Putting ROSEN Prototypes To The Test


October 21, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Kurokawa

In my quest to catch up with Eastern literature, I started on a third book by Kenzaburo Oē. And just as I had suspected, the topic of suicide crept in within the first chapter. With all due respect to Oē-san, there may be such a thing as too much suicide in a span of a few months of reading. I decided to take a break from him and dived into Banana Yoshimoto, one of the rare few female writers widely recognised by the Japanese literati. But ah, death poked its head out within the first page. I shrugged and continued reading. At least it wasn’t suicide.

The mountains of Minamioguni raced past the bus window as it sped up the winding road. My annual pilgrimage to Kurokawa succeeded a wonderful short stay in Fukuoka, having seen old friends, eating wonderful Japanese foods and coffee, while taking a short respite from the overwhelming amount of work and anxieties that threatened to push me over the edge.

“We’re cruelest, almost always, to ourselves.” - It's in Our Hands, by Bjork.

ROSEN Coat Kurokawa

There’s a single habit I’ve cultivated whenever I travel. I would wake up at dawn to go for a slow hour-long run. It’s the best way to explore a place with as little distractions as possible - when shops are still closed and barely anyone is awake - while keeping up with my obsession to exercise on a frequent basis. The singular mountainous road in and out of Kurokawa was lined with tall evergreen trees, shielding me from the strong morning sun. Through the loose canopy, beams of light managed to pass through, illuminating floating dust specks. They looked like the spirits of the forest, beckoning me to play with them. Somewhere out there someone’s world is in utter chaos, but up in these mountains, one can’t help but feel grateful to be able to luxuriate in peace and quiet, even if it is temporary.

ROSEN Coat-Kurokawa

ROSEN Coat-Kurokawa

I’m wearing ROSEN’s latest prototype which we have named the O-Ren. It is our usual practice to put our samples through field tests so we know how they’ll perform in real life, from grabbing coffee to gallivanting through a forest. This O-Ren coat is a one-off prototype made in heavy textured linen. While the fabric itself is extremely tactile - with highly visible weaves made up of different threads - it doesn’t lend itself to creating the final form that we were after. Beautiful thick yarns in khaki are intertwined with the sporadic red and ivory to form a richly textured cloth. Unfortunately it is simply too heavy to drape well as a coat that is made out of multiple yards of fabric. The end result looks rather heavy. Although some people might like more substantial drapes, the coat we had in mind would have an airy quality to it while retaining its structure. I could imagine the fabric looking rather exquisite if made into a pair of wide-legged trousers. It is rather unfortunate that all the fabric has been used up to make this sample.

With that said, we are almost ready to release ROSEN’s fall/winter 2017 collection into the wild. This time we have expanded our colour schemes into various shades of dark green, rust, taupe and greys. The new collection includes the final iterations of the O-Ren coat made of two different fabrics - one in Japanese olive boiled silk/wool blend, the other an ivory linen with sashiko weaves. The former is possibly my favourite fabric that I may never come across again. It is visually coarse and fragile-looking, yet extremely airy and retains warmth. There’s so little of it that we are only able to make two of them. As with all the other ROSEN garments, they are made from deadstock fabric, hence every model is limited in numbers. Daniel is furiously uploading our latest collection on ROSEN as I'm typing this. And may I just say how excited we are to present them to you. We hope you will like them as much as we do.

For the latest updates of ROSEN in-house label and ROSEN’s archive, please follow @therosenrot and @dandanxl on Instagram, and sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this page.

Special thanks to Robert Anton Patterson for the wonderful photographs. You can view his collection of interviews, thoughts and notes here.

ROSEN Coat-Kurokawa

Kurokawa


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The Hypocrisy of Consumption and Suicide


September 19, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Rick Owens Sphinx Vest Kyoto

When I was just a wee child growing up in Jakarta, I would occasionally be taken by my late grandmother to do her groceries. Being a traditional person, she shunned the modern supermarket in favour of an old-school wet market. These places are typically found in Asia, if there is any example in other parts of the world I would certainly profess ignorance. They're characterised by the moisture that permeates the air, floor, and goods for sale. Fresh fruits and vegetables are arranged neatly in mounds, with shoppers bagging the goods themselves. Live seafood are displayed in the adjacent area, while another housed hawkers of poultry, eggs and red meats. Fast forward more than twenty years later in Shanghai, I found myself doing weekly shopping in my neighbourhood wet market - choosing my own bean curds, mushrooms and eggs. In late summer, figs and peaches are abound. My seasonal favourites are lychees in late spring, and strawberries in winter. There is no cheese and little dairy to be found here, for that I would have to go to the supermarket, which is probably a good thing or I cannot stop myself from hoarding Brie every week. For my poultry needs I would always go to this friendly couple who would choose a freshly slaughtered chicken for me, then chop it up and gut it as requested. On the first few occasions I started buying from them, they would offer to slaughter one from their stash of live stocks kept underneath the counter - my grandmother herself had on several occasions expertly killed live chickens in our kitchen - but I always refused. My hypocritical self would rather not witness the cruelty of my consumption. Give me a pink plump one any day without the evidence of pain, please and thank you.

To the new generation, wet markets present a bygone era; the days when folks converse with their grocers and the latter know the shopping habits of their clientele. Even my weekly trips are now threatened by the convenience of ordering groceries online. With several taps on my phone, I can have the same mushrooms and tofu delivered to my doorstep, thanks to Chinese companies that have pushed the user experience of phone apps and e-commerce logistics beyond anything I can ever imagine. As I’m writing this I am sipping a tall cup of frothy latte that was ordered via a food-delivery app (I fear this may become a terrible habit), brought to me piping hot within 30 minutes. The cost: $4. Human cost: no idea.

Rick Owens Sphinx Vest Kyoto

Wearing: Rick Owens sphinx padded vest and cashmere pod shorts; Nike Air Uptempo

It’s been a very long few weeks running around cities and countries. I stared at these photographs that I had taken months before in Kyoto, before I took on two projects with Daniel - one of them our techwear line Velamen, the other one is the re-launch of ROSEN, our new collaboration of staple garments in luxurious fabrics. I thought I was busy then, but it was nowhere near what I am going through now. Three to four nights a week, I sleep for less than five hours. Between running the archive store, writing essays, creating social media content, taking care of Velamen samples in Guangzhou, while continuously sampling ROSEN garments at the other side of Shanghai, I am mentally required to be in several places at once, and several more physically. It’s the kind of challenges I find to be very fulfilling, yet too much of a good thing can be bad. I have found myself unable to get out of bed on some occasions under the weight of the workload facing me everyday and my mind swimming in anxieties. My fatigue turned me into a miserable human being who wasn’t too pleasant to be around with. Thankfully I have a reliable support network I can count on whenever my mental strength has been completely sapped. The internet has brought me closer to you, my wonderful readers and customers, and they’ve also allowed me to keep in touch with people all around the world who are willing to listen to my (first-world) woes without judgment.

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Takoyaki, the Kansai version

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Pontocho, Kyoto

The time was 9AM. I was doing my early morning reading and writing session again. When I finally caught up with sleep the night before, I woke up in much better spirits. I could get back to my couch with coffee and a new author to tackle. His name is Kenzaburō Ōe, a Japanese nobel laureate. I had just finished The Silent Cry - a post-war novel with a touch of suicide and incest thrown into it - and am now diving into The Changeling, another one with suicide as its central theme. It does bring to light how different cultures view the act of taking one’s life. Abrahamic religions stress so much importance in the non-ownership of one’s life that to take it away voluntarily - no matter the difficulties that drive one to consider such an action - is an unforgivable sin. Yet, one could possibly argue that Jesus himself chose to commit suicide by not fighting nor running away - assuming the tale of crucifixion is true. Without all that satellites and geotagging Instagram features dude could have easily run off to the Alps and married a fellow shepherd. Though the act of ending his life wasn’t carried out with his own hands, he succumbed to a fate that had been handed down to him. Religious defenders have argued that if one does it in a self-sacrificial manner, such as firefighters and military personnels, that makes it commendable. But to save oneself from pain and suffering is an immoral act, considering the fact that both occasions leave behind grieving families and friends. Without invoking the logical fallacy of ‘because the bible says so’, it’s hard to argue why a person who suffers so deeply should not have the choice to end their misery. I don't know what it's like to go through a life so bad that suicide becomes a better alternative. However, I would argue that we didn’t have the choice to be born into this world, perhaps the least we could have is the right to not continue suffering should life becomes acutely unbearable. If indeed as religions argue that we have been given the ‘gift of life’, then surely like a gift, we can decide what we would like to do with it.

From our consumption to our most deeply-held beliefs, every aspect of our lives is mired in hypocrisy. A short paragraph on a heavy topic such as suicide certainly does not do it any justice. Perhaps one day I can continue writing about this topic. It might end up being a showdown between Hume and Kant.

Kyoto-city-12

Nijo Castle outpost


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ROSEN – Our Made-to-Order Collection


September 18, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Plato-Locke-Black-Wool

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Plato overshirt and Locke shorts; choose between Japanese wool gabardine and cotton twill

This blog was created more than eight years ago, and I started selling second hand designer clothes on ebay over five years ago. It has been a very long journey, many of my readers have been with me since the beginning and I cannot be thankful enough for sticking with me throughout the years. Having been a lone wolf all of these years, I have finally found Daniel, my business partner with whom I can work to diversify the store offerings. Together we are very pleased to present our own ROSEN collection - made-to-order garments that are genderless, fuss-free and meant to be worn with our favourite designers. Between the both of us, our taste range from the Japanese masters all the way back to 90s minimalist Prada and 80s oversized garments. We pride ourselves in choosing fabrics that are slightly experimental with our technical cottons, to luxurious opium-den aesthetics such as sandwashed silks and cashmeres.

Plato-Shirt-1

Planck-Shirt-3Planck-Shirt-2

Plato-Shirt-3

Plato shirt in sandwashed silk; soon available in cashmere blend

Plato-Shirt-2

Hume-Coat-1

Hume coat worn over Plato shirt

All garments are available here


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In Which I Grappled with Japan’s Dark History


August 21, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Issey Miyake Fushimi Inari

It was seven in the morning when I decided to head south of my Airbnb apartment. Clad in full lycra suit, I started with a slow jog to wake myself up. As I was still getting acquainted with this city, I had little idea what to expect down south.

I ran along the embankments of Kamo River, away from the city centre. Quaint wooden houses gave way to factories, dilapidated warehouses and parks in various states of disrepair. Not the kind of things you see when you’re googling images of Kyoto. Like any other city, there are always the good and the bad, even if the common impression of Japan is a land of pruned greeneries and absolute cleanliness. A lone sarariman sat by the river, hunched, head in his lap, dress shoes unworn and placed next to him. I wonder if he’d just found out he’s been fired, or that his wife had just left him. He didn’t seem that chipper.

Past overgrown trees. A van was parked on a rickety bridge over a canal. It’s like finding out that your new partner is not that perfect after all. Deep down inside you know no-one is perfect, but at some point the veil is eventually lifted and you discover the specific ways a person is insane. It either makes them more endearing and the relationship more genuine, or it becomes a complete turn-off.

Some twenty minutes later, I ran past a train station with a recognisable name. And so with a different sort of enthusiasm that rotting wood cannot provide, I followed the directions provided, feeling as if someone just responded ‘Polo’ to my subconscious ‘Marco’. At a little before eight o’clock, I reached the grounds of a vast shrine. Hardly anyone was about at this time of the day. I looked around to see if I should pay an entrance fee. No signs of it so far. Ran past sporadic tourists with selfie sticks - surprised they still haven't disappeared off the face of the earth yet. With every set of staircase ascended, my excitement grew.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Torii Gates

Almost without any warning, they appeared within my sight. To say that I was surprised to see the famous red Torii gates looming before me was an understatement. There I was, standing in my lycra suit, looking completely out of place underneath these magnificent vermillion structures. Brilliantly varnished, the surface of the wooden gates reflected golden sunlight of the morning while simultaneously creating shadow plays as they snaked their way up the gentle slope of Mount Inari. 


It is against the backdrop of this surreal serenity that I couldn't fathom how the Japanese empire was capable of inflicting heinous violence only matched by the Third Reich. The West knew of Pearl Harbour, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. While Germany was incarcerating Jews across Europe, the Japanese Imperial Army swooped across China, Korea and Southeast Asia. Like the tornado of death leaving utter senseless destruction in its path, they killed millions of men, raped equally as many women, and bayoneted more children and elderly than leaving them alive.


A pall of death hung over the yard. Her son was on his knees, the bloody stump of his neck resting on the ground, a stream of fresh blood snaking along the ground; his head, a look of fear frozen on the face, sat perfectly upright in front of his torso. Her husband was gnawing a brick on the path […] A mixture of grey matter and bright red blood from a gaping wound in the back of his head stained the path around him. - Big Breasts and Wide Hips, by Mo Yan


Issey Miyake Fushimi Inari

While every country has her own historical biases, simple cross referencing would easily yield a clear picture of Japan’s brutalities during World War II. Having had the privilege of receiving history lessons in both Indonesia and Singapore - both of which were seized from their respective Western colonial masters when Japanese forces swooped down the Malayan peninsula - I was instilled with a less than rosy image of Japan’s wartime records. But one does not truly have the capacity to fully comprehend the gravitas of history - it also didn’t help that the history lessons had to be kept PG-13 - when one was a mere teenager dealing with other pressing issues puberty had to offer. If anything, I had shoved history to the back of my head.

That is, until I moved to China.

With a few more reminders from fictional works by Chinese writer Mo Yan, and Christian Bale’s ‘The Flowers of Nanjing’, I decided to dive deeper into the historical records of Japanese war crimes. To say that I wanted to weep for humanity was an understatement.

By the 1930s, Japan went from an isolationist nation to a power-hungry military force. It took them less than a century to build their might. Out of fear of being subjugated by Western powers like China, Japan decided that they too would learn from the Europeans - specifically the colonial nations who had been gobbling up Africa and Southeast-Asia. To avoid being devoured, one must do the devouring first. None of this was out of the norm at the time. Before World War II, Japan had occupied regions of China and Korea, and their treatment of occupied territories were no harsher than other colonial powers. However, it took a sharp turn for the worse as the world divided itself into Allied and Axis powers. In their pursuit for regional dominance, the Japanese Imperial Army did not spare any effort to flex their capabilities. If the fictional gore of Game of Thrones makes one queasy, I’m afraid reality can in fact be much worse.

Warning: disturbing descriptions ahead

Kyoto Ginkakuji

Many months ago, I went to Nanjing and visited the war memorial. While I wasn’t too impressed by the propagandic tone of the texts (Chinese Communist Party is very good at that, to my amusement and chagrin), the historical evidence of the Nanjing massacre was not easy to swallow. This was corroborated by first-hand accounts of foreigners who were stationed in China and locals who managed to survive.

In order to break down the resistance of Chinese Nationalist army, Japanese troops had to show their enemies what they were capable of. Chinese soldiers who had surrendered were killed immediately. Civilians - men, women, children, the elderly - were rounded up and became target practices for sword fighting and bayonets. Others were burnt or buried alive. Ironically, the Japanese were so brutal in their invasion that a German Nazi helped to establish and headed the Nanjing Safety Zone, protecting thousands of Chinese civilians. Many women suffered fates worse than death. While benign misogyny is ever present in Japanese society, when mixed in with xenophobia, it became the recipe for unreserved violence against women. Over ten thousand in Nanjing were raped, then mutilated and killed. But at least their ordeal were over fairly quickly.

Because compared to the suffering that ‘comfort women’ went through, death - even when prefaced by rape - would have been welcomed like a gentle flame in the coldest winter. Across Japanese-occupied territories - three of them I’ve called home; one I was born in, one I grew up in, one I am currently living in - hundreds of thousands of women as young as seventeen were removed from their families and forced to work in Japanese brothels. They were given Japanese names and lost all semblance self-identity. It wasn’t enough for them to resign to their fate. These girls had to feign interest while they were raped day and night by Japanese soldiers, or risk torture and death. Once a week, they were subjected to humiliating physical examinations that involved being raped by the physician - in full view of other soldiers who wished to amuse themselves.


The women cried out, but it didn't matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor's soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance. - Veteran Japanese soldier Yasuji Kaneko to The Washington Post.


Issey Miyake Fushimi Inari

Wearing: Issey Miyake coat, Madame-T shawl, trousers; Ann Demeulemeester boots

Somewhere in Manchuria, China - now known as Dongbei, or North-east - there is a building called Unit 731. It was once used as a top secret site for the Japanese military to learn about human physiology; built in pursuit of scientific knowledge and medical advancements - which sounded rather noble until the boundaries of ethics and consideration for human lives were removed. Forget health and safety procedures, or even mild electric shocks.

Without any form of anaesthesia - in their full consciousness - civilians and prisoners of war were amputated and bled to death; or dissected by having their organs removed and reattached in odd places - fully alive; or injected with sea water into their blood stream or horse urine into their kidneys. Others would be infected with diseases such as the bubonic plague and anthrax. Many others would be denied food and water in order to find out how long humans can last without sustenance before they die. Syphilis was a particularly cumbersome problem that plagued the troops because of their visits to the brothels, so the doctors needed to come up with a cure. Syphilis carriers would be forced to copulate with each other so that the doctors would have impregnated mothers and babies to carry out their tests on, each one possibly carrying the disease. Babies too became test subjects. None survived.

While men were only used in bacteriological and physiological experiments, women had to endure those in addition to sex experiments and rape at the whims of the staff.


I believed and acted this way because I was convinced of what I was doing. We carried out our duty as instructed by our masters. We did it for the sake of our country. From our filial obligation to our ancestors. On the battlefield, we never really considered the Chinese humans. When you're winning, the losers look really miserable. We concluded that the Yamato race [i.e., Japanese] was superior. - Uno Shintaro, Japanese Army officer who served in China.


Kyoto GinkakujiKyoto Ginkakuji

Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion)

Having normalised genocide across China, the Japanese army no longer had any qualms about mutilating civilians and prisoners of wars across Southeast Asia. Many were forced to work on labour camps under hot blazing sun and humidity of the tropical jungles with very little sustenance. Killing was rampant, to say the least, which involved hacking limbs off first before the bayonet went through the heart, with celebratory photographs taken afterwards. Cannibalism - though not rampant - took on a festive occasion, in which fried human flesh was washed down with sake. Some of the worst massacres and atrocities were carried out right before Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan in 1945. As if sensing their imminent defeat, the soldiers projected their hopelessness and humiliation onto the defenceless, shedding what was left of their humanity.


Kyoto Inari Mountain Bamboo Grove

I returned later in the afternoon to Fushimi Inari shrine, out of my spandex suit and into Issey Miyake’s pleats which felt more appropriate in this sacred grounds dedicated to the Shinto god of rice. Within a span of two hours, throngs of tourists have descended, which made me grateful that I had accidentally stumbled into this place at a far quieter time. Halfway up the climb I took a detour up a small staircase, not knowing where it led to. Past another small shrine, forests, bamboo groves, fox carvings - phone signal getting weaker until I was completely cut away from communications network - accompanied only by peace and silence, I arrived at a secluded spot that overlooked Kyoto. One couldn’t help but to fall in love with this city. From its historical palaces and shrines, to the preservation of kimonos, traditional cooking style, tea ceremonies and even confectionaries, Kyoto is a wonderful place to get a glimpse of old Japan. Though not a vegan, this is also where I discovered the joy of going meatless, eggless, and dairy-less. If one avoids the downtown area and Instagrammable spots, it is easy to find one’s personal quiet spot to think, read and write.

Stardust Cafe Kyoto

Vegan cake from Stardust Cafe

No matter how much I love this country as a source of inspiration and travel destination, I am also aware of its dark history. One may argue that Germany was equally cruel, but what made their history tolerable is their willingness to admit and atone. Japan, on the other hand, still flip flops on official apologies, its leaders have been hesitant in acknowledging the full extent of the country’s wrongdoings, and barely a full account was written in Japan’s history lessons. Unlike the Germans who have come to accept their ancestors’ wrongdoings and are fully aware of them, Japan has not learnt to do so. Germany has built a Holocaust Memorial to commemorate the deaths of fallen Jews. Japan, on the other hand, had included military leaders who gave the orders to slaughter millions of civilians in the Yasukuni war shrine. Much like the characters in Murakami’s novels, it is easier to shuffle forward than to risk friction. Life goes on. The dark past is swept under the rug while on the surface everything is fantastically rosy.

There are two sides to every coin in every facet of existence. While it's tempting to simply ignore the undesirable aspects of any entity, having an awareness of both the good and the bad makes a relationship with a person, culture, or belief more genuine. It helps us avoid being delusional about the subject we have fallen in love with. And it doesn't get any truer in this case, in which I have accepted the ways a society can be mad, while maintaining respect for the good things it has cultivated throughout the course of history.

Issey Miyake Fushimi Inari

Bibliography and further reading:

- Comprehensive list of Japanese war crimes in World War II
- Unit 371, a summary
- Sex Crimes Propagated at Unit 731 During the Pacific War
- The International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone: An Introduction


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In Which My Adventures in Kyoto Taught Me to Appreciate Shadows


July 27, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Alexander Wang H&M Rad Hourani in Kyoto

Kyoto Adventure - Part Two

The rooms at the Waranjiya are about nine feet square, the size of a comfortable little tearoom, and the alcove pillars and ceilings glow with a faint smoky luster, dark even in the light of the lamp.


It was 9PM and I was sitting in a cafe next to the embankment of Kamo River, the beating heart of Kyoto. This place, though slightly Scandinavian with its interior decoration, still paid its dues to traditional Japanese aesthetics. During the day, the floor to ceiling windows were left wide open to let in cool breeze and sunlight, while allowing one to appreciate the sights of gently flowing water. At night, the lighting is yellow and dim, casting shadows amongst trinkets and furniture. One couldn’t help but to feel comfortably drowsy when bathed in such gentle illumination.

It had been a long day that involved plenty of walking. I got acquainted with traditional Kyoto confectionaries (matcha! chestnuts! matcha! red beans! matcha!) in every new block I found myself in; cursed at the huge throngs of tourists blocking my way in every temple and castles; and marvelled at the narrow alleys that reminded me of Beijing’s hutongs, often bathed in darkness that hides secret bars, restaurants and tea houses.


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The old Gion street that leads to new Gion

As a general matter we find it hard to be really at home with things that shine and glitter. The Westerner uses silver and steel and nickel tableware, and polishes it to a fine brilliance, but we object to the practice. While we do sometimes indeed use silver for teakettles, decanters, or sake cups, we prefer not to polish it. On the contrary, we begin to enjoy it only when the luster has worn off, when it has begun to take on a dark, smoky patina. Almost every householder has had to scold an insensitive maid who has polished away the tarnish so patiently waited for.

Of course this “sheen of antiquity” of which we hear so much is in fact the glow of grime. In both Chinese and Japanese the words denoting this glow describe a polish that comes of being touched over and over again, a sheen produced by the oils that naturally permeate an object over long years of handling—which is to say grime. If indeed “elegance is frigid,” it can as well be described as filthy. […] I suppose I shall sound terribly defensive if I say that Westerners attempt to expose every speck of grime and eradicate it, while we Orientals carefully preserve and even idealize it. Yet for better or for worse we do love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them. Living in these old houses among these old objects is in some mysterious way a source of peace and repose.


Alexander Wang H&M Rad Hourani in Kyoto

Wearing: Alexander Wang x H&M jacket, Rad Hourani vest, Nike Air Uptempo sneakers

Kyoto - being the ancient capital of Japan and now its cultural capital - boasts many traditional wooden homes that have stood the test of time. This beautiful city was once considered as the drop site for one of the nuclear bombs because of its urban industrial area and it was home to many universities. The committee of American military generals, army officers and scientists "thought the people there would be able to understand that an atomic bomb was not just another weapon - that it was almost a turning point in human history."⠀

If historical records were to be trusted, Kyoto was single-handedly saved by the Secretary of War Henry Stimson who went directly to President Truman after failing to convince the committee to choose another site. He had visited Kyoto a few times before the war and fallen in love with this city that is now home to more than 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, a sentiment I completely understood and shared with him. Being a person who doesn't really do proper research beforehand, I stepped into the city not knowing what to expect. I went home feeling a little more hopeful about life and humanity - grateful for the existence of Masters who had crafted art and architecture throughout history. ⠀

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A Midsummer's Repose by Kamo River


And so it has come to be that the beauty of a Japanese room depends on a variation of shadows, heavy shadows against light shadows—it has nothing else. Westerners are amazed at the simplicity of Japanese rooms, perceiving in them no more than ashen walls bereft of ornament. Their reaction is understandable, but it betrays a failure to comprehend the mystery of shadows. […] when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway.


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Downtown Kyoto / Uptown Kyoto

The author Junichiro Tanizaki held the virtues of Japanese aesthetics in such high esteem that he devoted several paragraphs to describing the pleasures and meditative qualities of spending time in a traditional Japanese toilet. In the old days, they were housed in wooden structures - located separately from the main building - which allowed one to look out upon blue skies and green leaves. He even went so far as to speculate that great Haiku poets came by their ideas while indulging in the physiological delights of being encompassed in the wooden tranquility.

From electrical lighting to scientific advancements and hospitals, Tanizaki wondered what these inventions would be like had they been spearheaded by the Chinese and Japanese, who have a contrasting temperament and approach to beauty compared to the West. It is almost too easy to dismiss his romanticism for another old person’s rose-tinted view of the past, especially one articulated with undertones of racial stereotypes, but one cannot help feeling that their forebears’ steadfast poetic touch in every facets of life has culminated in a design and lifestyle perspective that is uniquely Japanese, such as the famous smart toilets ubiquitous only in modern Japan. Had China not gone through the Cultural Revolution, she might have been less inclined to pursue the same artificial glitz as the West, and be more willing to incorporate her own intellectual and artistic history in the pursuit of modernity.⠀

While I am not one to harp on and on about the superiority of travel over material goods, I do think it's important to get out of one's comfort zone. President Truman himself couldn't be arsed to consider the cultural significance of Kyoto for the Japanese people because he'd never experienced the city. It was easy for him to dismiss Japan entirely based on the cruel actions that its leaders had mandated. The importance of travel for the sake of travel has never been more evident in this instance. ⠀


Kyoto

The neighbourhood I stayed in

It was 5:45 AM when the sun started to rise. The flight to Kyoto was scheduled to depart at a little after six. I had only slept for two hours the night before but I was far too excited to feel drowsy. The light of dawn broke through the glass walls, illuminating the airport lounge with fiery orange glow. My first trip to Kyoto was marked with a poignant start.

Living in Shanghai has given me the chance to see more of East Asia because it's just 2-3 hours away from major historical and cultural sites of the region - from China to Japan, Taiwan to Hong Kong. The more solo travels I do, the more I grow dependent on fuss-free, highly-utilitarian garments. This is not to say that I have abandoned my high priestess-space warrior clothes, I still bring them with me in my travels. However, the process of getting to and fro requires clothing that allows for maximum mobility while minimising hindrance, especially on trips where I’m lugging 20kg of clothes and food. In the past, loose, billowy clothing have served me well, and they still do. However, as I started to incorporate sportswear into my daily and travel wear, I have learned to appreciate the joy of technical, synthetic garments. They are often airy and breathable for summer, or warm and water-resistant for colder seasons. Fabric weight and characteristics are technicals issues that have to be thoroughly considered at all times. Too light, and it feels cheap. Too substantial, and it becomes a hindrance. The point where technology and fashion collide has become a breeding ground for creative minds. Which is how I found myself collaborating with Daniel to build VELAMEN. Daniel is a product and industrial designer who is no stranger to fashion, having collaborated with the menswear designer Peir Wu and also produces his own garments via snowmantailoredgarments.com. We aim to build a range of technical apparels and products, going so far as to ordering custom-made fabrics that would be suitable for the needs of urban nomads. In short, we are making techwear. However, unlike most techwear brands made for the male audience that women have to co-opt, we aim to create a unisex range of clothes on the get go. It has been an incredible learning experience, in which I discovered the nitty gritty of technical fabrics, specialised constructions and to a certain extent, ergonomics.


Running around Kyoto, fully garbed in synthetics, one cannot help but feel a little disconcerted amongst historical grandiosity and weathered dwellings. The old and the new, the rigid and the fluid. It is a sense of discomfort that forces one to rethink one’s position and outlook in this world.

Alexander Wang H&M Rad Hourani in Kyoto

End of Kyoto Adventure - Part 2

All excerpts from In Praise of Shadows, by Junichiro Tanizaki


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