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Exhibit “Wajin” Brings Eye Catching Pieces

Exhibit “Wajin: Made in Japan” has been held from October 5 to 27 at the Japan Information Center, the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago. The four exhibitors are painter Masao Kumada; paper-cutout artist Hyakkimaru; videographer Tamii Watanabe, and Chicago’s photographer Mayumi Lake who made the unique exhibit possible in Chicago.

Once you step into the exhibit room, you would be overwhelmed by huge samurai figures created by Hakkimaru, whose works are called “kiri-e” in Japanese.
When you continue to walk inside the room, you would be welcomed by warm human figures painted by Kumada.
A rain shower comes into your eyes when you look at the deeper place of the room where Watanabe’s video is projected, and you would feel as if you are transported to a century ago.
When you move your eyes to the right side, your images of the Japanese woman emerge from dark photo frames created by Mayumi Lake.

A reception of the exhibit was held on October 17 at the Japan Information Center, and Hyakkimaru demonstrated his paper cutting art. It was a good opportunity to talk with the artists.
In his opening remarks, Masao Kumada said that the four artists, who were in different field of arts, brought unique arts made in Japan. He wished that the audience enjoy arts of wajin (Japanese people).
Kumada also expressed his gratitude to Mayumi Lake and the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago to make it possible to hold the exhibition.
Although the exhibit ends on the 27th, the four artists’ significant stories are worth sharing with the readers.

Painter Masao Kumada

Kumada has worked to create book cover designs and book illustrations for numerous novel authors for over 40 years. He has also made illustrations for many magazines.

As a painting lover child, he dreamed of becoming a painter. After working in a design firm and a commercial film maker, he became an independent illustrator. He said that a key to success was selling his talents to mainstream publishing companies.
Soon after he became an independent, he signed contracts with well-known publishers such as Asahi, weekly Shincho and NHK drama.

Once a publishing company, an author, and Kumda enter into an agreement, he makes three rough sketches of his image about the author’s story, and the three sides discuss about the best choice. Kumada said, “I have my favorite design among the three, but it might not be the best choice when the other two people see it in an objective way. Sometimes, another design would be the right choice. The most important thing is working together. The best design will be reached by the three-side consensus.” Keeping that factor in mind, Kumada has created numerous book covers and illustrations with his unique ideas.

One part of his uniqueness is emotional face expressions in his paintings. They are full of human touches. You would know what a character is thinking about without any words.
“Technically, it’s easy to draw a facial caricature, but I’ll make one step further. I always pay attention to one’s unique character and think about what would be in his or her mind and create a human figure. That is my way of life,” Kumada said. His website is

Paper-cutout Artist Hyakkimaru

Hyakkimaru’s artworks have been used for more than 800 novel book covers, and the number goes up to 10,000 when his paper-cutting illustrations include use for magazines and newspapers.
In his childhood, he was top baseball pitcher in his town, so he wasn’t interested in arts although he was very good at drawings.
Two years after he graduated from Toyo University’s Department of Architecture, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Hakkimaru’s career-search journey started to find a satisfying life. He became a model manager and visited publishing companies to promote models.
When he was 27 years old, he decided to become a ceramic artist; however, other potters in his age had already become professionals, so he had to find other careers with his own talent. He was very good at woodblock prints, so he made a thin slice of cray and cut it to make an art. This idea led him to create paper cutting arts.

Hyakkimaru quickly improved his paper cutting skills and made his artistic debut when he was 29. He used to visit publishing companies, and that experience helped to promote his arts.
His creations are unique in human motions and facial expressions in the black and white art. “After nearly 40 years of my art career, I think about my role in society and my future. With my talent, I want to pursue further possibility in the paper cutting art. My career is not only making book covers and illustrations, but also other activities such as 3D cutting arts, huge cutting arts, and cutting performances,” Hyakkimaru talked about his plans.

Ironically, publishing companies in Japan tend to have a culture to not accept such a self-oriented artist. Hyakkimaru said, “I believe that humans have to have a desire for improvement, but as long as you work with publishing companies, you cannot get out from a dilemma.” He plans to go New York where his friend will welcome him. He wants to challenge to sell his works as wall decorations in restaurants, for example. “Japanese people love to see arts and go to galleries, but they don’t buy works because they want to enrich their spirits and intelligence by watching arts. But for artists, we have to make business with audiences,” Hyakkimaru said. His website is

Videographer Tamii Watanabe

Videographer Watanabe screened her work “Distant Memories” which has been inherited for more than 600 years to her family.
Watanabe’s mother was a descendant of Nagatoshi Nawa, one of the three significant samurai figures in the Northern and Southern dynasty era (1336-1392). Nawa helped the emperor Godaigo’s escape from his enemy, and Godaigo bestowed him with a family crest with a poet. After Nawa’s death, his sons dispersed somewhere in Japan, and one of them settled in the deep mountain village of Fujisawa, Nagano Prefecture.
In Fujisawa, Watanabe’s mother was born in an old house Echigoya, which was built in the early Meiji era (1868-1912). It was a honjin, an inn officially designated as a lodging for a feudal lord, and operated by her mother’s family for long time.
Watanabe visited the old house for the first time in 50 years guided by her old childhood memories. She shot the mountainous path to the house, a hallway with fusuma slide doors, a parlor with a circular window, and old stones in the garden being hit by rain, which made a contrast to the old days’ prosperity. She also shot mossy graves in a hill. The house has been cared for by her cousin, and nobody has lived there for 30 years.

Watanabe and her husband planned to found a film company together, but her husband suddenly passed away in his 50s. She lost her mind, but she retrieved her energy to pursue her late husband’s will. She spent three to six months for five consecutive years in New York and studied videography and photography. She had her own exhibit in Setagaya museum in 2003 and has continued to work for her arts. Her website is

Photographer Mayumi Lake

Mayumi Lake is on the faculty of the Art Institute of Chicago and also teaches classes at the Department of Photography. You may know her name because of a Michael Jackson related incident.
After the death of Michael Jackson, her photography collection was found in his bedroom, and it had fingerprints of the 13-year-old boy. The San Diego authority confiscated the book as an evidence of the child abuse by Jackson.
The news prompted people to visit her website, and the hit numbers were off-scale high. Knowing nothing about it, Lake was very surprised, but it was a lucky incident for her because her first photo exhibition was about to open in New York.
Lake said that Jackson bought her book because he had understood the artistry of her book although he didn’t buy her photo works. After the incident, all her works were sold out.
Days later, the authorities withdrew her book from the evidence because they misunderstood a photo of an armpit with something else.

In the Wajin exhibit, she displayed three panels of photography, which showed the stereotype of Japanese women through the eyes of Western people. One was high-school girls in sailor suits, and the second one was a parody of a typical photo of a Hiroshima a-bomb victim, whose kimono-dress patterns burned on her skin. The third photo described a woman and child in kimono with downcast eyes. They were submissive and snuggled with each other as if they were enduring an unpleasant fate.

Another Lake’s theme was mind preparations for a disaster. She purposely created many imaginary scenes of devastation, similar to the end of an unhappy movie. She said that she wondered about the meaning of losing a home after the great earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku areas in Japan. Her uneasy feeling had lasted for years, and she worked for preparations to withstand disaster shocks.
Her website is

An overwhelming paper-cutout art by Hyakkimaru at the Ezhibit "Wajin:
Made in Japan"

Painter Masao Kumada and some of his artwarks exhibited in Wajin:
Made in Japan

Hyakkimaru demonstrates making his paper-cutting art.

Tamii Watanabe, Videographer in Tokyo

Echigoya, which was shot in her videography
"Distant Memories"

Watanabe's family crest, which has been inherited
in her family for about 600 years.

Mayumi Lake, Photographer