Russian culture ignores borders with Japan

LETTER FROM TOKYO

It is difficult to imagine an event around the former USSR when the Russian army crushes Ukraine under its bombs. Iskra (“the spark”), the pseudonym of a Japanese woman who wishes to hide her real name, nevertheless maintained her short-lived booth at Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers (SPBS), a bookstore in Shibuya’s fashionable district, in Tokyo. This election sounds like a testament to the historical vigor of cultural exchanges between Russia and Japan, despite the tumult of history, the wars of 1904-1905 and the 1930s and 1940s, a territorial dispute that has never been resolved, and now the invasion of Ukraine, strongly condemned by Tokyo.

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In this spring of 2022, the heart of the SPBS boutique has given way to cooking books from Soviet Russia or East Germany, ceramics from Kazakhstan, or even a brown plastic tea set from Aeroflot airlines. All under the cheerful expression of Micha, the mascot bear of the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

“When Russia’s unimaginable decision was announced, I didn’t know what to do. There have been many criticisms of the project. We have chosen to insist on knowing and knowingexplains Iskra, passionate about the other side of the Iron Curtain since the 90s. I grew up during the period of the economic bubble in Japan. In the collective imagination, the Soviets were cold and emotionless. »

At university, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Iskra met young people from Eastern countries. “They had lived through difficult times but they had known how to build their little moments of happiness. » Hence his interest in the aesthetics of the Soviet era, “visible form of your experience”what covers “a certain gravity and comforting familiarity, perhaps a reflection of my own nostalgia”.

dystopian creations

Tokyo has not seen a big event like the “Rouge” exhibition in 2019 at the Grand Palais in Paris. The image of communism is still quite negative in Japan. But far from political considerations, Soviet aesthetics always arouse a certain interest, sometimes bordering on the playful. In 2016, young Russian cosplayers opened ItaCafe, a “maid cafe” (a cafe where waitresses are dressed as maids), near Waseda University in Tokyo. The boss, Anastasia Reznikova, a “cosplayer” better known as “Nastyan,” often wanders around in khaki outfits with a red star.

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The world of manga has managed to appropriate the world of the former USSR, with sometimes dystopian creations. science fiction work, Tenru no Avalonby Fujisawa Noriyuki and Hamamura Toshikiri, evokes the class struggle transferred to another world by a Soviet interstellar fleet.

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