Noritaka Tatehana


7/September/2019 - 12/October/2019

KOSAKU KANECHIKA is pleased to present Noritaka Tatehana’s solo exhibition “WOODCUTS”, opening on September 7.


Noritaka Tatehana’s works offer a new perspective and worldview by means of fusing time-honored treasures of Japanese cultural identity with elements of the contemporary. Tatehana’s work at once employs both a birds-eye view and a comprehensive approach to exploring detail. Through his delicately handcrafted works, he expresses Japan’s history and the unique aesthetics, culture, and the various ideas that have been nurtured within it. By rethinking these elements, Tatehana’s works suggest the possibilities that the future holds, such as his signature series “Heel-less Shoes” inspired by the Takageta clogs worn by high class courtesans of the Edo period, which are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.


About This Exhibition

This exhibition centers on Tatehana’s “Woodcuts”, revolving around five vertical lines within a parallelogram: a motif with deep roots in Japan’s distinctive culture of incense, but expressed against a background of minimalist aesthetics. The following is an excerpt from Tatehana’s production notes on the Japanese culture of scents. 


“The series consists of 52 wooden panels, which represents the 52 different patterns that can result from the possible combinations of 5 vertical lines. These 52 individual patterns are motifs from the Genji-koh incense culture that was born 300 years ago during the Edo period. Genji-koh is a form of Kumi-koh or incense guessing game, an appreciation of fragrances structured as a competition that challenges the nose’s ability to identify different kinds of incense. Genji-koh is named after The Tale of Genji, and each of the 52 individual possible patterns is named after one of the chapters of that Tale. The game is completed when the player writes a chapter title, indicating his final answer.


Incense was first brought to Japan in the year 538 AD with the introduction of Buddhism, and later evolved to become integrated into the culture of the Heian Period aristocracy. Later during the Nara Period, in the creation of the Nihon Shoki, or “The Chronicles of Japan”, it was written that incense first entered Japan in 595 AD.


For over a thousand years, the culture of Japanese incense has evolved to become established as an expression that appeals not only to the sense of scent but to vision and hearing as well. The art of incense has also held a precious significance within the aristocracy of Japanese society, as illustrated by its depiction in The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu. During the Heian Period, incense was used to also complement kimonos and love letters. In the darkness of the night, the interaction between a husband and his wife living apart could be narrated by the exchange of scents. 


“Beneath a tree, a locust’s empty shell. Sadly I muse upon the shell of a lady.”
Hikaru Genji
Translated by Edward George Seidensticker


“The dew upon the fragile locust wing. Is lost among the leaves. Lost are my tears.”
Translated by Edward George Seidensticker


The above passages illustrate scenes from the third chapter of The Tale of Genji, titled “The Shell of the Locust” (pronounced “Utsusemi” in Japanese). In this chapter, the protagonist Hikaru Genji seeks the beautiful Utsusemi, the wife of Iyonosuke, and sneaks into her room at night, but Utsusemi escapes, leaving behind a single piece of clothing. Taking it back with him, Genji relishes the scent of Utsusemi that is left on the garment. When Utsusemi leaves the capital of Edo with her husband, the garment is returned to her; however, it is stained with the scent of Genji. She wets her sleeve with tears, lamenting herself being someone else’s wife. 


In addition to its association with aristocratic culture, incense is also strongly linked to Buddhist faith. Incense smoke is generated by burning a chopped incense tree directly over a fire. Because the smoke of incense rises upwards towards the heavens, it was used to communicate between the present world and the world of Buddha, or the afterlife. Hangon-koh, or incense which was believed to reveal the form of the spirit of a deceased loved one within it, was a legend that originated in China but also became a well-known feature of rakugo or classical Japanese comic storytelling.”


The work “Woodcuts” also holds significance within Minimalism. Minimalism in Japan represents the concept of wabi-sabi, which is typified by the Higashiyama culture of the Muromachi period, and is recognized as being based on aesthetic notions such as mono no aware (appreciation of the fleeting nature of beauty), and yuugen (delicate and subtle beauty). Genji-koh can also be seen as being developed in the high-context culture of aristocracy.


With a canvas shape that rejects the traditional rectangular composition expected of a wall-mounted work, Tatehana’s “Woodcuts” has more sculptural elements. The five vertical straight lines are arranged within the parallelogram to match the shape of the frame, so that the work is expressed as a rational and continuous object. This is in line with the artistic trend-based expressions described in Donald Judd’s text “Specific Objects” published in 1965. The material used for the “Woodcuts” is a medium density fiberboard; however, each of the 52 works depicts different and individual patterns, and thus despite their uniformity they are not mass-produced industrially. Similarly, the traditional Japanese lacquer technique tamenuri with which each wooden panel is finished does not have a uniform texture, but the thickness of the coating changes depending on the particular panel, making various layers. This suggests a direct correlation between pictorial color and form, and spatial elements. In other words, they are neither paintings nor sculptures, but they are “specific objects”. Tatehana traces the history of the highly unique Japanese culture of scent as high-context culture, and expresses a new format from within its area of overlap with the current of contemporary art.


In addition to “Woodcuts”, this exhibition will showcase Tatehana’s representative series “Heel-less Shoes”, as well as works from his “Hairpin” series and the flat canvas works of his “Embossed Painting” series. This exhibition invites the viewer to rethink, rediscover, and question elements of Japanese culture in attempt to open up new horizons. 


General information

Noritaka Tatehana "WOODCUTS"

September 7 − October 12, 2019
Opening reception: September 7, at 6 pm - 8 pm

11 am - 6 pm / Tue, Wed, Thu and Saturday
11 am - 8 pm / Friday
Closed on Sun, Mon and National Holidays

TERRADA Art Complex 5F
1-33-10 Higashi-Shinagawa

Free admission

Noritaka Tatehana

Born in 1985 in Tokyo. His family ran the public bathhouse “Kabuki-yu” in Kabukicho, Tokyo, and he grew up in Kamakura. He learned to create with own hands when he was small, under the influence of his mother, who was a doll artist practicing the Waldorf education method. He graduated from the Department of Crafts, Textile Arts, at Tokyo University of the Arts in 2010. As well as undertaking cultural research in relation to depictions of prostitution, Tatehana also creates kimono and geta (traditional wooden clogs) with the Yuzen dyeing process. He has presented work at exhibitions including “Image-Makers” (21_21 DESIGN SIGHT, 2010), “Future Beauty” (the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, touring internationally, 2012), and in a solo museum exhibition, “Aesthetic of Magic” (The Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum, Japan, 2016) amongst other international exhibitions such as in New York, Paris, and the Netherlands. He also presents a wide variety of creative practices, one notable example being a bunraku performance at the Cartier Foundation in Paris in March 2016. His work is included in the collections of institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Tatehana will hold a solo exhibition “NORITAKA TATEHANA: Refashioning Beauty” at the Portland Japanese Garden, USA, from October 5 to December 1 this year.


  • Baby Heel-less Shoes, 2019

  • Baby Heel-less Shoes, 2019

  • Heel-less Shoes, 2019

  • Heel-less Shoes, 2019

  • Heel-less Shoes, 2019

  • Heel-less Shoes, 2019

  • Heel-less Shoes, 2019

  • Embossed Painting, 2019

  • Embossed Painting, 2019