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By Kamiyu Hijikata

When one thinks of the Todai community, in particular on Komaba campus, art is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. In a bid to change this, the 美 (read “be”) initiative was created last year to introduce art in various ways to students. Run entirely by members of the 2017 PEAK cohort, the initiative introduces “artists in the contemporary art scene in Tokyo to share their work and inspire.”

For those unfamiliar with Japanese, the character “美” carries the meaning “beauty.” “The character suitably encapsulates the beauty of the art around us and the ephemeral sense of ‘being,’ and is a play on words; 美 (be) creative,” said 美 founder, Manasa Sitaram.

The initiative, inspired by the “artist talk” culture of art colleges and schools, as well as the ever-popular TED talks, aims to achieve the goal for a more artistically aware campus through exposing students to various forms of art by hearing the currents of the contemporary arts scene in Tokyo.

Dr. Woodward presenting to the students. Photo by author.

Dr. Woodward presenting to the students. Photo by author.

The second event was held on Friday January 9th 2015 in the Communications Plaza on Komaba campus. “We looked for professors as speakers in order to show that art is closer to us than we think,” said their online publicist, Chae Yeon Christy Kim. She went on further to explain that the aim of the theme was to present to the audience how art need not simply be a profession, but something that anyone can enjoy as a means to express oneself. Indeed, this strong theme was conveyed effectively through the two speakers, Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Jonathan Woodward and Associate Professor of Japanese, Dr. Fusako Beuckmann, a musician and a ceramic artist respectively. Each professor spoke for half an hour discussing their art form, their own personal experiences and their interpretations of their chosen medium.

The inaugural session, held in July 2014, centred around the topic “childhood and heritage,” and involved theatre artist James Sutherland discussing his work with masks, and mural artist Divya Cherian talking about her work constructing murals in the Tōhoku area following the 2011 earthquake.

Closely following the first two successful talks, the organisers are planning an additional two talks for the upcoming spring semester. “We’re aiming to bring in a more diverse range of artists from now on, including culinary art and street or performance artists,” stated Sitaram. Additionally, the team is looking to expand through recruiting new members and amassing a wider audience by catering to Japanese speaking audiences and diversifying the artists invited.

Sitaram says, “I think a university campus and its events are representative of its student body – and so we’d like to show that Todai isn’t just about the academics, we can be artistic, too!”


Kamiyu Hijikata is a first-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo.

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