CIR Diary

The Bazaar

From early Saturday morning until late on Sunday afternoon the smells of fresh curry wafted lazily through the hot sunny skies and mixed with the sounds of South Asian pop music amidst the lush green landscape of Kairakuen park. The sun sparkled on brilliantly bejeweled bangles and the wind toyed with vividly colored dresses and scarves as the lines of people waiting to get their own taste of authentically made curry moved slowly forward, somehow without ever getting any shorter in length. Nearby, a Bangladesh vendor called out loudly to the crowd to advertise his freshly baked naan bread, turning its name into a groan-worthy Japanese pun that quickly drew a few fans. Families settled onto plastic sheeting and ate their spicy fare with relish, listening to the performances of various voices, dances, and instruments that echoed from the flag-bedecked stage, before moving off to browse the cultural wares and other booths of the 1st Annual Pakistan Bazaar.

Beyond simply being an excuse to enjoy some delicious Pakistani curry on a beautiful Saturday morning, the bazaar also became a gathering place for foreigners of all kinds. The vendor booths were filled with different nationalities, most of whom spoke quite fluent Japanese, and the sheer variety of participants was refreshing. Though the original purposes of the bazaar were to promote Pakistani culture and help with Ibaraki’s recovery from last year’s disasters, it seemed to me to be fulfilling yet one more important role: here was a chance for the Japanese to experience multiculturalism within their own backyard. Rather than simply introducing a new culture, it provided an opportunity to highlight the people from that and many other cultures who were already within Japan, giving renewed emphasis to the future possibilities of cultural exchange should the necessary awareness of shared spaces be raised.

All in all, the Pakistan Bazaar was an interesting way to spend a summer morning; delicious curry, intriguing culture, and future hope. With any luck this will become another great tradition for Kairakuen.

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Upcoming Events

Mito’s 38th Annual Ajisai (Hydrangea) Festival

Mito’s seasonal festival to celebrate the beginning of summer will be held at Howaen Park and its surrounding historical sites (such as Hachimangu). Within Howaen Park there will be Western hydrangea in blue and white as well as Gaku Hydrangea, for a total of more than 30 varieties and over 6000 flowers in joyful bloom.

Dates: June 17th to July 8th

Location: Howaen Park, Shinso Community Center, Hachimangu

Main Events:

June 17th….10am to 11am: Opening ceremony, magic show, prize draw – Howaen Park

10am to 3pm: 31st Annual Haiku Competition – Shinso Community Center

June 22nd to 24th…10am to 3pm: Park-wide stamp rally – Howaen Park

June 24th…10am to 3pm: Outdoor tea party (Sekishu school) – Howaen Park

July 1st…10am to 3pm: Photography contest, Mito Komon members photo opportunities – Howaen Park

Other Events:

–          Craft and bake sale by the Shinso Women’s Group

–          Guided tour of area by the ‘Mito Historical Advisors’ resident tourism volunteers (Sat/Sun only)

–          A hydrangea display corner

–          Haiku-writing booth

Upcoming Events

A Taste of Summer

Did you know that Ibaraki is Japan’s number one producer of melons? Not only that, they produce roughly a quarter of all the melons grown in Japan, and boast of the highest quality among Japanese melons. Within Ibaraki, 65% of the melons produced come from Hokota City, an area bordering the Pacific Ocean near the middle of Ibaraki Prefecture.

Roughly 45 years ago farmers in the JA Ibaraki Asahikawa-mura area began growing prince melons as an alternative to their usual barley and potato crops, and soon discovered that the warm climate, large variation between daytime and evening temperatures, and the moist high-nutrient soil were perfect growing conditions for melons. Gradually the growing area increased and they began growing netted melons such as Andes melons as well, selling them across the country.

In order to better cater to consumers who have come to expect a high level of quality from Japanese melons, in 2004 they began using light sensors to select melons for distribution. Light sensor selection involves shining light from both sides of the melons and measuring the sweetness (sugar content) and ripeness (maturity) of the melons based on their translucence. Only melons that have achieved a certain standard are distributed to customers. For those who want the very best, there are melons with even netting and over 18% sugar content, which comprise only 1% of the total melons produced!

But, melons aren’t just for the rich. Like many other fruits and vegetables in Japan, you can go pick your own at certain farms, so-called melon-gari, or ‘melon hunting’. This time of year, May until the end of June, is the peak season for melons in Japan, so now is your chance to get your own perfect melon. To that end, here is a listing of places within the Hokota City area where you can pick your own melons, go for an all-you-can-eat feast, or just taste-test some of the country’s best fruit.

Minami Kajuengei

0291-37-1049

Period: June 1st to July 1st, 9am to 5pm

Caters to both individuals and groups (groups must make a reservation)

Options: Entrance fee of 525yen (includes taste testing)

–          U-pick (take home), 800yen/kg

–          All-you-can-eat (30 minutes, must reserve in advance), 1260yen adults, 840yen children (children under 5 are free)

JA Ibaraki Asahi-mura Sun Green Asahi

0291-37-4147

Period: End of May to end of June, 9am to 4pm

Caters to groups of 15 or more only

Please make reservations at least one week in advance

Prices: 1 for take-home and 1/2 of one for taste-testing = 2000yen

JA Kashimanada Farmer’s Market Nadarou

0291-34-8888

Period: May 15th to June 20th, Weekends only, 11am and 2pm

Caters to groups of 5 or more only

Reservations can be made as late as the day before

Options: U-pick – 1600yen

U-pick + taste-testing – 2000yen

Forest Park Melon no Mori

0291-33-5621

Period: May 3rd to July 8th, 10am to 5pm

Caters to individuals and groups

Reservations required on weekdays, not necessary on weekends (groups always need reservations)

Options:

1. Standard U-pick: 1/2 melon taste-test, 3 take-home, 4300yen/person

2. Taste-testing/5-variety comparison (starts June 1st, depends on season): 5 1/2 melons taste-testing, 3400yen/group (up to 2 people)

3. Family U-pick: 4 1/2 melons for taste-testing, 3 take-home, 5900yen/group (up to 4 people)

4. Single U-pick: 1/2 melon taste-test, 1 take-home, 1900yen/person

5. Perfect U-pick: 2 1/2 melons taste-test, 1 take-home, 2500yen/person

6. Twin U-pick: 1/2 melon taste-test, 2 take-home, 3100yen/person

7. Taste-testing/Taste one: 2 1/2 melons (as of June, 2 varieties), 1400yen/person

8. Taste-testing/Tasting: 1/2 melon, 800yen/person

9. Single Barbeque (serves one person) and U-pick: 1/2 melon taste-test, 1 take-home, 4300yen/person (groups of 5 or more only)

10. Perfect Barbeque (serves one person) and U-pick: 2 1/2 melons taste-test, 1 take-home, 4900yen/person (groups of 5 or more only)

11. Twin Barbeque (serves two people) and U-pick: 2 1/2 melons taste-test, 2 take-home, 9500yen/group (max 2 people)

12. Family Barbeque (serves 3 people) and U-pick: 4 1/2 melons taste-test, 3 take-home, 13,800yen/group (max 4 people)

13. Barbeque (serves one person) and taste-testing: 1/2 melon taste-test, 3200yen/group (groups of 5 or more only)

14. Barbeque only (serves one person): 2800yen/person (groups of 5 or more only)

15. Variety-specific, Yuki melon U-pick (as of June 1st): 1/2 melon taste-test, 1 take-home, 6500yen/person

16. Lunch and dessert (groups of 25 or more): 1/2 melon taste-test, 2300yen/person

Kenko Tasshaka-mura Shinsaku Noen

0291-39-8560

Period: Middle of June to Beginning of July, 8am to 5pm

Caters to individuals and groups (must have reservation, limit 50 people/day)

Reservations can be made as late as 3 days in advance

Prices: Entrance fee 500yen

U-pick (take-home) – 800yen/kg

Upcoming Events

The Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Exhibition

An invitation to modern art, from the city of food and art at Europe’s crossroads

Period: May 26th to July 16th

Location: Museum of Modern Art, Ibaraki

The city of Strasbourg, capital of the Alsace region of eastern France, has long flourished as an important transportation hub. Though Alsace was historically the stage for territorial battles between Germany and France, currently Strasbourg not only serves as a symbol of European harmony as a ‘European Capital’ and site of the European Parliament along with Brussels, it is also a popular tourist destination for its beautiful old city and Christmas markets. This exhibit will center around the collection of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, from the historically rich city of Strasbourg which celebrates the blending and fusion of German and French culture and still has traces of the footsteps of Gutenberg and Erasmus, Goethe and Mozart. In addition to masters who have painted art history in their splendid colors, such as Alfred Sisley, Paul Gauguin, Paul Signac, and Pablo Picasso, there are also pieces from painters connected with the Alsace region such as Lothar von Seebach and Jean Arp. This collection begins with the Impressionists and passes through the 20th century to reach the modern era, giving a glimpse at the rich and variegated world of contemporary and modern western painters.

Related Events:

Art Seminar: Strasbourg the Border City, Living as both German and French

An introduction to the old capital of Strasbourg in its place between France and Germany, its symbolism of the unrest of European history, and the fascinating culture which allowed it to develop independently.

Date: June 16th, 1:30pm

Instructor: Uchida Hidemi (Seikei University Economics Department)

Location: Ground Floor Auditorium (limit 250 people, free entry)

 

Art Lecture: Strasbourg Museum Exhibition, an Introduction to Modern Art

Date: June 24th, 1:30pm

Instructor: Planning Section Assistant Curator Sawawata Mari

Location: Ground Floor Auditorium (limit 250 people, free entry)

 

Gallery Talk from the Curator

Date: July 8th, 1:30pm

Location: 2nd Floor Exhibition Hall (ticket needed)

 

Museum Theater: In the City of Sylvia

Director Jose Luis Guerin, collaboration between France and Spain, 85min

Date: July 1st; entrance at 1pm, curtains up at 1:30pm

Location: Ground Floor Auditorium (limit 250 people, free entry)

 

Museum Concert: Tanabata Concert, A Night of Impressionist Music featuring Violin and Piano

Date: July 7th; doors open at 5:30pm, curtains up at 6pm

Performers: Tachibana Chisato (pf), Mogitate Maki (vn)

Location: 1st Floor Entrance Hall (limit 200 people, free entry, must apply via reply postcard)

 

Art Forum: An Overview of Strasbourg, Introduction to Modern Art

–          Gallery Talk and Evening of Alsace Cuisine and Wine

A chance to view the exhibition and enjoy some Alsace cuisine and wine (light meal) from the museum’s own French restaurant ‘Petit Poire’.

Dates: June 17th, July 15th, 4-7pm

Strasbourg Exhibition Viewing (with gallery talk)

2nd Floor Exhibition Hall (ticket required)

An Evening of Alsace Cuisine and Wine

Restaurant Petit Poire (1500yen meal fee)

* limit 30 people for both, must apply via reply postcard

Upcoming Events

Itako’s 61st Annual Ayame (Iris) Festival

Period: Late May until the last Sunday in June

Location: Maekawa Ayame Park (main area)

This festival’s history goes back to 1952, when it was conducted by iris-lovers placing the cut flowers in beer bottles as decorations.

Within the park there are over 10 000 irises in roughly 500 varieties, and when they reach their peak blooming point the whole area is lit up with them. In previous years the best viewing day was June 10th.

Furthermore, there are many local events being held during the festival, such as the Bridal Boats, Iris Dancing, and much more.

 

Bridal Boats:

Up until the land reclamation operations conducted as part of local development in the first half of 1955, the Itako area was built upon a system of canals. For that reason, when a new bride and/or her goods were to be transported to her new home (the husband’s family home) it was done using a Sappa boat, which is where the term Bridal Boat comes from.

The Bridal Boats during the Ayame Festival will be operating along the Maekawa river within Ayame Park. First, after having arrived at the ‘Itako Bride’ memorial, the bride will walk along the pathway to the boat with her matchmaker and the boatman, then the boat will set off. Often the groom will be waiting at the dock of the destination and it will be a very celebratory mood. (may be cancelled due to weather)

Every Wednesday starting at 11am, Saturdays at 11am, 2pm, and 8pm, Sundays at 11am and 2pm (may change due to circumstances of the couple)

 

Other events include different kinds of dance performances, sailing demonstrations, an iris-growers exhibition, and more, mainly held on Saturdays during the festival period.

Upcoming Events

Pakistan Bazaar in Kairakuen

As part of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake Assistance Efforts and the 60th anniversary of Pakistan – Japan diplomatic relations, the Pakistani and Ibaraki governments have come together to hold an exciting celebration of Pakistani culture in Mito’s Kairakuen Park. The date is set for May 26th and 27th from 10am to 5pm, rain or shine, and admission is absolutely free.

Events:

May 26th

10:00am…Opening Ceremony – Kawamata Nangaku (calligrapher)

Roberto di Candido (Tenor)

10:35am…Taiko Koyuki (Taiko performance)

11:10am…Chalpasah (Japanese Pakistani musical artist)

11:45am…MC Kakki (40 second high-speed caricature artist)

12:20pm…Shigeji (Moriyama Shigeru) and Hirakawa Baku (Sarod and Tabla performance)

12:55pm…Tanigawa Tomohiro (rock)

1:30pm…Chalpasah (Japanese Pakistani musical artist)

2:05pm…Mito Hollyhock’s Holly-kun (rock-paper-scissors contest)

2:40pm…Nobi Productions (Pakistani fashion show)

3:15pm…Nochihodo (Amami pop duo)

3:50pm…Good Times Roll band (rock)

4:25pm…Da Japani Bayi (doll performance)

 

May 27th

10:00am…MC Kakki (40 second high-speed caricature artist)

10:35am…Nobi Productions (Pakistani fashion show)

11:10am…YESBAND (Ibaraki promotion band)

11:45am…Nobi Productions (Pakistani dance)

12:20pm…Reika (a transgender songstress from Shinjuku 2chome’s ‘Sasori’)

12:55pm…Shigeji (Moriyama Shigeru) and Hirakawa Baku (Sarod and Tabla performance)

1:30pm…35゚C (rock)

2:05pm…Nobi Productions (Pakistani dance)

2 :40pm…Ozawa Shinya (rock)

3 :15pm… Da Japani Bayi (doll performance)

There will also be a shoot-out game with the Mito Hollyhock on the 26th, and mochi-pounding on the 27th at 2pm, as well as a live kitchen for Chef Akira Kotaki of Siddique and Aubergine. Surrounding the event areas will be 30 vendor stalls offering local delicacies, Pakistani food and gifts, and alcohol. Come and join the fun!

Location: Kairakuen, Shiki-no-hara  (the bottom left of the map)

Upcoming Events

Hitachinaka’s 1st Annual International Festival

Hitachinaka’s International Association is going to be holding an International Festival, to encourage awareness and enjoyment of connections with the world’s many peoples.

Date: May 20th, 1-7pm

Location: Work Plaza Katsuta

Events:

1st Section, Interaction with people from different cultures

Time: 1-4:30pm

Main highlights: cultural presentations, sale of folk art/goods, performances, cultural food booths, presentations about Japan, demonstrations of cultural clothing, kids corner, disaster corner, recovery support bazaar, and more

Free entry

2nd Section, United States Air Force Band of the Pacific Concert

Time: 5-7pm

Overview: The USAF Band of the Pacific ‘Pacific Trends’, based at USAFB Yokota, will be playing pop and country music.

Entry: 300yen

One Day in Ibaraki

The Rebirth of Rokkakudo

**Rokkakudo has free admission until the end of the month!!**

At the very northern tip of Ibaraki, only two kilometers from the border with Fukushima, lies a series of rocky inlets facing the Pacific Ocean called Izura. Literally ‘five inlets’, this area is renowned not only for its physical beauty, but also for the rich cultural and artistic history it became the stage for at the turn of the last century. And all of these elements are fused and forged into the little red pagoda bathing in the ocean spray at the foot of a nearby cliff, the famous Rokkakudo.

Rokkakudo, or ‘hexagonal villa’, was the embodiment of the late Okakura Tenshin’s desire to embrace a more holistic form of life in symbiosis with nature, in line with his admiration of the monk lifestyle espoused by many Chinese monks and artists. Tenshin himself is well-known both in Japan and in other parts of the world for the vast influence he had on the arts in Japan and the communication of Japanese culture abroad, and in order to give an idea of the scale of the impact both he and Rokkakudo had on the local community it is necessary and fitting to give him an introduction here as well.

Born in Yokohama in 1863, at the very end of the Edo era of Japanese history, Tenshin, or, as he was known at birth, Okakura Kakuzo, went on to be educated at the University of Tokyo. At a young age he began to hold a deep interest in the arts, specifically in the Japanese style of painting, and after graduating from university (at the age of 17!) he went on to join the Ministry of Education and work to promote the creation of Japanese art schools and art galleries. Though he himself was content to focus on the written word, under his instruction and guidance more than a few famous Japanese painters grew into their own styles and expanded the realm of Japanese painting to include new elements in keeping with the changing times. Tenshin and his students dedicated themselves to re-inventing Japanese painting by the introduction or consideration of themes and techniques found in Western painting, so that Japanese painting would continue to evolve and enjoy a highly-valued place in the world of contemporary art and culture.

Tenshin even went so far as to found the Japanese Art Institute, as a way of spreading his views and educating more students, but prevailing opinion was against them and the Institute soon ran into trouble with funding. Despite this set-back, Tenshin was not without his supporters. Due to his interest in Chinese art and philosophy he travelled to China on 4 different occasions, spent time in Europe, visited India where he met and formed a friendship with Tagore, and through his visits to America became a well-known figure in the Boston arts scene. In fact, he became the art director for the art museum there, choosing the pieces to be included in the collections and influencing artists. In addition, it was during this period that he began writing books in English, such as ‘The Book of Tea’, to explain and share Japanese culture with Western society. Through all this he was widely known for his determination to have a creative part in every aspect of his life, including designing and sewing his own clothing (which he often styled on the clothes worn during the Nara period), inventing a boat that was a cross between a yacht and the typical Japanese fishing boat, and designing and overseeing the building of his dwellings.

So how did a well-travelled literary and artistic giant find himself in the as-yet sparsely inhabited and distant countryside of northern Ibaraki? In fact, he was introduced to the area by one his students, and found the beauty and lifestyle of the Izura area so much to his liking that he resolved to settle there. After building a home right by the edge of the cliff of one of the inlets his students soon followed suit, and a sort of extended artists’ commune developed in the Kita-Ibaraki area. Once the neighborhood was populated with critically acclaimed artists like Yokoyama Taikan and others, Tenshin worked with them to re-build and re-open the Art Institute nearby, where the students would practice their craft side by side, facing the limitless expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

By this point Tenshin was well into middle age, and despite the inconvenience of travel during those days he spent six months of the year in Boston living a busy cultured life; in order to relax he would spend the remaining six months at his home in Izura, mainly fishing and meditating and working with his students.

It was as part of this passion for the Chinese practices of meditation and symbiosis with nature that Rokkakudo was born. He designed and commissioned the construction of a small hut at the foot of the cliff below his home, intending it to resemble the Chinese pagodas seen in ancient scrolls and used by monks and hermits and artists for meditation, artistic production, returning to nature, and as a traditional Japanese tea house. With windows on the three sides facing the Pacific Ocean and a small hexagonal spot in the center for the fire to brew the tea, this tiny room was his favorite place to be, right up until his death at 50 years of age.

Since then Rokkakudo has been used as a symbol of the cultural and artistic heritage of Japan in general and Northern Ibaraki in particular, and had been preserved as a National Cultural Asset under the guidance of Ibaraki University since the early Showa era. That is, until the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake Disaster of last year.

The northern coast of Ibaraki was devastated by the same tsunami as Fukushima and the other afflicted prefectures; in fact, due to the crenulated coastline, the tsunami’s 5-6 meter high waves in other nearby areas topped 10 meters on the Izura cliffs as the water was chanelled into the quickly narrowing high-walled inlets. Within minutes of the water’s impact Rokkakudo was swept cleanly off its foundation and carried back out to sea with the receding waters, and never seen again. It is surmised that the current carried it so far out that it sank past the coast of Japan in deeper waters than it could have been recovered from.

Needless to say, this loss was felt quite keenly by the locals and the artistic community in general, and soon donations and inquiries for Rokkakudo’s reconstruction were pouring in from not only Japan but places as far away as America and Europe. To lead this charge, Professor Miwa of Ibaraki University was named as the director of reconstruction efforts, and in collaboration with Ibaraki Prefecture, the Tenshin Memorial Art Museum, the city of Kita-Ibaraki, and the Japan National Trust, a plan was soon formulated.

However, the very first point of this plan was a somewhat surprising one: though Rokkakudo had been cared for carefully over the years, damage and aging had led to renovations which gradually but concretely changed its structure and appearance over the years, so that it was no longer quite how it had started out. To turn tragedy into opportunity, the reconstruction group decided to take this chance to rebuild Rokkakudo in the spitting image of how it had been during Tenshin’s time, over 100 years earlier. There was just one problem: no one knew exactly what it looked like.

So the reconstruction group put out a call for old photographs of the site, pored copiously over old literary descriptions of it, and consulted specialists with knowledge of the building methods and materials of the period. Through the use of advanced computer technology they were able to colorize old pictures to get an idea of the color scheme, estimate the types of roof tiles and the correct dimensions, and soon they had a blueprint to work with. Now it was just a matter of finding the same materials and fitting everything together.

To this end the highest-level artisans of Japanese building and architecture brought in, and a search for Meiji era materials began. The wood was taken from 150 year old Japanese cedar trees donated by a local; the roof tiles were brought in from a factory in Aichi; and the glass in the windows was imported from a company in England that still made it in the same way as that used in the original Rokkakudo, bubbles and warps and all. In addition, making 4 different surveys of the ocean floor, divers searched for the original pieces of the former Rokkakudo, and found several elements that they were able to include in the reborn Rokkakudo. Altogether, the effort to rebuild Rokkakudo spanned both the dimensions of time and distance, bringing together the knowledge, skills, and emotions of people around the world.

Mr. Miwa himself had just retired from his post as a biology professor at Ibaraki University when the disaster happened and his fate was decided, and speaks glowingly of the experience. ‘To think that after retiring I would be able to do such a fulfilling task is wonderful’, says the self-proclaimed Tenshin and Japanese art aficionado. His enthusiasm and dedication is apparent in every aspect of the reconstruction, and the finished result is a fitting embodiment of his wish that ‘Rokkakudo will become a symbol for the recovery of Japan after this disaster; through this I hope that both locals and those in the other afflicted areas will gain hope and courage to forge ahead in their own reconstruction’.

Finally reopened on April 28th, as a celebration entrance is free for the first month. After over a year Rokkakudo is finally back where it belongs, overlooking Tenshin’s beloved vista and in the form he would remember it in. The tiny red hut is a beauty in and of itself and well worth the trip to Izura.

For those who want to learn more about Tenshin and the cadre of artists he influenced most of his artifacts and information can be found at the 500 meter distant Tenshin Memorial Art Museum, which is a beautifully designed building celebrating its 15th year in operation. Not only does it boast of concerts and local outreach programs with schools, which is how it maintained a local presence in the aftermath of the disaster which saw the roads and parking lot surrounding it completely rendered impassable and requiring 7 months of reconstruction before its re-opening in November of last year, it also hosts exhibits of the art of Tenshin’s students and of Japanese contemporary art from the period of his influence. Despite its setback, the museum was happy to play host to over 17 000 people since its re-opening, and is hoping to attract still more to help recover the revenue lost during its reconstruction. With a beautiful view of the ocean and a lovely café inside, it is a picturesque way to spend the afternoon, and only a short walk from Tenshin’s former home and the indomitable, indelible reborn Rokkakudo.