Japanoscope Translations Podcast #2: Being An Artist In Covid-19 Japan – Getting Back To Nature With Live Painter Kohei Kondo

Kohei Kudo at Haretara sora ni mame maite
Kohei Kudo at Haretara sora ni mame maite

Japanese Reading Difficulty

5/12 Could be read by 5th grade level student in Japan


Art, Painting, Live Painting, Covid-19, Music

Text Type

Social Media Post (from artist's instagram)

About The Artist

Kohei Kondo

I first met Kohei Kondo when we were put on the same bill to play a gig at the magnificently named Tokyo music venue「晴れたら空に豆まいて」”When the weather’s fine throw peas at the sky”.

Japanese Parasol Umbrella from haretara sora ni mame maite
Red Japanese Parasol at Haretara sora ni mame maite

I was playing songs in Japanese and English and Kohei was doing Live Painting. It was one of the first shows I had done with live painting. If you are not familiar with the concept, it’s pretty much how it sounds. The artist makes a painting while a musician does sound. It actually works pretty well. 

In my experience, this goes on a lot more in Japan than in the English speaking world.  It’s hard to know why that is.  It could be as simple as being because Japanese gigs are usually more expensive to get into so there’s a little more money to go around. Japanese gigs also tend to be a lot less raucous, with audiences that sit and listen fairly quietly, so having an artistic element makes a lot more sense.

Liquid Lighting at Emma Russack and Lachlan gig in Melbourne

Kohei makes swirling rainbow-like visions that seem at once vivid and washed out. His style is someone remiscent of liquid lighting techniques popular from the psychadelic 60s. 

His pictures also have some common ground with the visual work of legendary Dirty Three guitarist, Mick Turner.

A translation of an Instagram post from the artist














いつも話ずれちゃうし、「康平くんの話は落ちがなくて、雰囲気勝負だよね」って時々友達に言われてちゃうのだけど今日もそうなっちゃった。。。 とにかく今は画集の絵を頑張っているという報告と。



Gig poster for Peter Joseph Head and Kohei Kondo gig in 2014

May has my favourite festivals, Hoshioto and Green Room. I was also looking forward to doing  live painting at the Ukigensai festival in Taipei, Taiwan, but it’s been cancelled. It’s not all bad though, at least both of the Japanese festivals are still being planned to take place at a later date and have not been canceled, so the fun has just been delayed. I hope the Ukigen Festival will happen at some stage!

These two festivals were to be my current major activities as a painter, consisting of live painting with sale of works at a solo exhibition afterwards.  I’m also working on three other CD jacket and poster projects I’ve been asked for.

So the Live Painting has stopped happening and now I’m constantly at home drawing. I live with my sick elderly father, so I’m happy to have a lot of time to spend with him.  It makes me think, maybe this time is actually like a gift?

Also, I’ve been able to get stuck into tending the rice fields that I wasn’t able to spend much time on last year. Everyday after I’ve done my painting I go out and do the mowing. I’m having a ball. It’s so satisfying to see the tangible results of something like mowing the lawn. In a simple way, I just like the soil, the insects and all the small lifeforms you come across. I’ve been that way since I was a child.

How far have my sensibilities changed? Well, If I come across an earthworm, recklessly trying to cross the road, I find myself picking it up in my fingers to deliver it to the safety of the grass!
After mowing, I plow the soil, I plant the seedlings. . . I’m having a good time
What I’m working on most intently at the moment is a new art collection. I promised the work two years ago, but I’ve been putting it off forever. The publisher only launched themselves two years ago. I was in the children’s book industry, which is a tight knit world, and the publisher is one of the editors that I used to know during this time. I’ve known him since I worked at a picture book store called Crayon House, so maybe I’ve known him for about 15 years! Wow!
Yes, that’s how it was, the editor finished up with the publisher he was with, became independent, and started his own publishing company. I was so happy that he called on me right at the start of his business. You know, I really want to make this art book good.

Also, my father was an editor, so he loves books and paper and I’m happy that I can share my work with him.

For about 3 or 4 years I was spending all my time all-out hustling doing Live Painting, and would do about 150 gigs a year. But it got to the point that I was having so little time to spend with my father, and that it was just too much for me even physically. Well, I guess I had the physical strength, but it was becoming impossible to efficiently allocate time to production for my solo exhibitions. Live painting requires a whole different state of mind, and it is not that easy to just switch the different modes of working. 

I would get into the solo production mode, feeling like “I’m getting into the zone here” and then a week later a Live Painting gig would come along and it would feel like my whole mindstate had just been interrupted.

Even with a single day’s live painting, it still takes me a few days to change modes.

So it feels like having no live painting like this is actually a gift. When I write it like that it sounds like I don’t like Live Painting but actually I love love love love Live Painting.

Ideally, it’s good to organise things so that it’s “production this month” or “Live Painting this month”, but that’s easier said than done!

I love music, I love the musicians I work with, and I love Live Painting.
The thing about live painting is that you can come up with something that is like a direct chemical reaction to what is going on at the time. It’s kind of like you find some kind of infinite horizontal direction.
Solo production is interesting in it’s own way. It’s more like you’re diving deeply inside yourself. Perhaps solo is about the infinite vertical direction?

When I talk, I always seem to go off the rails. My friends tell me, “Kouhei, your stories don’t have a punchline, you’re always trying to bluff it by creating some kind of atmosphere”, and I fear today is no different. Anyway, for now, I guess I’m just reporting that I’m hard at work on a new art collection.

Also, I’m itching, from deep down inside my body, for the day when I can get back to the Live Painting. I tell you, I can’t wait to meet up with everyone.

Kondo Kohei drawing

Visit Kondo’s website here

Visit his web shop here.

Kohei Kondo Artist Profile 

Born in 1975 in Japan, Kohei Kondo is a painter based in Tokyo. He holds a Masters Degree from Tottori University, majoring in forestry. Later he taught himself painting. He is active in a variety of “painting” genres including live painting, clothing line branding, book sleeves, CD jackets and performing arts.

 【Exhibition history】 He has heldsolo exhibitions at large commercial facilities including Laforet Harajuku,  Shinjuku Isetan and Shibuya PARCO. He has held solo exhibitions in various locations across Japan, Taiwan and the United States . 

【Work history】He has provided designs for fashion brands, seasonal visuals at commercial facilities, CD jackets, and has appeared on television. 

【Live Painting Performance】 His performances use painting improvised in accordance with musicians’ performances. While responding & synchronizing with the music, he uses the palm of his hands to paint directly on to large canvases. Audience members often remark “I have never seen painting done live as a performance” or “it felt like I was watching a movie.” He is active in various music festivals, music venues, theaters etc.

【Personal Statement】 My pictures are influenced largely by two things. One, that I spent my childhood in nature. I majored in forestry at university and have studied Japanese environments. As a result, there were many opportunities to get in touch with nature. I became interested in these wonderful habitats which bring out feelings beyond words when touching the sea, the wind, the clouds and forests. Nature is my grand motif. I would like to express the feelings that I get in nature.

The second thing is a Japanese traditional aesthetic sense called “MITATE”. For example, ancient Japanese have seen a rock in the garden as an island floating in the waves. Likewise, they have imaged the plum blossoms in association with the snow. I’d like to make use of this kind of sensibility in my paintings. I’d like to bring “mitate” into one universe and narrative, in a pattern that floats across the canvas.

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).


13 mind-expanding Japanese quotes & home truths translated into English

New year = new life, right?  Or at very least, new inspiration. Japan has a long tradition of coming up with the pithy one-liner. So I’ve put together a collection of wisdom and life advice from calligraphy to comics, sports-people to samurai, car commercials to kawaii characters. 
Let’s start with some heartwarmers from the world of manga. How about we go ahead and clear up the vexed issue of how to properly categorise the people in our life? 



“The people you meet with for no good reason are Friends.

The people you don’t meet without a reason are Acquaintances.

The people you make up a reason to meet are the people you love.”


We can thank Miyazaki Hayao and Studio Ghibli for clearing up the nature of human relationships in the anime Whisper of the Heart


And what about that night sky that we walk with our loved ones beneath? What can the world of anime and manga tell us about that?


“The night sky is a window for earth to look out at space.”


Okay, but it’s not all wide eyes and wonder in the comic cosmos.

How about this one from the outrageously inefficiently titled Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen Mae Hashutsujo (こちら葛飾区亀有公園前派出所, lit. “This is the Police Station in Front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward”)


“Even if I read 100 books a day like you police chiefs, it wouldn’t make me any smarter. It’s just following along after the type print across the page, right? After all, it’s just some stuff somebody else has written.

Me; I look, I hear, I learn. It’s because I judge for myself, that I am a human with the ability to have my own sense of creativity with my own ideas.”


That’s ol’ salt-of-the-earth Ryo-san dispensing some real world wisdom to the big wigs, and vicariously, to you and I.

But we can go darker. Let’s go loan-shark-dark!


“People should be able to make enemies.

It’s the self-righteous, the weak people that lie to themselves that can’t.” 


That’s some serious street wisdom to live by from Ushijima the Loan Shark (闇金ウシジマくん Yamikin Ushijima-kun).  How many enemies have you chalked up this year? You need to get on it.

Now we’re getting real. So let’s jump, Shonen style, out of the drawn frame and check-in with a couple of characters you probably know from the IRL realm.

Why not learn from some flesh and blood heroes, such as US Major League legend Ichiro?


“It is the layering up of small things that takes you to unimaginable places. 

That is the only road.”

From little acorns great oaks grow. 

And if you’re a student, and really aren’t we all (Aummmmmmm), the acorn starts from hitting the books. Or the internets. 

It was probably still books in Takeshi Kitano’s early days. But he can still offer up some tough life advice for academics and students of the school-of-hard-knocks alike:


“Because you study, you find what you want to do.

Because you don’t study, you don’t find what you want to do.”


In Takeshi’s case, his studies helped him find out he wanted to make films about characters stabbing eachother in the eye with chopsticks. Strange where life takes you.


And while we’re going badass Japanese warrior, why not get a little historical?

It doesn’t get much more badass than being one of the three Samurai to unify the Japanese archipelago in days of yor. That’s who you want to be taking life advise from. Tell ’em Oda Nobunaga.


“Work is something you seek out. It is something you create.

Completing only the task that has been assigned to you is the work of the rank and file.”


And that is the secret to taking over a nation by military force. In case that’s your thing.

But Samurai were all about going the extra mile.


“Doing with all your might brings forth wisdom.

Doing with half a heart brings forth stupidity.

Doing the bare minimum brings forth excuses.”



So if you  want to be a modern day life-samurai, no shirking!

Is it too long a bow to draw between the war-period ideals of feudal Japan and it’s famed modern corporate motor industry?

How about some inspirational adverts from Japan’s big-auto PR machines? This is “Just Do It”, Japanese style. Times ten. Get this one tattooed on your bicep.


“If you do your best, someday you will be rewarded.” “If you wait long enough, your dreams will come true.” These are just pure fantasies. Most of the time, effort goes unrewarded. Most of the time, justice does not prevail. Most of the time, dreams do not come true. In the real world, these are common occurrences. And what of it? This is the starting point. Failure is 99% of technical development. If you do something new, you’re going to screw up. It’ll make you angry. It’ll haunt you when you’re sleeping and when you’re eating, and so you’ll keep going. Now, it’s time to go beyond who you were yesterday. We’re going past the Honda of yesterday. 

Who could beat you?”


Inspirational right? I know I try to get my life advice from the multi-nationals. So why stop at one auto-manufacturing add? Honda is on a roll.


“Having fun won’t put food on the table. But a life without fun has no flavour. Work, study, racing. It’s all the same.

It’s only curiousity that moves us.”

And for you hardcore Japanoscopers out there, “omoshiroi” is usually translated as interesting. But “interesting” is boring. So curious it is. Are you with me?

And let’s finish up with some bravado from the world of Japanese calligraphy and philosophy. These are some fine ones you could wack up on some thicker gauge washi paper and place in your Tokonoma, no problemo. 


“If you never act, you are at the same level as someone who has never thought.”


I imagine a zen inspired super-hero using this as their tagline. The one they tell to the bad guy before they whip some ass. Actually, can someone make that hero? Or tell me about it if that hero already exists? I digress. Philosophy, here we come.


“Words can only express so much.

Communicate through action.”


You gotta walk the walk, my fellow shugyosha. No use thinking “I love you”, do something that shows it. Unless you are a buddhist monk, and then you can just sit in the mountains and emanate out loving kindness to the world. Actually, if you are a buddhist monk, stop reading this blog and get emanating!

If you want get  a more modern take on Japanese ideas of non-dualism, nihlism and love, I suggest you check out our translation of the heart-breaking Tenniscoats song Halo.


“Effort is a moment of pain. 

Regret is a lifetime of pain.”


Do you want a lifetime of pain? No! So heed the wise word of these Japanese quotes, proverbs and sayings. And surely you couldn’t help but have a prosperous year!