Takashi Hiraide

In August 2017, the Japanese poet Takashi Hiraide had a residency in the Guest Studio of Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium, together with his wife, the poet Michiyo Kawano.


A Japanese–Norwegian Literary Evening

On August 23rd, a Japanese-Norwegian Literary Evening was held at Cafe Cellulose.

In addition to the Japanese poets, several other guests took part: Norwegian author Rune Christiansen, and translators Ika Kaminka and Magne Tørring. Author Mona Høvring had charge over the event.

Christiansen and Hiraide discussed their works and read from their poetry, while Kawano delivered a short greeting to Vestfossen, sharing some impressions from the couple’s stay here. Master of ceremonies was Ika Kaminka. 


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Poetry and Art

Two of Hiraide’s works have been published in Norwegian: the autobiographical poetry collection For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut (Til valnøttens gjenstridige utholdenhet) (Oktober), and the international bestseller The Guest Cat (Katten) (Press). Both were translated by Ika Kaminka.


Hiraide visited Norway for the first time in February 2016. In the course of a five-day visit he met Norwegian authors, poets, translators, and editors, and absorbed much about Norwegian society and culture.


Takashi Hiraide is professor at Tama Art University in Tokyo, and is know specially for his poetry and novels, but also for his literary and art criticism. Several of his works have balanced on the junction between literature and contemporary art. He designs his own books and, inspired by his meeting with Donald Evans, an artist known for his postage stamps from fictional lands, and with the concept artist On Kawara, he has experimented as a “letter artist”. His lifelong book project “via wwalnuts” also sprang from this – a publication that consists of texts in letter form, published in envelopes.


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Hiraide also has a postcard project which he calls “private print postcard”. It consists of a thousand postcards for which old, private photographs are combined with Hiraide’s texts and distributed to the poet’s friends. The postcards were exhibited in Toronto in 2016 and in Kamakura in 2017.




During his residency in the Guest Studio, Hiraide continued to work on these projects, and also composed several literary essays. The following text, which describes the author’s stay in Vestfossen, was published in February 2018 in the literary magazine Kamakura Shunjū.


By the Mist and the Waterfall

I was to spend last summer in a remote village in a land far to the north. How had this come about? The thought that I was soon to move for a period to this village, which until recently I had never even heard of, made my heart leap quietly in my breast.

     After a fifty-minute train journey from Oslo, I alighted at the unmanned Vestfossen station. How many shops, not to mention restaurants, could there be here? Let me count them from memory. Two supermarkets. A Chinese restaurant beside another eating place from which music constantly flowed. A pizzeria, a pub, and a cafe with world class chocolate. A furniture store. That’s all I can remember. You don’t even need the fingers of both hands to count them, all grouped into a litte village centre. Our loft apartment was  part of Arena, which shared an adjoining wall with Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium. Both Arena and Kunstlaboratoriet are solid brick edifices which once were a cellulose factory.

     Arena Vestfossen rents out studios where artists can work. Kunstlaboratoriet owns a Guest Studio here and every summer invites artists to a month’s residency. As the gallery is closed in the winter months, this means there are six artists each year, from May to October.

     The reason for my visit was that Norwegian editions had been published of, first, one of my poetry collections, and then one of my novels. In February 2016, I was in London and decided to act on an invitation from my Norwegian translator, Ika Kaminka, to visit Norway for five days. There I got to know the married couple Rune Christiansen and Mona Høvring at a dinner held at Ika’s home. Both are poets and authors and are closely connected to Oktober, one of Norway’s leading publishers.

     Rune and Mona were very helpful, and arranged for my wife and I to stay in Oktober’s Venice apartment for some delightful days. Since they live in Vestfossen, they also suggested that we borrow the Guest Studio at Kunstlaboratoriet, and undertook all the practical arrangements.

     The first time I entered the simple, one-room apartment, I was met by an overwhelming roar. It was the thunder of the waterfall just outside that rumbled in through the open windows.

     I hastened to shut the windows, and found myself immediately in such quiet that I quickly began to long for the sound again.

     I would later learn that the waterfall had driven the cellulose factory that used to occupy these buildings.

     During our visit, Rune and Mona went out of their way to ensure the two literary travellers from the Far East had everything they needed. Their kindness was immediately evident in the way they transformed the art studio into a writing room where we could concentrate fully on our work. We were fish out of water here, and it was comforting to know that, only a seven minute walk away, were two people that cared so much for us and our work.

     And what about Kunstlaboratoriet? I had seen pictures of its facade, but when I entered the building I saw how the time-worn walls embraced a powerful and wide-ranging exhibition, spread across several floors, each floor impressive in its characterful simplicity.

     And when we saw the Childrens’ Section, where children create their own art, it gave us a very clear impression of the high quality of art education in this country. The staff were at all times most friendly and accommodating. As a centre for the arts, Kunstlaboratoriet receives state funding. This makes it possible for a village like Vestfossen, which has few other major attractions, to host its own art gallery – a window on our times. This building, with its many corridors and floors, is an inviting labyrinth.

     Once the water in the falls passed our window, the river became peaceful again and snaked idyllically off to the north-west. Above the waterfall was a lake. This was part of a chain of inland lakes that started further south, and we were constantly reminded of how rich in water resources Norway is. Not only could the tap water be drunk, it also tasted wonderful.

     The day after my wife and I arrived in Vestfossen, Rune and Mona drove us to Eidsfoss, another village by the lake, not far away. Even this short car journey was like an exploration of the waterways of Norway.

     In the evening, Vestfossen was even quieter than it was by day. By twilight, the only thing I could discern from my window was a green neon sign with the word KIWI – the name of one of the two supermarkets. 

     Every morning, I woke in the grey light of dawn. It was a pleasure each day to look out at the beautiful view shortly before sunrise. Every morning the steep hillsides changed their expression in the shifting mist. 

     Some days, the mist lay across the ridges of distant hills, other days it rose so densely from the river that nothing else could be seen. The mist showed me the light.

     Was it for this that I had come to a foreign village in a foreign land – to let myself be enveloped in this foreign light? I wondered sometimes why I was here, but had no other answer than the friendliness of the people, so there was nothing for it but to surrender oneself to the light.

     And I must not forget Cafe Cellulose. That is the cafe that is part of Kunstlaboratoriet.

     One evening while I was in Norway, a Japanese-Norwegian Literary Evening was held here. The Norwegian contribution was provided by Rune, and the Japanese by my wife, Michiyo Kawano, and myself. Ika was master of ceremonies, and Magne Tørring, whom I had got to know the previous year, acted as interpreter. Magne grew up in Japan, and is himself a capable translator.

     It was an unforgettable evening. After the readings and stage conversation, we talked enthusiastically into the night, so that I became anxious that our visitors would miss their last train back to Oslo. And while the light from Cafe Cellulose shone like a lone lantern in the tiny village, the waterfall roared on, and the mist spread across the silent landscape.


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Michiyo Kawano

Kawano is known for her saturated language, and through this she explores the space between prose and poetry. She has found inspiration in contemporary art, not least through a collaborative project with Japanese sculptor Isamu Wakabayashi.

The following text is the first part of a longer prose piece which Kawano began work on during her residency in the Guest Studio.




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The wispy clouds that clung to the ridges of the distant ridges hills are now creeping slowly down the gentle slope to the village at its birch-grown foot. The clouds lick the trees, swallow the houses, paint the grass meadow with varying nuances of green, like ripples on still water. Morning after morning the clouds move in this way, one day they are illuminated by the reflected light of sunrise, the next they lie heavily across the landscape as an impenetrable mass. 

Then the clear rays of the sun take up the pursuit, and the clouds slowly disperse, dividing themselves like small summits above the hills and spreading the flocks of birds high and low in the wind, only to reconvene over the village a moment later as a sudden burst of rain. Hour after hour, the shifting weather conjures up new cloud formations, grey and white against the late summer sky above the far-stretching ridges of the hills. Considering this shadow play, I feel embraced by something higher than myself. And as I am overwhelmed by the mutation of the clouds – visible to the eye, but beyond the hand that would touch them or join them in play – it is almost as if my emotions and my mind also have become natural phenomena, torn away from myself.


The temporary residence from which I observe this sky is a guest studio for artists. It adjoins an old brick building that once was a cellulose factory. A room for people who create objects, which for one month is inhabited by us, who create with words, not objects.

Beyond the series of iron-framed windows on the building’s north side flows the frothing and rumbling waterfall that has given the village its name. The history of the factory dates back to the 16th century, when a water-driven sawmill was erected on the site by the falls in the Vestfosselva, the river that has its source in Fiskumvannet lake. Perhaps they still produce hydroelectricity here, for metal turbine-like contraptions can still be seen, cheek by jowl under the waterfall, and amplifying its roar.

The clamour of the falls rises constantly from the river, pierces the double-glazed windows of the studio, and fills the naked room, putting in motion the air with its weak smell of oil paint, and opening an almost imperceptible crack in the surface of the meditative time that fills our days.

In this room, far from everyday comfort, in self-enforced and temporary exile from the flying sparks of society, I stand face to face with myself, take each breath in a delicate balance between calm and anxiety, and allow my senses to quietly clear, ready for the transition to that yet un-lived time that lies ahead.


Every time I wake, the rain is pouring down in the twilight. Unceasingly the powerful roar presses its wave of sound into me ears, breaching the half-sleep which still vibrates beneath the fading remains of a dream, and filling my breast with anxiety. I lie there for a while, bobbing in its ripples, until the pale morning light seeps in, and I get up and realise it was the waterfall outside I had heard.

Night after night, the sound of water steals past the windows, pervades the room, and lets its false rain trickle over my light summer-slumbers. And every morning, even long after I have shaken off this meteorological mirage, I feel captured by feelings of insubstantiality, as if it was existence itself that floated in uncertainties.

Like this, in a condition of mild wonder at having been so easily transported to a foreign dimension by such a trivial aural illusion, I begin my day in the studio. 



In August, I was so fortunate as to be able to get away from Tokyo’s suffocating heat to spend an unforgettable month in the cool air of Norway.

It was a month filled with impressions, both from our residency in the Guest Studio and from its surroundings. Everyone we met received us warmly, and I felt as if the way I viewed the world was liberated and renewed.

The text reproduced above is an attempt to put into words some of my experiences. As I wrote I had the strange feeling that this material could equally well be the starting point for a collection of reflective essays or a quiet-spoken novel. I still have this feeling of holding in my hand the seeds of something that might grow into something bigger, and I am continuing the work of nurturing the material, happily looking forward to what might become of it.

It does not often happen that the motifs for my writing come so easily to me, and I would like to extend my warm gratitude to everyone who has given me this wonderful opportunity. 




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