AAPI Month Artist Feature: Q&A with JUURI

Posted by NatureLab Tokyo on

JUURI with her Japanese-inspired mural
Join us for a conversation with JUURI, a large-scale mural painter who helps transform bare walls into powerful Japanese-themed artspaces.

JUURI, please tell us about your favorite memory growing up in Japan.
I was born in Tokyo but actually spent most of my time in Kobe, Japan when I was little. Some of my favorite childhood memories from Japan are more like comforting “moods.” Foggy streams of sunlight in dark bamboo forests. Neighborhood alleyways both cluttered and tidy at the same time. Walking by a bakery and smelling the fresh-baked milk bread. Shrines, temples and culture thousands of years old, quietly integrated into modern life. Hilarious jokes with friends (I still feel like I can express my truest self in Japanese.) Exquisite colors and patterns. My Baba’s (grandma’s) traditional folk lullabies, and her cooking!

When did you know you would be an artist?
I knew I’d be an artist as long as I can remember. I was drawing and creating all the time and never really considered any other option!

Where did you paint your first public mural?
Having been a studio artist since 2010, I painted my first mural in 2014 in Oklahoma City (where I am currently based.) It was a neighborhood revitalization initiative. I had never painted a mural at that point, but I said “Why not!” It was a tiring two weeks, but the best decision ever. Now I travel to paint several murals a year.

Can you tell us what cities your murals are in? 

Some places I’ve painted are: Chicago, San Diego, Denver & Boulder CO, lots in Oklahoma City area, Houston TX, Lafayette & Ft Wayne IN, Orlando FL, Harrisburg PA, Lynn MA, Virginia Beach VA, Newark NJ, Tullahoma TN, Toledo OH, and overseas in Canada, Japan, Israel, and soon Germany.

Do you have a favorite piece of art that you’ve created?
Yes! It would have to be my “Heron Maiden” mural that I painted at a client’s Airbnb here in Oklahoma City. I like how the colors turned out both muted and brilliant, earthy yet jewel-toned, and that it portrays the beauty of a traditional dance of the same name.

What artists inspire you? 

Japanese artists Tenmyouya Hisashi, Fujimura Makoto, Audrey Kawasaki (Japanese-American), David Choe (Korean American), Royyal Dog (Korean). I’m also extremely influenced by classic ukiyo-e woodblock print artists like Utamaro.

How does your Japanese Heritage inspire/guide your artwork?
Thousands of years of culture and tradition can be lost in a single generation. That almost happened to me because there was a period in my life in America when I did not feel any connection to Japan. It was after meeting so many Japanese exchange students in college that my brain came alive and I remembered who I was! My art then also suddenly knew who it was. Now my work is like a visual journal of what I’ve learned… I try to paint these beautiful cultural themes so I won’t forget their significance.

Do you listen to any music while working?
My favorite music these days is atmospheric. I found a wonderful artist called Meitei. I feel like his music encapsulates my memories of being a child in Japan! I also sometimes listen to nagauta (the traditional musical accompaniment to Kabuki.)

What do you love about Kabuki theater culture? And why should we appreciate it more?
My grandma is the person who instilled in me a love for traditional Japanese culture. I feel like Kabuki with its opulent costumes and themes is the epitome of that culture. Being steeped in these stories and painting them, I feel home. I highly recommend anyone visiting Japan to check out at least one act of this unique spectacle that you won’t find anywhere else!

How often do you visit your family in Japan?
I try to visit my friends and family in Japan once or twice a year. These days I stay for several months at a time. I’m trying to increase the frequency and length of my stays. It’s not easy since most of my work comes from US-based clients. But little by little I’m progressing and making business connections in Japan also. It would be ideal if I could split my time between both places and have projects going on in both!

When you return to Japan, what is the first thing you need to eat?
The airplane makes me feel a little sick so I get a dark cold O-i Ocha green tea the second I get out of customs! After that, it’s an endless stream of constant eating… donburi, udon, ramen, sushi and sashimi, all the breads, all the wagashi (Japanese sweets like dango). But my favorite is Japanese comfort food, like the kind my Baba used to make. Grilled fish, pickles, miso soup, natto and rice! 

When you return to Japan, is there a place you absolutely need to visit? 

I always love to visit the exquisite Hotel Gajoen Tokyo in Meguro. They have these opulent paintings, carvings, and architectural details preserved from before the war. An extra special detail is that my Baba is the only living person who worked there under the original owner. There is a 99-step staircase with the most glorious rooms on every level. Baba would run up and down those stairs wearing kimono, every day to serve guests! They still treat her so well and send her gifts and greetings on her birthday. The other place I must go is onsen, which are hot springs often outside with a picturesque view. Japanese take baths very seriously and don’t consider it strange to bathe for hours!

How does hair play into your life as an artist? 

Painting murals outside can be very harsh on the skin and hair. I wear a tenugui (towel) on my head to protect from the sun, but after a day out in the weather my hair is sweaty, squished and looks insane! I really value the time I get to spend in the shower or bath. To be enveloped in a lovely scent that also nourishes my hair is a luxurious reward at the end of long days.

Can you describe your hair in 3 words?

Fine, straight, static-y!

What’s your hair routine like?
My hair is pretty healthy and I don’t currently have it dyed, so my routine is very simple. Just shampoo and condition every other day, put in some anti-frizz hair milk and gently blow dry. Some days I want to treat myself with a luxurious hair masque. I’m enthralled with the sake rinse because sometimes you need that extra clean even on days that you don’t want to shampoo! I definitely want to look into ways to make my straight hair more voluminous and less prone to flyaways.

How did you decide to settle in Oklahoma? 

Our family moved to Oklahoma when I was 13, for my dad’s job. After college I ended up marrying someone from here, so currently I’m based in Oklahoma City. Though I often deal with the frustration of being in a smaller place so far from Japan (my heart loves the metropolis of Tokyo!) I appreciate the kindness and teamwork that people show in the art community. Houses are bigger too so I can relax and have all the space I need. The City has transformed itself in the last few years. Now there are so many amazing new restaurants and shops I can’t possibly visit them all!

How do you connect with your Japanese heritage here in the US?
I discovered a few years ago, to my surprise, that the 72 micro seasons of Japan coincide almost perfectly with the seasons in Oklahoma, so I enjoy all those changes in nature by looking around me! I also cook a lot of Japanese food and celebrate all our festivals. I read Japanese blogs to keep up my reading skills, and watch Kabuki plays online. I do have some Japanese friends here who are my treasures. Social media connects me to my family and friends in Japan. I’m grateful for that.

Thank you, JUURI!

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