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Interview: Sebastian Masuda – Art Director and J-Pop Culture Pioneer

Internationally-renowned artist Sebastian Masuda brings global participatory art project to London with NHK WORLD TV for Hyper Japan!

AAD_1008 (2) croppedIn the run up to Hyper Japan, which took place on July 15 – 17 July, internationally-renowned artist and Japanese pop culture expert Sebastian Masuda – who is art director for Kawaii International  – brought his global art project to London with NHK WORLD TV.

Time After Time Capsule is a five-year participatory artwork in which Masuda, invites people to share their love of kawaii. It has been created in collaboration with NHK WORLD TV toshow how kawaii can be a means of personal expression beyond age, gender, religion or nationality, and as a tool to bring people together.

Premiered in 2014 at Art Basel Miami, where more than one thousand people attended the launch, Time After Time Capsule has already visited cities across the US including Washington DC and New York. This summer it arrives in Europe, stopping off in Paris before reaching London.


A specially-created time capsule, in the shape of NHK WORLD TV’s famous mascot Domo, was on display in London at Camden Market’s North Yard on Wednesday 13 July for an interactive UK launch. At this workshop, visitors could crate their own kawaii-inspired messages for the future, make their own kawaii objects and also bring their own items to become part of the sculpture.

After this, Time After Time Capsule was relocate to Hyper Japan where interactive workshops continued. Following this London event, Time After Time Capsule has traveled back to Japan where the sculptures from around the world will be displayed together in Tokyo at the 2020 Olympic Games.

During the Camden Market workshop Diverse Japan sat and chatted with Masuda-san about this very exciting, colourful and fun global project.

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How many miles have you covered?

 I’ve been to seven cities: Miami, New York, Seattle, London, Paris and San Francisco.

What has the reaction been to your work and kawaii as a cultural phenomenon?
When I started the kawaii project 20 years ago, it was very small and only me but now it’s happening everywhere all around the world.

Why do you think it’s exploded all over the globe?
To give a bit of a background, 20 years ago when this project started, I was criticised a lot by the older generation. They thought this is not appropriate and not really art because those cutesy motifs with pastel colours were seen as immature, and liked by people who refused to grow up. At the time, in the late 80s and 90s, mod-style was very much in fashion: black, white, monochrome – it was very much the main stream style. So I was trying to do the opposite, which they didn’t like. I wanted to create something cutesy because it was rebellion against the older generation who were trying to oppose what was right in their minds.


Were there reasons to believe you thought this would take off?
 Yes, there were lots. On the news for example, there was news about corruption, war, terrorism. I thought if growing up means being part of this, I’d like to do something else – let’s create something new from my generation that speaks to the younger generation. At the same time in London and the west coast, rave cultures were becoming popular and when people went they were dressed in a very colourful, youthful way, and that trend was coming into Japan. At the time I was going to raves and I wanted to make that part of Japanese culture as well.

Were you responsible for most of this?
I was part of this movement but back then there were lots of street people in Harajuku who dress quite elaborately who were responsible for that. That became global by photographer Oliviero Toscani and his collaboration with Benetton. He used some of those images he captured in Harajuku as part of Benetton’s promotion and everyone became aware of Harajuku. At the time, social networking was emerging – MySpace being the main one and lots of images were spread from that, which was a very positive thing.

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Was the ‘Kawaii International’ television programme your concept or were you approached to join production?
[Sebastian Masuda is the art director of NHK WORLD TV’s popular fashion and culture show, Kawaii International] I’m not the proprietor of the Kawaii International television show. Kawaii only referred to the fashion before, as it started, but as it became global and spread more internationally, it started to include lots of Japanese cultures like anime and characters, so NHK noticed that trend and wanted to do something with it and make a project.


How did you create this movement?
It wasn’t my intention to start a movement. Eight years ago, lots of people who love fashion got in touch with me and wanted to find out more about my shop, 6%DOKIDOKI.  After that I went to 20 different cities to meet them, it was almost like a promotional tour. During that tour I did a fashion workshop and got in touch with those fashion forerunners. We discussed how to coordinate and hosted a fashion show in Camden in 2010.

I came to Camden because of Cyber Dog, people loved my fashion there. I didn’t run a fashion outlet today* because the popular singer, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, is doing that sort of thing, she’s very popular on YouTube. It’s not my responsibility now to spread the fashion – she’s doing that. She was a big fan of my shop, she came every week to speak to me and when she became a singer that’s how the collaboration started [Sebastian was the art director for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s famous PONPONPON video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzC4hFK5P3g].

*A specially-created time capsule, in the shape of NHK WORLD TV’s famous mascot Domo, was in London at Camden Market’s North Yard on Wednesday 13 July between 14.00 -16.00 for an interactive UK launch. At this workshop, visitors created their own kawaii-inspired messages for the future, made their own kawaii objects and also brought their own items to become part of the art work. Fans also had the opportunity to meet Masuda and learn more about the project, the culture of kawaii and its impact in Japan and around the world.

I moved over to art because fashion is quite small in terms of target audience but anyone can take part in art. In 2014 I made my debut in New York as a contemporary artist. I’m more mature in my message through art than I was with fashion because words are visualised more with art than fashion.

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Are you trying to say same things through art as with fashion or has your message changed?
It’s the same message. Kawaii is to create your own microcosm to create your own universe and because I’ve become more global people associate kawaii with these colours and definitions but the original meaning is not that, it’s to nurture that universe.

In the UK, kawaii has been interpreted to mean cute
But it’s more than that, it’s individualised. In an art gallery in New York, I created a small room there to fill it with small objects. On the opening day there were over 1,000 people queuing and normally dressed – they were regular people coming to appreciate art.

Part of the reason is people like Katy Perry and Nicki Manaj have said they’ve been influenced by Japanese culture. I’m seen at the roots of kawaii culture. I created something small in New York but lots of people came – something so small that could create such waves was amazing. If each individual world could gather together it’s going to become such a powerful thing – that’s how the TIME AFTER TIME CAPSULE came together. If I could capture everyone’s little universes from all over the world, it creates something powerful.

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Like a whole?
Yes. This project has two goals
1 – get all sculptors back and put all of them into a tower and exhibit them in Harajuku
2 – the ultimate goal in 20 years time is to send back capsules to each country and hold opening ceremonies in each country. The reason I said 20 years is I started movement 20 years ago and I was very small. It was my universe but now I’ve been invited all over the world. The world has changed for me and the world has changed and if I hold this workshop, maybe someone involved could be that person who changes the world. They could be the changing force. I’m focussing on the next generation.

What other cities do you plan to see?
I’ve been asked to go to lots of difference countries, realistically maybe two countries a year so ten countries in the next five years.


AAD_1120Where does kawaii sit now within Japanese culture?
As it became global, older generations and business have started to intervene and this has changed what kawaii means. Where it used to be more philosophical it’s now more commercial. But I’m not worried about that because anyone who comes in to the movement later just looking to make money – they won’t know what to do with it or where to go from it. The original community would hold power.

Do you feel ownership over kawaii?
Not really, it became big because everyone could copy it. There are instances when I think ‘that’s such sad kawaii’, but everyone has the right to mix it with what they want to. In the current trends, cloning promotions are a good thing because it’s good advertising.

You once said, ‘Always hold a revolution in your own heart’ what did you mean by that?
It’s my mantra – if you live every day just as every day without doing anything new, then people become lazy. But if you actively make a slight change every day, and that’s a very hard thing to do, then the world changes. Those small changes could be from wearing different colours, changing your hair colour, it changes how you feel.

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NHK WORLD TV’s monthly show kawaii fashion and culture show, Kawaii International is available  http://www.nhk.or.jp/kawaii-i

Photography by SLPeet Photography

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