Have you ever wondered what famous Pokémon TCG illustrator Mitsuhiro Arita does outside of his work for Pokémon?
From left, Crystal Turner, Mitsuhiro Arita and Adam Turner, at Hyper Japan 2019.
There are times in your life when you carry out an activity and only after that activity has been completed, can you look back and comprehend how monumental it really was.
Hyper Japan had come around again, an event that showcases Japanese culture and innovation in London but this time it was different. Mitsuhiro Arita was attending. Like many others, this was a chance to meet one of the most iconic artists that shaped the history of the Pokémon TCG with his illustrations – most notably the Base set Charizard & Venusaur. Mitsuhiro Arita was arriving in the London fresh from his adventures in Ocala, FL and Paris so it was our turn to show him how welcomed he would be in the capital.
Now, this interview is a little different than most. Crystal and I originally travelled to Hyper Japan in the hopes of just meeting Mitsuhiro Arita, so like many others we purchased tickets to attend on day two. During this time, Ryan (BrayshGaming) came along with the idea of attending as Press – to attend a group interview and write an article for his website and in return, we would have access to all three days of the event. This was indeed a fantastic opportunity to gain further insight into the life of Arita-san away from the Pokémon TCG world.
Hyper Japan had come along. Unlike other events I’ve seen Mitsuhiro Arita attend, this one seemed very different. Queues to his stand were little to non-existent and he had time to discuss his work with fellow enthusiasts in the quieter periods.
Lunchtime swiftly flew by and with the interview starting at 14:00, we made our way to the press desk. I vividly remember foolishly joking how “funny” it would be if we were the only ones to show up and low and behold, the first thing the Press Manager stated to us was that we were indeed, the only ones in today’s interview. We had this opportunity to talk face to face with Mitsuhiro Arita exclusively – something you never really consider as possible!
The room we were escorted to was small, set up with a circle of chairs facing a small couch. Arita-san entered promptly after our arrival with his translator and exchanged pleasantries. We held a brief discussion about who we were, what we would be talking about and whether he was happy with the format of the interview. His expression changed a little when I mentioned the use of Pokémon related questions, so from this point on, as you will notice in the following interview, I steered clear of any Pokémon related questions to ensure that Arita-san’s experiences were pleasant and meaningful for all involved.
I can only hope that you enjoy the following interview just as much as I enjoyed it at the time!
Mitsuhiro Arita on stage at Hyper Japan 2019
Adam Turner: So we attended your talk, on your life and your [experiences] growing up within Japan and how you wanted to study to be an Electrical Engineer before pursuing a career in artistry, was art something you always wanted to do after the Electrical Engineering, was it something you felt that you could study art instead of Electrical Engineering?
Mitsuhiro Arita: すでに自分を試すという話をしましたが、その目的には、絵には絶対的な評価はなく、技術があればいい絵が描けるというわけではないので、絵を選んだ。自分で絵を勉強して自分なりの絵を描けば自分を試せると思った。
Translator: So he said, like he spoke on the stage, he wanted to challenge himself by teaching himself art so it was not through studies or anything he just wanted to teach himself and Art is not defined by anything, it’s not like you have it or you don’t he just wants to do it himself.
Mitsuhiro Arita: For me, that is not a problem what I want to do but I want to test myself [laughs] and I thought it is the proper way [to be] self-taught as an artist.
Adam Turner: Like learning a new skill, or challenging yourself to learn that skill?
Mitsuhiro Arita: Yeah.
Adam Turner: That sounds wonderful!
Mitsuhiro Arita: Also, there’s no absolute.. [絶対的な価値というものは、絵にはない。例えば、レオナルド・ダヴィンチの絵が目の前にあって、とてもお腹のすいた人がその絵を見ても、その絵に価値を感じることはない。そういう意味です]
Translator: So I think he is trying to say [Arita-san laughs] that there’s no right or wrong, worth or non-worth. If a really hungry person was looking at a Leonardo Da Vinci painting and it wouldn’t really mean much to them, so it’s kind of to do with the artist themselves.
Adam Turner: Of course, it’s user preference in a way, so I may not like something that you may like. I can see what you mean – of course!
Did you have any big inspirations growing up in Japan, in terms of artists? Was there anyone you looked up to like Hokusai as an example
Adam Turner: Quite a fine list!
So, going back to your work, your art – a lot of it in the past has been centered around fantasy, mythological and historical pieces, are these things that you like or is this [solely] to do with your work? So people commission you to do that as opposed to you like [to] do that?
Mitsuhiro Arita: Yes, yes just commission work.
Adam Turner: Okay, what things do you like drawing, just on a personal note.
Mitsuhiro Arita: 先ほどから好きかどうかという事を聞かれているが、自分の目的は自分を試すという事であり、その目的のために必要なことをやっていくという形で仕事をやってきた。途中で気が付いたのは、絵を描くことや特定の題材で好きというものはなく、好奇心や知識欲（もっといろんなことを知りたいという気持ち）の方が僕の場合は強い（という事）。絵を描くには、シンプルな絵を描くには深い知識は必要ないかもしれないが、意外ときちんと知らないと絵は描けない。だからいろんな事を勉強して知ること自体も楽しいし、絵を描く技術に関してもいろんな工夫をするのが楽しい、というのが、僕が絵を描き続けるための一番のモチベーションである。
Translator: So he says there’s not actually something in particular he, he realises there is not something in particular that he actually likes to draw and there’s not specific things that he likes to draw. His main motivation is to, like he said before is to test himself whilst he draws and wanting to know more about other types of art and so with just simple pictures and paintings you don’t need to know much about it but with detailed pictures you need to know things about it in order to draw.
Adam Turner: Yes, like a story behind the character or the image.
Translator: Yeah, so you need to know more and researching about that is what he enjoys and that’s the main motivation for him to keep continuing to draw.
Adam Turner: That’s pretty nice.
Just going into, on your social media feeds you have lots of watercolours, lots of hand drawn paintings or images. I assume when you’re travelling, do you carry around watercolours when you are going on trains or planes?
Mitsuhiro Arita: I always have sketchbooks in [the] left pocket and I left at my desk but I usually have paintings in here and also this is my paint. [he pulls out his sketch pads to show us the watercolours and pen/pencil drawings] One sketch book is for watercolours and another one is for drawing with a pen and pencil. I usually use this [bulldog clip] to pinch this part here and usually I have a water brush so I can draw everywhere. Even when I’m travelling on trains or aeroplanes or anything [laughs]. Everybody, everywhere, every time I can draw. By the way this is a Peter Pan statue in Kensington park.
Adam Turner: I have noticed that on social media recently, it’s very nice!
So you mentioned you travel a lot, do you have a favourite location that you like to travel to? So for example you were in France last week, you were in Paris, how does that compare to the UK?
Mitsuhiro Arita: Compared to UK. Because I have just arrived here on the 10th [July] so I didn’t went so much, I didn’t go out so much in London. But I love Paris, Paris is very good.
Adam Turner: So globally now, what’s your favourite country. So favourite place to visit.
Crystal Turner: Or it could be just Japan, do you prefer your home country?
Mitsuhiro Arita: That is also not my favourite because I [am] usually only travelling for business
Adam Turner: Of course
Mitsuhiro Arita: and also my motivation is to know something I never know so every country is fun for me [laughs]
Adam Turner: Continual learning then?
Mitsuhiro Arita: Yes
Adam Turner: Ah, that’s really nice! As you’ve travelled around the likes of Europe, the USA of course Asia and Japan, are there any cultures that you would like to invest yourself within? So for example any traditions you’d like to see. So I think it was yesterday you had say wheatabix and milk so new foods or new ways of looking at foods or drinks or activities. Is there anything like that you want to pick up. As an example of this, Crystal and I went to Japan last March , and we explored the likes of Kyoto, Tokyo, Hakone and we really enjoyed the culture and how friendly everyone is in Japan so we brought that back to the UK just to be nicer people I guess. Is there anything that you’ve experienced that has resonated well with you?
Mitsuhiro Arita: Resonated? [Arita-san and his translator discuss the meaning of resonated] 特定の）どの国ということではないが、外国に行くようになって、例えば僕の英語はそんなに上手くはないが、行った先に集まってくれる人は僕のファンだったりするので、僕に敬意を払って一生懸命聞き取ろうとしてくれるという様な事がすごく嬉しかった。知らないことをすぐバカにする人もいるが、そう言う態度は良くないと思う。知らない人には自分が知っているなら、その人を傷つけないように教えてあげる。例えば日本語が上手くない留学生の先生になって、この前授業をしたが、「こういう時には○○と言うんだよ」と教えてあげた。その留学生も自信がなくてうまく話しにくいけれど、自分も英語を勉強してうまく話せなかった気持ちがわかるよと言って、うまく説明してあげると、その子も積極的にたくさん話すようになって、すごくいい関係が築けた。
Translator: [The translator starts to talk in Japanese, to which everyone laughs] There’s no specific country that he learnt this from but just travelling overseas with his work, he realised that there is loads of fan who try their best to listen to him even though he can’t really, he feels like he can’t really speak English that well but everyone else always tries their best without interrupting him to try to listen to him so he thought that was a really good trait to have so he himself realised that he should have taught himself not to particularly judge strangers or people he doesn’t know because as often people like that, if they are someone that can’t speak Japanese well for example. So he recently did teaching for [an] international student who couldn’t speak Japanese that well and they were also lacking confidence but he wanted to help them and teach them “this is the way you do it” without upsetting them, trying to make them feel comfortable in order to help them. So that’s kind of like a trait that he learnt from travelling overseas and learnt from other people.
[Unfortunately, we encountered some technical issues at this point with our camera battery dying. Fortunately, other recording equipment was available to hand and allowed us to swiftly resume the interview.]
Adam Turner: with your current work now, what is it that you are enjoying working on?
Mitsuhiro Arita: 好き嫌いで仕事を始めたわけではないので、仕事は大変で当たり前だと思っている。楽をしようとすると仕事はつまらなくなると思う。大変で当たり前だと思っているから、仕事をしていて大変なのはそんなに苦ではない。その大変さの先に「これくらいの事を達成しよう」という目標があって、それを長い時間をかけてやり続けて最終的にその目標が達成できたときに、難しい事ほど達成した時に大きな喜びがある。高い目標を掲げてそれを達成しようとすると、途中はずっと苦しい事ばかりだが、自分は最後の目的しか見ていないので、途中の大変さや苦しさは気にならない。すべては好き嫌いではなく、自分が掲げた目標に対してやるべきことは、大変だろうと苦しい事だろうとすべてやる。それは大変で当然だと思っている。
Translator: So, he said that there is not really anything in particular that he likes or he doesn’t like so he says that it is only natural that work is always going to be difficult and the whole process is going to be difficult and that is fine with him. The only thing he is focussed on is the end goal and reaching the end goal and whether it’s difficult or not, you just have to focus on that. So overall, he doesn’t have any particular likes or not likes on what he is working on right now and that’s never been his mindset.
Adam Turner: Okay.
Mitsuhiro Arita: 他のイラストレーターだと、こういうものを描きたいと言う人が多い。やりたくないことはやらないという人が多い。僕の場合は、やってくれと頼まれれば、僕にやってくれと頼まれたのだから、僕ができる限りのことをして、それで納得してもらえなかったとしてもそれは僕の責任ではない、という取り組み方をずっとしてきた。
Translator: So, he’s saying perhaps I’m different. I’m just different from other illustrators so if they get told to draw a particular thing they don’t want to do nor willing to do so they just might not do it. But, when he gets told to draw things whether he likes it or not he will just do it and just do the best that he can and whether they like it or not he feels like it’s not, he can’t really do much anymore because he’s tried his best for it so that’s just what, yeah that’s just how he works.
Adam Turner: Okay, that’s the best way to do it!
So, taking you away from art and illustration, do you have any other hobbies or interests?
Mitsuhiro Arita: Hobbies yes, 一番は自分の子供と遊びたいという気持ち. My desire is, I want to play with my daughter more.
Adam Turner: Okay! How old is your daughter, if you don’t mind me asking?
Mitsuhiro Arita: Almost 8.
Adam Turner: It’s very sentimental, that’s very nice.
I have one final question if that’s okay, do you have any advice that you could give to aspiring artists, so in Japan or overseas, is there anything that you’ve learnt that you wish you would have known when you started that you can pass onto future artists?
Mitsuhiro Arita: 最近スケッチのセミナーを日本でしている。自分自身、仕事として絵を描くことを始めたので、好き嫌いなどは無視して仕事としてやってきて、結構つらい気持ちの時もあった。でもスケッチを始めて、落書きをするようになって、最近は下書きもしなくなり、下書きがないという事ははっきりとしたゴールがないという事。頭の中にだけ（ゴールが）あって、現実世界にははっきりとしたゴールがないものを描いていると、すごく楽しい。仕事は明確なゴールがあって、「こういうことを達成してください」という事をクライアントから依頼され、僕はそれを達成するためにこのゴールにたどり着こうと決めて、そこに向かってずっとやっていくと、そのプロセスがつらい。ゴールが決まっているから。でもスケッチをするとゴールがないから楽しくて、僕は絵を描くことの楽しさをようやく発見した。最近は、特に日本だと画力のあるなしが絶対的な指標だとか、ソーシャルメディアで人に褒められるかどうかが一番大事だという様な考えに、意外とみんな偏っているように思う。絵を勉強のようにとらえて取り組もうとしている人が割といる気がする。でもそうではなくて、一番は自分がこういう絵を描きたいという事をきちんと達成することだと思う。こういう絵を描きたいという気持ちをきちんと自分から引き出したり、自分が「こういうものが好き」「こういうものが描きたい」ということを発見するには、日常的にスケッチをするという事が大事だと思う。
Translator: So recently he’s doing a sketch seminar in Japan and he’s trying to deliver the idea that all he realised before was that he viewed art work and ignored preferences on whether he liked things or not he just did it whether he was asked by the client just to reach that end goal and the whole process to reach that end goal, because there was something that he had to reach it was quite a difficult process. That part was where he struggled the most whereas when he started to actually sketch anything that just comes to mind not even without any goal or no draft or no end goal, that’s when he realised the enjoyment of actually drawing because he’s not really trying to reach anything, he’s just drawing anything that comes to mind. So yeah that’s what he’s trying to teach in the sketch seminar. And also, often people feel like on social media for example they post a drawing that they’ve done – the number of likes or the number of likes that they get would determine how good it is – it’s really not like that. That doesn’t determine the worth or whether you’re good or not and it just doesn’t matter as long as you enjoy yourself which is why it’s really important to discover just sketching whatever you want or whatever just comes to mind yourself in order to just find that real enjoyment of drawing.
Adam Turner: that’s great, that’s all we had – I don’t know if you have anything else [to Crystal]?
Crystal Turner: Don’t think so, no.
Adam Turner: Thank you very much, it’s been an honour to talk to you today.
Mitsuhiro Arita had been a kind, thoughtful and humorous guest, sharing with us his passions, artwork and advice for future artists.
Special thanks of course go out to Arita-san, for giving us his time and attention to talking to us, as well as a few other notable people that have helped in this process along the way:
Sora – For providing the Japanese text translation to use, not only in this article but also in the video.
Ryan – without Ryan of course, this interview would not have been possible. He rightly deserves all of the video credits from this interview.
Zak – for giving me a platform to distribute this article on PokeGuardian.
If you would like to watch the video interview and see some more of Mitsuhiro Arita’s work, you can find it below:
Some of Adam's signed cards