Artists

Mar 2016
Interview01

Finding New Possibilities “in the Margins” (1/2)

A downtown that fuels the drive to create

Mayumi Mikami of Yume Nomad; Yohei Hashiguchi, Gai Hirose, and Joshua Richley of Garden Gipsy

Areas like Shinkaichi and Nagata Ward were the heart of the vibrant regions that supported the economy of Kobe before World War II. But with the changing times, the city center moved to the Sannomiya area. The area was also damaged in the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake 20 years ago. However, recently those areas have started to show a new movement of younger generations being drawn there. Worldwide, new cultures have always been born from regions that are “on the margins" like these areas.

A Guest House in Shinkaichi with a Breath of Fresh Air

— Ms. Mikami, you are managing two guest houses in Shinkaichi, “Hostel Yume Nomad” and “Hostel Nakamura”. Why did you decide to start these guesthouses in Shinkaichi?

Mikami

My parents’ house is down the street from this guest house, and I grew up in this area. This guest house used to be a ryokan, a Japanese style inn, and it was connected to my grandmother’s house.

My family had a tradition of getting together here with all the relatives on the 17th of every month to remember my grandfather who passed away. My father had three other siblings, and each of them had three children, so it was always lively. Our family often gathered here on other days too.

— Why did you come up with the idea of opening a guest house?

Mikami

After my grandmother passed away, my father took over the property and was taking care of it. When I heard my parents talking about maybe having to sell it because of the maintenance costs, I felt a passion start to burn in me as I thought, “We have to keep it.”

Then I thought about the history of the building and the characteristics of Shinkaichi. The idea of a guest house came to mind, so I asked my father to let me use the property.

— I heard that you visited overseas before starting the guest houses.

Mikami

I decided that my target customer base would be visitors from other countries. So I quit the company that I was working for at that time and went to Harlem, New York* for six months. I wanted to get more practice with communicating in English, and also actually live there and get a feel for what it was like. *Harlem: A neighborhood in the northern section of the New York City borough of Manhattan

— What kind of place do you want your guest houses to be? For example, Yume Nomad’s sign says hostel/gallery/cafe.

Mikami

First and foremost, of course, this is an inn. However, I wanted to try to welcome more people who aren’t necessarily staying the night, so I added a cafe and gallery. The image that I have in mind for this place is someplace that visitors and locals, staying guests and non-staying guests, different kinds of people would come and do different kinds of things.

A Share House Above an Iron Factory

— Mr. Hashiguchi is living in a share house called “NAGANAGA” in Nagata Ward and works actively as a gardener. What kind of place is NAGANAGA?

Hashiguchi

The share house is on the second floor above an actively operated iron factory, so we hear the sound of cranes and feel a quite a bit of shaking during weekdays. (laugh)

The space we are using now used to be a dormitory for single employees of the iron factory. But it had been vacant and unused for many years, and the owner wanted to do something about it. For most people, it may not be an ideal place to live. However, some young ones saw potential in it and started to live here and fix it up on their own.

It is like a base where future creators can settle down and start working on what they really want to focus on.

— What kind of people live here besides you, Mr. Hashiguchi?

Hashiguchi

There is a female painter who works at a university as an assistant, a freelance dancer, and a nurse. And a staff member of Yume Nomad. (laugh)

Reinterpreting the Meaning of a Place

— In the ground floor of a building that used to be a pharmacy, Mr. Gai Hirose and his assistant Josh are always making “something”. What are you making?

Hirose

I mainly make sculptures as a contemporary artist, though sometimes I get a request to renovate a space into a cafe, or make a movie set. Because of this, there might be a lot of people who think that I am an interior design contractor.

The place we are using was offered to us by the owner, who had no idea what to do with it. But the property had been vacant ever since the earthquake and he wanted to make use of it somehow. He said he would leave it to me to do whatever I wanted to do, “change something about it” no matter how long it took, and he would not mind.

I hope I can make it into something that is a little different from what it used to be. I can’t really say what that is yet. (laugh) An “artist” has to think of something that will completely reset the character of a place. Otherwise new things will not be born. So I think we are in the process of getting it there.

— Can you give us an example of what is a little different from before”?

Hirose

For example, some residents around here may feel a little odd about an unfamiliar yellow Volkswagen parked in front of this place. I usually take my construction tools in my yellow beetle. I have a friend from the US, Josh, who works together with me. I always introduce him as “Josh, my “joshu” (‘assistant’ in Japanese)”, a play on words linking Josh and “joshu”. The truth is, he has his own work, so he is not actually my assistant. (laugh) Meanwhile, local residents are secretly talking about him. “Who are these guys?” “What are they doing?” and so on. I like to quietly stir up the norm to give them a sense of the less ordinary.

— Josh, where are you from?

Josh

I was born in Flint, Michigan, in the United States, not so far from Detroit. I moved to Japan from Michigan 10 years ago.

Hirose

Josh is a photographer, but he knows quite a lot about so many things: tools, how to fix buildings and furniture, how to fix a roof, even pruning. Not only him, it seems that many Americans make and fix things DIY style, so they have a lot of skills. And without realizing it, we started working together. He works on his own projects like making furniture as well as helping me with my creations.

Josh

It seems that my grandfather used to live around here. My first job in Japan was as an English teacher at an elementary school near Minatogawa Station in Shinkaichi. When I went back home and talked to my grandfather about it, I found out that he had lived in the same area about 65 years ago. He lived here for about 5 or 6 years. I had lived in Osaka and Amagasaki, but now I am back in Shinkaichi. It feels like a curious twist of fate that I am living in the place where my grandfather once lived a long time ago.