From March 7th through March 15th, Risa Takahashi held a personal exhibition in a small gallery called KIYA in Koenji, Tokyo. Despite concern over the impact of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), she was able to bring it to a safe and successful close.
In the following, we introduce some of the artworks that she exhibited and which were also for sale. Every cat has a unique name. Enjoy!
By the way, she gave me this cat mustache at the gallery!!
I put it on top of my mask and ignored the bewildered looks of people we met on our way back to the station.
This cat is eating a rice cracker with a contrite look on its face.
“Sumimasen” is Japanese for “Sorry.” and “Senbei” refers to the crunchy “rice crackers” often served with green tea. One day, when eating a rice cracker, Risa noticed that her cat was looking at her from beneath lowered brows, inspiring her to make this work.
Nusutto ta-ke da-ke shii
The audacity of the thief
This work came up from the Japanese proverb “Nu-su-tto ta-ke da-ke shii” meaning in English that “bold as thieves” or “only thieves could be so bold.” Risa also simply likes the sound of “Nu-su-tto Ta Ke Da Ke Shii.”
Japanese “nu-su-tto” means thieves and “ta-ke da-ke shii” means “brazen” or “shameless”. This stilts are made of bamboo, and bamboo is called “ta-ke” in Japanese. When the same word continues two consecutive times, the sound of the second word sometimes be muddy. So, “ta-ke ta-ke shii” will be “ta-ke da-ke shii.”
For a thief, it is impossible to ride on a stilt, a play equipment for children.
Kyuuri no Rikyu
“Kyuri” is the Japanese word for cucumber. “Rikyu” is the 16th century founder of the Japanese tea ceremony. Japanese is a syllabic language and both “kyu-ri” and “ri-kyu” consist of two syllables. If you change the order of the syllables, that is “kyu-ri” –> ri-kyu and “ri-kyu” –> “kyu-ri,” you get the other word. This is the source of the pun. The title of this artwork is an elaboration of that pun. We see a cat, the tea master in a kimono sitting on a cucumber in front of a tea ceremony bowl. A free translation of the title would be “Rikyu on a cucumber” or “Rikyu sitting on a cucumber.”
The title of this work “neko ni toban” is a play on the proverb “neko ni koban,” which can be translated as “pearls before swine.” “Neko” is the Japanese word for cat and “koban” is an ancient and very valuable Japanese gold coin used in the Edo period. It is used to describe the futile act of giving something of value to someone who does not understand its value. Returning to the title “neko ni toban” can mean “It’s the cats’ turn,” as “toban” can mean “someone’s turn to do something.” However, there is more. If you look closely you see that the cats are not cleaning the floor but a ceramic tile, which in Japanese is also “toban.” so it could also be translated as “cats on a ceramic tile,” or perhaps even “cats cleaning a ceramic tile.”.
Neko Dakedo Ingen Damono
“Dakedo” means “but” or “however,” and “In-guen” means green beans in English. “Damono” means “because.”
This title is based on the Japanese poet and calligrapher Mitsuo Aida’s poem collection, “Ninguen Damono” (Because we are human), which is known to people throughout Japan.
Mitsuo’s calligraphy says: “To err is human.”
This work was inspired by the similar pronunciation of Nin-guen (humans) and In-guen (green beans).
Free announcer, Christel Takigawa’s slow enunciation of the word “o-mo-te-na-shi” during the presentation at the IOC general meeting for the Tokyo Olympics inspired the title of this work. “Omotenashi” refers to wholeheartedly providing hospitality, entertainment and service to customers.
“Nasu” in “omotenasu” is the Japanese word for eggplant. This led her to create a cat sitting solemnly on an eggplant cushion and serving tea to customers. At the bottom of this page, there is a link to Christel Takigawa’s speech at the IOC general meeting that inspired this artwork. You will find her contribution at around the 10-second mark of the video.
Click the link below:
This cat is stretched out and relaxed. The Japanese word “nobiru” is stretch in English. If you lengthen the vowel in the second syllable “biru” to “biiru,” you get the word for beer in Japanese. “Nobiru” can also mean “exhausted” or “drunk.” So this cat is probably not stretched out just because it is relaxed, but because it has had a few and is now sleeping it off. It is interesting to speculate what will happen when it wakes up. Will it be quick enough to grab the handle of the mug to get another swig before spilling the beer?
Soy Ne (Co-sleeping)
“Soine” is the Japanese word for co-sleeping. Tofu is made from soy and the cat is about to go to sleep beside it so “soyne” (sorry “soine”) is an apt title. You can see some chopped leek on top of the tofu. It is usually eaten with this condiment. But the most important condiment – dried bonito flakes is missing. Or perhaps… If you eat tofu like this, there is one very important caveat. Make sure you are in a cat-free zone. As there are few things that cats like better than bonito flakes.
Hakobu neko – Carrying Cats
This work was made in a clay cat making classroom on the theme of cats and boxes. “Hakobu” is “carry” and “hako” is box in English. A cat carrying a cat in a box that is carrying a cat in a box.
Hanga Ganbaren (Let me take a break)
The keywords of this work are wood-block printing (hanga in Japanese), and baren, the disk-shaped object it holds in its right paw – a tool used in wood-block printing to rub the paper against the inked woodblock to apply the ink to the paper. The cat inked the woodblock, placed paper on top of it, and rubbed it hard with a baren for a while. But this is hard work for a cat and it became tired. The cat shows it in its posture: “moo ganbaren (the short form for moo ganbarenai)” meaning “Let me take a break.”
Waist Naiyo Story
Original Japanese title is “Waist Naiyo Story”
This is a takeoff of the movie title “West Side Story.” The “West” in “West Side Story” has been replaced by “Waist” and “Side” with “None” so creating the title “No Waist Story.” True to its title, the three dancing cats that are here acting out a scene from West Side Story show a remarkable absence of tapered waists.
Ms. Risa has been holding clay cat production classes at various culture centers here and there for many years. She has finally decided to expand her activity to YouTube, and is now busily preparing for that.
We are aiming to open the course around Japanese Golden Week, at the end of April. In addition to Japanese people, it is also aimed at cat lovers from all over the world who want to attend the course. We plan to prepare textbooks in Japanese, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (Simplified/Traditional), Russian, and French. Other languages may be considered. We are preparing to use attentive translations of these languages by human translators instead of Google’s automated translations.
In the online classroom, the basics begin with the creation of cats and how to use tools, and the level of difficulty increases systematically until students can create their own favorite cute cats. In addition, we plan to show tips on how to create various animals, insects around cats, and also small items such as stones and flowers. We will do our best to make the video as easy to understand as possible, so please stay tuned.
We will notify you again when the course starts.