Here’s how most style and trend journalism works. Writer or editor hears that “(place) is up-and-coming, cool” or “(person) is hot” or “everyone is in (fashion item).” In the case of an urban neighborhood, the writer then backs up this rumor-based narrative by profiling all the neat stores located in the area. Voila: check out the hippest neighborhood in all of Nippon, Nakameguro.
But think about this New York Times Magazine piece in reverse: are you impressed with the neighborhood by judging it solely on this store listing? (Forget for a minute that Claska has as much to do with Nakameguro as Carrot Tower does.) Although lackluster, these stores are probably the best examples of hipster-chic retail locations still standing since Organic Cafe closed down, super-secret Club New Bach disappeared, Dyezu Gallery closed, the Groovisions store shuttered, the Gas Gallery/Store evaporated, that good Thai place was demolished, and APC Surplus moved up to Daikanyama.
I think everyone likes the laid-back, river feel of Nakameguro, and there is nowhere better to view the cherry blossoms in the peak of sakura season. Cow Books is worth a trip, and sure, I bought my Peugot at that bike shop. And there’s that good Mexican place that foreigners like to go to. And maybe the John Lawrence Sullivan store will be a good addition. However, the bigger question is: after at least eight or nine years of Nakameguro being on the brink of becoming the “Next Big Thing,” when can we admit that it never really reached any sort of peak? And although I don’t dare to use the word “decline,” the stores that forged the neighborhood’s reputation no longer exist. We tend to judge Ginza, Aoyama, and Harajuku by the strength of the retail/gallery environment, and yet, Nakameguro gets by just on its own myth. Rather than new stores, Nakame tends to attract foreigner residents and tourist-reporters.
Apparently, the most important thing for Western conceptions of Tokyo is that someone comes up with a narrative and everyone sticks to it. Don’t worry about the fact that almost none of the major retailers in Japan have decided to put a store there, nor that most indie brands can’t exist there for any extended period of time. (General Research and its literary wing Cow Books moved into Nakameguro so much earlier than anyone else that I think they have some special deal on the rent.) So maybe “Nakame” will now blow us all away by turning into the next Daikanayama (which is also less energetic lately), but at what point do we say, okay, they tried that and it didn’t work. Is the consumer sluggishness making us rehash the old trend narratives until the economy can finally concoct new ones?