37 Greenpoint Avenue
Veronika Schapers, Tokyo, Japan
Jack and Betty forever, 2005, original story by Shimuzu Yoshinori, in an edition of 35 Arabic numbered copies, with texts in Japanese and English. Letterpress-print by zinc-clichés in English and Japanese, linocut on notebook paper with different lines and grids. Cover made by GA-File. CD in a booklet with old recordings from the textbook “Revised Jack and Betty”. Box pasted with different covers from store bought Japanese notebooks. 16,5 x 19 cm.
Jack & Betty – in the fifties and sixties a whole generation of Japanese studied English by using this textbook. The big influence this book had on most of these students is still visible in the society. Almost everyone who studied with this book, can remember it very well and may even be able to repeat the first sentence – for most of them the first contact with a foreign language at all: “This is a pen.” Forty years after this book ceased to be used in Japanese schools, there are still some hints at its influence, e.g. a whole chain of pachinko parlors or a love hotel as well as pets have been named after the two protagonists.
In his short story “Jack & Betty forever”, the Japanese author Yoshinori Shimizu describes what has happened to the two protagonists thirty years after they graduated from school. He lets meet them by accident in the street where they tell each other their story as well as the story of their families who also play a role in the textbook. Both of them didn’t have much success in their life, but what makes Shimizu’s story sound so weird and tragic is the fact that both of them continue to talk to each other in the same strange style they used in their textbook dialogues. They excuse this by saying they were models for an English language textbook for Japanese and “because of that, at our school we deliberately started speaking English in a way that was easier for Japanese people to understand.” They are sitting in a café not being able to talk in a language level appropriate to their age and experiences. From time to time they relapse into the dialogues of their schooldays and feel only comfortable with conversations like: “Is that a sofa?” “No, that is not a sofa. That is chair.” His speech being reverted to patterns of thirty years ago, Jack is not able to confess that he was in love with Betty during their three years at junior high school and still is attracted by her beauty.
For this book I collected Japanese notebooks with different lines and grids. Checkered and vertical lined ones for the Japanese characters, horizontal lined ones for the alphabet. The text was originally published in Japanese 1991 by Kodansha. I printed the Japanese version on paper with western lines and the English version on paper for Japanese characters. As the English and Japanese way of reading differ (English: left – right, Japanese: right – left) the book has two beginnings: the English text starts in ”front“, the Japanese in the ”back“. Both of them meet in the middle with the imprint. Each page is illustrated with a pattern of roses. For this, I took the rose Betty in lesson 7 is holding in her hand and showing it to Jack saying: “This is a flower.”
The cover of the book is made from light blue cardboard, corresponding to the blue color of the lines and printed with a rose pattern. The book comes with a small booklet containing a CD on which I burned parts from singles Columbia Records has published in the fifties and which are recorded with lessons from the textbook. This gives the reader who does not know the original textbook an impression of the dialogues that from a nowadays perspective, seem to be very stiff. Both, CD and book are kept in a box pasted with the different covers from the notebooks I used. There are covers with Japanese comic characters as well as English quotations that reflect the aesthetics fifty years after the textbook Jack & Betty was first introduced to Japan.
During his three journeys to Japan in 1999, 2002 and 2003, the Berlin based poet Durs Gruenbein described his impressions in a diary consisting of haiku. This short poem form is strictly tied to its number of syllables (5 – 7 – 5), and has its origin in the first verse (hokku) of a chain poem (haikai no renga), and developed to an original poetic form in the 16th century. The term haiku was formed by Masaoka Shiki in 1892. The verses of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson and Kobayashi Issa, the three great haiku poets of the Edo period should correctly be called hokku, but nowadays are named haiku as well.
Five sheets of this paper are mounted together to a total length of 258 cm. On this I printed with gray printing ink the two chinese characters: kage = shadow, but also: silhouette, light, trace) and machi = city; street, from specially made zinc-clichès. The originals of these characters were painted by the Japanese calligrapher Akiko Kojima, who selected these two after reading all the haiku with great care over and over again. Using the character kage, Kojima wants to stress that a haiku always expresses a short moment in time, a special emotion, and by writing machi, she refers to urban topics as well as to the fact that these poems are part of a journey diary. Having a closer look, the reader can see that Kojima used a thick brush and wrote the characters in a size exceeding the paper. The machi character (city, street) on the right hand side appears heavy and almost static, whereas kage (shadow) is more distorted and seems to glide out of the paper on the left. I sliced the accordion fold printed paper horizontally, in order to divide every page into four squares. Then I printed the two characters in a lighter gray on five pages each and then cut them into pieces of 8,5 x 36 cm. This is not a random measurement, but refers to tanzaku, a slim, upright paper strip, on which Japanese poets traditionally used to write. With letterpress, I printed one haiku on each of the 28 paper strips, in the German original as well as in its Japanese translation by Yuji Nawata. For the font in the German version, I selected a bold form of Gill sans, a plain sans serif, giving the poem an elegant touch by striking roundness and peaks. For the Japanese version, I chose Hiragino Gothic, sans serif as well, but due to its slight curves less hard than the other.
On the reverse side of each tanzaku, one can find data, when and where the haiku was written. This data not only reflects the route of the trip, it also explain parts of the poems. I wove the printed tanzaku into the sliced paper breadth. When opening the accordion folded piece like a book, the reader notices two pages of haiku alternating with two pages of data containing place and time. Reading the book this way, we see only parts of the two Chinese characters. Opening the piece in its whole width, however, there emerge two other possibilities: either we detect all haiku and both Chinese characters in their full beauty (composed of lighter and darker gray), or we see a composition of all places and times of origin, mixed with parts of the calligraphy in dark gray. By dividing the whole piece into squares, I tried to underline the intended construction of the book, which is contrasting with the picturesque Chinese characters.
The book is stored in a case made from the same tsuch-iri-mitsumata paper like the book itself, marked with the German and Japanese title as well as a number of eki-stampu. These so-called 'station stamps' can be seen at bigger train stations throughout the country; they are for travellers who put a stamp into their diary like a souvenir – a token that one has visited that certain place. Of course, they are used by children, but more than children, it is typically Japanese adults who like to document their journey this way. I visited several places described by Durs Gruenbein in his haiku and produced zinc-clichés of the stamps I collected there to print the cases. To protect the book against dust, book and case are wrapped in a cover of clear vinyl, tied with a rubber string. This simple packaging underlines the fact that the origin of this book was a travel diary.
For the illustrations, I used 227cm long and 2.5cm wide stripes of bamboo, which are usually used to produce the Japanese bow. Each of these stripes, I cut into pieces of different lengths. Because of the graining of the bamboo, we see only straight lines, in longer pieces sometimes interrupted by joints. The single quires are stitched through the cover onto a spine of bamboo. I have pasted a blue Mitsumata paper to the cover, printed with a pattern of bamboo stripes. Reflecting the asymmetry of the pages, the cover has a joint that divides recto and verso in a relation of 2:3.
In his text “Do”, the Berlin based author Heiko Michael Hartmann describes the art of Japanese Archery, Kyudo, which literally means “way of the bow”. The days where the Japanese bow was used as a weapon are long past and modern Kyudo is practiced primarily as a method of physical, moral, and spiritual development. Hartmann writes about the archer‘s spirit state and his movements starting from taking the shooting position until releasing the arrow and stepping back. We understand that the most important factor for a true shot is not the technique, but a true shot is one that is pure and right-minded, where the three elements of attitude, movement, and technique unite in a state of perfect harmony. The way of the arrow can be divided into the so called Hassetsu, the eight fundamental stages of shooting All of these movements, from the first to the last, must by no means be separated from each other. They are part of one continuous sequence of movements that are performed with seamless integration. I chose this division into eight stages as the base concept for my book, printing the text on eight quires in oblong format. Each of these layers is fold in a 2:3 relation, taking pattern from the asymmetric form of the Japanese bow, resulting in pages of different lengths. I printed on Japanese Katajigami paper, which normally is used for the production of stencils for printing patterns onto fabric. The paper is dyed with the astringent juice of the kaki fruit, giving it a reddish brown tone. Afterwards it is put in to a smoke chamber for at least two weeks, replacing the sour smell by a smoky one. Because of its color and consistence, this paper reminds us of wood and evokes a smell like in Buddhist temples. Due to the dying process, the recto differs significantly from the verso. On the recto of all pages, I printed the text, and on the recto illustrations referring to the Hassetsu. In detail, these are:
In his text “Triumph of a Trouser Salesman”, the Berlin based author Heiko Michael Hartmann conveys the precarious situation of a customer who is forced by the sales person to buy a pair of trousers. He does not only get advice, but is pushed so much that he has the feeling of being the opponent in a boxing match. His aim is no longer to buy the trousers, but to escape from the scene. The text consists of twenty lines, each of which can stand alone, but also can be read together with the previous or following line and then gets a different meaning. Some words are even doubled, which lets the reader feel like jumping around. The way of reading underlines the contents of the text: the similarity of buying pants and being attacked in a boxing match.
The format of the book is a square, according to a boxing ring. The text is set in a square as well to mark the area where the boxers are moving. The book consists of 20 pages of clear foil, with one line of text and two boxers’ silhouettes on each page. The boxers are printed as red shadows and only become visible, when the pages are turned. When the pages are lying one above the other, the boxers fuse into a colored mass visualizing the movements. The single foils are stitched onto transparent gum cords that for their part give tension to the flexible plastic cover and symbolize the strings of a boxing ring. The bended cover is designed in a way that it pushes the spine of the book upwards, in order to make the book easy to open. To emphasize the transparency of the book, title and colophon are printed on a inflatable plastic cushion that serves as the case for the book. By being light-weighted, the cushion is corresponding with the glue-free binding of the book, and by its shape, it is corresponding to the profile of a sand sack. Cushion and book are wrapped in white paper felt, the same material we receive as wrapping in a store, when we buy really expensive clothes.
First edition Tokyo 2001, 10 Arabic numbered copies and three unnumbered Arabic numbered copies. Out of print. Second edition Tokyo 2002, 15 Arabic numbered copies and three Roman numbered Arabic numbered copies 20 pages with inkjet prints on clear polyethylene foil. Cover made of clear polycarbonate.
The pages are stitched on gum cords that also bend the cover. Inflatable aircushion with stamped title in red and imprint in black. White fleece bag. 23.5 x 21 cm. Signed by the artist and the author.
In his short story, the Author Shimizu Yoshinori (born 1947) describes in a humorous as well as socio-critical way the Japanese system of entrance examinations. This procedure, which is also known as the ”examination hell“ is not only applied to universities, but depending to the status and type of school also to high schools, elementary schools and even Kindergartens. In general it is much more difficult to pass the entrance exam than to graduate from a university. These examinations do not share any particular format, every university has its own scheme. To prepare for this, there are lots of cram schools in Japan, each specialized in a certain university’s entrance exam. As a result, some students start to prepare years in advance even before finishing high school. In his book ”Japan’s Modern Myth“ Roy Andrew Miller writes: “The Japanese university examinations are the ultimate, the most frightening rite of passage known to any modern society“ (pg. 241). In Japan not only the fiscal year but also school, university and employment start in April, which makes February the main period of examinations. The public interest in this rite is so huge that newspapers publish parts of the examinations and reports are broadcast on television. Because only a small percentage of all candidates are going to pass, many of them take more than one examination. This means that in the case of being rejected from one university they probably have a second choice and do not have to wait a whole year until the next examination takes part.
Shimizu criticizes the outrageous pressure the students have to stand, but he also focuses on criticizing the kind of questions: “These extraordinary (...) examinations do not test the student’s knowledge or command (...). What they do exhaustively examine instead is how well the student has managed to conform to the rigors of the officially set curriculum uniformly enforced by the Japanese Ministry of Education throughout the entire educational establishment. The student is actually not being tested on the language at all, but on his willingness to conform. The conformers pass.” (Roy Andrew Miller “Japan’s Modern Myth“, pg. 240).
I read Shimizu Yoshinori’s text for the first time when I was preparing for a Japanese proficiency test for foreigners which is held once a year by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Talking about this to Japanese friends, I recognized that almost everyone had experienced the ”examination hell“ and understands the situation of the protagonist Asaka Ichiro very well. In the book I printed the Japanese original as well as the translation into German by Katja Cassing. As the German and Japanese way of reading differ (German: left – right, Japanese: right – left) the book has two beginnings: the German text starts in ”front“, the Japanese in the ”back“. Both of them meet in the middle with the imprint. In addition to this each page of the German translation refers in color and content to its Japanese counterpart. The fonts I’ve used are Transit and Kozuka Gothic, both sans-serif fonts that are plain but not stiff. The continuous text is interrupted by examples of examination questions in a bold font. The text was printed by zinc-clichés in letterpress printing. Each double-spread page is under-layed with a pattern of stamps that in Japan are usually used to mark student homework. These marks range from ”Done very well“ to ”Normal“ up to ”Try harder“. I’ve reduced the original stamps so much that on the very first glimpse they give the impression of a wallpaper-like pattern and even the Japanese reader has to watch carefully to recognize the well-known stamps. Because of the thin Mitsumata paper the marks shine through the pages. Every single page is stamped by hand. To get the colors I had in mind, I mixed them from lithograph printing ink. The book is stitched with a Japanese binding and as a cord I used a twisted paper strip. The cover consists of Kozo cardboard with a thin layer of Ganpi paper giving a fine shine. I printed a pattern of one single stamp in the original size on it saying: “You have to try harder”. This stamp is the worst mark you can get in Japan and stands in contrast to the one I’ve used at the end of the text for the imprint (“good“). The book is kept in a case in the shape of an Omamori, charms that are sold at Shinto shrines. As a model I’ve used an Omamori from the Yushima Jinja shrine in Tokyo, a shrine which belongs to the Tenmangu sect, founded after the death of the scholar Sugawara Michizane (845-903). He is known as the saint of learning (Tenman Daijizai Tenjin order of: Tenjin-sama) and there are around 12000 shrines of the Tenmangu-sect in Japan, visited by countless students every year (Kangmin Zeng, Dragon Gate, London 1999, pg. 205-218). Instead of the normal charm for successful studying, I embroidered the title of the story on the case, thust going one step further than the normal charms by promising to supply a method of how to guarantee passing the examination.
In this book I have used the Old Saxon version of the “Wurmzauber”, a magic charm from the ninth century. A worm that together with its brood causes a serious disease shall be expelled by this magic charm. Most probably, the disease referred to was consumption, because it was said to be transmitted by worms. The text is distributed generously on pages that first have been painted with black Chinese ink. Guards of red paper break up each page. They resemble folds that come about when a book is put up upright for a long time or used too many times. At the same time, these guards make it easier, but strange to flip through the pages. The red lines together with the black ink images appear very graphic, almost technical, and they let us think of a “worm illness” of our days: computer viruses. The four single quires are stitched to the Ganpi cardboard cover. This cardboard almost works like a hinge, because in the back, it is cut and folded. The box is made of red shiny fabric. The shining of the cover cloth and the mat gum lines repeat the contrast that already occurs in the lettering and ink images.
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