Saturday, September 05, 2009

Whims of nature

Clouds are always up in the sky, yet we do not attend to them. From time to time, when the shapes strike us as massive, and the angle of the light is just fine, we take notice of them.

Yesterday, there was such a magnificent cloud in the sky. I looked up admiringly, unable to have enough of it.

The physical process is continuously there. With the vapor circulating, the wind blowing, it never stops. The fact that only a subset of the ever going procession draws out attention is a testimony to the whimsical nature of our perception. Because of the whim, we are led to some beauties and truths, while missing others.

Clouds are themselves like whims of nature.

A magnificent cloud seen in the sky yesterday.

Friday, September 04, 2009

It's my job never to give up

Back in Tokyo, I am already immersed in a hectic work schedule.

I had a quite stimulating dialogue with Dr. Hisashi Matsumoto, who is a flying doctor on board a "Doctor Heli" helicopter based in Chiba prefecture. Dr. Matsumoto was the guest for "The Professionals" program in NHK.

In the studio, Dr. Matsumoto stressed the importance of outreaching for the medical service. The emergency treatment in a life or death situation is very different from the medical procedures in general. It was intellectually exciting and eventually emotionally rewarding to learn the difficulties and possibilities of emergency medicine.

"You see, we never give up".

Dr. Matsumoto said.

"It is nothing special. It's my job never to give up, to save the patient."

Dr. Matsumoto flies on the helicopter to give emergency treatments more than 600 times a year.

In the NHK Professionals studio. With Dr. Hisashi Matsumoto and Ms. Miki Sumiyohi.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Home coming

It used to be that when I go abroad and come back to Narita airport, I get into a mental zone of inverse cultural shock, finding the atmosphere of my home country somewhat strange, as if I am witnessing it through the eyes of a foreign visitor.

Nowadays, the transition is more smooth. But the metacognition runs deep.

Each culture has its own merits and limits. I seem to discern more accurately the scopes and borders of the context of my native culture, as I shuttle between Japan and abroad. It is not that the context of the English-based civilization, for example, is broader than that of Japanese-based civilization. It is just that they are different.

Home coming has a bittersweet aftertaste. As I get into the rapid train connecting Narita airport and central Tokyo, recollections of the London atmosphere rapidly disappears, and I am left to adapt to the familiar cultural contexts of my mother country, in which I sometimes feel like a stranger.

But then I would feel like a stranger in any single cultural context, mother or foreign.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A Farewell to Arms.

On my final day in London, I visited the British Museum with my co-travelers, and talked to Mr. Timothy Clark, head of the Japanese Section. Tim was kind enough to show us how the works of art are stored and preserved, and used to support research and exhibition when necessary. I was impressed by Tim's enthusiasm for the preservation and understanding of Japanese art, especially Ukiyo-e prints and scrolls.

I spent the last few hours in London drinking ale beer in a Kensington pub with my friends. We had a jolly good time, judging from the number of laughters and jokes, which sometimes hinged upon the ridiculous.

Finally, it was time for me to catch a taxi for the airport. My fellow travelers were to stay one more night in London. As I got into my taxi, their arms were stretched out towards me. We shook hands.

As my taxi started to move, their arms remained invigorated. It was a sentimental moment. As I watched my friends waving their arms, I bade a farewell to arms.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The sublime in Turner

I visited Tate Britain and the National Gallery in London. One of the main purposes was to see the paintings by John Mallord William Turner.

Turner is mainly known for his paintings of scenery, especially those of the ocean, where the colors are mingled in a harmonious manner, to give an overall impression of fogginess and vibrancy.

Turner, however, also painted more concrete and "real" works, especially those based on war themes. The drawings and water colors of Turner demonstrate the precision with which the artist was able to capture the details of the subject, if and when he willed so.

Turner's paintings, at their best, give the impression of the "sublime" to the observer. In being merged in the sublime, things lose their individualities. For the purpose of the depiction of the "sublime" in this sense, the ocean, where the water and the lights and winds are in constant motion and resonance, was arguably the ideal subject.

With the traditional methodologies of painting of which Turner was a master, the artist is able to reproduce a particular impression with a degree of much higher exactness compared to the more contemporary methodologies such as installation.
As the artist is able to control every brush, the impression can become more finely tuned as the picture gets abstract in the conventional sense. Being abstract does not signify a loss of information in the case of Turner. Being abstract is the language for the faithful depiction of deep emotions and feelings, which the artist pursued all his life.

The innovations and aesthetical investigations to be found in the art of Turner gave the inspiration for the Turner Prize, which is in a sense a celebration of the continued evolution of the sublime in contemporary art.

The Sunrise with Sea Monsters (circa 1845).
One of my favorite Turner paintings.

Monday, August 31, 2009

London photos.

I came to London for a magazine and book cover trip of the Tate and British Museum. I am staying just for two nights and then will be flying back to Tokyo. Accompanying me are Michiaki Watanabe and Shinzo Ota of Shogakukan publishing, and Shinya Shirasu.

Shinya's friend, Akio Shindate joined us. Shindate has founded a design company VO Corporation based in Kensington.

Since I have lived in U.K. for two years, and have frequently visited London ever since, landscapes in London fills me with much nostalgia and a sense of home coming when I see them.

The U.K. is like a second home for me.

Familiar signs in London Heathrow airport

The taxi stand at Heathrow airport

The Natural History Museum, taken from the speeding Taxi window.

Harrods. Ditto taken.

Hyde Park. Ditto taken.

The Piccadilly Circus. Ditto taken.

The entrance of the Soho hotel.

The Soho hotel room.

A late night drink with Shinya Shirasu, my soul mate.

A Thai dinner at the Patara restaurant in Soho with Michiaki Watanabe, Shinzo Ota, and Akio Shindate. Shinya Shirasu could not make it for the dinner as his luggage was delayed at Heathrow.

Change has come to Japan

In a democracy, people have the power to oust the king, no matter how powerful he may be.

For the last 25 years, I have been voting for the opposition, except for one rare occasion when I voted for the ruling party.

The result of yesterday's general election suggests that for the first time since 1955, (except for a 10 months period in 1985), the opposition is going to form the government.

For somebody who has been feeling like a stranger minority in a more or less homogenous society, this victory of the opposition brings a very strange aftertaste. Much as I love the country, I was under the impression that the Japanese people are not so good at breaking the status quo. I was pleasantly surprised.

Because of what we did yesterday, change has come to Japan.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Born to be wild.

Although the ending of the film is rather sad, the opening scene of "Easy Rider" always thrills me when I watch it.

"Born to be wild" by Steppenwolf is such an inspiration. The scene has entered the canon of our film experience.

The procession of the drama from the impressive opening to the tragic ending might perhaps be an apotheosis of the feeling of
freedom which only exists in a brief, bursting explosion, if we seek its purest forms.

From the opening scenes of Easy Rider (1969)