Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Bunpei Yorifuji’s ‘Wonderful Life with the Elements’

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Remember that kid who doodled all through your chemistry class instead of taking notes? Now imagine if that kid had an encyclopedic knowledge of the elements as well as a knack for drawings that made everyone giggle behind the teacher’s back.

Bunpei Yorifuji’s Wonderful Life with the Elements

That’s the feeling we get flipping through Bunpei Yorifuji‘s “Wonderful Life With the Elements.” Yorifuji is well known for his series of Tokyo Metro manners posters that urged riders to, among other things, “do it at home.”

Though the pull-out periodic table poster looks at first like a random collection of whimsical yellow guys, every part of each endearing little dude is carefully designed. From their ages, hair styles, and clothing (or lack thereof) to their weight and facial hair, every, well, element of each element matters and tells you something about each substance. (It might remind kanji nerds of the way kanji radicals add up.)

Most of the elements get their own pages. Illustrations show key properties (toxic thallium is soft like butter) as well as where they turn up in daily life (“Sodium compounds are great for housework!”) and beyond (boron is key in both fake movie snow and roach poison). There’s a section on eating the elements that compares the elements contained in a Japanese vs. a Western breakfast.

We learn which elements like to stick together for good, like the “digital semiconductor trio.” Troublemakers are grouped together, too, like the elements that were used to attack subways in Tokyo as sarin gas and to poison a pot of curry in Wakayama. They appear as benign-looking acrobatic combinations, perhaps suggesting that the elements themselves aren’t evil.

We wonder if future editions might address elements that have gained new prominence. Things have changed since the original Japanese version (元素生活, genso seikatsu) came out in 2009. Japanese scientists created Ununtrium for the first time just last month. Cesium, the subject of thousands of post-Fukushima articles, gets no more than a nod as a natural timekeeper, and there’s no mention of the problems that iodine can cause when its radioactive version is ingested.

The English version, published by geeky U.S. imprint No Starch Press, is available in Japan through Amazon.com or Amazon.jp. The original is at bookstores all over Japan and online. There is a bit of Japanese scattered throughout the book, including each element’s Japanese name and Chinese character, but not their readings. The book may be too late to help many of us pass our chemistry tests, but it’s a great second chance to get to know the elements as the individuals they are.

Today’s J-blip: nezo art

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

It is said that the only thing worth stealing is a kiss from a sleeping baby. We completely agree, especially when they are the stars of nezo art (which literally translates as “sleeping position art”).

A recent slumber-time tableau by Mami Koide

The art wasn’t exactly made in Japan. The true pioneer in this genre is Finnish former designer Adele Enersen, who rose to Internet fame with her blog Mila’s Daydreams. She photographed her daughter  sleeping in various artsy dreamscapes realized with props and costumes. She eventually spun that popularity into a photo book, titled “When My Baby Dreams” and published in January 2012.

While Mami Koide has clearly been inspired by Enerson, the 41-year-old illustrator diverges from the master by giving her dream tableaux a slightly more DIY vibe. In fact, in her self-imposed rules, Koide says creators of nezo art should strive to use everyday objects found around the house as their props. It’s all a matter of taste, but we prefer the more amateurish, homey nezo creations.

Koide is not alone in Japan. NAVER Matome has compiled an array of photos contributed by individuals who have chosen to put their little ones on the slumber stage. You can also check the Twitter hashtag #NezoArt for more. And if that isn’t enough, there’s Koide’s recently publish photo book, “Nezo Art Book.”

Take the kids back in time this summer

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Lunch at Ubusuna House, part of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale. (Rebecca Milner photo)

Last week, NHK ran a story on a “Showa Lifestyle” exhibition at a shopping center in Mito, a city two hours northeast of Tokyo. The exhibit wasn’t aimed at baby-boomers — Showa refers to the historical period from 1926-1989 — but rather their children and grandchildren.

The Mito City Museum, which put on the event, set up a mock living room circa the 1960s. Here kids could experience sitting at a low table on floor cushions, turning the dials on a black-and-white TV, many of them likely for the first time. They could also see what it was like to use an old rotary phone, a foot-pedal sewing machine and even a few pairs of take-uma, bamboo stilts, a popular amusement from an era of few luxuries.

For kids weaned on mobile phones, there may be no greater novelty than the past. They can also get an inkling of how different their world is from that of previous generations.

While the Mito event has already ended, there are plenty of other places where the family can get a taste of Showa life. At this summer’s Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, in rural Niigata prefecture, visitors can eat and sleep inside country homes and schoolhouses dating from the early to mid-20th century.

Many such structures outside of cities around Japan have lost their original usefulness on account of the country’s aging population and lack of attractive job opportunities there for young people. Countless such sites have been lost forever; however, there is a growing trend to label them heritage buildings and turn them into museums or hands-on learning centers.

Continue reading about the Showa nostalgia kick →

Today’s J-blip: rrrrrrrroll

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

roll lightpost

Have you seen these  hypnotic, strangely beautiful GIF images yet? At a rate of roughly two a week, they’ve been appearing on a Tumblr blog called rrrrrrrroll that is dedicated to the project and run by a group of friends.

roll_umbrella

Sometimes it’s a young woman spinning on an axis, at the unhurried pace of a ceiling fan set on low.  Other times it’s an object — an umbrella, or an electric rice cooker, for example — set in motion. A simple concept, yet undeniably captivating.

roll_rock

According to the group’s Facebook page, the blog has attracted more than 10,000 followers. Not too shabby for a group that only started uploading photos in April.

And a hat-tip to Tofugu for the find . . . though it was Huffington Post  that first shined the big light on the rrrrrrrrollers.

Pulsations (07.20.12)

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

  • On Japan’s excessive use of cones  (from Shoot Tokyo): Tokyo based photo-blogger Dave Powell, otherwise known as Shoot Tokyo, takes us on a visual tour of a land where the cone is king. Be sure to take a look at some of Dave’s other entertaining posts with stunning photography from Japan and abroad.
  • Former yakuza busted in nationwide sting (from Tokyo Reporter): A story with all the makings of a mob classic, but this time it’s for real. Kenichiro Nakao, a former member of the Dojin-kai criminal organization, claims he had nothing to do with the fraudulent activity he’s been arrested for — big surprise there. The more you read, the more “former gangster” sounds like an oxymoron.
  • Homemade hayashi chuuka bento (from Being A Broad): Hiyashi chuuka is a healthy dish perfect for taking to school or the office. Here is a simple recipe with different combinations of meat and vegetables as well as detailed instructions on how to prepare it. Simple, delicious and inexpensive.
  • The life of director Ichikawa Kon (from Japan Navigator): Japanese culture blog Japan Navigator profiles the long life and career of film director Ichikawa Kon, active in the industry from 1936 until his death in 2008. Within his extensive filmography he is best known for “The Burmese Harp” (1956), “Alone in the Pacific” (1963), and “The Tokyo Olympiad” (1965). A must-read for fans of Japanese cinema.

Visual pulse:

J-vlogger Ciaela and her friends translated Adele’s hit “Someone Like You” into Japanese. The result is completely professional — and just as likely as the original to get stuck in your head.

Today’s J-blip: K-Pocke pocket

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Form meets function, but unfortunately not fashion. K-Pocke (say “kay po-kay”) is a new line of shirts with a uniquely designed pocket to safely secure your mobile device. Shake, rattle and roll all you want. Nothing will fall out due to the convoluted way it’s constructed, they claim. I’m as worried as the next person about dropping my phone. Unfortunately, I’m more worried about looking like Steve Urkel. Cool innovation, but it might have a better chance if it were still the 90′s — and if pants didn’t have pockets.

Today’s J-blip: Mount Fuji summit panorama

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

(Click the photo to see the full panorama!)

Climbing season is just getting under way at Japan’s Mount Fuji. Every year hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to the summit—note the massive line of people in the lower-left corner. This photo, from panorama-photo.net, was uploaded by “Rio Akasaka,” who snapped it from the summit this weekend after a rainy trek. What an amazing view! For English-language resources and information on climbing Mount Fuji, see Fujiyoshida City’s official website.

Pulsations (6.29.12)

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

  • Why raising the consumption tax is a good idea, and good politics (from Mutant Frog): A must-read for anyone who wants to engage in the debate. Blogger Adam Richards offers a reasoned argument on why raising the consumption tax is good fiscal policy as well as a wise political move. The debate in the comments is smart, too.
  • Fujimori’s new “Trojan Pig” tea house (from Spoon & Tomago): Japanese architect extraordinaire Terunobu Fujimori is famous for designing striking and unique tea houses. His latest creation, which has been likened to a “trojan pig,” does not disappoint. But why a pig?
  • Sculpture or photography? (from Art It): We all know photographs can freeze a moment in time, but have you ever considered sculpture as a medium for doing so? Artist Rirkrit Tiravanija has. Read about how he started creating these full-size scenes, his ideas, inspiration, and latest solo exhibition at Gallery Side 2 in Tokyo.
  • Japanese photo exhibit on Korean “comfort women” sabotaged (from Global Voices): During World War II, the Japanese military forced tens of thousands of foreign women into sex slavery for soldiers overseas. Known as “comfort women” these victims were made to endure horrible atrocities. Ahn Se-Hong, a South Korean photographer who documented the now aging women, has faced numerous obstacles leading up to and during his Tokyo exhibition.
  • Green-roofs in Saitama Prefecture (from Japan for Sustainability): No, those aren’t weeds you see growing on the roof of your local konbini. Well, they might be, unless you live in Saitama Prefecture. The region has introduced a green-roof project for local convenience stores, which can help off-set carbon emissions.

A time-lapse video of Toyota engineers customizing their new, family-oriented concept car, the Camatte.

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