As 2015 winds to a close, we can look forward to all of the new travel and event opportunities available for 2016. Although there are many places and festivals anyone interested in steampunk can visit in North America, international interest in this style of speculative fiction/art is growing as well. One country that has developed a large steampunk fan base is Japan: Enthusiasts have embraced “wa-yo-setyuu”–the style of fusing East and West—and have created an aesthetic that uniquely reflects Japanese culture/history and yet is easily recognized as steampunk.
The Steam Garden
In an interview, one of the founders of the Tokyo Inventors Society explains that the philosophy behind the steampunk clothing, artwork, and other items—reusing and refurbishing older items to make something new and innovative—fits very well with Japanese culture: “I think Japanese ‘mottainai’ (“don’t be wasteful”) culture is a good influence on re-making and creating things from junk. I like that part of streampunk a lot” (Phro, 2015).
Hosted by the Tokyo Inventors Society, The Steam Garden Festival is a quarterly event in Japan that works to capture a punk-attitude version of the 19th Century Victorian/American aesthetic and blend it with the traditional culture of the Japanese Meiji era. During this era the country moved from being an isolated feudal society to its modern form. The festival is described as part salon party, part circus, part performing arts showcase, part artisans and makers market with the Steam Garden, Hunters Fair, Time Travelers event, and Deus Ex Musica club. It has “the cool 19th century aesthetic, the sense of adventure, the DIY aspect of crafting and building things, and the satirical, playful approach to history” (Phro, 2015).
The aesthetic presented at the Steam Garden Festival does not simply copy the west, although it incorporates many of the familiar Neo-Victorian elements of steampunk: A combination of tribal, historical, and machine-age Japanese items and influences makes their steampunk style unique. On the FAQ page for the Steam Garden, they describe the style as mixing kimonos and traditional Japanese weapons with Neo-Victorian items, western-style accessories, and futuristic gear (FAQ, 2015).
The Haunted Tower
Running until May, 2016, the Haunted Tower is a steampunk exhibition showing at the Ghibli Museum. The exhibition is designed to showcase the novel Yureito by Edogawa Ranpo, a Japanese author who was heavily influenced by Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Yureito is an adaptation of A.M. Williamson’s 1898 novel, A Woman in Grey. In turn, Ranpo’s work influenced one of Japan’s most famous directors, Hayao Miyazaki.
One of the key features of the exhibit is the giant steampunk clock tower placed in the museum’s central hall. Visitors ascend a spiral staircase in the tower and enter a labyrinth filled with artistically designed gears and 19 panels of Miyazaki’s hand-drawn manga illustrations showcasing how the novel inspired his first feature film, Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro.
I hope learning about the Japanese steampunk aesthetic inspires you to travel in the new year!
FAQ. (2015). Steam Garden. Retrieved from http://www.tokyosteampunk.com/?page_id=213
Phro, P. (2015). Steam Garden: Tokyo’s steampunk festival might be better than a Victorian time machine. Rocket News. Retrieved from http://en.rocketnews24.com/2015/01/28/steam-garden-tokyos-steampunk-festival-might-be-better-than-a-victorian-time-machine/