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i can see better

another drawing from the group show ‘flatlanders’ at mendel art gallery (september 2008 – january 2009).

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“puzzle” by rinpa eshidan.

no wonder i couldn’t find anything about rinpa eshidan. their name “rinpa” uses the kanji “輪派” in japanese, not “琳派”. both combinations of kanji sound the same, “rinpa”. it’s a common problem in japanese that it’s hard to know which kanji are used to write someone’s name, since there are usually several possibilities. most japanese names are chosen as sounds first (in kana, the japanese syllables) — then you find kanji to make up those sounds.

i figured rinpa eshidan’s name would be written with the same kanji as the historical art style called rinpa (琳派). especially because “eshi” is the old-fashioned japanese word for a (traditional) painter. but instead, they chose the kanji “輪派” to spell “rinpa”. i guess they did it on purpose, to show a connection to japanese art tradition and to show their own philosophy at the same time. “輪” means circle in japanese. according to their blog,

rinpa is “circle” style. it’s a group that values the connections between people. the members are big fans of hip-hop and art. they get together once every two months to perform at clubs.

how did i find out about them? through the magical mystery of the internet. the director of the rinpa eshidan videos, daisuke yamamoto, contacted me through MIXI, the biggest japanese social network site (5,700.000 members).

i joined MIXI a few weeks ago after being invited by a japanese girl who used to live in saskatoon (i found her blog online, but she moved away just before i got here). MIXI is sort of like MySpace in japanese, but the pages are not so ugly. all MIXI members have to be invited by another member. anyway, i’d been wanting to find out about rinpa eshidan, so i wrote about them on my MIXI page.

a couple days ago, i posted their video, “1 week of art works” on my blog. just the next day, that video got promoted to the front page of YOUTUBE. the video now has almost 600,000 views and people really like it. since there isn’t any information about “rinpa eshidan” in english online, my blog post shows up when people search for them. but unfortunately i didn’t have any information about them either…

…until now. after he contacted me, i visited daisuke’s MIXI page and read a little bit about him. he’s a grad student at a fine arts university in tokyo. the video, “1 week of art works” was done for his graduation project (i’m sure he did very well!). he’s obviously very talented. at the same time he sounds like a very humble person as an artist, which i like.

he said that he’s working on setting up a new website and is also working on another new video! he’ll let me know about them when they are finished. so i’ll post about them then. also, it sounds like ABC will be showing a rinpa eshidan video on TV soon (or maybe it’s already aired. i don’t know. i don’t watch ABC).

Go rinpa eshidan, go!

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(click the image to view close up)

i’ve been wanting a good size tote bag but i haven’t found one i like enough to buy. so when i went to the downtown public library the other day i didn’t have anything to carry my books home in. as usual, i got carried away and took out more books than i could carry in my hands. the library gave me some recycled plastic grocery bags, but they weren’t strong enough. the bags ripped and my books fell onto the street. so i decided i’d better design my own tote bag.

i bought a canvas tote bag at a craft shop yesterday and hand-painted 宇宙人 (“uchuu-jin”, meaning alien) on it in kanji. you might remember that “uchuu-jin” was lesson one in my quasi-calligraphy series. one good thing about writing in japanese in an english-speaking country is that not so many people understand what it actually says. they just see the kanji and think “ah, japanese — how beautiful”. or maybe they think it’s chinese — same thing, right? either way, it’s easy to have a secret meaning in public. this is the mystery of the orient.

i have another bag that says in kanji: 回収 (“kaisyuu”) and underneath it says “recycle” (in english). i bought it at an artsy gift shop in kingston. it’s kind of funny because kaisyu doesn’t mean “recycle”, it means “collection”. maybe there’s confusion because you can see signs saying “kaisyuu” at garbage collection areas or recycling collection areas in japan. there are several kanji that mean “recycling” in japanese, including 再利用 (the kanji mean “repeat use”) and 再資源化 (“re-resourced”, more or less), but the most common word is リサイクル which is written in the katakana alphabet, because it’s the english word “recycle”, borrowed into japanese (“risaikuru”).

it’s kind of funny to have 回収 “collection” written on a bag in a thick font. when i was travelling around japan with paul a couple of years ago, i carried this bag around with me. i remember seeing some japanese people looking perplexed and obviously thinking it weird to see that written in beautiful calligraphy. i enjoyed the reaction.

that gift shop in kingston (where i used to work, until i quit) sold “japanese” calligraphy greeting cards and framed calligraphy. but the calligraphy itself wasn’t very good. it looked like my ten-year-old nephew’s writing. some of the word choices were interesting, like one that said “horse, tiger, dog….” — the chinese zodiac animals. nothing amuses me more than seeing “dog” in calligraphy. imagine someone writing “dog” in english in beautiful gothic calligraphy — what’s the point?

i guess these things are the equivalent of the weird english you see in japan. when i was in elementary school, i had an “english newspaper print” shirt. it was a white button-up bowling shirt with fake newspaper printing and newspaper photos all over it (even on the collar). hey, it was the 80s. to me, any english writing seemed cool. i knew a few words of english, but not enough to read my shirt. later on, as my english improved, i started to notice mistakes in the english phrases you can see around japan. in college, my foreigner friends would point out “funny engrish” to me. they would have a good laugh about it.

i don’t mind people noticing mistakes and finding them funny. but when i find canadians making mistakes about japanese, it’s hard for me to point them out, especially when the mistake is impossible to correct. in kingston, i once saw a pretty girl at the gym who had a tattoo of the kanji 太 over her shoulder blade. i was speechless, because that kanji means “fat”. maybe it was a mistake, since 大 (without the little dot at the bottom) means “big” and 犬 (with the little dot in the top right) means “dog”. i don’t know why she would want a kanji tattoo saying “big” or “dog” either, but it actually said “fat”. she was working on her upper body in front of me. as the kanji for “fat” stretched across her shoulder, i decided not say anything. too painful.

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drain your brain

(click to view close up)

freshly drawn this afternoon. it’s been awhile since i’ve drawn in vivid colours. i think i’m liking it.

the kanji on the milk carton says yuki-jirushi, which means snow brand. that’s a japanese milk company that got into huge trouble a few years ago when many people around osaka got food poisoning from their low fat milk. paul was one of the first cases. interestingly, paul and i both drank from the same milk carton that day, but only paul got food-poisoning. he was really sick. later on, two men from the milk company came to the door of our apartment and apologized. they bowed very deeply and gave us a box of expensive japanese sweets. i felt bad that these two men had to apologize even though they didn’t do anything wrong.

the case was a big scandal in japan. 14,780 people got sick. you can read more about it here.

my drawing has nothing to do with the food poisoning scandal. i just like the design of the milk carton, and i’m used to since we always used to drink snow brand milk (before). my brain is very weak, like 0.1% milk.

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i thought…

(click to enlarge the image)

…you were my friend…

colour pencil drawing on paper (9 x 12″). this original drawing will be for sale on my online shop. the writing on the left says the same thing in japanese. it’s written in the real japanese: kansai dialect.

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(click the image to view close up)

freshly drawn since last night. the japanese writing says “happy solo muscle knitting”. i have a good time playing alone.

i took more photos last night. but most of them turned out blurry. when i draw, i guess i don’t blink as often as i should so my eyes get dry. therefore my contacts get dry too. i couldn’t see very well.

i have very bad eyesight. right -7.0 and left -6.8. it’s sometime nice to see things blurrily, especially at night. neon lights look very beautiful when i see them without my contacts on. but that’s maybe not a good idea when it comes to taking photos.

UPDATE: you can buy a print of this drawing, or a postcard, from my SHOP.

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vermillion pleasure night is a japanese tv show directed by yoshimasa ishibashi, avant-garde director from kyoto, japan. vermilion pleasure night is an omnibus show, which was aired on tv tokyo on sunday midnight starting 2000. once again, yoshimoto kogyo, the king of comedy agency produced it. the show became a huge hit throughout japan. it’s kitschy and full of dark humour. i love it. now the shows are available on dvd. now i can watch them in north america! banza~i.

this “utau 6-nin no onna” is one of his short films. the title means “six women, who sing”. it sounds better in japanese. i like the use of kanji for “utau (sing)”. there are five ways of writing “utau” in kanji – 歌う 謡う 詠う 謳う 唄う. the first “歌う” is to sing from your throat rhythmically. the second “謡う” is to sing by developing your voice with melody. the third “詠う” is to sing / read a poem. the fourth is to sing in a suppressed voice with intonation as you bend your body. the last one, “唄う” is a transliteration from Sanskrit. it’s used when anything non-human creates a pleasant sound or beautiful voice. for example, “a bird sings” or ” a stream sings”. when it’s used in a noun form, it means folk song. for the title of this piece, the choice is the last one, “唄う”. it gives a nostalgic tone to this piece, yet this whole thing is absolutely modern. i love the ambivalence. it’s post-post modern.

i’m a slave for this sort of languid ambiance. i just think he’s brilliant.

i persistantly continue to wash
stain, i can’t get rid of
my fingers, cracked and swollen
my fingers, stung by cold water

on a windy day like this, my clothes might be blown away
but a warm day will come
a bright day will come


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‘love’, ‘peace’, ‘good fortune’ and ‘harmony’…

these are the famous kanji (chinese characters) here in canada. they show up on tattoos, postcards, greeting cards, and even on t-shirts. they’re usually written in beautiful calligraphy. i’ve been in canada for years now, and i see the same simple kanji again and again.

maybe that’s all that canadian people know about japan: beautiful calligraphy saying something “spiritual”. people in canada seem to think we japanese are very spiritual. those people usually love calligraphy. i studied calligraphy for years and i like it, but i got sick of having to practice the same, unnecessarily positive kanji over and over. how boring. why does calligraphy have to be so serious?

i’ve decided to make calligraphy more interesting. i want to introduce people in canada (and all over the world) to new kanji. also, i want to remind everyone that japanese people are not necessarily “spiritual”. i will be giving weekly lessons in “quasi calligraphy”: unusual kanji that might not be part of everyday life, but are more interesting than ‘love’, ‘peace’ and ‘harmony’ again and again and again. some of these kanji (phrases) are new to me, too. (i’m reading the dictionary to prepare).

so, let’s begin…


‘u-chuu’ means “space”, and ‘jin’ means “person”, so ‘uchuu-jin’ = “alien”.

as technology improves, we must prepare for the future. soon we’ll be able to go to mars on summer vacation to hang out with the martians. no matter what country you’re from, on mars you’re the “uchuu-jin”. i’m not sure, but i don’t think english is the common language on mars (revolution!). so even english speakers might need to be prepared to introduce themselves in other languages (maybe for the first time!). japanese is one possible language on mars.

so: to say “i am an alien” in japanese, you say: “watashi wa uchuu-jin desu”.  and if you want to emphasize the fact that you are a good alien, you say, “watashi wa yoi uchuu-jin desu”.

you want them to know you’re on their side!

the martians will be relieved to find out that you’re a good “uchuu-jin”. they might want to know more about “uchuu-jin”. they might ask, “uchuu-jin wa sushi ga suki desuka?” (“do uchuu-jin like sushi?”).

you can say: “aho chau? sore wa nihon-jin desu yo. uchuu-jin wa me-puru shiroppu ga suki.” (“no, stupid! that’s japanese. uchuu-jin like maple syrup!”).

they might go on to ask: “uchuu-jin wa sumo ga tokui desuka? (“are uchuu-jin good at sumo?”)

you can quickily answer: “aho chau! sore wa nihon-jin desu yo! uchuu-jin wa ka-ringu ga tokui desu! (“no idiot! that’s japanese. uchuu-jin are good at curling!”).

there you go! you and the martian are best friends!

please practice the kanji you learned today. think carefully about every brushstroke, and imagine yourself as a true “uchuu-jin”. that way, you will capture the spirit of “uchuu-jin”.

see you next week.

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art bra

(click image to see close-up)

i’m not a diva type, but i thought i should add some spice to my drawings for the women’s art festival opening this weekend in saskatoon. the festival is called “her-icane go-diva“, for some reason. at the festival, i’m officially an “emerging visual artist”. hurray! our opening is this evening (friday) at 6pm, at SCYAP (saskatoon community youth arts programming center).

one of the main events at the festival is the “art bra” show and auction. different artists (not me) are designing their artistic bras. i’m not very good at that kind of female-oriented activity, but i thought i should draw a bra for the festival. instead, i drew human breasts on a chicken. the chicken is proud to have such delicious-looking breasts, but the girl is not so impressed. “they’re just pieces of meat, after all”.

the kanji (chinese characters) say “bird breasts”. i should have written “chicken breasts”, but i wasn’t really paying attention.

this drawing and another one of mine, also featuring a chicken (violent type), will be showing at SCYAP until march 31st.

to japanese readers:



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