Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park

[Trying out the whole inserting pictures thing. May even try the gallery options wordpress now has later.]

Today was warm and sunny. I walked over to the other major part of Taito today, Ueno which used to be the capital until Tokyo got much bigger. I ventured over to take a look at the museums and ended up spending all my time at just the Tokyo National Museum. Even with only 3 of the five buildings open, it still took about 5.5 hours to go through the two I did.

100 Meters to Awesome

First off, I’m sorry. Many of the exhibits I could have photographed, but I just didn’t really want to deal with accidentally making an international incident so I kept the camera away near exhibits.

The Main BuildingAh, but before I get too far ahead… There were soft serve ice cream trucks outside the museum. By the time I got there, I was pretty warm, and you know, they had interesting flavors. Vanilla, green tea, red bean (also called azuki, it’s actually really good they sweeten the beans quite a bit), kiwi (I think), mango, coffee and cream and a seasonal special… cherry blossom (sakura).

Go figure I didn’t even notice the cherry blossom flavor that was plastered all over the sides until I had decided to buy some, minutes after taking the picture. It seemed like a no-brainer to me and… it was really, really, good. There is a bit of the normal cherry flavor there but it is much lighter. If I can’t find more state side I’m going to be sad.

 Cherry Blossoms are TastyTry to imagine my other hand giving a thumbs up.

So, I missed PAX East over in Boston, even though I could have made it this year. Then I came to Japan, and looked at the Boston Metropolitan Art Museum’s collection of Japanese Masterpieces. That makes perfect sense.

The collection goes through about 1100 years worth of artwork, from the 700s to 1800s. For people who are artists or have studied art, this is amazing to follow in a nearly chronological process. The Buddhist work is the oldest the collection has, and almost always has the focus at the center with other objects or people placed around the¬†buddhavista. This can be interesting as while a few didn’t bother, it seemed many early works attempted to accurately depict point prospective and nearly got it right.

Sadly, many of the exhibits would have probably been more interesting to see in Boston as they would likely have much more complete translations, here they presume people can read the scrolls. I can’t. The ones supposed to be humorous still were a bit, but I couldn’t help but think I was missing out.

As time went forward ink paintings, and specifically screen paintings became the most common work in the display. The style is interesting, at times the landscape is fairly basic, large vague but defining strokes, with people being better defined, and then out of nowhere, a specific part of their clothing will have the most intricate delicate details. At the height of decadence the screens were not just flourished with gold highlights, but primed with gold paint.

The art styles were beautiful, but pretty rigid within schools and time periods, however this wasn’t because the artists couldn’t do anything else, it was simply tradition. The best example of the varied skill is shown in a screen painting depicting a European king and his court, which at least to my untrained eye and short exposure to the work, perfectly emulated western painting style.

An important note, if you clicked the link and went through the list, the textiles and swords were actually the 5th part, not the 6th.

The gallery ended with a final set, all from a single artist. The introduction seemed like a fluff piece congratulating the collectors and I readied myself to not be all that impressed.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Soga Shohaku’s work is amazing. The site describes him as an eccentric genius, though I can’t say his personal behavior, his artwork absolutely bucked the rigid trends seen in others’ work. While clearly the basics of his style were derived from tradition, his subjects may not have strayed too far from tradition, but the way they were depicted did.

Everything was stylized. Normally only landscapes would receive fast thick brushstrokes but Shohaku boldly applied the same to nature, the grass and trees normally so finely detailed were now shaped daubs of ink that almost reminded me of Bob Ross, if it weren’t so large and obviously symbolic rather than just allowing the brush to define the plant.

Humans were a bit more firmly defined, more patterns, the lines weren’t as soft and passionate, but their forms were deformed as well, fingers with exaggeratedly thin joints. Faces too were typically wider and mouths almost always depicted as open, with semi-ovular lines defining curves inside the mouth.

Oddly though, his birds were very similar to all the other work, very well defined, very detailed, immaculate pattern work on the feathers. They stands in contrast with the rest of his work, and even within their own paintings as everything else appears in one of his styles.

The last work, the crown of it is Dragon and the Clouds. This was a large screen painting comprised of three screens, however the middle (the entire body) is missing. Before it had been saved by the Boston collectors, it had already been removed from screens. Sadly its fate was to remain packed in a basement until a few years ago where restoration work started. It has been remounted, though not on folding screens, which means it is less likely to suffer further damage. The exhibition in Tokyo is actually the first time it has been viewable to the public in well over 100 years.

The work is immense, I swear it had to be 30 feet long and that’s while it was missing a section. Walking into that last room, it dominates the view, it is in such contrast to everything that had come before. Nothing else I had seen used so much black. Most screens leave the negative space as white, or even untouched. Nearly everything that wasn’t the dragon was a black cloud.

I want to see it again, though I can’t really justify spending the time and money again during this trip. I can’t wait for it to go to Boston, though it won’t be until late 2013 at the earliest.

Were I ever to have the room and money for it, I would love a full scale print if it were ever made available.

Seriously. I probably spent 20 minutes looking at that one. I kept wanting to go back.

In other news the hostel’s internet has been flaky (needs more IPs to be made available), and didn’t get better until people started going to sleep, it’s the start of Golden Week, so this is going to be exciting. Hopefully I can continue getting onto the internets without too much difficulty.

Picture dump in the morning… well, later morning. When I get up. How about that?

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