Creative Director at ‘eat creator’
●Neki, ease, teal: ‘eat creator’ is now an integral part of Kabutocho, but how did you get involved with ‘eat creator’?
I worked with Nagasuna prior to the launch of ‘eat creator’. Back then it was known as Nanairo Inc. of which I was the representative at the time. We’ve been good friends since then. I first became involved with the company when I helped launch ‘ease’ as art director at Nanairo Inc.
●You were first approached about starting up ‘ease’ before K5 had opened. What was your impression of Kabutocho back then?
A client of mine was located in Kabutocho so I had visited several times before. Although I was aware of Kabutocho as a financial district, I knew nothing about it. I never came here on a private visit.
●Going back to the launch of ‘ease’, how did you go about working with Mr. Oyama?
Oyama had a firm “this is what I want to do” mindset and my job was to go through the process of materializing what was in his mind. As we experienced the ever-changing situation on a daily basis, we picked up on the discoveries that fell into our hands and gradually built up the project. That was the feeling we had. We worked with each other, moving forward in the right direction.
●When you opened your store in Kabutocho, were you aware of the context of the city?
I had some awareness, in both good ways and bad. I didn’t have an image of Kabutocho. I honestly placed what Oyama wanted to create there without much awareness of it as if I was throwing something different into the mix. It wouldn’t have made a difference if I had been aware of it, and I think that would have been fine. But I did want to throw new value into the city, and BANK is no different.
●What was the idea behind the creation of BANK?
When creating BANK, Oyama always said, “I want to create new value in the traditional town of Nihonbashi,” and I think his perceptions have gradually changed over time as we introduced the shops of ‘ease’ and ‘teal’.
●Where did this idea of “new value” come from? Did it come from Oyama or from discussions within the company about what is needed now?
The main structure of the idea came from Oyama. I think BANK is the result of breaking it down and focusing on what we wanted to create. I think it was a great opportunity for someone like me on the creative side to run toward that goal. It was almost like digging down to the essence of what we wanted to create. I don’t think I was paying much attention to trends or anything like that.
●I think there’s a trend that’s pushing us toward the essence of things. A really interesting town that has small but good restaurants and bars, that, when they become popular, create a situation where local people can gather around them. In the same way, I thought it would be interesting to recreate a gray town using various cultures and colors from K5.
The name BANK comes from the fact that it was originally a former bank, and it consists of a bakery ‘bank’ on the first floor, a bistro ‘yen’, a flower store ‘fête’, and a café-bar and interior store “coin” in the basement. It all started when Oyama said he wanted to create a place where people could experience ‘ease’ through all five senses.
●How did you come up with the idea of “five senses”?
Customers of ‘ease’ not only like our sweets but also like the dishes and the space itself. In fact, we even get inquiries from customers who want to buy the plates and dried flowers we use in the store!
●For example, what do you think would satisfy your senses if you could bring something back home?
My guess is bread, so of course I want them to take bread home! In addition to the spatial design of BANK, we hope to satisfy your five senses through experiences inside the building. For example, visitors can experience the change of space with “scent” in each store, or have a meal at ‘yen’ bistro and purchase plates they like at ‘yen’ at ‘coin’, a café-bar and interior store in the basement. Or you can buy a vase at “coin” and get flowers at ‘fēte’. Buy a cup of coffee at ‘coin’ and enjoy it with bread at ‘bank’, and so on. We designed the shop with this chain of experiences in mind.
●There is a balance between space and experience. Of course, it’s a prerequisite that the food is delicious, but the space, the people who work there, and the atmosphere created by the conversations that take place there all contribute to the overall impression of the restaurant. I understand that at BANK, you can also buy cutlery, vases, and flowers used at ‘ease’ and ‘yen’.
Not only that, but depending on the object, we even allow customers to buy the chairs and tables they sit on, in a way that introduces them to the artist.
●Is there a reason why you brought bread instead of sweets to the forefront of BANK?
At BANK, we wanted to offer something that people could visit every day, something that would be a part of their daily lives. The bistro is not a fashionable place to eat for special occasions, but rather a robust pasta-like restaurant that can be positioned as a set meal restaurant in the city. The fact that it is prepared by a chef with a French background who worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant is typical of ‘eat creator’.
●That reminds me of our pasta shop called ‘Pony Pasta’ on the first floor of our office ‘Keshiki’. When we renovated the building, there was a pizza oven, so we were initially thinking of doing pony pizza. But they ended up taking the pizza oven with them! At first, I thought about getting similar equipment, but it would have messed with the seating area and there were factors such as ventilation conditions, so I discussed it with the chef and we decided to do pasta instead.
It’s important to know how flexibly you can respond to the situation in front of you. We have seen this in the course of our various projects.
●Did you get any response from customers during the soft opening?
We’ve had a great response. The bakery and the bistro have also been very well received. People are lining up at the café bar in the basement to try carrot cake and other sweets from ‘ease’. The flower store has become a popular spot for people to take photos. It would be a bit presumptuous of me to say that this is exactly what we were aiming for, but I really felt that people who like ‘ease’ were coming by our shop.
●Did your thinking and work style change as you continued to see things play out onsite?
It has changed considerably. Because I had worked mostly for advertising agencies in the past, I often pursued novelty that would look good in a presentation, rather than business potential, within a given budget. Through planning with ‘eat creator’ and being constantly aware of the work site, I was able to face the situation at hand and think about how my creations would contribute to the site and to the company. This habituation of thinking was perhaps the biggest change.
●‘Keshiki’ is partly for ourselves. We hope that our family, friends, and community will enjoy it.
If it’s possible to keep the store running with that mentality, then it’s totally possible. We, including BANK, are constantly searching for the best situation for the store and the people who work there. Come to think of it, ‘Keshiki’ is also similar in structure to BANK with plants at the entrance and underground space, right?
●Yes, it is. Yard Works, the team in charge of the plants at K5 have opened a plant store called MOTH at the entrance of ‘Keshiki’, and next to them is ‘Tangible Studio’, a workspace and pop-up space. ‘Pony pasta’ is in the back on the first floor, and our office space is in the basement, with a gallery space called ‘AA’ adjacent to it.
I wanted to take this opportunity to ask you, what do you think of “city branding”? In my line of work, I understand it in theory, but I feel uncomfortable with it.
●Media Surf is interested in urbanism, how a city develops. Themes such as gentrification, which is something that has occurred in cities such as Brooklyn, New York or also in Nakameguro, Tokyo are something that we always consider when planning communities. In other words, what we try to achieve is to artificially develop areas without pushing into a realm of gentrification. I believe that a good town has a wide range of cultural values that cannot be quantified. I would like to create a place where we can preserve that value. But, as you say, it’s not the same as putting a label on it. It’s up to the visitors to decide, and I don’t think it is right to call it a craft town on its own.
That’s right. BANK, ‘ease’, ‘teal’, and Neki stand out as individual chefs, each offering a unique dining experience with their own creations. All of them are sharp, and that is why we believe that the dots become surfaces, and as a result, contribute to the image of Kabutocho. The same goes for places such as K5 and Keshiki, which are being developed by Media Surf. I think there were actually not many people who could have imagined this situation from the beginning.
●We also needed a hypothesis for our involvement in the town and
a definition of our involvement so that we are all facing in the same direction as Heiwa Real Estate. But of course, there are things out of our control, such as the ongoing pandemic. If Kabutocho is a financial town, a town to start things off, it would be nice to have a barbershop as a place to get dressed up, and it would also be very chic to eat eel and get dressed up for a big game. Now, I would like to carefully place food experiences and other things that we wish we had now. However, while I think it would be good to have a situation where people around us judge the town according to the temperature of the times, rather than labeling Kabutocho as such, I would like to continue discussing the ideal situation of the town, while looking a little further into the future.
Now that Kabutocho is beginning to overlap with a new image, it may be necessary to discuss the ideal situation of the town. I feel that the people here are gradually changing from when I first set foot in Kabutocho. I find this change very interesting and watch Kabutocho every day.
●That may indeed be true. I used to think the west side of Tokyo was cool.
Right? When I started Nanairo in 2008, I had an office in Bakurocho. At the time, rents in that area were cheap, and I was excited about the changing town with its “Central East Tokyo” logo. In reality, however, condominiums and supermarkets were being built everywhere, and I felt that this was not the place for me, so I moved my office to Tomigaya on the west side of Tokyo. Nowadays, people may not think of west and east differently, but at the time I thought the west side of Tokyo was cool because there were many trendy and fashionable people who were sensitive to trends.
I had assumed that these people came to Kabutocho and that the atmosphere of the people passing through Kabutocho had changed, but in fact, that’s not the case. I feel that the people who live and work in the area are changing.
●I see people from this neighborhood frequenting Kabutocho these days. It’s a very good situation in terms of locality.
Yes. It’s interesting to be able to experience the city’s changes as an actual experience within the city. It’s as if we are actually feeling the city changing beneath our feet.
●When I first came to K5 in 2018, I had the impression of a monotone, gray city. I had the impression that it had never really intersected with us, but when I went to Aoyama for a meeting the other day, I felt a sense of restlessness. It had always been a familiar place to me, but the moment I came back to Kabutocho, I suddenly felt at ease! Before I knew it, it had turned into a sense of home. It has mysteriously become my favorite place. It was a place that I wanted to tell my friends about, and there was a situation where the people who came knew about it.
There are times when you feel comfortable in a city, or in a space, even though you are new to it. In the case of ‘teal’, I think a pleasant chemical reaction occurred because of the historic Nisshokan building. The same is true of the BANK, which is not a space that can be artificially created from scratch, but a space where details that remind us of the passage of time are left as they are.
●There is a sense of authenticity or perhaps a sense that there is a story locked in beyond the design.
When you walk through the K5 building, you feel a somber atmosphere, as if you were staying in a museum.
●If you were to open a restaurant next, what would you like to do? I would like to do a small hotel. There is a small hotel in Copenhagen called “Central Hotel & Cafe” which is above a cafe and only one couple can stay there. I would like to do a hotel with a small barbershop at the entrance.
There is a narrow, low space at the bottom of the stairs going down to the basement of BANK, and I would like to build a bookstore there that children would want to enter. It would be like the edge of a secret base. It would be interesting to have a bookstore with a selection of secondhand books from Japan and abroad, with a focus on food. I would rather have old and good books than new ones. There are not many visual books with restaurants and recipes in Japan, so I would like to create a book or collect books from overseas.
Born in 1977 in Osaka. Creative director of ‘eat creator’. While presiding over Nanairo, he joined ‘eat creator’. Since then, he has teamed up with Keisuke Oyama, pastry chef of ‘ease’ in Kabutocho, and after working at ‘teal’, opened the food complex store BANK. He throws out new values with his creativity that focuses on the fundamentals of life without being at the mercy of trends.
Text : Jun Kuramoto
Photo : Naoto Date
Interview : Akihiro Matsui