Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dreaming of Summertime

It's been a long time since I've blogged about Japan- new travels and life events got in the way, and also laziness. Adjusting to life in the states has been easy and I've found my way to living in Boston with Wyatt. Most of my time is occupied preparing for graduate school tests and studying Japanese. I love my new apartment and all the opportunities city life affords me, but I can't help thinking wistfully about Japan. Especially when I compare the very slushy and bitter cold February and the wicked tease that was March to my last few, oppressively hot summer months in Japan. It's time for a trip down memory lane!

The wonderful thing about living in Japan is that there is always some event on the horizon to look forward to. Each seasonal change is marked and observed- the blooming of the wisteria, the arrival of the fireflies, the sudden bountifulness of peaches- and holidays are plentiful. I wanted to spend my remaining time in Japan taking full advantage of all the seasonal offerings in my little corner of the countryside and thankfully my friend Hiroko humored me by driving me to various remote and spectacular places.

At the beginning of May the temperatures really start to rise and the wisteria make a brief but spectacular appearance. All year long I had been waiting for the wisteria at Karatsu Castle- the blooming is an epic event thanks to an ancient and massive tree that sits in the castle courtyard. And I was definitely not disappointed. From a giant trellis the most fragrant and soft clouds of purple petals rain down all around you.  It feels like you are dreaming the most incredible dream.




By June the wisteria are long gone but the hydrangeas are abundant.  Nearby Karatsu is the small, small, small town of Ouchi, which boasts one of Japan's most beautiful waterfalls as well as the Hydrangea festival.  Hiroko and I got lost on the way to the waterfall and flowers but it was a happy accident because we came across this incredible view:


The waterfall was also impressive and hydrangea bushes were literally everywhere, but sadly my camera could not capture its magnificence.



 

I also took in the hydrangea on a second trip to Nagasaki with Hannah.  We chanced upon a heap of them by the Spectacles Bridge while in search of some Castella cake to bring back to Hiroko and Yamashita-Sensei.  Proof that cake searching is always a rewarding endeavor!



The fireflies also arrive in June, attracted by all the rain.  Everyone I knew was going nuts over the fireflies, which frankly I didn't really understand because I had the luxury to grow up in a place full of fireflies.  But evidently they don't exist everywhere, and in Japan, like everything else, their time is short- just two weeks!  Caught up in the pressure of ONLY TWO WEEKS and everyone's excitement, I decided that I simply HAD to experience Japanese fireflies.

Hiroko and I drove off into the countryside in search of fireflies and after getting lost and asking many obaachans (grandmothers) where the best viewing spot was, we simply pulled off to the side of the road by a stream and waited in the dark for their telltale glow.  Japanese fireflies are pretty much exactly like Vermont fireflies, beautiful little creatures but not worthy of the hype.  That is not to discount the magic of the night, however.  Because it did have a kind of hushed magic to it.  As we stood in the pitch dark, we spoke about Japan, and nature, and the seasons, about love and relationships, about all manner of life, half in Japanese, half in English, finding a way to understand each other despite our language and cultural differences.  In my memory it was the perfect summer night, the darkness like velvet, soft and warm, our voices accompanied by the wind rustling the trees and the trickle of the stream, our attention diverted occasionally by the green glow of the fireflies calling out to their friends.  It was a fleeting moment, and all the more beautiful because of it.

July was my last month in Japan and it was filled with a flurry of festivals and activity.  First up was the Karatsu fireworks festival.  Sort of along the same lines as the fireflies, I'd been promised that Japanese fireworks were amazing- even the English textbook my students used waxed rhapsodic about them.  This time I knew better than to believe the hype, but I was still looking forward to this classic summer activity.  I met my friends early to stake out a spot on the beach and to give myself plenty of time to peruse the yakitori stands, as well as enjoy the summer treat kakigori (flavored shaved ice).  The excitement of the city was obvious and as it got darker the beach got more crowded.  Lots of people were dressed in yukata, adding to the whole festival atmosphere.  Finally the fireworks were launched over the ocean, and well, fireworks are fireworks, no matter where you are, but damn are they pretty!



The other summer festival I attended was the Hamasaki Gion Festival located in Hamatama.  Hamatama is a very sleepy little town just past Karatsu.  Hiroko and I had been there previously and spent the perfect summer afternoon looking at the shrine.  Every year the town builds three fifteen meter high floats and parades them back and forth down the main street.  As with Karatsu Kunchi, the floats are maneuvered by teams of men (in this case wearing loin cloths) and musicians sit on the bottom of the floats and play traditional music.  The highlight of the festival is when each float is spun quickly in front of the shrine.  The obligatory yakitori stands crop up along the edges of the road and everyone is wearing yukata.  The floats were outstanding- omg so gorgeous!  And Hiroko and I made time to enjoy the traditional sweet of Hamatama- the name escapes me but it was a special kind of mochi with red bean paste.  Very sweet and delicious. 


 
Hamatama treats
My last week in Japan, Hiroko decided to take me to Raizan Sennyoji Daijiouin temple in the mountains of Fukuoka.  We went on such a hooooottttttt day but up in the mountains the air was cooler, and besides, the temple was so beautiful and meditative that it didn't matter.  The temple was built around 178 AD and used to be part of a larger complex of temples all over Raizen, or Thunder, mountain.   It's a popular tourist destination in the fall, thanks to a 400 year old giant maple that sits in its front garden. 



 
Giant maple to the left!

After a few contemplative hours at the temple, Hiroko took me to her favorite kakigori place.  Evidently this place was special because they shaved the ice in a very fine way.  We both got matcha flavor and it was delicious!  The perfect way to conclude a hot summer day.


I never thought I'd yearn for Japanese summer like I'm yearning for it now.  Most of the time it was too hot to bother going outside, not to mention I came down with a terrible, lingering summer cold.  But despite all that, I still managed to see and do so much.  So it turns out my last few months in Japan were actually my favorite of my time there.  It was the time I was most fully able to appreciate the bittersweet seasonal changes that are at the heart of Japanese culture. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Their name is WHAT?! : Ruminations on Japanese Boy Bands


I could offer a lot of excuses.  I spent most of my time with teenagers.  It is a fun way to study Japanese.  I want to understand Japanese pop culture.  It helped me be less horribly out of touch.  While all these things are true, the fact of the matter is that I am a quarter century old and I am beginning to love, unironically, Japanese boy bands.  And I’m only going to be somewhat embarrassed about it.
 
Look, boy bands are fun.  Discovering Japanese boy bands reminds me of my youth, when the world was simpler and I pined over *NSYNC (suck it Backstreet Boys!), buying their cds, watching their videos over and over, pasting their dreamy images on my walls, and forgiving them for their unfortunate wardrobe choices.  It was all enough to make a girl feel absolutely giddy!

Japanese boy bands offer a lot of the same nostalgic pleasures, for sure.  But as I have gotten deeper into boy band mania, I have discovered a world all unto its own.  There are new rules, new conventions, and new reasons to revel in a group of young(ish), handsome(ish) men who “sing” and “dance,” but mostly just look pretty.  

A lot of the blame for my new found obsession lands squarely at the feet of my friend Hannah.  She is a boy band expert, as well as a nefarious person who has brainwashed me through near constant exposure to their music.  The rest of the blame lies with my desperate desire for my students to like me and think I am cool and hip and current.  If there is one thing we know students find cool, it's an obvious desire to be liked! 

THE BANDS

I like two "bands" in particular.  EXILE and Kis-My-Ft2 (yes, you read that last name right).  

EXILE (in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS) is, I think, an actually respectable band to like, in terms of pop music.  Everyone likes EXILE, especially my students.  They are the equivalent of going to the states and saying you like Beyoncé.  NO ONE is going to knock you for that, especially if you are a foreigner.  According to Wikipedia, they have sold over 20 million records in Japan.   Also, my Japanese hair dresser assured me that EXILE is the best band in Japan.  So there's that.


EXILE has fourteen members, which seems like an unnecessary number of people until you contrast it with AKB48, a popular girl group that has at least 48 members.  In this light, 14 members seems downright restrained.  This is something I really respect about Japanese pop groups- the crazy amount of people they have.  Anyway, on the EXILE website you discover that only two of the fourteen are singers and the rest are all dancers.  Why isn't EXILE just two members then, you may ask? Well because EXILE is all about dancing.  While other boy bands make attempts at movement, EXILE is killing it on stage, and they have the abs to prove it!


One of my favorite things to do in class was make my students guess my favorite member of EXILE (because it is a rule of boybandum to pick a favorite member).  Invariably I would get a response of "EEEH WHAT!? BUT THERE ARE FOURTEEN OF THEM!"  

My favorite, BTWs, is AKIRA.

so handsome!

I am also partial to the main singer.  This is because he is not very handsome and thus has to always wear sunglasses in order to be cool.  Just consider how annoying that must be.  He is ALWAYS wearing sunglasses.

ATSUSHI

The second band I like is Kis-My-Ft2.  Their name is made up of the seven members' names, to hilarious effect.  I just want to clear this up now, this is not some foot fetish group.  This is just another classic example of why I was hired to teach English in Japan.  

Unlike EXILE, Kis-My-Ft2 is a "Johnny's" group, which means they were formed by the Johnny & Associates talent agency, which trains and markets male idols.  Most of the popular boy bands in Japan are Johnny's.  Johnny's have a whole crazy and complicated system that I only barely understand. 

Johnny & Associates has nineteen, debuted, recording groups.  To "debut" means to release a full record and to be promoted by the company.  But Johnny & Associates also has quite a large number of non-debuted "trainees" known as "Johnny's Jrs."  The Jrs. serve as backup dancers for the debuted groups, but they also put on their own shows and perform their own songs, often in small groups.  To add an extra dose of weird, most of the Jrs. are very junior, as in under the age of eighteen.  Only one group is debuted every few years, and the debuted group is often mashed together from different Jrs. groups.  So the chances of actually making it and debuting are pretty small.  Kis-My-Ft2 is one of the rare groups that has stayed intact from when they performed together as Jrs.  They debuted after a long career as Jrs. so they are now all safely in their twenties and acceptable eye candy.

the x's mean kisses!
Johnny's groups, as a rule, are terrible at singing and dancing.  This is generally ok, though, because they make up for it with spectacle and extravaganza!  Kis-My-Ft2 have very little quantifiable talent but they can dance on roller-skates and they are very nice to look at.  Even if logically you know you shouldn't like Johnny's, there is something about them that makes them impossible to resist.  I think it is all that glitter.

This was for a tie-in promotion with a gum company FYI
Johnny's lives are strictly regulated.  For example, they are not allowed to have girlfriends.  Actually, this seems to be a general rule for most pop acts- recently there was a scandal when a member of AKB48 was discovered to have a boyfriend.  She was demoted back to a backup singer and shaved her head in repentance.  There are lots of Jrs. eager to debut so if any Johnny caused a scandal, he would be easily disappeared and replaced.  Of course, Johnny's are notoriously overworked and underpaid, so there isn't really a lot of opportunity for them to live large and outrageously.

As you can imagine, a Johnny’s image is carefully cultivated and maintained.  They are like sparkly bonsai trees.  It helps that the paparazzi system in Japan isn't as aggressive as in the Western world, so most of the information about Johnny's comes from the official magazines, which are released twice a month.  In addition to the fold out posters, there are pages and pages of photos of your pop idols and puppies!  Your pop idols eating ice cream! Your pop idols in cozy sweaters!  There are also interviews, where you can find out favorite colors and all the vaguely homoerotic antics the boys get up to while on tour (they like to take baths together!).  I haven't even begun to mention the sort of weird but enticing photo spreads that involve the idols eating sweets (sexy!), sleeping and cuddling (sexy!) and acting like cats (sexy?).


 
boy or bear?
Believe it or not, I've only begun to scratch the surface of all the amazing things about boy bands and why you should, as an adult, like them too.  The following is a quick summation of some of the finer joys boy bands can bring into your life.

THE EXCELLENT USE OF ENGLISH

I don't speak much Japanese, but this has never hindered me in my enjoyment of Japanese pop bands.  Why?  Because at least half of all the songs are in “English.”  This has been very convenient for me, especially when I want to sing karaoke.

Additionally, as a former English teacher, I really appreciate the time and effort that has obviously been put into selecting the right English phrases to add that extra cool factor to songs.  I’m kidding of course.  I assume there is absolutely no care whatsoever in using correct English and the song writers just flip through a dictionary, selecting words at random.  Surprisingly, this only makes the songs MORE enjoyable.  Here is a sample Kis-My-Ft2 lyric from my favorite song of theirs, Ai no Beat (dance version), English words bolded:

Tomaranai ‘ai’ no BEAT!! kimi wo Rock on!! BEAT!!
Chou dokyuu Vibration
Kimi odore Dance on Beat!! motto Close to me!!
Tsukamu sa kimi to Connection

Kazaranai hontou no jibun misetai
Tsurai toki koso Do It Do It Do It Change Yourself!!

Naked! Naked Dance!

Look, if you aren't going to deliver on the naked dancing, you have no business using that as a lyric.  Still, I highly recommend watching the video for this song.
 
THE FASHION (and HAIR)

The stuff Japanese boy bands wear is completely ridiculous.  Here are some examples, in case you didn't watch the above linked video (and really, why haven't you?!):





EXILE!

I used to think, how can anyone possibly think this looks good?  But then I had the opportunity to look back on late 90s/early 00s pop fashion.  And then it didn’t seem so ridiculous anymore. 

Even current pop stars dress like crap.
But for as many questionable fashion choices, I also find lots of serious fashion inspiration.  I literally want to wear all the things in this Kis-My-Ft2 video.  For a long time I was on the hunt for the below animal print blazer, sadly to no avail.  And in fact, I was seriously close to buying these overpriced yet fabulous sneakers from Zara that practically screamed Johnny’s!


I would wear this outfit
Faux fur, animal print, studs, pointless zippers: these shoes have everything
I haven't even touched on boy banders' hair but as you can see from above photos it is always BIG and FABULOUS.

THE HIERARCHY

Another interesting facet of Japanese boy bands is the hierarchy of the members.  Japanese society is very hierarchical, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that pop acts are as well.  

When you have so many group members, it becomes necessary to prioritize who gets placed front and center.   In the previously mentioned AKB48 they have a rock, paper, scissors contest to decide who will be front.  That is like the higgest pressure rock, paper, scissors game ever.

In EXILE the leader is Hiro, who founded the group.  I have to say, actually, that while EXILE has a defined leader and more famous members, they do a pretty good job of keeping coverage equal between all fourteen of them.  

But it is a totally different story with Kis-My-Ft2.  There are three top members who were determined, before debut, to be the stars of the show.  These three guys get special outfits, center placement, more screen time, and larger photos.  The remaining four members are shoved to the back, to somewhat tragically funny effect.  Sometimes the light in videos is only on the top three while the back four are in darkness.  Furthermore, the top three get really flashy outfits to make them standout while the back four are often dressed alike so as to blend into the background.  


OMG WHAT? There are four other guys in this group?!

THE DRAMAS 

Finally, maybe the best part about Japanese boy bands is that, in addition to singing and dancing, they also all act!  They would all be triple threats if any of them were actually good at anything!  Regardless, boy band idols all star in their own television dramas, which of course all have amazing plots.

I had the pleasure of watching at least four different Japanese dramas while I was in Japan and I plan to watch more, in the interest, of course, of improving my Japanese.

My favorite AKIRA from EXILE starred recently in the remake of the drama GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka), which is about a former famous motorcycle gang member who becomes a homeroom teacher at a high school (his qualifications: being a BAMF) and helps his problematic students overcome issues with bullying and clueless parents.  Onizuka is tough, brash, and likes to use sledgehammers to take down walls.

Solving problems with fists!  Every teacher's dream

The trope of unconventional teachers is a big one in Japanese television.  There are lots of dramas that involve teachers that have gang connections.  I also watched a drama about a homeroom teacher that can see ghosts and uses this ability to help his students as well as solve the mystery surrounding the death of a former teacher who is now haunting his apartment.  It's a comedy!  It starred a member of the aging Johnny group SMAP and one of the top Kis-My members.  Obviously I'm not going to waste my time watching a drama that doesn't have one of my favorite boys in it.

My favorite drama that I watched was Ikemen desu ne.  It was a remake of a Korean drama, which is pretty common.  The plot is excellent.  It is about a nun-in-training who has to cross dress as her twin brother (who is secretly recovering from a nose job), who is a member of the popular boy band A.N.JELL.  Naturally, antics ensue, as does a love triangle.  The drama stars two of the top members of Kis-My-Ft2 and a guy from the Johnny group Hey! Say! JUMP. 


Of course, all the dramas have music tie ins, with the boy bands providing the theme songs.  And during the commercial breaks you can see your idols shilling for gum and acne products and soda.  They are literally inescapable, once you know to look for them!

IN CONCLUSION

I assume you are all now convinced that this is the greatest thing ever.  So I'll end with my favorite EXILE song:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Tokyo REMIX

Not content to just phone in this whole Golden Week thing with only one vacation, I planned two.  After returning from the loveliness of Okinawa, I set off for Tokyo.  This was my first ever solo travel and I was unsure how I would handle being on my own.  But with a highly ambitious schedule of museums, as well as a few other cultural spots, I was very much looking forward to being in complete control of my time.

I arrived late Thursday night to the Blue Wave Inn Asakusa.  I was exhausted so all I wanted to do was get to my room and relax.  Unfortunately, I had made a rare hotel misstep!  Although I had requested a non-smoking room, my room stank of smoke and had the telltale ash tray.  Furthermore, the room was not up to the usual Japanese standards of cleanliness.  AND the internet didn't work!  I was pretty angry, but there were no rooms to switch into and it was Golden Week, meaning no other available hotels, so I had to content myself with an air purifier.  Thankfully, after two nights of headaches I was able to move into a smoke free, clean room with working internet.  Getting a smoking room despite reserving non-smoking has happened to me numerous times in Japan so let this be a warning and a reminder to always make a point of demanding a smoke-free room when making your booking!  Absolutely positively must be non-smoking (please)!

Accommodations aside, I really did have a lovely time exploring Tokyo.  The weather was beautiful, spring greens were everywhere, and I made it to 5 museums!  Also, I bought untold numbers of postcards.

On the suggestion of my parents, I got up early my first day and bought a ticket for a river cruise from Asakusa to the Hamarikyu Gardens.  This was a great way to see the city while enjoying the sunshine and warm weather.  It was a little lonely by myself, especially when I wanted to explore the boat but couldn't so as to save my window seat, but I still enjoyed it and took many pictures of the massively tall Sky Tree. 

The boat lets you off in the middle of the Hamarikyu Gardens, so it is super convenient.  I recommend heading straight to the Otemon Gate entrance, however, so you can pick up a free audio guide.  This audio guide is bananas amazing.  It uses GPS to locate you within the garden and whenever you get near a site of interest, the guide automatically starts playing.  It also alerts you when you have wandered off your chosen route, which is helpful because the gardens are massive and easy to get lost in.  It took me about two hours to do the full garden course, but I stopped for tea and walked about at a leisurely pace, taking a bajillion photos.  Allegedly it should have only taken me 90 minutes.

Hamarikyu-teien used to be the stables and hunting grounds of the Tokugawas (Edo period shoguns)- a veritable playground completed with villas, tea houses, and all manner of seasonal flower gardens.  A special feature of the garden are the relatively rare, two intact kamoba, or duck hunting sites, which feature duck blinds- little shacks where one can discreetly observe those most delicious of fowl.  Many wild birds still inhabit the gardens, making it a nice refuge in the midst of the concrete jungle.  In the springtime, the plentiful peony garden is in bloom, comprised of 60 different types of peonies.  There was also wisteria and irises when I made my visit.  When your feet hurt from prancing among all the gorgeous flowers, you can have a relaxing cup of macha tea at the Nakajima-no-ochaya teahouse, built in 1707, which sits in the middle of the garden's largest pond. While all the history is interesting, the reason to visit the gardens is for the scenery.  I was most captivated by the stark contrast between the traditional garden grounds and the modern sky scrapers that loom up all around it.


Duck Blind


The tea house

After my lovely garden stroll, I stopped by La Duree in the Ginza for some macaroons, and then hit up Shinjuku to meet my friend Hannah and her sister Laura.  We had a quick lunch and after sharing my macaroons, I got Hannah and Laura to indulge me in a trip to Tokyo Tower.  Forget Sky Tree, I was taking it old school on this trip (and also, it is impossible to get up the Sky Tree). 

Tokyo Tower looks exactly like the Eiffel Tower, except it is red and white.  One of the symbols of Tokyo, the tower was built in 1958.  We only went up to the first of two levels, but it was still plenty high to enjoy the 360 degree views of Tokyo.




Enjoyment of outdoor views complete, it was now time for me to get down to serious museum visiting business.  My second day in Tokyo was devoted to exploring the Art Triangle Roppongi.  Roppongi is a modern district in Tokyo that is famous for its nightlife and shopping and it is particularly popular with foreigners.  It is also home to a lot of museums, with the three most prominent forming the aforementioned triangle.  I had been wary of doing the art triangle before because many of the museums feature modern and contemporary art, which isn't really my scene.  But in keeping with the spirit of my solo adventure, I was game to try something new.

My first stop was at the National Art Center, Tokyo.  This museum- which is a beautiful, undulating glass building- has no permanent collection.  Instead it houses various exhibitions in its massive gallery spaces.  I was surprised, and somewhat annoyed, to discover that you have to pay separately for each exhibition, and there wasn't a good text for what each exhibit was exactly.  The big exhibit at the time I went was the unicorn tapestries from the Musée de Cluny, which I had already seen, and to be honest, the other exhibits didn't look all that promising.  BUT I had walked a good distance from the subway so I settled on California Design, 1930-1965: "Living in a Modern Way".  I know, go to Tokyo, learn about California.

National Art Center, Tokyo
Let me just say, this was an amazing exhibit.  It was everything a good exhibit should make you feel- invigorated, thoughtful, curious, excited, and relieved of all your stress!  This exhibit was so great I had to sit down afterwards and write down all the ideas I got from it.  I think I liked this show so much because it touches on what I think are the most interesting aspects of art- how it informs and is shaped by culture; how it interacts with people's daily lives; the strive to make art democratic; the use of art as propaganda; and the issue of craft vs. fine art.

Initially, California design (in particular, household design) was created in response to a population boom that included foreign artists that were escaping from Nazi Europe.  These artists brought with them the modern European aesthetic, which blended with local styles to become uniquely suited to the California climate and way of life.  California wasn't really developed until the twentieth century, so there was a lot of room to experiment with furniture and home design and actually somewhat shape how people would live.  Initially it was important for the California artists to make democratic products with many different price points.  The original goal in all of this was, remember, to furnish new Californian's lives. This led artists to experiment with materials, leading many to re-purpose cheap and abundant war materials.  As the design grew in popularity, the US government actually used images of it as propaganda for the ideals of democracy and capitalism.  They weren't just selling objects, they were selling a way of life!  After the war, with the design aesthetic firmly established, there was a shift, as there always seems to be, with artists turning away from the earlier ideals of democracy through mass production and more towards unique products that allowed for greater freedom of expression but were less suited for the average Californian's home.  No longer content to be making mere crafts, the artists wanted their work recognized as high art.  Personally, I think the later rejection of functional and democratic design is a bit of a shame, but it certainly speaks towards what our culture places value on- the unique and the expensive.

In addition to all the ideas that were presented by the exhibit, I also appreciated the overall design and organization.  The main tenets of California design seemed to be openness and flexibility.  The exhibition space mirrored these ideals by constructing room dividers with open gaps, thereby always giving the visitor a peak into the adjoining rooms.   The exhibit also did a good job of showcasing a broad spectrum of California design, ranging from furniture to prints to kitchen appliances to clothing to even an entire silver camper.  Everything was arranged in little vignettes, as well, to show how the design pieces worked together.  It was all really, really, really well done.

I am also happy to report that the National Art Center, Tokyo has an excellent gift shop and numerous dining options.  I tried to basement cafe and I was very happy with my smoked salmon salad.
 
Aren't these the cutest little chairs?  for sale in gift shop
The next museum I visited was the Suntory Museum of Art, located in "Tokyo Midtown," a large shopping complex filled with my favorite genre of store- lifestyle- which basically means lots of expensive trinkets.  The museum itself is beautiful, but small, with lots of blond wood.  The show I saw was "Mono no Aware" and Japanese Beauty.  "Mono no aware" is a difficult phrase to translate but it basically means a keen awareness of nature, and more specifically, of the change of the seasons.  Japan is all about the seasons- do you know Japanese four seasons?- so this was a great opportunity to learn more about how Japanese people have incorporated the seasons into their lives.  As mono no aware is a rather old concept, most of the art objects came from the Edo period and before (which I was super happy about).  It was a pretty classic show of high art but did a nice job of tying together all the various kinds of objects, which included kimono, paintings, screens, pottery, and calligraphy.  And of course, the museum shop was lovely.  It was all perfectly lovely!

My final museum of the day was the Mori Art Museum.  This is a contemporary art museum located in Roppongi Hills, yet another giant shopping and dining complex.  The museum is at the top of Mori Tower, on the 53rd and 54th floors.  Like the National Art Center, Tokyo, the Mori Art Museum does not have a permanent collection but instead showcases a range of traveling exhibits.  I was happy to discover that there was a show of Alphonse Mucha, an art nouveau artist I like quite a lot.  Unfortunately, the museum and the show were my least favorite of the ones I had seen that day.  Mucha, evidently, is incredibly popular in Japan and the exhibit was way too crowded- you could hardly see anything.  It also had no English support, so it was impossible to learn anything, and most of what was on view was not all that interesting.  Such a disappointment!  I also, mistakenly, went through the All You Need is LOVE show, which was a nightmare of contemporary art that was dubiously linked by the cliche theme of "love."  The only part of the Mori Tower that I enjoyed was the free view of Tokyo, which I made sure to hit in the evening to get those city lights.

I call this one, Self Portrait 12,345
After an exhausting day of museums, I finished up at a fancy-ish conveyor belt sushi place called Pintokona.  It was really good, especially the avocado sushi I kept ordering!


My final day in Tokyo was spent revisiting the Tokyo National Museum and the Edo-Tokyo Museum.  Because I couldn't take pictures at the other museums, I will now make up for it with pictures of some of my favorite objects from the last two museums.  One of the nice things about Japanese art in museums is that, due to its fragile nature, it is always being rotated and there are always new things to see!

little porcelain dog incense holder
Spring by Ito Shinsui

Woman with Umbrella by Ito Shinsui
The modern section of the Edo-Tokyo Museum
My visit to Tokyo was really productive- I saw a lot of great museum shows, which always makes me feel more centered and calm, and I bought a lot of postcards, which is turning into a real problem.  It was amazing to be completely in charge of my schedule, too.  But I couldn't help coming to the conclusion that solo travel is just not for me.  I missed company during meals and in my evening down time, and while I know some people have this skill, honestly, I'm just not very good at making fast friends.  So while I had a great time in Tokyo on my own, I'll stick to 2+ trips in the future.  Because seriously, someone really needs to check my reckless postcard spending!