• アーティストたちに愛される街――吉祥寺

    [From March Issue 2012]

    Taking the Chuo Line from JR Tokyo Station for about 30 minutes, you will begin to see a lot of greenery out of the train window as you arrive at JR Kichijoji Station. Kichijoji is located almost in the center of Tokyo.

    Most people associate Kichijoji with Inokashira Park and this just goes to show how well-known Inokashira Onshi Park is. There are about 20,000 trees planted in the park, and here you can enjoy the beauty of nature all year around. You can observe seasonal flowers and small animals, such as wild birds, at the botanical garden inside the park. Many people bring their lunch and spend all day in the park.

    Numerous swan boats and rowboats float upon a large pond within the park. The pier is crowded with couples and families, especially when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, or the trees begin to change color. The park also boasts of spacious tennis courts and has swings and other playground equipment, so visitors can enjoy light exercise as well as serious sports.

    On weekends and holidays, crowds of people gather to watch performances held at locations throughout the park. The art market, where artisans sell handmade accessories and knick knacks, is also held on weekends. A few artists also set up shop, and, because of their outstanding talent, there are always scores of people queuing up for a portrait.

    Within the park’s grounds is Inokashira Park Zoo, which contains an area for petting guinea pigs, and a small amusement park. Although the zoo mostly houses small animals, its biggest animal, an Asian elephant named Hanako, has become a symbol of Inokashira Park. The food stand in the zoo has been renovated and now offers fashionable café-style set lunches.

    Walking along Nanaibashi Street from JR Kichijoji Station toward the park, you will come upon some Asian or ethnic-style shops and second hand clothing stores, this area can get really crowded with people on weekends and holidays. In the evenings there’s always a long line of people waiting to buy yakitori (char-grilled chicken on a skewer) outside Iseya, a reasonably-priced bar that is one of the oldest establishments on the street. Next to a flight of stairs leading down to the park is Donatello’s, a shop famous not only for its gelato, but also for its resident cats.

    As you head toward Mitaka no Mori through the park, the Ghibli Museum gradually comes into sight. In the museum, there is a café and an area where originals goods are available for sale. With short movies to enjoy, you can spend a whole day there and never get bored. To visit the museum, reservations are necessary.

    Walking along the railway tracks of the Chuo Line from the north exit of the station toward Nishi-Ogikubo, you will come upon Cafe Zenon, a café that has patio seating. The shop fuses manga and art, and is overseen by manga artist HARA Tetsuo, known for his comic “Fist of the North Star,” and HOJO Tsukasa, the author of “City Hunter.” Because the café offers an excellent menu of food and drinks, it has a wide appeal.

    Heading from Cafe Zenon toward the north exit of JR Kichijoji Station and turning into Nakamichi-dori Street, you will find Animate, an animation goods store, located at the intersection in front of the station. Carrying a wide variety of anime DVDs and computer game products, ranging from well-known, to cult titles, the shop offers special goods and services not available anywhere else. Also, events featuring voice actors and manga artists are held there regularly.

    Kichijoji is famous for having a number of cafés that offer authentic coffee, but the most unique is Ocharaka, located on Nakamichi-dori Street. This café specializes in Japanese tea, and there you can enjoy a delicious cup of green tea, or other kinds of tea. Owner Stephane DANTON is from France. He opened this shop after studying green tea for many years.

    In Kichijoji, all kinds of commercial buildings, such as department stores and discount shops, stand side by side. Another building “Coppice” has recently joined their ranks, representing the new face of Kichijoji. The building also houses the Kichijoji Art Museum and Kyara Park, a store which carries character merchandise and is popular with young people.

    Along Heiwa-dori Street in front of the station, there is a shopping arcade with small stores called Harmonica Yokocho. The arcade was given this name because the stores lined up together resemble the mouthpiece of a harmonica. With tachinomiya (drinking establishments where customers drink while standing), ramen shops and ethnic food restaurants, the arcade is popular with customers who like to casually pop by for a rest in the middle of a shopping trip and with people who come for a quick drink.

    Walking down Harmonica Yokocho, you will see long queues around Daiya-gai (Diamond Street). These queues are a common sight in Kichijoji and are formed outside the meat store, Satou, or the Japanese sweet store, Ozasa. At Satou, they sell menchi-katsu (deep fried minced meat) using Matsuzaka beef, and at Ozasa, sweets containing ingredients such as azuki beans or youkan (sweet bean jelly), and monaka (a wafer cake filled with bean jam), are sold.

    Stretching from the north exit of the station is a shopping street called Sun Road. Covered with an arched roof, you can enjoy shopping there even in bad weather. At Gessoji Temple in Area B of Sun Road, a zazen-kai is held every Tuesday morning for participants to practice Zen meditation. There is also a dojo (a practice hall) for aikido, where you can come into contact with Buddhist teachings and Japanese martial arts.

    Kichijoji is so popular that it invariably comes first place as the town in Japan that most people want to live in. This is partly down to the town’s excellent public safety and its pleasant green spaces, such as Inokashira Park. Moreover those who love Kichijoji actively participate in events and community development projects in order to make the town even more comfortable for its visitors and residents.

    Musashino City Tourism Promotion Organization

    Text: BOTAMOCHI Anko




















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  • 江戸時代の装飾品に感動

    [From March Issue 2012]

    As a journalist from England involved in the world of Japanese fashion I am often asked how I came to specialize in such a niche world. Doubtlessly my interest in English designers, such as Vivienne Westwood, who were also popular in Japan, played a part in bridging that gap to Japan, but my initial interest in Japan actually came from a rather unlikely place – 17th Century Japan.

    Given that fashion is usually thought as existing in the moment, the fact that my initial attraction was to an ornament that hadn’t been part of Japanese dress for the last century may surprise. But it was the humble netsuke that started the journey that led me to live and work in Japan today. Due to the absence of pockets in traditional Japanese dress, netsuke were invented as an effective clasp that attached to the obi (belt) which could then have a cord passed through it to allow the wearer to hang pouches and other containers from it.

    This issue of practical necessity was vital to the evolution of the netsuke from a functional object to a meticulously carved masterpiece. Japanese dress, and menswear in particular, did not allow much opportunity for adornment or accessories. Because netsuke were functional, they were exempt from the customs and laws of the Tokugawa (Edo) era that forbid excessive public displays of wealth and status in the lower and merchant classes. This made the netsuke an avenue of self-expression for the rapidly emerging wealthy merchant class of the time and also an antidote to the minimalism and refinement typically preferred by the upper classes.

    While they did in time permeate all areas of society, most netsuke were originally carved into the shape of subjects representative of the popular tastes of normal Japanese people. There are a wealth of depictions of animals, monsters from Japanese fairy tales, mythical warriors, and even the cruder subjects of sex and drinking. These subjects are worlds apart from the flower and tea ceremonies that we think of characterizing the era. In many ways they bridge a gap between the brashness of neon lit modern Japan, and the perceived minimalism and modest grace of ancient Japan. When you look at the netsuke beloved of the normal, working class Japanese people, you can see that, culturally, very little has changed after all.

    When I encountered the netsuke collection at the V&A Museum in London, it opened a door to a wider view of Japanese aesthetics. It moved me in a way a rock garden would not. I was entranced by the cackling demons, the heroism of warriors riding into battle, and the macabre of skulls intertwined with snakes. It is art of unparalleled quality of workmanship that explores the serious and the playful with ease. The darker subjects in particular pose the important question: just what kind of man was walking around in Tokugawa era Japan with such imagery hanging around his waist for all to see? Perhaps myself in a former life?

    This love affair with this particular Japanese aesthetic eventually led me to a career in fashion, ever in search of a hint of the beauty that grew out of Tokugawa Japan. Even today I wear my own wallet attached to a netsuke of fish, lanterns and flowers.

    Text : Samuel THOMAS








    文: サミュエル・トーマス

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  • 趣味が夢の仕事にトランスフォーム

    [From March Issue 2012]

    Andrew HALL

    Before landing a job as a content planner for a design company in the toy industry, American Andrew HALL worked as a gourmet reporter on TV Asahi’s evening news show, as a columnist writing about stock trading, and as a translator of the “Yakuza” video game series. “I can only assume it was my language skills that landed me these jobs, because I’m sure no expert on gourmet cuisine, stock trading, or yakuza,” he says.

    Hall is, however, no amateur when it comes to toys. “I had always wanted to work in the toy industry,” he says. “I was born in ‘81, which means that I was the right age to experience some of the most memorable American cartoons of the 80’s, with ‘The Transformers’ being at the forefront. Little did I know that many of them originated from Japanese animation studios or toys… I was stunned to find that many of the ideas that had captivated me so greatly as a child had all come from the same distant country.”

    Right after graduating with a B.A. in Japanese he moved to Tokyo. “I envisioned that becoming fluent in Japanese would allow me to become a translator, letting me work closely with the various media I enjoyed so much.” Still, it would be some time before Hall landed his current job. “I had gained lots of interesting language experience, but didn’t seem much closer to working in my dream industry. You can’t exactly just go knocking on someone’s door, I thought.”

    His determination to acquire the language made for a steep learning curve: “The important thing is to aggressively learn and adapt through this. Make an error once, it’s understandable. Make the same error again, and that’s on you.” Hall applies this approach to all aspects of his life and feels that it’s helped him get to where he is today.

    “During my years of study in college, I remember feeling challenged by upper level courses where there tended to be more focus on public speaking than on kanji comprehension and writing,” he explains. “Motivation filled in those gaps, as I had my own intense interests.” Hall doesn’t measure success in terms of academic qualifications, but instead puts more emphasis on practical ability. “You can have a black belt in the dojo, but if you don’t know how to use your skills, suddenly when things get rough, it’s not going to count for much.”

    Hall now translates and plans content for Part One Co., Ltd., a design company that does work for some of the largest toy companies in Japan. He landed the job by contacting the president of the company directly, an approach which initially landed him a small translation job. At Part One’s online shop e-HOBBY, his work now includes creating proposals for new Transformers exclusives, doing research for manufacturers and developing new international projects.

    Hall finds working in Japan enjoyable. “Something I’ve always respected about Japan is the culture of craftsmanship present in work. The concept of adhering to great quality and design despite the pressure of cost-performance. I love being a part of that.”

    Overall, this kind of passion is central to Hall’s success. He explains, “What I learned getting where I am now is that an MBA is not a necessary qualification to being hired in most Japanese industries. It turns out that the most important qualifications are great Japanese ability and more guts than ‘Grimlock.’”

    Part One Co., Ltd.

    Text: Gregory FLYNN













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  • 激動の時代をコミカルに描く人情物語

    [From March Issue 2012]


    Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate © 日活


    Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate (Directed by KAWASHIMA Yuzo)

    This movie was originally released in 1957. Nikkatsu movie studios, which produced and distributed this work, is now celebrating its 100th anniversary. To mark the occasion, since May last year, this film has been screened as part of a tour of America, Asia and Europe. It was re-released in Japan in late December. More than 50 years have now passed since the movie was made, but it is still quite popular; in 2009 it was ranked fourth by a movie magazine in a list of “all-time best” movies.

    Set 150 years ago in 1862, the Edo era – which had lasted for 265 years – is about to end. The location is Sagamiya, an inn in Shinagawa which actually existed. Sagamiya was the first stop for travelers on the Tokaido Road that linked Nihonbashi in Edo to Sanjo-Ohashi in Kyoto. The plot, which mixes in historical fact and fiction, is a fast-paced comedy based on several classic rakugo (comic stories).

    Even though he’s broke, our hero, the merchant Saheiji visits Sagamiya. Ignoring his friend’s concerns, he orders lots of alcohol and delicious treats, and encourages his pals to fool around with prostitutes. That night, he lets all his friends return home. The next day, Saheiji honestly confesses that he does not have any money. Angered by Saheiji’s attitude, which is not at all contrite, the owner throws him into a small room full of spider webs.

    However, Saheiji slips out of the room and, by doing things like serving customers and solving problems involving prostitutes, manages on each occasion to make some cash. Although some employees consider Saheiji to be a threat to their livelihood, nobody can match his sharp tongue and quick wit. After some time, the owner, prostitutes, and customers of the inn start to ask him for advice.

    In this milieu, Saheiji hears about two big plots. One is cooked up by the samurai TAKASUGI Shinsaku and his followers, who have been staying at the inn for a long time. Aiming to prevent the country from opening up to the West by any means necessary, the group plots to set fire to the British legation. This part of the drama is based on historical fact: on December 12, 1862, Takasugi and his men did actually leave Sagamiya in order to set fire to the British legation.

    Another plot involves a girl who plans to elope. To pay off her father’s debts, the girl has been sold into a life of prostitution at Sagamiya. In order to save herself from such an intolerable fate, she encourages the owner’s son, a notorious playboy, to elope with her, despite the fact that she does not really like him. When the girl asks him for help, Saheiji gets the girl’s father, who works at the British legation, to draw a plan of the building. In exchange for the plan, Saheiji gets the samurai group to help the couple run away.

    One of the attractions of this movie is that the cast features many stars of that period. Though many big stars, like ISHIHARA Yujiro (who plays Takasugi) had supporting roles, in contrast, the lead part of Saheiji was played by Frankie SAKAI, an actor who despite being popular as a comic actor, was not considered to be particularly handsome. This creative casting is one of the factors that continues to attract movie fans of today. 


    幕末太陽傳(川島雄三 監督)










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