365 Views of Mt. Fuji


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© 1998 L.J.C. and Todd Shimoda

 

 Below are actual pages from the book that show the book's layout. We know you can't read the text, so we have provided excerpts from the first chapter titled "Multiple Unknown Crimes." Scroll down to read the excerpts.


 


 


 Yukawa

 Takenoko

A bead of sweat drips from my left armpit, cascades over my ribs, and pools at the waistband of my pants. I hope the moisture doesn't soak through my new suit. I should have worn an undershirt, but I never do-they spoil the line of a well-tailored shirt.

My new suit is a Kenji Fukada design: double-breasted, six buttons, slightly oversized lapels.

I am waiting for the owner of a new, private art museum to interview me for the chief curator's position. The museum is located in Hakone, near Mt. Fuji, a three-and-a-half hour drive from Tokyo. The museum is unfinished: the wallboard is unpainted, the floor is raw concrete, the ceiling tiles are askew, exposing metal joists and electrical conduits. The only furniture is a folding table and two chairs.

I need this job.

The brothel owner-smelling of musty body odor, cloying incense, and the grimy metal of coins-took Takenoko's sketches. The artist fought to keep his stomach from growling.

The brothel owner flipped through the sketches, barely giving them a bored glance. Then he stopped at one of a young courtesan, her body twisted as she inspected the back of her sock where a speck of mud had marred the pure white fabric.

The brothel owner laughed.

Please don't laugh, thought Takenoko. I need this job; I need to work. I'm tired of starving.

 Ichiro

The museum owner strides into the room. He looks to be in his early sixties. He stands with the table between us and introduces himself: "Ichiro Ono. You are Yukawa."

As much as the museum is unfinished, Ichiro Ono is a finished man. Not "finished" as in "done with," but finished as the sculpture of David is finished, with nothing else to chip off or polish. He holds himself precisely-not too stiffly, not too relaxed. He must know what he wants from the rest of his life.

"Yes," I say. "Keizo Yukawa. I am very pleased to meet you."

"Yes. Of course." He sits on one of the folding chairs. I do the same. He stares at me for a long, uncomfortable second, then asks, "What do you know about Takenoko?"

I know very little about Takenoko. Too little, I admit to myself, to be the curator of a museum dedicated to the artist. Should I be honest? Ichiro Ono is very direct, perhaps I should be the same.

But I need this job.

My answer: "Admittedly, there are others more expert in Takenoko and the other ukiyo-e artists than I am. My expertise in art is with the 1930s neo-classical printmakers such as Takahashi and Domoto, as you can see in my curriculum vitae; however, as a trained curator, I am sensitive to all artists and art forms and what they demand in way of proper presentation and display."

Another bead of sweat drips, cascades, and pools.

Ichiro Ono doesn't blink. He says, "This museum is built to display Takenoko's 365 Views of Mt. Fuji. Only those works." Then he asks, "What do you know about robots?"

Robots?

I know it's a mistake to want something desperately. But it's impossible to stop.

Ichiro Ono disliked Yukawa's face; it had the common traits of today's youth: too knowing around the eyes, too self-satisfied around the mouth, too eager to laugh in the throat. Evolution had worked quickly to produce an entire generation of smug know-it-alls.

And Yukawa's suit, with those ridiculous lapels that screamed out for attention, struck Ichiro Ono like a slap on his cheek.

 

 Junko

"Certainly I know less about robots than I know about curatorial science," I say, throwing in the word "science" lamely but hopefully.

"Robots are paying for this museum. I am the president of Ono Robotics."

"Ah, an honored and successful firm."

Ichiro Ono says, "You aren't married."

"Well, no." Would my chances be better if I were? "Not yet," I add. Junko despises the institution, all institutions in fact.

I have no feelings about marriage. Take it or leave it. At least that's what I tell people.

Ichiro Ono says, "So far, I have hired three curatorial consultants to help with the design of the museum, but I wasn't impressed enough to hire any of them as full-time curator." He pauses then asks, "What is your philosophy of life?"

Of life? I had rehearsed my answer to the question: "What is your philosophy as a curator?" not my philosophy of life. A trick question? I fight the urge to sweat by breathing deeply before I answer. "My philosophy of life and my philosophy as a curator are the same: to do things correctly."

Ono stares at me. I gaze slightly away from his eyes, around the side of his precise ear.

Ono says, "You have the credentials, especially your assistant curatorship at the Tokyo National Art Museum. But this is a small museum; you'll have to do much of the work yourself."

"That's what I'm most looking forward to."

While she danced to the Tokyo Tower Boys, Junko ate a pink-glazed doughnut. She knew it was making Yukawa angry. So she danced closer to him and offered him a bite. He clamped his lips and turned his face away.

She pushed the doughnut onto his lips. He slapped it away. The pink glazed doughnut flew across the dance floor. Junko danced over to it then began to stomp on it. The pink glaze became violet in the black light strobes. Yukawa grabbed the back of her arm and pulled.

He said, "Is this another one of your performance art pieces?"

"No. It's what I want to do to your ego."

"Because I want to quit my job? To be happy?"

"Because you're selfish."

 

 The Last Ukiyo-e Artist

Ichiro Ono pushes a folder across the desk to me. The thick paper is embossed with both the Ono Robotics logo and the Ono Takenoko Museum logo. "Here is the compensation package I am offering. If you accept, you can stay in the company dormitory at the Ono Robotics plant in Numazu, at least until you find your own place. The dormitory is a convenient drive from here."

I nod. Is he offering me the job? I guess so. Does he want me to say I accept the job? Should I accept the job right away?

Ichiro Ono says, "You can think about it, of course. For a day. We need a capable person on board immediately."

"Sure, I mean yes, thank you. That's a good idea. A day, yes."

Without another word, he gives me a book, then stands up and strides out of the room. The book is Takenoko: The Last Ukiyo-e Artist.

This book, undertaken in the years 1971 to 1974, explores the largely mysterious life of the artist Takenoko. Many obstacles presented themselves during the research and writing of the book, in particular the lack of records of Takenoko's real name, and consequently his story, and the fact that Takenoko's most revealing body of work-The 365 Views of Mt. Fuji-are widely distributed, although most are owned by the Ono family. The three siblings-two brothers (Ichiro and Gun) and sister (Akiko)-are descendants of the owner of the onsen (hot springs resort) on the west coast of the Izu Peninsula where Takenoko painted the Views. The Ono siblings are seeking to consolidate ownership of the Views back into their family.

I must thank the Ono family for allowing me access to the collection for this unprecedented study. This book would have been impossible, or surely diminished, without such access. My goal in this book is not only to chronicle the artist's life and work, but to put it in the context of the upheaval that was occurring at the time which transformed, at least superficially, the nation of Japan.

Shintaro Hata, 1975