Tokyo: A Certain Style
It might not seem like it at first glance, but it takes a certain flair to decorate one's living space. This is even truer in cramped Tokyo apartments, where space comes at a premium price. With this in mind, Kyoichi Tsuzuki put together Tokyo: A Certain Style, "the perfect coffee table book for people with really small apartments." The book is an enormously tiny album of Tokyo abodes; it clocks in at eight inches tall, but packs in more than 400 photographs. The subject matter includes apartments, flats and houses in Tokyo, lived in by a staggering array of people: students, artisans, professionals, and others. Perhaps rooms are not quite compelling of a subject matter as the latest demon-slaying manga, but Tsuzuki's book is quite charming.
With dozens and dozens of domiciles in the book, it is hard to describe them all. One of my favorites is the apartment of a music reviewer: CDs and vinyls are stacked floor to ceiling. There's barely any room for the reviewer, though the two cats that share the apartment seem to find it manageable. Another remarkable spread is the house of a newly married young woman who loved cartoon characters so much that she works for a character goods company. Nearly everything in the house, including the husband's lunch box, has some character on it. Huge Kerropi dolls share space with a veritable pack of Snoopys. A young interior designer had extra shelves put into her room so she could show off the covers of her manga volumes. A Shinjuku DJ, living with his Dutch girlfriend, uses his bathroom as a darkroom and spends weekends practicing on his windowsill turntable.
Not all the homes in the book are the stereotypical image that we think of when we hear "Tokyo apartment." Certainly, there are rooms crammed full with furniture, electronics and CDs, but other rooms are larger or more austere. Some people, as Tsuzuki explains, don't care if their curtains and rug match; they move in and they live, too busy to deal with interior decorating. Yet he finds a beauty and a "Japanese-ness" to even those homes. Some of the photos seem a bit dated; one TV game fan has a SEGA Genesis and a Super Famicom hooked up to their TV, but nothing is particularly "old."
The book is entirely made up of pictures, aside from a few introductory and final pages. Text, explaining aspects of the houses and the people living in them usually is sidebarred on the photos. Though the text was originally in Japanese, it works well enough in English that one isn't jarred out of the hypnotic pall of the photos themselves. There are no people in the photos, but one gets a sense of who lives in these homes based on the photos themselves. Tsuzuki acts as a tour guide in an intimate look at people through their living spaces.
I would normally avoid quoting long passages of text from a book, but in the final few pages of Tokyo: A Certain Style Tsuzuki offers an explanation for the book:
"We've all seen what the media have had to say about 'Japanese living.' Those images are ready-made and bear little resemblance to how we really living. A brand name 'Japan Style.' Well, this is not a book about technology or postmodernism or wabi and sabi or any other label."
Banish the old stereotypes of Japanese (or at least, Tokyo) homes. College students, forced into cramped quarters on campus dormitories, new apartment owners, and anyone thinking of living in Japan will find Tsuzuki's book helpful in at least two ways; though Tsuzuki doesn't offer decorating advice per se, the images definitely offer many different views of what can be done with a room. They get the imagination started. Furthermore, knowing that people have taken cramped spaces and made it their own surely is a kind of cosmic support group. Tsuzuki's book is at once uniquely Japanese and universally human.