I’ve been a bit slack with my blogs these last couple of weeks, so I’m trying to catch up a bit now. On 23rd May I went to a fantastic event called PechaKucha for Japan, at the Institute of Education.
A “PechaKucha” event, for those of you who don’t know, is an event where each speaker has 20 slides and each slide lasts 20 seconds. The world-famous 20×20 PechaKucha format was invented by Tokyo-based architects Klein Dytham as a way to stop people speaking too much when they gave presentations. Each speaker only has 6 minutes and 40 seconds (in theory – some of the speakers managed to wangle a little extra!), then it’s over. “Pecha Kucha” (ぺちゃくちゃ), by the way, means “chit-chat” in Japanese.
The evening was organised and hosted by Michael Johnson (johnson banks), and raised over £2,000 from ticket sales alone. Through Creatives Unite for Japan, all profits from the evening will be donated to the ASHINAGA organisation to help provide Japanese orphans with educational and emotional support.
The theme for the night was “Japan”, and I knew I would be listening to the words of kindred spirits. I think anyone could have enjoyed the 12 speakers’ presentations, but those who had been to Japan, or had some connection with Japan would have related even more to the accounts and opinions shared throughout the evening.
The night kicked off with Michael Johnson (johnson banks), who spoke about how a poster for Tokyo Disneyland sold him on Japan, and from there he explored both sides of Japan – the Blade Runner side, and the subtler, quieter side. He commented on the amusing English sometimes seen in Japan, including the famous drink Pocari Sweat. Also, referring to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Johnson added that he didn’t want the evening to be about disaster, but instead to be about the future.
The next speaker, Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham (who has been in Japan since the 1980s), was unable to fly over from Tokyo to join the event in person, so he sent a recorded presentation instead. He spoke about the development of PechaKucha since its inception in 2003, and said that there are now almost 100 PechaKucha events every month across the world. On 16th April 2011 there was an event called “Inspire Japan“, which was a 24-hour event that went around the world like a Mexican wave. A free iBook relating to the event is available here (I’ve just downloaded mine!). Dytham said he created the event because, having been inspired by Japan, he wanted to “inspire Japan back”.
Following Dytham, we heard from Andy Altmann (Why Not Associates), who talked about his love for Japanese toys, and how, when he was a kid in the ’60s, “made in Japan” meant “cheap plastic toys”. His love for Japanese toys grew and he became interested in tin toys. Altmann commented that, when you go to Japan, you discover that “the tin toys are real”, referring to Japanese taxis with their kitsch crocheted covers.
Next up, was Chris Arning (Creative Semiotics UK), who actually volunteered for the PechaKucha night (brave man!). Arning was on the JET programme and spoke about his love for Japanese culture, from calligraphy to the language used in Japanese adverts.
Michael Marriott, a designer and curator, could not contain his excitement for the “psychedelic Woolworths” that is Tokyu Hands, and all the many delights it holds. The kitchen tools and knives enthusiast recalled the time he spent eight hours inside the store, and talked about how Japanese tools are far superior to English tools.
David Keech (keechdesign) was one of my favourite speakers, partly because he used to live in Hamamatsu (where I also lived). From childhood he made Tamiya plastic models, and then ended up moving to the home of Tamiya – Shizuoka. There, he worked for Yamaha, designing instruments. Keech ended the first half of the night by playing a little bit of jazz on his Yamaha black trombone. I used to have a student in Hamamatsu who also worked at Yamaha designing instruments, and I couldn’t helping feeling a little nostalgic as I heard Keech speak.
After the break, I was excited to hear from Fred Deakin (co-founder of Airside and member of Lemon Jelly - whose song, “Nice Weather for Ducks” is something I’ve loved since my teenage years). Deakin talked about “kawaii” Japan and all the crazy stuff that you can only find in Japan, such as his “humping dog” USB stick. Yes, really!
The next speaker was Kathryn Findlay (Ushida Findlay), an architect who spent 20 years in Japan. “Japan is bizarre,” she said, “and it makes you laugh, but it also has beautiful things.” Despite the restrictive time limit, Findlay enjoyed a moment of silence during a presentation which revolved around a beautiful sketch book of scenes of Tsukiji fish market given to her by a student.
Manga expert Helen McCarthy was next to speak about her love of Japan. McCarthy’s aim was give the history of manga in 6 minutes and 40 seconds, but she managed to get a little extra time due to technical issues with her PowerPoint. According to McCarthy, manga was invented by an English cartoonist called Charles Wirgman (1832-1891), who was the creator of Japan Punch. McCarthy ended with a haiku: all castles crumble / a heartbeat from disaster / is where we live. Beautiful.
The next speaker was fashion designer Ryohei Kawanishi (who you might remember from my London Fashion Week post earlier this year). Kawanishi, the only Japanese speaker in the event, spoke about his “London-Fukushima Project“. He was about to set off for Japan to embark on a series of fashion workshops at schools in Fukushima with the aim of bringing the students some hope and relief.
Another familiar face, the next speaker was Adam Torel, founder of Third Window Films. I haven’t yet seen a film distributed by Third Window Films that I didn’t like, so I found Torel’s presentation (which was mainly film clips), thoroughly entertaining. The first film distributed by Third Window Films was Kamikaze Girls – and it’s one of my favourites.
The final speaker of the evening was Timon Screech, Professor of the History of Art at SOAS,University of London. Screech is an incredibly good speaker, and his presentation was very engaging and interesting to listen to. He commented that a lot of Japanese culture was closed off, not only to foreigners, but also to people who were not “of the right class”, and that is one of the reasons why woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) depicting the “floating world” started to become popular among the common people. Screech also mentioned one of his specialist subjects - shunga (erotic woodblock prints of “people chatting each other up”… and more!).
Michael Johnson rounded the evening up with a very quick nod to each speaker, and the event ended in enthusiastic applause. I bunked off my Japanese class for this event and, having soaked up everyone’s love for Japan for a whole evening, I don’t regret it one bit!
EDIT: There’s a great summary of the event with images from the presentations on the johnsonbanks website here.