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Art History Illustration

A 500-Page Book Explores the Japanese Folkloric Tradition of the Supernatural ‘Yōkai’ Entities

September 28, 2022

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of PIE International, shared with permission

Translating to “strange apparition,” the Japanese word yōkai refers to supernatural beings, mutant monsters, and spirits. Mischievous, generous, and sometimes vengeful, the creatures are rooted in folklore and experienced a boom during the Edo period when artists would ascribe inexplicable phenomena to the unearthly characters. Japan’s Miyoshi Mononoke Museum in the Hiroshima Prefecture houses the largest yōkai collection in the world with more than 5,000 works, and a book recently published by PIE International showcases 60 of the most iconic and bizarre pieces from the institution.

Encompassing a range of mediums from painted scrolls and nishiki-e woodblock prints to kimonos and metalworks, Yōkai is a massive volume of 500-plus pages of colorful illustrations, paired with text by author, collector, and curator Koichi Yumoto. The book reproduces rarely seen works by artists like the renowned ukiyo-e printmaker Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, showcasing the pieces in incredible detail and contextualizing their role in the broader tradition and art history.

Yōkai is currently available on Bookshop.

 

 

 



Design History Photography

Photos by Noritaka Minami Document the Famed Nakagin Capsule Tower Prior to Demolition

September 21, 2022

Grace Ebert

“B1004” (2011). All images © Noritaka Minami, shared with permission

An icon of Japanese Metabolism, the Nakagin Capsule Tower stood in the Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo from 1972 until it was demolished earlier this year. Conceived by the famed designer Kisho Kurokawa, the building featured two central concrete towers, with 140 individual pods slotted into the main structures. A circular window allowed light into the small modules, which were created with the intention that they could be removed and replaced as needed.

This flexibility was an essential component of Metabolist architecture, which fused the concept of megastructures with organic growth, meaning many of the designs of the period embraced prefabrication for its ability to “regenerate” every few decades. Unfortunately for the Nakagain Capsule Tower, though, structural issues prevented the pods from being easily swapped, and the building fell quickly into a state of disrepair.

 

“Facade” (2010)

Until it was disassembled back in April, the complex served as a beacon of the pre-war movement that began in the 1960s and was one of the few remaining structures of its kind—Kurokawa’s similarly futuristic Capsule Hosue K is still in use in Nagano woods. Today, some of the tower’s capsules are being shipped to museums and institutions or converted into single accommodations, and one company is also working to digitally preserve the building.

Artist Noritaka Minami documented the complex prior to demolition, and his photographs of the facade and residential units are on view this week as part of 1972/Accumulations at MAS Context Reading Room in Chicago. Framing the living quarters from the same angle, the images compare the structural similarities and personal effects of each space. The photos, most of which Minami took between 2010 and 2021, capture a certain intimacy within the austere uniformity and preserve what once was an architectural innovation.

1972/Accumulations runs from September 22 to December 8. See more of the series on Minami’s site.

 

“A503” (2017)

“Artificial Land” (2021)

“A703” (2017)

“B605” (2021)

“B807” (2021)

“B702” (2012)

“A905” (2018)

 

 



Design

A Temporary Sanctuary at Hitokotonushi Shrine Provides Fresh Water for Japan’s Honeybees

July 11, 2022

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of Hitokotonushi Shrine

Established more than 1,200 years ago in 809, the historic Hitokotonushi Shrine just outside of Tokyo becomes a secondary sanctuary for local pollinators each summer. The on-site water basins, which are designed to hydrate humans, undergo a miniature makeover complete with moss, tiny architecture, and climbing surfaces so that the spaces are hospitable to the region’s bee population, offering a clean source used for drinking, feeding their offspring, diluting honey, and helping to stabilize the hive’s temperature. Just like humans and other animals, bees sometimes struggle to find clean water in hot weather, and when they do, they risk drowning if there aren’t enough spots to land. According to the shrine’s Twitter, this year’s oasis is already buzzing with visitors, which you can see in the video below. (via Spoon & Tamago)

 

 

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Craft Design History

An Astonishing Array of Ceramic Mosaic Tiles Comprise a Japanese Museum’s Historical Collection

June 24, 2022

Kate Mothes

Image © Ryota Murase. All images courtesy of the Mosaic Tile Museum, shared with permission

In the Gifu Prefecture of Japan, a nucleus of creativity blossomed in Kasahara Town, Tajimi City, more than a millennium ago. Known for its history of ceramic production, the region celebrates its distinctive heritage with a spring and autumn festival, a ceramics-themed park, and pottery shops that teach visitors the tradition. Among its newest attractions, set in a rolling green, the Mosaic Tile Museum Tajimi focuses on a more recent aspect of the ceramics industry.

Following World War II, reconstruction efforts required building materials, and tiles were suddenly in high demand. In its heyday in the mid-1900s, Kasahara Town had more than 100 tile factories, and the delicate pieces were still being used for the construction of high-rise buildings in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Soon, international competition and new materials hampered local manufacturing and the ornate tiles fell out of fashion, discarded when new buildings replaced earlier ones. Around that time, a group of locals who understood the historical significance of these tiles began to salvage as many as they could from structures scheduled for demolition. “The volunteers fondly recall how their requests were initially met with bewilderment, but their activities have resulted in the preservation of the extremely rare materials forming our enormous collection today,” says a statement on the museum’s website.

Housed in an architecturally exuberant expression of the relationship between ceramic and the earth, the building was designed by architect and historian Terunobu Fujimori to nestle sympathetically in the surrounding landscape. Today, the museum’s collection holds more than 10,000 individual tiles, sample books or boards portraying tile products, tools and utensils, and objects such as wash basins, bathtubs, and export goods.

You can find more information on the museum’s website.

 

Image © Akitsugu Kojima

Image © Akitsugu Kojima

Image © Katsuhiko Kodera

Images © Katsuhiko Kodera (left) and Akitsugu Kojima (right)

Image © Akitsugu Kojima

Image © Akitsugu Kojima

 

 



Photography

Lush Canopies of Hundreds of Purple Flowers Erupt from Japan’s Wisteria

May 23, 2022

Grace Ebert

Ashikaga Flower Park, Tochigi, Japan. All images © Ryo Tajima, shared with permission

Each spring, the Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi, Japan, is flooded with bright, blossoming canopies of purple flowers. The area is home to more than 350 wisterias, including one monumental specimen that’s at least 150 years old, and hosts an annual festival that illuminates the lengthy tendrils against the nighttime sky. For the past few years, Ryo Tajima has visited the park, in addition to other locations around the country, to photograph the flowers as they reach peak bloom. His images capture the stunning magnitude of the vines, showing the breadth and density that appear to explode with color.

Some of Tajima’s wisteria photos are compiled in a book from National Geographic, and you can follow his travels to document cherry blossoms, cosmos, and fields teeming with lavender on Instagram.

 

Ashikaga Flower Park, Tochigi, Japan

Ashikaga Flower Park, Tochigi, Japan

Yamaguchi, Japan

Ashikaga Flower Park, Tochigi, Japan

Saitama, Japan

 

 



Design

Recycled Building Materials Construct a Multi-Purpose Zero Waste Center in Japan

November 9, 2021

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of Hiroshi Nakamura

Back in 2003, Kamikatsu, a town in Tokushima Prefecture, became Japan’s first municipality to go zero waste, establishing a whopping 45 categories for recycling. Today, the village reuses about 80 percent of the garbage it generates, and the Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center is at the forefront of the community’s charge to become entirely trash-free in the coming years.

Designed by the architect Hiroshi Nakamura (previously), the recycling facility is comprised mostly of upcycled materials, including a mishmash of 700 donated windows cloaking its facade. Unprocessed timber and trimmings—cedar logging once was one of Kamikatsu’s main industries—structures the building and forms tresses designed to be disassembled and reused. A terrazzo flooring made of glass and ceramic shards runs through the center, and a bookshelf made of bright blue storage containers from a nearby shitake farm covers an entire wall.

 

The curved facility features a central drive-through area for dropping off unwanted materials and houses offices, a community hall, and a shop where residents can bring items they no longer use and others can take them home for free. On the other end of the building is a four-room hotel that’s decorated with wallpaper made of old newsprint, and Nakamura stamped “Why?” on the pages to prompt questions about consumerism. He elaborates:

Not bringing things in from outside the region is the first step in reducing wasteful packaging, transportation costs and fuel. When designing, I often go to not only the old garbage station but also the abandoned house in the town, the old government building before dismantling, the abandoned junior high school, etc… Materials used for the building are those that consider garbage as a resource and utilize it.

For more architectural projects from Nakamura and his Tokyo-based studio, check out his site. (via Dezeen)