Kyoto International Art Festival: Seven Artists at Kokoka

Seven Artists

For the show at the Kyoto International Community House (also known as Kokoka), Cake Hara, Yuko Hirata, Sokei Honda, Yumi Inoue, Chikako Kamide, Kantaro Maeda, and Michelle Zacharias were the seven artists selected from the main group of artists that show every year in Kyoto. To use the gallery space at this venue, the group must have an international component. At the annex, artists can only display one piece and have size limitations. In Kokoka’s gallery, we had no such limitations, aside from sharing the space and the responsibilities with each other.  Being a municipal space, sales of artwork were not possible.

Note: I used collages this time, because many of the files sizes were too large to upload. My apologies for chopping the images.

Kokoka: Kokusai Koryu Kaikan


Kokoka is also known as the Kyoto International Community House and as the Kokusai Koryu Kaikan. It is a building with many names. It is a huge, beautiful building that was buzzing with activity all week. People used it for meetings, conferences, weddings, and studying. A local juniour high even sent some of their students for practical experience in learning what kind of jobs people were doing in the neighbourhood, and the administration asked me to take care of them for a while so they could talk to those of us who were willing to do so. in the lower left photo, you can see Sokei Honda talking about his piece and philosophical aspects of life. More on that later, because his talk was really interesting! Kantaro Maeda later explained the history of kimono artistry and techniques to a German engineer, and Yumi Inoue discussed her dyeing techniques with visitors.

Sokei Honda


Sokei Honda is a calligrapher (a shodo artist in Japanese) but he is also a Buddhist priest. While fixing the roof of his temple and home, he asked the carpenter to cut one piece of wood into smaller pieces. The wood is naturally weathered, and Honda did not any extra ink to stain the wood. Chikako Kamide, one of the organizers of this show, pushed him to try something new, so he used those pieces of wood instead of the Chinese paper that he prefers.

As he  told the juniour-high students that visited, Sometimes people sit and ponder life. They ask questions like, “Who amI? What am I doing here?”. On one of those nights, he sat down and wrote down those thoughts. It took him all of five minutes or so; it did not need much editing. He later wrote it on those boards that had covered his head and protected him from the elements. It ended up about being trapped by your doubts and fears. He was originally going to place wire around the top, but somebody advised him against it. They said it would be too much, and others worried about the safety risk. I still think he should have done it. The chair was always planned to be part of it but not the smaller calligraphy piece. That was one of the two small pieces of art that we were told to make. This one is the Chinese character for tail. Honda said it tied in with the larger work by being about trying to catch up with somebody in front of you by grabbing on to their tail and holding them in place. It is all about keeping up with the Jonses or in this case, the Yamadas.

To have one piece of calligraphy for a show, he might do one hundred versions and then pick the best. Placement, tones, bleeding, and other factors make one better than the others. The placement of his red stamp can also accent or detract from a specific area.

Chikako Kamide

Behind him, you can see the gigantic Nihonga painting done by Chikako Kamide. It took around ten people to install it. You do not need to have more pieces in a group show when your piece takes up an entire wall. The room was large enough and the ceilings high enough that it did not overpower the room. She wore a kimono for while in the gallery almost every day.

Cake Hara


Cake Hara, obviously not his real name, was our multi-media representative. He studied fine arts in Mexico because he did not like the senpai-kohai (senior-junior for lack of a better translation) system of Japan. In the Fake Moon video with the scene of the rotting orange, he wanted to show what happened when “real” things pretend to be fake, in the same way that fake designer goods are designed to resemble the real things. For example, that orange was perfectly fine. The mould was green and white paint that washed off to show the true colour underneath. The rotting banana was also painted very realistically. And the moon? It was a piece of daikon radish. If pretending to be fake, would they still have the same value? Would they be devalued?

The second photo shows a scene from a band where the musicians played instruments in the same rhythms as heartbeats. He used his dog’s heartbeat as well as his own heartbeat after strenuous exercise, after waking up, and while doing desk work.


Most of the juniour-high boys liked Cake Hara’s humour and his use of technology. The taller boy in this photo likes working with computers, so he was particularly intrigued. This one usually needed explaining, but afterwards everyone usually had big smiles. If possible, you had to line your heart up with that small box on top of the larger control panel. Then you had to press the red button for ten seconds or longer and sit still while you did so. If everything was working correctly, the fake teeth would chatter in the same rhythm as your heart. Each person got different results. People enjoyed knowing that they had proof that they were alive and they also enjoyed the humour in Cake Hara’s work.

Yumi Inoue

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Yumi Inoue’s work is very subtle in its colouring, aside from her brightly coloured miniatures. You have to look very carefully to see the imagery. The brownish one was still stiff with the wax she used as a resist when dyeing, but the red one was soft after the wax was washed out. The brown was a light on one side, and a child’s head (?) on the other. It is the same one featured in the promotional material. The red one is a red slip hanging from a hanger. Can you see it? I did not notice until her mother pointed it out to me.

Although Inoue did not intend to have any feminist meaning and in fact she did not even know of any of the deeper meanings, the red slip/dress reminded me of what a powerful symbol it is for women’s issues.  I told her about the REDress project in Canada where people were asked to hang up a red dress in a public place to draw attention to the many missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. We also cannot forget Laurie Anderson’s song that discusses the inequality of women’s salaries and other issues. Inoue liked that her work could have many meanings.


Yumi Inoue meant for the plaited hair in the top picture and the slip in the bottom one to be ambiguous. She wants the viewer to see whatever they want. I included detail shots so you could see just how subtle her work is. Lighting is crucial.

Yuko Hirata


Yuko Hirata is one of the newest members to the overall group. She also used powdered minerals and shells as pigments which were then mixed with a binder to paint in a technique called Nihonga. Many Nihonga painters use nature as their subject matter, but Hirata seemed equally interested in the light and shadows cast on her subjects.

Kantaro Maeda


Kantaro Maeda never intended to be a textile artist. He only started working for a place where kimono were made, because it offered the highest wage for part-time workers when he was in university. He must have liked something other than the money, because he is still doing it many decades later. He is definitely not in it for the money now! Compared to when he started, only about 10% of the kimono artists in Kyoto remain. There might actually be fewer, since I might have increased the number in my memory.

Maeda uses the yuzen technique and kin nori (golden glue) to outline areas for dyeing. He sometimes creates pictures of his travels on silk, such as the dancers and their masks in Bali (above, left) and I think the Mekong river (above right) (I might be wrong; time has passed since we had the show.)


Maeda joked that the chameleon (upper left) was rainbow-coloured on the side that we could not see. The chameleon was one of the small pieces that he made. The chameleon was from a trip to Australia, the pink donkey (upper right) was from Mexico, the Watermelon temple (lower right) was from Laos, and the pink women’s temple (lower left) was from Banteay Srei in Cambodia.

Michelle Zacharias


Michelle Zacharias works primarily in coloured pencil now but she used to work in intaglio printmaking. That sense of layering small detail is shared by both mediums. Yes, those are large coloured pencil and not acrylic paintings. A coloured pencil contains what is basically dried oil paint, so she thinks that the sky’s the limit in what you can do with them. (She also thinks it is strange to be writing in the third person.)


This photo should give you a better sense of scale. The walls were three metres tall I think.


Clockwise starting upper left: Photo by Cake Hara; drawing on handmade paper by Michelle Zacharias; acrylic painting by Cake Hara; Nihonga paintings by Yuko Hirata.

As well as bringing large pieces of artwork, we were also told to bring two small pieces of specific sizes: “WSM 45.5 cm x 15.7 cm and SO 18 cm x 18 cm“.  At first I did not know if I was supposed to make one of each or two of either size. To fully understand this, you need to know that panel sizes in Japan are indicated by letters rather than their actual measurements. Also, a ‘W‘ is an abbreviated way to write ‘double‘. Thank goodness the numerical sizes were included! To make it even more complicated, the height is written first instead of the width in Japanese style although this was supposed to be an international show, which suggests that width be written first like it is by most people in the international art world. Panels, canvas, and papers with cardboard backings had to be specially ordered in these sizes. In other words, they were not conventional sizes. Most of the artists had to jump through a few hoops to get the materials and to finish these in time. For example, one artist draped a piece of fabric over a long frame of the right size. The title of Cake Hara’s painting says what many of us thought, “Absurd“. I also love that he assumed the width was written first in the same way that most artists elsewhere would.

Calligraphy by Sokei Honda

The idea to have a series of artwork with the same sizes by a group of artists is not a bad idea. Printmakers often do this. With prints, however, the paper size is the same and the prints are displayed without frames or in the same style of frame. This results in consistency, so the viewer can focus on the differences in the art. This time, however, the artists were told to make two sizes, not one. When I asked, I was told that frames were not necessary, so mine do not have frames and show the actual sizes specified. Why did I ask? I knew that the sizes would change as soon as people started using frames. I was right.

Australia by Kantaro Maeda

If requested to display large artwork, it did not make sense to  make much smaller pieces. The scale would be off, and it was in actuality. We had difficulty in displaying the smaller pieces, because the larger pieces overpowered them. It only worked if we lined them up with Maeda’s paintings. That really was not fair to him to have a jumble of styles alongside his work with the possibility of people thinking that he as floundering in his artistic identity.

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Tail of the Gobi Monster by Michelle Zacharias

Small pieces are commonly made in Japan for the purpose of selling them. Some commercial galleries also have limited display space. Space was not an issue this time, and sales are not possible at municipal galleries.



Here you can see Kantaro Maeda playing with Cake Hara’s heart sensor as well as Hirata’s and Inoue’s artwork behind him for a sense of scale.


Each of the seven artists was selected, but I am not sure who or why. I assume that I was selected as the international portion and because they knew I could communicate with the other artists in Japanese. You would think that with seven artists that they would have chosen people using seven different mediums or styles. If so, why were there two Nihonga painters? Yes, two were textile artists, but their techniques, styles, and subject matter were very different. I have many more comments but I will save those for a discussion on group shows at a later date.



If you are interested in any of the art by any artists shown here, let me know and I can see what I can arrange. Some are on Facebook and some understand English, but some do not. Don’t worry! I can help.


Thank you to the many people who came all the way to see the artists and their art. Your presence and your smiles were greatly appreciated by all. We love to hear what people think, because we usually work in a vacuum all by ourselves with little or no feedback.



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