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Dispatches from Japan: Day 7

I find it interesting that I have taken only 977 photos on my trip so far (1,954 files including the RAW photos). This is just about 195 photos per day–about 55% of what I used to shoot with the S90. I don't want to flatter myself too soon, but I think that this is one sign that, rather than snap indiscriminately, I am looking for proper "shots" more often. Having said that, I still disagree with _____'s rather purist dogma regarding taking fewer photos as a whole: the more angles and variants I have, the more I can choose from in the end.

Today, I had the most wonderful day (incidentally, the events of the day have convinced me that I probably have bipolar disorder, not borderline personality disorder, after all—otherwise, how would I get such a strong manic upswing without chemical intervention of any sort?)

At any rate, I began my day rather gloomily, with a visit of the Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum. The place depressed the shit out of me, so I was going to write a rather melancholy post, which I now reproduce here:

I am beginning to notice strange parallels between my visits to Hawaii and Okinawa. Hawaii was a kingdom that got colonised by the Americans in the 19th century. The Ryukyu Islands were also a kingdom that got colonised by the Japanese in the 19th century. In Oahu, I visited the ruins of Pearl Harbor and the USS Bowfin. In Naha, I visited the ruins of the Battle of Okinawa (such as Sogen-ji temple and the Tsushuma, a civilian ship that got shot down by the USS Bowfin for no good reason (1,484 civilians [767 children] died, and the Americans didn't even have an idea).

My trips are taking a turn for the dark: former Japanese internment sites in Canada, former Japanese colonies in Singapore, Pearl Harbour, Auschwitz, and now this.
However, today I did not see myself in a mirror, darkly!

My next stop (after a little macro photography of flowers and one deliciously lascivious statue) was the Okinawa Prefectural Government Building, where I got a bird's-eye view (well, a 14th-floor view) of the city, and got to terrify the local bureaucrats, who were apologetically scurrying through dimly-lit office corridors on their lunch breaks around the rather large gaijin with a huge lens and funny-looking hat. After I waited out the rain (it rained for the first time during my visit) in the rather comfortable lobby of this "public building," I headed to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. I was pleasantly surprised as I made my way from the Omoromachi Station, because the road opened to a great, tree-lined boulevard, the centre of which became a great pedestrian walkway. I was further delighted when I reached the curiously Modernist, bunker-like building, because it turned out that the structure housed both the Prefectural Museum and the Art Museum—and both are open late (until 8 PM) on Fridays. As I was buying my tickets, the clerk had suspiciously asked me: Daijoubu desu ka? It would take three hours to see the exhibits, sir. Hai, hai, I replied, knowingly, I can take it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as it is well known, I can be driven into the unplumbed depths of the most severe of depressions with a mere word. Beat me with sticks, search me to my britches, and I will weep as a willow. But, put a museum (or two!) in front of me, and I will be given a second life (hell, I'll be yours for naught!), for in that rarefied space of things hung and exhibited (puns most definitely intended) I do truly become that most Whitmanesque of original energies!

The first museum was essentially an exhaustive exhibit of the history of Okinawa—going back to the primordial man (penis included!). I got to learn so much about all the species of bird, wildcat, snake, and beetle that lived in these lands. Then, I really discovered what's what, when the museum laid down the fact that Okinawa...is not really Japan. Here was hegemony on top of hegemony. The indigenous people who have lived here for hundreds of years have been basically bullied by the (actually quite American-like) China (who was the top dog in the area at the time), and then the mainland Japanese, to the extent that Okinawa had to serve as a sort of gateway for commerce an culture between the two nations that were both tormenting the Ryukyu Islands. Eventually, the Satsuma and the Tokugawa Shogunate annexed the place, and the Chinese set up a special administrative region in Kumemura. Soon enough, the English started fighting the Qing Dynasty during the Opium War in 1842. The Chinese lost, and thus could not maintain their cultural and economic hold. During the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese finally abolished feudalism and made Okinawa a prefecture in 1879. Even more curious (especially in line with my above remarks) is that in 1899 a lot of Okinawans have attempted to immigrate to Hawaii (which is ironic, because by 1900 the Americans have all but completed their annexation of Hawaii; out of the pan and into the fire).

The rest, of course, is history: Japan fought China and won in 1894, the Manchurian Incident happened in 1931 and, sure enough, in 1945, the Americans landed on Kerama and continued to fuck over the local populace (sometimes literally, and until present day). While Okinawa went back to Japan in 1972 as part of the San Franscisco treaty. Having said this, it was not a simple transfer of authority. In fact, the whole affair stunk of the history of Eastern European nations that were annexed and then half-assedly returned by Stalin at the end of WWII. Same shit, different day, it seems, and while I couldn't give a damn about either American or Japanese military-on-military atrocities (serves the fuckers right), it sickened me to see the consequences of being on the wrong side of such a skirmish.

After having seen the historical exhibit, I thought I was physically and emotionally drained (and my feet were killing me). Still, the tickets had been paid for, and so I proceeded to the Art Museum. I was not disappointed. Say what you will about historical museums in Asia; there are, however, no better art museums than those found in Japan and Singapore. The first floor was occupied by an exhibition called "Women In-Between: Asian Women Artists 1984-2012"—it would certainly excite the Feminists among us: disemboweled female bodies, bodies splayed in protest, women bathing in filth on video, a video of nude woman entangled in medical tubing through which a red liquid is pumped, and women's luggage turned inside out, deformities constructed out of the clothes protruding out of them. (Sure enough, as a seasoned museum visitor, I knew how to filter mere épatage from real poetic conceit.) These are the words from a particularly moving installation of four paintings by Zarina Hashmi:

Once I lied in a house of many rooms
I walk from room to room
Touching the walls
Boundaries of despair
I also immensely enjoyed 13 Brushstrokes over a Mass of Shoes by Song Hyun-Sook, and I was transfixed by Translated Vase by Yee Sook Yang. It is an utterly beautiful grotesque, worthy of the Elephant Man. The materials listed? "Ceramic trash, epoxy, 24k gold leaf, 24k gold powder."

I proceeded to the second floor, where Modernist works of native-born and resident Okinawans was displayed. This place, where Modernity flowed into Postmodernity along such a familiar and yet so alien trough—this, ladies and gentlemen—is Theory Central, and I loved every minute of it. I saw a kimono with images of American planes and paratroopers carefully painted into them, so that not even five out of ten visitors noticed them inside the pattern—I checked! I saw a chunk of an airplane embedded into a wall by Shiroma Kiko, titled From the Subtropical Islands. I saw Tsutomu Makishi's painterly collage in Countdown— that spoke so vividly of the history I had just learned about. I marveled at Keizo Kawahira's Keystone, an almost-realist painting that could rival Alex Colville's magic realist works. Here was the Okinawan answer to Impressionism (Itoku Gushiken's Naha at Night), to Sartre and Beckett (Shinichi Omine's No Exit), and even to Malevich and Pollock (Miyagi Kensei's Black Town).

The museum was almost empty by the time I reached these galleries, and so I pounced at the textures of these masterworks with my eyes. I walked the duelist's ten paces. I tilted my head, I squinted my eyes. I waltzed around one of the best art collections I have ever seen. I asked questions and took notes. Finally, I emerged into the warm, slightly moist air of the street from the blessed, air-conditioned vacuum of the museum, heart beating fast, eyes wide open.

All in all, I have spent almost four hours in the two museums, which makes a total of almost six hours spent in museums today. I certainly haven't had fun on every day of this trip, but, if today were its last day, I'd say this entire god damned voyage was worth it. Not only have I learned so incredibly much, but I was also privy to some of the most magnificent art (let alone the fact that I'd written down over fifty work-in-progress lines of verse for an as-of-yet tentatively project I intend to read at FreeEx—hint, hint, Ms. _____). Now, do excuse me while I tend to my salted fish, gyoza, and Asahi Strong Off (7% pivo).

Whoa! I was watching this game show, and all the women kept losing their clothes in a rather sudden matter. They had a cardiograph connected to the rather shy man's heart, so we could see how excited he got by the proceedings. Seriously, is this real life or a Robert Sheckley short story?!

I love the biblical garb that passes for pajamas at this hotel.