Otohiko Takano's 'Hana no Iro'
Feast on themes of ‘miyabi’ and ‘Moee’
A collection of works by manga and anime illustrators at the forefront of Japan’s pop culture today are featured in the new Exhibition of Works by 100 Leading ‘Eshi’ 2018. The exhibition, which opened on April 28, can be found at Akiba-Square on the second floor of the Akihabara UDX building in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.
Sponsored by The Sankei Shimbun, this is the eighth year of the annual event. Also referred to as the 2018 “Eshi-100 Contemporary Japanese Illustration,” this year’s theme is on “miyabi,” denoting “courtliness,” “elegance,” and “grace” with a smack of sweetness.
The exhibition is designed to provide spectators with an appreciation of the fusion of aesthetic values—nurtured through Japan’s long history—found in contemporary works at the forefront of “Moee.” Moee stands for illustrations appearing in manga, anime works, and video game software unique to Japan, often focusing on cute, young female characters, mostly in their teens.
Taking part in the exhibition are 105 illustrators and manga painters who are collectively called “Eshi,” a term linking them to “ukiyoeshi,” or ukiyoe painters in the Edo period (1603-1868). Among them are such widely-known Eshi as Ume Aoki, who is noted for her manga Hidamari Suketchi (Sketches in the Sun), and Haruhiko Mikimoto, who was in charge of character designs for the anime production Chojikuu Yousai Macross (The Super-Dimension Fortress Macross). The participants also include illustrators whose works are aggressively published on the Internet, in addition to young, up-and-coming Eshi artists.
A series of illustrations by the Eshi Otohiko Takano depict the character Hana no Iro (Colors of Flowers), a lovely dark-haired girl who is dressed in 12-layered ceremonial kimono, the formal attire of Japanese noblewomen, which dates back to around the 10th century in the Heian Period (794-1185). Takano says he drew his inspiration from a waka, a traditional Japanese 31-syllable poem, by one of the most famous female waka poets of the Heian Period, Onono Komachi.
Its rough translation into English goes:
The colors of flowers shifted and withered,
With the lapse of time meaninglessly,
While I spent my irrevocable days,
Whilst gazing at them and the world, feeling hollow.
This waka has been included in the Kokin Wakashu, a waka collection of the middle Heian Period, as well as the Ogura Anthology of One Hundred Waka Poems, believed to have been compiled in the first half of the 13th century. The poem indicates that the author, who used to be known as a rare beauty, overlaid the image of the withering cherry blossoms on herself as she felt her beauty and state of mind waning while growing older.
“When I was browsing a book on the one hundred waka collection, I came up with a thought that there would be little change in what humans think is beautiful and what would make them feel pleasant or sad, even though there has been 1,000 years’ lapse of time,” Takano said. “As I worked with something like this, my drawings ended up producing Hana no Iro, he added.
While the lovely girl in his illustrations is depicted in a manga style, she is dressed in a 12-layered ceremonial kimono, accompanied by patterns of flowing water that have been handed down for generations in Japan, on top of a background like that of traditional gold-leaf sliding panel paintings. The effect of Takano’s detail leads us to recall the tradition of creating Japanese-style paintings.
“My current manga-style of expression is something like floating on the surface, while lying beneath the surface are the flows of such traditional methods of Japanese paintings as Yamato-e, ukiyoe and, especially, bijinga (a type of ukiyoe portraying beautiful women),” he said.
“Admitting that mine is yet far from comparable in quality to classic Japanese paintings that have survived the appraisal of centuries, nonetheless I am confident that what I’m doing is basically not so different from the ideas great Japanese-style painters addressed,” he continued.
While many works on display in the Eshi-100 exhibition are in accord with the theme of Japanese traditional “Wa,” a spirit of harmony, some pieces are of a completely different nature. Illustrator Choko Fuji’s work, My Ideal Room, depicts a life many people may yearn for. Representative of an everyday “miyabi” lifestyle, the piece shows a room embellished with a wealth of things, such as an aquarium coupled with a pool by the window, a panoramic view seen spreading beneath the room of a high-rise building, plus other features of an affluent life.
“As I thought a majority of works on display here might be those representing the Japanese traditional “Wa” style due to the theme of “miyabi” given this time, I hit upon the idea that an illustration with a taste of living in the near future could be interesting for visitors to this exhibition,” explained Fuji.
“But I also wanted to incorporate elements of a traditional Japanese approach in painting, so my work has adopted Japanese-style patterns for the girl’s clothes and the walls,” the artist said.
People see illustrations in the style of Moee like the one by Fuji usually through a PC screen or a smartphone display, as there can hardly be an opportunity to have a look firsthand at works drawn on large-sized canvases.
Fuji pointed out: “This is truly a rare chance to see illustration works in such large sizes. Just like other illustrators, in completing my work I have paid careful attention to giving finishing touches in laborious detail…so I would be grateful if many people are interested to come see our works in person during this event.”
Other centerpieces in the Eshi-100 exhibition include an impressive illustration under the title of Miyako-Zakura Prototype (Arrays of Tokyo’s Cherry Blossoms, Prototype) by Kurone Mishima, known for her series of illustrations with Celebrate This Wonderful World serial novels, classified as belonging to the light novel genre. The string of real-life illustrated works on the “miyabi” theme, each of which is completely unique, are spectacular.
The pop culture that has originated in Japan in the forms of manga, anime, and illustrations has been gaining a worldwide following in recent years. The Eshi-100 is a showcase of works at the cutting edge of this new, growing wave of artistic expression.
The exhibition runs through May 6. Admission is 1,000 yen for high school students and older people; junior high and younger audience are free of charge. For details, visit the official website of the Eshi-100 at http://www.eshi100.com.
Eiji Honma is a staff writer, The Sankei Shimbun Cultural news department.