Two things about Japan: 1) It has a very long history. 2) It’s ruled by crazy zoning laws. These seem to be unrelated, but combined, they always remind me of the difference between living here and growing up in America. You can randomly pick any street to walk down anywhere in Japan, and find something interesting there. That’s because there is often a mixture of the ancient and the new wherever you are. You could find a cheap prefabricated structure next to a 100 year old wooden residence next to experimental architecture. You could discover an out-of-the-way specialized otaku* shop next to a traditional kimono maker. The zoning laws here are mainly concerned with earthquake endurance. They have little to do with usage or aesthetics. Therefore, you can put up almost anything on your property—something you can’t really do in other countries.
I live and work in Jingumae, Tokyo – centrally located between Harajuku and Shinjuku. For this second Inspirational Tour installment, I thought I’d stick to my immediate neighborhood. If I don’t have enough time to take the whole walking tour that I took you on last time, I can just stroll around my house to find a bit of motivation.
There are a few places I always take friends to when they visit from overseas. Let’s start with the old. Every neighborhood has their own temple as the center of their community. Ours is Hatomori Jinja – a shinto shrine dedicated to the traditional game of Shogi, among other things. This temple was founded more that 1,150 years ago! Amazing. It is a small collection of beautiful Japanese structures with an open courtyard – all reconstructed after World War II, of course. You can worship there, have a wedding there, see a traditional Noh play on occasion, gather for festivals, and community events – it is the focal point of our community. Its most notable feature is its Fujizuka.
Fujizuka is essentially a mini Mt. Fuji. It’s a 10 meter tall mound covered with lava rocks that came from the real place. There are several narrow paths you can climb to the peak with little shrines along the way. Mt. Fuji is both a very significant symbol for Japan and a place of worship. Now, it’s a two hour drive from Tokyo, but before there were highways, it wasn’t that easy to get to. And so, several Fujizuka were made around Japan so people could conveniently visit “Mt. Fuji” when they needed. This is old-school virtual reality.
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I am not religious at all, but I have always felt very welcomed at Hatomori Jinja. You can see more about it here <www.hatonomori-shrine.or.jp>
Back to the 21st century. There are two shops that I like to show people. They sell things that I am not particularly interested in – toys, and baby clothes – but I appreciate the thought that has been put into these places.
Bape Kids is a sub-brand of Bathing Ape. This is a small shop that carries clothes for toddlers. The obvious feature here is that most of the room is taken up with a swimming pool – albeit filled with colorful foam bananas. It is a simple set up that lets the kids play while their parents are shopping. The reason why this is significant, is that Tokyo is so densely crowded. Any retail space here is very expensive. In a standard retailer’s mindset, the use of space in this way is wasteful. Therefore, when you can get away with using a space like this in such an “inefficient” way, it actually becomes a form of luxury for the Japanese consumer.
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Bape Kids was designed by my friend, Yasamichi Katayama. He is the most prominent interior designer in Japan. You can see all of his amazing work at his site <wonder-wall.com>. For more about Bathing Ape, you can see their brand here <bape.com/index>.
Finally: Toy Sapiens. This is the most archetypal Otaku* shop I have ever seen. I don’t collect toys, but the amount of thought, effort, and passion that people have put into this world warrants my respect. Everything Toy Sapiens carries is connected to pop-culture characters from Star Wars, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Harry Potter, and such. They have a lot of inexpensive merchandise like bobbleheads, T-shirts, etc., but the most notable things on display are their collectables. These 1/6th scale figures are so intricately detailed, I am always amazed with their quality. They look exactly like the actors who played these characters. I don’t know the quantities they produce, but their prices are about US$300, and up (way up!)
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Additionally, whenever there is a new film released, Toy Sapiens has a special display. As I write this, Spiderman: Far from Home is in theaters. They have life-sized characters on display (I have no idea where they get these), and often costumes from the actual movie.
Costumes from Fantastic Beasts of the Harry Potter universe.
Again, I am not (that much) of an actual Otaku, but you have to appreciate such a commitment to any subject. If you want to know more about Toy Sapiens, check out <www.toysapiens.jp/english>
The highlighted section relates to everything referenced in this article. Normal’s office is where the NT logo is.
* Otaku: A young person who is obsessed with computers, or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills.