Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2017

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Japanese Illustrators for Monocle

Reading Monocle, I always wondered who did the illustrations in most of the issues. There are guest illustrators from time to time, and one of them is a Japanese guy called Akira Sorimachi. His work reminds me a little bit of the guy that did Uncle Tory for Suntory Whisky, Ryohei Yanagihara in that it has the same retro feel. Recently Sorimachi has created a poster for Monocle (part of which can be seen above), and also a range of cards. Monocle’s illustrations are superb, and most of them are done by Japanese illustrators. Other artists who have created illustration work for Monocle Magazine include Satoshi Hashimoto and Gaku Nakagawa. Check out their work below.

 

MUJI Book

MUJI Book

Whilst out in Yurakucho I spotted this MUJI Book on sale in their Tokyo flagship store. The book has been released to commemorate MUJI’s 30th anniversary and offers an insight into the history of this unique ‘brand’, covering the products and the philosophy behind them. It also includes input from designers including Naoto Fukasawa, Kenya Hara and Takashi Sugimoto. Lots of great photography and whitespace throughout!

MUJI Book

 

Norwegian Wood Movie

Norwegian Wood Movie

Currently showing in cinemas throughout Japan is the movie adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s literary masterpiece, Norwegian Wood. The story is set in 1960’s Tokyo where the main character, Toru Watanabe, is a university student. In the book he develops relationships with two very different women – Naoko, who suffers from depression and Midori who is lively and outgoing. I read the book shortly after I came to Japan and I remember one of the cover notes read something like:

“Such is the exquisite, gossamer construction of Murakami’s writing that everything he chooses to describe trembles with symbolic possibility.”

The book was brilliant, but I haven’t seen the movie yet. What reviews I have heard seem to rave about it, so those in Japan should make every effort to catch it before it closes. Those outside Japan, watch out for it when it comes to DVD this year.

 

One of my photographs gets printed on the back cover of the 2011 Hobonichi Brochure!

Hobonichi Brochure

I’m certainly not a professional photographer, so I’m particularly pleased to have one of my photographs printed on the back cover of the new 2011 Hobonichi Techou Brochure! I mentioned the Hobonichi Techo line of personal organisers in a previous post because they’re actually really well designed. It looks like next years collection is going to feature a collaboration with non other than Yoshida & Co.’s Porter bag label. Thanks go to Erica for sending it in – it’s the one on the right with the rainbow in the picture above. Taken back when I used to live in the projects!

 

The Japanese ATM

Japanese ATM

Often it’s the mundane, easily taken for granted things I find in Japan that fascinate me most. Sometimes it’s the small differences but, in the case of the Japanese ATM, it’s a world apart from the UK equivalent I’m used to. You can probably tell by looking at it that it’s pretty unique in the world of ATM’s, but this is the ATM at the bank I bank with, and I’ve got some interesting facts about it.

The first thing you’ll notice is the screen. There’s an animated male and female teller that welcome you to the machine with a bow and a robotic ‘irasshaimase’ (‘welcome!’ – lit. ‘come in’). Then, you’ll get a bow every time a request is received or when you finally end your ATM session. Finishing said session can take time depending on your Japanese reading skill and general ability to decipher unfamiliar screens filled with flashing messages, numeric matrices and any number of other offers for services and information superfluous to your requirements.

Having navigated the touch screen successfully, you might then have to get comfortable with the other hatches, slots and gadgets outside your current schema. The interface to the right of the screen (near to which is a complimentary calculator – not chained to the counter) looks like a smaller secondary keypad or possibly cup holder but is, in fact, a biometric scanner for your palm. In a super-security-conscious modern day Japan, a 4 digit ID number is too risky for some people. If this is the case, they can go into a branch during business hours and get their palm scanned in order to make use of this secure, labour-saving feature (it might be preferable for visually impaired customers too).

Moving in an anti-clockwise direction around the machine, directly above the palm scanner is the bill hatch. This is the hatch that not only dispenses, but also accepts deposits of Japanese bank notes. Of course, it’s capable of counting banknotes and verifying their authenticity, and even unfolding, uncreasing and flattening them out if need be, but what I find most useful about this hatch is that it’s almost impossible to leave the money behind. It makes a pretty loud noise when opening to dispense notes, but also continues to do so until it finally closes automatically and returns the money to the customer’s account, in the event of the notes not being taken. It made a novel change from the usual slot from which notes, in a variety of ages and conditions, are ejected from in the UK or Europe. Suffice it to say, the notes that come out of a Japanese ATM always look like they’ve been freshly minted. Any other condition would simply be unacceptable here.

So onto the card slot, which is unremarkable – but then you have its wider counterpart on the left labeled ‘passbook’. This slot does indeed accept a passbook, or bankbook. You insert this in order to get your statement recorded. Transactions in and out, charges, transfers and so on. First, you find the correct page to insert it on. It doesn’t matter if the previous printout of your statement finishes halfway down the page, the machine will detect the point to continue printing from and will even turn the page in order to continue printing records that span pages. Upon running out of pages, you will be prompted to order a new passbook through the ATM touchscreen, or you will just be given the book back once printing is completed, whichever comes first.

Beneath the passbook slot is the coin hatch. As you may have guessed, this dispenses coins and accepts the deposit of coins too. It’s pretty unusual to draw coins from an ATM, but it’s even more suprising to find you can pay them into your bank. However, don’t go pouring thousands of ¥1 and ¥5 coins into the hatch as they won’t be accepted. However, if you do test this rule and your coin hatch ends up spasmodically chewing on 6 months worth of shrapnel, you can use the handy telephone embedded directly in the bottom-left of the ATM to place a maintenance request, but make sure you leave before they get there.

 

Hobonichi Techo

The Hobonichi Techo is a phenomenon in Japan. It’s a personal organiser built in the Japanese tradition of excellence in workmanship. The company’s forward-thinking marketing has it branded as as much a fashion accessory as a piece of boring stationery. With a community of owners, and idea books full the various ways they use them, it’s become a real modern design icon here. Many people seem to use them and about this time of year are usually in stationery stores such as Loft agonising over which one to choose from the multitude of different collaborations, material finishes and colourways. I’ve been browsing them also, and they look really nice. I’m getting one for 2010, but which one? Check the video above for possible options.

Sorry if this video is a little heavy, its native resolution on YouTube is pretty large.

 

Haruki Murakami – 1Q84

Murakami 1Q84

Famed Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s new novel 1Q84 has recently hit the shelves in Japan and has been met with enthusiasm by his hardcore fans and Japanese book-reading public alike. I have to admit, after reading a couple of his novels, I really like his style. There’s something about his writing that seems to draw parallels with Japanese film. Slow, deliberate, vaguely haunting. Of course, this new book is already on the cards for being a best-seller in Japan, and no doubt once we get foreign language translations, it’ll do the same abroad.

The book reportedly features Murakami’s trademark surreal narrative and slides between the stories of two people, a man and a woman, looking for each other. The book deals with themes of love, violence, social issues, emotion and family ties. The title is an intriguing one. Most people say it is either inspired by, or is a homage to, George Orwell’s 1984 as the Japanese title is pronouned ichi-kyuu-hachi-yon (1-9-8-4 in Japanese), or perhaps relates to an event in Murakami’s personal life around that time (Murakami’s books are known for containing semi-autobiographic references).

Regardless of the title, when the English language version goes on sale later this year I’ll have a copy in the front pocket of my Porter at all times, alongside the trusty DSi – staple entertainment for train journeys.

 

Little Old Bookstore of Kuramae

Little Old Bookstore of Kuramae

I’ve been walking past this place for months and I wanted to take a picture of it. It’s a very small, old bookstore, based in one of the oldest buildings in the area. An old woman clad in kimono tends the shop which is open onto the street. A small oil burner keeps the place from getting too cold in the winter months and if you do go inside you can find piles of books everywhere you look. They all look old or used, and in places the shelves have broken and the rows have collapsed down on one another. I can’t read the books at all, but I like going in and looking at the retro covers with the funny typefaces – much to the bemusement of the woman who watches me from the back. I should buy a load just to use to decorate my bookshelves, you can get one for as cheap as ¥100 (about 70p or $1).

 

Web Designing Magazine

Web Designing Magazine

Last week I picked up a copy of Web Designing Magazine from Parco Ikebukuro. Actually, I’ve seen it in the magazine section of other book stores since, so I think it’s got pretty good circulation. Certainly better than Monocle, which is extremely hard to find in Japan, although it is all in English which might have a lot to do with it.

Web Designing is all in Japanese, but you can certainly get the jist of it, and it unearths some great new websites and profiles some great producers. It even deconstructs several websites in this issue, offering an insight into other designers’ creative use of CSS, XHTML and images. It’s a little bit expensive at ¥1280, but if you’re in the industry, you should grab yourself a copy.

Front cover is by Prismgirl.

 

Now Reading: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

I finally found an English version of a Haruki Murakami book here in Tokyo. I was meaning to read this back when I was in the UK, but I’m glad I’ve only started now. It’s set in Tokyo (amongst other locations), so it’s nice to read a little bit about the city. So far, I’m really enjoying it. I like Murakami’s style of writing, but wonder what was lost in the translation. I’m sure Jay Rubin did an awesome job of rendering the book into English text, but an ambition of mine would be to read the original Japanese text one day.