Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Angel In A Centerfold

On a recent trip out to the town of Nikko, about a 40 minute drive due west of Ohtawara-shi, but a 40 minute train trip south to Utsonomiya and a further 30-minute trip north west, Ashley and I spent an enjoyable Saturday without any arguments.
We had previously visited Nikko in October of 1990 (which I’ll detail in another blog with photos) and checked out its wonderful temples and shrines, including one featuring the famous three wise monkeys… you know the one: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. But, like I said… more later.
This time, we were in Nikko to check out Kegon Waterfall, one of the three most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. Strange, through it may seem, Japan has this thing for listing things in threes.
Along with the waterfalls, Japan also has a list of the: three most famous castles (I love castles!);
three most famous gardens; three most beautiful views; three most famous mountains; three famous Buddhas; three sacred grounds; three hot springs; three friendliest hands massage parlours; three best places to get drunk; three dog night; three months in a leaky boat. Okay, the last bunch after the hot springs entry were made up, to the best of my knowledge, but who, other than the Shadow, knows?
Anyhow, I promise that the next blog will contain photos of my favourites of some of these famous Japanese threesomes.
After visiting the waterfall, Ashley and I stumbled into a small, old shop on the main drag of town. It was quiet, wooden, and had a warm musty smell that was oddly relaxing. It was Dr. T. Takemoto’s Antique & Modern Fine Art Curios shop, and if you are ever in the area, be sure to check it out. A plump, friendly woman sat at the nearby counter, took a look at Ashley and myself smiled and in English welcomed us to her shop. She quickly ran to the back and brought us out a cup of green tea (o-cha) apiece, then went running back for some sesame crackers. Both were welcome additions, as it was cold and raining outside—what trip around Japan by Andrew would be complete without some rain?
I like antiques. I don’t know squat about them – this was well before the Antique’s Roadshow ever made it onto television—but I know what I like.
Ashley immediately gravitated over to the masks, and miniature statuary, but a look at the prices horrified my girl, so much so that she motioned for us to leave. Now, call me a sucker, but when someone gets you food and drink and welcomes you in from the cold and rain and speaks English, you set a while. Perhaps seeing Ashley’s look–probably having seen it hundreds of times previous from other shocked girlfriends, the shopkeeper asked if I would like to see some famous Japanese art called an ukiyo-e.
I had no idea what that was, so I said yes.
She disappeared up stairs and came down with about 40 folders, each one containing an ukiyo-e, otherwise known as a woodblock print - originally made utilizing cherry wood.These prints were often placed in magazines or books of the day, and often have a fold in them if they are overly large diptychs or triptyches.
They were beautiful. Women in gorgeous kimonos, vistas, action scenes, samurai, sumo, colours popping - in an art style I had only previously seen in Playboy when they used classic ukiyo-e's with witty captions. Who knew? 
Since it was my parent’s anniversary coming up, I purchased one. It was an 1864 print by Toyokuni from his series, The Story of Genji. While I have NOT included it in the photos HERE, rest assured that it sits in a nearby room, framed, and as immaculate as the day it first came out of the print shop back when the samurai class was still a samurai class.
The Story of Genji (Monogatari was written in the Heian-jidai (Heian era) in the year 1000AD, or there abouts. The tale is a work of fiction set in the Imperial Court of that era, with the story combining the only two elements then seen in Japanese literature: romance and poetry. It was written by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in waiting to an Empress.
There are other ukiyo-e (size varies in ukiyo-e, but on average, mine are 9-7/10" x 14.5" or 244mm x 367mm)  in my collection showing off Toyokuni’s skills, including a triptych: three ukiyo-e, when joined to together form a single scene which I have framed and am too afraid (and poor) to remove in case I can't replace it; and a pair of 1860s comic books sewn together - each contains 10 two-page spreads and one single page of black and white imagery by Toyokuni. The comic books measure: 4.5"w x 7"h (112mm x 174mm), with the image at the top of this blog showing the comic book's colour cover.
I think it cost me about $250 (25000 yen - I'm staring at the receipt as I type... meanwhile in 2010, I have misplaced my coat) and to me worth every dollar of interest Visa charged me over the next 12 years. Actually, come to think of it, thanks to Visa, it probably cost be $4,047. Bugger.
Anyhow, over the next two and a half years, I frequented the store on average once every two months, where the owners taught me about ukiyo-e and antiques. It’s a shame I relied on my memory and have effectively forgotten more than I know. Yes, I know how that reads. I’m forgetful, not stupid.
Enjoy the ukiyo-e images. My thanks to Takako Hall for her help in deciphering some of the Series and Artist information I was unsure of.

Somewhere enjoying the view,
Andrew Joseph

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