Art. Art. Art. More Art. (Tokyo edition) – Day 5

Despite my brief bout of wakefulness at the ungodly hour of 3 am, I was actually up at the semi-decent hour of 7 am. The steady drizzle against my hotel window certainly slowed my morning preparations, and I leisurely chatted with D and got in a bit of work. Hunger pangs ultimately compelled me downstairs for a Pocky/Ritz cracker run to the front desk, which did well to tide me over for the time being. It was around noon by the time I rolled out the door. In order to reduce shoulder strain, I opted to take my tiny purse with just my wallet and small camera (whose battery appears to be on the fritz). I didn’t have terribly ambitious plans for the day. In light of the rain and general dreariness, I decided to check-out some of the museums nearby in Ueno Park.

After a soggy walk through the relatively peaceful, paved pathways, I reached the National Museum of Western Art. I know, it does seem odd to be going to see a Western art museum when in Japan; however, I did see one of the best Salvador Dali exhibits I’ve been to the last time I was in Japan. It was a remarkably low entrance fee (not even $2), and I was soon making my way through the collection. There is some sensation that I just love when walking through most museums, which I could probably liken to a similar sensation in cathedrals and even libraries. This sense of hushed reverence, of solitary reverie that is hard to find elsewhere in life. I love going through art museums, wondering what made them choose these particular pieces. This museum’s collection, for example, is based on art collected by Matsukata Kojiro, who amassed this sizable collection of Western art pieces during his time in Europe in the early 20th century. Since this his personal collection for a time, it was interesting to muse on why he chose some of these particular pieces. It is a wonderful collection, ranging from 14th to 20th century paintings and sculptures (primarily Rodin sculptures). They have an entire gallery on Monet, including one of his famous “Water Lilies” paintings, which is actually a lot bigger than I would have thought. They also had a smattering of Manet, Cezanne and even a lovely Van Gogh. I also enjoyed the earlier works filled with copious amounts of Madonnas, Jesuses and figures from Roman mythology. I am always bemused when I reach the 20th century wing, which thankfully wasn’t very large in this museum–mostly because it always feels so much less epic than all the previous works leading up to it. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m just not terribly moved by a giant red circle with a black squiggle next to it. I really enjoyed their series on 19th century French prints, mostly etchings, which I would kill to have up on my wall. I just love the intricate detail and line work, particularly by Charles Meyron.

After a thoroughly satisfying tour, I decided that, despite having visited it on my last trip to Tokyo, I would take another look at the Tokyo National Museum. I felt it necessary to take a gander at some Japanese art, in light of all my Western art consumption. The nice thing about Ueno Park is they have this conglomeration of museums within a relatively confined space, which makes for a nice day of museums, hopping between puddles between each of the museums. The National Museum is actually a complex of six galleries, each housed in their own buildings. This was definitely more on the beaten path, so I did see the number of museum-goers increase. I started with the central gallery (Honkan), which houses primarily Japanese art. I was eager to see the ukiyo-e woodblock prints and scroll paintings, as well as the gorgeous textiles (kimonos and such). On the second floor, they had a nice “Highlights of Japanese Art”, which took you chronologically through the development of Japanese art, as well as genre galleries focusing on swords or lacquerware, etc. It’s been a couple years since I was last in Tokyo, so thankfully most everything seemed fresh. My back and legs were starting to complain, so upon finishing my tour of the Honkan gallery, I opted to just look at one more.

I hadn’t been to the Gallery of Horuyji Treasures the last time I was here. It’s housed in a highly modern building, with a very clean, minimalist aesthetic, which I thought was a great juxtaposition to the 7th and 8th century artifacts contained therein. It was a relatively small collection, but perhaps the most striking was the 48 gilt bronze Buddhist statues, each individually housed in their own glass case laid out in even rows and columns. The geometric preciseness of it made for a impactful display. I made a quick stop on my way out at the museum shop, looking longingly at the hand-made woodblock prints that I seriously considered investing in, before tearing myself away to get some food. I made my way back to Ueno station, nearly wiping out on a slippery set of steep stairs and prematurely ending my trip, and crossed the street to the adjacent mall. Not really interested in sifting through food options, I went with the closest restaurant at hand, a pasta joint that looked reasonable. I went with carbonara (D would be pleased), that ended up tasting pretty darn good in the end. Afterwards, I wandered through the mall, taking a look through their shoe department, and pondering whether to invest in a pair of boots, particularly given the seemingly ceaseless rain. In the end, I headed back to the hotel and hunkered down for the evening, doing a bit of laundry and reading to end the day.

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