Japanese Comics-Manga

In a previous post, My Beautiful Laundrette , I made comments on Japanese laundrettes with comparisons to ones in the UK. England. As with most interiors which require a waiting action, there is plenty of literature to keep one occupied, which brings me to the topic of this post, Japanese comics.

Japanese comics have been a very popular form of pop culture over here since the early 1950s and are read by all ages. Manga, as they are commonly known, is big business, making millions and the comics are translated into many languages across the globe. A typical manga comic is printed in black and white and on very thin paper. They come in various size formats, which caters for the consumers young and old. For instance, the One Piece   B5-sized comic, popular with students, can be easily stored in a student’s school bag. Then, there are the bulky and cumbersome-looking comic books, very uncharacteristic in Japanese design in my view. They have the appearance of an old telephone directory or car manual . Seeing middle-aged businessmen taking these weighty-looking objects out of their suitcases fascinates me.

Manga comes in a wide range of genres such as romance, sports, school life, gangs, mystery and fantasy. The comics range from the tame to the ones with a high violent and sexual graphic content. You also have to bear in mind, what we think in the West is explicit might be considered tame in the East. It’s the comics which depict Japanese social realism which I find engaging. Just by leafing through this comic at the laundrette, I see familiar themes and issues in the narrative- high school girl titilation, yanki and bosozoku subcultures, sexual behaviour, noodle slurping, suicide, modern living, dinky interiors, mansions, communting to work and educational environments.

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Part of my contextual inspiration comes from the Brazilian Social documentary photographer and photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado and a project of his called ‘Workers’ (1993)which depicts the kinds of extremities people have to endure in their daily working lives.

Salgado 1 Salgado 2 Salgado 3

From my own commuter drawings over the years, the Commuter Collage Triptych is a nod to Salgado’s work. The masses, compartmentalized, busily and sleepily fill the textured zones.

Collage 1 (Paper & Grunge & Nature  texture) Collage 2 (Grunge & Materials texture) Collage 3 (Grunge & Nature)


Fuchu no Mori Park-Tokyo

Was watching an old South Bank Show (1998) last night featuring the novelist/journalist Will Self. The man interests me a lot, I’ve only just started to read his work with more regularity since living back in England (2011). During the program, it was interesting to note what measures he takes when needing that ‘creative fix’ Apparently, Self heads off to the Orkney Islands, it is there he feels isolation and bacause of the presence of large quantities of water, it has a deep impact on his imagination. It got me thinking about my own strategies when searching for utopia for project inspiration . Well, it’s usually a place where I can be both inside and outside and with visual stimulus. I’m yet to find that idyllic spot in the UK. However, in Tokyo, I often go to Fuchu no Mori Park, ‘tooled up’ with sketch book, note book or just a book. You can often spot like-minded people with their sketch books or easels though they are usually pensioners! Apart from the park’s attractions (sports areas, children’s adventure playground, a woodland area, a fountain, a flower promenade and sculptures) , there are many secluded areas and hidden pockets of tranquillity if you search hard. But it gets better, there is also an Art Museum.

Fuchu Art Museum Collage

The Fuchu Art Museum inside Fuchunomori Park was opened in October 2000. Natural materials such as limestone and glass were used for this impressive building in order to create a feeling of unity with the park, which overflows with light and greenery. In addition to planned and permanent exhibition areas, the Noriyuki Ushijima Memorial Hall displays around 60 works from this Western-style artist that were donated by his family. The first floor features a public studio, work room, children’s modeling room, citizens’ gallery, and art library. Anyone can use these facilities for free, allowing them to experience art in an intimate way while appreciating famous masterpieces. There is also a museum shop and tea room where visitors can relax, and the museum has been designed with consideration given to the elderly and physically handicapped persons. These art museum surrounded by greenery is a wonderful place to enrich your spirit while viewing the changing seasons of the natural world.
Information from: gotokyo.org

Fortunately for me, when staying in Tokyo, Fuchu no Mori Park is just a 10-minute bicycle ride from my apartment. Today was a scorcher so I biked it to the park this morning and made this shaky little film just to give you an idea of my ‘heavenly hangout’. Also, I popped into the museum too and found out there is a typography workshop in June; I got my name down and luckily it’s on a Sunday. Apparently, we’re designing our own bag.

A blast from the past! These were taken by me and Torie with Anne & Michelle back in 2001.

Torie 2.jpg Torie 1.jpg

Fuchu no Mori Koen 2001.jpg


The Tokyo Gas Attack & Objects of Disobedience (for the wrong reasons)

Back in January I went to an exhibition in London called Objects of Disobedience. The objects exhibited were ones which were/ are used in movements to fight for or against something. You could say, for a good cause, of course, depending which side of the fence you sit on. Now to my point, a few days ago, I was filming in the Tokyo Underground in Kasumigaseki on the Marunouchi line. Kasumigaseki was the scene of one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in Tokyo just over 20 years ago. It was here that deadly sarin gas was released inside the train. The perpetrators used their own objects of disobedience to puncture and release the sarin gas. In this case, the objects of disobedience were ordinary vinyl umbrellas but were used for the wrong reasons. The gas bags were punctured using the sharp spike at the tip of the umbrella. Like many people that live in a climate with a rainy season, vinyl umbrellas are as ubiquitous as a bar code on a shop product. However, after reading Haruki Murakami’s book-Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, about 10 years ago, for me, these cheap vinyl umbrellas symbolise one of trepidation and I’m probably not the only one.

Vinyl Umbrella


In March 1995, Tokyo suffered one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism – The Tokyo subway sarin attack, though the media referred to the incident as the Subway Sarin Incident. The attack was perpetrated by the religious movement Aum Shinrikyo. The enforcers released sarin, an extremely potent colourless, odourless liquid used as a chemical weapon in several train lines in the Tokyo subway, killing 12 people, injuring 50 and affecting over 1,000 people who were on the trains of the morning rush hour, March 20, 1995. The targeted trains were ones passing through Japanese Government areas-Kasumigaseki and Nagatcho. The sarin was released on three metro lines by five perpetrators.

Details from Wikipedia





Nobody Tokyo

I landed in Tokyo in March 1999. Five months later I was heading home via China and Russia on the Trans-Manchurian Express. Why leave so early? The number of people living in one area was just too much for me, too overbearing. I remember suffering from severe headaches every time I ventured outside. I would return though, I always knew that. When I returned to Tokyo, surprisingly the following year, I didn’t seem to be as affected by the crowds, I could commute to work and return home without taking aspirins or other pills (whatever gets you through the night). I suppose it always takes time to get used to change.

While at the Tokyo Museum of Photography in Ebisu, sometime in 2000, I came across a photography book called Nobody Tokyo. I leafed through the book, the images are very sharp and vibrant, I thought; totally different from images you generally see spotlighting Tokyo such as in the Lonely Planet guide books or the National Geographic magazines. Also, there is so much to consider in Masataka Nakano’s (the photographer) work. For instance, the photographs highlight spatial relationships in a city, there is no one in photographed the city yet there is evidence that people exist. Also, his locations are places in Tokyo where we associate a mass of people which gives the viewer an unusual angle. He documents an urban environment with an abundance of concrete, glass, wire and plastic. Interestingly, the project also informs us that Nakano employed extreme patience in order to achieve to his aim. No need for digital tricks. A dying breed?

Taking a leaf out of Nakano’s book , I sat in multi-storey cafes; ones with huge windows, without visual obstruction in busy areas of Shinjuku. The result; a set of of drawings depicting urban realism yet people would not be evident only evidence of mankind. As a result, the triptych appears eerie, apocalyptic or even abstract expressionist. Next time, how about a deserted, empty Tokyo Underground?



Recruit Rhapsody (2012) – Maho Yoshida

Maho Yoshida’s sketchy animation offers a realistic portrayal of university student life for 3rd  and 4th year Japanese students in their competitive pursuit for a position in the rat-race.  For the student, these years are a mentally draining process as they will go job hunting, attend job fairs as well as study for their end of term exams. From my experience, the classroom can be quite a visual spectacle as the job hunters are decked out in conservative suits with hair short or in a girl’s case, pinned back and sitting among other students fashionably dressed and often with hair dyed. Yoshida makes clear visible references of conformity in style and character (i.e.  donning suits, smart black hair (not dyed) and the competitiveness and punctuality). Yoshida’s animation is kept pacey by theatrically dancing figures, scenes morphing from one to another and a bouncy soundtrack. The colors often being depressingly dark; black and purples dominate corporate imagery. The sketchy backgrounds and character expressions have given me some ideas for my project. For me, the most expressive scene is the dramatic use of black background with chalk like line figure drawing from 5:09-5:22. The depleted figure heavily  drags herself up from the ground. Very impressive and effective!


Sink (1999) – Satoshi Tomioka

Satoshi Tomioka was born in Nagoya in Japan in 1972. At graduate school, Tomioka studied hydrodynamics at Tokyo University. He became interested in computer graphics while working part-time for a graphics company. After graduating he worked for Dream Pictures Studios until the studio closed down in 1999. He now works at his own studio Kanaban Graphics which received success for the series Usavich, a series of animated short films for MTV’s Japanese mobile service ‘Flux’.

Sink (1999) was Tomioka’s first film which is based on his own experiences commuting on the Tokyo underground. In the film, Tomioka depicts his subjects (businessmen) in an underwater world. Poking fun at them as they ogle at pornographic imagery. Tomioka’s imagery of the Tokyo metropolis is an extremely vivid and colourful one. Toy-like trains glide through illuminated tunnels. There are some captivating angles taken from inside the train. For example, at 0.54 the scene features the intensity of a packed commuter train so packed, train seats are not evident. Another angle focuses on views of the surrounding cityscape, skyscrapers bearing down on the inhabitants and the ubiquitous advertising hoardings completely mapping vertical structures. Sink portrays aspects typical of Japanese social realism in the 90s. Tomioka’s interpretation of Tokyo commuters is played with tongue and cheek; a society dictated and ruled by businessmen with sexually repressive characteristics living a monotonous existence. Having researched on Tomioka, there are suggestions that the shy and reclusive filmmaker is depicting himself in this manner. There are aspects of the animation I can clearly identify with and I would imagine my project will feature similar viewpoints of Japanese society.

Sink (1999)  

John Virtue-The Sea

Yesterday I popped into the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne for two events. The first, a John Virtue exhibition and the second, a 90-minute talk given by the fine art photographer Ori Gersh.

John Virtue’s exhibition is a site-specific project, The Sea. The work extensively features the North Sea. As I entered the large show room, I was immediately engulfed by the huge black and white canvases. Scale and space, I thought, for this kind of work is key for the viewer to feel the full impact. Some of the canvases spanned four metres in size! Also, the non-use of colour (he considers a distraction) gives his subject matter a menacing feel. The moving waves felt strong, bold unflinching, uncompromising and dramatic. The vibrant and violent brush strokes had strong similarities to Jackson Pollock’s splatters.

His sketch books were also on view at the exhibition. As many as 70 sketch books largely documenting Virtue’s time on the coast line at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. It was amazing to see and understand how such a vast area of nothingness could be scrutinized and analysed with such intent.  After the exhibition, before going off to Gersht’s talk, I considered my next project and my time living and working in Tokyo. I had just witnessed how an artist communicates his large canvases through his location. What can I do? How can I do it effectively? What should I be observing and taking in?- Always questions, forever questions.

No 10 (2011-2013)
No 8 (2011-2013)




The Tokyo Underground: Preparatory Notes

Below is an excerpt from my Project Proposal back in March 2014. The intended project was to be a site-specific piece of art using the Tokyo Underground for the location. Currently, I am in the process of making preparatory notes for the project Don’t Have Nightmares 0.2: The Tokyo Underground , documenting an aspect of Japanese social realism.  The Tokyo Underground. Provisionally speaking, the focus will be predominantly on confined spaces and the intensity of the rush hour.


Site-specific art (artists/locations/mediums/exhibitions)

Tokyo Underground (history/maps/public signs & symbols/train designs/train times/statistical data/ /terrorist attacks)/train staff, uniforms,actions/graffiti/public services)

Japanese Social Realism- The Underground (commuters, actions, etiquette & train customs/Japanese subcultures/semiotics/suicides/ the rush hour)


March, 2014

Presently, I have one major project in mind which I am considering, it involves being site-specific and is a microcosm of Japanese society. I intend to use the Tokyo Underground as a work space. In the mid-90s, while an undergraduate at Bristol University, I was very inspired by a photographic exhibition titled ‘Workers’, by the Social Documentary photographer Sebastiao Salgado. His images reveal the kinds of extremities people have to endure in their daily working lives. Using the Tokyo Underground as the stage for my for my context, I intend to film at Shinjuku station and capture the everyday intensity that occurs each day during the rush hours.
Shinjuku station alone disgorges 900,000 passengers each morning, sucking them in again in the evening, some of the men (and they are mostly men) by now inebriated, before dumping them in their distant bedroom towns. Indeed, the commuting salaryman—the selfless company drone, one among a sea of dark suits pushed on to their morning train by white-gloved platform attendants—has as much claim to be Tokyo’s iconic figure as Christ the Redeemer has for Rio de Janeiro. The Economist, 2011
As an American journalist commented on CNN recently, “It’s just bodies squished as tightly as you can be into a small space. You can see people whose feet aren’t touching the ground sometimes because they are wedged in so tightly,” For my project, I hope to film sequences in the underground that exhibit the intense congestion within a small space (i.e. the train carriage). The rushes (footage) can then be animated using the rotoscope technique. As well as filming in the underground, I will also record visuals with a series of pencil sketches and photographs. The visuals will be included in the journal as part of the experimentation process.