Monday, April 5, 2010

#5: I Have Seen the Future . . .

A really miserable day, cold, rainy, and designed to make my gamey knee scream for Ibuprofin. But two things made it memorable nonetheless. First, I was introduced by Prof. Kei Hibino (Hibino Kei in Japan) to Seikei University's spanking new, white, ultrafuturistic, chrome and glass library, a hi-tech institution that looks more like a sci-fi laboratory than a place for dusty tomes. In fact, the librarians wear white lab coats as if the books were specimens to be observed and preserved with the utmost in sanitary procedures. All that is missing is Sigourney Weaver. Among the most unique features of this sterile environment are the pod-like study rooms suspended over an atrium, so that students sitting inside them are isolated in glass bubbles from which they can observe the open space around them while simultaneously being the object of everyone's gaze (or at least those on the upper floors). One can, of course, take the stairs, but why not instead shoot to the stars in the glass-enclosed elevator set smack in the middle of the atrium area like one of those exposed lifts in fancy hotels?

Unfortunately, there seems to be a dearth of copy machines, and I intend to be a copymaniac so I can gather materials to work on after I return to New York. More unfortunately, Prof. Kei Hibino and I discovered that the chief resource I was hoping to work on at this library, the monthly theatre magazine Engekikai (Theatre World), was available only for issues published after 1983. Since my project (which I'll describe more specifically in later blogs) covers kabuki theatre during the years 1952 to 1965, this, to say the least, was something of a setback. It means that I will have to replan my days in order to travel into Tokyo proper to libraries that do have the old issues, among them Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum at Waseda University, the Kokuritsu Gekijo (National Theatre of Japan), and the National Diet Library. Tomorrow Prof. Hibino and I will visit the latter two to investigate their collection. I also plan to visit the Shochiku Otani Library, which has Engekikai, but my main purpose in going there will be to examine their collection of old programs. I'm scheduled to make my first visit there on April 12, the day I attend the first of three farewell programs at the Kabuki-za, whose storied life comes to an end this month (more on that in a later blog).

The Seikei library does have a decent, if not overwhelming, collection of kabuki-related reference books, so it will be of some usefulness, and I'll spend several days there perusing the collection, some of which is pictured here. This will give me a chance to scout out books I'll want to purchase while I'm staying in Tokyo.

I know many of you couldn't care less about my research problems, so you'll be happy to know that the day also included a visit to the first grade entering ceremony in which Prof. Hibino's daughter, Miyako--whom you've probably already met and fell in love with (see blog #4)--participated. I've attended ceremonies of the same ilk for my granddaughters, but never any as formal as this one. All the parents were dressed smartly, the men in business suits, white shirts, and ties, the women in fashionable ensembles, some in kimono, and many wearing corsages. I was the ony foreigner in the crowd, and was dressed totally inappropriately, in jeans, white socks, a black shirt, and scuffed leather jacket. Kei Hibino thought that the other parents must have wondered how I could be related to one of these kids, yet, unlike other situations in which I've sometimes found myself in Japan, I was not subjected to uncomfortable stares. Prior to my library experience, I had met Kei and his family outside the campus gate, where we took some photos. Miyako, who is a tad small for her age, was wearing her new school uniform and carrying an umbrella.

Man, did I look out of place. Dig the fanny pack!

The ceremony was held in a large, white auditorium on the Seikei campus, where Miyako's elementary school (shogakko) is located. It included speeches from school bigwigs, songs in which everyone joined in (including one from a famous anime movie by Miyazaki, whose Ghibli Film Studio is nearby), and so on. You can hear the singing at The audience was absolutely still and well-behaved, no waving at children when they marched in (to the same music we hear at American school ceremonies) or jostling to the front to get pictures of their little ones. You could hear a pin drop. Every now and then, someone said "rei" (bow) and everyone did just that, me included. The formality and sense of respectable behavior was a sharp contrast to what I've observed of similar events in the U.S. Even a mildly restless little boy near me didn't let out a peep.

Afterward, we visited the actual school, a new building as modernistic in its own way as the library in which I'd spent the morning. Polished wood floors (you had to remove your shoes and put on slippers) everywhere; large, open, outdoor spaces with  all the best and most advanced equipment; classrooms whose hallway walls were glass from midway up so one could observe their interiors without peeping through door windows; huge flatscreen TVs and copier/printers in each room; a large library; wide corridors; etc. Teachers everywhere would die to work in a place like this. It is a private school built with money from Mitsubishi, and, despite its imposing presence, the tuition costs only around $12,000 a year for each child. I can't imagine any such bargain back home. Here are some shots of the place, including the kids gathering outside before entering.

The picture at the right shows me photographing a place where the children can wash their hands. Then follows a shot of Miyako's classroom, backpacks and hats on desks waiting for their tiny occupants. Finally, parents and children gather for a group picture, only part of the group being seen here. Miyako is in the second row, third from the left. For a video version of what the place is like, check out this clip I took:

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