Japanese Woodblock Prints Changing the World

Van Gogh totally rocking

A friend and I recently attended an exhibit at the Smithsonian of some guy’s collection of Late 19th- Mid-20th century Japanese woodblock prints, or Hanga.

It turns out that at the Japanese National Museum in Tokyo they were running a similar exhibit at the same time. I didn’t check it out but it was probably a different collection of prints.

Anyway here (thanks to FG for the link) is an article describing the boom that Japanese art experienced at the end of the 19th century and how it influenced Van Gogh. Here is something he wrote to his sister whilst in the grip of madness:

Theo wrote that he offered you Japanese woodblock prints. That is certainly the best way to understand which direction the light and colorful painting has taken. Here I need no Japanese woodblock prints, because I am here in Japan. This is why I only have to open my eyes and paint the impressions that I receive.

Currently in America there is kind of a Japanese culture boom as well, except mostly in children’s entertainment rather than art. Perhaps, like the Japonisme boom of 100 years ago, this won’t be permanent but the best work resulting from it will leave a lasting effect on pop culture.

Man claiming to be Mito Koumon’s Descendant Cheats Woman out of 5 Million Yen

Funabashi, Chiba — Unemployed Miyabe Hideteru (57) of Kasuga, Saitama, was arrested Jan. 5th by Chiba Prefectural Police at the Matsudo East Precinct on suspicion of defrauding a woman out of 5 million yen by telling her he was “the descendant of Mito Koumon.”

(Mito Koumon was a Tokugawa-era shadow ruler who was famous for traveling the countryside and checking up on the various fiefdoms. He’s been the subject of many many movies and TV shows, where he was famous for revealing himself by flashing a card showing his haiku pen name and shouting, “Can’t you see this seal?!”)

According to investigation, the man told a woman he met at Funabashi Health Center in April 2001 that, “I am the current head of the Mito household. That makes me his grandson,” and “I am going to sell land in Hokkaido to the government for 3.6 billion yen, so lend me the money to pay for the paper work. At the end of May I will pay you back double,” upon which he took 5 million yen from the woman. Continue reading Man claiming to be Mito Koumon’s Descendant Cheats Woman out of 5 Million Yen

Nike rips off ideas from Shibuya Fashion

It’s something that I’ve known for years, having criss-crossed to and from Japan every year or so: first knee-high boots are popular in Japan, then they’re popular here. First thick turtlenecks are popular in Japan, then they’re popular here. About 10 years ago Japan was infamous for its extreme reality shows (MXC, anyone?). Now it’s Britain and America. American pop culture has been secretly ripping off Japan for quite some time. I was happy to finally see something about it here:

Nike keeping secret eye on Shibuya

Nonfiction writer Hideki Kiriyama reveals that Nike Inc, the world’s largest sports and fitness company, is secretly keeping a close eye on Tokyo’s Shibuya district, a favorite hangout of the capital’s youth.

Writingin this month’s issue of Voice, Kiriyama says that Nike always bases its product design on insight that enables it to connect with consumers. The casual product sensibility and taste for bright colors seen in the street fashion that fills the cities of modern Japan, he says, are known as “J sense” and have attracted not only American designers but also young people and children in Asia.

Kiriyama asserts that Japanese “cool,” which involves improving Western designs and colors in a Japanese style, such as by adding transparency or sheen to cosmetic products, is unmistakably beginning to win the hearts of people all over the world.

He laments that in contrast to Nike, which takes inspiration for its designs from Shibuya, the heart of Japanese youth culture, Japan itself has failed to recognize the global value of this culture and can only focus on the decadent aspects of the changes instigated by young people.

He stresses that if rejection is Japan’s only reaction to its youth culture, the country will not be able to recognize the new value created by the new generation. (Foreign Press Center)

He certainly has a point. While ultra-cool Japanese kids have been supplying rich clothing companies with ideas, they have been getting nothing but crap from the press and public opinion.

A Quieter Coming of Age Day This Year

A girl coming of age.
Remember last year when there were all those reports of kids raising hell as if they came straight out of Battle Royale? Well this year there were some problems as well, but not nearly as bad as last year. Here are some highlights from this year’s festivities:

Stage dancer disrupts Aomori Coming of Age festival

A Coming of Age Day ceremony in Aomori was disrupted on Sunday after one of the participants jumped on the stage where the event was being held and starting dancing, officials said.

Officials at the ceremony in Aomori yanked the man off the stage, but about 10 of his friends continued to disrupt proceedings while a band was playing, throwing wastepaper at the stage.

In a separate Coming of Age Day incident in Naha, a man celebrating the day was arrested after he attacked a police officer who had taken custody of a drunk man, suddenly kicking the officer in the backside.

The man, who had been drinking with friends after a ceremony in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, was arrested at about 1 a.m. on Monday, for obstruction of official duties.

Personally, I was in Japan on that day and got to see some girls looking good in their kimono. I used to think it was an odd “old vs. new” juxtaposition to see the girls dressed in kimono while using their purikura-decked cell phones, but considering that it’s not that old of a tradition (made official in 1948) I don’t see any reason it should seem weird. The same goes for Buddhist monks riding motorcycles (something else I saw in Japan that gave me that “old meets new” feeling of irony).

Allow me to introduce myself

Hi, I’m Adamu, and I’ll be one of the contributors to this site. Whereas Roy focuses more on technology and photography, my interests are more abstract: the domburi. Most of my posts will be translations of Japanese news articles that don’t make it to press on other sites or news publications. I call and categorize these Jappanica, named after my old website of the same name. From time to time I will also be posting old articles from the site.

Adamu is just my online handle. No, really. I lived in Japan for two years, learning the Japanese language and irreparably damaging my psyche in the process. Right now I live in DC, working on various projects with high-profile clientele (Again, don’t ask). Otherwise not a whole lot to tell about me. I like video games, hip hop, politics (I’m a radical liberal but also a pragmatist), North Korea and dreaming of one day making it big in Tokyo. The rest I hope you’ll figure out as we go along.

So, dear readers, I hope that gives you an idea of who I am and what I’ll be doing here. Thanks to Roy for all the hard work involved in setting this thing up.