It was an enlightening experience to interview Sebastian Masuda during J-Pop Summit 2016. We talked about the Harajuku KAWAII culture, his current “Time After Time Capsule” art project, and the future of Harajuku! Images: Christian Hadidjaja for Fafafoom (unless otherwise stated).
It was a pleasure to be able to interview Sebastian Masuda during J-Pop Summit 2016. As the visionary of Harajuku-born KAWAII culture, Sebastian-san produced what he called a ‘long-running art exhibition’ back in 1995 called 6%DOKIDOKI. It’s a Harajuku-based fashion brand whose initial concept of Sensational Lovely were materialized in various items with overwhelmingly cute design. Now, 21 years later, 6%DOKIDOKI is a well-loved fashion brand with massive global following. For international KAWAII culture devotees, 6%DOKIDOKI is seen as one of the core pillars that define Harajuku fashion culture.
Perhaps not many people know that Sebastian Masuda is one of the early visionaries of J-Pop Summit festivals. For this, he has been visiting San Francisco many times. Back in 2010, he gave a lecture about Harajuku fashion culture*. In 2013, he’s back with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (Sebastian is the director and producer of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s “PON PON PON” music video) to celebrate Harajuku KAWAII fashion and pop-up shop opening. Back then, we had the pleasure of seeing Kyary Pamyu Pamyu headlining a mini-concert at Union Square.
*It’s worth noting that he also gave a similar lecture titled “What is kawaii” at University of Tennesse at Chattanooga in 2014.
While Sebastian-san’s creative vision of KAWAII culture has captured the world’s attention, he’d like to expand his influence further. For the past two years, he has been focusing more on his works as an artist. So this time, he came to J-Pop Summit 2016 with NHK World to emphasize his work in art, especially his “Time After Time Capsule” project.
The interview gave thoughtful glimpses to how Sebastian Masuda reflect on his works over the years, both in art and fashion. More importantly, he shared more context around “Time After Time Capsule” and his vision for the future of Harajuku. Special thanks to Aya-san for being my translator. Without further ado, here’s our interview with Sebastian Masuda!
Interview with Sebastian Masuda
Fafafoom: During my visits to Tokyo, the term “KAWAII” is very universal. It can be super cute and lovely, but it can also have elements of being dangerous, dark, provocative, or weird. It’s an all-encompassing word. So what would fall into kawaii and what wouldn’t, especially for people who don’t live in Japan and therefore don’t have that kind of context?
Sebastian Masuda: In 1990s, the Harajuku fashion is popular amongst young people. I was in my 20s when I first opened the first 6%DOKIDOKI store in Harajuku. During the 1980s – 1990s, the monotone, black-and-white, garçon (boys) style was fashionable then. But we wanted to pursue a real fashion style for the younger generation.
So we started to create things that are more colorful, counter-culture to what was mainstream then. I incorporated many childlike motifs. They might seem childish, but it was meant as a rebellion against adulthood. The power of youth was represented with shocking colors. While typical fashion is about gaining popularity and appealing to the opposite sex, Harajuku KAWAII is about being more individualistic, expressing yourself with these shocking colors and patterns.
Fafafoom: So, is colorful and shocking something that’s reserved for 6%DOKIDOKI and Harajuku kawaii, or is that something you always carry over to all of your work as part of your signature style?
Sebastian Masuda: Well, my use of colors signifies my way of doing a peaceful rebellion, a non-threatening weapon of art.
Fafafoom: During your interview with Asian Beat in 2012, you said that “If KAWAII culture can take root throughout the world it will make it a more livable, peaceful place.” Would you care to elaborate on that point?
Sebastian Masuda: Until now, what I created have been mostly in the world of fashion, and they are only appreciated by people who like them. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a fan of my works, and she has been an ambassador to spread my art in the J-Pop world. Through her, I want to spread my art so that everyone from young children to old grandparents can understand it.
By focusing on my art on various platforms, from fashion to my collaboration with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, I am able to extend the exposure of my creativity to wider audience. That’s the reason behind my debut as an artist in 2014 in n New York with the “Colorful Rebellion: Seventh Nightmare” exhibition. Initially, I only expected Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s fans and people who are into cosplay to come, but in reality so many people from all walks of life came. It was such a pleasant surprise! The exhibition was done in a small gallery roughly the size of this interview room (about 3 ft. x 7 ft.), and it can fit 5 or 6 people at most. On the opening day, more than 1,000 people showed up!
Many of American pop superstars today, such as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Nicki Minaj are heavily influenced by Tokyo fashion. Because of them, there’s a substantial niche market that appreciate the KAWAII culture. These people showed up at my exhibition because they found my work intriguing. Moreover, my exhibition attracted not only Kyary Pamyu Pamyu fans and cosplay enthusiasts, but also people who are not necessarily interested in fashion.
I definitely saw a tremendous potential in what I can do in art. There are many people who have yet experience art, and they can be engulfed in art and develop appreciation for it. That’s why I definitely will always pursue this never-ending quest of creating art and spread it to the world.
Fafafoom: Along that note, let’s talk about your “Time After Time Capsule” project. You’re currently doing it in several different cities, and its main act is planned for Tokyo Olympics 2020. Please let us know more about the concept and your objective.
Sebastian Masuda: The theme of my previous “Colorful Rebellion: Seventh Nightmare” exhibition is to explore the concept of KAWAII. It’s like making a small house just for yourself inside your small world. It’s one’s own small universe; you don’t invite anybody else into your personal sanctuary. And you fill this house with things that are sentimental to you, things that you hold the most dear. That is KAWAII.
Now, everywhere in the world, there are many people who have small KAWAII worlds. I’d like to gather them all and create something powerful. So I invite people from all around the world to create a personalized KAWAII message addressed to their future self 20 years from now, and gather those messages in various time capsules spread around the world.
The time capsules are giant translucent container shaped in well-known Japanese characters. That’s the theme of this “Time After Time Capsule” project that I started in 2015. We already have three capsules in three US cities (New York, Washington D.C., and San Francisco), and there will be seven more capsules in future worldwide locations.
Later, during Tokyo Olympics 2020, I will have all 10 time capsules assembled to form a 10-meter (around 33 ft.) tall tower. This tower, filled with personalized messages for the future, will symbolize KAWAII interpretation from people all around the world who participate into this project. This tower will be erected in the Harajuku area. I’m actually not going to be in Tokyo during Tokyo Olympics 2020. However, my message and idea will be in Tokyo along with everybody else’s.
Then, in 2035, I’d like to return each time capsule to their original location, open them, and do something special. Right now, we are writing messages to our future self 20 years from now. It will be interesting to welcome what kind of future we arrive to in 2035.
Fafafoom: Why did you choose 20 years for time capsule period?
Sebastian Masuda: It was 20 years ago that I started the Harajuku KAWAII movement. I was in my early 20s, and I was childish. Nobody took my idea seriously. Fast forward to now, 20 years later, my humble childish concept has spread worldwide. With this “Time After Time Capsule” project, I’d like to spread the idea that anybody can create their own future. That’s the significance of 20 years to me.
Fafafoom: Speaking about the future, how do you think the Harajuku will evolve 20 years from now?
Sebastian Masuda: When Tokyo Olympics 2020 is here, the Harajuku area will become even more of a tourist hotspot than it is. It will be a great economic boost and Harajuku will receive even more attention.
However, this kind of boost in momentum is not part of what makes Harajuku, Harajuku. Once that Tokyo Olympics momentum subsides, the younger generation people – those with minimal power, resources, or influence – will rise up and drive a new generation of Harajuku.
Harajuku will once again become a place where young people can test their creative ideas. I hope to see a new chapter of Harajuku culture, which may not end up being my own. I’m looking forward to see it.
The “youth culture” historically came from United States or Europe, such as San Francisco (with the Flower Children movement), London, and Frankfurt. That being said, Harajuku’s KAWAII culture is the first “youth culture” that came out from Asia. I’m excited to see what the next generation will bring.
Fafafoom: Absolutely, that’s going to be really exciting to see. Last question: in all of your art projects, what is the core message you always want to convey?
Sebastian Masuda: That the future is colorful. I just want everybody to know that the future is colorful.
Wow, thank you so much Sebastian Masuda and NHK World for setting aside some time with us! I’m definitely very curious to see how “Time After Time Capsule” project progresses until 2035. It is truly enlightening to converse with such remarkable artist and visionary, and I hope you enjoy reading this article. After the interview concluded, I just had to take a photo with him :)
Thanks for reading; until next time,
Fafafoom team for Interview with Sebastian Masuda:
Interviewer & Editor: Mira Musank
Photographer: Christian Hadidjaja
Assistant Editor: Kuni Natsuki