I began my day at the National Art Centre, this lovely flowing building:
I saw an exhibit on California modernism, 1930-1965. Sorry, no photos were allowed. This left me more time to look at the pieces, which included utilitarian curvy things like chairs, crockery and dresses that looked like they’d be sculpted by airplane mechanics – which in many cases they had been. The items were beautiful, no question. I don’t know enough about design to characterise different periods, but I’d always associated post-war America with sickly greens and beiges and spindly furniture. These selections were robust and colourful. My favourite items were the album covers and board games inspired by the threat of nuclear war – I never imagined the threat of apocalypse could induce creativity, but there it was.
My least favourite was the write-up. There was plenty of material on how designers created items either for, or at least inspired by, the working class fuelling the American boom. There was little on the class conflicts of the age. The section on modular houses, in particular, focused on how cool they were. Nothing about the creation of suburbia as a strategy to sell more cars, and to destroy tight-knit communities through spatial segregation in suburban sprawl. The curators were too close to their subject: enamoured by the pretty things, they failed to grasp the underlying conflicts that drove design for capitalism. I wrote a long note saying so in the comments box.
I was with them until the last line. How does a mother thinking her daughter is fine, when her daughter is in fact dead in an orphanage, a symbol of anything other than tragedy, and horrible Christian missionaries?
That afternoon I went back to Shimo-Kitazawa, to see the shops hidden on the sidestreets. There were dozens; unlike Koreans, who hate used clothes, the Japanese make a point of assembling quality items and selling them at exorbitant prices. The design of the shops is incredible. Here’s Package One, tucked into an alley off a sidestreet:
I also found the outfitters for the rockabilly dancers of Yoyogi Park: two shops selling everything 1950s for men. Gorgeous cloth caps, thick denim jeans, motorcycle boots, all for hundreds of dollars.
But my main goal of the evening was a vintage shop we had seen the previous Friday. It was distinguished by the most incredible selection of toys, kitchenware, furniture and memorabilia I’d ever seen.
The shop is small but so laden with vintage items that I spent an hour going over each shelf. Look, clocks shaped like a flying saucer on a stick! Everything in beautiful red, orange or green plastic:
And reasonably priced too. Had I not been afraid of breakage during the flight home I would’ve left laden down with gewgaws, but I kept myself to buying a scarf with a map of the 1970 Osaka World’s Fair, and these fine vinyl items, each $3:
Yes, that’s Paul McCartney giving Ireland back to the Irish, and Chicago in their incredible anti-war anthem, back before they sucked, dressed like soldiers. I’m of a generation where anything with Japanese writing on it instantly looks cool to me, and these passed muster.
I ended the evening at a crimson-red biker-themed bar, where the impossibly cool long-haired bartender apologised for how expensive his beer was.