DIY Osaka part 3: interview with Kazuma Sasajima, Nice Shop Su

Introduction

In the final interview for this series of posts about the DIY scene in Osaka, Japan, I spoke to Kazuma Sasajima who runs an “independent culture shop” called Nice Shop Su from his tiny apartment in the attic of an old residential building not far from Umeda (one of the major commercial districts of Osaka). Nice Shop Su was established by Kazuma and his partner Kaori Nakao in 2013, and sells many different types of artist-produced bits and bobs. One thing that interested me about Nice Shop Su was that Kazuma deliberately chose to locate it in an area without a strong art community. This approach provides a contrast with the development of the community of artists in Baika, which was discussed in the first two interviews in this series (with Go Tsushima and Kaori Yoshikawa). For this interview Kazuma and I were joined by Kazuma’s friend, the graphic designer Daisuke Minami, and the artist Makiko Yamamoto, who acted as guide and translator for my visit and to whom I am hugely grateful.

Previous interviews in this series:

Interview

Translation by Makiko Yamamoto

Nice Shop Su, interior view with Kazuma Sasajima

Nice Shop Su, interior view with Kazuma Sasajima

Daisuke Minami, Kazuma Sasajima in conversation at Nice Shop Su

Daisuke Minami, Kazuma Sasajima in conversation at Nice Shop Su

Edward Sanderson (ES): Kazuma, how long have you been running Nice Shop Su? Where did the name come from?

Kazuma Sasajima (KS): I’ve been running Nice Shop Su from this space for about three years. Basically I started it because I couldn’t find the things I was interested in in Osaka. I do have another job to support it, but eventually I’d like to spend all my time on Nice Shop Su. I named the shop “Nice Shop Su” because I didn’t want a cool English name, then somehow I came up with this rather folksy name, but there’s no particular reason.

ES: Nice Shop Su is something of a secret space. You deliberately chose to open it in the attic space of this residential block, rather than having a very visible space, a store on the street for example.

Exterior of the residential building in which Nice Shop Su is located

Exterior of the residential building in which Nice Shop Su is located

Entrance to residential building in which Nice Shop Su is located

Entrance to residential building in which Nice Shop Su is located

Makiko Yamamoto (MY): Actually I know some other friends in Japan who also have small shops in private spaces like this one, but they don’t live there like Kazuma does, so Nice Shop Su is a little different in that way.

ES: Is this a particularly creative area?

KS: My impression is that the other parts of this area (around the Nakazakicho station) are very trendy. On the north side of station there are lots of cafes, some very little shops, and galleries – but not contemporary galleries, more like galleries for illustration.

The side we are on is completely different. It’s very close to the trendy area, but somehow there is a boundary between there and here. We are nearer Tenma Station. Tenma is known as a food area, with lots of cheap restaurants, and there is a food market here. There is perhaps only one local gallery in this area, a space where students do exhibitions, that kind of gallery.

ES: Is this area becoming developed at all? The reason I ask is because I was down at the Noooooooooooo Kitty space last night, in the Baika area. Baika has become an area with a lot of artists and musicians. Is this area also like that?

KS: In Baika there are lots of spaces run by artists, there is an art community there already. Actually I avoided that area on purpose, to maintain some distance from it – I am not good at being in a group. If I just get into relationships with people in the same community, then I feel that I end up not looking outside of that community – I don’t like that idea. That’s why I am trying to take some distance from that.

Something similar also happens in Kyoto perhaps. Particularly in Sakyo ward there where there are some art universities, so there are many students and the art spaces tend to focus only on working with that group of people.

ES: And you feel that’s unhealthy?

KS: Yes. But I don’t hate that. For example, there is a very traditional group of comedians, called Yoshimoto, which developed in a particular area of Osaka. They began because of the very close relationship that they developed in that particular area, and then they became very famous. So, of course, I understand how things can develop based on where you are. In this case it actually produced a style of thing from Osaka that’s very original.

Daisuke Minami (DM): Another distinctive thing about this area is the gay culture here. When you go to the public baths around here there are a lot gay people, and there are a lot of gay bars close to the covered market street nearby.

KS: It was only after I opened this shop that I realised there are actually many gay people living here. But I think it’s very important for me that I discovered these aspects, because it means it’s a very diverse area.

ES: Is that diversity in contrast to Baika? Is that becoming too much of one group?

KS: Yes, I think so.

DM: And also discovering the town through odd things, and discovering people in that way is very interesting. Actually we found these stickers on walls. They just have an old man’s head and the words “Please contact me” underneath. Maybe he is missing? Or is he sending this message to someone? There’s no contact number, no other information – it’s very confusing!

ES: Does that lead back to the point of being here, as opposed to Baika?

KS: I think so, because there are lots of different kinds of people here.

DM: We also discovered there is a particular corner near here where many dogs choose to poo! And the owner of the house next to that spot puts little signs on each poo with messages to the dog owners that say, “Please take your dog’s poo with you!” It’s very funny!

ES: Kazuma, where are you getting your material? What kind of things do you stock?

KS: We have many artist-produced tapes and CDs, ‘zines and books, and some clothing. Mainly I get stuff from artists from all over the world through the Internet. My concept for Nice Shop Su is to collect things from artists who are not famous, who are not on the main stage, or in the spotlight. I am trying to find musicians or artists who are very pure, working on what they are doing because they must, as if they have no options, they are not flexible in that way, they have an obsessive idea. So I don’t care about trends or that kind of thing.

Nice Shop Su, interior view

Nice Shop Su, interior view

Nice Shop Su, interior view

Nice Shop Su, interior view

ES: Do you have much contact with artists from China? The experimental musicians in China seem to know quite a lot about artists from Japan, particularly the noise artists.

KS: Not really. I feel it’s very hard to find information about artists from China. These days it’s easy to get information from the internet about music from here in Japan, including noise music. Before the internet you actually had to go to Japan to meet those people, to get information about them, so I think in the past, in the ‘80s or ‘90s, you felt it must be very rare because you cannot get such music easily, so perhaps that meant it held more interest? But now it is much easier to get the information over the internet and to find those hidden artists.

ES: What does that mean for the things people are doing, or want to do, in terms of sound and music?

KS: Maybe in the past it was difficult to learn how to create that kind of experimental sound. But now you can discover it, you can invent it, you can just find how to do it very easily through the internet. So perhaps you feel disappointed in some way; maybe it is less exciting for the younger generation to do experimental music because of this?

ES: So the process of discovery is somehow more exciting than the end product? That initial period when everyone is experimenting and trying to find their way, that’s when it’s vital, and that’s when a scene develops? But with the development of the internet, after you have the knowledge of all the machinery, it isn’t quite as exciting? Then my question would be, what’s the deeper meaning? What’s the reason for doing any of it? If it’s just about discovery, and when you discover this thing you lose interest and you move on to the next thing, what does that mean? Surely there’s some kind of consistent thing that keeps going, even through those periods of interest or disinterest? If people are looking for a form that fits what they want to express, then if they find it they’ll carry on, surely? But you seem to be suggesting that once people have found those forms they get bored and move on to the next thing?

KS: The younger generation seem to mainly listen to music on computer. But with experimental music (for example) you often have to be there, when the musician is performing. Of course people who were doing experimental music continue playing and working on it, but they are now in their 40s or 50s. But the younger generation prefers more familiar, accessible music.

When the information about experimental music was limited, when you didn’t have easy access, when you listened to it you had to really imagine what was going on: Why is it like this? What is happening? But these days you can get music and information very easily through the internet. So you have many more options of things to listen to, to choose from. So that’s why there is such a diversity of forms now, and less focus on any one type of music. That might be a reason why the younger generation are not so intent on experimental music.

DM: If you don’t have information about why or how, you have to use your imagination. That is a very exciting process of discovery in music. I think it’s very relevant to why people aren’t doing experimental music now.

KS: Another reason experimental music is not practiced so much is simply because the younger generation doesn’t know about it! The economy is not so good in Japan now, so people prefer happy and energetic music, compared to ‘difficult’ music! And the government controls information through the media, and magazines or the media on the internet never talk about the experimental music scene. So the younger generation really doesn’t know about this thing.

The media only work with making trends and now the media is putting its energy much more into dance music. This is control by the media!

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