art, science and business of aquascaping

Takayuki Fukada – Champion Aquascaper

We often speak of sport dynasties where a team (Dallas Cowboys) or a player (Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan) so dominates a sport for a period of time that the achievements seem legendary. I think it isn’t too much of a stretch to start to talk about Takayuki Fukada, a Japanese aquascaper, as the first aquascaping dynasty after Takashi Amano. You see, he’s won the aquascaping equivalent of the Super Bowl and World Cup two years in a row. And that’s the years that he placed 1st in the world. If you count the years he placed among the top aquascapes, then, my friends, there is no doubt we have a dynasty in the making.

It is with that in mind that I’m so honored to have had the chanced to briefly interview Takayuki Fukada (Fukada-san) for this humble blog. Fukada-san is part of the Tokyo Aquascaping Union (TAU) and his answers were translated to English by fellow-TAU member, Steven Chong. I’m very grateful to both of them for their willingness and time.

Fukada-san’s 2016 winning work is entitled, “Mighty Cave”. Here’s a picture of it in case you haven’t seen it.

Mighty Cave by Takayuki Fukada
Mighty Cave – copyright © Takayuki Fukada

The level of detail, execution of design principles and overall planning that went into this aquascape is truly amazing and inspiring. I am really chomping at the bit to dig into this onion and start to peel its many layers. As a follow up to this post, I’ll be doing a full analysis (deconstruction) of the Mighty Cave to really get a chance to learn from it. But first, let’s get to know Fukada-san, the master aquascaper. It’s critical to get a sense of the artist before being able to study their work critically.

Please tell us about yourself and your profession.

First, let me express my gratitude for this opportunity to speak about myself. I work in Tokyo as a graphic designer, while enjoying my planted aquarium layouts.

When did you first start the planted aquarium hobby?

It was about 10 years ago. I found a book of Amano-san’s photo collection, “Garasu no Naka no Daishizen” (“Nature Within Glass,” known widely in English as “Nature Aquarium World”), and became absorbed in this world.

Did you have any people that inspired you back then?

Of course, Amano-san was an inspiration to me, but speaking closer to home, I was influenced heavily by Masashi Ono. Though I was just a beginner, Ono-san took great care in passing many teachings to me. He is a true friend, as well as a teacher to me.

When did you begin to get serious about aquascaping and entering aquascaping competitions?

Probably right around 2013 when I placed 2nd, was about when I seriously engaged in order to place amongst the top aquascapers of the contest.

What was the first contest you entered?

I have made entries since 2009 until now, only submitting to the IAPLC.

Do you have a preferred aquascaping style? Why do you think it’s your favorite?

I have no particular style… I think any style can have its own strong points. I do not insist on any particular style for myself, and wish to become able to express learnings from many.

What do you think of Amano-san’s traditional Nature Aquarium style? Is it still relevant? I don’t see many traditional layouts in the IAPLC.

In regards to the IAPLC, I pay little attention to any of the more traditional layouts. In all things, aquarium or otherwise, there is always a “mainstream”. In regards to aquascaping, Amano-san’s layouts are just that, the “mainstream”. It’s important to remember that contests are a special platform, where your entry is competing with others for attention and rank. However, be at ease- there is no reason to be concerned with the relevancy of Amano-san’s work, the mainstream of aquascaping. Even discussing contest layouts, the vast majority- including my entries- are influenced by Amano-san. Even going forward, the essence passed to us from Amano-san is an absolute necessity, and one which will never fade.

The sharing of great works, motivating and leaving an impression on each other, is what drives the development of culture and art. 

Takayuki Fukada
What does the IAPLC mean to you personally? Why do you enter aquascaping competitions?

This may sound strange, but originally I was adverse to submitting works to the contest. I had misgivings as to why people had to compete over the beauty of these magnificent planted aquariums. However, it’s because of my expriences that I can say this now- that the sharing of great works, motivating and leaving an impression on each other, is what drives the development of culture and art. The IAPLC is the same. I have been inspired by works from people around the world, and I wish to continue to make even more refined works thanks to that inspiration.

Longing – copyright © Takayuki Fukada – IAPLC Grand Prize 2015
Please tell us about the process you follow to prepare an aquascape for submission to the IAPLC. Where do you get your inspiration? Nature, a plant, a fish?

All of it, and anything. Hints gained for an inspiration can come from anywhere.

What is your planning process?

The first thing is to consider the structure that will best express my idea. As you know, it’s incredibly difficult to change the structure of the layout once water goes into an aquarium. That is why more than 80% of my time is spent in building the structure of the layout. The last 20% is spent on raising plants and developing the layout to completion.

You are a master at using perspective and detail in your aquascapes. How did you learn to do that?

It’s impossible to explain this with words. If I had to say something, it would be that it’s more important to maintain the mental stance of continued insistence on studying nature than it is to learn specific skills. Learn from nature, and express those learnings. There is no study more critical than this.

What are your thoughts about hardscape and its importance in the aquascape? How long does it take you to get the hardscape correct?

As you are aware, all of us are constantly being cornered by the business of our daily lives. One key role of planted aquaria in our lives is to help us forget that urgency. I’m sure we can all appreciate the happiness and ease felt gazing into the aquarium. And so, the issue here is not so much about the time needed for that expression, but rather how much feeling you can put into it. How important is hardscape to the aquascape… what’s more important to me, is the strength of an aquascaper’s feeling, and how far can that feeling be taken into expression.

Do you use any particular products such as ADA fertilizers?

There are many fertilizers on the market, but the only one I ever use is ADA Brighty K. If you are asking about products beyond fertilizers… I think that every person has their own situation, and their own way of doing things. Finding your own way, and making your own assessments and studies about what is useful is key to the individual’s development.

How much time do you typically spend every week getting the aquascape ready?

I’ve never measured the time, but I make careful observations every day. Doing observations is the key to noticing even the smallest changes, and taking steps to address problems that arise.

Please tell us about TAU and its future.

The Tokyo Aquascaping Union (TAU) is a group of planted aquarium enthusiasts, of which I am a member. This year is the 8th since the start of the group. Up until now, the greatest part of the inspiration I’ve received has come from my fellow group members. Having comrades, and surpirsing each other, driving each other, motivating each other – it can play a big role in your own personal development. From this point on, I hope that we will become a group not only focused on entering the contest, but an organization that plays a key role in telling the world about the beauty of planted aquariums.

There are many English-speaking people that are only starting the hobby and are seeing your fantastic aquascapes. What advice would you give someone that is only starting now but wants to improve and, hopefully, someday compete in the IAPLC?

Just like I started out, just the same, nothing begins without taking the first step. What I would like to relate to those in the English-speaking world who love planted aquariums, is that the outlets for enjoying your hobby are not refrained to the confines of the glass box. We have so many friends, such a great community of hobbyists around the world. To folks questioning whether they should enter the IAPLC, I would urge you on to take that first step and come join us. You will quickly come to see things more important than the results of the contest.

Where can people see more of your work?

Those wishing to see my works can find them all published to the TAU website, found at http://www.tau-aqua.net/.

Are you already planning your aquascape for next year?

Right now I’m at the stage of forming ideas. What kind of waterscape can touch people- I’m taking time to expand on different images that I’m considering. This time for me is the most critical, and also the most enjoyable.

Thank you all for reading until the end.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed Fukada-san’s interview. My recommendation to you is to read it, think about it and come back and read it again. His words have deeper meaning that will reveal themselves to you slowly.

After the 2016 IAPLC results were posted, I made a comment on Facebook about the similarities I saw among the top aquascapes. I questioned the heavy panoramic landscape theme.

Fukada-san’s words have shown me that the top aquascapers that are “scaping for the IAPLC” are not missing the point of aquascaping. They reassure me that these aquascapers are true artists that are pushing the envelope while also working within the confines of a contest’s rules.

I think the essence and beauty of aquascaping as an art form and homage to nature is alive and well inside the corp of elite aquascapers and “winning” a contest has not become the sole objective.

I thank Fukada-san and Steven Chong for their time and willingness to participate in this interview. If you’re interested in learning more about TAU, please visit the Tokyo Aquascape Union.

Takayuki Fukada and Steven Chong at Green Aqua Aquaflora event
Fukada-san and Steven Chong at an Aquaflora sponsored event at Green Aqua | © Aquaflora Aquarium BV

Questions for YOU

  • So what part of Fukada-san’s answers resonated with you the most and why?
  • What part did you not really get?
  • Did you pick anything up that you’re going to put to good use in your next aquascape?

Keep scaping, my friends!

Art

About the author

Art Pennom

Art Pennom is the founder of ScapeCrunch.com where he writes about the world of planted aquariums and aquascaping. In the past, Art founded AquaticPlantCentral.com, ScapeFu.com and the ScapeFu Podcast.

Art lives in Miami, Florida

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By Art Pennom
art, science and business of aquascaping

Art Pennom

Art Pennom is the founder of ScapeCrunch.com where he writes about the world of planted aquariums and aquascaping. In the past, Art founded AquaticPlantCentral.com, ScapeFu.com and the ScapeFu Podcast.

Art lives in Miami, Florida

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