Tag Archives: Japan


10 May

Artist Megumi Igarashi outside court in Tokyo, demonstrating the correct attitude to being convicted and fined for distributing one’s own vagina. Photo by Kazuhiro Nogi for AFP.

I seem to be mainly posting about genitals recently, but whatever. Agence France-Presse reports that Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi has just been fined ¥400,000 (about £2,500, €3.200 or $3,700) for crowdfunding a project to make a kayak based on a 3D scan of her vagina, said scan being made available to supporters as a perk. Yes, really. The only thing more (unwittingly) absurd than her (knowingly absurd) project? She was arrested for it, and the Japanese authorities have wasted taxpayers’ money in prosecuting her, then arrested her again for making plaster models and giving away vagina-data CDs. She’s going to appeal the sentence.


“My art has been commended as being strongly vaginal, which bothers some men. The word itself makes some men uncomfortable. Vagina… Yes, they don’t like hearing it and find it difficult to say whereas without batting an eye a man will refer to his dick or his rod or his Johnson.”

It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that somebody has it in for her, or at least that she got somebody in particular’s knickers in a twist, because although depictions of genitalia are technically (and stupidly) illegal in Japan the country is absolutely awash in traditional images of genitalia, not to mention good, bad and ugly pornography addressing every sexual practice, fetish and kink known to humanity and a few unknown to pretty much everybody apart from the Japanese. Why the authorities are picking on Igarashi in particular is a mystery… Especially when meanwhile in Kawasaki, among other places, this is happening:


かなまら祭り Kanamara Matsuri, ‘Festival of the Steel Penis’, Kawasaki, Japan.

Kanamara Matsuri and its ilk, like Igarashi’s project, seem about as close to clean, good-natured fun as you can get provided you’re not freaked out by completely normal things like human genitals.



14 Aug


Kakuzo Okakura, 茶の本 (The Book of Tea, 1906):

“We must remember, however, that art is of value only to the extent that it speaks to us. It might be a universal language if we ourselves were universal in our sympathies. Our finite nature, the power of tradition and conventionality, as well as our hereditary instincts, restrict the scope of our capacity for artistic enjoyment. Our very individuality establishes in one sense a limit to our understanding; and our aesthetic personality seeks its own affinities in the creations of the past. It is true that with cultivation our sense of art appreciation broadens, and we become able to enjoy many hitherto unrecognised expressions of beauty. But, after all, we see only our own image in the universe, – our particular idiosyncracies dictate the mode of our perceptions.”

“Another common mistake is that of confusing art with archaeology. The veneration born of antiquity is one of the best traits in the human character, and fain would we have it cultivated to a greater extent. The old masters are rightly to be honoured for opening the path to future enlightenment. The mere fact that they have passed unscathed through centuries of criticism and come down to us still covered with glory commands our respect. But we should be foolish indeed if we valued their achievement simply on the score of age. Yet we allow our historical sympathy to override our aesthetic discrimination. We offer flowers of approbation when the artist is safely laid in his grave. The nineteenth century, pregnant with the theory of evolution, has moreover created in us the habit of losing sight of the individual in the species. A collector is anxious to acquire specimens to illustrate a period or a school, and forgets that a single masterpiece can teach us more than any number of the mediocre products of a given period or school. We classify too much and enjoy too little. The sacrifice of the aesthetic to the so-called scientific method of exhibition has been the bane of many museums.”


29 Jul

UtamaroOchiePortrait of the young geisha Ochie from Kitagawa Utamaro’s series Edo’s Celebrated Beauties (circa 1792). She’s reading a kibyoshi (“yellow-covered book”)– thirty or so woodblock printed images hand stitched into paper covers– making this one of the first ever depictions of a teenager reading a comic.


12 Jul


On the frame of Edvard Munch’s 1895 version of his iconic Skrik (AKA The Scream or Der Schrei der Natur), the artist wrote:

I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.

Now, what does this art work and description bring to mind? Expressionism in perhaps its rawest, most personal and most affecting form? The visual expression of an individual and a societal existential crisis? The anguish of a man who suffered great loss in his life, while trying (and sometimes failing) to master his own bouts of mental illness? A freak out, the beginning of a nervous breakdown?

Maybe. It made some marketing numbnuts in Japan think of Hello Kitty because… reasons. I mean, obviously The Scream is a natural counterpart to the kawaii Japanese mascot who is more usually found in a rather more pink and girly context on pencil cases or key rings.

CaritasKTパノラマPOPFrom this July a Tokyo department store (for reasons known only to themselves, or perhaps not even to themselves) will be hosting a special temporary angst-ridden boutique for the purchase of various Hello Kitty/Munch mashup branded tat, such as the nonsense shown below.

munchKT02If you don’t already feel like weeping for the state of humanity and you’re not gripping your own head in horror as an infinite scream passes through nature, you can continue your odyssey of misbegotten, tacky, grave-robbing merchandising ventures by reading about Mattel’s limited edition Van Gogh Barbie.

Yes, really.

I despair.


3 Apr

The Wellcome Trust, London, 28th March–30th June 2013

C0085418 Shoichi KOGA, "Seitenmodoki" (Ganesha Nan

Shoichi Koga, Seitenmodoki (Ganesha (Nandikeshvara)-oid), 2006.

Having seen this great exhibition of so-called Outsider Art– i.e. art by untrained people in care– I’m more convinced than ever that there’s either an absolutely massive number of respected contemporary artists running around with serious but undiagnosed mental illnesses and learning disabilities… or going to art school, having an MA or a PhD, knowing the right people in the art world, being shown in the “right” [sic] galleries, and being spoken of and approved of in high level critical discourses around contemporary art all signify absolutely bugger all about an artist’s talent or ability in most cases. Because there’s basically no difference between much of the work in Souzou and much of the work to be seen in contemporary art galleries and art fairs all over the developed world. Except possibly there’s a slight difference in the sense that some of the Outsider Art is much better because it completely lacks the cynicism, arid conceptualism, dated Modernist concerns, condescension and sneering pretensions of the Frieze brigade.

Some of the artists in Souzou don’t know, don’t care or perhaps even can’t comprehend how their work is received and understood outside of its original and intensely personal therapeutic context. It doesn’t effect in the slightest their ability to make art that connects with people; art that it beautiful, art that is well-crafted, art that in some way says something to us about our own lives, feelings and thoughts, art that expresses something of the artist’s soul for other people to share, art that is special and desirable enough for somebody to want it on their wall. Continue reading

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