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Tuesday 21 – Thursday 23 August
Daytimes we go out and about in Kyoto. It’s still baking hot (35-37 degrees) and heavily humid. The first day is largely “wasted” by visiting the Emporer’s Imperial Palace (closed) and Nijo Castle (closed), but had a good time nonetheless visiting temples and wandering through the lovely gardens:


The sound of Cicadas has been constantly in the background all summer. This what they look like:


And this is what Japanese politicians look like:


Wednesday was more productive: a visit to Rengeoin Sanjusangendo temple to see the 1001 Buddhas and then just over the road to the Kyoto National Museum. Unfortunately in both places photography was banned. In the case of Sanjusangendo this is entirely justified: it does mean visitors are more respectful and it is, essentially, still a working temple: there were people in there praying. The 1001 Buddhas are themselves incredible works of art and devotion. There are 1000 Buddhas arrayed in ranks. Each is about 5 feet tall and made of wood, with spiky halos and twenty arms each carrying a small implement. Each of the 1000 Buddhas is unique. They are protected by 8 guardians. All of these flank one massive central Buddha. The overall effect really is awe-inspiring (these images downloaded from the Internet):


Here are my slightly more prosaic images from the day:


In the evenings I was pulling 6-hour sessions developing the music and video for Friday’s show. I built myself a little studio in the hotel room:

Satisfying but relentless. A full-on week, and I haven’t even mentioned what we did during the day Thursday.

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Downtime in Tokyo: knocking these posts out now to wrap this up before we get home and it all goes stale.

Monday 20 August

Heather and I leave Sugoshicho behind and head for Kyoto. The afternoon is spent finishing off the install at Gallery G-77 and, as at Tenjinyama, the most labour-intensive element is putting up Hev’s Pocket Remains 1-79. It takes about three hours of repetitive and painstaking work—not helped by a time-consuming false start—but it looks good when it’s done.

As does the show as a whole. The gallery is quite small but has two floors. Matthew and Hev rightly dominate downstairs but everyone is represented on both floors. Downstairs, panning from just inside the front door on the left all the way round to the right (behind the partition):

And with this on a low table in the middle of the space:

Upstairs, panning this time from the right-hand wall round to the left:

Hard work. Well done Heather and Matthew for doing such a well-considered and professional job. Well done Sueko for the logistics: ordering projectors, printing, and the PA, English-Japanese translations, and for doing all the driving!

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Project Japan 25

Some ambient shots of Sugoshicho. Apologies in advance for the overhead power-cable obsession:

Project Japan 24

Continuing directly on from my last post. The scene: Carl and Sueko Boland’s house in Sugoshicho, Japan.

Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 August
As part of the Resonant Interval show at Gallery G-77 in Kyoto—on Friday 24 August to be exact—Carl and I are scheduled to do a performance, the centrepiece of which is supposed to be a brand new 15-minute audio-visual collaborative piece. My main job whilst I’ve been in Japan has been to make the film. It’s more-or-less done by this time, but the music remains in an entirely skeletal state: over this weekend Carl and myself are supposed to be developing it and rehearsing for the show.

So basically we spend two days in his studio whilst the sun shines down and rural Japan dreamily meanders along outside. Carl does most of the audio processing, I do most of the structural work. Two long, hard, but ultimately pretty successful days. By Sunday night the track is mostly there, but the first section remains in its original skeletal state and we haven’t practised together at all. We’ve run out of time.

Meanwhile on Sunday—whilst Carl and myself stay in Sugoshicho—Heather, Matthew, and Sueko meet at the gallery and  begin putting up the show.

***

The only break we have is a few hours on Saturday evening. There is a Buddhist festival in the village—a bit like our Harvest Festival (with donations to the temple of food)—but celebrated at the start of the harvest rather than the end. Heather and I are generously invited by the villagers to take part. As with the visit to the temple the evening before I found the simplicity and emotional authenticity of the experience humbling and deeply affecting:

After sausages-on-sticks, shaved ice sundaes, and plenty of alcohol—mainly for the men hanging out on the temple steps—the dancing began. This was a kind of circular line dance with a specific set of moves that symbolise the sowing and reaping of the rice harvest. The heavily rhythmic and hypnotic folk music goes on and on, with endless verses by alternating male and female vocalists about, um, farming (according to Sueko who’s a local and knows these things). Needless to say Hev and myself were dragged into the action:

The whole thing was utterly delightful. As you can see it’s a very small and tight community. Everyone was extremely warm, welcoming, and friendly. The kids are joyous and just run free in what is clearly a very safe and loving communal embrace.

I’m at a loss for words to describe how profoundly moving this evening was, and how privileged we felt to be immediately and unquestioningly accepted into these people’s lives. An amazing and totally unexpected experience.

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Apart from a couple of quickies earlier today I’ve not posted here for a week. I cannot tell you how busy we’ve been. As I sit here typing this on a Saturday afternoon I am absolutely knackered, burned out, washed and wiped out, fried, brain-dead, the lot. But, really, it has been an absolute blast—not an adjective I use very often but entirely appropriate here.

Thursday 16 August
Music tech shopping. Not so straightforward in a city you don’t know and where the language is alien to you: even Google Translate struggles with detailed and technical Japanese-English Internet searches. Eventually we found one of these at Ishibashi Music:

Bizarrely, we ate that evening in a Hawaiian restaurant. No: don’t ask.

Friday 17 August
After some gift-buying (for our soon-to-be-hosts and their daughter Yoshino) we took the JP Rapid service from Osaka direct to Notogawa (avoiding the change at Kyoto):

We were met at Notogawa by Sueko Boland, wife of Dr. Carl “CJ” Boland, lately of this parish, who were to be our hosts for the weekend. They live in a small village called Sugoshicho which is north of Kyoto and just south of a small city called Hikone, right on the edge of Lake Biwa:

The contrast between the urban craziness of Osaka and the rural calm of Sugoshicho could not have been more stark, and again I had that sensation of someone channel-flipping me:

Meeting Sueko at last was great—we had been in email contact with her for going on six months and she had been doing much of the logistical arrangements for us ahead of our arrival—and their lovely daughter Yoshi, and of course it was good to see Carl again. They live in a restored traditional-style house right in the middle of Sugoshicho and about 100 yards from the beach. Say hello to the nice people in Swansea, CJ:

After dumping our bags we headed straight down to the beach: very warm but quite breezy. Lots of catch-up chat and beachcombing. Brilliant:

Little did we know, but our day was only just beginning. Sueko’s father (now sadly deceased) was head priest at one of the local Buddhist temples (and I say “one of” because there are several despite the small size of the village). This role has now been taken over by her brother-in-law, Akira, who had kindly granted us access to the temple for a private visit. Whilst it was all relatively informal, due respect was observed and Akira performed a short ritual for us upon our arrival. Incredibly, he later brought out a prototype Japanese-style Kalimba that he and Carl were developing (with a view to fitting contact mics at some future point) and some funky improvising ensued:

The temple bell. Note graphic score!


(Left to right): Sueko, Heather, CJ, Akira.

Thanks to Akira, Sueko, and Carl for arranging this visit. An absolute privilege.

***

Dinner time. Yakiniku: cook meat at your table. The Japanese like their meat good and fatty and they’ll eat almost any part of the animal. I’m far too squeamish for some of the more (ahem) choice cuts but great fun nonetheless: a very sociable and involving way to eat.
 
And so to bed. One crazy day…

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Project Japan 21

It’s 6am in Kyoto and I’m out running. Nobody knows I’m here. Not one person on the entire planet is thinking about me. I’ve never been here before and I don’t know where I’m going.

In a word: freedom.

To say I am insignificant is overstating the case. I am next to nothing: an alien thought bubble carried on the warm Japanese breeze.

Without looking, I find peace.

 

Project Japan 20

I’m a big fan of Asa Chang & Junray (e.g. Senaka or Hana). However, this track is by Asa Chang & Pilgrim and is called either Shadowless, Shadowless Human, or Human Without Shadow (depending on the various translations from Japanese).
An absolutely stunning piece of music. What goes on in the video after the 6 minute mark is anyone’s guess (bearing in mind the Japanese obsession with cleanliness and their uneasy relationship with the huge crows that populate the islands):

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We’re staying a stone’s throw from Dotonbori, a very lively Osaka street famous for its food. It’s lined with restaurants and “street food” vendors of all sorts: sushi, local Kobe beef, crab, teryaki, and a new one on me: takoyaki. These are fried octopus dumplings. Apart from their fantastic taste and texture, just watching these things being made is somewhat magical and highly entertaining. This is the best short video I could find on YouTube: