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Nippon Blog-on

Keep reading about the personal side of the 7 Samurai project we're doing here

Aiko watching & waiting

Performance Anxiety

We’re all sitting under the Snow Centre waiting for our ‘performance’ in about an hour – which, it seems, will be the launch of the actual Triennial. Kumagai (from Art Front who are running it) is sitting next to me testing his mic for the ‘eurovision song contest’ style simultaneous translation he’s meant to be doing. It’s hard to tell what he thinks about our line up, despite our definite weirdness he’s maybe getting into the idea in a very low key Japanese way …
No matter how you organize these affairs there always seems to be a lot of sitting about and cable twiddling before hand, interspersed with ear-splitting sounds from the PA. The last hour sends everyone into their own particular ‘auto-performance-paranoia’ behavior pattern. As I blog (!) Tim and Jamie are still tweaking the ultimate audio/visual arrangements; Barney is strumming an impromptu acoustic set, resplendent in Hawaiian shirt and balloon pants, he might be the male rival for Karen in her pre-performance grooming routine. Ben is relaxing after rocking out during rehearsal and Marcus seems to at last be giving us a break from ‘checking the levels’ on his radio mic animal noises, maybe he’s brushing his wig.

Having dreaded the communal living conditions at the house I have been surprised on two counts – one that they were ‘worse’ than I could have imagined (4 rooms, 9 people, sliding thin walls) – but two, that it’s been OK. More than that I’ve actually really enjoyed hanging out with the 7 Samurai, and despite being totally on top of each other it’s been great - and I’m now slightly sad that we’ll all be splitting up for solo rooms in our Tokyo hotel week.
The other surprise has been tonight’s performance. When Karen and I arrived at the start of this week – jet lagged and ‘Tudor tired’ from our recent month long stay in 1578 – Adam’s suggestion that we’d all be performing on stage in one week, all singing, all dancing - filled me with horror. My singing is erratic at best and if you’d told me before I’d got on the plane we’d be doing harmonized backing vocals I’d have probably just lay on the floor at Heathrow. Now with an hour to go & the dress rehersal under our belts, I find myself suggesting that Karen and I join Ben on stage to form a Tudor backing group for the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ freak out – we’ll all have white face make-up on after all …

Karen - smock off, during rehersals

Marcus - testing, testing

Food from the village with our cucumber sandwiches!

Fusion Foods

Our open house prompted Adam to go overboard on the cooking front. His Rabbito ravioli and cucumber sandwiches were great (these might sound easy but we had to buy an oven to make the bread!) but the village matched us dish for dish in an impressive Japanese/Euro spread.
I made Gingerbread-Toge-Houses with a Delia recipe off the Interweb, 40% ingredients substitution resulted in something more like a German Christmas biscuit than gingerbread … seeing as folk ate them with Japanese pickles on, I don’t suppose it mattered much.

Toge gingerbread houses

Blimey at last ...

After 5 days of solid rain we are finally seeing a break in the clouds and we can begin to explore Toge. Yesterday we started photographing all the houses and rehersing for the rather 'free form' not-so-much-a performance-more-a-review we're all putting on for the Art Triennale opening on Sunday.

Saturday we have 'open house' at our 'house' - which currently doubles as an Art/Gardening building site (not due to us but to various other artists in the Triennale) - this will involve food and projectors!

Our Toge Home ...
Quite a building site

Life-size Lilliput

Due to arriving rather later than the other Samurai in Toge, we were able to move straight into some rather high-scoring pertinent networking on our first day of work here … riding on the back of Adam and Aiko’s extensive local research!
My casual enquiry as to who owned the rather cute looking houses just over the valley, landed us with an invitation to visit the owners!
Karl Bengs and his wife (an interesting German/Argentinian couple who the locals all seem to think are swiss) it turns out not only own these houses but have lovingly re-built them beam by beam. An architect with a passion for Japanese vernacular architecture to match that of David Tait for the UK’s finest cottages (see previous) Karl has built up a business here, restoring some of the remaining examples of traditional Japanese houses, at the same time modernizing the interiors with a euro-focus and making them more ‘comfortable’ for contemporary living.
Apparently in addition to the mini-collection he’s already built on the hillside here, he currently has 4 others flat packed in storage ready to regenerate as a client requires. Some are remade as homes but others have been transformed into successful city-centre stores.
He and his wife generously braved the downpour to move from office-house to home-house & show us round the amazing interior – this building is one of the few left here with a thatched roof, that can survive the 5ft of winter snow. The ‘inside’ of the thatch is actually more beautiful than the exterior.
Never ones to shy away from a utopian vision (!) we hope to pay a return visit and interview him about his vision for the development of the region.

Lilliput Loveliness

A Cumbrian CRAFT moment

We’ve now finally arrived in Toge (Japan) and need to start seeing something of the real place (if it ever stops raining!) A couple of months ago though, we began to research the Cumbrian success story that is “Lilliput Lane” with a view to maybe initiating some kind of collaboration with them for the our Seven Samurai project.
We were interested in the similarities between the Lake District (where Grizedale is) and Tsumari (where Toge is) regions & trying to create a piece with an economic edge that looks directly at the ‘regeneration’ concerns pertinent to both regions.
Anyway we needed no excuse to want to visit “Lilliput Lane” with their lifesize-model visitor center and family business style production line. They’re a giftware company whose miniaturised cottage collectables are a major international success story - as a company they project a compelling combination of craft / ‘cottage industry’ values and international business acumen. We were shown the amazing catalogue of buildings they have turned into ‘high quality gift products’ with an undeniably characteristic ‘Lilliput’ styling, moving from real buildings to wax models through to hand painted miniatures.

I won’t go into the details of what we subsequently proposed to Lilliput here as there’s more detail on the Seven Samurai site … suffice to say we’ve arrived here with a box of Lilliput models and an expectant interest in the houses and existing local businesses we might find. We’re intrigued to see if the shared Anglo-Japanese obsession with miniaturisation would make the Lilliput houses an item of popular curiosity with our new Japanese contacts.

Following our tour of the Lilliput factory, we also spent an afternoon with David Tait, founder of the miniatures empire, he is now enjoying an active early retirement and devoting much of his time to a ‘high spec’ Japanese style garden! His passion for vernacular architecture could win over even the most die-hard Modernist mind.

Karen returned just before we came to Toge in order to record David’s 1992 motivational/promotional slide show for Lilliput – an impressive 3 projector and swelling sound track affair we’re hoping to utilize the recording for our Tokyo debut at Super Delux!

Touring the aforementioned Japanese Garden, on our first visit, neither David or plant-buff Karen Guthrie could remember the names for each of the typical Japanese leaf types seen in Acers (!) as we left I enjoyed David’s reference to such memory lapses as age-related CRAFT moments – can’t remember a ****ing thing.

Toge rice fields


Somewhere has made it to Toge, a remote village in northwest Japan where we're part of Grizedale Arts '7 Samurai' project in the Echigo-Tsumari Triennale. It took 30 hours, two flights, 3 trains and an awful lot of sweat (we've brought Tudor costumes for ad hoc amusement of locals), especially when we realised we had started the trip without any contact address or phone number for our destination...
But we made it. More later - off to an Onsen (big hot bath).

Lisa lovin' her coif


It’s taken me until arriving in Japan to manage to write anything about ‘Tudor world’ AKA Kentwell where we’ve spent the last three weeks … mainly due to the sheer scale of unpacking incurred post 1578.

BUT before I begin on all things Japanese I did want to flag up an official thanks to our fantastic crew who made it through the shoot still smiling despite rather trying conditions at times. No one wants to film people when they don’t want to be filmed – and with upto 500 Tudors living at Kentwell over the three weeks, there were bound to be some who didn’t want to be followed around by us…

So thanks to John Podpadec and Paul Baker our SW dream team who came back for more after the rigors of the Bata-ville bus, thanks also to Emma our runner and local problem solver and a big thanks to the project production manager Lisa James. Recruited just pre-shoot and new to Somewhere and the Tudors she did an amazing job of dealing with us all!

John, Emma & Paul