Tag Archives: japanese

Bicycle Boy

After visiting Seiseki-Sakuragaoka, the Japanese suburbs that the 1995 Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart was modeled after, Polish-born and Tokyo-based artist Mateusz Urbanowicz was inspired to paint his Bicycle Boy series, which consists of ten watercolor paintings that bring the film’s narrow roads and suburban landscapes to life. Urbanowicz uses 6B pencils to sketch out each moment before coloring them with Schimincke and Winsor & Newton watercolors. This series takes us on a journey of a dedicated bicycle boy who rides up challenging inclines and through the elements in order to reach his destination. Many of Urbanowicz’s other illustrations are also inspired by his new adoptive home of Japan as well as the animated backgrounds that feature in many Japanese anime films.

波兰出生的艺术家Mateusz Urbanowicz目前生活在东京。在参观完日本郊区圣迹樱丘(Seiseki-Sakuragaoka)——1995年吉卜力电影《心之谷》(Whisper of the Heart)的场景原型后,Urbanowicz创作了《自行车男孩》(Bicycle Boy)水彩画系列,通过十幅水彩画,栩栩如生地呈现出电影中出现的狭窄小巷和日本郊区景观。Urbanowicz在创作时,先使用6B铅笔画出草图,然后用Schimincke和Winsor&Newton水彩上色。这个水彩画系列带领观众,跟随一名骑自行车的男孩,骑过艰难的斜坡,经历各种天气,朝着目的地进发。Urbanowicz的许多其它插图的灵感还来自于他如今生活的日本,以及许多日本动画中的场景。

Website: mateuszurbanowicz.com
Facebook: ~/urbanowiczmateusz
Instagram: @mateusz_urbanowicz


Contributor: Whitney Ng

网站: mateuszurbanowicz.com
脸书: ~/urbanowiczmateusz
Instagram: @mateusz_urbanowicz


供稿人: Whitney Ng

An Artful Aftermath

Cleveland-born and Singapore-based artist Debra Raymond knows first hand about being in transit. After leaving Ohio, she lived in Jakarta before relocating to the little red dot; in her art,“constant migration” remains as a heavy inspiration. Contemporary social issues such as urban alienation and technology’s hindrance on human connection feature heavily within her body of work.

艺术家Debra Raymond出生于美国克利夫兰,如今定居新加坡。对于”迁徙“,她深有体会。离开俄亥俄州后, 她先是在雅加达生活,后又移居新加坡。在她的作品中, “不间断的迁徙” 一直是一种沉重的创作灵感,她在作品中深入探讨着各种当代社会问题, 如城市异化和科技对人际关系的影响等等。

During her BA (Hons) Fine Arts in Singapore’s LASALLE College of the Arts, she explored the significance of play in childhood development and how to encourage human interaction through art in our technologically advanced era. In late 2016, Raymond completed an artist residency at the Children Centre of Japan in the Miyagi Prefecture’s Ogatsu-cho. During her residency, she conducted workshops with local children to create a series of works to remember the 2011 tsunami and earthquake.

在新加坡拉萨尔艺术学院(LASALLE College of the Arts)攻读荣誉学士学位期间, 她研究了戏剧在童年发展中的意义, 以及如何在科技先进的时代通过艺术来鼓励人类互动。2016年9月, Raymond 完成了“艺术家驻住计划”(Artist-in-residence),居住在日本宫城县小村庄Ogatsu-cho的儿童中心。期间, 她以2011年的海啸事件为灵感,为当地的儿童举办艺术讲习班。

Inspired by the houses that survived the tsunami, Raymond created 20 sculptures out of wood that was foraged from the area. The sculptures are based on 30 sketches that were painted in 30 days. The series was created to commemorate “the everydayness that we often take for granted” and installed around the prefecture.

Raymond 以海啸中幸存的房子为启发,利用当地获取的木材,并以她在驻住期间完成的30幅作品为基础创作了20个雕塑。她所创作这一系列雕塑,被安放在村庄的不同角落,目的是为了赞颂 “那些往往被人们当作理所当然的平凡生活” 。

Website: debraymond.com
Instagram: @deb.ra


Contributor: Whitney Ng
Images Courtesy of Debra Raymond




供稿人: Whitney Ng
图片由Debra Raymond提供




INORI–PRAYER is digital art collaboration between Japan-based visual design studio WOW Inc., creative production team TOKYO, the Ishikawa Watanbe Laboratory at the University of Tokyo, and iconic dance duo AyaBambi. The project was the brainchild of Nobumichi Asai, creative and technical director of WOW Inc. Inspired by the soundtrack by Yosuke Nagao’s, Asai felt the music symbolized a radioactive, destructive power. The visuals and the choreography blend together to represent “death, suffering and sadness” as well as “the opportunity to overcome.”

《INORI–PRAYER》是日本视觉设计工作室 WOW Inc.携手创意制作团队TOKYO东京大学的石川渡辺研究室以及舞蹈组合AyaBambi一起打造的数码艺术项目。项目由 WOW 创意及技术总监Nobumichi Asai 发起。他在听到Yosuke Nagao的配乐后,深受启发,觉得它象征了一种放射性般的破坏力。通过将视觉效果和舞蹈相结合,表达出“死亡、痛苦和悲伤”的情绪以及“战胜的希望”。

One of the main challenges of the project was to ensure that the facial mapping would be precise throughout the entire dance segment. After three months of trial and error, the team managed to reduce the projection delay down to mere milliseconds — this was accomplished through the use of DynaFlash, a state-of-the-art 1,000 fps projector with an ultra high-speed sensing system. The projected images take on the form of a second skin, which continuously distort and transform the faces of AyaBambi’s two dancers throughout the entire performance.

这个项目的主要挑战之一是确保在整个舞蹈环节中获得精确的面部映射。历经三个月的试验后,团队使用最先进的1000fps DynaFlash 超高速传感投影机,成功地将投影延迟减低至数毫秒,投影图像宛如舞者的第二层皮肤,更使得AyaBambi 两位舞者的面孔在整个表演过程中扭曲和变幻出各种图案。

Website: w0w.co.jp


Contributor: Whitney Ng
GIFs Courtesy of Prosthetic Knowledge
Image Courtesy TOKYO
Video Courtesy of WOW Inc.




供稿人: Whitney Ng
GIF图由Prosthetic Knowledge提供

视频与由WOW Inc.提供


In post-war Japan, cities victim to firebombings were left in a state of ruin and despair. But in the wake of devastation, some Japanese architects optimistically saw opportunity; they saw a chance to prove the country’s resilience, rebuild their cultural identity, and transform the nation into an improved version of its previous self. During this period of time, the influential architectural movement known as Metabolism was born, revolving around the concepts of organic growth and megastructures. The idea was that buildings didn’t have to be static; instead, they could be ever-changing, adapting and transforming according to different needs. One of the most iconic buildings of the movement—the Nakagin Capsule Tower—can still be found today in Tokyo’s Ginza District. Built by the famous architect Kisho Kurokawa, the unique structure consists of 140 removable capsules plugged into two concrete cores and is the main subject of Noritaka Minami’s photo book 1972, named after the year that the building was officially completed.


Noritaka Minami is a Japanese-born and America-raised photographer who only began documenting the building in 2010. At the time, there was a sense of urgency to complete the project. “There was a very real possibility that it would be demolished and replaced with a more ‘conventional’ apartment complex,” says Minami. “As of today, the building does not face imminent destruction, but still faces a very uncertain future in regards to its preservation.” The building was experimental, a prototype that sought to explore the possibilities of alternative methods of urban living in the future. Through his photos, Minami wants to offer viewers an opportunity to see the past’s interpretation of the future.


“Each capsule is a container that has accumulated all of the moves and decisions that were performed by individuals over the course of four decades,” says Minami. “Although I do not directly depict the resident who occupies that space, I want each photograph to suggest that the capsule holds the history and presence of people who occupy or have occupied that space.” With respect to the inhabitants, his photographs are completely documentary in nature; objects, furnishings, and light were photographed as it were without any alterations on his part.


Shot on both medium and large-format cameras with an ultra-wide lens, Minami’s collection of images captures the nuances of each ten square meter living space, revealing the the ways each resident has adapted to the living conditions. “The limited space of a capsule also influences the amount of belongings each resident can possess, more so than a conventional apartment,” Minami mused. The restricted space of each capsule often leads to the majority of an inhabitant’s worldly belongings to sit out in plain view; To this effect, Minami saw each pod as an extension of each resident’s personality. “From a very early point in its history, the criticism against the Capsule Tower was that the individual units are too small and not flexible enough for everyday use,” he says. “Yet, the fact that these small rooms are still being occupied to this day demonstrate the residents’ ability to find new and unexpected applications within the limited area of ten square meters that go beyond the original vision of the building as urban homes for businessmen.”


As the Nagakin Capsule Tower is a private building, gaining access can be rather difficult for non-residents. “The project was only possible through the generosity of the couple that first allowed me to visit their capsule during the summer of 2010,” Minami explained. Many of the photographs in the book were made possible through the couple’s acquaintances in the building. By luck, Minami eventually met others in the building who granted him permission to document their pods, offering a candid glimpse into their living space.


During the time that Minami worked the project, the people that chose to live in the building came from all walks of life, ranging from a young local art student attending university to a construction worker in his sixties. What attracted each resident was different: some were interested in its historical significance, some were curious about living in an unconventionally built structure, and others lived there for practical reasons like convenience and affordability. Although many residents are in favor of preserving the building, aware of its history and cultural significance, there are some residents who aren’t as keen, seeing the potential of maximizing the prime real estate that the building sits on by replacing it with a newer apartment.


Minami’s book was finally published last year, made possible with a successful Kickstarter campaign and a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. “The idea of presenting this project as a photo book attracted me because the format could show more photographs than what is normally possible within the physical space of a gallery,” he explained. “Designing the book also presented challenges and possibilities that are different from designing an exhibition. I learned a lot by creating the specific selection and sequence of images in order for the series to be experienced as a book.” 1972 is now available online through Amazon and other select retailers.




Contributor: David Yen
Images Courtesy of Kana Kawanishi Art Gallery



寄稿人: David Yen
Images Courtesy of Kana Kawanishi Art Gallery

Japan, Pixelated

Since 2011, Japanese illustrator Toyoi Yuuta has been posting animated GIFs on his Tumblr under the moniker 1041uuu. Finding beauty in simplicity, he’s translated his vision of life in Japan into gorgeously animated pixel art. The highly approachable style of his pixel art has allowed his work to be widely praised and shared by netizens from all over the world. At the same time, Generation Xers, millennials, and gaming enthusiasts are able to more deeply appreciate the nostalgic qualities of his retro aesthetics.


Originally born in Fukushima, Toyoi is currently based out of Kyoto, preferring the quiet pace of life there compared to the sensory overload of Tokyo, where he had previously lived for six years. In those six years, Toyoi found solace and inspiration in different aspects of the Tokyo that many might not immediately associate with the city, such as its rivers. “I think I’ve been influenced by the unique rivers of all the cities I’ve lived in. In particular, Tokyo’s Sumida River had a profound impact on me,” he says. From a cityscape reflected on the rippling surface of a river to koi fish idly lazing beneath a lotus leaf-covered pond, water makes frequent appearances in Toyoi’s work and is often one of the most noticeable animated elements.


Another big influence for Toyoi is the popular arcade-style fighting game, The King of Fighters. The different two-dimensional background scenes in the game clearly lends inspiration for his animated GIFs. These in-game backgrounds range from forests with falling rain and leaves fluttering in the wind to industrial settings with machinery bellowing out clouds of steam. Some other scenes might depict more mundane moments of city life, such as lovers interacting in the background and blinking traffic lights. These little moments stuck in an infinite loop fascinated Toyoi. “To an art geek like me, these elements sparked something within me and I became interested in these realistic backdrops,” he says. Similar to the aesthetics of The King of Fighters and other retro fighting games, animating select details in a mostly still frame has become the trademark of Toyoi’s work.


For many artists, figuring out how to make sustainable income while pursuing their creative vision can be problematic, and Toyoi isn’t an exception. He revealed that his initial decision to create pixel art was in part due to to the restrictive nature of the tools he had access to. “I was poor and unemployed. I didn’t have a pen tablet and only had a PC track pad. But to create pixel art, I don’t need a high-resolution computer or much special knowledge and training,” he recalled. Despite garnering high praise for his GIFs, the popularity of his work still hasn’t translated into any money-making opportunities. “I still don’t have any money at the moment, so I’m trying to sell some of my artwork now,” Toyoi candidly admitted. “I’m looking into selling silkscreen prints in the near future.”


Introverted by nature, Toyoi tells us that people aren’t of much interest to him. Instead, his interests lie in the intangible, such as the feelings and smells of a place, holding the belief that these are the elements that truly make up the essence of a city. “The world is filled with rules that aren’t explicitly written out, and it feels like I’m not very good at reading them, because I don’t understand these unspoken codes. I find society to be a scary place,” he says. Toyoi’s work is a tranquil respite from the whirlwind of unpredictability, volatility, and anxiety that plague our modern lives. His gift lies in the way that he’s able to invoke a blissful sense of tranquility by simply presenting the nuanced beauties of life that many overlook, rendering these ordinary moments into gorgeous works of art.


It generally takes Toyoi two days to complete a GIF. The preliminary planning stages are admittedly much more difficult, he says. It’s crucial for him to avoid repetition. “Sometimes choosing the idea can take up to two weeks. Even now, two months can go by without me drawing anything,” he says. “For example, if I have already drawn a picture of a businessman asleep in a in a bus, then I would not draw a picture of a student asleep on a train.  There is no essential difference in my mind between the sleeping businessman and the sleeping student, or a train and a bus.”


“For now, I’ll be content if my work allows people to better appreciate the world around them. Japan has many problems, such as the threat of earthquakes, nuclear power plant accidents, distrust of the government, overworked people suffering from work-related stresses, and so on.” As if to counterbalance these large scale, hard-to-solve problems that trouble his mind, Toyoi’s charming GIFs instead hone in on the simple beauties of everyday life in Japan. “Regardless of some of the country’s issues, I want people to visit Japan. I certainly recommend Kyoto.”


Tumblr: 1041uuu.tumblr.com
Instagram: @1041uuu


Contributor: David Yen

Tumblr: 1041uuu.tumblr.com
Instagram: @1041uuu


寄稿人: David Yen

The Post Town of Tsumago-juku

Lasting between 1603 and 1868 was the Edo era, one of the most prosperous periods of time in the history of Japan. During this time, Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, the last feudal Japanese military government, and the country’s 300 daimyō, the all-powerful feudal lords who ruled most of the land. Characterized by intensive economic growth, an excessively strict social order, isolationist foreign policies and a flourishing art scene, the Edo period played a profound role in the industrial, artistic and intellectual development of Japan.


Located in Nagiso, Nagano Prefecture, Tsumago-juku is the 42nd of the 69 post towns on the Nakasendō, a trade route that stretched over 530 km and connected modern-day Tokyo with Kyoto during the Edo period. As one of the most well-preserved towns in Japan, people stopping by Tsumago are usually visitors looking to experience an authentic slice of Japanese history and soak in the ambience of a historic Japanese post town.

長野県の南木曽町(なぎそまち)に位置する妻籠宿(つまごじゅく)は、江戸時代の商業街道として現在の東京と京都を結ぶ530 kmに渡って栄えた中山道六十九次のうち42番目の宿場でした。日本国内で最も保存状態に優れた町である妻籠宿を訪れる観光客らは、歴史的な日本の宿場町の雰囲気に浸り、日本史の真の一面に触れることができます。

Before becoming a part of the Nakasendō route, Tsumago was part of the Kisoji, a minor trade route running through the Kiso Valley. The town fell into poverty after the construction of the Chūō Main Line railway, which bypassed Tsumago. As a result, the town ended up being neglected for over a century. Yet, with enough dedication and effort from locals, over 20 houses were restored by 1971. Five years later, Tsumago was deemed as a Nationally Designated Architectural Preservation Site by the Japanese government and has since then become a fairly popular tourist destination.


It only takes a short ten minutes to go through the entirety of Tsumago on foot. A myriad of wooden Edo-style temples, shrines and two-story inns are scattered along the street. Cars are strictly prohibited on the main road during the day, and all the power cables along with the telegraph lines are concealed. It’s details like these that brings forth the feeling of having traveled back in time for visitors.


Different kinds of accommodations are available for travelers, including a rebuilt version of the town’s honjin, which used to be a major way station for government officials. It was the place where only feudal lords and other representatives of the shogunate would stay during their travels. Originally destroyed, the inn was reconstructed in 1995, but the new building still manages to retain the sense of charm that it once held during the Edo era.


The waki-honjin, which is a smaller version of the honjin, is the secondary inn. In the past, it accommodated travelers of lower status and retainers of the feudal lords. Reconstructed in 1877, the waki-honjin was rebuilt with Japanese cypress, which was actually prohibited by the government during those times. According to the rules, when two official parties were traveling through Tsumago, only the most powerful of the two could stay in the main honjin, while the other party must reside in the waki-honjin.


The government has a set of stringent laws that prevents any of the buildings in Tsumago to be rented out, sold, or demolished. The town remains uninhabited nowadays, and its only the traditional craft shops and inns crammed with people during the tourist season that brings the sleepy town to life. But for people looking to experience a piece of Japanese cultural history, this quaint little town is a must-visit destination.


Contributor: Anastasia Masalova
Photographer: Tutu

寄稿者: Anastasia Masalova
カメラマン: Tutu

Art Island Naoshima

Setouchi Triennale takes place in spring, summer and autumn once every three years and lasts for 108 days. It is held on the 12 islands of the Seto Inland Sea, including Teshima, Megijima, Naoshima, and so on. With the largest number of installations and public works on display in Naoshima, this remote island is one of the most popular destinations during the Triennale.


Designed by the world-famous architect Tadao Ando, the Chichu Art Museum lives up to its name (chichu means “underground” in Japanese); a very large part of the museum’s compound is indeed concealed underground. Surprisingly, it manages still to use natural daylight as its main source of light. Through Ando’s masterful design, he has engaged in a conversation between architecture and nature. The museum is also exhibiting Time/Timeless/No Time from the iconic American minimalist artist Walter de Maria, Claude Monet’s large-scale oil painting Water Lily, as well as the American contemporary artist James Terrell’s Open Sky – an installation work using light as the medium. It is very rare to witness the work of impressionist, modern and contemporary art in one single museum. This alone would be reason enough to pay a visit.


Another must-see museum is the Lee Ufan Museum. Widely considered as the most well-established Korean contemporary artist, Lee Ufan was also one of the leading artists of the Japanese minimalism movement, which has had a significant influence in the world of contemporary art. The museum opened in 2010, and is now considered an architectural masterpiece and one of Tadao Ando’s most iconic creations. In this semi-underground building, the main visual design elements are the dots, lines, and surfaces; these elements, which are central in the works of both Tadao Ando and Lee Ufan, perfectly compliment each other in the space. Some of Lee Ufan’s large-scale installations and his early paintings are also on display in the museum.


After seeing the museum, visitors can also take a walk to the peaceful harbour of Naoshima where one can get an award-winning ice cream for only 550 yen and enjoy a beautiful sunset. Even though walking is a fairly feasible option for getting around, there are also busses running to most parts of the island. One bus is even decorated in Yayoi Kusama’s signature pumpkin patterns.


Also located on the island is the Art House Project, where artists have turned empty houses on the island into works of art. Visitors can easily access all of the revamped buildings by foot after getting off at one of many convenient bus stops. For the purpose of protecting the artworks, photography is forbidden in most of the houses. A local volunteer told me all the works showcased for the Art House Project will be kept permanently. Most of the residential housing on the island are built with wood, standing one next to the other in close proximity. All the windows and doors are smaller than normal, bringing a different yet interesting experience for city dwellers who visit. Even the houses themselves come in rather small sizes. The gardens and plants around the houses are beautifully and neatly arranged in a traditional Japanese style. Wandering around, you might also spot interesting details that reveal the tasteful eye of the house owners, such as a cute Tanuki sculpture or artwork made of recycling cans.


Besides all the interesting museums, the island itself also has a certain charm that it offers. The wooden walls and rusty metal factories add a natural texture to the island, giving it a sense of mysterious beauty that can only come with old age. Walking around, you’ll spot even more artwork, such as interesting silhouettes of people made with lines of wool, which are attached to walls throughout the area. They’re often quietly hidden away behind corners, waiting to surprise you when you turn around. It almost felt like these whimsical artworks were playing hide-and-seek with the tourists.


Not far from Miyanoura Port lies the famous polka-dot pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama. It sits quietly by the sea and the water’s blue hues seemed to make the pumpkin’s yellow brighter than ever. Yayoi Kusama’s merchandise can be purchased at the Benesse House Museum, which also showcases other very interesting artworks. From there, you can head to a café located on the mountaintop to relax with a nice cup of coffee. It is the perfect place to bask in the sunlight, while embracing the gentle wind coming in from the beach. The tranquil vibes of the island, the cutting-edge architecture of the art museums, and the traditional Japanese houses all co-exist harmoniously, perfectly demonstrating the unique nature of Naoshima.




Contributor & Photographer: George Liu Zhen
Additional Image Courtesy of Chi Chu Art Museum



寄稿者&カメラマン: George Liu Zhen
Additional Image Courtesy of 地中美術館

Fluorescent Tranquility

Having grown up in the northern Japanese city of Hokkaido, where it’s covered by snow for half of the year, artist Yukako Shibata’s inspiration is deeply rooted in her childhood memories of the snow-covered landscape. This influence can be seen in her work, in which she creates sculptures with organic shapes that are juxtaposed against white backgrounds.


“Snow definitely gave me lots of inspiration to make my sculptures, and I feel like there’s a sense of harmony when white covers everything,” she says. Influenced by her nostalgic memories of snow, Shibata often uses the white walls and other part of the exhibition space as her canvas.


Shibata is more intrigued by shadows, reflections, colours, and the negative space of the surrounding environment as opposed to the actual object itself. She’s also fascinated by small, seemingly trivial things. Shibata’s sensitivity to the mundane is evident in Breeze, where she used eight pieces of plaster, similar to wrinkled paper or plastic bags, and painted them white before placing them onto an all-white wall. Colors painted on the back of the plaster are reflected onto the all-white wall by natural light, adding a magical, ethereal quality to the creation.


Colour is an important subject in Shibata’s art. “My colours tend to be understated in terms of its hue and vibrancy. Having said that, I actually use the strongest possible colours, such as fluorescent ones, but I hide them by turning the colourful side to face the wall, so that all you see is the reflection of the colour,” Shibata explained. “When it comes to my painted surfaces, no matter how subtle and pale the colours may be, there is a long process of layering and glazing the different colours over time to achieve the soft shimmering effect. My colour is slow in revealing itself and requires a bit of time to tune into. At first glance, you may see not very much, and as you observe longer you will gradually begin to notice more and more details.”


Shibata’s work also often revisits similar forms and shapes, commonly working with circles, spherical, round, or egg-like forms. She explains that this personal preference is beyond intellectual understanding and she’s simply led by her instincts. “A circle is the most complete and self-containing abstract form that symbolizes the beginning of everything. It symbolizes life, our world, and even eternity in different cultures, hence I feel like it suggests something greater,” Shibata explains. “Modeling or carving round forms is satisfying and feels really natural to me. It’s pleasing to my eyes, and the process also feels quite nurturing for the soul.”


Shibata says that White Circle is one of her most understated works, which she describes as an experimental and conceptual idea. Minimalistic and colorless, the shadow is the dominant aspect of this creation. During exhibitions, it’s also purposefully placed in a slightly higher position in the gallery.

柴田さんは、自ら実験的かつ概念的アイデアと表現するWhite Circleが自身の作品のうちで最も地味な作品の一つであると言います。ミニマルで無色のこの作品を支配するものは影です。展覧会開催中、この作品は意図的にギャラリー内の若干高い位置に展示されます。

In Circles & Gold Frame, Shibata used egg-shaped objects and took a more formal approach. She placed several colourful round objects in a traditional gold picture frame, which questions the notion and tradition of painting and frames. She said, “I wondered what if I give a frame to my sculptures that obviously doesnʼt require one. My sculptures are bigger and can’t be contained by the frame. They aren’t being protected. Would it change anything?”

Circles & Gold Frameで、柴田さんは卵型のオブジェを使い、より形式的なアプローチを採用しました。絵画と額の概念と伝統に異議を唱えるように、色鮮やかな複数の丸いオブジェを古風な金色の額の中に配置したものです。彼女は、「額など当然必要ない自分の彫刻に額を付けたらどうだろうと考えたんです。額より大きな私の彫刻は額に入りません。彫刻は額に保護されていないわけです。それで何かが変わるでしょうか?」

Website: yukakoshibata.com


Contributor: Shanshan Chen
Images Courtesy of Yukako Shibata

ウェブサイト: yukakoshibata.com


寄稿者: Shanshan Chen
Images Courtesy of Yukako Shibata

Manhole Covers in Japan

In the mid-1900s, Tokyo and other major Japanese cities started implementing new manhole covers. Using textured surfaces to increase traction for passing traffic on rainy days, the new designs were created with both safety and functionality in mind. Not long after the implementation of these new manhole lids, Yasutake Kameda, an official from the Ministry of Construction, was tasked with convincing other Japanese provinces to connect to the main sewage system, which was a costly operation. In order to win over the public, he had a brilliant plan. Yasutake approached all the various municipalities with a proposition that allowed them to design their own manhole covers. His success is evident; throughout the country, turning manhole covers into beautiful pieces of art has become a tradition that’s still alive and well today.


The entire country of Japan now boasts over 6,000 of these custom manhole lid designs. They can be spotted in large metropolises as well as various rural areas. On top of that, there are even multiple museums throughout the country dedicated to manhole covers; some companies have even organized specialized committees that researches and preserves these lids. This cultural phenomena has attracted a devout following, including S. Morita, a photographer who has become well known for finding and documenting these works of art.

日本の大都市だけでなく数々の農村地域には、現在6千個以上の特注マンホールデザインが見られます。さらに国内では、マンホールの蓋のみを集めた専門博物館が多数あるだけでなく、蓋を調査して保管する専門委員会を組織化した企業さえ存在します。この文化的現象は、このような芸術作品の発掘とドキュメント化で著名な写真家、S. Morita氏のような熱心な愛好家を魅了してきました。

In Morita’s photos, the multicolored manhole lids can be seen exploring a wide spectrum of subjects, with animal and plant life, cultural customs, and history being the most common themes. At times, the manhole covers are designed to commemorate certain events or dates. There are even manholes that feature characters from the famous Japanese anime Detective Conan. The designs on certain manhole covers also serve as identifiers for the jurisdiction responsible for maintenance. Others might place more emphasis on functionality and practicality, some feature directions, others might cover up subterranean fire hydrants, and some lids in residential areas even offer directions to nearby emergency shelters by using different colored arrows to indicate how far the shelter is. There are also taboos when it comes to manhole cover art, with an unspoken rule being to not feature portraits of people. Besides portraits, it’s also uncommon to see national shrines and temples on these lids.


The next time you’re in Japan, take notice of the ground when you’re walking about. You just might find yourself standing on a piece of art!


: ~/mrsy


Contributor: Banny Wang
Images Courtesy of S. Morita

: ~/mrsy


寄稿者: Banny Wang
Images Courtesy of S. Morita

Kristen Liu’s Art

Born and raised in San Francisco by her grandmother and art teacher mother, Kristen Liu-Wong spent her childhood inside museums or at school with her mum who was finishing a degree in textiles. She looked up to artists in high school who had either begun as illustrators or street artists, influencing her choice to study illustration at Pratt Institute, New York. “It seemed to be a little fresher than the fine art world of Chelsea which is why I didn’t go into painting,” she says.

土生土长于美国洛杉矶,由祖母和身为艺术老师的妈妈一手带大,Kristen Liu-Wong的童年不是就浸润在博物馆里,就是跟着当时进行面料设计深造的妈妈待在学校里。她高中的启蒙艺术偶像不是插画家就是街头艺术家,所以在纽约普拉特学院她选择了插画作为专业。“那似乎比切尔西式的纯美术更有意思一点,所以我也没有学油画。”

Now based in L.A., her bold artwork explores themes of sexuality, power and violence through her personal portrayal of Japanese folk art. In an attempt to reveal all aspects of human nature she paints bright, bizarre narratives – their playful neon colors making a mockery of the darker, grotesque subject matter.


Her unique, surrealist style combines cartoon-inspired science fiction with the eroticism of Japanese shunga prints. Although she is Chinese, “the graphic nature of Japanese shunga is just so appealing that I especially draw upon that influence”. The environments she creates are of an exaggerated aesthetic, but she feels like the actions, circumstances and characters all speak to her personal reality. The scenes are unrealistic yet focus on relatable, everyday themes such as sexuality and vulnerability. This is reminiscent of Japanese shunga, which traditionally portrays the aesthetics of everyday life despite its overzealous eroticism.


Unlike her relatively mild-mannered self, Kristen’s fantastical, fictional space-witches embody sex as well as violence. “I was tired of seeing women portrayed as flat, weak characters with nothing to offer. Women are often portrayed sexually but by men for men – I wanted to show a woman’s perspective of our sexuality”. Their often threatening manner, blemished skin and black eyes offer something visually upsetting to offset their sexuality.


She knows pretty early on in the creative process how each piece will look by quickly sketching a thumbnail of the main figures and general composition. This then translates into a final drawing, which is transferred onto a panel for the painting; the specific colors and patterns are chosen as she goes along. “The artist Jan Yager once said something that really resounded with me: ‘I decided I had to do work that was authentic – of its place and of its time’, so I always try to approach my work with full commitment to try my best and not cut corners.”

她在创作每一幅作品的早期已有整体布局,知道如何通过快速勾勒出主要人物的缩略图进行主题呈现。随后,她将最后的画面放到木板上进行细化上色,具体的色彩和线条在这个实现的过程中诞生。“艺术家Jan Yager曾说过一句深得我心的话: ‘我决心创作真实的作品,无论是在空间还是在时间维度上。所以我总是全力以赴地投入我的工作,不走任何捷径。’”

She says, “I always have a new favorite piece because I believe that you’re only as good as your latest piece. I try to make each painting my new best.” An important mantra to keep motivated, she’s currently involved in a variety of exciting projects including a mural for Nous Tous gallery in Chinatown, L.A. before their opening of Everything You Own is Mine on August 6th. Her biggest upcoming show will be a two-person show in November at Ruckus Gallery Philadelphia – “that is the one that’s really going to be fun, but will also kick my ass.”

她说:“我最爱的作品总是我最新的作品,因为我相信只有最新的作品才能代表自己当下的水平。每一次的创作我都努力做到最好。”为了鞭策自己不断进步,她目前参与的项目内容涉猎广泛,有8月6号在洛杉矶中国城Nous Tous画廊的《Everything You Own is Mine》一展开幕做壁画;而11月的费城Ruckus画廊,将引来她的双人大展,“那真的很有意思,同时也绝对是自我挑战与突破呀。”

Instagram: @kliuwong


Contributor: Ruby Weatherall



供稿人: Ruby Weatherall