Thursday, 25 July 2013

At home in young Japan

Today, I'm handing over to friend and former colleague Andrew Pothecary. We used to work together at the Daily Telegraph, but these days he lives in Tokyo, where he recently photographed and designed a beautiful, fascinating book about the the interiors styles of young Japanese people. Over to Andrew...

A shelf in the home of Youta Matsuoka, aka the artist JonJon Green. More details below
How often do you get to walk into someone's home – someone you've never met – and immediately start poking around their shelves and knick-knacks, asking directly about their interior and design choices, even exploring their bedroom? (Admittedly after a previously arranged appointment, of course.) One of the best things about making this book, La Deco des Jeunes Japonais, was that we didn't have to hide the natural curiosity that everyone feels on first entering someone else's space.

The living area at the home of Makoto Asamoto, see more below
The book's remit was to be a photo-led showcase of 25 single, young Japanese people's interiors. While many young people's places in the UK may be compact, in Japan they are typically much smaller and with a slightly different emphasis on furniture and layout. Whether that's less sturdy architecture (there are almost no brick or stone buildings, let alone anything 100 years old, like my last flat in London – which, in Tokyo, wouldn't be standing after the 2011 earthquake) or less sizeable furniture.

Kurumi Saki's bedroom, see more below
Things most of interest to a foreign audience (the book was made for the French market) tend to be things particularly "Japanese". But while the interiors ranged from one decorated with Japanese-temple ephemera to another pink-themed with "Sweet Lolita" clobber, many of the homes were also interesting for seeing what the Japanese find curious or collectable about international design or objects.

The homes ranged from those in modern, white-walled, space-conscious architecture – one had steps that doubled as shelves from the living space to a toilet and bath seemingly in the wall – to the Mediterranean-hued flat featuring a room with a swing in it to a tatami room with pan-Asian and American-blues memorabilia.

The Mount Fuji-themed shelf at Masami Usagawa's home. See more below

Those was the best things. The worst thing was that I, as well as the editor and translator, never received payment for the book. It was the fault of the people who employed us, not of the publisher – who was as unaware as we were about this impending non-payment. So although the book was published in March this year, I've only just decided that now it's out there, I may as well at least promote it rather than not get paid for it and deny its existence! Oh, the freelance life. But let's focus on the homes in hand...


Makoto Asamoto



Makoto has a retro and wooden feel to his decor, from vinyl jazz records on the shelves, to wooden ornaments and furniture.

And he has a great kitchen – as to be expected from the president of a food and drink company.


Megumi Hagiwara 




Megumi lives in a calm retreat of an apartment, with books and objects reflecting her interest in Buddhism and Japan's temples – and in manga.

Her tatami room was minimalist with just a cushion and low table apart from a mirror and some books. The apartment, with two other simple but tasteful rooms, was shared – with her (disabled) dog, Chocolate.


Youta Matsuoka 


Youta is an artist with the working name JonJon Green. He had turned the central room of his house outside Tokyo into his studio. Most of the sliding doors, familiar as separators of many Japanese rooms, had been removed to open the space.

His bedroom had life-size paintings of Ultraman and the doors to this cupboard space, which were fully covered with this imaginary Italian scene.


Kurumi Saki


Kurumi is a "Sweet Lolita" (ama-rori) who also works in a shop catering to Lolita fashions. ("Lolita", in this context, is taken to mean girly and pinkish rather than the more familiar particular connotations it has abroad!). In her mid-20s, Saki has a room in her parents' house dedicated to pink and the idea of being an imaginary princess. Wigs, clothing and flower motifs decorate the room – and even her laptop is pink.


Masami Usagawa 


Masami had given up her fridge and television to people in the Tohoku region affected by the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters. She cut down on light bulbs to save on electricity following those events.

Her apartment is shaded from sunlight and cooled by open windows. Her tiny bathroom was painted by a professional sento (public bath) painter – actual sento often feature Mount Fuji. In her main room, that theme was partly continued by Fuji collectables.

You can buy the book here (it is a French website).

Andrew Pothecary is a freelance print designer, based for the last seven years in Tokyo. Another three years previously in Tokyo as a magazine art editor were interrupted with four years back in the UK working for the Telegraph Media Group. He lives in a rented 40-year-old wooden Japanese house. He also takes photographs. Check out his website Forbidden Colour

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