The sound of children’s Hakata dialect rings out from the world of “akari e”

Chiharu Irie, Lighting picture artist

 Cat’s cradle, potato stamps, paper sumo, bonfires, origami, tree climbing. Chiharu Irie takes these casual but nostalgic scenes that reside in everyone’s memories, and illuminates them in a warm light. With the addition of titles in children’s Hakata dialect, such as “nukkanee (it’s warm)”, “kataranne (please talk)”, and “ikubaai (I’m going)”, she creates a unique world everyone can empathize with. Maybe some of you have already been lucky enough to see her “akari e (light pictures)”. They are one permanent display at the Former Fukuoka Prefecture Public Hall Distinguished Guest House in the vicinity of Fukuhaku Deai Bridge, and are also regularly displayed at ACROS Fukuoka Foundation. In addition, she also sells picture postcards and picture books, but does not sell the akari e works themselves.

In 2002 as well as going independent as a graphic designer she also began to work with solid materials.
She says: “I’m not a doll maker, but I felt a sense of danger seeing all the old stores that sell Hakata dolls, etc., slowly disappearing. My desire to suggest to them dolls and works that could fit into the modern style of living, for example in apartments, was what led me to create akari e.” She first made the doll children out of papier-mâché, but paper had no depth and she couldn’t get a smooth simplicity with it. Clay was difficult to work with, but after a process of trial and error she was finally able to create dolls that had simplicity, and these unglazed pottery dolls turned out to be excellent for the soft impression of a time filled with light.

Chiharu, born in Nagasaki, became interested in the Hakata dialect through the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival. When she was an office worker she was in charge of planning events connected to local events such as the Hakata Dontaku festival and the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival. After being told by local people involved in the events that someone unfamiliar with the festivals here couldn’t possibly do such a job, she took her camera and stepladder, and reported on the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival. “It was interesting; people so absorbed in the festival that they even neglected their jobs. Surely they didn’t get any money for participating in it? Who won and who lost. Who was fast and who was slow. “You young guys work harder!” Etc. Why did these men get so incredibly into the festival? But after doing a te-ippon (a ceremonial rhythmic hand-clapping performed at the end of gatherings) they would all head home.To me, these kinds of people are Hakata.”

Because she liked the manners and atmosphere of Hakata, she decided to use Hakata dialect in her works. By using a dialect she hoped to express scenes that had human qualities and auras. There is certainly no doubt that her use of children’s Hakata dialect makes her work feel noticeably closer to you. It has now been over 15 years since she began following the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival.

Her work is a simultaneous process; she takes two months to complete five to six works, using all manner of materials: wood, clay, paper, cloth, string, and so on. Because she wants people to peer in and look carefully at her works, they are not guarded by rails, and they don’t even sit in cases. She has no plans to start selling them any time in the future; she just wants to leave her work to be seen all around the world. Although forms of play may differ country to country, surely what her work makes people feel and what entertains people in her work are universal. When asked what her dream was she replied “I want to display my work in the lobby of the UN in New York.”

Hospital lobbies, retirement homes, day-care centre meeting rooms, temples, and gymnasium stages in prisons—the places where her works are on display are gradually increasing.
“So nostalgic!”
“Have you played this game before?”
Chiharu says she would be delighted if many people felt nostalgic, as if flipping through an old photo album, when viewing her works.