Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s many shopping districts, housing well-known symbols of Japan such as “Hachiko” and the “Shibuya Scramble Crossing.” This “Shibuya Chronicle” series of interviews will shine a spotlight on Shibuya’s history as well as people who know it well today, showing Shibuya as a modernizing town with signs of its long history as well.
On this 5th edition we spoke to Mr. Kazuaki Arai, current manager and ex-president of the Merchant’s Association of Takeshita Street in Harajuku, a man born and raised on this very street and who has watched over all the renewals and changes which have occurred around Harajuku as part of this association whose legacy spans over 100 years back into the generation of his grandparents.
――Mr. Arai, when you first began arrived in Harajuku, what was Takeshita Street like?
I was born and raised in Harajuku. I was the third generation to take over a western-style store on Meiji Dori (where currently there is a Starbucks coffee shop). It had been running since the 4th year of the Taisho era, when my grandfather decided to open this western-style store, so the Arai family have been settled in Harajuku for over 100 years now. *Laughter* The Harajuku of my childhood was a residential area, and there were no young people coming to have fun like they do now. These houses were 120 square meters wide and all had a garden, and the only stores around were just your usual small businesses like vegetable shops, grocery stores and fish stalls, etc.
In those days, the event which left the deepest impression on me was seeing a line of tanks driving down Meiji Dori. Apparently they were being moved from Yokosuka over to the base in Tachikawa, and they made a truly loud rumbling sound.
――During your childhood, back when Harajuku was a residential area, how did you entertain yourself?
Back then, the Japan College of Social Work used to be next to Togo Shrine, where Harajuku’s police station now is, and on the north side of the college building there was an embankment thickly grown with trees where I used to catch rhinoceros beetles and stag beetles. Also, this college had been a navy facility in the past and the building remained as it was back then, so it had an air-raid shelter, as well as a periscope on the roof, and as such was the ideal playground for a kid.
Another memory which left an impression on me was that since in those days there weren’t many families who could own a private automobile, Meji Dori was usually completely empty of cars. Starffin (an old pitcher for the Giants) used to have a store on the other side of the road from my house, and I remember often playing catch with him by throwing the ball from one side of the avenue to the other. *Laughter*
――How did you get involved with the Merchant’s Association?
Just as I graduated university and took over the family business at the wester-style store, we were in the middle of the bubble era. Everyone was extremely busy and concentrating fully on running their own stores, so at first there was no activity whatsoever for the Merchant’s Association.
But then a group of sons of old Takeshita Street store owners grouped together and began their own “Jr Association”. In today’s terms, it was a sort of meeting place for the youth of the area, and it was established for the purposes of suggesting ideas to the adults who ran the Merchant’s Association. However, just when the Jr Association had been founded, the Merchant’s Association ceased to exist, so the Jr Association took on the adults’ role and began organizing district affairs.
――Currently, how much have the people who visit Takeshita Street changed, compared to the customers of the past?
In those days there were no stores in Harajuku. It was just a simple street where fathers who came back from work and students who came back from school walked by. Harajuku Station was the single least used station on the Yamanote Line.
All of that suddenly changed with the 1964 Olympics. It was decided than an athlete’s village could be built in the district of Yoyogi Kamizono-cho, next to Harajuku, so the infrastructure of Harajuku itself was also improved.
At the same time, many storefronts for high-class brands began opening in the area, and this transformed it into a place where middle-aged women would go shopping. It was a very sudden change.
The constant expansion which came after that moment is well known by everyone.
――What are your favorite or most valued places in the area?
Back in those days, I really liked the drinking taverns in the shopping district. There were many great establishments back then. *Laughter* Currently, a favorite place of mine is “CAFE DE DIANA”, a cafe on the 2nd floor of the DIANA building on Meiji Dori. It’s a very calm and relaxing place. Us merchants in the area often hold our casual meetings at the DIANA cafe.
――Is there anyone of whom you could say “this person is Harajuku’s hero”.
Without a doubt, my hero is Mr. Kiyosaburou Hashimoto.
In those days, Mr. Hashimoto was the owner of the Le Pont building, which was right in front of the Takeshita exit of Harajuku Station. He was the one who gathered his fellow sons of merchants and formed the “Takeshita Jr Association”. He was a lively fellow who loved alcohol above all else, and his name is always mentioned, without fail, whenever one talks of the history of Harajuku’s Takeshita Street.
The condition for admission which Mr. Hashimoto established, which was that only the sons of store owners could enter the Jr Association, was an extremely high hurdle to pass. But to our parents, who had the right to decide on issues of sales management and the district’s communal planning, this man presented an association with great influential power. He truly had a strong sense of foresight.
――Mr. Arai, what does Harajuku represent for you?
A neighborhood which reflects the age of its time like a mirror.
I was born and raised in Harajuku when it was still a residential area where later, after the Olympics, many new fashion stores opened up, causing more passengers to use Harajuku Station until finally even talent stores were established here, and all of a sudden the number of young people who came also increased. This district’s atmosphere has gone through many changes.
Even today this district is continuing to expand, with a plan for 23 new large buildings to finish being constructed next year. After they do, this area’s atmosphere will probably change once again.
This is the trendiest area of the city, so I hope to be able to continue to protect the merchants in this area as it continues to change into the future.
On this occasion we spoke to: Mr. Kazuaki Arai, manager of the Merchant’s Association of Takeshita Street in Harajuku.
Info about the shopping district: The offices of the Merchant’s Association of Takeshita Street in Harajuku
〒150-0001 Shibuya-ku Jingu-mae 1-9-3 Harajuku Dai 3 corporate house 406-Gou
Contact details: email@example.com