Monday, April 27, 2009

"A More Artistic Japan? - Meeting Artists on the Fringe of Ginza"

I hesitate to write this, as it's not based on proper research, but rather just my own observation and surmising. Nevertheless, combined with some generally well-known trends, it might even be on the mark.

In the early eighties, there was talk in Japan of how the country could be a little less obsessive about working and studying all the time - how this might be the key to becoming a more creative country, where ideas were not just successfully taken in and implemented, but where innovation and new ideas would originate. And so the six-day work week soon became a five-day work week, and soon thereafter, the six-day school week became a five-day school week (at public schools anyway - many private schools still have six-day weeks). In school, the amount of homework was reduced, and the grading system was simplified in order to place less emphasis on completing for top grades. (Ironically, this led to ever more people sending their kids to juku's [cram schools] after school, but going into that now would derail the point of what I'm writing about.)

And here we are in 2009, with the current crop of people in their early twenties being the product of the changes made to the educational system. There are stories in the newspapers about how fewer and fewer college students are studying science, and how science and math test scores are down compared with other countries, etc. In fact, people are so worried, that they've begun reversing the changes made in the late eighties and early nineties. More homework, talk of returning to the old educational system, etc.

The upside to all this? There seem to be many more people interested in art - certainly in creating it, and hopefully also in appreciating it.

Hmm.... Just when I reach the part where I thought I'd take off and write several paragraphs, I realize I've basically said what I wanted to say, so... there it is.

Why do I bring this up? I've recently spent a little time checking out some art galleries over on the edge of Ginza in 1-chome, a bit away from the central (and more fashionable) part of (overly?) fashionable Ginza, and the following gallery and artists' links are from postcards I picked up while walking around looking at art and talking to artists. Most of the art on the cards (one example from Naoko Fukuda at the top of this page) I saw myself (but not the sample at the top of the page, which I unfortunately missed!).

I may be wrong in my assessment of Japan becoming more creative and artistic, but I hope not. In talking with young artists at exhibitions on the fringe of Ginza (some from Tokyo, some in town from other regions of the country), I believe that there really is a wave of artistry rising up with this next/current generation.

It may turn out to be a special generation - as the world heads into more troubled waters, and the educational system goes back to an environment more conductive to math and science, and less tolerant of art and free thinking. But change is the only constant anyway, and once you have a generation thinking in a different way, that thinking doesn't change overnight.

And so, as I feel myself on the verge of derailing the point of this... essay (is that what it is?), I'll stop here and leave the links below:

Offside Gallery
Aoyama 3-10-21

Ginza 1-9-8 (Okuno Bldg.)

Gallery Camellia

Gallery Ginza Itchome

Yuco Oyama

Illustrator - Nishibata Nobuhiro


Vivant Annexe

Masashi Ito

Saihodo Gallery
Ginza 6-7-7

APS - A Piece of Space
Ginza 1-9-8 511 & 502

Gallery L Mer


exhibit Live & Moris Gallery
Ginza 8-10-7

artist RIXY

galerie non

Ginza 4-3-14

leather & brass artist

Vivant Annexe

Gallery Platform Studio

Yoshino Akira


Sunday, April 19, 2009

"The Old Marunouchi Building (1922-1999)"

Describing the Marunouchi Building is complicated, because there are basically four of them! First was the original Marunouchi Building, completed in 1923, and then the Shin-Marunouchi Building (New Marunouchi Building), built next to (not in place of) the Marunouchi Building in 1952. Coming out of the Marunouchi side of Tokyo Station, if you walked over to the center of the station (where there is not a general use exit), and faced away from the station towards the Imperial Palace, the Marunouchi Building was ahead to the left, and the Shin-Marunouchi Building was ahead to the right. Fast forward to 2009 and that description stands, except the buildings called the Marunouchi Building and the Shin-Marunouchi Building are completely different new high-rise buildings. The original Marunouchi Building was destroyed in 1999 (or "by" I should say, I think it took some time to first tear down the building, and then to tear out the basement levels and old foundations), and the Shin-Marunouchi Building was destroyed in 2005. The new Marunouchi Building was completed in 2002, and the new Shin-Marunouchi Building (the new New-Marunouchi Building!) was completed in 2007.

This system of naming a new structure that replaces an old structure (at the same location) with the exact same name of the old structure goes way back - thus if you ask how old a particular temple is, for example, you are likely to be told the date of completion of the first one built at that location, while the current structure may well be version number seven (so what sounds like 800 years or so, may be only 70 years for that particular version of the structure, and 800 for the total of several similar structures with the same name, built on the same ground, one after another). With this system, if you visit Tokyo (via time machine) in the year 2817, there may well be a "Marunouchi Building" and a "Shin-Marunouchi Building" that are the 16th versions of the original ones (new, more durable buildings are torn down faster than older, more fragile temples!). This naming custom makes sense I suppose, but in the year 2009, it's a bit of a headache researching (via the Internet) the history of the four buildings with (discounting the "Shin" of Shin-Marunouchi) the same name! This is where a printed book detailing the history of Tokyo Buildings would be far easier to use than the Internet - but I don't have that book, and if it exists, it probably costs a bit more than I would be willing/able to pay. (The library... maybe I should see what they have.)

The thing that has been interesting to me personally regarding 1920-1960 (or so) style buildings in Japan, is that they have reminded me of childhood memories of visiting similar type office buildings that my father worked in. So while I haven't visited the US is over a decade, visiting buildings like the (former) Sanshin Building and (former) Marunouchi Building, has felt a little like going back home in a way. So as they are destroyed, it feels like bridges to the past are being destroyed, and - aside from my personal feelings - I think old structures really are a kind of bridge to the past, and a certain number of them should be preserved.

It's a hard balance to get right in a city. Overly protecting old buildings can fossilize a city, but overly promoting new-new-new like Tokyo does, leads to a feeling of disorientation, where only the under-22 crowd feels at home. Beyond about 20 years, buildings seem to be considered ripe for destruction, so don't fall in love with any structural aspect of Tokyo, for it is only a matter of (sooner rather than later) time before it will be destroyed. It keeps Tokyo from ever becoming boring though. Without even bothering to leave the city, it changes from under your feet! Great stuff I guess... but to avoid getting disoriented, always push forward, forward, forward, and don't try to revisit something from your past - chances are, it will be gone by the time you return to where it once was.

Anyway, if you'd like to come with 1991 me on a quick trip inside the version-1923 Marunouchi Building, have a look at the embedded video near the top of the page.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Availability note: For news organizations, media companies, advertising agencies, etc., that might be interested in using any of this material, the original is of basically DVD-level quality. I can be contacted via my YouTube page.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Tokyo Station - March 1991 #2"

The continuation of a day I spent in March 1991 video-recording in and around Tokyo Station. At the time I took this video (and the others I took in 1990-92), the purpose was to record "present-day Japan", but now - eighteen years later - suddenly the videos are a record of the past. There are a number of things in this video which no longer exist, starting with the area between the back of the old brick station building and the elevated tracks (now part of the expanded platform access area), and including a view of a cigarette vending machine with only Japanese brands (before barriers to imports were lifted), a pre-touch screen ticket machine with it's illuminated round buttons, pre-cell phone people actually using public telephones on the platform, the Dai-Maru Department Store (closed quite a while ago - the building is now being demolished), the Marunouchi Business district before any of the high-rise office towers went up, the Chuo Line running low before the high (and relocated) platform was built, etc:

Availability note: For news organizations, movie-media companies, advertising agencies, etc., that might be interested in using any of this material, this YouTube video is of very low resolution, but the original is of basically DVD-level quality (although converted from Hi8 analog to digital). The video quality is - naturally - not as sharp as images generated by recent digital video cameras, but - interestingly - the sound quality is better. The cameras I used recorded digital sound and had isolated microphones of higher quality (and with wind screens) than the newer digital cameras, which have microphones built into the case of the camera, with no wind screens and higher susceptibility to wind noise. So even if you're not interested in the pictures overly much, if you need authentic sounds from 1990-92 Tokyo, the sound quality of what I have is good. And - final note - this clip is a tiny part of the original footage - I have a few hundred hours of tape from 1990-92.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Monday, April 06, 2009

"Running With the Herd"

The first day of my new "leave early" schedule last week (reduced hours due to the bad economy), I left the company at 4:30, and marched down the street feeling half-concerned about the reduced paycheck that leaving early is going to produce, and half-happy at being outside earlier than usual. Since Tokyo is hit by the double punch of being in the wrong time zone to begin with, and also not having daylight savings time; for over half the year, the light is nearly or completely gone by normal quitting times of 5:30 or 6:00. So I happily looked around at the glorious daylight and thought "Now I can take more daylight pictures!". (Some people think I specialize in taking night scenes, but the main reason I have so many night scenes is simply due to that being the only time I can take pictures!) Of course, it'll be more difficult to pay for transportation to go places and take pictures, but if I can manage that somehow, I will have more time to take the pictures in.

And so I approached the train station thinking I had mentally gone over the main parameters of the new situation I find myself in. But... I got on the train, sat down, and within seconds realized that the atmosphere was different. I looked around and saw that in place of purposeful businesspeople and students, there were many older people who looked like they were either retired or just shy of retirement age, but not working; and students. One thing about Tokyo is that you can see students (easily identifiable by their student uniforms) pretty much any time of day or night, weekdays, weekends, national holidays, and whatever other kinds of days there are in the 365 days of the year (well - okay, maybe not on New Year's Day), so that's a constant, but even the students seemed more subdued than usual.

So how has it been at 5:45 instead of 4:45? At 5:45, there's a sense of purpose in the air, with people feeling glad to be off work, and heading somewhere with money in their pockets for shopping, going out for dinner, meeting friends, going home early (no overtime - banzai!), etc. Even the students seem to amplify the generally happy vibes of the working people.

And then, on the weekend, I went out for a walk and noticed a late-teenage (or maybe early twenties) man applying for a job at a restaurant (with an open front, taking advantage of the nice weather). He had an air of quiet desperation about him, and I thought back to my student days when I looked for part time work and felt worried/desperate/etc. until I found something. I continued my walk, thinking of how hard it seems to be to get the balance right - to get it so that you're gainfully employed and making enough money to pay the bills, as well as buy some fun stuff (eating out, acquiring tech gadgets, etc.), and you have enough free time to enjoy yourself outside work. For someone who has achieved that balance, I suppose this is just a lot of verbiage, but the "When I have enough money, I don't have enough time; and when I have enough time, I don't have enough money" routine must be familiar to many - and I dare say most - people.

Finally, the element I tend to overlook when thinking about working society: the element of being comfortable when running with the herd, and feeling unease when stepping away from the herd and finding that freedom comes with the price of increased risk. Standing alone on the sidelines, you want to belong to one group or another. Standing within the group, you want freedom from the group. .................. The elusiveness/difficulty of achieving balance, and the ease of going from one extreme to another.

Would I rather be bored? Certainly not - the constant existence of a quest is what makes life worth living.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

"Great Contract! - Where Do I Sign?!"

Sarcasm - just in case it's not obvious. It's been my unfortunate experience over the years that just when I think I'm positively dripping with sarcasm and there is no possible way anyone could not see it - just then, especially then, for some unfathomable reason - (some) people mistake the heavy sarcasm for honest enthusiasm and... what? Fortitude? Strength of purpose? Whatever it is, each time I'm flabbergasted at the misunderstanding, and each time I begin to see how politicians get away with their crimes.

So, I'm telling you here, now, in no uncertain terms, that the following "enthusiasm" for a contract I was sent is sarcasm, driven on by disappointment, disgust, amazement, etc.

Here's the story:

The video, or The Train Video. (Do I hear groans? Yeah, I feel your pain - in fact, I'm feeling the same way - maybe even worse I think.) I've had three television stations approach me with offers (excluding one TV show in the UK that I gave permission to use for a single use of the low-resolution version). The first two I'll just give the details from memory, and the last one, I'll show you the wonderful (unsigned) contract itself (with the name of the guilty company taken out of course).

1) I was offered about 100 pounds from a UK broadcaster for (non-exclusive) rights to use the video an unlimited number of times within three years. I wrote back and basically asked "Well - what's in it for me?"

2) I was offered around 200 pounds from another UK broadcaster who wanted (non-exclusive) rights to use the video an unlimited number of times within five years. I wrote back and said (in addition to "Well - what's in it for me?"): "Actually, I don't particularly even want this on TV. It's already caused an enormous amount of misunderstanding due to the way it's been shown out-of-context." In response, I got an indignant-sounding e-mail saying that it belonged to history now, and the world should see it(!), as though that company already owned it and I was getting in the way.... As for the world seeing it, they have been, and are. The total number of Internet views that I know of (mostly stolen copies posted without my permission) is over five million (not counting it's appearance on TV in the UK and the US... and - if what I've been told is true - China and Germany).

3) I am now being offered $350 by a US company for what the contract calls "non-exclusive" rights, but goes on to say (if I'm reading the legalize correctly - let me know if I've got it wrong somehow), that they will - for $350 - get the right to use the material (in any way they like) forevermore - for all eternity - and if they sell it to someone else, they also have the right to use it forevermore - for all eternity. Also, since the company would be paying such an astronomical amount of money for the clip (heavy sarcasm there, for those with very dark sunglasses on who managed to miss it), if ever there should arise some complaint by someone regarding their use of the material, I would be responsible for any legal costs, etc.

Now *that's* a great contract! It brings tears to my eyes. How could they have come up with such wonderful terms? It makes me feel downright warm and fuzzy about the world, etc.

Well, here's the contract (with the guilty party's name removed). Have a look for yourself. And just in case my preamble didn't get the point across, I'm being sarcastic about saying it's a great contract. It's a horrible contract! I do not agree to such outlandish terms! (It even uses the factually incorrect and insulting title of one of the stolen copies of the video!)



DATE: 3/23/09

LICENSOR: Lyle H. Saxon, address & telephone #

LICENSEE: [US company]

LICENSED MATERIAL: All Aboard The Train Fail – Japanese commuters get pushed into train.


Within the television series entitled [xyz program]

LICENSE PERIOD: In perpetuity


LICENSE FEE: $350 (based on 100% ownership)

TERRITORY: Worldwide

MEDIA: All media now known or hereafter devised

For good and valuable consideration, Licensor hereby grants to Licensee, a non-exclusive license to use the Licensed Material in the Production for the purposes and in the manner set forth herein. Rights granted include in-context and out-of-context advertising and promotion rights in all media now known or hereafter devised. Licensee may use Licensed Material in all versions and derivative versions of the Production in whole or in part, including, but not limited to any retrospective or “best of” programming at no additional cost. This license is subject to both parties’ agreement to and compliance with the following:

1. Licensee shall have the right to edit the Licensed Material including but not limited to dubbing over or eliminating the soundtrack.

2. Licensor represents and warrants that (i) Licensor has full right, power and authority to enter into, fully perform and grant the rights granted by Licensor in this Agreement, and by entering into, fully performing and granting the rights granted by Licensor in this Agreement, it is not and shall not be in violation of the terms of any agreement or understanding to which Licensor is party, (ii) it owns or controls 100% of the copyrights in the Licensed Material, (iii) the Licensed Material does not and shall not infringe upon the rights or interests of any third party; (iv) all elements within the Licensed Material are either original with the Licensor, or Licensor has the right to grant the rights set forth in this Agreement in connection with such elements, including but not limited to all video and musical elements, master recordings and synchronization rights; (v) the Licensed Material is free and clear of any liens or claims with respect to the use of such Licensed Material in the manner authorized herein, and that such use authorized herein will not give rise to any claims of infringement, invasion of privacy or publicity or claims for payment of re-use fees, residuals or additional License Fees.

3. Licensor shall indemnify, defend and hold harmless Licensee, its officers, directors, consultants, employees, successors, licensees, agents and permitted assigns from and against any claim, demand, action, damages, loss, expense (including reasonable attorneys’ fees) and other liabilities arising from actions brought by third parties arising from (a) any breach of any of the representations, warranties or agreements made by it hereunder; or (b) a claim that the use of any or all of the Licensed Material infringes any intellectual property right(s) of such party. Licensee shall promptly notify Licensor of any such claim. Licensor shall bear full responsibility for the defense of any such claim. Licensor shall keep Licensee informed of, and consult with, Licensee in connection with the progress of any litigation or settlement of any such claim. Licensor shall not have any right, without Licensee’s written consent, to settle any such claim if such settlement obligates Licensee to make or contribute to a monetary payment; arises from or is part of any criminal or quasi-criminal action, suit or proceeding; or contains a stipulation, admission or acknowledgment of any liability or wrongdoing (whether in contract, tort or otherwise) on the part of Licensee. Licensor shall reimburse Licensee promptly upon demand for any payment made by Licensee at any time to which the foregoing indemnity applies

4. Licensor acknowledges that due to editing and other factors; Licensee is under no obligation to include the Licensed Material within the Production. If the Licensed Material is not used, Licensee has no obligation to compensate Licensor under this Agreement.

5. Licensee acknowledges that its use of the Licensed Material will not affect Licensor's continued and separate copyright ownership of the Licensed Material and Licensee represents and warrants that it shall take necessary and appropriate steps to protect Licensor's copyright and trademarks.

6. Licensee shall be entitled to assign all or a portion of the rights and licenses granted herein and shall be entitled to assign this agreement in its entirety to any person, firm or corporation acquiring ownership of or production rights to the Production without further payment to Licensor. This Agreement is binding upon and shall inure to the benefit of the respective licensees, successors, and assigns of the Parties hereto.

7. This Agreement sets forth the entire understanding of the parties hereto with respect to the subject matter hereof and there are no other representations, understandings or agreements between the parties relative to such subject matter.

8. This Agreement and all questions arising hereunder shall be governed by and construed in accordance with, the laws and decisions of the State of New York without giving effect to the principles thereof relating to the conflicts of law.

[Name of Licensee] [Name of Licensor Here]

By: ________________________ By: ________________________

Its authorized representative Its authorized representative