28 March 2010

Japan = mono sugoi

mono sugoi = wicked awesome, as defined by R.Okiomah

Arigato, Runo, for introducing this phrase into my life and saying it at least once a day this entire week :D I'm beat from traveling back in time (left at 4:30 pm, arrived at 3:45 pm...say what?), but I offer this one blurry image of the major intersection at Shibuya, exemplifying the lights and swarms that is Tokyo - our final stop before heading back to the States.

The days have rushed by, so I'm trying to digest it one bit at a time before further updates. From quiet rice fields to rushing crowds, it's definitely been a week of extremes strung together by the constant presence of our beloved (yet occasionally cumbersome) posse of MIT and Keio students. (also known as "the Collective," not to be confused with the Borg)

The trip was only 7 days, but bursting at the seams with fun, chaos, translations (and lost translations), convenience stores, following (or not following) the leader, bowing, "sumi masen"-ing, pretending to understand Japanese, and perpetual train stations.

Moto soon _

22 March 2010

Taste of Japan: Day 2

Snapshots from our one full day in and around Kyoto:

I like the ambiguity of Japanese diagrams, especially the ones like this, found on the subway:

Traveling as a group of 13 people can be difficult at times, but we were limber enough to climb up the mountainside at the Fushimi Inari Shrine to see the thousands of vermillion torii gates marching upwards towards the sky, each in honor of the 2 fox deities of Shintoism:

(Although the photo doesn't show it, there were a lot of people around - too bad, since otherwise it would have been quite a peaceful place.)

Our dinner was a lengthy affair over a series of various tempura and other foods such as the most beautiful tomato I've ever seen:

(The taste was also quite lovely as well, and good for offsetting the oil from the deep fried goodness.)

The day started off with cherry blossoms and a distant temple, and concluded with a sprint across the city to squeeze in a night viewing at a well known Zen Buddhist temple with hauntingly beautiful bamboo forest within.

Next stop: the Tane valley, with 14 rural villages northwest of Kyoto. We'll be speaking with locals, living with host families, soaking up the scene, learning about rice cultivation, making presentations, and the like. There's no internet access there, so updates will stop until we reach Tokyo at the end of the week.

- - -

Word of the day: majide?! = for real?!

21 March 2010

Taste of Japan: Day 0/1

After about 24 hours of traveling and little to no sleep the night before:

...we finally arrived in Kyoto! On the way, during our ride in Shinkansen - the infamous bullet train - we were greeted by this magnificent sight in the nearer-than-expected distance:

Although we were all ready to collapse in bed, we still had time for the necessary first meal in Japan at a nearby little restaurant that stayed open just for us:

(my order: konahe donburi = fish cakes, shittake mushrooms, and egg over rice)

And now, a nice low bed to rest my weary head:

Oyasumi nasai to day 1! (= good night)

19 March 2010

Taste of Japan: Day -1

7 hours to go until the plane takes off from Logan, and about 20 hours after, we will be in Japan for a whirlwind trip. Yes, architecture students are fortunate enough to do some traveling for our studies, and although there are such things as free trips, the work we've done to get to this point still means there are no free lunches. Ah well.

There are 10 of us, plus Debbie (our TA) and Shun (our professor), who are flying over to meet with students from Keio University and local villagers. The goal? To see our project site, talk with villagers, make a presentation, and generally soak up the atmosphere of Japan. And to take many trips to the onsen, or hot spring spa. Yes, this is our research, since our project is to design an aqueous spa and sojourner inn as a community center of sorts. No sterile labs for us!

The agenda:
  • a couple days in Kyoto
  • a few days in the Tane valley area (with many trips to the onsen = hot spring spa)
  • a whirlwind day and a half in Tokyo
Japan has been on my list of countries to visit for a while now. There's something about the architecture, sense of design, and hyper density that are awesome - and who can forget the food? Or music? Or vending machines?

One issue: I don't speak Japanese. This makes me a little nervous, since when I travel I at least try to know something in the native language. It's time to conjure up the little Nihongo I learned in 6th grade and put those hours on the plane to good use...

If you have suggestions on what to do/see, let me know. I'm not the type of traveler to run around and see all the famous sites (although some are sort of necessary), so if there are cool neighborhoods to walk around, historic areas, or things that tourists wouldn't typically see, I'm all for it! My internet situation will be sort of sporadic, but I'll try to do some updates.

10 March 2010

Luminous E14

The new Media Lab building, designed by Fumihiko Maki, had its ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony this past Friday. I had a chance to step inside the building at the end of last semester, and the adjective that has stuck in my mind is luminous. It's a building that glows both during the day and at night, due to its material transparency and intensely white walls (and flooring). My friends made fun of me for being a "tourist" (hence the above photo), but hey - it's designed by one of the best Japanese architects, so I don't mind the ridicule.

Maki spoke on Saturday during a symposium about the building's design, and his concept of creating a light-filled "big house, small city" seems to fit nicely with the Media Lab's communally-created innovations. I also found it amusing that he called out the staircases, painted in primary colors, as translations of a structural moment diagram. (Little shout out to John O.)

How the building will adapt to the "world's messiest occupants," the Boston Globe's affectionate term for Media Lab students and researchers, is still yet to be seen. White walls is one thing, while white carpet seems to be...a mistake. This was one of my favorite quotes from their December article:
The Media Lab guys, by contrast, are used to living in a grandma’s attic. Their current quarters are piled high with the dark clutter of new or abandoned experiments, some of them seemingly nutty. Robots peer down at you from shelves. Coils snake around your feet. It’s just as exciting as the Maki but in a completely different way.
Sad that the allusion to "Grandma's attic" probably now applies to the old Media Lab, or E15 (designed by I.M. Pei). If that was an attic, then E14 is a pristine greenhouse or museum - for now.

05 March 2010

Becoming a nogyaru

(via OurWorld 2.0, the United Nations University)

Wow - what a fitting intersection of my studio project, my love for food and blogs, and my skepticism for pop culture! Through the eclectic Food Section blog, I learned a new term that I didn't know had significance beyond Paris Hilton. The word is:
Nogyaru ("farm gals") : a combination of nogyo (agriculture) and gyaru (gals).
And it actually has a semi-serious side - after first glance. Apparently in Japan, there's been a trend started by Shiho Fujita, a 19 year old pop star, that tries to bridge the gap between cosmopolitan young women and awareness of agricultural issues. Although this movement seems to be getting quite a bit of media attention because of the star qualities attached to it (and the novelty as well), I'm trying to see past the potential superficiality of this trendy gesture and figure out how this twist of innovation might actually alleviate the real problems of an aging farming population and the loss of agricultural knowledge and value in the rice growing areas of Japan.

This problem is actually part of my studio project, which is looking at revitalizing the satoyama landscape in the Shiga Prefecture, northeast of Kyoto. Our intervention (aka intended solution) and the studio brief is to design a bathhouse as a community center for 14 villages in the Tane valley that might begin to address these larger issues faced by the region, but symptomatic of a wider problem in Japanese culture and economy. I'm still doing research and trying to craft my approach, although one idea is related to developing polyculture farming that can act as an educational and resource sharing opportunity for villagers and visitors alike.

Although studio still operates in the theoretical realm (as in, our design solutions aren't linked with any direct, real world project), when we go to Japan over Spring Break, we'll have the opportunity to meet with the local officials and villagers to present our ideas and get a feel for the environment first hand. Can't wait!

And maybe I should try to capitalize on the fashionista side of farming for my concept... but blast it, someone else more famous than me already took the idea :\ . There go my 15 seconds of fame.

03 March 2010

Alternative clock

Japan has been on my mind - as the site of my current design studio, as the inspiration for my public art project, and as food in my stomach (dragon roll or spicy tuna, anyone?).

This (novelty) is the current time in Kyoto, our destination for Spring Break, 2 1/2 weeks from now.


In my head : Gungor

from Gungor's new album, Beautiful Things:

"The Earth is Yours"
Creation sees You
And starts composing
The fields and trees they start rejoicing.

I love the bells and exuberant instrumentation - reminds me of Sufjan.

"Beautiful Things"
All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You...
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.

Yesterday some of us had a jam session and made an attempt to play these songs. It was hard trying to figure out how to modify it for un-professionals (and sadly w/o a xylophone), but a lot of fun trying at least.

01 March 2010

Small change = steps for justice

Christians are slowly getting out of their stereotyped pigeon hole of being right-wing supporters of the status quo and are being recognized for fervent work on global justice. Diana forwarded me this recent Nicholas Kristof piece called "Learning from the Sin of Sodom," mentioning World Vision as the largest U.S. based international relief and development organization and calling for more cooperation among liberals and evangelicals (and everyone in between) to bring about justice. Although this is a small step of recognizing Christian organizations' work, it's an important one that builds bridges rather than points fingers.

Steps have also been made on our campus. Last month, a bunch of fellowships on campus - lead by Jesus for Justice (J^2) - banded together to continue campus awareness about Haiti's needs and raise money for sustained relief. In total, we raised an awesome $1033.50 donated to World Vision and Partners in Health, resulting from collections of loose change and private donations.

The photo above is sadly not of the massive number of coins we collected, but you get the idea. These were heavy to lug to the bank, though, and were mainly counted in Jasmine's dorm. According to this site on coin distribution, a pound of coins amounts to about $12.96, although I feel like ours was a bit less, since people have a tendency to donate dimes, nickels, and pennies while saving their quarters for laundry or meters.

In any rate, this collection was super encouraging and challenged my notions about provision, and how faithfulness in the small things can multiply into big change (pun intended). It also reminded me to remember those with little or nothing and who could be helped by our abundance.