Taken from the September issue of Dazed & Confused:
Eijiro Miyama aka Boshi Ojisan (“Hat Uncle”) is a 78-year-old outsider artist in Yokohama, Japan, known for crafting elaborate, multi-tiered hats. As he cycles around town, false breasts jut out underneath his brightly patterned outfits and live goldfish dart around two decanters dangling on either side of his head. Entrenched in the most disadvantaged sector of Japanese society, Miyama lived in a small room in Kotobuki-cho, Japan’s third-largest slum, for two decades until last year, when he won a government-sponsored lottery to move into a one-bedroom apartment near Yokohama’s Chinatown.
“My father made his living selling beauty products, make-up and hair oils to hotel hostesses. But in an instant, everything changed. He was drafted into the Japanese Army. As the war machine kicked into gear, luxury items became seen as anti-patriotic. Cosmetics were banned. We had hardly any food to eat. I got bullied in school a lot. Kids would tease me because my family didn’t have much money. Childish bullying leaves an impact. You still feel it inside your body, years later.
USE YOUR NOODLE
After graduation, freedom lay in drifting from place to place. I worked mostly on construction sites, living hand-to-mouth. Twenty-three years ago, I settled in a tiny room in Yokohama and started making hats. It began with decorating instant-noodle bowls and wearing them on my head. My hat adornments come from everywhere: strangers, friends, flea markets, magazines, the trash. A friend once described my hats as collections of small, weak and ephemeral things that express softness and gentleness. I recycle parts so no one hat lasts long. Some hats can weigh up to 7kg. They used to be heavier, but I had to tone it down.
HEAVY LIES THE CROWN
After the tsunami, I made a hat that said ‘ganbare’, which translates as ‘keep it up’ and ‘stay strong’. Sometimes people would see the hat and tell me, ‘You should worry about yourself more than other people, my friend.’ In fact, I’m actually in great health! The heavier hats make my neck ache, but that’s my most serious ailment.
My father made his living selling beauty products, make-up and hair oils to hotel hostesses. But in an instant, everything changed.
I’ve participated in several art exhibitions but haven’t had much contact with designers. One time, while walking through Harajuku, someone invited me to appear at a shop opening. I was going to go, but I got lost. I’m told that I’m on a popular Harajuku fashion website, but I’ve never seen it.
The secret to all my outfits is this: twice a month in my old neighbourhood, Kotobuki-cho, a bazaar is held. It’s full of cheap lodging houses. The bazaar is organised to deal with flotsam that’s left behind by tenants as spaces get vacated. You can buy clothing for 30p apiece.
Everyone always wants to know why I wear fake breasts underneath my clothes. It’s hard to explain. It’s usually women who get to dress themselves up with fancy earrings and make-up. I want to show the world that anyone can adorn themselves in any way they like, and make that their art, expressing style and going against the grain.”