The Ogaki Report

Details of life at IAMAS, in Ogaki, Japan.
As reported by Tamiko Thiel, winter 1999-2000

Where in the world is Ogaki?

Ogaki Report #1: November 7, 1999

I arrived on November 5th in beautiful Ogaki City, Gifu Prefecture, Japan, to start a 5 month residency here at IAMAS (International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences). The school was started 3 years ago under the direction of Professor Itsuo Sakane and is rapidly building a reputation both here in Japan and in the international media art world. The stress is on interactive multimedia art, and they have extensive computer, video and music facilties. I will be using my time here to complete the first version of the virtual reality project "Beyond Manzanar."

Ogaki City is very different from Tokyo. It is pretty small, about 150,000 people. 28 of them are supposed to be from either Australia or the US. So far I have seen 2 white girls leaving the train station looking like they weren't sure if they got out at the right station.

Apparently until 30 years ago the city was criss-crossed with small channelized rivers; now most have been turned into streets but you still have the feeling there is a lot of water flowing underfoot. Ogaki is very proud of its water quality, although looking at the rivers in the city this might have more to do with legend than current reality.

The rice fields begin within 5 minutes walk from the train station. The way to IAMAS (about 10 minutes bicycling time away from RIST, the student dormintory where I'm staying my first month here) leads through small streets lined with 2-story houses in the traditional japanese style, and then past small stubbly fields where the rice has been already harvested. Oh yes, let's not forget the large black sake factory. I'll have to check it out.

At IAMAS, a new building is being constructed for the school, but it looks like your basic rectangular block. The artist in residence building is separate from the school building proper and is more daring: buried almost into the ground with a concave roof. It was designed by a well known architect whose name is Sejima, I believe. The studio is very roomy, with a platform for a mattress where you can crash when it gets too late. The school is connected to the internet with 2 T1s, so access is decent.

The night I arrived I went out to dinner with a couple of the younger teachers from IAMAS. It was a traditional style "izakaya" (translates fairly directly to "store where you hang around drinking sake", i.e. a pub where you can also get food) Dinner was various vegetables stewed in miso or soy sauce broths, pieces of extremely fatty pork (I told them peter would be delighted) in a hot sauce, spinach in an omlett etc. with nary a piece of sushi in sight (for those of you who think Japanese food is only sushi ...) And then when we were all stuffed half the table ordered bowls of rice with a pork cutlett on top to round it out.

One of the teachers says he eats there almost every night, except for Sundays, when it is closed and he eats with the owner's family at home. He's only been in Ogaki for 4 years but seems to have been practically adopted himself into the family, helping out serving beer at times. At some point another customer (who is apparently the headmaster of a nearby school, but also teaches music and makes his own flutes) ordered us a round of beer. It all feels rather like village life in Germany and is quite cozy.

All in all, a good place to get a lot of work done. Relatively few distractions, as they say. I'll be doing a bit of traveling every month, I expect: next week to Kyoto for a conference, and then at the end of the month to Tokyo to catch an exhibition and see some friends. But hopefully also doing a lot of work on the Manzanar project, which is after all why I am here! I need to visit Kyoto to study tea houses and gardens in order to build my virtual japanese garden, and collect some books of emaki in order to scan out the trees, rocks and water out of which I will create it.

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