KYUSHU UNIVERSITY 先生の森KYUSHU UNIVERSITY 先生の森

Art forges links between people. I want to create a happier world. Art forges links between people. I want to create a happier world. Associate Professor, Art Department of Content and Creative Design Faculty of Design Mikako Tomotari

Associate Professor, Art Department of Content and Creative Design Faculty of Design

Mikako Tomotari

Dr. Tomotari’s ancestors were yamabushi (mountain-ascetic shamans) on Mount Hiko, one of Japan’s three great mountains where followers of Shugendo(*2) — a mystical religion combining elements of ancient mountain worship, Shinto, esoteric Buddhism, and Shamanism, among others — engaged in ascetic practices. Her family’s name was originally written with three characters, but the final character, which means “temple,” was dropped during the Meiji Restoration in the latter half of the 19th century, when a violent anti-Buddhist movement (called “haibutsu kishaku” — “abolish Buddhism and destroy the Buddha”) swept the country. In addition to creating sculptures inspired by her feelings of reverence toward nature, Dr. Tomotari travels the length and breadth of Japan in the course of her artistic activities, which approach art from a variety of angles, including setting up art projects and conducting research into cultural properties. She is also the mother of two children.

Dr. Tomotari's ancestors were yamabushi (mountain-ascetic shamans) on Mount Hiko, one of Japan's three great mountains where followers of Shugendo(*2) — a mystical religion combining elements of ancient mountain worship, Shinto, esoteric Buddhism, and Shamanism, among others — engaged in ascetic practices. Her family's name was originally written with three characters, but the final character, which means "temple," was dropped during the Meiji Restoration in the latter half of the 19th century, when a violent anti-Buddhist movement (called "haibutsu kishaku" — "abolish Buddhism and destroy the Buddha") swept the country. In addition to creating sculptures inspired by her feelings of reverence toward nature, Dr. Tomotari travels the length and breadth of Japan in the course of her artistic activities, which approach art from a variety of angles, including setting up art projects and conducting research into cultural properties. She is also the mother of two children.

Profile Details

Dr. Tomotari was born in Fukuoka Prefecture. Having enjoyed drawing pictures of animals from a young age, she went to stay on a horse farm in Hokkaido while she was a university student, spending her days absorbed in sketching. It was there that she first encountered Ainu culture, which influenced her subsequent activities. Doctor Tomotari went to Costa Rica in Central America in 1990 to work as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer for two years. As she worked in the field of art, she witnessed a variety of social issues at close quarters: discrimination against indigenous people and problems associated with colonies. These served as catalysts for her decision to study art earnestly. In 1995, she was awarded a Doctorate in Fine Art from the Graduate School of Art and Design at the University of Tsukuba. Dr. Tomotari joined the Kyushu Institute of Design as a research assistant in 1995 and was appointed to her current post in 2007. Besides producing artworks, Dr. Tomotari has launched various projects, including the post-earthquake support initiatives Fukuoka Elf Tree and the Itakura Little House Project. She also serves as a director of numerous organizations. As a descendant of a practitioner of Shugendo on Mount Hiko, she was involved in the Mount Hiko Cultural Property Restoration Project, which won a great deal of praise, and contributed substantially to the designation of Mount Hiko as a National Historic Site in 2017. Dr. Tomotari has exhibited her works in the annual Kokuten national art exhibition since 1994, as a member of the Sculpture Division of the Artists' Association.

What is your research about?What is your research about?

Dr. Tomotari always has a smile on her face. Combining multiple roles of sculptor, researcher, and mother of two, you realize how energetic she is!

The images of Mount Hiko's three avatars were originally made in the Kamakura period (1185–1333). They have been designated as an Important Cultural Property by the government, so Dr. Tomotari could not make a mold from them directly. Instead, she used a 3D scanner to measure them from multiple angles and analyzed their shape. She says that it was a very delicate process that required a lot of patience.

Sculptures are dotted around Dr. Tomotari's office. A particular favorite of hers is "Time of the Cat," which she donated to Fukuoka Women's University Art Museum and which visitors can actually touch to feel its shape.

Dr. Tomotari always has a smile on her face. Combining multiple roles of sculptor, researcher, and mother of two, you realize how energetic she is!

My specialization is research into sculptures using wood and iron; alongside the production of artworks, my work involves examining art itself. I am also interested in the creation of new social structures through the medium of art, so I also conduct research into various cultural properties and art projects aimed at contributing to society.

The images of Mount Hiko's three avatars were originally made in the Kamakura period (1185–1333). They have been designated as an Important Cultural Property by the government, so Dr. Tomotari could not make a mold from them directly. Instead, she used a 3D scanner to measure them from multiple angles and analyzed their shape. She says that it was a very delicate process that required a lot of patience.

When I create artworks, I consciously seek to give something back to society with that work. The fascination of sculpture lies in creating its depth — something that you cannot see, but can understand if you touch it, which you have to create by making decisions based on its mass. If you close your eyes and touch it, you will definitely find it there and it will respond to you. In brief, my decision to choose sculpture was an act of resistance against forgetting. Sculptures can be used to exhibit and visually aids in proving an object's existence — "this used to be here" — or an intangible impression, such as a memory or perception. I want everyone to value the opportunity to look at and touch my works as a chance for each person to stop and have a dialogue with themselves about what they feel, or think, or recall....

Sculptures are dotted around Dr. Tomotari's office. A particular favorite of hers is "Time of the Cat," which she donated to Fukuoka Women's University Art Museum and which visitors can actually touch to feel its shape.

I created a work for the Nibutani Project, which was launched in the wake of the Hokkaido Nibutani Dam lawsuit (*1). As I talked face-to-face with Ainu people, I was overwhelmed by Ainu history and developed a powerful desire to create a work of art that would bring forth the memories of that land and the history of the Ainu people. I spent about a year carving the piece of black marble that became the 1.6-meter-high "Recollection — Nibutani Dam." The place where Ainu once lived has been drowned by the waters of the dam, but that figure continues to bear witness to the existence of the Ainu.

I also undertake art research focused on Shugendo. In 2016, I restored the images of Mount Hiko's three avatars, which were damaged during the wave of anti-Buddhist sentiment that swept the country in the Meiji period. This was the catalyst for reviving the sacred fire ritual of the yamabushi called goma-daki, which had not been practiced since the Meiji period. In this ritual, the images of Mount Hiko's three avatars as they would have looked in the days when Shugendo was thriving were enshrined on the altar as objects of worship containing the spirit of the deities, enabling the ritual to be performed in the same way that Shugendo practitioners had done from the Kamakura period right through to the Meiji period. The restoration of the lost core of this community and its culture gave me a very real sense that such restoration work can provide support with the aid of modern technology.

In the Faculty of Design, I am involved in various art projects as a core member of the Social Art Lab, which focuses on art practice that engages with social issues and creates new relationships between people and environments. Society is formed by the flow of people's impressions and perceptions, as is art. It is not that something is contained within the artwork itself; rather, a work of art evokes impressions and is a place where feelings and senses intersect. This interaction of feelings/senses changes perceptions both within a community and outside it, providing an opportunity to revitalize that community. Based on this approach, I am also devoting my energies to creating centers for tourism that tap into the local community and culture. I believe that one role of my research is to explore future directions that will enable people to live happier lives in the future, through the accumulated effects of artistic activities.

(*1) The Shugendo concept of keeping Shinto and Buddhist deities separate while learning about each other.
(*2)A lawsuit brought over the construction of the Nibutani Dam in Hokkaido, which saw the first official discussion of the indigenous nature of the Ainu people.

The key to this research course is here!!The key to this research course is here!!

Art can get to people’s very core and inspire loveArt can get to people's very core and inspire love

Asking "What is art?" is very similar to asking "What is a human?" The accumulation of people's answers is art — it's the study of continual questioning. By thinking about what we feel and giving shape to it, we can affirm our own existence; when others view our work, we can affirm each other's existence. Arousing the imagination enables you to influence people's consciousness.

Art is also a forum for communication. When war between Israel and Iran seemed imminent, an Israeli graphic designer created a poster with the message, "Iranians...we [heart] you." and shared it on social media, which led to Iranians responding in kind. That poster campaign spread across the globe. This is the essence of "communication art" and it's something that can only be achieved through art.

Many people say that you can't make money from art, but art is actually a field of study that contains the things that make us human: it's a branch of learning that inspires love. Even art that lacks skill can speak to us; an artwork doesn't function as an artwork unless it's centered on deep emotion or a concept. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I feel a kind of magical power in the joy and fascination of creating new worlds through art's potential to get to people's very core.

Reference: "Israel and Iran: A love story?"

DAILY SCHEDULEDAILY SCHEDULE


Time-out Session

When Dr. Tomotari goes back to her hometown on Mount Hiko, the whole Tomotari family often go walking in the mountains. Apparently, her parents’ wild-spirited, but dependable Hokkaido dog Terry always accompanies them. The whole family loves hot springs, so their walk in the mountains is often followed by a drive to go and soak in a hot spring.... That really is a great way to spend a day off!When Dr. Tomotari goes back to her hometown on Mount Hiko, the whole Tomotari family often go walking in the mountains. Apparently, her parents' wild-spirited, but dependable Hokkaido dog Terry always accompanies them. The whole family loves hot springs, so their walk in the mountains is often followed by a drive to go and soak in a hot spring.... That really is a great way to spend a day off!

The Teacher's Must-have Items!The Teacher's Must-have Items!

Sketches

One of the essentials when creating an artwork. Whether or not one can capture the shape of what one sees greatly influences the creation of three-dimensional sculptural works. Dr. Tomotari is currently working on a statue of a rabbit that appears in the Jataka Tales, a collection of fables about the Buddha. She also visits rabbit cafés and owl cafés to sketch the creatures there.

Chisels

Dr. Tomotari uses as many as 10 different types of chisel to breathe life into her sculptures. She has been using many of them for more than 20 years, since her student years, and some are now about half their original length, from being repeatedly sharpened over the years. "My chisels are like a part of me, something that I don't really want to show to others, kind of like underwear," laughs Dr. Tomotari.

Chainsaw

Dr. Tomotari uses this to obtain the wood that she sculpts. It is a medium-sized chainsaw, with a 40-cm blade, which is the easiest to handle. Dr. Tomotari holds a variety of qualifications: as well as being a certified Operations Chief of Work Involving Woodworking Machines, she has qualifications in crane driving, slinging work, and gas welding.

Message to the StudentsMessage to the Students

Spread the wings of your imagination. Become someone who can see the invisible.

Research involves finding the places where you can take flight; you need the courage to take on the challenge of something entirely new. In my case, I decided to become a sculptor the moment I used a chainsaw to cut some wood during a wood carving class. I had a very visceral sense that "This is it!" This is not a moment that you can experience multiple times, no matter how you might try deliberately to seek it out. If you cannot predict when that moment will be, all you can do is open up the opportunities through a diverse array of experiences and encounters. I want you to make use of the teachers, environments, and chances that you will encounter during your time as a student and act every day with a belief in serendipity. Think about what you have physically experienced and felt. Observe nature and reality, and ruminate on them. Within the imagination engendered and ripened in the course of observing things carefully is a power that enables you to see things that are invisible. It is that which will become the tremendous power to give birth to a new society.

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