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    Still life with petroleum and area rug

    Machiruda, who does a better job of paying close attention to the China-Japan competition for natural resources than I do, links to a Financial Times series on China’s energy ambitions. Good reading, even if the formatting is clunky to negotiate. An article that’s not specifically related to fossil fuel procurement is on page 7: “Chinese learn to talk contracts, not contacts.” As you probably figured from that headline, it’s about how Chinese businessmen are adapting to the Western model of contractual obligation rather than cronyism.

    On a different note, Machiruda also went to Nikko earlier this month and posts a photograph of one of the shrine entrances. It’s very elaborate, and reminds me of something I’ve always thought was a shame. When you mention “Japanese architecture” or “Japanese furnishings,” Westerners tend to picture, you know, like, Ikea with rice paper. Of course, that’s not inaccurate, especially nowadays, with the mass-produced buildings and furniture that are artifacts of Japan’s economic efflorescence after the war. Unstained wood, rice paper, and bamboo; low-lying pieces of furniture that seem to hover horizontally over the floor; austere lack of detailing–those are all elements that are genuinely traditional.

    But Japan has its rococo strain, too–a bequest of the Momoyama Era. People are often surprised at that, because it’s not the “Japanese aesthetic” that influences Western designers. You also don’t see much complicated design or bright color in contemporary Japanese houses, with the exception of red lacquer. Rooms are small here, and colorful patterns can get claustrophobic. The tendency to shove brightly-colored cartoon animals, giant lit-up signs, and ornately fugly tile patterns (the station in my beloved Shibuya has at its south exit one of the worst offenders I’ve ever seen, but it has plenty of competition) in our faces outdoors seems to be the modern outlet for the Japanese instinct for lavishness. The combination of that garish overlighting and obnoxious vanity-project architecture outdoors means that it can make the nondescript blandness of the average Tokyo interior something of a relief.

    But only something of. We need a new rug in the living room, and I told Atsushi that I was thinking of something in maybe navy blue or wine red. I figured this would go over well: he’s very conservative about his colors. (I also figured the red might be useful for when our dinner guests have had a few.) But his reply was, “Hmm. Won’t that make the room too dark?” At this point, I laughed. It wasn’t nice, but I couldn’t help it. I was like, “Dearest, we have beige vinyl walls, beige curtains, blond wood flooring, and white woodwork. Put a mesh bag of dodge balls in the corner and this could be a nursery school gymnasium. There is no way we could make this place too dark unless we unscrewed all the light bulbs.”

    Wow. Was I making a point somewhere? China’s mad for fossil fuels, it’s a shame Japanese rococo isn’t better known, and I’m going to have to wear Atsushi down to get a rug that isn’t beige into the house. Yeah. Hope everyone’s having a good weekend.

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