Part 7. Logs, Blogs, and Epilogues

Entry begun on July 26, 8:05 pm

Race to the finish line

Race to the finish line

How and when do you end an open-ended blog?  A professional baseball game ends after nine innings.  A college basketball game ends after forty minutes.  A thoroughbred horse race ends at the finish line.  This blog ends when the time and place are right, which is now.

I’ve had to clarify my own thinking on this issue when consulting with Martha Nell Smith and Marta Werner, co-editors of the Dickinson Electronic Archive 2, and Aaron Dinin, its webmaster.  Since I expect to be completing this blog soon after returning from a trip to Amherst and Arrowhead in early August, I had asked about whether it would be possible—or desirable—to reverse the last-entry-first structure of the blog to a first-entry-first structure once it has been completed.  Doing so would make it easier for readers who would like to experience its narrative in chronological order, as I did when writing it from August of last year into August of this year.  Before addressing that question, Aaron posed a question of his own.   Noting that most blogs do not have an end—they are continuously open-ended—he asked if I might not be violating the ethos of a blog by ending it before I sent it to be posted.

The best answer I could give him is that each of my two blogs—the one I posted last year about my whale ship voyage in 2014 and this one about Dickinson and Moby-Dick I am now finishing in 2015—feels to me like a separate voyage by the same voyager.  I have created the current blog primarily to document the planning and execution of the Dickinson and Moby-Dick exhibitions and related Arts Fest events on which Emma Rose Thompson and I had worked continuously from late August of 2014, when I began this blog, through mid-May of this year.  After taking down the two exhibitions in the middle of May, we have still had quite a bit of follow-up work to do, though at a somewhat more relaxed pace.

Beyond my attempt to keep up with this blog, the follow-up has included returning artworks to student artists and alums, distributing catalogs to artists who had not yet received them, inscribing a few of our remaining catalogs to out-of-town Dickinson or Melville scholars, deciding how many additional copies of each catalog to order from the printer for future use, and working with Numediacy and NKU Media Services to select, edit, and post live videos of individual presentations at the two Moby-Dick symposia in such a way that I could insert them into my respective blog entries.

Emma Rose Thompson inscribing a copy of our Dickinson catalog to Martha Nell Smith

Emma Rose Thompson inscribing a copy of our Dickinson catalog to Martha Nell Smith on July 24

The above activities extended into June as I was still trying to write, revise, and post some of the entries for Moby Fest.  By then I was also preparing for the International Melville Conference in Tokyo at the end of June, which in so many ways was to be an extension of our events here in April.  These activities in June and then into July were still a direct extension of the Dickinson and Moby-Dick initiatives on which Emma Rose and I had been working throughout the course of this blog–and to which my upcoming visit to Amherst and Arrowhead is likely to provide the perfect Epilogue.  After returning from that trip, I expect to be shifting my primary focus to new initiatives whose purpose and destination differ sufficiently from those of my first two blogs to justify the creation of a third (as was the case with Melville in moving from one novel to the next)..

During our discussion of these issues in relation to the Dickinson Electronic Archive, Marta Werner wrote that she was interested “the intertextuality of the three blogs” and in the degree to which they are “both discrete and connected.”  She felt certain that there must be “ways–digitally–to register these connections and disconnections.”  Her suggestion has helped me to envision these blogs as a sequence of eVoyages, a term I may have coined this weekend while writing and posting the entry on eVoyage2 that now precedes Part 1 of this blog (https://dickinsonandmobydick.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/evoyage2-dickinson-and-moby-dick-in-2015/).

With regard to that original question I had put to Aaron, about reversing the order of the current blog, he argued effectively that to reverse the order of all the entries might betray the spirit, as well as the mechanics, of how blogs are supposed to work.  I have just begun a discussion about this with Ed Trujillo, the IT consultant to NKU’s English department, and we hope to figure out a way to have it both ways after we are both back on campus in early August.

 

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Back on the Banks of the Ohio

Entry begun on Friday, July 24, 8 am

In his 1850 essay “Hawthorne and his Mosses,” Melville suggested that “Shakespeares are this day being born on the banks of Ohio.”  This rather brash assertion by the young American then writing the early chapters of Moby-Dick is also a pointed response to an assertion by Sir Joshua Reynolds, deceased leader of England’s London’s Royal Academic of Art.  In his Discourses on Art, Reynolds had ridiculed the “opinions of people” on “the banks of the Ohio” who are far removed from “the refined, civilized state in which he live” in London.  I will post here my photo of the banks of the Ohio, looking across to northern Kentucky from Cincinnati, on June 21, 2015, the day before I flew to Japan.

6-21-15 from overlook 2

summer 2015 DSQAfter having proofread much of this blog on the flight to Japan on June 22-23, I was drafting a new Introduction for my book on Frederick Douglass in Cincinnati as I flew home on July 3.  On the day before I flew to Japan, I had received two reader reports from the press that is considering the manuscript.  The readers had liked my subject, my research, and the potential of the book, but they and the press wanted the book to be shorter than the length to which it is heading.  And the press wanted fewer illustrations than I was hoping to use.  (One of the great things about a blog is that you can use as many images as you need.)  I was glad to get these reports before I flew to Tokyo because that gave me an opportunity to discuss the situation with two colleagues whose advice I greatly admire.  I spoke with Bob Levine between two sessions at the conference, and with Sam Otter on the bus to Kamakura.  I hope that the new draft that I began to write as I flew home will lead to a more streamlined, yet substantial, book.

I was happy, soon after returning home, to receive the new 2015 issue of the Daguerreian Society Quarterly that includes my newest spin-off from the Douglass and Cincinnati project, an esay about daguerreotypes of the anti-slavery lecturer Lucy Stone that I discovered in manuscript boxes among the Blackwell Family Papers at the Library of Congress.  Some of the written material in the manuscript boxes had enabled me to attribute two of the images to Cincinnati’s African-American photographer J. P. Ball—and to date them within a year of Stone’s joint appearance with Frederick Douglass at Sarah Ernst’s three-day Anti-Slavery Convention in April 1854.

two lucy in DSQ

In 2014 I had reproduced another newly attributed image by Ball in the Daguerreian Society Quarterly, this one a triple daguerreotype Ball had taken of Cincinnati abolitionists Edward Harwood, William Brisbane, and Levi Coffin in 1853.  I had been thinking of Brisbane a lot while I was in Japan because of the praying black parishioners who were murdered in Charleston’s “Mother” church earlier in June.  Brisbane was a former slaveholder and Baptist preacher from South Carolina who had freed his slaves and moved to Cincinnati in 1838, where he was a tireless anti-slavery advocate until moving to Wisconsin in 1853.  Throughout his time in Cincinnati Brisbane was very active in the city’s black as well as white Baptist churches–another reason I kept thinking of his interracial legacy as the news continued to come for South Carolina.  Last week I sent an opinion piece on Brisbane as “Cincinnati’s South Carolinian Abolitionist” to one national newspaper, one in South Carolina, and one in Ohio.  If any of them decide to publish it, I will mention that in this or a subsequent entry.

. P. Ball’s 1853 daguerreotype of Cincinnati Abolitionists Edward Harwood, William Brisbane, and Levi Coffin

. P. Ball’s 1853 daguerreotype of Cincinnati Abolitionists Edward Harwood, William Brisbane, and Levi Coffin

One week after returning home, I greatly enjoyed the lunch and gallery visit I had planned with Aileen Callahan and five local Moby-Dick artists.  Except that Aileen was unable to attend.  She had an accident at home from which she is recovering nicely now, but which prevented her from flying out to Cincinnati to help her sister Claire with this year’s guitar festival.  Kathleen Piercefield was also unable to come, laid low by a cold apparently much worse than the one I brought back from my trip to Japan.  The rest of us met as planned.  After sharing two large pizzas at Dewey’s near the University of Cincinnati, we caravanned to Marta Hewett’s gallery to learn more about the Moby-Dick show Marta will be hosting in April 2016.  Our lunch together was highly enjoyable.  Because I know each of these Moby artists so well, and because all of them made presentations at the NKU Symposium on April 27, I had assumed that they all knew each other.  But that was not the case, since some had spoken in different sessions of the Symposium.  Once Mary had introduced herself to Caitlin by accidentally spilling a full glass of ice water over Caitlin’s skirt, we had a great time sharing ideas about the upcoming exhibition.

Danielle Wallace, Mary Belperio, Caitlin Sparks, and Abby Langdon at Dewey’s

Danielle Wallace, Mary Belperio, Caitlin Sparks, and Abby Langdon at Dewey’s

Each of these artists had works from the recent Covington show she could potentially contribute to the Marta Hewett show in April show, but each was already planning to create new work to submit for that show.  Abby Langdon is projecting an aerial white whale and a tattooed self-portrait fabric piece.  Danielle Wallace would like to create the large painting of the wreck of the Pequod that she had envisioned during my class before making her Moby-Dick Tea Set instead.  Caitlin Sparks continues to think about a large 3-D sculpture of Moby-Dick that will somehow express her deep ecological concerns.  And Mary Belperio is still envisioning a fabric piece of Queequeg’s head, accompanied by an artwork that would connect her current work in the healing arts with Moby-Dick.  I would have loved for this lunch to go on and on, as Caitlin continued to dry, but I had told Marta we would try to be there soon after 1 pm.

four with Marta 2

From left: Langdon, Sparks, Belperio, Wallace, and Hewett at Marta Hewett Gallery

It was great to have some quality time with Marta and to see the gallery space some of our work will be helping to fill in April.  Marta has definitely decided to mount a Moby-Dick show concurrent with the two-man show scheduled for the Contemporary Arts Center.  And she likes my idea of her show being an all-female Moby show.  Abby, Danielle, Caitlin, and Mary will all be active candidates for such a show—as will be Claire Illouz from France, Aileen Callahan from Cambridge, Kathleen Piercefield from Dry Ridge, and others who may come along.  Marta was very interested what those present were currently thinking, and we began to get a pretty good idea of how much work, in what kind of media, might might fit in the available gallery space.  Marta invited those present to begin sending her ideas and images as soon as they took shape, so that she and I could begin making selections in January.

My next curatorial meeting was with Steven Matijcio of the Contemporary Arts Center to begin planning the two-man Moby-Dick show, featuring Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici, that he had scheduled from April to August 2016.  He welcomed the idea of including Emma Rose Thompson in our planning, to the extent that her schedule allows, so the three of us met in the lobby café of the CAC on the afternoon of Monday, July 20.  This meeting, too, was a joy.  Steven brought a floor plan of the space designated for the show.  Kish and Del Tredici have both created massive bodies of Moby-Dick art to which to which each is still adding new work today, so our first job was to begin to identify available works from their past projects while allowing sufficient room for the new.  At this first meeting we identified at least four distinct stages in each artist’s Moby-Dick journey, each of which we would hope to represent well by works available locally, from collections at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and from the artists themselves.

Floor plan of designated space for Kish and Del Tredici show at CAC

Floor plan of designated space for Kish and Del Tredici show at CAC

Our current count of available Kishes includes 46 of the original drawings he made for his 2011 book Moby-Dick in Pictures, 12 drawings of individual crew members of the Pequod commissioned by the Melville Society Archive in New Bedford, a projected series of drawings of individual whales in the “Cetology” chapter of the novel he has always envisioned as a major component of the CAC show, and a new series of drawings inspired by the “Extracts” section of the novel he had begun just before I left for Japan (one of which I will post here).

One of Matt Kish’s new drawings inspired by “Extracts,” 2015

One of Matt Kish’s new drawings inspired by “Extracts,” 2015

From Del Tredici’s half-century of engagement with Moby-Dick, we have access to about 40 of the pen and inks he drew for the Illustrations to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick he created in the mid-1960s, about a dozen of the twenty large gestural screenprints he made a the turn of the century, and all 45 of the three sets of drawings on “metallic” paper he created between 2013 and 2015, with more still to come.  Shortly before our meeting, Del Tredici pulled a rabbit out of his hat by sending Steven images of a number of his photographs of the nuclear industry from the 1980s and 1990s that he now sees as addressing the essence of Moby-Dick.  All three of us love this idea and hope to incorporate a suite of these photos, too, in the show.  The three of us will meet again in August in NKU’s Steely Library Archive, which holds a rich array of original works by both artists, to begin the process of actually choosing from the images at hand.

Robert Del Tredici, The L-Reactor, Savannah River Plant, August 6, 1983 (nuclear equivalent of the try-works)

Robert Del Tredici, The L-Reactor, Savannah River Plant, August 6, 1983 (nuclear equivalent of the try-works)

Since coming home, I have also been busy proofing the second half of this blog (which I had not taken on the place) while writing and posting entries Japan.  Those entries kept getting richer as friends, colleagues, and the conference organizers sent additional images I was able to post.  During the last few days I have also made some welcome additions to the Arts Fest entries from earlier in the year.  Numediacy sent me links to live recordings individual talks in the April 24 Symposium at the Cincinnati Art Museum they have now edited and posted on Vimeo (which I have now added to the end of my entry for that event).  NKU Media services sent me links to the live recordings of the individual speakers in the April 27 Sumposium at NKU that they have edited and posted on YouTube (now inserted in entries for that event).  And Kimberly Gelbwasser has now posted two of the Copland songs she sang at the February 13 Dickinson recital on YouTube so that I could insert it in that entry (and post it here).  Again, how wonderful it to be able to make such insertions, and revisions, in an ongoing blog.

Nonica Namyar Moby Dick detail

Monica Namyar, Moby Dick, percelain, underglaze and clear glaze

One very nice surprise came as I was doing all of this catch-up work.  After meeting Veronica Mitchell’s daughter Monica at the Covington Marathon and Reception, I had been excited to know that she was about to finish some ceramic works inspired by Moby-Dick.  I had hoped to invite her to the July 11 gam with local Moby artists, but I had not been able to get in touch because I did not have an email address and did not know her last name.  This week I received an email from Monica Namyar to which she attached images of three new Moby-Dick works, two of which have already been accepted for an exhibition at Xavier University opening in late August.  We now have an eighth female artist to consider for the Marta Hewett show.  I look forward to seeing her Moby Dick cup and her Queequeg and Ishmael relief in person at the end of next month.  In the meantime, I have her permission to post images of them here.  The Moby Dick is 5 1/2 inches high.  The Queequeg and Ishmael relief is 23 inches wide.

Monica Namyar, Queequeg and Ishmael, porcelain, underglaze

Monica Namyar, Queequeg and Ishmael, porcelain, underglaze

During the first week of my return from Japan, Cincinnati got all the rain we had missed during the rainy season in Japan, often with brutal bursts of overnight thunder.  These last three days, however, have been ideal.  Low humidity.  Clear blue skies.  Highs in the low eighteeis.  Perfect weather for walking the nearby flood wall in Dayton (clearly visible on the far side of the river in the photo at the beginning of this entry).  On the first night I was more or less alone as I walked the wall with dusk coming on.  On the second night I had all kinds of company.  A coal barge heading upstream in front of Rose Church as the sun went down.  Two Latino girls walking with their grandmother, one seven years old, the other five, the elder sharing Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23.  And my first Canada geese of the year, first heard squawking in the hillside shadow over on the Ohio side of the river, but suddenly materializing right over my head, with just enough time for me to catch them with my iPhone before they lifted high away into the blue, “too silver for a seam” (J 328).

Canada geese over the banks of the Ohio as sun sets on July 23, 2015

Canada geese over the banks of the Ohio as sun sets on July 23, 2015

 

 

Our Rivers Run to Thee

Entry begun on bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo, Friday, July 3, 8:40 am (July 2, 7:40 pm, Cincinnati time)

Our return from Kamakura to Tokyo marked the official end of the 10th International Melville Conference.  The next morning a group of eight American Melvillians took bullet trains to Kyoto for a three-night stay before returning to Tokyo, flying on to Korea, or flying home.  Seven of us were in one car of the Hikari Super Express to Kyoto, my six companions seated as compactly as whalers in a whale boat.

Wyn and Britt Kelly, John and Ginny Bryant, and Chris and Jan Sten on bullet train to Kyot

Wyn and Britt Kelly, John and Ginny Bryant, and Chris and Jan Sten on bullet train to Kyoto

We had been advised to reserve a seat on the “Fuji” side of of the car if possible, and this paid off in an unforgettable way.  I did not have any official business involving Melville or Dickinson in Kyoto, other than to think about how either author would have been fascinated by the city, its people, and its temples, so this leaves me free to structure this entry loosely after one of my favorite Dickinson poems, “My River runs to Thee” (J 162).

Mount Fuji seen from right side of car 16 on Hikari Super Express 505 on morning of June 30, 2015

Mount Fuji seen from right side of car 16 on Hikari Super Express 505 on morning of June 30, 2015

John Bryant outside entrance of Kinoe Ryokan

John Bryant outside entrance of Kinoe Ryokan

As the bullet train brought us into Kyoto, the Kamo river looked quite dry, its riverbed capable of holding much more water than what we saw.  We had been warned again and again that this was the rainy season along the Tokyo-Kyoto coast, but we had been blessed so far with sunny or overcast weather, only one of our days in Tokyo having heavy rain.  Our first afternoon in Kyoto was similarly dry, and we made the most of it after checking into the Kinoe Ryokan on Higishimagata Street in the Gion district.

gardiners silver pavilion

Gardeners trimming the faded azaleas

The 100 bus took us up and out of the city to Ginkakuji Temple and its Silver Pavilion.   These are tucked in against the surrounding hills much as is the Berkeley campus of the University of California against the hills of Claremont Canyon.  Every Kyoto temple has its distinctive features.  This one has a highly distinctive riff on the traditional rock garden—one part raked in alternating bands like a football field, another shaped into a conical flat-topped mountain.  What I liked most during our visit was the trail taking us up and across the surrounding hillside.  Near the temple were gardeners tending to the faded azaleas.  We then came to a green glade of shaded evergreen and moss, one stream of water dropping into the dark pond seeming like a gift from the gods.  Dickinson’s poetic river passes through “spotted nooks” on its way to the sea, and this is one spotted nook I am sure she would have savored.  As we got up into the rockier part of the hillside, I was amazed to see the beauty and scope of the drainage channels along the way, through which we occasionally heard the sound of water below or around us, one open channel sending a pretty strong gush down toward the network of ponds.  I loved the way the Silver Pavilion was nestled into the whole expansive valley when seen from the hillside path..

View of Silver Pavilion nestled into the valley

View of Silver Pavilion nestled into the valley

The next day we got all the rain we had been missing.  Mercifully, Ginny Bryant had already set up a day-long bus excursion for us.  Once we got to the pick-up up place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, we were in the hands of Japanese tour guides and bus drivers who got us to the Nijo Castle, the Golden Pavilion, and the Imperial Palace in the morning.  After lunch in Kyoto, we rode up in the mountains to the ancient capital of Nara, more ancient than Kamakura.  Just as our Tokyo hotel had birdsong piped into the elevators, so did the Crowne Plaza Hotel have quite a sophisticated and elaborate waterfall installed right outside its picture window.

Waterfall outside picture window of Kyoto’s Crowne Plaza Hotel

Waterfall outside picture window of Kyoto’s Crowne Plaza Hotel

Of the morning tours, Nijo Castle was my favorite.  Because we were on a tour, we were able to see nearly the full length of the Ninomaru Palace in which the shogun and his retinue had held court in a parade of waiting rooms decorated with paintings on gold leaf over paper of exquisite breadth and power, many of them newly restored copies so as to preserve the fragile and faded originals.  Here I came to understand the dramatic, cultural, and political function of pictorial art I had considered only in aesthetic terms when reproduced in books or exhibited in museums (including those Masterworks from Japan I had recently seen in Cincinnati).  The masterworks in Japan have an entirely different meaning in their original spatial and social context.  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside this remarkable palace.

Gate to Nijo Castle in rain

Gate to Nijo Castle in rain

As we walked along from one room to another, our tour guide explained that the sound of the floor as we walked had been engineered to aproximate the sound of a nightingale.  Finally we got to the shogun’s personal reception room, where he met with acceptable petitioners much in the manner of the island prince Donjalolo in the chapter of Melville’s Mardi called “The Center of many Circumferences.”  Beyond that was the shogun’s personal inner sanctum, where only women were allowed in his presence.  Beyond the room for women, a further room was set off for the shogun himself.  This dynamic made me think, somehow, of Dickinson’s poem “Mine—by the Right of the White Election! / Mine by the Royal Seal! . . . Mine—long as Ages steal!” (J 528).

Gate to Nijo Castle in rain

Golden Pavilion in light rain

I had seen the Golden Pavilion in 1994 during my half-day in Kyoto, but that did not prepare me for the absolute beauty of is color and proportions this morning, seemingly gleaming even more beautifully in the rain.  Kyoto’s Imperial Palace, where the first emperor of modern Japan had been crowned within a decade of the arrival of Commodore Perry, juxtaposed a rather ornate style of mid-nineteenth-century temple architecture against the simpler, neo-classical Chinese style, painted bright orange, the contrast a foretaste of a wildly eclectic, yet disciplined, approach to architecture that was to blossom much more boldly in Japan in the twentieth century. As we were leaving the Imperial Palace, I was glad the tour guide recommended that we take a look at a wooden bridge that could be seen beautifully reflecting in the water.  I looked, and was not disappointed.  The Keyakibashi Bridge in the Oikeniwa Garden is another of those “spotted nooks” that Dickinson would have been sure to savor.

Keyakibashi Bridge in Oikeniwa Garden

Keyakibashi Bridge in Oikeniwa Garden

The grounds of the Todai-ji Temple in Nara are full of deer nipping at you as you get off the bus.  But it is the Nara Buddha, dwarfing its successor in Kamakura, which leaves an unforgettable impression even before you see it.  It is housed in what is said to be the largest wooden structure in the world, rebuilt several times over the centuries, an amazing example of elegant design uncompromised by gargantuan proportions.

Nara’s “largest wooden structure in the world,” built to house the Nara Buddha

Nara’s “largest wooden structure in the world,” built to house the Nara Buddha

I had read in some guidebook that the Kamakura Buddha is considered by many to be superior to this one in beauty, though smaller in size, but I believe its Nara ancestor concedes nothing in either beauty or power.  Comissioned by Emperor Shomu in 743 A.D, this Buddha was completed twenty years later.  The Nara Buddha holds one hand out to the viewer, fingers straight up from the palm, to get the viewer’s physical attention.  The other hand opens directly out the viewer as if in absolution, a combination that engages the viewer as Ishmael does the reader when he begins his story with the words, “Call me Ishmael.”  The Kamakura Buddha speaks to us too, but through his own self-contained spirit spreading throughout his whole domain, seemingly not so attentive to what, or who, is before his very eyes.

Hands of Nara Buddha engage the viewer in a two-part relationship

Hands of Nara Buddha engage the viewer in a two-part relationship

Our entranced communion with Japan’s rich spiritual history continued with our visit to Kyoto’s Sanjusangen-do Temple on Thursday morning, our last full day in town. We could not believe the profusion of the thousand and one statues of the Buddhist diety Kannun, sculpted in Japanese cypress and painted in gold.   Begun in the 12th century, the were completed, like the Kamakura Buddha, in the mid-13th century.  As we were walking along this endless procession of divine figures, one of our members compared the effect to walking through Chartes Cathedral in France, also created by successive generations of craftsmen in the 12th and 13th centuries.  Whereas the temple housing the Nara Buddha is reputed to be the largest wooden building in the world, the this one is reputed to be the longest, and certainly we did have that feeling as that thick wooded grove of queenly figures about ten deep just went on and on in their attentive, golden wholeness, protected by a series of powerful, mostly male, guardian figures.  No photos were allowed in this temple space, either.  The warning sign had the clear message about a camera: “We will seize it when using it.”  I was curious if anyone would test this warning, but saw no one try.

sanjusangen-do warning

Sign prohibiting photos in Sanjusangen-do Temple

We had heard that dinner down by the river in Kyoto was a fine way to end a visit to the city, so on our last night we walked from one crowded outdoor restaurant after another until we found Mon Ami.  This weekend was the first of the summer season, so the riverside restaurants were jam-packed even though this was a Thursday night.  The residents of Kyoto seem to be full of good energy and good humor; this evening there seemed to be a higher proportion of young couples in love than I had previously seen.  Tonight was apparently the first full moon of summer, and the river was much replenished by the rain.  We did not see the full moon by the time we left the restaurant, but we were entirely satisfied in every other way.

Our farewell dinner in Kyoto. Photo Dennis Berthold

Our farewell dinner in Kyoto. Photo Dennis Berthold

We had arrived at the restaurant at dusk, after attending a lovely medley of traditional Japanese song, dance, and drama at Gion Corner.  By the time our food came we could not see the river any more.  Instead we heard its rapids, slightly upstream from where we were sitting, sounding its own endless variation on “Say—Sea—Take Me!” (in the words of Dickinson’s “My River runs to thee”).  This sound was the perfect accompaniment to the thoughts that some of us were already bending toward the next day’s transpacific flight to loved ones at home.  After returning home, I read that Kabuki theatrical tradition originated on this stretch of the Kamo River, alongside Gion, during the Tokugawa Shogunate around 1607.

Kyoto’s Kamo River flowing south to the sea past Gion

Kyoto’s Kamo River flowing south to the sea past Gion

Melville, of course, was as strongly drawn to the sea as Dickinson.  Ishmael declares in the opening paragraph of Moby-Dick that “if they knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean as me,” one reason for this being that “meditation and water are wedded for ever.”  On the morning of July 3, our bullet train crossed stream after stream as Wyn and Britt and I returned to Tokyo Station and then took the Narita Express to the airport.  It was so wonderful to have Britt with us on this trip; the only other time I had met her was when a similar party of Melvillians attended the Washington DC premiere of Heggie and Sheer’s Moby-Dick opera back in February.  We took a three-way selfie before we separated for our flights from separate terminals, but I prefer my photo of the two of them together.

Wyn and Britt Kelley at Narita airport

Wyn and Britt Kelley at Narita airport

The next water I saw was “a thousand leagues of blue” of the Pacific Ocean as Ishmael imagines it in “The Pacific” chapter.  This is the chapter in which he describes this ocean as the “tide-beating heart of earth” whose “same waves wash the moles of the new-built California towns . . . and lave the faded but still gorgeous skirts of Asian lands.”  My one transpacific glimpse of the Pacific came as we flew over the ocean in the middle of the night.  Seemingly in the blink of an eye, the night through which we were flying had turned into day.  The end of July 3 in Tokyo was becoming the beginning of July 3 in Cincinnati.  When I walked down the aisle and looked out through a little window by the wing, I saw my last “rising sun horizon” of the trip, over the seemingly endless expanse of the sea.

Sunrise over the Pacific from Delta 585 after crossing the international dateline back into July 3

Sunrise over the Pacific from Delta 585 after crossing the international dateline back into July 3

While I was at the Melville Conference in Tokyo I was happy to meet three scholars who are each thinking of Melville and Dickinson together.  One is planning to write a book that will link Melville’s Clarel with Dickinson.  Another is contemplating an essay that will juxtapose the “slanted cross” in Melville’s Clarel with Dickinson’s “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant” (J 1129).  A third had discussed Melvillle’s approach to the American landscape through insights borrowed from the Dickinson scholar Susan Howe.  It is admittedly difficult to know what either Melville or Dickinson would have thought of Tokyo or Kyoto today.  However, during my three days in Kyoto, coming up on a Zen or Buddhist temple wherever I turned in this very modern city, I kept thinking of Dickinson’s own Zen-like identification with nature and her Buddha-like awareness of the cycles of life in the immediate vicinity of her familial home in Amherst.  As for Melville, this sentence from the “Time and Temples” chapter of Mardi shows a more spatially expansive consciousness of our spiritual oneness:  “Thus deeper and deeper into Time’s endless tunnel, does the winged soul, like a night hawk, wend her wild way; and finds eternities before and behind; and her last limit is her everlasting beginning.”

I feel that the tourist map of central Kyoto, bisected by the Kamo River with temples and shrines rising up on either side, is an apt analogue for the spiritual journey of each of these American writers, each open to those shocks of recognition and tremors of resonance that can so suddenly visit the walking, waking body when alert to an onrush of the moment, a revelation from the past, or an intimation of a richer life to come.

Tourist map of Kyoto, rich in spiritual sites on both sides of the Kamo River

Tourist map of Kyoto, rich in spiritual sites on both sides of the Kamo River

Yokokusa and Kamakura

Entry continued at Celestine Hotel, June 29

Monument of Commodore Perry in Yokosuka

Monument of Commodore Perry in Yokosuka

On Monday, June 29, the academic business of the conference was followed by a day trip to Yokosuka, the site of a museum devoted to the landing of Commodore Perry’s “black ships” in 1853, and to Kamakura, home of the Daibutsu Buddha since 1252 AD.  Perry’s successful penetration into “double-bolted” Japan is ancient history to most Americans, but it must feel very recent to many Japanese since it caused such a severe deflection in the culture of this land as it had evolved over centuries and even millennia before.  The Japanese monument to Commodore Perry was erected in 1901 and is the site of an annual festival.  The adjacent Matthew Perry museum has a fine diorama of the arrival of the “black ships” in 1853 along with some beautifully drawn watercolors in which Japanese artists documented the event.

Diorama of "Black Ships" arriving at Uraga  Yokosuka) on July 8, 1853

Diorama of “Black Ships” arriving at Uraga (Yokosuka) on July 8, 1853

The bus ride from Yokosuka to Kamakura circled two beautiful bays on a very sunny day.  As I looked out  from Kamakura Bay it was exciting to think the the Pacific Coast of the Olympic Peninsula in my home state of Washington was over on the other side of the water.

Looking wast from Kamakura Bay

Looking east from Kamakura Bay

On my trip to the Olympic Peninsula with painter Kevin Muente and his wife Tammy in July 2008, we were all very conscious of Japan being on the other side of the water when we looked west.

Kevin Muente's painting of Pacific Ocean looking east from Beach 1, Kalaloch, Olympic Peninsula, July 2008

Looking west from First Beach, Kalaloch, Olympic Peninsula, 2008, painting by Kevin Muente

It was on that trip to the Olympic Peninsula that I learned about the “orphan tsunami” that had flooded towns along the Japanese coast in 1700 without any known source.  Only in the twenty-first century had Japanese historians and American seismologists jointly traced that mysterious tsunami to an underwater earthquake off the Olympic Peninsula coast that had simultaneously left soil samples of fractured coast line on the American side and archival records of coastal floods on the Japanese side.  Jointly published in Tokyo and Seattle in 2005, the book entitled The Orphan Tsunami of 1700 gives more literal support than I ever expected to find of the image in Moby-Dick of the Pacific Ocean as “the tide-beating heart of earth” (“The Pacific”).

The Orphan Tsunami of 1700, published in 2005

One wonders what the Kamakura Buddha would think of all that has transpired along these oceanic shores since his 30 separate bronze parts were fitted together around 1252 (as years are counted on western calendars).

Daibutsu Buddha in Kamakura

Daibutsu Buddha in Kamakura since 1252

Inside view of Kamakura Buddha

Inside view of Kamakura Buddha

You can’t begin to imagine when standing before this imposing figure how its separate parts had been molded in bronze and fused together more than 750 years ago.  I got some clarification on the latter question after stooping through a low door and up a narrow stairway into the hollow core of the sculpture.  Here you see not only the inner seams of this seamless structure but a plaque explaining how the various pieces were very intentionally designed to fit together, not through some pre-industrial welding process, but through a kind of jigsaw puzzle of interlocking pieces.

Bilingual explanation of construction process of Kamakura Buddha in 1252

Bilingual explanation of construction process of Kamakura Buddha in 1252

Of course we all wanted our photos taken before this imposing shape.

With Beth Schultz and Kamakura Buddha

With Beth Schultz and Kamakura Buddha

Hokoku-ji hydrangias

Hokoku-ji hydrangias

In contrast to the imposing majesty of the Kamakura Buddha is the magical plenitude of the bamboo forest in the Hokoku-ji Temple on the other side of the city.  Approached through a blaze  hydrangias along an ocean of raked sand with grass islands, you ascend into a world of tall, slender, smooth bamboo trunks as wide and as deep as you can see.  The barkless, polished wood catches the light with a kind of subdued, communal glow throughout compact, expansive forest.  A dark little circle here and there in the soil denotes the site of a tree no longer there, answered in the cycle of life by the slimmer, younger trees among the stand.  Walking slowly through this grove is the closest I have ever felt to the world of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.

Entering the bamboo forest

Entering the bamboo forest

martina and caitlin

Martina Pheiler from Germany and Caitlin Smith from Notre Dame Univesity at lunch in Kamakura

In the bus and at our various stops, this excursion was an excellent way to make new friends or spend quality time with those we had seen only briefly during the rush of the conference.  When the bus left us back at the Celestine, it was time for farewells, as most of us on the two busses would be going our separate ways early in the morning.  I was very happy that I was able to get a parting photo with Beth and three of our Japanese hosts, giving new meaning, for me, to the closing lines of one of my favorite Dickinson poems: “Parting is all we know of heaven, / And all we need of hell” (J 1712).  For those of us of a certain age, this parting was particularly poignant because we cannot be certain we will ever be able to visit this wonderful country again.

Farewell photo in Celestine lobby with Tomoyuko Zettsu, Beth Schultz, Mikayo Sakuma, and Arimichi Makino

Farewell photo in Celestine lobby with Tomoyuko Zettsu, Beth Schultz, Yukiko Oshima, and Arimichi Makino

It is impossible to write about the pleasures of this year’s Tokyo Conference without thinking of several who could not make it.  All of us who had been at the original International Melville Conference in Volos, Greece, in 1997, were thinking often of its two co-directors, Sandy Marovitz, who has retired from Kent State University in Ohio, and Thanasis Christodoulou, who remains active in Volos.  And we were all very sorry to hear that Leyli Jamali from Islamic Azad University in Iran, was unable to be in Tokyo to read her paper on “Melville’s White Whale in the Persian Gulf.”

yagi print 2

Toshio Yagi, artist proof of engraving Dead Things, 1992.

I was especially sorry that the late Toshio Yagi, a translator of Moby-Dick who was also a brilliant literary critic, could only be with us in spirit.  I had always hoped to meet him  in person when the international Melville conference finally made its way to Japan.  His essay “Moby-Dick as a Mosaic” in the 1993 collection Melville and Melville Studies in Japan had given me the key to structuring my book on Stella’s Moby-Dick series.  He and I had enjoyed a wonderful correspondence but I had always looked forward to meeting him in person.  He was for me the first among our “sleeping-partner” shipmates for this particular conference.  I had not known that he was a printmaker in addition to being a translator and a literary critic, so it had been an entire surprise when he had sent the artist’s proof of one of his prints as a gift, an act of pure generosity I was never able to repay.

 

Melville Society of Japan hosts International Conference

Entry begun at Celestine Hotel, Monday, June 29, 8:10 am

How best to summarize an intense, four-day conference itself in the context of this blog? I think the best was to begin is with one photo of six faces.

Clockwise from top left: Takayuki Tatsumi, Sam Otter, Wyn Kelley, John Bryant, Mika Samuma.  Photo by Nao Takeo

Clockwise from top left: Takayuki Tatsumi, Sam Otter, Wyn Kelley, John Bryant, Mika Sakuma, Mary K. Bercaw Edwards. Photo by Nao Takeo

cover of Tokyo conference programI have a moment in which to being this entry before we head out on our post-conference day trip to the Kamakura Buddha and to Yokosuka (formerly Uraga), where Commodore Perry landed in 1853.  No one will be able to think about this conference without marveling at the generosity and skill of the Japanese colleagues who hosted us.  Every detail was thought out in advance, every contingency was handled with ease, every participant was made to feel welcome and appreciated.  We had one hundred and thirty scholars from four continents presenting papers at Keio University for four days, and we were all made to feel like one extended family from the beginning.  The sessions and papers ran on time, and there was a good rhythm among the paper-reading sessions, the plenary sessions, and various special events, with each day full of fresh insights and new friendships.  The fresh insights began with the conference program booklet, which included Yukiko Oshima’sver substantial “Introduction to the Critical History of Melville Studies in Japan.”

Melville’s writings had brought us together from “all the isles of the sea.”  Our Japanese hosts made us “federated along one keel” (Moby-Dick, “Knights and Squires”).

Scholars from around the world, gathering for opening ceremony

Scholars from around the world, gathering for opening ceremony

Entry continued at Kinoe Riokan, Kyoto, Thursday, July 2, 5:40 am

keio entrance

Entrance to East Research Building Hall, Keio University, Tokyo

Melville in his 1850 essay “Hawthorne and his Mosses” celebrates the power of literature to send a “shock of recognition .  . . the whole [world] round.”  We felt a a variety of such shocks in the East Research Building at Keio University.  One of the first for us Americans came during the welcoming remarks by Professor Ken Sekine, Dean of the Faculty of Letters.  He explained that literary studies and the humanities in Japan are under severe threat from a government that wants to sharply reduce their funding to invest in more industrialized economic priorities.  His diagnosis was confirmed the next morning in The Japan Times under the headline “Abe puts squeeze on Humanities courses.”   Dean Sekine’s remarks made us feel we were all in one boat.

The other welcoming remarks were by three exceptional scholars.   Takayuki Tatsumi, professor of English at Keio Universtiy, and Arimichi Makino, president of the newly formed Melville Society of Japan, were the co-chairs of the Organizing Committee of the conference.  Professor Makino is the founder of modern Melville studies in Japan and has edited the journal Sky-Hawk for twenty-six years.  Professor Tatsumi is the author of a brilliant book on Moby-Dick and American popular culture.  In graduate school at Cornell University, he had been a classmate of Sam Otter, the primary representative of Melville Society of America in planning this conference.  Sam’s opening remarks here were as welcome as his closing remarks had been at the NKU Symposium in April.  In addition to being the author of Melville’s Anatomies and other books of criticism, Sam has recently succeeded John Bryant is editor of Leviathan, the American journal of Melville studies.

 Professors TakayuchiTatsumi and Arimichi Makino; Dean Ken Sekine; and Professor Sam Otter

Professors Takayuchi Tatsumi and Arimichi Makino; Dean Ken Sekine; Professor Sam Otter

In addition to the thirty paper-reading sessions, this conference had four plenary sessions, three of which I will mention here.  Those of us who had been at the NKU symposium on April 27 were delighted to hear Beth Schultz’s expanded version of the lecture she had presented to us on “The New Art of Moby-Dick.”  Beth began the Tokyo version with a brief analysis of the logo for the conference itself by the artist YOUCHAN (Yuko Ito), juxtaposing Moby Dick with a Godzilla-like creature.  This worldwide audience was as impressed as we had been in Kentucky with the amazing range of Moby-Dick art that has been created since Beth published Unpainted to the Last in 1995.

Beth Schultz discussing conference logo in her plenary address

Beth Schultz discussing conference logo in her plenary address

Another exceptional presentation was by Yoji Sakate, a filmmaker and dramatist who presented a dramatic reading from his Bartlebies.  Sakate has made a special study of hikikomori in Japan, a category of “withdrawn” people who, like Melville’s Bartleby, cannot deal with everyday society.  As his plenary presentation, Sakate read a new text entitled “The Account of the Director of the T Hospital.”  As read the text in Japanese, an English translation appeared on screen, so we could follow the story while also savoring the cadence of his voice.  The hospital in this story is just outside the twenty-mile contamination zone from a nuclear accident.  Even before the accident, it is a already a refuge for those who, like Bartleby, are unable to live in civilization.  The director wants to keep it open even though the trauma of its inmates will now be even more severe.  As a parable, it alludes overtly to Melville’s 1853 “Bartleby” story and Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster while also being applicable to other intervening events, among which are the nuclear bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Yoji Sakate reading from his chilling new parable

Yoji Sakate reading from his chilling new parable

From reading the program in advance I had been intrigued by the title of Karen Tei Yamashita’s plenary presentation, “Call Me Ishimaru.”  Ishimaru, it turns out, is the protagonist of Through the Arc of the Rainforest, her first work of fiction.  After a query from Professor Tatsumi, Yamashita has only just now realized the degree to which her protagonist had been influenced by Melville’s Ishmael.  The bulk of her presentation focused on her most recent project, entitled Scintillation: Letters to Memory.  In this forthcoming book she traces the arc of her Japanese American family from the emigration of her maternal grandparents from Japan to California in the early 20th century, where they established successful businesses  before their entire family was banished to a internment camp in Topaz, Utah, for the duration of the World War II.  Those who survived the camp had three choices after being released: emigrating to Japan for fresh start; assimilating as fully as possible into mainstream American ways; or finding a way keep all options open in some kind of creative tension, as Yamashita is trying to do through her own work.

Karen Tei Yamashita presenting “Call Me Ishimaru”

Karen Tei Yamashita presenting “Call Me Ishimaru”

Schultz, Sakate, and Yamashita each presented unforgettable embodiments of the overriding theme of the conference, “Melville in a Global Context.”  So did many of the scholars who presented papers.  The location and theme of the conference inspired new insights about many works we had thought we had known well.  This conference had a surprising number of papers on The Encantadas, Melville’s 1854 series of ten sketches about the Galapagos Islands, and Pierre, his 1852 coming-of-age novel about a young writer whose ancestry resembles Melville’s own.  These two works probably received more sustained attention in Tokyo than at any previous international conference.  Clarel, Melville’s epic poem about the Holy Land, continued to ride the wave of interest that had arisen at the conference in Jerusalem in 2009.    Such well-known works as Moby-Dick, Typee, Billy Budd, and Benito Cereno got considerable attention as well, but this conference, perhaps more than any previous one, was remarkable for the breadth as well as diversity of the texts and subjects covered.  It was also remarkable for the consistently high attendance at the paper-reading sessions.  Often the attendance tails off toward the end of a four-day conference as attendees peel off to enjoy attractions of the host city.  Attendance at the earliest morning session on the final day can be notoriously light, but not here.  In the first session on the last morning at 9:15, Room A was nearly full.

Audience for “The Global Turn in Melville’s Later Poetry” at 9:15 am on Sunday, June 28

Audience for “The Global Turn in Melville’s Later Poetry” at 9:15 am on Sunday, June 28

Room A with Martin's Ahab

Novelist Natsuki Ikezawa (seated, center) with Peter Martin’s Ahab’s Dream behind him

Among the presenters, we had of course a higher percentage of Japanese scholars than at previous conferences, although their numbers have always been high.  Ten or so Japanese veterans of previous conferences were integral to the planning of this one, including Professors Arimichi Makino, Takayuki Tatsumi, Yukiko Oshima, Maki Sadihiro, Ikuno Saiki, Mikayo Sakuma, and Tomoyuki Zettsu, here augmented by a very impressive cohort of younger Japanese scholars.  Our contingent from the US was also greatly enhanced by young scholars attending for the first time, several of them first-year graduate students who read excellent papers and were a delight to spend time with.  The fact that such a range of people from so many countries came so far, at great expense, to present at the first international Melville conference in Asia bodes well for the future of Melville studies in spite of the threats to the humanities and literary studies in many parts of the world.  It sometimes seems that whatever deep stresses or threats the world is facing, Melville is there a century and a half earlier to address them.

Don Dingledine enjoying the banquet after presenting his paper.  Photo by Nao Takeo

Don Dingledine enjoying the banquet after presenting his paper. Photo by Nao Takeo

The central days of the conference were non-stop with plenary or paper-reading sessions from 9 am until 7 or 8 pm.  The session I chaired on “Adaptations of Melville” on the Friday morning was typical in the diversity of presentations.  Stacey Margolis presented a paper on Pola X, the French film of Pierre.  Daniel Clinton discussed Orson Welles’ play Moby-Dick—Rehearsed.  Dorsey Kleist read a paper on Gorija and Moby Dick as “globalized monsters” for Wendy Flory, who was unable to attend.  And Don Dingledine, who had presented at the NKU Symposium in April, initiated us into the “gender-bending” rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  

opera booik in exhibition

My opera book among the books on sale

My presentation on “Moby-Dick Art in Kitakyushu, New Bedford, and Northern Kentucky” came in the panel on “Melville and Visuality” on the Saturday morning.  I was glad to share the session with Ryan McWilliams’ paper on revolutionary landscapes in Pierre, The Encantadas, and Benito Cereno, and Elisa Tamarkin’s paper on Elihu Vedder’s Rubáiyát and Melville’s Timoleon.  I had been thinking primarily of my Japanese audience when I began my presentation with highlights from my visits to Japan in 1991 and again in 1994 to study works in Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick series, but these proved interesting to my American friends, too, most of whom did not know I had made those earlier trips to Japan.  Many in the audience were interested in the Moby-Dick artwork by my students in the recent exhibition in Covington, and I was very happy that the three copies of the catalogs I had packed in my suitcase found new homes, one of them with our Japanese hosts.  I was also very happily surprised to see my book on Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera among the books being displayed by the Japanese bookseller at the conference, another example of how small our world is becoming, at least in veins of common interest.

Detail of Asakusa Gate

Detail of Asakusa Gate

The final session of the Conference on the Sunday afternoon concluded with John Bryant reading from his projected two-volume biography of Melville.  This promises to be an exceptional work—from John’s archival research, psychological and editorial insight, and narrative fluency.  On this occasion he read from the chapter in which young Melville crosses the Atlantic for the first time as a sailor on a merchant ship—a perfect transition to our 2017 conference, which will be held in London and Liverpool.  After the end of the session, the excellent graduate students of Keio University led us on a choice of three different excursions out and around the city.  Many of us from Melville Society Cultural Project team in New Bedford chose the river ferry excursion from Asakusa to Odaiba, and it is hard to say which was more enjoyable, the rich mixture of merchandise and spirituality near the Asakusa Temple or the fluid expanse of the Sumida River as it enters the bay.

Sumida River entering the Tokyo Bay

Sumida River entering Tokyo Bay

 

Welcome to Japan

Entry begun at Celestine Hotel, Tokyo, Sunday, June 28, 6:08 am

In Moby-Dick in 1851 Ishmael imagines that if “double-bolted Japan” ever opens up to the West, sailors on whale ships will have been largely responsible.  A few years later, the Open Door policy initiated by the visit of Commodore Matthew Perry’s war ships was negotiated with the help of John Manjiro, a castaway Japanese sailor who had been rescued by an American whale ship in 1841 and taken to Fairhaven, Massachusetts, across the river from New Bedford, where Manjiro learned English well enough to be a translator in the Open Door negotiations upon his return to Japan.

John Manjiro was very much present at the 10th International Society Conference that opened at Keio University in Tokyo on Thursday, July 25.  After Peter Martin, the paper-cut artist from New Bedford who was the featured artist at the conference, filled a room with works inspired by Moby-Dick, he unveiled a brand-new tribute to Manjiro that no one had ever seen.  Entitled Trust and inspired the chapter on “The Line” in Moby-Dick, Martin’s newest work imagines Manjiro’s sandals threading through the metaphorical whale lines that had threatened every step of his transpacific adventures.

peter talks of manjiro

Peter Martin presenting Trust, based on the life of John Manjiro

More than 130 presenters from twelve countries and four continents had registered for four days of paper-reading sessions that will formally conclude today, followed by a day trip to Kamakura and Yokosuka tomorrow.  I woke up a little early this morning, and this has been the first chance, once the conference began, to write a few words in my blog.  I am in my room on the 16th floor of the Celestine Hotel, only a few blocks from the Mita campus of Keio University.  We were warned in advance that late June was the rainy season in Japan, but this week we have had only one day with heavy rain.  Here is a view of the “rising sun horizon” from my hotel window on my first morning in Tokyo.

My first sunrise from 16th floor of Celestine Hotel

My first sunrise from 16th floor of Celestine Hotel

I had a good trip from northern Kentucky on Monday, flying direct to Seattle with a short layover before boarding my direct flight to Narita airport outside Tokyo.  The Boeing 777 was comfortable, even in the economy section, and the in-cabin service was excellent.  The video monitor and entertainment options on the seat back in front of me were much more advanced than on my last transpacific flight twenty one years ago, and I imagine the flying time was somewhat shorter, too (though I feel that the exact number of hours hardly matter when there are so many of them).  Since I will have to have to submit a well-edited version of my Dickinson and Moby-Dick blog to the Dickinson Electronic Archive by August 1, I brought a printout of half of the blog with me on the plane to proofread. With an aisle seat, my open binder fit comfortably on my food tray without bothering the person to my left.  I enjoyed the editing as we flew through the day and into the night, the bright cabin lights finally dimming after the dinner service was completely over.  I slept intermittently over the ocean, but I was awake for a very refreshing middle-of-the night ice-cream sandwich the attendants distributed at midnight Seattle time.

Size of open binder to proofread on food tray

Size of open binder to proofread on food tray

At some indeterminate time, Seattle midnight turned into Tokyo daylight.  By the time we landed at Narita it was 2:35 on Tuesday afternoon, Tokyo time.  A very convenient Limosine Airport Bus offered a direct connection to the Celestine Hotel.  The ticket-taker bowed deeply to the bus when it arrived at the curb and again as we departed for the 90-minute ride to the hotel.  Halfway into the city, the accumulated impact of the travel fully hit me, and I drifted in and out of consciousness after we left the highway and began threading the manmade canyons of the city.  The hotel itself was everything you could wish.  Gleaming, spacious, elegant lobby.  Very attentive staff to receive you.  A well-furnished room with a commanding view of the city and just enough room to feel comfortable.  And a fourteenth-floor inset roof-top tea-house with a lounge complete with wi-fi, business station, and coffee and tea served inside or out on the patio.

Celestine’s 14th floor tea-house patio seen from 16th floor elevator landing

Celestine’s 14th floor tea-house patio seen from 16th floor elevator landing

Wyn Kelly and her daughter Britt arrived at the hotel about an hour after I did.  We had planned to meet at the hotel, but when we did, we were all too tired to go out on the town.  (We would be doing that the next evening thanks to the generosity of Mikayo (Mika) Sakuma, with whom Wyn and I had driven to Logan Airport from the Moby-Dick Marathon in New Bedford back in January.)  For this first evening in town, I looked for somewhere comfortable to eat in the neighborhood and got advice from a college student I passed on the street.  He kindly reversed his direction and walked me several blocks to his favorite noodle house, where I had a wonderful combination of tempura and noodles for 520 yen, about 5 US dollars.

Zojoji ginko from 1634

Zojoji ginko tree from 1634

On Wednesday, June 24, I kept the sightseeing local so I could be fresh when Wyn and Britt and I had our evening with Mika.  I woke up early and visited the Zojoji Temple, only a few blocks from the hotel.  We are in the Shiba area very near Tokyo Bay and in the 1630s Zojoji was the temple of the Tokugawa Shogunate.  Its design is ornate and intricate, and specially twisted, think rope over the entrance (which I am told is the shiminawa, providing protection to holy places in Japan).  The trees near the temple and throughout the adjacent park were individually identified with labels, and one tree near the temple had an engraved plaque declaring it a national historical monument.  One of the oldest Ginko trees in Japan, it is thought to have been planted in 1634 and has survived all of the vicissitudes in the neighborhood since, including the American fire-bombing during World War II that incinerated much of this section of the city.

Zojoji Temple  

Zojoji Temple

One of the hand-sewn silk Kabuki curtains

One of the hand-sewn silk Kabuki curtains

The planting of that ginko tree in 1634 tied in well with our night out on the town with Mika—because she took us to the Kabuki theater in the Ginza district where we saw Usuyuki-hime Tale, a one-hour play from 1632 involving a blacksmith, his daughter, and her suitor.  Beth Schultz, who had just arrived at the hotel after visiting dear friends in Okinawa, met us in the hotel lobby.  Before the play, Mika took the four of us to one of the amazing department stores in the Ginza neighborhood.  Then we arrived at the newly renovated theater, which was striking inside and out.  Many of the audience members were eating dinner in their seats, and Mika explained that many of the true Kabuki fans make a whole day of it.  The one-hour drama we saw was extraordinary for its physical, visual, auditory, and psychological drama, even for someone like me who did not understand a single word.  This performance of the story ended with a beautifully choreographed and acrobatic sword battle, which Mika suggested was a very modern riff on this very ancient play.

Exterior of Kabuki Theater at Night.

Exterior of Kabuki Theater at night.

After the play, Mika took us to a nearby sushi restaurant, one floor below street level.  On the street, thanks to the convenience of cell phones, were joined by five Melvillians whose planes had landed only a few hours earlier, yet had managed check in at the hotel in time to meet us here for dinner.  Chris and Jan Sten had flown over from Washington DC, John and Ginny Bryant from New York City, and Tony McGowan from West Point.  All nine of us fit comfortably around one table in a room of our own, with plenty of leg space under the table.  This was my first all-out sushi meal in Japan and it was extraordinary, buoyed along by excited conversation and the plum wine that Beth had recommended for us all.  I am glad I was sitting next to her, for she has resided in Japan often since her first visit in 1958, and was therefore able to guide me through the various options in a wonderful way.  The evening was the perfect introduction to Japan and appetizer for the conference, and we were all extremely grateful to Mika for having arranged it.

Melvillian crew at Ginza sushi table

Melvillian crew at Ginza sushi table