(Series)Art Appreciation with Issey Ogata

(About this series)

Giving free rein to his creative imagination, Issey Ogata joins us to appreciate a selection of artwork by people with disabilities and invite viewers into the unique worlds of his stories. As he sets his wild imagination free to “fire” the artistic can(n)on, he breaks down barriers to show us that we can take a freer approach to art appreciation.

Vol.08 “Thinking of Rice and Wheat”


[Photograph (Portraits)]  ASADA Masashi

[Edit & Text]  OKADA Kaya

[Hair & Makeup]  KUBO Mariko

[Photograph (Works)]  KIOKU Keizo

This article is a translated version, which was originally published in Japanese language on 26 February, 2021.

Reading time:6 minutes

(Date updated)19 November, 2021

(About this story)
For years, a male philosopher has continued to ponder the mechanism which moves the human heart. Coming to believe that dreams are pure, that is where he finds the key to solving this puzzle.



SHIGA Toshihiko (1958-2013)

Shiga was born in Kyoto Prefecture. After entering〈Shigaraki Seinenryo〉 in 1976, he assembled hinges before starting to paint in the center’s Modeling Group around the middle of 1990. He often draws with ink using a chopstick pen (a common technique which involves dipping the sharp end of a chopstick in ink and using it like a pen), creating face-like depictions as well as things which look like elongated torsos extending from these on drawing paper. Exactly what he is drawing is not certain, but the natural balance of space in his works expresses a unique perspective. He continues to exhibit in a variety of events in various locations.

“Untitled” / 543×766mm / Ink on paper / 1996-2001 / Collection of The Nippon Foundation

This is quite remarkable. There is power in this picture.


Looking at it, the phrase “the mechanism which moves the human heart” springs to mind.


Our hearts move. This picture represents why the heart moves, and that this is how it moves. This happens, then this happens, then this happens and it moves. This part here and that part their go round and round. Like that.


This drawing is one which requires you to look at each individual part in detail and analyze it.


It’s like math. In mathematics, there are so-called problems of the century where you hear about “such and such prediction has been proven” or “such and such problem has been solved.” There is a similarly difficult problem in the world of psychology: “how the human heart moves.” This is truly a perplexing problem. And one of the students of the philosopher NISHIDA Kitaro tried to solve it.


Nishida’s philosophy touted the concept of subject-object undifferentiation. It did not differentiate between the subject and the object.* He believed that the state prior to these being split into two parts was one of “pure experience.” This is a true story.

One of his students, who long sought to achieve this pure experience, saw pure experience in a dream. He sat cross-legged in the zazen position and pondered just what pure experience was. Coming to the conclusion that a dream must be pure, he decided to search for pure experience in a dream.

But dreams are a world without solid shape, and while the story I’m telling is actually a wild imagining, he, too, may have thought his dream was just a wild imagining. And grabbing a pencil, thinking maybe it looked something like this, he tried to draw what he saw in his dream.

*Subject and object: One framework used to understand the nature of the world. The framework states that the world is comprised of that which sees and knows (subjects), and that which is seen and is known (objects). An object is something which can be known through the senses, and a subject is the consciousness which receives that sensory information.

“Untitled” / 543×766mm / Ink on paper / 1996-2001 / Collection of The Nippon Foundation

But he still wasn’t absolutely certain how this functioned as the mechanism which moves the human heart. Because he had moved the pencil in his hand while in a daze to draw what he saw, like automatic writing. And when he came back to his senses, he didn’t understand what he had drawn. I think that because he was thinking about pure experience, pure experience, over and over in his head, what he saw was the true state of his own heart, what his heart really looked like, and the traces of the pure workings of the heart, and drew those workings on paper.


Doubting that this really was a picture of the mechanism and principle behind the workings of his own heart, the next day he tried putting on a green filter. In his dream.

“Untitled” / 381×540mm / Conté and water-based pen on paper / 2001-2007 / Collection of The Nippon Foundation

Why he used green I don’t know, but I think he wanted to use a filter because he felt there were some things he couldn’t see clearly without one. He was experimenting in the dream. And… There was nothing. It just made everything look green.


Even so, he remained certain that what he had seen was definitely pure experience. The problem was figuring out just what he had seen through this pure experience. That still wasn’t clear.


So he tried using a filter but nothing special happened and he realized that this experiment was a failure. The next day, he took off the green sunglasses. And when he did, this is what he saw.

“Untitled” / 542×766mm / Ink on paper / 1996-2001 / Collection of The Nippon Foundation

Well, he thought, it looks like there is more entropy.
It’s chaos. And it’s growing.
There were things spinning, and swinging like a mobile, and jumping our irregularly. He found something moving chaotically.


And seeing this state, he became convinced. This is definitely working. This must be the mechanism which moves the human heart.


The heart doesn’t stand still. The heart is something which moves, isn’t it? And so this picture, too, is accurate. And the man was convinced that this truly was the workings of the mechanism of pure experience, that he had finally perceived it.


That being said, he had still only seen the workings of his own heart. Deciding to try to see someone else’s heart, he next travelled to America. And there he entered the dream of an American. Because he understood the mechanism behind pure experience, he could enter another person’s dream. And when he did, he saw things which looked like ears of grain. They were wheat ears.



“Untitled” / 386×540mm / Conté on paper / 2001-2007 / Collection of The Nippon Foundation

America is a nation of immigrants. There are many different people there but they share one thing in common. They eat bread. Bread is what fuels them! So it stands to reason.


Now looking back at the first drawing he made of his own heart, he realizes that in his drawing, there is not wheat but things which look like the ears of rice plants. He thinks, ah, I see, I eat rice, not bread, and so there are rice plants.


Next, he went to Africa. Africa is simple and powerful.

“Untitled” / 503×654mm / Conté and water-based pen on paper / 1996-2001 / Collection of The Nippon Foundation

These are also the ears of some kind of grain. I wonder what kind. They are not wheat, but they are definitely some kind of grain. And that’s where he figures it out. Around the world, grains are the food which move the human heart.


Grains do not merely satisfy hunger on a physical level, they are also sustenance for the heart itself. Rice and wheat and other staple grains.


However, you can’t actually see this mechanism working with your eyes; these pictures are only illustrative models. The man, a student of NISHIDA Kitaro, perceived the mechanism which moves the human heart, but he didn’t prove it. Whether there really was something like this inside of every human being.


His idea doesn’t stand up to any such scrutiny. Thinking, however, that in the near future, these sketches could become a preliminary study for proving his theory, he remains hard at work, continuing to draw what he sees in dreams.

Issey Ogata’s Wildly Imaginative Art Appreciation Techniques

As actor, playwright, and director of his one-man show, Issey Ogata brings new worlds to life every day. We asked him for tips on having fun with the power of unfettered imagination.

Inspiration is a part of our lives. And from numerous moments of inspiration, wild imaginings can emerge.

The unfettered imagination I talk about is 80% things I have thought up and 20% improvisation.


It is impossible for people, you know, to do to the same thing every time. There’s some kind of mechanism at work. I believe there is a mechanism which gives birth to inspiration.


Inspiration may feel like something special, but human beings can only live through inspiration. They have moments of inspiration and they live.


“I think I’ll pop out here and take a right, or maybe take a left.”


“Maybe I’ll fire that guy, or maybe not. What shall I do?”


Even in such momentous moments as this, we live our lives alongside inspiration; that’s all there is.
With plays, the plot stays the same.

And yet, even though you’re following the same script, the play still changes day to day. The nuances and inspirations change each time. The freedom of not being bound by anything. You know when a dump truck turns and a recording announces, “Attention, this vehicle is turning left” in the same tone every time? Now there’s something so lacking in inspiration, it’s sad, haha.


Unfettered imagination is also a kind of inspiration.


Or perhaps I should say inspiration without limits is unfettered imagination.

[Corporation]  HILLTOP HOTEL

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(Profile of Issey OGATA)
Born in Fukuoka in 1952, Ogata began his career in theater in 1971. With a foot on every stage—from his one-man plays to movies, TV shows, radio, voiceovers, commercials, and more—he has won widespread acclaim.
(Sites related to Issey OGATA)