Sep 08, 2014 02:56am
Manga artist featured in gallery
January 13, 2014 - 5:37pm

Yoshimi Kurata is featured in the Russell Day Gallery this month // Nathaniel Lynch

Yoshimi Kurata is a very busy man. In addition to drawing for several manga series, he teaches courses in manga at Otemae University in Osaka and at Kyoto University of Art and Design. From Tokyo, his primary residence, he flies to Osaka for class at Otemae, then takes the train to Kyoto for class at the design school before returning to Tokyo, usually just in time to meet an important deadline. He’s a man always on the move.

Amidst this seemingly impossible schedule he has worked with Mayumi Smith, director of the Nippon Business Institute and Greg Kammer, director of the Russell Day Gallery, to curate his first exhibition outside of Japan and give a demonstration of his artistic style for EvCC students.

For the current show, running until the end of January, Mr. Kurata has chosen a selection of prints and sketches from his most popular series Aji Ichimonme (A Pinch of Seasoning.) Proceeds from which will be donated to students who have been compromised by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011.

Mr. Kurata’s visit and exhibition have been made possible thanks to an academic partnership EvCC has with Otemae University. While attending an art and design summit last year at Otemae, Kammer extended an invitation to Mr. Kurata to visit America. After months of planning, last week saw a unique cultural exchange that Mr. Kurata hopes will encourage other manga artists to come westward and share their medium.

Such occasions as this make up a growing part of Mr. Kurata’s work in Japan. Recently, he founded the East Asia Manga Research Association, in an attempt to cultivate aspiring manga artists and promote further cultural exchanges. Mr. Kurata says that the study of manga at the collegiate level is fairly new.

Because the younger age bracket is shrinking in Japan, he says that these classes must offer something useful to students should they pursue other avenues of study. In competing for the patronage of young people, schools are becoming innovative, but must maintain an exceptional standard of study to be viable for students, he says.

When asked what has driven his success, Kurata is very candid. He says that for a manga artist to be as successful as he has been – teaching and drawing – is extremely rare. Though he goes on to say that stylistically, he believes his stories have something people can identify with. Revolving around the daily lives of normal people, he’s able to craft a set of characters whose fates you care about enough to follow along. 

When he was a boy first studying manga, everyone tried to dissuade him from pursuing it as a career. He credits his early influences to Shinji Nagashima’s depiction of a young man struggling to become a manga artist, and his mentor Tetsuya Chiba, famous for the Ashita no Joe comic.

Back then the manga we know today was still an emerging art form, coming to the fore during U.S. occupation after WWII. The founders of modern manga style established themselves during this time. Authors like Osamu Tezuka and Machiko Hasegawa combined western influences with Japanese allegorical themes to create a distinctive and forward-looking art.

Much akin to the tone of his own narrative, the greatest reward of Mr. Kurata’s success lies in giving back. He says his visit to EvCC has been beneficial and will be reflected in his own teaching and studies upon his return to Japan. He hopes that more faculty members from EvCC will come to Japan to “see how wonderful we are.”

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