The Impact of Mexico – Mexican Experiences Shake Japan Radically


- 2021.09.26.Sun.

Chemical reactions between Japanese artists and Mexico,
where the art of revolution is engraved, and life and death, ancient and modern,
real and surreal are mixed

This year, 500 years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico and 200 years after it achieved independence, the Ichihara Lakeside Museum is pleased to present The Impact of Mexico—Mexican Experiences Shake Japan Radically.

Chiba Prefecture, where our museum is located, is known as the place where exchanges between Japan and Mexico began. In 1609, the sailing ship San Francisco, which had departed from the Philippines for Mexico, was wrecked off Onjuku, on the Pacific coast of Chiba, and more than 300 people were rescued by local residents. The lord of Otaki Castle, Tadatomo Honda, carefully protected them, and Ieyasu Tokugawa then helped them return to Mexico safely.

Exploring the history of exchanges between Japan and Mexico, this exhibition focuses on artists who were or have been shocked by Mexico—its history, climate, people, and art—and addressed it in their own work. It is an attempt to reveal what attracts them to Mexico and to illuminate their experiences of Mexico from various perspectives.

The featured artists include Tamiji Kitagawa, who moved to Mexico immediately after the revolution, was moved by the Mural Movement for the art of the people, and lived as a rebellious painter after returning to Japan; Kojin Toneyama and On Kawara, who were shocked by the Great Mexican Art Exhibition at the Tokyo National Museum in 1955 and sought for new mode of expression after staying in Mexico; Taro Okamoto, who discovered “Mexico” in himself and painted a huge mural, Myth of Tomorrow; Yukio Fukazawa, a leading figure in postwar copperplate prints, who changed his style after visiting Mexico, where he was invited to teach printmaking; Shigeru Mizuki, who had a huge collection of Mexican masks and saw the world where the Mexican people live with ghosts; Koji Suzuki, a picture book artist who is fascinated by the festival of "Day of the Dead" and continues to draw magical pictures with intense colors; Kaori Oda, who filmed a mysterious journey around the Mayan cave fountain, which is believed to connect this world with the nether world, in the movie Cenote.

Today, the world is being torn apart by a desire for exclusivity and for solidarity, while the COVID-19 pandemic makes us question how life and death should be and the foundations of our civilization itself. In these unsettling times, the "Mexico" that these artists resonate with will give us many suggestions.

Exhibited Artists:
Tamiji Kitagawa, Taro Okamoto, Kojin Toneyama, Yukio Fukazawa, On Kawara, Shiberu Mizuki, Koji Suzuki, Kaori Oda

Yuichiro Tamura


Tamiji Kitagawa, Mexico's Three Children (1937)

1) Explore the Influences of the Mexican Renaissance on Japanese artists

The Mexican Renaissance is a revolutionary art movement that astonished the world in the 1920s and 1930s. The exhibition features Tamiji Kitagawa, who spent 15 years in its midst and acted as the principal of the Open Air Painting School at Tasco; Kojin Toneyama, who was fascinated by the ruins of Maya and worked with the theme Mexico throughout his life, leaving much public art; Taro Okamoto, who sympathized with the Mexican people, history, and life, painted a huge mural, Myth of Tomorrow, and eventually produced the Tower of the Sun. We will explore the influences of the Mexican Renaissance from various perspectives such as the mural movement, the open air painting school, and the print movement.

Left: Taro Okamoto Myth of Tomorrow (1968). A 1/3 scale painting of the final version of the mural, which is currently installed at Shibuya station. Also on display are photographs of Mexican people, life, and ancient ruins taken by Okamoto. Right: Kojin Toneyama, Palace of the Sun (1963). The frottage works by Toneyama, who was fascinated by the Mayan ruins, are also on show in this exhibition.

The postcards from Mexico addressed to Kasper König launched the I Got Up series. This exhibition also presents Kawara’s work from his Japanese period and a leaflet for sales of his work organized by Shuzo Takiguchi and other friends to support his travel to Mexico.

2) Consider the Unknown: On Kawara’s Mexican Period

On Kawara is known worldwide as a leading figure in conceptual art. Little is known about his Mexican period (1959-1962). What was the impact of his Mexican experience on the birth of Date Painting with the theme of life and death? All 151 postcards sent by On Kawara in Mexico to the world-famous curator Kasper König (and in his collection) are exhibited for the first time in Japan.

12 youkai illustrations as well as 30 masks and folk craft objects from Mizuki’s collection are on display.

3) Shigeru Mizuki's Mexican mask collection is on display

In 1997, 75-year-old Shigeru Mizuki traveled around Mexico for two weeks and published a travelogue entitled Shigeru Mizuki's Great Adventure, A Guide to the Happy Mexico-Youkai Paradise. The exhibition shows a part of the great collection of masks that Mizuki was impressed with and illustrations of unique youkai (ghosts) that he learned about during his travels.

Yukio Fukazawa, Aztec Journey (1969) The video work Mexico seen by Yukio Fukazawa. Dengaryu composed the music and arranged Fukazawa’s words for the film recorded by Fukasawa.

4) Collaboration between Yukio Fukazawa and the rapper Dengaryu

Yukio Fukazawa is a copperplate artist whose work is in our museum's collection. Since his first visit to Mexico in 1963, he was fascinated by the vibrant towns and people of Mexico and the ruins of ancient civilization, and produced many Mexican-themed works. The exhibition presents the video Mexico Seen by Yukio Fukazawa, co-produced by rapper Dengaryu, who fell in love with Fukazawa’s work, with Masahiro Mukaiyama of Studio Ishi (MMM).

Koji Suzuki , Day of the Dead (2000), Kaori Oda, Day of the Dead (2001)

5) Installations to experience the underground world and the earthly world of Mexico

Kaori Oda, who won the 1st Nagisa Oshima Award for her movie Cenote and has drawn attention at film festivals around the world, presents a video installation, Day of the Dead, that goes back and forth between the past and present, underground and terrestrial, starting from the underwater world of the cave where Mayan mythology lives. Outside the "cave" is the festival space of the Mexican people, where life and death, real and surreal are mixed, drawn by the picture book genius Koji Suzuki. Please enjoy the chemical reactions with Mexico of these two creators who are active on the front lines.


Tamiji Kitagawa[1894-1989]

Born in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1894. In 1910, he entered Waseda University, but dropped out and moved to the United States in 1914. He studied under John Sloan in the Art Students League of New York. In 1921, he traveled to Mexico, sympathized with the Mexican Mural Movement, made friends with Orosco, Rivera, Siqueiros, and others. He created works in a powerful style. In 1925 he was involved in children's art education at the Open Air Painting School at Tralupan, and in 1931 he became principal of the Open Air Painting School at Taxco. His students’ exhibitions traveled to Europe and were praised by Picasso, Matisse and Tsuguharu Foujita. He returned to Japan in 1936. He attracted attention with Festival in Tasco and other works at the Nika Exhibition the following year, and brought the idea of the Mexican Mural Movement to Japan, shocking the art world. He painted resistance against state power from prewar to postwar and was called an “outsider” in the art world. He was awarded the highest order of medals given to foreigners, the Aguila Azteca, by the Mexican government in 1986.

Taro Okamoto[1911-1996]

Born in Tokyo in 1911. Immediately after entering Tokyo National University of Arts in 1929, he went to France, where he studied philosophy and ethnology at the University of Paris. He had a growing interest in non-Western culture and art. He learned about Mexico in Paris in the 1930s. Returning to Japan in 1941, he was called to serve in the army. In 1948, he formed the Night Party with Kiyoteru Hanada and Yutaka Haniya. He visited Mexico for the first time in 1963 and expressed strong empathy with it, saying, "Mexico is impertinent. It has been imitating me for hundreds of years." He painted a giant mural, Myth of Tomorrow for Hôtel de Mexico in 1967-68, but the work went missing until it was discovered in 2003. After extensive repairs, it was permanently installed at the Shibuya station concourse in 2008. In 1970, he produced the Osaka Expo Theme Pavilion and created Tower of the Sun.

Kojin Toneyama[1921-1994]

Born in Ibaragi prefecture in 1921. He graduated from Waseda University and was drafted into the army just before the war ended. Inspired by Stravinsky's music, he created avant-garde paintings and began producing prints. Moved by seeing Iwanami's documentary film Sakuma Dam, he began presenting himself as a social activist artist, while producing works and living with workers at the construction site. He was amazed by the Mexican Art Exhibition in 1955 and visited Mexico in 1959 to start creating work with the ancient Mayan civilization as its theme. He then visited Mexico frequently, and throughout his life he continued to draw on its ancient civilizations, questioning modern society and modern people, and left many passionate works on the subject of Mexico. He was called the “painter of the sun.” He was influenced by mural artists such as Siqueiros and Orosco and produced many public works of arts. He was awarded the Order of the Aguila Aztec twice.

Yukio Fukazawa[1924-2017]

Born in Yamanashi prefecture in 1924. After graduating from Tokyo University of the Arts, he set up an atelier in Ichihara City, Chiba Prefecture and made oil paintings, while teaching at Ichihara Prefectural High School. He learned copperplate print technique after he was injured in the bombing of Tokyo, and became an award-winning master of copperplate prints. After he retired from high school teacher, he becme the chairman of the Japan Print Association and a professor at Tama Art University. The collection is on permanent display at the Ichihara Lakeside Museum. He was invited to Mexico in 1963 by the Mexico International Culture Promotion Association to teach copperplate prints. After that, his style changed drastically from monochrome to vibrant colorful tones. He was awarded Aguila Azteca from the Mexican Government.

On Kawara[1932-2014]

Born in Aichi prefecture in 1932. He made his debut at the age of 19 and received high praise for his pencil drawings such as the Bathroom series and Events in the Shed. In the October issue of Art Criticism, which featured the 1955 Mexican Art Exhibition, he wrote, "For many modernists, who have expressed the exhilaration and freedom of humanity, working in the rigid abstract principles of modern Western Europe, nothing is more amazing than this Mexican art exhibition." In 1959, he went to Mexico and stayed there until the end of 1962, but there were few records of his activities there. He was based in New York since 1965 and in 1966, he started the Today series on the theme of time, life and death. Since then, he revealed nothing of his personal history, neither appearing nor speaking in public. In 1968, traveling to Mexico and other Latin American countries, he sent postcards to Kasper König from there. They marked the beginning of the I Got Up series. His other series related to Mexico include I Am Still Alive and I Went.

Shigeru Mizuki[1922-2015]

Born in Tottori prefecture in 1922. During the Pacific War, he was in the front at Rabaul, a fierce battlefield, and lost his left arm. After his demobilization, he went through various professions, becoming a picture-story show writer and then a cartoonist. He released masterpieces such as GeGeGe no Kitaro, Kappa no Sanpei, and Akuma-kun, and became a leading figure in youkai manga. He is also known as a youkai researcher who spreaded youkai culture, and in 1995 he established the World Youkai Association and became its chairman, holding the World Youkai Conference with Hiroshi Aramata and others. He conducted fieldwork he called "adventure trips" around the world. In 1997, he energetically traveled to southern Oaxaca and Guerrero, Mexico, where indigenous magical world of worship survived, during the "Day of the Dead" festival week of demons, animals and spirits. He collected the masks. His travelogue was published in 1999 as Mexico, A Country to Being Happy (Shodensha).

Koji Suzuki[1948-]

Born in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1948. After graduating from high school, he moved to Tokyo and presented his work on the streets in neighborhoods such as Kabukicho while living and working at a restaurant in Akasaka. He was discovered by Seiichi Horiuchi and made his debut as an illustrator. His first solo exhibition was in 1971. He debuted as a picture book artist in 1972 with Yukimusume (written by Eriko Kishida). Since then, he has developed a variety of expressive activities, such as picture books, paintings, movie posters, live paintings, and workshops. He has won the Shogakukan Painting Award, Picture Book Nippon Award, Kodansha Publishing Culture Award, and the Japan Picture Book Award Grand Prize. In 2014, he held the Suzuki Koji's Picture Book Primitive Power Exhibition (Himeji City Museum of Art). He was featured at the Sunday Art Museum 2019. He has been fascinated by Mexico since 1995 and has attended the "Day of the Dead" festival eight times.

Kaori Oda[1987-]

Born in Osaka (Japan), 1987. Filmmaker/Artist. Through images and sounds, her works explore the memories of human beings. She lived in Sarajevo for three years from 2013 and completed the Doctor of Liberal Arts in filmmaking under the supervision of Bela Tarr in 2016. Her first feature, ARAGANE (2015) shot in a Bosnian coal mine, had its World Premiere at YAMAGATA International Film Festival and received Special Mention. The film has been screened at festivals such as Doclisboa, Mar del Plata IFF, Sarajevo FF, Taiwan International Documentary FF, and more.
She is a recipient of Grants for Overseas Study by Young Artists of Pola Art Foundation.
Her second feature, Toward A Common Tenderness (2017) a poetic film research, had its World Premiere at DOK Leipzig and her latest film, TS'ONOT/Cenote (2019) shot in underwater caves in Yucatan Mexico, was premiered in Bright Future section at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2020. She received the Inaugural Nagisa Oshima Prize in 2020 and the new face award of Minister of Education Award for Fine Arts in 2021.