hrvatski
Search:
Playfulness, Love for Technology and Mitate

Introduction

Information technology has made a deep impact on our society since the second half of the 20th century. Recently, digital media technologies have changed our life and culture in many aspects, including manners of communication, creation, learning, exchanging knowledge, to name a few. For example, cell phones have changed our sense of distance and time, while the Internet has been continuously transforming the way we see the world through the ever expanding services it supports.
Obviously art cannot remain independent from the changes taking place around us. Artists respond to the society through their works while the society frames what ’art’ means, how it functions, and how it relates to other activities such as research in science and technology. At the same time art is influenced by each of these elements through different layers, directly and indirectly. The relationship between art, science, technology, and culture is a complex issue, while altogether they play crucial roles in changing the society.[1] Thus what art means in society is subject to change within the network of influences.[2]
Subjects of art also change according to social and cultural transformations. Notions such as “beauty is eternal” died long ago, but people still tend to think art represents themes that have remain unchanged regardless of social transformations. The fact is that even basic themes such as our own identity or sense of reality, which used to be rather abstract or conceptual, have acquired new meanings that are now shared by many, with the advent of avatars, online games, net communities, etc. Thanks to hyper realistic computer images and sophisticated image compositing technologies, these concerns, which may be dealt with by philosophical discourses, are now visually and convincingly represented to everyone, as in case of the film The Matrix.
On the other hand, what we see as the (traditional) paradigm of art is a rather recent concept. Earlier in history the term "art" meant a much wider range of human activities and the resulting products related to a creative or refined use of technique. Even today examples of such ‘loose’ usage of the term remain in our daily language. The paradigm was formed at the same time as Modern Society was established in the West. ‘Art history’ from other parts of the world such as Asia has had little influence in the process. However, what "art" means can be different in societies with different histories and different cultural backgrounds.
Device Art is a concept that challenges the traditional paradigm of art by reconsidering the relationship between art and related fields such as design, technology, entertainment, popular culture, among others. Features in contemporary Japanese media art are examined from their historical aspects to provide an alternative point of view in defining what art could be. While the concept was derived from the Japanese media art scene, its validity is wider than that. What Device Art aims at is to give a clear shape to a phenomenon that has been observed in the media art scene in recent years, and to question the traditional notion of media art, or art itself. Device art works are widely seen and accepted in Japan, but not limited to those by Japanese artists.
Today we live in the age of digital (re)production and communication technologies, in which the traditional norms for art making, marketing and appreciating are challenged. Not only artists but also designers and architects are highly aware of this and are taking action. Activities and activism to promote new forms of creativity are also taking place, including
Creative Commons, the “Make” community, do-it-yourself, open source software such as “processing”, etc. Device Art responds to such conditions from both a contemporary and a historical perspective, proposing a new approach to media art, and to art itself.
 
Art, Technology and Playfulness in Japanese Cultural History
 
Japan is one of the countries that adopted Western paradigm of art only relatively recently – with the foundation of museums and art schools in late 19th century. The reason is historical: the country closed its border to the rest of the world for about 250 years, from the beginning of 17th century to the mid 19th century, except for limited trade relationships with China and Holland. Unique features in Japanese culture developed under such conditions.
Both the absence of serious warfare during this period and the late arrival of capitalism contributed to the Japanese approach toward technology. While some of the latest scientific and technological discoveries reached the country during the time of closure, they were mainly used for hobbies, entertainment and spectacles instead of for the development of weapons or factory machines. The Japanese love for technology, which is a well known phenomenon, could be traced back to such historic background. As early as the late 19th century foreigners who started arriving Japan were impressed by the Japanese’ curiosity for new things, in sharp contrast to the more familiar Chinese attitude. As will be described more in detail later, curiosity about technical innovation, a “positive attitude” to technology, and appreciation of playfulness are often observed features in Japanese media art. Device Art discusses these issues.

Appreciation of science and technology as hobbies and entertainment also took place in Europe toward the end of the feudal era, in forms such as wonder cabinets, grottos and automata dolls. However, such an aristocratic appreciation of technology had little to do with people’s life, or mass culture. The collapse of the feudal regime and the arrival of the Industrial Revolution put an end to such a casual use of technology. Technology was no longer fun when human beings were required to work according to the pace of machines, being used by machines instead of using them.

Jacques de Vaucanson (1709-1782), who is known for his “duck” and other extremely sophisticated automata, was also the inventor of an innovative mechanical loom that was later in 1801 modified by Joseph Marie Jacquard to perfection to play a crucial role in the formation of the Industrial Revolution.[3]
A Japanese automata (karakuri) master Hisashige Tanaka (1799-1881) was a famous showman with his arrow-shooting boy, calligraphy writing boy, among others. He also made tea-carrying dolls, which had been made by others as well, and were used at tea houses to serve tea for guests, including normal people who were interested in the new service.[4] Eventually Tanaka took a major role in industrializing the country as he was commissioned by the new Meiji government and founded his engineering company, which later developed into Toshiba. The parallel and the difference between them illustrate the historical condition of Japan. Tanaka lived almost exactly a century later than Vaucanson, and he became involved in modern mechanical engineering business in the drive for rapid modernization of the country. The new government, which started in 1868, was determined to modernize and industrialize the country as fast as possible: China lost the first Opium War in 1842, and its consequence was taken seriously in Japan. Industrialization was a national demand.
 
Going back to the paradigm of art, it will be worth examining what was the equivalent of “art” in Japan and what it meant, in order to understand features of Japanese art and its consequence in Device Art.
The Japanese word bijutsu first appeared as a translation of the term “fine art” when Japan was preparing to take part in the World Exposition in Vienna in 1873. Until the late 19th century, there was no concept such as “fine art” or “art” in Japan. As ironic as it seems, this is the very condition that brought about the current richness of media art in Japan.
The absence of art as a paradigm does not mean the pursuit of beauty or the desire for expression did not exist. Rather, they were woven into the fabric of the culture in the form of a sense of beauty in daily life and the tools or methods to realize them instead of being considered a special or privileged act. From things enjoyed by ordinary people, such as bonsai, kabuki, and ukiyo-e, to the higher-class pleasures of their gardens, folding screens, and Noh, values that did not strictly distinguish among art, design, and entertainment had spread widely into every corner of society.
A reason why “art” as represented by paintings framed and hung on walls as in the West did not form itself in Japanese history may be an architectural issue. While walls are fundamental elements with houses and buildings in the West, Japanese houses are structurally different. Columns support the structure to keep the space open, as sliding doors enabled flexible use of space and air flow, which was essential in a hot and humid summer. The amount of walls is minimum, and so is the number and variety of large pieces of furniture. This explains why artistic creativity in Japan was focused on “mobile” objects such as sliding doors and screens, hanging scrolls, prints, clothes for formal and daily use, smaller objects and gadgets such as boxes for stationery, bonsai, miniature gardens, or netsuke, which is considered an ancestor of the miniature figures on cell phone straps today.[5]
 
The concept that regards an artwork as a final and fixed form was absent as well, influencing not only the relationship between artists and audience but also the forms of representation itself. For example, modes of appreciation that require audience involvement, such as kakegoe (appreciative shout) to a kabuki actor, or a wall scroll changed to suit the season, can be observed everywhere. An attitude that finds importance in the process, in the way time is structured, and in the atmosphere of a place, rather than in the result of a series of performances, is typically seen with tea ceremony and is closely connected to the absence of the concept of art. A playful relationship based on common understanding is set up between an artist and the viewer with mitate, an act of appropriating things originally used for a totally different purpose such as tea utensils, or finding a hidden meaning from ukiyo-e, a kabuki plot, or a garden. Inexpensive full-color printing technology and high literacy rate in urban areas were behind the scene. Inexpensive illustrated novels became best sellers, and making satirical short poems called senryu and kyoka became popular among common people.[6] These short poems are casual and often satirical versions of haiku and waka.
The long history of short poems – the first existing official compilation of waka goes back to the 8th century – nursed the aforementioned mitate as a cultural tradition. A short poem could convey a rich meaning only by triggering the imagination and association in a reader’s mind, by fully using shared knowledge and understanding, citation, reference, as well as techniques such as double meanings and wordplay. By the 11th century poem making and reading as an important mode of communication required certain knowledge to be shared. It became a cultural game, in a sense, with which intelligence and playfulness were contested.

When the feudal Edo Shogunate prohibited use of contemporary issues as themes of kabuki, ukiyo-e, literature, etc., in order to prevent critical or political messages appealing to the masses, mitate became a popular trick for writers and artists to play. A contemporary event such as political scandal will be transformed into another time-space story, while maintaining clues for the viewers/readers to get the real meanings. Since expression of extravaganza or appreciation of pleasure culture was also often prohibited, the art of suggestive expression and embedding hidden meanings developed highly. Such needs for disguise had another feature as a cultural game between the artists/writers and viewers/readers. Playfulness in mitate was highly appreciated. The gap between the real meaning and its representation creates extra fun as long as the clues work. There was also a contest among viewers’/readers’ level of knowledge and imaginative capacity. It is a unique form of user participation in a sense that a cultural interplay is expected in presenting and reading images or texts. It forms a part of “culture of play”, or culture of asobi. Asobi is the word for playing in Japanese, which is closer to “jeu” in French rather than “play” in English that means acting and performing as well. Similar to jeu, asobi also implies “flexibility within machinery” in a positive sense. For example, a certain space would be needed between gears to avoid excessive friction.[7] The idea behind may be interpreted as such: a machinery or society would not function if it did not allow extra space for its components or members. Asobi is an extra space for our mind that may not directly contribute to productive activities but is needed for people to live better, and maintain the society.

Positive attitudes toward asobi in Japanese culture are clearly seen by the 12th century. Choju Giga, or Scrolls of Frolicking Animals, is a collection of illustrations depicting various animals behaving as human beings including rabbits and frogs enjoying sumo (Japanese wrestling).[8] The fact that the set of scrolls is attributed to a highest rank priest Toba Sojo and has been kept as a treasure for many centuries suggests the playful illustration of the animals enjoying their life was highly appreciated, approved, and loved even by priests.[9]
A lyric from the same era also confirms the positive attitude toward play. It is included in Ryojin Hisho, an official compilation of popular songs edited by the Ex-emperor Goshirakawa in the 12th century
            Are children born with the impulse to play?
            Are children born seeking the delights of play?
            Ah! The merry sounds of frolicking children
            Bestir the urge to play in this old body and soul.[10]
 
By the 18th century, the culture of play was widespread. Besides the earlier mentioned mitate or short poems of a comical or satirical nature, there were many forms of asobi that normal people could afford. For example, a card game based on Hyakunin-isshu (a collection of one hundred waka poems by one hundred poets from medieval era), which had originally been a game for the aristocracy, grew popular among ordinary people as inexpensive woodblock printing technology was established. Selected medieval poems are printed with beautiful illustrations. Hokusai, whose woodblock prints of Mount Fuji are well known, illustrated for such cards as well. Incidentally Nintendo was founded 120 years ago originally a publisher of Hyakunin-isshu and other card games. Playfulness, entertaining inventions, commercially-available products—these features often seen in media art today reflect a long Japanese cultural tradition. Use of latest technologies for
entertaining purposes has a long history as well.
 
The process of defining “art” took place in the late 10th century with such a cultural background. The academic notion of “art” began to gain a foothold through teachers invited from the West and painters who returned from studying abroad, while Western art and Japanese art continued to exist as separate concepts. Moreover, the mode of expression rooted in mass culture did not change immediately simply as a result of building museums and providing art education. An awareness that anyone could try their own expression, as well as the culture of mitate, survived and developed outside the world of academic “art”. In a society that has an implicit understanding that anyone could produce esthetic creations (a message also stressed by the avant-garde artist Taro Okamoto, who had a great influence in the postwar era) and that any aspect of daily life could offer an opportunity for the creation of beauty, the boundary between art and its related fields cannot be automatically settled. This may be a reason why there are many works and projects by engineering students and faculty members in Japan, not a small number of which end up in international exhibitions such as SIGGRAPH’s ETECH, Ars Electronica, or Japan Media Arts Festival. Instead of making “tech demos” they seek for artistic or entertaining concepts or stories, often with an original sekai-kan (view of the world) to contextualise their works. There is no reason why an engineer could not be an artist, as in case of Hiroo Iwata, the project leader of Device Art Project, and other project members such as Masahiko Inami and Hideyuki Ando.[11] While there are numerous art universities and colleges in Japan, a typically Western belief that an artist requires a proper background in art education is not necessarily held.
A popular TV program that lasted for 12 years until March 2009 titled “Takeshi-no Daredemo Picasso” (meaning “Takeshi presents Anyone can be Picasso”), an “art” program broadcast at prime time (every Friday evening from 10 to 11pm) with the internationally recognized film director and a
former standup comedian Takeshi Kitano is an interesting example of an outcome of such understanding. The program invited professional and amateur artists to present their works, which included lunch box art or paper cup art, to name a few. The title sequence and the website were designed by Takashi Murakami, who is known for his intentional activities aimed at mixing art and commercialism. While there was a sense of irony in the way Kitano presented the guests, and erecting borders between art and non-art was carefully avoided. People are allowed to enjoy the feeling that anyone can be Picasso, or to embrace an idea that there is no border for art. The recent popularity of creative activities such as fan fiction, “costume play”, and music composition using VOCALOID such as HATSUNE Miku could be also seen from that point of view.
 
Device Art and Its Nature
 
Device Art is a new form of art that challenges the traditional paradigm of art by its convergence of technology, art and design. Today the borders between art and related fields are no longer clear-cut. Device Art explores new ways of bridging art, design, technology, science and entertainment by using both the latest and everyday technologies, and by introducing elements in Japanese traditional culture.
Why Japanese cultural elements, when Device Artworks themselves are highly international? An obvious answer is the need to analyze and understand features seen among Japanese media artworks. Another reason is the importance of re-examining relationships between art, technology, design, entertainment, etc., from a fresh point of view.
 
Choosing and appreciating refined design, the right materials and tools has had a long tradition in Japan. As in case of tea ceremony, flower arrangement, or cooking, the sophisticated use of refined tools and devices is essential. They are not something that temporarily serve ends, and mean more than that.
Based on such cultural background and an analysis of contemporary media art, we define Device Art as an art form realized as a physical system, or a device, in which the device is the content itself. As the artist designs a physical system to realize his/her concept, the content is no longer separable from the hardware that supports the artistic experience. Today we see many such examples in media art, with artworks that involve original interactive interfaces. However, such artworks often confront criticism such as “a tech demo”, or “positive toward technology”, or “too playful”. With the aforementioned cultural background in Japan we ask questions: Isn’t technology an important theme of art, when our life and society is so much dependent on it? Isn’t someone who can reveal and visualize what technology really means to us an artist? Should an artist be always negative about technology? Why shouldn’t an artist show a new, more creative use of technology than industry might think of? And what is wrong with being playful, if an artwork still contains a serious theme?
 
Because of the nature of interactive art, which needs to attract viewers to interact, these artworks are often inviting or playful. Unfortunately such playfulness is often misunderstood as an equivalent to lack of seriousness or criticism, especially from the Western art history point of view, which has a strong tradition in appreciating ‘serious’ art.
The situation is different in Japan as appreciation of playfulness is deeply embedded in Japanese culture, often accompanied by mitate, which is a method to present and read hidden meanings behind what is shown or written. Mitate means seeing beyond the actuality. It plays magic to turn an ordinary or even trivial object into something extraordinary and unexpected, as in case of rocks and pebbles in famous Japanese gardens.
Mitate allows an artist to set a multitude of layers in his/her work. The top layer may be playful and entertaining, but a serious theme may be read behind the playfulness. Mitate itself is an intellectual play between the artist, the artwork, and the viewers. Like unexpected objects used in tea ceremony, mitate provides fun of discoveries and imagination to participants.
 
Works by Japanese Device Art
 
Among Japanese Device Artists mitate is frequently used to bring multilayered meanings and discoveries.
Ryota Kuwakubo’s Nicodama is an example of conscious use of mitate in art. The pair of eyes that blink together when they are attached to objects from everyday life. Since we have a specific sensitivity to recognize things with eyes as ‘faces’, the two artificial eyeballs turn those inanimate objects into some kind of personalities. The idea comes from the artist’s personal experience from his childhood, while the concept behind it reflects the artist’s long lasting theme concerned with the creation of simple interfaces to help people to understand their relationship to the environment. Nicodama becomes a device of mitate, to guide the viewers’ perception. By turning objects such as chairs, a pair of boots, a flower vase, etc., into something we somehow recognize as ‘personalities’, the artist suggests we could establish more intimate relationship with these objects rather than seeing them as mass-produced objects without any character. The approach is playful, but a serious concern about environmental issues and consumption culture lies behind the artwork.
 
Kuwakubo has created a series of interactive artworks including LoopScape, a game-like piece for two people with an ironical interaction. It is a battle between two players who try to shoot the other person’s spaceship. It sounds like a most traditional shooting game, except that the game screen is a cylinder hung from the ceiling. One easily shoots and explodes one’s own spaceship by mistake (thus killing him/herself in the game world) if the other person manages to avoid the missile. The only way to win is to run around the screen, following one’s own spaceship. Simply by changing the form of the screen Kuwakubo turned a shooting game into an ironical artwork asking many questions on the nature of games and game playing.
Sachiko Kodama turns an industrial material and its physical behaviour into a kinetic sculpture. Her use of mitate is similar to well-known cases in tea ceremony, in which discovering and appropriating unexpected objects for tea bowls, flower containers or other utensils is highly appreciated.
Kazuhiko Hachiya has a long career in creating artworks and projects, as well as commercial products, dealing with our mode of communication. In his recent “Fairy Finder” series fairies are discovered under a tabletop at a café, as the table is assimilated to the roof of the fairyland. “ThanksTail” is a car accessory which was commercialized by a subsidiary of Takara, a major toy manufacturer. Once attached at the rear end of the car’s roof, the “doggy-tail” could be remotely wagged to thank or apologize to other drivers. “ThanksTail” provides a friendly communication tool to drivers; a surprise and smile to passers-by.
Another part of Hachiya’s activity – which is different from Device Art - shows how an artist connects serious themes with hardware development, popular culture, industry, and why it is needed.
At prestigious Spiral Hall in Aoyama, Tokyo, a seagull-shaped M-02J jet glider was exhibited in December 2008. The “Open Sky” exhibition showed the latest development of the ‘personal’ project Hachiya launched in 2003 to build a functional aircraft for personal use. The glider resembles “Maeve”, a personal aircraft used by the heroine of Hayao Miyazaki’s 1984 animation film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Although the original plan was to have a girl as a pilot, true to the film, eventually Hachiya decided to test-pilot the aircraft himself because of the possible risk. Previous stages of the development included numerous test flights without the engine to examine its gliding capability. Now a jet engine will be installed in the final model. Using a jet engine itself is not new to Hachiya. “AirBoard” (1997-2001, collection of Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo) was a realization of the flying skateboard in the 1985 Hollywood blockbuster Back to the Future.
“Open Sky” is an attempt to realize our dream to fly freely, while it leads to a social and political context. In reality “flying freely” is not realized because of politics and business. He hopes to “open” the sky to individuals, not only by flying himself but also by using open-source software, publishing his design/development process, uploading document videos on YouTube, and making the project an arena for collaboration and discussion.
Mitate is used in these works in association with popular culture as embodied in a Hollywood entertainment film or a popular animation that everyone knows, providing an easier access to those who are not necessarily familiar with art.
Creative use of technology is essential in Hachiya’s work. He has been known for interactive works such as Inter Dis-Communication Machine (1993) that literally exchanges the sight and sound of two participants by using two wirelessly connected head-mounted displays. The resulting experience is just hilarious. With Seeing is Believing (1996) and aforementioned Fairly Finder series, LCD and polarized films are cleverly combined to make the invisible visible. He also turned the façade of the ten-story Chanel building in Ginza into a huge animation screen since it opened in 2004. Seven hundred thousand white LEDs installed behind the glass surface glitter to show sequences created by young artists he invites every month. His project PostPet has been popular email software among teenage girls since 1998 with a variety of virtual pets who live on their PC or cell phone screens. Maintained and updated by his own company PetWorks in collaboration with Sony Communication Networks, the pink teddy bear Momo has become a best-known virtual character in Japan.
Elements of Japanese traditional culture such as mitate, appreciation of playfulness, respect for tools, the culture of kata (form, or practice patterns) and fusion of art and entertainment are fully analyzed and used in an original manner by Maywa Denki. Maywa Denki is an art unit led by Novmichi Tosa and performs in the style of a commercial company. Here Tosa uses mitate to assimilate his art unit as a small-scale company led by a CEO (i.e. the artist) who invents strange products one after another to survive in the industry operated by mega-companies. By doing so, he lets his works and performances acquire multiple layers of meanings. Tosa creates a series of functional, stylish, yet funny and often satirical robotic instruments in art, using both low-tech mechanical or electric, and high-tech digital technologies. These “useless machines” produced by Maywa Denki (meaning Maywa electric company) function properly, and are used for performances (which are called “product demonstrations”) that are carried by Tosa and his ‘employees’ wearing ‘company uniforms’ on stage. Some of them are available by order through the ‘company’s’ website. Smaller items, toys and gadgets are ‘mass-produced’ at a factory in China and available from online and offline shops as in case of Na-Cord, a fish-bone shaped electric cable for home use. The spiky cable will hurt a user’s foot if one steps on it barefoot by mistake (as shoes are not worn in Japanese houses), reminding him/her of the nature of electricity that we tend to forget. The gadget playfully reveals the reality and danger hidden behind comfortable and convenient life we enjoy, which will soon lead us to so-called ubiquitous environment. While the industry and engineers provide a fool-proof environment in which technologies become invisible in a black box or hidden behind walls, the artist visualizes the technology itself at users’ homes, outside museums and galleries. Mass-production of these gadgets is both a commentary on the consumer society and a criticism of the “art world”, while it is probably the only way to reach a wider public. For those who could not afford Na-Cord, a mini-size version is easily available as a cell phone strap in various colors at a modest price. When attached to a cell phone, the strap may damage one’s pocket with its spikes. Useful-useless, funny-ironical, pop and being a part of daily life yet artful, these products have appealed to those who are not necessarily regular museum-goers.[12] While his works have serious concepts such as the relationship between technology and culture, or the role of artists in society, the way works are presented is full of a playfulness that fascinates the audience.[13].

Playfulness also contributes when it brings art outside museums and galleries, enabling even commercial production and distribution of artwork to reach a wider public. Some of them could be used as devices or gadgets in everyday life. Device Art rejects the traditional idea that draws a line between art and commercial products.
Media art is very different from traditional art forms such as the oil painting or bronze sculpture, as it uses the same media technology that we use in our daily life. Artists uncover the possibilities and problems media technology brings to us by using it in a clever and unexpected manner, offering us an alternative point of view. Device Art aims to visualize and help to understand what it means to live in a world full of new technology. At the same time it explores artistic expression and interactive experiences that are enabled by use of technology, like avant-garde artists who experimented with the latest technologies of their time.
 

© Machiko Kusahara, 2009

 

[1 Walter Benjamin referred to the impact of media technologies on art in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". Science and technology support and change society while their development is largely defined by society and its cultural conditions. The interrelationship between art, science, technology and the society is a complex topic. It is not the aim of this essay to thoroughly discuss the theme.

[2 For example, discoveries and inventions in optics directly influenced art through the establishment of realism, while scientific discoveries achieved by the use of lens including telescopes and microscopes changed people's vision of the world and eventually helped in social reform.

[3 Later a Japanese inventor Sakichi Toyoda made further development to achieve more efficiency, and exported his looms abroad. An example is preserved at the British Science Museum in London. His company developed into Toyota, which is known for automobiles today.

[4 A book of karakuri published by Hanzo Hosokawa in 1796 sold many copies and was a popular guide for manufacturing the automata.

[5 The use of space is extremely different when comparing a typical Japanese family house to its equivalent in Victorian era European house. Europeans who arrived Japan in mid 19th century and had chances to visit castles of Shogun or feudal lords recorded that they were surprised to see no furniture in wide open rooms. Some of them understood the difference in culture while others thought it as a sign of “poverty”, judging from their own standard.

[6 Full color woodblock printing technology was developed in mid 18th century by Harunobu Suzuki, who was not only a major ukiyo-e artist but also a member of a cultural and casual community of kyoka poets that included those who had access to latest technologies brought by the Dutch. Scientific and technical objects and knowledge were often distributed through such communities that loosely integrated cultural figures regardless of the classes they belonged to, from normal townspeople to feudal lords.

[7 The importance of asobi in machinery was probably a practical knowledge in Japan, where most gears were made of wood (for agricultural and other machines and sophisticated automata) until late 19th century. (Hisashige Tanaka’s elaborate mechanical dolls also contained wooden gears.) Although hard wood such as chestnut was used for such purposes, a wooden gear changes its size according to the degree of humidity. Typically it shrinks during winter when the air is dry, and expands in summer. Not only gears but also parts of furniture such as sliding doors or drawers have to be made under such consideration.

[8 The calligraphic drawings are dynamic and based on accurate observation of animal behaviour. Because of its style and playful touch Choju Giga is often considered the ancestor of Japanese manga.

[9 There is no evidence that the scrolls (currently in four parts) were painted by Toba Sojo himself, although he was known for such style. The scrolls were kept at Kozanji Temple in Kyoto, and are now deposited in National Museums in Kyoto and Tokyo as a national treasure.

[10 Translation by Mitsukuni Yoshida, in his book ASOBI: The Sensibilities at Play, Mazda Motor Corporation, Hiroshima, 1987, p7.

[11 Already in postwar avant-garde movement, many of the leading artists including Toru Takemitsu, Katsuhiro Yamaguchi and Shozo Kitadai came from non-art background.

[12 In fact Maywa Denki was chosen the most popular media artist according to a web-based voting carried by Japan Media Arts Festival in 2006.

[13 His Edelweiss series represents more personal thoughts on sex, life and space, yet being represented by a rich series of illustrations, storyboard, diorama, animation, jewels, robotic devices and books that can be regarded as an artistic version of a role playing game – or something similar.