Kyoto Art and Design Scene: A Glimpse

Kyoto Art Design Scene Dragon Sculpture Clay Shrine

One of the joys of Kyoto — and indeed Japan — is that the locals apparently approach all aspects of life artfully.

So even though my experience of Kyoto art and design was largely restricted to toddler-accessible locations, it was still possible to enjoy many examples of visual creativity around the city. (In addition, I escaped on a bicycle during nap time one sunny afternoon, armed with a Kyoto Art Map, which can be found at galleries and cafes around town).

Here are a few glimpses of art that I saw, with a slight emphasis on contemporary work. Having visited many temples and traditional gardens on my last visit to Kyoto, ten years ago, I decided to focus my attention this time upon a more modern version of Japan.

Having said that, it’s not really possible to untangle the old from the new!

Following the images are a few of my suggestions for an art and design experience in the inspiring city of Kyoto.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Cafe Drawing Painting Aframe Sign Sidewalk

At top: a chunky dragon figure dominates a footpath display or shrine. Above: a simple line drawing on an A-frame advertises hot drinks.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Akase Mifusa Gallery Exhibition

Bold animal paintings by Akase Mifusa are displayed in windows above a row of retail stores, creating an outdoor gallery of sorts.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Street Art Sticker Paste Up Graffiti

I love the sticker on the electrical pole: conceptual art on the street, perhaps?

Kyoto Art Design Scene Kokeshi Shop Window Traditional Junk Secondhand

A sweet, kokeshi-style painted doll in a junk shop window.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Dohjidai Gallery 1928 Building Exhibition

An exhibition at the Dohjidai Gallery of Art, which is at the centre of a creative hub in Kyoto.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Japan Obi Tie Kimono Colourful Rainbow

A display of obi/kimono ties, yet another visual treat.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Cat Sculpture Clay Beckoning Maneki Neko Modern

A contemporary take on the beckoning cat called maneki neko. (Unfortunately I don’t have a record of who created these beauties, I admired them through the window of the gallery).

Kyoto Art Design Scene Department Store Sfera Italy Milan European Style Homewares

Marvellous use of natural materials and pared-down style at Sfera, a rarefied design department store in which I was the only browser. Weird! But wonderful.

Kyoto Art Design Nijiyura Chu Sen Dye Traditional Technique Dyeing Japan Osaka Textiles

An old fashioned dying technique called chu-sen is used to create modern textiles in the shop, Nijiyura, pictured above.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Dog Sculpture Clay Florist Shop Flowers Plants

Colours and textures from nature are regularly a feature of artful displays around the city.

Listed below are some names and locations that I discovered while exploring Kyoto, and this is without even venturing towards some of the bigger arts institutions:

  • Gallery Morning Kyoto is a small gallery space featuring solo exhibitions that seem to be by emerging artists. I was happily surprised, when I visited, to be introduced to the artist whose work I was admiring.
  • Gallery Kei masters a sublime combination of traditional Japanese materials and modern display sensibility. Mindblowingly beautiful (for more images, see images by Rios).
  • Tomohito Matsubara is a jewellery artist who can capture the essence of a cherry-blossom in a precious metal.
  • Hori Nobuko creates whimsical worlds in pastel colours, and Ayaka Ogawa is also an artist specialising in cute characters. They were both showing work in the building that houses Cafe Independants.
  • An exhibition by Komorik of air plants and other dried flora was very lovely.
  • If you’re looking to buy art and design books and products, the super-cool store called Angers is the place to go.
  • Cafe Independants is an underground cafe/bar for-and-by creative types. It’s in a building with galleries and artists (some mentioned above), and well worth a visit, even if you can’t get down the stairs because you are pushing a double-stroller. But the entrance to the cafe is artistic, too; see below.

Kyoto has long been a hub for artisans, so it’s no surprise that it has a thriving art scene today. To connect with it, I highly recommend you get hold of a Kyoto Art Map… or simply roam the streets and keep your eyes open!

Kyoto Art Design Cafe Independants Indepenents Japan Underground Stairs Gallery Artist Hub


Great Walls

During a quick visit to Melbourne recently, I noticed some great walls. Worn, postered, stencilled, stickered, painted, decorated.

Melbourne Great Walls Portraits Street Art Northcote

Above and below: street art around Northcote; all sorts.

Melbourne Great Walls Street Art Stencil Painting High St Northcote

Below: remnants of the recent Día de Muertos festival — complete with gorgeous Frida doll — at Gleaners Inc in Brunswick, a charming shop run by a charming woman named Liz. It’s full of retro and arty clutter, my favourite!

Melbourne Great Walls Gleaners Inc Brunswick Shop

Below: layers and layers of posters outside the wonderful Obus, looking as though it is part of the shop design.

Melbourne Great Walls Obus Shop Head Office High Street Northcote

Melbourne Great Walls Street Art High Street Northcote

More fabulous sticky art around Northcote, above and below. It encourages you to keep your eyes open as you wander the streets.

Melbourne Great Walls Sticker Street Art Northcote

Below: a stripey display of MT tape and a pretty collection on a shelf at Save Yourself in Sparta Place, Brunswick. This place offered sweet service as well as cool products. (EG non-toxic nail polish brand, Kester Black; check out their inspiration page)

Melbourne Great Walls Save Yourself Sparta Place Brunswick Shop

And a shabby, peeling, beautiful wall in Joe’s Shoe Store (which is now a bar, but methinks the wall decor is courtesy of the original shoe-making Joe).

Melbourne Great Walls Joes Shoe Store Bar Peeling Paper High Street Northcote

Walls might not seem like a notable thing but let’s face it: if we have to look at them every day, they might as well be arresting, thought provoking and attractive.

Tokyo Shop Window

Japan Retail Comme Des Garcons Parco Tokyo Shibuya

It’s probably not news to anyone that the shopping in Tokyo is incredible. And for window-shopping, the kind of retail therapy that doesn’t cost a cent, you’d be hard pressed to find a better city.

On a few occasions when we were in Tokyo recently, I was able to snatch a quick image of a shop front or retail display that caught my eye. The photos illustrate the innovation and resourcefulness of people selling stuff and designing spaces in this massive and incredible city.

Japan Retail Cosmic Light Source Loft Parco Tokyo Shibuya

Above and top: departments in Parco 1, my favourite department store in Shibuya. It’s more like a number of small stores all under the one roof, each having its own character and style.

Japan Retail Shop Tokyo Shibuya 10 Tow Designer Second Hand Clothing

At the other end of the scale, above, are the tiny shops that are piled upon one another and are difficult to find. I liked 10/Tow, a tiny cave of vintage and second-hand designer pieces — featuring mostly the giants of Japanese fashion.

Japan Retail Tokyo Nursery Garden Display

Classic Japanese themes are still to be found, such as the hanging curtains in the doorway of the florist above, and the lanterns outside the izakaya (pub) below.

Japan Retail Tokyo Ueno Izakaya Vintage Style

Other eating establishments feature less-traditional décor (see Coney’s hanging windows below)…

Japan Retail Tokyo Shibuya Coney Cafe Restaurant

… and some are downright eccentric. This is the overgrown outdoor dining area of a bar that seems to be called “And People”.

Japan Retail And People Tokyo Shibuya Eclectic Cafe Bar

There were some quirky hair salons where I would have loved to make an appointment. Not so sure about the colour options displayed in the window at 3 Little Birds, below, though!

Japan Retail Tokyo Harajuku 3 Little Birds Hair Salon

And Vetica had a jumbled window (see a small detail below) and huge book collection for waiting clients… it took me a while to work out that it was a hair and beauty salon.

Japan Retail Vetica Hair Salon

In contrast, the establishment below is not actually a vintage barber shop, it’s a display in an amusement parlour.

Japan Retail Golden Style Odaiba Retro Vintage Rockabilly Barber

And in that same vein of contrariness, the very cool shop known as Vacant declares that Yes! It’s open.

Tokyo shopping is constantly surprising, regularly inspiring and the window-shopping is never, ever dull.

Japan Retail Tokyo Harajuku Vacant Art Photography Books

Pirate Allies

Pirates Puffed Sleeves Stuart Weitzman Suede Pumps Shoes

It was Talk Like a Pirate Day last week, the equally fun and silly “holiday” whose profile and popularity increases each year, despite it having no apparent purpose.

We were confronted by some pirates on the day, no higher than my waist but twice the size of my two boys, it seemed. One brandished a plastic sword, flourished a cape and repeatedly yelled “Imagine That!” (is it a quote?). The other *kapowed* and *boomed* a toilet roll/musket at us with one hand, and hiked up his striped boxer shorts (worn on the outside of his trousers, with red galoshes) with the other.

“Only pirates are allowed here,” we were told. I was proud at the defiance shown by my kids in the face of such formidable and flamboyant danger. Or perhaps they just didn’t understand. They simply stared while I got them off the hook by pointing out various clues that they were pirate allies. Spotty pants, skulls on sneakers, the usual. Since then, whenever the little guys are dressing up in their most crazy combinations, they shout “argh!” and declare themselves as pirates. They seem to have missed the real point of the pirating business.

Their dad took them to the Tall Ships Festival, which is taking place on the Hobart waterfront. It’s like days of old down there at the moment; masts and flags standing tall and dominating the skyline. In addition, and coincidentally, I have been reading about treasure-hunting in old National Geographic magazines.

And all this led me to researching real pirates like Blackbeard, Spanish shipwrecks with New World riches and imagining what it was really like in the Bahamas during the 17th century.

Pirates Boat Bed Marc Jacobs Style Military

These images of glittering skulls, dreamy beds on boats, military jackets, puffed sleeves and scarlet heels are probably quite far from the mark. But if you’re going to miss the point of the pirating business, you might as well be glamorous about it.

Pirates Nicholas Morley Swarovski Skull Ornament Crystal Buddhist Punk

Top image: Stuart Weitzman red and purple shoe, Comme Des Garcons jacket photographed by Paolo Roversi for Vogue.

Centre image: Marc Jacobs ensemble from some years ago (I think the bed is on a Kerala houseboat).

Bottom: Nicholas Morley Swarovski-crystal skull featured in In Style, August 2007, photographed by Tony Amos.

(Click on images for greater detail).

Favourite Flavours

Do you ever find yourself drawn to or preoccupied with a certain place or culture? Are you often attracted to books or films set in a particular country, do you dress or decorate your house in the style of a favourite location?

Japan Vintage Old Kokeshi Postcard Mt Fuji Stones

I would argue that I’m crazy about all sorts of cultures, but since I have travelled most in Asia it’s probably fair to note that my attention is often drawn to smells, colours and flavours from that (broad and very diverse) part of the world.

Japan Tea Blossom Lacquerware Tray

And in particular, I have noticed lately, I have gathered quite a lot of little trinkets from Japan. Not all of them were actually collected in Japan; it just seems to be an aesthetic to which I am drawn.

Japan Kimono Kokeshi Ikebana

And in the last few weeks I have been thinking, dreaming, planning, obsessing over Japan because we’re heading off there tomorrow.

Japan Blossom Textile Kimono Vintage Obi

You may notice a distinctly Japanese flavour here at Many Cha Cha for the next week or two.

Japan Tea Cult Japanese Tea Vintage Box Caddy Tin