair number of people didn't, because they're idiots and don't realize what a flash can do to a delicate piece of art 200 years older than themselves.
One of the labels discussing the prints talked about how this art form helped circulate fashion from the city to the towns.  Ukiyo-e are "pictures of the floating world," which includes lovely landscapes, scenes from kabuki, and (predictably) beautiful women.  While photography was still developing (see what I did there?), these prints captured the fashions of their time.
Women's fashions weren't the only thing illustrated in ukiyo-e prints, either.  Men's fashion was also a huge part of it, as you could see if you were actually standing in front of this case of netsuke (the forerunner of cell phone baubles).
It was later that afternoon that I went to the cat cafe.  Just before I left, as I was scratching this sleeping beauty's head, the manager of the cafe came up and told me her name was Sakura.  If there was any doubt left by then at the fervor of the Japanese love for cherry blossoms, this moment cured me of it.

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