character

Elegant ladies dancing on the street at Shinto festival in Shiba

お祭りのときに、素敵な着物を着たおばあさんが、路上で踊っています。友だちのバスと、9月の芝のお祭りに行きました。

On a wide boulevard normally devoted to multi-lane auto traffic, nothing could be more beautiful than the site of elegant ladies in matching kimonos and hats dancing in synchronized movements. The summer and fall Shinto festivals transform business Tokyo into a series of village parties evoking an agrarian culture rarely sensed inside the megalopolis.

Below are photos from the Shiba matsuri. The sub-group near my friend Bas’ home displayed photos from the 1945 festival, just a month after the end of the war in which the entire neighborhood and much of Tokyo was burnt to the ground. The last photo shows a man who is both telling stories and selling bananas, a continuation of an Edo-era festival character.

In the photos you can see how on a special holiday, the streets, overpasses, convenience stores, and other mundane urban spaces are transformed into a very social and well dressed public environment.

Shiho ceramic teachers and students make sake bottle character

180度開脚しているのが一番好きです。史火陶芸教室の先生と生徒さんが「とっくりとっくん」という日本酒のキャラクターの陶芸を作りました。このキャラクターのことをあまり知りませんでしたが、面白いですね。

This sake bottle character is named Tokkuri Tokkun (とっくりとっくん). The Shiho ceramic studio teachers and students each made one. I like Tokkuri Tokkun’s super-flexible limbs, particularly the one doing the splits.

Fantasy landscape with fountain, palm, and odd characters

A miniature fantasy landscape freely shared on a Tokyo curbside.

ミニチュアのファンタジー風景が舗道 の縁石を占領している。

This tiny curbside garden is a fantasy landscape in miniature in what was probably dead space previously between the house and the road. There’s moving water, a palm tree, plants, and several odd characters. I found it just across the road from the giant tree on that former country lane that is now barely visible in Suginami, not far from Opera City.

The contents are fun in their whimsical incongruity. Even in this tiny space, there are several overlapping vignettes. A tiny palm tree joined by a sliver bunny and a character that appears to be a cross between European Romanticism and anime; several Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) beneath some mid-height bushes; and the fountain with water plants and a character trio with a helmeted princess, a red Cobra super-hero whose left arm is a semi-automatic weapon, and an over-sized yellow dog. The fountain features plants, a tiny cliff-side, and bathtub ducks.

The garden structure is very DIY: low-cost, anonymously designed, and highly imaginative. I love that the gardener is sharing this creation with the neighbors and passers-by. The garden’s minimal foundation is constructed mostly of  low-lying brick with some wood fencing. I particularly like the tag that shows the flowers that will bloom later.

Thanks again to @ArchitourTokyo for the great bike tour where we discovered this sculpture garden.

Konoike Tomoko: Inter-Traveller

Konoike Tomoko: Inter-Traveller

I recently visited Konoike Tomoko’s (鴻池朋子) immersive retrsopective show called Inter-Traveller at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. Presented as a child-like journey to the center of the earth, Konoike’s art creates a universe of myths in which nature and humans become merged in fantasy: six-legged wolves, wolves and butterflies with young girl’s legs and red running shoes, volcanoes with human faces, a fuzzy ball character with legs and no head, a giant ball with antlers and wings and human birth, swords, and giant books.

Konoike Tomoko: Inter-Traveller

This first comprehensive exhibit include pencil on paper, painting, fusuma screens, installations, animations, and sculpture. Some rooms are entered by very low passage ways, and the second to last room has a giant spinning baby’s head covered in mirrors, surrounded by mariners’ ropes and broken glass. The movement of light around the room made me hold on to the railing with intense vertigo. The final room almost forces the visitor to confront nature and death in a tangible way; fortunately there was a discreet side escape for the squeamish.

I mention Konoike’s work because her wonderous myth-making projects a vision of humans in a state of crisis and seeking meaning through nature, mystery and travel. Just as some argue that most agricultural invention and technology comes from cities, I felt that Konoike’s art, while drawing on the natural world and spirits, is deeply urban and contemporary. The journey to the center of the earth and to rebirth, she suggest, involves imagination, play and communication between the living and the dead. I was not surprised to learn that her atelier is in one of the world’s most urban locations, Akihabara, and that her background includes toy and character design along with fine arts.

Konoike Tomoko Inter-Traveller