Squeezed between the two central Tokyo hubs of Shinjuku and Harajuku, Yoyogi is rarely a destination for tourists — more of a two-minute halt that breaks up the journey to somewhere else. But this month, ecological troubadour Takeshi Kobayashi, producer of multi-million-selling rock-band Mr. Children, opens the gates to Yoyogi Village, a multi-purpose melange of environmentally friendly stores, organic restaurants, coffee shops and event spaces he hopes will regenerate the overlooked district.
“A small circle of life can turn into a big wheel,” says Kobayashi as we sit in Yoyogi Village’s all-night music bar. “There is no philosophy or vision within the government at the moment, so the private sector has to lead when it comes to selling ecology and the economy.”
Yoyogi Village is just the latest ambitious project by the producer who, affected by the events and effects of 9/11, has launched a string of initiatives that all seek to counterbalance modern society’s obsession with materialism and ambition by highlighting the values of simplicity and nature.
In 2003, Kobayashi launched AP (Artist Power) Bank with seed money from himself, musician Ryuichi Sakamoto and the lead singer of Mr. Children, Kazutoshi Sakurai. By controlling all of their own income in their own NPO, they could decide where their fortunes would be used rather than let regular banks choose where to invest them. AP Bank has since funded cotton farms in India and organic farms in Japan, and has helped launch new businesses and give opportunities to new artists.
This latest investment, though, is more focused on the general public as it aims to break the perception that environmentally friendly goods or food are boring or bland.
“If you celebrate an achievement with sex, drugs or drinking, there is always an internal fight between your ego and your greed because you know that at that moment you are losing control of your future vision,” says Kobayashi. “But we shouldn’t talk about ecology in the negative, [it should be about what you can do]. You shouldn’t have to give up the joys of life; you should know the best of both worlds and decide your way.”
Yoyogi Village is split into zones which offer up a balance of extravagance and enjoyment alongside ones that emphasize ecology and restraint. The Container Zone houses a range of fashion and book shops, food and drink stalls, a travel agent and an art gallery, while the Village Zone is home to a music bar, VIP room and the Code Kurkku dining and terrace.
Music is at the heart of all things Kobayashi and comes naturally to any project he is involved with, such as the yearly festival AP Bank Fes that he initiated in 2005. Through his concern about how impersonal modern technology has made the experience of listening to music, he has added a music bar inside Yoyogi Village and hopes to send a message back to the music industry.
“Recently, music is reaching us too directly through headphones and iPads, it’s isolated and digitally remastered,” says Kobayashi. “It should be that the real instrument’s sound, and the voice, bounce off the wall and reaches you from the sonics of the body. We need this kind of experience as humans.”
The design of Yoyogi Village, spread over two levels, is shaped like a ship, its nautical theme enhanced by wooden decking and moveable containers at its entrance. After visualizing the layout with orange juice boxes in his office, Kobayashi went on to explain that he has leased the land space for 10 years with a hope to create more villages in the future.
“I would like to connect them to the organic farms that we run in Chiba,” he says. “We want people to enjoy the food of course, but also to know where it is coming from.”
The clothes at the One Mile Wear store are made with organic cotton from AP Bank-backed farms in India, and like the Roots & Beat coffee store and Drink and Soup Kurkku Lab, part of the aim is to educate consumers on the traceability and provenance of the products.
“We want people to know where the comfort is coming from and the story behind it, as well as to enjoy buying new clothes,” says Kobayashi, who is keen to point out that the profits of the Village are all set to be reinvested by AP Bank.
Yoyogi Village doesn’t distribute any profits to board members. Instead the money will be used to help fund another farming or restaurant business to start another cycle.
“I don’t want this project to be a monster initiative,” Kobayashi says. “But to create jobs for people committed to the future of [ecological] circulation is at the core of sustainability, and we can provide an engine for them.”
Yoyogi Village opened Nov. 18. For more information, visit www.yoyogi-village.jp (Japanese only).