Aida Makoto: Far-Sighted Visions of Near-Sighted Japan
Aida Makoto
Image Credit: Portrait taken by Matsukage Hiroyuki, courtesy of Mizuma Art Gallery

Aida Makoto: Far-Sighted Visions of Near-Sighted Japan


Since his highly provocative Monument for Nothing exhibition opened at Tokyo’s prestigious Mori Art Museum last November and ran through this March, Japanese artist Aida Makoto has been generating attention and stoking heated debate. He has been called a rebel, a “hellraiser” and controversial more times than he would like to count.

Among his works are images of an overtly phallic mushroom cloud drawn in a cutesy manga-style, a massive wall plastered with tweets sent by real people following the 3/11 triple disaster that devastated Japan’s Tohoku region, a sprawling tent filled with a jumble of dolls, pink plastic toys and other ultra kawaii (“cute”) items, a suicide machine that is rigged to fail no matter how many attempts are made, and an apocalyptic scene rendered in the style of a Japanese traditional landscape painting.

While these works may suggest for some a dark, tormented man, in person Aida is down-to-earth, “bearish more than bullish. Many people are surprised to discover this,” he told The Diplomat. In response to the controversy that his works have sparked, he added, “There are so many motifs in my work that could infuriate people, but they only focus on a handful (mostly sexual). I think this reveals an immature society.”

Controversy aside and kitted out in khaki cargo pants, a brown double breast pocketed shirt and paint-splotched rubber clogs, Aida sat down for an exclusive interview with The Diplomat to share his thoughts on the creative process, his art and the state of Japan—a subject ever present in his work.

Born in Niigata in 1965 to a sociologist father and a mother who was a science teacher, then young Aida dreamed of becoming a manga artist. His creative gumption was evident early on to his teachers, who would often scold him for doodling in class. During junior high school, by which point he was a self-described “leftist”, he became fascinated by WWII and read avidly on the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army overseas.

Around that time, the young Aida took up oil painting. At 16, he was switched on to various subculture luminaries and devoured literature, with Mishima Yukio at the top of his list, followed closely by Western giants like Dostoyevsky. He was also drawn to the new wave of Japanese manga that broke through cracks in the nation’s pop cultural edifice in the 1980s.

“When I became a high school student I wanted to be an author. But when I compared whether I was better at writing or painting, it was clearly the latter. This is why I joined an art class,” Aida said. Driven by his urge to become “a creator,” Aida moved to Tokyo to study oil painting at the Tokyo University of the Arts, graduating in 1989 and going on to earn an MFA from the same school. He was gradually subsumed by the city’s avant garde.


[...] Aida Makoto: Far-Sighted Visions of Near-Sighted Japan Among his works are images of an overtly phallic mushroom cloud drawn in a cutesy manga-style, a massive wall plastered with tweets sent by real people following the 3/11 triple disaster that devastated Japan's Tohoku region, a sprawling tent filled … Read more on the Diplomat [...]

May 31, 2013 at 06:35

I disagree, in my opinion Japan's economic weak growth is related to the fact that our population growth as reached their peak. Politicians and economists like to believe that growth can be limitless, but the fact is that unless we achieve some game changing technological breakthroughs we cannot go beyond our current point with the technology, population and resources we have now. We need to reverse the shrinking of the population and that means immigration. Despite the fact that it is the last thing that people want.

May 31, 2013 at 01:15

Without delving too much into my opinion of his art style, I think Aida's opinion on Japan's future is simultaneously pragmatic and needlessly fatalistic.  The pragmatism springs from recognizing that Japan should accept the point they are at now.  Needlessly pining for the glories of the past invariably lead to frustration.  If you know and accept what you are, you can then determine realistically where you want to and can go.

The fatalism he displays, however, is a bit much.  There is no reason why Japan can't or shouldn't try to improve upon its current condition.  Japan of the 1980's was perhaps a bit excessive in some of its mannerisms, but it didn't invade anyone or engage in the sort of neocolonialism many developed industrial nations do.  In fact, having experienced such a meteroic rise to power and then having gone through the turbulence of the resulting fall so many times within these past few centuries, there is a good chance Japan's next incarnation as a great power would be many times more benign and responsible than in the past (which, by the way, is not to say that Japan of the 1980's was to any large degree malignant or irresponsible on the world stage).

No nation should content itself with remaining where it is.  That's called stagnation.  Japan should aim for the stars… it just has to know and accept that their starting point is a little lower this time. 

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