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The Tastemakers’ Guide To Tokyo

As we launch The Japan Edit, we meet four stylish locals and visit their favourite haunts

This is Tokyo, but not as you know it: to celebrate the launch of MR PORTER’s The Japan Edit capsule collection, we collaborated with Mr James Oliver, founder of SLAMXHYPE and The New Order magazine, to profile four style insiders from the Japanese capital, asking them to take us to places outside the usual tourist spots and explain why these hidden locales are special to them. From trendy neighbourhoods packed full of vintage boutiques to quiet nooks for coffee, what follows is something of an alternative guide to one of the world’s greatest cities, featuring key pieces from our exclusive new collection, The Japan Edit. 

Mr Tomoki Takaso, Editor and Retail Director

Discussing fashion with Mr Tomoki Takaso is never dull. Having worked for almost a decade at famed Japanese publication Huge, Mr Takaso turned to retail when it folded, making the most of his eye for the avant-garde by opening Velvet, a vintage store now in its fourth year of business. This is where we met him, in Shimokitazawa, an area that, aside from its wealth of vintage clothing, is known for its underground music scene and hole-in-the-wall eateries.

Why did you decide to open Velvet?

While I was working at Huge magazine one of my roles was to look after the regular feature about what was cool at the time. This was always presented in a certain style with product shots, and I felt this taught me to understand what is really interesting. While I was at Huge, I saw a lot of interesting current labels as well as vintage clothing and I have always been into both, so this was the motivation to open a store offering both. I started out with brands such as Sunsea and Stabilizer GNZ along with vintage clothing, then later on I added TAKAHIROMIYASHITA TheSoloist., Midorikawa and Needles to the line-up.

Can you describe your personal style? 

Music played a pivotal role in the way I dressed when I was younger, I used to copy the way certain musicians dressed. But when I got a bit older, I thought I needed to add a bit more originality. This is when I would look at certain films I liked for elements of inspiration, although I prefer slightly older movies rather than what is coming out now. Films such as Drugstore Cowboy, Buffalo ’66 and the like.

What’s special about Japanese fashion?

I feel there is an abundance of labels in general, so this makes the market very competitive. In addition, this provides the customer with a lot of options, which also creates new cultures within the fashion industry in Japan.

What’s special to you about Shimokitazawa?

I grew up not far from here, so this was a place I would hang out with my friends as a junior high-school student. Having spent a lot of time here in my youth, it feels very natural to me. Vintage stores are a key element of the area and as I spent a lot of time here. I used to shop at all the stores in the area. There are lots of interesting spots in terms of the music industry, live houses and bars, as well as theatre and some really good izakayas. While it’s still a small area, there are a lot of subcultures to be found in one place and this is something I really appreciate about the neighbourhood.

Mr Kazumichi Maruoka, Ceramicist

Mr Kazumichi Maruoka is an artist who very much marches to the beat of his own drum. Well-schooled in hardcore and punk music, he works in pottery and illustration – his sculptural work revolves around ingenious, artisanal reimaginings of the human skull. Born and raised in Hiroshima and now based in the outskirts of Tokyo, Mr Maruoka finds himself most at home at the CPW skate store in Kaminoge, a quiet residential area and a somewhat surprising hub for Mr Maruoka’s creative friends, with whom he shares his passions in skateboarding, films and music.

What do you do and why do you do it?

I think the best way to explain what I do is that I am a pottery artist. I have been doing this for the last decade now. It was always something I wanted to be. At the time, I wasn’t doing much, just working part-time in a meaningless job, so when I had some spare time, I would teach myself. The first thing I ever made was a ceramic skull and from then on, I wanted to perfect the art form. When I finally had the confidence to show my work it was really well-received and I was able to do exhibitions. I worked really hard on this until I found a way to make a living from it. As my style continues to grow and evolve I enjoy creating certain pieces for different purposes such as the bonsai-tree holders and skull-motif vases. These types of objects allow me to have a fresh approach especially when showing my work in exhibitions. Then there are the paintings I have begun to work on more and more, recently. This is another medium that I want to put more effort into going forward.

How would you define your personal style?

I would have to say I don’t really think too deeply about what I wear. I am surrounded by a lot of people in the fashion world, especially people who have their own brands. These people are a big part of my daily life and influence me a lot. I also know a lot of them through my interest in hardcore and punk music, spending times at gigs and live shows. In terms of what is essential to my aesthetic, I guess the only thing I would consider is that I don’t wear any colourful clothing, I stick to a very subdued colour palette: black, white, grey… Again, I almost exclusively wear Hiroshima denim by Blackmeans, who are friends. But I don’t think too deeply about this, it is just organic. I tend to buy from the labels of people I am friends with, for example Blackmeans; Sasquatchfabrix.; TAKAHIROMIYASHITA TheSoloist. I don’t really think I would go out of my way to buy clothing made by people who aren’t my friends.

What’s interesting to you about Japanese fashion?

I would have to say the originality to approaching design. A lot of these brands by my friends aren’t reinventing the wheel or doing anything completely different, but I think they are have the ability to add something a little bit extra in terms of quality and detail.

What do you love about the CPW store?

The atmosphere of the store and everyone here is really laid-back. It’s quite far from where I live but, even then, I make the effort to come here and get inspired by these wonderful people. I even had an exhibition here recently, which was really fun. Everything in the store has a really strong Japanese essence; a lot of the products are inspired by Japanese outlaws.

Mr Lono Brazil III, Store director

Born a Japanese mother and American father, Mr Lono Brazil III grew up between Japan and the US before settling in Tokyo in his mid-twenties. Now, he serves as director of Union Tokyo – the latest outpost of the cult LA store, which Mr Brazil has been instrumental in making a success – while working with Nike to support local running communities in the city. We shot him in a neighbourhood he remembers from childhood, just behind Yoyogi Park in Shibuya.

What initially got you interested in fashion?

Originally my parents were in the music industry, which, especially when it comes to nightlife, I feel is really close to fashion. It’s all connected. So, I grew up seeing all that. Once I stopped playing basketball after college, I was looking back to what I had around me and my parents were a big influence. Coming back to Tokyo and seeing my mother, and being around my mother’s friends, who were in the music and fashion industry, I just put the two together. I felt like I wanted to bring back the good part of fashion and all that to Japan in a cool and accurate way. That’s how it started.

Can you describe your personal style?

I have a sports-oriented reference because I grew up around sports and I feel comfortable wearing sportswear. But at the same time, I do like clothes that are not too out there, but have a good basis in streetwear, or the basic pieces I wore growing up. Nothing too outlandish or left-field, but creative enough that it’s unique. Obviously, quality is always key to all that. I try not to wear something that other people are wearing. I feel that by the time people are getting onto something I have already moved on from it. Living in such a condensed city like Tokyo, trends are way too obvious – people can start to look like clones. By the time it’s a trend, you have probably decided whether you like that style or not, so you have probably either gone through or never touched it.

What’s interesting to you about Japanese fashion?

I believe some of it has to do with the history, some of it has to do with the characteristics of Japanese people, a lot of it has to do with the language barrier and Japan being an island nation. The Japanese ended up finding these things from elsewhere and they kind of created their own story, their own interpretation of the Western world. Having that history of not having access, then all of a sudden being open to it, and with all this information coming in, it has brought them to where they are. That is why they are so good at finding references that are culturally relevant and not just picking one design and copying it. There are more layers to it and that’s what they are good at – wanting to know more and conquering whatever they do.

What’s so special to you about this neighbourhood?

Growing up between Tokyo and the US, I was always going back and forth, but Yoyogi Hachiman is where I remember being as a little kid. My elementary school is literally five minutes from where we shot, so I literally saw this city grow from here. At the same time, we always walked to Shibuya and we saw all the crazy parts of it, but there is such a contrast from all that mayhem to where we are now. I feel really comfortable here. Even being mixed-race in a country where you’d think I would have difficulties around that, I actually really liked it and I always felt like I belonged here. I always have a nostalgic feeling going through the area.

Mr Ino Hidefumi, Musician

Kyushu native Mr Ino Hidefumi moved to Tokyo in early 2002 with his wife Hiroko. After launching the successful café Tenement, they managed to build up enough revenue to back Mr Hidefumi’s dream of becoming a musician. In 2002, he launched a record label, called Innocent Records, and put out his first single – a hit. Since then, Mr Hidefumi has released a series of albums, recorded exclusively with vintage instruments, which he says give him “a sense of nostalgia”. His latest record, Song Album, was released at the end of 2018 and is the first on which he’s picked up the mic and tried his hands at vocals. MR PORTER met him in Jinbocho – a district famed for its used-book stores – and Harajuku, in the renowned synth shop Five G.

How did you first get interested in making music?

I was first introduced to the piano at five years of age. I went to a piano school but really wasn’t into it at first. The piano school I went to only taught classical music but all I want to do was play rock and New Wave music, so I would spend all my spare time practising these genres. 

How would you describe your personal style? 

Definitely, “simple” is the best way to sum it up; normcore, but with an essence of music thrown in there. Originally, I worked at A.P.C., so I took on board a strong influence from Jean Touitou. I am not into any hype at all, I just want to be myself and express myself in my own way.

What’s special about the places we visited today?

Jinbocho is a good place to relax and get away from things. I really love the atmosphere there, as it still celebrates traditional things: printed matter and coffee shops. It’s where I go for inspiration to design album covers – we design all our album covers at Innocent Records – and it’s a great place to find old and unique books. On the other hand, Harajuku really represents what is now; it’ the fast-forward button of Tokyo. Everything is changing all the time but you are still able to find hidden gems such as Five G, which embraces the foundations of what made Harajuku what it was in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Tell us more about Five G

I have been going to Five G for years, it’s where I buy almost all my musical equipment or go to for maintenance on my equipment. It is a really interesting place with people who take their jobs really seriously and are embedded in the world of music. Five G has a lot of unique instruments and music equipment; it is considered the best in Japan.