Category Archives: CULTURE

Makoto Azuma Plunges Bonsai into the Depths of the Sea

For the past several years, Japanese botanical artist Makoto Azuma has been experimenting with flowers in a way that delicately balances the natural and unnatural. For his ongoing series “Bloom” he’s launched bouquets of flowers into space and floated them in the middle of the sea. But the artist, whose work often deals with the ephemeral nature of his subject matter, has frozen flowers in blocks of ice and placed them at the center of decommissioned power plants. His latest endeavor was to plunge bouquets and a bonsai into the least explored part of this planet: the bottom of the sea.

Three years of planning – both in building equipment and obtaining government permits – came to fruition this summer when, in late August, Azuma sailed out into the Suruga bay. His team of 15 proceeded to plunge 4 exquisite bouquets of flowers and one bonsai 2000 meters, or a little more than 1 mile, down to the sea floor. Each plant was secured in the center of a steel-infused plastic frame that was also equipped with lights and photographic equipment.

“In contrast to the bright summer daylight at the foot of Mount Fuji, the flowers will be swallowed
slowly into the darkness, where not a single ray of light shines,” said the artist. It’s said that only 5% of the earth’s sea floors have been mapped, and for good reason. The intense water pressure and lack of any light or oxygen makes it one of the most harshest environments on earth. But that is what makes Azuma’s flowers all the more beautiful as they stand in stark contrast with the depths of the sea and …continue reading


Kanban: The Exquisite Art of Historic Japanese Store Signs

Before department stores and convenient stores became one-stop shopping destinations, a highly fragmented industry of local, family run shops thrived throughout Japan. And to advertise their business, merchants would frequently spend significant sums of money on kanban: signs that would be displayed prominently outside the shop that would convey prestige and reliability to customers.

The front and back of a kanban for a greengrocer (late 19th century). It features large daikon radishes as its primary advertising image

To create what was essentially a form of traditional advertising , merchants would hire skilled craftsman known as kanban-shi who would hand-carve the signs using wood, bamboo, iron, fabric and sometimes even stone. The kanban typically took on an enlarged shape or form of whatever the merchant was dealing in. And the images were often accompanied by elegant calligraphy.

Kanban is currently viewable in the form of an exhibition at the Mingei International Museum in San Diego. And you can see more pictures from the exhibition on Hyperallergic. Kanban was also released in the form of a book – a “176-page hardbound publication by Guest Curator Alan Scott Pate, with 155 illustrations and over 50 kanban represented.” It’s available here for $49.50.

Kanban for Thread Shop (19th century). This kanban depicts an oversize ito waku or skein with seven bands of colored thread to advertise a thread shop.

Kanban for a blade shop (late 19th century). Exceptionally fashioned out of thick paper set in a wooden frame, this kanban presents approximately forty finely painted types of hand tools and blades

<img src="" alt="" width="720" height="1051" srcset=" 720w,×200.jpg …continue reading


The Secret World of the Maiko

Maiko Vs. Geisha

Most people do not really know Geishas beyond their elaborate kimonos. Many can recognize one from a mile away, but past the white make-up and the intricate hairstyle, there is very little that is known about them. They have always lived their lives like enigmas, but there is more to these women than meets the eye. We take a closer look at the very intriguing world of Geishas and Geishas-in-Training, the Maikos.

What is a Geisha?

The word Geisha consists of two Kanji,芸 (gei) meaning “art” and 者 (sha) meaning “person”. In Japan, a Geisha is a hostess who is adept in traditional arts such as classical music, poetry, dance and the like. They are also trained to hold conversations, tell jokes and play games. Geishas are basically entertainers but they also play a paramount role in Japanese culture. These women are adored for their beauty, grace, and mystery and are one of the most recognizable figures of Japanese culture.

Kyoto is considered to be the birthplace of the Geisha culture. (In Kyoto, they call Geiko(芸妓)for Geisha. This is a honorific term for sophisticated woman who has education and performing art skills in Kyoto. Basically Geisha and Geiko are the same term). The first ever Geisha can be traced back to as early as the late seventh century but the Geisha culture was only able to gain traction throughout the nineteenth century, where it enjoyed a golden age of popularity. This steady rise abruptly came to a halt when World War II destroyed Japan, but after the warfare, the women who returned to their lives as Geisha, fought for the improvement of their rights as they continued their craft. This was also the turning point where Geishas completely diverged from the notion that they engage in sexual activity for payment from male …continue reading


Historical Photos of Japan Brought to Life Using Artificial Intelligence Colorization

For all their charm and nostalgia, black and white photos do create a certain disconnect between the past and present. Looking at them, it’s easy to forget that we’re connected to that time by what is merely a blink of an eye in the grand scale of history. And so it’s worth colorizing old black and white photos if only for the contemporaneity, with which we use to learn from history.

Woman and children wait for a parade on the streets of Kobe. (1930s, photographer unknown)

The process, however, was painstakingly manual. Even with digital software, colorists have had so colorize the images piece-by-piece; pixel-by-pixel.

But now, a team of Japanese researchers at Waseda University, led by Dr. Ishikawa, has utilized artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning to create a program that automatically colorizes photographs. The task was accomplished through the deep learning and color matching of 2.3 million color photographs.

Dr. Watanabe of the Tokyo Metropolitan University, then built on that technology by adding data from research on the colors of architectural elements of the past. He’s then been posting the photographs to his twitter account with some historical tid-bits. Here, we present a few of our favorites but you can follow him at @hwtnv for more.

Perhaps the oldest photo in the bunch is this one of Gojozaka, Kyoto taken in 1875 (photographer unknown)

Children making chalk drawings on the street photographed by Takeyoshi Tanuma in 1961. I wonder if that’s Hayao Miyazaki with some early test sketches for the cat bus?

<img src="" alt="" width="1191" height="1200" srcset=" 1191w,×302.jpg 300w,×774.jpg …continue reading