Published April 2023

Mr. Mineo Kobe

The main character of this year's NHK Taiga drama is Tokugawa Ieyasu. There is a lot of talk about how the figure is completely different from that of "Father Tanuki," but the bronze statue of Ieyasu that stands in front of the pedestrian station in Higashiokazaki, his birthplace, has also changed the public image of this historical figure. At 9.5 meters tall, the statue of Ieyasu, one of the largest in Japan, has a dignified look as it holds the reins of a running horse, giving it a truly heroic appearance. The creator of this equestrian statue is Mineo Kambe, one of Japan's leading sculptors.

Interview: Hanako Watanabe

Professor Emeritus of Nagoya University of Arts

Mineo Kambe

Mineo Kambe

Mineo Kanbe: Born in 1944 in Toki City, Gifu Prefecture. He studied at Musashino Art University where he studied under Takashi Shimizu and Shigeru Kinoshita. In 68, a year after graduating from the same university, he was selected for his first Nitten Exhibition. Since then, he has received numerous awards, including the Nissho Award, the Nitten Special Selection, and the Japan Art Academy Award. In 88, he became a professor at Nagoya University of Arts. In 2002, he was a visiting professor at Xinjiang Academy of Arts, China. In 03, he became the dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Nagoya University of Arts. In 09, became a director of Nitten. Became a member of the Japan Art Academy in 12. Became professor emeritus at Nagoya University of Arts in 14. 16: Chairman of the Japan Sculpture Society. 18: Vice-chairman of Nitten. In 22, he became the executive director of the Nitten Public Interest Incorporated Association.

Born in a historic craftsman's family, he switched from archery, which he was passionate about.

- Toki City, Gifu Prefecture, is also known as the city of Mino ware, which has the highest production volume of ceramics in Japan. Mr. Kobe is from this city of history and culture.

Kobe: I was born into a family that had a long history of making pottery.

- Except for your student days at Musashino Art University, you have continued to be active in your creative activities in Gifu. What was your childhood like in your hometown?

Kobe: I'm the middle of three siblings, but since I'm the eldest between an older sister and younger brother, I think people around me saw me as the heir. However, my parents never forced me to follow in their footsteps. Therefore, I lived a carefree childhood without worrying about the future. As a parent, it may have been something like, ``I've decided that I'm going to succeed him anyway, so I can do whatever I want until then.''

- Does your family's history of craftsmanship form your foundation as a sculptor?

Kobe: Maybe I subconsciously felt that sculpture was something like the basis for working on three-dimensional modeling. However, when I was a child, I never thought about sculpture. I was drawn to archery, which was a popular sport that people gathered at shrines, so I joined an archery club in high school and university and even participated in national competitions.

Mineo Kambe

Entering the Department of Sculpture
An exciting life in Tokyo

Kobe: When I got accepted to art school and came to Tokyo, there was a lot of excitement in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics. I lived in Tokyo for six years, and it was a very stimulating student life. It was also my first experience working part-time. The first step was to create a mural for the National Stadium, which will be the main stadium for the Tokyo Olympics. I'm an assistant to a craftsman who carries materials and works on-site, but as a first-year art student, I was like, ``Is there really anything in this world that's this much fun?'' The 6 years since then are like an extension of that. This accumulation led to today. I think so.

- Was your desire to create something so strong that you turned to sculpture as a genre of expression?

Kobe: That may be the case with sculptors other than myself. Partly because I was so ignorant when I was young, I thought that painting, sculpture, ceramics, and landscaping were all very different forms of expression.
To tell you the truth, I still think that way, and I've been doing it without really being aware of the difference. In a broad sense, all of them are forms. If it's a sculpture, it's appropriate to learn the basics of modeling...well, it's an afterthought.

nude female statue

Pursuing natural beauty
Arriving at “Nude”

-Among your various creative activities, one that is particularly well known is the ``Nude Statue.'' At the Nitten Exhibition, where I currently serve as vice president, I have repeatedly received awards for my works with nude women as motifs.

Kobe: Being a nude woman is a major goal and option in the process of pursuing a form of beauty. I have heard that in recent art education, sketching and drawing are increasingly no longer introduced, but in order to understand the providence and form of nature, ``drawing'' is still indispensable. It is to learn about nature and to know about human beings themselves. This will also lead to expanding the future possibilities of art students. I believe that I was able to broaden my horizons through this kind of art education.

-Among your various creative activities, one that is particularly well known is the ``Nude Statue.'' At the Nitten Exhibition, where I currently serve as vice president, I have repeatedly received awards for my works with nude women as motifs.

Kobe: Being a nude woman is a major goal and option in the process of pursuing a form of beauty. I have heard that in recent art education, sketching and drawing are increasingly no longer introduced, but in order to understand the providence and form of nature, ``drawing'' is still indispensable. It is to learn about nature and to know about human beings themselves. This will also lead to expanding the future possibilities of art students. I believe that I was able to broaden my horizons through this kind of art education.

"I can do anything" is the same as "I can do nothing"

- Among your works, what was particularly memorable or what was the turning point?

Kobe: Just like the Tokyo Olympics when I was a university student, the 1988 Seoul Olympics was a turning point for me.
Coinciding with the Olympic Games, a subway line was opened in Seoul and Busan, and a project was launched to decorate the station premises with ceramic murals, and through some coincidence, I was assigned to create and direct the project. For two years, I traveled to Korea almost every week.
This was when I was 42 or 43 years old. He created many works on ceramic walls, and when he finished his work, he felt that his relationship with pottery had come to an end. Until then, in addition to his work as a sculptor, he had also made tea bowls upon request, as well as large ceramic objects. I got a job at Nagoya University of Arts at the age of 27, and in parallel with my creative activities, I continued to talk to students.
However, it was not easy to substantiate the words he spoke to the students in his own work. Isn't it the same as being a multi-author who can do anything and not being able to do anything? Since then, he has almost stopped making pottery as part of his job. It's not like we're breaking up, but it's more like we've distanced ourselves a little.

Abundant study abroad experience
New discoveries from the unknown world

- Your profile says "In 2002, he was appointed as a visiting professor at the China New China Academy of Arts"...?

Kobe: I have traveled mainly to the West in search of ``human activities and behavior,'' and at the age of 58, I applied for a government-funded study abroad program. By going out, I wanted to make new discoveries and put myself in an unknown world.
While Europe is said to be the mainstream for studying abroad in the sculpture world, I chose to study in the New China Jiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
I was in Uyghur for a year, and for the first three months I was an exchange student, and then I became a visiting professor, which allowed me to interact with many people in China.

This experience gave me a new perspective. Until then, what I had learned was to view European values ​​as universal, and that's what I've been doing for about 40 years. When I suddenly came up with an idea and jumped into the cross-cultural world of the Uyghurs, I realized once again that there are people there who bear their own climate and culture, and that they see things from their own historical perspective. I felt it on my skin.
I also realized the importance of knowing and interacting with the history and culture of the region.


I realized once again the diversity of values.

-So you learned something big just before your 60th birthday?

Kobe: Studying abroad as a Uyghur made me strongly aware of Asia, and by extension, it also made me aware of Japan. This also led to me becoming more conscious of myself and what I am about to create. It made me realize once again that the values ​​of people around the world are truly diverse. After that, what should I do? I feel like I haven't gotten there yet.

- What influence did this learning have on your subsequent works?

Kobe: Would you say that many of your previous views on sculpture have collapsed, and as a result you have become able to accept a variety of things? Also...I've always believed that people can fully understand a piece of work if they see it, and I've always believed in that feeling. However, I also realized that that alone was not enough to express myself.
We sculptors make statements through our sculptural works. In other words, for us, sculpture means "he". I want it to be an expression of my senses. Right now, I'm planning to turn the theme of my work into a series.
It's been about 20 years since I started thinking about how to develop my own work based on a theme.

Tokugawa Ieyasu statue
Tokugawa Ieyasu statue

Tokugawa Ieyasu statue
In the image of the people of the city

- "Statue of Ieyasu" is also part of a series. This year there is also a taiga drama, and a new spot has been given to Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Ieyasu in the taiga drama is an indecisive and naive young man who worries about what to do, but Ieyasu, the teacher, is not at all like a ``raccoon father.''

Kobe: When creating the ``Equestrian Statue'' in front of Higashi Okazaki Station, we received a questionnaire from the people of Okazaki.
A variety of opinions were gathered, and it became clear that most of them had an image of a powerful military commander. Small children even drew cool illustrations of generals and sent them to me. I don't have the image of a fat raccoon dog father.
If you look into history, you will find that a man named Ieyasu was also an expert in archery and was praised as ``the best bowman in the Tokai region.''

- This also coincides with Kobe Sensei's student days when he was devoted to archery.

Kobe: It's a legend that he was a master, but whether it's true or not is another story. However, the people of Okazaki clearly have that image and have high expectations.
I myself was greatly inspired by the voices of the city that gathered together. All of those things came together in a harmonious way, and the overall shape came together.

- Even if your theme is history, it doesn't necessarily mean that you are giving form to ``historical facts'', right?

Kobe: If the purpose was to preserve historical events in form, one would probably research the facts and draw them faithfully, but that alone does not make the work.
Additionally, when it comes to sculptures that feature well-known historical figures as motifs, the viewer often has a certain level of knowledge or impression of that person.
As an author, I place the highest priority on formability, but also consider the historical background, climate, and relationships with the people involved.

I think it would be great if children and young people living today look at my sculptures, feel an admiration for the person, feel something similar to themselves, and have dreams.

I want to make art more of a “basic subject”

- You mentioned children, but is there anything you are doing to pass on the appeal of sculpture to the younger generation?

Kobe: Even in Japan, we see many sculptures, such as statues of women and monuments in parks and in front of stations, but why are they necessary there? I also hear the word. It would be nice to have a clearer sculpture that makes the viewer think, ``I see.'' How can modern sculptors sublimate this ease of understanding into works of art? That's what I'm thinking about now.

- You are also involved in various art experience programs and educational support projects of the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

Kobe: In Japan's primary education system, students focus on studying the five basic subjects listed by Kokusansha Riei. That alone keeps the children and teachers very busy. Art subjects that foster emotional development have been put on the back burner, and that part is too weak.

I think it would be a good idea to consider art education, which fosters humanity and develops individuality, as a part of basic subjects. I have been involved in various art programs. It's a lot of fun to work with the children and create something together, and it's also a great learning experience. I believe that experiences such as workshops are also a form of grounded art education.

Indispensable reflection for veterans

― Even now, as vice-chairman, you still exhibit new works at the Nitten Exhibition every year.

Kobe: I think a production cycle is necessary. For example, the changing seasons have a good effect on writers.
The same goes for public exhibitions like the Nitten, which is held once a year.

For me, the Nitten exhibition also provides an opportunity for reflection. This is good. I exhibit it thinking, ``Okay, this is it,'' but once I exhibit it, all I see are its flaws. That's why I was worried about what I should do until the last moment of delivery, and in the end, I renewed my resolve and said, ``Next time.'' That kind of cycle keeps me moving forward.

- Even a landlord as good as you is, you must suffer to the limit.

Kobe: When you're young, you can get by just with momentum. The momentum of the work is appealing in its own right.
However, as you get older, that alone becomes no longer enough.
That's why it's important to think about how to present it as a work. I keep asking myself, "Is this okay?" You'll end up repeating self-denial...but self-denial is something you can't do on your own, right?

- In this respect, you have a strong ally in your wife.

Kobe: Well...well, he's a comrade who takes care of me when I'm having a hard time.
My wife and I have known each other since we were 18 years old, the day we took the entrance exam for Musashino Art University. It's been 60 years since then.

- This work is the result of an equal partnership. wonderful!


Whether it's old or valuable, it has to be polished by people.

- As an active artist, you seem to be very particular about antique art.

Kobe: Just because it's old is valuable. Anything that has a shape inevitably breaks. If you drop a teacup on the floor, it will break. However, if the user treats it with care, its shape will remain for decades or even centuries. In this way, it is an excellent piece of ancient art and an antique that has been passed down to the present day.
The important thing is that people have been able to hold on to it. If something is not left in someone's hands, the passion of the person who created it and the predecessors who used it cannot be conveyed.
What has value is what remains for a long time. That's exactly the case with Cinara. I also visited Shinara, and felt that it was packed with 100 years worth of changing beauty of nature, in addition to the warmth of people from 100 years ago.

- These are the words of ``obtaining my will.'' In addition to Shinara, Ikebukuro's Riviera Tokyo has been in business for 74 years, Riviera Zushi Marina has been in business for 52 years, and Riviera Country Club is almost 100 years old. We have refined it every day with our own hands, and we have reached the point where it is today.

Kobe: As a creator, I have always wanted to express universality that transcends time. The most universal thing in this world is the forms created by nature.
I am still inexperienced and have only done a half-hearted job, and I don't think I will ever reach it even if I die, but I will continue to challenge myself to give form to the universality of natural beauty with my own hands.

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