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The Outliers and the Crazies

SNA (Tokyo) — “The art community in Japan has always been the outliers of society, the crazies,” said Robin Rastenberger, the organizer of the art collaboration event Tokyo Lovehotel. These multi-artistic musical events bring together an eclectic audience from diverse backgrounds. Art is brought to the forefront in changing Japanese youth.

Rastenberger is a former model turned musician living in Tokyo for the past ten years, and is now involved at the head of the art movement which is taking the capital by storm. Alongside DJ, model, and blogger Samantha Mariko, he launched La Fondue Productions, which has provided a platform for private businesses to adopt a younger twist to their images.

Tokyo Lovehotel, organized by Rastenberger as well as DJ and fashion designer Kalin Lawrence, is a well-attended artistic movement which has shaken the very core of Tokyo nightlife.

The inspiration for the movement came from wanting “to create a safe space, like a safe haven, for people to express themselves freely,” says Rastenberger.

Tokyo Lovehotel also provides a political platform pushing for a revolving series of progressive issues. These can include such matters as the importance of safe, consensual sex, or the reduction of single-use plastic items.

Supplying artists with a venue to inspire others has changed the social outlook of many Japanese young people.

Rastenberger explains that he believes society works primarily online and has begun to use offline as a means of true communication and play. Ten years ago this was the opposite. Therefore, offline activities need to be entertaining, engaging, and productive towards the greater goal.

Art movements in Tokyo are nothing new, whether it be Harajuku girls or the influence of Western street fashion, they have been thriving since at least the 1990s. This new movement, however, attempts to tie everything together and to create a free-thinking platform inspiring Japanese youth to explore their individuality.

Rastenberger, having attended a music college as a student, describes this nation’s educational system as “beyond what I could have ever expected; how shitty it would be.” He continues, “It was shitty. It was so bad. We had karaoke lessons three times a week where you had to sing songs exactly as the original artist had sung it, and then the other students in the class would rate you based on the preciseness of your vocals in accordance to the original singer in the song. It taught you zero about thinking freely. It taught you zero about how to produce music that comes from your heart or your experiences. It literally just taught you a pre-made, conservative system that you’d never survive with anywhere else in the world but Japan.”

The significance of this art movement, explains Rastenberger, lies in its ability to create a dialogue between Japanese youth and the world: “Love… It’s all love, love for music, love for art. It’s what brings us together.”

Lawrence, who runs her own clothing brand, notes that “streetwear is probably the most Westernized aspect of the art scene in Japan. And they really do like to take a lot of influence from the West. But at the same time, the West loves Japan and Japanese streetwear. So this is one aspect of this dialogue which is winning.”

Both events, La Fondue and Tokyo Lovehotel, offer platforms for Japanese and foreign designers to set up pop-up stores to showcase their work.

Instagram and social media has become the beating heart of this liberating movement, according to Mariko. “Social media is changing the game a lot. Now Japanese people can see what people in L.A., New York, and Europe are wearing, and have an idea of what is globally trending. Not just fashion but makeup too.”

The art movement is acting as a catalyst for social change in the Reiwa Era. Rastenberger states that “there used to be a strange kind of limbo that we’ve been living in for the past couple of years where foreign culture, foreign art, foreign people, are there, but they are treated like cartoons, they are characters, they are not really real. So whatever you do with them or whatever you do with it, it doesn’t really matter. Whereas these days, I’m starting to see it actually materialize.”

Tokyo Lovehotel has adopted its own yuru-chara by the name of Prost. This digital mascot has her own video game used to light-heartedly project political standpoints relevant to the young.

Rastenberger explains, “We had a Save The Earth event where we had our character jump into the ocean in the game and gather plastic bags and coke bottles and clean it up. But we’re doing it in a very humorous and a bit naughty way.”

The name Prost derives from “prostitute,” not in the sexual sense, but in the sense of a person who turns their life over to the gaze of social media for exposure and transient attention. It’s a joke which is comprehensible in both English and Japanese.

In the end, what deeply concerns Rastenberger about contemporary Japanese society is that too many people have been taught to conform, rather than to express their personal idiosyncrasies: “When you look at kids before the first grade, they are cute, they are just like any kid around the world. They scream, they fight, they jump around, they cry… [Then] they start first grade and they start following the System, and they turn into little mechanical robots and that’s what we are trying to work against with these events.”

He believes that Japan was not always what it is today. In traditional, pre-Westernized Japanese society, “females had as much power as men did. Homosexuality was okay. People were smoking marijuana. It was freaking legal.”

But then, after the Pacific War, “some old farts took to the government and that’s where everything went wrong, and they thought, ‘let’s create an economic freaking giant.’ And how do we do that? Make sure everyone becomes a robot and they follow our demands.”

On the contrary, La Fondue and Lovehotel offer spaces where Japanese people are “living truly and freely.”

Rastenberger believes that this could lead to a much better future for Japan: “I think it’s going to put a little seed in the ground and make people realize.”

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