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Here and There :

Here and There introduces art, artists, galleries and museums around Japan that non-Japanese readers and first-time visitors may find of particular interest. The writer claims no art expertise, just a subjective viewpoint acquired over many years' residence in Japan.

Chronicler of Kyoto's Backstreets: Photographer Fusayoshi Kai
Alan Gleason
Fusayoshi Kai Fusayoshi Kai
"After a Rain Shower" (1990)
ツゥ Fusayoshi Kai
"My Name is Gomi" (1979)
ツゥ Fusayoshi Kai

When I lived in Kyoto one summer in the early seventies, the funkiest coffee house in my neighborhood was Honyarado, a gathering place for students, poets and antiwar activists. One of its co-founders, Fusayoshi Kai, was also an amateur photographer. Now, over three decades later, Kai still runs Honyarado and has produced a vast oeuvre of black and white portraits of the people and animals who inhabit his beloved city.

Kai's affection for his subjects (and his neighborhood -- nearly all his locations are in Kyoto's northeast quadrant, within walking distance of Honyarado) is palpable, and this no doubt helps him coax from them a delightfully relaxed, spontaneous candor -- and frequent smiles. Children, the elderly, beautiful women of all ages, and cats are particular favorites of his, and the feeling appears mutual.

This past April Backstreets of Kyoto, a retrospective of nearly 200 photos shot by Kai between 1975 and 2007, appeared at the Konica Minolta Plaza gallery in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Every image is a gem, but some are particular standouts: young lovers under a Kamo River bridge, a Zen monk standing on the riverbank (the Kamo figures frequently in Kai's work), a white kitten peering through a glass door, a gaggle of boys mooning the photographer.

The themes recurring in the exhibit are also reflected in the titles of his numerous published collections: Kids, Streets of Kyoto, On Reading (which features Kyotoites perusing books in every conceivable circumstance and posture), and Beautiful Women in Kyoto (which is not one bit lascivious and testifies to Kai's attraction to radiance and intelligence in the opposite sex).

Though his Tokyo show is over, Kai's work will appear again from June 17 to 22 at Sakaimachi Garow in Kyoto. And of course, it is always on display at Honyarado, where Kai himself is happy to provide running commentary. I recommend a visit to anyone who happens to be in Kyoto; Kai's mastery at framing that lovely city and its inhabitants inspires in the visitor a refreshing new point of view for one's own ramblings about town.

Fusayoshi Kai Fusayoshi Kai
The Backstreets of Kyoto retrospective at Konica Minolta Plaza, Tokyo, April 2008
Photo by Alan Gleason
Some of Kai's "Beautiful Women" on display at Konica Minolta Plaza
Photo by Alan Gleason
Honyarado: Kai Fusayoshi's Website
Sakaimachi Garow
image
Alan Gleason
Alan Gleason is a translator, editor and writer based in Tokyo, where he has lived for 24 years. In addition to writing about the Japanese art scene he has edited and translated works on Japanese theater (from kabuki to the avant-garde) and music (both traditional and contemporary).
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