Following the Japan Nakama app, I finally arrived at Kensington Olympia, where London’s largest Japanese Convention, Hyper Japan, was in full swing. After a brief encounter with the Sake Challenge, I decided to check out some of the incredible artists within the stalls of Miyabi, the authentic Japanese arts and crafts section. Outside of the Miyabi section I also found a canvas printing company founded and operated by two enthusiastic brothers, Canime.
I was lucky enough to be able to meet some inspirational artists and talk to them about their work. Here’s what they told me.
1. Mitsi – Miyabi Event Director
Miyabi is an art space; it’s an authentic Japanese art and crafts area in Hyper Japan that brings Japanese artists and their work to the UK. This is Miyabi’s 4th year here. We have an organisation in Japan called Japan Promotion, which supports and provides PR for artists. We then help to sell their Japanese crafts, artwork, and traditions overseas. We have flown out all of the artists here for only three days – the duration of this event – so that they can show and sell their work.
For the first 3 years, we were in Tobacco Dock, where Hyper Japan was based before Kensington Olympia. To be honest, even though it was a lot colder, we prefer Tobacco Dock, because it’s this giant old warehouse with an authentic British feel. Everyone has enjoyed their weekend here. As well as Hyper Japan, we’ll be holding exhibitions across London in 2019.
2. Mihito Akazawa – Komatsuya (Shamisen Manufacturer)
Yes, it’s been great. For some people, it’s their first time watching someone play the shamisen and they are so impressed.
Within the small company, Komatsuya, I organise events and marketing to boost the profile of our shamisens. I can make shamisens and others in the company can too. The quality of the shamisen skin is crucial to the sound it makes.
Usually, a Japanese shamisen uses the skin of a dog or a cat. Over ten years, our company’s founder and CEO invented an artificial skin that is able to produce a very high-quality sound. It’s what all of our shamisens are built with. This opens up a lot of overseas markets because many are not happy to buy shamisens made with the skin of animals. A growing number of people in Japan also feel this way.
The artificial skin also allows pictures to be printed onto it, which has previously not been possible. At one point, when I was struggling to promote the shamisens, the famous Final Fantasy character designer, Amano Yoshitaka, created some artwork for the company. He was very happy to help our company grow, as he supported the use of artificial skin instead of animals. The work he gave us is very beautiful.
3. Sowhou Akiyama – Calligrapher
Calligraphy is a way for me to express happiness and inspiration. In my works, I use words of good fortune, sometimes with gold ink called “Angel’s Ink”.
How’s your weekend been, any highlights?
I’ve been inspired by watching many kinds of performance and art.
Do you think Japanese culture is growing in popularity in London and the UK?
Yes, the performances, like Budo, Karate, and Kendo, are being done by the local people and not Japanese people, which shows how much the culture has spread.
Follow Yuya Akiyama’s work here.
Our business is called Canime – Anime on Canvas. The artwork is based on most of the stuff we watch ourselves and the designs are made by me, my brother, and three other commissioned artists. In Illustrator you get really sharp, 4k edges no matter how big the pictures are, hence why you don’t see any decrease or pixelation on the print. Once it’s done, we’ll print the art out, make the frames and then stretch the prints across them. It’s all in-house work.
The business came about because we are really big fans of watching Anime and we could never find anything that we wanted at these conventions. Then one time this huge artist from Japan came to London and did an exhibition. His work was amazing, but it was really over-priced compared to what people can afford regularly, like high £600-£700 and above. So we thought, what if we condense it a little bit and let people put amazing artwork in their rooms, the kind of stuff that we would love to hang ourselves.
Unfortunately, this has been a little bit slower than previous events, but there’s been a lot of really good shows on and as you can probably hear in the background, there’s a live opera happening right now in the centre. So, you have these authentic Japanese stage performances like classical music and some old-school koto that they mix with new-age electronic music like techno, dubstep, trap, and so on. They had that playing yesterday and it was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen here. It’s great that you get this fusion of two ages and you can experience a culture from a completely different background and find what they are about and how they live.