Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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Motto Japan Fine Art Ceramics & Tableware

I haven’t posted on this blog for a LONG time, but today, I just wanted to mention a company I recently did some work with that I’m really excited about. I’ve been interested in Japanese crafts men and women ever since I arrived – be it sword-makers, fan-makers, metal workers or potters. This time it’s about the latter. There will be a new website launching at the beginning of October 2013 called Motto Japan which is to begin by offering never before available fine art ceramics and more everyday use tableware made by the skilled craftsmen and women of Japan. Later it may be expanded to include a wider range, but for now it’s to be focused on ornamental and practical pots, vases, plates, cups, teapots and a variety of other formats of glazed and unglazed clay, porcelain and the like for you table and/or collection. Anyone who’s been to Japan and browsed tableware items in the shops or eaten off of it in any of the amazing restaurants or ryokans over here will know what I’m talking about when I say it’s really wonderful stuff. The online store is currently warming up in preparation for the forthcoming launch by offering visitors the chance of winning one of three teapot and cups sets. It’s free to enter and even if you don’t win you can get free delivery for the first month, so do get over there and see what it’s all about and see if you can win yourself some of the cool ovenware on offer.


Mag Containers

I really want to get some of these, but they’re really pretty hard to find in shops, even here in Tokyo. I first saw them on TV here in Japan when there was a program about the designers and creators of these innovative little wooden boxes. The concept is really simple but really original. The sides of these boxes and their lids have correspondingly positioned magnets embedded in the wood. This allows you to stick them together in various configurations and create shapes and patterns, even images, whilst also functioning as small tidy-aways for your desk or home office.

In the TV show I saw how they’re first designed on computer in the designer Keisuke Tachikawa’s studio in Tokyo. The designs are then sent off to the workshop of an old carpenter somewhere in the country, I forget where, where they are hand crafted from beautiful Japanese wood, boxed and shipped to buyers and resellers. There’s no shortage of handcrafted wonders like these in Japan and that’s one of the things I really love. The joy of making things well by hand lives on in Japan.


Ryoji Ikeda

I recently discovered a sound artist I really liked called Ryoji Ikeda, who is currently based in Paris but originally from Gifu, Japan. His work caught my eye when I was browsing YouTube as the aesthetic he uses is very glitch. His visualisations of sound are in fact the product of computer programs interpreting raw sound such as sine waves, noise and signals in order to created harsh static imagery and sublime monochromatic geometric patterns. When I saw it I remembered wondering if Squarepusher may have taken inspiration from this for his recent performances. Here is a video of Ryoji’s work:

Amazing, isn’t it? He has also released albums of his music on various record labels, but it’s not easy listening by any means!


Biscuit in Sendagi/Yanaka

I was so impressed with Sendagi I was planning on moving there having visited the area just last month for the first time. Actually, I’d been to Yanesen (nickname for the area comprising Yanaka, Nezu, Sendagi) many times before but only to Nezu and Yanaka for some reason. On the walk into Sendagi from Yanaka Cemetery I went down Dangozaka, a small street on a gentle slope that ends at a crossing in front of Sendagi station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line. There are lots of interesting shops and even some good-looking drinking places and cafes but about half-way down was Biscuit, a shop which is owned by Japanese artist Masami Takewaki. The address is officially Yanaka but I feel like it’s more a part of Sendagi based on its proximity to Sendagi station and I actually made the mistake of thinking it had a Sendagi address when I started writing this post, hence the strange title. What you see above is the postcard designed by the artist herself. What’s interesting is the ‘O’ in house is stuck on as a sticker over the printed background.

The shop is interesting, although mostly geared towards women with its retro dolls and accessories, but it also has some good stuff for your house and some (mostly German) retro board games and even stationery. There’s wrapping paper and cards in there literally dating from as far back as the sixties and maybe even further. One of the reasons I liked it is because I’ve never seen a shop that sells these kinds of products before, and the rest of the neighbourhood is worth visiting too so if you’re out for a walk I recommend checking it out.


Invader Spotted in Omotesando

I spotted this piece of street art by French artist Invader whilst I was out for a walk down Cat Street in Omotesando (if you’ve never been down there before it’s well worth a look with its custom made bicycle shop and good non-luxury brand fashion stores). Invader basically puts up these mosaics featuring retro video game sprites, particularly those from space shooters but he’s also done Pac-Man ghosts. I like his stuff and it’s not particularly common to see it so I thought I’d post this up for us all to enjoy, although nothing beats the real thing when you come across one or happen to notice it. That’s the great thing about good street art in my opinion: you never know when you’re going to come across one and when you do half of the satisfaction comes from finding it and half from knowing its origin. Invader has stuff in cities all over the world including Paris, London, L.A. and probably many others and you can see him at work in Banksy’s mockumentary Exit Through The Gift Shop.


Japanese Illustrators for Monocle

Reading Monocle, I always wondered who did the illustrations in most of the issues. There are guest illustrators from time to time, and one of them is a Japanese guy called Akira Sorimachi. His work reminds me a little bit of the guy that did Uncle Tory for Suntory Whisky, Ryohei Yanagihara in that it has the same retro feel. Recently Sorimachi has created a poster for Monocle (part of which can be seen above), and also a range of cards. Monocle’s illustrations are superb, and most of them are done by Japanese illustrators. Other artists who have created illustration work for Monocle Magazine include Satoshi Hashimoto and Gaku Nakagawa. Check out their work below.


Tintin x Nanoblock

I was in Yurakucho’s new Loft store the other day and I saw these great new Nanoblock sets featuring objects and craft from the Tintin comics. Nanoblock was actually born in America, but has seen some popularity in Japan and they’ve even got special Japanese sets featuring Japanese landmarks such as Tokyo Tower and I think I even saw a Sky Tree. The great thing about these are you can actually build your own miniature versions of whatever you like, so you could for example put together your own Kyoto Kokusai Kaikan. In the Tintin series there are four sets:

The Rocket:

The Shark Sub:

The Unicorn:

Moulinsart Castle:

They were probably released as a result of the recent Tintin movie. I’m liking the rocket, and I think it’d make a good Tokyo Tower if you got bored of it. I was always a big Lego fan growing up, so I might have to pick one of these sets up.


Katsuhiro Otomo / AKIRA Exhibition – Gengaten

For me this must be the exhibition of the century: a 3,000 piece gallery display of the work of Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the legendary AKIRA manga and, of course, animated adaptation. Also on display will be Kaneda’s famous red bike, and I’ve heard they even let you sit on it! The red jacket is also available, and you can wear it too apparently. Included in the exhibition are ALL of the original pages and drawings that were used to create the whole manga series of books, some 2,300 of them. The exhibition is being held at 3331 Arts Chiyoda which is a gallery converted from a high school located not too far from Akihabara, north of Suehirocho metro station on the Ginza line. It runs until the end of May, so surely this one is not to be missed. It’s probably worth coming from overseas especially to just see this exhibition! All proceeds will go to charities supporting victims of the Tohoku disaster.


Beat Takeshi Kitano, Gosse de Peintre

Well this is like a dream come true – never thought I’d get to see the legendary paintings that featured in Takeshi Kitano’s movie masterpiece Hanabi (Fireworks), but now it looks like it’s actually going to happen. With news of his exhibition in Tokyo opening 11th March being broadcast on TV and advertised on posters on the metro, this will be a fairly high profile showcase of his paintings at Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, Shinjuku.

It’s going to feature paintings such as this:

I don’t know if his painting entitled ‘Jisatsu’ (Suicide) will be on show, which is unfortunate as it’s one of my favourites, but this one, also from the movie Hanabi, will be:

Anyway, it all equates to a must-see, don’t-miss exhibition which runs until 2nd September.


Bonzai Inspired Sculptures of Takanori Aiba

I heard about this guy called Takanori Aiba through a reader of Tokyo Story and was totally blown away by his work. He creates sculptures and artworks-cum-architectural models partly inspired by the traditional Japanese art of Bonsai. He’s had a really varied career having graduated in traditional Japanese textile design and dyed clothing, then moving onto illustrating for fashion magazine POPEYE before starting his own company called Graphics & Designing. He has since expanded his creative endeavours from art director and concept designer for architectural spaces to exhibiting artist.

What strikes you about his work straight away is the incredible level of detail. Each one is a fantasy world based on reality which resemble real-world buildings and structures but in a quirky microcosm. Some of his works remind me of the worlds conjured up in Ghibli movies.


The Fox Is Black Desktop Wallpaper Project

Personally, I don’t like to keep the same wallpaper on my desktop for more than a week, tops – so I was lucky to find this excellent collection of wallpapers by various creatives so I didn’t have to! I strongly recommend you check this out, but be careful as I spent far too long going through the entire category of posts looking at these. If you’ve found a desktop you like you should also check the mixtape section as it’s also really great. All you need to get on: a fresh desktop and an array of tunes to work to.


Kuniyoshi Exhibition At Mori Art Museum

Rapidly becoming my favourite gallery recently, due to the fact that they had Metabolism – The City Of The Future and now the warped ukiyo-e of Kuniyoshi, which looks like it’s going to be great – Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills is hosting a two part exhibition, the first of which ends tomorrow (17th January 2012). So firstly sorry for the late notice, but the second part is on until 12th February so plenty of time to catch it.

Kuniyoshi has been coined Edo’s ultimate graphic designer, and if you look at some of the work on the exhibition’s website it’s easy to see why. He certainly stands out from his better known contemporaries Hokusai and Hiroshige with his depictions of ghosts, demons, fantasy stories, folklore and other such lurid subject matter. It seems he was also a cat-lover.

I wasn’t familiar with him until this exhibition started, although I recognize a few of the works. but now I’ve seen it I’ve been looking through the other pieces by this artist on Wikipedia and they’re unbelievable. When you consider when these were made and when you consider the state of Japanese visual communication nowadays, you realize just how important this guy was.


METABOLISM – The City Of The Future

Metabolism, Mori Art Museum

I don’t know a great deal about architecture but I know what I like, and I’ve expressed love for the Nakagin Capsule Tower on more than one occasion on this very blog, so I couldn’t believe my luck when I heard about the METABOLISM – The City Of The Future exhibition at Mori Art Museum in Roppongi, featuring my favourite building. Not only could you see design drawings and advertisements for the Capsule Tower from the 70’s, but there was also a short film detailing the design and construction of the building and featuring interviews with a dapper, younger-day Kisho Kurokawa, the man behind the building. Moreover, there were buildings, designs on cities, marine cities and enormously ambitious living configurations (most of which have never been constructed) by a group of Kisho Kurokawa’s contemporaries of the Metabolism movement I’d never heard of. The exhibition also put on display the original architectural models, now practically antiques. The exhibition is as much about post-war to present-day graphic design as it is about architecture, so I was drooling over a wall filled with the participating countries’ pamphlets for the 1970 World Expo in Osaka. As well as being beside myself with joy at seeing the making of Nakagin Capsule Tower on the big screen, I was also made aware of buildings in Japan designed in a similar vein that I had never seen before, a couple of which are located in Kyoto. So, I’ve decided to take a trip to Kyoto as soon as I can. No need to rush, but do go and see this exhibition which is open until 15th Jan 2012.


Suntory Tory’s

Suntory Tory's

In a similar vein to the previous post, I thought I’d post another character which I kind of like and it can currently be seen everywhere, from trains to Izakaya to TV as a result of the Japanese Highball boom. Highball is simply whisky and soda in a tall glass with ice and maybe a slice of lemon. Regardless, Suntory has made it one of the most popular drinks in Japan through an aggressive advertising campaign featuring Uncle Tory. He’s the old guy you see in the picture above. Here’s another pic of him enjoying some Suntory time.

Suntory Tory's

There’s a pretty interesting story behind this guy because he was actually originally designed back in 1958 by then Suntory employee Ryohei Yanagihara. Tory has since been popping up in Suntory advertising campaigns ever since and again he’s back this year and is one of the real advertising icons of 2011. The style is all retro European animation meets Saul Bass which is win-win as far as I’m concerned!


Illustration in Japan

Japanese Illustration

Looking through a collection of recent photos, I realised I had quite a few pictures I’d taken of signs and logos where I really liked the illustration they used. That lead me to realise that this is a major reason why I choose to live in Tokyo. The visual language of the Japanese would be considered so esoteric by people back in the UK. For me, it’s enigmatic and familiar at the same time, often incorporating European and American iconography that is then twisted or exaggerated or even overlayed with oriental elements to align with the tastes of the Japanese. The above rabbit motif for example I saw on the sign above a cleaners, and the below image is stuck to the door of my elevator in my apartment building.

Japanese Illustration

It’s basically warning you to avoid getting your hand trapped in the elevator door. This overlaps somewhat with another area of visual communication loved by the Japanese: diagrams and infographics. These can be found everywhere, from leaflets to toilets, even on restaurant menus. Here’s a typical example:

Japanese Illustration

Although the above diagram looks pretty hard to fathom, there are much worse to be found, especially in pamphlets and promotional material from banks and mobile phone companies. I don’t think anyone understands them, they just look reassuringly informative. The next one I took outside a restaurant in Kayabacho. It’s obviously a Sumo wrestler, so often associated with food, but I just liked the style of the way it was drawn. If you were so inclined, you could easily create a flickr set full of interesting restaurant signs from Tokyo. Sometimes you even get robotic crabs or mechanized moving chopsticks lifting noodles out of a ramen bowl. White, back-lit boxes like this one are very common though.

Japanese Illustration

One place you might not expect to find good illustration is on a carton of milk, but in Japan it even finds its way onto those. Like in the following example which is a mark for the Japanese milk industry. It’s similar to the rabbit at the top of this post in the sense that it’s got all the hallmarks of vector-based illustration software written all over it (literally). Even so, it’s well executed and I liked it when I noticed it on the side of my carton of milk I bought from the supermarket. I think it was Meiji brand.

Japanese Illustration

One final one I wanted to post is one I’ve been seeing everyday on the train since Suntory started this new campaign to promote its black oolong tea as a health product. According to the scary looking guy in the next picture you can reduce the amount of fat your body gains when eating fatty foods by drinking it. Love this character. He’s obviously from an old animation show but I don’t know which one. Please let me know if you know who this guy is:

Japanese Illustration

UPDATE: I’ve been told that this guy is actually a slightly modified version of Boris Badenov from 60’s animation Boris and Natasha. He may also have appeared in Rocky & Bullwinkle? Thanks to Melissa Pouridas for the info.

UPDATE 2: Another reader (check the comments thread) has told me that this character is from a manga and anime and his name is The Laughing Salesman or Warau Serusuman (笑うセールスマン). I watched a couple of episodes and this guy is seriously disturbing. Whether or not the character was inspired by Boris Badenov is open to debate. Warau Serusuman first appeared in the manga BIG COMIC in 1968 as Black Salesman and Boris Badenov first appeared in Rocky and Bullwinkle in 1959. Boris’ hat and trenchcoat is very generic so it could be argued that the link is tenuous at best. Thanks to British artist Wil Overton for the info this time.

Here is an episode for you:

TV アニメ「笑ゥせぇるすまん」 第1話 「たのもし… 投稿者 spyagent0011

UPDATE 3: On the salesman’s business card, his name reads Moguro Fukuzou – a very strange name in Japanese, but his real name all the same, and his occupation reads Kokoro no Sukima (ココロのスキマ) which I think means cleansing of the heart. So, he’s a quasi-supernatural character who spiritually purifies base and vulgar salarymen!