Painter Fukunaga illustrates the artistic nature of Japanese onomatopoeic expressions


Staff Writer

Symbolic of Tokyo’s Asahi Beer Hall is a gigantic golden sculpture that sits atop the building and is the shape of, well, a roaring flame — at least that’s officially what it’s supposed to be. (Though ask any child and they’ll give you a different answer as to what it looks like.)

Inside the building is a high-ceilinged art space called “Asahi Art Square,” which measures 6 meters high, and 260 sq. meters in floor space. Making the most of this roomy space, a different artist is given the task of creating a huge installation project every January. Taking up the challenge this year is Berlin-based painter Atsushi Fukunaga, whose first solo exhibition will be held there this weekend.

One of the most entertaining linguistic peculiarities of Japanese is its abundance of so-called onomatopoeic expressions, or phrases that imitate certain sounds, such as gatagata (rattle) or fuwafuwa (fluffy). Although a popular source of frustration to novice learners of Japanese across the globe, such expressions, once mastered, can vastly help improve a student’s command of spoken Japanese.

Fukunaga has been literally “visualizing” such unique Japanese sounds in the form of artifacts or paintings. In an enormous piece titled “Kurumagaa …,” Fukunaga drew in katakana a plethora of onomatopoeic expressions that flood our everyday life. He delicately arranged the letters in a way that attempt to conjure up the image of an urban city.

In preparation for this exhibition, Fukunaga strolled around Tokyo’s Asakusa and Sumida districts. The works on display are all created based on a hodgepodge of sounds he collected there.

“Atsushi Fukunaga Exhibition: The Hurly-burly Chorus — Urban Symphony in Sumida and Asakusa” runs Jan. 12 through Feb. 3 at Asahi Art Square in Tokyo. Tickets cost ¥500. For more information, call: 090-9118-5171, or visit www.asahiartsquare.org/ja/schedule/post/800.