J-Pop Summit 2010: Tokyo comes to San Francisco
Tokyo moved to San Francisco for a few days in September as multi-entertainment complex, NEW PEOPLE, provided the location for their own J-Pop Summit Festival 2010 -- an event celebrating the latest in Japanese art and culture.
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The crowd that descended on San Francisco's Japantown for the week's proceedings proved eclectic, from local gallery owners to young American teens dressed up in Harajuku-inspired styles.
For music, gaming, anime, film and fashion enthusiasts, the J-Pop Summit excited the senses.
The summit takes full advantage of its venue, NEW PEOPLE, a virtual shopping mall for Japanese culture with a theater that exclusively screens Japanese film. With its grand opening held in August 2009, the 20,000 square foot, three-story building is a recent addition to the San Francisco landscape.
The story behind the festival starts with Seiji Horibuchi, who founded anime and mange distributor VIZ media in the 1980s, and now runs VIZ Pictures. Horibuchi is the mastermind behind the two-year old J-Pop Summit Festival.
Framed as a Japanese cultural festival, the title loosely uses the term "J-Pop" to encompass culture -- from subversive to pop. The annual event showcases the unique elements of Japanese art and culture, which often marries tradition with outside influences.
Reaching out to an American audience
Manga and anime have captivated a sizeable audience in the United States, but Horibuchi "hopes to reach out to a wider audience through various forms of pop culture that have yet to take such a foothold, including music, art, and film.
"We want to use Japanese inspiration and intuition to cheer up the world and hopefully make more people excited with their lives," he says.
Gloomy Bear designer Mori Chack, who participated in a Q&A session on September 18, expressed a different motive for reaching an audience outside of Japan. "It's not just about showing my work to the American audience. What's more important to me is to see, feel, and experience many different things directly for myself. That's what leads to personal growth and, in turn, my work also matures."
Proving that art transcends language or culture, Chack adds, "I don't think there is much difference between American and Japanese [audiences]. Their outward response may differ but their initial reaction to art is the same."
Hamazaki echoed Chack's sentiment for international exposure and personal growth when reflecting on his 12th attendance to Black Rock City's Burning Man. "When I go there, it provides reassurance that what I am doing is not wrong."
Freedom in Japanese art
Art and freedom are inseparable in any culture. Freedom through art is especially noticeable in the homogeneous salaryman culture of Japan. It is encouraging to note that the J-Pop Summit artists are unified in confirming the ability to be free as artists in Japan.
Ken Hamazaki, who opened his own gallery, Ken Hamazaki Red Museum, in 1997, reflects on how the Japanese art world has grown: "There was a time when artists taking on roles beyond simply being an artist were not supported, but I wanted to counter that idea of artists being restricted by the system of the art world.
"In that sense, the current Japanese art world is headed towards improvement. If people see my art and think 'Oh, it's okay to live freely like Ken Hamazaki,' then that would make me happy."
Hamazaki's exhibit "Grateful Red" (September 17 to October 24 NEW PEOPLE 3rd Floor), takes visitors into the pulsating, red consciousness of the artist. Paying homage to the San Francisco band the Grateful Dead in its title, the exhibit strives to express similar concepts that the band engaged in during their live performances -- chance, freedom and audience participation.
Hamazaki pushes the limits of the white-walled institution (art museums) by painting his walls red.
From the street to the gallery
Starting out as a street artist in Shinsaibashi, Osaka selling postcards to passers-by, Mori Chack rose to fame drawing bloody-toothed bears. Highlighting human and animal dischord, Chack challenges conventions by juxtaposing "cute and innocent" with "untamed and bloody."
From starving artist to "it" boy, it is not surprising to hear Chack reiterate the presence of freedom in the Japanese art world. "There is definitely freedom in the Japanese pop art world where you are free to draw and present your work," Chack says.
"The fact that my Gloomy Bear has been accepted by people is proof that there is freedom."
Only two hours into the festival's Opening Ceremony on Friday night, crowds tipsy on Harmonii (a shochu distilled in San Francisco) and stuffed with mini cupcakes fill all three floors.
"It's been crazy every day since the festival started on Monday," says Horibuchi.
With all the maneuvering between visitors who flash and fawn over cosplay girls, artists and designers, it is apparent that one thing connects everyone at the J-Pop Summit Festival 2010 -- the belief in self expression.