Archive for August, 2015

Japan celebrates the GIFs that keep on giving

Friday, August 21st, 2015

GIFs — which stands for graphics interchange format, don’t you know — have made the Internet an even more enjoyable place than before, and we have the receipts to prove it.

These digital designs were technological wonders back in the days of AOL and Netscape (Google it, kids). But they eventually went from high-tech animation to cliched novelties.

In recent years, the retro aesthetic of GIFs has been making big comeback. Nowadays, instead of flashing text, they often reference classic signifiers in pop culture and have become a sort of emotional shorthand, a form of emoji.

They’re now a hip way to express a gamut of feelings — excitement, annoyance, surprise . . . Name an emotion and there’s bound to be the perfect GIF for it. That’s why sites and apps such as Giphy and Nutmeg are becoming the must-have tools for when a smiley is just not enough.

They are not only being used just to express LOLs and winks, but recently GIFs have entered the realm of boda fide art. This year Japanese artist Toyoi Yuuta set Tumblr ablaze by posting a beautiful series of 8-bit GIF creations depicting sometimes melancholic, sometimes surreal scenes of life in Japan.

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Thousands of users reblogged the pieces as the designs invoked memories of the Nintendo Entertainment System and took the seemingly trite medium of GIFs to a new level.

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The artist Segawa 37 took the genre a step higher for Adobe’s GIF contest by giving a modern twist to classic works of “the floating world.” Segawa 37 humorously tweaks the time-honored woodblock prints by including things such as a spaceship swooping in and beaming up Mount Fuji or a group of kimono-clad travelers watching a shinkansen train zoom by.

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Segawa 37’s GIF set also includes pieces that rely more on aesthetics than humor, including paintings of the warm glow of lanterns in Edo’s Yoshiwara district and people watching the Sumida River fireworks.

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It seems that GIFs are beginning to get the artistic credit they deserve, and some are even making the jump from computer screens to galleries. The GIF Exhibition will be held Sept. 5-13 at Tokyo’s Tetoka and will feature a variety of works from around 10 artists. Although the pieces may be over in a flash, visitors are encouraged to slow down and take in every frame.

GIFs have gone from Internet meme to art, but where will they go next? It’s anyone’s guess.

Smart absolutions: Send off your sins with just one click

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Advances in technology have enabled us to converse with anyone, anywhere, and globally distribute information — and unlimited cat pictures! — in the blink of an eye.

Sumaho ooharae: Just rub and send.

Sumaho ooharae: Just rub and send.

Now, thanks to an online service from National Depart’s Kitokami, we can be rid of our sins with a click of a button.

Kitokami users have two options. Smartphone Ooharae is free smartphone service that enables users to absolve themselves of sins by merely rubbing and breathing on a human-shaped figure displaying on their smartphone screen and clicking the “send sins” button. The figures, imprinted with the name, age and gender of the user, will later be printed out and purified with a sacred fire at Bizen no Kuni Soushagu, a shrine in Okayama.

Web Ooharae is a slightly more tangible version of the service. Customers can purchase wood or paper cards online to be delivered to their homes. After doing the required rub-and-breathe routine on the card, customers will mail them to the shrine to be purified. The cards come in shapes of cats, dogs, bicycles and more, and are priced at ¥1,000 to ¥2,500.

Although Kitokami’s approach is novel, mention of the ooharae custom can be found in the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest record of history, which dates back to the 700s. Ooharae is a Shintoist ritual that takes place every year on June 30 and Dec. 31 and other days when necessary. In this ritual, participants transfer their sins and impurities onto nademono, human-shaped paper cutouts. They then blow three breaths on the paper, and Shinto priests recite prayers as they burn the sin-carrying papers in a sacred fire.

Bizen no Kuni Soushagu will light the fire on Aug. 1, 8, and 15 at 9 p.m., so customers should make sure their sins get there on time.

Attack of the plant hunters, green carnivores and fleshy girls

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

A selection from the exotic green world of Seijun Nishihata, whose plants are currently on display at Ultra Plants Exhibition at Ginza's Pola Museum Annex.

A selection from the exotic green world of Seijun Nishihata, whose plants are currently on display at Ultra Plants Exhibition at Ginza’s Pola Museum Annex. (Rina Yamazaki photos)

Living in a concrete jungle, it’s not surprising that many Japanese are eager to bring wildlife back into their lives.

Plant hunter Seijun Nishihata, at Yoyogi Village (Satoko Kawasaki photo)

Plant hunter Seijun Nishihata, at Yoyogi Village (Satoko Kawasaki photo)

One pioneering figure in this field is plant hunter Seijun Nishihata. The fifth-generation representative of major plant wholesaler Hanau Co., he travels around the world in search of unique flowers and plants. Whether it’s down to his charm, his Kansai-influenced sense of humor, his sense of adventure or the exposure he received on the documentary TV show “Jounetsu tairiku,” Nishihata clearly has struck a chord with many people.

This summer, Nishihata is presenting a sample of this green world in the form of “Ultra Plants Exhibition,” at Ginza’s Pola Museum Annex. The selection of rare plants includes a desert rose from Yemen, a prickly tree from a Madagascar thorn forest, and a rare flower from the Indochina peninsula (which was supposed to be featured on Nippon TV’s “Sekaiichi Uketai Jugyou” until staff realized that its smell was too strong). Many of Nishihata’s favorite seasonal plants are also displayed throughout the year at Yoyogi Village’s garden.

Qusamura is another Japanese company that’s cultivating this market for green exotics. Run by “plant sculptor” Kohei Oda, its mission is to find one-of-a-kind plants that are beautiful in unconventional ways. Oda also travels widely in search of unusual plants, some of which can cost as much as ¥70,000.

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Prices of plants sold on Qusamura’s website range from ¥1,000 to ¥70,000.

In addition to selling plants, Qusamura has held multiple art exhibitions this year, such as “Kurogane and Koppaku,” where plants and flowers were presented in bowls created by ceramic artist Shiro Hamanaka. This May, Oda collaborated with American ceramic artist Adam Silverman to release “Grafted,” a collection of photographs of Qusamura plants adorned in Silverman’s pots.

For those who are more into seeing exotic plants in action, several venues throughout Japan —  Osaka, Kyoto, Kochi, Kanagawa, and Tokyo, to name a few — are exhibiting carnivores from the plant this year. In addition to showing how plants that look like cobras attract and digest insects, the exhibitions will present experiments that investigate whether the carnivorous plants’ digestive fluids can melt more than just insects.

According to T-SITE news, Staghorn ferns are the newest trend in interior plants. Just as its name implies, staghorn ferns resemble the shape of deer horns. Some say it also looks like flying bats. Fern fans and interior decorators love this plant because it’s an epiphyte, an acrobatic type of plant that grow on other things, walls or ceilings; no pots necessary.

A photo posted by aki (@hibi15) on

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