33 Michihiko Yanai (Creative Director)

Michihiko Yanai (Creative Director)

We asked creative director Michihiko Yanai to think of a theme or aspects that could be improved in Roppongi and to tell us about the specific solutions or activities that could be taken. In response to our request, Yanai unexpectedly came up with the theme "world peace." Does that mean Yanai feels peace is lacking in Roppongi? We needed to know, but first we began the interview by asking him his impression of Roppongi.

photo_ryumon kagioka / text_kentaro inoue

Why Roppongi seems to be a rather frightening place

Roppongi seems to be a rather frightening place. I think this is probably because you hear foreign languages being spoken, and there are lots of people in flashy clothes, and there are people of all kinds of nationalities walking right in front of you. When I say "frightening", I don't mean dangerous; it's just that I feel slightly intimidated. I usually work in Harajuku, and I don't have an image of Harajuku being a frightening place.

When I wondered why this is, it occurred to me that Harajuku is a place that draws people with the same goal - people who want to be fashionable, and look cool or cute. Their purpose is straightforward and pure. Some people come to Harajuku from afar, and they have to return early while there are still trains running. So the streets are empty after eight in the evening. In comparison, people in places like Shibuya and Roppongi seem to be hoping to meet a nice girl ...it's as if they're determined to make a conquest before they go back to their hometowns - the atmosphere is filled with their tension. By the way, these are all my own personal impressions, so please don't take offense.

I guess the young people now are different, but people of my generation have an inferior complex against foreigners. This may be because our faces are larger, or we are smaller than foreigners, or we have shorter legs. Or maybe it's just that we can't speak English, or can't consume much alcohol. I think we've been self-defeated by this inferiority complex. The fear essentially stems from the fact that we don't know about the other person. We don't know which country that person is from, or how old he is, so he looks tougher than you, and naughtier. Maybe I am the only one having these thoughts. (laughs)

The people gathered here are all "onobori-san"?

We tend to think of Roppongi as being on the world's cutting-edge, being right at the center of Tokyo, but most people in Roppongi are probably from all parts of Japan. I'm one of them; it's said that half of the population of Tokyo are from other regions. It must be the same with the foreigners: they can't all be from New York. (laughs) I think there must be many foreign "onobori-san" (country bumpkins) as well - people from simple places such as Oregon or Oklahoma, far away from the big cities.

And such people come to places like Harajuku and don't show that they are from these regions; they know how to hide the fact that they are onobori-san. Also, I think some of the people who gather here are those who want to forget about their homes in the country, who want to leave their hometowns behind them. For instance, a woman might have been a dull office worker in her hometown. But when she comes to Roppongi and wears a miniskirt, everyone compliments her. So she doesn't want her old friends to see her as she is now. I think that's kind of nice in a way. It's good to have a place where you can be born anew.

Almond

Almond
A coffee shop selling confectionary which opened immediately after World War II. There are other establishments located mainly in Minato ward. During the bubble economy, the Almond shop in Roppongi was famous as the place to wait for people.

I sometimes appear on TV, and there are some people who know that I'm from Fukushima Prefecture, so when I'm walking in the streets or when I'm at work, people occasionally come up to introduce themselves. They happily say "I'm from Fukushima too." or "I went to Asaka High School (note: Yanai's alta mater) as well." or "I'm from the class of the year so-and-so." I get the feeling they might have been hiding that all along. (laughs) That's why I'm curious to know the hometowns of the people who walk across the intersection in front of "Almond."