Higher than the roof-tops are the koinobori
The large carp is the father
The smaller carp are the children
They seem to be having fun swimming.
- Koinobori song, a popular Japanese children’s song (lyrics by Miyako Kondo)
Japanese art lovers have long had a soft spot for Impressionism, which is the subject of the main exhibition at the National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT). “Impressionist Masterpieces from the E.G. Buehrle Collection,” has predictably attracted a large number of visitors eager to catch a glimpse of Monet’s waterlillies, or Renoir’s lovely visage of a young girl.
But for those keen to experience the contemporary Japanese aesthetic, there is another reason to spend time at the museum – “Koinobori Now !,” a vast installation of some 300 koinobori, or carp streamers, designed by Reiko Sudo, an internationally renowned textile designer.
Anyone who has visited Sudo’s shop Nuno, in the basement of the Axis Building in Roppongi, will have seen the extraordinary array of textiles and other materials she develops and uses in clothing, scarves, bags and bolts of fabric. Her works are also represented in the permanent collections of many leading art institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London; and the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art.
With a massive “school” of stylized carp in different mediums, patterns and shades suspended in the vast exhibition area, “Koinobori” is a kaleidoscope of Sudo’s work, ranging from the experimental to the traditional. The exhibition, which is free of entry, was produced in collaboration with French exhibition designer, Adrien Gardère and Seiichi Saito of Rhizomatiks, which specializes in large-scale artistic projects.
The carp streamers designed by Sudo are a contemporary take on traditional koinobori, which were widely displayed by households to mark Children’s Day every May 5. After the cherry blossoms were blown away by the spring winds, brightly colored streamers shaped like carp would appear all over Japan, fluttering high in the blue skies over homes with young children.
Japanese families these days don’t follow seasonal rituals as faithfully as they used to, but koinobori can still be seen, particularly in the countryside, in the weeks leading up to May 5, which was once focused on boys, but has been designated a national holiday to celebrate the happiness of all children.
The carp streamers also mark the coming of Tango-no-sekku, a seasonal event to pray for a healthy and successful life for the boys of the household. The carp are associated with immense strength and courage since they can swim upstream and even leap up waterfalls.
The NACT exhibition is a completely different experience from gazing up at koinobori swimming wildly in the open skies over rooftops and rice paddies.
But it is no less uplifting.
The dimmed lights and quietly ethereal music that permeates the gallery space provide the perfect environment for the stylized carp, which are hung in color and pattern themes to appear as if they are swimming in a massive circle. To complete the experience, visitors are invited to lounge on comfortable bean bags spread around the gallery and soak in the atmosphere The overall effect provides a backdrop for a contemplative moment away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
For a striking comparison, hop over to Tokyo Tower, in Shiba, to view a spectacular installation of 333 carp streamers, of the more traditional, red, blue and grey varieties, and a six-meter long “sanmanobori” or saury banner, which can be enjoyed until May 6.
The number of carp banners relate to the height of the tower, which stands 333 meters tall.
Koinobori Now is at the National Art Center, Tokyo until May 28.
Website : http://www.nact.jp/english/exhibitions/2018/koinoborinow2018/
Tokyo Tower’s koinobori installation runs until May 6.
Website : https://www.tokyotower.co.jp/event/attraction-event/koinobori2018/en.html