Kanoko Okamoto, Taro Okamoto, Sumo Season, and Neko Sake
Posted on May 17 2021
This is our spring smells & flower season in Japan. Last week we enjoyed Japanese Jasmine in full bloom. Jasmine is native to Asia and in each country, it smells different. Japanese Jasmine is very strong and you can literally smell it several meters away.
The current smell is a Japanese spring leaf smell. It’s hard to describe, it is a combination of all the new leaves in trees and grass and spring flowers. The grass will be cut soon to prepare for the rainy season in June.
KANOKO OKAMOTO - Poetry
We wanted to repost this article because it is cute and informative. Introduction and translations by Eric Margolis:
Kanoko Okamoto (1889-1939) was a sensation in her day. A writer with a lavish poetic flair and daring reputation, Okamoto was unmatched by few other authors of the Taisho and early Showa Eras.
In her teens, her florid, romantic poetry drew rave acclaim, and she joined Japan’s most elite avant garde literary circle. In her 20s, she came to be recognized as a leading scholar on Buddhism. And in her 40s, her women-centric fiction investigated the erotic side of motherhood, leading recognition of Okamoto as a leading feminist as well. Her romanticism fell out of fashion in Japan after World War II, and very few works out of her vast catalogue have been translated before.
“May Morning Flowers” captures her romanticism and lush poetic flair; “A Crooked Posture” is an astute self-reflection on her own romanticism, in the context of a rapidly modernizing 1920s and 30s Japanese society.
Both are translated for the first time into English here. She deserves a whole book of translations like these, but even in these two short passages, we can find the essence of springtime. Okamoto writes with committed optimism—a devout belief in the beauty of life, a belief that dances with every word she writes. She is the perfect Japanese author to read and reflect on as spring comes into full flower.
Both works were published posthumously:
Spectacular cherry blossoms scatter.
The spring sakura stretch their limbs to the dawn of spring…and the wind whips and whirls the blossoms away. For an instant, the clouds clear and the sky shines with blue.
A moment of silence, solitude.
I endure the moment and keep staring up.
Slowly and steadily, from some far corner the sky begins to grow grey, and moisture spreads across the entire sky.
In an instant, those drops, drops, drop all across the May skies of Japan. The countless drops of lilac long-and-narrow paulownia flowers, huddled together.
Smart, fashionable, reserved. Lonesome despite the crowds, clear-eyed despite their silence. And though they are stealthy, they have an undeniable brightness.
The flowers tower above the trees, but they lack a certain conviction, those splotchy drops of paulownia.
But all it takes is a burst of bloom before they dare the plunge and leave the rest to the rustling wind, glittering in silver dust over our footpath, scattering heaps of snow-white powder before our eyes.
Go a little further, take a look.
There—with large gems of red and orbs of white, multicolored treasures cradled by their stems—tulips!
Sweet pea blossoms and their shards of ruby and amethyst.
Stamps of color freshly removed from the coat of a peacock, pansies.
Though some may sneer at these boorish flowers, a force fights back, for someone cultivated these jewels in the May flower bed and treated them more carefully than anything. The dew droplets that slept in them last night become a faint, sweet-smelling mist. They dampen the hems of our skirts, fleeing from the light of the morning sun.
And if you stop and look closely, right there, in the shadows of the half-opened white roses—over lumps of fertilizing clay, a little toad lurches along.
Oh, look—the greengrocer has fresh cabbage and oranges! Hurry, let’s go inform the kitchens.
We had no idea she was the mother of famous Japanese sculptor Okamoto Taro! His father was famous cartoonist Ippei Okamoto.
His former residence and current museum is located in Omotesando, we love his little museum and his café, “Piece of Cake”, that over looks the sculpture garden. You can find his playful sculptures all over Japan!
The Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum was both home and studio to Taro Okamoto until his death in 1996 at the age of 84. It was here that he lived for almost fifty years from 1954.
It is the place where he painted, dictated manuscripts, struggled with sculpture, met with people, and developed his ideas for a variety of works, including the ‘Tower of the Sun’ for the Osaka World EXPO ‘70 and other huge monumental works or murals. Even today it remains filled with his dynamic energy.
The address of this place used to be 3 Aoyama-Takagicho, which had been that of the prewar home of Ippei, Kanoko and Taro Okamoto. It was where the family lived for years before setting off for Europe, but unfortunately the original family home was destroyed in the bombings.
After the war, Taro’s friend Junzo Sakakura designed and built this studio on the site. Sakakura had been a favorite pupil of the French architect, Le Corbusier, and in answer to Taro’s request he built the walls of concrete blocks, capping these with a convex, lens-shaped roof to create a unique building. At the time it attracted great attention as a famous piece of architecture.
Taro Okamoto’s work is so varied that it seems impossible that it could all have been made by a single artist, but it was all conceived here. It contains huge drawings and sketches, sculptures, and a mountain of reference materials tracing the history of postwar culture that we reorganize every now and then and we hope that you will drop by to see it sometime.
He was born in Takatsu village, in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture.
He studied at Panthéon-Sorbonne in the 1930s, and created many works of art after World War II. He was a prolific artist and writer until his death.
Among the artists Okamoto associated with during his stay in Paris were André Breton (1896–1966), the leader of Surrealism, and Kurt Seligmann (1900–62), a Swiss Surrealist artist, who was the Surrealists' authority on magic and who met Okamoto's parents, Ippei and Kanoko Okamoto, during a trip to Japan in 1936. Okamoto also associated with Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Robert Capa and Capa's partner, Gerda Taro, who adopted Okamoto's first name as her last name.
In the 1950s, he received a commission from the Oriental Nakamura department store in Nagoya to create a large mural on the main facade of their flagship store. The mural was demolished after Oriental Nakamura was bought by Mitsukoshi in the 1970s. In 1964 Tarō Okamoto published a book titled Shinpi Nihon (Mysteries in Japan). His interest in Japanese mysteries was sparked off by a visit he made to the Tokyo National Museum. After having become intrigued by the Jōmon pottery he found there, he journeyed all over Japan in order to research what he perceived as the mystery which lies beneath Japanese culture, and then he published Nihon Sai-hakken－Geijutsu Fudoki (Rediscovery of the Japan－Topography of Art).
One of his most famous works, Tower of the Sun, became the symbol of Expo '70 in Suita, Osaka, 1970. It shows the past (lower part), present (middle part), and future (the face) of the human race. It still stands near the entrance of the Expo Memorial Park.
After being lost for 30 years in Mexico, on November 17, 2008, his mural "The Myth of Tomorrow" (明日の神話, asu no shinwa), depicting the effects of an atomic bomb, was unveiled in its new permanent location at Shibuya Station, Tokyo. In it, a human figure burns and others appear to run from flames. The work was made for the Hotel de Mexico in Mexico city by Manuel Suarez y Suarez.
Kawasaki, his hometown, has constructed the Taro Okamoto Museum of Art in Tama Ward, northwest of the city. His studio/home is also open to visitors and is located in Aoyama in Tokyo.
Sumo Tournaments in May:
There are 3 Sumo tournaments every year. One of them is in May, generally between May 10th – 24th.
It originated in ancient times as a performance to entertain the Shinto deities. Many rituals with religious background, such as the symbolic purification of the ring with salt, are still followed today. The rules are quite simple, put your opponent out of the ring or on the ground. All sumo wrestlers are classified in a ranking hierarchy (banzuke), which gets updated after each tournament based on the wrestlers' performance.
Sumo’s train in “stables”, some of which you can visit on certain dates. However if you are around Akasaka or other areas, you may get a chance to see them leisurely walking around. There are also “favorite eating places” where you can see them. One secret curry rice restaurant in Shibuya, One “standing only” sushi restaurant in Tsukiji, and a few other spots. But their usual diet is Chanko Nabe (hot pot) which is a kind of soup with lots of meat, fish, and vegetables.
If you want to watch a short video about Sumo:
For a longer informative documentary:
NEKO SAKE brewed in Hokkaido!
The key elements of good sake production are all here- pure water, clean air, high quality rice and the frozen cold weather.
In this northern island Hokkaido kept in ice and snow more than half a year where the vast and harsh nature dictates human activities. Use the snowmelt water to brew. That snow was on top of the highest mountain of Hokkaido about 100 years ago.
NEKO SAKE simplified the idea of Japanese sake. It is a very light sake. Easy to drink. Ultra fresh. Nothing more nothing less.
We don’t talk about the technicality of Japanese sake. Just make sure to drink it icy cold and enjoy.
Suitable for days when you fancy cold lager or crisp white wine.
Cup sake designed by Sori Yanagi is convenient when you want to drink a little. You can drink it as it is without needing a glass.
You can find it at our store or order it HERE!
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