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Language: English / Japanese
Issue Eight / Interview,Profile Series
“Do you need to go to the university to study that? That’s what village people do”

The Expats

Words by Rachel Jones Photographs by Adam Patrick Jones

New York’s fierce electric vibe comes from all the creative energy brought in from its inhabitants. These six artisans have made it work in the city.

Name: Hiroko Takeda
Occupation: Textile Designer
Age: 46
Born: Nogoya
Lives: Brooklyn Heights
Hangs Out: Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Atlantic Avenue
Years in NYC: 10

“You can’t do what I do in Japan. In Japan, we have a very precious old traditional culture, but at present, people live in very cluttered houses,” says Hiroko.“There’s no market.” She was trained in very basic, traditional textile techniques: ikat, stencil, tie-dye. “I remember when I got into that school, my grandmother asked, ‘Do you need to go to the university to study that? That’s what village people do!’” Hiroko honed her craft in London at the Royal College of Art, won a design competition and was offered a job in New York. In 2010 her employer relocated to France. “I knew at some point that I needed to leave to do my own thing,” says Hiroko. She began designing and weaving her own custom textiles in Brooklyn, and she now lists Calvin Klein Home and Donna Karan New York as clients.

Name: Makoto Suzuki
Occupation: Restaurant Owner/Chef
Age: 50
Born: Saitama
Lives: Williamsburg
Hangs Out: Chelsea, Lower East Side
Years in NYC: 19

“Some people want to make traditional Japanese food in exactly the same way [in America], but it’s impossible,” says Makoto. “The ingredients are different—even the environment is different. But I can bring an experience to the customer that they can only have in Williamsburg.” He moved to New York in 1994 to act on Broadway, but to get a visa, he worked at Kodama in Hell’s Kitchen. For a decade, he couldn’t return to Japan since his visa had expired. Finally, at age 40, he got a green card and had a wasabi-inflected epiphany. “I realized I was free. I wanted to start my own restaurant.” Since then, he has created a food empire spun of steaming bowls of udon and artfully combined sushi, endearing himself to critics and locals.

Name: Risa Nishimori
Occupation: Pottery Teacher
Age: 30
Born: New York
Lives: Roosevelt Island
Hangs Out: Chelsea, Lower East Side
Years in NYC: 30

“It’s mainly people that are born into a certain family, because they continue the tradition their family has had for generations,” Risa says of those who train in ceramics, one of three culturally revered art forms in Japan (along with flower arranging and textiles). Technically not an expat, she seems comfortable in her role imparting lessons on traditional Japanese hand-building and wheel-throwing pottery techniques in the heart of Manhattan. Her parents originally came to New York from Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, famous for its high divorce rates and bonito plates. They took pottery lessons and bought a studio in 1994. Now, 19 years later, Risa manages the studio.”

Name: Jun Aizaki
Occupation: Architect
Age: 40
Born: Saitama
Lives: Williamsburg
Hangs Out: Williamsburg
Years in NYC: 20

“I feel like I have an advantage—not because I’m Japanese, but because I’m from somewhere else,” says Jun, whose firm Crème has recently worked with some choice clients, such as Danji and Red Farm, while maintaining partnerships with prestigious chefs such as Iron Chef win- ner Jose Garces. In fact, Jun has designed all seven of Garces’ Philadelphia restaurants. “It’s strange,” says Jun. “A lot of the projects we’re known for are Latin, which has nothing to do culturally with Japan, but I feel like we fit right in. We’re here [in New York], but we’re from somewhere else.”

Name: Masamichi Udagawa
Occupation: Co-Founder
Age: 48
Born: Saitama
Lives: Financial District
Hangs Out: East Village, Lower East Side, Williamsburg
Years in NYC: 17

“I was very influenced by the city, especially by the Subway walk,” says Masamichi of his adopted hometown. He designed the latest wave of NYC Subway cars and ticket vending machines for the MTA, as well as the JetBlue check-in kiosks and Bloomberg displays. “As a product designer, I always have to think about the user: Who is going to use it? How? For a long time, the user was an abstract concept. But when we started on the Subway project and the first Metro vending machine, you feel the body mass of the user. They don’t go away.” He has sought to marry his classic, streamlined aesthetic with a weighty attention to efficiency. “If something can be realized with less materials, less energy, less pieces, less process, less complication, it is more elegant.”

Name: Ayaka Nishi
Occupation: Jewelry Designer
Age: 34
Born: Kagoshima
Lives: East Village
Hangs Out: East Village, Lower East Side, Williamsburg
Years in NYC: 8

“People think ‘cute’ is a great compliment, but my style isn’t really cute,” says jewelry designer Ayaka, who felt pressure to create more feminine designs in Japan. “I want to create something I can keep for a long time.” Her aesthetic relies on organic shapes and an eerie apprehension of skeletal forms—textured honeycomb-like rings and layered leather necklaces reminiscent of fish scales (one is called the Gold Ribs Spine Bracelet, named for the cuff of seven spines that protrude from the main “vertebrae” of the bracelet). Her taste for the natural world is hereditary. “It’s the environment that I grew up in. My mother is an ikebana floral artist, so I was able to play with flowers and natural materials. My father was a doctor, and I was very curious about anatomical images.”

Adam Patrick Jones and Rachel Jones live and work in New York. They enjoy coffee on the stoop, people-watching and telling stories. On the weekends you can find them documenting New Yorkers with an entrepreneurial spirit via their online periodical Industry of One. 

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