It is a sign of recognition in Far East Asia. I think that it is a good sign that I am becoming better known in China. And, [laughs] I think there is no reason to miss being given an award!
I pay tax and am a US citizen, but I am also still a Japanese citizen. At the age of 69, I find I am slowly shifting back to Japan for my retirement period. I don't want to die in New York City [laughs]. New York is a good place to make money, but not to die.
Yes, it is about going back to your own nature and landscape. New York is so artificial, so I just pay attention to my work. It is not a place to rest.
Yes, but my apartment in Shirogane has a lot of green around it.
I discovered how Japanese I am when I first moved to the United States. You can't recognise how naturally Japanese you are when you are living in Japan.
It is there in the sense of space and the way I divide and design space. The way I do it is three-dimensional, but at the same time it is also two-dimensional because space is not only physical, there can also be a space in music. For example, like in a Noh play: the musicians playing the shamisen are perfectly harmonised, but also slightly off the peak of harmony because that creates a sense of space. You should always be slightly off because if you are perfect, then there is no space for the gods or spirits to descend.
I studied Buddhism and Shintoism when I moved to California, but when I was a young college student in Japan, I studied more about Western philosophy.
Yes, I educated myself about Western people and think that it was a good choice to leave Japan and choose art as a medium to express myself. I could have been a scholar. I am a good writer as well, but with art there is no academic standard and no rules, [laughs] so I thought it was a good choice.
I had my own personal vision to start with. Art has to be strong presentation-wise, and I was able to describe my senses in lighting. Although, at that time photography wasn't recognised as fine art. It was the second-class citizen of art and just didn't sell for the same high prices. I thought that was to my advantage as there was space to expand there, to push it up to the same standard as fine art. To bring it up to be a first-class citizen.
Yes, that has followed photography and is also changing.
I am expanding my menu with architectural practice and theatre productions, but it is all the same as it comes from my roots and is just a different way of expressing my sense. I am still practicing photography as that makes most of my money, so I have to keep it to support my other mediums.
Usually photographers take a camera and go out to find something to shoot. In my case, the idea first comes as a concept in my mind and my brain and then I decide what to do. I have a vision in my mind first and I then think of how to make it happen.
Yes, I use photography as a tool to explain what I am looking at in depth and inside my mind. Nobody can believe it, but I just make it happen in this world and make a record of it with film. It is the same with my seascapes and the brilliant light of the theatre; they are all artificially made in my mind.
There was a very conceptual theme behind this because while they are all very similar looking, every single Buddha is slightly different.
Yes, it took about seven years. I wanted to photograph at the best time in the morning as the sun comes up, but usually there is nobody around at that time. For around 30 minutes the sunlight is diffused through the shoji screens so that the gold leaf on the Buddhas shines. It is so fantastic, like a recreation of paradise. But the monks don't pay attention to this, and instead come at about 8 AM. I thought that was terrible and I tried to convince them, but they just said, 'Oh, is that so?' I think they had lost their religious contemplation of the space and were more concerned about the fee! [laughs]
I even offered to donate a complete set of my art and they said they didn't need it. They said they didn't have the storage space and didn't need a panel because they have the real thing.
[Laughs] Oh yes, and now every time I show this in a museum they want to be paid.
I have established my own art foundation that will open later this year. It is located in Odawara and is called the Odawara Art Foundation. I have not used my own name as it is a public service and I don't think I should do anything to profit myself. It is not to show my art, although I have donated some. It is more about art like theatre, so I have built two Noh theatre stages.
Yes, that will also be available and the stage can be used for contemporary performances as well. I am very interested in Bunraku. My second major production of puppets will be shown in Tokyo in August. It is about the murder of a woman. Bunraku puppets are a very different way of showing romantic suicide that is not available in the Western world.
Yes, with my foundation, I am finally getting together all the aspects of art that I want. I paid for it with my own pocket money and I designed it as an architect according to my own specifications. This is the final aesthetic of my life.
I started with a strong concept with it as an observatory to check the axis of the Earth. I have designed a 70-metre underground tunnel where the sunlight goes through for just one day during the winter solstice when the sun comes up from the ocean. There is also a gallery designed for the summer solstice where the light will work in a particular way. During the equinox twice a year, a bridge and a teahouse with a small entrance will be connected to the light so you can always confirm the axis of the light. I believe it is a Neolithic mentality to confirm this and for modern people, it is there to remind us of our memories of how our consciousness started. —[O]