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While my husband and I were in Atami, we visited MOA, the Museum of Atami, perched at the top of a hill. After having a pleasant breakfast (I particularly enjoyed quick-boiled Swiss chard and beets) we walked a narrow, more touristy street to get to the Atami station. The streets were full of tourists because Atami was in the midst of its Plum Festival. We saw very old confectionary stores, many fish stores, gift shops, cafes and restaurants on the crowded streets. However, the most noteworthy by far was a very old-fashioned mini-circus of a young man and a monkey (Japanese macaque, I think). Many people were surrounding these. The monkey was smart and performing tricks he/she was supposed to do as the young monkey handler/ trainer was narrating some stories about the tricks and the monkey itself. Certainly it was fed with something each time it performed a trick, such as jumping over two separated tall landings. Throughout the 15-minute or so show (we arrived there late so I can’t say how long this mini-circus actually lasted) a part of my mind questioned the ethics of such a show; but most people (mostly families with children) seem happy. After the show, the monkey handler passed a basket for donation, and he received a fair amount of donation because most people with children wanted a photo of the monkey with a donation of 500 yen. It seemed the monkey handler and the monkey were very comfortable with each other; but, I know I was probably projecting my wishful thinking.

At the Atami station I visited a kouban (a small police station) to ask the best way to get to MOA. The kouban was empty and I saw a policeman walking near the station. He guided us to the konsheruje (concierges of Atami) and they told us which bus to take from the Atami station. The bus took us to the impressive and massive modern building (reminiscent of the Getty Museum in LA) at the top of the hill via narrow and sharply inclined mountain road. When we got off the bus we were greeted by a spectacular vista of the Atami port and beaches. The view itself was worth travelling to the top of the hill.

At MOA they were offering a special exhibit of Ogata Korin’s major works, such as Irises screen and Red Prunus screen (I was very happy to see these works because when the Met in NY held an exhibit of Rinpa school these major works were missing), as well as the modern manifestations of Rinpa school works. It was an excellent exhibit. I could also see Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s gold tea-room (a reproduction since the original was burnt during a battle at the end of 16th-century). The MOA also boasts a Noh Theater and a community exhibit room.

Both my husband and I wondered how an individual founder of the museum, Mokichi Okada who believed art as a necessary element in spiritual health, could build such an spectacularly grand structure as MOA (one has to ride three very long escalators to get to the admission ticket counter, for instance). Judging from the almost excessively earnest ways of many of the workers at the museum, I suspected that Mokichi Okada was somehow connected to a religious organization and thus I googled him online after coming back to the States. Although the details of his/ his organization’s religious activities are murky except that he also founded farming without fertilizers in Nagano, he was considered as some sort of messiah in his religious organization. (How can believing art necessary for spiritual health be religious?) This fact was another eye-opener for me since I have always been somewhat ignorant of the existence of so many pseudo-religious or religious organizations in Japan. Whenever I encountered these organizations in literature or movies I used to questioned the believability of their existence. The massive structure of MOA made me realize their reality.