January 20th,

The Backstreet of Tokyo


The Backstreet of Tokyo

In order to realize collaboration with various domains, Dentsu Lab Tokyo occasionally hosts talk session where artists, technologists, data scientists, scholars, writers come together.
Taken from Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Caretta Fountain”, a fountain of turtle, this talk session is named “Kamekai” (which literally translates as the “Turtle Gathering”) and aimed to bring various thoughts and view points among the participants and create an interactive session that won’t become a mere lecture. For the 6th Kamekai, we’ve invited backspacetokyo.

backspacetokyo / バックスペース・トーキョー

MC As an introduction, can you briefly explain about “backspacetokyo?”

Shimizu: Higa, Ishii, and myself, the three of us started it in March of 2015. Later on, Usami joined us. It’s less of a ‘company’ and more of a hangout, a project-based thing where we can exchange ideas.

MC So it’s not so much a company as a freelance sort of thing?

Exactly. Three of the four of us are freelancers.

Our motto is “the backstreet of Tokyo,” meaning that rather than following the mainstream, we want to create our own little ecosystem in some back alley.

(Following this, the presenting order is decided by a virtual die. First up is Usami, followed by Ishii, Higa, and finally Shimizu.)

About Takuto Usami

Takuto Usami
Born in Aichi in 1979. Visual Artist / Programmer. Started his career working at an architecture studio and worked on CG / design, then went on to study programming. Currently working on installation, VJ, projection mapping. Joined backspacetokyo in 2015.

Hello all, my name is Usami. I’ve been programming for five years now, working primarily with CG scenery and architecture. I make topographical surfaces from contour line data and things like that.


CG art by Usami

This one didn’t work out so well, but the concept was to use contour line data to create a table.


Table designed by Usami[1]


Table designed by Usami[2]

The picture below is one of my recent works. An objet d’art is placed in front of a wall, and an image is projected onto it.


Work by Usami

A motion-sensitive camera is placed in front of the piece which sends data back to the projector so the audience’s movements are reflected in the projection. It runs on openFrameworks.

Another similar project is on display at the Kashiwa gallery in Chiba prefecture. It is called ICHIYO.


The object hangs from the high ceiling above the atrium stairwell, and again an image is projected onto it. Kinect is also installed above the stairwell to sense motion. Like the previous piece, this piece also runs on my own mapping software.

I was rather pleased at how well the sensor placed high above captured the motions of the people on the ground below. I think this project went surprisingly well.


CG model of the stairwell



I also created a piece on display at Osaka Gas’s hu+g MUSEUM which changes its projected image in response to the motions of the visitors.

Recently I’m into creating forms from data. I’m working on a project that will display coordinate data for over three million cities. The first step is to collect climate data, and then go from there.

I also created a program that changes the appearance of the seats on display in a booth for a seat making company. I enjoy bringing together programming and materials-making.


MC Thank you.

About 2bit Ishii

2bit Ishii
ISHII 2bit
Born in Fukuoka, 1984, he has graduated from Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Yamaguchi University. While training himself at Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media(YCAM), not to mention his solo artist career of blasting sound, he was the “music guy” at the performance group he and his fellow members has started. In 2010, he has started his own company, buffer Renaiss, and has taken active participation in various projects that are genre-less such as advertising, entertainment, and theater arts. Currently he is in charge of network, back-end system, mobile apps and LED control related tasks. And his most important works are “Omohide Breaker” and “Anti Tagging” (Both iPhone apps).

Thank you. My name is 2bit Ishii.


I’ve been studying machine learning recently. I graduated in 2010 and headed to Tokyo, where I started working with openFrameworks.

(Hereafter, Ishii introduced some of his works to 2015. Due to a request from the artist himself, this section has been removed)

MC Thank you.

About Satoru Higa

Satoru Higa
Born in 1983. Programmer / Visual artist.
Having been involved in various projects that require high-end programming ability such as real-time 3D computer graphics rendering and computer vision, works on various creative projects such as installation, stage design, VJ, and live performance. Initiated backspacetokyo from 2015.

My name is Higa. After graduating I worked at a company for a while, but soon left to become a freelancer. In school, I made sound format applications.

Application developed

This is a piece I helped on for a dancer named Hiroaki Umeda. It’s a collaboration between audio visual and dance elements.

‘Holistic Strata’ by Hiroaki Umeda

The RAM (Reactor for Awareness in Motion) system captures the dancer’s movements and creates a visualization. RAM was developed by YCAM (Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media).


Image analysis systems are so easy to work with. Here, I used a facial analysis engine and set up some pictures as templates.

Happy Halloween!

Next, I used a camera to track skaters wearing infrared markers from about 40 meters away.

NHK Skate

Another one of my projects is a real-time visualization of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. I wanted to create the experience of actually being inside the stock business.

Tokyo Stock Exchange

I was also in charge of the interactive portion of a projection-mapping concert. We attached motion sensors to the conductor’s hands and hips and tracked them to produce the visualization.

Blue Symphony, Tokushima Prefecture

At the moment, my passion for creating visualizations is reaching new heights, so I’ve enrolled in a vocational college. The reason I’m so into this right now is because of this Rhizomatiks piece.

elevenplay x rhizomatiks “right brain”

So, I’m studying video production for a year, but there are times when I feel my production pace is not what I would like it to be. There’s a graphics engine called Unreal Engine (UE) which can create very rich environments. Using openFrameworks in real time I can apply effects to the environment to create a visualizer. So I get both quality and speed as I continue to create.

Example Works
MC Thank you.

About Motoi Shimizu

Motoi Shimizu
Born in Tokyo, 1984.
Graduated from IAMAS and School for Poetic Computation. (First class to graduate) After working for few IT companies, started to co-host backspacetokyo from 2015. As a glue programmer / designer, works widely on ranging from advertising projects to tech support on live house, and even personal projects.

My name is Shimizu. It’s a pleasure to be here.


I am a programmer, but I’m not in the computer science field. Rather, I think of myself more as working as the glue that holds specialists together. So I guess rather than a programmer you could call me more of a designer who is also able to write source code.

I started off playing in a band until I was 23. After that, I figured I wanted to try working in web development, so I started doing a hard B to B job. Until then, I’ve never written a single line of code. I wrote several hundred pages of code, and later ended up at Yahoo! Japan for about a month. After that I was a web developer at NHN Japan/Naver Japan (currently LINE Corporation) for three years.

I then went on to IAMAS (Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences), where I studied art, technology, and interdisciplinary social studies. Following that, I worked as a freelancer and went to the New York School for Poetic Computation. In 2014 I returned to Japan and started working for Rhizomatiks co.,ltd. as a software engineer. I am now a freelancer working with backspacetokyo.

Lately I am working in conjunction with a design company to create systems that track lines of sight to their products.

As of 2013, my core principles have been heavily influenced by the American artist and hacker group FATLAB. An integral element of a “techie” is their taste for expression that shocks and surprises. They like to use a lot of similar-sounding keywords, digital art, media art, emergent technology, interactive art, etc., but they are very aware of open sourcing and pop culture, and they really like to use everything around them as source material.

I’ve also been heavily influenced by Zach Lieberman, who is the founder of School of Poetic Computation.

Let me show you one more thing I am really into.


Works of art which involve technology can sometimes turn into pure technical demonstrations, don’t you think? Like, for example, if instead of this here projector we had three projectors, it would seem more impressive.

The demo example here is the state of the art, and as an engineer, I think it’s fantastic.

Jean Tinguely’s attitude can be described as an example of poetry. He is saying that, as a way to approach making things, poetry (derived from the phrase “to live”) is the better, compared to an concept called “art” which was originally coined by Italians who lived in a totally different era and environment.


When you’re working in something like IT, like the diagram above shows, there are three stages: input, processing, and output. To put it simply: do a mouse click, that’s a website. Your screen changes, that’s the browser. In doing these things, how much are you yourself involved in the processing? I think that’s an important question, but what does everyone else think? How do people at Dentsu initiate work, and how do you progress that? These are the things I’m concerned with.

So let me talk about something I like.
Here’s a project from 2010 which made me think about how interesting pictures can be. It’s not entirely work related, but it’s something I’ve worked on for a while, so let me share this with you.



This is Kathy. She’s an M to F drag queen. She wanted some help with a problem. See, she performs regularly at various clubs, and as soon as she got off the stage she would invariably get accosted by guys trying to touch her breasts. She was in dire straits and was looking for some help.

So what we did was we set up an iPhone with some cute decorations and a pressure sensor in her chest area. When the pressure sensor was set off, it would snap a picture and upload it, kind of saying publicly to the club “I got touched by this person!”


Kathy Cam

I think pictures taken by big nice cameras, surveillance camera, and smarpthones are all different. I like “Kathy Cam” very much. Look at all the bright faces! This was a great project because it taught me about how when you alter the form and function of a camera, the pictures you get out of it also change.

So, realizing how interesting pictures are, I started wondering what other fun things could be done with them. That’s what this next project is.

This is a six-second, 180-frame movie I recorded with my iPhone. I uploaded all the individual frames, and then ran Google’s image search algorithm to find the pictures that Google thought best matched the original frames. I then gathered all those images together, and lined them all up and compared them. It kind of makes sense, and then sometimes there are moments when it really clicks.

So then I wondered: how many times would I have to run this script for the Google server to actually come up with the original pictures I uploaded? I set up a site to run the script once a day and waited to see how many days it would take. Looks like today’s result was zero matches.


Website made for experiment

In the end, I ran the script for several weeks, but I didn’t get a single match.

On the left you can see the original frames. Well, they don’t really match so well. But the piece ended up being so large, that I wasn’t sure what I could do with it, and eventually put it up in a gallery. If anyone has any interesting ideas for what to do with this, please, get in touch with me!


The Gallery

I would like to talk about something that I am concerned about lately.


When you go to an interactive gallery, there are pieces which take pictures of you, right? I hate that. How come they can just take pictures of me as they please? Where and how are they using the pictures they took of me? I feel the line between public and private is becoming very blurred. The picture on the bottom left is of a vending machine in a train station. Even that has a camera in it. And the station management apparently approves.

But I guess you have to put up with it on some level, right? One more thing I’m hung up on is, when you go into the lobby of a business hotel, there’s a computer there that everyone is welcome to use, right? I love browsing through the downloads and pictures folders on those machines. (audience laughter)


Basically, if you try looking at the data left behind on a computer in a public space that everyone can use, you’ll understand. Is this just data? Or is it like cash? That’s how important some of this stuff can be.

So, last year I had a chance to travel all over the country to every nook and cranny, and visit business hotels. I went around collecting all of this data. I’d like to show you some of it now.

It’s super interesting. There’s things like cricket matches from Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and pictures of mysterious restaurants.But of course, privacy is the thing I am most concerned with, so I’m thinking about what I can do with this data I’ve collected.

I could go on talking for days, but time is almost up, so if there is anything you are interested in, please do contact me. Thank you for your time.

*photo used in the article are provided by the courtesy of Motoi Shimizu(


Dentsu Lab Tokyo