japanese art, design and culture

Posts from — May 2013

a drawing a day | playful illustrations by Yoriko Youda

365 drawings a year. 1826 drawings in the past 5 years. That’s right: since 2007 Tokyo-based illustrator Yoriko Youda has been creating an illustration every single day. And she uploads them all to her website. Her sensual imagery often incorporates Japanese, Chinese and other Asian motifs, allowing for a contemporary interpretation of traditional craft.

The playful drawings are simple yet brimming with creativity. Here are some of my favorites:

High Heels

workbook121021all images courtesy yoriko youda






Cold Masks



Fabric Patterns




May 31, 2013   Comments Off

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage | How to prepare for Haruki Murakami’s new novel

Word has leaked that Haruki Murakami’s trusted translator Philip Gabriel is aiming to finish translating Haruki Murakami’s latest novel by the end of this year. That means that the English version of “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” will probably hit bookstores in the first half of 2014. For those who don’t want to twiddle their thumbs for 8 – 12 more months, take intensive Japanese lessons or reread “Norweigian Wood,” I’ve put together a preparation guide to help you begin to immerse yourself in Murakami’s latest world, ahead of its English release.

If you’re familiar with Murakami you’ll know that his novels are loaded with illusions and references to music, pop culture and literature – everything from Leoš Janáček’s Sinfonietta to John Ford westerns and Raymond Chandler. It’s easy to breeze through his novels without being familiar with these references. But knowing them might possibly create new connections, setting the stage for a deeper reading and enhanced appreciation.

What you’ll find below is not spoilers of any kind. Rather, I’ve put together a collection of music and literature that are all referenced in the Japanese novel (“Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, Kare no Junrei no Toshi”).


Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) is a set of three suites for solo piano by the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. You’ll want to listen to Le mal du pays (Homesickness) as played by russian pianist Lazar Berman.

Round Midnight” the 1944 jazz standard by pianist Thelonious Monk. The song is also sometimes called “Round About Midnight”

Viva Las Vegas,” the 1963 song (not the movie) recorded by Elvis Presley.

Don’t Be Cruel,” the 1956 song recorded by Elvis Presley.


shikisai-GeorgesBatailleThe work and key concepts of Georges Bataille – French intellectual and literary figure from the early 1900s.




shikisai-DoorsofPerceptionThe Doors of Perception – a 1954 book by Aldous Huxley detailing his experiences with the psychedelic drug mescaline (similar to LSD).








shikisai-Lost_worldThe Lost World – a 1912 novel by Conan Doyle. The plot involves an expedition to a plateau in the Amazon basin of South America where prehistoric animals roam freely. The title was reused by Michael Crichton in his 1995 novel The Lost World, a sequel to Jurassic Park.








“Ideas are like beards; men do not have them until they grow up.” – Voltaire

“Kitchen staff instinctively hate dining-room staff and all of them hate the customer.” – Arnold Wesker.
If you want to knock yourself out you can familiarize yourself with the British dramatist’s play The Kitchen (1957).


May 30, 2013   Comments Off

Kazuki Yamamoto takes latte art to the next frontier

latte art nightmareall images courtesy kazuki yamamoto | click to enlarge

Latte art – the method of using steamed milk foam to “draw” and create designs over coffee – arguably first developed in Italy in the early 1990s, if not earlier. But with advancements in microfoam, which has enabled a stiffer, more permeable foam, latte art has advanced into the realm of 3D. And Osaka-based Kazuki Yamamoto is being called the chief pioneer of the art, dazzling audiences with cute, realistic recreations of their favorite characters, which include Snoopy, Totoro, and Jack Skellington, as well as more generic yet equally awe-inspiring generic animals like cats and giraffes.

One of my personal favorites has been a melting clock from Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory.”

latte art dali clock

Over on his twitter account Yamamoto has amassed more than 100K followers by posting “daily leisurely cappuccino” pictures of new pieces. One day he wants to open his own store. But for now those wanting to actually sample his three-dimensional coffee art will have to check his blog regularly, where he posts locations that he’ll be temporarily making coffee at.

latte art snoopy

latte art tottoro

latte art dali catlatte art giraffe

source: RocketNews

May 30, 2013   1 Comment

Photo Review | te + te: New Handmade

Last week we held our te+te: New Handmade exhibition in Brooklyn. Thanks to all for coming out and special thanks to the terrific group of artists who participated, making it a truly fantastic show: Noriko Kuresumi, Wasara, Takeshi Miyakawa, Nao Matsumoto, Kenzo Minami and Kaori Sohma.

Here are some photos from the opening reception. I’ve posted more photos on our event page if you’re interested. And many thanks to Hyperallergic for the nice write-up!

te+te new handmade (14)all photos by kaori sohma | click to enlarge

te+te new handmade (13)

te+te new handmade (2)

te+te new handmade (5)te+te new handmade (8)

te+te new handmade (9)

te+te new handmade (9-2) te+te new handmade (9-1)

May 29, 2013   Comments Off

Hanabone | flowers made from animal bones and skin by Hideki Tokushige


One day on his way home, Hideki Tokushige found a dead raccoon lying on his street. Contrary to what most of us would do – avoid it like the plague – he picked it up, took it home and removed its bones. This, says Tokushige, an artist originally trained in photography, was how he began creating floral sculptures using dead animal bones and skin.

“We’ve been creating paintings and sculptures for over 70,000 years and our relationship to bones is just as old,” explains Tokushige. “Everything around us – clothes, nuclear power plants, internet – can be traced back to the structure of bones.” Tokushige began to take an interest in our inherent connection to bones, but also the relationship between death and flowers, which has an equally long history of being associated with one another. When Neanderthal bones were excavated scientists discovered traces of pollen around the bones, indicating that even back then flowers were used to celebrate the deceased. “We don’t come in contact with bones anymore,” says Tokushige. “And yet we all will one day become bones and return to the earth. Perhaps by returning to a fundamental state of mind and contemplating bones we can learn something about ourselves.”


After photographing his sculptures Tokushige returns the bones to the earth.

We saw how flowers can be used to create bones. It’s interesting to see it the other way around.





*all quotes translated by the author

Source: colossal

May 29, 2013   Comments Off

Tatsuo Horiuchi | the 73-year old Excel spreadsheet artist

tatsuo horiuchi (1)“Cherry Blossoms of Historical Castle site” (2006) | click to enlarge.

“I never used Excel at work but I saw other people making pretty graphs and thought, ‘I could probably draw with that,’” says 73-year old Tatsuo Horiuchi. About 13 years ago, shortly before retiring, Horiuchi decide he needed a new challenge in his life. So he bought a computer and began experimenting with Excel. “Graphics software is expensive but Excel comes pre-installed in most computers,” explained Horiuchi. “And it has more functions and is easier to use than [Microsoft] Paint.”*

Horiuchi also tried working with Microsoft Word but it didn’t offer the flexibility that Excel did. “Take that, Wall St. analysts,” he later added. (not really)

*all quotes have been translated by the author.

tatsuo horiuchi (2)“Kegon Falls” (2007)

Horiuchi first gained attention when, in 2006, he entered an Excel Autoshape Art Contest. His work, which was far-superior than the other entries, blew the judges away. Horiuchi took first place and went on to create work that has been acquired by his local Gunma Museum of Art.

Don’t believe these were made in Excel? You can even download the excel file and play around with it yourself:


horiuchi tatsuo ph2_px420

horiuchi tatsuo ph1_px420



Source: PSFK | Swissmiss

May 28, 2013   36 Comments

Yukio Ohyama has devoted his entire life to photographing Mt. Fuji

I’m finishing up our series on Mt. Fuji with this post because it’s impossible to write about Mt. Fuji and art without discussing the work of photographer Yukio Ohyama. Almost as if destined to be linked to Mt. Fuji – Ohyama (大山) literally means large mountain – he discovered the alluring qualities of Mt. Fuji at a young age and at 24 decided to devote his career to photographing it. Now, almost 40 years later and more than 10 photobooks under his belt, he continues to point his camera at the mountain, rain sleet or shine. He even built his house at the foot of the mountain.

Hearing him talk about Mt. Fuji is like hearing a paparazzi talk about chasing a celebrity. “Sometimes she smiles at me but other times she won’t even look at me,” I once heard him say in an interview.

Fuji ohyama pht_002all images courtesy fujifilmsquare.jp © yukio ohyama

Fuji ohyama pht_003

Fuji ohyama pht_004

Fuji oyama_diamond-cover

Fuji ohyama 007

Fuji ohyama pht_001

This is part of a series of posts on Mt. Fuji. The entire series can be found HERE.

May 28, 2013   1 Comment

Bring Mt. Fuji into your home with Mt. Fuji-related products

Our week-long series of Mt. Fuji-related posts is coming to an end. I know you’re sad and are thinking, “no! I still haven’t had enough Mt. Fuji.” Fear not, here are some Mt. Fuji-related products you can purchase to further your appreciation and bring Mt. Fuji into your own home.

Origami Fuji
Origami that, when folded just the right way, reveals Mt. Fuji.

fuji products origami fuji

Fuji sticky notes 
They work as cute page markers

fuji sticky notes

Fuji Envelope
A seemingly normal envelope that reveals Mt. Fuji when opened.

fuji envelope 2

Fuji Tissue case 
‘nuff said…

fuji tissue 2fuji tissue 1

Fujiyama Beer Glass
An image of Mt. Fuji is revealed when you pour a brewski. Try experimenting with different colored beers! Or soda, I guess…

fuji glass

Fuji Senbei 
Rice crackers (senbei) that come in four seasons/flavors – spring, summer, fall and winter

fuji senbei 2

A gorgeous sasami-yaki ceramic bowl inspired by Mt. Fuji


This is part of a series of posts on Mt. Fuji. The entire series can be found HERE.

May 24, 2013   Comments Off

Hot baths and Mt. Fuji | the ultimate form of relaxation

Indoor baths

There are roughly 850 sento, or public baths, still operating in Tokyo. Of these, about 200 are decorated with penki-e, large murals that are painted on the interior. It’s common for them to be repainted 2-3 times a year with most featuring Mt. Fuji in various forms. The art form has its origins in a type of low-brow advertising. Vendors would pay for advertisements to be painted on the walls of sento where town folk often went to rest their weary muscles.

fuji hot bath daikokuyu 1Daikokuyu (大黒湯)

3-12-14 Yokogawa, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 3:30pm – 12 midnight
Closed Mondays
450 yen per person


fuji hotbath daikokuyu 2Photos via

fuji hot bath meishinyu 1Myojinyu (明神湯)

5-14-7 Minamiyukigaya, Ota-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3729-2526
Hours: 4:00pm – 11:30pm
Closed 5th, 15th and 25th of each month
400 yen per person






myoujinyu-2photos via

Outdoor baths

If you want to truly indulge, head out to Yamanashi prefecture where hotels offer some of the most stunning private baths and views you’ll ever find. But be warned, private baths with views of Mt. Fuji are highly sought after and rates start at around $300 per night (per person).



Kozantei Ubuya

Fuji ubuya

Shohokan kogetsu

fuji kogetsu (1)fuji kogetsu (2)


This is part of a series of posts on Mt. Fuji. The entire series can be found HERE.





May 23, 2013   1 Comment

1000 years of art | Mt Fuji depicted through the ages

Deeply engrained in the Japanese psyche is a form of animism that views all natural objects as spiritual. In fact, one of the pillars of Japan’s indigenous religion Shintoism is yaoyorozu no kami (八百万の神), or “eight million gods” that reside on objects of nature like mountains, trees and waterfalls. So with a larger-than-life entity like Mt. Fuji, grounded in a regal self-assurance like a border town sheriff, it’s easy to understand the type of presence the mountain commanded. And like other divine entities, Mt. Fuji was often depicted in art.

Interestingly, early depictions were based only on rumors and exaggerated tales that were carried to cities by word of mouth. It wasn’t until the Kamakura Period (1185 – 1333) when the bakufu military government was installed that travel became more popular and artists began creating more accurate depictions of Mt. Fuji.

Fuji shotokutaishiedenShotokutaishieden (1069) image courtesy Tokyo National Museum. The oldest know painting of Mt. Fuji depicts the life and times of Prince Shotoku, a semi-legendary figure in Japanese history. In this particular painting he can be seen in the upper right corner (at age 27) climbing My. Fuji.

Fuji yugyoushouninengieYugijouninengi-e (1323) A series of graphic scrolls telling the story of monks. In this particular version (8 of 10) a more accurate Mt. Fuji is drawn, whereas earlier scrolls depicted a much more steep, perpendicular slope.

Fuji-fujisannkeimanndalazuFujimandalazu (1500s) by Kano Motonobu

Another significant change occurred during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). Peaceful times brought more travel and, for the first time, people began to travel to Mt. Fuji and climb for pleasure, rather than spiritual enlightenment. A standardized currency also enables Ukiyo-e artists to travel to Mt. Fuji, opening the doors to more original interpretations of the mountain. Mt. Fuji in art shifted from being a scenic part of the background to the foreground where it began to play a protagonistic role.

fuji fugakuretsumatsuzuFugakureshouzu (Edo Period) Painted by Yosa Buson, a painter and poet.

Fuji - the great wave at kanagawa katsushika hokusaiThe Great Wave at Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai (1831–33) From the series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, this is perhaps the most famous painting of Mt. Fuji and is single-handedly responsible for disseminating the art of Ukiyo-e abroad.

Fuji img_fuzoku016_zoom

Nihonmeisan no fuji (1860) A woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige that shows a European and Chinese visitor with exaggerated faces gawking at Mt. Fuji.

fujisanzuFujisan-zu (1898) by Tomioka Tessai

Fuji in the coulds yokoyama taikanUnchufuji (1913) by Yokoyama Taikan. The major pre-war artist’s iconic painting of Mt. Fuji above clouds was later turned into a Google Doodle in 2011 to celebrate his 143rd birthday.

Fuji in the coulds yokoyama google doodle

Fuji A day in the pacific ocean - yokoyama taikan

A Day in the Pacific Ocean (1952) by Yokoyama Taikan.

fuji hanashinotokushu cover design - tadanori yokoo 1966

Cover design for “Hanashi no Tokushu” (1966) by Tadanori Yokoo. Yokoo illustrated many of the covers of this popular political satire magazine.

This is part of a series of posts on Mt. Fuji. The entire series can be found HERE.

May 22, 2013   Comments Off