japanese art, design and culture

Posts from — January 2012

MATERIO base. and gallery yoluca

photos by Takumi Ota | click to enlarge

In the same way that mortar, Japanese sugi and glass come together, yoluca carries a strong hope that different people will come together in the space

On a trip to Japan late last year I had the privilege of stopping by the newly established MATERIO base.,  a multifunctional space in Nihonbashi that’s run by the CS Design Center (previously). Before opening its doors in July 2011, the 30-year old oddly shaped building was given a brand new renovation by interior designer Noi Shigemasa. The building itself is an elegant piece of exposed concrete that is completely flat, except for the entrance way and a single floor-to-ceiling glass window on the ground level. The window creates a heightened sense of anticipation, setting the stage for what’s to come but not revealing everything.

I entered the first floor gallery space, known as gallery yoluca, where staff were busy setting up an exhibition that was opening the next day. Yoluca is a portmanteau of the words sumika (habitat) and yoru (to stop by). Much in the same way that mortar, Japanese sugi wood and glass – all in their most basic forms – come together, the name yoluca carries a strong hope that different people will come together in the space, forming new connections and exchanging new ideas.  It’s a theme that carries through the entire space, and I came to realize this as I continued my visit.

As I walked up the concrete staircase I came to Sabi Bar on the 2nd floor. This is a fascinating space with defined blocks of wood that, in turn, helps to define the purpose of the space. It’s clearly a bar where booze – that facilitator of discussion and connection – is served. But what makes the space unique is the artists and designers showing in the gallery are invited to tend the bar, where they interact with the guests on an entirely different level.

Continuing my ascent I arrived at the 3rd floor meeting room known as Sabi no Ma. This is an intimate space for small group gatherings or dinners but at the time President Nakagawa was conducting a demonstration on hand-made soba noodles. Wiping his hands of flour, he greeted me and showed me his gorgeous table and chairs custom-made by lacquer ware artist Tomoyasu Konuma.

We reflected on the his vision for the space, and the dynamics it supported. Before bidding farewell he asked me to come back sometime for some soba noodles. I told him I would.

January 31, 2012   Comments Off

Katsuhiro Ootomo Genga Exhibition

Katsuhiro Ootomo’s renown as an manga creator was sealed when, at the age of 28, he released Akira, a tour de force that would eventually become an 8-year journey, culminating in over 2000 pages of artwork and an animated film adaptation. This legendary illustrator and film director will be having an exhibition at 3331 Arts Chiyoda in April. Mark your calendars now! On display will be genga (literally, original pictures) – Japanese animation terminology for the key frames in animation. I went to a Ghibli genga exhibition in 1996 and it had a huge impact on me. The depth and color of the illustrations were simply breathtaking.

If you’re still not convinced you should go, perhaps this recent quote from Takashi Murakami will change your mind:

Ootomo Katsuhiro…One of the reasons I gave up on trying to become a manga illustrator is because I knew I had no chance against him.

You can download this awesome wallpaper HERE! (thx for the tip @aka_me)

Katsuhiro Ootomo Genga Exhibition

3331 Arts Chiyoda
2012.4.9 – 5.30.
adults 1,500 yen

January 30, 2012   Comments Off

Sohei Nishino’s Diorama Map Cityscapes

“Diorama Map Tokyo” (March – July 2004) | click to enlarge

Big cities can be an isolating, coldhearted sort of place where loneliness engulfs you like dry heat. But not for 29-year old photographer Sohei Nishino, whose work is currently on display at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, along with other up-and-coming photographers. Yoshino’s Diorama Maps, as he calls them, are highly personal recreations of cities that he has visited. Yoshino spends months walking the city streets, taking black-and-white photographs with his 35 mm camera. From his hundreds of contact sheets he cuts out the photos – often as many as 10,000 – to create elaborate 3D collages.

These are my personal memories of a city. The photographs I take and the way I assemble them are influenced by what I personally experienced: what I saw, whom I met and even what I ate

- Nishino in a recent interview

But for Yoshino the process doesn’t end with the collage. Because he wants the viewer to experience his pieces as photographs, he trims them evenly and the reshoots them with a digital camera. Fascinating! I highly encourage you to click the images to enlarge them.

Contemporary Japanese Photography vol.10 elan photographic runs until January 29, 2012.

“Diorama Map New York” (February – July 2006) | click to enlarge

“Diorama Map Paris” (May 2007 – November 2008) | click to enlarge

“Diorama Map Rio de Janeiro” (March – June 2011) | click to enlarge

all images courtesy Sohei Nishino
source: Japan Times

January 28, 2012   Comments Off

Tiered Lodge by Naoi Architecture & Design Office

photos by Hiroshi Ueda | click to enlarge

I’m sorry. I can’t help myself. In addition to snowscape architecture I also have a soft spot for architecture in the wilderness. “Tiered Lodge” is the latest work of Katsushi and Noriko Naoi, the husband-wife duo that make up Naoi Architecture & Design Office. Completed in August 2011, the weekend house is located in the Nasu Highlands of Tochigi prefecture, a common getaway for Tokyoites.

The three-tiered home, hence the name “Tiered Lodge,” is made up of a kitchen and dining room on the lower floor, a living room on the middle level and a mezzanine loft and bedroom on the top. Here is a bit from the architects:

Making use of this sloping gradient, we decided to design a residence that would create a sense of continuity with the forest around it… The space that emerged as a result of this elevation difference and shifts in the surface of the floor showcases subtle variations in the size of each volume, the windows, and the quality of the light in each interior. This structure enabled us to endow what is essentially a single-roomed space with remarkable depth and variation.

source: submission

January 27, 2012   Comments Off

Tadashi Kawamata | Under the Water

still shots from the video | click to enlarge

Artist and sculptor Tadashi Kawamata has a brand new installation at kamel mennour gallery in Paris. Chaotic slabs of wood hang above the courtyard creating a  somewhat unsettling ceiling that blots out the sky. The disturbing pagoda continues throughout the gallery’s 3 ground-floor spaces, swelling and swaying, instilling tension and nervousness in the atmosphere. It’s no coincidence that visitors may recall footage of debris floating on the surface of the ocean after being swept away by the 3/11 tsunami, only to realize that their world has now been flipped upside down; they are staring up at the debris from under the water.

Affected by the catastrophes that have wreaked havoc in Japan this year, the artist has conceived of his structure as a motionless and deadly wave, in a reference to all those bits of broken wood carried along by the receding tsunami, which saturated the ocean surface with their sheer quantity.

The installation is on display at kamel mennour through January 29, 2012.


January 27, 2012   Comments Off

The Design of Nabe

Winter is a wonderland. And never has this phrase rung true to me more than the joyous Japanese delicacies that accompany the season. It’s a time for warmth and cozy dinners that heat you to the core, leaving a certain satisfaction that cannot be attained any other way. And while the quintessential Japanese winter food is one of vigorous debate, my vote would go to nabe, essentially a hodgepodge of various seasonal foods, cooked in a large pot on a table and enjoyed by friends or family surrounding it. A simple search will reveal tons of recipes so we’ve decided to focus on a different – not as discussed, yet utterly important – aspect of nabe: the gorgeous tools that make this customary delight all the more enjoyable.

Tofu Server (remover)

Tofu, especially if it’s the silken type, requires special care. And if you’ve worked hard enough to maintain its shape throughout the boiling process you’ll certainly want a tool to remove it and gently place it in your bowl.

…and it’s cousin the Aku Skimmer

Surely you’ve seen aku before. It’s that brown foam that appears above broth during the boiling and simmering. You’ll want to skim it off for better taste and also a better looking nabe. Sure you could use a ladel for both tasks but these are so much better looking ;-)

Both of these elegant tools are available from kanaami-tsuji

tabletop stove and gas canister

Leave it to MUJI to design even a good-looking table top stove. Sure you can probably find one at your friendly Asian supermarket, but this one is so pretty.

images courtesy mono-memo

Donabe (earthenware pot)

The donabe is the protagonist of the evening; the holy vessel from which you will dine. Of course it would be nice to have an attractive donabe but the most important criteria is that it’s earthenware. If the pot is a regular ceramic pot it will crack under the pressure from the flame and that won’t be pretty. Here are a couple different styles of iga-yaki donabe that are popular in Japan.

iga-yaki donabe can be purchased through toiro kitchen (images courtesy watashi no heya)

Nabe-shiki (pot trivets)

One option many people often opt for to save on gas canisters (or to bypass the tabletop stove altogether) is to heat the nabe on a conventional stove and then transport it to the table. In that case you’ll want a trivet to keep your pot from leaving any burn marks. Here are 2 gorgeous options, both designed by Oji Masanori.

The brass trivets are a nod to the heavenly bodies above – the sun, moon and stars. For smaller pots you can go with these adorable bagel-shaped trivets.

Both of these trivets are available through mjolk

January 26, 2012   Comments Off

Gen Miyamura at ICN Gallery | Image Langue: Linear Code

All photos from installation view at ICN Gallery | all photos by Joe Keating

Miyamura establishes himself as a solo artist with a series of tranquil prints that harken back to the glorious days of the abstract expressionists


Calligraphy artist Gen Miyamura has been experimenting with Bokusho (墨象) – an avante-garde form of calligraphy that sprung out of post-war Japan – for quite some time now. The artist is perhaps better known for his collaborations with designers like Shun Kawakami (here and here), rather than for his standalone work. But in an exhibition that just opened at ICN Gallery in London, Miyamura breaks free from that mold, establishing himself as a solo artist with a series of tranquil prints that harken back to the glorious days of the abstract expressionists. I really adore the brush strokes and how they make us aware of the presence of the artist.

The exhibition at ICN Gallery runs through February 22, 2012.

the artist and his work

All photos from installation view at ICN Gallery | all photos by Joe Keating

January 25, 2012   Comments Off

Floating by Ohgushi

Japanese artist Ohgushi’s “Floating” series is breathtaking. Although borderline kitschy in nature – there is no shortage of photography featuring sensuous ink plumes under water – the execution makes the project work. The soft and gentle lines of the ink creates mesmerizing, abstract shapes.

After winning an ADC award in 2005, Ohgushi and his stylized depictions of women and flowers based on traditional Japanese methods of ink painting (suibokuga) went on to win him an impressive roster of clients. His works have been appropriated by everyone from Emilio Pucci and Lanvin to McDonalds and Takashimaya.

January 25, 2012   Comments Off

Back Up Japan | gorgeous topographic low table by Soichiro Kanbayashi

When the powerful tsunami waves moved across the Oshika Peninsula, eventually surging into the Northern coast of Japan, it was both an act of violence but also a chain reaction of nature that originated deep below the sea. Inspired by the sheer force of earth’s geological formations, and the immense volume of our atmosphere, industrial designer and head of Studio Archimedes Soichiro Kanbayashi created Back Up Japan. The topographic low tables, at their base, represents the four main islands of Japan, which then rise up and expand in volume like mushrooms.

The piece was carved and stacked using Japanese cedar, Kanbayashi tells me, with a large portion of the curves having to be hand-carved and sanded to obtain their ideal shape. It was originally created for the Monokeiro 11/11 exhibition, which was held on November 11, 2011 in Kyoto on the 8-month anniversary of that fateful day.

Upside down view of the low tables

Many thanks to Mr. Kanbayashi for helping to obtain images

January 24, 2012   Comments Off

New music video for androp World.Words.Lights is a carnival of dancing toys

PARTY is giving the term “product placement” a whole new meaning

The boys at PARTY have done it again. The creative lab that just formed last year have been doing a number of music videos for the Japanese band androp, including a spectacle of a show that used 250 Canon SLRs. But their latest video is pretty great, and I like the track too. In what is perhaps the first direct tie-up between buyable products and music, PARTY is giving the term “product placement” a whole new meaning.

The video was inspired by the heavily dance-influenced track, but also by the lyrics, which sings about the different languages spoken around the world and how each language casts its own glow of hope upon mankind. The group decided to create a series of high-tech toys that move and dance in response to music – that universal language that every culture can relate to. Each toy is unique, signifying our diversity. All 10 toys will eventually be put up for sale through ebay but for now only the cute little rocker is available. It’s asking $5000, so that should be a clue as to how much the other toys are going to sell for. I would love to get that flying mirror ball!

source: @akiko_saito

January 23, 2012   Comments Off