In San Francisco’s Japantown, New People imports an avant-garde mash-up of cool Japan-meets-the-world culture to the Bay Area. Its ultra-modern glass-walled complex, which includes five floors of ever-changing pop-up street-fashion boutiques, an art gallery, a bookstore, a state-of-the-art movie theater, and a cafe, is an irresistibly hip take on fashion, design, and culture as seen through Japan-colored lenses. Its latest project is an online pop-culture travel magazine that introduces readers to places in Japan—from Tokyo Bay to the top hotspot for anime tourism, Oizumi Gakuen—through interviews with artists and filmmakers, including Pixar’s wunderkind art director, Dice Tsutsumi, who recalls his childhood in the old-town Tokyo neighborhood of Shitamachi and a solitary journey under the “lead-colored sky” of the Noto Peninsula.
The newest segment is an interview with iconic anime creator Yoshitaka Amano—he first gained a global following with his conceptual designs for Final Fantasy, and has had his work exhibited in New York, Paris, London, and Hong Kong—who takes visual cues from influences ranging from Cartier jewelry to the intricate costumes of kabuki performers. To research his illustrations for a fantasy book by British author Neil Gaiman, he went on a field trip to the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. “Kyoto is a town that is an archetype of Japan,” he said in the interview, describing it as a place to trace the country’s roots. “Unlike Tokyo, there are plenty of old things still remaining. You can see history up close, yet trends and new things also get mixed in well.” Amano also describes a research pilgrimage to the Kumano Shrine World Heritage Site, and you can link to a collection of travel briefs on both destinations (and 18 others) through his interview.
Interestingly enough, when Amano meditates on what makes up the essence of Japan, he ends up solidly in the self-created mythology of a place that seems to be beyond the country’s borders and the framework of what we call East and West. The style of art he is most drawn to, after all, is "born from the back and forth of cultures: the exchange." That insight is perhaps the most telling -- revealing just what it is that makes modern Japanese culture so energetic.
Top image: The table of contents from New People's new travel magazine.