Engaging with the Tokyo art scene

As any megalopolis, Tokyo is brimming with art galleries, museums and other cultural institutions. After seeing a few of them, and also after engaging a little more with Japanese history and culture, I have set myself a task for the next few months, an assignment of sorts: How do Japanese people express themselves through the arts? How are emotions channeled, how is social criticism conveyed? These are big questions, but then again, I have quite some time on my hands to find some answers for myself. A few ideas:

  • Post-war Japan is “boring” – political acquiescence (adherence to the liberal western order) was bought by providing economic affluence to large parts of the population. Unprecedented consumerism and materialism, especially cultivated throughout the 1980s has led to a culture of political disengagement, little civic activism and generally, perhaps, a lack of civil society? This is very much reflected in the country’s art as well as its political worlds.
  • More than 60 years after two nuclear bombs exploded above the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, something appears to be quite wrong. Japan is “Superflat”, everything from arts to culture is two-dimensional, there is no real depth to anything. In the words of Takeshi Murakami, “[Japan] is a utopian society as fully regulated as the science-fiction world George Orwell envisioned in 1984, comfortable, happy, fashionable – a world nearly devoid of discriminatory impulses. A place for people unable to comprehend the moral coordinates of right and wrong as anything other than a rebus for “I feel good”.”
  • Perhaps this popular narrative is still valid: Western ideas of individualism have clashed continuously with the Japanese sense of community since the Meiji era and that is the main reason for Japan being “warped” in its very own ways. In this vein, a great book I will be re-reading (also for its brevity) is “Modern Japan”, from the “Very Short Introduction” series of OUP.
  • This book chapter here is another link worth checking out. I stumbled upon when looking for more info on Aida Makoto. He will have a major exhibition in the Mori Art Museum soon, and I’m very curious to see it. He is seen as a socially critical artist with a message. His endorsement of the art collective Chim Pom is telling. Their recent exhibition in a department store was, and I mostly agree, a little naive and Jackass-like but a bit it has a strong contemporary and critical message.

Anyway, I’m not a sociologist, and above all I don’t want to explain a country to others which I hardly have an idea of myself. So I’ll humbly look out for more hints and writings to refine my view and find – perhaps in places not so obvious – expression. This museum pass here may help!

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