It's been almost two years since my last trip to Japan (totally unacceptable), and I'm just now getting around to posting a set of pictures I took on that trip (also unacceptable). Better late than never, and I could use some nostalgic reminiscing right now. Japan is one of my favorite places in the world, and I've been fortunate enough to tour over there a few times with my friend Ben Folds and his band. When I'm not playing, sleeping or eating, I'm spending every free minute exploring, admiring the aesthetic beauty of every street and every corner, and tracking down toy shops and book shops that I've heard about. Previous trips have been all about the toys-- as with most things, if you're a specific kind of toy lover you can find anything you're looking for in Japan-- but this recent trip was all about vintage children's books, a more recent design-related obsession of mine. A good friend pointed me to an article that outlined the best bookshops in the country as a guide, so you'll see a lot of that here. On my next trip I hope to see some more of the countryside and some of Japan's more rural beauty. But even the cities are beautiful, and magical discoveries awaited me around every bend. Enjoy this little taste, and click each image to enlarge...

The entrance to Nakano Broadway, Tokyo's biggest toy/collectible mall.

Along the arcade: claw machines for tiny things...

... and bigger things

A non-descript entryway to the best toy shop just outside of the Nakano toy mall.

...Where several cases like this are crammed into a tiny room upstairs.

At Nakano Broadway, after picking out what you want from one of those cases, the shopkeeper digs through a mountain of boxes and drawers to find your item.

Post-earthquake design.

Outside the Meiji shrine at Harajuku.

When I went by autopilot to the Omotesando location of toy mecca Kiddy Land, I found it was closed for a massive renovation. The map here lead me...

...around the corner down a rainy sidestreet I had once walked, where the temporary Kiddy Land was located. Not the usual seven stories of toys, but it would do.

A smaller version of Kiddy Land's Ghibli-themed section...

New popular characters like this fella are always popping up...

...alongside classic characters like Cheburaska.

I've always meant to pick this up: either a game or a chopstick-instructing toy, or both.

it was Miffy's birthday. Happy belated birthday Miffy! You're the best.

I walked out with a small bag this time. Stickers, note pads, some Dick Bruna zakka, a Cheep Cheep and of course a Totoro.

Back on the Cat street outside Kiddy Land.

On this trip I tracked down some of the finest children's bookstores in Japan, like this shop and cafe Crayonhouse near Kiddy Land.

Temples and shrines hidden amongst the concrete jungle, seemingly appearing just when you need a moment of solace.

The holy kingdom of Curio Books, the finest collectible children's book shop in Tokyo. Took a lot of neighborhood wandering and a lot of help from kind strangers to find this place.

Cute characters...


Anpanman drum. Our promoter got this for me and I played it with an Otamatone during a mini-musical-toy set we worked into our show. I later learned from a friend that Anpanman was an important symbol for children after the earthquake.

Bus mascot

Everything is beautiful here.

Puppies and kittens for sale in a Shibuya alley shop.

Who knows what's in this store, or where the door is.

Akihabara by night. Tokyo's electronics district is also home to a dozen hole-in-the-wall vintage toy stores that take a keen and determined eye to find.

Here's one such shop.

And the overwhelmed but calm shop owner.

I don't know what this is but I hope it's a movie and if so I want to see it.

Cedok book and zakka store. Located near Akihabara, it's a shrine to Czech children's books, and a merchant of many fine household items, goods, and art pieces. My favorite discovery of the trip. See one book I got there, here.

After the Tokyo show, quality time with new friends, like Chigumi Obayashi (daughter of House director Nobuhiko) and the owner of the hidden, magical Bar Ishee. 

Speaking of quality time... I spent a lot of it with these cute, individual pull-tab-capped jars of sake.

Moving along...

Three great shops tucked together. From top to bottom: an adorable tea and book shop, a vintage American toy shop, and Tom's Box, another of the finest children's bookstores in town.

The tiny but wonderfully curated Beep Beep!

Exploring Shimokitazawa.

Another of the finest shops I discovered in all of Japan. One might miss this vintage, collectible children's book shop on this small neighborhood street in Kyoto...

... a taste of the treasures inside.

I love Japanese women's clothing design. I had to stop and buy the above-left outfit for someone special.

Standard stuff...

An ad I liked.

Spotted.... another famous toy shop in Shimokitazawa that was on my list.

Their storefront bins...

...and organized miniature drawers inside.

Friends along the way.

I love Shimokitazawa.

Essential exploration fuel, and one of the best drink labels of all time.

There are fantastic record stores in Japan if you know where to look. I didn't even get into this can of worms.


And there are homes where I'd love to live one day. 

Hiroshima, truly the most peaceful place I've visited on Earth.

Teenagers and families at the memorial park in Hiroshima.

Inside the Hiroshima museum.

"Black Rain," the centerpiece of a gallery exhibit of survivors' paintings inspired by their memories of the bomb dropping.

Outside the museum.

After much research on Okonomiyaki, a famous street food of Hiroshima, I found that the place to eat was at this building. Up the elevator to three whole floors filled with dozens of okonomiyaki vendors.

Okonomiyaki stop for these kids after school. I'm waiting on mine-- shown on the griddle in the foreground-- a pile of noodles, cabbage, egg, pork, sometimes squid or octopus, and a generous portion of thick brown okonomiyaki sauce.

Czech ornaments, by someone named E. Hauptmann.

Chad buying a mask for his daughter at the Hiroshima kimono festival.

I made sure to visit this lovely donut shop one more time before leaving Hiroshima. The Japanese know how to do donuts.


Token train self-portrait. En route to Kyoto.

Fushimi Inari, Kyoto.

Lake in the forest at Fushimi Inari.

The udon shop half-way up the mountain at Fushimi Inari. Here I had the most spiritual meal I've ever experienced, of tofu miso and green tea, as the rain trickled outside.

A wedding chapel at our Osaka hotel.

A curious cat.

Bird Land

Giant sushi hand in Namba.

More character toy shops...

...where you find things like this.

Only in Japan... A mechanical tool used for grabbing potato chips. I can't tell you how many times I've wished I had one of these.

Osaka at night.

We played here.

Children crossing, Ichijoji, Kyoto.

Keibunsya bookstore in Ichijoji, Kyoto, named by the Guardian as one of the best bookstores in the world.

Inside Keibunsya bookstore. Wow!

Time to go. 


makiko said...

Great photos! I can't believe it's been two years already...
You should have come back to Japan, and exhibit artworks in Tokyo. Please let me know if I can help you :)

Anonymous said...

so, so beautiful, Sam......thanks for sharing these wonderful photos.....love your eye! from Judi