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This GIF Artist Imagines What Edo Japan Would Look Like If People Had Computers

Even the people of the Japan of old are addicted to their computer devices in this GIF artist’s world.
February 15, 2016, 12:40pm

Japanese video artist Atsuki Segawa is back with some more Ukiyo-e 2.0—traditional Japanese woodblock prints transformed into a series of animated gifs.

This time around, the serial GIF maker has repurposed centuries-old woodblock prints to show what life would have been like in the Japan of old if computers and tablets had been around.

Collaborating with Japanese information technology company NEC Corporation, Segawa has reimagined Edo period Japan (1615-1868) to depict women clad in traditional garb following recipes on their tablets, street merchants peddling laptops, and travellers looking up information by swiping on their tablet devices.

"The brief was to bring out the fun side of technology, and show what people's lifestyles would have looked like back then if they'd had computers and tablets to play around with," Segawa told me over the phone.

Segawa started the project in December 2015 and has made five gifs so far. He has five more to go until the project's completion.


In his last series of animated woodblock print gifs, Segawa slotted disappearing UFOs, lasers, and bullet trains into Japanese woodblock print master Katsushika Hokusai's works. That project, he said, was easier as he'd been working with moving objects.

"It was extremely hard thinking of visual concepts this time around as laptops are static objects. It was hard thinking of what I should move when I animated the prints," said Segawa, who used woodblock prints from a variety of artists for his new series. "I had to really think about what I was going to show before going ahead and selecting a woodblock print that went with my idea."

While there may be no crazy UFOs and lasers in this series, Segawa said that he was still working on some DJing Edo people.

Cool Japan is a column about the quirky and serious happenings in the Japanese scientific, technological and cultural realms. It covers the unknown, the mainstream, and the otherwise interesting developments in Japan.