Witnessing the old and new from a Tokyo antique shop
This piece is the fourth instalment in our ‘Love letter to Shimokitazawa’ series. This project aims to uncover the voices within our local community, helping us better understand what and who made Shimokitazawa the place it is today.
The story of Shimokitazawa is one of old and new – of perpetual change, but also much that remains constant. With such a dynamic flow of people, trends and technology, it’s not the easiest place to sustain a business. Over the past 20 years, Kamiyama-san, who helps run his father’s shop called Antique Life Jin, has sustained his business through all the varied eras of Shimokitazawa. People, scenery, social values – Kamiyama-san has witnessed dramatic changes. To him, however, much about Shimokitazawa remains constant. Listening to his story helped us to understand more deeply the essential essence of this place.
What brought you to Shimokitazawa?
My father opened the first shop in 1982, and the second in 2000. Both are located in Shimokitazawa a few minutes from each other. He used to run a shop in Aoyama with two of his friends. When he decided to go independent, however, he chose Shimokitazawa; he wanted to remain nearby for his old customers in Aoyama. Also, the rent was cheap back then. Though he initially chose Shimokitazawa for practical reasons, he ended up really liking the area and has stayed for 30 years.
My father’s a bit of a character; he is very stubborn, in both good and bad ways. Long-time customers have told me that he sometimes shouts at them when they touch valuable products. But, they seem to be okay with him being like that, though perhaps some stopped coming here due to his personality. (laughs) He is a typical old-fashioned shop owner.
How have the people of Shimokitazawa changed over the years?
There has always been a wide range of people in Shimokitazawa. That’s one of the reasons why my father chose this place. Twenty years ago, there were many actors and musicians of all ages living in the area. Many visited our shop to buy odds and ends to furnish their small Japanese-style homes such as a chabudai (Japanese style table with short legs).
Today, I see more fashionable young people hanging around, shopping for nice vintage clothes. Also, there are loads of people from all over the world. Newer, younger, less experienced customers often ask me which products are high in value; but I always advise them to choose whatever they like or feels right. They usually reference their smartphones to find out which items in the store have a high market value. But long-term customers never ask me things like that. We usually just chat and catch up regularly. They tend to purchase things that have personal meaning, regardless of value. I’ve had to adapt my business to cater to both types of customers, as they are both valuable. I learn a lot from both of them.
What makes you stay in Shimokitazawa?
It’s not easy to run a business here, but it is interesting. People shopping in Shimokitazawa have a very good eye for products. They never buy things at unreasonable prices. People in Shimokitazawa want to feel that they found something special at a bargain price. It’s more about the excitement of discovering and uncovering, rather than the value of the product itself. For them, it’s like a treasure hunt. They enjoy the process of looking for something truly special. It brings me so much joy when they find it in my shop. It’s fun to interact with such savvy customers.
Recently, buyers from larger retail stores come to source products to refinish and resell. While it’s nice that they value our products and trust our eye, they are selling them for double or triple the price. I’ve got mixed feelings about that. I could probably set the prices of my merchandise much higher if I display them in a fancier way. But that’s not what I or Shimokitazawa is about; I want people to feel close to antiques and feel comfortable using them in their daily lives. I think it’s important to keep them accessible.
What is distinctive about Shimokitazawa?
I think it's the low-key atmosphere. It’s kind of subcultural, but not too trendy. Unlike Aoyama, you don’t have to dress up to come here. It’s probably trendier than before, though. I used to see people in quite unusual – almost weird and uncool – outfits, such as wearing tracksuits underneath kimono with wooden clogs and a tophat. Shimokitazawa still has this casual atmosphere where people don’t have to try so hard or feel they need to impress. It’s unique and edgy, not too refined. It’s approachable and not too sophisticated – in a good way.
- Article by Ikumi Taneya