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TOKYO CUTTING EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai #9 featuring Techno-Shugei Club Tomofumi Yoshida

『TOKYO CUTTING-EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai』#9 with よしだともふみ(テクノ手芸部)
TOKYO CUTTING EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai #9 featuring Techno-Shugei Club Tomofumi Yoshida

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TOKYO CUTTING-EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai is column series, which covers Tokyo’s latest cutting-edge culture! In this series she’ll be interviewing creators that have caught her interest, in order to discover the latest cutting-edge culture in Tokyo. We have interviewed Ai☆MadonnaJunya Suzuki from chloma, Etsuko IchiharaTORIENA, and Tadashi ShimayaNukeme, and Keisuke Nagami from HATRA, and Novmichi Tosa from Maywa Denki.

For the 9th installment, we’ll be interviewing Tomofumi Yoshida from an art unit “Techno-Shugei Club”.


Julie::Hello, Tomofumi Yoshida! Long time, no see! Thanks for being here today. To start off, could you tell me a little about what you do in your Techno-Shugei Club?

Yoshida:Glad to see you again. Techno-Shugei Club is an art unit that combines electronics and high-tech materials that stereotypically considered difficult to work with, with handicrafts that people feel more familiar with, working to spread this new style of craft, or “techno crafting”, all over the world.

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The interview was conducted via Skype. / 対談はSkypeで行われました

Julie:It’s a two-person unit, right?

Yoshida:That’s right. The unit consists of Kyoko Kasuya and myself.

Julie:Do you have a system for splitting your roles in the unit?

Yoshida:No, our roles aren’t really defined. One of us might be a little better at something than the other, but that’s it.

Julie:Which areas are you better at?

Yoshida:Well, when it comes to personal strengths, I feel like Kyoko is good with software, and I’m good with machines. We each do both, though.

Julie:Being a male and female unit, I figured that you’d both have separate roles in the unit, but it turns out I was wrong. Up until this point Techno-Shugei Club has come out with quite a lot of work, but could you tell me about pieces that have been particularly popular?

Yoshida::Kyoko’s Light-up Roe Salmon has a lot of fans!

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Julie:Oh, I also really like that one!

Yoshida:We’ve also made many other light-up animals. Our workshop where you can make a light-up brooch of your favorite animal is pretty popular.

Julie:The salmon roe on its stomach lights up with LED lights… But, like, even though there’s a slit in its stomach, there’s a nice balance to it, making it cute.

Yoshida:The salmon looks delicious, cute, and grotesque all at the same time, which I agree makes it pretty good.

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Julie:Wow, this one’s also cute!! It’s an animal brooch with light-up eyes.

Yoshida:When you make the fish out of wool felt like this, it’s a kind of hack for giving it a real skin-like feel. It’s strange but I like it. You can make a lot of different variations of weird animals.

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Julie:What’s this one? Is this strange, cute little guy supposed to be… a human?!

Toshifumi:The person who made it isn’t really sure either, but he sure is a stylish little guy.

Julie:Yeah, he’s got free sense of style. At a glance, I couldn’t even tell it was an electric piece. This one’s really good!

Yoshida:There are people who like geeky things, but I feel like even people who don’t normally see the appeal in things like that would see the charm in it!

Julie:Now that you mention it, it does evoke that kind of feminine “Cute!” feeling. The animals at your workshops can be purchased at Hitsuji Antenna, which is Techno-Shugei Club’s online store.

Yoshida:Thanks for the free advertisement! (laughs)

Julie:But as far as a physical location goes, you seem to be selling them in front of Akihabara Station on Robot Aisle, which was formerly the site of Radio Store.

Yoshida:We also sell them through Village Vanguard’s web shop. However, because we make every one by hand, we’re not able to make large quantities.

Julie:It’s all done by hand! The circuit board is really detailed… I imagine it must be really hard work. I also purchased your Tech Cat Strap at your booth at MakerFaire event the other day. I made it into a choker and I’ve used it in some of my shoots. I’ve gotten lots of complements on it, especially from other women like, “The cat shaped circuit board is so tiny but it’s eyes really shine!” or, “Where did you get it? It’s so cute!”

Yoshida:Oh, that makes me happy to hear! We also sell this one on our online store!

Julie:It doesn’t seem like your items are lacking girl appeal at all, with all that coming from girls who aren’t in any way involved in geek culture!

Yoshida:I’m really glad to hear that.

Julie:The line-ups that appear on the official site and Village Vanguard’s online store are different, aren’t they? I really recommend them both.

Yoshida:Thanks a lot!

Julie:You also published a book in 2010 titled Techno Crafts, didn’t you? In it you provided detailed explanations of a number of Techno-Shugei Club’s pieces, from parts to how to make it. There are usually notes about what’s needed to make an item, but you didn’t stop there and also published the program source code, so I feel like you were really generous with its content…

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Yoshida:Well, it was published seven years ago, so it’s a little outdated.

Julie::That’s true. But since the content itself is so fresh, it doesn’t feel that way. I feel like the real backbone of this book is learning the basics of electrical work through crafting. Actually there seem to be quite a few women that before I knew it, were already using this book to start doing electrical work.

Yoshida:There appear to be, and they’ve been kind enough to reach out to me. Additionally, there were cases where research groups were established universities as a result of it, and on the opposite hand, one male engineer maker showed me a circuit he’d made with embroidery.

Julie:It seems like we’re already in the age of “Techno Craft Club Kids”. I remember making a comment to you along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if electronic parts were sold in craft corners?”

Yoshida:I remember that. It seems like we’re already halfway there.

Julie:Oh! I totally believe it. There are even accessory makers at Design Festa or on minne selling electronic pieces. Not so long ago, it’s something I wouldn’t have ever imagined.

Yoshida:It would be great if, including how-tos, there were pre-designed electronic pieces. I think that one great point about Arduino is how well-designed its software and packages are. That’s really important.

Julie:Pre-designed electronic pieces… I certainly have to agree. Sometimes I buy random circuit boards for dirt cheap from electronic shop junk boxes, and make accessories from that. But when I do that, the finished product feels totally geeky. While it might be fine to use it as a personal fashion accessory item from time to time, when it comes to something you can wear every day, it’s better if it’s something that was designed to be a decorative item from the very beginning.

Yoshida:I’m curious about your perspective when it comes to parts. Does anything spring to mind when you look at stuff like unusual electronic parts or analog synths? Or does the perfect image unravel once you’ve combined it with a cute girl? Which one is it? You don’t ever just take pictures of electronic parts, right?

Julie:I think in my case, since I know a lot of geeks, there’s an element of trying to please them. Like, for instance, If I were going to use a switch part to make a brooch and attach it to an article of clothing, I’d be waiting for someone to remark, “Why’d you put a toggle switch on it?! (laugh)”

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Julie’s handmade toggle switch + circuit board choker/Julieお手製のトグルスイッチ+基板付きチョーカー

Yoshida::I get what you mean!

Julie:Really?!

Yoshida:Putting something where it doesn’t belong is one of the basics of art. And it’s really cool to have a huge switch that you’d normally find inside an airplane’s cockpit on your chest.

Julie:Strangeness hidden in everyday life is interesting. When I incorporate electronic parts into my photography work, there are times when I want it to come out SF (science fiction)-like. I like the kind of women who come out of worlds like Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed.

Yoshida:I see. When it comes to that sense of something being out of place, or say, an elevation difference, it’s important to measure just how out of place it is, so the material requires a discerning eye. Oh, and sorry for giving you a question instead!

Julie:Don’t worry about it! I’m glad you asked. The ability to make it where others don’t feel any elevation difference in female portraits really packs a punch. Just on its own, the female image really opens up a lot of doors to different genres. For example, if there was an idol group that sang in a genre of certain music fanatics, many fans would first get into that genre based on the idols’ looks (female image), and from there it’s totally plausible they’d really get into children’s music fanatic-like musical genre. So it’s not the material that’s the discerning factor, but the woman. Naturally if the female model isn’t interested in the subject herself, you won’t be able to get a good expression.

But getting back to the topic at hand, I wonder if many of the participants in Techno-Shugei Club’s periodic workshops are people who know of you through your books or the internet.

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Photo:Julie Watai, Model:Itokutora, Location:Handazuke Cafe / 撮影:Julie Watai、モデル:いとくとら、撮影協力:はんだづけカフェ

Yoshida:No, I doesn’t feel like there are many people who follow that pattern. The workshops are held at a lot of different places, and the organizers at each venue are also different, like at a store or a school. So in that way, there are many instances where the organizer already has a group of customers. There’s a lot of cases like, “The workshop here last time was really interesting, so I decided to come to the one today, too.” It’s fun to see first timers get suddenly thrown into techno crafting. After all, it’s kind of peculiar.

Julie:You’re right. It must have an impact on participants who don’t come in knowing a lot of details about it. I’m sure they go home feeling satisfied, though. You also do workshops aimed at children, right?

Yoshida:I do. The majority of those who participated in the ones for MakerFaire and the like were small children. But I think it’s difficult to have that much of an influence on first timers and children with just a one-time encounter. We have to work on building more of a fanbase. In order to do that, I think we should improve the detail quality. I also think the method of distributing information is important. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in those areas.

Julie:I think Techno-Shugei Club’s concept is easy to understand and that there are many fans of the items you make. I wouldn’t surprise me to see you get even more popular. Like, I feel like they are cute and fun enough to appeal to junior high and high school girls. Around the same time you published your book, more people started coming to MakerFaire, and even now, I personally feel like the tides have changed a bit.

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Photo,Model:Julie Watai, Location:HAKKO Corporation / 撮影、モデル:Julie Watai、撮影協力:HAKKO Corporation

Yoshida:I agree. I think a lot of change was happening then. It was around that time that our production space started increasing. I think that’s when everyone started thinking about how to get more ordinary people involved.

Julie::MakerFaire was being introduced in the news on TV and in magazines, and I remember feeling a little excited. Before you became a company, did you have any plans of entrepreneurship?

Yoshida:Yes, we did have plans to. I first felt like it was a necessity around 2010. But, I think its establishment occurred unexpectedly.

Julie:I see. So you’d been thinking about it for quite some time. Could you tell me more about how where the company name originated from?

Yoshida:We were using wool felt, and also because I like sheep. There’s also a scientific image associated with it, like with clone sheep. Originally, I also like the unusualness of adding the word “of” to it. It gives it the meaning of “sheep’s (something)”, meaning anything can go there.

Julie:Electric Sheep does have an SF ring to it. I see.

Yoshida:It does.

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Photo, Model:Julie Watai, Location:Handazuke Cafe / 撮影、モデル:Julie Watai、撮影協力:はんだづけカフェ

Julie:Did your activities change after you established your company?

Yoshida:I was able to take on work that wasn’t available to non-company entities; the type of work that involves a lot of money and people. However, I don’t the basic direction or resolve changed any. I made a company so that I could have an environment that would make it easy to make the kind of things I want to create, and I don’t feel like it’s necessary to change what I want to make to fit that.

Julie:Broadening the scale of production is a goal for many creators and artists.

Yoshida:I think it’s a difficult position to be in. Apart from having the skill to produce things, you also have enough skill to run a business.

Julie:That’s just it, isn’t it? I really respect people who can do both.

Yoshida:People who can do that really are incredible. Not many can.

Julie:Is there an area you want to try delving into in the future?

Yoshida:I’d like to make more progress with our produce development. I’m thinking something people can buy where those who are interested in he concept can easily get involved.

Julie:I’d like that, too!

Toshifumi:When people ask me, “Where do you sell them?” it’s difficult for me to answer. It’s like, well… actually we don’t. So from now on, we’ll start selling them!

Julie:Ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here first! (laughs) As a fan of Techno-Shugei Club myself, I’m looking forward to what items you come out with in the future.

Toshifumi:We’ll do our best!

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Photo:Julie Watai, Model:Mariko, Location:Handazuke Cafe / 撮影:Julie Watai、モデル:Mariko、撮影協力:はんだづけカフェ


After the Interview/対談を終えて
Whenever I’m making electronic pieces, I always think that the most important characteristic of this genre is the outside part that you wrap the circuit in. Or what I want to say is, that even though you gain more knowledge and skill the more you work with electronics, there’s a tendency to rapidly lean toward making things that are “efficient”. But if I really want to make something separate from the part’s intended use, I go back and start again from the beginning and think about what I want to make using that circuit. Or there are times that, to start off, I have something I want to make and then I think about whether or not I can realize it through using electronic technology.

Despite not using the part’s original functionality as a base, what Techno-Shugei Club does falls into neither category and is simply amazing. They’ve create a loose outline of a character with exceptional balance that appeals to girls, and an electronic circuit with such a cute design that people are drawn into wanting their own. Because I’d always viewed these things as being distant from everyday life, suddenly being switched on to them feels strange and also quite exciting, which is why I think they attract so many female fans.


Related Links
Techno-Shugei Club Official site:http://techno-shugei.com/
Tomofumi Yoshida Twitter:https://twitter.com/tomo370


Techno-Shugei Club Event Information

August 5th & 6th, MakerFaireTokyo Exhibition

August 28th, Daikanyama Teens’ Creative Art School

Translated by Jamie Koide

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Author
Julie Watai
Julie Watai

After working at an idol in Japan, Julie Watai moved by herself to Italy, publishing SAMURAI GIRL in 2006 while working as a photographer for Italian publishing company DRAGO&ARTS. She quickly became an international Japanese pop culture figure, gaining a large following. After returning to Japan, she continued her work as a photographer, along with developing electronics as a hobby and iPhone apps, and has been remarkably successful as part of the Akiba-style geek culture, too.

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