My bag

Ambassador of all things kawaii

ON HIS BAG: I usually do not carry much around. But as I am travelling, this bag is convenient as it can carry more. I took along about 20 bow ties for the trip.
ON HIS BAG: I usually do not carry much around. But as I am travelling, this bag is convenient as it can carry more. I took along about 20 bow ties for the trip. ST PHOTOS: DIOS VINCOY JR

Contemporary visual artist Sebastian Masuda says the concept of kawaii (cute in Japanese) is more than just about being adorable.

The 46-year-old Japanese designer, who was in Singapore last month for Anime Festival Asia, tells The Straits Times: "For me, kawaii is when you create your own universe, something that no one can touch or interrupt. It is something individual, a personal space."

He adds that the Japanese popular culture movement has more to do with the "internal experience" than a style that people wear.

"People often understand kawaii on a more superficial level, as being cute and fun. But someone who wants to try something unique - that spirit is what I think kawaii is."

The bachelor - always seen in his trademark look of a floppy hat, bright glasses and patterned bow ties - was here to launch the Singapore leg of his global participatory art project.

The Time After Time Capsule project, which started in 2014 at Art Basel Miami, is a collection of large translucent time capsules. The empty capsules are placed in cities around the world and people are invited to write messages for the future or place their own kawaii objects inside.

The capsule in each city is shaped to look like animal or iconic characters such as a teddy bear or Hello Kitty and the project has been to cities such as London, Paris and New York.

It aims to cover 10 cities before ending in 2020 in Tokyo, where all the capsules will be collected and stacked into a giant monument.

Singapore, the first Asian stop, received a capsule in the shape of the Japanese character, Domo.

Masuda says: "I have been going around the United States and Europe before this and I chose Singapore because it is an English- speaking country. It is also a gateway to other countries in Asia."

The artist hopes the installation will demonstrate how kawaii can be a means of personal expression regardless of age, gender or nationality and a tool to create unity.

"If I can help people recognise the kawaii spirit in others, acknowledge this inquisitiveness, then I think I can create better relationships and a better world."

He says letters and items placed in the time capsules will be returned to their owners 20 years later.

Masuda first entered the realm of kawaii when he started fashion label, 6%Dokidoki, in Harajuku in 1995. The label is known for its vivid, almost overwhelmingly colourful style, and unabashedly promotes the kawaii culture.

Masuda is also the art director who created the Willy Wonka-like mise en scene in Japanese pop singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's music video, Pon Pon Pon, in 2011.

He also worked on the art direction for a music video titled Nandeya Nennen, by Japanese comedian Hamada Masatoshi, last year.

The designer, who still creates for 6% Dokidoki, is also the art director for Kawaii International, a documentary programme by NHK World TV that captures the essence of Tokyo's vibrant pop culture.

Asked why he is so passionate about spreading the kawaii culture, Masuda says: "There is not enough recognition of Asian culture. Many young culture movements come from the West. But kawaii came from Harajuku and is something that is uniquely Japanese yet globally recognised.

"I want to deliver the message to younger generations that something from Harajuku can make an impact."


Things in his bag

BOW TIES

Bow ties are part of my look. They are a trademark and I am always wearing one. These are just a few from my collection.

SCHEDULER

I designed the cover for this scheduler, a collaboration with a Japanese label called Hobonichi. I write down all my appointments in here.

PHONE COVER

I like this case because it is glittery and eye-catching. I bought it in New York.

GLASSES

Glasses are a part of my look. I need them for activities such as reading, but these are not prescriptive ones. I like the bright yellow colour.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2016, with the headline 'Ambassador of all things kawaii'. Print Edition | Subscribe