Seibu Panics, Drops Artists


A picture by Keita Tastuguchi shown at the Seibu Art Gallery

TOKYO (majirox news) – Several people of the defunct Parco Gallery in Tokyo were arrested and fined about $2,200 in 1993 for selling Nobuyoshi Araki’s controversial photo book, which was called Erotos, according to Photoguide. The photos were called “obscene.” Araki is conceivably Japan’s greatest living photographer.

Last month a group of cartoonists comprising the 10 largest publishing houses and a number of well-known independents broke off from the Tokyo Anime Festival, which is sponsored by the City of Tokyo, to form their own anime festival in protest against new restrictions passed on overt sexual activity in manga.

And now the art gallery at Seibu Shibuya Department Store in Tokyo has pulled an art show in midstream–something unheard of in Japan’s art world–over images that would barely merit a second glance in any Western art gallery.

The series called “Shibu Subculture” shows paintings and sculptures of 25 upcoming artists. It was scheduled to run from January 25 to February 6, but was suddenly and without warning shut down on February 2.

Seibu claims customers objected about the content of the show. “We received emails from some customers complaining that the exhibits made them feel uncomfortable, so we decided not to continue,” said Nagatoshi Nii, a Seibu spokesperson.

Not so, says Kengo Nakamura, an artist in the exhibition. “The head of the gallery told me they were pressured by one organization to pull it. He wouldn’t name the organization or say what the complaints were.” Nakamura says it was perhaps because of some of the sexual works in the show.

Daisuke Funaki, another artist in the show, says it was probably part of a Tokyo Government crackdown on sexual images. “It also wasn’t a good idea for Seibu to put the exhibit on the 8th floor where they sell luxury items like jewelry that cater to an older crowd.”

One of Funaki’s pictures in the exhibition shows a naked woman on a crab. It reminded artist Noriko Takanaka, who saw the picture but wasn’t exhibiting at the show, of Katsushika Hokusai’s drawing of the nude with the octopus, one of the most famous Japanese erotic woodblock prints.

“I think it was a take off on his famous print,” she says. “This time the girl isn’t wrestling an octopus but riding a crab. Seems like we just can’t help combining two of the Japan’s favorite preoccupations, seafood and nudes.”

Are the Japanese becoming ashamed of their bodies?

Years ago, in public baths men and women bathed together. Even today, it’s not at all unusual for a mother or father to take their children into the bathtub with them. Takanaka can remember up until a few years ago that TV was more liberal, too. “After 11:00 p.m., many TV channels showed adult programs.”

Times have changed. Manga-inspired art, some of it light hearted, is now getting caught in the dragnet.

Tokyo’s Governor Shintaro Ishihara confirmed this by saying, “many people ask why we are censoring manga when anybody can see a hundred times worse on the Internet.” He then went on to give his own answer, which involved his conception of community values. Ishihara was one of the main supporters of a bill regulating anime and manga.

While censorship of sexual content in anime and manga is spreading, Soaplands continue to operate in plain view and cell phone prostitution services. Many hotels, particularly love hotels in some areas, are now little more than thinly disguised bordellos, noted Takanaka.

According to Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan and author of “Contemporary Japan: History, Politics and Social Change,” it is yet another sign that Ishihara’s time is up and he should not run for reelection. Kingston doubts many Japanese are offended by these images and says it’s a shame that an art gallery would cave in to pressure from one organization.

“While nobody expects much from Ishihara and his ilk, people involved in the art scene should not be so spineless,” he says.

Funaki says while he’s against the closing, it couldn’t be helped and he accepted it.

“The curator should be ashamed and Seibu should apologize for not standing up for culture against barbarous censorship,” Kingston added. “It’s ironic that one can see more graphic images at any convenience store magazine rack than at an art gallery.”

The link to the artists in the event is

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One Response to Seibu Panics, Drops Artists

  1. ellysan on 02/08/2011 at 6:29 am

    If the Uffizzi Gallery was in Tokyo instead of Florence, they could just put a fundoshi on Michelangelo’s David, and a Yukata on Botticelli’s Venus….

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