Photographer Masayuki Oki Focuses a Humorous Lens on Japan’s Feline Residents
The archipelago of Japan consists of more than 6,800 islands, of which around 280 are inhabited, and in a few places, known as neko-shima or “cat islands,” felines vastly outnumber the human residents. Fishing villages like the one on Aoshima, the most well-known of around a dozen cat islands, introduced the creatures in the early 20th century to combat rodent infestations. Their prolific progeny, perched on walls and scampering underfoot, have been a continuous source of fascination for photographer Masayuki Oki.
For the past eight years, Oki has documented clowders of cats in his home city of Tokyo and on islands around the nation, focusing on the feral animals’ interactions. Viewed through a an anthropomorphic lens, the images capture playful pounces and awkward entanglements with humor and a knack for good timing.
You can follow Oki’s feline adventures on his blog and Instagram. He releases annual calendars featuring some of the year’s best photographs, and he also updates a YouTube channel with short videos of furball shenanigans.
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Art History Illustration
A 500-Page Book Explores the Japanese Folkloric Tradition of the Supernatural ‘Yōkai’ Entities
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.
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Design History Photography
Photos by Noritaka Minami Document the Famed Nakagin Capsule Tower Prior to Demolition
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.
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.
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A Temporary Sanctuary at Hitokotonushi Shrine Provides Fresh Water for Japan’s Honeybees
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
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.
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Lush Canopies of Hundreds of Purple Flowers Erupt from Japan’s Wisteria
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.
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