We are at the Tokyo Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama Japan with the Forest Fringe. We are here taking part in a residency in which we are documenting the city and creating small beginnings and experiments inspired by it. This is happening at Bank Art Studio where for the next few days (14th-17th Feb) we will be in an open studio where people can come and watch us whilst we develop the work. If you happen to be in Yokohama here is some information about the event. We’ll be writing on this blog what we are doing, and Forest Fringe are also keeping a blog, so if you want to see the work created by all the artists click here.
We have already been in Japan for 4 days, we have spent this time going out into the city. It feels like we have done a lot. We have been to the top of a tall skyscraper and traveled on Japan’s fastest elevator to look down on the city, we have eaten Sushi (well just Nicki, not Ella), we have been to arcades and looked at the games and had photos taken in photo booths that are kept in the women’s only section of the arcade. We have been to Karaoke. We have been to China Town. We have tried to speak Japanese and learnt about 5 words. Gomen-Na-Sai. Konichiwa. Kampai. Hai.
During this time we have started to get an idea of what our project is. We have wanted to speak to people that live here and find out what it is like to live in Japan. We feel that this can inform our work to allow us to create something that goes beyond the surface of a place.
On arrival it felt that Japanese people are not naturally very forth-coming. Not many people speak English and it feels like they do not want to engage in any longer conversations with strangers. We spoke to Japanese artists that are also on the Forest Fringe residency and they explained that Japanese people are a solitary people and so it is hard to meet them or join the community. This made us think about finding situations where it might be more natural to meet people. Firstly we researched conversation bars – places where Japanese men (usually married) pay to speak to women, a kind of platonic prostitution. We wanted to go to one of these bars but were told that they would be hard for us to go to because we are women and so the girls might not understand what we are doing, and also because the women are unlikely to speak English. In looking into these conversation bars, we found a conversation cafe in Yokohama, this took the form of an English school with a cafe where people can come and practice their English. We went to the cafe and spent some time talking to a few people that are learning English. They had different lives, we asked them about where they have traveled and what they think of other countries. Japan feels really safe and crime is low, people don’t even chain their bikes up in the street. We asked how they felt when they were in other countries that had more crime.
One of the other artists on the residency, Mihoko Watanabe, also works in a Karaoke bar that is halfway between Yokohama and Tokyo. The bar is slightly unusual because the Karaoke does not happen in private booths but in one room. Mihoko said it might be a good place for us to meet people and so she took us. The bar had a relaxed feeling. It is quite small and looked a bit like a local social club. It felt a little like you were in someones living room. There was a TV in the corner and people took turns to sing, it felt like there was no pressure when people sang, as if they were singing with friends in their house. The rest of the bar did not always watch and it felt supportive. The waitresses in the bar sit and talk with the customers, as if they are friends, so as soon as we arrived a waitress sat with us. Everyone in the bar spoke to each other and so we met quite a few people. These people were all younger women and business men. We spoke to them about their jobs and if they liked them, about how they think Japan is seen by the rest of the world and if they know they we see it as a futuristic place.
We also visited a district called Kotobuki, an 200 metre square area that is completely segregated from the rest of the city – we were told no one goes there unless they live there, that it is the kind of place you would be warned against going to. Everyone who lives there is homeless and on welfare, and 6000 people live in this tiny 200 metre square area. It was really interesting to visit, because it felt like we would never known that this hidden area existed without being taken there, and it was so different to the rest of the city, which feels so clean and safe. We visited a hostel which is trying to get younger people and artists into the area and improve it, through a variety of social projects. They provide accommodation for people to live in, a hostel where the residents of the area live alongside backpackers and tourists. We’re going to go back there tonight for a party to meet some more of the people who live there.