Takahiko Nakayama


For more than six years, Takahiko Nakayama has been cleaning windows on thousands of buildings in Tokyo. With every climb his fascination with architecture grew until he finally decided that he was ready to do more than just wipe the facades: He wanted to design them himself. Nakayama, 28, is now enrolled in an architecture and interior-design evening course at Aoyama Technical College. His view on well-designed buildings is simple — use clean lines and less height in order to save energy. And his view on life? We need more laughter — oh, and plenty of good soba..

Humans can get used to anything. The first time I put a rope around my waist and threw myself over the seventh floor of a building, I thought I would die. I was so scared that I just wanted to make it to the ground floor and quit immediately. But once I was down, it all looked pretty fun.

You can’t judge anyone by their looks. Clean-cut people often have pretty dirty private lives. I clean not only outside windows but also inside ones, so I sometimes enter people’s apartments. In such cases I get a name list of the occupants beforehand — in one building where the rent is about 3 million yen per unit, two neighboring apartments were owned by the same company. The president was living in one place with his wife and children, and his young lover was in the other!

What is with the Japanese? This year we had lots of snow in Tokyo, which is very unusual. I ran out as soon as I saw the snowflakes, assuming that kids would be throwing snowballs and making snowmen. But there was not a single kid out there, just me alone, roaming the streets. Oh, yes, and some foreigners having fun.

Nothing is hard when you are young. After high school, I came to Tokyo to study clothing design at the Bunka Fashion College in Shinjuku. It’s a really prestigious school — designers Kenzo Takada and Yohji Yamamoto are former graduates — so I was stunned when they accepted me. My parents refused to give me any financial support because they wanted me to go to university, but I was only interested in art, so I looked for a way to support myself. I got lucky. The Sankei Newspaper Group gave me a scholarship that paid for my studies and gave me a small room to live in in exchange for working for the paper. I had to deliver the paper by 7 a.m. everyday, then head off to school till 3 p.m. before delivering the evening paper by 8 p.m. and doing homework till 2 a.m.

Blogs and online social-networking sites like Mixi are for those who need a constant reassurance that they are indeed alive, at least virtually. I was invited into Mixi and I checked what the fuss was all about. I was shocked. The posts are filled with mundane stuff like what the user ate, where they went, what they bought. Who cares? Amazingly the members do! I guess there are tons of lonely people out there who live in that same virtual world and have time to chat online. They come off so sad. They should get a life instead of playing Second Life.

Your window-washer might be able to give you legal advice. In this job, you meet a lot of strange characters. They feel that they can’t be among humans, so they look for an escape route, and what could be a better hiding place than 30 stories up? Among my coworkers, some graduated from Tokyo University, another went to Waseda University Law School, and a third was at Meiji University before working in sales for a famous company. He couldn’t handle meeting people, so he had to quit. I’ve met many former elite salaried workers in maintenance companies and learned a lot from them on various topics. That’s a definite perk of my job.

Designers always forget about maintenance. British architect Richard Rogers’ Nippon Television Headquarters building in Tokyo is the hardest to clean. It has double layers of glass, so dirt builds up between them and we must break our backs trying to clean them. The scary thing is that even now that I am designing as well, I often forget such issues, too.

Accidents happen in groups. They say airplane disasters come in series, and our work injuries seem to fit that pattern, too. Last year, a couple of my coworkers fell out of the blue. My best friend slipped the day after I took the entrance exam for my school. I figured it was a sign that I should make a different life plan.

If you worry about what’s on your plate, you’d better start cooking. I fix all my own food. I actually can’t believe people who don’t make their own meals. They are missing out on so much fun!

Japanese guys need to see the world more. I went to Paris and met many Japanese girls who were also alone like me, but I haven’t seen many Japanese guys traveling by themselves. I guess most Japanese men are too scared to go abroad on their own. They can’t do anything alone.

Someone must do the dirty jobs. If young Japanese don’t want to clean the streets or wash dishes, then who will? Will it be us when we get older because the government stole our pensions?

Strong, independent Japanese women can only date foreigners. Japanese men are just too weak for them. My sister is going out with an Australian guy because she could not find a Japanese one who was strong enough to even ask her out. I know some similar girls, and they all ended up marrying foreign men.

It’s better to be dumped than to give someone the ax. It’s simpler and smarter. Why? Because when a women want to break up, they are serious and there is no point in trying to convince them to stay together with you. Even if they agree, they will soon want to break up again, so all you can do is let them go. Men, on the other hand, are gentler, so even if we want to really get rid of a girlfriend, if she cries and begs, we easily get back together with them. Then finally one day when she finds a better man, we end up being dumped anyhow. That’s life!

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Out and About.” Learn more at:

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