Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Last Sento Painter - Redux"

First the reason for this post: There is to be a second, live, sento-style painting of Mt. Fuji to be painted by Maruyama Kiyoto at Gallery Serikawa in the Okuno Building in Ginza on November 21st, 2009, starting at 1:00 p.m. Why this is of historical interest, I will now attempt to explain:

There are two historical issues to deal with - the history of the painter, and the history of the building in which the painting demonstration is to take place. The building predates the painter by a few years, so I'll start with that:

1932 - The Okuno Building begins its long existence (long for Tokyo anyway, where most buildings are destroyed after a few decades) as an apartment building in the 1-chome area of Ginza, in Tokyo.

The building was modern at the time, with steam heat & running water in each room, beds that folded out from the wall, wooden closets, (with wooden floors in some rooms, tatami mats in others) an elevator, a lounge on the sixth floor, and a sento (public bath) in the basement. There are planters in front of the front windows, which looked out over a river (since rerouted), and probably out to Tokyo Bay (although I haven't been able to confirm this aspect yet - certainly there have been a lot of newer and taller buildings constructed in front of the Okuno Building since then, and new landfill in Tokyo Bay).

Actually the building consists of two nearly identical buildings built side-by-side, with the one on the left constructed first. They are internally joined, but each has its own staircase, complete with a window between the two staircases, possibly to prevent people from missing people who take the other staircase from the one they are on. Whatever the reason, I don't think I've ever seen that design anywhere else before. Each building also has its own basement, and one of the basements has a well - which apparently supplied the bath water and maybe the drinking water, and water for the boiler to feed the steam heating. And - getting back to the sento in one of the basements - it is now being used as an art gallery, and this is where Maruyama Kiyoto painted one of his Mt. Fuji paintings on September 5th in front of a live audience. It was quite fitting for a sento-style painting to be painted in a former sento, now being used to display art. This event was so well received, that another has been scheduled for November (see the top and/or bottom of this posting for details).

The early thirties being before the implementation of that curse on humankind - air-conditioning - ventilation was provided by large (by today's standards anyway) vents over the (open-able) windows (or beside the windows in one half of the building), and close-able ventilation slats in the doors at the bottom and the top. Some of these are still functional, but unfortunately most of the remaining original doors (many doors have been replaced), have had these painted - freezing them in place.

(Incidentally - what do I have against air-conditioning? Thanks to air-conditioning, I suffer in 28-degree heat at work year-round thanks to there being no open-able windows and extremely inadequate ventilation - a design made possible by bloody air conditioning. Think about it - I suffer in heat thanks to the designers of buildings thinking that the automated air system can supply all oxygen and temperature needs for the people sealed in the box. And it almost could - if it were used correctly! Thanks to a few people who have extreme phobias of moving air, they leave the system off except for brief periods in the morning and the late afternoon. It's mind-boggling that management doesn't realize how unhealthy the air is! I suppose the only thing that would get their attention is if three or four people keeled over concrete-cold dead on the floor from lack of oxygen.)

Back to the Okuno Building. The rooms are quite small, but for a single person, it must have been good to live there. There aren't many residence buildings in Ginza, so just to be able to have a Ginza address would have been fun - and convenient.

In any case, the usage of the building has changed over the decades, and it is now being used by many small art galleries and also by small companies for office space. It's been a practical working building all along, and there have been many modifications to the building and most of its rooms over time. The last resident tenant died earlier this year at 100 years old. Apparently she had lived there since the building was new - all those long decades ago.

1935 - Maruyama Kiyoto was born in Koenji. His family moved away from Tokyo during the wartime years and then he moved back after the war when he was eighteen. Currently he is one of only two people in the entire country who are professional sento painters, and he has been painting sento wall murals for over fifty years now.

I should write more, but it's nearly 2:00 a.m., and I need to get some sleep, so I'll leave it as this and just put the gallery and event information below:

"Last Sento Painter - Redux"
Saturday, November 21st, 2009
Gallery Serikawa
1-9-8 Okuno Bldg., B1 (right-side basement)
Ginza, Chuo-ku
Tel & Fax - 03-3535-2007

会場:銀座 芹川画廊

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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