Roppongi in their youth
KasaiI'm from Hokkaido, so I when I came to Tokyo, I was in awe of the place. Roppongi was the most urban of urban places, and the area was a last place that I would belong. When I was about 20, I went to this dancing place next to the Selina Building called "Last Twenty Cents". I remember dancing there until the morning.
HiromuraIt's hard now to imagine you dancing until the morning!
KasaiI think I liked it in spite of myself...
HiromuraReally! But I understand you are a sportsman, so it makes sense. You used to play badminton, didn't you? You must have been agile in your movements.
KasaiI liked using my feet and moving to a rhythm- particularly making chopping kind of movements -so they might have something in common. But that's about all I remember of Roppongi, and to be honest, I didn't feel comfortable then. It's not Roppongi's fault though; I was to blame.
HiromuraI'm from Anjo in Aichi Prefecture. I was a student at University in Kodaira city, so Shinjuku and the western part of Tokyo were the areas I mainly went to and knew well. My initial memories of Roppongi are also of discos.
KasaiSo you danced as well.
HiromuraI went for a dancing quite a lot...I guess. But it was the birth of the "AXIS" building that really connected me to Roppongi. The events held at AXIS were must-see events, so I would walk from the station through the Roppongi streets, even though there were many foreigners in the shopping district and I felt scared. It was impressing that AXIS was a building constructed solely on the theme of design. There was a staircase in the middle of the building which was designed by Shiro Kuramata, and I remember walking up and down it. Also in Roppongi, there is a building called "Piramide" where they held the Takeo Paper Shows. There was also (the record shop) "WAVE".
KasaiThere was also (the movie theater) "Cine Vivant." When I went to see the movies there, I would get the illusion that I'd become a little more intelligent. I saw movies by Tarkovskyand Sokurov among others, but I couldn't make sense of them. I knew they were cool, but I was just trying hard to be grown-up.
HiromuraYes, but I think trying hard to be grown-up and encountering that kind of culture in Roppongi was my plesure.
The staircase designed by Shiro Kuramata in AXIS mentioned in the article. AXIS was born with a concept of serving as an "axis" of design and located along with the Gaien Higashi Street. It includes a gallery, an interior shop and a bookshop selling design-related books and others.
Changing the scenery and enjoying art and design more fully
KasaiTurning our attention to the present, and on the subject of how we can link art and design to Roppongi, the thought suddenly came to me that it might be a good idea to have a work by a single artist or a single designer on all the sign boards in Roppongi. Or perhaps all the sign boards could be the same color. That kind of thing would change the appearance of the town in an instant, wouldn't it?
HiromuraYes, particularly since there are so many signboards in Japan.
KasaiOnce, I tried a simulation at work of what a town would look like if my graphic designs were on the signboards. And I found that a familiar town looked totally different when design of all the signboards had the same graphics instead of having all different kinds of signboards. When walking in the streets now, I sometimes remember that, and wonder how sceneries might change.
If you think back to the streets of the Edo era, the signboards were of washi paper or wood, with the calligraphy writing in red or black ink. There were few other materials that could be used, but because of that, the signboards and the buildings looked unified. It might not be realistic to do the same thing in Roppongi today, but I think that kind of scenery would be attractive. I mean, a long row of lanterns in a dark street is charming, don't you think?
HiromuraYes indeed. As for my thoughts, I think that people have to first enjoy their everyday lives, and art and design come alive only when based on that enjoyment. I realized this at "Roppongi Art Night", when I was making the logo and graphics for the first event. It was a simply a lot of fun. It was spring, and the sakura cherry blossoms were blooming, and the feeling was, "Let's all have a party". The thought came to me that art and design are not things to discuss with serious faces, but should be enjoyed.
So my proposal is to expand Roppongi Art Night and take steps like setting up a gallery in a corner of a shop during the event, or on a long-term basis, perhaps do things like bake and sell artistic confectionery all year round. I think everyone should have their own interpretation of art and design, and do more to draw out the potential of this area.
Feeling the urge to do something artistic in Roppongi
KasaiThe words "design and art" might conjure images of works on flat surfaces or three-dimensional works, but if you think of art in its wider meaning, there are many forms. For example, music is art, and various types of performances such as street performances and magic shows can be called art. I think the image of Roppongi would become more vivid and energetic if such art-like street performances were held around the town.
Another idea is to make people feel that they have to do something artistic when they are in Roppongi. They should be made to feel sorry if they are only just walking the streets. (laughs) Some kind of measure is needed to spark the urge in all of us to express ourselves. We need events where children and their grandpas and grandmas can be themeselves. And if these events could incorporate the ancient art of Japan and the world, as well as fine art and modern art, I think the message you were talking about - that design and art are to be enjoyed- will clearly get across.
HiromuraThat's a great idea. Roppongi has many small galleries, and if such events were held, they might expand and lead to many different developments. People abroad view Japan as having become sluggish due to factors such as the earthquake. Instead, Japan should send out information on the works of design and art being created here and export them. I think there is more potential in that area.
Kasai I agree. The National Art Center, Tokyo, the Suntory Museum of Art, and the Mori Art Museum make up the "Roppongi Art Triangle" and offer high art. At the other end of the spectrum, there are art activities of the ground-crawling kind. It would be a shame not to take advantage of the opposite genre. It would be interesting if Roppongi could grow as an area that encompasses both high art and the underground type of art.
Art Triangle Roppongi has a discount ticket system "ATRo Saving". Visitors retaining their admission ticket stubs from The National Art Centre, Tokyo, Suntory Museum of Art or Mori Art Museum are entitled to a reduced entry price at the other two museums. ATRo is an abbreviation way to call "Art Triangle Roppongi".
A sense of happiness leads to abundance and creates art
KasaiWhen I went to Paris, I walked along the side of the Louvre Museum, and in a glass-paned building, I saw middle-aged women working intently on oil paintings and children learning how to sketch.
I was at the world famous Louvre Museum, and I was seeing the local people coming on their bicycles as if it were the most ordinary thing to do, putting their shopping bags beside them and drawing. Art and mundane life existed alongside each other, and it was an everyday scene taking place right in the middle of the city.
HiromuraI know what you mean. It makes one wonder about the meaning of abundance. Abundance is certainly not only about material things. Abundance springs from a sense of happiness. I think art is born from a happy feeling. Of course, there are works that are created from a spirit of rebellion, but even then, that person must be feeling glad at some level in being able to express oneself.
If everyone could feel like that, I don't think we would be making war with each other. People might have a basic urge in their DNA to fight, but if that energy could be released into design and art, they would probably feel joy. I think it's time now for Japan to take action and encourage people to do that.
The physical senses and the value of experience
KasaiWhat you just said made me remember something important. People might feel that in art and design, there must be some kind of logic behind the way certain forms are selected or certain things are combined with each other. But actually, it's often simply a matter of what a person is attracted to. For example, a sense of pleasure may be expressed when someone might like the way a sheet of paper bends, or be fond of the color pink rather than yellow, or prefer the soft sounds of a violin to the beat of the drum. I think those personal preferences are connected to the sense of happiness you mentioned. The happiness does not come from acquiring something, but from the abundance and joy of rediscovering what your physical senses find pleasing. That's why I find designing so rewarding.
There is joy in encountering the things that feel good to our physical senses. Design and art give us that experience. So perhaps we shouldn't limit ourselves by relying too much on convenient things like computers and digital systems. Maybe we should be looking again for what our physical senses find pleasing; perhaps the key to the future of design and art lies there.
HiromuraOur sense of taste apparently peaks at the age of around 20, and after that, keeps on deteriorating. Nonetheless there are many elderly people who are cooking experts. From a purely physical view point, their taste buds must have been better when they were younger, but they have experience on their side. So there are cases where knowledge derived from experience is more beneficial than the actual physical senses.
HiromuraI think experience is just as valuable in art and in design. You gave an example of the pliability of paper, but only a person who has actually bended the paper can know how nice it feels.
KasaiThat' s really so. The accumulation of experience leads to creativity.
HiromuraThat's what I would like to pass on to people. The world is developing in various ways, and we need to accept the changes as they come, but we should properly get the message across that there is joy and value in the experiences we accumulate. It would be wonderful if there was a place in Roppongi that could do this. For Roppongi to deepen its engagement with design and art, I think this area should give people the opportunity to learn from experience and heighten their sense of beauty.