Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shiruko and Zenzai (Sweet red-bean soup with mochi)

Both Shiruko and Zenzai are "sweet red-bean soup," in which toasted mochi are served. The sweet soup is made from an, a paste made from azuki beans. When the soup is made with the thin and pureed koshi-an, the result is Shiruko, and when the thicker and chunkier tsubu-an is used, one speaks of Zenzai instead of shiruko.

[Shiruko]

Both are delicious on cold winter days. Shiruko is considered as an elegant dessert and served in Japanese-style tearooms (kanmi-dokoro).  

Both can be bought ready-made in supermarkets.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Rashomon Site (Kyoto Guide)

Thanks to the film by Kurosawa Akira, the Rashomon Gate has become a large cultural presence. This monumental gate was erected at the southern entrance to Kyoto, then called Heiankyo, when the city was founded in 794. From the gate a wide avenue, Suzaku-Oji, led straight north to the palace zone, which formed an elongated block at the northern end of the city. Suzaku was the main street of Heiankyo and split the city into two exact halves, the East and West City.

[Marker at Rashomon site. 
Photo Wikipedia]

The Rashomon Gate was 32 meters wide and 8 high. It had red pillars and double green roofs, a bit like the present Heian Shrine. On the top floor of the gate originally a stern statue of Tobatsu Bishamon was placed, looking like a soldier standing guard. Tobatsu Bishamon originated in Central Asia and acted as a protector of cities. I imagine him glaring at the lands beyond, to protect Heiankyo from evil…

The statue today continues to glare, but now in the museum of nearby Toji Temple. The great gate was damaged by a storm in 980 and was never restored. In disrepair, it became a weird place, a hideout for thieves. People whispered a demon was living there and sometimes corpses of the poor would be abandoned at the gate. The ruined gate is the setting for Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s short story “Rashomon” and also provides the narrative frame for Kurosawa Akira's above mentioned film.

[The original Rashomon - photo Wikipedia]

Akutagawa’s use of the gate was deliberately symbolic, with the gate’s ruined state representing the moral and physical decay of Japanese civilization and culture in the later Heian-period. Today, there is nothing left of the once mighty gate. A stone monument indicates its location in a tiny park just west of Toji Temple. The dusty park serves as a playground for children, with a glide, but it is usually deserted. Why do Japanese monuments stand in such ugly little parks full of dust? Why not in a tiled area with some nice flowers around it? Were those parks inspired by another famous film of Kurosawa, Ikiru, in which the protagonist, a worthless public servant, finally starts contributing to society by building a small park for the citizens after he hears he has only a few months to live?

Near the park runs Senbon Street, the successor of Suzaku Avenue. But it runs only as far north as the nearby JR railway, where the tracks and the Umenokoji Park form a dense barrier. This southern part also makes a rather forlorn impression. It is difficult to picture Suzaku Avenue when standing here: 84 meter broad, serving as a firebreak between the two parts of the city. The name, by the way, was taken from the Suzaku, or Crimson Bird, a sort of phoenix who protected the city from the South, where he lived in a now long-drained marsh. History also knows an Emperor called Suzaku and along Senbon Street several schools have opted for the mythical name.
Access: 10 min walk west from the south exit of Toji Temple (mainly along Kujodori Street); 10 min walk from Toji St on the Kintetsu line. Grounds free.

Shosei Garden (Kikokutei) (Kyoto Guide)

Shoseien (Shosei Garden) lies to the east of Higashi Honganji (its back wall faces Kawaramachi Street, but the entrance is on the opposite side), which administers the garden. Another name is Kikokutei, after the hedge of trifoliate oranges that once surrounded it.


[Kikokutei. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Shosei Garden is supposed to go all the way back to a garden laid out here by a 9th c. Minister, Minamoto no Toru. It was given to the temple in 1631 by the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu. It was at that time in part redesigned by Ishikawa Jozan (of Shisendo fame) and Kobori Enshu.

It has been landscaped in the go-round style, with various buildings arranged around a central pond, Ingetsu Pond.

The buildings in the garden - the villas of the Higashi Honganji abbots - are now all modern replica's as the originals were lost in a large fire in 1864. At that time, the garden was also severely damaged (also lost were the Jusankei or Thirteen Beautiful Landscapes that often are mentioned in poetry).

The picture above shows the central pond, Ingetsuchi, with Tonoshima, a nine-storied stone pagoda an a tiny island believed to be the tomb of Minamoto no Toru.
Access: 7 min walk east of Higashi Honganji. Kikokutei used to be graciously free, but now a 500 yen "donation" has been instituted.

Honganji Jinaicho (Kyoto Guide)

The area between Higashi Honganji and Nishi Honganji was a temple town administered by the Honganji authorities called Honganji Jinaicho. In the narrow streets between the two huge temple complexes one finds many shops selling Buddhist implements, such as home altars, statues, prayer beads, bells and cushions for bells, glittering ornaments, priestly vestments, etc. Near Higashi Honganji also is a specialist Buddhist bookshop. The main street keading from east to west through this area is called Shomendori. On Horikawa, at the entrance to Shomendori, stands an imposing gate.


[Buddhist shop on Shomendori. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

On Shomendori one also finds Dendoin, a red-brick building designed in 1912 by famous architect Ito Chuta. It belongs to Nishi Honganji and originally housed an insurance company related to the sect. Now it is a free exhibition space of the temple. Note the mosque-like roof and the mythical animals, as well as the unusual masonry, a true mixture of Western and various Eastern elements.

On Horikawa Avenue itself, you will also find several traditional shops, such as a large tsukemono (pickles) shop - a favorite item to take home from Kyoto or give as a present - and Kungyokudo, a traditional incense shop (now in a modern building). Besides various types of incense, it sells scented sachets, candles and kunko, fragrant incense pellets.
Access: The nicest approach is through the traditional gate on Shomendori, opposite Nishi Honganji. It is also possible to walk from Higashi Honganji - in that case go around the temple complex on either the north or south side and then take the first street at the back of the temple either up or down - this is Shinmachi-dori. About halfway Shinmachi-dori you will find the T-crossing with Shomendori.

Bach Cantatas (30): Pentecost Tuesday

Pentecost Tuesday is also called Whit Tuesday. As other major feasts of the Lutheran Church in Bach's time (Easter and Christmas), Pentecost was celebrated over three days. There are two cantatas for this day. The gospel reading for this day proclaims Jesus as the good shepherd and the rightful owner of his flock.

Readings:
Acts 8:14–17, "The Holy Spirit in Samaria"
John 10:1–10, "The Good Shepherd"

Cantata Studies:
Bach Cantatas Website | Simon Crouch | Emmanuel Music | Julian Mincham | Wikipedia | Eduard van Hengel (in Dutch) | Bach Companion (Oxford U.P.) | Bach: The Learned Musician (Wolff) | Music in the Castle of Heaven (Gardiner)

[The Good Shepherd,
by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne]

Cantatas:
  • Erwünschtes Freudenlicht, BWV 184, 30 May 1724

    Rezitativ T: Erwünschtes Freudenlicht
    Arie (Duett) S A: Gesegnete Christen, glückselige Herde
    Rezitativ T: So freuet euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen!
    Arie T: Glück und Segen sind bereit
    Choral: Herr, ich hoff je, du werdest die in keiner Not verlassen
    Chor: Guter Hirte, Trost der Deinen


    ("Desired light of joy") Based on a secular cantata for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen’s birthday in 1721. Courtly in tone, the duet, aria and final chorus are in the form of minuet, polonaise and gavotte. After a long recitative follows a dancing pastoral duet between soprano and alto, with a great tune in the flutes, the musical heart of the cantata. After the pleasant tenor aria which sings of Jesus as bringer of a Golden Age, we hear a pleasant chorale. And as surprise, this is followed by a second chorus, a bucolic gavotte. The whole work is permeated by a suitable pastoral atmosphere.



  • Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen, BWV 175, 22 May 1725

    Recitativo (tenor): Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen
    Aria (alto): Komm, leite mich
    Recitativo (tenor): Gott will, o ihr Menschenkinder
    Aria (tenor): Es dünket mich, ich seh dich kommen
    Recitativo (alto, bass): Sie vernahmen aber nicht
    Aria (bass): Öffnet euch, ihr beiden Ohren
    Chorale: Nun, werter Geist, ich folg dir


    ("He calls His sheep by name") The cantata is thematically divided in two parts, the first one dealing with Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the sheep who hear his voice, and the second one (starting from the bass recitative in movement five) with those who don't hear this voice. The opening recitative by tenor is interestingly accompanied by three recorders over a pedal bass, a musical structure continued in the next pastoral alto aria. The tenor aria was borrowed from a secular cantata, BWV 173a, and is usually considered a rather awkward fit for the new text. The next bass aria is accompanied by a rousing pair of trumpets and changes the character of the cantata from pastoral to martial. The cantata concludes with a great and lustrous chorale harmonization.


    Monday, May 28, 2012

    Bach Cantatas (29): Pentecost Monday (Whit Monday)

    Whit Monday or Pentecost Monday is the holiday celebrated the day after Pentecost. Whit Monday gets its English name for following "Whitsun", the day that became one of the three baptismal seasons, when those baptized would wear white garments. There are three cantatas for this day. They texts are based on the phrase "God loved the world so much," and are therefore general praise for God's goodness (which allowed Bach to reuse several secular cantatas praising the ruler of the land).

    Readings:
    Acts 10:42–48, "Sermon of St. Peter for Cornelius"
    John 3:16–21, "God loved the world so much"

    Cantata Studies:
    Bach Cantatas Website | Simon Crouch | Emmanuel Music | Julian Mincham | Wikipedia | Eduard van Hengel (in Dutch) | Bach Companion (Oxford U.P.) | Bach: The Learned Musician (Wolff) | Music in the Castle of Heaven (Gardiner)

    [Jesus und Nicodemus,
    Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn (1601–1645)]


    Cantatas:
    • Erhöhtes Fleisch und Blut, BWV 173, 29 May 1724

      Recitativo (tenor): Erhöhtes Fleisch und Blut
      Aria (tenor): Ein geheiligtes Gemüte
      Aria (alto): Gott will, o ihr Menschenkinder
      Aria (soprano, bass): So hat Gott die Welt geliebt
      Aria (soprano, tenor): Unendlichster, den man doch Vater nennt
      Coro: Rühre, Höchster, unsern Geist


       ("Exalted flesh and blood") Based movement for movement on a secular cantata (a tribute to Bach's employer Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen, Durchlauchtster Leopold BWV 173a) that has been lost. Follows the readings for this day: "God loved the world so much," and is a general praise for God's goodness towards men. Starts with introductory recitative for tenor, followed by an elegant aria for the same. After a rather harsh alto aria follows the most interesting part of the cantata, a duet for soprano and bass with sweet strings and ethereal flutes. Three stanzas are treated in ever richer variations and the praise of the noble employer is effortlessly changed into praise of God. The music concludes with an uplifting chorus.



    • Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, BWV 68, 21 May 1725

      Chor: Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt
      Arie S: Mein gläubiges Herze
      Rezitativ B: Ich bin mit Petro nicht vermessen
      Arie B: Du bist geboren mir zugute
      Chor: Wer an ihn gläubet, der wird nicht gerichtet


      ("Thus has God loved the world") Short cantata framed by two austere choral movements. In contrast, the two arias are in a casual style - they are borrowed from the secular Hunt Cantata BWV 208 (another "praise of the ruler" piece). The first chorus is a stately siciliano. The soprano aria has an almost jolly cello accompaniment, and forms a great contrast to the previous chorus. The bass aria with three oboes is a rocking jig. The final chorus consists of a double fugue.



    • Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte, BWV 174, 6 June 1729

      Sinfonia
      Arie A: Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte
      Rezitativ T: O Liebe, welcher keine gleich!
      Arie B: Greifet zu, Faßt das Heil, ihr Glaubenshände!
      Choral: Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr


      ("I love the Highest with my entire being") Starts with an instrumental movement, an adaptation of the opening movement of the Third Brandenburg Concerto. For the rest, this, too, is a short cantata with only two arias and a final chorus. The long alto aria is an attractively lilting piece of music with a pastoral atmosphere, while the bass aria is accompanied by a beautiful string tune.


      Sunday, May 27, 2012

      Red Rice (Sekihan)

      Red rice (sekihan) is eaten on festive occasions, such as weddings and birthdays.

      It is obtained by steaming azuki beans with glutinous rice (mochigome). Often toasted black sesame seeds or gomashio (toasted sesame seeds with salt) are sprinkled lightly on top. Popular type of rice for weddings, birthdays and festivals as Shichigosan. Red is a symbol of happiness (as it is in China).

      Sekihan is usually served in lunch boxes and eaten at room temperature. It is also used as an offer to the gods, by placing it in small bowls on the family shrine for the ancestors.

      Technically, the rice is colored red by using the reddish water in which the azuki beans have been cooked. The beans are not cooked until they are soft, but just for 10 min. as they will later be steamed. So normally a lot of the cooking water is left for soaking the rice. The rice is soaked overnight or even longer, up to 24 hours. Finally, the rice which now has a pinkish color and the beans are mixed and steamed at high heat for about 40 min in metal or bamboo steamer.

      The taste is quite sweet and that is why it is a good idea to add the salt gomashio.



      Bach Cantatas (28): Pentecost Sunday (Whit Sunday)

      Pentecost Sunday is also called "Whit Sunday." Pentecost is an important feast in the Christian liturgical year commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. Pentecost is sometimes described as the "Birthday of the Church."

      The name "Whit Sunday" is thought to originate in the custom that those formerly baptized on this feast would wear white garments.

      Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks (50 days) after Easter Sunday, hence its name. It falls on the tenth day after Ascension Thursday.

      Bach wrote four cantatas for this important Sunday.

      Readings:
      Acts 2:1–13 "The Holy Spirit"
      John 14:23–31, "Farewell discourse, announcement of the Spirit who will teach"

      Cantata Studies:
      Bach Cantatas Website | Simon Crouch | Emmanuel Music | Julian Mincham | Wikipedia | Eduard van Hengel (in Dutch) | Bach Companion (Oxford U.P.) | Bach: The Learned Musician (Wolff) | Music in the Castle of Heaven (Gardiner)

      [Descent of the Holy Spirit, Battistero di Padova]

      Cantatas:
      • Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! BWV 172, 20 May 1714

        Coro: Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten
        Recitativo (bass): Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten
        Aria (bass, trumpets & timpani): Heiligste Dreieinigkeit
        Aria (tenor, strings): O Seelenparadies
        Aria (soprano – Soul, alto – Spirit, oboe, cello): Komm, laß mich nicht länger warten
        Chorale (violin): Von Gott kömmt mir ein Freudenschein
        optional: repeat of the opening chorus


        ("Ring out, ye Songs") Grand and festive cantata suitable for this important Church feast. Based on the reading "Whoever loves Me will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our dwelling with him." Opening chorus in da-capo form with grand fanfare-like scoring to underline the day's festive character. The recitative broadens into an arioso and is followed by a bass aria accompanied by three trumpets representing the "Holiest Trinity" in the text. The tenor aria is in minor mode as an expression of the desire for the text's "spiritual paradise" (which has not been attained yet). It is accompanied by a flowing ritornello theme in the violin, the "heavenly wind" of the Spirit. The ensuing duet between soprano and alto is a dialogue between the Holy Spirit and a believing Soul, and is combined with an instrumental choral cantus firmus. A remarkably multi-layered movement. A five part choral closes the cantata, after which the opening chorus can be optionally repeated. 

      • Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten, BWV 59, 28 May 1724

        Duetto (soprano, bass): Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten
        Recitativo (soprano): O was sind das vor Ehren
        Chorale: Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott
        Aria (bass): Die Welt mit allen Königreichen


        ("Whoever loves me, will keep My word") Very short cantata (parts of which were in fact reused for BWV 74 to better effect). The opening duet is quite charming, almost like an Italian chamber concerto. Trumpets are also present, but the fine string accompaniment dominates. The text and music both stress the "whoever loves me." The accompanied soprano recitative moves into an arioso and is followed by a straightforward chorale ("Come, Holy Spirit"). The song-like bass aria is accompanied by solo violin and expresses the anticipation of heavenly bliss. The final choral is missing, although a note by Bach in the autograph indicates that he intended to end the work with one. Usually, the third verse of "Come Holy Spirit" is played here.


      • Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten, BWV 74, 20 May 1725

        Chor: Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten
        Arie S: Komm, komm, mein Herze steht dir offen
        Rezitativ A: Die Wohnung ist bereit
        Arie B: Ich gehe hin und komme wieder zu euch
        Arie T: Kommt, eilet, stimmet Sait und Lieder
        Rezitativ B: Es ist nichts Verdammliches an denen, die in Christo Jesu sind
        Arie A: Nichts kann mich erretten
        Choral: Kein Menschenkind hier auf der Erd


        ("Whoever loves me, will keep My word") This cantata has the same title as the previous one, but Bach used a different author for the text. It presents a more personal treatment of the Bible text, although Bach reuses music from BWV 59 in the first two movements. The message of Pentecost is reflected in the joyful opening chorus with colorful instrumentation. The first aria is for soprano with oboe da caccia. After an alto recitative follows the second aria, for bass as Vox Christi ("I go away and come again unto you..."). The tenor aria again proclaims the joy of the Whitsun story, in a dance-like and declamatory movement. The quickly rising and descending character of the catchy string melody illustrates the "going away and coming again." A bass recitative accompanied by oboes proclaims the central message "There is nothing damnable in those who are of Christ Jesus." The final vigorous alto aria is accompanied by concertante violin and engages in some virtuoso word painting to illustrate the empty rattling of hell's chains by Satan. A quiet but attractive choral ends the cantata.



      • O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, BWV 34, c 1746–1747

        Coro: "O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe" Recitativo: "Herr, unsre Herzen halten dir"
        Aria (Alto): "Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen"
        Recitativo: "Erwählt sich Gott die heilgen Hütten"
        Coro: "Friede über Israel"


        ("O Eternal flame, o fount of love") Derived from a now lost wedding cantata, as is still clear from the ardent text of the opening chorus - the fiery love between man is wife is transformed into the heavenly flames of the Holy Spirit. This is in fact one of Bach's great and elaborate choruses, with perfectly integrated trumpets. The "heavenly flames" of Pentecost are represented musically by crackling semiquaver figurations in the first violins. The chorus concludes with a great fugue. Also the beautiful alto aria "Happy are ye, ye chosen souls" still retains something of the wedding cantata, for example in the reticent accompaniment by flutes and muted strings, or in the tender affection it exudes. The gentle, rocking melody now is supposed to evoke the "floating spirits." A bass recitative next leads into the final joyous choral exhortation for peace, a rousing close to a great cantata.


      Saturday, May 26, 2012

      Five Colors Tumulus - Goshiki Kofun, Kobe (Museums)

      In the middle of Kobe, almost obscured by flats and residences, lies one of the largest ancient graves (kofun) in Japan, the Goshikizuka Tumulus.

      [Goshikizuka Kofun. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

      It sits in Tarumi on a hill overlooking Awaji island across the channel - affording a good view of the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. The tumulus dates from the late 4th or early 5th century and is a 194-meter long keyhole-shaped tomb (an elongated square topped by a circle). It probably belongs to a local chieftain who dominated traffic through the sea channel. At the side is a smaller, circular tomb (called kotsubo, "small vase") and the whole used to be surrounded by a deep moat that was 10 meters wide.

      The 18 meter high tumulus had three tiers and the slopes were covered with packed cobble stones. On the top of the mound and the flat planes at the bottom, upright finned cylindrical haniwa were lined up. In the moat, three island-like platforms were built, probably to allow bridges to connect with the mound proper.


      [Goshikizuka Kofun. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

      The tumulus used to be much larger in the past - of the elongated square front part only one third is left, the rest was flattened when the Sanyo and JR lines were built.

      The name Goshiki "Five colors" (in the sense of "many colors") was suggested by the small stones with which the upper part of the tumulus was covered. They are from Awaji island and have glittering parts that reflect the sunlight in many colors.


      [Goshikizuka Kofun. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

      In all 2,200 haniwa were found during the excavation. Although they included a few figures, most were simple cylinders about 50 cm high.

      The tumulus is already mentioned in the Nihon Shoki. In Edo times it had famous visitors as etcher Shiba Kokan. Unfortunately, it suffered during and after WWII, but after extensive excavations starting in 1965, it was as much as possible restored to former splendor, even including some copies of the haniwa.
      5 min walk east from Sanyo-Tarumi Station on the Sanyo Line. Entry is free. Upon registering at the small office next to the entrance, you will receive an English pamphlet. Opening times: 9:00-16:30. Closed on Monday.

      Sword and Haniwa - Sakitama Historical Park, Gyoda (Museums)

      The Sakitama Historical Park in Gyoda consists of nine large-scale tumuli graves (kofun) built between the end of the fifth and beginning of the seventh century. Here we find the Maruhaka Kofun, one of the highest round tumuli in Japan; the Inariyama Kofun, a keyhole shaped grave originally 120 meters in length, and the oldest in the park - it was excavated in 1968 a sword with inscription was found; the Shogunyama Kofun, unfortunately already excavated by local people in 1894, that has been restored to its original shape - near the stone burial chamber, an interior observation room has been built with a model arrangement of the grave and various artifacts; and the Wakazuka Kofun, where many interesting haniwa were found.


      [Tumuli in Sakitama Historical Park, Gyoda. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

      In the 30 ha park also stands the Sakitama Shiryokan, an archeology (and folklore) museum. Materials found in the nearby graves are on display: haniwa, such as a dancing man, a man playing a zither, a warriors' head with large helmet and various clay cylinders; Sue ware, a grayish pottery of somewhat later date (and not as beautiful as the red-flamed haniwa); horse trappings such as an iron horse mask for protection in battle, and various bells; and a great number of iron swords.

      Among these is also a sword known as 'Shingai,' inscribed with a lengthy text in Chinese on both sides of the blade. Shingai is one of the dates in the Chinese 60-year calendar system and refers to 471 CE - this much can be ascertained because the name of the then reigning emperor, Yuryaku, is mentioned as well. When the sword was found, the inscription was overlooked due to the heavy rust on the blade. Only when it was sent to an institute for special treatment so that it could be better preserved, it became clear that the blade had been inscribed with 115 characters in gold inlay. Polishing has made these characters now clearly legible. The text gives the name of the owner, his family tree, and the fact that he served Emperor Yuryaku as a warrior.

      The sword is exhibited in a special glass case in the middle of the exhibition room and, together with other artifacts from the tombs, was declared a national treasure in 1983.

      The museum (standing at the end of a driveway, across the street from the parking lot) gives a good impression of the items found in the kofun tumuli; the park (especially the part at the side of the parking lot) is an excellent place for a pleasant stroll.
      Address: 4834 Sakitama, Gyoda-shi, Saitama-ken. Tel. 0485-59-1111

      Access: 15 min. by bus or taxi from JR Gyoda Station (1 hr. by train on the Takasaki Line from Ueno Station) to the archeological park (Fudoki no Oka).

      Hours: 9:00-16:30. The same ticket is valid for the exhibition room in the Shogunyama Tumulus.

      Textile Art - Serizawa Keisuke Museum, Shizuoka (Museum)

      Serizawa Keisuke  (1895-1984) was a craft artist who worked with stencil dyeing techniques on textiles in bold colors and designs. He belonged to the folk-craft inspired group of Yanagi Soetsu, Hamada Shoji and Kawai Kanjiro (the so-called Mingei Movement). He was born in Shizuoka and the museum that opened in 1981 finds its origin in a donation he made of his works to his native city. The architect was Seiichi Shirai and the building of rough hewn, natural white stone and wood, interestingly centered around a courtyard that is completely filled by a pond, is itself also a masterpiece.


      [Serizawa Keisuke Museum. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

      The museum holds about 800 pieces of Serizawa's work and in addition possesses 4,500 items of the folk art the artist collected from all over the world (and that often became a source of inspiration for him, like it was for Shoji Hamada).

      The dyeing technique Serizawa used is called kataezome and was inspired by Japanese traditional stencil dyeing crafts, such as Bingata from Okinawa. With this technique he produced a wide variety of works: noren (doorway curtains), byobu (folding screens), wall drapes, kimono and obi sashes.

      Behind the museum stands the traditional Japanese house the artist lived in. It is open on the first and third Sunday of the month. Another large groups of works by Keisuke Serizawa can be found in the Ohara Museum of Art in Kurashiki.

      This mingei museum happens to stand right next to the Toro site, a late-Yayoi period village of the third century, and you may want to take this opportunity for a stroll among the green remnants, where several dwellings have been reconstructed.
      Shizuoka Municipal Keisuke Serizawa Museum
      Tel. 0542-82-5522; 9:00-16:30; CL Mon, day after NH, last day of the month, NY, BE; By bus from Shizuoka station to Toro-Iseki.

      Ancient Rice Paddies - Toro Ruins and Museum, Shizuoka (Museums)

      In recent years there have so many great archaeological discoveries in Japan - such as the Yoshinogari site of a Yayoi village in northern Kyushu and the Sannai-Maruyama ruins dating to the Jomon period in Aomori - that the Toro Site in Shizuoka, which was discovered almost 60 years ago, has been obliged to take a backseat. A visit to the site and its museum shows that this is not justified.


      [Model of a Yayoi hut in Toro Park.Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

      The Toro Ruins are a late-Yayoi period village, that existed in the third century CE. 60 people were living here and the buildings consisted of twelve pit-dwellings and two grain storehouses. There were also eight hectares of paddy fields. The village was left suddenly, probably after a nearby river flooded the area and covered it with mud. The inhabitants apparently managed to flee, taking only part of their belongings with them. The value of the Toro site is that thanks to the mud slide the whole village was kept intact over the ages, including wooden implements and some wooden building materials.

      This Yayoi time capsule can be seen in the museum (on the second floor; the first floor houses some reconstructions of village life). There are utensils made of wood and clay, stone and some of iron. In the early-Yayoi period (from about 300 BCE) rice cultivation and the use of iron and bronze implements had been brought to Japan from the Asian continent. In that respect, it is interesting to note that iron is still rare in this village: hoes, spades and rakes are all made of wood.

      Another interesting wooden item are the small planks that were bound under the feet to walk in the paddies: the origin of the Japanese geta. Striking are also a small stool, and a big wooden spoon. It seems as if you have stepped right into Yayoi life.

      That life has been reconstructed in the park surrounding the museum, where several Yayoi dwellings and storehouses have been set up. More telling, however, are the round impressions (one meter lower than the modern ground level) of the original Yayoi huts that dot the park.
      Address: 5-10-5 Toro, Shizuoka-shi, Shizuoka-ken. Tel. 0542-85-0476

      Access: By bus from Shizuoka station to Toro-Iseki.

      Hours: 9:00-16:30. CL Monday, day after a national holiday, last day of the month, year-end and New Year season.

      Graves with a View - Boso Fudoki no Oka, Chiba (Museums)

      Boso Fudoki-no-Oka is a scenic, historical park covering 32 hectares, laid out on a hill dotted with about 120 old tumulus graves. Although lying close to Narita, Tokyo's International Airport, the thunder of jets does not reach here and the park proves remarkably tranquil. There are small grave mounds, not more than tiny knolls, lying in the shade of large trees, but also imposing, grassy mounds. The park is situated on a low ridge, with the wide Kanto plain at one’s feet, as if the dead have been honored with VIP seats. The tombs belong to clan heads and nobility from the third to seventh century, the so-called Kofun period. Judging from their relatively small size, the mounds of Boso probably are from the end of that period, when tomb building was already in decline.


      [Model of a grave with haniwa figures. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

      The park's museum, a redbrick building, displays items that have been unearthed from tumuli (kofun) in the area. The museum consists of one room downstairs and an upper gallery. There are hundreds of clay haniwa of grave figures, houses, horses and even small birds. On display are also stone grave-pillows, jewelry, stirrups, and mirrors. It is always interesting to see how the iron swords have crumbled due to the passage of time, while the haniwa clay figures are still as fresh as when new. There are also potsherds of Sue ware and some sutra containers. Nearby Ryukakuji Temple is represented by fragments of old tiles. Upstairs Jomon and Yayoi pottery is shown, as well as a selection of dogu figures, all items of a period long before the tumulus graves were built.

      The Chiba prefectural government has relocated the wooden auditorium of a nineteenth century elementary school as well as two old farmhouses to the park. Although the smallish museum alone perhaps does not warrant the long trip here, in combination with the fascinating park it makes an excellent weekend destination, especially if you walk there from Shimosu-Manzaki Station on the Narita line.
      Tel. 0476-95-3126

      Hrs. 9:00 – 16:30; Cl Mon (next day if NH), NY.

      Access: From Ajiki Station on the JR Narita Line take a bus bound for the west entrance of Fudoki no Oka, then walk 10 min; alternatively, it is a 30 min walk from Shimosa-Manzaki Station on the JR Narita Line to the park's east or main entrance. Shimosa-Manzaki is about 1.15 hrs. from Ueno Station in Tokyo (take a Joban line train from Ueno to Abiko and there transfer to a train going in the direction of Narita on the Narita line). In the same park one finds a sort of Edo-period Chiba village with reconstructions of old shops and houses where visitors can practice various crafts, the Chiba Prefectural Boso no Mura Museum (Boso Village).

      Haniwa and Graves - Shibayama Ancient Tombs and Haniwa Museum, Chiba (Museums)

      Shibayama, on the eastern side of Narita Airport, is another area rich in old tumulus graves. In contrast to Boso Fudoki-no-Oka, Shibayama has given us numerous large-sized and fascinating haniwa figures. Typical are curious figures with high hats, beards and long curly hair, a very unusual look as haniwa go. They are the trademarks of the whole area, including Narita and you will find copies of them at the entrance to the basement train station in the Narita Terminal no. 2.

      The real things are on view in two local museums. One is the Shibayama Ancient Tombs and Haniwa Museum, located in Shibayama Park among the tombs itself. The biggest tombs are the Tonozuka and Himezuka, both in the keyhole shape, square in front and round at the back. In these tombs a complete procession of haniwa figures was found, inspiring the local citizens to start an annual ‘haniwa festival.’ The museum exhibits haniwa from the Kujikuri and Tonegawa areas and other archaeological artifacts such as a sword, metal bells and horse trappings. There are pottery heads of people and animals, as well as a small house and cylinders surmounted by quivers and fans. The ancient Kofun culture is brought to life in photo’s and the reconstruction of an old dwelling.


      [The gate of Kannonkyoji Temple, Shibayama. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

      From the Shibayama Park it is only a short walk to the Kannonkyoji Temple (also called more affectionately Nioson), where we find the other museum, the Shibayama Museum. This museum not only stands inside the temple grounds, but is even connected to the temple’s main hall. On the first floor is a display of more haniwa from the Tonozuka and Himezuka tumuli, while on the second floor one also finds a collection of Buddhist statues and paintings.

      The display of the haniwa against a muted gray background is more imaginative than in the first museum, although the two facilities work together. There is a man with a triangular hat from the Himezuka; a 163 cm tall, late 6th c. warrior with a beard, long curly hair and a triangular, tall hat; a farmer with a straw hat; and a young woman wearing large earrings and a flat cap.

      The Buddhist art consists of the statues the temple owns, such as a beautiful Dainichi Nyorai (Heian-period), a 13th c. Bishamon and a 12th c. Jizo. There are also Buddhist paintings (the temple owns a Fudo Myo-o and a Jizo). The modern paintings are mainly works illustrating the life of the Buddha. Don’t miss the two black Nioson (Deva Kings) statues inside the gate building, which gave the temple its nickname.
      Museum
      Tel: 0479-77-1828

      Hours: 9:00 – 16:30; Cl Mon (next day if public holiday), day after NH, NY.

      Temple
      Tel: 0479-77-0004

      Hours: 10:00-16:30; no holidays.

      Access (to both): (infrequent) bus from Narita Station to Shibayama, then 5 min. on foot. Or from Higashi-Narita St. on the Keisei Line ‘Noriai Service Taxi’ to Shibayama (the same taxi runs in the opposite direction from Matsuo Station as well). This takes about 20 min, but inquire in advance with the museum as this service runs only on weekends, and then a few times a day. Higashi Narita is only 6 min on the Keisei Higashi Narita Line, but trains are infrequent (about 2 an hour). Matsuo Station can be reached by taking the Sotobo Line express from Tokyo to Naruto (about 1 hr) and then transfer to a local train on the Naruto-Choshi Line for the 5 min ride to next station Matsuo. These local trains are infrequent (one an hour) so plan in advance. You can also take a taxi from Naruto, but this is rather expensive (more than 5000 yen).

      Author in Ome - Yoshikawa Eiji Museum, Tokyo (Museums)

      Novelist Yoshikawa Eiji (1892-1962) was a self-made popular author. He wrote 70 voluminous novels, mostly about historical subjects, of which four have been (partly) translated into English: The Heike Story, Musashi, and Taiko.

      Yoshikawa Eiji was born into an ex-samurai family in Kanagawa and spent his youth in Yokohama. He has written vividly about those days in Fragments of a Past: the environment of the foreign settlement, his father's wild business adventures and even wilder drinking, and the eventual ruin of the family which forced him to stop day school at the age of eleven and start working.

      He continued his education in night school and started writing senryu poetry; in 1914 the first novel, a historical romance, followed. Although he worked for a short while for a newspaper, in the early twenties Yoshikawa decided to become a full-time writer. His early novels were mainly about handsome swordsmen, their love affairs and bitter feuds.

      Ome, Tokyo
      [Yoshikawa Eiji Museum. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

      Yoshikawa rose above the level of this romantic fiction with Miyamoto Musashi (1935-39), a novel about the 17th century swordsman, who while learning the Way of the Sword also learned to conquer his unruly self.

      Much of the 1950s were dedicated to the production of the Shin Heike Monogatari, or New Tales of the Heike, a modern retelling of the feud between the Heike and the Genji in the 12th c.

      Yoshikawa's novels do embody basic conservative moral values. He was enormously popular in the years after WWII and in 1960 he became the first writer of popular fiction to receive the Order of Culture. Even today, his major works (though extremely voluminous - his books were serialized in newspaper and as much Japanese literature still bear the traces of that custom) are readily available in bookstores around Japan.

      Yoshikawa Eiji lived in the beautiful pastoral countryside of Ome for the last eight years of his life, and his house and study have been preserved exactly as they were during his lifetime as the Yoshikawa Eiji House & Museum. There is also a small museum, mainly exhibiting books, manuscripts and other materials relating to Yoshikawa Eiji. This museum was designed by Taniguchi Yoshiro and overlooks the garden with its huge chinquapin tree.

      The traditional house (built by a silkworm farmer in 1847) is beautiful, but can not be entered. You can, however, cast a glimpse into the author's study. That leaves the garden as the domain of visitors and it is indeed well worth to stroll around.
      Tel: 0428-76-1575.

      Admission: 10:00-17:00 (Nov-Feb: 16:30); CL Mon, next day when NH, NY

      Access: 15-min on foot from Futamatao Station on the JR Ome Line.

      Variable Time - Daimyo Clock Museum, Tokyo (Museums)

      Nezu lies adjacent to Yanaka, on the inside of the ring of the Yamanote line, and is an area where still some traces of an older Tokyo can be found. It is famous for the Nezu Shrine, which has beautiful azaleas in late April-early May.

      Within easy walking distance from the Nezu subway station on the Chiyoda line, you will find the Daimyo Clock Museum. The small facility stands a short walk from Nezu station in a typical neighborhood which still retains the flavor of former days, with small homes in back alleys hidden behind stacks of potted plants.

      What is more fitting for a clock museum than a neighborhood where time, if not standing still, at least seems to go more slowly? The museum sits in a walled garden where vegetation runs wild and quaint old statues peep out from between the weeds.

      The museum is in fact not more than one room full with about 50 so-called daimyo clocks. Inspired by Western clocks brought into Japan from the late 16th c., daimyo clocks were attuned to the reality that time in the Edo-period was flexible.

      The name was devised by the founder of the present museum, because the daimyo or feudal barons were the only ones allowed to own these clocks during the Edo-period. A more general name is wa-dokei, Japanese clocks.


      [Entrance to the Daimyo Clock Museum. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

      Museum founder Kamiguchi Guro (1892-1970) originally had a clothing store in this neighborhood, but was consumed by the passion for daimyo clocks which he sought out in the whole country in order to preserve and study them. His interests were continued by his son, Kamiguchi Hitoshi, who established the present museum in 1972. For a small price the museum sells a typewritten pamphlet in English that gives an excellent explanation of these clocks. As the labels in the museum are only in Japanese it is a good idea to sit down on one of the benches provided and first read the brochure.

      You will learn that daimyo clocks were made after European ‘lantern clocks’ with escapement, the first of which was given by the missionary Xavier to a Kyushu daimyo. The best daimyo clocks were produced in the first decades of the 19th c.

      As they were only made for a small group of people, who used them as a symbol of wealth rather than as pieces to accurately measure time, they never developed into the practical instruments the European models were. Before Japan adopted the solar calendar in 1872, the hours of the day and night differed in length according to the season. These hours were named after the animals of the Chinese zodiac and you will find those characters on the clock face. For measuring non-standard time, various ingenious devices were used. One was to vary the speed of the clockwork movement by small weights on the escapement balance, the other to adjust the position of the numerals (the zodiacal characters) on the clock face. In this last type of clock, interestingly, the hand was stationary and the clock face rotated.

      In short, these clocks needed a lot of attention, but the daimyo after all had their servants for such chores. And as they were status symbols, it often was the decoration of the clocks that was more important than accurate timekeeping.As you will see around you in the museum, Japanese clocks come in many forms. The classical form is the square clock with escapement on top, resembling the European lantern clock, mounted on top of a stand shaped like a tower and therefore called yagura-dokei or ‘turret clocks.’

      The museum owns several imposing specimens of this type. There were also makura-dokei or ‘mantel clocks,’ put in the decorative niche of the living room and therefore smaller but very luxurious in design. ‘Ruler clocks’ (shaku-dokei) could be hung on pillars as they were oblong and narrow; and ‘seal-case clocks’ (Inro-dokei) were modeled after European pocket watches.
      Tel. 03-3821-6913

      Hours:10:00-16:00. Cl Mon, summer (7/1-9/30), NY (12/25-1/14)

      Access:10 min on foot from Nezu St on the Chiyoda subway line or 15 min from JR Nippori St

      Kanji Culture - Museum of Calligraphy, Tokyo (Museums)

      The Museum of Calligraphy is not dedicated to beautiful writing, as the name might suggest, but to inscriptions in kanji, Chinese characters, on jade, bones, bronze, ceramics, and so on. It exhibits some of the oldest examples of the Chinese character script, a true culture of signs.

      The collection was set up by Mr. Nakamura Fusetsu (1866-1943), who started out as a painter in the Western style but became interested in calligraphy and Chinese inscriptions when he was in China as reporter with the army during the Sino-Japanese War of 1895.

      For half a year he toured China and Korea and found many rubbings and archeological materials about the early history of Chinese characters. This was the start of his collection, which grew to include 12 ‘important cultural properties.’

      The museum was already opened in 1936 in the grounds of Nakamura’s residence, opposite the house where in the early 20th c. the haiku poet Shiki lived.

      In 1995 the Nakamura family donated the museum to Taito Ward. It was completely refurbished to bring it up to modern standards and in the grounds also the beautiful Nakamura Fusetsu Memorial Hall was built, via which one now enters.

      It is best to start with the (older) main building and come back later to the memorial hall where the reception desk is. The main building consists of five small galleries, of which four are open for showing the permanent exhibition.

      Room One has stone steles and Buddhist statues, all from China and dating from the Han-dynasty to the Tang. There is a small gilt-bronze Buddha statue from the 5th c. and one of white marble from the 6th c. The statues have votive inscriptions on the base or the back informing us about the original use of the statue. One of the steles, a natural stone, dates from the early Han-dynasty (206 BCE – 9 CE) and is one of the earliest examples of such objects.

      Room 3 to 5 are on the second floor. Room 3 (all Chinese items) has jades, used as ornaments by the nobility; clay grave figurines; flat tiles for the walls of houses and graves; roof tiles; a fragment from the stone steles on which in the period 172-178 CE the Chinese Classics were engraved; and stone slabs with grave inscriptions, carrying information about the deceased.

      In room 4 we enter the world of Chinese bronzes from the Shang and Zhou periods, used for ritual purposes in the ancestor cult and here inscribed with the purpose why the implements were cast, such as official appointments; weapons from the Warring States to Han Dynasty; and finally also something Japanese: itabi, Buddhist steles from the middle ages that were erected by the faithful as prayers for their own bliss in the afterlife.

      In room 5 we find another interesting item from China, the so-called oracle bones. These contain the oldest known Chinese characters and date from around 1300 BCE and later. Animal bones or tortoise shells were used to divine by applying heat and interpreting the resulting cracks. Afterwards, the questions (and sometimes also the answers from the oracle) were written on the bone or shell. There are also pottery jars with written inscriptions from the Han Dynasty; mirrors with inscriptions from the Warring States to Tang dynasty; seals; ink stones; writing brushes and water droppers to prepare the ink on the ink stone. From Japan we find in this section a wooden stupa and prayer sheets from Horyuji.

      When we finally return to where we entered, the Nakamura Fusetsu Memorial Hall, we find rubbings (including some very large ones mounted on scrolls) and calligraphy books displayed on both the ground floor and second floor. Here are again many rare items, such as copy made in the Ming period of the Daikanjo from the Northern Song (1109).

      At the back of the second floor is also a room with memorabilia about Mr. Nakamura, including photos, documents and some of his oil paintings.
      Tel: 03-3872-2645

      Hours: 9:30 - 16:30. CL Mon (next day of NH), between exhibitions, NY (12/29-1/3).

      Access: 5 min on foot from Uguisudani St on the Yamanote Line. Leave via the N exit of the station, walk through the short street with restaurants and then turn left into the road with the elevated road after first crossing over to the opposite side. Take the first narrow road on the right, and turn left at the first crossing. The museum is visible on your right. The area is full of love hotels.

      Life in Old Tokyo - Shitamachi Museum, Tokyo (Museums)

      On the bank of Shinobazu Pond, below Ueno Park, we encounter the Shitamachi Museum, which is quite popular among foreign visitors. It is indeed a friendly place, providing an atmospheric evocation of ‘downtown’ Tokyo (called ‘shitamachi’ in Japanese) in the Ueno and Asakusa wards in the 1920s, before this bustling area was largely destroyed by the earthquake of 1923.

      Shitamachi Museum
      [Shitamachi Museum, Ueno, Tokyo. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

      On the first floor one finds reproductions of some shitamachi buildings from the Meiji and Taisho eras. To the right stands the shop of a manufacturer and wholesaler of cloth straps (hanao) for geta clogs, a commodity that has disappeared from daily life. Until the 1930s geta were the main footwear in Japan.

      The craftsman lived and worked with his family and trainees in a modest shop like this, with no flashy signs but only a door curtain (noren) and simple signboard. Note the colorful straps for geta for women hanging on the wall. Under the ceiling hangs a yojin-kago, a bamboo basket with a shouldering pole that could be used to salvage valuables in case of a sudden fire.

      To the left is a roji, a narrow passageway with a row of tenement houses (nagaya), of which two units have been reproduced. These are long, narrow dwellings with one roof over several units and only separated by thin wooden walls. Privacy was an unknown commodity. The first house is a shop selling colorful candy and toys (a dagashiya). Such shops, often run by widows, were popular with the children of the neighborhood.

      The second house is the workshop of a copper smith (dokoya). Kettles and pots and pans were all made from copper plate. The narrow workspace is next to the living area. Note the nagahibachi, the long hibachi in the living room, where a copper kettle with water for tea could be kept hot.

      The evening sake is waiting here for the smith to finish work.

      The second floor of the museum has a small space for changing thematic exhibitions, as well as more displays about Shitamachi in the rest of the room. There is a copy of a cafe room, and the entrance to a public bathhouse. Displays with photos, ukiyo-e prints, picture postcards and other materials show the history of shitamachi and its pastimes, from late Edo through the modernization of Meiji, and finally the disasters of the 1923 earthquake and the wartime bombings which destroyed shitamachi culture. There are also many nostalgic items of daily use on display.
      Tel: 03-3823-7451

      Hours: 9:30-16:30 (enter by 16:00). CL Mon (next day if NH), NY, between exhibitions.

      Access: 5-min walk from the Shinobazu exit from JR Ueno St and Ueno St on the Ginza and Hibiya lines; 3-min walk from Keisei Ueno St.

      Shakespeare in Japan - Tsubouchi Memorial Theater Museum, Tokyo (Musems)

      The Tsubouchi Memorial Theater Museum, Waseda University was established on the occasion of the 70th birthday of the critic and playwright Tsubouchi Shoyo (1859-1935), the first translator of Shakespeare’s complete works into Japanese and founder of the Department of Literature of Waseda University. The facade of the building is modeled on the Fortune Theater of Shakespeare. The museum’s holdings are very extensive: a rich collection of items related to the theater in Japan and in other countries, totaling hundreds of thousands of items. Foremost is a collection of 46,000 woodblock prints related to the theater, but there are also 200,000 pictures of stage performances and many materials connected with the stage such as costumes, puppets and models of stages. The library houses 150,000 books on the theater. Best of all, the museum and its facilities are free.


      [Tsubouchi Memorial Theater Museum, Waseda University. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

      Inside the pleasantly antiquarian building are 7 exhibition rooms and a room dedicated to Tsubouchi. Visitors start on the third floor with the history of the theater in Japan. ‘The Ancient Age’ shows how theatrical arts developed under continental influences and has displays about bugaku dances. In ‘the Middle Ages’ we move to the quintessentially Japanese art forms of Noh and Kyogen. There are beautiful costumes and masks on display. The Early Modern Age is dedicated to the Kabuki and Ningyo-Joruri, the puppet play, with puppets and the lectern of a Bunraku narrator on view. ‘The Modern Age’ has information on the modern theater that developed under Western influence, and on musicals, Buto dances and even strip shows.

      On the second floor are two special exhibition rooms, a room dedicated to folk performing arts such as Kagura and Dengaku, and the Shoyo Memorial Room. This room was designed by Mr. Tsubouchi for the reception of guests and he also used it himself when he visited the museum. Note the reliefs of sheep on the ceiling, as Shoyo was born in the Year of the Sheep. The book cases are filled with Shakespeare and the translations by Tsubouchi himself. On the first floor, finally, are a small room about Shakespeare and room in honor of the great modern Kabuki actor Nakamura Utaemon VI. Here is also a reading room, where the attendant doubles as receptionist for the museum.
      Tel: 03-5286-1829

      Hours: 10:00-17:00. CL NH, August, university holidays.

      Access: 7 min walk from Waseda St on the Tozai subway line.

      Dutch Learning - Tekijuku, Osaka (Museums)

      It comes as a surprise to find an authentic, 19th century Japanese merchant’s house right in the central Osaka business center, just south of Yodoyabashi Station. The two-storied house sits in a small garden and is dwarfed by neighboring buildings, but it is a miracle that it has survived destruction. It now forms an oasis of rest in the city. The house belonged to Ogata Koan (1810-1863), a doctor and scholar of Rangaku (“Dutch Studies”) who since 1843 opened his school, the Tekijuku (“School of the Right Target”) in this building.


      [Tekijuku, Osaka]

      Ogata Koan was born into a samurai family in Okayama Prefecture and came to Osaka when he was 17 years of age to study Rangaku. “Dutch Studies” refers to the study of Western medicine and science via text books imported by the Dutch, who were the only country from Europe allowed a presence in Japan. Ogata later also studied Rangaku in Edo and Nagasaki. He became known both as an expert educator and medical doctor and translated several medical works from Dutch into Japanese. In his school he taught the students the Dutch language as a tool to get access to Western science and culture. Many young people who would consequently play an important role in Japan’s modernization studied in the Tekijuku - Fukuzawa Yukichi is a good example.

      In the two-story house some articles belonging to Ogata Koan are on display, ranging from medical instruments to books and documents. On the second floor, in a special room of its own, you will find the most important tool of the school, the hand-written, eight-volume Doeff Dutch-Japanese Dictionary. Students used to take turns to study it.

      On this floor is also the room where the students – mostly of samurai stock – lodged. On the central wooden pillar one sees the cuts made by their swords to relieve themselves of the stress caused by the difficult political situation in which Japan then found itself. Next to the Tekijuku is a small park with a statue of Ogata Koan.
      Tel. 06-6231-1970

      Hours: 10:00-16:00; CL Mon (except if NH), day after NH (except if Sat or Sun), NY

      Access: 5 min on foot from Yodoyabashi or Kitahama St on the Keihan line; 5 min on foot from Yodoyabashi St on the Midosuji subway line.

      The Art of Copying - Senshu Bunko (Museums)

      The Senshu Bunko, or "Library of a Thousand Autumns," comprises the collection of manuscripts, documents, paintings, and old maps of the Satake clan, the hereditary daimyo family that ruled what is now Akita prefecture. It gives a good impression of the tastes of a local ruling clan in the Edo period. Above all, it provides a glimpse of an interesting phenomenon from the Edo period, the culture of making copies of famous paintings.

      Senshu Bunko Museum, Tokyo
      [Senshu Bunko Museum, Tokyo. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

      The Satake clan was established by Minamoto Yoshimitsu (1045-1127) in the village of Satake in Hitachi province (now Ibaraki). They were a major power in the northern Kanto, helping Minamoto no Yoritomo to establish his shogunate in Kamakura. Afterwards, they supported the Ashikaga and in the years of internal strife in the 15th and 16th centuries greatly expanded their territory to the whole of Ibaraki and Tochigi. Toyotomi Hideyoshi made them lords of Mito castle, but Tokugawa Ieyasu feared their power and moved them to a much smaller fief, safely out of the way in Akita. Here they ruled for 260 years.
      The 34th head of the clan, Marquis Satake Yoshiharu, gave the whole clan library to his trusted steward, Kobayashi Shoji, who after 40 years of struggle, in 1971 finally managed to establish the present museum. Thanks to these efforts, the collection as such remained intact and was not sold off and dispersed as happened to many other daimyo archives and painting collections. Among the documents of the museum are letters by Ashikaga Naoyoshi (1351) and Date Masamune (1612); there are maps of Japan, of Akita castle, of the Satake estate, and of the Battle of Sekigahara; materials about the tea ceremony; and the seals of the various daimyo.

      Paintings include copies of famous Sesshu works, such as Amanohashidate and other landscape paintings, or his Karako (Chinese boys). There is a copy of a Kannon with monkey and crane by Mu Xi, and of a dragon and tiger by the same artist. Why this copying frenzy? Simply because it was the only way to see (and eventually own) a famous painting. There were of course no museums; the Satakes could only see Sesshu's Amanohashidate when their fellow daimyo who owned it, was so kind to show it to them. As one could not go back every year to see the painting, it was logical to have it copied. Apparently, a whole copying culture existed, based on works that were circulated among the various daimyo. There were even copy specialists, such as Kano Shusui and Sugawara Dosai, two Edo-period painters who worked for the Satake family.

      The installation is beautiful, in glass cases with tatami matting. The paintings are not always in prime state (apparently, they have been cut loose from old mountings), but mostly beautifully remounted. The Senshu Bunko exudes the proper antiquarian atmosphere, and although there are no national treasures (and no ceramics, lacquer or other utensils - it is basically a library), it is fascinating to see the 'everyday collection' of one daimyo family.
      Address: 2-1-36 Kudan-minami, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Tel. 03-3261-0075

      Access: 10-min. walk from Kagurazaka Station on the Tozai Subway Line or Iidabashi Station on the Yurakucho Subway Line.

      Admission: 10:00-16:00; CL Mon, NH, March 25-27, Augt 1-10, Dec 25-Jan 5, occasional special days.

      Modern Life - Shinjuku Historical Museum (Museums)

      The Shinjuku Historical Museum is one of the best of the many city museums about local history in Tokyo. It highlights Shinjuku’s past as a post town.

      The displays (all on the basement floor) start with a short section about archeological materials excavated in the ward and another one about Shinjuku in the Middle Ages with some itabi steles on display.

      Shinjuku Historical Museum, Tokyo
      [Shinjuku Historical Museum. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

      The exhibition really gets underway with the Edo period and a scale model of the post town ‘Naito Shinjuku,’ named after the daimyo family which administrated it (Shinjuku Gyoen Park incorporates part of the garden of the Naito clan). There is also a full scale model of a shop in kura-style (for protection of the wares against fire) as used to stand in the post town.

      Part Four of the exhibition is about literature (Shakespeare translator Tsubouchi Shoyo lived in Shinjuku, as did modern literature giant Natsume Soseki and Kwaidan author Lafcadio Hearn - these last two both happen to be buried in the Zoshigaya cemetery, also in Shinjuku.

      Statue of Tsubouchi Shoyo, Waseda University, Tokyo
      [Statue of Tsubouchi Shoyo in the Waseda University grounds. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

      The fifth and last part is dedicated to the early Showa period. There is a model of a tram, a house built in the suburbs for the new commuters with partly Western interior, and a display about Shinjuku as pleasure district, with its bars, restaurants, theaters (one named Moulin Rouge) and cinemas.

      Salaryman culture also gets attention with an interesting display about all the items the average Showa salaryman carried in his pockets and briefcase – note the omamori, or amulet, the only typically Japanese item. As usual in most history museums, there are no English labels, but the displays are easy to follow.
      Tel. 03-3359-2131
      Hrs: 9:00-17:00; CL Mon (next day if NH), NY.
      Access: 8 min. on foot from Akebonobashi on the Toei Shinjuku subway line; 10 min. from Yotsuya Sanchome St. on the Marunouchi Line and 12 min. from JR Yotsuya St. (The easiest way to find the Shinjuku Historical Museum is to take the Marunouchi line from Shinjuku for a few stations to Yotsuya-Sanchome, from which it is a short walk.)

      A Giant Bookcase - Shiba Ryotaro Museum, Osaka (Museums)

      The Japanese author Shiba Ryotaro (1923-1996) loved books. That becomes quite clear when you stand in the museum built next to his former house in Osaka and look up at the book cases, towering several stories above your head and containing 20,000 tomes.

      If the Big One comes, you will be buried in books. Of course, this is not how Shiba Ryotaro himself kept his library. He had the books in ordinary cases scattered throughout his house, lining every possible part of the walls, including the corridors. I have a lot of books, too, although not as many as Shiba Ryotaro, and in my house the corridor also functions as a library.

      [Shiba Ryotaro Museum, Osaka]



      Shiba Ryoraro started writing historical novels after World War II. In that respect, the pen name, Shiba, he selected is very suggestive: it is the name of the famous Chinese historian Sima Qian, who lived 2,000 years ago. Shiba won the prestigious Naoki Prize for his 1959 novel, "Fukuro no Shiro" ("Owl Castle").

      Better known are his long novels "Ryoma ga Yuku" ("Ryoma Is Going"), about the life of Ryoma Sakamoto, and “ Sakanoue no Kumo” (“Clouds on the Slope”), another novel about the turbulent times around the end of the shogunate and beginning of modern Japan. In fact, Sakamoto Ryoma was not at all popular as a historical figure until Shiba Ryotaro wrote his novel about him (personally, I believe Ryoma is not the great historical figure he is now thought to have been, I think much of his present status is due to the fictionalizing by Shiba Ryotaro - every country needs its heroes).

      Another series that won him great fame were his travel essays, 1,146 installments in all, printed first in the Shukan Asahi magazine and then issued as a series of books “Kaido wo Yuku” (“Going along the Highways”). These were also made into a documentary series by NHK and I must say it is the part of Shiba's work that I like best. Most of his novels are extremely long and meandering, which puts me off - I prefer writers who manage to be concise.

      Many of Shiba's 500 books were filmed or made into TV dramas, especially the NHK historical “Taiga” dramas broadcast on Sunday evening.

      Most of his books are so huge and full of historical detail that only few have made it into other languages. Two of his smaller novels, “The Last shogun,” and “Kukai the Universal” are available in English. Even in his novels, many parts are like essays, or musings of the historian, after which storytelling takes over again. The story leans on the historical sources and Shiba's interpretation of them.

      [The house]

      In the green garden of the museum, you first pass the former house of the author and through the glass you can see his study with a comfortable reading chair and large desk.

      A curving glass corridor leads to the new part. To accommodate the 11 meter high bookcase the museum has been sunk into the soil. Architect was Ando Tadao and it is one of his smaller, but finest creations.

      Just sit down and look at this load of books. It makes you feel very small. I regret that it is not possible to browse, to take books out of the cases, and enjoy the smell of paper and ink. There are some small exhibitions of books, manuscripts, photo's and memorabilia as well, but the bookcase takes center stage. It contains the materials Shiba Ryotaro needed to write his fiction: histories, biographies, dictionaries, original materials etc.

      I notice one thing: as far as I can see there is nothing in English or any other modern foreign language. But Shiba did travel abroad, there is a small exhibition about his trip to the U.S. when I visit. And in the “Kaido” series, he wrote a nice volume about Holland.

      The quite residential neighborhood is well suited to creative work. It is a pity Shiba Ryotaro died at the relatively young age of 73 – had he lived longer he could well have added a few hundred more works to his oeuvre.
      Shiba Ryotaro Memorial Museum
      3-11-18, Shimo-kosaka, Higashi-Osaka
      06-6726-3860
      10:00-17:00
      CL Mon, 1 September-10 September & 28 December-4 January
      15 min walk from Kawachi-Kosaka St on the Kintetsu Nara Line

      From Ainu to Colonist - The Historical Museum of Hokkaido (Museums)

      Established in 1971 to celebrate the centenary of the opening of Hokkaido, the Historical Museum of Hokkaido is an imposing, square pile of red brick sitting in natural surroundings close to the Nopporo Forest Park. Not surprisingly, Hokkaido’s modern history is more dense than its ancient one. The elaborate permanent exhibition (which is unchanging) is divided into 8 themes, ranging chronologically from the formation of the island to a glimpse of the future of Hokkaido. In addition, the museum hosts several special exhibitions each year.


      Theme One treats the formation of the island, the Neolithic age and Jomon culture (there is a fine clay mask with the features of an adult man, found near Chitose), which lasted especially long in Hokkaido as the Yayoi culture with its rice cultivation and bronze artifacts did not reach this far north (one speaks therefore of a continuation of the Jomon period (Epi-Jomon), which lasted until about 800 CE). Stone tools and Jomon vessels are supplemented by models and dioramas.

      Theme Two follows Ainu Culture from its 7th c. roots to the 19th c. Those roots were the Satsumon and Okhotsk cultures. The interior of a typical dwelling has been reconstructed and Edo-period scrolls depicting Ainu festivals are also on view.

      Theme Three, ‘the Age of Ezo’ (the old name for the island), depicts the life of the early Japanese settlers on Hokkaido. The first Japanese arrived in the 12th c. to trade with the Ainu. In exchange for animal hides and marine products, they sold such things as iron tools and rice. At the end of the 16th c. Lord Kakizaki organized the first Japanese community in Matsumae and he received the monopoly on the Ainu trade. An the end of the 18th c., when foreign ships started making frequent incursions into the waters around Hokkaido, the island was placed under direct control of the shogun. In 1854, finally, Hakodate became one of the ports opened to foreign trade following the Kanagawa Treaty.

      Theme Four is called ‘The Early Modern Era’ and deals with Hokkaido’s history from 1869 to 1886, when the island was intensively and quickly colonized by the Japanese (partly out of fear for a Russian push south). To this purpose, the Kaitakushi or Colonization Office was set up in 1869; it functioned until 1882. Large investments were made in Hokkaido to develop it as a model ‘progressive’ area and many foreign advisers were attracted to help. Sapporo was transformed from a piece of forest into a modern capital, roads and railroads were built, and experimental farms were set up to handle Western style crops and equipment. As it was difficult to resettle ordinary farmers, former samurai were relocated to Hokkaido and also a system of farmer-soldiers (Tondenhei) was introduced. Coal mines were opened and factories built, some producing Western-style products as milk and beer. At the same time, the lands of the Ainu were taken away and their culture eroded. On display are such items as farming implements, the first bottles of beer and uniforms of the Tondenhei farmer-soldiers.

      For Theme Five ‘Progression of Colonization’ (the period from 1886 to 1918) we move to the second floor. In 1886 the Hokkaido Prefectural Government was set up and a long-term development plan created. Land surveys were undertaken, and farming villages established to increase the number of immigrants from the rest of Japan. There is a diorama of herring fishing (important in the 1890s, but now non-existent due to over-fishing) and a model of a potato starch manufacturing plant.

      Theme Six, the period 1918-1945, is called ‘From recession to World War’ and shows the boom and bust in the years between the two world wars. Theme Seven is dedicated to the Postwar Period, 1945-1960. Characteristic for the meager years after the war is an iron pot on display, which was recycled from a soldier’s helmet. Since 1952, with a new development plan from the central government, the development of Hokkaido’s resources and its integration into the national economy progressed swiftly. Theme Eight, finally, takes a peek at tomorrow’s Hokkaido on a large display screen
      011-898-0456

      53-2, Konopporo, Atsubetsu-cho, Atsubetsu-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido 004-0006

      9:30-16:30; CL Mon, NY, NH (except 5/3-5/5, 9/15, 9/23, 11/3)

      From JR Sapporo Station take the JR Chitose Line to Shin Sapporo Station or the Tozai Subway Line to Shin Sapporo terminal. Then take a JR Bus (Kaitaku-no-Mura Line) at platform 10 and get off at Kinenkan-iriguchi

      Komatsu Hitoshi: Hermit Painter from Ohara (Museums)

      Komatsu Hitoshi (1902-1989) is an interesting nihonga painter to whom a small gallery has been dedicated in Ohara, on the road leading to Jakkoin and Sanzenin, in the northern part of Kyoto. We visit on a cold day, when snow covers the fields.

      Komatsu Hitoshi Museum, Kyoto
      [Entrance of Komatsu Hitoshi Gallery. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

      Komatsu Hitoshi was born in Yamagata Prefecture. In 1920 he moved to Tokyo to become a painter, but after winning a prize at an exhibition in Kyoto, he settled down in the old capital. He studied under renowned renovator Tsuchida Bakusen and later exhibited at the Inten, the largest exhibition of Japanese-style paintings. Living a secluded life in Ohara from age 25 until his death almost 65 years later, and sporting a long, snow-white beard, people considered him as a typical hermit painter.

      Komatsu Hitoshi made his most characteristic paintings in a sort of pointillist sumie (Indian ink) style. He is famous for his panoramic screens of the Mogami River or the scenery of Ohara, enormous canvasses which he painted in meticulous detail.

      The Komatsu Hitoshi Gallery consists of a few simple structures (partly the painter’s refurbished residence) and the paintings have unfortunately been harmed a bit by dampness and perhaps the fact that they are exhibited for too long periods at a stretch (we are talking about Japanese-style paintings, made on paper with mineral paints), but this museum offers an interesting glimpse into the world of a delicate artist.

      Besides the monochrome works, there is also a uniquely colorful painting of an Ohara-me, a young woman from Ohara carrying vegetables in a basket on her head.

      When we leave the last of the four galleries, which is dedicated to the person of Komatsu Hitoshi and also has his portrait on an altar, and step through the small garden, it is as if we meet a sudden apparition: a hermit with a long white beard is chopping wood, looks up, smiles at us. As if the portrait has come alive...

      Automatically, we greet back, flabbergasted we walk on, but decide it must be the son of the painter... or the grandson? ...without knowing whether he had a son.

      Who else could it have been?
      Tel: 075-744-2318
      Hrs: 10:00-17:00; CL Mon, NY. The museum is now only open on appointment, so call in advance!
      Fee: 800 yen.
      Access: Take Kyoto bus 17 or 18 from Kyoto St to Ohara and get off at Todera; then a 15 min walk through the fields on the side of the bus stop). 


      Tuesday, May 22, 2012

      Sushi

      Sushi

      寿司、すし


      Sushi are so popular outside Japan that the word "sushi" has become English! Some people even think that "sushi equals Japanese food," although in reality there is a lot more to the cuisine of the Rising Sun.

      Interestingly, sushi started as a way to preserve cleaned fish by wrapping it in rice and keeping it for a year or longer in a hermetically closed pot. The rice would ferment and produce lactic acid and alcohol and this would keep the fish fresh - although it would become rather smelly. The all too sour rice would be thrown away when eating the fish. This method is called "narezushi," and it is still applied to making funazushi at Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture close to Kyoto. [Read Buson's haiku on funazushi]

      Gradually the fermentation period was shortened to a few months and then even a few days, so that the rice would stay fresh enough to be eaten as well (this process is called "namanare"). The custom of eating the combination of fish and sour rice was born!

      The next great step was the invention of su, rice vinegar, somewhere around 1600. It was more delicious to add vinegar to the rice to get a pleasant sour taste (sushimeshi). But the vinegar would prevent fermentation, so instead of preserving fish, this became a new dish of fish and rice. It was called "hayazushi," "fast sushi." The rice was put in a wooden box, the fish on top and the whole would be pressed together with a weight, resulting in a sort of "fish on rice" cake that would be cut in one-bite parts. This way of making sushi is still popular (especially in Western Japan) and is called hakozushi ("box sushi") or oshizushi ("pressed sushi").

      The final big invention was made in 1818 in Edo, at that time the largest city in the world where life ran along at a fast pace. Making box sushi was much too laborious for the impatient inhabitants of Edo, and a certain sushi maker started squeezing individual sushi with his hands... and so modern nigirizushi was born. This method of making sushi quickly became popular and sushi were sold from booths set up along Edo's roads. They were called Edomaezushi, as the ingredients came from the bay "in front of Edo" (Edomae).



      [Sushi by Hiroshige]

      Summing up, there are today the following five main types of sushi:
      1. Nigirizushi or "finger sushi" (nigiri literally means "to squeeze"). Squeezed "fingers" of sushi rice topped with a slice of raw fish, etc. The basic type, often called just "sushi." The old name is Edomaezushi as we saw in the above. A variant of this type are gunkan-maki, literally "warship-rolls" (more friendly also called "boat sushi" in English), where nori is wrapped around the sides of a nigirizushi. This is done to prevent loose ingredients as ikura (salmon eggs) from falling off. 
      2. Makizushi or "sushi rolls." Also called norimaki. On a thin bamboo mat (makisu), first a sheet of toasted nori seaweed is placed. On this a layer of sushi rice is spread out. On top, finally, narrow strips of seafood and vegetables or pickles are arranged, after which it all is rolled together and then cut. Depending on the thickness there are various types such as hosomaki or "thin rolls," which include only one ingredient, or futomaki or "thick rolls," which feature a whole variety of delicacies. And we also have uramaki or "inside-out rolls," where the nori is on the inside - these include "California rolls."
      3. Oshizushi or "pressed sushi." Sushi rice with a topping of fish is pressed into a cake form by using a wooden box with lid. We already met these in the above as the type that is older than nigirizushi. Served throughout Japan, although most popular in the Kansai.
      4. Chirashizushi or "tossed sushi." Fresh raw seafoods (cut in slices as for nigirizushi) are put as a topping over a bed of sushi rice. A variant in Western Japan is Gomokuzushi or "Five Item Sushi" (also called barazushi, "scattered sushi," or mazezushi, "mixed sushi"). The main differences between Chirashizushi and Gomokuzushi are that for the last type no raw seafood is used and that the ingredients are not put on top of the rice, but mixed through it. Moreover, they are finely cut or shredded. Shredded thins omelette may also be used. Temakizushi also belong in this category, as these are simple "hand rolled sushi," where the nori is folded into a cone and loosely filled with sushi rice and ingredients as one likes - a sort of "party sushi" that is easy to make by the guests themselves by picking their favorite ingredients. Chirashizushi without raw seafood also can be found in ekiben.
      5. Sushi pockets. The vinegared rice is used as a stuffing and is usually mixed with some very finely cut vegetables or other ingredients. The main types are inarizushi, where the sushi rice is stuffed into pouches of abura-age (fried tofu) boiled in a sweet sauce; and fukusazushi (also called chakinzushi), where the pouch is made of paper-thin omelette. This is more a snack than a meal. 
      There are also many regional types of sushi: sabazushi (Kyoto), battera (Osaka), kakinohazushi (Nara), meharizushi (Wakayama), etc. Often these are pressed sushi, sometimes also older types as narezushi.

      All the above sushi are made with sushimeshi (vinegared sushi rice) - which is the determining factor whether to call a dish "sushi" or not.

      All types of sushi are made with vinegared sushi rice (sushimeshi) - this forms in fact the criterion whether something can be called "sushi" or not. In Japan, apprentice chefs spend a few years only learning how to make good sushi rice. The rice should be firm, so not soaked after rinsing, and cooked with somewhat less water than normally - if the rice is too wet, it will not absorb the vinegar dressing. To add flavor, when cooking sushi rice chefs often add a strip of kelp (konbu) and a splash of sake. The dressing is made with rice vinegar (su), sugar and salt. The ratio of these three ingredients is a well-guarded secret of each sushi chef, and there are also regional differences: in Kyoto quite a lot of sugar is used, while some chefs in Tokyo almost use no sugar at all. Sushi-meshi has to be cooled to room temperature before being used. Traditionally, the mixing is done with a hangiri, which is a round, flat-bottom wooden tub or barrel, and a wooden paddle (shamoji). Sushi rice has to be used up the same day it has been made - it can't be kept, also not in the refrigerator.

      All types of sushi are popular for lunches and picnics and are often sold in take-away restaurants and supermarkets to eat at home. The larger supermarkets and department stores make sushi fresh in their own kitchen.


      Neo-Noir Films (Movie reviews)

      It was already difficult to define the noir style, so what about neo-noir?

      Neo-noir - which is generally thought to start somewhere in the 1970s and continue all the way to today - of course shares the characteristics of noir crime films (the sexual motivation of the crime plus presence of a femme fatale, and the general atmosphere of doom), although the precise visual style of classical film noir is more difficult to emulate, as these newer films are in color, but the shadows are often replaced by garishness, such as neon lights and their sleazy colors.

      The main difference is that where noir was a period style, in which craftsmen-like directors churned out one B-film after another (although there were of course also individualistic directors as Welles), neo noir is a conscious style selected by an authorist director. He often plays around with noir elements in a postmodern way and often pays homage to classical noir films. For example, Femme Fatale by De Palma starts with footage from Double Indemnity and then places the face of its protagonist, who is watching TV, over that of Barbara Stanwyck to identify them with each other.

      Although there are also excellent neo-noirs in other genres than the crime genre - most of all science-fiction films as the very noir Blade Runner or Alien, but also historical costume dramas as From Hell - I limit my discussion to the crime film, as I did for the classical noir film.

      Some of the best neo-noir crime films are:
      • Basic Instinct (1992) by Paul Verhoeven and with Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas. A police detective investigating the brutal murder of a former rock star, becomes involved in a torrid and intense relationship with the beautiful and mysterious prime suspect. Sharon Stone is the perfect femme fatale, both in the mind games and in the sexual games she plays with her interrogators. There is also a strong sense of doom, for we see Michael Douglas mentally falling apart and slowly coming closer and closer to the flame of the dangerous seductress. One of the greatest films made in the 1990s, with an unbelievable low rating on IMDB. I give it (10).
      • MulHolland Drive (2001) by David Lynch and with Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. A car wreck on the winding Mulholland Drive renders a woman amnesic. She lifts a new name from a Gilda poster where Rita Hayworth is advertised and hides in a house where she meets a perky aspiring actress who has newly arrived in Los Angeles. Their quest for answers will take them beyond reality into the tricky world of dreams. A game with alternate realities, and, like Sunset Boulevard, about broken dreams in Hollywood. Laura Harring is a classic femme fatale, but here with a twist, for her charms work on another woman. Nightmarish, threatening atmosphere. (10)
      • Femme Fatale (2002) by Brian de Palma and with Rebecca Romijn and Antonio Banderas. A woman thief takes part in a heist at the Cannes Film Festival to steal a golden snake encrusted with diamonds, an object worn by a model on her naked body. She double-crosses her partners, but is by sheer luck able to easily assume another identity and flee to the U.S. Seven years later she returns to France as the wife of the new American Ambassador, but then her past comes to haunt her. Again a film in which a dream plays an important role. De Palma is playing around with genre expectations in a most inventive way and Rebecca Romijn is the classical femme fatale who only looks after her own interests. This film is sheer fun. (9)
      • Body Heat (1981) by Lawrence Kasdan and with Kathleen Turner and William Hurt. While a blistering heat wave rages in Florida, a somewhat sleazy lawyer begins an affair with the wife of a wealthy businessman that is soon blazing away even hotter than the weather. But the husband seems to stand in the way of perfect happiness so they hatch a plot to kill him. There is a nice twist at the end, showing you should never trust a femme fatale. Inspired by Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Started up the careers of both Turner and Hurt. (9)
      • The Last Seduction (1994) by John Dahl and with Linda Fiorentino, Peter Berg and Bill Pullman. A beautiful but amoral woman who is married to a doctor persuades him to sell medicinal cocaine to drugs dealers. Next she steals the money and goes undercover in a mid-American small town, where she meets a naive young guy who is blinded by her charms and brazen outspokenness. As her husband is still after her, she devises a diabolical plan to get rid of him and the boyfriend in one swoop and start enjoying her millions. Linda Fiorentino is a steely and deadly femme fatale, who turns the men around her into whimpering fools. Again a film which is sheer fun. (9)
      • Klute (1971) by Alan J. Pakula and with Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland. A square suburban cop comes to New York to find a missing man. The only clue is the connection with a cynical call girl. When the woman is uncooperative, the detective taps her phone intending to blackmail her into helping him. Then it appears that the call girl has a stalker after her, which finally brings them closer. The detective is not the only one listening to tapes. Fonda won an Oscar for her role in this tense erotic thriller and she fully deserves it. (9)
      • Jackie Brown (1997) by Quentin Tarantino and with Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Forster. Again a film about a woman with nerves of steel who takes it all. A flight attendant who gets caught smuggling money for a weapons dealer makes a deal with the cops to help them arrest the wanted man. Her bail bondsman - a burnt-out man in his fifties - helps her, but gets into more than he wanted when she hatches a plot to play off the cops against the criminals and cash the money herself. Great acting by all: Pam Grier, who was mainly famous for sleazy blaxploitation films from the 1970s, Samuel Jackson as the brutal weapons dealer, Robert De Niro as a brainless hood just out of prison, Bridget Fonda as a big-mouthed chick and Robert Forster as the kind bondsman who falls in love with Jackie Brown but in the end lets her go as she is too strong for him. (9)
      • Bound (1996) by Andy and Lana Wachowski, and with Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon and Joe Pantoliano. A young woman longs to escape from her mafioso boyfriend and enters into an affair with an alluring ex-con. The two women hatch a scheme to steal mafia money and put the blame on the former boyfriend. But that is easier said than done. A breezy and highly enjoyable film. (8.5)
      • Blood Simple (1984) by Joel and Ethan Coen and with John Getz, Frances McDormand and Dan Hedaya. The Coen Brothers have made many fine films that deserve the designation "neo-noir." This was their first one and it has the most authentic noir style. A bar owner thinks his wife is deceiving him with one of his bar keepers and has her watched by a sleazy detective. This sets off a complicated round of violence with many funny but fatal misunderstandings. Only the strong survive.  (8.5)
      • Memento (2000) by Christopher Nolan and with Guy Pierce, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano. An ex-insurance investigator who can no longer build new memories attempts to find the murderer of his wife - the last thing he thinks he remembers. He helps his failing memory with Polaroid pictures, notes and tattoos. Ingenious storytelling with two story lines, one normally moving forward in time, the other moving backward in blocks, so that viewers are in the same position as the protagonist: they have no memories of what has happened and feel displaced. The ending is open and suggests that the memory-less avenger may be endlessly repeating himself. There is also a wry sort of humor in how he is repeatedly cheated by those around him. (8.5)