A WORLD WITHING A BUILDING – GAJOEN

On the last day of the show my companion and I finally decided to make the trip to Meguro (not far 😉 ) to see 假屋崎省吾の世界. Yes, lots of kanji! Or if I put it into something your eyes are more familiar with “Flower show by Famous Gay…I mean guy”. Or at least that how I felt, but I’ll get back to that later.

As written on Gajoen’s official site, from the very beginning the establishment has been more than what one would normally expect to exist under one roof.

When the old Gajoen established in 1931, Tokyo was recovering from a devastating earthquake. Houses were cramped and barely equipped with electricity and running water, and the average person probably led a wretched life. In addition, home decorations available to the common people were limited. The old Gajoen might have been called a fairyland of sorts, which brought each of those people’s dreams and fancies together in one place.

In the past it was electricity and running water, now Gajoen houses several waterfalla, a hotel, a bridal shop, an Omiai, and seven gourmet restaurants.  One of such restaurants, TOFUTEI, is a traditionally styled freestanding building built within Gajoen. The building also boasts a “million dollar bathroom”, oddly with no bathroom attendant. Everything I have said up until now is commercialized as “Gajoen”. Except NONE of it is Gajoen, the only parts of the building that are original to the structure are not open to the public. These are a couple of designed rooms with mural ceilings and the HYAKUDAN KAIDAN (The 100 steps). The 100 stairs (and rooms?) are designated cultural treasures of Japan. These steps supposedly exhibit an exclusively Japanese beauty or something like that. But honestly, I just wanted to enter the non-public space, see some pretty flowers (smell them too!!), and use the “million dollar bathroom”.

So what did I get to do? I got to walk (barefoot yay :P)  on some weirdly uneven old steps – this is one of their unique characteristics apparently. I got to see some pretty flowers (and fruits) that were arranged into meaningless almost impossible ugliness – they looked like they were running away from the feathers and random affects that were attached, wrapped around, and piercing them. I got to use the million dollar bathroom…but not the toilet because they were all occupied (I know from reading other impressions that it is just a regular pearly white bowl, so I missed out on nothing).

Gajoen Bathroom Ceiling

This is me on every full moon! Hair done, kimono, flawless!

The arrangements were ugly, you say?!?! No and Yes. The remaining original seven rooms each have a theme grassy knoll, holy light, that type of thing. There are paintings and embellishments following each room’s theme, and this was disregarded. Kariyazaki’s creations were like a titan stumbling through town. And I say creations because it wasn’t just his floral arrangements, but his kimonos and his music too. So not only was the space visually oppressing but the music was inescapable. To me the only comforting thing was the smell. However that seems to be contrary to what was enjoyable for Japanese attendees whose number one remark was “It stinks!” closely followed by “I want to see how he is in person!”. It may be the case that many of the Japanese attendees enjoyed this type of shock, catharsis, and hoped to round it out by meeting the “strange” creator himself.

Outside of the exhibit in the main hall of Gajoen

Outside of the exhibit in the main hall of Gajoen

When the “strange” creature appeared in the merchandise area hoisting up the “last” ten calendars for sale yelling, “There are only ten left! Who will be the lucky person to take one home?!” there was an audible gaspm – Yes, gasp orgasm! It was a sound akin to this clip of Homer Simpson. Then they crowded around and a lady screamed out almost as if she was having a religious experience, “Me! I’ll take two. I feel so happy I get to take them home!”. He continued pushing his products in this Osaka Baba-chan manner hoping to get people to purchase his next item. But they were already satiated. He had already given them all the strange they needed for the day, and so they went on with their portrayals of interest in his other products…facing the other direction.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are probably many people who respect Kariyazaki and buy his products and take his arrangement advice, but the people who came that day (THE LAST DAY) were not there for that! I would have loved to show you pictures of the arrangements and the rooms and the stairs but there were no photographs allowed – unless you payed and came at a certain time (entry was also not free). We had entered Kariyazaki’s world (name of the exhibit). The arrangements were “on sale”, just like his kimonos, music, shears, cloths, calendars, posters, books, and personality.

Like I said before his arrangements were not ugly, but they are as appealing and admirable as the consumerist merit that most likely bore them. The same goes for Gajoen. I went there excited to experience a piece of Japanese culture and beauty but instead I was reminded how skillful the Japanese people are at monetizing and exploiting culture – especially their own. Kariyazaki just decided to get him some too, i guess. The consumerist clock continues to count….down?

CONSULTED SITES

GAJOEN OFFICIAL SITE

KARIYAZAKI OFFICIAL SITE

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Death by Thousand Dildo Attack – Visit to M’s Akihabara

Minaduki Iori - Longing for a man, she'll "teach" you gently......

Minaduki Iori – Longing for a man, she’ll “teach” you gently……

While at dinner with a couple of friends in Shibuya I asked where they would recommend I go to have a fun night out. They responded with prodding, trying to force me to chose a particular area. So i started listing “here in Shibuya, Shinjuku, Roppongi, Akihabara”, and thats as far as I got. As soon as I said Akihabara they all giggled and exchanged looks. That was it. And then they continued on talking about places to go out in Roppongi. I was a bit puzzled at the awkward moment that I had caused but I was more interested in their suggestions so I let it go.

Another time while out with a friend in Harajuku while trying to figure out what we should do next. I suggested we go to akihabara. They looked at me with a puzzled look and then said “If you want.” I asked them why they had that reaction and told them about the earlier situation I had had at dinner. They responded with “Akihabara is like the herald of Otaku culture!” I am not a self proclaimed otaku but I have no beef with the culture. So I asked for more information. That statement really told me nothing about why akihabara was a queer choice. They continued telling me that there are lots of older guys trying to buy merchandise with seemingly under-age girls on it and that it could be creepy at times. I told them that its fine because neither of us would be interested in going in a place with that type of merchandise. They said ok and we got on the train towards Akihabara. 3 minutes after the doors closed they said “Do you know M’s?” and I was like “No, I don’t know that place”, which was instantly met with “well lets go there!” I smiled, said ok, and the train kept on rolling.

Japan is known around the world for its cool tech and unfaltering politeness. You put those two together and you get – PORN! Its no secret that japan has the largest pleasure industry in existence. And I guess my friend thought that I would be awestruck (or perhaps excited, turned on?) to see a place that embodied Japan’s sex product producing prowess – M’s.

M’s is a 7-story building that is dedicated to movies, magazines, toys, hygiene products, costumes, and novelties with sex being the common theme. They start you off “easy” with fake vaginas and ani on the first floor and then somehow you end up looking at costumes on the 6th floor. How anticlimactic, right? Well guess you have to put the merchandise people want in the most accessible place. Sadly the seventh floor was not open when we went. Each floor is only about the size of a small Japanese apartment and I bet you can’t even guess how many dildos and vibrators you can fit in that space. But the real “gold mine” is the basement floor that has at least 20 DVDs going at the same time. A squeal at every turn!…. it was an unnerving yet wondrous experience. You cannot deny that 20 televisions (albeit mini-televisions) going at the same time takes hustling to the next level. Its like they are screaming “You are going to buy something!” — I didn’t buy anything.

M’s is a must see if you come to Tokyo! For those who may not be able to make it all the way there, check out the online store! I guarantee there will be at least one product that will shock and inspire you!

 

PEOPLE OF THE FAR NORTH | AINU

People of the Far North

The group of people that would come to be called the Ainu have lived in the Northern Regions of Japan and the Sakhalin Islands since what is thought to be the dawn of civilization on the island chain. About 20,000 years ago when the Japanese islands were still connected to Russia via Sakhalin islands herders followed large game down through the Sakhalin Islands to Japan. Many proclaim that the Ainu are “the” original Japanese.

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Road connecting Gotokuji to the outside world

Gotokuji – The Cats Are Watching

Barbed wire solitarily skating atop a concrete wall. The eerily beautiful spiraling silhouette of concertina is nowhere to be found. Instead, there is only a singular strand of steel. Sharp projections jutting out confusedly it lacks the menace and resolve of its prison wire cousin. The wall isn’t innocent either. Not only does it prevent anyone from peeking inside, but it spreads itself out left and right leaving no choice but to play its game of find the entrance. The furiously scrawled tags found on its flesh are most likely expressions of frustration at being involuntarily enlisted in its game. Well…left it is.

The air here is still. Each step forward is like moving through a giant gelatinous presence, clingy as if it is robbing you—molecularly. Spiritually? The peculiarities do not end with the viscous nature of the air. The buzzing urban beat has given way to shrill echoes of unseen aves. Further and further into the beast ambling laboriously, the feeling of being trapped, a deep pressure, comes pressing from all sides. Caught. Frozen. Then you turn around and realize the pressure is nothing but the eyes of an elderly woman staring at you crazy because you are a foreigner.

The gate’s just ahead.

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Dreaming in Tokyo

Setagaya Graffiti

A public phone booth and a vending machine, ubiquitous Japanese deities.

Exactly 30 days. Down to the hour. That’s how long I’ve been in Tokyo. To be more precise I moved into a somewhat quiet but still urban-tainted area about 20 minutes from the city center called Sakurashinmachi in Setagaya.

When one mentions Setagaya it beckons images of two things. The first is the Tama River and the other is the famous manga Sazae-san. The Tama River is a major river that divides Tokyo and Kanagawa. Sazae-san is a popular manga published during the post-war period of Japan. To some Sazae-san embodies “radical feminism” to others it invites comforting reveries of traditional Japanese society – and most importantly the traditional Japanese family.

“Oh yeah, I know Setagaya! Sazae-san right?”

        – Everyone I mention it to

So how does a big river and a infamous manga series go together. They don’t! Setagaya is a huge ambiguous blob even to those living a mere 15 minutes away. Although I will admit if I were living it up in Shibuya I wouldn’t have much time or reason to explore elsewhere either – Tokyo is terribly unforgiving to the unfocused.  But I’m fortunate enough to live here, in the blob. And although in 30 days there’s no way I could become a ‘Setagaya expert’ this is what I have learned so far.

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