Big in Japan 9

Our last day in Japan was a drizzly, overcast one in Tokyo. We had pretty much avoided rain the whole time we were there, so we couldn’t complain. We set out to see some more of the capital, thinking that indoors might be best. When we were planning the trip, we had thought about visiting the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, but discovered that to gain access, you needed to visit on particular days, having booked tickets in person for timed entrance, and we just couldn’t manage it. Nevertheless, we could visit the grounds, which are huge, but first we looked at the rather splendid Tokyo railway station, with its redbrick façade, apparently modelled on Amsterdam’s. Each corner had a spacious entrance hall, with an art nouveau look:

Tourist in the rain

Across the way from the station was the shopping mall called Kitte (Japanese for postage stamp) which is housed in the old central post office building, a striking 1930s edifice, to which has now been added a huge tower to house all those trendy boutiques and restaurants. We went in to find some shelter and sustenance.

We decided that we had to at least experience the Imperial Palace compound, so, bravely ignoring the rain, we headed for the gardens. It was really wet, but still impressive to see this bit of old imperial Japan, fortified by massive walls and a huge moat, in the middle of this exclusive part of the city.

We resolved to go in search of culture to get us out of the rain, and went out of the north-west corner of the imperial grounds (having collected a token on entrance, and given it up on exit) to find the National Museum of Modern Art. We found that one of the major exhibitions was of an artist I’d never heard of, shamefully, despite the fact that he was a modernist operating in Paris in the twenties. He was Tsuguharu (Leonard) Foujita, and what a fascinating man he turned out to be. He knew many of the big names of the avant-garde, such as Modigliani and Picasso, had a chaotic personal life, and was more commercially successful than many of his contemporaries, mainly because he painted lots of cats.

Foujita, Self Portrait with cat. Image: irinaraquel on Flickr

Unexpectedly, he was also a war artist, and the exhibition contained some enormous canvases of battle scenes, some gruesomely realistic – the Japanese government required what they termed “war campaign documentary painting” from its artists, and Foujita supplied it. You can see some of his war work here. After that sobering experience, we walked around the corner to the Crafts annex of the museum, where we saw some brilliant examples of contemporary pottery. This small gallery was built around the same time as the station, and is again a very European-looking red brick building, originally the home of the imperial guards. The gallery’s website gave another reminder of the war:

The Headquarters of the Imperial Guards was also the setting of an event of great historical importance. In the late night and early morning of August 14 and 15, 1945, a group of Army officers plotted to prevent the broadcast of the Emperor’s statement to the nation announcing Japan’s surrender, ending World War II, scheduled for noon on August 15. They murdered Lieutenant General Mori of the Imperial Guards Division and issued an order in his name to seize the recording of the Emperor’s statement and thus prevent the war from coming to an end. That attempted coup d’etat occurred in the Imperial Guards’ headquarters, making the building the site of one of the most critical incidents in the modern history of Japan.

We enjoyed the work of Kuriki Tatsusuke, whose pots were decorative rather than functional, often featuring bands of clay woven around a central form. It was a pleasant and peaceful way to end our soggy trudge around this part of Tokyo.  We had an early start for the journey home, so we went back to our hotel, and began to try to understand what we had experienced.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Big in Japan 9 by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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