We have just returned from our first trip to Japan and it was such a wonderful experience, for me as an artist and as a person interested in exploring other cultures. The Japanese philosophy of life permeates not only its arts, literature architecture, fashion, gardens and city planning, but also manifests itself very distinctly in the attitude of its people and their customs and traditions: Detailed, thoughtful, respectful, mindful, fundamental, efficient, simple are words that come to mind. 

We travelled with our close friends Ernst & Angelika and visited Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima, and these three cities all had their very distinct personalities. We started our trip in Tokyo, and it was great to see this ultra modern and efficient city while it is preparing for hosting the Olympics and Paralympics in 2020 – you can feel the excitement in the air already!

The Olympics and Paralympics 2020 mascots are ready to welcome athletes and visitors

Kyoto with its traditional houses and its legendary geisha and maiko culture was very colourful and we enjoyed its small heritage restaurants and the beautiful colors of kimonos worn by its residents. Hiroshima, Japan’s largest island, is a real gem with its gorgeous gardens and it impressive fortress. 

With our friends Ernst and Angelika

I was particularly fascinated by the simplicity and stillness of traditional Japanese art, which brings the everyday chaos on hold and radiates transcendental peacefulness. It is stripped of everything that is non-core, which makes it very simple yet very impactful. It is like meditation in ink or paint on canvas or paper. Now I am full of new ideas for my own new painting projects, and have started exploring them in watercolor today – it will be interesting to see how my impressions of Japan will translate in my painting.

Enjoying traditional tea ceremony ritual in heritage kimonos with my husband Paul

We also managed to get tickets for a Vermeer exhibition in Tokyo, and it was so great to see so many paintings of this gifted Dutch painter gathered in one place. The exhibition was very crowded and it was very difficult to obtain tickets, and considering that there are only 35 known paintings by Vermeer that art historians recognize as his today, it was a real privilege to be able to visit the exhibition. Ironically, his paintings share many qualities with traditional Japanese ink brush paintings – the introverted sense of stillness, peace and timeless beauty.

Vermeer conquers Japan in Tokyo

On returning to New York, we went to see the Epic Abstraction exhibition at the Met Museum, which features work produced by amazing artists like Pollock, Rothko and Nevelson between 1940s and now, and also includes many iconic international artists, including Japanese artists: A large-scale calligraphy piece by Inoue Yūichi (“Kanzan”), a work by Kazua Shiraga (“Untitled”), and a wonderful painting by Yayoi Kusama (“No. B. 62”). I was particularly pleased to discover Kusama’s work at the exhibition, having encountered and appreciated her art just a few days earlier in Japan. The exhibition shows a well-thought-out selection and arrangement of artworks that highlights the international nature of abstract art that transcends historical, geographical, and cultural boundaries, and encourages reflection and collaboration. 

The Yayoi Kusama exhibition was such a great success

Vermeer in Japan, Kusama in New York, maybe an exhibition of American art in the Netherlands? What a wonderful world and time we live in – it makes my heart smile.