2017. October. Again, we are in Tokyo.
This post is not meant to be a guide to or review of Japan. Well, not the kind with opening hours, must-sees and landmarks. What has struck me this time is the beauty in diversity. In the space between language barriers. In the beauty of creating.
Perhaps, the streaming of daily news and events over the past year, fears and insecurities that wake us before morning have made me seek remedies from being kind, aware and mindful. Recognizing beauty in front of me, around me. An increased sense of obligation to create and share. Recognize overt and hidden talents of people across a spectrum of skills and choices. Acknowledge. Encourage. Appreciate. Inspire. This is in our power. This is how we medicate helplessness from headlines and backstories.
I am not running from shrine to shrine. I am not navigating mechanized crowds through stop lights and cross-walks. I am not searching for restaurants. No subway stop sampling of neighborhoods. I am satisfied being absent of must-see lists or 72 hours in Tokyo recommendations letting my own awareness guide me through the hours.
The first time I visited, Tokyo was overwhelming. In a way, disappointing. I was looking for ‘authentic’ Japan, not avenues lined with generic signs of luxury. Eating was challenging. Fish stock in one form or another is often the first ingredient in dining options. Not good for vegan life or if bending the rules, vegetarian.
The language is difficult to interpret. In other tongues, I mumble sounds or see hidden words in different arrangements of familiar letters. Add my own pronunciations and use hands to translate”this is deliciousoso, scuz-a-me, where is subwayo or choo choo? Me, vegan, make a fish face and use my hands to say no.
With a different alphabet, I stare at phrases thinking they will focus into a phrase I can understand. I rely on images . On packages of sealed food, pictures of berries and nuts mean a better selection than pictures of a smiling chicken or fish. I learned to take a couple of zeros off currency and figure out a short taxi ride is not $1000. I hold loose coins in an open palm and slide my hand over to cashiers. At ATM’s I look for an English text box but often withdraw too much or too little. I learned not to open the door of a taxi. The driver does it from a control on his dashboard.
After a few days of my Tokyo #1 visit, 2008, I began to understand the magic of the city but too close to departure. Magic tied into the way the city operates. The politeness. The patience. The attention to detail. Big animated smiles that monopolize faces. Organization and cleanliness. An absence of American urban rush hour havoc. A politeness that glides people through the day.
It’s not that Tokyo is my favorite place to visit over and over again. The first two trips were to visit friends who hosted and chauffeured us inside and outside of the city. I learned the metro system from taking trains in wrong directions. Getting stopped at turnstiles. Figuring out underground mazes. Tokyo started to make sense. The third and fourth trips were for the Tokyo Art Book Fair (TABF) where billy was juried into the fair and welcomed into the international section.
set-up, 2017!-warehouse terrada, shinagawa
Tokyo started to come together. The fair, four days, brought us into a Tokyo different than before. Rather, TABF brought Tokyo to us. A destination where local Tokyo and visiting foreigners spend time with artist made books and the artists who create them. Where language needs little translation. “How much? ” “How do you do this?” and “Where are you from?” start slow conversations that find a way to connect, not frustrate.
A ubiquitous visual language taking place on multiple floors up and down rows lined with tables of vision and product executed by passionate and humble art-makers.
There is no interruption or impoliteness from cellphonespeak. Giggles and clapping hands of enjoyment animate communication. Misunderstood or not understood words don’t matter. Art is the subject. Art is the understanding. Fingers pointing to pages and flipping through books. Gently handling a fabric button. T-shirts and bags with simple illustrations. Explanations that transcend language barriers. Viral passion for art, and words. The individuality that brought people together shlepping weighed down with suitcases and duffel bags. From Germany, Korea, Singapore, America, Norway, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Paris, London and throughout Japan.
Art-makers morphing into a single we make art culture.
To share–to have a purpose–to bring boxes and bags and hooks and tape to show vision in three-dimension. Helping visitors experience art in traditional forms and new forms. To inspire. To spread a contagious mood of creativity, confidence in individuality. To remind us of the beauty inside of us and inside others. Or simply to enjoy an autumn afternoon on the way to or from somewhere.
There is no language barrier to smiles and sharing of art.
I observe. As I scan the flow of participants and visitors it reminds me that art connects people. How important this is now, more than ever. When asked where are we from there is no reference to politics. No snickering. No judgment. We don’t ask questions of our artist neighbors from Korea. There is the only curiosity of the art and appreciation for the artists who have traveled here.
Finding the unexpected on the anniversary of my mom’s death. My mom who built a menagerie of Bambi relics over 70 years.
The venue, a warehouse set-up is different from last year’s open campus forum. Creating some challenges in getting in and out and intermittent rain heighten Japanese patience, its own art form filling the canvas of the street.
What has struck me this trip is the beauty of diversity. Of foreigners bringing art for people to absorb. Dynamic and in-the-moment sites rather than checking off have-to-see sights from stickie-note tabbed pages in guidebooks. I have seen those sights in past trips, not all of them but that’s okay. Still, I take short escapes to see the Louise Bourgeois “Spider” and a visit to our favorite ceramics gallery.
Food has been better this year. It still takes planning but the expansion of fresh salad restaurants and vegan cafes gives us default. Fruit stands and natural food markets are not as spread out as before. Yes! to the Happy Cow app and pocket wi-fi.
It has been a difficult year for us. Not for “us” as in “us” but from events that are part of “us” being “we.” Primarily, billy’s mom with advancing Alzheimer’s forcing her move from our home after four and a half years. billy’s half-day visits with her every other day stir up anxieties that play into decisions for us to travel, be away. And the unexpected interruption from discovering and treating a Melanoma billy identified on the side of his face. billy’s prep and production for new work and inventory and collaborations fill days and nights. Travel to and from our remote home extends the travel. We navigate doubts and concerns like everything else that makes us “we.” Plus, the “woof!” who is glorious and unconditional but requires extra effort and coordination while we are gone.
And here we are, Tokyo v4. I hope the photos and words bring you to into this world of beauty and kindness and inspire you. For now, more than ever it is a time to make art and create…to see beauty and happiness in faces.
Join the faces.
We are all artists with our own stories and vision. We all have something to share, to connect to soothe our fears. Pick up a pen. Grab a brush. A bottle of glue. A recipe. Tape. A piece of chalk. A sharpie. Leave your doubt at the door. Create!
and when the day is done…..