Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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At the Tokyo Art Directors’ Club Exhibition

At the Tokyo Art Directors’ Club Exhibition

I made it down to Ginza Graphic Gallery on Saturday afternoon and it was a real treat. Although there were a few pieces that I felt didn’t warrant being there (specifically a few photographic ads for Shiseido and one for Jack Daniels which was just a photo of Mickey Rourke and little else), there was some really original stuff on display along with some stunning Japanese package design. On the way out I pondered buying a set of 3 prints by a Japanese designer I forget the name of now. They would have looked great on my wall, but since I move out in T-minus 3 days, I want to assess my new living space before I start decking it out (actually I’m staying somewhere on a temporary basis for a month before renting another apartment – pics will follow).

Also, I’m snowed at the moment, but I’ll soon be uploading some photos of the annual fireworks display in Asakusa from Saturday night which were awesome. I was dog-tired after Saturday though: tramping around Ginza, then doing the same in Asakusa. Strictly standing room only and no mistake.


Tokyo Art Directors Club Exhibition 2008

Tokyo Art Directors Club Exhibition 2008

After welching on the ‘World in Miniature’ exhibition and regretting it, I don’t want to miss the 2008 ADC Exhibition. Looks like it will be a good way to get a broad overview of the last 12 months in Japan’s world of visual communication, and there’s bound to be some inspiring graphics to oogle. Catch it at Ginza Graphic Gallery until the end of the month. Via TAB


Uniqlo & Muji: Better in the UK?

Uniqlo & Muji

Before I came to Tokyo in mid January this year, I just happened to be in London for the grand opening of the new UK flagship Uniqlo on Oxford Street. Uniqlo had already branched out into the UK a few years before, but despite flash interiors, was met with mixed feelings from British shoppers, due to the fact that they insisted only on selling fleeces and simple trousers of various colours. A specific line of products had not been created to target the British market. That was the case, until they re-launched in London.

When I went in there, on the second day of the launch, the stuff on the racks was a mix of graphic design T-shirts (the famous UT range), brightly coloured ultra modern stuff, and classic fashion (suit jackets, scarves and neckties). I personally loved it. The shop was huge, and the upper floor had a winter range in consisting mainly of the Japan-imported fashion for shiny puffy coats (the ones containing down). I could have bought a lot of stuff and was happy because I presumed this was the ‘genuine article’ lifted straight from the Tokyo stores. Knowing that I would be living in Tokyo shortly, I was pretty happy that I was going to have somewhere to shop for clothes that I knew I liked, plus I always liked the brand ever since Kashiwa Sato took control of it during Uniqlo’s resurgence.

I was also an avid shopper at Muji. I was always in the store in Birmingham when I visited the city, normally buying clothes (until last years summer and autumn seasons came along, which were a little bit weird). You could get good stuff from there which wasn’t expensive, and although it was fairly simple, it was good for work.

How shocked I was then, when I visited both the flagship Yurakucho Muji Store and the (presumably) flagship Uniqlo store on Ginza’s main strip. Uniqlo was the most disappointing. Probably because it had the most to measure up to. The equivalent UT project T-shirts I saw there weren’t great, and there was a section which was unfamiliar to me, that sold American College apparel and slacks (most of which was very kitch) a la mid-90’s Gap! Gone was the quality outerwear I had set my heart on upon seeing it in the UK, and this had been replaced by a much smaller, and much less appealing range of coats and jackets.

Muji wasn’t so bad. The stationery was still there and, in addition, you can get Muji food, Muji kitchen appliances, and loads of other Japan exclusives, not to mention the Muji bike. However, I’m talking about the fashion, and that wasn’t as good I didn’t think. There were suit jackets and long sleeved tops, but they looked cheaply manufactured in comparison to the UK range, and they have to lose the French folk music (it sounds more like fairground music). Most notably absent were my two favourite products of theirs: The two tone watches (the white one rules; it has a perforated strap. I have one, but it’s on it’s way out), and the Muji flip-flops. They have flip-flops at the Muji in Japan, but they are no way near as cool. The one’s in the UK have a transparent ‘thong’ and come in more colours and prints. The ones I just bought in Japan ready for summer, I don’t like so much.

Does this mean that Muji and Uniqlo are actually better in the UK? Maybe it’s just because my tastes are different. I tried to be subjective and judge it properly, but that’s definitely what I think. If I come back to the UK at christmas, I’ll go shopping there before I come back to Japan, get one of those sweet coats.


Skins Ripped Me Off (Maybe)

Skins Ripped Me Off

There’s a TV programme in the UK called Skins. It’s shown on E4 and is pretty popular at the moment I think. Personally, I think it sucks. The acting is weak and the whole effect of the show is reminiscent of someone old trying to be cool (the screenwriter in this case maybe?). They get it so wrong all the way through. For example: in the episode where my ripped off t-shirt design appears (more about that later), the programme starts with a choreographed dance sequence to a fairly trite breaks tune, where three of the main characters dance in unison, very much in a west end/broadway vein. When they finish their excruciating display of their ‘urbanity’ they flop to the floor of the church they’re in, and exchange some ‘street’ slang. All this is so unplausible, because all of the actors are well spoken, and ever so slightly wooden. So I had to sit through the dross that is Skins in order to find the scene where the offending article is displayed; the rip-off of the t-shirt that I designed last year.

Big King by Reslab

I only made the t-shirt because I had the idea and wanted to wear the design. The smallest run I could get was 12 t-shirts, so I got 3 x small, 3 x medium, 3 x large, and 3 x XL. I thought it would be worth trying, then maybe I could make more in the future. Actually, I never got round to designing another. I took all the mediums for myself, and one small, and sold the rest on eBay. One buyer was a company in Bristol, can’t remember the name. They bought an XL, perhaps thinking that it would be hip-hop, frankly, they were the largest t-shirts I’d ever seen in my entire life, so the comment I got back was along the lines of ‘it’s a little bit big, isn’t it?’. I didn’t think anything else of it until recently when my friend, and then my girlfriend pointed out that the t-shirt was pretty similar. Actually, I don’t think it’s too similar, but it definitely seems a little bit suspect. Skins is set in Bristol, and produced by a television company based there! Personally, I prefer my design.


Tokyo Midtown

Tokyo Midtown

I’ve been indoors working a lot recently, so I decided I would take time out to visit another of the places on my list: the shopping and art complex, Tokyo Midtown. I’d already heard about the place before, so I kind of knew what to expect. The idea behind Tokyo Midtown seems to be sophisticated shopping with an emphasis on art and design. The art and design angle is represented throughout the site, but mainly by 21_21 Design Sight, and the Suntory Museum of Art. I visited 21_21 Design Sight which is an amazing building designed by architect Tadao Ando. I put some photos up to look at on flickr for Tokyo Midtown and just a few for 21_21 Design Sight (photography was not allowed in the building, and although I tried to shoot a few sneaky ones, they came out all blurred).


Another Foray into Laforet, and then Art


I came to Laforet once before and the place was filled with teenagers rifling through the racks of clothes and the place was in a frenzy. Shop employees were stood outside their respective stores on soapboxes shouting through megaphones or rolled up magazines “Irashiaimaseeeee!”, which means ‘welcome’, roughly. They wore baggy smocks over their ordinary clothes, sporting Japanese prints and emblems, kanji and patterns. The place was mostly school girls, actually, dressed in the classic sailor school uniform and doing the most damage at the tables of clothing in the womens clothes shops.

I didn’t have my camera with me last time, so I came again hoping to shoot some video of a typical afternoon at Laforet, but it was totally different this time. No shouting, no chaos, and not many shoppers, even. But I came across these paintings in the ground floor lobby (referred to as the 1st floor in Japan), by an artist called Dominique Dubien. They mostly consisted of small paintings on canvas of dogs, faces, small characters with iconography of hearts, planets and the like, all rendered in vivid colours. So, it’s sounding pretty ‘pop’ from the outset. I took some photos, one of which you can see in this post. I looked on Dominique Dubien’s website, and most of his work is pretty good, I liked the paintings.


I can’t say that I’m that keen on this series, or this piece of work (if it is supposed to stand as one piece of work in it’s own right, I couldn’t read the Japanese on the plaque next to the exhibit). Not because it’s not enjoyable to look at, it is pretty cool, but it reminds of how much bullshit creative work there is in Tokyo. Some rave about it in blogs or in articles on the city. I cannot stand the conceited behaviour of the artists or their plaudits. There’s definitely a self-satisfied cross section of the Tokyo hipster fraternity who hang out at certain spots in town, and visit all the galleries (of which there are many in Tokyo). Some of the work is good, some falls into the category of self-promotion, or a fake kind of artwork, about which everyone feels obliged to make absurd allusions about the intentions of the artist. It’s the same in countries all over the world, but right now I’m in Tokyo, so that’s all I can really report on right now, first hand.

I intend to go to galleries (especially the graphic design ones), and I expect to have to pass through many an event space or screening room in order to complete my tour, but I will always be honest about my feelings on the work there, if I happen to write them on the pages of this website.