I wasn’t sure what to expect from Komaba. I knew it was home to a university, but other than that, I was clueless. It was a beautiful spring day when I arrived at the station; I was happy just to be outside.
Kotaro Machiyama and I walked the streets to the soundtrack of passing trains on the Inokashira Line. He said he couldn’t remember his first impressions of Tokyo, but he came to the city when he started University.
Kotaro was humble in his comments about the city. He mentioned how convenient it was to have everything you need right where you need it. After some thought, he added that he liked the balance of cityscape with relaxed nature.
When we arrived at the Japan Folk Crafts Museum, Kotaro made a few sketches of the building. I looked around at the surprisingly harmonious contrast of generations—a blend of traditional buildings and gates with contemporary houses, and the university looming in the background.
“This environment feels very Japanese and very relaxed,” Kotaro said of the museum. “I first came here while still a student. The building is home to Keisuke Serizawa’s dyed works, and ainu clothing, and folk crafts. I quite like that sort of thing, so I would sometimes visit.”
We continued our walk through the streets, and to Komaba Park—a beautiful, sprawling collection of trees and peaceful greenery, and home to the residence of Marquis Toshinari Maeda, who made the place home in 1929. We wandered aimlessly, eventually coming to rest in the Japanese House by the entrance.
We looked out at the beautiful collection of trees, and listened to the flowing stream nearby.
A guide, an old man, took me by the arm suddenly and led me around the various rooms. Perhaps I looked lost, or curious. He showed me the most important spot in the house, a space on the tatami flooring from where I could see the best parts of the garden. The house was designed with this in viewpoint in mind, he said, but you’d never know unless someone told you.
When I returned, I asked Kotaro about his illustrations. He thought for a moment.
“I like the silhouette of people,” he said, “and the beauty of form. And movement… that line of movement when people move and how they place their weight.”
He paused again, and looked for the words to describe his style.
“I tried a variety of things as extensions of the sketches I did in school. I liked two dimensional planes. At first I was inspired by artists like Lautrec and Hokusai; powerful lines and solid surfaces. I like to eliminate shadows, and I like to make use of blank space, too. There’s something of a woodblock print feel [to my work].”
“And is there anything you aim to express in your illustrations?” I asked.
“For me, first it’s about drawing what appeals to me. Then, it’s about how to take things out of the picture. As much as I can, I don’t want to draw… and by that I mean, I want to express the location with as little drawing as possible. Like… how do I show the place without drawing? I think it’s best to express as much as I can with as few lines as possible.”
The words reminded me of the guide earlier. I thought of the Japanese House, and how its simple design hid a depth of thoughtfully considered design. The best designs are invisible—they simply feel right. I took a last look around the house, and thought back to Kotaro’s work. I wondered how he might apply it to a location like this one.
But however the picture ended up, I felt I had a better understanding of why Kotaro had chosen Komaba. Why he wanted to draw it.
And why it felt right.