HoC is still abroad in Tokyo. The fashion, the restaurants, and culture have all been mind-blowing but there’s one important aspect we haven’t shared with you yet: the street art, the masterpieces of Artists who ask no permission or need no recognition to express and share their creativity. We here at HoC can appreciate traditional gallery style Art but there’s no way to truly get to the heart of a city without seeing how its people live and feel. Street art is the raw, unfiltered, un-curated soul of a city. It’s when the cityscape speaks. We put our ears to the ground for its whispers and shouts
But being in Tokyo for just over 24 hours, the walls’ silence also spoke volumes. As in most cities tagging and street art is still a guerilla form of expression. In Japan, they take their municipal laws and cleanliness very seriously. Street Art is still largely frowned upon 😉. And keeping streets clean is seen as a public duty. America tends to extol the individual and their own pursuits and greatness, in Japan rules and accountability feels like more of a collective responsibility. Whether it is a security guard kindly popping out of nowhere at the hotel to make sure that you walk on the sidewalk as opposed to the street or even the thought of littering being immediately shut down, public cleanliness is important.
Understandably, graffiti and street Artists have historically had a hard time with the strict laws of the Japanese government. The cultural attitudes and legal sanctions are nothing to play with. If caught “defacing public property,” graffiti Artists can face up to five years in prison. One way that Artists have avoided these stringent realities is by “live painting” – where art pieces are created accompanied by live music in clubs, bars or even on the street 😉.
Artists such as Bakibaki (Kohei Yamana) and Jasper Wong (a.k.a. Pow! Wow! – Chinese American) have been integral in changing the landscape as it relates to Artists being able to participate in street Art without repercussions. “Japanese street art is still a little behind other parts of Asia, Europe or America,” says Bakibaki. “It’s not that artists here don’t have the same kind of talent, it’s just that the environment doesn’t exist for it to flourish,” he adds. “Historically Japanese people don’t have a culture of drawing on city walls. The concept of the public space is different than in other countries.”
Two years ago Tokyo hosted its first Pow! Wow! Japan festival for an entire week. Live paintings were attended and celebrated across the city including the fashion and youth districts of Shibuya and Harajuku. Jasper Wong is the originator of the festival, which started in Hawaii and is responsible for the slow, but respectful shift of Japan’s view on street art. According to Emily Okamoto, director of Pow! Wow! Japan, “People are able to view the process and learn at the same time and see how each artist works during the event.” Another movement that helps push the needle forward for Japanese street Artists are “art walls” for brands and corporations. This growing movement promotes the graffiti Art culture in a way that does not jeopardize the Artists from a legal standpoint.
In conclusion, life is all about perspective and evolution. What one considers art, another considers vandalism and a violation. However, as proven in Japan, with the artistic ability to respectfully open our minds and hearts to new ways of being and experiencing the world, progress undoubtedly can be made. Art has always been a vehicle for social transformation and progressive change. And based upon the growing movement of Japanese street art, that fact remains.
If you ever come to Tokyo, be sure to check out Tennozu Isle, a hip part of town that hosts art shows and performances like Pow! Wow! Japan! You will be sure to see some dope pieces of work.
💜Love & Light☀️,
CRISTEN M. MILLS