Jin Katagiri, member of the comedy duo "Rahmens", is also an artist known for his clay sculptures. In our series of "creator interviews", the creator often talks about ideas to enhance Roppongi through design and art. This interview turned out to be slightly different however, for Katagiri began by making some unexpected comments.
Why I dislike Roppongi
Roppongi is a place in Japan that I dislike most. I've come here to do live "konto" comedy performances, and I often visit for movie previews. On my days off, I've come with my children for the "One Piece" exhibition held at Roppongi Hills and the other day, I came to have fun at "Midpark Athletic" in Tokyo Midtown. Roppongi has been good to me so many times, and yet each time I visit, I think to myself that I will never come again. (laughs)
One Piece Exhibition
The first-ever exhibition of the widely popular manga "One Piece" was held March-June, 2012 at Mori Arts Center Gallery to mark the comic's 15 year of serialization. Eiichiro Oda, author of the manga, oversaw the exhibition which featured original drawings, figures and attractions. Approximately 510,000 visitors came in a period of 90 days.
First of all, it's absolutely not family-friendly. When I look for places to have a meal, all the restaurants are fancy places that don't seem to be welcoming of children; I feel that the people are thinking, "Oh no, are these people coming in?" And when I come to Roppongi by myself, the foreigners in front of Don Quijote act as if I am in their way. Roppongi Hills is like a maze, and Tokyo Midtown has so many entrances that I get lost. Most of these feelings are probably paranoid, but I somehow end up feeling like a loser and get the urge to go home...
I'm from Saitama, and when I was a child, family outings to Tokyo meant going to Ginza. We never even thought about visiting Roppongi. The word "Roppongi" makes me think of a murky sort of world where creators are working busily and the streets are always awake. It's like an underworld which is a frightening because there's something you can't quite fully understand about it. That's one reason why I dislike this area.
During the annual "MIDTOWN ♥ SUMMER 2013" event, a huge athletic area was set up on the grass square in Midtown Garden. Attractions included rock climbing, a maze called the "3D Escape", a zip wire, as well as artwork evoking the streets of Tokyo.
Shimokitazawa, a town in Tokyo that is permissive
When I ask myself which town I like, I realize that it's Shimokitazawa where I lived around the time we started "Rahmens". Shimokitazawa was my first Tokyo abode. To be more precise, it was my first time to live in one of the 23 Tokyo cities; when I was a student, I lived in Hachioji and Musashisakai which are also part of Tokyo. Come to think of it, I also disliked Hachioji as much as Roppongi. There were many delinquents, and lots of hills, and it was quite far from Shinjuku. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and the water pipes froze, and there was no Tokyu Hands store... (laughs)
For about five years from 1996, I lived in a four and half tatami room in an apartment located between Shimokitazawa and Sasatsuka. I chose Shimokitazawa for its convenience - you can go straight to Shinjuku and Shibuya without changing trains - and also simply because it was a town I admired. "Banana man" Shitara-san and many of my friends who were comedy performers also lived there. Another reason for choosing Shimokitazawa is that I wanted to live near this spooky store called "Future Shop" which sold figures and models.
Narrow, messy streets can be interesting. There was a time when I came across an accessory shop with a notice at the front that said "Open" but was pitch black inside. I went nervously inside and a middle-aged man with a pair of pincers in his hand came and chased me, and I ran away shouting "Sorry! Sorry!" Another time, I saw these intimidating-looking gay men in the street in front of Honda Gekijo theater, walking abreast in a line like the characters from the TV drama "G Men '75". Strange things happened that I could not make sense of.
Shimokitazawa is highly populated so I sometimes walked the streets selling tickets for live performances. I'm not making the point that I cherish that kind of interaction with people, but Shimokitazawa was a place in Tokyo that seemed permissive. At least I didn't feel the scariness that I feel in Roppongi.
Getting the feeling that Roppongi isn't a bad place
Both Shimokitazawa and Roppongi have unfathomable aspects and yet Roppongi is scary and Shimokitazawa is not. Maybe one reason for that is because Shimokitazawa is a "low town" - it doesn't have any high buildings. But in Roppongi, you look up and you feel that the buildings are looking down on you.
I'm saying these things, but my children have a great time in Roppongi, getting excited at the Roppongi Hills Observatory and romping around the lawn in Tokyo Midtown Garden. I must admit that being interviewed here today and seeing the view from the Midtown Tower, I get the feeling that Roppongi isn't a bad place.
Grand and yet incongruous
I'm doing a series in the "Tokyo Walker" magazine called "Art tour with Jin Katagiri", so I often visit art museums regardless of whether I am personally interested or not. The installations at the "Artist File" exhibition held every year at the National Art Center, Tokyo are brilliant, and "Maman", the spider-shaped work of public art at the entrance of Roppongi Hills is also outstanding.
Dozens of public artworks are scattered around the streets of Roppongi. These include the gigantic stone "Key to a Dream" with a hole at the entrance of Tokyo Midtown, the spider sculpture "Maman" at the entrance of Roppongi Hills, and the street furniture which line the Keyakizaka Street. The photo is of "Fragment No.5" in Midtown Garden.
Each separate piece of artwork is wonderful, but the works are scattered in the streets and seem to fade into the background. Roppongi has an underworld atmosphere, and yet these nice art museums have suddenly popped up all over the place, and there are these grand, ostentatious gardens and artworks, and it seems kind of incongruous.
I suppose that the size of the cave-like work "Fragment No. 5" over there (in Midtown Garden) was carefully calculated. It was probably put in its current place after a lot of thinking and planning. It's all nice and neat, but I can't help feeling that it's overdone.
When one seriously thinks about the area, one inevitably thinks of beautifying the streets and making Roppongi an area that Japan can boast to the world. But contrary to our thoughts, foreigners say that they find the messy streets of Japan interesting. In Woody Allen's movie "Midnight in Paris", there were pedantic people making snobbish talk, but alongside them were lots of seedy-looking people who created an atmosphere that is hard to describe with words. I feel that Roppongi is trying to get rid of that kind of sleaziness.
A place where people come with a sense of trepidation
I said I disliked Roppongi because it scares me, but now that I think of it, that aspect might be quite valuable. I wouldn't welcome Roppongi becoming a cheerful place where anyone could casually come to! There are so many towns like that anyway. It's good to have a district which people visit wondering if they might get killed or beaten with a bat. That's an exaggeration of course, but I think it's good to have a place where people come with a sense of trepidation.
I hope that Roppongi doesn't become like Odaiba where the whole town feels false and artificial. People who like Roppongi probably like the way it's different from places like Shibuya and Shinjuku, and feel personally connected to it.
Neat and lovely design and art may be the formal face of Roppongi but I think that more of its informal side should be shown. It's the backstage that is interesting; for example, it's fascinating just thinking about the activities behind the scenes in Disneyland. Roppongi has all kinds of things - numerous suspicious-looking multi-tenant buildings, establishments with stories from the bubble era, places frequented by Hollywood stars, salons where cultural figures gather, and so on. I think that all that unfathomable stuff shouldn't be hidden away but brought to the surface. I personally am too afraid to visit such places but I guess I have some romantic notions about them.
Roppongi lacks "strangeness"
If I were told that I could make something I like for Roppongi, I would make a huge sculpture that nobody would be able to ignore. There are sculptures in almost every town, but they are usually ignored. Even the "Tower of the Sun" which has so much impact is now being taken for granted by the local residents - the people hold cherry blossom viewing parties around it. Many years ago, there was the TV program "Tensai Takeshi no genki ga deru terebi!!" where they built a massive 5-meter high Buddha statue "Daibutsudamashii" which moved. It would be a good idea to make something like that. People would definitely look at a moving sculpture.
There's an event every year in Sangenjaya called Sancha de Daidogei (Sancha Street Performers Festival) where you see foreign performers about 3 meters tall. They are on stilts, and wear glittery clothes and have pointed beaks on their faces. One minute they are resting near the street lamps and the next minute they suddenly start chasing people in the streets. It's very frightening and I've seen alarmed middle-aged women running away fast. I think the answer lies there. (laughs) I think Roppongi will become more interesting if you incorporated that kind of "strangeness."
Sancha de Daidogei (Sancha Street Performers Festival)
A big festival held in every autumn in Sangenjaya, gathering street performers who perform acts such as pantomime, juggling and acrobatics. Held with the participation of the local shopping district, the festival draws many visitors. This year, the event was held on Oct. 19 - 20.
Making things I want to make
For nearly 15 years, I've been making clay objects for a series in a magazine, and this year, I was given the opportunity to hold a large nationwide exhibition. Because of my fear, I keep making creepy works. For instance, when making a frog-shaped iPhone case, I go to the effort of stamping the surface with scale patterns. I wish I could make things that are slightly prettier, but I can't. It's a habit.
I make one sculpture each month, and I have about 130 pieces now. When I looked at them grouped together, I realized that there was no need to try to make things based on what I think an artist ought to do. Not that I am an artist or anything - I just make the sculptures because of the deadlines. (laughs) If I were not a member of "Rahmens" I would probably never had the chance to do this magazine series.
Of course, I do want people to think that I am good at sculpting, and I do think of strategies for the next piece of work, but in the end, there is a limit to what I can make with my own hands. So I've decided that it's okay to not think too much and to simply make what I want to make - like a case for an iPhone I just purchased. Of course, I bought the iPhone with my own money.
Jin Katagiri - Exhibition of marvelous hidden treasures - Clay and deadlines and 14 years
An exhibition showing the clay sculptures that Katagiri made over a course of 14 years for the "Nendo-michi" (Clay art)" series in a magazine publication. The exhibition was held in 2013 in Shibuya Parco and Hokkaido Parco (photo). Katagiri himself recorded the audio explanations and made clay works in front of an audience.
Telling people scary tales of Roppongi
I dislike Roppongi so I'm not the person to ask about ways to solve the area's problems... but, as with my clay works, I can talk offhand about the things that I would like to do. First, I would like to change the walls of that deep underground station to a darker color to evoke Kowloon Walled City. In the evening, around Midtown Garden, I would set up a show tent like the one at the Mitama Festival at Yasukuni Shrine. I would hold a picture-story show depicting the legendary tales of Roppongi and tell people that this is actually a scary place. I would like to make the children cry. (laughs)
On Roppongi Art Night, it would be nice to have a big haunted house. The Japanese find it a bit embarrassing to wear costumes on Halloween, so we could do that during the O-bon period. The purpose of wearing costumes would be to console the spirit of the dead, just like making dolls with chopsticks and eggplants for O-bon.
I would also like to make a large float for a parade in the streets. I wonder if you know of the show at Tokyo Disney Sea called "The Legend Of Mythica"? I personal call that show "hell." Around 10 floats in the shape of creatures like frogs come out onto the water. Fire is blown and it is quite frightening for children. I have that kind of concept in mind.
Mitama Festival at Yasukuni Shrine
A summer festival at Yasukuni Shrine which began in 1947. More than 30,000 lanterns are hung within the shrine grounds and the "mikoshi" (portable Shinto shrine) and Aomori Nebuta (large lantern floats) are carried. In addition to the usual night-stalls where people can buy "takoyaki" snacks and try their hand at goldfish scooping, there are many unusual features such as a haunted house and a show tent.
A place that is tolerant of pranks by adults
I just want to make all kinds of strange things for Roppongi - things that are unfathomable and scary. If the floats could chase people, I would like to chase adults. I love it when a grownup person who was not expecting to be targeted, runs frantically away. Children like to scare people and have a laugh, don't they? At junior high school, it was scary when you walked by a group of delinquents. I wish I could give that kind of experience to adults. I'm sure they will instantly recall that sense of being targeted and caught.
Uhmm... I really don't know why I'm talking about these nasty ideas, but if the projects I mentioned are realized, I know that I will like Roppongi much more than I do now. But I have no idea what other people will think when they take in the view. (laughs).
Recently you often hear of cases of convenience stores closing down because of pranksters doing things like getting into the freezer. We all did that kind of thing - you know, entering places where you're not supposed to go, and going "Yay!" to pose for a photo. On occasions like school trips, everyone gets restless. I feel that the atmosphere in Roppongi is tolerant of pranks by grownups. Roppongi really is a bothersome place, isn't it? (laughs)