Featuring 14 Japan-Based Artists & Over 100 Pieces of Artwork
With Spring comes new beginnings! Tokyo Art Studios is thrilled to announce their inaugural exhibition, titled “Spring Healing”, which features over 100 artworks by 14 emerging and establishedartists based in Japan. The “Spring Healing” exhibition runs until March 28 2021.
The exhibition highlights artist experiences in Japan using varying aesthetics relating to their mediums, including oils, acrylic, watercolor, illustrations, silkscreen, and photography. The artists hail from Japan and around the world, but all call Japan home today. The themes of Japan’s nature, arts and society, are woven into all the pieces.
All artworks can be viewed online at a later date but come see them in person while you can. Some featured artists include:
Johnna Slaby is an abstract artist born and raised in Japan, and currently works between Japan, the UK, and the US. Utilizing various materials from acrylics to coffee, she creates abstract pieces that are reminiscent of a late-afternoon coffee or the golden hour near a river. Through the experiences and stories that she comes across during her travels and life, she works them into pieces to create memories people can see. From her large canvas pieces to her intimate paper studies, she dissects both mundane and profound moments of life, continuing to ask, What does it mean to be alive?
Shinjiro Tanaka is an artist who expresses the infinite possibilities of simple lines by combining contradictory elements such as calmness and passion, past and future, and life and death. His works are not limited to canvas painting, but also include murals, apparel, three-dimensional objects, and digital art. Born in CA in 1985, he graduated from Keio University in 2008 and moved to NYC after working for Dentsu. He brings a variety of experiences to his art, including working as a music producer’s assistant and Performing with Nile Rodgers and CHIC, launching the apparel brand BSWK, and performing at Heisei Nakamura-za in New York. After returning to Japan, he held his first solo exhibition “FACE” in 2018; at the end of 2018, he performed live art on the streets of New York for 30 days, and the following year held his solo exhibition “NYC STREET ART PROJECT”. The same year, he won the ART BATTLE TOKYO competition and has been working unconventionally in Japan and abroad, exhibiting at a gallery in London and creating murals on the streets.
Keiko Takeda’s practice allows her to express her favorite places and unknown corners of the world through colors and shapes. Each subject is made warmer with her brush as she believes that colors have feelings that embody our own emotions. Keiko has shown her work in many exhibitions, both solo and group shows.
Marie Ikura studied art, and more specifically painting, while at Tama Art University before becoming a professional artist whose signature style is based on live art. Often, Marie creates live paintings that share space, time, and music with the people present where her work is ever-evolving as the paint scatters, making sounds such as “voice of color”. In addition, she engages in participatory art like wearing art or consuming art. Her live work has taken her to regions in Europe and Southeast Asia.
A new Tokyo gallery which opened this March (2021) – Tokyo Art Studio strives to provide a platform for the global community of emerging artists based in Japan. Through exhibitions and programming, TAS encourages our community to creatively connect with one another through the power of art and dialogue. To learn more about Tokyo Art Studio
The Studio is located at 3-17 -12 Minami Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Visits outside of exhibit times are by appointment only.
Email and questions or request for interviews to contact@TokyoArtStudioGallery.com.
Japan Subculture Research Center is proud to present the latest addition to a series of short stories, by our resident book reviewer and social commentator, Kaori Shoji, on the often tragically mismatched marriages of foreign men and Japanese women–The Amazing Japanese Wife. If you see echoes of someone you know or yourself in this story, be rest assured that you’re a cliche—but take solace in the fact that misery is universal. This new story is apocryphal in the sense that the protagonist is unmarried–but seeking to be married.
In high school, Kimie read a novel about a woman who lived in a shack that was sinking into a sand pit. One day, sheer chance leads a man–an outsider–to wander into the woman’s shack. Initially, she’s kind and welcoming but she takes steps to ensure that the man can’t leave. Soon she sets him to work shoveling the ever-present sand out of her door, which she herself has been doing everyday for years. Otherwise, the sand will claim the shack completely and the woman will have no place to live.
At the time, Kimie was sixteen and was reveling in the power of her sexuality. She didn’t need to trap a man in the sand to get him to do anything–most of them were putty in the hands of a girl in a school uniform. When she stood on the platform of the train station she could feel the particles in the air around her change and shift, as men craned their necks to get a better look at the back of her knees and her neck and her long, perfect hair. A man in a neat, expensive-looking suit once gazed at her intently and pressed a 10,000 yen bill in her hand. “This is so you can kiss me later,” he whispered, before striding rapidly away.
For all that, the woman in the shack that was sinking into the sand, haunted Kimie. As she grew older it seemed she was turning into this woman, shoveling out sand alongside the man she had trapped. She knew exactly how this woman felt, and how earnestly she needed the man in her sand blown life. After she hit her forties, Kimie identified more with the man. She could picture him, desperately clawing at the sand, eyes darting wildly as he searched for a way to escape.
Kimie had turned 47, and was living with her mother in the same house she had lived in since childhood.
Three weeks into the pandemic shut-down, Kimie felt her synapses fraying, and then unraveling. Her hair was falling out in chunks and her skin was clammy to the touch in some places, while in others it was dry and chilly. The soles of her feet had the texture of old, cracked rubber. She would get up in the morning, and too distracted to open the curtains, would immediately turn on the news, mentally preparing for the day’s dreary horrors as if they were a mere extension of her fitful nightmares.
“Kimi-chan, Kimi-chan!” After half an hour of staring at the screen, the calls of her mother from the kitchen downstairs, would alert her to the fact that she had procrastinated long enough. It was time to face her mother at the table, over coffee and toast with synthetic butter and cheap jam.
The sight of her mother, aged 77, instilled a sense of silent panic deep within Kimie’s soul. This is where I’m going, this is what I’ll look like. She knew such thoughts were vain and unworthy but she had decided long ago that it was okay to have them. Until five years ago when her father was still alive, Kimie could convince herself that she valued her parents because they brought her up and sacrificed much for this life of hers. In her youth, this life had seemed to be the most enticing item in the whole shop. She had pointed to it with her finger and it became hers, gift-wrapped and bow-tied. The bill had been sent round to her father, who paid without complaint. But now the sand was getting into the nooks and nannies and crevices of her pretty little life.
On good days, Kimie would tick off her milestones in her mind, if only to remind herself that she was special, and her life was, if not completely wonderful then surely presentable. A semester in a high school in Missouri, courtesy of a school-sponsored home stay program. She had called her father collect to ask for 500 extra dollars to spend on a prom dress, subsequently torn in three places by her geeky, fumbling boyfriend as he frantically groped her in his parents’ car. A year in Pennsylvania during university because she had insisted to her father that she needed to improve her English in order to land a good job. Her father had wired 800 dollars into her account every month so she could eat well, go to parties and well, improve her English. (Which she did! She scored 900 on TOEIC!) A trip to Italy and France as a graduation present. At the time, all these things made enormous sense to her, and besides, her mother had encouraged her every step of the way. “I want you to have the life that I could never have, Kimi-chan,” she intoned, the closest thing her mother ever came to a prayer. She would also say, “The world is so different from when I was young. I had no choices, no options, nothing but the life that was put in front of me.” This was her mother’s mantra, pulled out whenever she got into a fight with her husband or daughter, knowing it would make them feel guilty enough to shut up and back off.
Kimie had allowed herself to buy into the myth that her mother, comfortably ensconced in their house in a Tokyo suburb purchased with a 30-year mortgage, had been abused and victimized by the Japanese social system. By embracing that myth Kimie took it upon herself–the brilliant girl who had studied in the US, could speak English and got a job in a bank–to be happy and successful. This would compensate for her mother’s apparently miserable and downtrodden existence. Kimie had believed she was doing the right thing, only to realize in middle age that she was trapped, a prisoner in the cell of her own bedroom.
Kimie’s younger brother had always rebelled against their parents and left home at the same time he chose a university in the northern tip of Japan–as far away from Tokyo as he could get without going abroad. Relatives had pitied her brother, he chose a national university with low tuition and turned down their father’s offer of a loan so he could rent an apartment. Instead, Kimie’s brother Youki spent four years in a cramped, filthy college dorm. Occasionally, he called to let his family know he was all right. After graduation, he stopped by to say he had found a job at a mid-sized electronics manufacturer. Youki had none of the privileges Kimie had taken for granted but he gained the kind of strength and freedom she couldn’t even fathom. Now, Kimie found it hard to wrap her mind around the fact that her brother had his own house, a family, even a dog–an elegant Dalmatian named Sabu whom she had seen only once. Youki had left and never came back. She had been the cosseted, dutiful daughter who stayed, and stayed and stayed at home. “At least I have you, Kimi-chan,” her mother liked to say. “As long as you’re still here, I have nothing to complain about, really.”
Kimie felt as if her insides had dried out and her blood vessels were clogged with sand. Did the woman in the novel die in the end? Kimie couldn’t remember but neither could she recall when she had her last period.
“Kimi-chan, are you working today?” Her mother, chewing toast, tossed the question in the air and Kimie nodded with a small grunt. There was a Zoom conference at 3PM for which she planned to turn the camera off. Until then she could pretend to do some paperwork, answer some emails, make a few calls. How long would that take? Maybe a couple of hours. Even with the Zoom conference slotted in, there were still ten or more waking hours that had to be whiled away somehow, secluded in her prison cell. Putting her dishes in the sink for her mother to wash, Kimie plodded to the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face. She saw no reason to change out of her pajamas, it wasn’t like she was going anywhere.
Kimie didn’t like life under the pandemic. At times, the strain of being cooped up inside a small house with her mother felt intolerable. But she hated her pre-Covid life even more, with a ferociousness that had her contemplating suicide at least three nights a week.
In late 2019 Kimie had an epiphany: instead of dying she would get married! Marriage would at least, enable her to leave her mother and the wretched house. In January, she signed up with a ‘konkatsu (marriage agency),’ dutifully paying the 300,000 yen registration fee and answering each and every match-up question. She understood from the hour-long meeting with the agency’s ‘counselor’ that these days, it was quite common for women in their 40s and 50s to look for partners, but the road to an actual wedding could take longer than expected. The 300,000 yen fee would cover her match-ups for up to one year. “What happens when a year goes by and I’m still single?,” Kimie had asked and the counselor, intimidating with her glowing skin and sleek hair, had chirped that most women found someone within 6 months. “Our advice is: try them out. Most of our clients haven’t dated in awhile and they’re all a bit rusty. We find that when the woman takes the lead, everything tends to fall in place. So don’t say no until you’ve tried them out!”
After screening a half dozen applicants, Kimie settled on the 56 year old Yamanishi-san, whose portrait photo reminded her a little of her father when he was that age. Yamanishi-san’s texts were charming; he seemed to know how to strike just the right tone between elaborately polite and paternally friendly. They agreed to meet for lunch in a kaiseki restaurant (his choice) in the posh district of Ginza, where he had booked an alcove facing a Japanese garden. “I love gardens in the winter. They’re so calm and soothing,” he texted, and Kimie felt a little thrill of anticipation. It had been a long time since she had been courted, on any level, by a man. Maybe she really was about to get a ticket out of the sand shack–her private nickname for home.
Exactly 24 hours before the appointed time, she had her roots done at an expensive salon in Aoyama. Two weeks prior to that, she had bought a dress at a department store, along with a fresh pair of panty hose and brown leather pumps. On the day, she scrutinized herself in the mirror and decided she didn’t look a day over thirty-nine. Saying nothing to her mother, Kimie went to the restaurant with as little anxiety as she could manage. If this worked out, she would break the news to her mother gently, and suggest moving to a house in the immediate vicinity so they could visit often.
Yamanishi-san turned out to be a bit heavier than his photo, and with noticeably less hair but Kimie was willing to overlook these minor flaws. What was much more jarring, was the rift between his digital texts and his real life persona. Yamanishi-san didn’t even look at the garden but kept his gaze firmly on Kimie’s chest, as if he were a chef contemplating the char marks on a grilled steak. “You have a good body for a woman of your age,” he said. “Have you done much sports in school? I like a woman with good muscle tone.” Kimie smiled and said no, not really, she had been too busy studying English.
“Ah, yes! I read that in your resume. You’re not some idiotic female with zero skills, you’ve been out in the world and you can speak English! My mother would like that. She used to be a teacher in her day. She likes women with knowledge and work experience. She can’t stand dumb girls.”
The conversation went on in this vein and Kimie could hardly bring herself to sample the meal, made up of exquisite morsels of food artistically displayed on polished lacquerware. All she wanted to do now was go home, and slip into bed with her phone. She stopped listening to Yamanishi-san altogether and thought about Spotify. She really should update her playlists.
Suddenly, in the middle of wresting a thin piece of radish from a tiny portion of soup, Yamanishi-san fixed her with an intense stare and said, “Okay, I seriously have to ask you this question if we are going to take this relationship any further. What color is your that?”
Kimie could feel her cheeks tingle, and then burn, and could only mimic the last word in his question. “That?” she blurted, like a fool, she thought. Yamanishi-san nodded vigorously and said, “Yes, your that. You know, I can almost tolerate black nipples though I would much prefer them to be a lighter color. But a woman’s, you know, that–should never be dark. If we are to have sex, I don’t think I can perform very well if your that is a dark color.”
After a full ten seconds of silence in which Kimie sat there, her face turned desperately to the winter garden which struck her as being dull and ugly, Yamanishi san said in a gentler tone, “I’m sorry to have to ask you. But this is…not love, it’s not dating, don’t you see? This is an arrangement preceding marriage. I think that you are a smart, modern woman and maybe we could come to an understanding, the two of us. But neither of us is young, and there’s no time for beating around the bush. I have my priorities and I am being honest about them. Won’t you give me an answer?”
“I don’t know. I don’t usually look.” With that, Kimie stood up, clutching her handbag, and walked clumsily to the reception area where she asked for her coat. As soon as she was out of the restaurant, she grabbed her phone and blocked Yamanishi-san’s number after deleting all his texts.
Kimie’s thoughts often wandered back to that lunch, but the memories were not of Yamanishi-san. Indeed, within hours of that experience he had felt like a figment of her imagination, spawned as the result of the meeting with the chirping counselor and her stupid advice.
What Kimie recalls is how, as soon as she had gotten home and climbed the staircase to her room, she stripped off her coat and dress and peeled off her pantyhose. She took a mirror from her make-up drawer and held it close to her vagina. For several seconds, she had to struggle to see, but when she got a good enough view, she let out a sigh of relief. Her ‘that’ wasn’t black. In fact, the color could even be described as being on the light side. “If we are to have sex,” she whispered to herself. Then she had put the mirror away, pulled up her panties and got into bed. She could hear her mother calling her name from the kitchen but she shut her eyes tight and willed herself not to hear. The sand was seeping into her room, gathering in mounds all around her bed, lulling her to sleep. She would shovel it out later.
Note: Ms. Shoji should be credited for coining the word WAM (Western Anglo-Saxon Men) also (White American Men)–a more understandable term for the Charisma-man type of entitled self-important foreigners that once flooded these shores but now mostly live in Hong Kong, Beijing, or Singapore. Also, it should be noted that Ms. Shoji has always been an equal opportunity misanthrope, as evidenced in her book review entitled 21 Reasons Why Japanese Men Suck.
In 1967, Japanese photographer Joe Honda became the first Asian to capture the international motorsport scene.
More than 300,000 35 mm photographs and five decades later, Emiko Jozuka—Honda’s daughter—is reviving his legacy in an exhibition held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan between December 5, 2020, and January 8, 2021. The show will move to Hong Kong in February 2021, in Honda’s first international exhibition in Asia, outside of Japan.
In partnership with award-winning Tokyo photography atelier Shashin Kosha, this exhibitionbrings to life memories of motorsport’s golden age through a series of historic and rare photographs from Joe Honda’s rediscovered archive. Itoffers an intimate glimpse into Japan’s emergence on the global automotive and motorsport scene.
“The October 1966 international Fuji Speedway race was a landmark event that changed my father’s life, the art of motorsport photography and Japan as a nation. It was the first global race in Asia that defined Honda’s work and paved the way for Japan’s golden age of motoring,” says Emiko Jozuka, director of the Joe Honda Archive.
To the Japanese cognoscenti, the American Indianapolis 500 was a celebrated race, and hosting the first international Indy event in Japan heralded their country’s arrival as an industrial power. One photo in Honda’s series captures British driver Jim Clark flanked by curious Japanese onlookers as he prepares his IndyCar. In another, we see motorsport legend Jackie Stewart racing around the precarious bends of the Fuji Speedway.
Born in 1939, Joe Honda graduated from the Nihon University Department of Fine Arts and trained with famed photographer Yuji Hayata before going freelance. He began his five-decade-long career at the October 1966 Fuji Speedway race, where he crossed paths with British racing stars such as Jim Clark and Graham Hill, who had come to Japan for the first time. In 1967, Honda travelled to Europe to capture the Formula One season, and became the regional representative of the International Racing Press Association (IRPA).
Over a prolific international career, Honda captured iconic 35 mm film shots of Formula One stars such as Bruce McLaren, Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. He documented Formula 1, 2, 3, NASCAR, Indy races, 24 Hours of Le Mans, Paris-Dakar rallies, motocross and classic car races. His work was also exhibited in major art galleries such as the Nikon and Canon Salons in Tokyo and published extensively in works and publications related to the Formula One and the automotive industry.
“Honda’s archive spans 50 years and travels from the grit and glamour of motor racing’s golden years through its evolution into a technological arms race funded by big business. His photographs represent the developments, people and culture that shaped the motorsport industry. Preserving and showcasing them is crucial as they document a pivotal period in history, showing major shifts in the automotive and photographic industries through one artist’s perspective and evolving practice,” says Jozuka.
Emiko Jozuka is a Japan-born multimedia journalist for CNN Digital Worldwide, who grew up in the UK. She has worked for WIRED and VICE Media Group in London and the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and freelanced in Turkey. She holds degrees from the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lettres et Sciences Humaines in Lyon, France. In 2017 Jozuka founded the Joe Honda Initiative to share Honda’s collection with the broadest possible audience, attain support to catalogue and establish a foundation that democratizes access to art, photography and motorsports.
Takuji Yanagisawa, president of Shashin KoshaIn 1990 Takuji Yanagisawa became the second company president of award-winning Tokyo-based photography atelier Shashin Kosha. Since its founding in 1950, Shashin Kosha has merged tradition with innovation to support and showcase the work of Japan’s most outstanding photographers. In 1976, Shashin Kosha became the only photo atelier to win a special award for achievements and contributions to photography from the Japan Photographers’
IT’S OFFICIAL! A Japanese diner, TSUNAMI NAVY BURGER, located near the US military base in Yokosuka, calls the election for Biden w/ release of the Biden Burger: 600 grams, full of Philadelphia Cream Cheese (thanks Pennsylvania) and ¥1980 ($18). The diner might retire its predecessor, the fatty, artery clogging Trump Burger–but the jury is still out.
This gourmet delight was modeled on the Philadelphia Cheese steak sandwich. It contains a generous thick patty of beef, onions, peppers, paprika, sautéed mushrooms, lots of Philadelphia cream cheese–in a nod to Biden’s home state, Pennsylvania, which may have ensured his victory, and sprinkled with potato chips for a salty accent and a better mouth feel. It’s the taste of victory.
The Trump Burger which has been served since 2016, is a heart-clogging blend of peanut butter, soft-boiled egg, two bacon strips, Sloppy Joe sauce (ahem), cheddar cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato with a tiny USA flag on top (probably made in China).
Head down to TSUNAMI NAVY BURGER to celebrate if you’re a Democrat or to cheer yourself up if you’re a Trumper. Bon Appetit!
Tom of Finland (1920-1991) was a pioneer in LGBQT and homoerotic art, blazing a trial in Finland and his works have been shown all over the world. From today September 18th, his work will be exhibited for the first time in Japan (ever) at Parco Shibuya. In a country where alternative sexuality is still barely recognized and some politicians spew homophobic bile, it’s a small accomplishment that the show is being held.
The exhibition will only last until October 5th.
The show has taken nearly years to put together, was delayed by COVID19, and ran into numerous obstacles along the way; thanks to the collective efforts of all involved, including the Embassy of Finland, the show is finally taking place. The whole story behind the curtains is told eloquently in this piece by Justin McCurry in The Guardian ↘
The exhibition will show that his work was a catalyst for social change and acceptance of homosexuality while celebrating sensuality and the beauty of the male body. The curator of the exhibit and director of The Container, Mr. Shai Ohayon points out that Japan is still very much behind in the recognition of gay and LGBQT rights.
The exhibit is being sponsored by: The Finnish Institute in Japan. Finnish Institute in Japan. The Container (art gallery) and PARCO.
The exhibition was designed to coincide with Tom’s 100th birthday anniversary and ｆeatures a selection of 30 historical works, ranging from 1946 to 1989. They span the artist’s entire professional career, and highlight both his artistic versatility and present his identity as an LGBTQ legend who paved the way for LGBTQ rights worldwide and helped to shape gay culture.
2020/09/18~2020/10/05 Reality & Fantasy: The World of Tom of Finland at GALLERY X (B1F, Shibuya PARCO) https://art.parco.jp/
Open hours 11:00-21:00 *Last entry time 30mins before close *Close at 18:00 in 10/05 Admission is 500 yen.
*Pre-school child not allowed in
A documentary on the importance of Tom of Finland and the meaning of his art will also be shown at at two different theaters during the exhibition. “Award-winning filmmaker Dome Karukoski brings to screen the life and work of one of the most influential and celebrated figures of twentieth century gay culture: Touko Laaksonen, a decorated officer, returns home after a harrowing and heroic experience serving his country in World War II, but life in Finland during peacetime proves equally distressing. He finds postwar Helsinki rampant with homophobic persecution, and men around him even being pressured to marry women and have children. Touko finds refuge in his liberating art, specialising in homoerotic drawings of muscular men, free of inhabitations. His work – made famous by his signature ‘Tom of Finland’ – became the emblem of a generation of men and fanned the flames of a gay revolution.
by Shoko Plambeck The day my birth records were sent to a Shinto shrine my father skinned a badger and hung its coat above my crib. The tale of my birth supposedly unfolds like this: The day I was born the stars were restless and the earth was tossing a blizzard thick as cream through the Nebraskan plains. My father was on his way to work in his red Chevy when he came across a dash of brown, obscured by the snow like a fainting spell. He shot it, thinking it was a soft furred marten, but what he killed instead was a badger. The badger of the plains. Symbol of earth, grounding and consistency; finding her in such weather conditions was like the moon waxing when it should wane.
Still, he put the creature in the back of his truck. When he got to work, there was a call from my mother: It’s two months early, but I’m going into labour. My grandparents got the same call and flew in from Japan. When my obaachan first saw me she announced, This girl will be named Shoko, spirit in flight, and years later when I moved from place to place, hobby to hobby, man to man, she’d lament naming me so irresponsibly. In a shoebox, I went home.
The badger skin was nailed above my crib and my birth records were sent to the monk at the family Shinto shrine. The results came weeks later. My mother read as I drank eagerly from her; she herself was a dark star but at twenty-four she could not even imagine what that would mean. Only years later would she say that the badger had to be a mother and the unimaginable must have happened to make her split into the fatal snow.
My mother read: The child will need to seek grounding. In the moment she was born the stars were restless and they will reverberate through her blood forever. Before she could read any further, my grandmother snatched the fortune out of her hand and read: bright as Sirius, inconstant as Mercury.
This poem was originally posted in Matador Review but was reposted with permission of the author.
Shoko Plambeck is a writer, traveler, and poet. She studied English literature at Temple University in Tokyo and the University of Vermont. She currently lives in Japan but can’t wait to move back to the US to be with her cockatiel and poetry books again.
Anything and other than expected. A journey to some parts of Sadogashima
*This articles is reposted with permission from https://www.louiseclairewagner.com
When years ago, I first took notice of Sadogashima’s existence, I was instantly intrigued by the idea to visit there one day on my own. Though, I could not really tell why. For sure, pictures of the landscapes and the curiosity to discover the local culture played a part, howbeit Japan counts numerous astonishing places, and ultimately, I have to admit that it was above all the idea to break away which allured me as much. Indeed, I associated physical and mental distance with Sadogashima; disconnection, not with Japan, but somehow with the world. Before undertaking my journey, I had only briefly read some background information and not made any particular travel plan, as I wished to leave freedom to my own perceptions. However, and despite the aim to head out without any expectations, I quickly got confronted with fact that I had unconsciously and unwillingly pictured this place as well as my stay.
Seemingly small, Sadogashima, located off Niigata, is the largest island in the Sea of Japan. Its area is approximately 855 square kilometres and its coastline stretches around 280 kilometres. The population was at about 56,000 in the end of March 2018. Although I knew about this, I still couldn’t get rid of the idea that Sadogashima had to be compact and it was only through several walking and bicycle tours, and the distances together with the (hilly) relief put my physical capacities to the proof, that I finally started to agnise the island’s vastness.
Excavations from ruins indicate that Sadogashima has been inhabited for about 10,000 years. It was one of Japan’s independent provinces in the Nara Period, and early designated an island of exile. Beginning in AD 722 with Hozumi Asomioyu, further exiles included figures such as the former Emperor Juntoku in 1221, the Buddhist monk Nichiren in 1271, and Zeami Motokiyo in 1434, a Noh actor and writer, all of whom expressed critical opinions about the respective then-ruler. Today, many people ascribe the miscellaneous population and the cultural richness of the island to the prior exiles. Sadogashima is also known for its gold production, and back in the days, it was notably the shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu who promoted the development of gold and silver mines by placing them under the direct control of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The prosperity attracted diverse workers and resulted in a rapid rise of the island’s population, which reached a peak of 125,597 in 1950. The mines were operated from 1601 until 1974 and definitely closed in 1989. With a remarkably rich, diverse and well-preserved environment, Sadogashima was the last natural habitat of the internationally protected wild Japanese Crested Ibis (Toki) which became endangered and went extinct in 2003.
However, artificial insemination started in 1999 and after 2000, baby birds were raised with increasing success and released back into nature.
Today, the main industries on the island are agriculture and fishing, and although for me everywhere on the archipelago fish and seafood has so far been delicious, the incredible freshness and quality of Sadogashima’s catch (combined with a glass of local sake) was so tasty that I had to enjoy it for every single dinner.
When some weeks ago, I boarded the ferry that brings one within two and a half hours from Niigata Terminal to Sadogashima Ryōtsu Port, I immediately was captivated by the particular atmosphere and intrigued by some other passengers. There were few people; a group carrying music instruments, some families, a young couple with camping equipment; a couple with numerous stuffed manga characters (that got carefully installed along one of the ferry’s windows), as well as several dispatched individuals whose actions did occur rather incomprehensible to me… But this was only the beginning of my reflection upon the island’s curious population.
The accommodation I stayed at disposed a very small number of rooms, some shared facilities including a charming and neat salon and kitchen, and (just as I had pictured !) a large terrace with ocean view. There I was, the sea in front of my eyes, fairly disconnected, and incredibly happy.
At my arrival, most of the other rooms were occupied by a Japanese three-generation family who enjoyed dinner at the first floor-situated gourmet restaurant. Besides some words and friendly gestures, we did not further communicate though.
The following day, after returning from a long trip to the very south of the island, I met two young women who had planned to eat downstairs the accommodation and stay overnight. When they told me that they both lived on Sadogashima, and one of them only few minutes away from the accommodation, I was rather surprised and wondered why they would book a room although they could practically walk home. Anyway, I didn’t want to be unpolite or intrusive and therefore just imagined possible reasons. As they proposed, I joined them later for some delicious fish, seafood and sake at a nearby izakaya. We shared very pleasant moments, and I ended up being kindly invited to have lunch with them the next day.
No sooner said than done, we were headed to a local restaurant. When in the end of the lunch, one of the staff pulled down her mask, smiled, and asked me if I remembered her. I was rather perplexed : it was the middle-generation mother who stayed at the same accommodation as me two nights before. The girls explained that her family owned the restaurant we had eaten lunch at and that she lived nearby.
The same evening, I crossed paths with three older women, who were calmly sharing some citrus fruits in the common living room. Although already tired, I could not decline their invitation to join them for a little talk. When they told me that they just finished dinner at the restaurant downstairs, that they would stay for a night at the accommodation, yet that they all lived on the island, I started to really wonder about Sadogashima’s curious inhabitants, their tendency to eat out during the week and their way to treat themselves by combining gastronomic pleasure with an overnight stay.
The last day before heading back to Tōkyō, I had a pleasant conversation with the proprietor of the accommodation, who generously gave me a voucher for a future stay. When I told him about my amazing yet peculiar experience with all the locals, he mentioned that this may not happen a next time and finally unveiled the secret: because of COVID-19, Sadogashima had launched a campaign for its inhabitants, in order to stimulate the tourist industry and local economy.
As mysterious it seemed, as simple it was. I had to smile. About the situation and about myself. About how we imagine things if we don’t know and don’t ask. About the curiosity of life, and the beauty of the unpredictable… Had I maybe imagined myself alone on a deserted island or amidst some stranded tourists, but hardly surrounded by these nice new acquaintances.
I would be lying if I said that it was love at first sight, and Sadogashima probably counts amongst the places which require not only time but also an open mindset in order to be enjoyed. Nevertheless, its particular atmosphere, the pureness of nature and honesty of people caught me, and it was with a nostalgic feeling that I left the island behind. When on the way back I found myself all alone on the large deck of the ferry towards Niigata, I had surprising sensations, feelings of energy and enthusiasm, and finally understood why I had been intrigued by Sadogashima for so long. Very differently than expected, it seemed that I precisely found what I had hoped for.
Certainly, there are many more aspects of the island that I could and should discover, but this shall remain for the future. Now I know some locals I sincerely wish to meet one day again, and not to forget, I still have my voucher.
A priority item on the agenda of the first Shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Iyeyasu when he seized power in 1603, was to limit foreign travel to Japan. He issued several orders like the ones we’re seeing around the world at this moment: urging the Japanese to stay put in their own communities and urging all foreigners to get the hell out. By foreigners, Iyeyasu specifically meant the European missionaries who were spreading ideas – like a virus! – about an omnipotent God that transcended traditional Japanese values. They also extolled the virtues of non-violence and giving to the poor; two factors that the new Shogun viewed as particularly harmful to his authority. The ‘aliens’ had to go, and those who didn’t, were eventually executed or banished to Dejima Island, off the coast of Nagasaki. Iyeyasu’s son and grandson tightened the screws on the lockdown as they in turn, became the Shogun. Japan effectively bolted its doors to the outside world and Sakoku*・鎖国(shutting down the country)’ went into effect.
Initially, other clan lords were skeptical about this sakoku thing. Before Iyeyasu came along, Japan had a fairly robust import/export system, supported by a prosperous merchant class in Osaka. Without inbound travelers and foreign business, these merchants were sunk, as was the burgeoning currency economy. But Iyeyasu shrugged off their complaints and worries. He chose reclusive isolation over commerce and progress, and for the next 265 years, Japan became a ‘hikikomori (shut-in)’ in the global community. Everything passed us by: the Industrial Revolution and the locomotive, colonialism and corsets, Mozart and coffee, the printing press and chocolate. Everything.
*Writer’s Note – Contrary to the belief that the Tokugawa Shogunate coined the term ‘sakoku’ which literally means a ‘country in chains,’ it was actually invented by German explorer Engelbert Kaempfer in the late 17th century and later translated into Japanese.
In the meantime, the Japanese got a lot of practice on keeping calm and carrying on behind closed doors, in spite of or because of everything happening in the larger world. Sure, sakoku sucked in a hundred ways but it also created a uniquely weird culture that continues to enthrall or amuse people all over the world. Iyeyasu’s capital city of Edo – now called Tokyo, was a haven of stability and prosperity with an unparalleled ecological and recycling system.
The sakoku mind-set made all this possible – a willful and deliberate closing of the shutters to the outside world while making sure that plenty went on inside. Call it aloofness, coldness or a thick-skinned pragmatism. In times like this, such traits can come in pretty handy.
You may have heard that the Japanese aren’t very expressive – well that’s just not true. The Japanese are THE LEAST expressive people in Asia which probably makes us the most rigid people on the planet. Long before this virus thing the Japanese have been wearing masks – as a prevention against all ills including a bad skin day and questionable breath. The mask was also fashionable among teenage girls, as hiding their mouths made them feel more attractive. (Kissing with masks was a real thing in the early aughts too, because many young couples deemed it erotic.) We were also adamant about washing hands, gargling and refusing to eat off communal plates.
Smiling and laughing in public, talking to strangers, physical displays of affection – these things are normal in western cultures but they’ve never taken off here unless it became a fad. Like being friendly to foreigners and embracing diversity was a fad that many Japanese felt pressured into doing because hey, globalism and the Olympics 2020. But now COVID-19 has given the Japanese a very good reason to go back to the way we were. Unrelenting, inexpressive, rigid and distanced. It’s all cool. Show me a person with a secret stash of face masks and 30 rolls of toilet paper and I’ll show you a model Japanese citizen.
As for touching one another, it’s a whole other issue unto itself. The Japanese just don’t do this, and never had. Though many of us love the idea of casual cheek kisses a la Francaise, we just couldn’t muster the courage to try it on a Tokyo street. Now, we don’t have to pretend anymore. Social distancing may be a new and scary concept for the west but to us, it’s very familiar, like our parents to whom we pay the obligatory visit over New Year’s.
Speaking of which, I don’t ever remember being hugged by my late father, who devoted much of his life to wedging a good, 1.7 meter distance between himself and the rest of the world. It wasn’t just him of course, many Japanese males can’t bring themselves to get close to anyone they know, which paradoxically explains why there’s so much groping on the trains. But the virus has resolved that snag–what with schools closed and people ordered to work remotely, the morning trains are far less crowded and consist mostly of masked salarymen clutching phones with one hand and briefcases in the other, studiously avoiding all eye and physical contact.
You might say the Japanese are good at this. There is little of the sense of deprivation and loneliness that say, an American person might feel about the loss of casual physical contact. We’re not touching, we’re not smiling, but who’s to say we’re not having fun underneath our face masks?
Editor’s Note: And judging by the hanami crowds this weekend and in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s “Let’s go outside!” admonitions, it seems like Japan’s 鎖国（sakoku ) period may end very soon.
Just for the record, while big concerts and public events are not happening, there’s still plenty going on in Tokyo and most restaurants and department stores have stayed open. Other venues include:
1) Shinjuku Gyoen Park Located in Sendagaya, this place is heavenly for a stroll among the greenery and themed gardens.
Are you looking for something to do that might help you meet people, create art, and perhaps get to know your date a little better? Then come Lime this Sunday.
“Lime”- A Caribbean word meaning “Hang out” or “a relaxed gathering”.
Add painting and you have “Lime and Paint.
Come join (Lee-Ann), hang out in a artsy colorful environment, learn a little about some amazing artists, and create your own art piece while enjoying drink of your choice
You’ll create your individual painting with a partner. Perfect for date/ friend/ family night.
If you wish to fly solo also doable. Come make a new friend or bring one. A drink of choice as usual is included and after you may purchase others throughout the evening, mingle with people, paint, laugh and enjoy the artistic lime. Appetizers should be ordered at the start so they will be ready for the break. Thank you.
For those who don’t know Lee-Ann’s background, she’s been an artist at large for over a decade, specialized in glass art for nine years now, and has taught art for over 14 years in Japan. She’s warm and witty and a wonderful guide for would be artists and those who need to brush up.
Doors Open: 16:00 – Come in, Relax and meet new friends
16:30 START- We will have a brief introduction on glass art and then get right into our creation.
There will be a break in which you can get more drinks.
Finish our masterpiece. 19:00/ 19:30 clean up and END but please feel free to stay and Lime a.k.a socialize
No experience necessary!
Come Join The Fun! All the details for booking are below.
. Once confirmed I will prepare the materials for you. We can’t confirm a spot until payment is made.
Japan Post Bank Branch number 17730 Account number 9942301 ハスラム リーアン
SHINSEI BANK Branch 柏 (Kashiwa) Account number 0321491 Account Type 普通 Lee-Ann Haslam
【料金】大人 3 options. All include one drink ticket. A. ￥5000 per Adult- includes a paint board/ canvas (your choice), paint, brushes etc. Just come as is everything will be provided.
B. ￥4000 per Adult- for those fellow artists who have their own brushes, paints and paint board/ canvas.
*kid friendly but please let me know so I can prepare.
Discount available for parent and child and couples, please ask.
Everyone is unique and each painting will reflect that. Let’s embrace it. Have fun, talk, laugh, Drink, create.
・絵画レッスン ・ワイン（白、赤 etc…） The painting lesson with a glass of Red or White wine (or other alcohol of your choice from a list provided) OR ・(コーヒー、お茶、ジュース etc… ）For those drinking Non-alcoholic Beverages coffee, tea, juice etc…
・絵のお持ち帰り . Take home your own art piece
Any questions please feel free to message me.
*Strict no refund policy. You may attend the next event.
Johnna Slaby is an abstract painter, from Osaka, Japan who’s work is gaining attention nationwide. Her paintings are evocative of some of the best artists of the genre, with a Nippon twist. She is also the twin sister of photographer, Reylia Slaby,
Join her at Look Close Look Far, an exhibit of works on paper and canvas that incorporate text, gestural marks and imagery from a day in the life.
Johnna works to mirror her own experiences and the elements she finds in her surroundings through the current series. Through the work there is an emphasis on how stories can be unfolded by both stepping back and taking a closer look; whether that be observing how morning light that enters the room, glancing up at the commuters on the train, or examining serendipitous moments in an everyday setting.