Joseph Fiedler
March 2011
A secret doorway in Kyoto.

Jipangu is the old Chinese word for Japan.  The English word is derived from it. 
All the attention focused on Japan recently has been a bit odd and unsettling for me. I lived in Tokyo from 1987-1990 and became quite immersed in its chaotic, helter -skelter life-style and culture.  The Tokyo, Kawasaki, Yokohama metro area houses nearly 40 million people. I got there through the good graces of my ex-wife’s academic skills.  She had received both a Fulbright as well as a Japan Foundation grant to do dissertation research in Medical/Cultural Anthropology. During my time there, I traveled as much as possible, both throughout Japan as well as to Hong Kong , Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. In fact, I've also been to Phuket which was just across the bay from the last big tsunami at Band Aceh. Twice.
About 2 months ago, I applied for a grant to return to Japan for an extended period and had been reviewing my photos, notes and ephemera. Ever since last week though, I’ve been obsessing, re-visiting and recollecting.  I’ve seen a lot of grim news and jarring video. It's hard to stop thinking about it. We’re in a late, heavy snow period now so, fortunatley, the zen-like melancholy of the Sierra winter landscape is a good match for somber thoughts.  But still,  it’s hard to stop the memory machine. I’m sharing some treasures here.  The word “transformative” applies. I hope everything works out somehow in the end.  My friends there are all safe for now it seems, most of them live in Tokyo or the nearby areas. But I have a funny feeling: infrastructure destroyed, people displaced, $300 billion in damages, radiation? Kiotsukete Minasan!
Saw this on the train to Sendai.

I made everything with Alkyds on paper then. This is a Blue Fin Tuna, 8x10 inches.

The folio collection as originally published: Jipangu, 1990.

The collection as shown @ The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. My journals are in the plexi case. All or most of these pieces are 8x10 inches on watercolor paper.

A spread from one of the journals dated 12-5-89. I got my faxes and copies at a local shop called ISOMA which was staffed pretty much [as far as I could tell] by high school girls. The white pages on the right are their autographs for me!

Page from sign in sheet from my 1st solo show in Ropongi. I got flowers from designer Kansai Yamamoto and one of the founders of Butoh,Kazuo Ohno came to the opening.

Yagihashi means eight tree bridge. It was a 90 year old department store. While living in Japan, I did the identity graphics and image for it's new building. My friend Kintaro created the Bumble Bee [Yagihashi is in Kumabatchi-which means "bear" bee]. You have got to have this experience at least once in your life.

...or twice! Tambaya was a 300 year old eel restaurant, in fact, the Imperial eel purveyors! I did the new graphics. In both cases, as with Yagihashi, I did the lettering by hand. Somehow, with all that Shintoism around, I felt more organic and natural.SHIZEN.

Something about me in Treasure Island Magazine. TI is Takarajima in Japanese. My friends @ HIT STUDIO did the "layout" for this popular monthly.

All Nippon Airlines and Sports Graphic Number Japan. I was lucky to get regular, full page and spread gigs for many publications. It was a real blossoming, my own private, artistic Hanna Mi [Hanna Mi is the festive viewing of cherry blossoms]. To my great surprise, my work was accepted into the Japanese Illustration Annual for 4 years in a row. That's an awful lot of hurdles to overcome there, if you understand my drift. I painted lots of pictures.

The Sweet Potato Man for All Nippon Airlines. This is one of my all time favorite pieces [my layout too]. Incidentally, I loved the song of the sweet potato man AND his sweet potatoes! The song is a lonely cry in the evening that rings out over the streets like the clack-clack of the fire watch's wood blocks. YAKI IMO!

Running for Sports Graphic Number Japan. Everything was handmade and sent via midnight faxes and DHL.

Me in Japan and with my clients @ HB Gallery for my solo exhibition in 1991.

Announcing my 36th birthday party @ The Chu-Chu club in Aoyama. Swamp Pop provided by my friends The Hipshakers. It was a magical time. That's Jimmy Rodger's body under my head! If you saw a drunk white guy carrying a huge bouquet of white flowers through the streets of Tokyo in the middle of the night, that was me.

Jiro Miyado and the Hipshakers with Gifu prefecture's own Miyuki Horiguchi on back-up vocals singing I LOVE PEANUTS BUTTER in Kichijoji. They did a badass mess of Earl King and Guitar Junior jams. They even played an impromtu good bye parade in my neighborhood with clip on, portable amps and a stand up bass! It was pretty deep.

I knew these guys too. The Robe featured several of the same musicians as The Hipshakers. The piano player was awesome: Chicken Head Sakaue. He sounded like Ray Charles on shore leave. Sakaue died of a heart attack although he was under 40 years old. I once ran into their lead singer Miki in the Gospel Tent @ The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival! I could tell such stories.

This is one you never saw! A signature Kirin from the Beers New Wars. It was limited edition even in Japan.

With my friends the Kitagawa's. I learned a lot about cooking from Itsuhide Kitagawa. He was a master curry chef in Kunitachi. I took "lessons" with him every Thursday night. He told me that I was like summer vacation. Her name is Mieko. It means: beautiful child.

This is Matsu [Pine] Shima [Island], literally 65 miles from the epicenter of the quake and tsunami. Look it up. I had one of the most extravagant meals of my life there, in the home of a family who rented rooms to travelers. If Zeus had wanted to try Japanese food, it would not have been better than this. Straight from the heartland with the spirits-gods-KAMISAMA. For a truly poetic depiction of the animist Kami, see Shohei Imamura's Ballad of Narayama starring Ken Ogata.

Mingei Museum

There is a terrific small show at San Diego's Mingei Museum called MANEKI NEKO, celebrating that auspicious and ubiquitous feline found in merchant's shops all over Japan.  These Neko [cats] are astounding in their ability to express sameness with great variety. Mingei = Japanese Folk Art.  Situated smack in the middle of Balboa Park, accross the way from the Japanese Tea House, next to the bandshell! It is a fitting warm-fuzzy for these unsettling times.KAWAII!!! While you're there, make sure that you hit the Hillcrest Farmer's Market for some fresh picked Zutano Avocados.  Spectacular!
Interior furnishings by George Nakashima.

Balboa Park

Day old Zutanos.


This is me in Matsushima, Japan in 1986.  Matsushima means Pine Island and is a national treasure as well as a beautiful natural symbol for everything Japanese.
Matsushima is just north of Sendai.
The epicenter of the earthquake and resultant tsunami was not far from the shore here.  If you have seen the footage of the wave coming ashore, then you can just imagine what these lovely islands look like now.  I have also been to Sendai and climbed the mountain to Sendai Castle to look out at the sea.  This is all gone now. For me, having had first hand, feet-on-the-ground knowlegdge of this land and these people, this is an especially bad day.  However bad a tsunami can be, though, the end of the planet will be much worse for all of us.  Words can not describe.

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Fiedler is teaching at TutorMill, an online mentoring site for students of illustration!