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The Joy of Weekend Life

Even though January is (already!) almost over, it still feels like the year has just started for me.

Maybe it's because I just started a brand-new job? That's right: just last week I started my new job at the Japan Times where I'm now working as an Assistant Editor in the Life and Culture section. I have a lot to learn, both in terms of editing (I've done a fair amount of freelance writing, but it's my first time on the other side of the publishing equation) and adjusting to a new work environment. Right now I'm doing a lot of fact-checking, copy editing, and working with the weekly arts openings: a perfect job for someone who spends nearly as much of her free time at museums as she does coffee shops. The office is relaxed, everyone is super nice, and I really do look forward to going to work each morning.

Having the weekends off isn't a bad perk, either: it means I can see more art.

This past weekend I visited two museums, the National Museum of Modern Art, near the Imperial Palace, and the Shoto Museum of Art in Shibuya.

The National Museum of Modern Art was having a massive exhibit of the works of Kumagai Morikazu, who is best known for his color-block, whimsical paintings.

Little did I know that his earlier works were much darker and grittier: he painted corpses on the side of the road and experimented heavily with light and shadow, particularly as they pertained to death. When one of his sons died, in his grief Morikazu even painted his son's corpse for a full thirty minutes before even he was too distraught to continue. Watching the progression from such pieces to the perhaps overly-cheerful bugs and cats was an interesting exercise in the evolution of personal art styles and psyches.

The museum also had a fairly extensive collection of other modern art, mainly by Japanese artists, displayed thematically:

The piece (above) is by famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama of the polka-dotted and pumpkin-themed fame. This piece is titled "Signpost to Hades." Yes, it's phallic. 

(The other two pieces shown above were simply some of my favorites and have no evident thematic connection themselves.)

On Sunday I visited Light Up Coffee in Shimokitazawa, which was holding a free cupping. A "cupping," is the coffee equivalent of a wine tasting, albeit with a few more steps than your typical wine tasting event. This particular cupping was nine different varieties of Kenyan beans, all done "blind," so we didn't know who had roasted what bean.

First the beans are ground and you sniff each different roast, noting any flavors or impressions you have (I just used a piece of paper I begged off another more-prepared attendee). Then hot water is poured over the grounds (without a filter) and you sniff the coffee again.

Once the coffee has steeped for a few minutes, you go from cup to cup with a spoon, scooping a small amount of coffee and then aggressively slurping and swishing it around your mouth (if you don't want to get too caffeinated, a separate paper cup is provided for you to spit). The goal is to aerate the coffee as you slurp it in order to help the flavors permeate your mouth. I think you sound pretty silly while doing it, but since everyone is just sort of there slurping it's not quite as awkward than if you were the only one.

At the end of the cupping, Light Up polled the group to see what was everyone's favorite. The general consensus was N.8, which was roasted by Light Up--so they "won" the cupping, in effect.

Here I am posing with the signboard that revealed the different coffees and a cup of my own.

From Light Up I wandered down to Shinsen where I popped into the Shoto Museum of Art.

The exhibit was on the French glassmaker Rene Lalique and the Art Deco period in general. No photos were allowed in the main exhibits, so all I can show is the sample piece they had on display in the entrance, which was still a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.

As I left the museum I ran into this sign. It says, more or less, "We appreciate your cooperation in keeping Shinsen clean and quiet."


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