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The Gorgeous...Kappa?

Fall moves along. The leaves continue to turn vibrant shades of red and orange and yellow (in the case of ginkgo trees). I can't believe that it's already December and that I've been in Japan for six months--tying my previous high school record for the longest stay I've had in Japan. I've noticed a lot of improvements in my Japanese, I can now navigate the elaborate Tokyo train system(s) with impunity (though I'll be the first to admit that I did actually get on the wrong train last week and had to back track, much to my embarrassment), and recently discovered that I'm the size of a Japanese men's medium button-up shirt. Revelations, I tell you. (Though what I CAN'T tell you is if that revelation is a compliment to my physique or not...)

The above photo is from Ueno Park, tourist and museum mecca in Tokyo. I had 100 yen off a ticket to the much-touted Van Gogh and Japan exhibit at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and figured I would take advantage of it (hey, 100 yen off is 100 yen off!) before I forgot.

The piece printed on the poster was the highlight of the exhibit, which featured both the Japanese ukiyo-e ("floating world") prints that inspired Van Gogh as well as Van Gogh's works themselves. No photos allowed, unfortunately, so you'll just have to take my word for it that the exhibit was pretty cool. It was interesting to see both how the bold, flat color planes of the Japanese prints influenced Van Gogh's color palate and composition: his paintings had brighter colors and bolder outlines and, in the case of some still-lifes and portraits, simpler backgrounds. In other works, like the one above, he took, almost directly, elements from several different prints and made his own, unique conglomerate image. The little frog on the bottom, the two cranes on the left, and the main figure itself are actually from three different sources that he combined with his own invented elements to create a dreamy (though somewhat unrealistic) vision of "Japan." Apparently Van Gogh was equally inspiring to Japanese artists of the times and the guest books of collectors in the Netherlands and France have a surprising number of Japanese signatures, even in the early 1900s.

The ticket to the Van Gogh exhibit also granted me entrance to another exhibit (bonus!), called Contemporary Realism:

This exhibit was, for a "freebie," quite interesting. And, in many cases, somewhat mind-blowing when confronted with some of the artist's insane attention to detail.

It's not even adequately captured in a photograph, but when standing in front of this photo-realistic oil panting it felt like you could literally step into the abandoned warehouse. There was depth and texture that was so realistic you could almost smell it, if that makes sense.

Other works were equally impressive/weird, like the painting featured on the poster which is called "The Gorgeous Corn:"

Also this hyper-realistic painting of grapes and prosciutto that made me slightly nauseated.

The entire exhibit was a sensory assault, and I wasn't disappointed.

From the museum I walked over to Kappabashi, a shopping district known for its cooking stores. I didn't have time to shop today--I was on the hunt for a cafe in which I could write my upcoming freelance article--but I enjoyed seeing all the different kappa statues and signs. (I will be back, however, to buy a nice Japanese knife!)

Kappa are actually imps or demons in Japanese folklore. They are somewhat malicious water deities that lurk near rivers and lakes and attempt to lure people into the water and drown them; the leaf they balance on their head or back is full of water that symbolizes both their life force and their general habitat. They also are generally depicted with beaks, shells (like turtles), and perpetually damp hair ringing their heads. You can read up more about kappa HERE if interested.


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