B Content Programming Director
●Where did you spend your childhood?
I was born in Kochi Prefecture, but when I was an infant I moved to a place called Mauritius, a country situated next to Madagascar. After returning to Japan, I lived in Ibaraki Prefecture for a while, but from the third grade of elementary school until I graduated from high school, I was in Kagawa Prefecture.
●What kind of place is Mauritius?
It’s an island in the Indian Ocean, like Hawaii for the Japanese, and a place that French people like to go to on vacation. I was so young that I don’t remember anything about it, but I think I mistook the housekeeper at home for my mother! She was an Indian housekeeper called Boudou, and she used to feed me curry. I still like curry (laughs).
●What were your school days like?
When I was in high school, I didn’t go to school much. I was a member of the soccer team and was actually selected for the team throughout middle school. In high school, I didn’t really play soccer, but just played with my friends. In the countryside, places like Shibuya are just called “towns”.
●What are “places like Shibuya”?
In the countryside, it would be a place with a shopping district. In the countryside, there are shopping streets. In the countryside, there is only one place where people gather. I would always go out with my friends and say, “Let’s go to town”.
●The game designer of SimCity also says that “a city is a collection of people.” There is a view that a city is a place where people live a modern life with buildings and railroads, but a city is a place where people gather and carry out organic activities on a daily basis.
That’s right. It’s a different dimension, but maybe the “town” we were talking about is the same thing.
●What were you doing in the “town”?
There was a restaurant called Pony. It was a tako-yaki restaurant, and for 200 yen you could get a full meal. We would gather there and hang out while eating. But we were just talking. I don’t even remember what we were talking about because there was no substance (laughs).
●Is the restaurant still there?
It’s gone. The guy who ran the store was a little geeky, but I called him “An-chan” and we were friends. It was located in the “town”, and people would gather there and create a community. It was a kind of hangout place.
●What did you do after graduating from high school?
My grandfather was in the construction business, and I helped him for about a year. I once found a job opening for a Miya carpenter (carpenter for shrines, temples etc) and applied for it, but I didn’t get it. Oh, yeah, the first job I applied for after graduation was as an engraver. There was a famous engraver, and when I went to him, he told me to draw a picture. As I tried to draw it, I was rejected in two seconds (laughs).
●After twists and turns as a carver and a palace carpenter, you decide to help your grandfather with his work?
That’s right. My grandfather was the last person to build a park in Kochi Prefecture, but he passed away in the middle of the project. I wanted to complete the park with my own hands, so the following year I entered the landscape architecture department of Tokyo University of Agriculture. But while I was still in school, the local people completed the park. When I heard that, I lost my purpose of studying (laughs).
●That’s shocking. Was there anything else you were passionate about?
In a way, I was grateful for it, because I thought I didn’t fit in while I was doing drawings in the landscape architecture department. When I was in college, I joined a dance club, but instead of dancing, I just spent my time talking. Again, I don’t remember what we talked about because there was nothing of substance (laughs).
●What did you do after graduating from university?
Influenced by my girlfriend at the time, I got a serious job. I worked as a sales representative for a company that sold waste treatment plants, but I didn’t fit in at all and quit after seven months. I changed jobs and joined a company that sold elevators, and worked there for about two and a half years before I broke up with my girlfriend and quit the company. Then I applied to work at Media Surf Communications (*1), which I had heard about from my friend. When I reconsidered what kind of company would be interesting, it was the first thing that came to mind.
※1 Media Surf Communications
Media Surf Communications works under the concept of being “Urban editors”. They are currently focusing on the revitalization of Kabutocho.
●Did you ever feel insecure about changing jobs to a different industry?
I think I could have continued to build my future at a stable company, but I had no desire to do so. It was a time when the world was shifting its way of thinking. I started working at the time of the Lehman Brothers stock market crash and then the Great East Japan Earthquake hit, and there were more and more people moving to the countryside and young people questioning the current way of working. Because of this trend, I thought that I would be happier if I were involved in something that I found interesting, rather than being financially stable.
●What kind of work did you do at Media Surf Communications?
In June of 2011, IKI-BA (*2) opened in Harajuku, and I was assigned to work there. But the opening was delayed for about nine months, so I worked part-time at a call center, volunteered at the farmers’ market, and helped out at events to make ends meet. I also did some training at Smoke, one of our affiliate stores. But it was only about once every two weeks.
IKI-BA is a restaurant that started in a back alley in Harajuku in 2011, moved to the COMMUNE building in Omotesando, and closed in 2020. It was known as a food space where interesting people and culture gathered.
●So, like in-training or helper then? (laugh)
I hadn’t even served drinks yet, but one day, I was asked to join a wedding party at Smokes. It was just me and the proprietress at the counter. One of the guests asked me for a gin rickey. I asked her what it was and she replied, “I don’t know”. Neither of us knew anything about drinks. Now we know it’s made with gin, lime and soda. There were a lot of customers waiting, so we got impatient and served gin grapefruit as “our gin rickey” (laughs). It was training without a teacher. It’s funny when I think about it now, and it was a good experience, but in the end, I started working at IKI-BA without much experience in food and beverage.
●How many years did you work at IKI-BA?
I think it’s been nine years in total. When I was in Harajuku, the clientele was unique, including fashion people from Ura-Harajuku and famous musicians. Once I started introducing customers to each other, it became a lot of fun and I was hooked. I thought that in order for people to enjoy spending time together for a long time, the bar needed to be a place where people could meet. I think there are a lot of people who met at IKI-BA and are still friends with each other. I felt comfortable watching people become friends after I gave them the initial opportunity, and I realized that I like that kind of thing.
●Did you have it in mind to create a community from the store?
I don’t think I was thinking that far ahead. I thought it would be nice to have regular customers. I thought it would be nice to be able to interact in people’s lives, even though it was a restaurant.
●I guess I subconsciously wanted to create a hangout place like Pony.
I think that even if you’re not a student, a hangout place is a comfortable environment, and I think I want to create such a place. I’ve been trying to create hangouts on different scales and under different conditions my whole life.
●Do you have any ideal conditions for creating a shop?
It’s hard to create encounters in a big box, but the scale of IKI-BA in Harajuku was just right. Of course, the quality of the food and the space is important, but I think it’s interesting to have a restaurant where customers can connect with each other. In terms of the intangibles, the people at the restaurant are polite but frank, like the old ladies in Osaka! Sometimes it’s a little too matchy-matchy, and sometimes it’s a little too comfortable.
●After IKI-BA was closed, you started B?
Yes, it was a time when I was feeling down, so I was happy when I was invited to start B. In the fall of 2019, I went to New York for a week for training.
●What kind of inspiration did you get in New York?
I was surprised at how entertaining the food and drink was. It was kind of funny to see a guy wearing a Forrest Gump hat shaking a cocktail with shrimp soup in it. I thought it was one of the strengths of America that unique people and stores are tolerated. There were also many different styles of tacos at different restaurants, which gave me a hint on how to serve them at B. Also, I thought Roberta’s (*3) was great. It’s hard to find a place like that that leaves a lasting impression when you visit, and I was inspired by B’s initial concept of having beer and tacos with interesting contents and people as the main characters.
Roberta’s is a popular pizza restaurant in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. It is a former warehouse that has been renovated to offer oven-baked pizza. The store is also popular for its unique culture, such as broadcasting a radio station from inside the restaurant.
●How do you feel now that the situation has changed due to the spread of the new coronavirus?
It’s times like this that I feel it’s inevitable that I can’t hold events. B has been packed every day and night since the first day, and at first, I was just trying to make it work as a restaurant. Then I was able to stop and think, but now I can’t materialize my ideas. That’s stressful, but I believe that once Corona converges, it will become more exciting in reverse. I think the more time we spend at home, the more desire we’ll have to go out, so I’d like to think of future things for the time being.
●More and more restaurants in Kabutocho are serving beer, what kind of restaurant do you want B to be?
Compared to other stores, B has more space, so I’ve always wanted to use that to my advantage and do a block party. Events like art exhibitions, live painting, and DJs. I’d like to make it a content-driven store like the original concept, where beer is a part of the various events we hold.
Born in 1983 in Kochi Prefecture. After graduating from Tokyo University of Agriculture, he worked in sales at a general company before joining Media Surf Communications, where he planned and organized various events for approximately nine years. After IKI-BA closed, he was involved in the establishment of B and is now working as a content programming director for DJ events and live performances.
text : Momoko Suzuki
photo : Nathalie Cantacuzino, Naoto Date
interview : Akihiro Matsui
B Content Programming Director
Interesting people in Kabutocho
Although the genre and size of the store are different, I always feel that the wine shop ‘Human Nature’ has a great sense of style, covering a wide range of culture including music and art. I’ve known him for a while, but I’d like to get to know him on a deeper level.