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Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 11:06 am
Ume Kayo and the etiquette of disinhibition

I'm a little too jet-lagged at the moment to claim to be whirling up the Japanese archipelago like a cultural typhoon, but I do have some early interests. Mayonaka is publisher / gallery Little More's regular magazine, and the current edition sees an inspired teaming of their regular designer Kazunari Hattori with conceptual manga man Yuichi Yokoyama, who's taken photographs of children and dropped them into his characteristic halftoned, colourblended backgrounds, or inserted his oddly abstract baseball-capped figures into their midst.

Mayonaka is the most inspiring magazine I see on the Japanese racks at the moment, and Little More are little wonders. On Saturday night the gallery's biggest star, 28 year-old photographer Ume Kayo, appeared in a panel talk at Osaka's AD&A Gallery.

We've met Ume Kayo before on Click Opera, in a somewhat gossipy context. In My disappearing little dick she appeared as (nudist, bohemian, photoblogger) Patrick Tsai's love interest. Pat Pat (name-checked on the Joemus album for his rock-diving exploits) was, at the time of telling, heading to Japan to pay court to Kayo, having been "thunderstruck" by her at a french photography biennial. The quest for Kayo's favour seems to have failed; Pat Pat is now with someone else.



I missed the Kayo appearance on Saturday, preferring to sleep deeply, catching up timezones one by one. But Hisae went with her friend Kazumi and reported that Ume Kayo had spoken of her influences: a Japanese wildlife photographer famous for his shots of bathing monkeys, and Ninomiya-san from Johnny's idol group Arashi, and more specifically his erect boy-nipples. (Here Hisae could totally identify.)

A cursary leaf through Ume Kayo's three photo books in, say, your local branch of Tsutaya will give you the impression that her favourite subject is people goofing around. Her first book, Umeme, won the Kimura Award and scored sales of over 100,000 copies for Little More, her publisher. That was mostly Ume and her friends goofing around, giggling at the sight of a bald man with a grain of rice on his head, and so on. The next book, Danshi, sold "only" 40,000 copies and focused on schoolboys goofing around in playgrounds. Her latest, Granpa, is a tender study of Ume's grandfather goofing around.

Last night I drank a lot with some of Hisae's Osaka friends and ended up doing synchronised enka dancing and thinking -- as you do when drunk and jet-lagged -- about how different socities organise inhibition and disinhibition. I must say I admire both; a semi-legenday character like Pat Pat impresses me for his mad Baal-Byron exploits, his disinhibited impulsiveness (although only a certain tweeness saves that stuff from Dash Snow-style tragedy). But ultra-shy, ultra-quiet, inhibited people impress me too. I really identify with their interiority, their withdrawal.

I wouldn't do anything as crude as align Japan with either inhibition or disinhibition. Clearly, though, this country has very distinctive ways of organising when and how you transition from one state to the other. From the extremes of one state to the other. For Japanese people can be the most massively reserved, autistically detached people in the world. And yet, as a drunken night of enka singing -- or the photographs of Ume Kayo -- demonstrate, they can be super-disinhibited when etiquette calls for it. And that -- the fact that there's an etiquette of disinhibition just as there's an etiquette of inhibition -- is an interesting paradox in itself.


21CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 03:21 am (UTC)
This article

Yes, never live here for more than a few years, you'll just get bored again.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 03:57 am (UTC)
Re: This article

Pointless comment.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 06:32 am (UTC)
Re: This article

Re: Pointless comment


ReplyThread Parent
fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 06:41 am (UTC)

I like "catching up on timezones one by one." A spritely turn of phrase! Hangovers are fun for writing, eh!

"Goofing around" connotes being hyper aware of the observer, like, "hey, look at me, see how carefree i am?" It's like the intersection of self-consciousness and insouciance (sp?). I've heard "goofing around" often paired with "for the camera."


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 10:23 am (UTC)

Yes. And that camera etiquette is very different from normal etiquette. You get closer to your drinking partners when the photos are being taken. But the "wild time had by all" didn't happen like that; the moment the picture is done, everyone draws apart again, and a different propriety applies. This happens everywhere to some extent, but it's a lot more extreme in Japan. If you want Japanese girls all over you, just pose for a photo with them!


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 09:19 am (UTC)

I heard that the japanese are getting drunk much faster than other people, something in their biological system that makes them quicker to react on alcohol in their blood. one beer and goodbye etiquette. something like that.



erik


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 10:27 am (UTC)

Something like half of Japanese people have an inherited enzyme deficiency which prevents them processing alcohol properly. They get very red-faced and quickly drunk, or passed out.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 01:52 pm (UTC)

They're also generally 40 pounds lighter than other folks


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 02:26 pm (UTC)

Alcohol is fine, so long as the situation remains safe for all concerned. Fighting or sex in dark alleyways should be avoided. They may feel right at the time, but often ends in bitter tears.


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keeperdesign
keeperdesign
keeperdesign
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)

I'll be landing at Narita on Friday for a bit of sightseeing, then off to Kyoto to meet my fiancée's family--about three dozen of them! I'll make time to pop into a bookstore to buy Kayo-chan's book to calm my nerves.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)

ねずみ男と会う?


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slime_slime_sly
slime_slime_sly
slime_slime_sly
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)

I would like to see you mix japan's inhibition/disinhibition thing with Richard Sennet's theories on western public/private life and social playacting


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bugpowered
bugpowered
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 04:29 pm (UTC)

You must be really fun at parties.


ReplyThread Parent
slime_slime_sly
slime_slime_sly
slime_slime_sly
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 04:39 pm (UTC)

totally


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)

Oh, he is!

Who on earth is that user icon, though?


ReplyThread Parent
slime_slime_sly
slime_slime_sly
slime_slime_sly
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 06:17 pm (UTC)

Dude who dropped the biggest party ever


ReplyThread Parent
slime_slime_sly
slime_slime_sly
slime_slime_sly
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)

anyway, any thoughts on that?Ive been reading sennet's "the fall of public man" for, oops, over the whole of this year. It talks a lot about how public life in western cities like london and paris have became all shitty due to psychological intimacy replacing the more distanced social role-playing that happened during the 19th century.I keep thinking in what ways japan and spain relate to this.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 11:43 pm (UTC)

I read The Fall of Public Man about ten years ago and loved it. Sennett is a favourite of mine, and I've mentioned him quite a bit over the years. Yes, I think Japanese public spaces fit much better with his ideals than Western ones do; see my Double Density essay for more on that.


ReplyThread Parent
akabe
akabe
alin huma
Tue, Dec. 8th, 2009 05:13 pm (UTC)

hmmm, i'm inclined to see 'japanese public space' as something of an oxymoron rather ..


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Dec. 8th, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC)

hear hear. when we talk about jp public space, we're indeed talking on the subatomic level


ReplyThread Parent
bugpowered
bugpowered
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 04:31 pm (UTC)

For Japanese people can be the most massively reserved, autistically detached people in the world. And yet, as a drunken night of enka singing -- or the photographs of Ume Kayo -- demonstrate, they can be super-disinhibited when etiquette calls for it.

A drunken night of enka singing? Wow, that's some super-disinhibition!

Totally different from autistic detachment...


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