By Akane Margarita Ichikawa
Ironically, Vanilla Gallery is anything but vanilla. Specializing in risqué and eccentric pieces that are often a mix of erotic and grotesque concepts (“ero-guro” in Japanese), the showroom manifests the deep core of the Japanese underground fetish scene. Owner Tatsumi Naito opened the 29.5-square meter salon in 2003 in order to display artworks that cater to his peculiar aesthetic taste, and he pays no heed to the artists' fame in considering pieces to present. If you think you've already seen everything there is to see in Tokyo, step into this most alternative and happening venue, and think again.
In a neighborhood within one of the most up-market shopping district of Ginza, Naito also manages three bar-cum-galleries: Black Heart, Taboo, and Vanilla Mania. Dominatrixes in fishnets and corsets accompany visitors who come to experience kimbaku (Japanese BDSM), hypnosis, suspension and body mod workshops, avant-garde performances, artist's talk sessions and other spectacles that are occasionally unfurled in the name of “Vanilla Gakuen” at Black Heart. Smaller but nonetheless extreme exhibitions are held at both Taboo lounge and Vanilla Mania, the latter an intimately small bar with seats for only up to about ten people.
At the group’s Halloween and Christmas fetish parties, attendees can pub crawl between all four venues for a fixed price. While those evenings are great fun, the associated galleries' yearly highlight event is Sadistic Circus, a large-scale misemonogoya (freak show) that showcases maniacal vaudevillians from around the world. Norwegian fakir posse Pain Solution, bondage mistress Midori from San Francisco, Paris-based satirical performers Le Romanesques, legendary septuagenarian stripper Asakusa Komadayu, amputee model Kotone, and dozens of others left hundreds of spectators awestruck at Sadistic Circus’ tenth anniversary in September 2012.
To tide you over until the next circus comes to town, feed your curiosity at the foreigner-friendly Vanilla Gallery. At the annual comprehensive exhibition titled Condensed Vanilla 2013, an assortment of works by dozens of unique artists who define the gallery's niche will be displayed. The exhibition will feature Kyoichi Tsuzuki's collection of explicit wax dolls, outsider artist Pinkara Taiso's zany illustrations, grotesque manga artist Usamaru Furuya's original drawings, Orient Kogyo's silicon sex dolls, and most definitely much, much more.