A Moment In Tokyo35.6895° N, 139.6917° E
"Despite Japan’s modernity and efficiency; age-old rituals are still very much embedded within the culture"
Everywhere we ventured in Japan, we could not help but notice that everyone walked with a purpose. Like New York City, there is a hustle and grind attitude found in Tokyo, although with one clear difference. This difference is that despite Japan’s modernity and efficiency; age-old rituals are still very much embedded within the culture.
It is common courtesy for all walks of Japanese life to express gratitude with a bow. Albeit the expressiveness of the act depends on the level of appreciation and emotion, nonetheless, it is a well-practiced norm. Another practiced action is to give and receive goods or gifts with two hands. We were happy to participate!
A local told us that after 7PM the Japanese love to celebrate the evenings. Our exploration of the Shibuya district, a major fashion hub of Tokyo and the location of the famous “scramble” certainly proved his statement to be true. Locals and tourists crowded the streets; the sound of laughter and eager friends greeting each other were heard amongst the city’s noise. We walked through one of the many alleyways of Tokyo; the glow from neon lights illuminated our passage through the city. The windows of storefronts displayed carefully curated products, even the ramen noodle eateries showcased plastic models of their most popular dishes – this was to help the hungry tourists like us.
We stopped for a drink at JBS “Jazz Blues Soul” Bar, where the 65-year old Mr. Kobayashi-san has amassed a collection of over 10,000 vinyl records. Dionne Warwick’s song “Walk On By” echoed softly in the stairwell as we walked up to the door. The space itself is really tight, a short bar, a few stools and two small tables offer seating. His vinyl records surrounded us and are neatly stocked in shelves. If you request a hip-hop song, he will play it for you, then follow up with the sample used for that song. It is amazing to know that within Tokyo’s fast paced environment there is a space that keeps nostalgia alive.
Some people tend to shy away from the rain because the gloom and greyness it brings but in Tokyo, they seem to embrace it. Their plastic umbrellas are see-through, which allows whatever light the sun decides to share in. The clear umbrellas served to us as a metaphor to always look at the bright side, even when it rains.
Despite the rain Tokyo’s sneakerheads wore their kicks, we saw bright colourways of New Balance, adidas, and Nike worn with clean topcoats layered with knits, finished with ripped denim. Boots was also a common sight; we spotted classic wheat Timberlands, Dr. Martens and Red Wing Heritage on both genders. An interesting trend we spotted is that the stylish men kept large wallets exposed in their back pockets.
Another particularly striking feature of Japanese culture is the adoption of Americana in their fashion. Clothing brands like Visvim and its designer Hiroki Nakamura has been heavily influenced by American workwear. Some would even argue that they do it better and we are inclined agree.
Most notably, jewelry maker Goro Takahashi, whose love for Native American culture is immortalized in all his hand crafted pieces. We had the honour of visiting his shop in Harajuku with his daughter, Erica.
After you walked up the unevenly formed steps, you will be transported to the shop that Goro himself worked inside for years. The stories about the brand are very true and very real. His love for his craft lives on in the shop.
The store, located close to the Harajuku district, evokes an air of Americana in Tokyo, from wall to wall; floor to ceiling, Native American artifacts accents the space. The shop is small; approximately 300 square feet and the walls are adorned with his handmade leather bags, accessories and jewelry.
In our conversation with his daughter, she spoke about her father’s love and dedication to his craft. She told us a that one time he stepped outside his shop to speak to the patrons waiting in line, asking what were their favourite pieces and why. He even found it too cold outside for them and planted a tree to help block the wind. It was a true honour to be invited into the shop and leave with a few pieces.
We beat the jet lag one morning and ventured out to visit the world’s biggest wholesale fish and food market, the Tsukiji market. The market opens most mornings (except Sundays, holidays and some Wednesdays) at 3AM to accept the shipments of tons of produce.
After the fish is inspected by the orate gyōsha (wholesalers) the auctions begin at 5AM and last about 2 hours, with bidding can only be done by licensed participants. The purchased produce then makes its way into their respective shops, some of which are inside the market. With certain restrictions, the public can watch the events of the auctions unfold. There is a maximum limit of 120 visitors per day on a first-come, first-serve basis. Tourists may visit the market daily between 5AM and 6:15AM. The market is the busiest between 5:30AM and 8AM, many shops start to close around 11AM, and the market closes for cleaning around 1PM. Visitor entry into the interior wholesale markets is prohibited until after 9 AM.
Follow to Kyoto.
Words & Photography: Jon Carlo Tapia