TOKYO — The Axis Building, in the heart of the bustling and trendy Roppongi District, is like a museum of contemporary crafts and design, but everything is for sale.
The sleek, six-story brick building houses 24 shops and three galleries. They feature impressive collections of Japanese and imported interior design accessories, furnishings for home and office, toys and games, clothing and other carefully selected accouterments of the fashionable, modern life style.
The Axis Building opened in 1983. It is run by Bridgestone Tire Co., the business venture that also backs the Bridgestone Museum of Art, one of Tokyo's leading Western art galleries. The Axis Building and its occupants are on the cutting edge of contemporary design.
The building itself establishes a fashionable, modernistic ambiance. A central, open courtyard, on the basement level, provides a sense of quiet and space. There are wooden benches, potted plants, a flower vendor and several attractive restaurants that give respite from Tokyo's crowded closeness.
Views of Tokyo
Shop entrances are on balconies, overlooking the courtyard. Upper levels offer exciting views of Tokyo. Each shop has a distinctive personality, an ambiance established by unusual merchandise and clever displays. Some Axis shops have turned interior design into high art.
About 70% of the goods sold in the Axis Building are made in Japan. Japanese contemporary design tends to combine traditional craftsmanship and techniques with modern, minimalist lines, high-tech conception and a commitment to functionality.
The wares in Bushy, on the basement level, are good examples. The shop sells lacquerware furniture and accessories, made in the traditional Japanese way (by applying many layers of varnish from the urushi tree), but the designs are contemporary. Tetsuo Nakagawa's fabulous fire-engine red lounge chair is basically two lacquered wooden boards, joined at an angle of about 100 degrees. The joined boards rest on short legs. The seat is beautiful and, with measurements ideal for a semi-reclined person, very comfortable. The lacquer is elegant and durable.
Bushy also has lacquer furniture designed by European artists, but executed by Japanese craftsmen. One German-designed chest of drawers is a square tower (measuring about 2-by-2-by-5-feet of shiny black lacquer with golden flecks (the technique is called maki-e . It is to be placed in the center of the room; drawers of various depths (from 3 to 8 inches) open on all sides. Cost: about $12,000.
Smaller decorative pieces are also sold: mirrors, stylishly simple red lacquer bowls ($50 each), lovely lacquer bangles ($20-$40).
Sleek Furniture and Supplies
On the second floor, Design Matrix specializes in sleek office furniture and supplies in black, white or gray, with red accents. There are desks, drafting tables, file cabinets, modernistic chairs on wheels, and a rich array of leather and plastic briefcases and storage containers. Smaller items include black and white paper clips ($1 per box), staplers, loose paper and pads, envelopes. There are pens and pencils to suit every hand, and various colored lead drawing pencils with handsome black wood casings (50 cents each) and black steel mesh pencil case ($15). Some items are overpriced; a standard black leather Filofax date book costs $185.
Lapis, an art supply store on the third floor, has a great choice of pads, drawing materials and paints, all attractively packaged. There is an array of tapes of all sorts.
Spiral, on the basement level, has fascinating clocks, conceived by Shiro Kuromata, Takamichi Ito and other artists. Most of the clocks are numberless. One wall of the shop is covered by clocks that tell time by means of rotating colored circles, geometric patterns, pins and pegs ($70 and up). The display is accompanied by a thought-provoking legend: "The changes in your life shift your visions of time." Table-top models include elegant timepieces that resemble record players with rotating black concentric circles, each marked by a single silver dot ($50). Others swirl circles of color as time passes on. The store carries several dozen styles, most battery powered. There are also watches that out-style Swatches.
Chairs, on the fourth floor, specializes in (surprise!) chairs. They are avant-garde, often amusing. Bases are made of multicolored spirals, or heavy chrome-plated wires whimsically shaped into many-toed "feet." Prices from $400-$800.
Butter-Soft Leather Sofas
Cassina Japan, on the third floor, is an Italian import furniture store. The sumptuous, butter-soft leather sofas and chairs, brass and chrome lamps, beautiful tables and other accessories are gorgeous, but much more expensive than in Europe. The store has a distinctive use of space. A small, rectangular compartment has been expanded by using partial walls as subdividers. These have cut-outs that visually open one small room into another--a wonderful design.