Shinichi Takahashi
Shinichi Takahashi


Shinichi Takahashi

Human Nature

Natural wine is here to stay.
Natural wine and Counterculture.

The icon of an era, the King of Pop, once sang "If they say "why? why?" tell'em that it's human nature”! Taking its name from that same song, the owner of natural wine shop, Human Nature, Shinichi Takahashi sat with us to discuss everything from counterculture to his love of natural wine. With his bohemian lifestyle and natural character, Shinichi continues to expand his circle and the community around him. And now the stage of Nihonbashi, Kabuto-cho is set. We sat down with Shinichi to learn the inner workings of what wine means to him and the story behind Human Nature.

●You were living in New Zealand?
After graduating from high school, I started working as a freelancer but got bored after about three months, so I decided to move to New Zealand to study English. I attended a high school in Christchurch for about a year, then entered a university in Wellington. Once I graduated I went back to Japan and got a job in my hometown in Aichi. I worked in the surveillance camera department of an electronics manufacturer. I was working nights and living in my parents’ home at the time and it was during the ‘Aichi World Exposition’ so I was able to make some money and save.

●What did you do in New Zealand the second time?
Originally, I wanted to become a photographer. I spent the first year of my life there taking pictures and developing them as I had a lot of free time on my hands. Eventually, I met an Italian guy who also had a lot of free time, so we would go to his house every day, have lunch together, drive around aimlessly, and hang out until our girlfriends came home from work in the evening. We figured that if we were going to spend a lot of time together, we may as well live together. So, we both broke up with our girlfriends and moved in together. After a year or so, I ran out of savings and started working at a bar.
The bar job came about when I became friends with a guy I met in the smoking area of a Chicks on Speed (*1) concert. A few days after the concert, we bumped into each other on the street and a friend of his asked me if I wanted to work in his bar, which was opening soon. I worked there for about two years while taking pictures in my downtime.

※1 Chicks on Speed
A female electroclash band formed in Munich in 1997.

●What kind of bar was it?
Wellington is a town with a lot of indigenous New Zealand Maori, Samoan, and other Pacific islanders. Local bands like Fat Freddy’s Drop (*2) were doing well overseas, and reggae and dub were becoming popular. But Mighty Mighty, the bar where I worked, was influenced by Berlin’s White Trash Fast Food (*3). Mighty Mighty, due to the influence of White Trash Fast Food (*3) in Berlin, was booked every day with people from the garage, punk and electro scenes as well as other frontier music. All the interesting people in Wellington were there! It wasn’t a very big place, but the line was constant and we were making about 2 million yen in sales per day on the weekends.

※2 Fat Freddy’s Drop
A jam band formed in Wellington in the 90s. The band’s style is diverse, including dub, reggae, soul, jazz, R&B, and techno.

※3 White Trash Fast Food
A rock bar and restaurant in Berlin. It hosted live music, movies, and other events, and was a popular multi-purpose space. It is now closed.

In this way, without really knowing what I wanted to do or what I wanted to be, I feel like I got to where I am today by meeting people.

●Why did you return to Japan?
I had planned to continue living in New Zealand, but then I ended up temporarily returning to Japan for the first time in three years. Before returning to New Zealand, I stopped by Singapore to visit a friend. But when I checked in at the airport I found out that my work visa had expired, so I couldn’t reenter New Zealand. At that time, I had a friend who was going to live in Wellington with me, but since I couldn’t get on the plane, he left without me. I think he was worried at first, but he found a job and a wife in Wellington and had a good time, so I’m glad it went well for him.

●What did you do when you came back to Japan?
I went back to Japan to wait for my visa to be reissued and in the meantime started working in the fields with my grandmother. I found a job at a video production company that sounded interesting. Having lived in New Zealand for about eight years, I thought it might be a good idea to live in Japan for a while. So I ended up staying, working full-time as a video producer for about five years and working in the fields with my grandmother once or twice a week. She did most of the work though, I spent most of the time reading books or listening to music (laughs).

●And then you went to Italy?
The Italian friend I made in Wellington had gone back to Italy, so I would visit him every year. We would invite our friends over for dinner, just like we did in Wellington. Meanwhile, in Japan I was getting bored with my job at the video production company, so I wanted to move to Italy. But I was wondering what to do because I don’t speak Italian and I don’t have any special skills that would help me to get a job. When I visited Italy in 2012, whilst at a party, I met a professor of food science. The following day, one day before I had to leave for Japan, he gave me a tour of the university. Eventually, at the age of 33, I decided to move to Italy, because I liked its food culture so much. I also liked eating and creating things. Also, I discovered that I could use the credits I received from my time studying media studies in New Zealand towards a graduate school in Italy.

●What kind of media studies did you study specifically?
I majored in a gastronomic type of media studies, which is roughly defined as the study of a cultural phenomenon through various disciplines. Near where I lived in Turin, there was a village called Bra, where the Slow Food movement began. I commuted to the university every day using a bicycle, train, bus, and also by foot; it took over two hours one way! As part of my studies, I had to write a thesis, and do an internship, so I asked a natural wine distributor I had become friends with to let me intern there while I finished up my thesis. The result was a natural wine zine that Media Surf (*4) later created with me.

※4 Media Surf Communications inc.
A company that works under the concept of an “urban editor”. Currently focusing on the revitalization of Kabuto-cho.

●When was your first encounter with natural wine?
My Italian friend from Wellington, Gianluca, introduced me to it during my first trip to Italy at the end of 2007. He said, “Have you heard of natural wine? It’s super delicious!” So, I tried the wine that he had at his house and it was delicious. After that, I started buying it in Japan by mail order. And every time I would visit Italy, I would go to Ristorante Consorzio, the only place in Turin that served progressive wines. Their wine list was amazing and I was hooked. Gianluca is a designer, and he loves natural wines, so he started to do more and more design work related to natural wine. Actually, he made the logo for Human Nature, and we’re going to have a poster exhibition of his work here. In this way, without really knowing what I wanted to do or what I wanted to be, I feel like I got to where I am today by meeting people.

●Life goes on flowing. It’s a series of coincidences.
Yeah, it was really random. I had planned to live in Italy for a long time, but I broke up with the woman I was dating at the time, and the heartbreak was too painful. I was so heartbroken that I couldn’t even stay in Italy, so I decided to go back to Japan. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my hometown, Okazaki, so I worked in the fields and lived in my parents’ house. My grandmother got dementia and had to be admitted to a facility. That’s when I decided to go to Tokyo because working in the fields suddenly felt empty.

●What have you been doing since you returned to Tokyo?
Before Gianluca came to Wellington, he had been running a design office in Turin that doubled as a welfare facility for the disabled called ‘Laboratorio Zanzara’. He had fallen in love with a New Zealand woman in Turin and followed her to Wellington, where he lived for about two years. He introduced me to a woman in Tokyo who imported Zanzara products, and we decided to work together. I got a liquor license at the store and decided to start selling wine as well. We had to sell a lot to make a profit and buy better wine, so we decided to open a store at the Farmers Market @UNU (*5).

※5 Farmers Market @UNU
A market held every weekend in front of the United Nations University in Aoyama.

I have always thought that hobbyism, or existential humanity, is important.

●What is the origin of the name Human Nature?
At first, I consulted with a Japanese designer who was about 80 years old. He suggested something like neohumanism (laughs). I thought that was a bit of a joke, but then he suggested “Art Nature”. Again, I thought he was messing with me. I had only a katakana (Japanese) image of “Art Nature” in my mind, but when I thought about it again, I found myself warming up to “Art and Nature” (written in English). On the way home, I happened to hear Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” on the radio, and at that moment, I knew this was it. I thought that humanity, or in other words, a person’s nature, might be an interesting concept.

●The result is a highly tasteful store that lives up to its name, Human Nature.
I have always thought that hobbyism, or existential humanity, is important. When I was a university student, I studied computer science for two years, but I quit because I didn’t want to get caught up in the capitalist system. When I was a company employee, I quit because I didn’t want to work with strange people or get involved in the marketing of a company I didn’t like.

●What can you tell us about natural wine and counterculture?
It’s a long story, so I think it’s best if you take a look at the zine I mentioned earlier, “HERE TO STAY” (*6).

Human Nature zine HERE TO STAY

●How have you been feeling since you opened your store?
It’s a difficult situation due to Covid-19, but we have customers who come even though the rules in Tokyo keep changing, and we have our regular customers as well. On the other hand, if it weren’t for Covid-19, I don’t think I would have made friends with those people. There would have been a lot of foreign customers, and sales would have been higher. But because of the virus we’re not so busy, so I’m able to have a good conversation with each customer, and through that, some of them became my friends.

●Maybe it’s better to meet people naturally or to connect with people you meet by chance and without a certain time limit.
The person who came yesterday happened to be an acquaintance of another visitor, and they hadn’t seen each other for quite a while. And there was a scene where he said, “I’m working in contemporary art now.” I thought it would be a good idea to have an art show next time, so I connected him with Mr. Yamashita, the director of K5. Both caveman and Neki are run by friends of mine, and I think it would be good for us to share each other’s work, not to compete for customers.

●Can you tell us about where you are from and your musical influences?
I’m from Okazaki. The neighboring city, Toyota, is a well-known town due to the car company, but it also has a very good hardcore punk scene. It’s mostly a conservative place and I think because of that the hardcore punk scene was born and existed to counter that mainstream culture. As soon as I started listening to the music, I realized that there were things that were more important than schoolwork. It made me confront myself and question the concept of identity. It was around that time that I started to question the capitalist system and became more aware of new ways of thinking and living, things like hippie culture, which now, are things that are part of me. This is also the reason why I chose to study abroad rather than attend a Japanese university, almost as if I was searching for myself. When I discovered natural wine, I felt the same way.

●Is there any overlap between your background in counterculture and the current policy of your store?
At the time I heard about Kabuto-cho, I was watching a lot of videos by Ian McKay of FUGAZI (*10), and one of the things I found interesting was when he said, “Punk is a free space where anyone can experiment as long as they have a DIY spirit.” That really resonated with me, and I’m hoping that’s how I’ll approach Human Nature.

A rock band formed in Washington, D.C. in 1987. The band’s name originates from a cryptic phrase from the Vietnam War.

Shinichi Takahashi

Shinichi Takahashi

Owner of Human Nature, a liquor store specializing in natural wines. He studied Media Studies at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. After working as a photographer, barman, and film producer, he received his Masters from the University of Gastronomic Science in Italy, whilst interning for a natural wine importer. He opened Human Nature five years ago.

Text : Jun Kuramoto

Photo : Naoto Date

Interview : Akihiro Matsui

Shinichi Takahashi

Human Nature

Shota Shimizu


Interesting people in Kabutocho

I’d like to hear more about Shimizu from SR coffee; a cafe that’s in the same building as Human Nature. He’s so nice, even on my days off I’d like to spend some more time in his cafe. It’s no exaggeration when I say that I do Human Nature for those moments that we get to spend when the store is closed and it’s just him and my friends. Anyway, I just think he is a really nice guy.