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Tokyo Style

December 04, 1994|Barbara Thornburg

We've all seen the beautiful pictures of Japanese homes with their minimalist rooms of uncluttered elegance: tatami mats, shoji screens, perhaps a patinated tonsu chest, and the tokonoma (alcove of honor) with its hanging scroll, burning incense, a flower. Not a thing is out of place.

But have you ever wondered how ordinary folk live? The cocktail attendants and department store employees, painters and construction workers, artists and designers? Thirty-eight-year-old photographer and architectural writer Kyoichi Tsuzuki shot more than 100 Tokyo apartments of working men and women to create his tongue-in-cheek peek into their lives. The book, "Tokyo Style," recently distributed in the United States through RAM Publications U.S.A., offers images that are the antithesis of the restrained traditional Japanese interior we've come to expect, and are a lot more lively. Says Tsuzuki, "In the traditional Japanese house, everything was put away. In these Tokyo apartments, everything is out. You see people's lives displayed."

While many Japanese dream of having more space, most cannot afford to. A 1400-square-foot house in the Tokyo area costs $1.3 million, while the average salaried worker makes $37,000 a year. Instead, the Japanese have refined the art of living in small places. Tsuzuki dubs it "cockpit living" and extols its benefits. "You have everything at your fingertips--your food, CD, TV, computer--without leaving your bed."

Younger people especially, who have seen their parents slave to pay for more living space, would rather spend money on things they enjoy than on high rent, Tsuzuki says. And if your apartment, which averages 680 square feet in Tokyo, doesn't have such amenities as a toilet, kitchen or bath, a little improvising can take care of that. Neighborhood public baths, restaurants and coffeehouses furnish food and bathing, right outside your door. "It's the opposite of L.A., where you have to drive everywhere," Tsuzuki says. And while the places may not always look neat, "they reflect an energy of living," Tsuzuki adds. Perhaps this is what turn-of-the-century Japanese philosopher Ikki Kita meant when he proclaimed his vision of the essence of Japanese aesthetics: "Beauty is to be found in disarray."

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