Posted:Mar 10, 2009

A Beginner’s Guide to GEISAI

GEISAI #12 is fast approaching but what exactly is GEISAI? Tokyo Art Beat explains the basics…


GEISAI (meaning ‘art festival’) is a giant art fair dedicated to Japanese Pop Art and to invigorating the art market. For just one day thousands of visitors wander through hundreds of booths. Awards are given to participating artists selected by a jury. Inspire by terakoya temple schools and art college shows, it is a place of fun and excitement – as much a rock festival as a serious business-orientated art fair.


GEISAI is produced by Takashi Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd.


It is a biannual fair. After an initial incarnation, called GEISAI GP, in 2001, the GEISAI #1 was held in 2002, attracting three thousand people. The most recent was September 2008 and visitors now number over eight thousand.


It is intended to be a platform for young Japanese artists to break into the professional market. It has been called “practical training” by its organizers. The fair is as accessible for participants as it is for visitors.


This coming incarnation of the fair is being held at Tokyo Big Sight, where many of the previous ones also took place. Further, GEISAI is spreading overseas, with GEISAI Miami happening in 2008.

Performance art at GEISAI #12. In the background is a large painting by Sodahiebie.
Performance art at GEISAI #12. In the background is a large painting by Sodahiebie.
Photo: Katrina Grigg-Saito


In the face of losses spiraling into the millions of dollars, Murakami and his cohorts are striving to create a new generation of Japanese artists, to raise popular consciousness of art, and to provide a forum for galleries to meet the next stars.


Murakami is indeed trying to foster young artists, but isn’t it just an army of Super Flat advocates, keen on emulating his success with Louis Vuitton handbags? The fair is sprawling but arguably covering similar territory as Design Festa, and certainly museum interest in the event has been very minimal so far.

The only way to say for sure is to go and see for yourself!

For further reading, here is a link to highlights from GEISAI #10, and interviews with Takashi Murakami in 2006 here and here.

Visit the office GEISAI website here.

UPDATE. See our photo report on GEISAI #12.

William Andrews

William Andrews

William Andrews came to Japan in 2004. He first lived in Osaka, where he was a translator for Kansai Art Beat. Arriving in Tokyo in 2008, he now works as an writer, editor and translator. He writes a blog about Japanese radicalism and counterculture and one about Tokyo contemporary theatre. He is the author of Dissenting Japan: A History of Japanese Radicalism and Counterculture, from 1945 to Fukushima.