On Kawara had now completed five years of Date Painting. There had been no attempt made to sell any of the work during this period. But all that was about to change once he got back to New York. In the meantime, let's follow in his footsteps through Japan, the country he left so emphatically in order to become the kind of artist he was: timeless, international, beyond conventional limits.


On Kawara visited who I think were his parents, Junji and Utako Kawahara, on several days in January 1971. That is January 11, 12, 20, 21, 22 and 28. Let's get this in perspective. Their names do not appear on 'I MET' for On's December 24 birthday, Xmas 1970, or New Year 1971. New Year was spent with the Okazakis, the Akutagawas, the Nishiharas and with his hosts, the Ishibashis. Though on January 2, four members of the Kawahara family were also present: Fumiko, Jun, Ei and Ayumi. Brothers, sisters and cousins? I don't know.

On January 4, On Kawara left Tokyo in order to do some travelling in the land he had exiled himself from. The Ishibashis didn't go with him, but the Okazakis from Tokyo, who he'd been seeing there, did.

As 1971 began, postcards were being sent to John Perreault, the New York art writer and artist. He was art critic for The Village Voice at this time and championed the avant garde. In 1968, when several names were used to describe the art now known as Minimalism, he predicted that this term would "stick".

A few of these postcards are juxtaposed with the day's 'I WENT' in the book On Kawara: Horizontality/Verticality


Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The above confirms that with the New Year celebration out of the way, On Kawara left Tokyo to go to Okayama, travelling with the Okazakis, at least. That is, they travelled south, towards Hiroshima and Nagasaki, though not as far as those once decimated places. In fact, they went to a sort of paradise. A manicured landscape dotted delicately with shinto temples and miniature trees.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The map above is a detail from the 'I WENT' of the same day in 1971 as is the above postcard: January 4. Turning to Google, I look around, as On Kawara must have done half a century before. With me feeling certain that he would have been looking at much the same thing, so controlled and timeless seems the landscape. A Street View image reminds me of the Charles Jenks' work permanently installed in the grounds of Jupiter Artland, near Edinburgh. Such a shame that no-one ever did for On Kawara what Richard Demarco did for Joseph Beuys: invite him to Scotland. The postcards are of the same place he was visiting, which is not unusual for Kawara.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The above postcard shows he had moved, and was now staying on a hillside, close to two shrines. Information which is confirmed by this detail from his 'I WENT' of the same day, January 7, 1971.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On Kawara was staying in accommodation handy for two shrines. It looks like it was a private house that the artist was sleeping. In which case it's more likely that he was with friends or family. The 'I MET' for January 7 reveals the following. As well as the Okazakis, Kazuko Nishihara was travelling with them from Tokyo.

January 7, 1971:
Jun Usezaki
Yasuhiro Wake
Kazuo Okazaki
Tamako Okazaki
Masako Wake
Kazuko Nishihara
Yoshiko Isezaki

The next postcard to John Perreault confirms On Kawara continued to explore Okayama.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Perhaps I didn't need to include this particular stop in this account. But I'm greatly enjoying soaking up a Japanese aesthetic. As I feel On Kawara may have been in January 1971, reminding himself who he was and where he'd come from. So let it stay.

Above is the right-hand page in On Kawara: Horizontality/Verticality, with On Kawara emerging from his horizontal time. And below is a detail of the map found on the left-hand page, showing where On Kawara went during his vertical hours.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I've located On Kawara's three sleeping places for January 4, January 7 and January 8. All in the vicinity of Okayama. The first stop, the peaceful park, being much the closest to the city centre. There was no Date Painting being done during this time, On was giving himself to his Japanese friends. He was in the moment.

Returning to Tokyo, On spent time with his family, as I mention at the start of this chapter. He last 'MET' Junji and Utako Kawahara on the 22nd, spent a few days with the Ishibashis and the Okazakis, and after that the I MET list are blank for four days. On was on his own as he travelled back via Hawaii. He would not return to Japan again until 1978, and then for a specific purpose that I won't hint at for now. On January 29, in a Hawaiian hotel room, he painted the date:

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The subtitle of the above Date Painting reads: "A devastating cyclone, Felice, tore across Mozambique, the Portuguese possession in East Africa today. Government officials said they feared as many as 100,000 persons might have been killed."

On Kawara's hotel was a high-rise close to the beach itself. Once again, On Kawara was in position 'A'. Soaking up the best that this World Heritage Site had to offer. Indeed, how did On Kawara spend the whole of January, 1971? In my opinion, he was World Heritage Site-hopping. The hotel had a fabulous view of the beach and bay from many of its windows. It would also feature on the picture side of the postcards OK would send from here.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

A similar card went to Hiroko on the 30th. Touching gestures, the 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram that went to her when he arrived in Japan. And the two 'I GOT UP; postcards that were sent shortly before arriving back home.


I need to come out of the story for a moment. Why? Because I'm getting lost in the detail. I'm missing things because I'm getting immersed in a one-paced 'annual survey' approach. What have I missed? Good question.

For a start, I've missed that the reason that On Kawara went flat out to paint at least one Date Painting every day for the first three months of 1970 was - surely - that he had his first showing opportunity in May of that year. It was to be in Tokyo and On Kawara clearly wanted to make maximum impact.

But Tokyo isn't NewYork. And it certainly wasn't New York in 1970 going on '71. However, On Kawara did not have to wait long for his first opportunity to show Date Paintings in New York. On Kawara was chosen for a show of emerging international artists at the Guggenheim, no less.

The catalogue for the Guggenheim show was a box within a box. Inside an inner box was an illustrated text, with essays by the two selectors, first, Diane Walden, and second, Edward F. Fry. The box also contained fold-out pamphlets for the 21 selected artists. Who were:

Thanks to the Guggenheim for making this available online.

The division of artists into nationalities seems dated now. Surely On Kawara identified as being 'based in New York' even then. It also has to be said that all but one of these 21 artists were male. And none of them, as far as I'm aware, was black. Moreover, when you flick through the catalogue essays, the images (there are none representing On Kawara) give the collective impression of white men exploring, dominating and taming nature. Richard Long's work in the landscape is given prominence. Richard Serra's heavy-metal work is also unmissable. And Bruce Nauman is given a double-page spread, where the artist is shown, on both pages, dressed in black t-shirt and blue jeans, bursting with enterprise.

Some of the artists got a four-page fold-out, while On Kawara got just two pages. These are revealing. The only 'image' On Kawara has in the catalogue is this:

Thanks to the Guggenheim for making this available online.

What is it? It's a list of the days in the first five years of his operation, where Kawara made a Date Painting. And while that may make perfect sense to the reader of this website, it might be a little more obscure to the uninitiated.

On Kawara's other page (see below) contains, on the far left, a list of (mostly obscure) exhibitions he'd been involved with since Date Painting began. His bibliography, also to the left, is confined to a couple of things Joseph Kosuth had written about him. Kawara's biography, on the right, is expressed in the same format as that of the other artists in the show. He was born in Japan in 1933, and 'lives in New York'.

Thanks to the Guggenheim for making this available online.

Note that his biography is not expressed as a number of days. I suspect On Kawara realised he'd missed an opportunity here. After all, his work in the exhibition was this.


Besides, in a postcard sent to the same Joseph Kosuth in November, 1968, On had boldly added his age in number of days. Let me reproduce that below, though it's out of chronology:


As I say, in the exhibition space were a month's worth of Date Paintings from March 1, 1970 to 31 March, 1970. On had wanted to show the entire DP-per-day exercise, January to March, 1970, as had appeared in the Tokyo Biennale, but he wasn't allocated enough space in the show for that. What a great trilogy that might have been. I don't mean the three months, though that is likely to have made a big impact on the audience. I mean, first, the row of Date Paintings in the Guggenheim exhibition. Second, the list of dates from 1966 to 1970 in the catalogue. And, third, the number of days On Kawara had been alive. Of course, On Kawara learned from this experience and from then on his biography always was expressed in days.

On Kawara may have attended the private view. This would explain why on his 'I MET' list for February 15, appear nine of the participating artists.


Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

In some ways, in the absence of Kasper König who was not in New York at the time, Konrad Fischer was the most important name on that list. The Dusseldorf dealer that On Kawara had sent 120 postcards to in 1969. Konrad Fischer had professional connections with several of the artists in the show, for instance Richard Long whom he went on to work with for decades.

Tate Papers includes a text - by Lynda Morris, drawing on work by Sophie Richard - that emphasises how important Konrad Fischer - as a dealer and a curator - was in ensuring the success of Conceptual Art in both Europe and for American artists. She tells us that the curator, Diane Waldman, went out to Germany with certain names in mind, including Joseph Beuys, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, but that none of those artists survived her consultation with Fischer. Which explains why Joseph Beuys wasn't part of this Guggenheim show. Because Konrad Fischer had no interest in him being there!

All of the Guggenheim artists that On Kawara met per his 'I MET' list on February 15 were Konrad Fischer artists. Which makes me think that it may have been a Konrad Fischer event (a dinner party?) rather than the official Guggenheim opening. Scrutiny of the day's 'I WENT' shows that On went nowhere near the Guggenheim on February 15. A private party, then.

Were there limits to Konrad Fischer's influence? One of his artists, Daniel Buren, was excluded from the show because other exhibiting artists objected to the enormous striped flag he'd installed, from skylight to just above the floor, impeding the view of their own work. Carl Andre (another Fischer artist) pulled out and several artists (including Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman and Lawrence Weiner) signed a letter of protest. Dan Flavin wrote a damning letter of his own. All of these artists went on to be represented by the Konrad Fischer Gallery, suggesting that ultimately he was an irresistible force as far as artists commercial interests were concerned. I'm not sure if On Kawara signed the group letter of protest, but I wouldn't have thought so. Daniel Buren became a friend of On Kawara's and they met again in Nova Scotia in 1973. Buren wrote a moving essay for On Kawara: SILENCE which came out in 2015, shortly after Kawara's death.

It is said that On Kawara stopped going to his own openings. It's said he found the conversations trivial. But I'm not sure that rings true. He had a curiosity about people, and life in general, as we've seen. If an artist talked about himself and his art to the exclusion of all else, On would have found that interesting too. Perhaps the problem was more to do with unwanted photography. OK had decided he did not want to be photographed. There were things he did want. And he didn't want anything else on top of that. He wanted postcards, Date Paintings, 'I MET' lists. 'I WENT' maps and 'I READ' volumes. That was it. No more. And if he attended his shows it would have been too easy for a journalist to clock the Japanese guy standing in the same room as a row of Date Paintings and to make hay (click away).

At this point, with On Kawara's Date Paintings having been seen in Tokyo and New York, Kasper Konig and Konrad Fischer moved into action. I'll be making use of the Konrad and Dorothée Fischer Archive to chart the artist's commercial progress. The archive tells me that on March 22, Konrad Fischer supplied Dr Jost Herbig, a Cologne-based scientist and art collector, with a list of On Kawara Date Paintings to the end of 1970. Just a list of Dates, no photos.

Then on April 13, Konrad Fischer wrote jointly to On and Hiroko asking when One Million Years would be finished. He enclosed an unopened letter to them from Dr. Jost Herbig. On April 30 Hiroko wrote back to Konrad saying that On would have completed One Million Years by the end of June. She also informed him about Herbig's interest in buying Date Paintings and that the Lamberts (Yvon in Paris and Francoise in Milan) were also interested in Kawara's work, partly because On had been sending them his "I AM STILL ALIVE" telegrams. Actually, On sent Yvon Lambert telegrams, care of his Parisian gallery, on May 7 and May 28, 1971, so maybe the dating of that letter in the archive is inaccurate. I haven't seen the letters themselves, just the way the archive summarises them.

Note that On Kawara did not get involved in these commercial dealings. Hiroko did. On Kawara confined himself to the sending out of 'I GOT UP' cards and 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams.

I'm extrapolating a bit, but it seems that when Konrad Fischer wrote again to Hiroko and On, it was to suggest dates for One Million Years to be shown at his own gallery in Dusseldorf, Gian Enzo Sperone's in Turin and Yvon Lambert's in Paris. Konrad Fischer wanted to be On Kawara's agent in Europe. Was this because Jost Herbig wanted to buy several Date Paintings? Well, that must surely have helped, but Konrad Fischer's dealings with Kasper Konig and On Kawara had been heading in this direction for a while.

I've now got hold of a catalogue called Painting Object Film Concept: Works from The Herbig Collection so I will be making use of info from that too, as I build up the picture of what happened between artist, dealer and collector in this important instance. On Kawara's first collector! It boasts a beautiful, wraparound cover by the aforementioned Daniel Buren.


In April, On Kawara sent the following telegram to Klaus Honnef in Munster. Actually, Klaus was sent an unusually large number of such telegrams, including nine in March and six in April.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Klaus Honnef was honorary professor of photography theory at the Kassel Art Academy. He was one of the organisers of Documenta 5 and 6 that took place in Kassel. He curated many exhibitions and wrote several books on contemporary art, pop art and Andy Warhol. Tate Papers tell us that Klaus Honnef and Konrad Fischer worked together to come up with section 17 of Documents 5. This consisted mostly of work by Konrad Fischer's artists, another example of Fischer's curation and his salesmanship getting entangled somewhat.

In other words, by sending 120 postcards to Konrad Fisher in 1969 and 21 telegrams to Klaus Honnef in 1971, On Kawara was maximising his chances of progressing in the art world. On Kawara, master strategist in all that he did.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On Kawara wasn't responsible for the look of the telegrams, which varied depending on which country they were being received in. I would describe these German telegrams as being rendered in a Joseph Beuys aesthetic. Although it could be that Beuys got that look from something in his own culture. Which came first, das chicken or das egg?

On Kawara painted at least one Date Painting every day of May, 1971. The first eight made were from a batch of ten sold to Dr. Jost. I'm not sure when the sale was actually made, but the Dates were still in On Kawara's possession when he did an end of year photo survey.

I'm going to skip ahead, keeping my focus on the commercial side of On Kawara's operation. Kasper König was in New York in September, staying with On and Hiroko. I think they may have been working out a marketing plan between themselves. Konrad Fischer was showing One Million Years in Dusseldorf from 14 October to 10 November. So, on October 8, Kasper sent out a batch of letters telling eight people (there may have been more, these are the ones recorded in the Konrad and Dorothee Fischer Archive) about both the Dusseldorf show and the forthcoming Documenta (June to October, 1972) where On Kawara would have Date Paintings on display in the part that Klaus Honnef and Konrad Fischer were curating.

Amongst the eight individuals that Kasper König wrote to were:

1) Herman Daled (who would get I GOT UP cards in 1972).
2) Herman van Eelen (who received 124 I GOT UP cards from May 1, 1970 to Sep 3).
3) Masayoshi Homma (who received an unknown number of I GOT UP cards in December, 1968 and January, 1969).
4) Roger Mazarguil (who received 90-odd I GOT UP cards from April 10 to July 13, 1971)
5) Martin Michavergas (who On and Hiroko had stayed with in Buenos Aires in December 1968)
6) Alain Tarica (who received an unknown number of I GOT UP cards in March/April 1971).

One notices the part that One Million Years and the 'I GOT UP' cards were playing at this very early stage in the marketing of Date Paintings. The 'I GOT UP' cards were being used to create interest in the minds of the potential clients and the Million Years work was exhibited nine times from 1971 to 1973, putting On Kawara's name firmly on the gallery circuit. While Date Paintings, though they'd been seen at the New York Guggenheim in February 1970, were shown only once, at Konrad Fischer's gallery in Dusseldorf, called Today Series, after the Million Years show had been shown there. The Million Years show's progress through 1971 to 1973 is shown by the following table, which needs to be read from top to bottom within each year, but from bottom to top, 1971 to 1973:


Thanks to the David Zwirner Gallery for making this available online.

Below is a photo taken at the opening at Galeria Toseli, Milan, in 1971. Nobody seems to be looking at the work. The sort of opening that annoyed On Kawara?


In the Konrad and Dorothée Fischer Archive there is a letter dated November 3, from Dr. Jost Herbig to Hiroko. Apparently it states that Jost Herbig was looking forward to receiving On Kawara's 'I GOT UP' postcards. He had already been receiving cards by the barrow-load. He was sent four months' worth between July 14 and November 21.

It also reports of a telephone conversation between Herbig and Fischer regarding suggested 'financing/purchase/repayment modalities' of an advance to finance 'ONE MILLION YEARS' through the sale of pictures. Herbig 'would be happy to receive a selection as soon as they were ready'.

The Dates were 'ready' as soon as On Kawara had painted them. Or were they? On Kawara waited until the year end and his documentation of the year's Dates before allowing them to leave his possession. A Date Painter and his Date Paintings are not easily parted.

On November 12, Hiroko wrote to Jost Herbig concerning the repayment in respect of Kawara's work 'ONE MILLION YEARS'. She thanked Herbig for the advance payment and said that the work would not have been possible without it. The letter also mentioned agreements with Kasper König and Konrad Fischer re the transport of "10 Date Paintings". I presume this means that all ten of the paintings were being delivered to Jost Herbig. Imagine the excitement of expecting the arrival of ten Date Paintings!

Dr Jost Herbig was a scientist from a rich family and was able to collect art because of the latter. Joseph Beuys was at the heart of his collection, though it's also true he would buy much that Konrad Fischer would exhibit. Works by Carl Andre, Bruce Nauman, Daniel Buren and Richard Long were also in his collection. Apparently, he kept most of the work in storage, preferring clean walls at home. But the exception to this was the vitrines of Joseph Beuys which were kept in his house. In this next picture, I believe Jost is holding a vitrine open in order to make use of Beuys's Earth Telephone.


I believe I know what he's saying. Listen: "Konrad. How are you?.. Guess what I'm up to? I'm at home talking to Joseph Beuys! I know he is not your favourite artist and that you guys are not exactly friends, but just listen as I paint the picture. He is sitting on the floor in the middle of ten-ten-ten On Kawara Date Paintings which arrived yesterday. First, APR. 13, 1971, that's the one I paid you for. Then MAY 1, 1971, MAY 2, 1971, MAY 3, 1971, then Joseph Beuys who is sitting with a dead hare on his lap. "I like America and America likes me" he is saying. Yes, that's right, he is explaining Date Paintings to the poor, dead animal. After Joseph, the paintings go on: MAY 4, 1971, MAY 5, 1971, MAY 6, 1971, the large MAY 7, 1971, the small MAY 7, 1971 and then OCT.25, 1971"

How am I able to be so specific? Because of the following illustrations from Painting Object Film Concept: Works from the Herbig Collection:


And this, which is a fold-out:


And this:


I believe this next photo, below, was taken the same day as the first image used of Dr Jost. It shows the doctor and his young children sitting between Beuys vitrines in the background and a Beuys sled in the foreground. Jost is looking towards the wall along which the Date Paintings have been placed on the floor. He loves them but then so does his visitor.


The next day Jost and Joseph get down to the serious business of trading. Joseph wants two Date Paintings in return for twenty sleds, but Jost says that the maximum number of Dates he can trade is two APR.13,1971 and OCT. 25, 1971.

"Remind me what the subtitles are," says Joseph.

"APR. 13, 1971: 'I got up at 11.41 P.M. and painted this.'"

"Poignant and profound. And the other?"

"OCT. 25, 1971: I GOT UP AT 9.49 A.M. and painted this."

"Ha-ha. 'I love America and America loves me!'"


"So do we have a deal? Two Dates in return for twenty sleds?" asks the rich scientist.

"If you throw in your tie - the one you are wearing - and your watch - again, the one you are wearing - I think we can shake hands on it." Replies the man hewn out of living granite.

"What do you want my tie for?"

"I want to cut it into ribbons and place it in the cardboard box that houses APR.13, 1971."

"Err… OK. What else will you do with your Dates?"

"For a start I will get rid of the cuttings from the New York Times that the boxes are lined with. I love these boxes but they need beeswax and fat, stuffed into the corners, in order to bring out the healing qualities of the Date Paintings."

"Konrad will be over the Moon."

"I don't care about Konrad Fischer. He can rot in American dollar Hell. But On Kawara is a true artist."

Actually, that scene belongs to 1972, not 1971, as the Dates were not delivered until 1972. But as the scene is a fanciful fiction, let it stay right here. What tells you that the scene is fiction is the idea that Jost Herbig would have traded away OCT. 25, 1971. Jost Herbig was also the proud owner of 131 I GOT UP cards posted from July to November 1971. He kept them in six multi-clip binders, each postcard slipped inside a transparent plastic sheath.


Amongst their number would have been OCT.25, 1971. To have a Date painting AND an 'I GOT UP' card for the same day, where the postcard was addressed to oneself. It doesn't get better than that for a collector. I don't have an postcard from that particular day, but here is one from the Herbig catalogue:


God, what an image that is. The Statue of Liberty representing all that's strong and faux-morale about post-WW2 U.S.A. But it's not the postcard I have in mind. Jost Herbig probably carried the 'I GOT UP' for October 25th around in his black, leather wallet. To remind him of his most precious possession (clue: Date Painting).

Back to the meticulous research. Jost Herbig went onto write non-fiction books that were published in Munich and sold well. In the Beginning was the Word: the evolution of the human was published in 1984. He published ten books from 1974 to his 'death from heart disease' in 1994. His work argued for the importance of culture as opposed to either biological determinism or the inevitable progress of humanity. I think he would have had much in common with On Kawara.

I doff my cap to Dr Jost Herbig. Ten Date Paintings bought, and eight held onto until the end of his time on the planet! At this stage, On Kawara had about a thousand Dates, Dr Jost Herbig had ten, and a few friends and business associates had the odd one. This next photo sums it up. It's eight out of sixteen photos that were taken, by or for On Kawara, after the end of 1971, capturing the year in Date Paintings. The main run of paintings that Herbig bought can be seen at the right of the second row of photos. At least, May 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 7 represent six of the eight paintings.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Four years after his death, when the Herbig Collection was sold, it was eight rather than ten Dates that went to auction. We know why. Or at least we have a working hypothesis. Of course, it's equally possible that two Dates had been quietly given away to friends or relatives, leaving this pile of beauties as seen below. Seven size 'B' Dates, and a wee one. Which Joseph Beuys could have had if he'd been any sort of a haggler. (Shamans don't haggle.)


But what an ideal first buyer was Dr. Jost Herbig - someone so interested in the work as a whole that his buying of Date Paintings was specifically intended to finance the making of new work. Though I don't myself see that the making of One Million Years would have cost that much. Perhaps the binding of ten volumes of 500 pages each is a more expensive job than I imagine. And the edition was of twelve sets of ten volumes. And of course the Date Paintings would not have been sold for a huge sum of money. Even when the Dates were resold in 1998 they only fetched about $70,000 each. Now, in 2024, they are worth about a million each. But maybe only as little as $10,000 in 1971.

Dr Jost Herbig. What a guy. He even bought from Konrad Fischer the first in an edition of twelve sets of One Million Years. The man who had everything. A Date Painting for October 25, 1971. The corresponding 'I GOT UP' card for that day. And a machine-printed, limited edition listing of the next million years, with each page initialled 'O.K.' on the reverse. Surely life doesn't get any better than that?



Let's drop back into the year, to the beginning of February, and go through On Kawara's life from another angle. I've scrutinised the 'I MET' lists for each month of 1971 and produced a table. The first three names along the top are those of the artists that Nobu Fukui has told me that On Kawara played mah jongg with. Ansell Bray (see the 1973 essay) has told me that Takeshi Kawashima was the sociable centre of the Japanese New York artists and that he was friends with everyone, and the main host of the mah jongg parties, but his name only crops up occasionally in 1971. So I've added Kasper Konig to the list, as you can see. Hiroko was met every day so I've left her out. Though she should always be borne in mind.



In the year, On met Soroku 109 times., Kasper Konig 80 times, Nobu 37 times and Aoki 22 times. Soroku was the friend met most often in eight of the eleven months spent in New York. Importantly, Soroku was 'MET' on two days of the six covering the Apollo moon landing of 1969. So who was he? I will properly introduce Soroku Toyoshima at this point.

There is a 10-minute film about Soroku Toyoshima on Youtube, not subtitled in English, from which the following still was taken.


Reproduced with the forbearance of the copyright holder, I hope.

In this highly illustrated work, he is the only one of On Kawara's inner circle I choose to use an identifiable photo of. Why is that? I suppose I want this image to stand for them all. Soroku, Nobu, Aoki and On. A team of Japanese New York artists; a closely-knit group of friends.

Soruku was born in 1939, so he was about Nobu's age and a few years younger than On. He became an artist after art school, practised in Tokyo for a few years with the Neo-Dadaists, but migrated to the US in 1964. Now Dadaists were a group of artists who blamed the bourgeois (including traditional artists) for the First World War, and it seems that the Neo-Dadaists carried on that line of thought in respect of subsequent wars, such as WW2. By 1970 he was living in New York, still attached to the Neo-Dadaists, but had stopped making art, possible because he had a wife and a three-year-old child to support. It's not clear when the interview was made. Sometime in the early 1970s, I'm supposing, possibly even 1971.

The video also contains footage of Soroku being helped to carry a metal sculpture from a basement in Brooklyn and position it in what I take to be a back garden. It would seem to be one of the last pieces he made, and it's called something like 'Foundation Moulding Factor Arrangement', dated 1970. His four helpers appear to be Japanese. His fellow Neo-Dadaists? It is possible that either Aoki or Nobu or even On Kawara were among his helpers, but the footage is not sharp enough for me to tell. They leave the piece lying on the ground, nodule side up.


The video ends with more from the interview, where Soroku is sitting on steps, dressed in a check shirt. Where did Soroku live in the 1970s again? At 61 Lispenard Street, which I suspect wasn't a loft, as Soroku refers to not having a studio in the interview. Lispenard Street is in New York's Tribeca, on the borders of Chinatown, Little Italy and Soho. Soho being where On Kawara and Aoki lived. In other words, the Toyoshimas lived a little to the south of On, Nobu and Aoki.

In 1971, the Toyoshimas had a second child, Takeharu, who has gone on to be a cartoonist. He began to draw SAM (Secret Asian Man) in 1999. The strip did well and was syndicated, and so for five years from 2007, SAM was very visible across the United States. In this period, Tak, as he's known, produced a strip a day which was eventually collected into a self-published book called The Daily Days. (The title has an On Kawara ring to it.) Tak makes a point of saying in an interview that both his artist parents were supportive of him being a cartoonist, though they had warned him that being any kind of artist was not an easy thing to succeed at in material terms. Though it has to be said that On Kawara ended up being extremely successful by any standards, including in material terms.


Reproduced with the forbearance of the copyright holder, Tak Toyoshima, I hope.

The book explores what it is to be an Asian Man living in New York. It is clearly autobiographical, the SAM of the cartoon being a cartoonist and being married to an Irish-Italian woman, as Tak is. They have one son (as Tak did at the time) and a hot-headed cousin, a right-on white friend, and a gentle, techy black friend. Racial identity and racism are continually explored in insightful ways. The writing and illustration both have a consistently light touch.

I look again at SAM's face. The black rectangles are supposed to be heavy eyebrows. However, if you remove SAM's bright, round, beady eyes, the black patches are more easily read as eyes themselves. Eyes that are giving nothing away.


Altered and reproduced with the forbearance of the copyright holder, Tak Toyoshima, I hope.

The face could be that of Soroku Toyoshima, Aoki, Nobu Fukui or On Kawara. Though On Kawara successfully blacked out his whole face. I wonder if On Kawara saw himself as a Secret Asian Man. I had a few questions about this. I thought it would be a good idea to write to Tak Toyoshima, since I couldn't approach his father, who died in 2013, a year before On Kawara.

A few days later, I received a reply.

'Hello Duncan, thanks for reaching out. I do know Mr. On as a family friend but to be honest I was so young that I have no active memory of any of his art dealings or his relationship with my father. Sorry to not be of more help but good luck with your research. Thanks again. --TAK'

It's here I must insert something that has come up while working on 1972 (in March, 2023). Here is a paragraph from a letter written by Tatsuo Kondo to his editor in Tokyo. It helps explain the above 'I MET' pattern:

June 17, 1971: 'Mahjong used to be very popular among Japanese writers in New York, but recently most of them seem to have switched to fishing. I'm not very familiar with American-style fishing with reels, but next weekend there will be a painting competition, so I'm thinking of going there for the first time in a while. Mr. Atsushi Kawahara is completely absorbed in it, and seems to be enthusiastic about making his own mosquito needles. It's not like conceptual art and fishing have something in common, so…'

Atsushi Kawahara is On Kawara's given name. It's something I explained in the 1966 chapter. 'Mosquito needles' is a weird translation. Ansell Bray was a keen fisherman and he told me that On Kawara liked to make his own flies. So I suppose ‘mosquito needles’ means fish hooks made to look like flies.

Tatsuo Kondo is puzzled by On's obsession with fishing. What has it got to do with conceptual art? On Kawara took his game-playing and his travelling seriously, they were just as important to him as his art. You need precision and patience to be a good fisherman. On Kawara had these qualities in abundance.

The fishing mentioned went on in upstate New York. Ansell Bray told me all about that in 2021, but I thought that the activity really got going in 1972. However, now that all the 'I WENT' maps are published by Tama Art University I can see that the first fishing expeditions were in 1971

It is also clear from the 'I MET' lists that I've reviewed for 1971 that On Kawara's friendships with Aoki, Soroku and Nobu went on post-mah-jongg, but more on a one-to-one basis.

I can summarise On's meetings with his inner circle for each month following his return from Japan to the end of the year as follows, having looked at every single 'I MET' List for the post-Japan part of the year. Let's return to the table I mentioned briefly earlier in this chapter

So Soroku was On's closest confidant in 1971. I suspect Aoki went to Japan for nearly four months in the summer and autumn, certainly his numbers are down on his usual totals. Kasper Konig was around quite a bit, but that is partly because he and his family were staying with On and Hiroko when he was in New York, such as in September, as Ilka and Lili's names crop up too, being Kasper's wife and first child.

Soroku went fishing with On and Hiroko in the summer. He was there with On and Hiroko when they had a day's trip to Monticello in upstate New York. Soroku was also there on the inaugural trip to Buttergrove Camp, Roscoe, which became the regular fishing trip destination in subsequent years. Soroku did have a wife and one child at this stage, but they crop up only on the occasional 'I MET' list. On did not see Soroku socially. They talked together, one to one. But what did they talk about?

Interesting that On did not meet Soroku at all in May. Perhaps Soroku was out of town, but we know that On Date Painted every day of that month. Is it possible that talking at length with Soroku and Date Painting were either/or activities? There is a suggestion of that if you look at August, when On met Soroku on seventeen different days and Date Painted on five days, on three of which he didn't see Soroku. The pattern is stronger in October when On met Soroku on the first five days of the month, then made a Date Painting on the sixth, then met Soroku for the next four paint-free days, then made Date Paintings on five of the next six days, none of which involved meetings with Soroku. Indeed, of the 31 days in the month, On either Date painted or talked to (or played chess with) Soroku, with four exceptions. On three of these On did neither, and once he both Date Painted and saw Soroku. How do I explain this exception?

On: "Can't stop to talk or play chess, Soroku. It's a painting day."

Soroku: "Tomorrow then. I have so much to say about race relations, the Middle East, the Cold War and this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. Then chess. And it's my turn to play with the white pieces!"

On: "That's a date."

Of course, I have no idea what On and Soroku talked about or did together. But I know what subjects Tak Toyoshima explores in his cartoons. If Tak wasn't the son of erudite, sensitive parents, then I'd be surprised. If On and Soroku talked intensively about politics before the budding cartoonist was even born and then when he was a child, Tak may be unaware of it, but that doesn't mean that it didn't happen and that his worldview wasn't strongly influenced by it. A triangle of enlightenment.

Let's end this year by seeing who On Kawara met on his birthday, a non-Date day. I've marked Hiroko in red as she would have been the first person that On met in the morning, though clearly there was a post-midnight meeting to bring December 23 to a close. A meeting with On's closest Japanese friends, all of whom I'll be saying a lot more about at the appropriate time, though Aoki was not there on this occasion:

December 24, 1971
Toshiko Kawashima
Soroku Toyoshima
Takeshi Kawashima
Nobumitsu Fukui
Miyuki Fukui
Hiroko Hiraoka
Ilka Katharina Schellenberg
Kasper Konig
Walter de Maria
Dan Graham
Doug Waterman

The birthday itself (Dec. 24) was not a Japanese affair. Rather it was spent with Hiroko and a group of Western friends, all of whom were arty, including Kasper König. Kasper and Dan were On's closest Western friends. Happy birthday, On Kawara. The contemporary art world is your oyster.

Hiroko: "Dan, Dan, do you want to buy a Date Painting?"

Dan: "Sure. How much?"

Hiroko: "May ones are the cheapest. Jost Herbig bought ten for a song." Dan: :"Supply and demand?"

Hiroko: "That's it! 31 made in May, one made in September. I try to keep On working consistently but he won't listen!"

Dan: "So, On, how old are you?"

On: "Kasper will tell you."

Kasper: "I can't work it out."

Hiroko (smiling): " On is 14,235 days old."

Dan: "I was thinking 13.870 days." Hiroko: "Oh, Dan, that was last year!"

Dan: "I get you. I have to multiply 365 by 39 instead of 38. I can do that. Give me a piece of paper and 30 seconds…Sure, 14,235 days old."

Hiroko: "14,235 days financially disinterested, remorseless and kind."

Next chapter.