Margot! In! Japan!
I’m nearly mid-way through a two-week adventure here. This post is a small recap of what’s happened so far, as well as how I’m dealing with the loneliness of traveling alone in a country where I don’t speak the language and am unable to eat much of the food.
Watari Museum of Contemporary Art
Definitely the most “contemporary” and wackiest art space I’ve visited. This show by artist Yoichi Umetsu blends sculpture, material design, and traditional painting techniques. Overall felt like a play space, chaotic and silly, with small moments of quiet throughout. Animatronic sculptures brought life and humor, whirring and clicking to life making their presence known like household pets. Pleased to see a contemporary space that mimics how I understand the rest of the contemporary art world, and I greeted it like an old friend.
Muji, if you’re not familiar, is a wildly popular minimalistic “un-branded” lifestyle company offering classically styled chic clothing, household goods, interior design services, amazing stationery, books, food, and cool kid stuff. It’s a bit like a Japanese version of Ikea. Anyway, I visited the flagship location in Tokyo and was delighted to discover a gallery in the space as well. This show showcases the stories behind the Indian-made textiles which are used in the store’s current collection. Walking through here swaths of fabric caressed my head and shoulders, with a delicate fluttering in the air was peaceful and serene.
Pictures don’t do this place justice. Imagine a whole wall full of nearly a thousand jars of powdered pigments in every possible spectrum of color. Then another display full of the most artful brushes I’ve ever seen. They were presented like magic wands, and it’s true even handling them I felt power rush to my hand. These beauties, handmade with real feathers each cost well over my monthly rent. I did pick up a few other brushes though, as well as a new ink set to replenish my stash at home. This visit was a healing salve on a rainy day and gave me some rainbow Pride month feelings which I’m missing very much in Japan.
I knew going into this I’d have feelings of isolation and otherness, but I chose this because I was craving a space where I could reconnect with myself and be my own main focus. To feel what the Japanese call mono no aware, which is that feeling of being a tiny speck in complete awe of the universe, and temporariness of all things, even the self. It’s a great feeling, briefly, but turns out it’s not somewhere I can inhabit for long. Sends me rushing to commune with other humans, which also presents other barriers. Many tourists aren’t interested, I don’t speak Japanese well enough to strike up a chat with the average person, and most Japanese people don’t speak English either. I did find one meet up in Tokyo that was super fun and helpful but still working on finding one in Kyoto. Tonight’s challenge: seek out a music show. Perhaps I can find friends there.
On being gluten-free in Japan
Woof. This has been the hardest part of every day so far. I thought I might tolerate it better here due to different processing and pesticides and whatnot, but yeah nope. I think I’m actually more sensitive to it than at home just because of all the different everything and the acclimation that’s still happening. I’m still working up the courage to try a typical Japanese restaurant yet, knowing what awkwardness awaits trying to clumsily explain the modifications I need to the staff. Alas. I’ve been making due with raw & health foods, fusion places, or eating outside Japanese cuisine altogether like last night’s delicious Nepalese Tandoori. There are a couple gluten-free spots in the cities which, very handy, but it gets boring only going to the same restaurants over and over.
Planning around dietary issues and the ensuing worry on how my body is gonna handle everything I put in my mouth leaves me with less time to research the art I came here to see, as well as taking time away from actually going out and doing things. Getting over that and doing it all anyway seems to be the real work of the trip, and well also life, to be totally honest. To accept and love these parts anyway. It’s humbling and gives me much more respect for others who endure more significant physical challenges. If nothing else it fosters a greater sense of empathy, which is so crucial to a good life. That may be what makes me become a greater artist more than anything else I experience here. Wouldn’t that be interesting! Time will tell.
Here’s to more adventures ahead! 8 days left in Kyoto and 2.5 days on the island of Naoshima. That’s where things are going to get even more interesting. More up-to-the-minute posts on my Instagram and stories if you’re inclined.
Onward, until next time! Arigato gozaimasu, my friends!!