06 June 2010

Free Day At Fuji

Andrew W.K. was raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His father was and still is a professor of law At U of M. He attended the University of Michigan School of Music where he studied classical piano. He became a singer/songwriter and rock star. His twitter feed has daily tips for how to party.

@AndrewWK: PARTY TIP: Listen to rock 'n' roll music

Our first day off at Mt. Fuji. There is a large forest on toward the south west of the town, know largely for its very high suicide rate. The map from the hostel, which I later learned was very much not to scale, showed a trekking route over a smaller mountain which would end right by the entrance to the forest. The night before I prepared a playlist for my ipod, trying to fill it with every upbeat song I could find: Lovin' Spoonful, The Mighty Mighty Bostones, Mama Cass, Paul Simon, Miley Cyrus, Journey, Andrew W.K., so as to not be possessed by what ever drives people to travel to this place just to end their lives.

@AndrewWK: PARTY TIP: Doing what you love is partying

I struck out on my own at the crack of 10 am, looking for a 7-11 next to a Mos Burger as my sign post for the beginning of the trail. I passed it several times, just a small parting of the trees, a cramped path, that slowly opened up into a series of switch backs rising above me. After a half hour of clambering upward, I arrived at a small shrine, the first marker on the map to show that i was going the right direction. After catching my breath for a short while, I continued on until i reached a fork, two signs in Japanese, pointing in opposite directions, both uphill. My map showed only one path.

@AndrewWK: PARTY TIP: Don't play it safe

I flipped a coin and chose the path on the right. Grasping at branches, I pulled myself along, the lake in front of me, I realized I had chosen correctly. The trail flattened out at the top and became a nice, leisurely walk. I hadn't seen a single person since entering the trail. I hummed along with the music blasting from my headphones, soon began to sing along with Iggy Pop as I ducked under low hanging branches and jumped over rocks. A flash of gray about a hundred yards ahead killed the music in my throat and froze my feet.

@AndrewWK: PARTY TIP: Put lotion all over your face

Iggy's lust for life couldn't make me move no matter how hard he tried. Three monkeys crossed the path in front of me. The size of St. Bernards, fluffy and gray, bright pink faces. The first two crossed with out hesitation, the third stopped dead in his tracks, turned his head to look at me, then slowly turned his whole body in my direction. Pink fists planted firmly in the dirty. My immediate thought was "Oh cool! Monkeys!" I reached behind me for the zipper to my camera bag, as soon as my finger touched the cool metal, Mojo Jojo took a step forward. My next thought was "Oh shit! Monkeys!"

@AndrewWK: PARTY TIP: Don't ignore your impulses and don't deny your urges

I began to back up, pink feet matching my steps, soon joined by another pair. I quickened my backwards pace, the Beach Boys lamenting me to visit Kokomo. I forgot where the hill was. As I rolled to the bottom, my music was drowned out by a terrible screeching. I didn't realize my voice could still get that high pitched. As I lay in the soft earth, their presence was announced by puffs of breath from their flared nostrils. Piercing blue eyes hovered over mine, filled with a horrible mixture of lust and murder.

@AndrewWK: PARTY TIP: If you don't go over the top, you won't get to the other side

one side of the story...

...on this particular day.
the skies are clear. the temperature is warm.
we come for the art. a relationship between nature and built form.
the paintings and sculptures are merely bonuses.


the only one of its kind.
unique and original. every detail articulated.
the building meticulously situated within its natural site.
undisruptive of the existing ecosystem, yet irremovable and connected.

the presence of natural light follows us as we travel deeper into atrium. the light does not fade as we descend into the earth. its guiding presence does not falter as we flow throughout the gallery spaces. it becomes the spectacle.


the first of its kind.
objects of art are at the mercy of their surroundings.
the experience is always new as the setting never repeats.

blurring the line between art and nature. real or fake.
a metal orb suspended in the air reflects a distorted, warped context...we believe this to be inaccurate. the picturesque quality of the Japanese landscape is a powerful piece...a seemingly painted context. a pond of seemingly wild koi follows us as we cross the bridge...they wait for their scheduled meal.

person to person. day to day. the experience is different.

03 June 2010

impossible view

Today we climbed Mt. Fuji. Well, most of us at least.

The weather was brilliant and I was more excited than ever to make the climb. I’ve never climbed a mountain before and this was the chance of a lifetime. I was as prepared as I could ever be and confident that I could tackle the task ahead.

The first couple of hours were tough as I was getting used to the pace, but after a while it got much easier. We were telling stories and cracking jokes and having a great time. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my time in Japan.

When we were a little over halfway up and the climb started to get rough, I jokingly mentioned to Catie that I wouldn’t carry her down the mountain if she got hurt. Of course, as soon as these words left my mouth, I tripped. At first it didn’t hurt. At first I felt fine. But it soon became obvious that I was in no condition to be climbing any more. My ankle started to swell and turn colors.

Uhhh…. This isn’t good…

Catie whips out her cell phone. “Okay, awesome. Now, who can we call?” After about ten minutes of frantic button pushing, she managed to get someone on the line. “Alright. Good news is some one is on their way. Bad news is I don’t know how long it’s going to take.”

Okay. I can handle this. It can’t be that long, right? By this time my ankle was roughly the size of a melon and hurting like hell. Catie looks panicked. She’s probably worried about the University’s reaction to one of their students getting stranded on a mountain. It really wasn’t her fault though; I’m just clumsy sometimes, honestly.

I hear something coming. It sounds big. “Is that what I think it is?” Catie looked over at me with a face of mild disbelief. “It sounds kind of like a ….” Just as she was about to say the word ‘helicopter’, one came flying out from the clouds and landed on the clearing just below us.

Well. That was quick.

We’re soon surrounded by a team of well-trained Japanese rescue ninjas (not kidding, they looked like ninjas), and I was loaded onto the helicopter, complete with stretcher and neck brace (even though there was nothing wrong with my neck. Apparently it’s protocol).

As we fly through the mist, we catch a glimpse of the crater. From this height, the mountain and the surrounding valley look incredible. The dense trees, the lakes, the developed areas all look like patches on a giant quilt. I manage to snap a couple of photos before we get enveloped in the clouds again. As I’m looking at them now, they’re a little fuzzy, but definitely my favorites of the trip so far.

31 May 2010

The Nagasaki bay area has served as a site for Japanese industries for a long time, not that one could guess this looking at the lush green hills surrounding the coast. If of course you could just crop out the giant metallic obscenities sticking out. In an ironic twist, as some of these docks and factories have turned towards decline, a new business of showing off these capitalistic constructions through boat tours has proliferated.

So we board this ferry armed with simplified maps of the big sites we would hit along the way to the main act, Hashima Island, better known as Battleship Island (Gunkanshima). When at the end of the 19th century a large supply of coal was found in the land under the island, it fast became a massive mining complex owned by Mitsubishi Corporation. As the island expanded, rock wall constructions around the natural shoreline destroyed the islands natural appearance, morphing it into more of a ship-like appearance rather than an island, thus the name.

As the postwar economy expanded, the island’s population peaked to over 5,000 residents, resulting in an explosion of construction on the island. In 1959 the population density was the highest ever recorded worldwide. As petroleum replaced coal in Japan in the sixties, Hashima’s mines suffered, until in 1974 Mitsubishi officially announced the closing of the mine in 1974. Having been evacuated and abandoned in a hurry, the island has since suffered the wrath of many a typhoon and storm, resulting in the current dilapidated state of affairs on it. After more than 20 years of closure, tours began operating in 1999 as the profit potential of the site became apparent.

The actual site of the ghost island did not fail to impress, with its foreboding appearance as we approached it, turning into a more eery attraction the closer we got to it. The solid walls of the island stood in contrasting to the crumbling concrete, with metal structures exposed and corroding. There was an ephemeral, yet timeless feel to it. As if it would always stand in place, yet changing constantly. Trees had begun to stake their claim on the buildings, in the wind you could almost imagine people walking with them. The buildings have their own presence as if they exist simply by their own will, uninhabited, unused.

Leaving the island, it seems to have a magnetic affect on everyone on the boat, they lean over almost tipping off the ferry catching the last glimpse, capturing the last image. No one cares about the 100 million dock port as we move on, with fresh paint and clean lines, it just lacks character.

28 May 2010

Naoshima Island

Arriving by ferry to Naoshima Island, known as the "Art Island" of Japan, anticipation ran high. Naoshima did not disappoint.

The first night was spent settling into our tiny, traditional Japanese style guesthouse and taking a walk across the island to see a SANAA project, a simple yet impressive ferry terminal. Exquisite detailing, white, light-weight structure, impressively thin roof section; it was the quintisential SANAA project yet unique in both its setting and almost extreme simplicity.

The following day we took on Naoshima in full. The morning was spent wondering the narrow streets of the town we were staying in to visit six "art houses." A foundation purchased these spaces to then commission an artist to insert an installation in each of the houses. The highlights were the installations by Hiroshi Sugimoto the James Turrell (working with Tadao Ando), both providing memorable spatial experiences.

Leaving the small town and walking accross the island through the hills, we arrived at the Chichu Museum of Art. This is where attempting to transcribe the experience is difficult. The museum, designed by Tadao Ando, is sited uniquely in a hill above the sea and features work by three artists: Claude Monet, James Turrell, and Walter de Maria. The sequence of bunker-like spaces finished with Ando's signature concrete is a highly choreographed experience of light, darkness, sky, earth, and materiallity. In particular, the space for the Monet paintings feels almost unreal. The white space is bathed in diffuse natural light, providing an excellent presentation of the paintings. The floor is composed of thousands of minature cubed tiles, which gives the space a texture under bare feet (no shoes allowed of course). I could continue to attempt to communicate my experience of the museum, but this is one of thoes places that must be experienced in person. Also, no photos are allowed.

The day continued with at another Ando museum, though not nearly as impressive as the Chichu Museum, it contained a nice collection. The museum was similar in concept and siting as the Chichu Museum, but he clearly learned a lot from this project to then go on to produce Chichu. Descending from the museums in the hills, we arrived back at the sea. Public scuplture installations dotted the landscape. One in particular provided an ideal stage for a place to cool off with a savory....

The day ended with some pancakes at a seaside restuarant. Pork, cabbage, scallion, and udon pancakes to be exact.

24 May 2010


We traveled to the mountains, and the purpose is to admire the traditional elegance.

Nikko means sunlight, but it rained all the way from Tokyo to the temples. Open the umbrella, close the umbrella, we walked for hundred of years in between. Water may have washed away the conversation, since only spirit and light were talking in the space.

The noise was on hold for the carnival at night. I can’t really remember what time it was, but the face of the crowd changed to a look of anxiousness. And it all started with the white horse(the saint horse) as it broke out the gate, then the bottomless carriers push through the crowd with the golden carriage on their shoulders. The drum was loud and heavy, people sang the traditional Japanese song along with it and danced around the bunk-fire. Things got a little blurry after that, but I know Tarlton kept saying geishushits. Kurt couldn’t pick up the fat noodles from the shabushabu. Amna had a bag of sweet beans on steroid. Catie was the judge of the late night running game. Michelle asked for a personal guard to take a shower. Adam stepped on my toes. Katy got lost, again. Emily failed to swap her cup with Tarlton’s. Katie wore a yellow Michigan shirt. Alex puked. Sophia speaks Chinese. I left an ice-cream shaped hole in the paper door. 


We all enjoyed Nikko.

21 May 2010

The long awaited trip to Yokohama. Just about the perfect timing - lost JR pass, retracted; readings and assignments, read and well taken notes on. It is my chance to lead a discussion, and I am determined to shine. The weather must have sensed my ambition, and decided to take away my thunder and land it on me.

The sight of Yokohama Terminal excited many. To wear off our over joy, we were given 30 minutes before we should put on our serious face. Decision-making should not be laid upon an anxious individual. Longing for more of FOA, curating on deck under drizzles seemed like a good idea for a moment. It only took 10 seconds before the controller couldn't tolerate my talking. The broadcasting was calm, but in the primitive alien sounds, I sensed hostility. Trying to overshadow the broadcasting in my heightened voice, the rain had to intervene. Pouring down like animals, people ran to get sheltered. Us architects, of course, sat back to watch the show. Laughed as if we are detached from the scene, despite our drenched shivering bodies.

It is no longer funny when water raced people down the narrow unbarred ramps. People started to slip on wooden panels held in too perfectly. A school girl lost her balance, failed to seize the strangly angled railing, only to find herself slammed onto the glass divider that refused to open any more than a conventional door. The railing additions clearly provided nothing more in functionality, as it did in aesthetics. Light tubes on the railing jerkily turned on. The whole scene felt like a decrepit christmas.

The waves rose as high as us. Our assignment were smudged, but the discussion went on. Like the ensemble in Titanic, performing till the end, giving their life to music. We, too, had to stand by design, even if it set us apart and put us in trouble. Finally the broadcast gave up pretending. Revealing her true identity as a fellow anxiety patient, her voice sped up. In a somewhat familiar language, she specifically yelled at us to leave. The discussion was forgotten, but the day ended with a happy group purchase of "I <3 Yokohama" sweat shirts.