Dear Achtung: A Letter from Tokyo from Hiroshi Tanabe

"It will take time to regain my life."

Hiroshi Tanabe is a Japanese fashion A lister. His unique and vibrant fashion illustrations are modern yet traditional, with lines reminiscent of the historical Japanese woodblock print. While living for more than two decades in New York City working for Anna Sui and Shiseido, he has returned to his native Tokyo a few years ago. In spite of tradition, his art thrives on constant development and exchange with current fashion from his contemporaries like Jun Takahashi of Undercover. Standstill is regression. But it is this standstill that the Tokyo-based illustrator has now experienced with the Corona Pandemic. Tanabe spoke to us about longings during the lockdown and why children’s voices outside his window suddenly become the sound of freedom. He exclusively made this portfolio for AD in his letter from Tokyo using Sacai and Undercover runways as inspiration.

Hiroshi Tanabe Buddhism Art Work Black Red

A “tied up” Buddha as temples have been closed.

Hiroshi Tanabe Illustration Art Work Blond Hair Black Background

From the archive: Jil Sander illustrated by Hiroshi Tanabe for Achtung Mode Nr. 22.

Tokyo is considered a particularly fast-moving, efficient city. Have the people and the city been laid to rest by the virus?

Yes. Everyone spends their time cooking and watching Netflix.

Did the lockdown help you to concentrate more on your work as an illustrator or do you need the hustle and bustle of the city around you to stay inspired?

I spent a lot of time watching movies and reading books, that gave me new inspiration. It was a very valuable experience because I had time to look back at myself.

Do people need art in a crisis? 

Art is not needed at all in a crisis. No one can afford it or should be. However, I think that the number of people who heal their hearts with art and culture will have increased from the moment the situation has settled down somewhat.

What does the view from your flat look like?

The view from my apartment shows some temples and a quiet residential area. The COVID-19 situation hasn’t it changed from before to now. Only the kindergarten in front of my place is quiet, so I want to be able to hear the voices of the kindergarten early again.

Hiroshi Tanabe Art Work Cyan Pink red Shoes

Finding your way in Tokyo in Comme des Garçons boots.

Hiroshi Tanabe Art Work Street Red Purple Cyan

A Tokyo street view – empty.

What made you realize that this is a serious crisis/ What was the moment you realized it?

In the middle of March, my friend in NY was infected with COVID-19 and felt the seriousness and fear of talking to him. Every day, I watched news of unfocused stress and anger in people as the economy deteriorated. It seems that the number of people with corona infection is abnormal and it feels like I’m watching panic movies.

What was your first thought when it was clear: This is a serious crisis, our lives are about to change?

I thought that I wouldn’t be able to live the same life as before. I thought the values of things would change. It seems that it will take a considerable amount of time to regain my life. We lost a lot. However, I was convinced that something new could be done (culture, technology, entertainment, etc.). That is my only expectation right now.

Hiroshi Tanabe Art Work Woman Red Skirt long Hair Yellow Background

Sacai is good.

Hiroshi Tanabe Art Work Cigarette Hands Black White Woman

An illustration inspired by the Undercover S/S 2020 collection depicting a vigorous hand wash.

Hiroshi Tanabe Art Wor Girl Portrait Profile Red Lips Half Circle Long Hair

From the archive: Sayoko Yamaguchi illustrated by Hiroshi Tanabe for Achtung Mode Nr. 10.

Hiroshi Tanabe Karl Lagerfeld Illustration Art Work Black White Sunglasses

From the archive: Karl Lagerfeld illustrated by Hiroshi Tanabe for Achtung Mode Nr. 37.