My good friend Mrs. Klaus is doing a wonderful job coordinating my introduction to Japanese culture and customs. These little gems of Japan are pieces of culture and Japanese life that most tourists just don’t see because they don’t have the time or information to do so. Our latest excursion was to the opening of a new art gallery, which included the work of another Japanese friend I will call “SS.”
My journey began with a short drive to Oume, to pick up my friends. We then headed to Hanno City, a 30-minute drive, in Saitama prefecture (to my best understanding, “prefecture” roughly corresponds to a “state” in the U.S.) to the lovely little gallery pictured above. We were greeted warmly, in traditional Japanese style, by SS and his gracious wife “C”.
The gallery itself was a work of art with hand-hewn beams spanning the width of the building. I was told that this little building was originally built as a storage building but had recently been renovated. As we entered through the opened sliding door, I first noticed a beautiful carving set on a chest at the back of the gallery. I made a mental note to inquire about it. The walls inside were light colored with dark pieces of wood separating horizontal and vertical sections of the wall. It felt very welcoming inside with a low Japanese table covered with brightly colored cushions in the middle of the room. A propane (?) heater off to one side provided a soft glow and gentle warmth that made the gallery feel even more quaint and cozy.
The art was really unique and not what I expected, but I loved it! And I especially loved hearing from the artists via translation about each piece. I was wishing my Aunt Georgia and my friend Janet could be with me to attend this showing. Being a person that is not gifted in art, I was expecting to see traditional “pictures” but what I saw was particularly intriguing to me. All of the pieces were interesting and unique, but I will only mention a few that I particularly liked. The first piece that I really liked set on a black background with a while rectangle in the middle with red symbols derived from characters of Kanji, meaning “hope”. I also loved one with the theme “dream.” One of the pieces was based on a poem that SS was given upon his retirement. The poem encouraged people to hold on to their dreams and actively pursue them, despite their age. There was a carving of black, silver and white on a piece of wood representing water and it reminded me of water flowing gently down a stream. I had to laugh at the timeliness of one piece, that was themed “lazy politicians.” I pointed to it and said, “yes, American!” I think he meant politicians in general, but we all had a good laugh. I guess politicians are the same, no matter the locale!
I made my way to the carved figure I noticed earlier and was really impressed with the detail and the beauty of this piece. Surprisingly, this was SS’s first attempt at carving, which he began 12 years ago! The carving itself took 3 years to complete (see picture). Perhaps my favorite, probably because of the meaning, was a piece about “brokenness” which addressed the current controversy in Japan regarding closing down the U.S. base in Okinawa and moving it to another location. My understanding is that the idea of closing Okinawa and the divisiveness surrounding this idea, causes great sadness for SS.
We climbed a rather steep set of stairs to view the work of the brother of SS and his pieces were quite interesting as well. Of particular interest was a 2″x2″ marble block with tiny, I mean very tiny carvings on one side. He explained that there were 100 characters carved just on the one side all having one meaning/theme (which I now can’t remember). I cannot even fathom how difficult it must be to carve those tiny characters – wow!
Coming back down the stairs, we sat at the table and were served a delicious tea – black bean tea- and an assortment of delicious sweets. We chatted for a time and were then invited to the antique shop directly behind the gallery. We followed a raised wooden walkway to the back, enjoying a display of all sorts of bonsai plants that were for sale. I resisted buying one, since I had recently bought a new plant and I have vowed to only kill one plant at a time!
Also on the way to the antique shop, the bathroom was pointed out to me…hmmm, is this a special bathroom or something? And yes, it was! It was a bathroom with a garden/flower bed….and a very interesting blue vessel sink made of stones/concrete (?) and was very lovely. I took a picture of the flower bed but didn’t get one of the sink!?!
The antique shop was wonderful, with pieces of china/glassware, candle holders, and my weakness… very old Japanese wooded boxes (usually containing some kind of glassware/earthenware). Logic prevailed and I didn’t buy one but I was really tempted!
Another wonderful memory of good times and good friends!