japanese art, design and culture

Posts from — September 2011

Shoko Matsumiya sculpts imaginary organisms from glass

All images courtesy ex-chamber | click detail shots to enlarge

Currently participating in the group exhibition “Subjective Objects” is Shoko Matsumiya, a 30-year old glass sculptor who creates intricate artworks by melting and adhering shards of glass. Matsumiya is a curious artist who attributes her macro organism-like sculptures to a childhood imaginary creature she believed would show itself if she stared into dark corners long enough. It’s called a “Duquheapuer” (pronounced duke-oo-heaper) she once said in an interview, explaining that she came up with the equally imaginary name as a child, but now calls it “Duque” for short.

Using chards of glass, which she breaks herself by smashing various soda bottles, Matsumiya carefully assembles her creatures using glue and the occasional blow-torch.

source: ex-chamber

September 30, 2011   Comments Off

TOTO’s Toilet Motorcycle Will Travel Japan Entirely on Biogas

Hold on to your butts everyone! That’s right. Japan’s number one toilet maker TOTO has created a toilet-motorcycle hybrid vehicle that runs entirely on biogas (read: human waste). Theoretically, as long as the driver continues to eat and drink, the motorcycle could run forever! Dubbed the Toilet Bike Neo Project, the campaign is part of the TOTO Green Challenge, the company’s stated goal of achieving 50% reductions in CO2 emissions in bathrooms by 2017 (vs 1990 levels).

In just 6 days the highly anticipated toilet motorcycle will take off on a month-long journey from Kyushu to Tokyo, making stops along the way to show off their new innovation and to educate people on the various green initiatives that TOTO is undertaking. For the last couple days the TOTO blog has been teasing us with renderings and even a blurred out image of the actual toilet motorcycle. But today – finally! – they have revealed their innovation in full form. Behold: Toilet Bike Neo!

Toilet Bike Neo is also equipped with some other cool functions. It uses residual light imagery to write messages in the air as it zooms by (you can see an example by scrolling down to their Sep 26 blog entry). It can also play music to entertain spectators. Finally, the toilet actually talks. This is a technology that TOTO has been equipping many of their new toilets with. For a complete archive of all the new toilet technology, take a look at these fascinating videos, which include fortune-telling, stock-quote-reading, weather-forecasting toilets.


If you’re wondering, how do I catch a glimpse of this fantastic contraption? Well, you’re not alone. The motorcycle doesn’t take off until October 6th so the staff are slowly leaking details. What we know is that the starting point is the TOTO Headquarters in Kitakyushu. It will then head to Nakatsu in Oita prefecture to pay homage to an ass-shaped boulder (yes, they are obviously having a lot of fun with this). From there the motorcycle will hitch a ride on a ferry to Hiroshima, then to Okayama and then to Kobe. After riding around Nara and Kyoto they will hit up Aichi, Shizuoka and then Tokyo. For more details you’ll have to keep checking their blog, where daily updates have been posted.

UPDATE – 10/6/2011
The toilet bike neo has launched! You can follow its adventures on twitter.

(From here on is the nerd inside me talking. If you have no interest in Japanese manga, stop reading now.) I couldn’t help but think that this toilet was invented for auto-bike kozo (オートバイこぞう), a fictional character who appears in the manga Dr. Slump – Akira Toriyama’s 1980 pièce de résistance. Accordingly, auto-bike kozo suffers from a rare, yet  tragic orphan disease known as I-die-if-I-disembark-my-motorcycle syndrome. Because of this disease he is forced to wear clothing that comes with an opening around his rear (click here for visual) so he never has to take a bathroom break. Auto-bike kozo – your dream just came true.

auto-bike kozo

September 30, 2011   3 Comments


click images to enlarge | (the sign reads “this is a bookshop”)

If you’ll take a walk down memory lane with me, almost 4 months ago the Arts collective NAM collaborated with Numabooks – a group of creatives whose medium of choice is the book – to create a mobile pop-up bookshop. Well, Numabookface was popular enough to spawn a 2nd edition. It recently moved to a new location and was reincarnated as a cat. Numabookcat can be seen through October 30 at NADiff, the multi-purpose artsy building (see below for details).

The same rules still apply: for 4200 yen you have a little conversation with the host, who, based on those talks, will select 12 books for you. You will then get 1 book in the mail for an entire year.

check out all our posts on NAM

NADiff a/p/a/r/t Window Gallery (Map)
2011.9.23 – 10.30 (closed mondays)
12:00 – 20:00

source: NAM blog
(thanks Nakazawa-san!)

September 30, 2011   1 Comment

2450 white / clear by Junpei Tamaki

Power in numbers – it’s a story that’s been told many times, with varying aims. But it’s latest iteration is an architectural chair titled “2450 white / clear,” and is the latest work of designer Junpei Tamaki. As the name somewhat implies, the chair is constructed from 2450 pieces of acrylic sticks that each measure 5mm. If laid flat they could span the Empire State building, twice.

Alone, they are helplessly frail. Gridlocked together, they transform into a mysterious structure that maintains a visual fragility but is a robust, functional chair that supports almost any weight.

Source: architecturephoto

September 29, 2011   Comments Off

Polar Ice by Atsuhiro Hayashi


images courtesy monos | click to enlarge

Wow! Talk about making a statement. I’ve just found the best way to accessorize those refreshments you’re serving up at your next climate change conference. Two silicon cups produce these unique ice cubes that depict a polar bear and 2 penguins standing on a glacier. Once in your drink, they gradually melt away, mimicking a real-life scenario that many arctic animals are currently facing.

Originally designed by Atsuhiro Hayashi, the concept was unveiled at Tokyo Designer’s Week back in 2009. But it wasn’t until over last summer that the idea finally came to fruition thanks to monos, who is selling them (set of 2) for 1,575 yen. Can’t read Japanese? White Rabbit Express can help you order them.

Looking for more design with an environmental twist? Check out the article I wrote on Masahiro Minami’s Bears on Melting Ice.

source: Jean Snow’s On Design column for the Japan Times

September 27, 2011   8 Comments

Nakanojo Biennale 2011 | pagoda by Ikimono Architects

Images courtesy Ikimono Architects’ blog | click to enlarge

Our 3rd and final pick from this year’s Nakanojo Biennale is “Pagoda.” Takashi Fujino of Ikimono Architects collaborated with Sunao Koase and Maniackers Design to create this ethereal installation that hangs in the air and swims with the wind. Consisting of a single ultra-thin sheet of reflective ribbon that stretches 40m into the sky, pagoda can appear both entirely manmade and engineered or, at the same time, blending together with its natural surroundings.

The spiritual pagoda is both towering yet delicate. Inspired by the tragic events of March 11th, the architects felt the need to depict a clearer vision of the future. What they saw were not the bright lights of the city nor the robust feats of engineering that has symbolized the development of mankind. Instead, what they saw was something unchanged yet eternally present: the seasons and time and weather that is produced by the mountainous breathing of our planet.

Pagoda is 1 of 3 works that the consortium of architects designed for the Nakanojo Biennale this year. The other 2 are “Noya,” a renovated shed, and “Nakanojo Biennale Information Center,” where visitors are first greeted. Check out all our posts on the Nakanojo Biennale.

September 27, 2011   1 Comment

Nakanojo Biennale 2011 | The Floating Dive by Masahiko Kiyooka

click images to enlarge

Another must-see art installation from the Nakanojo Biennale is Masahiko Kiyooka’s work erected in an old school. The artist demonstrates his keen sense for memory and decay using the “yard” as an allegory. In one room Kiyooka takes the surrounding inspirational topography and encases different scenes into multiple boxes that take on the look of a scientific field-guide.

In another room are a dispiriting amount of found objects that have been seemingly trashed. However, the artist somehow transforms them into work of beauty by covering them in moss.

top and bottom images courtesy Maniackers Design’s photostream

September 26, 2011   Comments Off

Nakanojo Biennale 2011 | About Memories by Hiroko Kono

As promised, this week I’ll be selecting a few of my favorites from the massive collection of art currently on display at the Nakanojo Biennale. One of my favorite pieces is Hiroko Kono’s “About memories,” a towering wooden bookshelf that looks like something out of a Harry Potter movie.

About memories (2011). Taro Okamoto Museum of Art, Kawasaki


Kono has been sculpting these bookshelves since 2009. What’s fascinating is that when you try and get a closer look at the bookshelf you quickly realize that all the detail vanishes and your left looking at just scraps of wood.

The artist also incorporates furniture and shelves from abandoned schools, which she travels to and picks out herself.

About memories (2010). Cultural museun of Izumo


Just to clarify, images of the exact work installed at the Nakanojo Biennale were unavailable so these images are previously installed work.Below is one of the artist’s older pieces, before it was renamed to “About memories.”

Thinking-long time ago-(2009). The National Art Center,Tokyo


September 26, 2011   Comments Off

Japanese trains install lightsabers to promote new Star Wars DVD boxset

Here’s a great example of site-specific advertising. To promote the upcoming release of the new ‘Star Wars – The Complete Saga’ Blu-ray DVD boxset, 20th Century Fox Japan has launched an ad campaign, transforming the handrails on trains into lightsabers.

They also come with some cool interactivity – buttons that control the built-in LED lights. The campaign runs through Sept 30 and can be seen on Tokyo’s Chuo-Soubu Line, which runs between Mitaka and Chiba stations.

A few more pics of found on twitter here.

source: PSFK

September 26, 2011   Comments Off

Nakanojo Biennale 2011

click images to enlarge

Want to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo? Do you like rural Japan, art, onsen and the great outdoors? If you answered no to those questions, you might want to have your head examined. Then, after that, head out to Gunma prefecture for the Nakanojo Biennale, an art extravaganza in which over 100 artists convert the town of Nakanojo – famous for their wonderful hot baths – into an indoor and outdoor museum.

The artists choose their location and nowhere is off limits; forests, schools, shops, anywhere.

The festival began in 2007 and is currently in its 3rd incarnation. You only have until October 2 before it closes (see bottom of post for details).It’s about a 2.5hr drive/ 3hr train ride from Tokyo.

But for those who can’t make it, check back next week as we’ll be profiling some of our favorite site-specific art projects from the biennale.

Nakanojo Biennale
2011.8.20 – 10.2
Location: Entire town of Nakanojo (Gmap)

September 23, 2011   2 Comments