AITO KITAZAKI: Art as activism

Aito Kitazaki


SIMPLE and symbolical, controversial and inspiring, relevant and sometimes irreverent, blend into the graffiti street art of Aito Kitazaki. Aito is a Japanese street artist hailing from Setagaya-ku, Tokyo. His graffiti are inspired by the politically controversial art works of Banksy in Britain, and his ideals are influenced by the revolutionary Ryoma Sakamoto of Japan. Banksy is a graffiti master and activist who has developed an entire art subculture dedicated to his works.

For over 20 years now, his identity remains unknown. On the other hand, Sakamoto was a revolutionist who overthrew foreign oppressions to restore the emperor to a position of real power.

Street arts are often political attacks or ideologies of a popular culture. Though the damage of the property is temporary, the message could have a ripple effect. It influences and spreads. It could even gain supporters to some degree. Perhaps a talent and mindset of such kind is a lethal combination.

Aito had once been charged with criminal offense for vandalism, mocking the former Prime Minister Taro Aso in 2008. The anti-Aso graffiti stenciled portrayed a face of the Prime Minister with elaborate Mickey Mouse ears. It conveys Aso’s embarrassing and whimsical love of all things such as anime, manga, idols, etc.

It is much like to be in Disneyland when you don’t look up to care for the outside world. The political graffiti is in Harajuku until now.

Twenty-six-year old Aito used to be a graphic artist of an advertising agency. A man of small stature in Japanese society didn’t fall short of courage when it came to challenging the ones in power. His artistic approach could be easily abhorred inasmuch as it could be equally admired. Regardless, society has continued use of men of such talent and principles.

Today his artworks are being sought and paid for. He holds art exhibits and live paintings, and joins group shows. One of his works, “Cup Noodles,” can be seen along Escario Street.

The Play! pool chanced upon Aito on his last day in Cebu doing a wall art for Skillet, a Japanese cafe and bistro, soon to open in AS Fortuna, Mandaue. His art shows a boy and a girl in their own struggle to take off the winders mounted on their backs. The owner, Masaki Tsuji, is a close friend. Aito titled his art “No One Can Live Alone.”

How did you start as an artist?

I started as a street artist when I was 18, which was eight years ago.

Who influenced you to be one?

Banksy is a UK artist and one of the most famous in the world. He inspired me about street art. I went to this bookshop and I found his art book. It was very surprising to me because it was exactly what I wanted to do and who to be.

And what’s this?

I want my message to reach the whole world through street arts. I want to inspire people to do better.

“You Never Know Until You Try, Girl,” Harajuku, Japan (2014)

“You Never Know Until You Try, Girl,” Harajuku, Japan (2014)

How were you doing in UK?

I was there for two years, from 2012 to 2014. London was really good to me. For me it was great because Banksy is from there. That’s good enough. (Laughs). It’s a great place. It improved my street art skills.

Have you met a lot of fellow artists there?

Yes, so many artists there, and I see like 10 in a day, or 20. You can’t find us overground. We are usually in subways and underground.


We don’t have the permission. It’s illegal. It’s vandalism unless you have permission to paint these walls. But after I was arrested, I now get a permission. (Laughs).

When and where were you arrested?

It happened in Japan when I was 18.

Which part of Japan and what got you into trouble?

It was in Harajuku, a very famous city in Tokyo. It was midnight. I didn’t need support from any other artists. I was on my own and I did it on public walls and some houses. I was arrested. I really apologized. (Laughs).

What did you paint?

It was a message to the Japanese people. I wanted so much to tell them about the administration. I painted on the wall the face of Japan’s former president who likes little things… Taro Aso with a Mickey Mouse head and ears.

How do you get yourself to start the day and work?

I wake up … and drink! (Laughs). A lot of drinking! (Laughs)

“Regret,”  Kagawa, Japan (2014)

“Regret,” Kagawa, Japan (2014)

Who was Aito before he became a street artist?

I used to work in an advertising firm as a graphic artist. In Japan, the agencies are very strict to any form of expression. You cannot be creative. Slowly I lost interest. Street art is different. You can express yourself freely. Now I feel fulfilled.

What do you like to tell everyone through your art?

I want to say to everyone—be positive, be a dreamer, be active. No regrets.

And what’s the message of the art you’re doing now?

It’s titled “ No One Can Live Alone.” If you have something on your back, you need the support of another, a back support. You have to support each other.

Is there another person who inspired you other than Banksy?

Ryumi Sakamoto. He is a liberal.

Do you have anyone in the family who is also an artist?

I’m the only child. It’s just me who’s into painting.

What are your plans after this?

I have some exhibits in Japan, some wall paintings to do too, some live paintings, some group show which I will be sending some of my works there for some camp event.

TAGS: Artist, Japan, Japanese
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