When most people hear Akihabara (秋葉原) they would immediately think of electronic shops. One railway stop to its north, Okachimachi (御徒町) is known for its wholesale stores selling jewelry and ornaments. Since 2010, between the two stations emerged a new hotspot dedicated to everything that is made by the artisan hands. Situated under the railway viaduct, this hidden gem offers an alternative shopping scene for anyone who admires the skillful hands of devoted Japanese craftsmen. Merchandises range from umbrellas, shoes, housewares, jewelry, leather products, naturally dyed clothing, artworks, souvenirs, etc. The name “2k540” is a reference in railway’s terms, which refers to the 2.54km distance from Tokyo Station. “Aki-Oka” refers to Akihabara and Okachimachi, indicating the craft market is situated between the two stations.
At the underside of a railway viaduct, the entrance to the “market street” 2k540 expresses a community friendly and low-key atmosphere.
The logo of “2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan” is painted like a road mark on the asphalt floor.
The pre-existing structure and the shop buildings on the market street of 2k540 are painted in white, revealing a coherent environment.
One of the shops at 2k540 manufactures clothing with dyes from the natural world, such as sakura flowers.
Natural light spills in from the gap above the stores and the artificial uplights at the column bases create a poetic atmosphere as if walking in the nave of a cathedral.
While some shops are housed in minimal white boxes, some are actually set up in the main space in the colonnade.
We stayed longer than what expected strolling around 2k540.
At the end of the market street stands a larger store called Japan Department Store, a shop that sells household items and souvenirs from different areas across Japan.
Like many big cities around the world, creative industries have given different urban spaces, such as old factory buildings and underside of railway viaducts, a second life to thrive.
In October 2014, we stumbled upon a small shop in the shopping centre Tokyo Midtown. Utensils, furniture, cloths, and other miscellaneous household items were on display on wooden shelves and stands. Merchandises were displayed in clusters according to brands from different parts of Japan. The design of that attractive small shop in the middle of a high-end shopping arcade, according designer Yusuke Seki, was inspired by shotengai (traditional shopping street). We stayed at the shop for quite some time, and ended up picking up a blue umbrella with a nice wooden handle. At its underside, there was a small label with an illustration of two deer and a traditional logo saying Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten (中川政七商店). Later on, we did some online research and realized that Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten originates in Nara, and has been around for three centuries.
Opened in 1716, Nara’s Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten just celebrated its 300th anniversary. Originally, the small Nara shop produced hand woven textiles for samurai and monk ceremonial robes. The textile was known as Narazashi, or sarashi bleached hemp textile. During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the society went through a dramatic change. Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten was forced to diversify its focus on other products such as table cloths and handkerchief. Entering the modern age, the shop defied all odds of modernization, persistently remained faithful to its traditional techniques and craftsmanship. Nakagawa, the 13th president who joined the family business in the last 15 years or so, tested the potentials of his traditional shop to a new level. Not only did he opened new shops outside of Nara like Tokyo and Osaka, Nakagawa also re-branded the company, and gave new life to old products such as using the old technique of mosquito net making for the new best selling fukin (Japanese style table cloth). Furthermore, Nakagawa proactively engaged in fruitful collaborations with other craft companies across the country to come up with new brands and merchandises suitable for the contemporary era.
This time around, we were in Nara after a long day of temple hoping. We promised ourselves that we couldn’t leave the city without visiting the Yu Nakagawa Main Shop (遊中川本店), the flagship store of Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten located at a tranquil alleyway near Sanjo Dori. At one corner of the shop, several merchandises commemorating the 300th anniversary of Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten were on display. A beige cloth with beautiful embroidery was a reproduction of their 1925 product exhibited at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, the design world fair that gave birth to Art Deco. 90 years on, Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten is still standing at the crossroad between the old and new, advocating a good mix of traditional crafts and contemporary aesthetics. At their 300th anniversary, their locally made fabrics and household merchandises are as cool and modern as ever.
The subtle wooden machiya (町屋) facade of Yu Nakagawa Main Shop provides a perfect fit for the shop that advocates high quality local crafts and products.
The design of Yu Nakagawa is a comfortable blend of traditional and contemporary elements.
The signage of Yu Nakagawa Main Shop (遊中川本店) with the iconic deer symbolizing the city of Nara.
Rows of colourful textiles behind the cashier counter attracted our attention right from the beginning.
Cloths, bags, paper products, socks, scarfs, utensils, etc were on display in the pleasant interior.
Most items on display came from their own brands, such as 2&9, their line of well made socks.
It was already dark by the time we left Yu Nakagawa Main Shop.
Before we left Nara, we also stopped by Nipponichi (日本市) at Sanjo Dori. Nipponichi is also a brand from Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten focused on selling Japanese made souvenirs.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan
At roughly 3,800m above sea level, Lake Titicaca is widely considered the world’s highest navigable lake by commercial sailing. Deep blue water, bitterly cold winds, golden marsh reeds, remote island communities and legendary floating villages: the story of Titicaca contributes a unique component to every visitor’s experience traveling in Peru or Bolivia. For us, our Titicaca experience was centered at our visit and home stay on the peaceful Taquile Island. Before reaching Taquile, we made a brief stopover at one of the floating Uros Islands.
In the morning, we headed out to the main pier at Plaza del Faro. A row of boat ticket cabins stood at the entrance of the pier. We approached the ticket booth which sold tickets for local boat to Taquile. We then boarded on a small boat among a boat cluster. Our plan was to sail to Taquile, stay the night there at a local home, and return to Puno the next day. We thought of getting some fruits as gifts for our potential host at Taquile, but we missed the chance to do so the night before. While waiting for the boat to depart, our friend returned to the pier and to our surprise came back with a bag of oranges.
Sailing northeast from Puno through a labyrinth of water networks in an enormous marsh filled with totora reeds, our boat soon reached an area where the floating islands concentrated. The boat ticket includes a brief tour to one of the floating islands which are the home of the Uros tribe. Our boat captain navigated slowly among the floating islands and docked by the island that is available to take in visitors. There were about a dozen of passengers on our boat, including both tourists and the locals.
The Uros villagers use bundle of a native reed to make boats for transportation and to build floating island on which they reside. Layers of dense roots interweave to form a one-to-two-meter thick base for the island. Villagers have to constantly add layers of reeds on top of the island as the reeds at the bottom rot away. To us, the floating island is soft and stable to walk on. We were told not to run around as there might be hidden weak spots. We enjoyed the time spent on the island, wandering in front of houses and checking out souvenirs from vendors. Although it was a short visit, we appreciated the little introduction given by the villagers about the floating islands.
We boarded a community boat that took us to Taquile Island. Our boat was smaller and slower but quieter than the other tourist boats. With our limited Spanish and the help of other travelers, we expressed our interest on spending the night at Taquile to the captain who then made arrangement for us.
The boat moved slowly away from Puno. All boats entering or exiting Puno in Lake Titicaca has to pass through a narrow watercourse through the dense reeds.
When the engine of the boat was turned down, we were embraced by an indescribable tranquility. The weather was nice and the lake was calm.
We were on a community boat with the locals. They seemed accustomed to the presence of tourists. We tried to keep our voice down when we talked. Since we couldn’t speak much Spanish, we could only show our friendliness by sharing our snacks with them.
The boat ride to Taquile included a brief stop on one of the floating islands. The captain steered the boat slowing into the area where the Uros community is concentrated.
Reed made canoes were parked along one of the Uros Islands.
After minutes of searching and asking, the captain finally found a village community which was available to give us a little introduction about the unique floating islands.
We landed on the floating island with great excitement. The sun was warm and the ground was soft to walk on.
There were about 10 small houses on the island. The villagers showed us around the island. We were told not to walk too far away from the main open plaza as we might accidentally stepped onto the weak spots.
Every island has a welcome arch made out of reeds.
A boat with a big roof was approaching us. Its big low roof was designed to keep the interior from getting wet.
Looking at the small boat from the side, we saw it carried all different kinds of snacks, food and drink. The boat moved from one island to another.
A villager on the island was preparing the presentation materials to give an introduction about the floating islands to the visitors.
These are the handmade crafts that villagers used to tell visitors story about the floating islands. We played with the little reed boat with our hands. It felt very light but strong. We decided to get one of these little reed boat as a souvenir.
Each floating island has its unique design. The welcome arch is visible from afar.