In the 1960s, contemporary art objects, usually sculptures, were brought out of museums and placed in public spaces, lumped under the category of public art.

Looking back, Sokichi Sugimura, a promoter of public art, thinks his activities may have been driven too much by Western notions.

Sugimura, head of the Tokyo-based Public Art Research Institute, said his view of public art dramatically changed when he read a 2001 essay by Barbara Sandrisser, an aesthetic environment researcher in New York, titled “The Seductive Torii As Public Art.”

In it, she depicted the gates to Shinto shrines as great works.

“We have lacked a strong sense of appreciating the aesthetic and spiritual value of torii and other traditional objects in communities,” said Sugimura, who in 1994 helped Public Art Forum become incorporated.

“I would like people to look at old objects having esthetic values in communities with new eyes as pieces of public art,” she said. “These objects have not only served as landmarks but have also given spiritual stimulation and a sense of identity to individuals, families and communities.”

In September, when Sandrisser was on a visit to Japan, Sugimura organized a tour of torii in central Tokyo and a lecture by the author.

He now plans to organize three walking tours of Yokohama.

The first, on Dec. 7, will take in the Kannai district, where Japan’s Westernization started.

The second will be next spring and the third in summer.

Sugimura hopes various people, including foreigners, take part.

“We will not provide interpreters. From my experience, I know that Japanese will try to help foreigners by speaking English, resulting in new friendships forming naturally.

“I hope people from other countries deepen their understanding and love of Japan by looking at traditional objects that have taken root in communities, and at the unpainted face of Japan.”

The participation fee is 3,000 yen. There will also be a party afterward in the evening at a restaurant serving old-style sukiyaki, costing 12,000 yen.

“The party will serve as a venue of discussions,” Sugimura said.

He is also planning visits to shrines along the Tama River and a trip to Nagasaki.

“A deep appreciation of a community’s aesthetic objects handed down from generation to generation will instill people with confidence in themselves and empower them to rejuvenate their communities,” Sugimura said.

“I hope outsiders also appreciate such heritage, which I am sure will give them a heightened spirit.”

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