Issue Index

  Mini Features
  Cultural Features
  Life in Japan
  Big in Japan
  Rant & Rave
  Cars & Bikes
  Health & Beauty
  Money Talks
  Tokyo Tech
  Web Watch
  Food & Drink
  Restaurant Reviews
  Bar Reviews
  Word of Mouth
  Travel Features
  Japan Travel
  International Travel
  Tokyo Talk
  In Store
  Japan Beat
  CD Reviews
  In Person



Since the late 19th century, Japanese art has been schizophrenically split into yoga (Western-style) and nihonga (Japanese-style). The latter arose as a self-conscious response to the inroads of the former. Nevertheless, when nihonga took up the challenge of Western art, it was unable to avoid borrowing some of its ideas, most notably the romantically inflated concept of the “divine” artist. But instead of Michelangelo or van Gogh, nihonga found its role models in the elite artist/craftsmen of the Rinpa school. The Yamatane Museum of Art’s exhibition What Did Nihonga Learn from Rinpa? uses 50 mainly large works to look at echoes of the school in the works of 20th-century nihonga artists. Particularly worth seeing is Kaii Higashiyama’s vast seascape Rising Tide and Gyoshu Hayami’s Falling Camellias.

Through Dec 25. See exhibition listings (Ginza/ Kyobashi/ Tokyo) for details. CBL

Metropolis is offering readers ten free tickets to “What Did Nihonga Learn from Rinpa?” For your chance to see this excellent exhibition, email the following information by Wednesday, December 17, to

1. Name; 2. Address; 3. Age; 4. Home country; 5. Last exhibition you visited

Include the text “Nihonga” in the subject line. Winners will be selected at random.


499: Hunter of Light: Daido Moriyama 1965-2003
498: Pierre-Joseph Redouté: Court Painter of Roses
497: Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum
496: Zon Ito
495: Prosperity of Edo: Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo and other Landscape Works
494: Happy Trail
493: Girl! Girl! Girl!
492: The Renault Collection: Contemporary French Art
491: Hideaki Uchiyama: Japan Underground II
490: Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial 2003: Human Beings as Part of Nature
489: Traum von Wien: Graphic Art in Vienna around 1900
488: The Sound of Water
487: Shintaro Miyake: Sweet Summer
486: Thomas Demand
485: Neresi? Burasi?: Turkish Art Today
484: Another World Museum
483: Kamakura: The Art of Zen Buddhism
482: The Dignity of Humble People: Jean-Francois Millet and Naturalism in Europe
481: Araki by Araki
480: Akira Yamaguchi Exhibition Exhibition
479: E.A.T.: The story of Experiments in Art and Technology
478: Tadao Ando: Regeneration-Surroundings and Architecture
477: Girls Don't Cry
476: Gerhard Richter: Survey
475: Kyu Iwasaki-tei Gardens
474: Complex
473: GA Houses Project 2003
472: Eija-Liisa Ahtila: Fantasized Persons and Taped Conversations Tabaimo: ODORO ODORO
471: Shimabuku Watching the River Flow
470: Space Invaders: Emerging UK Architecture
469: Arts Initiative Tokyo
468: Shinichiro Kobayashi: Japan New Map
467: Henry Darger: In the Realm of the Unreal
466: Transparent Windows: Politics of Landscape
465: Shinkawa Gallery Complex
464: We Love Painting
463: Wolfgang Laib
462: Emily Carr/Jack Shadbolt: Heart of Darkness
461: Picasso and the School of Paris: Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
460: Under Construction: New Dimensions in Asian Art
459: Life/Art '02
457/8: End-of-the-Year Review and 2003 Preview
456: Elmgreen & Dragset: Suspended Space
455: Art by the book
454: Art of Mathura, India/The Art of Gandhara, Pakistan
453: A Perspective on Contemporary Art: Continuity/Transgression
452: Konstantin Melnikov: 1920s-30s
451: Emotional Site
450: Twelve Japanese Artists from the Venice Biennale 1952-2001

Issues 500+
Issues 449-
Issues 399-

By John McGee

Shinichiro Kobayashi: Japan New Map

1998, Oimachi, Niigata

In 1967, American artist Robert Smithson gave an ironic photographic tour of his industrial New Jersey hometown. His Monuments of Passaic were not bronze sculptures of famous guys on horses but pipes spewing filth, a floating derrick, and a sandbox. Now, photographer Shinichiro Kobayashi, (born 1956), shows us around Japan’s latest “monuments” in his book, “Japan New Map.”

Decaying buildings and rusting machines in Kobayashi’s earlier book, “Deathtopia” (1998), showed the world’s second largest economy in neglect and denial. “Japan New Map” captures the way the random, devastating aggression of Japan’s insatiable construction industry is reshaping the landscape. Smithson’s deadpan irony has been replaced by sick fascination and dread.

JR propaganda posters entice with scenes of natural splendor, as if just beyond the fringes of Tokyo beautiful, untouched rural landscape abounded. Between 1991-2000, Kobayashi traveled from Okinawa to Hokkaido, documenting the reality: years of government make-work projects and few environmental safeguards have left no stone unturned.

Think of “Japan New Map” as a photographic companion to Alex Kerr’s 2001 book “Dogs and Demons.” Kerr quantified the abuses of Japan’s construction industry juggernaut—97% of the rivers dammed, 60% of the coastline covered in concrete, 43% of the native forest replanted with allergy-bearing, wildlife-barren cedar plantations—but his book showed nothing.

1996, Hokudancho, Hyogo

Kobayashi’s pictures do. Japan’s land of gods has been torn open and sewn up in concrete. Open pit mines have burrowed deep in downward spirals. Bridges and overpasses have been built solely to appease transportation’s golden calf. Mountainside highways have restrained road cuts behind concrete girdles. Giant pillars have cast cities in monolithic objects with the use-value of Michael Heizer earthworks.

In one photo, two red surveyor’s crosses mark the middle of an unfinished dirt lane leading into the pitch-black entrance of a new tunnel buried deep in a Hyogo-ken hillside. The Christian metaphor may be unintentional, but anyone can grasp the essence: Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

But there are no people. They seem to have used up these sites and moved on, leaving only an industrial residue that Kobayashi intensifies with perversely attractive, saturated colors. Artificial ponds glow an unholy bright green and despoiled forests bleed fleshy red earth.

This re-forming of the land is like Michael Jackson’s plastic surgery—wrongheaded attempts to “improve” lead to perverse and pitiable ruin. In both cases, you feel bad, but then wonder why money continues to be thrown at nonexistent problems.

Unlike MJ’s nose, many of the concrete constructions in Kobayashi’s photos look extremely sturdy. Yet their purposes are often unclear: An elevated road deadends halfway through a rice paddy, a concrete streambed is wide but dry. They’re built to last, but why?

1997, Innoshima, Hiroshima

Location is also unclear. Each picture is identified only by prefecture and year. The predominantly medium shots form a jigsaw puzzle you have to fit together blindly.

This placelessness highlights the pervasiveness of the destruction but denies both martyrdom and rehabilitation, leading to shoganai rather than gambarimasho. Anger (and hope) need direction to lead to positive action. Shouldn’t a good map show you the way?

But Kobayashi writes that “the point is not to ask what is right and what is wrong.“ He finds “the contrast between the gray concrete and the complex, beautiful curves of nature strangely erotic.” Kobayashi’s not an environmentalist, he’s a sex tourist getting off in a foreign land, one that used to be his own.

“Shinichiro Kobayashi: Japan New Map”
(2003, East Press, ¥3500)
Available at art and larger bookstores.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Shinichiro Kobayashi and East Press