BridgemeJapan Report, November 2014
The BridgeMeJapan Project began over three years ago in Miami. The trailer design (Semi) began a week after the tsunami hit Fukushima in March of 2011. At that time only a week passed by after the big waves hit the coast, when my brother called me from Argentina around 4 a.m. asking me if I had heard from my friends in Japan. After two years of research and one year of writing and putting ideas together to understand the logistics needed to make this project happen, I finally arrived in Japan to start my journey. It took, however, another six months, working in Osaka and helped by so many friends, to finish my trailer and finalize my plans. At last, in September, I got on my bicycle and began the journey in Japan.
On my last day in Miami before getting on the plane to Japan, I had many meetings and encounters with friends I wanted to see before I left my home. That morning in a meeting about the BridgeMeJapan project, my companion says to me over a cup of tea “It is good to read about people’s tales I can’t find in a book.” The words “people’s tales” I hear stay in my head.
A month passes by
Between conceptual and informative, the project starts to take shape daily. When I start writing for this project and received feedback from sharing my concepts with others, I found out I could not separate the process of making art and my intention of making this an informative project, conceptually separating the artistic from the factual documentation was very difficult. I thought “Was it necessary to try to separate?”
This project is a way of studying communication to achieve adaptation and evolution or the other way around, opening a dialogue for me and other people to explore. There is no a final word on which technique I have to use to get a message across. It is more about your interpretation of all kinds of information and what you make out of it.
I want to make clear that this report is the first of a series of reports I will be preparing during my time in Japan making the BridgeMeJapan project. This project is a social and informative study about the gap between generations in Japan. It is also for me to have a chance to use of my body for performance, a happening, embracing the daily street exposure and as art studio. It is the making of conceptual work, photographs and other types of art documentation to help me to analyze and explore this culture.
I recommend for those reading this report to place yourself as Gabriel Delponte (GD) and at the same time as the viewer or reader. I pose questions to myself and to you, the reader, or ask you, the reader to do something specific as you read this report. Through these actions, I invite you to interact with me in this project, understanding this interaction will be never the same for each person.
This project evolves on daily basis as I cycle freely around Japan, looking for subjects to interview and opportunities to make art. There is daily change and a feeling of being all over the place.
GD: Build from the grey zone. Restless minds are the only survivors. The immensity expands continuously. The time to let it all go arrives and with tears I see the clear route vanishing and am faced with multiple choices.
I hear voices. I can almost touch these voices. Some are soft, some are rough, and some are building a foundation.
What do you miss down there?
GD: Basically I am telling you, I am bouncing like a ball in a tennis court.
See…. today was, a rough day.
A Hindu man (Rao, 65 I think he was) told me on the plane to Japan, “Gabriel, Japan is a good place, stay longer. Integrity there is important, watch over that, lose money is ok. But get things done if you say so or die trying.”
GD: This is very romantic. I like that.
To the readers: -What is the name of the song you are listening right now? Turn the music on.
The first day and the last minute I stand still, before all start from Fujisawa.
Fujisawa is Miami Beach’s sister city. A very special place I never forget.
Many people came to the departure. It was a happy day. Was very, very nice, I didn’t feel alone. Yes! I collect tokens of good memories and companions for the many days coming.
Good memories make the waiting time shorter. I know it. I can almost give you the number of the days I will be alone on the route. Can you guess how many? Say a number!
Think of this for a moment: If you really have a clear idea in your mind about something, what is the point of making it? Virtual reality is real I believe.
But thinking about the curiosity and support of others, makes sense to me. A new challenge seen through others’ minds. Use whatever works for you to feel inspired.
Anyway, back to the departure day. I want to look each of the people who came to say “gambate”, a way to say in Japanese “courage, you can do it,” into the eyes and say thanks. While at the same time, the road I never met before is in front of me and is waiting. I ask myself, “Can I make this happen?” I try. I look at my bike and then my trailer. Love it. Looks so cool. My heart beats quietly. I can’t hear it, but my head is about to explode. I feel spaced out and no sound and voice was registering in my ears. Just hope the gear persists and I learn fast enough to deliver on a promise.
The ride starts
I arrive in Enoshima. Wow, that was fast; I am a lightning fast. No Gabriel, is called adrenaline.
It was a sunny day, no wind or clouds, no showdowns in diagonal, sun is above me and I am sweating like a pig. The only shade right is below the cars. It was noon and the sun is up and humidity steams up.
I set my GPS direction to the beach, Enoshima. Somehow I always end up on some beach. If you go far enough in any land, that’s as far you can go. No brainer there.
Photo 1: View from Enoshima cliff
When I arrive at the beach, I carry the bike down stairs and follow with the trailer. The campsite is chosen, so I begin to set my tent. I build the tent and then a couple of friends who came to the departure arrive to check on me.
Finally I took my shoes off and, then, the sand passes wet between my toes. What a relief!
The first night at the beach was not so good. I was tired after three years of preparing this project and finally here I am. I need to sleep 24 hours non-stop.
Of course, that is not going to happen. (Recommendation: Don’t camp on a beach near populated areas. You will not sleep.) I was worried about the gear all night.
I napped through the night voices. With one or maybe 2 hours of sleep, I decide to get out of the tent before sunrise, pack and make a coffee.
September 6, 2014. Around 6:30 am, a man, who I call “Enoshima man,” comes down the stairs to the beach for his early walk. The ocean is still far out. He looks like he is coming out of a book about Key West or Miami Beach in the golden time. Enoshima man was carrying himself so proudly and elegantly; I can almost imagine him in black and white.
Immediately, I took the Mamiya 645 camera with 120-speed film, which was present from a friend who passed away, and ran after Enoshima man. I asked for a photo of him. I shoot ones, but I had no idea if captured him until a month later when I had a chance to have the film developed. I wish I knew more about this man.
Photo 2: The Enoshima man.
Day Two: Night at the Temple– The two ends of a person make the middle shine.
I was looking for a place already. I can’t stay one more night on the beach and it is so hard to camp in a city.
Four months earlier, someone, who I had met during a dinner party at the City of Fujisawa, was telling me about his bicycle touring. Immediately, I start recording in my head. I knew this person’s experience would be helpful. As conversation develops (Shima San 76), he mentioned that he stayed in a temple during his bike tours when he was on his 20.
GD: temples, oh, yes, I love these places.
Shima San -76- a man who been around, and always carries a slight smile on his face. Solid voice and happy memories. He worked and lived many years abroad. Shima San held his wife by the hand out side their house.
That same day, through a friend I contacted a temple in Fujisawa.
With all types of signals and a translator I was finally am able to explain about what I am doing there and ask to stay one night. Somehow, 30 minutes later, I got a yes.
So that evening the rules of the temple were explained to me. I found them not so hard and maybe a bit normal. A Trainee monk was assigned to me because he spoke some English. I call him Mister “N”
To the reader-Make a drawing of a house plan.
Photo 3: My room is designated as “2F ”.
The Temple and my room are beautiful. Wood all over, impeccable line design many, many years ago.
All ready in the room. Ok, I have time now to figure out where to go the next day and where to eat, but also I am thinking how I can do interviews and collecting letter for the Hikyaku letter project.
Making my art and some conceptual pieces from the road is fine, but for sure I will have to use all my senses and find ways to communicate. The busiest places can become the quiet ones.
I must ask question. Gabriel asks, “Mister “N”, may ask you a question?” “Yes”, Mister “N” replied.
GD: “Is hard to be a full time Buddhist priest student and live in a temple?”
N: “yes, it is hard.”
GD: “Do you have family?”
N: “I do. Wife and kids.”
Mister “N” told me about his wife, some troubles and how this life in the temple is mixed with his other life.
GD: “How is she doing these days, your wife?”
N: “She was sick but now is ok and recovering. I spend time with her during the hard time and now she is with her family.”
GD: “How do you feel about this?”
N: “Umm, not so sure, maybe this is an escape.”
Of course, this last answer left my head spinning
After the brief talk to Mister “ N”, I told him about the letter collection and ask him if he would like to write the first one. Mister “N” said, “Yes, I will like to do that.”
And here is where Hikyaku letter project began, inside the temple in Fujisawa.
All the students I met in the temple (the “Yugyoji” is what this temple is called) came from other temples to learn and practice the services to later return to their own. Some of them are coming from families where their parents run temples in a different part of the country.
They have a very organized and busy schedule in the temple. Waking up at 4:30 and doing the first ceremony of the day at 5 a.m. was number one rule, which I have to assist as part of the deal for sleeping there.
Mister “N” came at 4:50 am to get me and take me to the ceremony. He explained to me my job. I was in charge of the incense, which was to be lit in a very specific moment during the ceremony, right after the sound of a big wood bell called “wood fish”.
Doors are close and I the only one there. On my knees, is ok, not so painful and again strangely I felt normal in all of this. I am the only strange one in there among the priests this morning. It’s a fresh morning and I hear the priest and student walking over the wood floor and tatamy floors, getting ready to begin the prayers and chants of the morning.
The ceremony starts and chant fills up the room and the singing resonates against the wooded room. Bells and wood sticks are knocking . Tik tik tik tik, making the tempo. Around me, a beautiful space appears when my eyes are closed and the space expands with the sound of the chants. My body feels lighter.
20 minutes later , Tok, tok, tok tok . Oh, here is the knocking of the wood fish, this is my time.
Gassho is called the action of putting your hands together. Up off my knees, Gassho. I walk to the incense box, Gassho. On my knees, Gassho. I place incense on top of the burning charcoal, Gassho. Up from my knees, Gassho. I walk back to my designated area, kneel down, Gassho.
The incense smell and the smoke filled the room rapidly like a long dragon flying and the chants speed up. Namu abi namu, Buddha live in the west, I hear.
The ceremony ends, and it is time for me to return to my room. I really have no clue of what is next, but, for sure, was to find a place and start moving.
After breakfast mister “N” came to see me. I was asked many times what I will do and what my plans are. My plan? How do I explain this, it is too complicated. So I decide just to ask for one more night and get more time today to document this place. I really want to stay longer here.
Mister “N” later that morning came to my room.
N: “Gabriel, they say you can’t stay.”
GD: “Ok, no problem.”
Immediately I began to pack with no second thoughts.
At this point I said to Mister “N”, “I need some time to pack and seek out my next destination.”
As I was packing, my mind was already out of there. Survival process. “Do not let affect you; move on, thinking about next stop.”
About 30 minutes later Mister “N” return and say, “Don’t go yet, you can stay one more day.”
I knew someone made a call. Someone I appreciated from before. From this point, the entire situation in there changed. I was received in the joint temple activities and allowed to hang with the students, getting to see the two ends of each of them.
To the reader: Burn incense, look out the window.
The corridors of the temple are full of peace, disrupted with the squeaking noise of a wood floor after each step, and I am walking there by myself.
What I found interesting is, having so much time to write and think, I feel empty and relaxed, but I could not get my mind to focus on taking notes. It was more feeling what is the point of sharing a mind if no one asks. I start feeling was not much of a point for anything. ( Um, am I exaggerating?)
Today, I will leave the temple after ceremony and breakfast. I asked to record the morning ceremony and I got a “yes”, so I am bringing the sound recorder and microphones.
Time, can make all better. Everybody at the temple office this morning came to say good-bye. All the students and priests went “Bansai, Bansai, Bansai, Bansai”. The moment was too special to take a photo. It’s better in my memory. Thank you.
Photo 4: Writing from one student in the temple.
And the start of a new journey begins this day.
Note: If you ever visit Fujisawa, look for this temple.
Note: Finding myself as my art medium, I decide to make my own happening and leave the enclosed life of the studio. I had it. The church is outside, yes on the streets and preaching in the digital realm, the most successful religion today. I have always been fascinated by our human condition. Human connection must be prized as well.
A visit to Mister Shima san.
Photo 5: Second floor, nap room.
I can’t wait to see him. Shima san has good stories and advice, plus he speaks English.
From the temple to his house took me about two hours. He already knows much about what I am doing and I like to spend time with him and his wife. A very lovely couple.
The ride was easy and the weather helped. Finally, I arrived at his house, walk up the six steps and ring the bell. Shima San opened the door. He was expecting me between 9 a.m. and noon. He sounds like he was not so sure if I would make it.
A house full of memories and dated between 60s and 70s. Imagine that in Japan. His wife has a beautiful small garden behind the house.
This visit was more like a visit to an old friend who I talk to here and there. Not much news to talk about. Instead I sit and listen to his adventures. After a couple hours of talking over plate of curry Shima san’s wife made, Shima ask me if I want to take a nap. Probably I look like I am falling sleep on the table. He took me upstairs and I lay down on the tatami. Already with a lot of practice on sleeping in the floor during my last year and a half in my Miami Beach home, sleeping on the floor on a “tatami” is like sleeping on cotton.
That same day, after my nap, he took me to meet a dear friend of his, a dancer. Shima san’s friend didn’t have to say much to make an impression on me.
Photo 6: Bike And Trailer / Semi
Behind the make up, the dancer
Photo 7 : Ms. Amakasu san performing.
Shima san and I arrive later in the evening at a cafe with ocean view. He rode his bike and I was on mine with the trailer following us behind. We were going to meet the daughter of the dancer, but the dancer is not there yet.
We met her daughter on the first floor of the restaurant. I can see the beach of Fujisawa and the Enoshima lighthouse up in the hills. The light just turned on and is spinning.
Reader: Look at the photo of Enoshima man and you will see there is the lighthouse in the background.
30 minutes later her mother, the dancer, arrives. It is really hard not being able to speak the Japanese language. In a flash, I thought, I moved to the United States from Argentina 17 year ago. Back then all was more like a game or it felt like it. I love it there and I can’t speak one word of English, but somehow it doesn’t feel so hard. Moving from Portland to Seattle was a great adventure. Seattle was a first home in the United States. As we get old our minds become stiff.
Back to the table. Here she is a woman, She is a prominent and very successful entrepreneur. Her son run the business now, but she had been the president and is now the chairperson of a big business and, with a kind smile on her, an artist. This is the first time I can see her face without the make up.
Over the next three nights I will live in her house and, on the last night, I will, with the help of her daughter, interview her. Reiko Amakasu and Maki Amakasu are their names.
Photo 8: Pin for Special Ise Ceremony also assisted by Ms. Abe san.
I keep encountering worship, for whatever is the reason, but this feels more like reminder of who we are and just to learn how to be more appreciative.
Many ceremonies she has done, many performances too, but for sure one must take pride in all or don’t, don’t, do it at all.
We talked about her life and her performances. The night before we were watching videos of her dancing on stage. She looked amazing. After watching the videos for hours, I felt a bit hypnotized. Lately, slow things are more attractive.
Of course, I can’t understand the story told by this dance or singing.
Personally, I begin to see such a classic act as more of a contemporary performance; it feels that way to me. I could not really date this performance. It could be from the past or done just today.
The next day Miss Reiko Amakasa san invites me to visit the temple where she assists. A special ceremony was hosted this day. So we went by foot, the day was sunny.
After the ceremony, a Omamory (amulet) for safety and protection, was given to me by the Buddhist priest.
We walked back to her house and around noon I set my GPS direction to Yokohama.
Photo 9: Walking with Ms. Amakasa san to the local temple.
Today already pass by. Detached, I see other possibilities, other realities. Indeed, mostly personal. When I am riding the bike, I constantly thinking of what will be next piece, or working on a actual one.
Every 3 hours I get hungry, very hungry, but my stomach has shrunk so it is not so easy to eat, at least for me. I have to open the stomach first with liquids. Usually I sit outside on the street, watching people pass by while I eat my meals. It’s really fascinating to do this. I am not a tourist; I am not a local.
Today, I write an email to a friend: “Here all good. Just some trouble with the website guys. Hope it get this fixed soon.” I am writing all about the days I was riding, but trying to make it easy to read and not overextended.
I add some photos in the middle too.
I am thinking once I am done I can send this to everybody as my first report and upload it to the website. Somehow boring to me. What I find funny is, the more I think here, the harder it gets to express how I feel. I feel how more important all is becoming. A lot of the daily stuff I go through becomes so normal to me, I can’t see the differences. But the upside of this is I feel I am making more art, and shouldn’t worry so much about other stuff. Just go with the formula in doing the interviews. I will get better at this. I have to do and learn more. The language, well I don’t know. Maybe I am learning, maybe I haven’t learned anything at all yet.
From Fujisawa to Yokohama.
Yokohama was a small fishing village up to the end of the feudal Edo period. A major turning point in Japanese history happened in 1853–54, when Commodore Matthew Perry arrived just south of Yokohama with a fleet of American warships, demanding that Japan open several ports for commerce. Yokohama was the first city to be opened for trading.
After a day of riding from Fujisawa and leaving the comfort zone, I am going in the direction of Yokohama. There, I will meet a friend.
I arrive in Yokohama around 5 p.m. I cannot find a safe campsite or place to park the trailer. I start realizing that finding a place to stay in the cities will be harder than expected. And I can’t risk the gear.
After a while of researching, I get a cheap hostel right at the edge of downtown. Half hostel, half apartment complex. Don’t know why. It was a strange arrangement, but they let me bring the trailer and bike inside and the place was clean and cheap.
Finally, that night I can go out with my friend to eat Sushi. Around 8 p.m., she picked me up from the hostel, and took me to this small sushi place run by the mother as cashier, the father as sushi master and the son as sushi apprentice and chef.
The place is known among locals for excellent sushi and also as a hang out place for some famous people, artist, bohemians etc. That same night I met a movie director, Mister Toru Murakawa, who is 77. He tells me he built a Basho museum. Our conversation went on across the bar for a while. My friend gives me a guide about Yokohama, which she edited, and a map of Japan. After dinner and our name cards ware exchanged with Mister Murakawa san and we said we will meet again.
My friend and I left for a short tour up the Yokohama hill. We passed by the foreigners cemetery located on the hill where the immigrants from Europe were located during the Edo period. The Chinese immigrants were located near the ports.
For my next morning, I plan to ride my bike to these places before I continue my journey in the direction of Tokyo.
Photo 10: Morning outside the Hostel in Yokohama.