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Project Japan 34

Monday 27 August

One day to see the sights of Tokyo, and the pair of us totally knackered anyway: physically and emotionally exhausted, tetchy, short-tempered, in foul moods because we were about to go back to the UK. Laughable…

Because it was a Monday the almost impossible job of choosing where to go was made somewhat easier, insofar as almost all the galleries were closed. However, there were a few open and we eventually decided to go to Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum: not because there was anything we particularly wanted to see but a) because it was in Ueno Park where there were several other things possibly worth doing, and b) it was an easy journey by subway from our hotel.

On such ill-considered decisions do futures hang…


After brunch we headed up to Floor 2F to what we thought was an exhibition of modern art. We paid our 500¥ each and walked into this:

Moments like these are why the phrase “WTF!” was invented. Almost every genre of painting is represented. There’s calligraphy, sculpture, collage, photography, and those ceramic dolls, plates, and figurines. There is some nice stuff, but most of the work is pretty hideous and clearly amateur. In the absence of a single word of English interpretation and no-one amongst the staff on that floor able to speak English, we assumed it must be some kind of “Tokyo Open” competition.
OK. Fair enough, but not exactly what we were looking for. Surely our Japan art adventure couldn’t end here!


Bemused and rather dejected we wandered over to the other side of Floor 2F. At the entrance to the exhibition—free I may add—we were given a beautiful catalogue and this is a small selection of what we encountered:

Fantastic! Really, I could have put up twice as a many photographs as I have done and still not do the exhibition justice. Almost every piece was interesting and challenging in some way, but without it all getting vanishingly conceptual. Extending across two large gallery spaces, this was a genuine find: a large collection of high-quality contemporary art united by medium.

It was at a certain point in the last of the rooms that I struck up a conversation with a Japanese gentleman who fortunately had pretty good English. This turned out to be none other than the Curator of the exhibition and Director of Atelier Outotsu, Ritsuwo Kanno. This Outotsu Hanten exhibition, then, was a mixture of work from his atelier and open-call submissions, and it had recently been on show in Paris.
By now Heather had joined in the discussion and she got very excited: her background is as a print-maker. She and Kanno immediately got involved in some technical stuff whilst I smiled on benignly in the background. After a short photo-op, Kanno disappeared stage left, but then came back almost immediately with his wife Kaoru Higashi. She is a fellow print-maker—both she and Kanno have works in the exhibition—and another round of quite detailed discussion took place (with me again totally out of my area of expertise so just keeping my mouth shut). Needless to say that by this point Heather was almost visibly throbbing with excitement and on the verge of spontaneous combustion…
Both Ritsuwo and Kaoru were a delight to talk to, and, as has so often been the case with the lovely people we’ve met on this trip, they were unstinting in their generosity:

So what started out as a bewildering and rather unsatisfying gallery visit suddenly turned into a visual feast and another wonderful chance encounter. A fabulous end to our month in Japan.


We did one last bit of sightseeing around Ueno Park:

Then it was back to the hotel, start packing, have a final meal, and hit the hay. First thing in the morning we would be off to Narita and the UK.

The End

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