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Saturday: homeless, art

Sleep is good. I need more sleep. Lots more sleep.
I decided to go back to Ueno Park, this time for the Tokyo National Museum and lots of Asian art. I was running late, so for brunch got a bento box in the train station. That had a nice variety: rice, tamago, baked tofu, a couple of small roots or tubers, a bit of fried chicken, a couple bits of either other meat or really attractive fungus, a rather less attractive black mushroom, some sushi rolls.

Outside the museum I heard some public performance. Not quite sure what, though it sounded more European in music, and possibly Italian in voice. As I approached, I encountered... an odor. The whole audience was male, and scruffy; I'm thinking this was For the Homeless. Either free art/cultural uplift, or some church thing, depending on what was actually going on.

Yes, Tokyo has homeless. I haven't seen any out begging during the day, but they materialize at night. First one was on a bridge over Showa-dori, and the access tunnels for the subway stations by my hotel has them spring up at night, cleverly connecting cardboard boxes together to make tiny huts to lie in. If someone crouched in a box is the caveman age of cardboard architectures, this is, well, the Japanese/bonsai style of cardboard architecture.

Museum: I took photos. I saw a lot. If you've seen Japanese art or archaeology, you can probably imagine what I saw. Jomon pottery, lacquerware, kimonos, swords, samurai armor, dividing screens, more pottery and tools -- there's an archaeological gallery -- statues of Buddha, ukiyo-e, enameled porcelains made for export to Europe during the isolation period. A couple of points stand out: one is a painting, nonchalantly labeled "presentation of Buddhist deities", which is nothing new to me but never fails to amuse, give all the "atheist religion" stuff I see about Buddhism. The other is the Buddhist time capsules -- no, really, they used the phrase a bit after I encountered the concept of sutras buried for the age after Buddhism fades away. Because Buddhists thought Buddhism would fade and be forgotten as the world turned, and then Maitreya Buddha would come to bring it back, but he'd need sutras.

There seems to be a contradiction there: Guatama Buddha made his own scriptures. That's what being a Buddha means: you achieve enlightenment on your own, rather than being guided to it as Arhats are. (Bodhisattvas are among the Arhats, if I understand it all correctly.) But the buried scriptures thig reminds me of the Mahayana Buddhist claim to be based on scriptures hidden from the Buddha's original students, because the students weren't ready, and revealed to the world 600 years later. Though they talk less about burial and more about being handed down through dragons. And all that reminds me of the Book of Deuteronomy, conveniently "found" in the Temple during the reign of Josiah. "Hey guys," said the priests. "We found a whole new book of the [Mosaic] Law! And it's all about how important priests are!"

And then there's the Book of Mormon, but I digress.

Part of the museum complex is a collection of Asian antiquities in general, from Egypt to Korea. I tried taking photos of Gandharan Buddhas, because Buddhas in classical Greek style never get old for me, but the light was dim and the pieces less dramatic than others I've seen. I still remember going around an art museum in LA -- forget which one -- with Caltech Sarah, and going "wow WTF? It's Buddha, but he's in a toga and has a real face, and muscles, and Corinthian columns..." Sarah didn't see what was odd, which I guess tells me I knew more relevant art history; placards informed me of Gandhara, aka Pakistan, where latent influence from Alexander plus a thriving export market to the Roman Empire led to a 2nd century AD surge in art blending classical Greco-Roman and Indian styles, like bodybuilder Buddhas with human non-stylized faces.

Then the whole visit was cut short because I was going down to Chigasaki to meet the family friend again. It takes an hour from Tokyo station, longer from Ueno, and costs around 1000 yen each way. $10! A commuter would spend $5000 a year. That's like owning a car. Well, not counting parking a car in downtown Tokyo; the equivalent in San Francisco could cost $300/month.

Dinner was interesting. First we got raw fish, sami maybe? The unusual bit was that while slices had been cut off and deboned, the head was on the plate. After we were done with the slices, they took the heads back and fried the hell out of them, and we ate the whole thing, fins and bones and eyes and head. Not that the eyes were recognizable, and I actually gave up on the head; texture or flavor was too strong for me. We also had a great tuna steak, almost fully cooked but still good, Western salad (greens, cherry tomatoes, light vinegar dressing), some yummy beef, a bigger version of the shrimp mushroom custard from Sushizanmai (Ai, help, name?) and maki for rice and seaweed, since we'd had pure protein. Tekka maki, and some sour fermented plum maki I've forgotten the name of, which is sad because I'd like to avoid it in the future.



Damien Sullivan

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