Thursday, February 01, 2007

Shibuya Graffiti

Here's a link to my Final Project for the Fall 06 Neighborhood Narratives class:

Shibuya Graffiti

At some point I hope to figure out this whole embedded flash player trick and get that up on here as well. Why Flash? Well they have by FAR the best compression for web out there.

Talk me if you have any ideas. (No, I'm not going to use a 3rd Party site like Google Video, YouTube)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Friday, November 24, 2006


There's a big difference between Graffiti in Japan and the rest of the world. All over the world Graffiti artists have to compete with local gangs for spaces that they tag. Gangs mark their territory over artists tags and other gangs mark over that.

Japan doesn't seem to have this problem. While gangs do exist in Japan, they aren't as violent or controlling as the other street gangs around the world. A powerful local Yakuza controls the territories and seem relatively unconcerned with tagging. This leaves the area wide open to Grafitti artists where all they need to watch out for is the police and the worst thing that can happen to their work is for it to be white-washed by the locals. Even white-washing itself isn't a bad thing as it once again creates a blank page for another artists work.

Insead of competition between taggers, there is a respect and mutual cooperation in most cases. No rival crews will tag over anothers work. Often they will try to do a piece next to or near their rivals work that is better or bigger. Because of this, the graffiti in Japan on a whole is more artistic. That's not to say that there isn't a lot of artistic graffiti elsewhere in world but that in those places, it tends to be mixed in with gang work or covered by the competition making it look shoddy or poorly planned out.

The biggest challenges that face graffiti artists in Japan are not other artists but placing large, intricate, graffiti in hard to reach, high profile places.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Shibuya Tags

So I've been out to Shibuya the last couple of nights collecting graffiti and tags for my final. It was quite an amazing few nights. Going at night, you really get the feeling and impression of the neighborhoods and the graffiti artists. Almost all of them are put up in the dark of night to leave impressions once the sun rises. It seemed fitting that I too go on my quest to capture their art by cover of night.

At a graffiti shop that sells caps, spray paint and other assorted tagger goods, I was fortunate enough to meet a world famous graffiti artist that goes by the moniker "Jace." The late-twenties Frenchmen that now lives in Madagascar told me about his world-wide trecks to put up graffiti. To better explain he pulled out two published books of his work to show me. He showed me that he uses the surrounding space to influence what he creates. One of the pictures showed me a figure getting sucked up by a large metal pipe in an abandoned industrial plant.

After talking to him for a bit he wished me luck and told me where to look for some of his works currently up near the station in Ueno with a short, laughing story on evading arrest by the Ueno Police.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hitotsugi Park (cont.)

Third day at the park brought new discoveries. One of the fist things I noticed upon climbing the stairs again was the cat man. He was out again with his cats, frolicking in the shade provided. As I neared the top of the stairs I saw a cluster of umbrellas strewn together to look like an igloo. Inside the make-shift igloos was a circle of plates all containing cat food. It looked as if the installation was permanent and I was surprised that a colony of cats hadn't already taken up residence in the area.

When I reached the park, it was unfortunately around lunch time again. I had hoped to get there the day before at dusk, it turned out that I arrived a bit later than planned. I saw a couple that work as scooter messengers sitting and talking and eating lunch. The man was moving about wildly gesturing and telling stories. From the giant smile and laugh of the lady present, I could tell that it was thoroughly enjoyed.

More people cycled through per usual and left. It was a sunny day unlike the others and the amount of people that stopping by was constant so I didn't feel like it was the time to be snapping more photos.

However, I did find out some amazing things about the stools and the wall.

First the stools:

The stools were indeed a bunch of children's games and rhymes that almost every Japanese recognized and knew. Friends told me that they were games past on from generation to generation and played by children everywhere.

One game is where children pretend to be a pot and sing a song where the bottom falls out and they turn about from facing each other to facing away while holding hands.

Another stool had a game played with five or more children. In it, one child sits in the middle of a circle and covers their eyes. Then the other children hold hands and circle around singing a song. When the song stops, the child in the middle has to guess which friend is standing behind them.

The other discovery I made was that the giant map covering the wall in the park was actually a map of ancient Akasaka in the Edo period. It points to where you are now (the big red circle in the middle). Then it marks all the places around it including famous shrines, temples, and places where famous people of the time lived.

I'm not sure what my final is going to be about but I'm getting inklings that might involve this map in some way. Just off the top of my head, it would be cool to get the map and recreate it in a DVD/Web presented program that lets you interact with all the areas it points to. In those areas, it would be nice to interview some people and take some footage of the places to give locals and foreigners alike a glimpse of ancient Akasaka in present day Japan.

So I suppose that in a sense this exorcise has served as a building block to form a final presentation on. The map is interesting to both myself and other Japanese that see it. To find out in a broad sense more about the area of Akasaka would be a fantastic discovery alone. But to present it in a manner that is engaging and artistic would truly be worth while.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hitotsugi Park (cont.)

So my second day in the park was not quite as eventful and insightful as the first. The first and main reason is that it was a bit rainy. I'm pretty sure that people don't wonder in and hangout in parks while it's raining unless they happen to be a student in a Neighborhoods Narratives class. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I was the only such student there. However, I think there should be enough here to keep a bit of interest.

This time I decided to try and find a different path up to the park. This took down a side street that twisted and turned strait up a hill. The hill itself was made of perfectly fit stone blocks reaching strait up to the park. It reminded me of old Japanese castle walls. When I finally reached the top, the road bent around to an intersection with a large building resting on te park side of it. At first I thought I'd hit a dead end and that the park could only be reached from the stairs of the previous day. But upon reaching the building compound, I'd discovered that in walking through it to the back, a small opening to the park could be found. Nicely hidden.

Finally in the park, I noticed a really nice looking red handkerchief that someone must had dropped there earlier. To tell the truth, it looked quite expensive but I'm not the best judge of quality or cost when it comes to Japanese pocket hankies. But the interesting thing to note is that it lay exactly how it had fallen: still partially folded and untouched. It still amazes me that it would go undisturbed through the day. Only in Japan would the general population trust that its owner would be back for it eventually.

My other two discoveries were in the small stone stools under the veranda. Each one of them had some sort of writing on them aimed for children. I wasn't able to read them but i did manange to get some shots of them and hope to steal the eyes of a japanese friend to find out what exactly they are. If I had to guess, I'd say they were childrens rhymes and games. I'm not sure how old they are.

The second discovery is on the side of the building walling off the only non plant infested boundery of the park. There was a giant, detailed map full of writing and points of what look to be an older time. Again, I'm going to need some Japanese eyes to decipher this one.

Then just as naturally, right next to the giant map was a faded poster reminding the public not to pour grease down the drain. It showed a whole detailed outline of a person cooking and then disposing of it properly. Good things to know but I don't think I would ever pour grease down a drain regardless of a giant faded poster.

Again, I hope to see some children playing in the park at some point. I'm guessing that as dusk draws near and people arrive back to their homes from work, the locals venture out to the park a bit more. I'm going to try and time it a bit better next time and hope the skies stay clear enough.

I'll post a few shots of the children's seats in the park. Hopefully I'll get all of them up soon.

Hitotsugi Park

Akasaka Dori winds its way through the heart of Akasaka. A narrow yet bustling street moves with the activities of the day: commuters rush by, shoppers stroll, messengers and delivery people weave their way in and out. Lining the street on either side is storefront after storefront. Not the kind you'd see in Shibuya or Ginza but small little cafe's, multi-national restaurants, clothing boutiques, combini, and kusuri all packed in nice and tight next to each other never looking as if they're crowded for space.

Along the side of Akasaka Dori, you can start to make out a hidden hill, the kind that you notice only if you're looking for it through the buildings, the hidden Tokyo sort of hill. There's a space between two buildings and a small stair case starts to make it's way up, winding up the side. As soon as you've past behind the buildings on the stairs, thick vegetation opens up, engulfing the path you're traveling. The backsides of apartments and shops face you as you ascend the shady path. And then at the top, a small green statue of a frog greets you. Businessmen, children and local residents travel with you all moving with ease through this little short-cut known only to the initiated.

Looking back down over the railing, you can barely make out the quaint bustle of Akasaka Dori down below. A small cafe peers back, but now it seems like the old street is just a fleeting glimpse. Even the street sounds feel oddly hushed as you move along.

Finally, a small park nestled in the grow opens up at the end of the path. It seems, for all intentional purposes, well placed. There is a long stone bench for those that need just a quick respite during their day, and further on, some warn, wooden, cared for benches. The wooden benches face in toward a small children's playground that looks as if it's been quite enjoyed. Over the top of the wooden benches is a large veranda, well overgrown by a vine/tree that has long made that place it's resting home.

As I watch from a bench on the far edge of the park, a variety of people shuffle in and out. First a businessman stepping out for a quick rest and cigarette. He sits calmly inhaling the smoke and scene and gazes into a world of retrospect and consideration. Or perhaps it's the schedule he as for the next day or the errands he must run before going home. Whatever the case, he arises in a just a few minutes looking refreshed and relaxed. He enters the remnant of his cigarette in the ashtray off to the side and heads back into the fray.

Then two friends come to sit and chat for a bit. No cell phones, no books, no bags, just the two of them and a snack to pass the time. They laugh, smile and carry on as if there wasn't a soul about the place. I'm not sure if they noticed me sitting not too far off scribbling in my notepad, but if they did, I must have been of no concern to them. After a bit, another man came and sat on yet another bench with his lunch. He slowly devoured it and a book at the same time. As he finished the last morsel of food, he picked up his trash, pocketed his book, and left the girls and myself back to our devices.

Things past like this for sometime. People would enter in small groups or just on their own, take their spot of peace and relaxation, and head off again. I hope that next time I can see the children that must come to this place day in and day out. School was most likely in session. I hope to venture further into the park a bit and explore more of the few maps on walls.

All in all, it was time well spent.