I traveled part of the way to Hakone under a poster with an image in grey, of cracks in a pavement - Proof of Existence. The Hakone area seems stuffed with museums and galleries that will tempt me back; this poster was for Shinji Omaki's Proof of Existence.
Passing the Hakone Open-Air Museum I saw evidence of artworks that will need to be explored. Plentiful signs and posters pointed to other inviting destinations; Hakone brought itself to my attention and certainly has something to live up to, next time I come.
Standing in front of the naked musician blowing an oversized horn, I presumed it was an homage to the real life naked trumpeter.
This one was small - less than hobbit-sized and on loan from, yes, somewhere in Hakone. A bronze statue in the Marunouchi Street Gallery in Tokyo, he was modestly shaded by a tree, small in every detail (bar the musical instrument), and looking very comfortable with his nudity.
If I am frequenting all the wrong places to find disability culture, it is not just the lure of the 'mainstream' famous arts, it is also their accessibility and plentiful abundance. I continue to question the existence of disability culture yet daily hope to find it hidden in plain sight. Invisible only because of a culture chasm.
Yet is a society without the need for disability culture good or bad? Is this taking integration too far? Does it free up disabled people or oppress them?
This experiment of trying to find Disability Arts and artists 'from the ground up' needs some control data to line up against. Maybe I need to visit London as a foreigner and see how far I get.
Those universal sounds, uttered by
deaf people signing, alert me. Here
on the train I travel, wheels on wheels
back to the crowd, quietly watching
window reflection, unobserved.
Instant curiosity lifts heads
momentarily; and flashed tension
comes, goes, never was. I get the
outrageous idea of a culture
where disability just isn't
a concept; a culture where people
are just and gloriously people.
I have made contact with a potter, Yoko Terai, who has an exhibition of beautiful pots and a friend who speaks some English.
The pots, elegant forms in calm shades of white, have a gentle, sensuous beauty, but also the imposing authority of Mount Fuji; I had difficulty restraining myself from picking them up.
I can imagine living with them.
I could also live with a regular delivery of flowers - the most beautiful arrangements of cut flowers; exquisite mini-bonsai in round balls of moss or tiny bowls; or more lasting - groups of fine pots containing complementary green foliage plants.
As the season develops and Tokyo gets greener, the higgledy- piggledy street- assortment of degrading plastic containers containing a variety of beautiful plants multiplies. Around doorways, in alcoves, around the many public trees, bushes and street furniture; lining alleyways - anywhere they would not create nuisance - there are plants.
The soldier marigolds that march Sumida's walkway are the exception, but their regiments multiply to occupy the available spaces; they are supplemented by a crack team of bold, red salvias who engage the bright pink azaleas in a war on the optical senses.
One quarter of the population suffers from hay-fever from the millions of, State planted, Japanese cedar trees that shed their pollen at this time of year. The government is seeking creative ways to tackle this man-made issue.
Occasionally I see Japanese pots - big, bold and beautiful, but normally plant containers appear to be anything recyclable that comes to hand. A curious aesthetic.
There is more than distance between us.
More than the sounds that never quite make
understandable words; more than the
shape of our backgrounds. There is a
desire to reach out to foreign culture;
to touch the exotic where east meets
west. To colour our days with the unknown.
I have no natural investigative skills,
make no intuitive leaps that take me
beyond the obvious. I persevere yet
appear to make no progress in this
one-woman effort to connect with
creatives who might want to engage
an outsider in the revelation
of insider issues. Utopia continues
to move like Michael Jackson.
Discovering the imposing bronze statue behind Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa reminded me that I really do wish to attend a Kabuki performance. The traditional Japanese building of our local Kabuki theatre is controversially being replaced by a modern brick box and not due to reopen until next year. I'm hoping it will be amazingly accessible.
I checked out the alternative theatres and discovered that I had missed the May season. I had hoped to go to a morning performance as the event usually lasts around four hours. I would need a translation too!
The Kabuki stage has a 'catwalk' running from the deck to the back of the auditorium, where the hero of 'Shibaraku' appears to deliver his monologue. Unlike Shakespeare plays, this piece was conceived spontaneously in the middle of another play, by the actor whose family developed the drama and now seems to have exclusive rights to the role.
The hero wears an impressive padded costume to add height and width to his stature. I think Japanese people are perhaps more aware of the symbolic possibilities of clothes and they are fond of dressing up.
There are quite a few young people wearing kimono, but so many women in 'dolls clothes' one gets the impression there are almost no grown- ups in the country.
Outfits that look like mini, frilly nightwear and cute little- girl hairstyles make it seem like Japanese women pass from childhood to old age with no adult years between.
And indeed, a lot of them are reluctant to take on roles as wives and mothers, to the extent that the government is seriously worried about the shrinking population numbers.
Is our fascination with being/looking youthful leading humanity on the road to extinction? Is this particular Utopia a dead end?
Kimono: the hair
the style, the pins,
socks and shoes
as well as the
belts, all belong
to make tiny steps
into a future
I have made a journey back to Asakusa, it involves changing trains and previously the station staff have been very helpful, but this time the helpfulness petered out when I arrived at the first station.
The man-with-the-ramp was not there and I was on the point of blocking the sliding door, to prevent the train leaving, when he came running onto the platform barking 'wait'.
At Asakusa station, following signs for the Temple exit, I came to a full stop at a flight of stairs and proceeded to get lost in underground corridors.
There is this strange business of the narrow focus, where people are capable of just not seeing you. Asakusa station staff 'couldn't' see me, and later when I got myself wedged into a tight corner in a tiny shop, the elderly owners 'couldn't' see me even when they were stood in my way and I was speaking to them.
There are a lot more tourists around this time, is this evidence of tourist-fatigue? Or am I discovering cracks in the skin of Utopia?
I was rescued by a kindly Japanese person who offered to take me to the elevator and proceeded to accompany me up to street level and point out how I could get to my destination.
In the past Asakusa was famous for theatre and night life, today the Temple attracts a lot of disabled visitors as well as school children and elderly people.
Today there was also a pair of tourist-geisha, looking exquisite and promenading - with groups of male business-men tourists trying to catch their attention.
Maybe on another day I'd have found all that male strutting and posing funny, but this seemed to be 'pick up a tourist' day and I was fielding unwanted attention from locals and foreigners. A persistent Japanese male had me practicing the narrow focus myself and wishing I knew the Japanese for 'get lost'.
Sumida rolls to Asakusa,
shiny water shivered
by quaking earth
under sunshine sky.
arcs basking wings,
alert, ready to fly.
While I, underground
encased in metal tube
am rocked in my
Today I revisited Design Sight 21_21, the design exhibition space of the Issey Miyake Foundation, created by Issey Miyake and Tadeo Ando.
Tema Hima - the Art of Living in Tohoku, was exactly that. Film and exhibited objects described the traditional ways of sourcing food and tools that are being practiced in Tohoku, site of The Great East Japan Earthquake.
Visually fascinating, informative and an advocate for the inspirational quality of this way of living holding a key to future survival, this exhibition was exquisitely curated and absorbed my attention for several hours.
The artists and craftspeople who put this exhibition together believe that the future is potentially a dangerous place, and that to be knowledgable and capable of feeding yourself and local community is one kind of utopian space.
At the National Arts Centre, now celebrating it's 5th anniversary, were two special exhibitions: Cezanne, Paris - Provence, and 400 years of European Masterpieces from the State Hermitage Museum.
There was also a massive and well visited exhibition of local artists, the amateurs, as the staff apologetically described them. There seems to be no middle ground, you are famous, international, or nobody; this seems to be one of humanity's universal directions.
But maybe in their search for what it means to be Japanese, people here have not really bought-in to this notion of what it means to be famous; maybe the apology is merely thought appropriate for a foreigner like me.
I was certainly impressed by the scale of local talent which seemed both more international and more Japanese than last year.
And this year there appeared to be a selection of wheelchairs and baby buggies available for visitors to borrow, with even the possibility of a volunteer to do the pushing.
Nobody exhibits in the
National Art Centre.
Nobody has ten
with 5 metre
ceilings and 20
makes good space.
Lying in bed without my wheels, it occurs to me that I am semicyber, but being without them does not free me from their impact. And these times, out of the public gaze, have no impact on the way society views me. Cyborg or cyberbodied, in the public consciousness a chairborne entity is 'bound' to it's wheels.
Here in Japan where I have almost no Japanese, I am freed from any negative feedback regarding my wheelborne presence, by my own lack of understanding. In that way I am freer to create and express my own identity, to find my own eutopia/heterotopia.
With no way to penetrate the polite veneer of Japanese society, I have no access to the can of worms that must inevitably wriggle under its skin.
Nevertheless I retain my optimistic view of the Utopian. Japanese public, social interaction seems to function in a universal way, working for those lacking disability as well as for those with.
Is this why I'm finding it hard to find any real traces of Disability Culture here?
Over the Rainbow Bridge,
this time in the glow of
bright lights, Tokyo Tower
defying it's age, gleams
a juicy orange spike.
Tokyo Wheel, as it shrinks
into the past, colour
changes, pattern changes.
Tokyo winks and sparkles,
welcomes with no trace of
irony. The Universal
Design Museum is
closed. A power saving
Yokohama's Greenroom Festival of music, art and film (www.greenroom.jp/ ) was this year held in the historical Red Brick Warehouse, close to the futuristic Odaibashi ferry terminal:
"Never has architecture been so clearly at the forefront of the festival experience as it is at Yokohama's Greenroom Festival, the annual jazz, ska, lounge and surf-rock celebration that takes place at the Odaibashi International Ferry Terminal at Yokohama port"
Under blue sky, sunny but not yet too hot, this was the perfect weekend for an open air festival. Approaching the festival area we passed families sitting in clover - green spaces where patches of clover grow unchecked, and the festival atmosphere could be appreciated for free.
In fact a lot of the music could be heard, and seen, without entering paid space. Arts and craft stalls were in freespace too, and apart from the crush of people, everything except the tree-house seemed very accessible.
I saw no trace of other wheelborne festival goers, and felt sure my presence in the crush must have inconvenienced quite a few people, but they were never, publicly, other than friendly and helpful. The atmosphere was great.
The music sounded rather more international than when the Guardian reported on the Festival in 2009, but I did find some of the Japanese rock musically difficult to access.
Early evening we headed out to Chinatown to find food some time after the easy to listen to Tokyo Number 1 Soul Set had finished playing.
in keeping with
theme of this year's
feels like fate
Today I'm trying out a Japanese wheelchair to take home; not exactly the one I'd planned for or expected, but good. I hope.
I sense my eutopia moving closer. Actually Utopia moves like Michael Jackson; the moonwalk ever deceptive.
Having the iPad is great, the Brushes app frees me to explore previous frustrated trains of thought and practice, and being here in Tokyo inspires me to make more creative links between image and word, links I had previously been struggling to realise.
My search for roots and identity mingles with the desire for mobility. I come face to face with the need to acknowledge that my roots cannot be linked to a country or a culture; that I am genetically in the past as Scandinavian, in the present as European, and in the future as Asian. My search is no longer a search, but an exploration.
Who am I today? I am the artist who makes links with Toyota's Universal Wheelchair and Bruce Sterling's "Lobsters"; an artist who wants to explore the implications of Haraway's postgendered possibilities from a chairborne perspective.
As a wheelborne entity I'm asking how the concept "cyborg bodies lead to cyborg consciousness" (Danielle Devoss) might be creating my identity.
And my soft sculptures need to be more than seeking into the earth, they need to stretch into time and space. I need them to explore Thirdspace (Edward Soja).
Sumida today has a choppy quality,
lending an air of expectation and excitement.
The floating landing for tourist-boats squeals
like a stressed-up pig, but occasionally
emits a soft feminine moan. A flash of green
marks the flight of a Japanese sparrow
with a bamboo leaf in it's beak.
Here feels creative, is it just the change of scene?
I subscribe to the theory that Utopia always appears to be getting closer. And with the perfect place, the perfect society, comes the perfect life-form - the cyborg. And wheelborne people could be closer than most.
The chairborne aquanaut leads the field, being more than just a metaphor for her chosen life-form, closer to whales, dolphins and sharks than any mere human in dive-gear.
I came to Tokyo hoping to pursue my hunt for Disability Arts, but instead find myself on an apparent detour. I want to return to Odaiba, the artificial island at the end of Rainbow Bridge, to revisit the Universal Design Centre at Toyota's Exhibition Hall. Here they demonstrate developments to a Universal 'wheelchair'.
This 'chair' transports it's user in upright or horizontal positions and travels at speeds that exceed those aspired to by most powerchair manufacturers. It is being designed to be universally desirable. Is this what mobility disabled people want? Is it a viable alternative to a powersuit? Is it anything more than a detour on evolution road? Is it sexy enough to compete?
Technology could be my best way forward: a way to make some connections; a way to look below the surface of life here; to discover heterotopic spaces. There may still be treasure at the end of the rainbow, or this could be going nowhere.
sense of direction.
hither and thither.
I see Sumida.
Today we find
Today I spent roaming in the sunshine, getting my bearings. I rolled alongside Sumida and headed for Ginza. There are more cyclists weaving along the pavements, more mobil-phonists standing in awkward places and I do believe more wheelchairs in evidence.
I have discovered that Japanese department stores regularly host art exhibitions, and just past Ginza I did indeed see evidence of a Japanese artist, possibly inflenced by Klimt and Picasso, exhibiting on the sixth floor; what a great idea.
The artist didn't grab my attention, but a sparkling, jewelled manual wheelchair did.
Positively bling - I loved it!
On one of the designer-wear floors, tucked between international Names, sat this transformed duckling just waiting to party. Covered in crystals, it was the focal point of a section devoted to 'sit-friendly' clothes for chairborne people. And knee bags - I think I might want one!
2016 already calls.
The Paralympics will happen
here, the hype has begun.
Access comes into focus;
the future promises better
and yes I believe. Here where life
already feels good on the outside,
here really could be gearing up
to make groundbreaking breathtaking.
Coming here opened my mind,
re-connected me to
Please, tell me I'm not just being
I'm back. Tokyo called and here I am. Sumida, rocking and rolling, reflects my excitement. This time the cherry blossom is over and Tokyo is greening - punctuated by bright splashes of pink azalea; while Sumida, the river, is followed by a ribbon garden borrowed from an English country cottage.
Sky Tree stretches high into warm city air, awaiting it's grand opening on the 22nd May; it is visible for miles and miles, looking down on the 53 floors of the Mori Building and the red dinosaur that is Tokyo Tower.
The skinny-wheeled chair greets me at Narita airport, slower than I had remembered, but every bit as versatile and enduring.
My journey here was impressively smooth. Special Assistance at Heathrow has never worked so well for me and the people never seemed so 'human'.
The plane was only half-full and I had the seat next to me for bags normally on the floor out of my reach, making the flight very civilised.
Hovering over quiet endurance,
Utopia beckons me onwards.
The human subconscious
dances attendance on the
persistent lure of better.
The promise of perfection
in wheels, shapes my future.
Sparkles through my hopes
for journeys into the places
that haunt my dreams.
The promise of independence
close as a heartbeat,
is within reach, isn't it?
My dream, is reasonable, isn't it?
And this Eutopia is real, isn't it?