Ohara Museum

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The Ohara Museum of Art in Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture, was the very first museum in Japan that exhibited Western and modern art. It is a private museum founded by Ohara Magosaburo to commemorate Kojima Torajiro. Kojima was a talented western-style painter who dreamed to open a museum and to support young artists in Japan. Ohara became his patron and sponsored him to study in Europe. He collected art works for the museum from all over Europe, including the masterpieces of El Greco, Monet, Matisse, Cezanne, Gauguin, and Renoir, which are displayed in the Main Gallery of the Museum.

Kojima focused on the essence of art and he had a spirit typical of Meiji Era, struggling for a supreme ideology between western art and Japanese aesthetic sense. Kojima’s works can be seen in the Torajiro Kojima Memorial Hall. Other extended sections of the Ohara Museum are: the Annex, the Craft Art Gallery and the Asian Art Gallery. The Museum also organizes regular events including Art Lectures and Gallery Concerts by world-class artists and musicians.

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Tokyo Is Yours

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We at WAttention are not huge fans of graffiti, but there are some exceptions to the rule. Though the author (or artist?) behind these taggings is obviously anonymous, “Tokyo is Yours” has been showing up all across Shibuya and beyond, especially along the back alleys.

We personally find it encouraging. How about you?

“Tree of Children” in Aoyama

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Ever see this strange objet d’art along Aoyama-dori Street?

It is called “Tree of Children”, sculpted by famous Japanese artist Taro Okamoto. Okamoto said “Humans must accept life as it is,” and expressed this thought through this artwork with many faces of children living freely. Find it just in front of the United Nations University!

Address: 5-53-1 Jingumae, Shibuya

Rake In Luck And Good Fortune With The Kumade

You might have heard of the Japanese term ”Wabi Sabi,” which is often used for describing the Japanese view of aesthetics: appreciation for simplicity, modesty and imperfection.

Many of the well known Japanese designs such as withered old tea houses, traditional textiles and naturally glazed pottery often reflect Wabi Sabi aesthetics.

But when it comes to decorations relating to prosperity and fortune, spartan simplicity is thrown out the window and the “more is better” mentality takes over. After all, everybody wants all the luck they can get, right?

One of the best “more is better” design examples is the Kumade. These are bamboo rakes, yes rakes, likes the ones you use on the leaves, but smaller and just for decoration. They represent “raking in” heaps of success, wealth and good luck. Many business owners purchase Kumade around this time of year. These extravagant decorations come with different sizes, adornments and prices. Handheld size Kumade are around 1,000 yen to 2,000 yen, but larger ones range from 10,000 yen to 50,000 yen, or even more.

A large Kumade is full of good luck symbols. The larger they are the more expensive they get.
A large Kumade is full of good luck symbols. The larger they are the more expensive they get.

Let’s look at some designs and the meaning behind them.

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Here you can see Otafuku (Goddess of Mirth), a smiling white face which brings in good fortune.

Seven Lucky Gods in the middle are each representing different types of good luck such as good health, longevity, wealth, knowledge, happiness, art and beauty. The Lucky Mallet sits next to the seven gods. The mallet appears in the story of “Issun Boshi (One Inch Boy)“ where it grants the boy’s wish. Rice barrels are for a good harvest season. And the Koban (Japanese oval gold coin) symbolize, of course, money and fortune.

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The Crane and Turtle are also popular in Kumade decorations. As represented in a Japanese saying “a crane lives 1,000 years and a turtle lives 10,000 years,” they both symbolize longevity. In fact, the saying is not too far fetched as both the crane and turtle live much longer than other animals. The Red snapper is hidden under the bamboo leaves. Ebisu, one of the seven lucky gods is always depicted holding a red snapper under his left arm, thus the fish became a symbol of good fortune.

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The Owl, a symbol of wisdom in Western culture, holds a special place in Japanese people’s heart as well. The Japanese word for an owl is “Fukurou,” which not only includes the word “Fuku (happiness),” but also can be translated into “Fu (no)” “Kurou (suffering).”

The next year being the year of the Monkey, a lot of monkey dolls liven up Kumade as well.
The next year being the year of the Monkey, a lot of monkey dolls liven up Kumade as well.

So there you have it. Kumade are packed full of symbolism and eye candy. They are often displayed near the entrances of offices and restaurants. When you happen to see them, try finding as many symbols of good luck you can. It’s like a little treasure hunt.

Japanese arts and crafts may be better known for their Wabi Sabi aesthetics. But like many other cultures in the world, Japanese culture is multifaceted and diverse. Simplicity might bring peace and quiet, but embellishment might bring festivity and liveliness. Both are essential parts of Japanese design and I find the juxtaposition very interesting.

Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri Festival

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Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri Festival is designated as one of the National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Assets. Neputa is a huge fan-shaped lantern with a depicted image of warlords or legendary heroines set on the carriage. 83 carriages of lighted Neputa are pulled to the sound of drums and flutes in August from 7 pm to 10 pm daily from the 1st to the 6th, and a parade of Neputa is held from 10 am to 10:30 am on the 7th, along the main streets in the city.

http://www.city.hirosaki.aomori.jp/kanko/matsuri/natsu1.html

Access: The JR Ou Honsen Line to Hirosaki Sta.

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The Hakone Open-Air Museum

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The Hakone Open-Air Museum opened in 1969 as the first open-air art museum in Japan, consisting of five exhibition halls. There are as wide as 70,000 square meters grounds of lush greenery and permanent display of approximately 120 works by well known modern and contemporary sculptors.

The exhibition halls include the Picture Gallery and the Picasso Pavilion have as many as 300 works on rotating display. Other exhibitions are paintings, prints, large assortment of pottery along with gold and silver items.

The Henry Moore Collection is another recommended exhibition hall, which displays huge collections of works by the famous English sculptor Henry Moore.

Additionally, the museum has artistic play sets for children, restaurants and shops, as well as a foot bath of natural hot spring where visitors can relax and enjoy the splendor of art in nature.

Nara National Museum

Photo courtesy of 663highland
Photo courtesy of 663highland

The Nara National Museum, situated in the Nara Park, is one of the four prominent national museums in Japan, along with Tokyo, Kyoto and Kyushu. It houses about 1,400 collection items which are extensively represented by Buddhist art including a number of National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties.

The museum was founded in 1889 during the Meiji Period as the Imperial Nara Museum, in concurrence with its counterparts in Tokyo and Kyoto, and was opened to the public in 1895. The original building, designated as an Important Cultural Property, represents a fine example of the Meiji-Period Western style architecture.

The museum offers both permanent and special exhibitions in its four galleries, with the latter held twice a year in spring and fall. In fall it hosts the annual Shoso-in exhibition, which is the world’s most visited exhibition attracting around 15,000 audience per day.

The two-week exhibition, started in 1946, provides a rare opportunity to see a selection of exquisite treasures from the 8th century stored in Shoso-in Repository of the adjacent Todai-ji Temple. The collections belonged to Emperor Shomu and his wife Komyo, who were the founder of the temple, and include many exotic objects brought to Japan through the Silk Road.