Day 2 (Ashiya/Kobe): Who are Tsukiyo to Syonen?

This residency would not have been possible without an incredible support of Tsukiyo to Syonen, a small yet enthusiastic art organisation run by a couple Mio and Koh Yoshida (with their son Shiroshi). Focused on creating a more personal art experience – whether through the visual arts, music or even food – Mio and Koh are eager to introduce Japanese audience to artists from different countries. Similarly, they welcome opportunities to share their vision of art; sometimes linked to Japanese tradition, but often crossing the boundaries between cultures. Currently, I am taking part in their micro residency for artists, curators and researchers, who wish to create a golden link between Japan and other distant places. I will be browsing Japanese photobooks (and most importantly I will be purchasing them), visiting galleries, talking to their owners and asking about some Japanese terms that remain either vague or dangerously soaked with the Western attitudes. What ma (negative space, where pause balances the structure and gives it its shape) means for the Japanese? Has it got the same oneiric and opaque meaning in Japan as outside of it? Why is Japanese photography so intrinsically connected to the idea of a shadow?


Inspired by Mimei Ogawa’s early 1900th century collection of stories The Golden Link, Tsukiyo to Syonen took its name from one of  Ogawa’s tales. In the simplest words

‘Tsukiyo’ (月夜) means the Moon

‘to’ (と)… and

‘Syonen’ (少年) stands for juvenile.

But this is just a clumsy and painfully literal translation from Japanese to English. What I gathered from the gallery’s programme, conversations with the owners, as well as my own impressions is that these general terms are an invitation to simply meet; wherever we come from and whoever we are. The Moon is for everyone and it can have as many forms as one wishes for. Our differences do not matter, making the meeting worthwhile. Tsukiyo to Syonen remains then an excuse to consider art from diverse angles.

Tsukiyo to Syonen seeks to create opportunities to meet, to look and to talk. Koh being educated in music and Mio, a graphic designer form a curatorial duet, which celebrates craftsmanship, originality and multidisciplinarity. Coming from non-visual art backgrounds allows them to look beyond definitions and decorums. Their home is filled with curiosities – as imaginative as their owners; the humanity shines through their projects, leaving commercial galleries and overthought ideas in the grey area, where sameness supports pseudo-intellectual cliques.


Previously owning a gallery in Osaka, Mio and Koh have recently renovated one of the rooms in their small flat in Ashiya City, creating a more personal gallery experience; where one can talk to the owners about the displays and other things that matter more or less. Decorated as traditional washitsu (Japanese-style) room with tatami mats and two pieces of antique furniture, up until now Koh and Mio staged here two exhibitions: Kaikou  by two Japanese artists under one name KENONI and drawings by Yusako Kuno’s Ultramarine ZarathustraIn 2015 they visited Air Space Gallery in Stoke on Trent with the display on the Indefinable Cities.

Later on, the exhibition travelled to Japan and toured across six venues in different places.



Future projects include painting exhibition and a display of works by artists supported by the UK’s own Room Art space from Birmingham.




* The review is a result of  a research trip kindly supported by the The Great British Sasakawa Foundation


Research in Japan, Day 1 (Ashiya City, Hyogo): Why Ashiya?

Day 1, Ashiya (Hyogo Prefecture)

A shuttle coach took me from the Kansai Airport (Osaka) to the location of my residency. Here I will be exploring Japanese art and aesthetics with the assistance of Tsukiyo to Syonen, a small private art gallery in Ashiya, which aims at cultural exchange between Japanese and European artists.  With their help, I will be looking at imagery and its relationship with the everyday. I will be asking questions about how? and why? and who? and what?

But before all that, I arrived at Osaka Bay. Greys, blues and haze rolled outside the shuttle car windows and I was mesmerised; or maybe just sleepy after the whole flight adventure. Osaka Bay was subtly monochromatic. Mr Whistler would love this.


Ashiya is a small but irresistible city. Perfectly trimmed, leaning on the Rokko Mountains on one side and attached to Osaka Bay on the other, it is a heaven for those who wish to unwind, walk in a blissful silence or just look at everyday life passing by. No one is rushing here, there are more bikes than cars (what is a car?)

and there are more walkers than bikers. If any…


Arriving in the middle of the week and almost at the dawn helps to experience the everyday of this small city (approx. 100 000 inhabitants). The hidden sign posts are peeking out from the bushes; discreet reminders that ‘You are politely asked not to park here’. Lotus root is in season and so I grab a truly informative leaflet with recipes from a local CO OP (convenience store). Ume mochi (plum mochi) are on sale, as ume season is over. Do not despair though, as there is always a season for something. Eat lotus. It will be gone sooner than you think.



Ashiya’s quietude is basking in the sun and cherry blossoms developed hastily this year. Apparently, I have just about missed the sakura watching craze which culminated last Sunday. There are still some ‘pikunikku’ goers (traditional way of celebrating the event) around and they are catching the last glimpse of the falling petals. The everyday of this city is unhurried but amusing. And are small things of value here? Of course they are.

Fact-of-the-day: Ashiya is the only city in Japan that has banned gambling and gaming centres.


It might be then pretty difficult to believe that Ashiya is a place where the experimental vigour of the Gutai Art Collective gathered in the 1950’s. Artists revolted against the conventions, stagnation, sleepiness and the sky*. Instead, they used force, movement and industrial materials to express the uncertainty and fuzziness of their surroundings. They went out onto the streets to perform art. They held an exhibition in the local Ashiya Park (just round the corner) and became one of the most important contemporary Japanese art movements. All of us, who know Gutai would recognise some of the most iconic images taken in the Ashiya Park. One could say that Gutai woke Ashiya up!


There are more surprises to Ashiya City and its surrounding (Kobe):

Haruki Murakami was raised here.

One of Junichiro Tanizaki’s (who was inspired by Kansai region) books Makikoka Sisters is based in Ashiya … and his memorial is here.

Tadao Ando designed a plethora of beautiful buildings around here: Shibata House (Ashiya), Takanata House (Ashiya), Koshino House, 4 x 4 House (Kobe), Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art (Kobe), Rokko Housing (Kobe) and plenty more.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s (a collector of Japanese art who inspired Tadao Ando) design Yamamura House is here.

Yoko Ogawa (contemporary writer) simply lives here.


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*A loose paraphrase from Alexandra Munroe.

* The review is a result of  a research trip kindly supported by the The Great British Sasakawa Foundation