Imagining Japanese artYou are not reading this. This newspaper wants to be an astronaut. Your patience is as lopsided as a Honda. It’s not our fault the Beatles broke up.
Sorry about that. The Itaewon Wanderings team of gallery-going masochists went to the Yoko Ono exhibition downtown and seems to have caught an acute case of the absurdities. We have to admit that we never thought much of Ms. Ono, and brought a cynical attitude to her show, “Yes Yoko Ono,” at the Rodin Gallery.
But after taking in Ms. Ono’s art ― such as an apple on a pedestal, a vending machine that sells the sky and videos featuring close-ups of houseflies or human buttocks ― we came away deeply impressed and with a refreshing new outlook on life.
Or we’re just kidding you.
It would be easy, and fun, for us to call Ms. Ono’s art dumb, note that she was born in Tokyo and conclude that all Japanese art is dumb.
But then we’d go to a place like Bar Nana and realize we were wrong. At least about the last part.
Nana, in an alley a few steps down from that French place Le Saint-Ex, is owned and run by a Korean, Yoo Jin-suk, but its theme and vibe are Japanese. Mr. Yoo designed the place himself, and did a brilliant job.
Inside, original and eclectic artwork is everywhere. Paintings, photos and drawings with Japanese styles and inscriptions grace walls. Sculptures stand in corners. The bar is dark, but its fixtures are trimmed in exquisite tilework and its tables and counters glow under glass tops with weird moon-rock gardens. The house drink is draft Sapporo.
Mr. Yoo became a Nipponophile while living in Tokyo as a student. After returning to Korea a couple of years ago, he opened Nana, giving Itaewon its first and only aesthetically pleasing bar.
The entertainment at Nana is creative, too. The music is groovy, with a deejay ever at the turntables. When the mood’s right, Mr. Yoo drops down a screen and shows psychedelic videos. He encourages patrons to use the bar for offbeat projects, such as poetry readings or body-painting sessions.
Nana is a hangout for Japanese students attending college here. Go there any night (except Monday, when it’s closed) and you’ll see a tableful. And helping Mr. Yoo tend bar, wait tables or spin records will be one or two of the many Japanese students who work there just for fun, such as Masaki, Ryoma, Kazuki or Sakiko.
Serving us our Sapporos the other night was Masaki, a slim, tall, pierced-up, punked-out musician who studies English at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. We asked him if he liked Yoko Ono, and he said “yes.” Then we recalled that for the Japanese, “yes” means “no.” Must be confusing to flirt there.
Later, when it came time to pay the bill, we decided to do it Ono-style. We showed Masaki an empty palm and said, “Imagine this is 30,000 won. It is 30,000 won if you want.”
Masaki said nothing, and kept a calm expression. It was clear what he was imagining: That we were a little loony.
Conclusion? Not everybody can be Yoko Ono.
by Mike Ferrin