New Emissary

Japan’s Real ‘Salarymen’

Some of Japan’s hardest working people are types far from what you’d expect.

In Japan, it's kind of a badge of honor for people to say that they are working hard and busy—super-busy. It’s the busier the better. And certainly, while some people’s workdays are hectic and full of activity, it’s more typical for people at work to say that they're busy even when they are not. This serves as evidence to others and themselves that they are important members of society and their organizations. It also serves as a barrier to prevent the assignment of additional work. It's so common for people in Japan to say that they're busy, that when I am in other countries I'm surprised when people proudly tell me, ‘I’m not so busy.’

On the other hand, it seems the image that many people tend to have of artist life is of a free, relaxed and independent lifestyle. But that’s far from the reality. The Japanese artists we work with are actually always working hard and really are busy—with no need to convince themselves or others of their value to any organization. Think of the hardest working doctor, investment banker, consultant or teacher that you know and that's how hard many of these artists work.

This is in part because they must work hard in order to survive financially until their art can support them. At the same time, they also must continue working on their art to flourish creatively and advance their careers. Therefore, they are thinking non-stop of something new to create. Artists are meanwhile also dealing with creative challenges, searching for ways to present their work to the public, creating new work and exhibiting their work.

For example, one of our artists, sculptor Gakushi Yamamoto, uses his brawn working for a moving company, but he’s also at the same time using his brain and his talent preparing his work, creating new sculptures and designing a catalog for his first museum exhibition next year.

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Another artist, Masumi Yoshida, creates images for a division of Sony while also producing her own work and participating in group shows, including a recent show at Minato Mirai, a large-scale urban development in Yokohama. Then there's Mario Tauchi, an accomplished painter and performance artist, who works at a literary agency by day but he's always engaged with his art and seems to be everywhere all the time. He was at our gallery recently with his two kids talking about his work. Then he was at Art Osaka at the beginning of July where he was showing some new works and it seems he’s always working on new projects.

There may be such a thing as an overnight success in the art world, but it’s more likely that any success achieved will come as a result of the intertwined requirements of artistic skill and a lot of hard work. I’m even lately beginning to think that lack of sleep is one of the prices of success.

And next week, I’ll be sharing the story and work of 26-year-old photographer Joji Shimamoto, who's always sending me emails in the middle of the night. I think he never sleeps.