February 29, 2012

Hacking Away at Snow

In Asari, Hokkaido. I looked out the window and was startled to see chunks of snow floating in the river like ice floes.

Then this snow boulder came into view...

...and then the dump trucks. Apparently, this is where snow gathered from streets is dumped. The trucks have to continuously churn the water while hacking away at the enormous chunk of snow so the water won't freeze. Since sand is periodically mixed into the snow, the resulting churn was an ugly grey-brown.

Preventing Avalanches

For quite understandable reasons, avalanche prevention barriers are a common sight in Hokkaido. Though they must look singularly ugly in non-snow seasons, I found them oddly fascinating.

I think this was near a dam close to Sapporo.

In Otaru, avalanche barriers that look like foxholes.

Their geometric shapes look almost arresting against the snow.

When I was trying to figure out the exact term for these avalanche barriers, I came across this page. Everything you wanted to know about snow protection techniques, with key words in three different languages!

A Toddler in Sapporo

A toddler inside a Family Mart in Sapporo, Hokkaido, where the high was around -2 degrees Celsius last week. The colors of her clothes match the drinks on the shelves. Notice the yellow flowers on the top of her head and the sides of her hat. In Chiba, where I live, the local school goes out of its way to encourage kids to get used to the cold. Kids play outside in shorts and short socks, even as the temperature dips down. In Hokkaido, though, the kids looked very bundled up.

The little girl was being pulled around in this little wagon. It didn't look very warm, but at least there were some blankets in there.

February 21, 2012

Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo

The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, located within Kiba Park. Though built in 1995, it was the first I had visited it. With its clean look, vast space, and small number of visitors, it was an ideal art-viewing environment. (Should we be worried about the last part?)

The exhibit "Cloudscapes", where clouds were generated in a greenhouse-like box on the outside grounds. (Power generated by Canadian Solar.) While it was fascinating to be able to view the strata of clouds, the experience itself was more like being in a super-humid rain forest.

Looking down from the top of the "cloud".

The outside grounds, seen from inside the museum.

The Bloomberg Pavilion, designed by Akihisa Hirata. The pavilion displays works by Tokyo artists.

Currently, the works of Qosmo in collaboration with the Techno-Shugei Club (the Techno-Handicrafts Club) are on display. One of their works is this giant, inexplicably furry salamander. The overall effect was cute but underwhelming.

Current exhibits: retrospectives of artists Ay-o and Atsuko Tanaka. (This was the only part of Ay-o's exhibit where photos were allowed.) While Atsuko Tanaka's retrospective revealed her to be consistent in her fixations throughout her career, Ay-o, experimented widely before arriving at his signature rainbow-colored works. His work may look psychedelic, but what stays with you is the sense of joy and fun. 

A work on display in the hallway of the museum.

The entire side of the museum is the hallway; all exhibition spaces are to the right.

February 20, 2012

Cappuccino Art

Bar del Pompei's famed cappuccino art. To the left is a fox, to the right, a bear. Who could ever tire of latte art?

Little Okinawa

In Daitabashi, on my way to see the Von Jour Caux buildings. I didn't expect this strangeness: a shopping arcade proudly calling itself "Okinawa Town". Its roots are organic -- this area was home to a renowned Okinawan scholar, and many Okinawans supposedly settled down here -- but the street was born out of a concerted effort to revitalize the town.

Out of the 74 shops in the arcade, a surprising number are Okinawan restaurants. (Is there such a high demand for them?) Others show their support by decorating their spaces with Okinawa iconography. See the Shisa (lion-dog figures that ward against evil) in clay and paper form on the right bottom and right top of the photo above.

A more convincing demonstration of Okinawan culture: sanshin (an Okinawan folk instrument) lessons for young people. They were all practicing, "Happy Birthday".

A shisa, perhaps, rendered with shells.

Despite their efforts, the area has a shabby, lonely feel. You can definitely feel the effects of the aging population here.

Two old ladies, keeping warm with a portable stove and selling homemade food. They were enjoying a nice gabfest.

February 19, 2012

Kitazawa Mysteries

In Daitabashi. The area near the station, along the highway, had been defaced by a stream of graffiti -- all presumably by one person. You can't see it from this angle, but it's an inchworm.

 Lavish use of paint caused pink and silver to pool on the ground.

A curio of a place. The sign says "Hidden", but the words "Open" are molded onto the wall near the door. So which is it?

February 12, 2012

Von Jour Caux's La Porta Izumi *map updated

Next stop on the Von Jour Caux hunt: La Porta Izumi, about two minutes' walk away from the other building in Daitabashi.

Wowza, you think, but the building (built only in 1990) looked fairly neglected and on its way to becoming dilapidated. I should have photographed the door patched up with bits of masking tape.

These corkscrews of iron were used strategically in the lobby as well.

 The poor animal face is all covered up by untended plants.

 The building viewed from the side.

 From behind the building, it looks like something else altogether.

The majestic lady is fortunately not just two-dimensional. The painted glass (not stained), along with molded cement (not marble) is Von Jour Caux and his team's major concession to creating affordable housing. 

Mailboxes are to the left, rooms are past the door on the right.

I'm sure that not even the residents are aware of all the small details hiding in plain sight.

Octopus stairs. 

I ran into an inhabitant who seemed both mildly suspicious and bemused by my curiosity. He helpfully pointed out the other building in Daitabashi. He must see this all the time.

While trying to find out more information on Von Jour Caux's buildings, I came across his Facebook page. It's surprisingly active, although it's hard to tell whether the 78-year-old himself is updating it or not.

In honor of paying it forward, here is a map of all known Von Jour Caux buildings. Be warned: they contain even his generic-looking works. (Sensible buildings pay the bills.)

 The tiling on the wall, with the entrance to the right.

梵寿綱 in Daitabashi (From the Side Door)

 Here is the side door to the Von Jour Caux building in Daitabashi.

The light immediately above the side door entrance.

 Immediately upon entering, you are confronted with this thing.

It is actually an elephant.

 Go right, and you find yourself headed towards the courtyard.

This is the ceiling.

 I found this too much like a trail of blood.

Go left at the entrance and you go down an unexpectedly tranquil-looking staircase, but it only leads to the garbage disposal area.