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A look at Tsukioka Yoshitoshi on his 175th birthday

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 30, 2014 12:32pm | Post a Comment

Kanaki Toshikage portrait of Yoshitoshi

One of Japan's greatest artists, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, was born on this day in 1839, which I reckon makes it as good a time as any to blog about him. For those unfamiliar, Yoshitoshi is widely regarded as one of ukiyo-e's greatest innovators, as well as its last major practitioner. He produced an enormous body of work (about 10,000 pieces by some estimates) although he's best known for his bloody pieces -- which comprise a large chunk of his oeuvre. After falling out of fashion amongst Japanese art collectors, he was "rediscovered" in the 1970s and is now rightfully placed amongst the ukiyo-e greats.

*****

Yoshitoshi was born Owariya Yonejiro (米次郎), in the Shimbashi district of Edo (now Tokyo), in 1839. His father, Owariya Kinzaburō, was a wealthy merchant and samurai. The identity of his mother is unknown, although Kinzaburō's mistress, apparently not wanting the share their home with the child, sent him off to live with an otherwise childless relative, Kyōya Orizaburō, when Yonejiro was about three. At the age of five, after showing interest in art, the pharmacist uncle (or cousin by other accounts) began offering the young boy art instruction.

When Yonejiro was eleven he was apprenticed to the great Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川 国芳) who gave him the art name, Yoshitoshi (月岡 芳年). Yoshitoshi's first print was completed in 1853. Kuniyoshi died in 1861. Yoshitoshi's father died in 1863. In 1863 Yoshitoshi contributed designs to the 1863 Tokaido series, created by the artists of the Utagawa School and organized by another ukiyo-e great, Utagawa Kunisada (歌川 国貞).

Many of Yoshitoshi's best-known pieces are graphically violent and deeply disturbing -- and then as now, audiences loved that sort of thing. Two of his most celebrated series were published in 1865, A Modern Journey to the West and One Hundred Stories of China and Japan. They were followed by the even more lurid Twenty-eight famous murders with verse, completed in 1868.


  
Three of Yoshitoshi's characteristically bloody pieces

The Edo Period came to an end with the Meiji Restoration, which began on 3 May, 1868. As Japan struggled to put the violence of war behind it and hurriedly catch up technologically with the West, Yoshitoshi's macabre woodblock prints fell out of fashion. After his commissions dried up, he and his mistress, Okoto, descended into a life abject poverty. Their situation was exacerbated when Yoshitoshi suffered from a mental breakdown.

In 1873 Yoshitoshi's outlook improved and he began producing more art, which he began signing his works Taiso (meaning "great resurrection") Yoshitoshi (in place of Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi). As newspaper production increased, Yoshitoshi found himself newly in demand as an illustrator, prized for his grisly illustrations which were published in accompaniment with crime stories. Although his work may have increased, he and Okoto still lived in poverty and in 1876 his mistress joined a brothel.

The following year Yoshitoshi began a relationship with a geisha, Oraku. As with Okoto, Oraku sold off her possessions to support the artist and herself and soon she too joined a brothel.

In 1880, Yoshitoshi began a relationship with a former geisha, Sakamaki Taiko, and the two were married in 1884. She had two children from a previous relationship, one of whom (Tsukioka Kōgyo) Yoshitoshi adopted and trained to be an artist.


  
Three of Yoshitoshi's studies of women 

In 1878, Yoshitoshi created a series of bijin-ga that scandalized members of the Imperial court. In 1885 he produced The Lonely House on Adachi Moor. That year a Japanese art and fashion magazine ranked him as the greatest ukiyo-e artist but the art of making woodblock prints was on a decidedly moribund course. Nonetheless, Yoshitoshi taught the dying art to new pupils, including some who would attain a good measure of fame in the 20th Century, including Toshikata Mizuno (水野年方and Toshihide Migita (右田年英).

"Fujiwara no Yasumasa Playing the Flute by Moonlight" from One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

Yoshitoshi's troubles again deepened after his home was burgled. Soon after he was admitted (and discharged) from a mental hospital. Even as he declined physically and mentally, he continued to be prolific and in his last six months of life he completed both One Hundred Aspects of the Moon and New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts. On 9 June, 1892, he died at the age of 53 from a cerebral hemorrhage.

  
Three pieces from New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts 

In 1898, a stone memorial monument to Yoshitoshi was installed in Higashi-okubo, Tokyo. The influence of his style can be felt in the works of writers like Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (谷崎 潤一郎and artists including Tadanori Yokoo (横尾 忠則), Masami Teraoka, and Koren Shadmi as well as a great deal of manga. Numerous books have been published both about Yoshitoshi and collecting examples of his works. Check the Amoeba bookshelves to see what's in stock as well as Yoshitoshi.net.

誕生日おめでとう and follow Eric's Blog

Piko Piko - A look at Picopop on the 34th birthday of Yellow Magic Orchestra's debut

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 25, 2012 12:44pm | Post a Comment

Back in 1978, on 25 November, pioneering Japanese group, Yellow Magic Orchestra released their influential, eponymous, debut full-length. The album and group are widely credited with being very influential on the development of several music genres, including ambient, chiptune, electrohip hop, house, J-pop, synthpop, and techno, to name a few. 





The band (also known as YMO) were also on influence on another Japanese scene that emerged around the dawn of the 21st Century, picopop (or ピコポップ). Bands and performers such as EeL, Hi-Posi, Motocompo, Plus-tech Squeeze Box, Sonic Coaster Pop, and Strawberry Machine updated the shibuya-kei (渋谷系) style popularized in the 1990s by Cibo MattoCorneliusFlipper's Guitar, Pizzicato Five, and Original Love by adding some good, old fashioned, electro elements with a sensibility that often recalls YMO.


 
Capsule in shibuya-kei mode --> Capsule in picopop mode

Shibuya-kei had initially drawn largely on bossa novajazz, lounge, and yé-yé. In the late 1990s and early 2000s it began to evolve into "picopop" for for the "piko" sounds of classic game sound effects and scores.  Some acts, like Capsule (カプセル), began their careers making shibuya-kei before thoroughly transitioning into picopop. Others, like Yukari Fresh Colorful System, combine elements of both closely associated scenes.


  

Usagi Chang (Little Bunny) Records is the label most associated with pico pop although Motocompo's Shibuya-based label, Poplot and Columbia Nippon's J-Pop branch, Heat Wave, also released popular picopop albums. In the past few years, abcdefg* have released (and re-released) picopop recordings.

The amount of electro elements vary from performer to performer and often song to song. Perhaps the sometimes ridiculously twee, kawaii, visual aspect is almost as important as the music. Judge for yourself by sampling the following picopop videos and happy birthday Yellow Magic Orchestra!

Plus-Tech Squeeze Box




Capsule


Cubismo Grafico


The Aprils


Macdonald Duck Eclair


Hazel Nuts Chocolate


Omodaka



Strawberry Machine 



Hi-Posi



Motocompo



Sucrette



naivepop or petitfool



YMCK



Laugh &
 Peace



Marino


Other artists to check out for those so inclined include: ColtemonikhaMisswonda, EeLSonic Coast PopNagisa Cosmetic, and Copter4016882. Ja!

Update: In 2013 American singer from San Gabriel, Joanna Wang, released an album (Galaxy Crisis: The Strangest Midnight Broadcast) that marks a stylistic shift into Picopop -- probably one of the first Americans to work in the genre.




*****

Happy birthday, Hokusai!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 31, 2012 02:49pm | Post a Comment

Self-portrait of Hokusai from 1842

Today is the date traditionally recognized as the birthday of one of my favorite Japanese artists, 葛飾 北斎 (Katsushika Hokusai). Without a doubt he is one of (if not the) most famous Japanese artists of all time. His best known work is the ukiyo-e woodblock print series 富嶽三十六景 (Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji), published around 1831. The collection includes his single most recognized work, The great wave off Kanagawa.


The great wave off Kanagawa


Hokusai was born in the Musashi province of Edo (now Tokyo) in 1760. The exact date of his birth is somewhat uncertain although it is often said to have been the 23rd day of the 9th month of the 10th year of the Hōreki era, which would be the 31st of October in the Gregorian calendar. His adoptive (and likely biological) father was Nakajima Ise, mirror-maker to the shogun. Since Hokusai wasn’t named as his heir – it is sometimes assumed that his mother was a concubine. Hokusai’s childhood name was
姓は川村氏 (Kawamura Tokitarō). He later went by 鉄蔵 (Tetsuzo), 中島八右衛門 (Nakajima Hachiemon) and about thirty other (usually quite colorful) noms d'artiste.

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Higashi Honganji Obon Festival 2012

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 7, 2012 10:44am | Post a Comment


Obon
(お盆) is a Japanese holiday on which observers honor the spirits of their ancestors. Within Japan as well as the Japanese diaspora, Obon has been observed on different dates since Japan’s adoption of the Gregorian Calender in 1872.


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Little Tokyo

In LA and Orange County there were also Obon festivities on different dates that took place not only in several Little Tokyo venues but also in Anaheim, Gardena, Little Osaka, Venice, and West Covina. I attended the Obon Festival at Little Tokyo’s Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple (ロサンゼルス東本願寺別院).



Higashi Hongan-ji (or, 'the eastern temple of the original vow') is one of two dominant sub-sects of Shin Buddhism. LA’s congregation is the oldest Buddhist congregation in the city, founded as Rafu Bukkyokai in 1904 by Reverend Junjyo Izumida at 229 1/2 East Fourth Street.

 

The congregation moved around Little Tokyo and the Eastside several times over the decades that followed. In 1907 they relocated to a nearby location on San Julian Street. In 1911, the temple moved to a building on Savannah Street in Boyle Heights, which historically had a large Japanese-American population. In 1921, it became a Higashi Honganji branch temple. In 1926, staying within Boyle Heights, it relocated to 118 North Mott.


The temple with Little Tokyo Towers in the background


It remained there until 1976, when it moved back to Little Toyko in the shadow of newly-built Little Tokyo Towers, erected in 1975.


all-day bingo


somen-eating contest


taiko drummers


more taiko drumming


happyfunsmile


Local Mojo

The 2012 Obon Festival included all-day bingo, dance, drink, food, games, music, performances, a somen-eating contest, Obon Hatsubon services and a tea ceremony, among other activities. Performers and performances included Bodhi Tree Band, Bombu Taiko & Kitsune Taiko, Fujima Kansei Odori Kai, Garvey Ranch Park Dojo, Halau Hula ‘a’ ala Anuhea, happyfunsmile, hereandnow, Kinnara Taiko, Live 4 Today, Local Mojo, TAIKOPROJECT, and the Lumbini Kids (the children that attend the temple's daycare). It was free and open to the public.


Bon Odori

I missed the Manto-e lantern lighting ceremony, a tradition begun about 1,200 years ago. I also missed teamaster Matsumura Shachu’s Ogasawara-ryu Sencha-do Tea Ceremony demonstration. However, I did catch the Bon Odori (盆踊り) – literally “Bon dance” – a dance meant to welcome the arrival of spirits.

I also watched a performance by Higashi Zumba Class, which fuses Latin music (including Cumbia Trival!) with dance and exercise.


bake sale


plant sale

the farmers market

The temple also hosts (and hosted on that day) bake sales, plant sales, farmers market, bingo, and child care. Additionally there's a choir and a golf club, although I didn't see any sign of them on that particular day.

 
          Rodney Kageyama and Rex                                           Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple

The festivities were MCed by well-known Nissei actor/director/costume designer/community activist Rodney Kageyama, veteran of San Francisco’s Asian American Theater Company and LA’s East West Players who is probably most recognized for his appearances in The Karate Kid Part II, The Next Karate Kid, Gung Ho (the film and TV series) and numerous guest appearances on TV.

Later in the day a group of friends showed up. As the Obon festivities wound down, we headed to Little Tokyo Shopping Center where, after killing a bit of time at Japan Arcade, we dined at Izakaya Honda Ya. As always, happy holidays… and 乾杯!

*****



Remembering March 11, 2011: For What It Is Worth

Posted by Kells, March 8, 2012 12:34pm | Post a Comment

Everyday I think about what it would mean to suffer the panic of a disastrous earthquake. Sometimes the thought is latent, residing somewhere in my metal recesses. But at other times, like a few mornings ago when a magnitude 4 earthquake centered a few miles away literally shook me out of bed at 5:33am, it glows at the front and center in my mind like a warning fire. Can anyone ever really be ready for a seismic shift of any size? How does one prepare for the aftermath? Is there a price you wouldn't pay for hindsight?

 

It has been almost a year since the Tōhoku earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis and during that time there has been a great deal of giving, in terms of fundraising and charity, so that those in Northern Japan affected by the calamity may bolster their hope and know whatever relief may reach them while muster the strength to move forward and rebuild their communities. This Sunday, March 11 marks the one year anniversary of the natural disaster and I urge everyone to seek out and participate in local memorial events that honor those whose lives were claimed while maintaining awareness and providing support for organizations that continue in their effort to provide relief to survivors still striving to carve out an existence in the wake of such a catastrophe. For example, I will be heading to San Francisco's Japan Town for the community remembrance fundraising events featuring live performances and street sale (the Rise Japan booth will have all kinds of artwork on sale, including totes by Kelly Tunstall) then afterwards to Sushi Zone where owner, chef and Amoeba Music regular customer Kimiyaki Aoyama will have the restaurant open from 1-5pm -- mind you, they are never open before 5pm or on Sundays -- selling sake, beer and sushi with all profits to benefit the Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation. However, you can make a contribution and score some new vinyl at the same time.


If for no other reason than to acquire some beautiful music, Kazu Makino of the band Blonde Redhead has recently released a charity compilation on her newly founded Asa Wa Kuru label (meaning "Morning Will Come" in Japanese) with proceeds to benefit the Japan Society Earthquake Relief Fund and Architecture For Humanity (a list of these and other groups, individuals and institutions active in the disaster hit areas in Northern Japan can be found here). The vinyl-only compilation, titled We Are The Works In Progress, features some of the most hauntingly 4AD-esque broken-yet-crystalline pop-synth clarion calls to be heard of all the relief offerings put together by musicians with a mind to support Japan's post-tsunami healing process. The collection, spread over two LPs, features Blonde Redhead of course, plus an impressive array of singular artists like Four Tet, Ryuichi Sakamoto teamed up with David Sylvian, Broadcast, Deerhunter, John Maus, Interpol, Terry Riley, Pantha du Prince and many more - it is available for purchase through Amoeba Music here. Simply put, it is a gorgeous effort created to further a worthy cause - one that shouldn't provoke a pause to contemplate the value of music, but rather the value of hope.

And if you have any question of value on that score I suggest viewing the following hour-long BBC documentary which chronicles the events of March 11, 2011 and weeks and months following as it was seen through the eyes of children. The accounts captured here are nothing if not the essence of hope in its purest form. Please do whatever you can to help Japan's healing, for what it is worth. がんばれ日本。

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