Saturday, 26 February 2011

Afternoon tea and tsuba

After a hard day's shopping in downtown Osaka, there is always the vexed question of where to go for a bit of a rest and refreshment. This is particularly true at the weekend, when everywhere you try seems to have been invaded by an army of jaded shoppers. If you are inclined to spend a little on your luxuries, you can't do much better than the St. Regis Hotel, Honmachi, just a few minutes walk from the busy Shinsaibashi area.

Skip the enticing tearoom on the ground floor, and head straight for the St. Regis Bar on the 12th. Don't be put off by the atmosphere of refined opulence as you pass through the lobby, or the sequestered hush as you approach the imposing entrance to the bar, with its air of a gentleman's club - it makes a very nice place to spend a while over a pot of tea.

But why is this of any interest to you?

Well, the theme of the bar is Momoyama Japan, and for anyone with a passing interest in Japanese swords or related themes, it should prove quite an interesting experience. There are no actual swords or tsuba on display, but the stylish decor is all planned with this theme in mind. Some of the elements are quite well-hidden, but come as a pleasant surprise as you notice them.

One thing you will notice, however, is the large painting behind the bar, which is by the contemporary painter Yamaguchi Akira.  He is an artist who certainly deserves his recognition - he combines fine draughtsmanship with a quirky but sensitive humour (in the manner of W. Heath Robinson) with an interest and appreciation of historical themes, while using western materials (water colour and oils) to mimic traditional Japanese painting styles. He did some nice illustrations for the 'Duelling Geniuses' show at the Tokyo National Museum a few years back, which was organised on an 'X vs Y' theme.
This is a screen shot from their promotional website:

Kano Eitoku vs Hasegawa Tohaku

I was thinking of him recently: he had an exhibition at Oyamazaki Sanso (a small, 1920's villa between Kyoto and Osaka) last year - he completed most of his works at the villa, which also happens to be very close to the site of the Battle of Yamazaki, in which Hideyoshi defeated Akechi Mitsuhide, (who had killed Oda Nobunaga shortly before). The current year-long Taiga drama has just dealt with this episode, and as I was passing on the train, my mind ran back to the exhibition. What should I see that very same day, but this work by him. Actually, seeing works by particular artists can be a bit of a hit and miss thing in Japan: there are few standing public collections with permanent exhibitions, and private museums often suffer from a lack of space, so they are perpetually showing different portions of their collections. Being able to see the work of a contemporary artist is even more difficult, so this was a nice opportunity, and it's nice to know it's there all the time.

A close up of the painting behind the bar, showing the Tsutenkaku

The theme is Osaka no Ran - the Seige of Osaka Castle, in the common semi-panoramic style employed for cityscapes in the Momoyama and Edo periods, complete with gold leaf clouds for spacial transitions, but it also features a number of motifs from the modern city, including the instantly recognizable Tsutenkaku - the much loved (so I am told) tower at Tennoji.

The rest of the bar, including the high ceiling, are in keeping with this theme - less symbolism than motif, of course. Here is one of the door handles:

..and here is one of the mirrors.

And lets not forget the karesansui rock garden, complete with strolling path and a view over the city.

Very nice and highly recommended.

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