Wednesday, April 29, 2009

cutting-edge coifs

In the United States and Europe, it would be quite ordinary to see Vin Diesel-type 'skinheads' walking down the street.

In Japan, however, it would be very rare – a lot of the guys there have long, anime-style hair!

Check out the young Japanese guy with blue hair (above right) who we saw just outside of Osaka Castle Park. He actually reminded me of my Series 13 Evangelion 'SF' Bearbrick (above left), which was based on the character of Rei Ayanami, the first pilot in the anime and manga series.

My companion J, fascinated with the hip Japanese hairstyles, paid a huge sum for a cut at a Harajuku salon. While waiting for him, I leafed through a male hair catalogue and took some pics (below). Which do you like best?

In downtown Kyoto, I took a pic of this guy (right) who has perfected the look from head to toe. When I told him I would post his pic on my blog, he immediately struck a pose!

I love the hair – I just wonder how long it takes him every morning to get that 'coiffed'. :-D

Thursday, April 23, 2009

the secret of the tangerine tunnel

Months before I traveled to Japan, I spoke with a TV commercial director who told me many interesting stories about his vacation there with his family.

"When we were in Kyoto," he said, "we took the train to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Man, do you remember the scene in 'Memoirs of a Geisha' where the young Sayuri was running inside a tunnel of orange posts? That was the place. It was awesome!"

Then his eyes widened. "But you must hear the rest of my story. You remember my daughter? Remember I told you she has a third eye? While we were walking through the endless row of toriis, she suddenly freaked out! She couldn't breath... was crying like anything! We had to rush her out of there and give her lots of water to drink.'

'When she was well enough to talk, she revealed to us that she saw countless spirits of dead people roaming the place, and that a lot of them scrambled to get to her, pleading for help like lost souls. They must have sensed that my daughter could see them... it freaked me out, too!"

Last April 9, when I finally visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine with J, it was late afternoon and only as handful of tourists were present. The minute we were inside the torii tunnel, I stood very, very still. No, I didn't sense any spirit breathing in my ear. Even my companion J, who claims to be 'sensitive', didn't get any ghostly vibe. Whew!

But it was an eerie, beautiful place alright.

The place is open 24 hours but you won't see me around after sunset. I'll run out of that tunnel faster than the young Zhang Ziyi did in the movie. :-0

(Top pic) The Bearbrick in the pink Japanese kimono with crests is the 'secret' bearbrick of the 'Toys R Us' - Set A Series, released in 2001!

All pics by yours truly, taken at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

Translation: Torii = Gate


Sunday, April 19, 2009

lost (and found) in translation

The minute I stepped inside the Tokyo subway, I knew I needed help. There was no way I could navigate the city just by studying the maps and charts plastered on the walls. Hardly anything was in English!

Luckily, the Japanese are the most helpful people in the world.

On our way to Project 1/6 (see pic below), Medicom Toys' flagship store in the crowded Shibuya district, my friend J and I got lost. (Our map was in English, the road signs were in Japanese!)

So we showed the map to a nice Japanese couple on the street. After an exchange of hand signals and one-word sentences, the guy quickly consulted the navigator on his mobile phone. Then he and his girlfriend eagerly walked us to the toy shop (which turned out to be more than a hundred meters away, in the opposite direction of where they were initially headed.)

On our way to our Kyoto hotel for the first time, a young graduate student got off his bike and decided to walk with us when he realized that he couldn't give us clear directions. It was a loooong walk but the guy didn't seem to mind at all!

And what are the chances of finding a lost jacket on a metro train in Osaka?

100%! In our case, it was through the kind assistance of a very distinguished-looking Station Captain (I'm not sure if that is what he is called) who went out of his way to figure out which train we left the jacket on, orchestrate its recovery, and even walk us to a distant office to claim it. That's him in the pic above.

It's easy to get lost in Japan, but it's not hard to find a Japanese who is willing to help. I am reminded of the classic quote from the movie 'A Streetcar Named Desire' – the line that lead star Vivien Leigh spoke to an unknown man who helped her get up from a fall:

"I've always depended on the kindness of strangers."

To all of them: Arigato gozaimashita! :-)

(Top) The Bearbrick+Kubrick set based on the TV series 'LOST' was among four boxed sets that I found at Medicom's Project 1/6 Store. The Kubrick with the gun is supposed to be lead star Matthew Fox (pic below), who plays one of the plane crash survivors who were stranded on a mysterious island.

Matthew Fox pic from /


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

dissecting kaws

Who is Kaws?

Kaws is Brian Donnelly, a New York-based graffiti artist and toy designer.

What is his claim to fame?

In the late 90s, Kaws started to alter bus stop and phone booth posters. Armed with a 'master key', he would open the glass casings, steal the posters, paint on them, and put them back. Watch a video docu here.

Soon, New York commuters became familar with his work. Posters for fashion brands such as Guess, Bebe, YSL, Calvin Klein, etc. suddenly had images of skulls with 'x'-ed out eyes painted over the models' faces. Sometimes, this skull head was part of a sperm-like figure that wrapped itself around the models. Click here to see one. (Note: this is the reason why the bus stop is a recurring theme in his toy designs.)

How did he get into toy designing and street fashion?

After winning an artist grant from Pernod Liquor, he quit his Disney job and traveled to Tokyo where he collaborated with street fashion brands such as Undercover, Hectic and A Bathing Ape, as well as toy brands such as Medicom. Soon after, he opened his own clothing store called Original Fake at the fashionable Aoyama district in Tokyo. His retailer neighbors include Prada, Comme De Garcons, D&G, Hysteric Glamour, Issey Miyake, BAPE, etc.

How successful is he as an artist?

Kaws's fame as an artist is not credited to a string of art galleries exhibitions. It is a product of his various collaborations with cult fashion brands and the designer toy world – with the help of the Internet. Recently though, his exposure via art galleries has started to progress, with shows at the Gering & Lopez Gallery in New York, Gallerie Emmnuel Perrotin in Miami, and Honore Fraser Gallery in L.A. (According to the LA Times, Kaw's Honore Fraser show last February 2009 was mobbed!)

Who collects his art?

Rapper/Producer/Songwriter Pharell Williams, BAPE owner Nigo, and Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, among others.

Where can one find his work on the Internet?,, and Gering & Lopez Gallery. But you'll find the most number of pics at this Kibrobot Discussion link.

What are his latest collaborations?

He just designed a pair of shoes for Marc Jacobs's new line. And the artworks for Kanye West's new album.

How important is this Kaws 'Dissected' Bearbrick to collectors?

Well, important enough for people to line up overnight for (below) – some Hong Kong collectors even flew to Taipei! Crazy isn't it? Read about the launch day here. :-)

In my collection, there are three different Kaws Bearbricks – two of which are based on Kaws's 'Original Companion' toy figure.

But this one (top, right) based on the 'Dissected Companion' is my favorite. For the first time, I actually enjoyed looking at entrails – lung, liver, intestine, pancreas, heart, aorta and all. :-D

Info from i-D (The stepping Stone Issue), The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times / Kaws pic from / Launch day pic from