self matsuri


better red than dead

Last year, on September 22nd, I finally got around to visiting Osaka’s Self Matsuri (or ‘Self Festival’ — セルフ祭 in Japanese), a DIY street festival held in the Shinsekai neighborhood that I’ve wanted to attend ever since it was first organized several years ago. The festival primarily takes place in a branch of the Shinsekai shopping arcade, which is home to several mom-and-pop type shops that have seen better days as well as PiKA SPACE, an all in one bar, lounge, community center, and performance space founded by PIKA☆ whose current solo album — Ryu no Sumika — is one of the very best things released in 2015.

The festival, founded by the Osaka-based artist Kotakeman (コタケマン), reinvents the performances and rituals associated with traditional Japanese shrine festivals and remythologizes the local urban zone, which currently shows plenty of signs of the kinds of disenchantment associated with neighborhood economic decline. During the Self Matsuri, re-enchantment takes the form of a wild, anarchic DIY ethos that finds itself somewhere on the aesthetic spectrum between decora fashion, punk-rock reappropriation of found objects, post-psychedelic psychedelia, and the native fashion of the Osaka obachan. The clearest influence on the festival costumes, however, is the traditional folk costume associated with Japan’s many regional rituals, performances, dances, and celebrations.

In addition to street vendors selling everything under the sun, including handmade clothing, photographs, brightly-colored stuffed phallic sculptures, spontaneous paintings, and plenty of curry, beer, and other culinary delights, highlights included the human pachinko machine (if you get the balls into his mouth you can win choco prizes), the life-sized photo-sticker booth where you could get Polaroids taken of yourself against a variety of backdrops,  and the tooth-brushing station where you could get your teeth brushed by a sexy nurse — followed up with a tequila mouthwash rinse at the end. Performances included karaoke by any means necessary, a string of musical performances in an abandoned storefront, strange balloon wrestling in the sacred sumo ring, ritualistic taiko drumming and dance underneath a tree festooned with red-and-white lanterns, a noise-drenched final free-for-all psychedelic trance seizure dance explosion, and the closing ritual procession involving a silent, sacral, miko in white face paint being led through the shopping arcade on a handmade palanquin.

One of the most impressive performances was that of Paint Man (my own name for him — his real name is Ikko Taniuchi), an artist who, with the slowest of butoh-like movements, groans, and exaggerated facial expressions, proceeded to cover his body in thick, multi-colored paint, to the point where there was no human left to see under the sloppy, glistening coat of acrylic goop. He used his paint-covered body to make patterns on a square platform that had been placed in the center of one of the outdoor areas, repeatedly pouring more paint on himself, and then applying his body to the square ‘canvas.’ While a great deal of the festival is characterized by colorful absurdity, Paint Man’s performance, the closing procession, and various other festival events were charged with the power of yūgen (幽玄), a Japanese aesthetic term associated with a feeling of deep mysteriousness, the forceful pressure of the that which cannot be named.

the leopard

nightmare painter



kabuki pitcher

the kabuki kid

I had an amazing time at the festival, spending a good deal of it hanging out with John P., Osaka art-world spelunker and creative force behind Seal Pool records, as well as Hana Moon, a talented photographer I met at PiKA SPACE while stocking up on more beer. I brought two cameras to the festival — a Voigtlander Bessa-L with 15mm Heliar lens and a Fujifilm GF670 medium format camera — and I shot film like it was going out of style. Some of my favorite memories of the festival involve dancing, drinking beer, and shooting photos of the people I was dancing with, all at the same time. I mostly shot with the Bessa-L, since the wide-angle lens was perfect for taking it all in, but I also took a few portraits with the GF670. The only problem was, as I discovered later, is that I had spent the whole day taking air shots with the Bessa-L because it wasn’t loaded with film. Total rookie move. I think I was having too much of a good time to notice.

The shots on this page were all taken using the Fujifilm GF670, which was loaded up with Kodak Portra 400 film. They came out pretty well, but they don’t even come close to capturing the wild variety on tap at the Self Matsuri. The video below does a little bit better, but still manages to somehow flatten the sheer carnivalesque delight of the event and the otherworldly strangeness of being there, like finding oneself smack in the middle of a dream that Sun Ra might have had about Japan.



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