Life throws its fair share of awkward moments. But there are few less awkward than walking into a bathroom that you’ve just paid one hundred Yen to use, to see three naked Japanese men already there, soaking in the tub.
An experience, Richard James Stuart confides, almost tempted him to flee Tokyo as fast as his gawky, peperami sausage legs would carry him.
That’s the thing with Japan- the land of the rising sun has ways and means that we primordial Western folk know not of. Communal showering and singing toilets are an everyday occurrence. Yet with just three days in this hyperactive hubbub, it becomes impossible to decipher what was once so explicitly odd about it all. It’s a bubble world- A hypnotising, claustrophobic, bubble world.
With a population reaching thirteen million, the congested metropolis is not a place for the faint hearted. A snooze you loose kind of city, where the rat race is faster than fast and public displays of emotion are a tad risqué. Tokyo is a city of blatant paradoxes. “It’s like stepping into a film set,” explains Richard. “The cinematography is amazing, way ahead of its time. But the plot is a bit too skewed and obscure. It’s incredible to look at, but to try and understand it all as a whole is a different ball game. Everything is going on at once…and that simple narrative explaining the plot is completely missing.”
Reading Richard’s CV will leave you somewhat flummoxed and a little bit out of breath. He models. He skates. He speaks French. He plays guitar. He paints. He draws. He makes comics. And when he’s not doing all that, he’s scraping the pennies together working on a ship in Malta. Did we forget to mention he’s only just twenty?
Richard’s impulsive decision to embark upon a Japanese adventure was stirred by an affinity for Dragon Ball Z and an unhealthy obsession with the 1980’s game show, Takeshi’s castle. “I’d wanted to visit Japan for as long as I could remember. It’s one of those places that anyone who has a creative bone in their body must see.”
While his initial impressions of the city were somewhat tainted by the aforementioned incident, the skinny, comic book expert was quick to quash any remaining culture shock. “Come on, if you’ve experienced the communal bath tubs, nothing else really comes as that much of a shock,” he says wryly. “Even if it is stumbling into a store selling pornographic comics or being followed by a flock of Matrix doppelgangers…”
Gaining the nickname Artistic Mecca, Tokyo’s generation of new wave artists- ranging from the eerie photographs of Lieko Shiga to the curious sculptures by Kohei Nawa, helped make Richard’s time in Japan “rehabilitation for the imagination.” He says, “I grew up with manga, and I’ve always been fascinated by the Dragon Ball Z and Hayao Miyazaki’s animations. But I found myself in this artistic rut. I needed to get out of my comfort zone.”
Richard’s period of rehabilitation has resulted in, what he classes, his proudest work to date. An unplanned visit to Tokyo’s “Purple Mountain,” Tsukuba, which towers at a colossal 8,277 ft, making it three times the height of the UK’s Snowdon, gave him a new perspective on Japan’s chaotic culture. “It all comes down to escapism. No more, no less. We all want to get out of this mundane existence. Tokyo is a prime example of that. It’s a futuristic world, with so many crazy undertones. But in the world of illustration nothing is restricted, and I felt a real sense of that creative freedom on the mountain.”
The epiphany on the mountain, original ninth century Japanese Heian art and some contemporary anime were the driving forces behind his latest project- an untitled illustration which stands at almost seven ft tall. It is the portrayal of a zombie onslaught in a weirdly fantastical city. A city made up of neon lights, conspicuous buildings and twelve karaoke bars. Sounding all a bit familiar?
Richard’s untitled image received wide spread recognition. He was rewarded with a double page feature in the opening issue of alternative illustration magazine, The Body and earned a place on the wall of Culture 24’s Millais Art gallery.
“This project really celebrates the grotesque. It’s an amalgamation of my distorted imagination and Japan’s fixation with escapism and fantasy.” And as for all the zombies? “That’s easy. They’re the only things that scare me. That and a bath tub of naked men.”
A psychedelic encounter with the future-that’s what Japan is. And a guaranteed encounter with many of life’s awkward moments. Perhaps a few zombies too.
Tokyo is never a done it, did it kind of city. Ask Richard. He’s just booked his flight for another Japanese adventure.