by Edward M. Gómez

In Kyoto, the fleeting view of a maiko (a geisha in training) disappearing into a side street in the seasonal patterns and colors of a shimmering kimono. In Tokyo, the curiously harmonious juxtapositions of a Buddhist temple, an office building, a supermarket, and a McDonald’s outlet all keeping company on the same street in a typical neighborhood.

In Sapporo, in the far north, the throbbing pulse of an important manufacturing center for food, beverages, and machinery — including delicious noodles, ice cream, and beer — whose productivity easily places it in a league with such metropolises as Chicago, Dallas, or even Nagoya, the hub of Japan’s automotive industry in central Honshū, the Japanese archipelago’s main island.

A store in Tokyo’s Ginza district operated by Sanrio, the company that gave the world Hello Kitty and many other cute characters; it sells a range of its wildly popular, character-decorated “guzzu” (“goods”). Photos by Edward M. Gómez for brutjournal

Ancient traditions and ultramodern technology. Conservative social attitudes (which are slowly changing) and cutting-edge experimentation in science, design, and the arts. Japan is a country of dramatic contrasts and unique attributes. Even though it has one of the world’s fastest-aging populations, it remains a center of innovation in computing, transportation technology, architecture, industrial design, retailing, fashion, and art. Foreign students, especially those from other Asian countries, eagerly come to Japan to acquire valuable skills at its universities and specialized schools.


With this issue, brutjournal goes to Japan to take the pulse of a handful of places and people whose creativity and ideas fit our bill — subjects in the hard-to-classify category, that is, the kind that make us pause and consider: Could this have emerged anywhere else besides Japan? What are some Japan-based contemporary artists and taste-makers thinking and creating these days, and how are their ideas flowing into and becoming part of the broader popular culture?

An advertisement on the façade of a convenience store in Tokyo featuring the blue-slime character from the Dragon Quest video-game series.

These were some of our concerns as we set out to explore a range of art venues and events whose programming or subjects had less to do with too-familiar notions of Japan and Japaneseness and more to do with what’s percolating on the fringes of the mainstream in a country that always offers plenty to surprise — and inspire — foreign visitors. Explore the articles in this month’s issue, which will be rolling out as March continues to unfold. Kanpai!

An advertising poster in a Tokyo subway station promotes peaches from Fukushima Prefecture.
Sakura (cherry trees) in bloom near the Meguro River in Tokyo. Thanks to the effects of global warming, the blooming season for these trees, which are one of Japan’s most popular symbols, has been occurring earlier and earlier each year.
A hand-written menu on the wall of a neighborhood izakaya, a small bar that serves a variety of dishes and snacks.
Just a few of the many thousands of maneki neko figurines (beckoning cats) to be found on display at the centuries-old Gōtokuji Buddhist temple in Tokyo.
View inside a used-books shop in a neighborhood in western Tokyo, where treasures wait to be discovered by book lovers with a great sense of adventure.
A rock garden at one of the many Buddhist temples in Kyoto, an ancient city filled with stately Shintō shrines and temples that is also home to the Imperial Palace that was used in an earlier age.
The menu of many a restaurant in Japan can be found in the form of a display of plastic models of the dishes on offer. Here, a presentation at a Chinese-food eatery in Tokyo’s Shibuya district.
Inside the Shinkansen, the high-speed, high-tech train whose long-distance lines connect different regions of Japan in just a few hours. It is the pride of a nationwide public-transportation system that is one of the most developed, thorough, and well-managed in the world.