Goseichou arigatou gozaimashita.....
german version

This page is a "blog" about steffenschönis Japan excursion, from September 1th to 20th October 2010.
Thanks to the Thurgauer Förderbeitrag (grants for artists 2009), we were able to do photographic research for our long term project, the "japanese vegetables gardens".
We are working with this motif for quite some time - "plants" have always been a topic in our work.
The title of one of our installations - "gardening is only the method" - after a quote from Yoko Ono (which in turn quotes a japanese monk), will be with us travelling trough Japan.


Blog (online-diary) of our Japan expedition, 1. Sept. untill 20. Oct. 2010.

you can leave comments or mails to:
- Heidi steffenschoeni --> steffenschoeni@bluewin.ch
- Karl  steffenschoeni --> steffenschoeni@hallek.org

--> Flight plans:
Monday 1. Sept. 2010, Zürich, 10:20 - Tokyo Arrival 2. Sept. 08:05
Monday 20. Okt. 2010, Tokyo, 10:55 - Zürich Arrival 19:00

--> it starts NOW:

Arrival in Tokyo, Thursday 2. September 2010.

After a sundawn over China landing in the morning mist in Tokyo.
Submerged into Tokyo like into a Japanese ink drawing, as I see them five days later in portrait or landscape on silk, in the Tokyo National Museum.
The International Hostel, as a "starter", was a good decision. The sight from the 18th floor, from one of the tallest buildings in the district Iidabashi, is breathtaking and gives a first overview. The facilities and infrastructure is perfect and I am very safe because my german roommate is a criminologist and forensic expert. First strolls in this district, despite the extreme temperature (36 degrees ...), shows me a lot of small "gardens".

5. September, moved into a Ryokan. The small ryokan Mikawaya is next to the shrine of Kannon, the "Senso-Ji". It is the most popular and touristy shrine in Tokyo. Early in the morning and later in the evening, without to many Japanese tourists, you can appreciate it's beauty.
Here I'm now in the middle of the city, the overview get's lost in the colorful crowd.
Next to the temple borders the red light district (Asakusa...). Recently my plans seem to be working fine and the coincidences are generous with me.
Saturday, searching for the "Target Gallery, which was then closed but anyway just at the right time in the trendy district of Tokyo's youth, landed in Harajuku. After the fashion show in the streets, with a detour to a small enchanted shrine, and just five minutes from the Harajuku circus, I witnessed a traditional Shinto wedding in the Yoyogi Park.
The change between the bustle and shrill City and the tranquil atmosphere of temples is happening immediately and often. This makes the city bearable even for me, the country bumpkin. After I purchased a wide-brimmed hat it was possible to survive the 36 degrees in the shade but only if you moved slowly and coold down in between in shady parks, museums and air-conditioned department stores.

Since one week we are together on the road.
The last few days in Tokyo were filled with "cultural basics". Attempting to fill the puzzle, starting at the National Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art museums to cultural and historical museums, as a contrast visiting the Japanese version of the "Ballenbergmuseum". Probably around 20 institutions and galleries make now a picture in my head, of the old and modern Japan.
The journeys to the different locations did improve our knowledge of the Metro & JR network and gave us the opportunity to discover quite different neighborhoods.
The beauty of our travel version "with enough time" is, that one can drift away from the planed route and spend some time in residential areas away from the tourist hubs.
The architectural mix of Tokyo, which looks at first glance not very attractive, reveals itself as an exciting field of research on "high-density housing under difficult conditions" (earthquakes). We also observe pragmatic and joyful compromises (in a positive sense), especially for some in recent years redesigned parts of the city.
Also the various museum buildings are worlds for themselves. From the ultra modern Mori Tower in Rippongi to the plain Hara Museum, in a private villa inspirate from Bauhaus, each is a universe in itself.
In the individual top-class exhibitions, high-carat, mediocre and meaningless are often mixed. Striking is, the mediation efforts for the individual works incl. art-historical informations, via discreetly placed signs. This may be partly a bit too much, especialy if some hefty interpretation is provided.
Surprising, that the Japanese artists still suffer for over hundred years on the East-West issue - some probably even profit and grow on this topic. The art of the 20th century in the MoMaT is largely structured into "Western style" versus "Japaneese style" and in individual biographies and descriptions of works this conflict comes up again and again. It seems that there is far more behind this, than just the Western influence.
While in Europe, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Fauves, Matisse and Bonnard worked joyfull with ornamental motifs on their "Japonisme", had a similar approach at the same time in Japanese works rather constrained results and the attempt to mix the styles did not convinced in many cases. It's good, that the current Japanese contemporary art could evolve especially via installation and media art. Worth mentioning is the following passage in the description of the work of the sculptor, Nakahashi Katsushige:
"Nakahashi` s Art has its source in doubt in the modern Western concept of sculpture ... ".
Two compelling new discoveries: Uzumi Taro in the MoT and Jae Cho from Korea at the Hara Museum, (Of course in addition to many exciting, top-class artists and the venerable old masters of Japanese art ...) and a very young artist, whose drawings I found in a modest cafe in Kamakura: Naoko Saito.

Heading South.

Visiting Bjoern Jensen (Norwegian living 10 years in Japan) in his "mountain house" in Atami. His Japanese wife and the 2 children went for one year to Norway and so Bjoern has got space and desire to accommodate us. Walking on the old pilgrim route to the next hill. Fantastic views of the Izu peninsula, Fuji-san, of course, hidden behind clouds. The next day, walk on the beach and we visit, over a hundred escalators, the MOA Museum of Art, another legacy of a successful industrialist. In the evening a good party with friends from Tokyo and Atami.

20. Sept. Our first Shinkansen ride (Hikari) went well into Shin Osaka Station, afterwards we got super advice to proceed, but still we caught the wrong train on the Osaka Loop (strangers in Japan ;-), i.e. landed at Universal Studios, but several trains later in the evening we landed in beautiful Koyasan. As a reward, we received a wonderful japanese style room at the Youth Hostel.
21. Sept. Koyasan, Oku-no-in, the oldest and largest cemetery in Japan, Kongobuji with two great rock gardens and much more is worth the visit.
Kongobuji, a small and a huge rock garden Garan pagoda, freshly painted in stunning red. Daimon gate, great hill views, impressions like on japanese ink and wash painting.

To keep our budget under control, we mostly stayed in Youth (!) Hostels. These are often in good locations and usually in attractiv buildings. Unbeatable was our tatami room tatami room, overlooking a small rock garden, in Koyasan.

22. Sept. A nice rail journey later, over a stunning bridge to the island Shikkoku. Again good youth hostel in Matsuyama, bathing in the Dogo Onsen.
On the 23. Sept. we arrived in Uchiko, our long-planned destination. We enjoyed the opportunity to live in the Villa Takahashi. We could hardly believe, that we were able to stay alone in this beautiful small villa with original tatami rooms, with sliding doors that allows many diverse combination of space and light in the house. The full moon and early autumn festival in the old road from Uchiko was fantastic. With the help of Fränzi and Beat Schwarzenbach we enjoyed hospitality in the Takahashi Residence. We can hardly believe: since yesterday we reside here all alone in the beautiful small villa with original and tatami room with sliding doors that allow a diverse combination of space and light holes ideas. (When I was a few years ago my thesis on "transparency," wrote and was engaged in transparency in the Japanese architecture and interior design, I would have never imagined this to me ... (Note Heidi)

- First photographic forays to rice fields and into the surrounding gardens,
  and in a paper mill, operated only by three old women.
- Full moon and early autumn festival in the old road of Uchiko.
- Invitation to a fine dinner in a private setting (International Association of Uchiko Town),
  a unique initiative of the small town!
Arrigato gzaimasu, san Masami.

26. Sept. taking the local trains to Uwajima. Searching for the Ryokan Tsukigase (according to Lonely Planet: fantastic onsen), owner was amazed and very much regretted that this was not true. The (according to Lonely Planet: beautiful hike through villages and rice fields) walk from Temple 42 to 41, was unfortunately mostly along main roads.......
But still some good surprises with small, old and new, hidden Shintô shrines, they lead us slip deeper into history and cultur.

Boat trip to Mizuga-ura to discover Dan Ba-ta-(terraced fields), this impressive stone terraces reached the peak of the expansion around 1600 and we marvel now just a small, still fantastic rest.
The stone terraces are now mainly used for vegetable cultivation and remind us of the Lavaux vineyards ;-)
Another highlight today, we swim in the Pacific and do not want to complain about the 3 sea urchin spines in the foot.

29. Sept. we leave Shikoku in direction of Kyushu. The ferry Yawatahama - Beppu moveed smoothly into a sunny blue sky. The arrival in Beppu was overcast but still striking to see the coastline of Kyushu growing in the mist.
We cross the city on foot with our convenient small suitcases on wheels, the backpack was perfect for india but traveling with a suitcase makes just a better impression in Japan. We did not love Beppu and went directly to the railway station, a lovely old red train carried us away. The "Trans-Kyushu Express" rolled through bamboo and cypress forests, and after many tunnels it traveled suddenly downwards, from the crater rim down to the volcano ground. We are now in the largest active volcano crater on earth, in the Aso National Park. Some will still argue, of course, to appraise the Caldera de Taburiente or the Toba in Indonesia as the world's largest volcanic crater. The only certainty is that Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in our solar system.

We discovered a good new camp, the Aso Base Backpacker A Hostel with a super "staff", everything is perfect here! Enjoyed the public Onsen, just around the corner, where the locals wash & soap there bodys after a hard days work, Indoor and outdoor pool and especially in the sauna people sweat & gossip, glorious is the cold stone water basins.

30. Sept. For the first time it's cool and wet, so we changed our plans, traveled with the bus to Kurokawa Onsen and spent a wonderful day in open air hot springs. Specifically, the Yamamizuki, with its large Rotemburo directly on a refreshing river, is unsurpassable.

1. Okt. By bus close to Mount Aso, hiking up and marvel about the steaming crater of the Nakedake, feels like beeing at the navel of the world, amidst this impressive volcanic landscape. 6-hour walk to Mount Nakedake, 1000 meters up and down, sometimes trough moonlike landscape. Unfortunately we missed in the morning fog to see the small green (grass-covered) Volcano of Komezuka (literally 'rice bowl'). In the dusk, he changed his color from green to gray, when we catched a sight trough the window of the returning bus. To tired to search to far from our base, we discoverd a little Ramen restaurant, with simple but delicious food, also remarkable the big glas jar on the table with red pickled ginger.
2. Okt. Home office day, work through emails and prepare for the approaching everyday life in Switzerland. Internet & LonelyPlanet research, book trains and hostels for the next part of our trip ..............

3. Okt. packed early, had to leave our perfect Aso base. Continued our travel with the Tucker-Trans-Kyushu Express. Left the giant crater by the opposite edge, journey via Kumamaoto, Yatsushiro. The last piece we dashed on the brand-new Shinkansen trackbed (mostly tunnels) to the south, to Kagoshima.
We tried to find shelter from the rain on a Local train Line going further south to Kiire. Looking to find photo opportunities, on a dreary Sunday afternoon, at different suburban stations. Towards evening, the weather was brightening, so we crossed over by ferry to the volcanic island of Sakurajima. Here we searched for our reserved Youth Hostel, moved upwards trough a small junglealley and finally found the Sakurajima Youth Hostel.
At first glance, not a welcoming place: aged, battered, ghostly empty, slightly scary concrete construction. But exciting to stand on only 96 years young soil, normaly we live on millions of years old rock. YH turns out to be a OK. In the evening, walking along the beach trough big volcanic boulders, which the Sakurajima has spitted around the island 1914. Wondering about the rampant vegetation on the stony ground, even the public food-spa and our hostel-onsen are lime green and pretty hot.

4. Okt. Solved intricate and complicated bus problems: "No, we do not want the Sight Seeing Bus Island tour" .... Karl, as always persistent in the demands, leading once more to success ... So, with the Local Bus to the Torji, this one was buried 1914, together with some villages, in lava and ash and now only the upper part of the Torji extends of the ground. In between detour into the fields, gardens and Backyards of some villages on the road. The vegetation explodes in the black volcanic earth and overgrowes everything that is not cleared every now and then.

To make pictures depends on many different factors that must come together, the light, our main partner often disappears just at the wrong moment - as compensation or by coincidence, while waiting for the bus, we run into a school garden with a notable greenhouse, Mark Dijon would have loved it ...
Later we took the ferry to the mainland, explored Kagoshima, found two of the 13 Buddha stones.

5. Okt. After 6 hours train ride back to central Japan. Hiroshima, nevertheless having "seen" the Atomic Bomb Dome (heiwa kinenhi) many times, astonished to stand in front of it. In my memory plays "Hiroshima Mon Amour", also from old times.....................
Today Hiroshima is one of the better towns in Japan, hard to believe, how long ago ...
Nice ferry trip to Miyajima, this island with the floating torii is one of the crown jewels of Japan, and certainly one of its finest views.

6. Okt. Moved forward to Nara \ Kyoto, always looking for Zen gardens. We were particularly fascinated by the Daisen-in tempel.
But the biggest surprise was waiting for us on the roof of the "world", on top of the most exciting train station, as far as we know.
When you enter the building, you get into an impressive hall, on both sides countless long escalators lead upwards. The geodesic steel/glass ceiling mimics the roof of a bamboo forest. Further upwards on the Daikaidan (great staircase), we reached the sky plaza above the 12th Floor (60 m).
At the top we found a green open space, the Happii terrace. Workers were planting a bamboo forest and we were speechless, filmed and photographed all morning long.

9. Okt. Okyama\Uno\Naoshima. The trip is beautiful, intoxicating in the early morning. Once on the island, we note that the time for the to visit the Tadao Ando's Museum, in the south of the island, is too short. We observe that each ferry carries hundreds of people, they rush to the bus to see the Setonai International Art Festival Ando and other contributions to the Festival. So it's not so bad that we have to skip this.
Again, fantastic ride to Takamatsu, more art contributions of the festival can be seen at the port.
We are invited to a tea ceremony in Zenikon, designed by Tadashi Saito. Since we got some "time", we enjoy it, also the subsequent stimulating discussion with the tea masters and the architect.

10.10.10 Continued to Matsuyama / Uchiko, beautiful to be back on the island Shikoku, feels slowly almost like home, fine dining at Masami sans home. Talking about detailed preparation steps of the individual dishes. Nightly journey to Oose where we get a guest room in the beautiful new community accommodation.

11. Okt. Waking up in the birthplace of Kenzaburo Oe, whose most recent book Tagame \ Berlin Tokyo We have just finished reading on the trip. Photo tour along the steep slopes, the river and the shrine.
At ten clock with Masami and girlfriend Kumiko, agricultural intern from Tokyo into the mountains, Ishidatami to-no-Yado. Arrived definitely in the heart of Japanese agriculture, eating Soba overlooking small soba fields.

The japanese kitchen is fabulous. But we don't want to talk about sushi and sashimi, we love tofu nabe hot pots okura taro goya gyoza matsutake mushrooms soba udon ramen and noodle soups, noodle soup forever...
Blown away by a Bento-Box. From modest to exclusive, the path leads to the great school of Kyoto cuisine, kaiseki ryori. Developed in the tea ceremony, kaiseki menus today are the culmination of the Japanese food traditions.
We are also drawn to the pickled vegetables, named Tsukemono, umeboshi, nuka takuan, beni shoga, kyuri, daikon, just outstanding these japanese pickels.
On the otherhand, we like to read an unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice "The Zen of Fish".

Dislocated to the beautiful old guest house of Oose, again spending time with moving the sliding walls and observing the light show. We reside above the village road. On the right side of the house, brutal close, at a distance of about 50 cm concrete building from the 60's, when you mask it out, then you see, on the left side, an almost intact old village street. At six in the evening and six in the morning, loud speakers flood the village with admonition and blessings. We understand only "gozaimasu - gozaimasu". Björn told us earlier, that as example one message is to lock the house after 9pm...

12. Okt. Early in the morning, hiking to the village shrine, this shrine stands since a long time, at the edge of the steep slope of the forest with the black branches. At least we imagine it like this - and look forward to Kenzaburo Oe's novel "the black branch" (Yureugoku).

The next day, doing some mails in the Uchiko town building and walking to the Ikazaki Dragon Museum. Photographed a "garden lot" on the hill side. The vegetable beds are prepared for the winter season or are already full of freshly sown in rows, or seedlings planted in furrows. Some plants still supply their last summer harvest, as example Taro and Aubergine. We find gardens in surprising places and wonder about bonsai-like organism, belonging to the plant kingdom, in a variety of pots and containers, green spaces.

In the evening with the bus to the small ryokan Ishidatami over the steep rice fields on the border to the chestnut woods.

14. Okt. Matsuyama Ehime prefectural museum.
15. Okt. Early morning set off for the second time in direction Takamatsu and the second attempt to visit the Tadao Ando museums on the Naoshima island . Also this week, the island attracts lots of visitors, with the Benesse House Museum, the Oval Museum (which is only available to hotel guests!), The Chichu Museum (which we had to skip because of long queue) and another museum built by a Japanese artist Ando (huge museum for very little Art). The island itself is gorgeous, the ferry ride with views of countless small fujiyamalike islands also the third and fourth time staggering.

16. Okt. Clear morning. We spend our second last day in the Villa Takahashi. The Tokonoma in the living room stil dives in the deep morning shadow, the east rooms enlightened like lanterns. Here you sit, in the interior of a lantern, illuminated from the inside. Last Uchiko excursion in the afternoon, once again found some unseen gardens and discovered a proper baguette in the Fuji Supermarket. After six weeks of rice and soft white bread, a great dinner.

17. Okt. Goodbye to the Takahashi house and last meeting with Masami , our contact person and friend, at the old Kabuki theatre.
Then, from decelaration with the old diesel Tucker to Matsuyama, into acceleration with the Nozomi shaker to Okayama and with the air cushion Shinkanseng Nozomi Super Express to Tokyo terminal. All seamless, stress-free and super comfortable, crowned with the usual knicks of the train personnel before leaving the car. Back in the big concrete jungle Tokyo/Kawasaki/Yokohama, for us the largest town on earth.

18. Okt. Again, three nights in the International Hostel. After visiting a small temple in the district of Ikebukuro, shopping tour in SEIBU, one of the huge department store connected to the metro station. 12 floors, a world in itself. Cheap and for the first time in japan really bad lunch, on the store roof.
In the Craft Center in Ikebukuro, with a large paper issue and exclusive traditional items from allover the country, we get stuck in the library corner, we flip through illustrated books, look at all "things", materials and spaces and review our journey once more.
19. Okt. Kanda, roaming the antiquarian bookstore neighborhood and stop at Starbucks for a coffee, which, after all the tea and the thin and expensive café au lait almost caused a heart attack. Hair cut in Ebisu, drinking a last Sapporo beer in the evening, a final hot bath...

20. Okt. Traveled, during the morning rush hour, smoothly to Tokyo Tokyo and progressed to Narita Airport... lift off... The widespread lands of Mongolia are white by now, the lakes in Yekaterinburg seem to be frozen...

Back to steffenschöni, Heidi Schöni or Karl Steffen.