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Each IJC columnist loves Japanese culture and knows different facets in detail.
You’ll find original articles written with unique style and vision.

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  • Snow Shoveling – Dig for old classics, uncover new favourites

    Mar 23, 2015

    From the inner-city all the way into the distant countryside, every community values the places – organised, self-made or otherwise – where they can come together and enjoy one another’s company. Located in the heart of Fukasawa, not far from Komazawa Olympic Park, the bookstore-cum-cultural space Snow Shoveling has come to serve as an informal gathering spot for both local residents and journeying book-lovers alike. Inspired by a handful of New York’s independent bookstores – passionate outposts led by distinctive characters – Snow Shoveling has the look and feel of a literary masterpiece, its hoardes of books and accompanying paraphenalia forever bathed in the most romantic of soft golden glows. Hidden away in an upstairs space off Komazawa Koen Dori, the eclectic store has gradually taken shape since it was opened in 2012 by graphic designer and literary fan, Shuichi Nakamura. The lengthy shelves that line the perimeter have been filled and filled again with all manner of art books, monthly magazines, novella and all-time classics; while piles of additional printed matter now sit atop tables, chairs and once-vacant floorspace. Japanese and international publications aside, the store is also home to an unique mix of artwork, vintage finds, DIY merchandise and an assortment of taxidermy – all of which come together to make browsing an adventure in itself. All too often a casual visit turns into an enjoyably long undertaking, so much so that it’s not unusual to find an assortment of people – from yoga instructors to photographers and university students – casually lingering mid-chapter, mid-conversation, mid-coffee (or some combination thereof) on the motley circle of armchairs and couches. The same communal atmosphere extends into the store’s regular exhibitions and events, which range from expansive vegan suppers to hip-hop panel discussions and gatherings of Snow Shoveling’s recently formed Haruki Murakami Fan Club. Aside from the thrill of foraging for books both familiar and foreign, perhaps the simplest pleasure comes from adopting the ritual of popping a coin into the donation box, pouring yourself a coffee and finding a comfortable seat whereby you can enjoy a quiet read or warm conversation without any concern for the outside world. Indeed, Snow Shoveling is a place where it's all too easy to let your mind wander off as you discover your own paradise. <Information> -Snow Shoveling -Where: 4-35-7 Fukasawa, Setagaya -When: 1pm-7pm -Website: http://www.snow-shoveling.jp/

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    by Ben Davis
    Ben is an editor, consultant and photographer. He currently works as Editor of Thousands Tokyo, an online magazine that shares the things locals love.
  • Browse 1000s of stylish chopsticks at Natsuno

    Mar 12, 2015

    While we westerners might think of chopsticks as just a little tschotcke to buy as a souvenir, to the Japanese they are as important  to daily life as a coffee mug. That's what makes shopping for them so special though; a chopsticks store is not just for tourists, you'll be able to rub shoulders with locals while still surrounded by the wonder of Japanese design. At Natsuno, you'll be in the company of over a 1,000 chopsticks that are surely the most useful souvenir you can buy. A trip to Natsuno means carving out a little bit of time in your schedule since it make take awhile to choose from the endless styles of "ohashi" (chopsticks). This shop is the be-all-end-all of chopstick shopping, and the owner even regaled instances of celebrities  coming in to browse. "Jane Birken comes anytime she's in Tokyo...always with a Birken on her arm, of course!" To get there, find the Apple store on Omotesando and head down the narrow-ish street beside it until you hit the end. It's on the right side and impossible to miss. While visitors tend to purchase simple, "classic" styles with red or black lacquer bands, Japanese tend to follow the fashion with more colorful, funky choices. Right now, pearly bands in pastel colors reminiscent of a kimono obi belt are the top seller. Chopsticks are the mainstay dining utensil of many Asian regions, but they all vary from each other wildly. Chinese chopsticks are long, and the ends tend to be rather thick and blunt. Meanwhile, Korean chopsticks are metallic and weighty. Japanese chopsticks however, are lightweight and the ends are sharp; being able to pick up a single grain of rice is how you might show off your chopsticks-handling prowess. Also, while other Asian cuisines traditionally use spoons for soups, Japanese do not. Therefore, the chopstick is the sole breadwinner at the Japanese table. It's no surprise then that they take their ohashi seriously. You might want to do as the Japanese themselves do, and pick up a different pair for each member of the family according to their likes/personality. Unlike in the west, the Japanese do not match their cutlery. Rather, each member has their own pair for every meal that no one else touches. Some interesting styles are the "sumo" chopsticks, which are-you guessed it-giant in size. There are also the "long life" chopsticks where layers of lacquer are sanded down for a slightly psychedelic design- there were presented to the Pope. Then there are pop-culture inspired "nail art" chopsticks covered in rhinestones and pearls. The most expensive pair reside at the Ginza branch, and are forged from gold (it's suffice to say that Natsuno's work is so highly regarded that Italian brand Armani commissions them to make their luxury chopsticks). Asking Natsuno what the difference is between their chopsticks and ones bought at the discount stores, there was no question; "You can rest assured these were made to be used for a very long time, and by local, artesian hands." They are sure to give a heightened experience while devouring your meal-bon appetit! Or as we say- Itadakimasu! Right next door to Natsuno is Ko-natsuno, which sells chopsticks and dishes for children. It is perhaps for lively and entertaining to shop at than Natsuno! Japanese "sumo" chopsticks, compared to "normal" sized ones. These pricey pieces are fashioned from pure amber. The dishes sold here are marked proudly with the name of the artisan who made it, along with the region it comes from. "Long life" chopsticks, made by sanding down numerous layers of lacquer. The second floor of the Aoyama store is like a museum of chopstick and traditional art. Glitzed-up "nail art" chopsticks are a new addition. Westerners tend to lay their chopsticks down on a plate while eating but that is considered extremely rude. Don't forget to pick up enough little "resting plates" for the whole family! "Traditional" doesn't need to mean "old". There are many modern takes on old kitchenware- See more on Natsuno! English webpage here

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    by Misha Janette
    Key Japan fashion stylist-journalist-editor. Born in Washington State USA, graduated Bunka Fashion College. Honored as Business of Fashion's BoF500.
  • Where luxury and kaleidoscopic subcultures collide: Isetan Dept Store's "Tokyo Kaiho-ku"

    Mar 3, 2015

    Where in Tokyo can you find the most kaleidoscopic view of the city’s myriad street cultures? Does such a playground of whimsy, rough extremes, fantasy and fashion from Harajuku, Shibuya, and Akihabara exist in one easy-to-find spot? It sure does, and it may be in a place you’d least expect it to be. It’s time to put down the hiking boots and step inside the comfort of Isetan Deptartment Store in Shinjuku. This is where you’ll find the “Tokyo Kaiho-ku”. Frilly good-luck pop-up shop "Pink House" with uber-idols "Momo Iro Clover-z" In Tokyo, each of it’s 23 wards are called -ku. The Japanese word for “letting loose” is kaiho. So this Kaiho-ku is literally a place for “all-things-go”. Every week or two weeks, the area is taken down and redecorated, opening under a new theme. While there are no official rules to who or what can take over the space, the underlying current runs on subcultures, artistic fashion and experimental ideas.     Boudoir for acute grrrls and Nero Some of the pop-ups are more obvious, such as the girlie “All Pastel” or Lolita-themed ones. But for the duration of the shop, you can find both shoppers and sales staff dressed head-to-toe for their parts, like a Tokyo Disneyland gift shop from a parallel universe. “Where can I find cool kids dressed up?” is a common question, and if your timing is right it could be right here. The wild world of Gustav Higuchi Yuko    Experiments by Written by...by Some popular ones include the twisted “Alternative Wedding” pop-up, with pretty dresses of tulle and lace by local brands in very DIY or a dark color palette. There have also been ones that comment on social issues, like “unisex” or  “gender-less” clothing that has become popular with Tokyo subcultured fashion. This means lots of skirts and dresses made for men, by designer Mikio Sakabe who is spearheading the movement. I even got to make my own pop-up store here, proving that they are certainly willing to take risks with their curators (*wink*).     Some challenging ideas in Un-gender by Mikio Sakabe Some of the themes are more esoteric, such as the recent pop-up based on Jellyfish, with a selection of designs from local brands. Fluffy, squishy, purple and pink goods in ombre decorated the space, which was curated by stylist Ijima Kyoko (known for her work with rival for weird with Lady Gaga, J-Pop idol Kyary Pamyu Pamyu). The "New Bride" pop-up You may forget that this is still Japan’s most luxurious and famous Department Store, Isetan. True, you can find all other famous brands like Louis Vuitton and Prada just a few steps away. So you might think that this Tokyo Kaiho-ku store would be pushed to some dark corner, but on the contrary, it’s right at the foot of the escalators on the 2nd floor (if lost, ask for “Tokyo Kaiho-ku”). The entire floor was remodeled recently, and it is all decorated like a modern playground. Don’t forget to stop by the champagne bar next door afterward, before stepping back out into the crowded Shinjuku bustle. You can also check for what store is on or coming up next before you venture there here. Keisuke Kanda It's a knitted world we live in.... Knit Vol 2   This author at the Kansai Yamamoto pop-up  Open: 10:30 to 20:00 (8pm) Mon-Sun. Check the website below for some infrequent closures Isetan Online (for visitors)

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    by Misha Janette
    Key Japan fashion stylist-journalist-editor. Born in Washington State USA, graduated Bunka Fashion College. Honored as Business of Fashion's BoF500.
  • HIGASHIYA man – Discover a world of wagashi, one bite at a time

    Mar 2, 2015

    The unknown, the unexpected and the peculiar – new experiences in unfamiliar surroundings forge some of our most memorable travel stories. Within the vast and varied world of Japanese cuisine, traditional sweets (wagashi) are built upon the subtle combination of distinctive ingredients, many of which remain uncommon – if not unknown – outside of Japan. Tucked into the side of an orange-gold tiled building at the top end of Omotesando, HIGASHIYA man is a shop with a counter’s worth of Japanese sweets – all the better for visitors who like to try “one of everything”. When creating HIGASHIYA man, Japanese sweets maker HIGASHIYA sought out an unlikely location in Minami Aoyama with the hope of bringing the charm of a neighbourhood sweets shop to an area dominated by high end fashion and luxury retailers. Taking its name from the humble manju – sweet buns with a filling of smooth bean paste – the shop’s sleek interior and quality goods have seen it settle in comfortably alongside the likes of neighbouring fashion labels Issey Miyake and Comme des Garçons. Each and every morning, several varieties of manju are steamed in preparation for the store’s first customer, who often arrive as the doors open at 11am, if not a touch earlier. Rain or shine, you’re likely to encounter warm manju being passed out the window from morning through night, along with seasonal treats that are ready to be eaten as you stroll along Aoyama’s slender streets. The winter menu includes an original take on shiruko, pairing the velvety red bean soup with a wafer stick and fleck of butter, while in the warmer months you can enjoy ice monaka – vanilla ice-cream and red bean paste sandwiched between two crisp wafers. Aside from the takeaway window, the store also boasts a rotating selection of namagashi – small batch delicacies delivered fresh each morning – along with immaculately packed boxes of one-bite snacks such as brandy jelly wrapped in a ball of savoury mashed chestnut. Whether you’re familiar with Japanese sweets or are sampling mochi (rice cake), anko (red bean paste), yomogi (Japanese mugwort) and other ingredients for the first time, the store’s original creations carry a balance of flavour, texture and beauty that defies their petite appearance. And so when hunting for presents or picnic treats, HIGASHIYA man is a must-visit destination for wagashi both familiar and peculiar, simple and extravagant. <Information> -HIGASHIYA man -Where: 3-17-14 Minami-Aoyama, Minato -When: 11am-7pm -Website: http://www.higashiya.com/shop/man/

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    by Ben Davis
    Ben is an editor, consultant and photographer. He currently works as Editor of Thousands Tokyo, an online magazine that shares the things locals love.

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