Tokyo Futures

Tomohiro Masuda reports on Tokyo Futures, the first day of Transnational Cities: Tokyo and London, which looked at Tokyo as the host of diverse cultural practices and international movements, as well as its influence both regionally and on the wider international scene. The symposium took place on 29 and 30 September 2017 at Tate Britain.

Panel of speakers onstage at Transnational Cities: Tokyo and London, Tate Britain, 29 September 2017

Transnational Cities: Tokyo and London, Tate Britain, 29 September 2017
© Jasper Llewellyn

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics less than two years away, the number of foreigners visiting Japan is rapidly increasing: in 2016, around twenty-four million people visited Japan, some three times as many as in 2010. Yet despite this, from my viewpoint as a Tokyoite, Tokyo still does not seem like a ‘transnational’ city on a par with London or New York. A party whose name includes the words ‘citizens first’ currently holds a majority in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. At the same time, however, since the Edo period, Tokyo has been what one might call a ‘translocal’ city – largely composed of people born in other parts of Japan. I did initially think that the title of this symposium, Transnational Cities, would have been more appropriate to Hong Kong or Shanghai. But having attended this symposium, I have changed my mind. If one shines a light on the constrained political dynamics of Tokyo or Japan, a different aspect of the city becomes visible. This is the result of people from various different backgrounds – Japanese, Okinawans, Koreans and Taiwanese – all living in Tokyo when it was the capital of the Japanese empire before the war, and after the war when it was an American cultural colony. As a term, ‘transnational’ remains a useful frame for understanding Tokyo and Japan today.

The keynote address was provided by Reiko Tomii, an independent art historian and curator, who analysed the Tokyo art scene from the 1960s to the 1970s. Tomii’s paper was divided into three sections, taking up the three conditions that enabled Tokyo to be a transnational city: money, power and artistic practice.

For the first section, titled ‘Tokyo as a Site’, Tomii described how in Japan, newspaper and other media companies often financed and sponsored art exhibitions. For example, the International Art Exhibition, held almost every two years since 1952, is sponsored by Mainichi Newspapers, who have proclaimed it the Olympic Games of the art world. For the tenth instalment in 1970, the curator Yusuke Nakahara brought forty artists from twenty-five cities to Tokyo under the organising theme and title Between Man and Matter. This exhibition is a landmark event, both in Japan and globally – alongside Harald Szeeman’s 1969 Kunsthalle Bern exhibition When Attitude Becomes Form, it forms a crucial node in the development of conceptual art. Tomii was keen to highlight the role corporate sponsorship, and as a result Tokyo, played in facilitating these kinds of exhibitions.

During the second section, titled ‘Tokyo as a Seat of Power’, Tomii discussed the International Young Artists Exhibition, sponsored by the Japan Cultural Forum. Initially, winners of this competition – held six times between 1957 and 1971 – received prize money from the International Congress for Cultural Freedom, which was established and funded by the CIA as an anti-communist advocacy group. Tomii argued that this was one example of many where the cultural arena became a site for the Cold War to be played out. However, whereas socialist and communist states were prescriptive about the kind of art produced by artists – predominantly socialist realism – at this exhibition no particular style was exalted. Rather, the non-political nature of modern art was emphasised, making the case that the very freedom of culture was a key part of liberal identity.

The third section, ‘Tokyo as a Node’, looked at individual artistic practices. Tomii argued that while these practices were built on the institutional foundations of the first and second ‘conditions’ of Tokyo’s transnationalism – money and power – they also surmounted them. Tomii introduced the example of the artist Yutaka Matsuzawa, a pioneer of Japanese conceptualism. An early motivating factor that led to Matsuzawa’s later creation of an international network was his meeting with Adrian van Ravesteijn, co-director of the Art & Project gallery in Amsterdam. The two became acquainted through Jan Dibbets, a participating artist in Between Man and Matter, and Nakahara. Later, Ravesteijn featured Matsuzawa in the Art & Project journal, Art & Project Bulletin, while in 1971, Matsuzawa sold a piece of land he owned in Shimo-Suwa, Nagano prefecture to Ravesteijn for ‘ψ’ yen in conjunction with Dutch artist Stanley Brouwn’s 1x1 m project. Using the network he had formed through his involvement with Art & Project, Matsuzawa invited a number of European and American artists, including Jan Dibbets, Stanley Brouwn, Gilbert & George and Lawrence Weiner, for a monographic exhibition titled Nirvana at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. Tomii argued that the 1970 Tokyo Biennale had provided Matsuzawa, who lived in Shimo-Suwa, with the opportunity to connect with the wider world. In addition, Matsuzawa, who from 1964 espoused his ‘vanishing of matter’ principle, felt an affinity with the ‘dematerialisation of art’ tendency that emerged in Europe and America during the same period.

Following Tomii’s schema, Yoshiko Imaizumi and Izumi Kuroishi offered their own viewpoints on the first and second conditions for a transnational Tokyo. Imaizumi, in her paper, took up the case study of the Meiji Shrine. Built in 1920 to honour the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken, the shrine is relatively modern, and will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020. An interesting aspect of Imaizumi’s paper was her presentation of the plan for the forests surrounding the Meiji Shrine. Historically, these forests have been extremely important for shrines, especially for earlier ones that lacked sanctuaries and other buildings, where in some cases the forests or mountains were themselves deemed the objects of worship. However, the roughly 170-acre forest that currently surrounds Meiji Shrine is not a natural forest. It was created especially for the shrine. Devised by Seiroku Honda, who had studied landscaping in Germany, the plan was carefully calculated so that a stately forest would form naturally over a period of a hundred years. With this in mind, some 100,000 trees were donated by people from Japan, as well as the Japanese territories of Sakhalin, Korea and Taiwan; the resulting forest is extremely ‘transnatural’ in character. Through her paper, Imaizumi highlighted that the power of the Japanese empire had permitted the creation of a forested area that transcended the geographical environment of Tokyo.

Kuroishi’s paper discussed the post-war history of Shibuya, a special ward of Tokyo not far from Meiji Shrine. Shibuya has six valleys: immediately after the war, the Washington Heights housing complex for the Occupation Forces was built on the high ground where the Meiji Shrine is located, while factories, markets and brothels sprang up along the rivers, and black markets selling items sourced illegally from the Occupation Forces appeared in the valleys themselves. In 1946, a violent confrontation known as the ‘Shibuya incident’ occurred between members of the Taiwanese community living in Udagawacho in Shibuya and members of the Japanese yakuza. Of course, ‘scramble’ intersections like Shibuya often become places of great cultural significance. For example, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) moved its premises to Shibuya’s high ground, where a commercial district – which included the internationally-focussed Parco fashion building – also developed. At the same time, numerous small cinemas and performance spaces opened, with playwright Shuji Terayama leading the opening of a theatre for the Tenjo Sajiki troupe. Shibuya also became a focal point for Japanese subcultures: in the 1990s, the area was the epicentre of kogyaru, ganguro, high-school girls who wore flashy clothes and a lot of make-up (specifically, ganguro refers to those who blacken their skin and bleach their hair gold or orange), as well as other middle- and high-school girl subcultures. Today, Shibuya continues to reign as a major centre of music, fashion and other youth cultures while also attracting large numbers of foreign tourists.

The following presentations focused on Tomii’s third condition for transnational Tokyo: individual artists’ practices. These speakers also addressed artists with complex transnational backgrounds, including Okinawans, Koreans who began their art practices in Japan, and Zainichi, Korean residents of Japan.

Hiroko Ikegami’s paper compared artists Tadanori Yokoo (b.1936) and Tsutomu Makishi (1941–2015). Both artists focused on the contradictions of the Japan-US relationship during the Cold War, while being influenced by American pop culture. Ikegami began by defining ‘Tokyo pop’ as a hybrid of the American culture that had flooded into the country after the Second World War, and pre-modern proto-pop, such as the ukiyoe woodblock prints that were popular in the Edo period. In Yokoo’s animation KISS KISS KISS 1964, for example, motifs from traditional Japanese playing cards called hanafuda are combined with the kinds of characters that appear in American comics. This juxtaposition of styles allowed Yokoo to cast a critical eye over the relationship between Japan and the US. When asked to design the cover for Shukan Anpo (Weekly Anpo) (No. 2, 1969), a magazine that represented the views of those opposed to the 1970 revision of the US-Japan Security Treaty, Yokoo produced an image highlighting the fact that the name of the then Japanese prime minister, Eisaku Sato, contained the letters USA, giving visual expression to the presence of the US in Japan.

Political satire is also a key component of Makishi’s work. In 1960, Makishi moved from US-occupied Okinawa to Tokyo to study at Tama Art University. He later returned to Okinawa to live and work. Of particular note is his monographic exhibition, Commemorating Return to Great Empire of Japan, held in June 1972, the month after Okinawa was returned to Japanese control. Employing a method reminiscent of that of Andy Warhol in his Cow series, Makishi used silkscreen printing to produce copies of the same image and affixed them to a wall. This image was based on the news photograph of American troops raising an American flag on the island of Iwo Jima, the site of a hard-fought battle during the Pacific War, but Makishi changed the silhouette of the flag into the Rising Sun flag of Japan. The exhibition also included reproductions of the same portrait of Hideki Tojo, Japan’s prime minister at the start of the Pacific War. Further, the invitation to the exhibition was modelled on a wartime mobilisation notice. Looking to Makishi’s practice, his politics seem clear. For Okinawa, the return of the island to Japanese control in 1972 was simply a change from American to Japanese rule. Makishi’s artworks deal with the post-colonial problems facing Okinawa as an island caught between the US and Japan. They also relate to present-day Okinawa, which is still home to many US military bases.

Lee Ufan used his address to look back over his own life. Born and raised in Japanese-occupied Korea, Lee moved to Japan to study after the war. He began his art practice in Japan in the late 1960s, and remains active internationally; he is best known as one of the leading figures in the Mono-ha (School of Things) movement. In the late 1960s, the student movement was flourishing in Japan in response to the civil unrest in Paris and the student movement in America. There were calls for the country to free itself from American domination, and attempts at disruption were commonplace among artists. Lee cited the Gutai Art Association based in Osaka as a pioneering exponent of this approach. He argued that one of the strengths of Japanese post-war art was its strong scepticism of, and sometimes destructive negativity towards, institutions. Mono-ha artists distanced themselves from the anarchic tendencies of Gutai and sought to employ a more intellectual approach. This approach was both a way of closely examining and discerning the essence of the ‘making/not making’ relationship, and a form of resistance to the act of creation itself. Lee thinks this approach was long subject to misunderstanding. Drawing from his personal experience, he stressed that it was more important to understand art by looking closely at the context within which it was created, rather than evaluating it based on existing categories.

Lee also stressed the importance of the American critic Joseph Love, who travelled to Japan as a priest and later taught art history at Sophia University in Tokyo, and the Czech critic Vlasta Cihakova. Both Love and Cihakova are known for their writings on contemporary art in Japanese art magazines in the 1960s and 1970s – their work testifies to the interest in Japanese art outside of Japan during that period.

Soo-Kyung Lee, Senior Research Curator, Tate Research Centre: Asia, presented a paper that considered Nam June Paik’s artistic contacts and exchanges in Tokyo. Like Lee, Paik was born in Korea, educated in Tokyo and worked internationally. Born in 1932 into a wealthy family in Japanese-occupied Seoul, Paik was introduced to Western modern art and avant-garde music and literature at a young age. After fleeing the Korean War, he enrolled at the University of Tokyo where he majored in aesthetics and conducted research on Arnold Schoenberg. He later studied musicology and art history at the University of Munich. While in Germany, he attended lectures by John Cage and others at the Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music, and was profoundly impressed. Despite being born in East Asia, where Buddhist philosophy permeates the intellectual and social environment, it was through his encounter with Cage in Germany that Paik rediscovered Zen Buddhism. This encounter may have contributed to the perception of ‘something Zen-like’ in Cage’s music which he had already been latent within him before that moment. A performance Paik staged in Cologne in 1961 highlighted his ambivalent feeling to Cage. In the middle of the performance, which Cage attended, he cut the tie Cage was wearing and that had been presented to him by the Zen priest Daisetsu Suzuki, and shampooed Cage’s hair. For Paik, Cage was a respectable predecessor who gave the inspiration for his art practice, but one to be overcome, as Lee suggests this aggressive and destructive gesture was a symbolic act enabling Paik to move on to the next step in his career. In 1963, Paik unveiled the first in a series of works using TV sets. Zen for TV is a unique work that juxtaposes the TV, which despite being a part of everyday life today was at the time an expensive piece of electronic equipment, and traditional Zen philosophy.

An aspect of Paik’s practice that should not be overlooked is his interaction with avant-garde musicians and artists, including Yoko Ono and Yasunao Tone, a member of Fluxus. Paik, who created artworks that seemed to expand the notion of the arts by combining the Zen philosophy of East Asia with the latest technology, was a major inspiration to Japanese artists of his generation.

As the above examples show, Japanese post-war art developed locally with stimuli provided by ‘others’. But what about today? The final presenter, Hiroki Yamamoto, addressed this question by introducing the work that Zainichi – the permanent Korean residents of Japan – artists have made since the 2000s.

Among foreigners living in Japan, Zainichi comprise an ethnic minority that is second in size only to the Chinese community. It is thought that over two million Koreans were in Japan at the end of the Second World War, with some 480,000 Koreans living there today. Korean residents in Japan lost their Japanese citizenship when the Treaty of San Francisco came into force in 1952. The various contradictions that emerged during this process gave rise to problems that remain unsolved some seventy years later. In particular, hate speech towards Zainichi has grown since 2000, and new tensions have surfaced.

Yamamoto focused on two artists and exhibitions by Zainichi artists held in recent years. A third-generation Zainichi, Oh Haji creates textiles using a wide range of techniques. Wedding Dress for Minority Race 2000 is a Japanese kimono recreated in the Korean Hanbok style. Kum Soni is also a third-generation Zainichi who grew up in Japan’s North Korean community. Kum has used feminist theory to attempt to deconstruct the master narrative of her own national history. Beast of Me 2005 is a video work dealing with the vulnerability of Korean women living in Japan.

The exhibition Suddenly, the View Spreads out Before us was a collaboration between Musashino Art University and Korea University, both based in Tokyo. A bridge was built over a fence separating the two university campuses to facilitate access between them, and works were displayed in both. Yamamoto argued that the practices of Zainichi artists are ignored within the Japanese art scene. Yamamoto regards their work as ‘art as decolonisation’. Drawing on the theory of the Taiwanese cultural critic Kuan-Hsing Chen, he argued that decolonisation is the process in which a person grasps that his background and circumstances are being suppressed by colonisers consciously or subconsciously, and tries to overcome it through the painful effort of setting up a new subjectivity. Then art as decolonisation can also function to re-constitute ethnic identity based on heterogeneity rather than homogeneity, de-territorialise nationalised memory through transnational historicity and produce platforms for alternative dialogues on contested histories. As the ethnic majority, Japanese artists need to turn their work into an opportunity for ‘de-imperialisation’ and recognise how it might be used to overcome the legacy of American colonialism in Korea. This will also enrich Japanese contemporary art.

These presentations showed that the past was transnational in Tokyo, and that we should make the future transnational also.

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