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Focus features two in-depth reviews each month of fine art, architecture and design exhibitions and events at art museums, galleries and alternative spaces around Japan. The contributors are non-Japanese residents of Japan.

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image image Kenkichi Yoshida: A Designer and Scholar Connecting Art and Life
James Lambiasi
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Twelve-Tsubo House: Kenkichi Yoshida leaning in the bay window of his study with his daughter standing in the living room entry (summer 1949). Photo provided by Kanoko Yoshida

Considering the exhibition's title, it is not surprising that the central exhibit here is a 1/20-scale model nostalgically representing the tiny red abode of multitalented stage artist Kenkichi Yoshida (1897-1982). Delightful surprises, however, continue through Kenkichi Yoshida and His Tiny 12-Tsubo House: Secrets of Dramatic Space Design as one gains understanding of the huge breadth of Yoshida's interests in stage design, art, architecture, and modern-day life in Japan both before and after World War II. Like a stage set unfolding the story of Yoshida's life, this collection of approximately 140 models, photographs, sketches, hand-painted stage drawings, and articles from newspapers and magazines shows that his inquisitive nature had no boundaries, and reveals his passionate search for connectivity between artistic expression and modern life.

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Twelve-Tsubo House, scale 1/20 model reflecting the plan in 1949. Model provided by Tamae Shiozawa; created by Studio Yuzin. Photo by Yasuo Saji

Despite the small area of the 12-tsubo (39.7-square-meter) house, the 1/20-scale model on display shows in colorful detail Yoshida's ability as a set designer to improvise in confined conditions while providing a flexible living place for himself and his wife and daughter. With a framed opening and stage curtain, a diagonal vista from the central hall literally creates his stage for living. Also exhibited is their actual dining table, complete with detachable legs to accommodate sitting on the floor or on chairs.

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Sketch by Kenkichi Yoshida from "Family Images of Working People," drawn for Shinsei magazine, February 1948 issue. Provided by Kanoko Yoshida


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"New Ways of Living in Pre-fabricated Housing," Woman and Life magazine, April 1949 issue. Photo provided by Kanoko Yoshida

While the model of the tiny red house demonstrates a culmination of how Yoshida's artistic interests touched his private life, the exhibition leads us like a backstage tour though his career as an artist, researcher, and writer.

Postwar Tokyo was a razed landscape of terrible hardships, one of which was finding housing out of available means and materials. Yoshida took great interest in the way in which this hardship also fostered creativity, as if a new field for artistic expression had been born. Along with Waseda University architecture professor Wajiro Kon, he founded the Barrack Decoration Company to impart cheer to the stark atmosphere of the ruined city through the embellishment of barracks and shacks. On exhibit are photo panels showing examples of the construction design of various barrack communities.

Not only did Yoshida document constructed artifices, but his passion for understanding humanity―especially in the dramatic context of rapidly developing Tokyo―led him to document human behavior as well. He and Wajiro Kon together invented the academic field of "modernology," in which all things to do with everyday life were documented under urban conditions in order to record humanity's ability to cope with rapid industrialization. One exhibit displays a sketch entitled "Family Images of Working People," an illustration for the lifestyle magazine Shinsei showing various views of an apartment interior for a family of five.

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Stage-set model of Enemy of Society, performed at Tsukiji Little Theatre in October 1925. Model provided by Kanoko Yoshida; photo by Yasuo Saji


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Interior photo of Bar Locomotive. Photo provided by Kanoko Yoshida

Yoshida's career as a set designer is documented through several set models and hand paintings. As a founding member of the Tsukiji Little Theatre, he produced highly skilled sets promoting modern theater. Featured is one stage model for Enemy of Society, a play performed in the theatre in October 1925. The model demonstrates an economy of means in which wood posts costing 3 yen each form the overall structural apparatus, allowing for lighter materials such as cloth to be changed between scenes. Also revealing Yoshida's rich imagination are several examples of his hand-painted drawings. Yoshida's interior design works, including documentation of his 1955 design of the Locomotive bar in Ginza, testify that his ability to address a space in its totality spans all levels of design, even to the matchbox covers and bar coasters.

Kenkichi Yoshida was a renaissance man of his time. His inexhaustible drive to research and understand modern life and its manifestations in built form, as well as his keen ability to comment on this through his theater and design sets, truly classify him as an artist with no boundaries. Although this exhibition is basically explained in Japanese, the exhibits themselves eloquently convey the visual story of Yoshida's achievements as an artist and scholar.


All photos are shown by permission of LIXIL Gallery.


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Kenkichi Yoshida and His Tiny 12-Tsubo House: Secrets of Dramatic Space Design
7 March - 25 May 2019
LIXIL Gallery
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James Lambiasi
Following completion of his Master's Degree in Architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1995, James Lambiasi has been a practicing architect and educator in Tokyo for over 20 years. He is the principal of his own firm James Lambiasi Architect, has taught as a visiting lecturer at several Tokyo universities, and has lectured extensively on his work. James served as president of the AIA Japan Chapter in 2008 and is currently the director of the AIA Japan lecture series that serves the English-speaking architectural community in Tokyo. He blogs about architecture at tokyo-architect.com.
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