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Did Nakameguro Really Ever Boom?

Style Map: Hip Nippon

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?

W. David MARX
March 10, 2008

Linkage March 7

Let’s Roll

Literary Baron of Néojaponisme Matt T. honors the death of D&D founder Gary Gygax by looking at the history of his seminal RPG’s translation into Japanese.

Cele-bitch Magazine

Welcome to Macias Country. There are apparently so many hostess-aspiring glam-gyaru in Japan these days that they need two different magazines. And yes, this one also has nice profiles of young single mothers making ends meet through “night work.”


“Mom Cafes.” Let’s be honest: the whole “Maid Cafe” thing up until now was only popular because the Otaku were too ashamed to admit what they really wanted. Soon the Otaku will have “Womb Cafes” where they can completely forget, for a brief moment, the whole pain of being alive.

W. David MARX
March 7, 2008


My new book, Parallel Strokes, is available now via the book website. It isn’t officially being released for a week, but I figured Néojaponisme/Meta no Tame readers should have a chance before other folks.

About Parallel Strokes:

Parallel Strokes is a collection of interviews with twenty-plus contemporary typeface designers, graffiti writers, and lettering artists around the world. The book is introduced with a comprehensive essay charting the history of graffiti, its relation to type design, and how the two practices relate in the wider context of lettering.
Interviews within include conversations with pan-European type design collective Underware, Japanese type designer Akira Kobayashi, American graffiti writer and fine artist Barry McGee/Twist, German graffiti writers Daim and Seak, American lettering artist, graphic designer and design educator Ed Fella, among others. Parallel Strokes is an enquiry into the history, context, and development of lettering today, both culturally approved and illicit.

Full list of interviewees:

Akira Kobayashi
Ed Fella
Jerry Inscoe/Joker
Jens Gehlhaar
Jonas Williamsson
Tauba Auerbach
Lady Pink
She One
Eklips AWR/MSK
Mike Giant
Chaz Bojorquez
Barry McGee/Twist

The result of six years of research in the combined arts of lettering, graffiti, and typeface design, Parallel Strokes is a collection of interviews some of the best letterform creators in the world today.

Chaz Bojorquez talks about the origins of barrio graffiti in Los Angeles and the evolution of the craft. Fellow Angeleno, vernacular graphic designer Ed Fella, speaks about his history in lettering and how he earned the title “The King of Zing” in Detroit design and illustration circles. Famed Japanese type designer Akira Kobayashi discusses Roman and Japanese letterforms while showcasing a lifetime of type design work. European graffiti writers Daim, Seak, and Delta share their thoughts on dimensional graffiti lettering while American graffiti writer Mike Giant talks about vernacular lettering, typeface design, and the evolution of graffiti handstyles.

Parallel Strokes is richly illustrated throughout, featuring copious previously unpublished work by the interviewed artists, as well as supplementary illustrations and photographs detailing contemporary and historical trends in graffiti and type design.

The first 100 orders come with a two color 17″ x 20″ Parallel Strokes poster printed using recycled paper and soy inks at Portland, Oregon’s Pinball Publishing.

Parallel Strokes is 244 pages thick and available for $25 with free shipping worldwide.

March 3, 2008


The other regular publication that I design is an American hip-hop + r&b magazine called Rap-Up. The editors’ first book on the topic just came out this week. I designed the cover and did the illustrations throughout.

March 2, 2008