After leaving the birth home of poet Ujo Noguchi, I walked into to the quiet side street to take a photo. I found beneath my feet a clue to our next destination in Kita-ibaraki City. It was just an iron manhole cover, but like most sewage manhole covers in Japan had a picture cast in its surface. (I plan to do a post on Japanese manhole covers one day). This one showed a hexagonal gazebo for which Kita-ibaraki City, is famous.
We drove north again toward Izura, an area that reminded me vaguely of a town on the opposite side of the North Pacific: La Jolla, California, with it's curious but beautiful mix of beaches, rugged coast, luxurious ocean view homes both old and new, artists, and the Scripts Institute of Oceanography .
At Izura, the seaside cliffs and onsen (hotspring spas) have made this a popular vacation spot and several upscale Japanese Ryokans (the subject of yet another future post) are to be found here. This is also the area where our gifts of seafood came from that I described in the October 2005 post
While designed to help ships navigate the coast, it was very useful to us as well as it marked our destination. We parked at its base and walked to the cliffs.
Out on the water, a steady breeze pulls a sailboat along, slicing through the waves on a windward tack.
Below us, on small point in a rocky bay called Izura-Kaigan, was "Rokkudo" - a red hexagonal gazebo - as immortalized on sewer manhole covers. Other than the great location, what is so special about it? The gazebo belonged to this man.
His name was Okakura Tenshin, also known as Kakuzo Okakura, who lived from 1862 to 1913. This period encompasses the Meiji Restoration, when Japan was reopened to the world and was learning all it could of other cultures. Okakura was an artist and man of letters who played an important role both in bringing Western art to Japan and in presenting Japanese art and culture to the West. Once president of the Tokyo School of Arts, he founded the Japan Institute of Art in 1898. He traveled to Europe, India and China and was fluent in English. You can read one of his books in English, The Book of Tea, written in 1906, online by clicking on the title.
Some Americans may have been touched by his life without realizing it (as I was) if they have visited or even just seen the gift catalog of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, for Okakura was the museum's curator of Asiatic art from 1906 to 1913. No doubt he is the reason MFA has perhaps the best collection of Asian art in the Western Hemisphere. At the museum is a Japanese garden called "Tenshin-en" dedicated to his memory.
I won't try to write his entire biography in these posts, but if you are unfamiliar with his name, I invite you to become more aquainted with this most interesting figure who contributed much to the mutual understanding of very different cultures.
I'll have more to say about Okakura in the next post, as well as many more pictures, including his cliffside house, Rokkokudo and Izura-Kaigan bay. For now, let me leave you with a quote to ponder from Okakura's "The Book of Tea":
"Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others."
To be continued....