“Every night I have conversations with artists and art
lovers from around the world.” My friend Max made a perfect pancake and slid it
onto a plate. Max and his wife are both Japanese, but we met in Brooklyn years
ago when I lived in New York City.
Max was telling me about the people he meets in his strange
new job. Max is a filmmaker who makes documentaries. He's working on a project now, but getting funding is the constant challenge of an independent artist and Max is no exception. He was hoping to get funding from the Japanese government for his latest project, but that ran into a snag leaving him short of money.
To make matters worse, his parent’s passed away, leaving him
the family home in the port city of Uno in okayama prefecture. “I tried to sell
the house, but nobody is interested in buying in the countryside these days. I
kept thinking about Naoshima and the people who want to go there, and so I
decided to try a bed and breakfast.”
Max now opens his family home to tourists mostly from the US
and Europe. He even practiced making pancake breakfasts. I love a good pancake,
so Noriko, Kazu, and I drove seven hours to see him during Golden Week.
We shared Max’s kitchen with a French man who lives in
Kyoto, his Japanese girlfriend, and two Taiwanese women who live in the US. It
was just like Max said it would be. In the morning, everyone takes the ferry to
Naoshima. We spent the day exploring old farmhouses that had been made into art
The Bennesse Museum is on the island, along with the Chichu
Museum, both designed by the Japanese architect, Tadeo Ando. There are
fantastic sculptures on the beach as well. It was great to see the contemporary
art set against the natural beauty of the Seto Inland Sea.
For me, the art was only half the fun. Watching all the
Japanese tourists was also a joy. Japanese fashion is so diverse that I felt
like I was seeing works of art stroll past. Orange shoes with purple pants,
straw hats, flowing skirts of various colors, and women in high heels
struggling to stay upright on winding streets.
The roads between the museums wound along lush hillsides
overlooking the ocean. We stopped to admire a still pond with statues on the
I paused and listened to the insects buzzing and the birds
chirping. I learned statues were an art piece by Tsuyoshi Ozawa called, “Slag
Buddha 88”. The statues were made from slag, which is industrial waste, taken
from a nearby factory. The waste, reincarnated as a Buddha, the product of
industry in a natural setting, there was so much in there to think about.
There are many beautiful temples and shrines in Japan, and I
will never tire of visiting them. But to see art made in the age in which I
live was a delight. I felt as if I were part of the conversation, not just the
audience. As I watched tourists from all over enjoy the art, I realized that,
in a way, the art is spiritual. Art lovers travel from far and wide to view the
work like pilgrims come to see holy relics. The museums themselves have the
same quiet, thoughtful atmosphere of the cathedrals of Europe and the temples
At the end of the day, we returned to Max’s house. We sat in
his kitchen with his other guests and talked about what we’d seen. It was a
little bit of New York, and the entire world, in his parent’s old kitchen. “I
think my parents would be happy that so many people are able to enjoy their
home,” Max said. We sat quietly and thanked them in our silence.