We asked Takato Tamagami, a Tokyo-based architect, about his favorite places, pastimes and more.
Where do you live and why did you choose that neighborhood?
I live with my wife and two children in Hatsudai, which is where my office is. What I like about this neighborhood is that it’s easy to get to both Shibuya and Shinjuku, so it’s very convenient and there are lots of places to eat.
Hatsudai also retains the atmosphere of shitamachi, densely populated old Tokyo neighborhoods with a distinctly down-to-earth, warm and open culture. There are vibrant shopping streets, with new shops opening, like cafés and wine bars, and it’s a bit of a hidden gem for its convenience and low rents.
Do you have a local haunt, say, somewhere you go for comfort food or just a chat with the proprietor?
I sometimes go to Café Monochrome (https://cafemonochrome.com/) in Shibuya, which we designed, (https://takatotamagami.net/en/works/commercial/cafe_monochrome/) because I am friends with the owner. It’s a tiny place near the Tokyu Hands shop (https://www.tokyu-hands.co.jp/en/), where guests can watch videos and browse books about films, music and art. They used to serve “David Lynch Coffee,” produced by the film director, which attracted a lot of Lynch fans to the place.
Another place I like to go to is Delicatessen (https://restaurants.tokyo.park.hyatt.co.jp/en/dts.html) at the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku. I love their Cobb salad, which is made with a special dressing that I really like. It’s great to sit outside on the terrace, which has a view of the nearby high rises and Shinjuku Chuo Park. It’s somehow uplifting to see the juxtaposition of nature’s beauty with the majesty of these man-made structures.
Do you have a favorite store and what do you like to shop for?
To be honest, I hate shopping, so I buy most of my clothes from a fashion label called kiryuyrik, which is produced by a friend (https://www.kiryuyrik.com/). It’s popular among Japanese celebrities as well and although it’s entirely menswear, there are clothes that women can wear as well.
What is a favorite pastime and where do you like to pursue it?
I’m passionate about fly fishing, although I haven’t been able to go much since my children were born several years ago. The best place to go fly fishing near Tokyo is Oshino in Yamanashi Prefecture. It’s just a short drive from Hatsudai along the Chuo Expressway. It’s also one of the top three most popular spots for fly fishing in Japan. Because the section of the Katsuragawa River that runs through Oshino is springwater, which is unusual, the water is very clear. And since the water temperature stays at a certain level throughout the year, the habitat is well-suited to trout and it’s possible to find some beautiful trout there. Unlike some fly fishermen, I actually eat the fish I catch.
What do you like to do on a nice day?
On a fine day I like to go to Shinjuku Gyoen Park, where I can lie on the grass and chill. I will spend the day there with my family or just read a book. It’s a luxury to have such an expansive oasis in the middle of this massive city.
Do you have a favorite museum (or any other cultural spot)?
My all-time favorite building in Tokyo is the Yoyogi National Stadium (https://www.gotokyo.org/en/spot/346/index.html) designed by Kenzo Tange. It’s a totally unique creation that is both beautiful and structurally extremely difficult to build even today, and at the same time it embodies the Japanese aesthetic.
What is your favorite Japanese food?
Natto (fermented soy beans). If I haven’t had natto for a while, I start to crave it. I eat it mixed with a raw egg, nori seaweed, sometimes with thinly sliced taro or sashimi, okra or shiso. I like natto with both rice and pasta.
Where would you go for a special meal?
There is a place I go to with friends called Torishige in Shinjuku. It’s quite famous and even though it has the word “chicken” (tori) in its name, they don’t actually serve chicken. It’s mostly deep-fried pork, which is quite raw, and though that sounds somewhat challenging, its delicious.
Do you have a favorite onsen ryokan, resort or other getaway destination in Japan?
The Kusatsu Hotel Annex ”Watanoyu”, which we designed. I like this ryokan because of the quality of the hotspring and the delicious meals.
I also go to Funabatei (http://www.funabatei.jp/), a restaurant in Nikko, which specializes in ayu (sweet fish) cuisine. They serve delicious, fresh sweet fish at reasonable prices. The Kinugawa River flows right in front of the restaurant, and you can watch the fish being caught by an ancient technique of fishing using a trap called a “yana.” We go there almost every year.
What is a favorite thing you bought recently in Japan?
About a year ago I bought a pair of Onitsuka Tiger sneakers called Mexico 66. I don’t actually like wearing sneakers or any lace-up shoes but a friend of mine recommended these sneakers so I tried them and they are so comfortable. You can wear them either with or without the laces.
What book/film about Japan would you recommend?
Kansei no Tetsugaku (The Philosophy of Sensibility) by Toshio Kuwako. (Available only in Japanese.)
I found this book by chance at a bookstore, I think just around the time I set up my own architectural practice. It’s about the Japanese sensibility, how people are considerate of others so that even a fusuma paper door, which doesn’t prevent sounds from being heard or human presence from being felt, can provide a kind of psychological privacy. It reminded me that what defines space is not something physical, like a floor, or wall or ceiling, but human consciousness
What site or experience would you recommend to a visitor from overseas?
There is a boat you can take on the Sumida River that runs between Asakusa and Odaiba. Seeing Tokyo from the river on this cruise is a very special experience. We designed the interior of one of the boats used for this cruise- the Emeraldas.
What would you take to a friend overseas as a gift ?
I haven’t had the opportunity to buy a gift for an overseas friend but if I did, I would take origami. My father-in-law sends me origami of cranes and various things that he has made. I think origami demonstrates the dexterity of the Japanese.
I might also take stationery, like FriXion pens, which are erasable pens made by Pilot, the Japanese stationery maker, and erasers.
What is it like for you to live in Japan?
I think Japan has a distinctive culture, which values wabi-sabi (aesthetic sense centered on transcience and imperfection), austerity and fortitude, samurai loyalty, hard work and omotenashi (hospitality.) People don’t like gaudy things, they try not to become agitated — [they say] “the nail that sticks out gets hammered back in.” When I was 25, I traveled throughout Europe for seven months and seeing Japan from the outside I realized that it was an unusual country. Japan is not very good at communicating with different cultures. For better or for worse it has been left behind, there is no economic growth and before we realized it Japan became a country with low prices. But we still have an opportunity to come back. In Europe, most houses that are designed by architects are for the very wealthy. In Japan, people who aren’t necessarily very wealthy also hire architects to design their homes so that provides opportunities for young architects. I think this is because Japan is a more egalitarian society. But even in Japan, the income gap is widening so I don’t know what will happen in the future but I hope we can retain our distinctive culture.