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  • "Your irony is too smart": a Japanese artist shares her impressions about Russian enigma, salo and jelly meat

    "Afisha Daily" conducts a regular series of conversations with foreigners living in Russia. Japanese artist Keito Yamaguchi shared her perception of the confrontation between Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russian food and human relations.


    Keito Yamaguchi, 27 years old

    Location: Sendai, Japan

    Occupation: she studies at St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, she came to Moscow to arrange her personal exhibition in Triumph Gallery.




    I have been singing in a Japanese choir for ten years, and for the first time I visited Russia during a tour. In March 2012, we came to perform in a cold, damp and gloomy Petersburg. I felt that it was somewhere close to Europe, but not yet. And the air in St. Petersburg to us, Japanese, did not seem too clean. It was scary, but fun.

    Even then, I was going to enter the Academy of Arts: when I graduated from the university, there was a disaster in Fukushima - my native Sendai is nearby - and I was invited to study in St. Petersburg as a gesture of support. I arrived in advance to see the Academy, the workshop, and take the preliminary courses.

    There are very high requirements for the applicants, besides, I did not know the language, and I had to calmly prepare for my studies.

    At first, it was difficult to understand what academic drawing and painting were. At Japanese university, we were taught graphics and painting, but it was not serious. I did not know what the composition was, the harmony of colors and lines. In St. Petersburg on the subcategories, we first painted plaster heads, only later - live portraits and figures. The teachers explained the theory, and it was not easy to understand them because of the language. Like all Asians, perspective was the hardest for me, because the traditional forms of Japanese visual art - ukiyo-e, manga, anime - are two-dimensional. In the West, space is understood mathematically, and it is hard for me to see all its layers and levels.

    There was another Japanese girl on the course, a Chilean, several Chinese, a Greek, an American, a German, two children from Ukraine, an Azerbaijani. Some rented an apartment, but I immediately decided to stay in the hostel - and I still live there. The first impression of the home was terrible: I arrived at night alone, I saw a small, almost empty room, it was cold - the heating did not work. The most awful was a common toilet. Then I decided that I would not live long in Russia.

    However, it's been four years already, and I'm still here: foreigners study for six years at the academy, I have two and a half left. In addition to art objects, we have lectures, but foreigners do not visit them, and nobody pays attention to it. Officially, the conditions are the same for everyone, but in fact, we are treated easier: after all, we are artists, and the academy believes that it is better to spend more time drawing than cramming.

    I went to Moscow for the first time with a choir - in 2013. And I immediately felt that the atmosphere in this city is very different from St. Petersburg. Still, Moscow is a lively and crowded capital, and St. Petersburg is a traditional, historic, beautiful city, it is closer to Europe. I was struck by the power of the Kremlin and for some reason impressed by Okhotny Ryad shopping center. We went to eat a homemade udon in the "Marukame". After that, we went to Moscow with friends at the Biennale of Contemporary Art, and at the beginning of this year, we went to Triumph gallery. And now my first exhibition opens here.

    In St. Petersburg, contemporary art is not very fond of. Of course, there are artists who work in modern style, but they do not understand the academy at all. Tradition reigns there, the classic seems to be the only worthy form. Now it turns out that I have to do some work for the Academy, others - for myself.

    The confrontation between Moscow and St. Petersburg resembles the Japanese antithesis of Tokyo and Kyoto. Tokyo is the center of culture and business, where everything is constantly changing and life is boiling. And the citizens of the old capital of Kyoto are very slow and calm, they enjoy a measured way of life and honor traditions. By the way, the citizens of Tokyo and Kyoto also do not like each other very much.

    Initially, I had no problems with food in Russia - I cooked myself a lot. Now there is no time, no desire for it - it became complicated. Borshch disappointed me: I thought it would be more delicious. And the strangest Russian food I tried for the New Year. I was treated with salo, jelly meat and a nasty pink salad. I do not eat mayonnaise - it's hard for me. Now I often eat in the academy canteen - it is even tasty there - or I go to the Marketplace network; sometimes I eat burgers or shawarma. Earlier in St. Petersburg I used to go to my favorite "Marukame" - unfortunately, this noodle cafe was quickly closed. In St. Petersburg, I pass through all sorts of "Gin-no-Taki", but I do not want to go there.

    Russians have a great sense of humor. It's hard for you to live here, but you cannot grumble at it all the time, so you learned to laugh at problems. We in Japan often laugh at the most mundane and rude things, and now I understand that our jokes are foolish. We have less taboos. For example, we often say to a person "Die!" simply because there is nothing special about this. Russians do not do that. Of course, I do not always understand Russian irony - it's too smart. In general, there are many thinking people among you, that's why you are cosmonauts, scientists, writers, and musicians. Always moving forward.

    At first, it seems that Russians are very serious and closed. And then, you start talking with a person, and suddenly you become very close. In Russia, it's easy to make friends with people and, probably, it's just as easy to get apart. Japanese have a very difficult friendship - because of the rules of good taste. Sometimes, you meet a person, talk well and cheerfully, and then silence comes. In Japan, every time you meet a new person, it is common to think a lot - maybe you accidentally offended or made a wrong impression on a person, but you never can find out for sure.

    Russia is amazing: once we walked on Vaska with friends, I walked in front and saw a man who was behaving very strangely. I thought that this is an artist-actionist, but he just sat in the middle of the street and poked. That's the center of the cultural capital for you! But you will never get bored here. What I do not like most about Russian life is fussing with documents. You come to one place, they send you to another, then to the third - and thus in a circle. It seems that people have a different focus and memory. And in a store, I continue to greet the cashiers. They often remain silent in response, but I'm already used to it.

    In general, I have started to treat easier many things in your country, I understood their essence. I got self-confidence: I study in a steep academy with a high level of teaching and excellent teachers, I got more knowledge and experience. After studying, I will return to Japan, open my workshop and teach drawing, painting and, perhaps, Russian. Russia gave me a lot - then it will be my turn to pass it on to Japanese.

    Information source: «Ваша ирония слишком умная: японская художница о русской энигме, сале и холодце»,

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