10.5-11.75

Last day. We left Okayama for Hiroshima. At every stage of this trip I have been wet. Sweat, rain, mist, tears… not tears. Today was no different. It rained both places all day, and today was already gonna be a somber one.

We got to Hiroshima at around noon. Took the bus to the memorial park area, which includes several memorials, a museum, the atomic bomb dome and a few other things.


The dome is directly underneath where the bomb detonated, and miraculously it didn’t turn to ash. The city chose to leave it as it stood. 

Across the canal is the children’s memorial. I think that it was sort of put away because of the rain. 

This was born out of the story of a girl who contracted cancer due to the radiation. She believed that if she could make 1000 paper cranes that she would heal. She didn’t make it to 1000, but her classmates finished the job and she was buried with all of them. The paper crane has become a symbol of the kids killed by the bomb, and the art institute of Hiroshima put up this memorial that collects cranes sent in from all over the world. There must be millions.


They are housed here, but I’m pretty sure they are all strung up on clearer days.

We walked to the museum. It seems useless to try to go on about it, but it is shocking and horrific and somehow hopeful. 


There was a weird thing happening with tourists taking pictures with artifacts in the museum. 

Smile while you stand next to that melted pair of shoes. Touch the roof tile that turned to black glass and look this way. 

I did take one. They have a station at the end where you can learn to make paper cranes with people directly effected by the bomb.


I won’t lie. It’s a strange note to end the trip on. I’m glad we did it and I would recommend making it a part of any visit to Japan. I learned a lot here. Got a lot of context. 

We took the bus to Hiroshima airport, flew to Tokyo (where I am now). They really know how to make airports places you don’t mind being in. 

So that’s it from me. I’m tired, and when I have a little bit more time to process all of this, I’ll try to do that with words here. 
It’s really been an amazing experience on all fronts, and Dana and I are both incredibly grateful. Truly, truly…

Thanks for reading/see you in August.

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9.5-10.5

We woke up at 430 am in Osaka , got on a subway, to a bus, to a train, to a train, to a bullet train, to a train, to a ferry, to a bicycle on Naoshima island. 



Naoshima is a small, lush green island about 30 minutes off the coast. It has hills and pretty beaches and bamboo groves. It also has undergone a slow transformation into one of the worlds most unexpected art Meccas since the 70’s, thanks mostly to Tadao Ando, a Japanese architect who has helped create 7 or 8 site specific structures, museums, installations, houses on the island. Some of these stand alone and some of these contain works by other artists. For me, this was one of the most anticipated parts of the trip. 


We rode from the east side of the island, through the hills, to the west side and ended up at the Art House Project. It has 6 traditional houses that have all been altered, either drastically or minimally, to work as installations. 

There’s nothing that will make you hate art more than a group of 100 Danish design undergrads on a field trip, each trying to outdo each other to appear more sophisticated. Each trying to take everything a little more seriously than the last.

Some of the places did feel tailored for that audience…and that audience is a fairly captured one.

You walk in. The person at the front tells you that you cannot take any photos, you must remove your shoes, there is no talking, and hey you parked your bike a little too far to the left. 
Ok fine. What is this thing that I’m gonna have to resist taking a photo of?

You remove your shoes and walk into the space. There is nothing in the room other than a cement block on the ground. There are 8 or 9 Danes circling it in consternation.

There is no explanation, there is nothing to read. Not that art needs to explain itself… But it can’t be boring AND not tell me why it’s being so boring.

Maybe it’s that I work with kids now. Maybe it’s that I think engagement is the real challenge, and the real value. Maybe I’m a little too far out of the bubble now.


 At certain points, I actually was looking for parody in it. The Benesse House sits atop a hill and is a large round cement structure that looks as if a Bond villain would live there. The staff wear tuxedo-like uniforms. Sometimes stairs go directly into walls, paths lead to empty rooms with an audio track on loop saying “check please”, neon signs spelling out curse words, 80$ t shirts that are also not for sale. It’s like someone wrote “pretentious art museum” in a script and this is what the set designers came up with. It should be funny…if only there was a wink that they are in on the joke. 

The contrast between this art and the museum in Kanazawa became starker and starker.

What was great is that you would leave each little enclave excited, inspired, bummed, bored, whatever, hop on your bike and ride through a forest, a beach, a fishing village to your next destination. It’s a nice palette cleanser. (No photos inside photos allowed anywhere.)

Another Turrell room. I’ll gush again.  It manages to be both hyper serious, slow, quiet and both physically and emotionally overpowering. I can’t really describe it, but it involves allowing your eyes to adjust to an incredibly dark room and barely-there shreds of light that completely alter your sense of space…and a little of your sense of time.  The room is static. It doesn’t change. The action is entirely happening in the connection from your eye to your brain. We sat in the room for 30 minutes, but when they told me that, i could have sworn it was less than 10.

There was a beautiful Jennifer Bartlett diptych too. 

What really shone through were the giant sculptures that randomly (not randomly) you would stumble on. Walk down a beach and come across a huge steel structure coming out of the sand like the Statue of Liberty in planet of the apes. Ride by a field with a 9ft blue cat sitting in it. Psychedelic pumpkins everywhere etc etc etc.


We took the ferry, train, train to Okayama, where we would be spending our last night. The hotel we stayed in has a partnership with the Okayama art museum and features small displays loaned from the museum on each floor. Pretty cool for a 80$ hotel. 


Last days

The pocket wifi, well I think I paid for one too few days. It’s not working anymore (using a hotel wifi right now)

Today is our last day and i have 2 big posts in the queue, but it’ll have to wait for airports or home. 

Here are some photos from Naoshima island

8.5-9.5

​​I’m a day late here, and we just took a bus, subway, train and train to get on the train im on right now. My notes/book is buried in my backpack and I’ve only got about 20 minutes before I have to switch trains again, so this post is going to be absent of specific names. Yesterday, our goal was to get a sense of Osaka architecture, with an eye to earthquakeproofness. 


Osaka is not known for its beauty, and beauty doesn’t really seem to be a priority. There is something unassumingly nice about blocks on blocks of pure function though. 

We started the day by going down to the port. We had all but forgotten that we have been near the ocean at pretty much every stage of the trip, on both the west and east side of the country. 

Of note here are 3 massive bridges and the Ferris wheel (insert name). Each bridge is different in appearance and construction. There is a double decker steel truss bridge, a floating bridge and a single cable suspension bridge. The wheel is the largest in Japan, made me almost puke just looking at it. 


From here we got back on the train and went to the tallest building in Japan (insert name). It has a train station, mall, hotel, art gallery amongst other things in it.


It uses pre-stressed concrete at crazy high pressure, corrugated steel, and hydraulic dampers to resist earthquakes….unlike this building.


From here we walked to (insert name), an older, more run down area of the city that used to be the main entertainment district. 


It still has charm, but as you walk by the shops, it’s mostly dingy casinos or a room full of old people  playing some sort of board game.


Or a man doing karaoke alone in a sushi bar at 1pm.

It also has a depressing zoo and remnants of a small amusement park. 

The tower was retrofit in the 80’s


One of the last restaurants we walked by had a turtle tank out front, like for eating. So it was surprising to walk to the (insert name) temple grounds to find this rather nice area set aside for more lucky turtles.

We made the trek to this temple because it is one of the only ones with a pagoda you can go in and to the top of.


Off season gives and it takes. Less tourists, but a lot of stuff is being worked on in preparation for the tourists.

In anticipation of the next days Wild travel schedule and early morning, we got conveyor belt sushi and went to sleep early.


8.25-8.5

Gonna have to postpone today’s post. We leave Osaka for Naoshima island at 4am tomorrow, and I should sleep before then. 

For now, enjoy a 7 story escalator. The fact that the way down is not a slide has eliminated a small slice of my faith in humanity. 

7.5-8.25

We left Kyoto for Osaka this morning after cleaning our Airbnb.   Behind the scenes, there has been considerable debate about going or not going to Nara. I wanted to go because Nara Dreamland, an abandoned amusement park is there. Rupert from New Accident gallery told us that recently the property was sold to the government and they are now enforcing the no trespassing laws with 1300$ fines. I still wanted to try, but Dana makes the valid point that spending a day trying to see something that maybe can only be seen from outside a fence, may get us arrested and fined is neither fun, nor a good use of Curtis funds. I think the idea of it never really sat well with her to begin with. Nevertheless, I’m bummed. 

Japan offers very few cracks in the facade, at least in the big cities. There is no trash, everything is clean and pristine. If there are homeless people, they have them hidden somewhere. Anything abandoned would be a glaring rift, but an amusement park is a wide open window into failure. I adore the idea of it.

So we got into Osaka mid-day. Figured out the train situation and found our way to Namba. Left our backpacks at the hotel and took off for Ameranura. Historically, this is where the US had a retail presence post WW2. For our purposes, this represents the ground zero of Japanese obsession with America. 


There is a Statue of Liberty and an Uncle Sam. Store after store sell items with US flags, American slogans, American pop culture references (sorta. Most are not quite correct)…we even stumbled into an alcove that was basically a shrine to Alf. Yeah Alf. At the “triangle” we watched parades of teenagers flaunt wild outfits and haircuts. Kid n’ play flat tops are IN!


Not a joke.

Also, the Harajuku style takes a creepyish/er turn here with “baby style”.

There were quite a few of these baby shops.

Not surprisingly, since the entire section of town seems to be run by art/fashion school students (and 14 year olds), the Vantan Design Institute is nearby.


The security guard REALLY didn’t want to let us in, and then insisted on no photography and following us around the building. Vantan is essentially a fashion and entertainment design school. The teachers are all professionals who “hire” students to work for them after a year of foundational studies. It harkens back to apprenticeship and trade school methods of teaching. 


Osaka feels the most gritty and excessive of the cities we’ve been to, and it makes Tokyo seem almost restrained. 

This is only notable because it’s the first graffiti I’ve seen since we have been in Japan. 


Let’s end with this. Ok. Goodnight.

A bathroom break

You know those moments in horror movies where a character is walking into a dark room they shouldn’t go into? You know it, they know it, but it still happens and the suspense of what terrible thing will be there when they turn on the light either makes you jump (when there is something) or sort of uncomfortably laugh (when the room is empty and they’ve tricked you). 

Well, that’s what opening the door  to a stall in a men’s public restroom is like in the States. Chances are you’re gonna encounter some horror. 

But let’s say you don’t. You lucked out.  Still you have to put a paper cover on a plastic seat, where the protective element doesn’t seem to outweigh the hassle element. Once you get this on, you sit down. You can see 3 things. The feet of the people to the other side of you, and the person who is staring at you through the crack in the door…trying to intimidate you into  moving things along. The things you can smell and hear, well they are not good either, and there isn’t really any comradery in contributing. 

If you’re like me, you’ve accepted that this is your reality and you do as much as you can to avoid these circumstances. 

We’ve settled as a country. Things could be so much better. 

“Western Toilet”. You see it everywhere, and it’s endearing that they call these little slices of Japanese heaven “western”, when if they knew how far we have let ourselves go.

Example:​


This is a room. It has walls. It has a door. The walls and the door touch the floor and the ceiling. Grandslamoutoftheparkhomerun design already. But wait, there’s more. 

Remember the part about noises? Well if you want to mask them, turn on the white noise. Oh, and smells? Hit the “powerful deodorizer” button. 

Paper seat covers, nope. But a wall mounted thing of wet wipes (not pictured here) is cleaner anyway. And if the wet wipes made the seat too cold for your western butt, heat it up. 

Does cleaning your self with dry paper really make sense? Really? Don’t think about it too much, but you know I’m right. 

Just turn on the bidet, adjust the temp and water pressure and lets feel good about ourselves the rest of the day. 

AND FINALLY…flush…and go wash your hands. But hey, that water that super clean, purified, ever rarer water that is just filling up your tank, how about we use that water to wash your hands first. Maybe we can be dignified and use our resources efficiently.

…they also have “eastern style” toilets here, if that’s your jam.