Artist-designed rooms draw the curious to Yokohama
BY LOUIS TEMPLADO STAFF WRITER
Proprietor Kose Iwamoto on the balcony of his art-themed Hostel Zen in Yokohama (Louis Templado)An inner corridor turned into a musical chime (Louis Templado)Lab coats and mounted insects in the stairwell (Louis Templado)Inside one of the art rooms at the hostel (Louis Templado)
For about the price of admission to all the exhibits at the current Yokohama Triennale 2011 international exhibition of contemporary art, you could also spend the night in it.
Although not part of the Triennale per se, at least one local hostel has jumped into the scene, inviting artists to remake rooms in live-in installations.
"The people around here are getting old, and we have to try something new," says Kose Iwamoto, who runs Hostel Zen, located in the Kotobukicho neighborhood of central Yokohama.
The hostel unveiled its art at the beginning of August, timed with the opening of the Yokohoma Triennale, which is held every three years at locales around the city and continues until Nov. 6.
The city is making a name for itself with contemporary art -- as a tool for urban redevelopment. Its Koganei district, once a warren of prostitutes in window displays, for example, has been refashioned into cafes and galleries over the past decade.
Among the artists whose works are at Hostel Zen are Yusuke Asai, Tei Erikusa, Asae Soya and Junji Shiotsu. Interesting as their creations are on their own (as is the idea of staring up at them as you lie in your futon), there's no ignoring their quirky contrast with the Kotobukicho neighborhood.
Set between Yokohama's magnetic Chinatown and Yokohama Stadium, Kotobukicho is Japan's version of the Bowery, a village-like amalgamation of so-called "doya" flophouses (which here are actually apartment buildings), bars, betting parlors and, in the middle of it all, a kindergarten. Children's laughter and the moans and groans of aging day laborers fill the streets.
"Every building you can see here is basically a flophouse," says Iwamoto, whose family has been local landlords for three generations. There are close to 200 such buildings in the neighborhood, all with rooms three-and-a-half tatami mats in size, occupied by former day laborers who are now receiving public assistance from the city.
Hostel Zen is actually the top two floors of one of the apartment blocks. It opened three years ago as one of a handful of hostels catering to foreign tourists on a tight budget (rooms are 3,000 yen, or $39). Just around the corner is another hostel, Porto, similarly featuring art.
"Backpackers from nearby countries got to be a normal sight around here," says Iwamoto. "But after the big earthquake they've completely stopped coming."
Instead the hostel is drawing Japanese families who want to take their time in Chinatown, sports fans from far away and music groupies. The neighborhood fills with Japanese Rasta heads whenever there's a reggae festival at the stadium.
The installations at Hostel Zen, no surprise, also draw artists. Among them is conceptual photographer Yousuke Takeda, some of whose works are hanging in the place. Although he lives in Tokyo, Takeda is a frequent guest at the hostel, often leading fellow artists there.
"It looks rough at first, there's a warmth and openness here that I can't find anymore in Tokyo," says the photographer. Likewise the rooms at the lodge may be cramped, but they offer their own brand of contact.
"Going to a gallery or museum is one way to see art," he adds, "but you get a different sense of appreciation when you spend the night with it."