5/50 : Where in the world is Japan?

The more I learn the less I know. While studying the interaction between countries in relation to Japan, I realize I can't picture the routes people took between countries because I don't have a clear a picture of where Japan is (other than the little cartoon plane flying over the ocean you see on a flight to Japan). Even within Japan, I read that someone stopped at ____ island, then went to _____ area in Japan.... Embarrassingly, I have to consult Google regularly.

In elementary school at Japanese school we memorized and were tested on all 47 prefectures of Japan. I haven't looked back in 15 years.

Now that animated plane over the Pacific Ocean is engrained in my mind, so I figure I should try visual learning.

A little contemporary art history sharing: I went to the Asian Art Museum's Tetsuya Ichida exhibit on Friday (and the other two new Japanese exhibits). His paintings are eye-catching but dark in content. They express the burden of social pressures of Japan in vivid, disturbing, but even humorous ways. An ongoing theme seems to be humans as merely a part of social machinery. I think it's a commonly experienced human sentiment, even outside of Japanese society.

[Disclaimer: if you Google search, some is really disturbing so don't snack while browsing. BUT look at it and think about it. What does this painting express? What does it reflect about his experience in Japanese society?]

A slightly more lighthearted painting below- Japanese salarymen crammed into a train reflects reality, but each is like a lifeless clone boxed up and shipped off to work. The next painting is a typical Japanese classroom. Students appear as clones or some sort of studying machine.


The artist was hit by a train at age 31 (most likely suicide) but produced 186 completed paintings in 10 years! These are really meticulous paintings, I mean look at that wood grain on the floor of the classroom! As is the pattern of artistic fame, his success came after his death.

A book on display in the exhibit was a compilation of his paintings alongside sketches with notes for planning his pieces. He sketched scenes of his dreams, silly drawings, imaginative figures... I need to become better friends with my sketchbook.

Though I have yet to see one, I get intimidated by the idea of a "masterpiece-filled sketchbook" that "real" artists have.

Maybe the genius ability will fall on me if I want it enough? Divine inspiration. Wishing for it. Thinking about it. Researching. Talking about it.  Nope. I frequently give myself this pep-talk when I'm stuck or feel like I'm not good enough at something and want to throw in the towel:

How do I get better at drawing? By drawing.

How do I get better at writing? By writing.

How do I get better at cooking? By cooking.

How do I get better at _____? By DOING.

If you're wondering, yes I do talk to myself!  It's inevitable since I spend most of my research/grad school study time alone. I wish there were shortcuts.  Learning always takes time. I wonder if that's why the Christian life takes a lifetime plus eternity to learn, be changed, and for our character to be more like Christ.

How do I get better at painting AND learn Japanese/East Asian geography?

DOING. So I sat down to paint a map of Japan, and couldn't stop for 2.5 hours until I finished all 47 prefecture drawings. It was the most fun I've had painting for a long time! The paintings are a literal description of each of the Chinese characters that make up the prefecture names that the little sketch is next to. I LOVE PUNS!!

This is the whole thing, and the rest are zoomed in so you can see each scene.


Example explanation:

"Hokkaido"「北海道」= North + Ocean + Road/Way

"Osaka" 「大阪」= Big + Slope

"Wakayama" 「和歌山」= Japanese song + Mountain

"Kagawa" 「香川」= Fragrant + River

"Chiba" 「千葉」= Thousand + Leaf

and so on... here are closeups:

Nagasaki : Long + Peninsula

Kumamoto : Bear + Book

Miyazaki : Shrine + Peninsula

Fukushima : Luck + Island

IT WORKED! When reading something later, I knew where prefectures were because of the mental image of a "baby deer island" (Kagoshima) or "large divide" karate chop hand (Oita) from this painting.

Perhaps there is a pun-loving nutcase artist hidden inside after all.

4/50 : Discipline of drawing & a painted research experiment

Several years ago I read (most of) a required text for class called, The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp. It's written by a dance choreographer and she explains how contrary to common thought, creativity is not a spur of the moment inspiration but rather the result of disciplined practice. I don't feel like practicing drawing that often... Actually the concentration it requires is pretty tiring.

Last September, the first detailed drawing I sat down to do for more than an hour after graduating 3 years ago reminded me that my drawing discipline had dwindled. At about an hour I wanted to stop. I kept going, knowing it was a mental battle I had to overcome to get back into drawing again. That weekend, while at the CIVA artist retreat, I was motivated to keep making art again. I made some time to paint after that, but not much. I finished fall semester and then a few months later, the 50 blogs seemed like a good way to kick start again.

Here's the ink drawing of tree bark from that weekend. The result doesn't actually matter that much to me because it was exciting to win the drawing-concentration battle!

I'm still on the topic of the history of Christianity in Japan, focusing mostly on the first 100 years (mid 16th-17th century). The Jesuits imported a printing press to print materials first in transliterated Japanese with Roman characters, then in Japanese characters. I'm studying the paintings by early Japanese Christians so I did a quick sketch experiment to see what happens if you paint a Western-style image (the cover of the document) with Japanese materials (sumi ink and calligraphy brush). I wondered if the eventual shift towards a Japanese style was intentional or inevitable because of the materials. (Not solely based on this experiment, but) I think it was intentional.

(If you know Japanese) for fun, try to figure out what the Japanese transliterated text says. It's like a word puzzle! I've been reading a lot of it so I can read it now but it may take a little mind-bending at first. Hint: translation is "Deeds of the Saints"