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
Tokyu Hands (pronounced Tokyo Hanz) was reviewed by the New York Times as 'the' department store for the serious home owner and hobbyist, it has also been described as a 'makers paradise'.
Floors of fascinating items, many only available in Japan, tempt me. Countless arts possibilities reawaken as shelves full of curious and useful items demand attention. I want to take one of the stores home with me.
We visited the flagship store at Shibuya, but at Ikebukuro they also have a cat cafe, with around 20 cats willing to be stroked and petted by customers.
Without my rose tinted specs I have to admit there is one gigantic flaw - the store is devided vertically into three sections, right and left sections have elevators, but access to the middle section is via steps.
The stores have free demonstrations and workshops as well as magazines and areas devoted to inspire and enable the newly creative. Next time I come I will bring an extra suitcase - maybe I said that last time?
Shibuya is a hilly place and getting around on steep slopes and uneven surfaces in amongst dense crowds of people takes patience and determination. It is also quite fun - if you have plenty of time. The famous Shibuya Crossing, where all the lights go red together, has pedestrians streaming in all directions.
We visited a newly opened shopping mall to sample their famous cakes and wasted about an hour waiting for lifts with enough space to fit the wheelchair in. Travellers squeezed themselves together and beckoned helpfully, but I guess most Japanese have a poor sense of spatial awareness.
I needed to lean forward to balance the skinny-wheeled chair in order to negotiate the long, steep hill to the Thai restaurant where we planned to eat our evening meal. But was then disappointed by the flight of steps that greeted us at the entrance. The restaurant has a lift - at the top of the stairs - people without wheels often overlook these little things.
High in the sky
warm and safe
its easy to loose
sight of ground level.
And deep down
layers make up
and down journeys
as necessary as
back and forth
progress. I find
ways to suspend
in favour of
cat cafes and
big city lights.
My life in Tokyo is not exactly domestic, there are few meals to cook or chores to attend to. The robot cleaner takes care of bare essentials and meals are mostly eaten out. Passing a restaurant, we check for access and availability and by the time I roll in, several seats have been removed to give me a choice of seating.
I am greeted with dignity, with no sense of being too much bother, or of being patronised.
This area that I call home is quiet and comfortable, with very little evidence of poverty or social injustice. Obviously it colours my impressions of Japanese society and maybe it makes access to issues a slower process.
Around me I see Universal Design embraced with the collective acknowledgement that age will inevitably render it necessary for most people; and I see evidence of design being used in a more socially aware fashion.
In English public spaces people lacking wheels inevitably choose to use the dropped curbs and the automatic doors, yet designers of these spaces continue to ignore the implications. I live in a part of England where there seems not much attempt being made to take advantage of design possibilities to promote, or symbolically play with, notions of equality; or create spatial justice.
Running alongside Sumida, the walkway has fascinating changes of shape and texture and many resting places. One particularly attractive portion has a narrow chequerboard pathway leading to steps where it widens out before more steps lead back up to the sinuously sloping wide sweep of path rolling consistently alongside.
People lacking mobility disability inevitably choose to descend into this little pit, before coming back up to my level. I love the symbolic significance and the impression of design awareness that created this role-reversing space.
The random seeds of the flower garden
are coming full circle. In beds beside
dark soil is cleared and raked to a fine tilth.
I watch and wait with anticipation,
but one morning a regimented row
of soldier marigolds, over- bred and
barren, stand to attention as I pass.
A playful echo, Sumida's ribbon
companion is fading, and easy
gives way to the approaching season.
Heat and humidity creeping closer,
my journey is broken by orange and
yellow reminders of law and order.
The journey to Hakone involves platform-lifts, chair-lifts, elevators, trains, metro, cable train and cable car (ropeway) as well as some energetic pushing and pulling up and down very steep hills. Mount Hakone is famous for it's hot springs, peaceful lake and eggs boiled in simmering hot pools. These eggs, their shells turned black by sulphur, are said to prolong life.
The 'boiling valley' is 1044 metres above sea level, and contains a lake created by volcanic activity; this was our destination and getting there was the great adventure. The day started with a first - my first travel on the JR line from my local station using a recently installed platform-lift; my destination was Tokyo Station and once there the accessible route to the next platform involved a journey deep underground 'behind the scenes' in one hundred year old tunnels.
About 90 minutes out into the countryside we began our climb on a single track line that zig-zagged up the mountainside, going alternately backwards and forwards up the tree lined slopes.
Moving from one mode of transport to another required up to four men lifting, pushing or pulling my wheelchair. The cable-train gave way to cable-car and suddenly I was swinging up and over the trees, climbing from about 800 metres to 1044 where sulphurous 'smoke' seeped and billowed out of the earth in this steaming cauldron.
I felt I was in an alternative scene from the film Avatar - one where the 'americans' had won the war with the native people - as I looked down on the scar of what looked like mining activity at the summit. Breaking our journey we paused to take in the smell, buy black eggs and wonder at the steaming earth.
Swinging back over the treetops and expecting any moment to see strange flying beasts and giant blue Na'vi, we swooped down a couple hundred metres to the crater lake lying along the southwest wall of this complex volcano.
Here we boarded mock pirate galleons and explored the 20 km length of lake Ashinoko and a view of the lakeside Shinto Temple.
The lake is an incredibly quiet and peaceful place, we watched cranes patiently stalking fish, and overhead what might have been honey buzzards floating on thermals.
Somewhere to come back to,
for an Onsen experience
Hakone's hot springs beckon.
Swooping through the air is one thing,
how will the skinny wheels cope
on the ground? All of this day's
travel used only two bars on my
battery level indicator;
giving my day a surreal
quality, as if I
really did possess
an Avatar. And although
I didn't manage to
swish a skirt, or flick a tail,
I did feel incredibly free.
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?
Ok. I've been here 6 days, this is blog number 5, they all sat frustrated, unposted, on my iPad while I attempted to master the technology using unfamiliar tools.
How do I monitor the size of my images? Resize? Crop? How do I convert .png to .jpg? I guess I will have figured it when I post this, but the Greenroom blog will be out of sync with my tweet...
I may use wheels to augment my body; I may long for a cybersuit, or an avatar, so that I can run and climb and swish a skirt, I enjoy using the technology, but what can I do about my inability to think computer-think?
Yesterday I rolled out in the sun to explore Hibiya Park. The entrance is cobbled and painful to navigate and last year soggy pathways also limited my ability to move around. Access has been greatly improved. The park is bigger than I had imagined, but actually last year's accessible bits were probably the best and most traditional; with a cybersuit, I would have known that already.
The cybersuit needs more development; the Japanese guy testing it out in the French Alps will actually be carried by it's user. The guy lacking the disability will have his strength augmented. I guess we've all heard that story before.
In Marunouchi Building
point a host of decorated
figures. Onwards, upwards
they seem to say
through the eyes of
Japanese - crossing
educating the world;
artistic expressions with
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
Smooth as a financial manager, Sumida reflects my sunshine hopes back at me in a glassy smile. Tokyo, gateway to Utopia, or the crutch to support my fantasies?
Is the promise of independence sweeter than the realisation? Is the realisation realistic, or merely my wheelborne take on the impossible dream?
Humanity seems to possess a built-in hunger for the impossible dream, and living in an age where the dream becomes increasingly universal, and increasingly focused on bodily perfection, I am tempted to question my desire for a 'perfect' wheelchair.
And that longing for the one thing we do not have? The one thing that would make a difference... Is my hope of independent mobility a reasonable human right, or evidence that I too, am on the treadmill?
Am I seeking without, the things that should be within?
No, even as that thought occurs, I reject it. Too long I have sought solutions within myself for circumstances that require other input and mobility is certainly one of those.
Nobody covets a wheeled chair, No
amount of universal design has
made this symbol of disability
desirable to anyone who
doesn't need to be wheelborne.
But the desire to be more, to be
faster, stronger, tireless, could make us
all equal in a powersuit; provided of course
disabled people can afford them.
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?
I once heard Anish Kapoor say something along the lines of "my art works because I have nothing to say" which struck me as very odd.
Triptychos Boxed is a glance at the aspirations of faith and mythology from a wheelborne perspective. A collection of previously loved small boxes containing references to aspects of faith, they also focus on the 'get up and go' that, chairborne, I both long for and reject as irrelevant.
This is my first conscious attempt to make work that 'has nothing to say'. It is merely a suggestion; an emotionally charged comment tossed under the wheels in passing, totally open to any interpretation you might visit upon it.
It may not stick to your wheels (apologies to those of you without - no inequality implied), but maybe you will 'stick' something to it?
Sci-fi might be my mythology;
superheroes are never normal.
Perilous poking around
pointlessly perfect bodies
of history, convince me
to look to the future
to aspire to.
I pin my hopes
on a chairborne aquanaut
to re-imagine life
as we know it,