Tue, Oct 1, 2019

Passing the time reading Mari Hashimoto’s art column: How I became what I am

Mari Hashimoto, center, strikes a pose at the “Swords of Kyoto: Master Craftsmanship from an Elegant Culture” special exhibition (Photo courtesy of Mari Hashimoto)

I was asked to write columns on Japanese art for this web portal on a regular basis, and so here I am. The big-hearted editorial staff in charge said that I could write just about anything: reviews, on buying and selling artwork, restoration of artwork, art education, research, etc. Well, we got together before the web portal opened, and as I laid out the various things I could write about, the editorial staff got a bit greedy and decided the scope of this column should not be limited to just introducing exhibitions and pursuing antique art dealers, but should include anything, as long as it had something to do with Japanese art.

The reason why the themes I care about goes in different directions is because what I have been doing in recent years goes beyond the job description of a writer/editor – that is, drawing up plans, gathering information, then writing an article – although the work is still in and around Japanese art. As such, I’m going to write about what I have been up to lately in this first installment, which should serve as a self-introduction as well as a salutation to my readers.

If likened to the field of science…

Making plans, writing articles, editing, coordinating, publicizing, judging, lecturing and so on is what I do, and it may seem all disorganized. But roughly lumped together, the core of my work lies around “translating” hard-core Japanese art so it can be effectually passed on to non-specialists; or serving as a bridge between people and things involved in Japanese art.

In the field of science and technology, there is a profession called a “science communicator.” The National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno, Tokyo, has a science communicator training program which defines the profession as “providing the opportunity for anyone to think about science proactively and to act on it, and connecting people, or science and society, in order to foster a sustainable society where humankind, nature and science can coexist.” Hokkaido University’s CoSTEP, or the Communication in Science & Technology Education & Research Program, defines science communicators as those “who can establish two-way communication between experts and the public over societal challenges regarding science and technology, and can play the role of effectually communicating to people across all levels of society the social importance of science and technology, and the significance and joy of learning in these fields.”

I am no “science communicator,” but I think my current job is to assume such a role in the realm of Japanese art.

Serving as a location coordinator for an ad shoot, I once had to find a tea room because the staff wanted to take a glass of whiskey “in front of a nice wall … like in a tea room.” It wasn’t easy. They wanted to place a bottle and a glass and nothing else in front of a clay wall and make them look nice, a wall with a mood that wasn’t too rough nor too sober, and if possible, little known. I managed to collect permits for three tea rooms – two of which were designated important cultural properties – and made sure the staff did not do any damage by giving them a lecture on how to handle equipment and such, and stayed on site day after day, in the early hours of the morning in mid-winter.

On another front, a hotel preparing to newly open wants real Japanese artwork on display in their guest rooms and public space so guests from abroad can experience Japanese culture.  With a view to opening the hotel in early 2020, the project – which involves coming up with the conceptual design, selecting and purchasing the artwork, gauging where to safely place hanging scrolls and three-dimensional work, and producing installation art in collaboration with contemporary artists – has been going on for several years and is now coming close to its final stage.

Making feature pages for a magazine can get nasty

Meanwhile, my main job has always been with magazines, and so I still write for “Waraku” (published by Shogakukan) on a regular basis on how to appreciate national treasures, and am put in charge of a cover story or special feature for some magazine about once a year. Some of you may have seen the special feature on Japanese swords carried last autumn on “BRUTUS” (published by Magazine House) or the one on Yohen Tenmoku tea bowls on the same magazine this spring.

The “BRUTUS” magazine (May 1, 2019 issue) featuring Yohen Tenmoku tea bowls

Usually, the fun of making a magazine is in the editors and the writers ganging up for that purpose. But as far as making a special feature on some kind of art for BRUTUS is concerned, I have been at it almost all alone for the past several years.

I do not just write, but also do the planning, and a small group of just two editors and I puts together the 60-to-70-page special feature. Just one writer or as many as ten, the time given to make a special feature, however, is all the same. If there are several writers, they can hustle together to make the deadline, but if it’s just you, you might as well give up on resting or sleeping and just work on. The editors, proofreaders and the people in charge of printing also have to push through. But because the readers and the editing staff alike are amused by the somewhat biased product unfitting for a magazine, this unorthodox style of producing a special feature has persisted.

My task does not end there, though. If the special feature is based on a large exhibition, I more than often get involved in promoting the exhibition itself as well. There is much to do throughout the exhibition period: producing related goods, appearing on art related TV programs or internet programs, giving a lecture at the venue or making an appearance at an event, planning a special viewing tour in collaboration with railway companies and tourist agencies.

My college major: international relations

What I have written so far, is only a tidbit of the whole story. If I had just studied art history and joined the art world as a curator or researcher, I wouldn’t have become the jack-of-all trades I am now. To tell you the truth, until I graduated from college, I had nothing to do with Japanese art. I majored in international relations at the International Christian University, so there was no “Japan” involved, nor “art.” So how did things turn out this way? For more, you’ll have to wait for the next installment.

Mari HASHIMOTO

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Writer / Editor

Mari HASHIMOTO

She is a writer / editor mainly of articles on Japanese art. She also serves as deputy curator of Eisei Bunko Museum, a public interest incorporated association, in Tokyo. She has a way of making Japanese art enjoyable and easy to understand through her affable comments and often appears on NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corp.) art programs. She has authored a number of books including: “Bijutsu de Tadoru Nihon no Rekishi” (Tracing Japanese history through art), a three-volume book published by Chobunsha Publishing Co.; “Kyoto de Nihon Bijutsu wo Miru – Kyoto National Museum” (Taking a look at Japanese art in Kyoto – Kyoto National Museum; Shueisha Creative Inc.); “Kawari Kabuto – Sengoku no Cool Design” (Fancy combat helmets – Cool designs from the Sengoku warring period; Shinchosha Publishing Co.) She has also coauthored “SHUNGART” and “Hokusai Gensun Bijutsukan 100% Hokusai!” (Museum of full-size Hokusai works 100% Hokusai!), both published by Shogakukan Inc. Books by Hashimoto include “Nihon Bijutsu Zenshu, vol. 20” (The complete works of Japanese art, vol. 20; Shogakukan Inc.)

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