Sunday, 28 July 2013

Kokeshi Book!

A quick plug for my book on kokeshi culture, Kokeshi, from Tohoku with Love, before I send them off to distribution. All up we spent about 2 months total travelling around Tohoku's prefectures shooting artisans and interviewing them in the remote, rural hot spring villages where they are made.

I spent a lot of my summer holidays at my grandparents house in coastal Miyagi (the family house was actually swept away in the tsunami, last time I saw it, it was a pile of rubble and the play ground where I used to play was stacked with white coffins :-<). However, I hadn't been to Tohoku at all since my teen years since the disaster. While going to the coast was gut-wrenching, I really was amazed at the beautiful scenery of Tohoku, the graciousness of the people, loved the culture, (best matsuri festivals I have been to in Japan, hands down-- and I've been to a lot!) and food. I have a lot of friends who are foreign correspondents who went up to Fukushima for assignments, and everyone was really amazed at how lovely the people are.

I can understand if people want to avoid Fukushima, admittedly, but if you are visiting Japan, I really, really recommend going to Japan's countryside, not just the standard Tokyo, Kyoto, maybe Osaka route.
Anyways the book documents the work of 22 artisans and has full length interviews and hundreds of photos. You can get kitschier, mass produced kokeshi, the real ones are only sold at hotspring villages in Tohoku -- visiting these workshops is a great way to explore Japan's countryside, see some incredible landscapes and visit some beautiful hot spring villages.  Going through the snow in a 2 carriage train in remote Yamagata is something I will never forget! I have some happy snaps here.

Like a lot of the great things about Japanese culture, a lot of craftsmen are worried about kokeshi culture disappearing, due to the apprenticeships for traditional crafts taking so many years.

They are quite mini sized, like a guide book but at 197 pages, it has quite a lot of information, durable flexi cover, lovely matte paper, stitched sides, and only 15 USD, all proceeds to Tohoku aid.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Proper Mag

I just saw this amazing review by Neil at proper mag...apparently by buying our book, we will save you on going on a rather expensive, desperate and bothersome sounding holiday! (◎_◎;)
not exactly our intention but anyways...

thank you Proper mag! ....

PS pic below is from Mayoko, her blog is here, (seriously have a look through the site, it's amazing) it's a given that Kyaraben are cute, but these actually really look delicious too.

 As fully paid up members of the ‘We love Japan’ club, primarily due to their anorak style attention to detail on, well… anoraks but that’s not just where the story ends. We also love the land of the rising sun’s unique brand of ‘what the fuckness‘ that can be neatly and efficiently summed up best by the word ‘Kawaii’. Loosely translating as ‘cute’ this enigmatic and all encompassing word can be used to describe most facets of Japanese pop culture from smiley faced Bento boxes and kittens dressed as samurais to kinky waitresses and Hello Kitty stickers stuck to the sides of jumbo jets. There are two ways you can uncover this mystical Eastern phenomena, you can spend a couple of grand on a holiday over there and try to buy some pyschotic teddy-bear toys and make friends with some Harajuku kids or there’s the cheaper, more concise, easier option of buying Manami Okazaki & Geoff Johnson’s aptly named Kawaii! book, which gives an extensive rundown on everything that fits under the pink, bunny-eared Kawaii umbrella, in fact it’s less of a book and more of a paper museum. A very Kawaii paper museum.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Wall Street Journal

Writing some posts, i.e. observations I have made writing articles on Japan's sub and pop cultures (as well as these cultures abroad) for the past ten years for WSJ's Scene.

Thank you Lara from WSJ Asia  m(_  _)m

Enjoy xxxx

If you’ve ever been to Japan, whether you know it or not, you will have encountered multiple examples of kawaii, the country’s dominant pop-cultural aesthetic.
That bus stop shaped like a watermelon? Kawaii. Adorable police mascots? Kawaii. Harajuku fashionistas with pink tutus and purple bangs, Hello Kitty TV sets, fish cakes that look like pandas, girls in manga with sparkly eyes, construction signs that take the form of frogs? All kawaii.
Kawaii culture has many guises, but what exactly is it? If it’s just the Japanese word for “cute,” as it’s usually translated, why not just call it that?
In my book, “Kawaii!: Japan’s Culture of Cute,” I spoke to product designers, manga artists, fashion luminaries, event organizers, scholars and artists who deal in kawaii. One thing they made clear is that contrary to popular belief, kawaii products need to be cute, but not too cute – otherwise they won’t sell.

Conflicting views abound as to what kawaii is and isn’t. In light of this, below are five things about kawaii that go against common misperceptions. I hope they help you look at kawaii in a different light.
1. Kawaii isn’t about perfection
Though kawaii design is usually associated with a roundness of composition, pastel colors and childlike facial proportions, aesthetic perfection is actually undesirable. Kazuhiko Hachiya, the designer of character goods PostPet, points out that if characters are too perfect, consumers greet them suspicion and unease. That explains why his hit kawaii characters, Momo and friends, have asymmetrical poses and aren’t immaculately cute.

2. Kawaii isn’t anything new
Kawaii culture developed largely as a result of the convergence of traditions adapting to modern times, and the appropriation and influence of Western culture, particularly after World War 2. But its roots go even deeper: Many people consider its birth to be the beginning of the Taisho era (1912-1926), when designer Takehisa Yumeji made feminine items specifically marketed toward girls.

3. Kawaii isn’t supposed to be sexy
In the 1990s, with the rise of Harajuku youth fashion and the influence of shojo (girls) manga and illustrators, kawaii became an ideal, something girls wanted to be. Rather than be pretty, sexy or glamorous, Japanese girls prefer to be called kawaii. As an adjective, the word commonly implies that something or someone is cute, sweet, endearing and innocent, but it can be used in a mind-boggling array of ways. In fact, girls in Japan will exclaim “kawaii!” so many times a day, and apply it in so many different contexts – often ironic – that to a foreigner it may seem like their repertoire in vocabulary is somewhat limited!

4. Kawaii isn’t static
While kawaii culture has been around in Japan for roughly a hundred years, it is constantly mutating into new directions, thus retaining its appeal to a fickle consumer demographic. Increasingly, kawaii is teamed with words that might seem like its antithesis: take ero-kawaii (erotic cute), kimo-kawaii (creepy cute) and guro-kawaii (grotesque cute). In the past five years or so, hit products such as Gloomy, a pink homicidal bear often depicted attacking his owner, are the opposite of what we might commonly consider cute.

5. Kawaii isn’t confined to Japan
These days it isn’t just Japanese people that have an all-encompassing love of kawaii: fans of the culture are popping up globally, from the Japan Expo in Paris, HARAJUKU KAWAii!! at London’s HYPER JAPAN event, and San Francisco’s J-Pop Summit Festival. As for whether it will become more than a subculture overseas, we’ll have to wait and see.

Manami Okazaki writes about the more colorful aspects of Japanese contemporary culture. She is the author of five books on Japanese pop culture, including most recently, “Kawaii, the culture of Cute” (Prestel UK).
Follow Scene Asia on Twitter @WSJscene.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Prestel Vid and giveaway

Thanks so much to Bianca from Prestel and Gael Level of Level Photography for shooting this in Paris, you can get a glimpse into the bedlam of Japan Expo. (I'm not too sure how many times I say "um" in this video!!)

Also, Prestel have a giveaway on their facebook (Takuya Angel scarf/ mask), check it out and enter by sharing the vid/ liking prestel on FB.

A side note: I met with a journalist recently who innocently asked if I get endorsed for any of my interviews. Asides from sales from the actual book; no, no, no and no. It is a fair question, as I know it is a trend for bloggers to brag about going on tourism association junkets, amassing free goods and writing cheesey advetorial posts about it, but rest assured Kawaii, kokeshi, and my other journalism or book projects are not ads in disguise.

I am teaming up with/ supporting people, events or companies because I think they are genuinely interesting, pertain to the topic, or are worth writing about.

The TA gear was actually one of the items we shot for the Kurebayashi shoot, the other mononoke scarf went to my editor,... leaving one for a lucky winner! Thanks to prestel for organizing this, xxxxx

Monday, 15 July 2013

Los Angeles Times

Very excited to see LA Times recommend Kawaii the Culture of Cute!

Thank you Adam Tschorn! xxxx
m(_  _)m

With summer in full swing, the beach is beckoning, the hammock is hovering and the lawn chair looks like the long-lost lap of luxury. If downtime means picking up a good book, we've compiled a list of some recent fashion-focused books and breezy reads to help you kick back in style.

"Kawaii! Japan's Culture of Cute" by Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson (Prestel, April 2013, $24.95)
By Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
This photo-driven, soft-cover book does two things. First, it tries to trace the Japanese pop-culture preoccupation with all things cute (the word "kawaii"," the book says, roughly translates as "cute") back to its roots, a primordial petri dish that includes influences from Japan's Taisho era, post World War II manga, and1970s-era schoolgirls from which the likes of Hello Kitty, Sailor Moon, Gloomy Bear and their brightly colored compatriots would eventually emerge.
From there, the book takes a rainbow-hued, saccharine-sweet fun run through myriad modern manifestations of kawaii in the categories of foodstuffs, fashion, handicrafts and the visual arts.
The book's short Q-and-A pieces with manga artists of old (Eico Hanamura, whose career dates to 1959, and Macoto Takahashi, who began in 1957) and new (Simone Legno of Tokidoki) help put the movement in context. But it's the latter pages that manage to convey the sheer joy of endless childhood – the fever dream swirl of SpongeBob Squarepants bento boxes, smiling Elmo rice balls, maid cafes, smiling kitten manicures and Harajuku fashion.

Little Madi kokeshi

This is Little Madi's (google her for some beautiful work) kokeshi that has been on some major international misadventures. So, so beautiful. Thank you so much xxxxxx

Thursday, 11 July 2013


 Quite happy to buy this incredible piece from the booth.  This kokeshi has been on quite a few adventures! From Bei Badgirl.

Oh and these are the proceeds to Katariba @ 194400 yen  (basically the money goes to Tohoku who are working there directly, as opposed to a million intermediaries and maybe not to Tohoku at all).

Thank you so much again to everyone who came to the talk and dropped by our booth.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Japan Expo pix

Lea and Laetitia  

outside our booth

Margaux and Mickael

Most people at Japan expo were cosplayers
maybe the tallest girl at the expo!
Professor Yamazaki Minori from Joshibi



someone's try and buy kokeshi
Najib from Dejima
My mum

Oscar :)

Kokeshi talk


stuck in Beijing! Thank you air china for your reliable, polite and friendly service.... NOT
Iga ninjas before my talk!
someone's try and buy, they were so amazing we are taking one back to tohoku!