Minoru Inayoshi on nitehi works (Yokohama, 2010-2016)

The old building with a bank vault in Wakabacho, Naka-ku, Yokohama which housed nitehi works, 2011. Photo by Takahito Ito.

Minoru Inayoshi on nitehi works
(Yokohama, 2010-2016)

In 2010, Azusa Watanabe (actress) and I, Minoru Inayoshi (artist), encountered an old building with a bank vault in Wakabacho, Naka-ku, an area in Yokohama, where multinational communities of people from the Asian region reside with local citizens. The building was originally constructed as a bank building and the former occupants had left many things behind.   

We moved into the building. While it became our new home, I started transforming the space, turning it into an artwork at the same time an art space which we named nitehi works. 

Ground floor café/art lounge of nitehi works. In the photo are the ceiling fan and table converted from an air conditioning unit and five-meter-long signboard respectively, 2011. Photo by Takeshi Fukushima.

“Un monde parfumé” by  Noriko Sunayama at nitehi works, 2011.  Courtesy of Minoru Inayoshi.
The name came from the saying of Mencius, "nitehi-naru," which means "similar but different." This reflected our vision of the space, which was to facilitate encounters of things and events and convert them into something unexpected.   

While nitehi works was the name of the space, it also referred to my process-based practice that centered on the concept of transition from “what originally was” to “what is now.” nitehi works aimed to explore our immediate surroundings in search of “values” that could not be consumed. Even after we closed the space in 2016, we still carry the name as we continue to hold the original vision. Our activities have been revolving around the concept of encounters and awareness that exist in relation to the place.

We aim to create intersections between the two large spheres — everyday life and art — in order to explore the potential of art in society. Our projects incorporate cultural and generational differences, create layers of various languages and ideas freely and spontaneously. We hope to foster and share with a wide range of people the sensibility that would find beauty in a blank space on a painting or an aesthetic moment that emerges without a plan and without an intention to complete.    

From 2010 to 2016, we ran the space nitehi works in the four-story building with a bank vault which was used by the commercial associations of the 146-year-old historic shopping district Isezakicho Shotengai. The 60-year-old former bank building was left vacant as times changed, and I found a great charm in something originally kept in the building. I was so certain that the building had a great potential to be a cultural hub for local and international communities. With that strong belief alone, we were able to receive the support from the government, the town associations, and the people around us. After negotiations, the building owner agreed with us to use the building as an art space open to the public. The contract was signed and everything started. 

Taisei Building Art Renovation Branding, 2012. Photo by Toshifumi "Tony" Taniuchi.

Taisei Building Art Renovation Branding, 2012. Courtesy of Minoru Inayoshi.

As an artist, I renovated the space myself and conceptualized the art space as a site-specific artwork inserted in everyday context. I converted the five-meter-long side signboard, which was originally attached to the exterior of the building, into the main table in the gallery/event space on the ground floor, and converted the air conditioning unit fan into the ceiling fan. These are some examples of how I transformed “what was before” into “what is now.”

In the first six months, while I prepared a living space for my family of four,  we  — my then 10-year-old son, my 8-year-old daughter, my wife, and myself — lived in a tent on the third floor of the building. I considered the entire building as my installation work. 

A large plastic bucket became our bathtub, and I would send off the kids to school by unzipping the tent. I can still recall how the children left the tent by saying, "I'm off to school.” It was a makeshift shelter. The only source of income came from renting the art space, thus our life existed within the artwork and there was literally no division between everyday and art. 

Local Business Art Renovation Branding, 2016. Photo by Takeshi Fukushima.

Test experiment of an art project with university students at multiple locations: "Yutakana I basho,” 2019. Photo by Masashi Noda.
Exhibitions, theater plays, live music, performances, talks, and other events were organized and brought into the space. As events were constantly being held, the chemistry continued to grow and swell, making the six years of our life in the space quite exciting. It felt like an artist-in-residency program for my family.    

It all started with my fascination with something original kept in the building. It is only now, ten years later, that I realize that my strong belief in the potential of the building became the foundation for the six years of my family's life.

Here I would like to provide some details about the configuration and operation of the space:

1st floor: exhibition + performance space, café as an art lounge
Mezzanine floor overlooking the first floor
3rd floor: studio space for artists-in-residence 
4th floor: shared studio + home
Rooftop:exhibition and performance space

In fact, through the six years — from 2010 to 2016 — we lived in the art space, a series of chemical reactions started which eventually led us to relocate our home to the Taisei Building in the neighboring Kannai Area in 2020. 

Test experiment of an art project with university students at multiple locations: "Yutakana I basho," 2019. Courtesy of  Minoru Inayoshi. 

New art space Nitehi Sueyoshi, 2017. Photo by Takeshi Fukushima.

New art space "Nitehi Sueyoshi" opened through an art renovation of a former transport company, 2020. Courtesy of Minoru Inayoshi.

Art renovation

In recent years, the word "renovation" is often used in Japanese to refer to the remodeling of buildings. However, the term originally comes from a Latin word which means "update" or "renewal."

There is also an art term, "site-specific," which means "a work of art that belongs to a place or that incorporates the characteristics of a place where the artwork is located."

What is Art x Renovation?

It is a term and a method coined to describe the process of creating "place" and "thing" which are not valued as the assets to be consumed but rather as the interaction of varied awareness and different values of the people who live in the place.

It also refers to a process in which the artist takes a pre-existing state, or "something original," and converts it into something unique and unexpected, imagining its transformation. It is about planting the original seeds on the soil of everyday life.

As we make a major shift from "the way we've always lived" to "the way we're going to live,” what does it mean to face the essence of abundance? What does the future hold for us?

I believe that there is art in our daily life that does not fit in the existing framework, and that expressing it will spiral up and "renew" everything — things, places, events and people. 

I believe that there are no answers on the table and that sustainability is fostered and imprinted on the brain through hands-on practice. I believe that it is in the gaps in our daily lives that the art of reclaiming our identity is born. I look forward to your continued success in the future. And let’s make more networks. I believe that a new community is just around the corner.

Minoru Inayoshi
October 16, 2020


The above text was translated from Japanese by Mayumi Hirano.


Minoru Inayoshi lives and works in Yokohama. He is a visual artist. He has exhibited his works in Outdoor exhibition in Setagaya (produced by B-Zemi schooling system, 1989), Alternative Gallery Art Lab Woo (Yokohama, 1992-1994), Shed of Silence (Yokohama, 1993-1994), Ripple across the water '95 (Tokyo, 1995), It was here candy Factory (Yokohama, 1994-2011). In 2010, he established nitehi works co.ltd. with Azusa Watanabe (actress) and other members, while opening up an art space nitehi works in the 60-year-old former bank building in Yokohama. In 2012, along with eight artists, he collaboratively created and produced art share office sakura WORKS on the 2nd floor of the 52-year-old five-story Taisei Building.  In 2017, he created and began operating art space / upcycling studio nitehi works Sueyoshi in the 2nd floor of a 60-year-old building which formerly housed a shipping company.  

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Right People, Wrong Timing (RPWT) is a series of texts on defunct or inactive independent Asian arts initiatives that had crossed paths or ran parallel to Papaya’s own 20-year history. With new posts every Friday from August to December 2020, RPWT is kindly supported through a local grant by the Japan Foundation Manila.