The Tokyoiter: Artists Pay Tribute to the Japanese Capital with New Yorker-Style Magazine Covers

When humorist and New York­er con­trib­u­tor David Sedaris quit smok­ing about a decade ago, he chose Tokyo in which to do it: “Its for­eign­ness would take me out of myself, I hoped, and give me some­thing to con­cen­trate on besides my own suf­fer­ing.” That first extend­ed trip not only allowed him to kick the habit and gave him plen­ty of cul­ture clash­es to write about, but began his rela­tion­ship with Tokyo that con­tin­ues to this day. “Win­dows flanked the mov­ing side­walks, and on their ledges sat pot­ted flow­ers,” he writes in appre­ci­a­tion in his first diaries there. “No one had pulled the petals off. No one had thrown trash into the pots or dashed them to the floor. How dif­fer­ent life looks when peo­ple behave them­selves.”

Most strik­ing­ly of all, there stood all “those vend­ing machines, right out in the open, lined up on the side­walk like peo­ple wait­ing for a bus.” The then-Paris-based Sedaris com­mis­er­ates with a French Japan­ese lan­guage school class­mate: “ ‘Can you believe it?’ he asked. ‘In the sub­way sta­tion, on the street, they just stand there, com­plete­ly unmo­lest­ed.’ ”

Our Indone­sian class­mate came up, and after lis­ten­ing to us go on, he asked what the big deal was.

“In New York or Paris, these machines would be trashed,” I told him.

The Indone­sian raised his eye­brows.

“He means destroyed,” Christophe said. “Per­sons would break the glass and cov­er every­thing with graf­fi­ti.”

The Indone­sian stu­dent asked why, and we were hard put to explain.

“It’s some­thing to do?” I offered.

“But you can read a news­pa­per,” the Indone­sian said.

“Yes,” I explained, “but that wouldn’t sat­is­fy your basic need to tear some­thing apart.”

Those vend­ing machines, a basic expec­ta­tion to Toky­oites but a bare­ly imag­in­able lux­u­ry to many a for­eign­er, appear on one cov­er of the Toky­oi­ter, a col­lab­o­ra­tive art project pro­duc­ing a series of cov­ers for an imag­i­nary New York­er-style mag­a­zine based in the Japan­ese cap­i­tal. This trib­ute to a dis­tinc­tive­ly Japan­ese form of auto­mat­ed side­walk com­merce comes from Hen­nie Haworth, an illus­tra­tor based in Eng­land (where Sedaris also now lives, inci­den­tal­ly) who spent six months in Japan doing noth­ing but draw­ing its vend­ing machines.

“I have a fam­i­ly mem­ber liv­ing in Japan which gives me excuse to vis­it every now and again,” writes illus­tra­tor Yuliya. “One of the main inspi­ra­tions I find in folk­lore and all the mag­i­cal beings of Japan. I’m orig­i­nal­ly from Ukraine and grew up sur­round­ed by folk tales and super­sti­tions, and even though I nev­er tru­ly believed in any of it, it always fas­ci­nat­ed me. I miss that in mod­ern West­ern world. So the crea­tures on my cov­er are made up but they are inspired by Japan­ese Yokai and just like the rest of Tokyo, they’re tak­ing a spon­ta­neous nap on the train.” Oth­er Toky­oi­ter cov­ers, con­tributed by artists from all around the world, take as their sub­jects Toky­o’s archi­tec­ture, its food, its street life, its bath hous­es, and much more besides.

Tak­en as a col­lec­tion, the project presents a com­bi­na­tion of images of Tokyo famil­iar even to those who’ve nev­er set foot in the city and ref­er­ences whose nuances only a Toky­oite — or at least some­one with a Sedaris-lev­el famil­iar­i­ty with the place — can imme­di­ate­ly grasp. What could be more Tokyo, for instance, than the Rock­a­bil­ly dancers of Yoyo­gi Park, por­trayed here by Aus­tralian artist Grace Lee, who for more than 40 years have spent their Sun­day after­noons tak­ing 1950s Amer­i­cana to its absolute lim­it for the enjoy­ment of all who pass by? And if you’ve gone to see them your­self, you’ll know that, if you get thirsty while watch­ing, you can sim­ply buy a drink from one of the many vend­ing machines near­by, all lined up right out in the open.

See more cov­ers in the Toky­oi­ter col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Curat­ed Col­lec­tion of Vin­tage Japan­ese Mag­a­zine Cov­ers (1913–46)

New Archive Presents The Chicagoan, Chicago’s Jazz-Age Answer to The New York­er (1926 to 1935)

Mashup Artist “Kuti­man” Trav­els to Tokyo and Cre­ates an Incred­i­ble Musi­cal Post­card

Time Trav­el Back to Tokyo After World War II, and See the City in Remark­ably High-Qual­i­ty 1940s Video

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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