During a field trip in the third year of Gyosei Junior Highschool. (Photo courtesy of Fumi Yamamoto)
The original comics that I drew as a student at Gyosei. (Photo by Akira Kobayashi)

Applying for university: Yohji Yamamoto (6)

I devoted myself to the arts during a time of student movements

From 1959 to 1960, the struggle against the Japan-U.S. security treaty stormed across the country. Demonstrators, made up of students and other citizens, surrounded the parliament building, and Michiko Kanba, a student at the University of Tokyo, was crushed to death in the clashes. This movement also spread to high schools.

Having lost my father in the war, I think my feelings of anti-authoritarianism and my desire for peace were stronger than those of others. But I just could not bring myself to join the protesters. I was consistently cool toward the student movements and the violence that came with them.

If one resists, it is not genuine unless one spends their entire life resisting with unwavering dedication. What happened to the many students who ran with the leftist movement, only to abruptly change their attitudes and enter the business world to scramble as corporate warriors?

Is it not better to do nothing to start with, rather than engage in halfhearted political activism just for show? I looked upon the world with such cold feelings in my heart.

I enjoyed my time as a student at Gyosei. Goichi Hayashi, my best friend who could speak English reasonably well, and I negotiated with one of the teachers and set up an English study group. Hayashi and I were the only two members, and we would practice having conversations in English as we commuted to school on tram or train. Thanks to this I still have no difficulty with English.

My grades were not bad. The only subject I struggled with was mathematics. I have always been bad with numbers, and I do not like memorizing formulas that others have already discovered. I was also annoyed with the commanding tone of the questions, "Do this." I would wonder, "Who do you think you are?" It was my contrarian personality getting in the way.

I particularly liked art classes. I would draw my own original comics and pass them around among my friends, so I was particularly interested in drawing. My father's older brother was an abstract painter, which may have influenced me.

So, when I was in my first year of high school, I attended a style drawing school of Setsu Nagasawa, a well-known fashion illustrator in Takagicho.

In that class, I would draw a bust of Agrippa, the ancient Roman statesman, over and over. I would also repeatedly practice sketching models in various poses in three to five minutes. I was still a naive high school student, so when I saw a real nude female model for the first time, my hands shook so badly that I could not draw.

"Geez, Yamamoto-kun, don't be so serious! Have a smoke and look at the canvas with some distance."

One day, as I was crouched over the canvas sketching, Nagasawa gave me some advice from behind. The experience of learning these basics from a professional greatly helped me in my work as a fashion designer.

As I approached the end of high school, I began to think about my future plans. There was no university attached to Gyosei. If I needed to go to university I would need to prepare for the exams.

"What are you going to do about the university entrance exams?"

I talked with my friend Goichi Hayashi, and he suggested that I apply to Keio University. I had always been greatly partial to Keio. I was not good at math, so it would probably be difficult for me to get into the University of Tokyo or Hitotsubashi University that had math in their exams. I decided to aim for the law faculty as it seemed to be the most decent choice.

However, sleeping in the house in Kabukicho, I would hear the loud choruses of Russian folk songs and labor songs reverberating from the neighborhood singalong cafes until dawn.

I could not concentrate or study at all.

"I'm going to fail the exam like this. I want to move somewhere else."

I cried to my mother and she found me a suitable place in Nogata, a short train ride away from Kabukicho. It was a quiet environment in an isolated Japanese-style house. I moved there and dedicated myself to studying for the exam.

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