Foreigner's Live Art Guide "FLAG" interview

"Foreigners can join us and I hope we could influence each other."

When I came back to Japan from trip in Asia, I realized a big problem. In Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Taiwan, there are many art informations in English. It's easy to find and visit to local events and exhibitions each cities even if we cannot understand Chinese or Thai. But in Osaka, there is few art info in English language. How do foreigners find art info in Osaka? I think it's hard for foreigners to find Osaka art info. After several weeks I attended Osaka art mapping project which was leaded by editors of FLAG. I met FLAG, also Goto-san and Duncan-san. FLAG means Foreigner's Live Art Guide which releases latest informations of art exhibition and events in Osaka as paper issues. I was excited I found bilingual art guide in Osaka. You can get Osaka art info from it even if you are not Japanese speaker. Editors of FLAG help foreigners in Osaka and connect them to local art scene. Today, I want to introduce their thinking to Japanese and foreigners both. Hey, our friends in the world! Please come to Osaka to get FLAG and to meet local arts in Osaka! (text by Kanako Yamamoto)

Foreigner's Live Art Guide "FLAG" 外国人のためのライブアートガイド

Editors of FLAG...
後藤哲也 (ごとう てつや / GOTO Tetsuya) -right side-
Representative director of an Osaka based multi disciplinary design company called “OOO Projects” with Duncan Brotherton. Works as a graphic designer, planner, editor and art coordinator. Also runs some self initiated projects such as alternative workspace called “OOO – Out Of Office” where events and workshops are held for creative types in Osaka, and “FLAG (Foreigner’s Live Art Guide)” that is a quarterly free art guide containing Osaka art information in English and Japanese. Pursuing possibilities connecting local creativity to the world and vice versa.

ブラザトン・ダンカン(Duncan BROTHERTON) -left side-
Australian living in Takatsuki. Working at alternative workspace OOO, doing mainly English lessons and graphic design. An Editor of FLAG with Tetsuya Goto, also contributes to the Japan Typography Association's quarterly Typographics ti: and is involved in creative pursuits like organizing Japanese Package Design exhibitions. Runs a blog showcasing the creative scene in Kansai. (Tsunagari D)

>>> OOO projects

Japanese version is here

"I never thought I would be able to find a graphic designer in Osaka."

──So, how did you two first meet?

Goto:When Duncan was a college student in Australia, he was making a zine with typographic art. He had this idea to introduce worldwide designers in this zine, so he tried to contact designers from all over the world. But Takeshi Hamada was the only one person who wrote him back. He was an art director I was supporting in Tokyo at the time. He was the only one that helped Duncan make this zine. Then after some time, Duncan came to Japan, to follow his girlfriend.

Duncan:Right, I had other reasons. (laughing)

Goto:After a few years in Japan, working at Nova in Osaka, he suddenly remembered that he didnʼt give the zine to Hamada-san. He thought to himself, ʻI have to give this to him!!ʼ

Duncan:Yeah, I actually found the zine while cleaning my room at the time.

Goto:You completely forgot about it!

Duncan:I was playing too hard back then (laughing). While in Osaka, I never met any other graphic designers, and I thought I would never be able to find any. So when I found the zine cleaning my room, I thought, "Oh, THIS! I could have used this to contact other designers, what an idiot!" I prepared my resume and sent an email to Hamada-san in English. That's when I got an email back from Goto-san.

Goto:Hamada-san had forwarded the e-mail to me asking me to meet Duncan since I was in Osaka. That's when we met for the first time. What year was that?

Duncan:It was Spring 2005. I was interested in self publishing at the time, so that zine I made in college was an experimental typography zine. My friend and I made it using a copy machine.

──So through this opportunity, Duncan joined OOO which was founded by Goto-san. But how did the two of you start FLAG? Did somebody ask you to make an art map? Or did that idea just come to you?

Goto:Nobody asked me to do anything. I just started to make it by myself. It was around the time ʻL magazineʼ stopped publishing.(*L magazine was the most popular magazine in Osaka. Art and culture followers were checking out the latest informations on this magazine. It stopped paper issue on December 2008. It has switched as a web magazine.)
I wasnʼt a graduate of art school or anything, and Duncan is not from Japan. Our connection to the art industry was very limited. Information about artists, galleries, and movies that L magazine provided was a very important resource for us. We lost that resource when L magazine discontinued. Soon after this happened, Kansai Art Beat stopped too, so I lost another tool to get information about the industry. Younger generations search the internet for what they want, but for me, the internet provided information that was too common. I didn't want to waste time searching around in circles on the internet. It felt like a dead end. But then I thought, well, why don't we just do it ourselves? We'll just make it our own. And maybe along the way, someone else will start to do something similar. Then we can see how they're doing it. If not, we can still do it ourselves.

>>>The first issue of FLAG (left) and The 4th issue of FLAG (right).

"I don't want to be a person who only complains about what other people have not done."

Goto:Around that time, we had events where we would invite a artists to draw on our wall at "OOO" in Osaka. We held these events also at graf and YOD gallery. During the graf event, I met a French guy who was living in Kyoto who rarely visited Osaka because he felt that Osaka didnʼt have enough culture compared to Kyoto. “Maybe It does, and I just don't know, but I am satisfied with staying in Kyoto.” As a person from Osaka, hearing that pissed me off a bit, but the fact is, if nobody spreads culture about Osaka, no one will know. For example, if somebody asked me if I knew something fun to do in Kobe, I wouldnʼt be able to say anything. Somebody needs to spread information. Duncan and I always talk about how we don't want to be a person who only complains about what other people have not done. We don't want to complain, "Why doesn't Osaka have anything?”over drinks at the end of the night and be done with it. So that's when we decided to come up with something ourselves. The name and concept of "FLAG" suddenly came to be, so I filled out an application form for a grant in one day. I got the grant, although, it wasnʼt enough.

Duncan:He is very good at filling out application forms.

Goto:We had enough money to print this free paper for a year. We didnʼt make any money from doing this,
but at the time I was still working for a company and Duncan was teaching English so we both had income. That was Spring of 2009.

──I never saw the first publication, but would you say the current one is similar to the original?

Goto:It was completely different. Let's see a back issue... It was something like this.

──It has a pretty clean look. So it was more of an English publication at the time, not bilingual.

Goto:Yeah, it was only in English since it was meant for foreigners. And we didn't have enough funds to have other writers, so we did everything ourselves including interviews. And we didn't want to get analyzed too deeply and have people realize our content was shallow, so writing in English was better.

Duncan:Ha ha!

Goto:If itʼs only in English, we can write an introduction of art or artists for tourists, not to illustlate them. I know we donʼt have skill of serious criticizing. And another reason, we have to make article fit in a few pages.

The first issue of FLAG. / Open publication - Free publishing

──What number is coming out next?

Goto:10th issue. (now itʼs out)

Duncan:Itʼs been two years since we started.

──Do you still get same amount of money as a grant?

Iʼve been receiving grant for two years. I could apply for next year too, but I thought itʼs not really good to rely on only that. e-ma (Shopping mall in middle of Osaka) has been our sponsor from this year. And we get advertisement fee depending on events. Honestly, if we get a grant and advertisement fee, we will make some money. But if we keep relying on that, we wonʼt do that for 4th year. If we have a grant, we have to keep doing this. We also want to take a rest sometimes, so we decided do that without the grant. We both donʼt get money with FLAG, but we have job to pay bills. We are talking about how we keep this in the future, I am not sure that we can continue to do this way until when.

■Japanese "Ah"-"Un" breathing.
For the non-Japanese, "If you don't say it I can't understand!"

──You always says you two make FLAG with lot of argument. What kind of argument is that?

Duncan:Goto-san keeps saying that. (laughing)

Goto:Itʼs not like real fight saying that "Fuck you Dancan!". I just donʼt talk to him sometimes.

──That is worse! (laughing)

Duncan:That is not often though.

Goto:Maybe I am not doing in efficient way. I can speak English, and he can speak Japanese. But we have different way of thinking because we came from different culture. For example, if I think "he will do this for me even I donʼt ask him to do." This is Japanese way of thinking. I could ask him to do, but I feel even rude to ask him if he knows he is going to do.
.....Instead of trying to explain with words, Japanese prefer to just use responsive sounds like "ah" and "un" and the way you breath to communicate. But for the non-Japanese, "If you don't say it I can't understand!" Of course, they will understand what you want if you tell them, but if it's something in the grey zone and you're not clear, they will never know what you want.

Duncan:I am getting used to it though. I'm starting to understand better. At first, it was always, "What? They didn't tell me that!" How was I supposed to do something that they wanted if they didn't tell me what they wanted?

Goto:In the Japanese world, if you tell someone that you didn't do it because no one told you to, you would
be considered stupid. This perspective of communication is something to learn from. Duncan has been living in Japan for 9 years, he knows the language and culture. But he communicates differently and still has difficulty understanding the Japanese way of communicating. I can speak English, but I don't know how to communicate like a native English speaker. And I'm sure if we look to an Australian or even a Chinese, we'll encounter other problems similar to this.

Duncan:Although I've been living in Japan for 9 years, I've only been working in a Japanese company for 3. So I am still in the process of learning many things. When we have a meeting with clients, Goto-san already knows what they want from us before we finish a meeting. I would say “That was a good meeting, right?” and he would said “No, actually, they're telling us we need to do this...” “What? When did they say that??” I couldn't pick it up during the meeting.

──Japanese people have a way of mind reading. Without words, just by feeling it out. And you have a hard time picking that up, right?

Duncan:yes, thatʼs right.

Goto:But we can totally learn from this. Japanese people have such a unique way of communicating.

──I see. So you guys are not really fighting. Can you tell me what people are saying about FLAG? Opinions from either Japanese or foreigners?

Goto:We got feedback right after the 1st one came out. from a foreigner.

──How was it?

Goto:He just said "Thank you!". (laughing)

Duncan:I got a phone call, which was so rare. Celio, who owns SoHo Art Gallery in Osaka, gave us a call and he said he wanted to advertise in FLAG.

──You know, some Japanese people are allergic to English. So were there people who were against FLAG?

Goto:At first, yes.

Duncan:The first feedback we got was from Japanese people was that they wanted us to write in Japanese too and make it bilingual.

──So they wanted you to make this art map of Osaka in Japanese.

Duncan:Thatʼs right. Because most of people who pick this map are Japanese people who lives in Osaka. Even if we make 5000 prints, but there are probably less than 5000 foreigners who are interested in Art in Osaka.

Goto:I have heard people say, "It's only in English..." and not want to take it. I went to cafe where they have our maps, and I overheard people talking about it. They weren't saying anything bad, but just saying that they don't understand it because it's only in English. Well then, you don't have to take it! (laughing)

──Of course they don't! (laugh)

"I think those people who say “We don't read English”, are just plain lazy."

Duncan:Do you have an allergy against English, Yamamoto-san?

──I don't have it anymore. I used to feel that if I didn't keep up with foreign news I would be in danger. And news about international affairs in Japan always came a day later and the content would be biased. So I thought to myself that I would have to understand English. I can't speak English well, but
I am trying to. I have friends in Hong Kong and Taiwan who are on Facebook. People in the creative industry have to use English to promote themselves even if it's their second language. Because they want to promote to the world. So there's really no time to be allergic. We should be used to it by now. Most people in Japan think they can live comfortably as long as they stay in Japan and just speak Japanese. But I feel that if you don't learn to use English, you'll never be able to look at yourself objectively. What are your thoughts on that?

Goto:I graduated from a University of Foreign Studies, so most of my friends around me understood English even if they couldn't speak it well. They went abroad often, and some still live abroad.
Even my wife can have a small conversation in English although she can't speak it very well.
I had a lot of opportunities to work in English speaking environments, and I've worked with people who couldn't speak English well but still gave presentations in English with a lot of confidence. And of course, there will be another guy that will give a presentation in fluent English. So I don't have friends that will say, "This is not fair because it's in English." I understand that our generation is still allergic to English, but a lot information on the internet requires you to understand English now. And this generation is growing up in a time that Japan is not No.1, so they should accept that they have to learn English.

──As a English teacher, what is your point of view?

Duncan:If there are "English allergies", My job, teaching English is an same as a doctor. I want to cure that allergy. Some people are just too lazy. I want to say "hey, get off your ass!". Actually I was a same kind of person 3 years ago, I was allergic to Japanese. I kept saying that I can’t speak Japanese. To Goto as well. But I just can’t say that anymore.

Goto:He is great. he even corrects Japanese text while at work.

──I remember you wrote back to me in very natural Japanese.

Duncan:I have had to study to cure my own Allergy, and just the same, I want other people to try hard too. You know, most people are able to read basic English like this (with pointing FLAG first issue).

──Yes, definitely!

Duncan:Right? If you read, you could find some interest in this. They say "I donʼt know" before they try. I think Japanese people are such a hard workers, but they get lazy when it comes to English. Japan is a weird country.

──Do you have any future plans to make this free paper back only in English?

Goto/Duncan:no.. we donʼt know yet.

Goto:There are many other media resources on the internet now that people can check for maps and events information about art. I think thatʼs enough for Japanese people. And itʼs also fine if some other resource come out for foreigners. We might make this free paper change into a media that introduce about local information in Osaka, only for foreigners. It will not even have to put Map and events information mainly. We know there are people who need for this art map for now, but originally this was the, "Foreigner's Live Art Guide''.
And Look at this, we misspelled. (Pointing to the first issue of FLAG)

── 'Foreigner's' doesn't have a 'G'. (laughing)

Goto:When we found out about this, we thought "Oh shit!", now that's interesting.

Duncan:It looks a more personal publication!

Goto:We might make FLAG back to English only someday. we started without any offers, so if we will continue to make this, we will do this the way we want. Also, we still don't make any money from this.

Duncan:I agreed what Goto-san said to me recently, he said we will be glad to stop make this free paper when some other bilingual media which spread art culture would come out. We wouldn't have to continue if others would do it.

Goto:I would like to stop as soon as others starts make anything better than FLAG, possibly something tri-lingual, in Chinese also, not just bi-lingual.

──Actually I am thinking the same way. I want to stop running this site once people have more interest in Asia. My goal is to quit in 5 years. By the way, did you have your mind to make this in paper or on the web when you start?

Goto:I only thought about it in paper. We also have a website, but mainly we work on paper publications.

──-I see. Why?

Goto:We made this for foreigners. so I wanted foreigners to have this. So I thought about If I travel to abroad. People use iPhone or smart phone nowadays, but it wasn't so popular at that time we started to make FLAG in 2009. Also I think It's good to have little thing you can actually collect printing and something you can write on. We can do that on the internet also, but carrying prints matches better with my generation.
The map page in FLAG is designed with a lot of space, I chose make this in print because I wanted people to be able to write with some note such a 'this restaurant was tasty'. I was so happy when I met people from Tokyo who showed me a wrecked FLAG and said, 'I went around to galleries with FLAG!'. I am happy to people use FLAG to tatters rather than keep it tidily.

──When I went to travel last time, I felt map in print is much easier to use rather than using iPhone application "Lonely Planet" to checking map by clicking many times.

Duncan:One of my student prefers FLAG too, I told her to show map she use to me in a lesson. The map was marked with red marker in many points. She also checked 'good' and 'no good' in pages with pick up events every issue. (laughing) I really enjoy seeing that.

>>> Map pages of FLAG.

──I would like to see the map with personal notes! For the last question, do you have any vision for how FLAG can change Osaka?

■Osaka will be more wilder with that 10 years later if we Osaka residents and foreigners could exchange our thinking.

Goto:The reason we started this was that Duncan didn't have a way to get to know the inside of Osaka, he thought there were no designer in Osaka,

Duncan:That's the all reason.

Goto: I think there are still many foreigners think the same way and they hung out only with foreigners. Even if it's only little of them, I want those people to grab FLAG and find "oh this event would be fun". When they will go to the event, they might meet an artist who speaks English and possibly they could make friends. I hope that foreigners will become intimate to Japanese art scene more. I wouldn't say that I don't like Tokyo, but I don't think I have to be in Tokyo either. While we are trying to make Osaka more fun to work in, foreigners can join us, and I hope we could influence one another. Duncan would say his friends should visit Osaka rather than Tokyo when they come to visit from Australia.


Goto:FLAG is a grass roots information tool to bring people into closer circles. We'll do it by ourselves if nobody else would. I don't think this can change Osaka at once, but I hope some of the thousands of foreigners in Osaka will find enjoyment in the art galleries and design scene. We can encourage each other, and they can share the information and experiences of Osaka with their friends when they go back home.
In then years, Osaka will be much wilder place because of that. I hope FLAG will be a first step towards that future.

on 7th Sep. 2011 at OOO in Nishi-Tenma, Osaka.

interviewed by : 山本佳奈子(Kanako Yamamoto)
English translation by : Shiori Nishi / Yusuke Yamada