Archive of Posts by Kenneth Ikemoto

Phantoms of Asia: New Hell Project

Contemporary artist Takayuki Yamamoto got together with the Asian Art Museum and local art education non-profit Artseed to create the latest chapter of his ongoing artwork called What Kind of Hell Will We Go To.

Da Juan poses with his creation

Under the artist’s direction, and with help from staff and volunteers, children in the after-school program run by Artseed at Leola Havard Early Education School in the Bayview district of San Francisco devised and constructed their own “hells”.  These are places where they imagined miscreants of all types might end up.  The young denouncers were then filmed describing their creations; the transgressions, and the curious, often torturous, and sometimes hilarious, situations that awaited the guilty within.

Organizing and scheduling all the different players and components took super-human effort by the artist, staff, volunteers, and parents.  One initial challenge was in finding the perfect group of kids to partner with. After a lot of searching Artseed’s after-school program was recommended and we knew it’d be a great fit.

The week of the project itself was an eye-opening and invigorating spin-cycle of activity.  Takayuki’s calm confidence and child-like sense of playfulness and curiosity brought a sense of shared purpose and joy to the children and adults alike.  The results are funny and cute, bitter and grim, and altogether quite thought-provoking.  We’re all looking forward to seeing Takayuki Yamamoto’s (and the kids’) What Kind of Hell Will We Go To on display as part of the Phantoms of Asia exhibition beginning May 18. Yamamoto will also be participating in our teacher program Shh! We’re not Supposed to Talk About Religion and a panel discussion with other contemporary artists on May 12.  Hope to see you in new hell!

Seven Swords

Death, protection, wisdom, prestige, peace, war, and beauty; throughout the world the blade has taken many shapes and has had many uses and meanings.  From the elegant beauty of a samurai’s sword to the unique serpentine kris blades of Southeast Asia, come take a closer look at these seven blades from the Asian Art Museum’s collection representing different cultures, ideals, and uses.

Punch DaggerDEATH – Punch Dagger – Gallery 5

This wicked fang, called a kattari, comes from South Asia. The parallel bars of the unique H-shaped grip could be used to block attacks while the perpendicular handle gives leverage for punching attacks. This weapon was known as “the tooth of Yama”. Yama is the god of death. It was used to make quick stabbing attacks that packed an armor-piercing punch. This weapon was even said to be capable of piercing the skull of an elephant! A chilling name and a reputation for pachydermatic carnage is indeed a striking feature of this weapon.

Consider the names given our modern weapons, such as the Hellfire missile or the Reaper unmanned aircraft.  How might a weapon’s name and reputation come about and what could be some of its effects?

PROTECTION – Dagger – Gallery 10krisblade

This bladed weapon from Southeast Asia is called a kris. The wavy serpentine shaped blade is a distinctive characteristic. The handle which is often shaped like a pistol-grip shows that the kris was designed for stabbing attacks. Kris were often carried for self-defense while traveling. They were seen as possessing an essence or presence, some being good luck and some bringing misfortune. Some blades are said to have the power to turn away flames, control floods, or even to fly to their master’s defense!

Compare the different kris blades in this gallery case. What kinds of animals and figures adorn the weapons? What kinds of protective powers do you imagine these various blades might be thought to possess?

WISDOM – Ritual Dagger – Gallery 12

The blade can also have a religious and symbolic use.  This instrument for subjugating demons is called a phurba. A closer look at this dagger will reveal that the blade itself issues from the jaws of a fearsome reptile and that there are three heads encircling the handle. This triple-bladed ritual dagger symbolically cuts away the bonds of desire, ignorance, and hatred.

How might a blade help people to overcome desire, ignorance, and hatred?  What are ways people might use weapons during rituals?


PRESTIGE – Sword for Red Scarf Officer – Gallery 12

Bestowed only to those who are knighted by the king of Bhutan, the wearer of the raven crown, this sword with its fine silver filigree and animal-shaped buckles is a serious symbol of rank and prestige. Swords have long had this purpose.  Recall that officers of the U.S. Marine Corps also wear sabers as prestigious symbols of rank.

What are some qualities that make an object prestigious?  Why?


PEACE – Dagger and Scabbard – Gallery 12

Covered in Buddhist symbols and intricately detailed designs this dagger from the Himalayan nation of Bhutan is a work of beauty. Yet many Buddhist art objects in this gallery remind us that Buddhism in the Himalayas so often espouses compassion as a supreme virtue.

What might be the relationship between weapons and compassion?  Is there such a thing as a weapon of compassion and peace?


WARFARE - Bronze Sword – Gallery 14

Superior weapon technology is as important as military skill during warfare. During their time these bronze weapons represented cutting-edge technology. The straight sturdy blade and simple unadorned shape tell us that this is a no-nonsense weapon that gets straight to the point! Also check out the dagger-ax (ge) in the same case. This versatile weapon could hook, stab, and slash opponents on foot or horseback.

Think about the relationship between warfare and technology.  How do imagine they affect each other?


BEAUTY – Long sword – Gallery 27

The exquisite lines of the beautiful gleaming blade of this sword is sheathed in a flawless black lacquered scabbard. The long sword, called a katana, is said to be the soul of the samurai. The short sword is called a wakizashi.  Together as a pair they are called daisho, or the “long and short”. The sword is idealized as the perfect expression of an important part of the samurai code: the sublime integration of beauty and power. Today, as in the past, these swords are seen as art objects of great beauty.

Do you think modern weapons of our own time hold an artful beauty?  How so?  For example, would you consider the graceful soaring jets of the U.S. Navy flight exhibition team, the Blue Angels, art, weapons, or something else?


Tag: Ken Ikemoto

Tag: Round Two. In this series museum staff, artists, and guests answer a grip of questions about life, love, liberty and all that magic. The featured person then tags another with five more questions. It’s like transmitting a virus, but happy and fun. Next up is, me, Ken Ikemoto, School Programs Associate, tagged by Nicole Harvey.


Ken Ikemoto

Where do you most want to be right now?

At this moment there are many places that I would love to be. But one place that comes to mind would be soaking in a steamy outdoor bath somewhere in northern Japan. My mind would be soft clouds slow gliding across tall azure skies and the sound of trickling water, distant songbirds, and the wind in the leaves. Yes, that is where I want to be right now. Oh, and about half an hour later I will want to be eating a sumptuous feast of delectable foods.

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150 Years of Immigration Issues

Every clear morning I tuck in my right pant leg and pedal my way over to the museum. After setting my silver wheels up on the bike rack in the loading dock, I take the stairs up to the Education offices on the second floor. The dimly lit entry to the Education office space is located behind the tea room in the second floor Japan galleries. Because I pass through these galleries everyday, I always look forward to new rotations of Japanese art.

friendship dollThe latest additions to the Japan galleries include a pair of near-life-sized Japanese dolls in kimono complete with miniature accessories in a striking installation. Their innocent smiling white faces reflect in the gallery cases behind my own reflection. I know my sister would absolutely shudder at that description because she is one of those people that are just irrationally creeped out by dolls but I find them to be quite cherub-like. They are a part of the thematic exhibition Japan’s Early Ambassadors to San Francisco 1860-1927, currently on display.

This exhibition begins with the arrival of the ship Kanrin Maru and the first Japanese embassy in San Francisco, this year being the 150th anniversary of their arrival. It examines the experiences of some of the first Japanese diplomats and cultural emissaries to the United States. The exhibition also includes artwork and objects relating to Japanese artists active in San Francisco in the late 19th and early 20th century.

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Field Trip to the Asian Art Museum

“Hey so you know Mr. C, the history teacher? He is actually pretty cool for a teacher I guess. He set up this field trip to go to the Asian Art Museum next month.”

“Yeah? That place is hecka cool man. I went there a couple times in elementary school and we did some Chinese painting class and another time had a samurai thing.”

“Neat! You know my cousin, she’s really into art, she is doing a program there where they’re talking to a high school in China.

“That’s cool. Yo, I heard that this one time, they even had some kung-fu guys breaking bricks and stuff!”

“No way! That’s awesome. This will actually be kinda fun. Go Mr. C!”

School Programs for Everyone

School Tours main image

School Programs are a large and crucial part of the museum’s Education department’s work that may be less visible to the general visitor than other types of programming. School Programs staff have varied backgrounds, often as classroom teachers and artists, in museum studies, education, fine arts, art history, and Asian studies. We work closely with volunteer docents and storytellers, Education department colleagues, other museum departments, and teachers, administrators, artists, and arts providers in the community.

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600 years of tradition at HustleMania

Kyogen is a form of traditional Japanese theater and performance art. Kyogen can be literally translated as “mad words” or “wild speech”. This art form grew out of folk and Imperial court song and dance. Later the art form gradually divided into two branches. The more serious forms and elements further evolved into the masked no drama, the more comic forms and elements evolving into kyogen. Eventually lineages or schools of kyogen came into prominence and codified many of the traditions. I could go on and on about the history of kyogen and the intricacies of the art form, but that type of discourse is best left to my far more eloquent and expert colleagues.
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Poetry is best when shared.

Part of the Lords of the Samurai special exhibition is a programming space called the Daimyo for a Day Art and Activity Room. One element of this space is a poetry corner, where we’ve invited visitors to try their hand at Japanese collaborative poetry called renga.

poetry panel

Renga is a form of traditional Japanese poetry where multiple poets take turns composing alternating sections of the poem. Popular with samurai, participants also came from all walks of life: farmers and priests, rivals and friends. Renga is made up of repeating verses of two stanzas.The first stanza is made of three lines in a 5-7-5 syllable structure, a pattern that was the basis for modern haiku poetry.The second stanza is made of two lines in a 7-7 syllable structure.
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Harajuku Street Fashion, Top Gun, and Samurai Women

One of the most memorable festivals I attended during my time living in Tokyo was the Spring Grand Festival at Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu). Meiji Shrine is located in the western parts of Tokyo in Shibuya ward. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji was the symbolic leader of the restored Imperial government of Japan during a period of rapid modernization at the end of the 19th century.

Harajuku station and Takeshita street are located right in front of the main entry to the shrine grounds. Harajuku on a Sunday is the best place to see Japanese youth rockin’ their indescribable street fashion. My favorite was definitely the gothic-lolita kids hanging out on the bridge in front of the main gate to the shrine grounds. Imagine a cross between an emo Count Dracula and Alice in Wonderland. Yet once into the shrine grounds I always felt sense of sacred purity (especially after the craziness of Harajuku!)
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Samurai and Samba!

I inherited a lot of stubbornness from my grandmother. When I was a kid, I’d do the exact opposite of what she told me to do, just to assert my individuality. In Japanese there is a proverb, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” Well, I was that nail and my grandmother was the hammer. But no matter how many times she tried to hammer, I’d keep popping my head out again. I look back on it fondly now. I mean, a cold-as-ice staredown across a shopping cart between a 10 year old boy and a 70 year old woman in the cereal aisle of a supermarket is funny no matter how you look at it.
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