Report: Sebastian Masuda’s ‘Yes, Kawaii is Art’ Exhibition at Kanda Myojin Shrine Goes Beyond ‘Cute’
What does the word ‘kawaii’ mean to you? For most people overseas, it’s a purely Japanese aesthetic combining colorful visuals with cutesy characters to make something so adorable it defies imagination. In recent years, however, ‘kawaii’ has become a kind of philosophy that transcends language, national borders, and even consciousness. It’s a driving force behind people’s lives and something that pulls people out of bed in the morning–it’s something capable of instantly putting a smile on people’s faces. For those wishing to study the philosophy behind the ‘kawaii’ movement, the Godfather of Kawaii Sebastian Masuda is currently holding an exhibition at Kanda Myojin Shrine in Tokyo until December 12, 2021. What is it about ‘kawaii’ that is so capable of inspiring so many different people and cultures around the world?
A correlation chart welcomes guests to the grounds. The ‘Kawaii Archival Research,’ a project on kawaii culture conducted with students from the Kyoto University of Arts, collected data on ‘kawaii’ trends from the post-war period to the present day. Through interactions with the worldwide ‘kawaii’ community, it’s clear how much of an impact the aesthetic has had on people around the globe.
In the midst of the pandemic in 2020, Masuda announced #KAWAIITRIBE, a way to encourage those coping with depression during the days of COVID-19. His followers were asked to use ‘color’ to bring the world together, and more and more, the ‘kawaii’ movement became a way to express and love oneself. Using #KAWAIITRIBE, more and more fans of the movements became connected–even if those users were countries apart.
The hashtag #SPEAKUP was also utilized by Masuda to collect data from ‘kawaii’ lovers around the world, asking about hobbies, interests, and opinions on ‘kawaii’ culture. The data collected over the course of 12 days was incredibly meaningful to Masuda and led to plenty of new discoveries about the community as a whole.
Masuda explains that each country has different types of ‘kawaii,’ and that the aesthetic is expressed in different ways around the world. One country may have people influenced mainly by ‘kawaii’ expressions in anime and manga, while another expresses it through fashion or music. ‘Kawaii’ is diverse, just as people are diverse.
Sebastian Masuda has also held a Zoom meeting with people in ‘kawaii’ communities around the globe to discover how they became involved with the aesthetic initially, while also asking how it inspired them and gave them strength during these difficult times. Certain people claimed that ‘kawaii’ helped them in their personal growth, while others say it has brought out some of their potential in new and unexpected ways. While Masuda’s artwork may simply seem visual, ‘kawaii’ has become a tool for new communication and personal healing and growth. Some may even call it a kind of therapy: a place where people can surround themselves with color and joy to heal from the difficulties of life. The bold colors of the ‘kawaii’ movement can inspire people to be bold in their daily lives. Individuality should be celebrated and self-confidence should reign supreme–that is yet another message of the ‘kawaii’ movement.
Many people involved in the Zoom call had never met, and after the initial meeting, the room was left open to give people a place to communicate. Afterward, the ‘kawaii’ circle only became bigger, with a Facebook group bringing together more and more members of the community.
The research done during the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic has given ‘kawaii’ lovers a reason to think deeply on how to overcome the many struggles born from the ‘new normal,’ and these forums are perfect places to share colorful messages of hope and strength.
Inspired by Masuda’s own struggles during his time in Manhatten in 2013, Colorful Rebellion -Seventh Nightmare- is on display at Kanda Myojin. The installation has previously appeared in locations around the world including New York City, Milan, and Amsterdam. This time, the exhibit was inspired by ‘muro,’ a basement room in Omotesando where amazake is fermented. The room was used as an air-raid shelter during the war, and walking along the dimly-lit path leading to Masuda’s brightly-colored room, it’s hard not to wish that those evacuees could have been surrounded by these beautiful colors instead of pitch darkness.
It is no exaggeration to say that this is Masuda’s representative work. Created in the midst of the artist’s own struggles, it has helped establish the philosophy of ‘kawaii’ culture and continues to help those dealing with their own problems.
The Time After Time Capsule Art Project, starting in 2014 and held in 12 cities around the world, is a massive time capsule filled with messages and wishes for the future. Shaped like the beloved Sanrio character Hello Kitty, the capsule is gradually changing color as it becomes heavier and heavier with wishes for peace and happiness from fans around the world. Originally planned to be exhibited at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, this couldn’t come to fruition due to the current pandemic. This is the first time it is being shown in Japan.
The WORLD TIME CLOCK, a once-famous landmark of Harajuku, has also been recreated and installed within Kanda Myojin.
‘Yes, Kawaii Is Art’ at Kanda Myojin is a deeply emotional, personal, and inspiring exhibition allowing visitors to experience firsthand how ‘kawaii’ culture is capturing the hearts of people around the world. Sebastian Masuda isn’t slowing down any time soon, and his works will continue to heal people and bring joy for many years to come.
Sebastian Masuda’s solo exhibition ‘Primal Pop’ will be held at Roppongi Hills A/D Gallery from December 11, 2021, until January 10, 2022.
TEXT：Natalie（MOSHI MOSHI NIPPON）
YES, KAWAII IS ART at Kanda Myojin Shrine
Running until December 12, 2021
Location: Kanda Myojin Shrine
Running: December 11, 2021 – January 10, 2022
Location: Roppongi Hills A/D Gallery