Geisai: Tokyo University of the Arts’ incredible student festival

Written by: William on September 15, 2014 at 9:56 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Being the season of the rice harvest, at this time of year there are lots of traditional festivals around Japan. Just this weekend (a long three-day holiday weekend) we saw several portable shrines (omikoshi) around Meguro and even in the heart of Shibuya.

But every year in early September there’s another kind of festival hosted by students from Tokyo University of the Arts, one that is part art carnival though with plenty of nods to the same modus operandi of a traditional Japanese matsuri.

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

It’s called Geisai (“Gei” means “arts” and comes from Geidai, the nickname for the college, while “sai” means festival) and the three-day festival always features elaborate (and huge) floats that show off the students’ creative talents. There are also performances and music during the festival, with the events happening at the main campus but also spilling out into the streets of nearby Ueno.

The students compete to see which team has the best float as they parade them around, wearing colorful clothes that sort of resemble the usual garb that shrine-bearers at festivals usually wear, with some extra flourishes.

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

This tiger float was the winning entry in the festival. The mouth is amazingly well made.

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

geisai tokyo university of the arts student festival floats

God knows what they do with the giant floats after the festival is over, though.

Also check out Tokyo Art Beat’s photo report on a Geisai event a few years ago.

[Images via NetGeek.biz]

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Infinity of Flowers: teamLab and Gucci create interactive digital floral installation

Written by: William on September 10, 2014 at 1:56 pm | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

teamLab has got together with Gucci to create “Infinity of Flowers”, an interactive digital installation at the Gucci Shinjuku store from September 13th.

Visitors will be able to “touch” the flowers on the screen and see them bloom, scatter, grow and wither. The installation using a computer program to “paint” the flowers in realtime on the screen. The imagery on the display is created spontaneously by the system. We look forward to the video that will surely be made.

teamlab gucci infinity of flowers digital installation shinjuku japan tokyo

There will also be a teamLab work in display in the 8-meter window that faces Shinjuku-dori.

teamLab is an award-winning group of “ultra-technologists” working with digital experiential media. Its previous projects include a remarkable high school musical, an amazing digital mural of Tokyo at the Skytree, smart clothes hangers in a department store in Shibuya, and many more. This Shadow Dance and Shadowgraph video from early 2011 was a hit, not least because it seemed to adhere to everything we love about Japan — samurai swords and technology!

teamLab already has a florally-themed installation, “Time-blossoming Flowers”, at the new KITTE department store in Marunouchi.

team lab flower installation kitte tokyo marunouchi

They have a new permanent installation, “Vortex of Water Particles”, at Narita Airport’s Terminal 1 North Wing (joining their other installation at the South Wing that started last year).

“Infinity of Flowers” will run from September 13th to September 28th at the third-floor event space at Gucci Shinjuku. Entry is free.

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“Toy Tokyo” explores Japan’s capital city in blurry, lo-fi photography

Written by: William on September 8, 2014 at 10:23 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

“Toy Tokyo” is a new photography book by Manami Okazaki, a collection of 26 interviews and images.

New from Kingyo Books, “Toy Tokyo” features “the work of several photographers who are either from, or are shooting in Japan. While generic, commercial, travel photography based on stock has become the norm, ‘Toy Tokyo’ captures the exhilaration of travel photography and life on the road, in one of the world’s most intense locations.”

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book

Photographers included in the book are: Frederic LeBain, Takeshi Suga, Cory Lum, Taiju Fubuki, Yusuke Abico, Genqui Numata, Hodachrome, Jorge Sato, Michael Feather, Katherine Oktober Matthews, Leo Berne, Kevin Meredith, Tommy Oshima, GHST WORLD, Kevin Meredith, Rei Sato, Paolo Patrizi, Sean Lotman, Jorge Sato, Remo Camerota, Michael Lyons, Martin Cheung, and Naga.Design by Cakefortiger.

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book jorge sato

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book taiju fubuki

You can read comments from some of the contributing lo-fi photographers over on GUP Magazine.

For example, here is what Michael Feather (responsible for the image below) says: “The reason I went with the pinhole is partly because commercial work is mostly digital, so to get away from that aspect, and with digital now, and iPhone and smart phones, we can shoot anything any time and stick a filter on it. You are playing around. You don’t start out with an actual vision, you just snap away. Whereas, when you start using something like a pinhole, with film, you start to think about what you are doing. You have made a conscious decision at the start.”

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book michael feather

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book sean lotman

“Toy Tokyo” is promised as the first in a series of location-specific toy camera photography books. It is available for $30 from Kingyo Books.

Australia-born Okazaki is the author of other coffee table books like “Kimono Now”, “Wabori” (on traditional Japanese tattoos) and “Kicks Japan” (about street culture and sneakers).

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Biwako Biennale 2014 Utakata, a site-specific art festival beside Japan’s largest lake

Written by: William on September 1, 2014 at 9:57 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Biwako Biennale 2014 kicks off on September 13th, running until November 9th in a small city along the edge of Japan’s largest lake in Shiga Prefecture.

biwako biennale 2014 utakata

biwako biennale 2014 noda sachie

This sixth edition of the festival features more than 70 artists or artist groups exhibiting site-specific work in 12 old houses in Omihachiman.

The theme this year is “Utakata”, which means foam or bubble. This ethereal beauty is the key motif in the line-up, with contributions from the likes of photographer Rinko Kawauchi, “flower arrangement car” artist Yuji Ueno, sculptor Masato Tanaka (pictured below), and more.

biwako biennale 2014 masato tanaka

Here are grotesque Kokeshi-esque sculptures by Miki Sachiko.

biwako biennale 2014 miki sachiko

The first Biwako Biennale was held in 2001. Passes for the 2014 festival cost ¥2,000 for adults.

biwako biennale 2014 makoto ofune

biwako biennale 2014 mika aoki

A preview event was recently held at a Konno Hachiman-gu shrine in Shibuya, including a special dance performance by Tarinainanika (Kentaro Suyama & Tania Coke).

biwako biennale 2014 tarinainanika

Omihachiman is a roughly 30-minute train ride from Kyoto. The two-month will also include a symposium, workshops and live events.

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Gay Japanese photographer Ryudai Takano’s “obscene” artworks censored by police

Written by: William on August 14, 2014 at 11:27 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Local police in Nagoya have demanded that the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art remove 12 artworks by Ryudai Takano that depicted male genitalia.

As first reported by Art Info, the action came after members of the public claimed some of Takano’s artworks were “obscene”.

Takano, who is openly gay, is taking part in the group show, “Photography Will Be”, which includes 150 photography and film exhibits by nine major Japanese photographers.

ryudai takano gay japanese photographer censor police artworks nagoya exhibition cover up

The museum has not complied with the police but instead proposed to cover up the “offensive” exhibits with a kind of veil.

Takano, no doubt aware that you should only pick the fights you can win, agreed to the museum’s idea. “These photos express the subtle, delicate sense of distance when one person touches another. There is no violence here. Instead of concealing this intervention made by the public authorities, I wanted to make it visible.”

In Japan, the depiction of genitalia is ostensibly taboo, as dictated by the conventional interpretation of a law introduced when Japan was westernizing and attempting to imitate the “morality” of Europe and America. This is why pornography is pixellated and why typically even mainstream films have scenes with full-frontal nudity similarly obscured. The latter has eased recently for scenes that are obviously comedic in tone.

ryudai takano gay japanese photographer censor police artworks nagoya exhibition cover up

Freedom of expression in art is not protected in Japan, despite the immense flourishing of creativity in all fields and concomitant strength of cultural industries like cinema and publishing.

However, there are double standards. When there was a vogue for “hair nude” photo books — i.e. full-frontal, non-censored photography — a few years ago, there were no issues preventing the major release of books featuring the likes of Rie Miyazawa and other famous actresses au naturel. Photographers like Kishin Shinoyama who have stuck to depicting women, especially celebrities, fully nude have usually be able to escape the censor.

But if you are a female artist or gay male, it’s a different matter. The arrest of Megumi Igarashi (Rokudenshi-ko) in July sparked worldwide attention, not least because her “crime” was to turn her genitalia into digital data that could be distributed. Igarashi was practically unknown at the time but has since rocketed to fame. However, even being established in your field does not guarantee protection. Gay Singaporean photographer Leslie Kee, well used to shooting stars for major contracts, found himself in trouble with the police for showing male genitalia in a Tokyo gallery. He was arrested, along with his gallerist and publisher.

And yet Japan has one of the largest porn and adult industries in the world, stores like Condomania prominently and proudly stand on Omotesando, and sex toy brands like Tenga are now known across the globe. Isn’t this missing the woods for the trees?

Censorship and police crackdowns are nothing new. Back in the 1960′s and 1970′s artists would find themselves in the dock for depicting sex or nudity. The most notorious cases are the obscenity trials for the films “Black Snow” by Tetsuji Takechi and “In the Realm of the Senses” by Nagisa Oshima.

But as the late Oshima defiantly said in court: “Nothing that is expressed is obscene. What is obscene is what is hidden.”

“Photography Will Be” runs, in its censored form, until September 28th.

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Japanese vagina artist Megumi Igarashi (Rokudenshi-ko) launches “deko-man” artwork sale to pay legal bills

Written by: William on July 30, 2014 at 10:50 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

It garnered headlines worldwide and made a fringe figure the talk of the town. The arrest of Megumi Igarashi (Rokudenshi-ko) on July 12th ostensibly for “distributing obscene materials” after she made data for a 3D printing of her genitalia available to supporters of her crowdfunding campaign ignited a scandal.

She was arrested by ten (yes, ten!) officers, sparking a serious debate over whether she was being punished for being a woman who dared make a thing (literally) out of her you-know-what. There is also the question of whether art was being censored by the state, not to mention how in a nation with a mammoth sex industry, a correspondingly vibrant adult toys market, and the per-capita largest porn business in the world, why were the police so bothered about one woman making a kayak out of her genitalia? And any cursory glance at Japanese mythology or historical art genres like shunga prints would convince you that sexual liberty and nudity should form a healthy part of society.

japanese vagina artist megumi igarashi rokudenshi-ko arrest artworks deko-man kayak boat

But this is contemporary Japan, which has a long history of double standards in this area. Although there have been countless full-frontal photography books featuring female celebrities over the past decades — strictly speaking, showing genitals or genital hair is interpreted as “obscene” — and released into the mainstream to great success, last year Leslie Kee was arrested for exhibiting images of naked men in Tokyo. Freedom of expression is not protected for artists and, for example, a couple of years ago a major performing arts event in Tokyo (name retracted on recommendation!), upon being told by the city that they could not allow a public festival to program sexually explicit work, had to ask a director to re-configure a play featuring nudity so that the vital “bits” were hidden from view.

In the end, police decided not to indict Igarashi for now but she still has potential charges (carrying up to two years in prison and a fine) hanging over her. The prosecutors have inadvertently turned Igarashi into a martyr for both feminist and artist causes, though, and would be foolish to continue with their persecution.

japanese vagina artist megumi igarashi rokudenshi-ko arrest artworks deko-man kayak boat

Igarashi was released after six days. But getting arrested is an expensive business. Even if charges are not brought or — very rare in Japan! — you are acquitted, you still have to foot your lawyer’s bill.

japanese vagina artist megumi igarashi rokudenshi-ko arrest artworks deko-man kayak boat

Always one to utilize her grassroots support, Igarashi has turned to her fans now to help cover the costs. Her gallery has launched a sale of her vagina-inspired “deko-man” (decorated vagina) artworks and she promises in a tweet to use the proceeds to pay her legal team.

japanese vagina artist megumi igarashi rokudenshi-ko arrest artworks deko-man kayak boat

Rokudenshi-ko’s mission to reclaim what is hidden, what society deems “obscene”, into something playful and ordinary is here manifest in cute vinyl figurines of female genitalia. You can get pink or gold versions of “Manko-chan”, or even a glow-in-the-dark one! They cost between ¥2,100 ($21) and ¥2,800 ($28), though some of them won’t be available until late August.

japanese vagina artist megumi igarashi rokudenshi-ko arrest artworks deko-man kayak boat

See the Shinjuku Ganka Gallery online shop for more. If they put up an English website with PayPal options, we reckon this would be very popular overseas too!

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Exbiotanica: Makoto Azuma launches bonsai Japanese plant sculptures into space

Written by: William on July 22, 2014 at 12:11 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

Intergalactic bonsai!

Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more innovations on past traditions, along comes something that makes your jaw drop.

Makoto Azuma, known for his eye-catching botanical art work such as the greenery sculptures that decorated Shinjuku’s Isetan Department Store when it reopened in 2013, has taken things to the next level, stratospherically speaking.

makoto azuma exbiotanica bonsai flower botanical art space launch flight

makoto azuma exbiotanica bonsai flower botanical art space launch flight

While he has previous suspended bonsai in the air, this time round he actually launched a new piece called Exbiotanica into space. The two botanical objects were sent where no plant had gone before from a special site in Black Rock Desert outside Gerlach, Nevada, on July 15th.

According to Spoon Tamago, Azuma and his ten-man crew, along with help from JP Aerospace (despite the name, actually US-based) and Fujifilm (thanks for the great images!), launched a version of his Japanese white pine work “Shiki” and an untitled flower bouquet into space using a helium balloon.

makoto azuma exbiotanica bonsai flower botanical art space launch flight

makoto azuma exbiotanica bonsai flower botanical art space launch flight

makoto azuma exbiotanica bonsai flower botanical art space launch flight

T Magazine describe the launch:

The expedition started in the dead of night, at 2 a.m. One hour later, Makoto was already building a bouquet with about 30 varieties of flowers. He started with an aerial plant tied to a six-rod axis and studiously added peace lilies, poppy seed pods, dahlias, hydrangeas, orchids, bromeliads and a meaty burgundy heliconia. “I am using brightly colored flowers from around the world so that they contrast against the darkness of space,” he said.

The scent of the flowers was stronger and more concentrated in the dry desert breeze than in their humid, natural environments, and the launch site was redolent with their perfume. Makoto worked quietly, until the metal rods were covered completely with plants. Then he directed his attention to his bonsai. For this particular project, Makoto chose a 50-year-old pine from his collection of more than 100 specimens, and flew it over from Tokyo in a special box. While readying it for space, he kept it moist and removed a few brown needles with a tweezer.

makoto azuma exbiotanica bonsai flower botanical art space launch flight

makoto azuma exbiotanica bonsai flower botanical art space launch flight

makoto azuma exbiotanica bonsai flower botanical art space launch flight

makoto azuma exbiotanica bonsai flower botanical art space launch flight

makoto azuma exbiotanica bonsai flower botanical art space launch flight

The two helium balloons went up in the early morning, both covering the same flight path. The helium balloons then burst at around 90,000 feet and parachutes softened the impact after the two vessels fell back to earth. Sadly the dangling bonsai and the flower bouquet both disintegrated during the fall. The vessels returned safely but alas, not the foliage.

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Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art Aquarium: Tokyo’s summer spectacle of goldfish and Edo colors returns

Written by: William on July 17, 2014 at 8:55 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | 2 Comments

After first appearing in 2011 and proving a massive success in both 2012 and in 2013, the spectacular Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art Aquarium 2014 is back. Exploiting Japan’s love of the decorative and the vibrant colors of kingyo goldfish to the max, the Art Aquarium event is popular with couples on dates and families looking for eye candy for the kids.

It opened for the fourth time at the Nihonbashi venue on July 11th. Last year’s edition achieved more than 300,000 visitors and this year the organizers surely hope to match this, pulling out all the stops with 5,000 goldfish and even new aquaria that use mirrors and lens called Paradoxrium and Reflectrium.

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

Technically speaking, there are two events: Art Aquarium is open from 11:00 to 19:00 while the Night Aquarium is from 19:00 to 23:30. As we said, the two main targets here are surely families and couples, so from 19:00 the lighting and music change, and visitors are allowed to take around drinks with them. There will also be live music from 19:00 on weekends. In other words, expect things to feel more romantic from the evening.

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

Themed around Edo and the goldfish motifs that populate art from the period, the aquarium is very much steeped in the tones of Japonism. It’s only a small coincidence that the venue is in Nihonbashi, an area that was instrumental in the Meiji and Taisho eras as Tokyo modernized.

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

There are many different kinds of aquaria featured in the exhibition, from balls to folding screen shapes, and complete with outlandish names like Elegance Dance, Bonborium, and Byouburium. You can see a slideshow and bilingual descriptions on the Art Aquarium website.

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

eco edo nihonbashi art aquarium tokyo goldfish event summer

Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art Aquarium 2014 runs until September 23rd at the Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall.

[Images source]

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Noriko Takasugi’s “Fukushima Samurai” photography series documents quiet dignity of Japan’s disaster survivors

Written by: Japan Trends on July 11, 2014 at 8:41 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Photographer Noriko Takasugi has devoted herself to going in search of modern-day “samurai” in the devastated region of Fukushima in northeast Japan.

Her “Fukushima Samurai” series, though, is far from being just a cosplay gimmick. It’s a story of identity. As the artist says: “Since 2011, I have devoted my time to capturing the survivors of 3.11. While I am listening to their story, I could not ignore the unique spirit emerging in these people. These photos are part of my long-term project that differs from the major news stories about the disaster, having been investigating the evacuees not as victims, but as part of a 1,000-year-old folk culture of the area and representative of Japanese identity, examining how they are surviving and fighting their fate to retain their sense of self.”

fukushima samurai noriko takasugi photography soma nomaoi festival

With a background in clinical psychology at Waseda University and training under Daido Moriyama, Takasugi is one of eight photographers engaged since 2011 in the “Fukushima Photo Project”. Her own contribution looks at identity and the relationship between man and the environment.

Her project focuses on participants in Soma-Nomaoi, an annual celebration in Fukushima that is 1,000 years old. The high point of the famous three-day festival in the district sees horsemen dressed in traditional samurai gear race against each other.

The resulting work, “Fukushima Samurai”, is available as a photo book and is an exploration of Japan as a “hidden world” of ordinary human warmth and triumph in the wake of the 3.11 disaster. As Takasugi notes, Soma-Nomaoi “is not just an event but also an embodiment of their identity and fight for survival. Here, the samurai way of life, Bushido, corresponds to the concept of chivalry. This sense of identity represents how and why, they live.”

fukushima samurai noriko takasugi photography soma nomaoi festival

The series of portraits of these unbroken men, still intent on participating in Soma-Nomaoi in spite of the hardships they have faced (death, radiation, the destruction of their homes and businesses), is a quiet reflection on masculinity and the dignity and tenacity required to overcome adversity. It might not be the Hollywood version of the samurai spirit but it’s there all right.

Her work has attracted the attention of press such as The Independent newspaper and has been exhibited widely, including in the UK.

fukushima samurai noriko takasugi photography soma nomaoi festival

As Takasugi says:

The Nomaoi Samurai warriors portrayed here were once residents in the area close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant but they are no longer allowed to live there. Each of them stands in the places that had a personal meaning to them in the area.

Nomaoi Samurai who stand here were the residents of the area near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. They are unable to live there anymore but are able to enter the territory during a day. The Nomaoi men took me to the restricted area, to the places personally meaningful to them, reviving memories of home.

Armored from head to toe with inherited familial flags hanging from their backs, five hundred samurai storm forward recreating a battle scene. Soma-Nomaoi is an annual celebration of samurai culture in Fukushima more than one thousand years old.

The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 caused widespread destruction including the explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. About two thousand people died in Fukushima, eighty per cent of whom were from the area where the Soma-Nomaoi is held. Due to the radiation, the people were forced to relocate the day after the disaster, with many indefinitely losing their houses, land and jobs.

Despite the harsh conditions, loss of lives and loss of hundreds of their horses and much of their armory, the majority of the surviving Nomaoi men agreed to hold the gathering in 2011, just a few months after the disaster.

Having spent a month with the local people between summer and autumn 2012, I believe Soma-Nomaoi is not just an event but an embodiment of their identity and fight for survival. This unique sense of identity represents not only how, but why, they live.

“It has been tough working there since the disaster,” said one of the portrait subjects, “but I could survive because of Soma-Nomaoi.”

fukushima samurai noriko takasugi photography soma nomaoi festival

If you’re in Tokyo, be sure to check out Takasugi’s series of “Fukushima Samurai” at the Konica Minolta Plaza until July 14th.

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