TOKYO CUTTING EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai #3 : Think About Where Humanity Meets Technology with Etsuko Ichihara

『TOKYO CUTTING-EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai』#3 : 市原えつこと考える、“人間性”とテクノロジーの融合
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TOKYO CUTTING EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai #3 : Think About Where Humanity Meets Technology with Etsuko Ichihara


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. For our first installment, we interviewed artist Ai☆Madonna, and for the second time welcoming Junya Suzuki, who has been working for fashion label “chloma”, and for this time we will be interviewing artist Etsuko Ichihara, who has been creatingvery unique works.


Etsuko Ichihara

Julie: Hello, and thank you for making time to chat with me today. I think there might be some readers out there who are just hearing your name for the first time as part of this series, so would you mind introducing yourself first?

Etsuko Ichihara: Sure! I’m working as an artist in Tokyo, and am also a director of wild ideas! (laugh) I make things that combine unique aspects of Japanese culture with technology, and I’ve created things like the “Sexual Harassment Interface” with Japanese radishes that make sexy breathing noises when you touch them, and my most recent work, the “Digital Shaman Project”, which incorporates the familiar ideas of the Buddhist 49 days mourning ritual into a household robot.


※The interview was taken through Skype video chat

Julie: The title of artist and “director of wild ideas” seems fitting. Even as an artist, I think it’s safe to say that your genre of work has already surpassed the boundaries of art and is something of your very own world.

Etsuko: I appreciate the compliment. Even I feel like I’ve lost myself considering the current field I’m exploring, but for convenience sake I like to refer to myself as an artist. I’m a total outsider when it comes to entertainment, research, art, and many other fields. (laugh) But if I were to give the current field I’m in a name, I’d say it’s close to media art. As far as the “director of wild ideas” goes, I often work together with technical directors, but the title first came about when I was directing myself and thought, “Hmm I wonder what kind of area would this fall under? Oh, I know! Something wild!!”

Julie: I see; I can definitely see these wild ideas of yours represented in your work. You tend to work with other technical people as a unit, don’t you?


Sekuhara Intaafeesu (Sexual Harassment Interface) セクハラ・インターフェース

Contributor Wanted!!

Julie: Speaking of your work, I was initially shocked by your “sexual harassment interface”. The first time I saw it was while I was serving as a judge for the Electronic Works Contest (Denshi Kosaku Contest, which is now called Gugen) that was held at Arts Chiyoda (3331 Arts Chiyoda) in Akihabara, and the jury room was abuzz over the bold outline of your presence compared to the other electronic works there. Would it be fair to say that that was your first work as a director of wild ideas?

Etsuko: That’s right, the sexual harassment interface was a collaborative effort with technical director Taiki Watai. Hearing you remind me of what happened there always brings a smile to my face.

Actually, as a college student I had been a video director, but the sexual harassment interface was the first time I really felt, “This is it!!!”. Before I had mostly directed a horror-style pink film (pink cinema is a genre of adult film in Japan). Basically I liked sharing wild ideas as part of a team and then creating things from them.

Julie: What kind of pink film did you do? I’m curious to know!

Etsuko: Oh! (laugh) It dealt with a feminism-like theme, with Chizuko Ueno’s haiku “Kusatteiku kai to hitotsu no yane no shita ni iru” (“Sharing the same room with a rotting shellfish”), expressing disgust of women drowning in their sexuality as the subject, and its plot consisted of a Japanese ronin student (a student who fails his or her university entrance exam and then studies on their own in hopes of passing it the next time around) tempted by the ghost of a shellfish, lol. I asked a friend to appear nude for it. It was a pretty reckless thing to ask…

Julie: It feels like it had a pretty philosophic message to it. In fact, I feel like your work now has a really strong message, so you could say it first took root then! Did you ever dream of becoming a film director?

Etsuko: Yes, to a certain extent I was smitten with the idea of becoming a director or a video director in the field of advertising. But apparently I showed an aptitude for using technology to bring life to my ideas, and when I realized this I shifted my focus to IT. The video industry is a really physically demanding one. I’m afraid to say I don’t really possess the physical strength for it…

Julie: I see, so you decided on your current direction when you were a university student. It appears both your video work back then and your work now deals with the raw themes of sexuality and life and death, but why did you choose these themes? Is it because of a certain event or influence? The way you outwardly express yourself is rather matter of fact, and it’s really interesting to see that kind of gap.

Etsuko: That’s a good question… Half of it was an unconscious choice, so I’m not even sure myself. However, in today’s society there’s always an outline of what you “should” be doing. Like clean, “correct” images of people when it comes to health or rationality. Sexuality and death are both always lingering in the corner and despised, but I’ve always felt that rejecting either seems fake somehow! As far as a specific event goes, when I was in university there was a period when I was very actively researching about Japanese gender culture. I was very impressed by sex museums and taken aback by the gods of genitalia worship. I thought, “This is what Japanese culture is all about!!!” lol I mean, Japanese people are incredible when it comes to imagining the erotic. Like we’re a country of perverts!!! lol

Photographer, Model: Julie Watai Location: KIMURA Workshop/2011 Shoot 撮影、モデル Julie Watai ロケ地 KIMURA工房 /2011年撮影

Photographer, Model: Julie Watai Location: KIMURA Workshop/2011 Shoot
撮影、モデル Julie Watai ロケ地 KIMURA工房 /2011年撮影

Julie: I agree; the Japanese attitude on sex is certainly unique. There aren’t many religious in Japan, even when it comes to Buddhism. So sex culture in Japan has been encouraged over a long period of time. In many other countries, sexual expression is limited due to religious rules and commandments.

Etsuko: I think it’s because Japan wasn’t a country where Christianity had really taken root. There’s the theory that with the introduction of Christian views, Japan’s unique sexual culture and our sexuality have started to become viewed as “embarrassing”. But essentially, I think that carefree attitude towards sex still exists today, especially if you look at things like loli-e (sexual depictions of minors). (laugh) Shunga-like (pornographic woodblock prints) imagery still influences “painters” today.

Julie: I agree when it comes to loli-e. It’s a big problem in some countries. I think precisely because we have a history of shunga that it’s something you still see on a regular basis. Speaking of which, not only do you have a birds-eye view of Japanese sex culture, but in representing that in your art, I personally feel like I get a feel for Japan’s future from artists like yourself.

Delusion and Reality Alternating System SR×SI 妄想と現実を代替するシステムSR×SI

Delusion and Reality Alternating System SR×SI

Julie: I’d like to change the topic a little, and ask you a little more about your work. Although I haven’t had the chance to try out your “Delusion and Reality Alternating System SR×SI” system yet, just watching the video for it got me really excited!

Etsuko: Oh!!!

Julie: What did the guys who tried it out think about it?

Etsuko: They were pretty excited, lol. I had everyone fill out a questionnaire afterward, and 80% said they were pretty aroused, while 20% said they were very aroused.

Julie: lolololol

…Read more about her unique works!

Related links
Etsuko Ichihara official site :
Etsuko Ichihara Twitter :

Julie Watai official site :

Read more articles TOKYO CUTTING-EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai

#2 : The Future of Fashion with Junya Suzuki from “chloma”

#1 : #1 : Past and Present of Akihabara with Ai☆Madonna

Translated by Jamie Koide

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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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