Tag Archive: travel

「怖い絵」展 / Fear and Painting exhibition, Ueno Royal Museum

Today, my friend Mayumi and I went to Ueno for the Fear in Painting exhibition, which has been widely-advertised for the past few months with striking images of Delaroche’s Execution of Lady Jane Grey across Tokyo.

After stopping for probably the best tempura I’ve had in Japan so far, at Ueno’s 音音(Oto Oto), we headed into the park to the Ueno-no-Mori Museum, usually called the Ueno Royal Museum in English. Instantly we knew this was not going to be a simple art gallery visit – today is a national holiday so the queues rivalled the Harry Potter attractions in Universal Studios when they first opened.

One very long wait later and we were inside. I had the same frustrating experience I’ve had in Tokyo art museums with major Western artists so far – extreme overcrowding. You have to shuffle slowly past each painting, which most patrons give a cursory glance to unless their audioguide directs them to look at something, and then get elbowed and shoved by old ladies as soon as you get a good view of a painting, at which point you have to move on to the next. At least the Delaroche painting is on a grand enough scale that it hardly matters! On the other hand, I’ve seen it several times before in London, without the overcrowding, so for all its beauty, masterful use of lighting and interesting place within the theme of ‘fear’, and for all its academic style has become fashionable again, I wasn’t nearly as impressed as I might have been viewing this masterpiece for the first time in a visit from a far-off land.

Otherwise, the exhibition wasn’t really strong enough to justify the crowds or the admission price. There were some gems, from Waterhouse (Circe), Gustave Moreau (Angels of Sodom) and Henry Fuseli (The Nightmare) in particular, as well as some famous drawings/etchings from Aubrey Beardsley and Hogarth, but the overall feeling was that major artworks that the curator would have liked were missing and had to be referred to obliquely – in lieu of The Scream, several minor Munch works had to be included, for example. In place of Bosch, anonymous Netherlandish art. No Dalí, but some proto-surrealism from illustrations of Edgar Allen Poe books. No Goya paintings, only etchings. Then, too often there was a tenuous connection with fear but no actual fear being portrayed, like an image of King Solomon proclaiming the baby should be cut in two, but the only one in terror at this facing away from the viewer. Other renditions of fear were a bit clumsy, like Ford Maddox Brown’s melodramatic (but expertly-painted) rendition of Manfred. There was something to be said for fear inspired by a place in Sickert’s image of Jack the Ripper’s room, but within more of a context of actual fear portrayed, I think that would have been more successful.

Perhaps the most interesting section was a series of paintings by Charles Sims. I don’t know much about Charles Sims but I feel I should find out more. This was one of the most questionable links to the concept of fear, but in several pictures in different styles showed a creative mind tortured by trauma. As a scholar of the First World War, that was very relevant to me, and as a writer and musician who admires the ability to work in different modes and styles, seeing Sims now working as a realist, now a post-impressionist, now a kind of Modernist, was impressive to me. I think I’ll look out for his work in future.

At the end of the exhibit, the crowds and slow pace actually felt exhausting. We had to agree that this isn’t really the way to view art, and far from the relaxing experience we had been hoping for. While there were gems, and I’m happy to have been introduced to Sims, it wasn’t an overly enjoyable experience. Also for some reason the curator, Nakano Kyouko, seems to have a significant bias towards England. English painters were dominant here, or borrowed from English galleries. Or both, of course. The centrepiece may have been by a French painter, but it was an English subject and on loan from the National Gallery. With Hogarth’s Beer Street and Gin Lane, a map of the Tower of London to flesh out the Delaroche painting, Sims’ fairies, Sickert’s squalid London room, Waterhouse, Beardsley and, through an adopted homeland, Fuseli, it may have been the most English-dominated art exhibition I’ve ever been to that wasn’t a collection of a single artist’s work. Which was entirely unexpected and seems a little constraining given the multitude of artworks dealing with fear from around the world.

Overall, while the exhibition had its highlights, I didn’t feel it dealt with the subject very well and was limited by a strange narrowness of vision as well as, presumably, budget. But judging from the demand, it was an undoubted success, and was of course much better than seeing no art at all.

Travel blog: Puli, Taiwan

20151126 03Today, we had a trip around the mountainous region of Puli in central Taiwan. After getting the high-speed train to Taichung, we were met by a driver and taken through a whole lot of tunnels until we reached central Taiwan. My uncle was arranging everything, so we didn’t know what was coming – and the itinerary turned out to be typically eccentric. First, we visited the impressive, ostentatious Chung Tai Chan Monastery. It’s a huge and imposing edifice, built around 15 years ago with the polish, scale and brash inelegance of a Disneyland themed ride. But it’s not meant to be tasteful, it’s meant to be brash and spectacular, and I very much enjoyed it for that. 20151123 02 In the main hall were huge floor-to-ceiling statues of the Four Heavenly Kings of Chinese Buddhism, with fierce expressions on each of their four faces. Then upstairs were serene seated buddhas, inspiring devotion in many of the visitors. Heading outside was a room full of golden statues, though the ones in the corridor outside were more imposing, and nearby a smaller room displayed more tasteful small-scale religious sculptures. Outside could be found a deer park with only cartoony stone deer, plus a prayer bell it was fun to ring. The bell had a twin but that one had a long queue. 20151124 02 I think I was lucky to get in an elevator with a group I wasn’t really supposed to be with, which took me to a floor with an indoor pagoda and thousands of little buddhas on the walls – an odd but very impressive sight, again with nothing at all compromised for the sake of good taste. Unfortunately I went only to that floor and not the others apparently only accessible by lift. Afterwards, I rushed to the museum because all this was crammed into just 40 minutes (and I had to leave behind the rest of the party for being too slow!) but it turned it was under renovation. 20151124 01 Next, to the unimpressive pole marking the geographical centre of Taiwan, which surprised me because until then I didn’t realise we were in the centre of the country rather than by the coast (as I’d slept on the drive through all the tunnels). 20151126 04 From there we went for lunch, which as with much of the rest of the day, was strange – they roasted whole chickens in drums with lychee wood for a vague flavour, added huge amounts of garlic and plopped the thing in front of you on the table. I was tasked with ripping the thing apart for us to eat, wearing thick gloves. Though not a very pleasant task, it was only like having a Nando’s, really, only with the feet and head still attached. I feel it’s hypocritical to eat meat but pretend it wasn’t a creature, though, so wasn’t squeamish. Found the meat a tad bland and the sauce greasy, though. 20151123 03 The next point of call, after driving past very weird buildings from around the world, built as tourist attractions up a mountain (because why not?), was the highest road in Taiwan. Being a very mountainous country, Hahuen-Shan was a long way from the highest possible peak to climb – though the tour guide thought it was the 2nd, it was actually the 43rd – but driving to altitudes only about 300 metres lower than the summit of Fuji is still quite impressive. 20151123 04 On the way down the mountain, we had the kind of surreal experiences typical of our family outings in Taiwan. For some reason, there was a farm up there on the mountainside set up as a tourist attraction. With sheep and ponies and really, really stinky toilets. So we ran around trying to take photos with sheep. Silly creatures. 20151123 05 Stopped at the English country manor part of the buildings-of-the-world attraction, but while we could have had very cute-looking cakes in a fantasy tearoom in a strange neogothic-Tudor-neoclassical manor, instead we found a Swiss chalet tucked around the back of it and had very tasty cakes there, and coffees out of quaint little mugs. 20151123 06 It may sound like the opposite of what you’d expect from Taiwan, but this is exactly the sort of thing we always seem to find when we do the kind of tourism trails that attract the locals and the mainland Chinese! 20151123 07 Took some silly pictures with my brother and then got back in the car for the drive back to Taichung. If we carried on down the same road, we would get to Taroko Gorge, but we’d been there back in 2015 so didn’t go again. I wouldn’t mind actually seeing Taichung City itself, which has enough temples and other attractions for a day trip, but this odd little adventure was fun, too – and the strange kind of thing we always seem to find ourselves doing in Taiwan! 20151123 08

Tokyo Disneyland #2: Disney Sea!

12076149_10201130863149470_3120534_oaI have to say, when I went to Tokyo Disneyland around a week ago, I didn’t expect to be back for Disney Sea so soon. But we had a free day, it was bright sunny weather and it just felt right to go back again. And I’m glad we did! 12076204_10201130860589406_1504668828_o Tokyo Disney Sea is my favourite of the two parks. It’s got the strongest theming of any theme park I’ve been in, and I love the Journey to the Centre of the Earth ride, which took me completely by surprise the first time I rode it and still really enjoy the feeling of ‘air time’ it gives. Then when I went two years ago, they’d added the Tower of Terror and I think that’s another brilliant thrill ride, fun to experience and with perhaps my favourite theming of any ride I’ve been on. A few unusual circumstances made our visit this time feel a little empty, with some dead time where there wasn’t anything we wanted to do – unusual in a theme park – but that was largely because ‘Raging Spirits’ was closed for maintenance (in 3 visits I’ve never actually gone on the ride) and the Toy Story ride inexplicably never went below a 2-hour wait, which it really doesn’t deserve. 12062671_10201130863429477_1347481950_o As we got fast-pass tickets for my two favourite rides and didn’t need to queue for those, we actually had time to spare. Well, most of that time would have been used on a Raging Spirits queue and once the Frozen area opens in 2017 that won’t be an issue again, so it’s not as though I think the park is dull. 12084717_10201130862869463_1819403313_o After buying clip-on Stitch ears, we started our visit with a walk-around, stopping to grab Tower of Terror fast passes and to watch a little performance led by Lumière the candle about food from different parts of the world. I expected lots of vaguely racist stereotypes, but mostly it was just fun dancing in vaguely ethnic costumes – and we were quite amused by the idea of singing about curry to the tune of the Spice Girls’ ‘Spice Up Your Life’. 20151002 02a After that, we queued up for the Indiana Jones ride, which is a fairly tame but bumpy ride through the character’s usual archaeological adventures. I’m not hugely keen on the ride but it’s nicely-presented and the designs of the queuing area are great. We still had time after that so went on the 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride – basically a ghost train with an underwater theme that has effects to make it seem like you’ve gone under water. 12085297_10201130861189421_1059430631_o That left us at a good time to watch the water-based show based on the Disney villains that’s set up for Halloween while munching sea-salt ice cream ‘Monoka’. 12059961_10201130861469428_492790978_o The show was entertaining – there were themed boats for Maleficent, Captain Hook, Hades, the Wicked Queen and Jafar. They were joined by the usual Disney gang decked out to match them, as pirates or evil queens etc. As a highlight, the prow of Maleficent’s boat converted to reveal another villain, but I won’t spoil the surprise in case anyone is going to see the show. Because the boats are a little far from the crowd, dancers came to entertain the crowds, and wonderfully campy music played for each baddie – and somehow both ‘utsukushii to ayashii’ and ‘eerie yet elegant’ sounds really amusing to me.
Oops, spoilered it

Oops, spoilered it

After that we got some Halloween-flavoured murasaki-imo snacks before our fastpass tickets came up for the Tower of Terror. It was almost a shame to quickly pass through the brilliant themed queue area, with all the murals of the nasty colonial proudly going home with the treasures of other countries while the natives angrily try to give chase, but there was time to see the best of it. The disappearing doll effect remains impressive and the repeated drops are still a whole lot of fun, especially when there are some real screamers in the lift with you! 12084912_10201130862909464_345985793_o Next was StormRider, the simple little simulator ride. Had front row seats, which is good for the immersion, but sadly you miss the ceiling effect if you don’t know it’s coming. This was probably the last time I’ll ride StormRider, though, as it’s soon to be converted to a Finding Nemo ride. Honestly, I think that can only be an improvement. Checked out the Aladdin world, which is as well-themed as the rest of the park, with little nods to the Alhambra, and then Triton’s Kingdom. Neither had attractions we cared for much, but the shopping was interesting, including inside the weird whale in Triton’s Kingdom that is meant to be ‘sleepy’ but mostly looks very perverted. 11265142_10201130861629432_653914571_o After that it was time for dinner, and while the Halloween buffet was tempting, going on rides after getting your money’s worth from an all-you-can-eat buffet seemed a bad idea, so we got burgers in the funny little restaurant where they show you the story of Duffy, followed by some panacotta in an Italian restaurant. 12085191_10201130861429427_169714968_o Then it was time for the big night-time water show, Fantasmic! Stitch is a relatively rare sight in Disney Sea, considering how ubiquitous he was in Tokyo Disneyland, but he and Angel got an appearance in the show. The best part remains when the dragon Maleficent appears, however. There was meant to be a fireworks show afterwards, but inexplicably they cancelled it, citing bad weather – even though the weather couldn’t have been more perfect the whole day and we could soon see the Tokyo Disneyland fireworks going off. Oh well! 12076560_10201130864149495_542266749_o We’d secured Fastpass tickets to Journey to the Centre of the earth, and ended the visit on a high note. The ride starts off deceptively lame, but then there’s a genuinely impressive final setpiece before the big thrill at the end, and I still love the feeling you get in that final part. Perhaps we should have queued up to go on the ride earlier as well – I certainly wouldn’t have minded going twice! 12082237_10201130863629482_211720434_o So ended our double Disney trip – and I have no shame whatsoever in saying I love visiting the parks and being entertained. 15-10-02-15-34-21-567_deco

A trip to Tokyo Disneyland

Today, I went with a good friend to Tokyo Disneyland. This is my third time visiting Tokyo Disneyland, and my fifth time in the Tokyo Disney Resort in general – which is to say, I’ve been to Disney Sea twice as well. If you’re not familiar with Tokyo Disney Resort, it’s divided into two parts – a Disneyland much like the others, and Disney Sea with slightly more adult theming and thrilling rides. My first time in Tokyo Disneyland, I was only small, around six years old. The next time I went was in 2005, when I also went to Disney Sea. I went to Disney Sea again almost exactly two years ago, but that time I didn’t go to the main Disneyland part. So this was actually my first time in the Disneyland park in 10 years. 20150926 (1) The day began with a slight disappointment, but was fantastic overall. The disappointment was in the big central hub of the park, the Cinderella Castle. As we had only a short time before a big parade, we decided to go into the attraction there, because I remembered it very well. It seemed a bit off when there were no mentions of dragons or mirrors on the map, and ‘Cinderella’s Fairy Tale Hall’ didn’t sound like what I remembered. In the end, it was a lame walk-through exhibit with some iffy artistic representations of the Cinderella Story and then a glass slipper and a throne to pose on for Instagram pictures. We watched some babies being dangled over the slipper and then left. It turns out that the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour closed in 2006. I’m a little sad about this. Firstly, it would have been perfect for Hallowe’en, being themed around Disney villains. Secondly, it was about the only place to see any Black Cauldron references in any Disneyland attraction. Thirdly, my family enjoys an anecdote about when we went when I was small and the Japanese guide was trying to urge us to run away from a dragon and we were just standing there oblivious, nobody in the family then having any Japanese. But fourthly and most importantly, I miss it because it was a cool attraction! It had the awesome Magic Mirror, a big dragon and then a huge Horned King. I’m sad it’s gone and replaced by a rather unappealing walk-through. Especially since this was my companion’s first time in any sort of Disneyland, and that will always be his very first experience of a Disneyland attraction! IMG_2175 After that, though, things got better. As the attraction had only taken a very short time we went to the new(ish) Star Wars attraction, the simulator ride Star Tours, in which a bungling C3PO had to fly a passenger shuttle through a series of misadventures. It was well done and pretty fun, but the reason it was fun was mostly the other guests behind us who got very, very excited and were screaming away all through it. The ride was only so-so, really, a decent simulator ride with a cute bumbling-robot plot, but forgettable. My favourite part was the hitchhiking droids as a tribute to the Haunted Mansion ghosts. IMAG0850 Outside, the Happiness is Here parade was fun and up-tempo, with several genuinely impressive floats. I particularly liked the enormous Queen of Hearts, though Aladdin’s elephant from the Prince Ali sequence was also impressive. It was surprising to see Mary Poppins and Aristocrats floats, but nice to see lesser-represented properties. It was a classic parade experience, and I can’t fault the enthusiasm of the face characters. IMG_2254   After that we went to the Stitch-themed store, Stitch being vastly more popular in the Far East than in the West and able to carry whole sections of the park alone. Bought a nice little folder and a T-shirt there. IMG_2377 The big box to tick was The Haunted Mansion, because after all it’s the run-up to Hallowe’en. There was a longer queue than I think is average for that attraction, because everyone wanted to do the spooky business while the park is themed for Hallowe’en. The ride is a favourite of mine, with the Pepper’s Ghost effect in the dining room particularly satisfying. They’d overlaid the ride with Nightmare Before Christmas stuff, which detracted from the nice more realistic ambiance the ride has a bit, but I’m glad to have seen it both ways, and the large Jack Skellington animatronics were impressive. IMG_2317 It was about lunchtime by then, so we went to eat at the Plaza Pavillion restaurant, which had tasty burgers in a relaxing setting and was only a little painful for the wallet. IMG_2318 Satisfied with that, we watched most of the next parade, Happy Halloween Harvest, which was similar to the previous parade, only with lots more pumpkins. Decided to capitalise on a lot of the park being distracted by the event and left early to go on Big Thunder Mountain. Some rain started to fall while we queued, but luckily it stopped in time for us to ride the trusty old coaster. Disney rides are tame, especially compared with the likes of Fuji Q, and Tokyo Disneyland’s are significantly less thrilling than Disney Sea’s, but the light rollercoasters are still enjoyable and we’d chosen a good day to go, just after the national holidays of Silver Week but on a work/school day with light rain forecast. IMG_2334 Once we came off Big Thunder Mountain, it was time for something a little more restful, so we went to the nearby Tiki Lounge, which here was Stitch-themed. Naughty Stitch interrupts the usual singing birds and flowers, a nicely-made animatronic appearing from the centre to sing the staple Hawaiian songs, which sound funny in Japanese. IMG_2319 Fired up by this Stitch experience, we went on a quest to find the Stitch popcorn holder we’d seen around the park, which turned out to be in a corner of Tomorrowland we hadn’t checked. Happy we’d managed to grab one, I even munched on some of the more thickly-coated pieces of caramel popcorn. Normally I can’t stand popcorn! 20150926 (2) As we were there and needed somewhere to snack, plus the rain had started again, we decided to go into Space Mountain, which was probably the longest queue of the day but another of the staples of a Disneyland visit. Okay, I could say the same for A Small World, but honestly I wasn’t too bothered about going on that so we skipped it. Apparently I was delighted by it when I came as a very young child and insisted we went several times, so I’ve filled my lifetime Small World quota. Space Mountain was another one made more amusing by fellow passengers who were far more excited than the ride really warranted and screamed as if they genuinely thought they were going to die. After Space Mountain, we decided to get another snack, getting some vaguely Mickey-shaped nuggets and yummy cheesecake in the Tomorrowland Plaza restaurant. IMG_2351 From there, we crossed the park to go to Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s been updated with figures from the movies that are noticeably of a better quality than the original animatronics, but their integration was still good and the bigger rooms of the ride are still impressive. IMG_2345 From Pirates we crossed the park again ahead of another parade, the Electrical Parade Dreamlights. While the illuminated floats we saw were impressive, we felt like we’d seen plenty of parades and joined the quick queue of the Pooh’s Hunny Hunt ride. I remembered enjoying it in 2005, and while it was rather too short and I think they would have been better off theming it to A Blustery Day rather than Heffalumps and Woozles, but I really like how each cart has its individual path and moves about nice and fast. Though it wasn’t our last attraction of the day, it was our last ride, and even if it was tame, it was well-executed and I like the English Country House theming you pass through in the queues. IMG_2348 We got out of the ride at an excellent time to see the fireworks. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to another fireworks display this summer, so this actually scratched a bit of an itch for me. The display was short, but certainly more in the Western style – spectacular and intense, with thumping music playing and a big finale. There were some nice gimmick fireworks in there too, most notably ones that exploded in the shape of apples. IMG_2365 Next was the only attraction we’d managed to get Fastpass tickets for, the Stitch Encounter. Yes, more Stitch! Other than Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Stitch was certainly the best-represented character in the park, with two dedicated attractions, a presence in every parade, a shop of goods dedicated almost entirely to him and a popcorn holder. I’m pretty sure that the event before the park got themed for Hallowe’en was Stitch-related. IMG_2370 Stitch Encounter is a curiosity, as it entirely excludes non-Japanese speakers. The Tiki Lounge might be a little confusing if you don’t understand Japanese, but Stitch Encounter would just be incomprehensible. Essentially, it’s a stand-up routine with Stitch. It’s quite impressively-executed, and I think the park’s newest attraction: a big screen shows a CG Stitch, and someone who can do his voice is on-site to interact with the audience. The CG Stitch’s mouth syncs to whatever he says, and he can trigger various animations – joyful, sad, suspicious. He can also whip out a guitar for a sing-along. There’s a camera on the audience, and Stitch interacts with the visitors. He asks kids the names of their family and sings a nice song about ‘Ohana’, and then follows up with typical stand-up routine staples. One guy is singled out as a criminal and embarrassed, and a pretty girl is selected for Stitch to flirt with. A girl almost certainly with her boyfriend was obviously chosen, because then he can be teased, and more songs are sung with references to these groups. It’s safe stuff that can be repeated for any audience, but the Japanese audience members getting lightly embarrassed was very funny and it was cleverly done. It’s just a little surprising that without some degree of Japanese very little of this could be enjoyed. But hey, it’s not as though theme parks in other parts of the world, especially the English-speaking world, need to cater on any but a very basic level to non-native speakers. IMG_2374 We came out of Stitch Encounter during the Once Upon a Time projection show, where various scenes appear on the Cinderella Castle. That was a good finale, so after looking in another shop or two, we decided that was enough for our Disney trip, and headed home. IMG_2376 Not much has changed in ten years, really. I think Disney Sea changes much more dramatically – and will change more in the next few years with the Frozen world on its way. I think it’s a real shame the Mystery Tour is gone, because I thought it was a highlight of the park and its replacement is really not worth going to. As someone who likes Stitch, I think it’s gratifying that the character is so well-represented, though a little odd that I didn’t see a single item representing The Lion King. There are still no rides I would call thrilling, but that’s no really the point of Disney parks. The atmosphere is great, and it’s very easy to pass the time there and simply have a lot of fun. And that’s exactly what happened – and I’m grateful it did. IMG_2144

Tokyo Theme Cafés #1: Vampire Café

20150713 01

Group photo from @leo_punkprince on Instagram.

One of the fun things to do in Japan is go to the themed cafés. I’ve been to the Gundam Café and the cutesy cafeteria in Sanrio Puroland, and I’ve had drinks in an awesome hospital-themed bar in Singapore, but this was actually my first-ever non-anime theme café experience. So here’s a highly goofy one-minute vlog about it!

Tokyo Michelin-starred restaurants #2: Fureika (plus a disastrous haircut)

Luckily, my hair has recovered. Picture by Acqua Models

Luckily, my hair has recovered. But in the video...ew...! [Picture by Acqua Models]

My second visit to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo. This time it was the more expensive but decidedly yummy dim sum menu at Chinese restaurant Fureika in Azabu-Juban. I was in the neighbourhood to get a haircut which…yeah, I can’t say went very well. Bleh!