Akiyoshi Takada goes by many names. The most obvious is “Aki” and there’s “Madbunny” which UK friends use because of his signature character. In Japan many simply call him “Bunny”. During the festival, he can be hard to spot, either tending to his art work, or hiding behind a large camera as he’s an accomplished photographer with three published books of photos.
Befitting the bunny, Aki’s route to Fuji Rock was circuitous and unpredictable. Born in nearby Gunnma Prefecture, he had an early passion for snowboarding and skateboarding which inspired his world travels. Later, his art career took him to capitals such as London and Berlin where he continues to split time. It was the The 311 earthquake and tsunami led him to think of home, inspiring his “Hope” installation at APART London Summer Show (2011). The work paired concrete rubble with rows of flowers, reflecting the fortitude of survivors. Attracting the attention of Fuji Rock’s UK art team, Aki earned an invitation to join and specifically, “do something with the Boardwalk”.
In an interview published online, Aki says he had few expectations in the beginning. He simply brought some canned beer and look forward to casual involvement. He dreamed up the playful bunny character which was based upon his original Madbunny which been in existence since 2005. The change in design was inspired by the idea that the boardwalk area was for children, and putting animals in the forest would be visually interesting, thus leading to a more realistic design. Soon, a stencil was created leading to different colorways and black outline and a hand jigsaw to shape each character. With just 4 days before the festival opened, he produced 44 bunnies which is also the UK country code.
Soon, the number of new bunnies jumped to more than 100, and then 220 in one particular year. They are produced on site in Naeba typically about 10-days before the festival when other members of the UK art team are also busy assembling the festival. Aki says it party every night until dawn the next morning as everyone drinks a great amount, though there is a tremendous feeling of teamwork and enthusiasm. But bunnies in the forest or even a bunny caravan or garden sprouting outside the Cafe de Paris wasn’t the reason the bunny became ubiquitous throughout the festival. For that, one needs to credit Tower Records who adopted the character as part of the “NO, FUJIROCK, NO LIFE!” project which coincided with the 20th anniversary of the festival. This included early bird and off-site sales of towels, t-shirts, ponchos, and other items emblazoned with a bunny image.
In an interview with a local blog, Aki says that “Fuji Rock Festival is not just a music festival. The decoration and art that decorate the venue are all works of famous overseas artists belonging to the UK. I’m glad if you can enjoy art works that you see while moving or chilling out as much as you enjoy music.
On every bunny image one will notice the letters “BYSDNTCRY.” It’s the name Aki gives his art activities, which started in London, Berlin, Paris in 2008. It applies to his art works, apparel, books, etc. He envisions it more like a label for expressing your artwork than a brand. And yes, it is a song title from The Cure which he listens to along with a healthy does of Joy Division, Sex Pistols and Clash. Aki says he’s been influenced by these UK bands since his youth, even going so far as to picking up the guitar for the past 20 years.
As an artist, he desires to remove himself from his works and is delighted that children find his work fascinating on the Boardwalk. With the number of bunnies increasing, travel times on the Boardwalk have slowed, even creating a traffic jam due to people stopping for photos. There is a dark side to the bunny story, as more than 30 bunnies were stolen in one particular year. Festival organizer have put the word out that bunny is to remain in the forest, and after this public awareness campaign went into effect, less than 10 bunnies were lost proving that Fujirockers are very respectful.
Gonchan, or the painted rocks found in riverbeds and other parts of the festival, are free to go home with festival goers only on the final day of the festival. And generally speaking, most people are happy to help out in this manner, as finding one in the wild after the festival is nearly impossible.
With a nod to Glastonbury, visual artists have been an important part of Fuji Rock for the past two decades. These artists help the audience imagine the festival as being much more than music and more of an experience where art activities enhance their overall experience. Some such as Aki might say that Fuji Rock is not just a music event, but an art festival. And the art here is quite special, not just ornamental or decorative like Japanese summer festival, but uniquely the creation of one particular an artist. If more people take such an approach to the Fuji Rock they will find new enjoyment and a fresh perspective of this annual summer event.
© Photos by Akiyoshi Takada
© Portrait of Aki and bottom photo by Sean S.
© Text by Sean S.