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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


Naoto Fukasawa at 21_21 Design Sight

Naoto Fukasawa at 21_21 Design Sight

Naoto Fukasawa is one of the most well renowned industrial designers in Japan. Most people will know his work through MUJI (Mujirushi Ryohin Keikaku), the Japanese lifestyle goods retailer, having been responsible for their famous wall-mounted CD player along with a raft of other products. Anyone wanting to get an overview of his output to date should get down to 21_21 Design Sight at Tokyo Midtown between October 16 and January 31 for an exhibition called The Outline, featuring approximately 100 of Naoto Fukasawa’s product designs in photographs taken by Tamotsu Fujii.


Yukio Miyamoto

Yukio Miyamoto

As an Adobe Illustrator user myself, I am amazed at how incredible these pieces of work are from Yukio Miyamoto. Driven by some obsession with the ‘gradient mesh’ tool in Illustrator he spends months producing photo-realistic images that are infinitely scalable.


Sinister Independent Games: Judith


After discovering some interesting independent games recently, I wanted to post about them here so people can have a look for themselves. This first game is a collaboration between distractionware and increpare, two game artists who have created an interactive narrative game for Mac and PC (and now Linux too). I don’t want to spoil anything, so just try it for yourself. It’s a dark affair, made to feel only more so by the dreary colour palette, haunting sound, and nostalgically low-res aesthetics. Games as art?

UPDATE: Don’t Look Back is also worth checking out on the distractionware site.


Nani? Bird

Nani? Bird

I’ve been building these paper birds recently. Thought I’d share the link. The idea was thought up by Tokyo-based illustrator and designer, Josh McKible. The idea is that other designers and artists are invited to design onto the nani? bird template, the results of which are then distributed via the website for you to cut, fold and glue for free. Why not decorate your workspace/bedroom/dojo with a few?!


100% Design Tokyo

100% Design Tokyo

100% Design Tokyo was my first visit to an event in Tokyo Design Week, and it was really cool. I’d read about it before I came, when I was still living and working in the UK, so I knew pretty much what it was about. Being there in person is different altogether, of course. I had a good time looking at the professional design pieces in one section, which contrasted with the quirky and more experimental pieces in the student and undergraduate showcases. There was also a bunch of interesting stuff in the container area (a collection of industrial containers you sometimes see on the backs of lorries or trucks with installations and exhibits inside). It’s held at Jingu-Gaien near the baseball ground in the Aoyama area. I’m afraid yesterday was the last day though.


Nagi Noda Died Last Sunday

Nagi Noda

Horrible news about Nagi Noda, I’m afraid. The renowned artist and director, only in her mid-30’s, passed away this past Sunday from complications arising from surgery she had following a serious car accident that she was involved in last year. Her surreal approach to direction attracted clients such as Nike and Coca-Cola, but she also made promos for artists like The Scissor Sisters, Japanese singer Yuki, and Hikaru Utada. I personally liked her Hanpanda creation best of all. She’ll be missed.

News via Boing Boing, Tokyo Mango, and all over the web today and yesterday.


Another Foray into Laforet, and then Art


I came to Laforet once before and the place was filled with teenagers rifling through the racks of clothes and the place was in a frenzy. Shop employees were stood outside their respective stores on soapboxes shouting through megaphones or rolled up magazines “Irashiaimaseeeee!”, which means ‘welcome’, roughly. They wore baggy smocks over their ordinary clothes, sporting Japanese prints and emblems, kanji and patterns. The place was mostly school girls, actually, dressed in the classic sailor school uniform and doing the most damage at the tables of clothing in the womens clothes shops.

I didn’t have my camera with me last time, so I came again hoping to shoot some video of a typical afternoon at Laforet, but it was totally different this time. No shouting, no chaos, and not many shoppers, even. But I came across these paintings in the ground floor lobby (referred to as the 1st floor in Japan), by an artist called Dominique Dubien. They mostly consisted of small paintings on canvas of dogs, faces, small characters with iconography of hearts, planets and the like, all rendered in vivid colours. So, it’s sounding pretty ‘pop’ from the outset. I took some photos, one of which you can see in this post. I looked on Dominique Dubien’s website, and most of his work is pretty good, I liked the paintings.


I can’t say that I’m that keen on this series, or this piece of work (if it is supposed to stand as one piece of work in it’s own right, I couldn’t read the Japanese on the plaque next to the exhibit). Not because it’s not enjoyable to look at, it is pretty cool, but it reminds of how much bullshit creative work there is in Tokyo. Some rave about it in blogs or in articles on the city. I cannot stand the conceited behaviour of the artists or their plaudits. There’s definitely a self-satisfied cross section of the Tokyo hipster fraternity who hang out at certain spots in town, and visit all the galleries (of which there are many in Tokyo). Some of the work is good, some falls into the category of self-promotion, or a fake kind of artwork, about which everyone feels obliged to make absurd allusions about the intentions of the artist. It’s the same in countries all over the world, but right now I’m in Tokyo, so that’s all I can really report on right now, first hand.

I intend to go to galleries (especially the graphic design ones), and I expect to have to pass through many an event space or screening room in order to complete my tour, but I will always be honest about my feelings on the work there, if I happen to write them on the pages of this website.