Posted:Mar 30, 2023

“Pokémon x Kogei - Playful Encounters of Pokémon and Japanese Craft” Exhibition Report

From the exhibition, Taiichiro Yoshida, from left to right, Vaporeon, Eevee, Jolteon, and Flareon

Pokémon × Kogei Playful Encounters of Pokémon and Japanese Craft is now on view at the National Crafts Museum in Kanazawa through June 11. The exhibition introduces the appeal of both crafts and Pokémon through the vital energies of “earth, grass, metal, water, fire, and electricity.”

Traditional Japanese crafts and Pokémon collaborate!

Even though Kanazawa is known for many traditional Japanese crafts such as Kanazawa Kutani ceramics, Kaga Yuzen silk dyeing, and Kanazawa gold leaf, it was only three years ago in 2020 that the National Crafts Museum moved from Tokyo to Kanazawa. In comparison, Pocket Monsters (a.k.a. Pokémon) began in 1996 with the game Pocket Monster Red and Green for the legendary Game Boy handheld video game console. Since then, the series has developed into a variety of products, including anime and card games, and is popular overseas as well.

The history of Japan’s world-class craftsmanship is of course far longer. Kanazawa gold leaf, for example, has a 400-year history. And Urushi lacquer has been used since the Jomon period (more than 10,000 years ago) and may be the oldest craft in the world.

Kanazawa Castle site
National Crafts Museum - Former Army Kanazawa Kaikosha Club House
From the exhibition, Reiko Sudo Pikachu's Adventures in a Forest

A collaboration between Pokémon and crafts in Kanazawa? The combination of art and pop culture is not as uncommon as one might think.

For example, the collaboration between Kirin Lager Beer and Andy Warhol, Ghibli products featuring Totoro, and Roy Lichtenstein’s Look Mickey based on Mickey Mouse are just a few examples.

So, what is the connection between traditional crafts and Pokémon? According to the National Crafts Museum:

Surprisingly, there are many similarities between the two. For example, the raw materials used in crafts and the energy used in the manufacturing process include earth, grass, metal, water, fire, electricity, and other elements that could be described as Pokémon types. The systems for refining, cultivating, collecting, and exchanging crafts also seem to overlap in many ways with the thoughts of the craftspeople who make and love them.

The Pokémon Company showed interest in a collaboration even before the National Crafts Museum moved from Tokyo to Kanazawa. According to company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara, they were attracted to the idea of bringing Pokémon, which were originally two-dimensional, into the three-dimensional world through collaboration with craft artists. Ishihara explained at the press conference that the company’s strategy is not to release new characters little by little but to release them boldly as a series once every two or three years. In this sense, the more than 70 works to be exhibited at the Pokémon x Crafts exhibition can be considered a new series.

The National Crafts Museum hopes that children and people who are not familiar with traditional crafts will become interested in crafts through Pokémon. Furthermore, Pokémon is extremely popular not only in Japan but also in other countries, including Europe and the United States. With this in mind, the official catalog published at the same time as the exhibition is completely bilingual in Japanese and English.

From the perspectives of “Appearance,” “Stories,” and “Life”

One of the features of this exhibition is that all of the craftwork is inspired and influenced by Pokémon. Among the 20 artists exhibiting are living national treasure Morihito Katsura, young artists such as Yoshiko Masumoto and Yasuichiro Yoshida, and veterans such as Nobuyuki Tanaka and Shigeki Hayashi. The work in the exhibition is divided into three categories: “Appearance,” “Stories,” and “Life.”

Pokémon, which were created as two-dimensional characters in video games, are given new life as craftwork created by the artists. In “Appearance,” work that expresses the interesting appearance of Pokémon through craftwork is introduced. The Jolteon by Taiichiro Yoshida which adorns the exhibition poster, and Venusaur by Sadamasa Imai, are characters that are familiar to Pokémon fans.

From the exhibition, Taiichiro Yoshida Jolteon
From the exhibition, Sadamasa Imai Venusaur

Many of the works in “Stories” are abstract. For example, Nobuyuki Tanaka’s untitled work appears to be a mysterious black obelisk. Tanaka uses the dry lacquer technique to produce the extremely deep black, to depict the Pokémon move Shadow Sneak. On the other hand, Ichizo Ikemoto’s work depicts the idyllic scenery of the Galar region in the Pokémon world.

From the exhibition, Nobuyuki Tanaka Untitled
From the exhibition, Kazumi Ikemoto Adventure Begins

“Life” introduces works that connect Pokémon, which can be described as fantasy, with everyday life. For example, there is a series of obidome sash ornaments and brooches in the shape of Blackie by living national treasure Morihito Katsura, and a lineup of vessels by Yoshiko Masumoto, in which it is hard to tell whether the Pokémon is blending into the pot or transforming into it. There are also kimonos, cups, tea boxes, and other works using Pokémon patterns and motifs.

From the official catalog, Morihito Katsura, left page [top] Incense Box Lugia, [bottom] Incense Box Houou, right page [top] Obidome Blackie Menace, [middle] Brooch Blackie Sleeping, [bottom] Brooch Blackie Standing
From the exhibition, Eiichi Shiroma Ryukyu Bingata Kimono Shima Tsunagi
From the exhibition, Takuro Kuwata Cups (Pikachu)

While the famous Pikachu character and the Pokémon symbol, the Monster Ball, stand out prominently in the designs of some of the works, there are some works whose relationship to Pokémon is not immediately apparent unless one gets up close and takes a closer look. In this way, fun invitations and tricks are scattered throughout the exhibition to attract Pokémon fans to the world of crafts. While enjoying the works themselves, craft fans should find the newly added element of Pokémon refreshing and interesting.