Play hunt the lost ship in Osaka this weekend.
At the Creative Center Osaka (the former Namura Shipyard) there will be a “Vanished Ship Plan” event on January 27th.
Participants will be divided into teams and then you have to find the vanished blueprints over the course of sixty minutes.
It’s of course wholly appropriate that the mystery in the game is a lost ship as the Namura indeed now does not have any vessels, whereas once it was a thriving harbor.
The same could be said about much of Osaka, famed historically for its waterways but actually now home to a vacuous and depressing port area (heard of the World Trade Center Cosmo Tower, anyone?), and canals and rivers almost never used except when Hanshin Tigers fans want a place to jump into as part of their victory celebrations.
I used to live in Osaka many moons ago and often went down to the Namura, a former shipyard that now plays host to temporary events like art exhibitions, site-specific performances, and music events.
It’s actually one of the city’s best-kept secrets, not least due to the journey required to get out to it — a trip on the subway right down to the south of the city, and then a walk along alleys and through an industrial estate. It reminds you that Osaka was a real working city once upon a time and also just how much emptier and poorer the south districts are compared to the northern suburbs.
Other inventive uses of disused facilities include several art venues in Tokyo, such as the 3331 Arts Chiyoda space in a former school, the Nishi-Sugamo Arts Factory performing arts community center, likewise housed in an old school in Toshima (and which has amazing events like this “immigration camp” experience last autumn), and the old warehouse in Asakusa that is now home to Gallery ef.
Just because the Japanese economy and population are changing doesn’t mean things have to die! Let’s re-use all these great facilities rather than letting them stand derelict.
“You will experience a totally new cool art aquarium space where you can enjoy the beautiful kingyo in the stylish performance of Edo at Tokyo Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall.”
Okay, we can forgive the slight sense of Jinglish in that sentence but this Art Aquarium is undeniably cool — and spectacular too.
Those with subtler palates will likely want to stay away from this but if you have ever wondered what happens when the vibrant colors of Edo era Tokyo (i.e. “Edo”) meet with a host of fish in glass tanks, hope down to see this before it closes later this month.
It is of course very reminiscent of Mika Ninagawa and her typical furore of garish colors, opulent pinks and oranges, and always with some gold fish swimming around. Her critics and detractors call her immensely superficial — and this blogger is very much of that party — while her fans adore her vision and beauty.
Her film of the manga Sakuran began like a closeup from this art aquarium show, with elegant but luxurious feasts of colors revealing kingyo fish swimming in between.
What is it about Edo that we remember only through, if not rose-tinted glasses, but explosions of color?
Yes, there would have been some no doubt bright clothes around and it certainly was an era when the pleasure quarter Yoshiwara and entertainments like Kabuki were in full swing. But ordinary life would have been far more banal, especially in its spectrum of colors. Most people wore surely duller clothes and, there being no wonders like air con like today, come the summer everyone surely sweated and stank to high heaven.
It is definitely a case when the fantasy image of what we think the culture and city represented has come to supplant any sense of grounded imagination. Mountains of Ukiyoe prints and their “floating world” aesthetic have caused a sort of amnesia for realistic ideas of what “Edo” was.
An old colleague once made a great observation when he noted that Japanese period dramas are always so clean, while western historical dramas, especially ones with pre-eighteenth or nineteenth century settings, rather revel in the dirt, the grime. I guess the later happens because viewers like verisimilitude and also to feel comfortable, literally, while watching their TV screens, content that they live in a much more civilized day.
The former? Well, I suppose matters like hygienic and discomfort are not
The Art Aquarium runs in central Tokyo until September 24th.