Thursday, 20 December 2007

Shikoku Conquered!

I’ve done it! I have conquered Shikoku Island!

I have climbed the highest mountain, swam in the furthest-reaching capes of Muroto and Ashizuri; I have sat through the longest ceremonies (the recent five hour Kagura play trumped the four hour Cultural Festival) and I have thwarted incrimination during the most severe enkai’s. Summer humidity, autumn winds, winter blizzards… well, winter… okay, just WINTER, and spring typhoons!! I have undergone it all and lived to tell about it.

But more than this! Yes, much more than all this (queue music), I have finally been to each and every of Shikoku Island’s FOUR prefectures: Kochi-ken, Ehime-ken, Tokoshima-ken and now, at long last, KAGAWA.

It has the same mildly satisfying effect as getting a free coffee with a filled up points card. Only… there was no free coffee.

Kagawa-ken lies at the most northeastern tip of Shikoku Island. Despite being the smallest prefecture on the island, it is definitely not a place to be passed over. And it was my destination for the long weekend. I set out on Thursday night, driving the precarious first stretch of route 439-- a road that virtually splits the Shikoku from east to west in a narrow meandering passage.

Arriving in Tokoshima four or so lonely hours later, I was greeted by friend (and fellow Canadian) Joel. You might remember him from such adventures as The-first-time-I-put-makeup-on-a-man or The-very-first-and-hopefully-last-time-I-exterminate-a-Murade-in-my-house. It all makes sense in context, is all I can say.

Joel recently moved to Tokoshima prefecture from Kochi Prefecture, and even though this was a slight betrayal on his part, the deeper Canadian spirit saw us merrily on our way to Kagawa for a truly spontaneous adventure.

Before arriving in Kagawa-ken’s capital, Takamatsu, we visited Ritsurin koen (park), constructed in the 1600’s. If you were only to see one picture of the park, it would be this one:

However, I have already made plans to return in the spring, as the Sakura blossoms are said to be unparalleled.

Takamatsu is one of the main transportation links to the “mainland”- the island of Honshu, so it boasts everything from a myriad of ferry terminals to a fairly fashionable train station. More than that was the trendy downtown shopping centre, which was more beautiful than beneficial, but nonetheless served up the best hamburger I have had since Red Robins.

Stuffed and raring to go, we set out for the legendary island of Shodo-Shima, known best for its monkeys and olives (the entities, not the dish). The hour-long ferry ride weaved through the islands surrounding Takamatsu and eerily reminded me of the route from Sidney to Vancouver: trees, ocean, mountainous islands, sandy shores, Japanese fisherman…

The similarities ended abruptly, however, as we drew into Shodo-Shima harbor and the immanent image of faux-Greece assaulted our eyes.
“I wonder,” we wondered, “if in Greece you would find a red and black torii rising out of the landscape?” It seemed unlikely, but we nonetheless appreciated Japan’s enthusiasm for all things Western and ersatz.

Winding out way through the island, we attempted to reach the summit of the island, but were thwarted by the ever-ambiguous road-sign/map phenomenon- which is to say that despite our superior road-sign and map reading skills, what should have taken half-an-hour ended up taking two. Delayed arrival time none withstanding, the sight of Shodo-Shima basking in the sunset was well worth the trouble to have come.

On Saturday I set out alone and headed to Shikoku-mura, about 5 km from Takamatsu. Situated at the base of Yashima Hill (292 meter high table-top plateau), the village is a collection of historical buildings from around Shikoku Island. I arrived early and spent nearly three hours wandering along the lonely trails between the buildings, completely lost in the magnificence and history of the collection. Of the thirty some odd buildings, I was impressed most by the lighthouse-keeper houses and the sugarcane refineries, both of which broke away from the traditional style of open Japanese wooden houses.

Leaving Shikoku-mura was like walking out of a movie theatre still dazed and enthralled by everything you have just seen. I spent the rest of the day in sort of mesmerized stupor, which made my trip to Naoshima (another small island off the coast of Tokoshima) all the more inspiring.

In addition to its beaches, Naoshima is most famous for its “collection” of art. The island boasts two art museums and the Benesse Art House Project.

I first caught the bus to Chichu museum—a quintessential modernist museum, which was built in 2004 and is already known worldwide. The original idea was to re-conceptualize the relationship between nature and art, so architects (including Tadao Ando) chopped off the top of a mountain (I am sure that the surrounding nature was not damaged in the process), poured in a labyrinth of cement tunnels and artistically enclosed spaces and VOILA! Chichu was born. The museum is host to four major works by Claude Monet and a permanent exhibitions that feature a play on light—natural and artificial—by Walter De Maria, James Turrell.

** A moment to reflect on modernism and postmodernism:
Putting my illustrious Honours Theory Course to good use, I decided that Chichu was in definite need of a break down (in theory not in reality) and thus compiled the following table for those interested in the often tedious distinctions between these two rebellious art movements:

- Function over form

- FIRST RULE: the meaning is more important than what the thing looks like.

- abstraction

- SECOND RULE: The point of the work is not to depict the object, but to focus on its internal nature. (ex. A piece of paper with blank spaces for answers)

- Is it ugly? Okay, so that is a bit unfair. Modernist art and modernist architecture differ completely. Still. If it is square and cement, you KNOW it is modernist.

- THIRD RULE: emphasis on function and efficiency. (Minimalism)

Decartes: trying to make philosophy scientific with reason and fact. Logic behind all philosophy. Modernism is not about creativity.
- Out with the old and in with the new.

- FORTH RULE: modernism is all about in keeping with the newest trends, tastes, and styles.

- Form over function

- FIRST RULE: what something looks like is much more important than its meaning. After all, meaning is subjective! don't revise!

- SECOND RULE: Postmodernism eradicates the boundaries between high (Da Vinci) and low (comics) forms of art, “disrupting conventions with collision, collage, and fragmentation.” Creativity and rejection of binaries

- THIRD RULE: postmodernism as a reaction to modernist paradox’s. There are no fixed meanings because there are no defining boundaries. Geometric or purely abstract shapes are no useful; instead postmodernists aim for pastiche and discontinuity. Work with what’s at hand (Andy Warhol soup cans)

Neitzche: irrational thought processes through the lens of rationality and holism. In otherwords, stop being such a square… literally.

- Reaction to the modernist mundane: pastiche art

- FORTH RULE:: take from the old and make it new. Postmodernism is about amalgamating art forms—old and new—so all forms of art come together to create something visually stimulating, unique, and original.

So, is Chichu modern or postmodern? On one hand it is encased in cement making it functional, and it is definitely in keeping with abstract art forms. On the other hand it kind of breaks away from expectations and does the whole disrupting conventions. In one room there are a series of gold triangular cylinders (is there a better word for that?) arranged in three’s throughout the room, which rises onto three levels. The space is naturally lit and in the centre is a black ball. They say that no one person ever sees the same sight, because the light is always projecting different shades onto the room. I guess the fact that they say that single handedly makes it a modernist art work… yup… modernist… Function over Form.

That said, if I even began to describe the impact of Chichu I would be quenching the modernist dream. What I can say is this: no person can experience this museum in the same way, and no one can describe it in adequate terms. Ultimately, the impact resides in the feeling that the space gives you, rather than ““the skill and technique involved in producing visual representations.”

Sigh… oh you modernists… I not sure of anything anymore…

Moving on to more tangible and explicable works of art, I headed down to the Art House Project. In 1998 several old houses were given over to artists and remodeled into public exhibitions. Many of the houses remain traditional on the outside, while others resemble something akin to Pippy-Longstocking’s humble abode.

Unfortunately, the rice harvest festival taking place in the small town meant a series of unconquerable line-ups to get into the individual projects. Instead I wandered aimlessly though the village and appreciated the simple and unparallel beauty of everyday Japanese architecture: characteristically modernist… in case you were wondering; except for the stuff that really is post-modernist… and the stuff that is just plain old.

In short, the village (and Island for that matter) converges modern art with traditional Japan,

As I returned to the ferry, the sun was just beginning to set, and I couldn’t help but think that—though it is an unbearable cliché—nature tends to be the unrivaled artist.

On that very note, Joel and I set out to visit Naruto’s acclaimed whirlpools the following day, for the final leg of my trip:

“One of the greatest attractions of the Seto Inland Sea is the world's most powerful tidal current, swirling at a velocity of twenty kilometers per hour or higher. You can see giant whirlpools created by the ebb and flow of currents at Naruto Strait in Tokushima Prefecture. During spring and autumn in particular, vortexes can reach up to twenty meters in diameter, and are a sight worth seeing. When planning a visit to the area, you are recommended to time your trip to coincide with high or low tides, during which times the whirlpools are most clearly visible. Whilst waiting for the ebb or flow tides, a visit to the Onaruto Bridge Crossing Memorial Museum is also recommended. There you can enjoy a magnificent view of the whirlpools on a panorama screen.” (sorry, I don’t think I could have said it better than that!)”

Though we waited almost four hours for the peak tides to arrive, the whirlpools were by no means the 20 or so meters that others have been fortunate enough to capture. Still, we stared into the swirling water for a good two hours, completely mesmerized by the unpredictable torrents and sudden spirals. It was momentous enough to leave us wanting more, come spring, when they the whirlpools are said to be at their best.

And so, both literally and metaphorically, I completed my whirlwind trip of the great northern reaches of Shikoku and once again returned though the mountains to my humble mountain abode.

Little did I know that my adventures had only just begun (DAN DAN DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA…. cue thought-provoking and suspense inducing music).

1 comment:

Lady said...

heya z... nice work on the photos. Just stunning! I bet you are having a wonderful time and wish I was there :) Hugs, Pam