– I never was much good at ikebana, or baseball for that matter – day 2, before breakfast

I had a pretty good pitch in softball, though. Put me on first base or on the pitcher’s mound (did we even have one of those in softball? I don’t think so) and I could catch anything. Not outfield, though. And they’d often put me outfield, before they realised – when class sizes had shrunk to the size of the withered skin of a raisin – that they needed all members of our year seven class to have some useful role in the softball team.

How many of us were there? I think there were only seven girls. Girls played softball. We combined with the year sixes, of course. There were enough of them to make up two classes. One of those classes was a combined grade 6/7 to which I belonged.


(Not my image).

They discovered I was pretty good as a goalkeeper in netball too. Necessity is the mother of all invention. I don’t do well when I know there’s a way that I should be doing something. This of course, means that I don’t really learn much. Learning takes practice. I’m not good with scrutiny, having team members rely upon me and with not being able to adapt to something quickly. I can get there, though. With practice, you nearly always can, though a mere pass in maths with hours of sweat-inducing effort seems hardly worth it.


(Not my image).

It’s insecurity, mind you, not arrogance, but maybe the two rub off one another somehow. The skills that you can dabble in when you visit Japan or other places are many. Having begun my career as an assistant language teacher in the JET programme way back when, I had many chances to place a flower in a vase a certain way, to fold paper to create an origami homunculus (maybe I was being too ambitious), or to cast a horse-hair brush over washi paper with grace and ease.

It was beyond me. Beyond my confidence. I even had the aikido outfit, but only attended classes twice. It was a wonder I picked up any of the language at all. Wasted opportunities. Flower arrangement is the art of ikebana in Japan, and it can be elegant, amusing, uplifting and something beyond a bunch of blooms strewn into a jam jar, or conversely that could capture its very essence.

Yuji Ueno knows all about it.


This one is termed Ultimate flower arrangement/garage, and in Japanese, I’m sure the word ikebana is used instead. Ueno’s exhibition was part of the Selected 100 Marginal Artists of Today, as part of the 2015 Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial. They were exhibiting in and around Nohbutai (For pics of Nohbutai, see below). Here’s a 2013 article on Ueno and his attitude toward ikebana. I can’t get much information about this artwork online.


According to the linked article above, it’s an expansion of and play upon the tradition of hanagaruma. A picture of the same lifted from the article is below.


I can’t readily find out if the work is from 2012 or 2015 as Ueno has participated in events for a while. This was the first Nohbutai exhibit that K and I had seen when we’d pulled into town (Matsudai) the day previously and, from a distance, apparent meaning was puzzling.


We didn’t see it from this angle though. Nohbutai is the centre for the Matsudai area, and I’ve posted many pictures of it in the 2009 touring reports.

I slept like a log at the end of my first day touring. Well, not quite, but I was asleep before 12 and slept straight for 2 hours. I know, because I woke at midnight. Of course I went back to sleep, and I do sleep fitfully generally speaking, but the periods when I slept were restful.


You can just see the tip of Yayoi Kusama’s Echigo in Bloom at the very edge of that picture. The person on the bike was tending a small vegetable garden just near it.

My plan was to strike out at about 7am, as breakfast was served at 8:30am at Yama no ie. I knew there were many artworks in the hills around Nohbutai, and I wanted to see the ones that had popped up since the 2009 visit, and perhaps some 2015 ones. I still didn’t have a guide with English, and not much time, so I was relying on memory and trust.

I did know that Illya and Emilia Kabakov had a new artwork, but the researcher I’d been chatting to the night before said she’d been unable to find it. However, we did reminisce about others tucked into the folds of the mountains, such as the spirals and the little library in the forest. Referenced in 2009.

There are a number of practical and not so practical artworks around the Nohbutai center, too, and it was good to see them so early in the morning, packed away. Though also great to see kids and others clambering all over them later on.

Gyro for Playing with Earth by Takahito Kumura. They look like unicycles, but are not. When we returned later, there were only one or two on the racks.

The palm of the god (below) is by Nobuhiko Terasawa. It’s housed in a Kamaboko style structure. The Kamaboko are the rounded warehouses that people in the Echigo area use for storage. They have arched roofs so that snow slides off easily. The Kamaboko installation can be found elsewhere in this blog, and they do seem to go through a metamorphosis each festival. K and I explored later when the center was open.




Anyway, time was ticking. There are a few ways to climb the hills. Art work is peppered throughout them. If you start at the 2009 post touring and read through to touring 8 on this blog, you will see a good representation of most of the permanent, and some not so permanent, art works in this area. If you check out my art collection on flickr, there are 9 albums dedicated to the 2009 festival.This time I decided not to take any photos of art works I had already seen, except if they’d changed significantly.

Anyhoo – new stuff.
It was hot. The hills were steep. I decided to walk past the Ricefield, the very first installation of the festival back in 2000, thereby bypassing a great many other worthy installations. I gave a quick nod to Simon Beer’s snowman (Carpe Diem). I’ve seen this icy fella (not really. He’s made of foam) on-season and off. He must prefer festival years when he can peer out of his refrigerated door to the spectators gazing in. Unless he’s a misanthrope. Which he very well could be. He’s pretty isolated year in, year out.

At a meeting of three roads, one which led to the highly recommended WD Spiral Part III Magic Theatre, I chose the path which had jinsei written in Japanese. I’d found the tricky turn to the Kabakovs’ work, and it was fitting that I’d walked through their original installation just a short while prior.


The Arch of Life in English. It doesn’t seem that Ilya and Emilia Kabakov have too bright a view of our journey. Even so, they make sure it plays out in beautiful surroundings.


I knew that Arch of Life would be crowded later, as the art work would have symbolised a lot to those who are invested in the festival. Therefore, it was great to just have me and the screaming, screeching, tweeting, rustling birds and insects. The sun rises a little after five nowadays (the days are getting shorter), so everything was already well illuminated, and Japan doesn’t really lose its heat overnight. However, it was still cooler at that time than at nearly any other.




Click on this one and have a better look at the side face of the egg.



There are three or more paths you can take back down to Nohbutai. Two via road, and about three through the fields and hills. I chose the road, and revisited Tatsuo Kawaguchi’s, Relation-Earth/ the Big Dipper, which was a big square piece of rust in a rice-field when I saw it in Autumn 2009

Relation-Earth-the big dipper

(Is that my picture? I’m not sure).

Not so in 2015:


Relation-Earth/the Big Dipper, Tatsuo Kawaguchi.

Can you see the farmer tending his rice to the side? Click to make the picture bigger, and zoom in.

I walked past The○△□Tower and the Red Dragonfly, by Shintaro Tanaka (2000), and Reverse City, by Pascal Marthine Tayou (Cameroun, 2009), two of my favourite installations. A young girl from our hostel was checking them out. I only found this out later. I saw her, but didn’t realise she was staying at Yama no ie.

She was an exchange student from Taiwan, and was currently living in Akita, to the north of Niigata Ken. She was travelling around on the seishun juhachi kippu, but was struggling with a rather big yellow suitcase, as were many of the travellers (No. They didn’t all have yellow suitcases).


Stock picture, not mine.

Of course she didn’t have her luggage with her at this early hour. I saw it when she was checking out. Considering how scarce accommodation was due to the festival’s popularity (travellers had to go from one business to another), and how far out of the way a lot of installations were, with a public transport system that could not be termed as frequent, a suitcase was cumbersome. I tried to find lockers for my backpack as soon as I could when I was using public transport, and luckily for days one and two, K and I used his car.


A picture of mine from 2009. Tetsuo Sekine’s Boys in the Wonderful Red Loin Cloths

I had to make a decision. Whether to see the addition I heard of to the Boys in the Wonderful Red Loin Cloths, or to go back for breakfast. I knew it was about fifteen minutes to the artwork and also to the dormitory cafe, in opposite directions. I opted for breakfast and chatted with the Australian researcher about research in the Arts (including creative writing).

K was coming at 10am, and once breakfast was finished, and the woman from Sydney had gone to meet her interpreter, and the Taiwanese woman had combatted her suitcase, I had time to actually get my head straight, to find the location of art works I wanted to see on the map, and to plan a vague itinerary. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the distraction of talking to my fellow travellers, and I know that I took up their valuable preparation time as well. The hectic breakfast pace quickly subsided, and the ensuing serenity of Yama no ie was the perfect place to spread out my map and wait for K.

Luckily I also waited for the loin cloths. That’s not a sentence you write every day. The new installation was not just about the loin cloths (fundoshi). Its title is Native Vegetation – Standalone Soil, another Tetsuo Sekine creation. However, there were some of the new-look loin cloths, as seen in the picture below. There were masses of the standalone figures, and they were a fair way from Nohbutai and the dorm. Having a car afforded us more time to wander around and take in other artwork.


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One Comment on “– I never was much good at ikebana, or baseball for that matter – day 2, before breakfast”

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