The Unknown Hipster

Tokyo II : The John Lennon glasses

Posted in Travel by unknownhipster on November 16, 2010

What I like to do in Tokyo is to get away from the main shopping areas and wander into the less-known neighborhoods, which in my mind must look more like Tokyo used to be. I wish I traveled there not just ten years before they shot « Lost In Translation » and made Tokyo a cliché, but back in the 60’s or 70’s, when photographers were taking distorted black-and-white nudes, Hondas were small and painted mustard yellow, orange or pea green, and the « modern » women wore strict European dresses and listened to classical music in dark hi-fi parlour in the afternoon.

I soon found myself walking down Jinbo-cho, which is the second-hand bookstores district. It’s a bit like the Strand in New York, if the Strand was laid flat on its back and splitted in hundreds of small shops, with piles and piles of books on the sidewalk. This is when my eyes caught the window of an old-fashioned eyewear shop. On display were faded photographs of John Lennon and round-shaped spectacles, all displayed on emerald green and flesh-pink satin.

The shop was a happy clutter inside and seemed untouched since the late 70’s, with more John Lennon posters and more vintage Lennon spectacles. There were collections of old optometric paraphrenalia, and an old, abandoned  VCR, which I suppose once played Lennon’s tapes.A lady came down the wooden stairs, inquiring in Japanese.

Soon it was obvious that we couldn’t communicate, besides nodding and smiling to each other.

- So you must like John Lennon very much, I articulated with my French accent, in a last attempt, actually hoping she would not understand such a tired line.

She took a cell phone, dialed a number, and after briefly speaking into it, passed it on to me.

A man’s voice spoke a few English words, with a noisy crowd in the background, which made him even more difficult to understand.

-       I wanted to tell the lady that it’s a lovely shop, I shouted.

-       What ?

-       I would like to know the name and address so I could write it down in my blog..!

I was thinking of you, dear readers, at this particular moment (although perhaps hundreds of bloggers and guides might already have listed this information), but finally had to admit to myself that the conversation was going nowhere, with the crowd in the background of the cellphone getting louder. Maybe he was off betting somewhere, or in a busy railway station.


I asked the lady for a card, mimicking the object. She gave me a piece of imitation chamois leather, inscribed with something in Japanese and, at last, a phone number : 03-3291-0279

I bowed, and retreated to the door. On my way out, I stopped in front of a framed picture of a white dog.

- Your dog…? Lovely dog !

But didn’t insist, thinking that the fact the dog’s picture was framed meant he might not be there anymore.

I bowed once more, and was out.

In a time when everybody is willing to sell his soul in a minute in fear of being out of date, such faith and fidelity should be praised. I think it’s true gentleness.

And if only I have had access to this shop when I was a young kid, when I was craving Lennon glasses.

Tokyo, part I

Posted in Travel by unknownhipster on November 11, 2010

Early this autumn, I was invited to attend Tokyo Graphic Passport, a creative and visual arts conference organized by  +81 Magazine - a Japanese graphic design journal – with speakers coming from various parts of the world.


I love Tokyo. From the very first time (back in the early 90’s, when I came as the tambourine player for Uneven Dusk to perform gigs at a small club located in the basement of an anonymous white-tile building in the outskirts of Tokyo) I was taken by the poetic particularity of the city, and has taken every chance I could to come back.

I love the crazy sound of cicadas in the summer, the temples and their gardens, the tiny bars, and the blinking red lights on the tops of office towers at night. I can stroll endlessly in the quiet backstreets behind the busiest arteries, and wish I could live in one of these little wood houses. Even the spectacular flagship stores of the global luxury brands seem surrealistic mysteries, and yet appear more gentle than anywhere else.

Struck by jetlag in the hotel lobby.

With Satoru Yamashita, founder of +81 Magazine and Graphic Passport

Fantasista Utamaro performing at Arts Chiyoda.

« Live painting » as it’s called, is a common and much appreciated form of performance art for painters and their public, just like readings are for American writers. Although anybody who has ever painted could sense that it’s less than likely that a painting executed in public would be any good. Even Picasso was not so astonishing in « Le Mystère Picasso ». But Fantasista managed to get his act together in front his home crew.



These young chaps had looks that deserve a Sartorialist award.

John Warwicker from Tomato had flew from Australia to paint a large mural.

If the mural was John’s, the stained plastic protections on the floor were reminiscent of Hans Namuth’s photos of Pollock.


Most amazingly, John’s painting looked good at all the different stages throughout the 3 days it took to finish.

Toru, assisting John and documenting the performance.

While Roland Barthes’ « Empire of Signs » is my beloved travel campanion in Japan, and a nourishing reading, it’s sometimes more nutritious to dine on Sumo food.


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