Interview: Artist Yoshi Yoshitani
A Mythmaker at Work
By Melissa Slaughter
We at Hapa Mag have been known to accost fellow Hapas at various events (See Hapa Coffee and Greg Pak). We have a Hapa radar like nobody’s business. As I like to say “I smell my own kind.” Such was the case meeting Yoshi Yoshitani at the New York Comic-Con. First, we saw her incredible artwork. Alex was drawn to the dark, witchy vibes, I loved the mythological aesthetic, and Alison was into the Sailor Moon remixes. Within seconds, I turned to Yoshi and asked “are you Hapa?” See, we know our own kind! Yoshi was kind enough to answer a few questions and give us a few of her incredible art pieces.
Yoshi, which is name most might recognize as the green dinosaur in Mario Kart, is undeniably a Japanese name. Like many of our mixed race brethren, Yoshi’s family dynamic was an influence on her individual aesthetic. But there was another factor that drew her to art.
“Constantly moving meant I was shy and spent a lot of time drawing, and also [saw] art as a way to make new friends. I remember a big moment for me was when I moved to a new place and made friends with some kids who introduced me to Manga (Japanese comics). It was the combination of art, story, and my Japanese heritage. It blew my mind, and really expanded my influences.”
That explains the Sailor Moon pieces Alison liked. “I have an emotional kinship with those first Manga I read, Fushigi Yugi, Ranma 1/2, and Sailor Moon.” But what about the other images? The witches, the creature, the gods and goddesses? “I'm deeply into fairytales/mythologies, the more obscure, the better. It's so cool how the stories a society tells is a reflection of the society itself!”
Among Yoshi’s work you’ll see “Bali masks, Norwegian Bunad embroidery, Maori tattoos, Aboriginal rock paintings, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Pacific Northwest Totem poles,” little bits of every culture imaginable. “I would say I'm trying to push my art to be more pattern-like. I'm really inspired by the rhythm, repetition, color balance, symbolism, and complex simplicity of patterns in almost every culture... I try to look at every culture for inspiration.”
Perhaps her most ambitious work is that of her Tarot Card set. Many artists over the years have tried their hand at this task, so that’s when Yoshi decided to give it a try.
“I've always been interested in symbolism and symbology. Fairytales/mythologies are great about that, because they symbolize archetypes of humanity.” While she says “it's always really tough for an artist to describe their own style,” she’s done a beautiful [job of] encompassing her unique aesthetic and multi-cultural inspiration in each individual card.
“Right from the beginning, it was important to me that this tarot deck represent as many different cultures as possible. What's nice about a tarot deck is that each card is just as important as another, and now all these different stories and all these different cultures can sit side by side. Being multicultural myself, it's really really hard to find anything that celebrates all of you. So often you have to pick which side of you to express. So while this is a deck that cherishes all cultures, it's a giant love letter to everyone else out there that considers themselves mixed. Racially or otherwise.”
While the tarot decks aren’t completed, there’s still plenty of art to see. Yoshi will be attending "ECCC, Heroes Con, and NYCC to name a few," over the next year, but make sure to check out her website for her schedule.
Oh, this interview wouldn’t be complete without talking about her cats! We have several cat parents on the Hapa Mag staff, so we had to talk about her adorable fur babies.
“We have a friend who had a stray show up at their door, they named the cat Surplus when they realized she was pregnant. My fiance and I named the kittens Yuzu (a Japanese citrus) and Gozu (a Japanese Horror film). They are 7 months old, and want to climb on everything! But we also wake up each morning to them sleeping on us, so I can forgive them every sin.”
Melissa Slaughter has lived in all four time zones in the contiguous United States. A former actor in Seattle, WA, Melissa now resides in NYC as a content creator. She is the producer of the We're Not All Ninjas podcast, which she also hosts with fellow Hapa Mag writer, Alex Chester. Melissa also writes for online blogs Nerdophiles and On Stage Blog. Find her @NotAllNinjasPod.