2008/09/26

Cool Tool for Travel Planning


I recently found a "cool tool" for planning travel in Japan. The site is in both Japanese and English and offers detailed information about rail and air travel from point A to point B.

The site is called "Hyperpedia Timetable" by Hitachi Information Systems, Ltd. and it starts here: http://www.hyperdia.com/

(Just click on English for that service).

I've used it for planning on train trips from a station near us on the Kashima Rinkai Tetsudo ŇĆarai-Kashima Line which runs from Kashima City to Mito City. I've printed out timetables for trains to and from Mito for our local station (specific to my needs and much easier to read than the tiny print of the pocket timetable they offer). We also used it a few weeks ago for planning out trip on the JR Joban Line from Mito City to Otsuko Station in Kita-Ibaraki (the north end of of our fair prefecture) where we saw an art exhibit I'll be posting about.


Kashima Rinkai Railway

The only drawback I have found is that you have to input the exact station name, so you have to find that out ahead of time. Sometimes the name is all one word as well, so that "Kashima Jingu" is entered as "Kashimajingu". Otherwise, it's great and gives you full timetables, any train changes along the way, and all the fares for your trip. It also offers maps, hotel and rental car information. Very handy website.

I've been making lots of business trips of late to Mito, so I really like having this service. You can plan trips anywhere in Japan and even compare rail with air travel. Check it out.

Another handy service I've found for English speaking travelers is Japan Google maps in English (well, Romaji letters anyway): http://maps.j-talk.com/ and this one, called Diddlefinger, which lets you look up specific addresses in English or Japanese: http://diddlefinger.com/

Bon Voyage.

2008/09/05

The Vanishing Vermeer

We went to see the exhibit "Vermeer and the Delft Style" as mentioned in the post titled (oddly enough) "Vermeer and the Delft Style" , on August 15th. I had business in Tokyo and K came along so we could take in the art as well. It was hot and humid day that would seem normal in Fiji, but extreme in Japan. One of those days when you curse every square meter of concrete and macadam that was placed over what was once natural earth and greenery. (Pave paradise, put up a parking lot). Ueno station is air conditioned of course, but the stench of curry emanating from some restaurants (yes, I say "stench" - I happen to agree with Sherlock Holmes that curry is "horrible stuff") makes it a less than ideal environment in which to linger. K pointed out lines of people at a window selling tickets to the exhibit and I was grateful that she had bought ours online ahead of time. To get your tickets online and print them out at home, visit "Vermeer and the Delft Style".

We stopped at a cafeteria across the way to have a bit of lunch - udon noodles - before entering Ueno Park where the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum is located. The museum was pretty busy and signs along the way alerted visitors to the expected waiting time. Fifteen or twenty minutes to see an exhibit of Vermeer paintings and other Delft artists seemed nothing compared to the norm of two hours or more in lines at Disneyland to take a ride lasting a few minutes. Not sure what that means, but interesting contrast to ponder.

The exhibit was well laid out (of course it was, this is Japan) on three floors, the Vermeer works being saved for late in the order of paintings so that visitors would have learned something of Delft artists before seeing the main attractions.

Of the forty paintings, several were by Pieter de Hooch, who experimented with perspective to an extreme degree. Many of his works have multiple vanishing points and frankly I felt a bit queasy looking at some of them. It was like he was on a mild acid trip or something - not that I've ever experienced that. The distortions were so great in some of his works that he had to paint a large drape over one corner to hide areas where it got really out of whack. Often, one person in the scene would be in the foreground and would appear to be a giant compared to other people in the painting. Interesting stuff. Here's a sample, but trust me, the effect is much more striking in person.

Interior of the Burgomaster's Chamber (1663-65)


Another featured artist was Carel Fabritius. Few of his works survive as most of them, as well as poor Carel himself along with most of the city of Delft, were blown to smithereens on October 12, 1654 by an explosion of gunpowder (about 40 tonnes worth!) in a storage magazine in downtown Delft.

One of his paintings is "A View of Delft with a Musical Instrument Seller's Stall". It was done using a curved perspective and to see it properly, one must view it mounted on a curved surface using just one eye. In the museum, the original was displayed flat, but copies were mounted on curved surfaces so visitors could get the idea.



Some works by an artist with whom I was totally unfamiliar really caught my eye. They were painted by Johannes Verkolje. One was called "The Messenger" and shows a couple as a messenger hands the man (who is in the military) a notice to report for duty. At the time it was painted, 1674, France had just invaded Holland. Another that was painted in the same year, and which I liked even better, had more intriguing elements. A man seated by a virginal holds a woman's hand while pointing to his viola de gamba. The woman is holding another stringed instrument, a cittern. It is perhaps an invitation to play a duet. As in the previous painting, a dog watches them. To one side are an officer's hat and sword. Verkolje's works include elements that show his familiarity with the works of his contemporaries. It was fascinating to me to learn that and see how several Delft artists all worked on similar scenes in their own unique ways and even included elements that referenced each other's works.

Johannes Verkolje, "An Elegant Couple With Musical Instruments" 1674


The Vermeer works, were of course, the highlight of the show. His technique, interpretation of subjects, use of colors and light, details or lack thereof, was most unique.

Girl with a Glass of Wine - Vermeer circa 1659-1660


Check out the website "The Essential Vermeer" for everything you want to know about Vermeer but are afraid to ask.

When we got to the last few Vermeer works, we were expecting to see the painting featured in all the posters and ads - "The Art of Painting" . Okay, I'll admit it, it was K who noticed that it was missing. In its place was "Lady Writing a Letter with her Maidservant". A wonderful painting to be sure, but we were a bit let down at the absence of "The Art of Painting".

The subject of reading or writing letters was common then, though writing was less so. Letters were something of a fad in those days, much as email or text messaging on cell phones is for people today. This particular work is interesting because it is so balanced and lacks tension. The woman writing is totally engrossed in what she is doing, ignoring the maidservant who is waiting for her to finish and has nothing else to do but gaze out the window. The depiction of lighting is superb as usual for Vermeer.

So what had happened? Why the "switcheroo"? I don't know for sure, but I think it went something like this....

"The Art of Painting" now hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. When they started thinking of all the bad things that could happen to their painting if they sent it to Japan, (after all, it had already been one of 17 other paintings that were stolen from Sir Alfred Beit's collection at Russborough House near Dublin in May 1986 and not recovered until 1993) and considered how valuable it is to the museum, Austrian pride, the tourist industry, and the cost of insurance, they got uptight and abruptly changed their minds about it.

For the organizers, a last minute scramble, and after a quick call to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, (and a few Guinnesses later), the Irish agreed to lend "Lady Writing a Letter" in its place. Whew.


"I am Hans." "Und I am Franz." - "and we are here to tell you girlie men in Japan that if you want to see our Vermeer, you'll have to come to Austria!" Hans - "Ya, listen to me now and believe me later, you can't see this art work until you get pumped up, right Franz?" "Ya, that's right Hans. Japan doesn't have the pumpitude to protect our painting, so we won't trust them with it." Hans - "Ya, maybe if California wants to see it we'll loan it to them, because Governor Schwarzenegger is always pumped up. But in Japan, we were proved right when the wimpy girlie man Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda decided to quit after less than a year." Franz - "Ya, maybe he'll go home and cry to his mommy. But no way will we loan them our Vermeer."

On the way out of the museum and park we were entertained by a man playing beautiful songs on a saw with taped accompaniment and another making very complex balloon figures of Disney characters. Tokyo has a certification program of sorts for such people.

The exhibit will be on through December 14, so we will make a second visit. While I wouldn't describe it as crowded when we went, there were quite a few people, and we'd like it if we could take more time and not have to view the paintings elbow to elbow. Knowing which paintings we are most interested in ahead of time will also increase the enjoyment.

That night was to be Kashima's Furusato Matsuri (celebration - Bon Dance) but we were too tired to go and the next night's dance was rained out. Ah, well, there's always next year, and we had experienced plenty to think about and absorb.