TOKYO CUTTING-EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai #1 : Past and Present of Akihabara with Ai☆Madonna

『TOKYO CUTTING-EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai』#1 : 愛☆まどんなと語る、秋葉原カルチャーの過去と現在
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TOKYO CUTTING-EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai #1 : Past and Present of Akihabara with Ai☆Madonna

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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. Then on February 5, 2016, Julie Watai released a photo collection completely shot, styled, and directed herself, with her as the sole subject, called Tokyo Future Classic (DU BOOKS).

Starting today, we’ll begin publishing Julie Watai’s column, TOKYO CRAZY CREATORS by Julie Watai, on Tokyo Girls’ Update (around the middle of each month), 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. For our first installment, we’ll be interviewing artist Ai☆Madonna, who gained fame for her collaboration goods with idol group among other works. Now she’s a popular creator among young women, but originally she began her career as a painter, creating live paintings of beautiful girls on the streets of Akihabara. Today we’ll be sitting down with her to ask her about her untold story behind her street work, and how Akihabara has changed between then (around 2006-2008) and now, along with the serialization of her first manga. We hope you enjoy their discussion about Ai☆Madonna’s true intentions and Akihabara culture, that only creator Julie Watai can bring you!



Julie: It’s been awhile! Thank you for letting me interview you today.

Ai☆Madonna: Thank you for asking me to be your guest today.

Julie: Your street paintings and performances still have a vivid impression in my mind, but when did you first start? I remember seeing them published in an art magazine called Bijutsu Techo, and thinking, “Wow, look how pretty these girls are!” I was really shocked at how amazing they were.


Live painting by Ai☆Madonna in 2008 /2008年、愛☆まどんなさんによるライブペインティング

Ai☆Madonna: I did live painting for a little less than a year, between 2007 and 2008.

Julie: I see; that was pretty early considering that Akihabara’s cultural diversity was beginning to spread. That was before the ban, when it was still Pedestrian’s Paradise (a place closed off to vehicle traffic so that people could enjoy eating, drinking, and socializing as they watched street performers and musicians).

Ai☆Madonna: That’s right, but even then performances were banned there. Nobody was willing to permit it, it seems.

Julie: Ah, that’s right, the performances were banned. But there were still a lot of performers appearing back then…

Ai☆Madonna: Now Pedestrian’s Paradise has returned, but I imagine the atmosphere in Akihabara has changed quite a bit?

Julie: There are many more tourists now.


Street Live painting at Akihabara by Ai☆Madonna, in 2008 /2008年、愛☆まどんなさんによる秋葉原ストリートライブペインティング

Ai☆Madonna: Before (around 2007-2008), the place was full of street idols!

Julie: Street idols! Did anyone particularly stand out?

Ai☆Madonna: There were idols that picked up litter or wore thongs as they flashed people.

Julie: Oh… Those kind of idols, huh? (laugh) It seems like those kind of street performances became somewhat of a social problem.

Ai☆Madonna: I think it was around the same time that Akihabara Dear Stage opened up.

Julie: It’d been there for quite some time. Speaking of Dear Stage, Mofuku, the owner, started building and incorporating a wave of new culture into Akihabara, didn’t she?

Ai☆Madonna: AKB48 began their activities around then, too.

Julie: Because the Akihabara culture movement back then was so quick, even things that happened only a little before seem like they happened such a long time ago. What made you want to start performing on the streets in Akihabara, back when it wasn’t in the public eye?

Ai☆Madonna: My work there was at the insistence of a person named Ichiro Endo. He believed that the style of my work would be readily received there, and since news often traveled quickly there, that it would soon become a hot topic. To be honest, I’d never visited Akihabara before then. I had no idea what kind of place it was.

Julie: You mean Ichiro Endo, the future artists? (she asks as she does a quick search for him)

Ai☆Madonna: That’s right! He was also published in BT (Bijitsu Techo) at the time.

Julie: I see, he was also an artist, too. I’m fond of contemporary art, but because my tastes are a little biased, I’m just now hearing about him for the first time. So at Mr. Endo’s advice, you started doing live paintings in Akihabara. Did draw any attention at first?

Ai☆Madonna: Par for the course, I received quite a lot of criticism.

Julie: Like criticism from Akihabara fundamentalists?

Ai☆Madonna: Because Akihabara is also a corporate town, there were complaints from people who worked in the offices there, and I received daily threats from people who liked to complain. Things like, “You should stop because your art is terrible!”

Julie: Really?! That must have been really hard. There’s a fine line between street art utilizing your body and danger.

Julieによる秋葉原ストリートフォト(モデル:久保ユリカ 2013年)

Street photo at Akihabara by Julie (model : Yurika Kubo, 2013) /Julieによる秋葉原ストリートフォト(モデル:久保ユリカ 2013年)

Ai☆Madonna: There were definitely pros and cons to it! I couldn’t help but stand out.

Julie: That’s true. Yet you still continued to go out and work on the streets. How many times did you go?

Ai☆Madonna: I went every Sunday for about a year.

Julie: Every week! That’s quite often. So it means there were something more than you expected?

Ai☆Madonna: I looked forward to people’s reactions, and enjoyed it much like it was a club activity. With each time there were more and more people who would come and watch, and there was a DVJ (a unit fusing music by a DJ and videos by a VJ together) working with me, along with girls dressed up and having a good time in cosplay. As the number of participants increased, I began making goods and selling them, which made for a pretty good amount of pocket money so I’d treat everyone that helped out to McDonald’s. (laugh)

Julie: That’s right, having a DVJ with you made for an amazingly impactful, audio and visual live painting experience, and it was really cool. It was the kind of composite art you don’t see much of in Japan, let alone the closed-off atmosphere that Akihabara had! (laugh) Did you also sell your goods on the street?

Ai☆Madonna: There aren’t many large-scale performances like that on the street, are there. (laugh) Using a single car I’d paint the outside while the DVJ played while leaning over the sunroof, and we’d sell our goods from the car and then jump inside and run away whenever the police came. (laugh)

Street painting at Akihabara in 2008

Julie: It was a totally new experience at the time! That’s just too cool. Although it’d been better if you hadn’t been caught. (laugh) Listening to the artists that currently define the Akiba, it sounds like they had already realized its ideal form. Nevertheless, treating people to McDonald’s like that, it sounds like it was great- like it was like a real club. At they time there weren’t many places to eat around Akihabara at the time, right? So McDonald’s was really valuable. Now that you mention it, I also caught the attention of the police around the same time while performing on the streets. (laugh)

Ai☆Madonna: That’s right! I’d heard about you!

Julie: It was really scary! What was I thinking back then? (laugh)

Ai☆Madonna: I thought you were some gravure idol!

Julie: Oh, I did that kind of work under a different name. Let’s just leave it at that, though. (laugh)

Ai☆Madonna: It makes me think of a perfectly cute girl leaping away from the two-dimensional.

Julie: (sweatdrop)

Julie: You’re very famous in the current fashion and idol world, as well as the pop art world, but in particular, what lit the fire of your popularity in the fashion world?

Ai☆Madonna: I think having my illustrations used in fashion is what made more people come to know my name. Then I went from fashion to idol (costume and goods illustrations), more and more younger people learned of me, and then I think high school girls in particular started spreading my name.

Live paiting on the white dresses at Japan Expo 2015/2015年、パリのジャパンエキスポにてパフォーマンスした際、女の子をナンパして、その場でワンピースに絵を描いた

Julie: You had a hand in creating a number of idol goods, and then younger girls started wearing illustrations of your comic touch style drawn girls. I often see pictures on SNS of idols or internet idols wearing t-shirts with your illustrations on them. I’ve caught your items lining an incredible amount of shelves, like Village Vanguard. Is there any item that’s especially popular?

Ai☆Madonna: Yes, I’m really indebted to them, and it’s changed quite a bit since the beginning. I’d have to say the “Kusatte mo Lolicon!” t-shirt.


Julie: Oh! That’s one of your quotes!

Ai☆Madonna: It might just be the masterpiece of my goods.

Julie: I think you really cleared the way for all the illustrated t-shirts you see stylish subculture girls wearing now. Catchphrases like “Kusatte mo Lolicon!” are pretty funny. Do you come up with them yourself?

Ai☆Madonna: I do.

Julie: Are they linked with your illustrations in any way?

Ai☆Madonna: They are. I can’t come up with anything without drawing first.

Julie: I see! That’s interesting. So your illustrations come first.

Ai☆Madonna: Or rather, it’s like I can hear what the girl in the illustration is saying. I just spoke like a real artist, didn’t I!

Julie: So you hear things like. “Kusatte mo Lolicon!” (laugh) Your choice of words seems to have really stuck with younger women, too. They’re sharp, but charming. Compared to when you first started out and now, otaku mixed pop art has really gained momentum. How do you feel about that?

Ai☆Madonna: The “girls drawing girls themed art style” has really grown a lot. Even yuri (girls’ love) styles are now the norm!


Ai☆Madonna’s latest paintings on canvas (acrylic paint, 2016) /愛☆まどんなさん一番最近の連作のキャンバス絵(2016製作/キャンバス、アクリル)

Julie: Right! And now so-called two-dimensional girl-like characters have become characteristic of the trend.

Ai☆Madonna: I think there are two different types of cute, “cute without realizing it” and “trendy cute”. Those that are part of the current trend are in the latter group, always looking around at other girls as if they’ve got an antenna on their heads, and I look on, wondering if this trend is just part of a fad like with fashion.

Julie: I see. It certainly seems like that when you think of it as girls’ fashion tastes.

Ai☆Madonna: I don’t go to events anymore like Design Festa or Geisai, but now they feature an increasing amount of fancy moe-style accessories. As long as the girl making it is cute, it’ll sell.

Julie: Yeah, even on online handmade goods sites they’re recruiting people.

Ai☆Madonna: I think there’s an idol kind of element to it.

Julie: There are creators that appear as an icon. There are girls that are really good at selling themselves like that.

Ai☆Madonna: Right? And taking selfies has really become a thing now.

Julie: With SNS and smartphone selfies, for the most part girls now have really perfected being self-produced.

Ai☆Madonna: I agree! You can really make yourself look cute with smartphone selfie apps. Even purikura now is awe-inspiring.

Julie: I haven’t taken any purikura recently. Are you talking about the ones that make your eyes bigger?

Ai☆Madonna: That kind of alien-looking face is the ones girls prefer now, but it’s a little sad. Big eyes, sharp jawlines, and super long legs…

Julie: Oh, that’s not what I had expected. I figured since you draw perfectly cute two-dimensional girls, that you would be one to prefer pretty, deformed three-dimensional girls.

Julie: Well, do you think that in the future otaku mixed-style art will fade and become yesterday’s trend?

Ai☆Madonna: I don’t think that it will fade, but people might get tired of it.

Julieによる秋葉原ストリートフォト。(モデル:久保ユリカ2013年・ロケーション オヤイデ電気)

Street photo at Akihabara by Julie Watai (model : Yurika Kubo, 2013) location : Oyaide-Denki) /Julieによる秋葉原ストリートフォト。(モデル:久保ユリカ2013年・ロケーション オヤイデ電気)

Julie: Oh, so you don’t think it’ll disappear completely, but there’s a change it’ll continue as just a fad. Speaking of which, what kind of work have you been doing recently?

Next : Ai☆Madonna’s latest work is…surprising!!

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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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