Tokyo is a never-ending magnet for creativity and no wonder – the city is rich with new opportunities at every turn, an infectious ‘anything is possible’ vibe, a huge population, and a steely determination to become Asia’s creative capital ahead of the likes of Hong Kong and Seoul. In a recent survey, 36% of Adobe users ranked Japan as the most creative country in the world (in contrast to the 26% who felt it was the U.S) but if you still need convincing, here’s the our guide of where to check out in the most creative of adult playgrounds.
[ Creative Agencies ]
The Japanese branch of the Ogilvy & Mather empire has been breaking the conventions and stereotypes of Japanese advertising to provide innovative campaigns since 1995. The agency won bronze in Campaign Asia’s 2016 Creative Agency of the Year and was shortlisted for another three awards. Clients include IBM, Saga and The University of Tokyo.
Established as a joint venture between Hakuhodo and TBWA Worldwide Inc in 2006, TBWA\HAKUHODO fused TBWA’s DISRUPTION methodology and a global network spanning over 100 countries & regions, with Hakuhodo’s in-depth knowledge of the Japanese market to deliver high-quality solutions that grab your attention. If you need further proof check out their innovative website - built on a slant, it makes you feel like you’re falling down as you read it!
Creatively born and raised in Tokyo’s visionary epicenter, Harajuku, UltraSuperNew is the brains behind some stunning, ultra-vivid campaigns for brands including Adobe, Red Bull and Phillips. To promote Marvel’s Jessica Jones Netflix TV Series, the agency gave viewers the ability to super jump in VR by using a drone with a 360 degree camera attached to shoot the skylines of Tokyo.
[ Architecture ]
Based in Kawasaki City on the outskirts of Tokyo, Takeshi Hirobe’s architects studio isn’t just limited to commercial and residential builds and renovations, it also has a range of product designs under its belt as well. Hirobe’s architectural creations often pair urban environments with their surrounding nature, something aided by ‘tsubo-niwa’ - the Japanese word for indoor gardens.
Responsible for many of Tokyo’s commercial builds such as the Fred Perry, Neighbourhood, Isabel Marant and Mash Holdings stores it’s difficult to miss a General Design Co blueprint as you walk around the city. The studio’s talents don’t just lie in commercial enterprises though, they were also responsible for the glorious ‘Platform for Living’ space nestled amongst the Chichibu mountains.
Does the Kengo Kuma name ring a bell? Probably, Kengo Kuma's National Stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was infamously selected to replace Zaha Hadid's after increasing costs on the latter forced the Japanese Prime Minister to rethink his choice of architects. Kengo Kuma is definitely a studio to keep your eyes on in the coming years...
[ Fashion ]
Well it’s impossible to talk about Tokyo’s world-famous fashion scene without mentioning Comme des Garçons isn’t it? French for ‘Like Boys’, the label was founded way back in 1969 by Rei Kawakubo and these days it encompasses a flagship store in Aoyama - Tokyo's high fashion district, as well as various other concept stores around Tokyo & other Asian capitals, Paris, New York and London.
Limi Yamamoto, daughter of the fashion-designer Yohji Yamamoto (Y-3) followed her father’s footsteps into the industry and then some. Whilst the two both employ the same adherence to dark colors, large volumes, layering, and asymmetry in their designs, Feu is also an advocate of more streetwear styles, geared towards women of all types to transcend traditional gender roles.
Former stylist of Lady Gaga, artistic director of Diesel and Mugler, fashion director for Uniqlo and Vogue Hommes Japan and editor for all number of other leading fashion magazines, Formichetti can turn his hand to any kind of brief and fulfil it with his eccentric style. His upbringing – spread between Rome, Tokyo and London – played a huge role in his chameleon-like quality to adapt to any kind of challenge, the fruits of which, keep on giving.
[ Illustrators ]
Nemury - aka Tsuya Nemury, is a Tokyo-based Graphic Designer and Art Director with an iconic, minimalistic style that is (in his own words) 100% Kawaii (which means something cute or lovable in Japanese culture). His personal, pixelated style came about by happy accident when he became a parent and had no time, other than during his daily commute, in which to create personal artworks, so he started using the Patchwork app and hey presto! Nemury’s signature style was born!
Miyake’s beautifully detailed illustrations of animals, nature, foods and household objects have made him a firm favourite on the Tokyo design scene as he mixes traditional techniques with warmth and an intricate eye. Miyake’s work for the ‘Slice of Heartland’ campaign with Dentsu, won a D&AD pencil for art direction this year.
Textured, multi-layered and vibrant reimaginings of everyday objects, scenes and foodstuffs make Ryo Takemasa’s drawings a captivating browse. Think you already know all the ways a cucumber or a pepper can be seen? Think again. Takemasa’s prints for covers, books, products and advertising have a compulsive ‘ukiyo-e’-esque quality to them, which is a Japanese phrase meaning ‘images of the floating world’.
[ Publications ]
Made in Shibuya is a publishing house and bookshop based, you guessed it, in Tokyo’s Shibuya district which produces zines such as ‘Made in Shibuya’, (produced on small print run of 250 copies, each one individually signed by the author) and ‘Rocks’, (a cultural magazine geared at free expression which recently hosted Yoko Ono as its cover star).
You can’t miss the acid yellow covers of the ZINE editions. Formed with the instruction; "Please make one book that is only available here", ZINE asks 30 artists to make each edition. Recently the guys hosted the first ‘Here is ZINE Tokyo’ exhibition at which thirty volumes, each rich in individuality and imagination, were presented. If you catch sight of a copy, these zines are definitely worth checking out.
Ebony Bizys is the Australian lady behind the super cute Hello Sandwich blog and, over the years, a number of self-penned publications all about her life in Tokyo. Check out Tokyo lifestyle tips in ‘Hello Tokyo’, neighbourhood guides in her ‘Tokyo Guide’ zine, Kawaii wrapping techniques and guides to Japanese crafts amongst others.
[ To Shop ]
Named after a 1950’s Paris-Nice express train, this shop, which stocks gifts from around the world, is a visual hymn to neat, exact, uniformed spaces. Designed by JP architects, the shop is thoroughly Japanese in its sparseness, something which is aided by the fact that everything in the space (including the actual stock) lines up with the grid that originates from the building’s structural frame.
Found in the basement shopping area of Palace Hotel Tokyo, Masters Craft is a ceramics company with its own in-house design team who practice the 13th century art of Japanese ceramics production. The store itself is the epitome of Japanese minimalism, showcasing handmade wares with an alluring starkness which highlights each individual item’s craft that little bit more.
This bookstore is the shopfront for the aforementioned Made in Shibuya publishing house and once inside its charms you’ll find old and new magazines and books arranged according to theme as opposed to genre. This makes for interesting browsing – you’re just as likely to find a cookery book alongside the latest crime thriller as you are an independent magazine alongside a religious tome.
[ To Eat/Drink ]
This won’t be one for everyone’s tastes (or budgets) because TAKAZAWA is a fine-dining joint (listed in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants) but we’re including it here because of a uniqueness. If you decide to brave the bill, the dishes here won’t disappoint – they’re visually breathtaking and all thanks to chef, Yoshiaki Takazawa, who works (amazingly) almost entirely on his own whilst his wife runs everything front of house.
Just five minutes from Omotesando station there lies an oasis of tranquility waiting to take you in. As the name suggests, Aoyama, is a tea house located in a flower market where you’ll drink the finest brews and breathe in the freshest blooms whilst seated inside an indoor greenhouse decorated with twinkling lights. In a city often impossibly packed with people, Aoyama is the exact sort of refuge you need.
If you know anything about Japanese food, you’ll likely know this is one nation sweet on its desserts. For one of the most innovative head to Taiyaki Hiiragi’s modest serving hatch and order the only thing on the menu - Taiyaki. For your efforts, you’ll be presented with two fish-shaped waffles stuck together with sweet azuki bean paste. You’ll thank us later.
If you have any recommendations for places for future guides, connect with me here and let us know!