Turning Japanese

The news is simply bilious with riot coverage at the moment, and there’s nothing I can add that hasn’t already been said with far more eloquence and devastating accuracy elsewhere (I thought this piece by Zoe Williams was particularly good).

So I thought I’d write instead about the Japanese domestic interiors exhibition at the Geffrye Museum (on until 29 August). I visited last Friday, and although it’s a little thin in parts I still liked it – ever since David Mitchell said something (or perhaps he was quoting someone else) along the lines of ‘all countries are different, but Japan is differently different’ the country has become something of an obsession. The Japan rooms at the British Museum only fuelled it, and just yesterday I received in the post, all the way from Shibuya Publishing, Japan, a copy of Art For All magazine, which featured a blog I wrote mentioning Gilbert and George. My bloggerly cup spilleth over.

Anyway, I learned a few things at the exhibition about Japanese homes. Firstly, toilets are considered unclean (obviously) so you would never have one in the same room as the bath or sink (or, presumably, carpet the loo, as I have seen here). And while you wear house slippers at all times in a Japanese home, you change these for special toilet slippers at the appropriate time. I like that.

Also, dolls are often given as gifts by grandparents (nothing new there). They are thought to protect the children as they grow up. Dolls must be treated well or they can cause bad luck; when stored, their faces must be covered, and old and unwanted dolls must be ritually disposed of at temples and shrines. Now this I also feel is very wise – like many people, I find some dolls disturbing, and I think the idea of treating them carefully is a good one. I remember reading a book set on the Welsh coast about a girl who is given a wooden doll – I think it was called Dodi – and it causes all sorts of trouble. I’d love to read it again actually, and see if it’s still as terrifying (editing it: it’s called A Candle In Her Room & the secondhand paperback is currently going for about 30 quid on Amazon. Hunting it down also reminded me of my whole teenage Lois Duncan phase – Killing Mr Griffin, Stranger with my Face, Trapped in Time – she wrote brilliant teen thrillers).

Finally, the entry of the home is considered spiritually hazardous, so lucky owls and cats are displayed on top of the shoe cupboard as protection.

Bugger. Baby squawking. Back to ball training (the kid’s got talent).

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Turning Japanese

  1. That;s really interesting. While I was glad not to be where we used to live during the riots I do wish I was still in Hackney so I could see exhibitions like this. Dolls are disturbing. Have you seen the boy and girl dolls in the Museum of Childhood, I think they are behind glass on the top floor somewhere near the Lego. They have an expression on their faces that says “We know where you live. We are coming to get you when you sleep.”

  2. Those dolls look utterly sinister. I haven’t been to the Museum of Childhood for a while but will go soon & freak myself out – thanks for the tip!

  3. Personally i find these dolls very funny looking – especially the white owls πŸ™‚

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