Sunday, October 3, 2010

Time Stands Still

The Art Institute of Chicago's Ando Gallery reopened this week after being closed most of 2010, along with the Buckingham, Sheridan and Weston galleries of Japanese Art. The renovation left Ando almost unchanged: even the exhibit is the same - Contemporary Japanese Ceramics - which makes one wonder if the AIC really understands the value of this interior space, since they apparently thought "no big deal, we can just re-open with the same stuff." The door to the gallery has been removed, which makes it feel more accessible, but also lessens the previous sense of sanctuary.
We're told Tadao Ando's design is intended to evoke the traditional Japanese home interior, as a contextual setting to enjoy screens. Read Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's "In Praise of Shadows" for insights into the lighting, surfaces and atmospherics of a traditional home.
Lighting is the primary change to the gallery where we have become accustomed to seeing a remarkable set of Japanese prints rotate through the gallery every few months. The renovation seems to have brightened and opened up the space. The reopened gallery starts its new life with more recent prints from the Beem collection.
What doesn't work is the tokonoma in Gallery 106. If you are attempting to depict the interior dynamics of an alcove to a room, you can't do it by making the alcove a display case behind glass. It's not an alcove, it's just another museum display. And the fake "window" on the side is a throwback to museum cheesiness of fifty years ago, or more. See TimeOut Chicago for an amateurish rendering. Gallery architect Kulapat Yantrasast is touted by the Art Institute as a "close associate" of Ando. Close, but no cigar.
The Weston, now uncomfortably empty in the center, displays a selection of "floating world" paintings on the perimeter. Most remarkable is a pair by Kaigetsudo Doshu, identified here as "Standing Beauties in (Green/Blue) Kimono." Gestural strokes mark out broad contours, while the patterns they enclose are rich but flat, as textiles and paintings are. A Kaigetsudo School painting illustrates this post.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hoto Fudo

In Yamanashi, Takeshi Hosaka's noodle restaurant talks with Fuji-San. "You are very big, and angular, and you make a dramatic silhouette against the sky. I am humble, low and round, and I will sit down on the ground in front of you and make small talk." The dialogue of forms is nothing new; artists, architects and photographers have been having conversations with Fuji for thousands of years. It is surprising, then, that Hoto Fudo does not integrate with it's more immediate surroundings. It sits on a paved pad which has no plant materials. This, along with the pure white interior walls, makes it an austere host, more suitable for a boy scout troop's mess than a visiting family. Hosaka is an architect who knows how to integrate building with nature, so it is a small mystery.
photo by Koji Fuji

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Glass House

Thomas Roszak's Northfield, Illinois residence, featured in Friday's Financial Times anchored tonight's Chicago Filmmakers "Architecture in Motion" in a 9 minute short by Media Artist Chi Jang Yin. Roszak's received the AIA Interiors Award for this modernist, transparent box. Chi Jang Yin's film follows the construction process, from post-and-beam fitting to glazing, ending with the unfolding of the living spaces to the exterior, through seasonal change and the activities of the young family. The filmmaker appeared at the screening, answered questions about the three-year filmmaking process, and brought the audience into contact with the occupants' experience, especially as it related to the house's natural surroundings. You can view the film at, along with her other film and photography projects.
Some of the other "Architecture in Motion" films were in, face it, really really slow motion. I'm pretty sure Inland Steel didn't move during the 2007 12 minute film of the same name, but I think I did see Lamar walking around in his office. The movement in Adele Friedman's Tree Studios is stately, and it is hard to believe the changes since this film was shot 20 years ago.
I can't wait for Chicago Filmmakers "Not too Otaku" series of Japanese anime coming October 22nd, it will include a short by Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


See the "Lotte Fit's in Nara" video link at left for a couple of the commercials promoting the gum. The second one features a "character" with a traditional roof "hat" and protruding antlers. He's cute, but he's no Sentokun. And Nara looks amazingly pristine. This is a series of commercials which inspired thousands of people to record themselves doing the "Fit's" dance. You'll be hooked, cruising YouTube for more and more of these twenty second home-made spots. You may tire of the music after awhile. Personally, I prefer the dance version of a year ago over this season's, but they're all good.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Written Gesture

"The emergence in the early 1970s of the modern term kawaii かわいい coincides with the beginning of the cute handwriting craze . . . Large numbers of teenagers, especially women, began to write using a new style of childish characters." (Kinsella, Cuties in Japan, 1995)
Writers of burikko-ji (intentional child-writing) ぶりっ子 じ favored mechanical pencils for fine strokes of regular width in what Kinsella describes as an "underground literary trend amongst young people . . . writing . . . to one another and themselves."
The style eschews the nuanced strokes and hierarchically ordered calligraphic origins of Japanese kana, in it's place premiating schoolgirl simplicity and innocence, along with ready acceptance of mass-media typography.
Not coincidentally, Osaka architect Endo Shuhei cites traditional renmentai 連綿 たい cursive kana script, as a source for his paramodern architecture ( wherein the ma  間 interval between kana, forms a "weak construct" flexible enough to allow one character (or architectural element) to be continuous with another (the roof-becomes-wall-becomes-floor). Renmentai was considered on'nade 女手 or "woman's writing" in traditional Japan.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Trip through Japan 1919

The 1919 YWCA Japan documentary Trip through Japan at has an agenda, but provides an invaluable look at Ainu and village life, architecture and construction: earth compaction, dry-stack monumental stone, entirely breathable tiered-thatch roofing. Tip for Asleep at the Wheel: when drinking sake out of large cups, dip the end of your moustache-board first for a ceremonial flourish. The film also features a really Big Tuna.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I've noticed more and more cool new emoticons showing up in my emails lately, so went looking for Japanese kaomoji, which seem to all be horizontal, and may be just a little more "kawaii" than the ones with which I'm familiar (which themselves are a bit too cute for everyday use, I fear). Anyway, here are a few I like: smile (^_^) blush (#^_^#) lost (*_*) and, of course kiss (^3^). found these at which has a few tweetable Japanese food posts as well.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What's a Mori Girl?

Check out Valerie Fujita's blog "TokyoFashion & Art Factory" in Burogu at left, here's a quote from Valerie's interview in Japan Times: "Harajuku fashion has remained faithful to what I discovered in Fruits — the mix of colors and styles, unstructured silhouettes, the "pajama look", the layers of clothes and accessories. It's like a giant overflowing closet, from which you can pick thousands of inspirations and codes for reinventing. There are so many different categories that it's hard to keep up: "natural kei," "Lolita," "yurakuji kei", "mori girl," "Dolly fashion" . . . not to mention the Shibuya scene and other movements. Ultimately, these trends offer very rich material for the imagination and photographers like me."

Monday, May 31, 2010

Old Partner

Recently shown as part of The Gene Siskel Film Center's Korean Cinema on the Fast Track the film "Old Partner" (2008, see Links for the Han Cinema posting) by Lee Chung-ryoul offers insights into the life of traditional hard-working East Asian rice farm culture, such as the simple satisfactions of "seeing water going in dried up rice paddies, and seeing food go in your kids' mouths."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Best online guide - preparing for Japan

See a new link at the left for Stanford's guide - including links to a number of cell phone rental companies. Remember, not just any international cell phone will work there, so be sure you get one that is specifically set up for Japan.

Japanese Easter Egg

Buddhism and Shinto don't get into Easter, but this weekend Cocoro Restaurant on Wells Street offers some themed appetizers, including a thin "Japanese hamburger" wrapped around a hard-boiled egg, something like a Scotch (sukoshi in the phonetic transliteration) Egg. It's rapidly deep-fried for a crispy outside texture. mmmm

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Getting from the Osaka Airport to Kyoto

A number of us are scheduled to arrive at about 6:00 pm on Monday April 26th. If you are flying into Itami Airport (ITM), a bus for Kyoto Station departs from the airport at approximately 20-minute intervals through the evening with the last bus leaving at 9:10 pm. Travel time is estimated at 55 minutes. Our hotel, the New Miyako, is a short walk from Kyoto Station. The cost is listed on their website at 1,280 yen (about $15). If you are flying into Kansai, there are also regular bus departures for Kyoto Station. The fare from Kansai is listed as 2,500 yen (about $30), and the trip is shown as one hour and 45 minutes. See Osaka Airport Limousine’s website in the links at the left under Travel Information.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Japan Fashion Week

We'll miss the runway shows (March 22 - 26) but read the Japan Fashion Week link under Trends Nihon on the left for places we may want to visit: Takashimaya Shinjuku (just across from our Tokyo Hotel), Tokyo Midtown (definitely high end), Cat Street and more in Shibuya-ku.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sustainable Shrine: Amaterasu Omikami

The temporal nature of existence is manifested in the twenty year cycle of rebuilding the Ise Shrine. Since the current structure was completed in 1993, we know the process of constructing the 2013 shrine is well under way. See just one step in that process in the video linked at the left under Trends Nihon, "Logging Timber for Ise," where local residents participate in the ritual logging and transporting of the cypress trees down the Isuzu River. Looks like fun.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

You will "surely win"

Translation: Kit Kat bars (in Japanese, Kitto Katso). You'll be disappointed with plain old chocolate after tasting the 19 Japanese varieties, including soy sauce (most popular in Tokyo) and wasabi with white chocolate. Check out the link under Sushi 101 at left for the full article.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

New Links - including cell phone information

A "Travel Information" section has been added to the links at the left. Look for a link to the National Geographic/Cellular Abroad site with information about renting a cell phone for use in Japan.

Pecha Kucha Tuesday March 2

If you missed the benefit for Haiti, there's another chance to see this unique presentation format Tuesday night at Martyr's. Roughly translated from the Japanese as "chit chat," Pecha Kucha was started in Tokyo as a way for architects and designers to share their ideas without overburdening each other with lengthy PowerPoints. The PowerPoint slides are there, but you have to use exactly 20 of them and they have to be timed at 20 seconds each. Bad or good, 400 seconds and its on to the next one. Peter Exley of Architecture is Fun will emcee again and probably reference his obsessions Leeds United (hint: nothing to do with sustainability) and Cheap Trick. See the link at left under Trends Nihon (there's also a new food link for ramen conoisseurs).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Next Pecha Kucha in Chicago - for Haiti

You won't have to wait until March to see this phenomenon live in Chicago again. A special 24-hour global wave of pecha kucha will start and end in Tokyo, crossing time zones and cultures, in a benefit for Haiti. Chicago's will start at 2 pm Saturday February 20, at it usual local venue, Martyr's, at 3855 N. Lincoln. For details see Architecture for Humanity Chicago's website at If you want more information about this unique presentation format that started in Japan (20 slides, 20 seconds each) and has taken hold among architects and designers worldwide, go to, where you can also see the next regularly scheduled events in cities around the world, including Chicago.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Announcement of 2010 trip

Japan (Kyoto/Tokyo)
April 26 – May 6
ELE331 History of East Asian Interiors and Architecture (a graduate-level version of the course will be offered for MID/MAID students)
DSN426 Experimental Design
Faculty Leader Crandon Gustafson
Cost for accommodations, tours and field trips $3,900
Program Fee $300 (non-refundable)
Estimated airfare $1,300
Plus tuition and fees