Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday 17th August: Jaime Takes the Top Spot at "Ai"!

Three of us met at around 5pm in one of the best okonomiyaki shops in Yokogawa, a place called "Hyotan" in the CAZL shopping mall that leads from Yokogawa station to the Fresta supermarket.

I believe I have said it before, but I shall not disdain to say it again - the okonomiyaki is excellent! I went for my usual "nikku, tama, ebi, soba, chiizu" (meat, egg, prawn, noodles, cheese) combination. A good Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki comes with the ingredients beautfully integrated. It should be moist (the cheese is a great innovation in this respect). The chef did not let us down. We had never seen him before; the place used to be run by a couple of young guys - mind you, we've only been there at lunch time. According to the blurb on the CAZL website,
"is a can-be-happy shop in which the shop master of the smiling face is waiting with a light spirit."
I don't know if it is the same fellow, but he and his wife had eschewed any lightness of spirit and were slaving away putting out the ingredients of numerous okonomiyaki in anticipation of the evening's business. Still, as I say, the okonomiyaki was good. I asked him afterwards whether he'd been at the shop for long.

"Ah," he replied, "I haven't seen you before."

Yes, quite.

The reason why we had met in Yokogawa was because Jaime had seen a "new" mahjong parlour and we thought we'd try it out. However, when we went in it immediately became apparent that the place was probably one of the first institutions to have been opened in the post-war reconstruction of the city. The name of the parlour is "Ai", or "Love".

There had at some stage been an ill-conceived attempt to smarten the place up with a few licks of paint. Sadly, the renovator had thought it appropriate to paint the framework of the mahjong tables a fetching shade of grey. The application was no less flawed than the conception; dribbles of paint had been allowed to run until they dried down the sides of the table. I did attempt to capture the horror of it on camera, but no photograph can do it justice.

The old couple who ran the place were friendly enough. Unlike the Mama at
Kodama jansou, the Mama at Ai is also a player; she participated in a game at another table while the old man looked on.

Unfortunately, there is little positive to say about the quality of the snacks that they served with the drinks.

When we arrived there was one table active in the far corner. From time to time one of the old geezers would pause on his journey from the table to the bog to look over Jaime's shoulder and chuckle at the site of a foreigner and his eccentric (but effective - see score chart) play. He moved on and took a look at David's hand as he declared
Riichi immediately after Jaime and chuckled even more when Jaime's somewhat dodgy 1-tile wait beat David's conventional 2-tile wait!

A party of younger office workers came in and indulged in childish attempts to "speak Engrish" to each other - of course, not to us - in loud high pitched voices, never stringing more than two assinine words together. Ten years ago they were doubtless those same kids who used to wait until Johnny Foreigner had walked by before shouting "Herro!" at his backside.

At the table, tonight was definitely Jaime's night. He was in positive territory all through. Mind you, by the end of the fourth game, although he was ahead, both David and Ray had each achieved "only winner" victories such that we went into the fifth game with everybody less than 30 points away from zero. Furthermore, in none of the first four games had Jaime got rid of his
Yakitori tessera before the South round!

It was the last three games, all taken by Jaime, that turned the evening decisively in his favour and propelled him into first place in the Grand Accumulated Results Table.

Jaime was the only winner of the first game. Then David replied with an attack in the second game, but he blew a gasket after declaring Riichi on a 3-6-9-Coins wait by not noticing that he needed a 9! He picked it up, threw it and immediately realized his error -

That gaffe did for his evening! A while later Jaime took over as
Oya with an almost empty tray. He survived two rounds, which caused problems as he had no sticks to rack up and so resorted to using his discarded Yakitori tessera. He then declared Riichi and had to make do with a mini-ersatz-salami sausage for a Riichi Tenbo. Needless to say, he went out and took 24,000 points off Ray!

The famous "Ray recovery" took place in the fourth game, but that was followed by a Chombo in the fifth. It had something to do with a late Pon of the White Dragon, but I forget exactly what.

Finally, in one of the late games David was in great danger of getting stuck with his
Yakitori when Ray declined to go Ron on one of his discards since he was chasing a bigger hand, but gave David the breathing space to complete and finish the game by tossing his Yakitori tessera to one side with considerable relief!

I return now to the subject of ART by way of a detour through the mysteries of the bladder. Your bladder is something of an unpredictable fellow. One day your bladder will insist upon being emptied as soon as you look at a beer. Then, on another occasion, you'll find yourself on your sixth and not so much as a peep of protest from the old waterworks. I have not yet extrapolated any stats as to how all this relates to victory or loss at the mahjong table, but suffice it to say that Jaime was up and down like a yo-yo (and won) while David and Ray held steady (and lost).

Thus it was that Jaime returned from several trips to the bogola with reports of how a great work of art was rather oddly hung off centre on the back wall. It was a framed print of some flowers that had been stuffed into a vase of particularly odious a character and proportions.

Still Life in the Bogola

When David finally got around to making a trip to the bogola, he committed the
faux pas of opening the unlocked door and walking in on one of the native players who was about his business.

Once the all clear had been sounded, David went about his rather different business, namely, the gathering of photographic evidence.

The question that concerned us was how it could come to be that such a monstrosity should have been painted and printed and sold and bought and then put up in such a position and in such a place. Perhaps it had something to do with that aesthetic sensibility for which the Japanese are renowned - all that to-do about
wabisabi, you know, love of empty space and so forth.

I mean, somebody must have thought it good enough for the bog. Was it a gift foisted upon the propreitors? Did they feel obliged to put it somewhere? Or did they actually spend some precious mula on purchasing it?

These are deep profundities!

We come to the (nicely painted) hook. Who put the hook there? Why
there exactly? Was the hook already there and simply provided a convenient place to hang the wretched picture? Or did somebody conceive of it as being the best location in the whole mahjong parlour for that particular work of art in the spirit of the afore-mentioned wabisabi and the deep appreciation of beauty for which, as we are told, the natives of these parts are so noted?

David returned to his seat furnished with the evidence, and also with a suitable excuse for his poor performance! It was the distracting concerns of Japanese interior design that took his mind off the game - of course!

Our verdict: an enterntaining evening but not a place high up on our list of mahjong parlours that we must return to...

Jaime +38, -25, +50, -34, +29, +28, +52 = +138
David -5, +51, -43, -28, +9, -12, -21 = -49
Ray -33, -26, -7, +62, -38, -16, -31 = -89

David Hurley

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Thursday 16th August: Seeing Miyajima Anew Again

The tide is in at the Torii Gate, Miyajima.

Another summer in Hiroshima, another trip to Miyajima Island. Miyajima is just down the coast from where we live, an easy trundle down the old Hiroden tram line and a ten minute ferry ride across the water. I have been on this excursion numerous times, and I did it again on Thursday with the missus and daughter.

As a destination for a family outing there is much to be said for it; it is an easy trip, there is plenty for a four year old to look at, and at the end of the stroll past the shrine there is an aquarium.

On the stroll back to the ferry there is a variety of restaurants to choose from, mostly overpriced, but heck, Miyajima is a tourist hotspot so what do you expect?

By a stroke of good luck the tide happened to be in when we got to the old red torii gate, the symbolic entrance to the holy island. On almost every previous trip to Miyajima the tide had been out and people had been digging for clams on the mudflats beneath the gate. I began to doubt that the tide was ever in and came to suppose that all those photos of deep blue water lapping about the torii gate had been doctored for propaganda purposes. But lo! There, deep blue in hue, and lapping about the gate, and the palings of the shrine itself, was WATER!

We strolled past the steps that lead up to the five-storey pagoda. I must have photographed the pagoda a dozen times, but once more for the records will do no harm.

It was such a hot day that few seemed inclined to climb the steps that lead to the entrance of the pagoda and take a closer look.

We also declined to pay to go into the Itsukushima shrine complex and traipse through the wooden corridors.

It would have been cooler to walk along the covered ways of the shrine complex, but also more crowded.

So, instead, we followed the main path round the back of the shrine under the full glare of the sun.

It was here, out in the midday sun, that an Englishman met a mad dog... fortunately, it was a stone dog.

An afficionado of Japanese Shinto guardian spirits would doubtless pull me up and inform me that the stone statues that flank the entrances to shrines are not, in fact, dogs. I once made the unforgivable gaffe of referring to them as lions and was similarly corrected,

"No, my dear fellow, they are '

And what, my good sir, are "

"'Shishi' meams Lion in Japanese."

Aha! So they are lions, then, aren't they?

"Oh no. You see, we Japanese also call them 'koma-inu'. Now,
'shisi' is, as the honourable-foreigner knows well, is 'lion' in English. But 'inu' is 'dog' in English."

Aha, so this mythical creature is some sort of combination of the two. It would not be a misrepresentation of the case to observe that your common or garden shishi is neither fish nor fowl.

shishi are set up in pairs, flanking the entrance to a Shinto shrine (unless, of course, it is a Shinto shrine dedicated to agriculture, in which case the stone creatures are neither dogs nor lions nor fish nor fowl but foxes, but why that should be so is another story).

It will be noted that the creature I photographed is gaping at the camera. It is invariably the case that one of the creatures gapes and the other keeps its lips sealed. They represent, so it is said, the Alpha and Omega of Japanese script which begins with "ah" and ends with "-n", the former requiring an open mouth and the latter requiring the trap to remain firmly shut.

Without further ado I bade the gaping stone creature farewell, passed on unmolested and arrived at the doorway of the shrine that I suppose those who worship stocks and stones would have us believe the statue was guarding.

The straw rope with paper lightning bolts depending from it in the photo above is called a Shimenawa and I am reliably informed that no evil can pass beyond a place where it is hung.

I passed by without going through the door and came up in short order to the missus and daughter who had come to a halt before the gateway to Daiganji temple that is located close to the east exit of the Itsukushima shrine complex.

No shishi guard this gate, you will note. Shisi are supposed to guard Shinto shrines. This fine gateway, being a temple gateway, is not guarded by shishi but by two fearsome looking wooden statues that
lurk beneath its portals.

The guardians of a Buddhist temple gate are called Niou or "Benevolent Kings" although they don't look particularly benevolent. Once again, one has his mouth agape and the other keeps his trap shut.

Just for the record, Daiganji Temple is dedicated to Benzaiten, the Goddess of eloquence, music, wisdom and wealth.

Beyond the temple, we strolled down some quiet back streets, declining to ascend the steps that lead up towards the heights of Mount Misen.

Flower pots had been attached to purple and yellow cloth and hung beneath the eaves of the houses.

The white banner outside this little cafe is advertising "kakiyaki", or grilled oysters. Grilled oysters are one of the specialities of Miyajima. The sea around the island is dotted with bamboo oyster beds.

The other speciality of Miyajima is baked conger eel on rice. Personally, I much prefer conger eel on rice to oysters.

I suppose I ought also to mention the sickly-sweet momiji manju, or sweet bean sponge cakes. They are made in maple-leaf shaped moulds and the baking machines that churn them out can be seen in action through the windows of the souvenir shops.

"Momiji" = maple leaf. I suppose the cakes are intended to celebrate the maple trees of Miyajima, particularly in the autumn when their leaves turn red.

Since we were on the street that leads to the aquarium it seems appropriate that the residents had hu
ng up some origami (actually, ori-plastic) fish outside their windows.

Left: A decorative corbel on a house not far from the aquarium.

We arrived at our destination, a nicely air-conditioned aquarium, and spent a couple of hours chilling out - quite literally.

David Hurley

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Wake Up Your Body with Lemons-Lemon!

Inside this little bottle is one mighty potent pick-me-up!

It contains 1000mg of vitamin C, 2000mg of "natural citric acid", and a lemon vinegar base made from Sicilian lemons which, the blurb assures us, gives it a refreshing taste despite the vinegar!

The label on the bottle claims that the drink has s 30% fruit content.

Lemons-Lemon is one of a range of beverages produced by Otuska Beverage Company. It hit the shops in March of last year, I believe, but I discovered it just the other Saturday. It was lurking in a vending machine at a community centre up in the hills above west Hiroshima where I was about to start a new contract teaching a Saturday morning conversation class...

...a saturday morning conversation class???

...after a Friday night in the mahjong parlour!!

Are you nuts?

Well, sir, nuts or not, the potent content of this little bottle is just what I need to get me through ninety minutes of "So, what have you been doing recently...?" on a Saturday morning.

Indeed, I heartily commend it to anybody who wants to large it up at night but has to work the following morning.

Lemons-Lemon will wake up your body at any time of day or night!

Highly recommended.

David Hurley

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thursday 2nd August: Elder Brother Tries His Hand

There was something of an holiday atmosphere at the doctors' tonight. Elder brother had returned home for the Japanese summer "Obon" holiday, so five of us trooped upstairs to the upper room. Elder son declined the initial offer to take a seat at the table, protesting (in accordance with self-abasing Japanese protocol) that he had not played for twenty years and so forth. So Mrs M took the fourth seat after having made sure that the Poor Little Cypriot was furnished with TWO beers and an array of snacks...

Being served two beers at a time is another of the delightful features of mahjong at the docs. I don't mean that I drink two beers at a time, but two cans are placed on the table. However, because the second can has lost some of its chill by the time I have finished the first, the junior Doctor M usually pops out to fetch a cooler one straight from the fridge!

The doc seemed almost perturbed tonight, at the moderate slurping rate that my drinking progressed at. I began to wonder if the elder son had been briefed that he would spend the evening in the company of a beer-swilling Englishman and if perhaps tonight's moderate pace was not a disappointment; or perhaps one of the patients had delivered an especially large quantity of beers to the surgery as a summer gift in gratitude for the latest miraculous recovery he had undergone under their hands and it was hoped that I would do everybody a favour by drinking my way through it.

Summer is one of the gift-giving seasons in Japan, and at least one patient had presented the surgery with a bottle of fine Yatsushika prize winning saké, which was duly handed over to the PLC as soon as he reached the upper room.

So, Mrs M took her seat and play commenced with the elder son observing Mrs M and Dr M jr's hands. However, it turned out that this arrangement too was only a temporary courtesy. After the first hand had been played out Mrs M gave up her seat to the elder son and retired from the scene.

A couple of hands later the wall broke in front of the elder son. Dr M sr oversaw initial distribution of tiles and commenced play. When it was my turn I reached automatically for the usual end of the wall, only to come up against the upturned Dora Mekuri Pai!! The senior doc had taken the tiles from the wrong end of the wall and everything had followed on from there. We agreed to continue to play backwards but it took me several turns before I could bring the automatic lunge for the orthodox end of the wall under control. The junior doc was crying with laughter at our incompetence!

This evening I indulged in rather more open hands than I usually do. Another unusual eventuality was my chasing Kokushimusou to one off Tempai when Dr M sr declared Riichi and completed his hand. He also went out after I had gone Riichi on my best hand of the evening, bolstered by six bonus tiles.

For the most part, however, tonight's play was rather a cagey and tactical affair as I remember, at least, from my perspective. The elder son got caught out quite a lot during the course of the evening, and the younger son also suffered at times. I caught the elder son with a Noda-style Chiitoi hand with a crafty 6-Coins wait when Dr M jr had discarded the 3&9-Coins. Sure enough, the Elder Son did me the honour of discarding a 6-Coins!

On another occasion, with Dr M jr hungrily seeking an evening when he could finish in the black, he declared a hidden Kan, which left him with four tiles on the end of his hand. Next time round he melded two of them with a tile discarded by his Elder Brother to claim a consisting of some middle coins. There now remained two tiles at the end of his hand, stranded by the ChiKan. I kept my beady eyes on his hand. It seemed to me that the younger doc was waiting to complete a Coin run and that it was a two tile wait. I was nearly ready to go out too, but to stay Tempai I would have had to throw the 8-Coins. No thank you. I threw a safe tile and the hand finished with no result, and the doc Tempai waiting for the 5&8-Coins!

Most of my hands were piddling affairs, but they were plentiful. The Haneman points I won from the elder son I lost in the next hand to the senior doc.

We usually stop after the third game, but tonight the festive spirit carried us on through to the end of the fourth game, well after trams and trains stop running. The junior doc was happy to play an extra game as he was slightly ahead at the end of the third, but he got hammered by Dr M Sr, who emerged strongly to take the top spot. I had done well enough to claim that happy place known as "second and in the black". Dr M jr ended another night in the red, but not so far below the bar as the elder son who, after all, had not played for twenty years!

David Hurley

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

White Light/Black Rain - A-Bomb Survivors Speak

Steven Okazaki's film White Light/Black Rain: the Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could well be the most gruelling documentary I have ever had to sit through.

I attended the August 5th screening of the film (in English) at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Halfway through the screening and the sheer unplumbable depths of suffering that the survivors had gone through... no, are still going through every day of their lives, seemed to billow out of the screen like ectoplasm and suffocate the whole audience. The tension and discomfort was palpable. I doubt there are many who could watch every single second without flinching or averting their eyes. I certainly averted mine at that point in the film where the disfigured pulp around the eye socket of one poor wretch of a survivor is pulled back with some ghastly medical instrument.

Steven Okazaki has done both the victims of the atomic bombings and the modern world a great service by enabling a handful of survivors to convey to us something from the heart of the horror of what was inflicted upon them. Such is the strength and merit of this film that even for seasoned gaijin who live in Hiroshima and who have been to the museum, read the books, seen the documentaries and heard survivors' stories from our older students White Light/Black Rain retains all of its power to shock, revolt and induce pity as if we had never heard of Hiroshima before.

The reason for that, I think, is that the guts of the film consists of the survivors' testimonies. Steven Okazaki did not get in their way with his own political agenda. In an interview over on Twitch Okazaki explains:

"I have a problem with films about Hiroshima and Nagasaki—not that I particularly disagree with anyone—but, if I know everything’s going to be tailored, if everything I see is going to be in service to just telling us that war’s bad and bombs kill people, but not present us with a film experience, to get a sense of what happened, to get a sense of what people went through and to feel it, my feeling is it doesn’t really matter what the message is if it’s boring. My job is to tell the story and try to tell it in an interesting way so people will watch it."

The film opens with some interviews of young Tokyoites, none of whom seems to know what had happened in August 1945. "I'm no good at history," says one girl. "An earthquake?" volunteers another. However, it was pointed out to me that had they been asked "What happened in the twentieth Year of the Showa Era?" - the twentieth year of Emperor Hirohito's inglorious reign - then they might have recognised the date and responded appropriately:

"Ah so desu ne. The war ended not necessarily to Japan's advantage."

If the young be ignorant the government and people have been complicit. What emerges from the testimonies of the survivors is a story of discrimination and prejudice at the hands of the authorities and local communities. There is a feeling that the government is simply waiting for them to die. It is telling that NONE of the survivors who spoke in the film lives in Hiroshima today.

What then of the American voices in the film? Again, Steven Okazaki let them speak for themselves without forcing them to attempt to justify what they had been a party to. The most forthright of the speakers was the navigator of the Enola Gay, Theodor "Dutch" van Kirk, who has consistently defended the bombing; but it is worth mentioning that his most telling comment comes towards the end of the documentary when he affirms that anybody who had seen the bomb would not (as some "jerks" who have not do) idly advocate its use in America's petty wars around the globe.

Not the most horrifying or painful, but certainly the most squirmily uncomfortable moment was footage from This Is Your Life in which the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, Captain Robert Lewis meets the Revd. Kiyoshi Tanimoto from Hiroshima and his family who had been in Hiroshima on 6th August. The upbeat pace of the show clashes with the awkwardness of the situation. Yet, I have just discovered, the encounter had a profound effect upon one of the participants, Koko Tanimoto-Kondo.

There is much else to say, but much of it has been said elsewhere already and this blog entry has taken me far longer to write than any other; that is partly due to the severity and magnitude of the subject and partly because every time I seek out a name or a fact I end up riveted to the computer screen reading and reading deep into the night.

If you have the opportunity, make the effort to see the film. In the meantime here are some more links:

White Light/Black Rain - Background to the making of the film.

Time is Standing Still: White Light Black Rain - A good review complete with survivors' paintings.

Time Magazine - Theodore "Dutch" J. van Kirk

The Mushrooming Cloud - America in Denail about the Bomb.

You Tube - Steven Okazaki Interview

You Tube - White Light/Black Rain excerpts

David Hurley

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Real Cause of Mahjong Epilepsy Revealed!

In recent years mahjong has been promoted in Japan as a way for elderly people to keep their brains in trim. Community centres around the country have laid on mahjong sessions for senior citizens. Naturally smoking, drinking and gambling are not permitted in these sessions. (Strictly speaking, gambling is illegal in Japan and so not really "permitted" anywhere else either.)

I wonder if, in safety conscious - or danger obsessed - Japan those mahjong sessions will be shut down as reports surface in Hong Kong that mahjong "can cause epilepsy".

Apparently, doctors from Hong Kong's Queen Mary Hospital have written a study based on twenty three cases in which mahjong players or observers have suffered epileptic fits in the course of a mahjong session. Naturally, the medical profession has not been slow to add another "unique syndrome" to the list of human frailties.

It was observed that the people who suffered epileptic fits while playing mahjong had not suffered such fits elsewhere. That does not seem surprising; they probably spend most of their free time inside mahjong parlours. Is it likely that a group of habitual mahjong players whose average age is 54 would be found indulging in other activities likely to induce epilepsy? Am I to suppose that after a long session of mahjong the old timers totter off for a boogie on a disco dance floor where they jive the night away immune from strobe-induced epileptic seizures?

I think not.

Nevertheless, let us suppose that "mahjong epilepsy" really is a "unique syndrome" as the worthy doctors assert. If it is unique, its uniqueness does not lie in such cagey statements of the bleeding obvious as:

"The distinctive design of mahjong tiles, and the sound of the tiles crashing onto the table, may contribute to the syndrome."
(My italics: I like the mealy-mouthed "may"; it is every journalist's friend, along with the cautious "can"!)

No, the nub of the gist lies buried here:

"Mahjong is cognitively demanding, drawing on memory, fast calculations, concentration, reasoning and sequencing."

In short, the unique cause of epileptic fits among mahjong players turns out to be THINKING TOO MUCH.

If I say so myself, I must say that I have often said that those that say that thinking is the key to mahjong are mistaken. And now I have medical evidence to prove that "taking thought" while playing mahjong is not merely wrong headed but positively dangerous.

We are too much beguiled by the conceit that it is we ourselves who have a hand in the hands we complete at the table and we reason thus in our hearts like foolish Israelites:

"My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth."
[Deut. 8:17]

"We flatter ourselves," writes Bernard Hollander, "that it is we who are thinking; whereas the thinking is within us and goes on all the time." When it comes to mahjong I should say that when we have had a good session it is not we ourselves who have played the tiles well, but the tiles that have played us well.

Once, when that "perfect perisher" Roderick Spode was dithering over his tiles at the mahjong table and protesting that he had thought the situation to be other than it now appeared to be, Bertie Wooster chided him with a magnificent put down:

"Never think, Spode.

That turns out to be sound advice for mahjong players the world over as it is now as good as certain (for it now exists as a defined and unique medical syndrome) that THINKING WHILE PLAYING MAHJONG IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH.

David Hurley

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Friday 3rd August: Perugino in Fukuyama

Mrs H had a day off work today so we decided to hop onto the bullet train and head for the provincial city of Fukuyama to see the Perugino exhibition at the Fukuyama Museum of Art.

The first thing you see when you alight from the train and stop to gorp around is the imposing edifice of Fukuyama castle. Be not fooled, fellow pilgrim, Fukuyama castle is fake.

Fukuyama was bombed to buggery on 8th August 1945 and Fukuyama castle was destroyed along with eighty percent of the city, just two days after Hiroshima had been wiped out by the A-bomb. Then, on the ninth, Nagasaki was hit. The unprecedented horrors of the atom bombings were such that the destruction of Fukuyama and other cities were put firmly in the shade. You might say that although Hiroshima had been "nuked" Fukuyama had been "fu-ked", for the A-bomb gave Hiroshima fame and a sense of purpose: to preach a new-found conviction for peace unto the nations. Many have heard of Hiroshima, few of Fukuyama. So Fukuyama competes by calling itself the rose city. It rose from the ashes and planted roses, although I have to admit that I did not see a single rose while in Fukuyama.

Fukuyama castle was rebuilt in 1966, of concrete, steel, wood, stone and plaster. As it is close to the station and en route to the museum we found it not too arduous to go and have a look.

Mrs H at the outer gate.

From the mound upon which the castle was erected, as one gazes to the west one is struck by the site of a large mock gothic church with towers rising from either side of the facade. The church is even more of a fake than the castle. It is one of Japan's many pseudo churches built entirely for the purpose of holding psuedo wedding ceremonies presided over by pseudo priests. Your psuedo priest is usually an enterprising English language teacher who wishes to earn some extra lolly on the Lord's Day.

Mrs H & the Fake Facade of Fukuyama

Fukuyama Museum of Art is just at the bottom of the road in the photo.

It is always a treat when anything from Europe earlier than and other than French Impressionism makes it to the galleries of the Chugoku region and this exhibition was no exception. Perugino was influenced by Verrocchio and Piero della Francesca. Raphael was his pupil. Perugino spans the transition in style and technique from early to high Renaissance.

Perugino was one of the earliest of the Italians to use oil, but many of the works on display in the exhibition, by Perugino and others, were painted on wood using tempera or tempera with oil, such as this charming painting of the annunciation.

The red tinge of Gabriel's nose, not easily discernible in the photo, is suggestive of a fellow who has of late been too much on the sauce.

We had been looking at paintings mostly on religious themes, with Saint Jerome getting more than his fair share of the action, whether kneeling in devotion in the sombre Madonna della Pietà or out in the desert, pummelling his chest with a stone while a lion sits in placid attendance, as in this example of tempera on cloth.

This particular example is from the Galleria Nationale di Umbria in Perugia, Italy. It seems to have been painted to be viewed from the right as the extended arm becomes horribly distorted when viewed from any other angle.

Tempura, the base ingredient of which is egg yolk, coagulates swiftly and produces a thin translucent pastel effect if left unvarnished. It preserves its colour very well over time.

Oil, on the other hand, dries more slowly so it can be worked over again and again. It produces a greater depth of colour saturation and a richly sensuous solidity that reinforces the illusions of perspective and dimension such that the most common two words that Japanese gallery visitors (including Mrs H) utter when confronted by a work such as this are,

"Shashin mitai." ("It looks like a photograph.")

I don't know that a work done in tempera on wood could ever effect such a response. The richness of colour can be achieved but not the texture.

Yet, despite having rehearsed all that, it was still a shock to turn from the tempera dipictions of the saints to an oil portrait of a boy with no religious overtones and a countenance full of fleshly presence that emerges with the plenitude of youth from the dark surrounding shades of the painting. Could this be by the same Perugino whose works we have been so assiduously perusing?

Ritratto di giovinetto, Perugino (Uffizi)

The Ritratto di giovinetto seems to belong to an altogether different world from the rest of the works in the exhibition and I left the gallery not convinced that it was by the same painter.

The painting that most nearly approached it in the exhibition was the tempera painting of Cristo in Pietà, if not in mood or posture, then at least in colour.

The portrait of Christ stands above a larger work in oil on cloth of the Virgin and Child flanked by saints. There is a lot of realism in the work, but little naturalism. Christ emerges from the coffin and reveals the wounds in his hands, apparently without having emerged from the sleep of death. The rhetorical appeal of the work is not to naturalism at all; it has none of the dynamics of the body and its vestments frozen in motion.

There is rather more formal resemblance, however, between Ritratto di giovinetto and Perugino's painting of the Magdalene in the Pitti Palace, Florence, which was not part of the Fukuyama exhibition. The painting of the Magdalene seems to locate itself somewhere between the stillness of heavenly piety and the arrested motion of worldly flesh as would befit its subject.

However, when puzzling over these matters one should keep in mind the effects of current intrusive cleaning techniques which can so often startle an innocent sensibility. The Ritratto di giovinetto looked as if it has been cleaned. It looked all too new too; oil ages and loses its colour over time, but the painting looked as if it was in pristine condition. The photo on the right, however, was either taken in a different light from the larger photo, above, or it was taken before the picture was cleaned. Its flesh tones appear to me to be more restrained and modulated than the painting I viewed at Fukuyama.

Whatever the restoration histories of the Ritratto and the Magdalena may be, there are obvious similiarities between them; the angle of the head, the shape of the mouth, the central parting and the hang of the hair. If one was painted by Perugino then it would seem to be more than likely that the other was too.

The exhibition is called 'Perugino Divin Pittore' and continues at the Fukuyama Museum of Art until 2nd September 2007.

David Hurley

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