Veronika Schäpers, “Okonomiyaki”

Veronika Schäpers
Tokyo, Japan

Letterpress by polymer plates in German and Japanese on Bicchu-Ganpi paper.
edition size of 32
32 pages (German version); 6 pages (Japanese version).
21 x 20 cm (G)
20 x 20 cm (J)


Artist Statement

Okonomiyaki – the name of this popular Japanese dish could be translated into “fried as you like”. But the text of the Japanese
author Yoko Tawada is not a cooking recipe, but an accumulation of text fragments that can be mixed freely like the ingredients of an okonomiyaki, put into new order or even be omitted partially – just as you like. When explaining her text, Yoko Tawada even calls her «okonomiyaki principle» a new genre in which she has written more pieces since.

The idea for this book came up when I met Tawada at the New York Public Library where both of us were invited for a symposium. Shortly before we met, I had read an essay of hers titled «Wohnen in Japan» (Living in Japan) in which she describes the following:

“Sushi, which symbolizes light and luxurious simplicity, clarity and health, represents Japanese cuisine in the U.S. and Europe. Although this dish is popular in Japan as well, it shows only one aspect of the multifaceted cuisine, and it is easy to find Japanese dishes that juxtapose the aesthetics of Sushi, like for example Katsu-Kare (Schnitzel on rice, served with curry sauce), Pizza-Manju (Chinese dumplings, filled with various Pizza ingredients), or the pancake-like okonomiyaki, for which you can use almost all ingredients you like. Mayonnaise, brown sauce and seaweed powder are combined as well as tuna and filet steak. This pancake tastes much better than you would think, and in Japan, it is more popular than Sushi.”

The theme of this essay is the idealistic and blurred perception of the Japanese Culture in other countries, and after reading it, I invited Yoko Tawada to create an okonomiyaki book together. Okonomiyaki in the first place stood as a synonym for cultural
misunderstandings. Tawada, who has been living in Germany since 1982 and writes in German as well as in Japanese, in my eyes was the perfect author for this subject, because she knows both cultures very well and is not tempted to write polemically about each other’s misunderstandings. But even though we decided to work together, it took us another three years until the book was finally completed.

Every fragment of the text is allocated to one ingredient an okonomiyaki is made of. I started to work with patterns that appear
when you pour sauce and mayonnaise over a fried okonomiyaki. Everyone has his own method of pouring the sauce like simple spiral forms, subtle lines, or even comic strip-like characters. I made a mixture of glue and ink which has the texture of the popular Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise and filled it in an empty bottle of this brand. Then, I asked friends to paint their patterns on a card board, so I got a wide range of variations. I transferred these patterns into polymer plates and printed them on very smooth and shiny Bicchu-Ganpi paper. Every pattern faces a detail of an enlargement which brings the ‹saucepatterns› onto a new aesthetical level. The blue-black printed pages are overlaid by another layer of Bicchu-Ganpi with a circle printed in transparent white resembling the moon or an okonomiyaki – according to the theme of cultural misunderstandings. Because of the fine paper and the delicate colors, the reader may on the first hand think of the moon, but reading the text fragments printed on the fold of each double spread, the picture of an okonomiyaki arises. This impression is also mirrored in the layering of the papers since the okonomiyaki is a dish in which there are not only plenty of ingredients mixed, but also layered on top of each other.

The theme of layering is also shown in the Japanese edition. The Japanese text (which is not a translation of the German one)
consists of fiveteen fragments like its German counterpart, each of them belonging to the same expressions as in the German
text. Nevertheless, Tawada’s associations differ, which shows her different way of thinking and feeling in both cultures and

The Japanese fragments are printed one by one; I fold the paper in a way that every fragment is placed in a single box pleat. The transparent white ink is seen as a single strip appearing from time to time between the text-fragments. The sauce-patterns are not printed by polymer plates like in the German edition, but painted directly onto the paper with the same glue-ink mixture I used for the boards.

Both editions are composed of the same «ingredients»: fifteen text-fragments, Bicchu-Ganpi paper, letterpress in black and
transparent white, the O-shape, box pleats and sauce-patterns; but the outcome is very different – just okonomi!

The third part of the book consists of two sheets of oiled paper printed with a Japanese calligraphy. The original was painted by
the owner of a traditional lantern manufacture in Asakusa, Tokyo. In this workshop, paper lanterns for restaurants are made and painted. On the oiled sheets, you can read «Yoko Tawada» and «Okonomiyaki». The yellow, smelly paper evokes the odor
which one finds stuck to his clothes after spending some time in an okonomiyaki restaurant.

All three parts of the book are protected by fold cardboard jackets and put together in an acrylic box printed with a matted circle shape and the title in German and Japanese.