Ginza Motoji

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Koumei Motoji learned the hard way that first impressions count. During a visit to Paris many years ago, he entered a bistro for lunch. He was as fashionably dressed as any typical Parisian. “But I’m Japanese,” he says. “So I was ushered to the back like I was an embarrassment.” The next day he returned to the same restaurant wearing a kimono, “and they treated me like a rock star.” Motoji grew up on the island of Amami Oshima in southern Japan, a place famous for its high-quality silk. He recalls the day his mother gave him a kimono that had belonged to his late father. “As soon as I put it on my back, it felt right,” he says. “I knew then and there that I wanted to share these treasures – that I would open a shop, and my shop would be in Ginza.” In the early 1960s, this was the most fashionable area of Tokyo, a promenade for Japan’s newly affluent consumers. But this was a time before the spread of passenger jets and bullet trains, and Ginza was a world away from the semi-tropical shores of Motoji’s island home. “It took me 13 hours on a ferry, followed by 28 hours on a train,” he recalls, “But I made it eventually.” Ginza Motoji consists of three shops: one for women, one for men, and another that specialises in oshima tsumugi, or kimono from Amami Oshima. Each feels more like an art gallery than a clothing store, exhibiting carefully curated fabrics awaiting purchase and tailoring. A complete kimono, meanwhile, is splayed dramatically, like a soaring bird. The proprietor pulls meticulously boxed rolls of fabric out of storage cupboards and unfurls them on a huge table formed from a single slice of wood cut from a 360-year-old tree. They include works by artisans who have achieved the rank of Living National Treasures: Yuko Tamanaha, who makes ryukyu bingata, an Okinawan style of intricate patterns made using dye-resistant rice paste; Kiju Fukuda, celebrated for his embroidery; and Hyouji Kitagawa, the 18th generation of the family heading the storied Tawaraya workshop in Kyoto’s Nishijin neighbourhood of textile craftspeople – with no male heir, he is probably the last. Almost as if to illustrate the tragedy of a workshop’s demise, Motoji slips on white gloves before touching his most treasured cloth, a simple design of indigo and ivory. The fabric is only 10 years old, but it is already priceless. “Nobody has the skill to make it anymore,” Motoji sighs. “The tradition has been lost.” Every year Motoji invites a selection of his artisans to come to the capital and experience the daily lives of busy, sophisticated Tokyoites. They need to understand their consumers if there is any hope of these endangered skills being preserved for future generations. For this to happen it is imperative that what they make is practical for the modern world. For Motoji, wearing kimono every day means that he now feels uncomfortable in Western clothing. But … Read More

Star Bar

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“Think about smartphones,” says Hisashi Kishi. “They’re very simple on the surface, but there’s a lot of technology underneath that the consumer doesn’t need to know about. The same is true of cocktails.” Or rather, it’s true of his cocktails. Kishi, a former world – and five-time national – cocktail champion, has little interest in newfangled recipes and avant-garde ingredients. You won’t find homemade bitters or chunks of dry ice at his Star Bar. He probably won’t even tell you about the original cocktails that won him his silverware. He’s likely to suggest something classic – martinis, manhattans, moscow mules and the like. But it’s his execution of those classics that sets him apart. “The recipes are the same from bar to bar, but the results are not,” he says. “Think about red wine. The basic process is the same, yet there’s so much variation in flavour. You can produce sensational wines like Château Lafite and Romanée-Conti. And it’s like that with gimlets. I’m trying to make the Romanée-Conti of gimlets.” Probably, you won’t notice how he does it; that he juices his lemons and limes lengthways, massaging each segment over coarse ceramic to avoid squeezing bitter oils from the skin. Or that his shake pattern changes from drink to drink, adjusting the level of chilling, dilution and size of the bubbles. The figure-of-eight motion of his ‘infinity shake’ is designed to create what he calls ‘micro bubbles’. “Nobody thinks about bubbles when they shake, but they greatly affect the flavour,” he says. In truth, Kishi doesn’t care if you notice his techniques. He says showboating won’t make his drinks any better; that his tricks are behind the scenes and below the surface. And that the proof is in the drinking. Kishi first picked up a cocktail shaker as a 20-year-old student. He quickly found his passion, quit college and enrolled in a bartending school. But it wasn’t until he began training in an elite Ginza bar that he became obsessed. “The first time I ate sushi in Ginza I could tell it was far superior to anything I’d tried before. Then I went to drink whisky and realised I didn’t know how to gauge its quality,” he says. So he studied. Within nine years he was a world champion, and four years after that he turned a Ginza basement into Star Bar. His ‘Romanée-Conti of gimlets’ is more aromatic and less astringent than others. Likewise his sidecar, which has become something of a signature drink. He uses an electric creamer to froth the cognac and triple sec, before shaking with juice and ice. To an untrained eye it looks like cheating; for Kishi, it’s the only way to do it. “You can shake bubbles into a drink, but they disappear fast,” he says. “I wanted to make them last and found the creamer adds air that stays in when you shake, while reducing the alcohol’s piercing bite. It’s like the sushi chef’s nikiri process of bringing his vinegar recipe … Read More

Gallery Koyanagi

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Ask Atsuko Koyanagi what she likes most about being an art dealer and gallery owner and she doesn’t bat an eyelid: “The artists,” she says. “I don’t want to work for the market. I want to work for the artists and establish a close, lasting relationship with them. That has always been my passion and motivation.” Indeed it has. She now counts over 20 years of friendship and representation with the likes of Marlene Dumas and Olafur Eliasson – not to mention the photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, who is also her partner in life. “I learned so much about the depth and spirit of art from them,” says Koyanagi, before recalling how she met Dumas at Art Basel in 1992. “Marlene had a daughter and had drawn many girls’ faces, but she became very interested in the faces of beautiful Japanese boys – girlish boys,” recalls Koyanagi. “She sent me 52 drawings of Asian faces in the late 1990s, and that was our first show together.” Koyanagi’s gallery occupies the eighth floor of an office building in Tokyo’s upscale Ginza district, once the heart of Tokyo’s art scene. Skyrocketing rents pushed many of her cohorts out, but she stayed because this was her family’s land. Her father was the fifth-generation owner of a ceramics shop, and she grew up in a house that stood here until it was razed during the property boom of the mid-1980s. Koyanagi’s first gallery, too, was a space for ceramics located on the ninth floor of the same office building. She moved down a floor when she switched to contemporary art in 1995 – an exhibition of photography by Sugimoto, at the time better known in the United States than in his native Japan, was her inaugural show. “The timing seemed right to find him an art gallery in Tokyo, but no one was interested,” she says with a laugh. “Japan is often behind the times. So I decided to do it myself.” Minimalist in design, with exposed concrete columns and beams, the gallery is deliberately functional. But the unassuming walls have hosted an astonishing roster of artists, not least among them Eliasson, whose work once filled the Turbine Hall of London’s Tate Modern. Scrolls made by Christian Marclay have hung here; the sound installations of Ryoji Ikeda have filled the air. Unsurprisingly, considering who her partner is, Koyanagi is especially interested in photographers: Hellen van Meene, Thomas Ruff, and her close friend Sophie Calle, to name just a few. Koyanagi and Calle travelled together around Japan while the latter was getting over the end of a relationship and the photographs Calle took on that journey contributed to one of her most celebrated works, Exquisite Pain. With 70 per cent of sales coming from abroad, Koyanagi has faced pressure to look for new markets overseas. But her heart says otherwise. “I’m happy to remain this size, with my existing team – loving the artists and loving their art,” she says. “Anything else would be a distraction.”