Kanazawa

The Shinkansen comes to Toyama!

In the last year year or so I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the construction around Toyama station every week, the building dark on the inside and surrounded by fences and construction machines. I walked through the station for the first time on Sunday (the day after it opened) and was surprised at how moved I felt. It’s huge and beautiful and it feels like a really important moment for Toyama.

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The south entrance

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South of the station

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This is an image of most of the station. On the left you can see a sign that says “Toyama city” and the gate after that is for local trains and lead to the same tracks that we used before the new station was built. The big gate on the right is for the new Shinkansen.  (*^▽^*)

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Facing north: entrance to the local trains

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Facing east: entrance to the Shinkansen tracks

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The Shinkansen means an increase in tourism and and there is an entire new building attached to the east side of the station full of fancy omiyage. Here’s the new store that is in the station itself, which seems to have more budget friendly omiyage and souvenirs like key chains.

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Just one of the new shops

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Shinkansen swag!

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I know what you’re thinking, why is there a random patch of weird coloured tiles in the middle of the station? It’s actually some sort of holographic(?) tile that has different coloured lights shining on it from above. There’s also faint bird and nature noises playing that I could only hear when I walked through this area.

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On the west side of the station there is a little elevated area with tables where people can eat and study. There’s also this elevator from the future.

Toyamastation0128 Toyamastation0130On the east side of the station is the new terminal for the Toyama tram lines.
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And a new bathroom. ( ´ ▽ ` )ノ

Toyamastation0138And after all that excitement I was back to my usual platform waiting for my train back. On the left is one of the older JR trains and on the right is one of the newer trains that have been here for almost a year. They used to only go towards Kanazawa but now they also make the trip east. The company running the main train lines in Toyama has changed. It used to be JR but it is now privately owned.

Toyamastation141While Toyama is not exactly a tourist destination, the Shinkansen means more and more people will be dropping in. There’s been major renovations to the buildings near the station, and even smaller cities have made changes like an increase in English menus and signs. It’s exciting to see Toyama growing and I can’t wait to take the Shinkansen somewhere, even if only the short trip to Kanazawa!

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Where’s the water? |Nyuzen Ramen Matsuri 2015

You might remember that I went to a ramen festival last year. I ate a lot of good ramen and I was eager to go again. I actually went both days this year because I am very, very committed to eating. This year I interviewed people about the ramen they were eating and put it all together in one article over at The TRAM.

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I tried a total of four ramen over these two days. The first day I split a Hokkaido seafood ramen and a green ramen with the friend. I had the green ramen from Takaoka last year too and I should have remembered that it was good but not mind-blowing. It’s worth trying but I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to get it. The seafood ramen was pretty good, but the broth made me a little sad. I also ate a white ramen from Oyabe which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve eaten white ramen before in Toyama, but I didn’t like it. I think the restaurant was running it as a special dish for a few months, which might explain why they didn’t nail it. The one I ate at the festival, however, was realllyy good. Satisfying, and a little spicy, it was exactly what makes ramen a comfort food.

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Takaoka Green Ramen

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Hokkaido Seafood Ramen

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Oyabe White Ramen

The second day I ate the ramen from Kanazawa which was definitely the best I had! It was meaty and oily and very, very, very unhealthy. I assume that’s why it was so delicious. The meat was almost like bacon instead of the regular chashu that’s served in ramen. It was a little spicy, too. Always a plus. Funny story, my friend asked me to get him an egg since the stall he got his ramen from had none left. When I ordered one ramen with two eggs the guy at the stall was super confused that I would want two eggs. I felt this weird awkward compulsion to explain that “it’s for my friend…ha ha”.  lol.

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After we ate, my friend and I went looking for water. But every vending machine was sold out of anything possibly thirst-quenching. So we went to the nearby convenience store and laughed when we saw that the fridges with drinks were almost completely empty. We ended up buying a large litre bottle of water to share.

All in all, it was a successful day. It’s hard not to be content (although very sleepy) after eating ramen as your day’s main activity. Whenever I go to Oyabe or Kanazawa next, I’m going to try the ramen again!

Koji Kakinuma at Kanazawa21

Last weekend I was feeling a little restless and needing inspiration, prompting a day trip to Ishikawa Prefecture. I was lucky enough to catch Tokyo-based Koji Kakinuma‘s exhibition “Exploring Calligraphy” at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa. 

I say “lucky”, because this exhibition left me in awe. I hope to share why I found this exhibition so fascinating!

Kakinuma brings to Shodo a contemporary vision grounded in tradition. He probes the principle of calligraphy in an endeavor to see calligraphy as a contemporary art form. “Inhale, exhale—use the brush freely!” is the figure of calligraphy he aspires to.

– An excerpt from Kanazawa21

So let’s start at the beginning.

The writing system in Japan uses Kanji, characters used to symbolize or represent words and ideas. In order for Kanji to be functional it has to have rules and remain consistent. The size, shape, spacing, and stroke-order really matter.  It matters even more in Shodo, which is the artistic writing of Kanji (or Japanese calligraphy). There is great emphasis not only on the appearance, but on materials and the physical movement of the writer. Kakinuma’s background is in Shodo, and his work plays with the restrictions that surround the practice.

Kakinuma’s exhibition fills 7 rooms, throughout which he manipulates and distorts these Japanese characters and all the rules they entail. He often alters his arm movements which creates lines that are loose and distorted. In the image below you can see an example of varying strokes.

Koji Kakinuma, “Four Seasons in Manyo’s Ancient World”, 2005

Sometimes these characters become spontaneous and difficult to read. In this form they begin to look less like their practical selves and become more abstract.  This work was not included in the exhibition, but it is an excellent example.

Koji Kakinuma, “Wind/Forest/Fire/Mountain”, 2007

In the above image, you might have noticed a small red mark on the left. All of Kakinuma’s works are finished with his Hanko, a personal stamp used in Japan equal to the functon of signatures (I myself have one for bill payments and signing contracts!). The Hanko, with it’s defined image, looks static next to the Kakinuma’s fluid characters.

The exhibition included one work in English: The phrase “You bring the light in” repeated over and over again in loose writing.

Koji Kakinuma, “You Bring Light In”, 2013

The longer I stared, the more the images in front of me looked less like letters and words and more like orderless markings. It was definitely helpful for me to have one work in my own language. It helped me understand the feeling of something visually familiar being distorted.

Kakinuma’s  produces “big scale” works which are several meters in width and height. Big pools of ink collect together to form areas of progressively deepening shades, as well as ink bleeding into the paper. Droplets and drippings scattered around the overall clean strokes. The Hanko marking that I mentioned before was also present on the larger works, in an accordingly larger size.

Koji Kakinuma, “One”, 2011

During the few Shodo lessons I’ve taken the instructor explains: back straight, relax, move your arm not your wrist, feel the brush, breathe. The brush will move as you move. Kakinuma takes the physicality of Shodo to another level with hisIn a seated area outside of an exhibition room, visitors to the museum are able to watch a video of Kakinuma’s process.  Along with a bucket of ink, he uses a brush almost the same height as him (cue images of the “Borrowers”). His entire body’s strength is needed to move it across the paper on the floor. His feet, back, arms work together to produce the right strokes. 

This isn’t the same video shown at the museum, but it’s also really cool to watch.

These oversized characters speak to the inexhaustible power of Kanji as symbols. This character, 山, is tiny on paper, but represents the gargantuan presence of a mountain, and brings to mind images of Japan’s endless mountain ranges, of their sublime power, of the feeling of spirituality that can come from being in the presence of these untouchable ancient entities.

The way these large works are presented can be very powerful, for instance in an enormous room with a ceiling as high as a gym’s and blindingly white walls. Hanging on opposite eachother, a few meters from the top of the ceiling are “Go Go”, 2013, and “Pheonix”, 2013, each spanning over 77 squared metres. The sheer size, space, and visual impact of this presentation left me in awe. It’s the same feeling I get when I stand in a towering Cathedral or look across the mountains: Completely overwhelmed and yet reassured by the beauty of these environments. A beauty that feels innately familiar yet out of grasp.

Needless to say I really enjoyed the exhibition and I’m glad I was introduced to Kakinuma’s work at this time. Had I visited after only a month or so living in Japan, my response would have been different because I would have had no familiarity to Kanji. In the last 6 months, Kanji has become a confusing part of my daily life. Seeing it distorted and manipulated by Kakinuma was captivating and oddly cathartic.

Links:  Artist WebsiteKanazawa21 Website

Winter Illumination at Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen Gardens

Winter “Illumination” is more popular in Japan than I have experienced anywhere else. Case and point, when I showed some students a video of Christmas decorations on houses, several of them shouted “ILLUMINATION”, but didn’t know “light”. I happened upon Kanazawa’s illumination at the Kenrokuen gardens by chance. I’ve been to the gardens once before in the summer, and it was nice to see the same sights with blankets of snow.

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Day Trip to Kanazawa

Ah, the long weekend! A chance to wind down after a hectic week of teaching and seize the opportunity of extra time to take a quick trip to the neighbouring Prefecture of Ishikawa.

We left in the morning and arrived just in time for a lunch of (of course) Ramen.

The main attraction was the Kanazawa Castle park and Kenrokuen gardens, an enormous property full of winding paths and buildings. The castle itself was built in the 1500s and burnt down several times. Now what remains are the many utility buildings that have also been reconstructed, the largest of which is the Gojikken Nagaya warehouse reconstructed in 2001. It’s recent construction (although it uses traditional building techniques) makes the inside of the building feel more like the swanky interior of an upscale vacation home than a warehouse.

Then we walked through the massive and meticulously groomed Kenrokuen gardens, enjoying the lush trees and flowing water… an accompanying green tea ice cream cone making it all the more sweeter.

The final stop was the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa much to the delight of the Art History nerd in me. The circular building features high ceilings and glass walls that often allow views straight through to other parts of the museum. As its name suggests, the museum was filled with Contemporary art, mostly video and installation work. In many of my contemporary art classes we talked at length about the impact that a museum’s space has on its visitors. That the construction of the building, positioning of art work, the text on the walls and much more all inform, dictate, and facilitate an experience that extends far beyond visual perception. I certainly felt this as I walked from room to room, standing in the dark watching a film, or sitting in a glass room listening to a poem as those on the outside stared in at me.

An extremely captivating work was Leandro Erlich’s “The Swimming Pool” of 2001. At first glance it seems to be a typical swimming pool, save for its positioning in the middle of a museum. But standing on its edge, viewers can look down and see the shapes of other people underneath the water. The work is multi-level, and visitors can enter into a room underneath the pool and stand beneath the surface of the water. It’s an absolutely simple yet thrilling moment to re-experience the familiar setting of a backyard pool.