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IMAYO: Japanese Tradition Now

Ryoko Kimura
Ryoko Kimura
Honolulu Museum of Art
Credit Honolulu Museum of Art
Torii Kiyonaga, "Three Drunken Women". The "IMAYO" exhibit at the Honolulu Museum of Art features contemporary works inspired by works in their collection.

Japanese art and crafts have a reputation for quality and centuries of what seem like unbroken tradition behind them.  A new exhibition coming to Honolulu will feature experts in traditional metalwork, ceramics, painting, and fabric dye who use impeccable technique to tell contemporary stories.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports on Imayo: Japan’s New Traditionists.

Imayo: Japan’s New Traditionists opens Sunday October 2, 2016, with an introduction of artists in the UH Manoa Art Auditorium, then a reception at UH M?noa Art Gallery.  Thursday, October 29, sculptor Haruo Mitsuda discusses unique metalwork techniques in a free public lecture.  You will be amazed by his insect sculptures inspired by traditional 18th century Japanese  jizai okimono, jointed, moveable metal work. 

Starting October 13th, 2016, the Honolulu Museum of Art opens a related exhibition featuring original works from their collection alongside contemporary pieces specifically commissioned for this project.  

noe tanigawa
Credit noe tanigawa
John Szostak, curator for "Imayo: Japan’s New Traditionists" and Jaimey Hamilton Farris, who will participate in a related panel on "Tradition: What's the Use?" November 30, 2016, 3:30-5pm at the Doris Duke Theatre. Programming related to "IMAYO" continues for the run of the show.

Look at the name of this show,  Imayo: Japan’s New Traditionists, "Ima no yoo ni"—means in the style of Now, so what are traditionists?

“Traditionists are people who look at tradition and say, Hmm, I think I’m interested but I gotta do something with it, I gotta change it, I gotta do something else.”

John Szostak,  Associate Professor of Japanese art history at UH M?noa, curated this exhibition which spans galleries at UH M?noaand the Honolulu Museum of Art, with two months of related programming.

“In this exhibition, we’re using techniques people really don’t use anymore, but it’s saying something about Japan now.”

For example, the work of Toru Ishii, an expert with yuzen fabric dye.

“Each line is painted very carefully with a hairline brush, it’s a very physical process you have to be sort of  crazy to want to do.  You could do this so easily on a computer, even print on textile if you wanted and it would look exactly the same.   But the important thing is, he knows these techniques that go back to the sixteenth century and he’s trying to have a conversation with those artists that did it four hundred years ago.”

Satoshi Someya
Credit Satoshi Someya
Satoshi Someya, Displayism Kitsugi Deer. Someya, a lacquer specialist, demonstrates how beautiful a repair can be. Here a skull is "repaired" in the traditional Japanese "kintsugi" fashion, with lacquer and gold dust.

Japanese artists have struggled with tradition all along, with efforts rising to a heated pitch after World War II.  In fact, Japan's Mono-ha group, rebelling against tradition at that time, is seeing a resurgence of interest.  Jaimey Hamilton Farris, Associate Professor of contemporary art and critical theory at UH M?noa says the Imayo show questions what tradition is.

“It's not simply about the past, not simply about customs.  We have to think of tradition as what was once radical, emerging.   We can be a little bit more bold.”

Tradition, Farris says, is not a static sacred cow.  Maybe tradition is change and adaptation and these artists, by perfecting archaic methods, could cause us to question the methods we use today---

Toru Ishii
Credit Toru ishii
Toru Ishii, On the Ticket Barrier. Ishii has mastered itome yuzen, a fine line silk dyeing technique and applies this traditional art form to contemporary imagery.

“...Which will eventually become the traditional.  What we think of as the ease of using Power Point or Photoshop, these are going to be really archaic technologies that artists will spend many many months trying to recover, the techniques of using  Photoshop.”

With Virtual Reality, why make anything, right? 

“There is an allure to these materials too.  Particularly things like lacquer or yuzen  dyeing.  If you look at a beautiful lacquer piece there’s sort of like a glow coming out of it.  The colors sort of rise from the surface.  It’s really incredibly lustrous and beautiful.  You really can’t get that from plastic that’s supposed to look like lacquer or anything like that,” says Szostak.

“There are slight flaws too.  because the hand made aspect of this is another layer of interest, to me, at 

Satoshi Someya
Credit Satoshi Someya
Satoshi Someya, Owanjuuzaburo. Someya, a lacquer expert, can fluently blend tradition with contemporary imagery.


Sometimes it seems like you have to make a case for handmade these days, but Szostak laughs.

“You do, until you see it, you know.  Oftentimes the only way to achieve quality is by asking someone who really knows what they’re doing, to do it.”

While they’re still around.

Debating tradition is nothing like viewing the amazing artworks—intricate, lifelike, moveable metal insects, the gravitas of simple figures carved from a single wooden block---traditional technique, with contemporary images and references.  Mastery of a physical medium, may it never go out of style. 

Imayo: Japan’s New Traditionists


All events are free and open to the public.

Workshop: Metalwork techniques with sculptor Haruo Mitsuta
Thursday, Sept. 29, 1:30–3 p.m.
University of Hawai‘i–M?noa, John Young Museum of Art

Lecture: Artists of Imay?: An Exhibition Overview, by John Szostak, professor of Japanese art history and Imay? curator
Sunday, Oct. 2, 2-3 p.m., University of Hawai‘i–M?noa, ART Auditorium and The Art Gallery

Exhibition opening reception
Sunday, Oct. 2, 3-5 p.m., University of Hawai‘i–M?noa, The Art Gallery
Immediately following lecture.

Artist talk: T?ru Ishii on y?zen dyeing methods
Monday, Oct. 3, 4-5 p.m.
Honolulu Museum of Art Doris Duke Theatre, 901 Kinau St.

Artist talk: Sculptor K?ji Tanada
Wednesday, Oct. 5, 3–5 p.m.
University of Hawai‘i–M?noa, John Young Museum of Art
Japanese wood sculptor Koji Tanada discusses his art and practice.

Lecture: The Past as Future in Japanese Contemporary Art
John Carpenter, curator of Japanese Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Friday, Oct. 14, 5:30-7 p.m.
University of Hawai‘i–M?noa, ART Auditorium

Artist talk: Painter Ry?ko Kimura on East Asian mineral pigments and their use
Thursday, Oct. 20, 3–4:30 p.m.
University of Hawai‘i–M?noa, John Young Museum of Art

Artist talk: Satoshi Someya on lacquer arts and the lacquering process
Friday, Oct. 21, 3-4:30 p.m., University of Hawai‘i–M?noa, Art Building, room 101

Lecture: Japanese Painting and the Western Gaze: Notes from the 19th Century
Chelsea Foxwell, professor of Japanese Art History, University of Chicago
Thursday, Nov. 10, 3–5 p.m.
University of Hawai‘i–M?noa, Moore Hall, room 319 (Tokioka Room)

Lecture: K?jutsu: ?Fine Technique? in Contemporary Japanese Art
Tsutomu Ikeuchi, curator and owner of Roentogenwerke Art Gallery, Tokyo
Tuesday, Nov. 22, 5–6:30 p.m.
University of Hawai‘i–M?noa, Art Building, room 101

Round-table discussion: Tradition: What’s the Use?
Wednesday, Nov. 30, 3:30-5 p.m.
Honolulu Museum of Art, Doris Duke Theatre
Participants: Glenn Adamson, craft theorist and former director of the Museum of Arts And Design, NYC; Jaimey Hamilton-Faris, professor of Critical Theory and Contemporary Art, UH–M?noa; Tar? Yamamoto, painter and professor of Fine Arts, Akita University of Art


Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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