Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lucky dreams five months late

With this post a further 7 months late... all I can hope for is that my PhD thesis does not befall the same fate.
Hacio gave me a calendar for Christmas this year of details from woodcuts by Rinsai Utsushi (active, c. 1869 - 1890).  The image for the month of May stood out, not only is Mt Fuji snow capped in the distance, there is also an Otaka (goshawk) as the detailed feature in the fore-ground, and the artist name stamp in shape of an eggplant.  

The calendar was put out by a Dutch company, and by the looks of things by designers who are not woodcut enthusiasts, otherwise I think the three lucky dream images associated with New Years Eve would appear as the picture for January.
Below is the print in full.
I did a fairly extensive search for some more information on Utsushi. But not much is online- only a brief entry on a commercial woodcut dealers site that lists his main subjects as Kacho-ga or Kacho-e -flowers and birds. This subject matter started to become popular in the Meiji period and was further developed by the Shin hang print movement. 

However  in the West, by the turn of last century "birds and flowers" was considered to be the genre of women "hobbyists" and I wonder whether this dismissive attitude has contributed to the absence of Utsushi's work from the collections of the Smithsonian, British Museum, V& A, and all Australian state art galleries. There are two prints in the Canadian Museum - the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The AGGV has the largest holdings of Japanese art in Canada and like many regional museums the collection is often made up from gifts from local citizens, in this case Mr. & Mrs. William Hepler. Unfortunately the online search facility only allows for searches via artist and artwork title, so I was unable to see what else Mr. & Mrs. William Hepler donated and perhaps make an assessment of Utsushi standing within their collection or even to find out some more information about who where the Heplers. 

All of these dead ends and small findings pose the question about what is collectible, what has ongoing cultural significance and what does not. Utsushi's prints sell for US$250 on some Internet print galleries, which is not much but more than some listed on bay. Is it time to start my own Mt Fuji oban collection? Hmmm... that sounds like more procrastination... 

(if you click on the link for Kacho-e and then the link to Parrots and Birds, you can see that the birds are either Macaws or Australian short-tailed parrots... now there another story to look into... but at least that one is somewhat closer to my Phd thesis...)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fuji Souvenir #2

Hello Kitty post-it notes. I'm not sure how to use these, anything I write on them is a bit invisible. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Murder at Mt Fuji

The special express for Gotemba departed at noon from the northwest terminal of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station. Most of the seats where occupied as the train pulled out the station, the passengers returning home having paid there New Year’s respects at the Meiji shrine. More than half of them got off at the next station down the line. Gotemba, the train’s final destination, was the jumping off place for excursions in the Mt Fuji region; from there one could go to the mountain itself, or to the nearby Fuji Five lakes distinct. Winter however, was the off season in that area and by the time the train approached its final stop, fewer than twenty percent of the seats were still occupied.  (p1)

This is the opening paragraph in Shizuko Natsuki's Murder at Mt Fuji. Set in the fictional posh suburb of Asahi Hills on the edge of Lake Yamanaka in the Fuji Five Lakes district. 

The story is mostly told from the perspective of Jane Prescott, an American student studying at the Tokyo Women's University. As the private English tutor and friend of Chiyo Wada, the daughter of a wealthy Japanese family, she finds herself somewhat awkwardly invited to the Wada family New Year celebration at their weekend home, on the shores of Lake Yamanaka. The first pages describing Jane's journey to the family home with some wonderful descriptive passages that really evoked for me the experience of travelling by train and bus in and around Tokyo.
There were about ten people waiting at the bus stop by the time the bus was ready to leave. It left promptly at 2:30 and threaded its way through the shop-lined streets of the city and out onto highway 138, Mt Fuji soaring majestically in front of them. Although capped with snow the mountain was not completely white; dark blue streaks running down from the peak accentuated the steepness of its slope.
The clean paved road wound its way through the foot-hills in gentle curves. As they drove along, Fuji remained fixed in its position, filling the very centre of the windshield. This view of the mountain was much different from the impression one got seeing it at a distance from the window of a bullet train. At this close range one was made aware of its powerful, imposing presence. (p13)
photo from Japan Bash

Natsuki uses the location of the remote country home, and adds a heavy snow storm to the night of the murder, to create a variation of the "locked room mystery". 

There are two other points in the novel where a description of Mt Fuji appears. Both occur where the characters (detective Nakazato and Jane, respectively) are having moment of internal reflection on the events which are swirling around them. In these paragraphs Natsuki evokes the subtle changes in mood as a way to describe time passing, yet emphasis the continuity of the power the mountain exerts over the surrounding landscape. 
Through the windshield of the car they could see the forest of bare trees dusted lightly with snow and towering above them, the gloriously white peak of Mt Fuji.  Miraculously, the peak was not hidden by clouds and the entire mountain was visible. As the car approached Lake Yamanaka, they looked directly at the eastern slope of Mt Fuji; viewed from here the peak appeared broader than from any other location, and the whole mountain seemed dignified and resolute. Nakazato puffed on a cigarette as he squinted and took in the view. The surface of the lake was a chilly blue, and out in the middle it was frozen white, with wavelike ripples. (p110)
This morning Fuji’s white peak shone brilliantly in the sun and seemed to pierce the very blue of the sky itself. Even the leafless forest of larch on the lower slopes shone brightly in the sunlight, making a blinding glare that caused one to squint. (p184)

This was Natsuki's first novel translated and published in the English. Six of her novels appear on several sites as available in English, although a simple search on her name on Amazon shows that she is a prolific writer like P. D. James. Having never read any other of her works, I am wondering whether the setting of Mt Fuji, and the American protagonist Jane Prescott, where unique to this novel and way to give something familiar to an English speaking audience.

The novel was adapted and made into a movie in 1984 - W's tragedy Wの悲劇It won quiet a few awards and has now been remade.. I was searching on youtube for the movie of using the Japanese script and was starting to wonder whether it was a series of common words as the trailers that popped up didn't seem to have any connection to the novel I had just read. (when I started researching this post in August 2011 there was plenty of trailer of the 1984 film which have all been taken down and there just seems to be video clips of the title song- perhaps someone who can read the characters can find a link..)

Some of the characters, namely Jane, are not mentioned at all, and the the movie synopsis on imdb describes the re-setting of the novel in a theatre. With a bit more digging around I relies that Natsuki's story has become a stage play, acting as the inner story which reveals the truth of the main narrative, moving the literary convention from a "locked room" to a "play within a play".

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fuji Souvenir #1

Cat bell tinkling charm. Fuji profile and height on one side and name on the other.
A recent gift from Haico.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


in a sea of trouble

When I feel too busy to write, it's usually because my brain is working overtime, too many ideas not enough focus to write down one...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Soba salt

Thanks to a recent post on 100 Hundred Mountains I discovered Okinawa Soba aka Rob Oechsle, a collector of Meiji and Taisho Japanese photography. Along with an amazing flickr collection, he also has a labyrinthine website devoted to T. Enami a turn of the century photographer based in Yokohama. There are about 3,000 images on his flickr profile, many with including Fuji as the central subject or used as a back drop. I spent several hours this afternoon trawling through his collections loosing myself in beauty and wonder. Although this is not an image by T. Enami, I have decided to post the following salt print with Okinawa Soba commentary in full. It gives a feel for his writing style and for the seriousness of his collecting and generosity with sharing his research. It's a fascinating project by an unusual man.
-- or, How Light Areas of a Salt Print Tend to Fade Away First ("Salt Print" # 11)
No Photoshop or Paint Eraser here. Posting un-retouched AS IS !!! This ca.1890s photograph was printed as a postcard size image around 1905 by a commercial photographer using the "Salted Paper Print" process. No standard albumen, collodian, or gelatin emulsion coatings for this guy. He was going to do it the "Classic" way like the old "Salt Print" and "Calotype" days of yore....and color it when he was done.
I will be the first to admit that the commercial revival of the classic salt print is pretty cool...and pretty rare for the late Meiji era. But, depending on how they were processed, these rare and often beautiful "revival salt prints" sometimes had a strange side effect: Very light areas, such as the face, or light clothing, had a tendency to lose the details -- and sometimes disappear altogether.
On some of these pictures (not all), the dreaded "fade-out" syndrome would hit those extremely light portions within a relatively short time, but leave the darker areas untouched. Even the once delineated summit-line of Mt. Fuji has reached a touch-and-go point in this image.
And our poor fellow on the horse, whose head was wrapped in a white winter "turban towel", just happened to line himself (and his neck) directly with the slope of the hill behind him. It was only a matter of time before he.....well, before he LOST HIS HEAD !.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Another mountain

I've been travelling to Hobart pretty regularly since November 2003, mostly to make art. Last week I finally got to show my work in Tasmania at CAST gallery.

When I was down there last week I had a very odd realisation- Mt Wellington was my first "Mt Fuji". It's shape is completely different but the way it's celebrated in art history and how you watch it is similar.

From the moment it greets you as you come over the ridge from the airport it shapes your experience of the city and the weather.
You search for views out of hotel windows, friends balconies,
check its peak to gage the weather,
admire its many moods.
I'm not the only one who has had this association. Below is a electrical street box near Parliament House.
Perhaps my attraction to Mt Wellington had primed me for my Fuji obsession and certainly if I lived in Hobart I would want to at least have one window that had a view towards the mountain (although not in the valley of South Hobart where you are in the shadow of the peak and some houses do not get any direct sunlight for six months). Also, I keep saying one day I will climb from the base to the summit- instead of the usual walk across heathland.

My story with Tasmania is starting a new chapter as I will mostly be travelling to Launceston for the next 6 months and after that I hope to have a break from the south and spend some time in the dry centre, or wet north.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Illustrated fuji

Bigger image on flickr
Fuji on the side of Illustrated Man- one of Sydney's oldest and most famous tattoo parlors- disappearing behind a security screen door.
I would be curious to see who has a Fuji tattoo. As most tattoos are made to memorialise a person or event, I'm interested in what exactly they were associating with the mountain?
There is one photo of a Fuji tattoo on the Illustrated Man website gallery. The shape of the mountain is totally wrong, and the file was called "Wave", which I find interesting as I suspect that being a beach culture, most people in Australia focus on the energy of the wave not the stillness of the mountain. Oddly the boat is in the tattoo but not the occupants.
"Wave" tattoo by Elliot
When I see this witches hat Fuji I think of the wonderful quote that Project Hyakumeizan posted recently from the Nihon Hyakumeizan (One Hundred Mountains of Japan) by Fukada Kyūya (1964) who in turn is quoting Kojima Usui:
this arc, slanting, somewhat steeply yet always in an easy, serene, almost carefree way, across a flawless sky
That curve and flat roofed peak is so perfect and calming to gaze upon, in fact its shape is everything- which makes me think that its inclusion in tattoo above is an after thought rather than its motivation.

On one of the entries on the British Museum database there is a quote by an artist describing how getting the perfection of Fuji's shape as a lifetimes work- I found it one night while procrastinating and now have no hope of remembering which of the 619 entries it was.

I just had another look at my post about Sarah's shoes (I link to it above) and just noticed that the Fuji on the bottom of her shoe is also a witches hat. Time for a new tag I think...

Monday, April 25, 2011

trademarks and grey clouds

I have been spending the evenings half watching television and looking through museum digital databases for Fuji-san images. This is a 1949 calender published by Fujisawa Pharmaceutical Company and is in the British Museum. The upward-looking composition with a solitary grey cloud in a large field of pink sky creates a striking image. This feeling is given an uncanny twist with the unusually placed heads of the two female "Americans" right along the base of the image, as though they were humpty-dumpty on the edge of a wall, or body-less phantoms.

I was wondering whether it had been mislabeled as a Fuji image till I enlarged the image and saw the companies logo.

The woodcut print is titled Ginza no tasogare-doki - Dusk in Ginza and is by the artist Onchi Koshiro. On the back there is printed a haunting melancohic text written by the artist, each line rich in poetic imagery.

A suit and one grey painting brush are sufficient. The neon of the PX is still like a dream. The new culture of Japan comes flashing from those sharp words. When one walks here, there comes a feeling that the days when we were struck to the ground are already from a distant world. Probably everybody would like quickly to wash away their hateful memories. The narrow pavements make our shoulders rub together. Through this congestion tall Americans stride. Already there is a sort of magnificence here, but the truth is that Japan is under Occupation. It is not necessary to wait for dusk. People have already lost sight of themselves.

There are 445 Onchi pieces in the Museum's collection, unfortunately most of it is not digitally archived but there are a few more Fuji pieces to save for a another post.

The store in the image is the Tokyo PX, the post office and stores for American servicemen, then located in the Wako Store in Ginza. Ginza was the fashionable going out district in post -war Tokyo

I don't know how I missed this detail before in the notes but the use of Mt Fuji in the logo above is a pun, as the character used for Fujisawa Pharmaceutical has nothing to do with the mountain. The writer of the object notes also comments that the Fugaku Publishing company, which published the calender and other works by Onchi and other post war print artists also uses Fuji in the logo- Unfortunately I couldn't find a scan on the interweb of their logo- only expensive rare books...

Update #2:
Lawrence Smith speculates that Onchi poetic text was for a Japanese audience as it was printed in Japanese only, which was unusual during the period of American occupation.

Friday, April 22, 2011

in all seasons

After I made the decision to start a project about Mt Fuji, February started and it was one cloudy or grey day after another. The above photo is taken from my kitchen in Shibuya. I had been thinking mostly about seeing Fuji was different locations, not particularly seeing different weather phenomena, although that certainly becomes a theme when you start obsessively trying to see it daily and looking at artistic representations of the mountain.

One of the artist projects that has particularly resonated with the desire to observe and record is a scroll by Minamoto Sadayoshi. Started in the early spring of 1818, after a heavy snow fall, he records Mt Fuji's receding snow line and other weather phenomena twice a month, at the beginning and the middle. Apart from this scroll there is not much know about the artist. I found the reference to it in Timothy Clarke's catalogue 100 Views of Mount Fuji, held at the British Museum in 2001. The inscription on the front panel of the scroll is:
Thirty-one views of summit of Mt Fuji, seen from the west in all seasons
The west side is opposite side to Tokyo and Mt Hoei is visible on the right hand side. The mountain's silhouette is almost the same as the view from the shinkansen.

The above panel is one of seven additional panels included in the scroll, of unusual weather phenomena and is of a cloud formation known as a 'travelling hat' formation. I am wondering whether the cloud on the diamond Fuji postcard is a travelling hat. The cloud depicted here looks really solid with a definite cone shape, rather than the misty halo on the postcard.

I didn't trim the photo above as I particularly like the museum archiving around the painting: the ruler, accession number, and colour chart; and the teasing edges of the next drawing. Unfortunately this is the only image from the scroll on the digital database.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The decision- taken more a year ago

If you can't see the mountain very well, there is a a high res image on my flickr.

A little more than a year ago I was faced with having to make a decision about a whether to start a new artwork somehow dealing with my Fuji obsession, with only 8 weeks to the exhibition deadline. 

With all decisions that take a bit of thinking, I like to go and sit on a train or bus and watch the landscape go past. I think this is a by-product of the all the commuting I did during my 20's to the city to hang out with friends and to go to work and uni.

While it Tokyo, the place where I felt there was space for my brain to work was the edges of the city- especially Kamakura. So I headed off to Kenchoji temple hoping to get a view of Fuji. I had started the day a little late and on the train line I could see that it was pretty misty with only the slightest outline of Fuji. By the time I got out at Kita Kamakura I wasn't sure of my chances of seeing it at all. The photo above is taken from higher up the hill than the lookout at the temple. At the lookout itself you could hardly see the outline of the mountain.

The central question that has been on my mind in the last couple of years, partly due to my PhD but also from the dialogue in visual arts at the moment about relational aesthetics and the challange to the art object from critics engaging with environmental sustainability, anti-art market and the dematerialisation of the art object. I am never sure where my work sits in all this dialogue. On the one hand I think the content of my work is connected strongly to post-conceptual practice (and by extension relational aesthetics??) but I remain resolutely interested in the art object as a thing, which has the potential to contain and gather meaning. And besides which, I enjoy making, doing, drawing, and I think in images. It would be cutting of a large part of myself to just ignore that and deny myself the pleasure of a studio practice.

So the two questions I turned over in my mind while I watched the veils of clouds drift down slowly obscuring Fuji were:
  • Would there be many good viewing days left? How likely was it that I was going to see the mountain very much from that late January day till early April?
  • In what way could the act of searching and viewing become an artwork that made itself complete through audience interaction? How could this interaction speak of the daily action of some of the people who lived within view of Fuji, or came into contact with Fuji, that would speak of the action of collecting - experiences and vistas, and memorialising such experiences. By concentrating on the act of collecting would it be possible to avoid overly nationalistic, or touristic, sentiments in a work which, no matter how carefully avoided, would nevertheless garner?
I decide to abandon a project I was thinking about and focus myself of finding a way of working with these question if I hoped to have some work by the exhibition deadline of early April. In retrospect I think it was a good idea to change course, as it also refocused my "bird projects" resulting in the films which I was invited to show in the Aichi Triennale.

I don't think these questions are answered yet (for me the work is ongoing). I thought this blog was a way of opening up myself and my practice to some kind of discussion- something I have avoided for 5 or so years. (long story!)

More than one year on I am enjoying writing the blog and the contact it bring me with other bloggers and readers.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

returning slowly

2 weeks ago the Tohoku Earthquake struck off the coast of Japan causing a tsunami and ten of thousands of deaths and injuries. Its hard to imagine the anxiety, nauseousness and seasickness the aftershocks are causing those people in affected areas - let alone the grief of the lost of so many lives and the ongoing anxiety of the nuclear accidents at the Fukushima plant.

It's been hard to think about posting on Magnetic Glimpses at this time. I guess I do this see this blog as an ongoing artwork and sometimes its best to put art aside and respond in another way- which I have been doing on my more eclectic blog Tokyo Birdsong

In a very strange moment of serendipitous posting One Hundred Mountains the morning of the earthquake had posted an entry about Fuji. No sooner had I commented, that I noticed that my friend living in Osaka had updated her facebook status to say that there had been a large earthquake north of Tokyo. After several anxious days of watching the news with horror, Jules- a photographer (among other things)- posted to her blog a series of photos from that day's sunset at Kamakura with Fuji visible. I'm not sure if she did, but in some way, I took comfort in the beauty of the mountain. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Diamond Fuji wishes

for your Valentines Day

The Lonely Planets guide to Hiking in Japan was my first point of contact about the craze of Fuji-viewing. Along with learning about nori-mono from this source, they also mentioned the Diamond Fuji phenomena:
For romantic spotters in Tokyo, 14 February (Valentine's Day) is the best day to see Fuji-san, 100kms away, with the sun going down directly behind its dish shaped peak. At the exact moment the sun dips behind the summit its rays appear as a giant diamond sitting on top of the mountain. The ultimate viewing point is from the top of the Ferris wheel at trendy Odaiba, but be warned, your planning and timing mist be better than good to spot this very special 'diamond Fuji' moment.

I didn't even try to see Fuji last Valentines Day as just about the whole of February was a consistent grey.

From youtube a series of shorts:
This one is of a Double Diamond (shot on the Red camera- resolution is amazing) rising sun with a reflection in one of the Lakes near the mountain, and this one of the sun setting by the same film makers at Lake Yamanaka; and finally another one from with a view from Tokyo city centre. The first one is the best to get a sense of what it must be like to see it.

This one is much lower resolution but it shows really well the sun setting exactly on the crest, the effect of the light and the view the mountain through the humidity and haze from Tokyo city.

Fujiyama Journal posted a beautiful shot yesterday with the snow covering the valley floor as well as the mountain down to the tree line.

Dear Fuji, my heart is broken that I wont see you this year, but I know you will be there waiting for me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

new blog on the list

One Hundred Mountains is blog about the Japanese Alps, about climbing them now and the cultural history of climbing, in particular the book "Nihon Hyakumeizan" written by Fukada Kyūya about Japan's 100 famous mountains over 2,000 feet. (I have climbed two, one being Yufu-dake)

They have a great cartoon on today's post that anthropomorphises the mountains of Japan. The cartoon shows a detail of the island of Honshu with Fuji at the centre.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

one year ago today I saw the mountain for the first time.

It's one year today since I landed in Tokyo and saw Fuji for the first time (although it took me a couple of weeks to get a blog started). This blog didn't form itself as an idea till much later, and still I have not finished the post about what I was imagining this project might be. But I guess I will save that for the one year anniversary of this blog- hopefully I will have some time then rather than this late night dash while I transfer files from various hard drives.

Me in my studio with my favourite Fuji self-portrait in Hakone and one channel of the seven that make up Feeders on the desktop.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

a question answered

When I was in Japan in the first part of last year, I came across these wonderful Fuji stickers. I guessed that the red Fuji was for sunset or sunrise, and that the hawks where something do with the birds you usually see once you are up at that altitude, but for the life of me I could not work out what the eggplants where for. The mystery remained unsolved till I came home from my second trip in September and my dear friend Anna lent me a book- 100 views of Mount Fuji by Timothy Clark which is a catalogue that accompanied an exhibition of works mostly from the British Museum's collection. (this is not a very good review but is more or less summarises parts of the book)

The following information included in relation to a print "Three Lucky Dreams of the New Year" by Koryusai-ga. (Without the explanation I would have thought the print to be of two women, but it's a young man is holding the hawk.) There is an expression for good luck dreams on the New Year:

One Fuji, two hawk, three aubergine
Ichi Fuji, ni taka, san nasubi

Which I why I guess there are two hawks an three eggplants- Not sure if there is a significance to the 21 Mount Fuji's- Any ideas? The text is a good mix between scholarly writing and accessible information. Clark gives a good description of the work and also footnotes where you can chase up additional information or facts that back his options. The following quote has footnotes but I wont include them here.
The saying is said to list the famous products of Suruga Province, or alternatively, in a version attributed to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the three highest things in Suruga Province : Mt Fuji, Mt Ashitaka (sounds like taka, hawk) and the exorbitant price of the earliest aubergines of the season.
The generic 'taka' is used in the name of two Japanese birds- O-taka: Northern Goshawk (Accipter gentilis), which I saw at Oi-Yacho Koen; and Hai-taka: European Sparrow Hawk (Accipter nisus). There is also another Accipter: gularis: Japanese Lesser Sparrow Hawk, but in Japanese it does not have "taka" in its common name: Tsumi. (in case you stumbled upon this blog via Fuji searches or Shunga mostly likely- I also have another blog that has covers my nature interests and birdwatching- Tokyo Bird Song)