Ranko Nagata always knew she would end up in a creative line of work, but until one fateful first visit to a flea market some four decades ago, she had never imagined her life would be exactly what it is today. At the time working as a glass blower, Nagata visited the market to get inspiration and ideas for her art. “I found a box full of old fabric, and a very surprising thing happened. It was as if it was talking to me, as if it had life. My mother wore a kimono so I was used to and interested in kimono fabric, but this was a whole new experience,” she recalls. “The fabrics at the market were old, dating back to the Edo period, and they were naturally dyed in very basic, neutral colours of indigo and beige. But for me, they were alive and fresh. I immediately bought the entire box and started making things with them.” Ever since that day, vintage fabrics have been Nagata’s passion. She continued making glass art for some time, but she was also making frequent visits to markets to satisfy her insatiable thirst for old textiles, which she used to make small crafts and patchwork bed covers. Eventually she was asked to help out at a vintage fabric store, which ended up being the final nail in the coffin of her glass blowing career. “I gradually became more obsessed with fabrics than I was with glass work,” she says. “Fabric became so much more interesting to me.” Nagata opened her own shop about 20 years after that first flea market encounter. Called Lunco—a creative, alternative spelling of her first name—it has been in its present location for about a decade. She sells vintage kimono and vintage fabric cuttings, the majority of which are at least 100 years old. She finds them at auctions and then often hangs onto them for months or years before putting them in the shop. “When we sell things, we set a theme. Rather than selling them right away when we find them at auctions or markets, we keep them until the collection for the theme is complete, however long it takes. We want customers to feel the theme and the things we have collected,” she says. Nagata likens creating these themes—or “worlds,” as she calls them—to making works of art. It’s her creative outlet, she says. Past themes at Lunco have included crimson and purple, autumn plants, and distant turquoise. And she still prepares all the kimono and fabrics herself, carefully steaming the wrinkles out, while she murmurs a thank you to the backside of the fabric (expressing her gratitude to past wearers) and a request to take care of future wearers to the front side. While some might call Nagata a workaholic—she proudly boasts of only taking New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day off each year—she is clearly driven by passion and a genuine love for what she does. She has a childlike fascination … Read More
A few steps from one of Shibuya’s main thoroughfares is not exactly where one might expect to find a farmhouse-style restaurant, and yet that’s exactly what Mamma Luisa’s Table is. Opened by chef Pietro Androsoni in 2014, the restaurant was inspired by his childhood growing up on his grandparents’ farm in Florence. “My grandmother made all the food for all the family. Every weekend there were like 15 to 20 people in my house,” Androsoni says. “So I grew up in this environment, with the ingredients from the farm, the animals, the poultry. And I think this is why I am fascinated by this work.” Androsoni started his career at a Michelin-starred restaurant in his native city, before he did a stint at an Italian restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. Disillusioned by what he says was not the America of his dreams and yet still harbouring a travel bug, when he got a call from his former boss asking him to help open a new location in Tokyo, he decided to take a chance. “I said, I’ll come to Japan, but I don’t want to stay longer than six months. And I came here and fell in love with the city,” he says. “Food-wise, I think it’s the best city in the world. You can experience all the cuisines, the styles—there is so much culture about food in this city.” Mamma Luisa’s Table is named after Androsoni’s own mother, and the restaurant has a relaxed, home-style feeling. Black and white photos of the chef’s family hang on the walls, and at the centre of the dining room is a large, eight-seat table. Warm lighting, distressed wood furniture, mismatched rugs and an open kitchen complete the inviting atmosphere. “The thing I love the most about having my own restaurant is the relationships I can cultivate with customers,” Androsoni says. “I feel I am at home, and the guests are also a part of my home.” Androsoni’s food is creative yet comforting, incorporating ingredients from Japan and around the Mediterranean. The menu changes slightly from day to day depending on the vegetables he finds at the markets. “I use really seasonal ingredients, because that’s one thing we’re losing these days,” he says. “People have gotten used to using asparagus 365 days a year. But for me, we have seasons and I want to respect them. Also because I grew up in a farmhouse, and I think this background is something I bring with me. I used to love to go into the backyard and get the zucchini, and then go inside, wash it and cook the pasta. In 30 minutes you go from the ground to the plate.” Cooking according to the seasons also results in more variety, which keeps Androsoni stimulated. Even first-time visitors to Mamma Luisa’s Table will quickly recognise his passion for his work. “Food is so versatile. Once you understand the ingredients, you can create anything. Food for me is life,” he says. “Food is also my way of … Read More
On a small street in Nakameguro populated by trendy shops and cafes, one store stands out: under a neon “S” logo are a set of imposing, floor-to-ceiling glass double doors that open at an angle. “The doors were order made and are easily the most expensive thing about the shop,” says Shun Okubo, who sells his eponymous line of jewellery here. They also allude to the designer’s undeniable creative sense, which extends not only to his products, but to the raw concrete walls, custom black wood display cases with clean geometric lines, and eclectic mix of art portraying things like French cafe scenes or a quote by Louise Bourgeois. It is art, in fact, that inspired many of Okubo’s early designs. Originally following the path toward a career as a fashion designer, Okubo lived in Paris for some years, where he would often visit Constantin Brancusi’s studio at the Centre Pompidou. “My initial approach to jewellery design was to make things like these abstract cultures, but on a scale that fit the body,” he says. After returning to his native Tokyo and realising that his timing was off if he wanted to produce a fashion collection for the upcoming season, Okubo stumbled into jewellery. “I didn’t want to just do nothing, and an acquaintance of mine was a jewellery maker, so I told him that I wanted to do something with my hands, and I asked him if he would make jewellery for me that I designed,” Okubo says. This was the birth of the brand, which has now been operating for over a decade. In the early years, Okubo always thought he would eventually get back into fashion, but now those ambitions have waned, at least when it comes to launching a full-fledged fashion brand. And while he studied accessory design at fashion school, he acknowledges that his entry into the field was an unconventional one. “I wasn’t that familiar with accessories. It’s complex work, and even though I was selling jewellery, I still felt that I didn’t have very much experience with jewellery design, and I wanted to deepen that,” the designer says. “My philosophy is to take things like artworks or everyday items and interpret them into jewellery. I have no interest in just doing jewellery as a business.” But Okubo’s initial inexperience also worked to his advantage, as his mind was more open to try unusual production methods or material combinations. Many of his pieces use mixed mediums, like yellow gold with black rhodium, platinum with rose gold, or pearls with wood. “The world changes through different colour combinations,” he says. “When I was a child I really hated the colour brown, but then once I saw a fashion brand combine brown with blue, and it was really beautiful. I had never used brown, but after that I started to incorporate it. With materials as well, you can take a material that looks old or worn out and by combining it with something else you can … Read More
With its clean white facade, large cut-out windows, and welcoming little coffee stand facing outward to the street, Book and Sons is the kind of place that would easily draw in the curious passerby for a look around. But the thing is, it’s not a place most people are likely to simply pass by. Located on an obscure residential street in the neighbourhood of Gakugei Daigaku, this modern, minimalist bookshop relies almost entirely on word of mouth to attract customers. “This place isn’t easy to find, so most people who come here do so because they have a reason to,” says the shop’s owner, Osamu Kawata. “They’re usually looking for something specific or hard to find.” Friendly, easygoing and quick to flash a smile, Kawata immediately makes customers feel at home in the serene, peaceful space. He can answer questions about all of the roughly 1,000 titles he carries, but he won’t be found in the shop most days (not to worry, his staff are equally welcoming and knowledgeable). In addition to Book and Sons, he also runs a prominent graphic and web design office. It was, in fact, Kawata’s design career that served as the impetus for the store’s opening. “I didn’t go to an art or design school, but after graduating from university I got a job working for a design firm. Since I didn’t have any experience with graphic design, I had to start from zero,” he says. “I didn’t have time to go to school while I was working, so I taught myself the basics from books.” Some years later when his first child was on the way, Kawata’s wife said he needed to clear out some of his books to make room for the baby. Book and Sons was his solution. When it first opened in April 2015, the store was stocked with Kawata’s own private collection, which was comprised almost exclusively of books on typography. Slowly, as the books sold, he had to find a way to replace them, and so began contacting publishers directly about carrying their titles. “I’ve always loved typography. For me, it’s the most important element of design,” Kawata says. “Ten years ago, there were a lot of technical restraints as a web designer and only two or three fonts we could use. Now, there are probably more than 1,000 to choose from. But there aren’t many bookstores that focus on typography, so this is something I wanted people to see.” The store has now morphed to include books on graphic design and photography, but there are still plenty of typography tomes as well. Some of the more unique volumes include design guides from organisations such as NASA and British Rail. In the back of the store, a small gallery space hosts rotating exhibits. There is also a small selection of products such as t-shirts, bags, mugs and stationery items made in collaboration with brands run by Kawata’s friends and sold exclusively at Book and Sons. Everything is so precisely … Read More
When Cafe Casa’s popular hotcakes were featured on a well-known Japanese television program, the lines of customers waiting to try one stretched down the block for several weeks. But while the cafe’s fluffy, thick version of a classic pancake may be what draws many people there initially, regulars know that it has much more than that to offer. Tucked behind a welcoming facade of colourful plants and twinkling string lights, Cafe Casa is in many ways a quintessentially Tokyo establishment, representing both the old and the new. It has occupied its homey space for over three decades, and its die-hard customers have fond memories of the days when its original proprietress would serve them cakes and coffee while engaging them in a conversation on whatever topic took their fancy. Today, the faces have changed, but the friendly atmosphere still remains. The cafe is now run by the original owner’s daughter, Ai, and her American husband, Jonathan Hebert. The mother still drops in from time to time to mingle with the diners, and the family dog, Mame-chan, also holds court in the hall. For Hebert, it’s not a life that he could have imagined for himself when he was working as a decorative painter in Boston, but it’s one he has embraced wholeheartedly. “I started off by washing the dishes when everyone else was busy making hotcakes, and I have gradually learned the ropes since then,” he says. Hebert and his family live above the cafe, and on a typical day he is the first one in the kitchen, preparing the hotcake batter and making the nel drip coffee, a time-consuming process that he describes as a kind of meditation. Next come the part-time staff, who prep for the lunch rush before Ai comes down and begins the cooking. While some of the menu items, including the famous hotcakes, have been passed down from her mother, Ai developed many of the current recipes herself. Having studied cooking in Florence, she enjoys experimenting with different methods and combinations that are well suited to Casa’s tiny kitchen. One of her best-selling inventions is the baked keema curry, which consists of a layer of rice in a skillet, topped with spicy curry, shredded cheese, and a whole egg before being cooked in the oven. “Unless we continue to innovate, people get bored with it,” Hebert says. “We’re trying to turn the cruise ship. We don’t want to change too much too quickly, but we do want to take it in a new direction.” That new direction also includes the cafe’s look. While it retains its classic Showa-era charm, Hebert has used his artistic skills to put his own personal touch on it. He added colourful stained glass windows to the front wall, and his illustrations grace the menu and signboards. “We just want this to be the place where people are comfortable coming. Casa in Spanish is house, so I want this to feel like a home, for Japanese and foreigners alike,” Hebert says.
The moment Miho Inagi decided she would open an authentic New York-style bagel shop in Tokyo, she burst into tears – tears of excitement. But as she collected herself a few minutes later, she realised there was a major problem with her plan: she had no idea how to bake. “Ideas were rushing through my head. I just had this very clear vision of what I was going to do,” she recalls. “But I knew I had a hard road ahead of me. Because I’d never even baked a loaf of bread.” Inagi’s epiphany came in 1999, when she was celebrating her graduation with a holiday in New York. At Manhattan institution Ess-a-Bagel, she ordered a pumpernickel bagel with a filling of Spanish eggplant salad. “I just thought ‘what’s that weird brown one?’” Inagi recalls. ‘As soon as I tasted it I fell in love. It was so different from what I’d had in Tokyo, I began to wonder whether bagel makers in Japan had ever eaten the real deal.” Inagi befriended Ess-a-Bagel’s owners, the late Eugene and Florence Wilpon. They promised that if she came back the following year, they’d put her to work in the store. “I don’t think they really believed I would do it,” she says. Twelve months later, having quit her Tokyo desk job, she was back and ready to learn the art of making a bagel. First she manned the takeout counter, where she mastered how to sling a bagel – and speak like a New Yorker. Later she worked in the kitchen, learning how to roll, boil and bake like a pro. The name Maruichi Bagel loosely translates as ‘Number One Bagel’, with maru meaning ‘circle’, after the shape of the shop’s main event. The business came to life in 2004 in tiny premises in a smart western suburb, later moving to its current location in a converted garage in Shirokane. At lunchtimes and on weekends, customers wait patiently in a line down the street. “Eugene and Florence always told me that I shouldn’t expect to replicate their bagels exactly, and that I should take advantage of local ingredients and flavours to create my own style,” says Inagi. So Maruichi sells both New York-style classics such as ‘Sesame’ or ‘Everything’ bagels, and newer recipes like ‘Caraway Raisin’ or ‘7-Grain Honey Fig’. The kitchen also makes ‘bagelwiches’ to order, loading them with fillings like pumpkin, sweet potato and bean salad, vegetables and olives, all alongside smoked salmon, prosciutto and – of course – varieties of cream cheese. Hand-rolling the dough creates its signature dense-yet-tender texture, and boiling it gives the crust its distinctive crunch – these things, as well as the baking, are done by a core team of kitchen staff. But to this day it’s Inagi who crafts the dough. “It’s the key to every good bagel,” she says. “Making it consistent, day in and day out? That’s my job.”
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