All posts tagged: Japan

Japan by Sea

Donald Trump, you may have read, recently visited Japan.  I also just wrapped up a tour of the Land of the Rising Sun.  At the risk of being the target of a derisive tweet or internet trolls, it is fair to say that I had the better trip. The two-week National Trust Tours exploration of Japan, with a focus on its coastal cities and sites, certainly broadened my mind. Not only were the people and places welcoming, but the sharing of perspectives from our guides, study tour lecturers, and fellow travelers enriched an already heady experience. The World Heritage sites, such as Todai-ji Temple in Nara, the capital of Japan from 710-784 CE, were powerful and moving, especially as one found places away from the crowds to privately indulge in the architecture, gardens, and spiritual meaning of the spaces. More modern sites, such as Hiroshima, the Adachi Museum of Art and Gardens, and I.M. Pei’s Miho Museum, were also important touchstones for understanding parts of life in today’s Japan. It was at the more out-of-the-way places, …

I.M. Pei, Rest in Peace

Eight days before the revered architect I.M. Pei passed away at 102 years of age, I had the opportunity to visit one of his last—and more remote—commissions:  the Miho Museum in Japan. Standing amidst the Shiga mountains in a protected nature preserve, Pei’s Miho Museum, which opened in 1997, fits in well with the other modern yet very accessible works of this master who left an indelible mark on the world before his passing on May 16th of this year. Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural historian and author Paul Goldberger wrote a lovely obituary for Pei in the New York Times, capturing  the architect’s expansive work and spirit.  When thinking of Pei, my mind naturally turns to the beautiful East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., a museum I’ve visited many times.  One feature that always brings a smile to my face wasn’t exactly designed by Pei.  Etched into the stone is a listing of all those who made the East Building possible—politicians, National Gallery leadership, architects, and more.  At one point the beautiful …

Children of the Drum

Two wooden sticks, a calf skin, and a hollowed-out tree trunk. Basics from nature. I never thought they could bring such primal fun, but that was before I spent a morning at Kodo’s Sado Island Taiko Center. The recent National Trust Tours Japan by Sea trip led me on a Friday morning to remote Sado Island, the nation’s 6th largest island comprised of two parallel mountain ranges separated by a plain dotted with small rice farms. First known as a place of exile for intellectuals and political dissidents, it now boasts premium quality rice and sake. It also serves as the home base for the world-famous taiko drumming group, Kodo. “Exploring the limitless possibilities of the traditional Japanese drum, the taiko, Kodo is forging new directions for a vibrant living art-form. In Japanese the word ‘Kodo’ conveys two meanings: Firstly, ‘heartbeat’, the primal source of all rhythm. Secondly, read in a different way, the word can mean ‘children of the drum’, a reflection of Kodo’s desire to play the drum simply, with the heart of …

Gardens and Gardeners

Linking the passions of America’s founding fathers with those of the ruling classes of Asia wasn’t on my agenda when I left for a two-week National Trust Tour of Japan and South Korea earlier this month. Sometimes serendipity just strikes. It was pure chance that I began reading Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation as I was leaving for my first trip to Asia. I was absorbed in her illuminating study of the passion for gardening, agriculture, and botany of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison—America’s best-known founding fathers—as I was entering a world where exquisite gardens were the obsession of Japan’s ruling class. The juxtaposition was fascinating and delightful. I became acquainted with Wulf through one of my favorite books, her 2015 work The Invention of Nature, with its description of how Alexander von Humboldt radically reshaped the way we thought of our relationship to the natural world. Founding Gardeners, written in 2011, isn’t as consistently strong, but is an enlightening read in its own right. …