Blame it on the fact that I am a Hip-Hop baby, but I absolutely love street Art. I appreciate traditional Art also, but I have an affinity towards the vibrant and and intriguing authenticity that makes my heart smile when my eyes gaze upon the masterpieces of Artists who ask no permission or need no recognition to express and share their creativity.
Being in Tokyo for just over 24 hours, I could not help but notice the lack of street Art despite how urban the city is, so I began to do some research. When I asked where the street art lives in this captivating and engulfing city, I found out that due to the conservative natures of Japan and its regulations, street Art is still largely frowned upon 🙁. Not surprising I guess ass their is a slight regulated energy in the Japanese air. Whether it is a security guard kindly popping out of no where at the hotel to make sure that you kindly walk on the sidewalk as opposed to the street or you being politely reprimanded and slightly looked at crazy if you even think about littering (not that I do), it is understood that the Japanese value their land and have traditional ways of looking at the way in which the upkeep should look.
Nonetheless, graffiti and street Artists historically have 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 5 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 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 conservative 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 legally 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 experience 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, it has not lost its reputation as such for sure.
If you ever come to Tokyo, be sure to check out Tennozu Isle, a hip part of town that host art shows and performances like Pow! Wow! Japan! You will be sure to see some dope pieces of work.
💜Love & Light☀️,
CRISTEN M. MILLS