People | 20 QUESTIONS

Punk Drunkers: When it’s cool to be uncool

by Ayako Nakano

Staff Writer

Name: Chikayoshi Satomi
Age: 46
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Designer of the apparel brand Punk Drunkers (www.punk-d.com), head of apparel company Steak (www.steak-ltd.com)
Likes: Clothes, sneakers, toys
Dislikes: Onion, moths


1. You founded the apparel brand Punk Drunkers in 1998 with the motto “Dasai wa kakkoii,” or “Uncool is Cool.” Isn’t that an oxymoron? I think kakkoii is about wearing something that may, at first glance, seem dasai.

2. How do you create new designs?

I often come up with catchy names or words first and draw on them for designs. Collaborating with others helps, too. I also have a stockpile of illustrations, which I sometimes go through and pick for new T-shirt designs.

3. You sell a lot of T shirts. What was the first T-shirt you personally purchased? I think it was the hip-hop group Run-DMC’s T-shirt from Adidas.

4. What are your brand’s fans like? People who want things a little different, a little quirky.

5. Your staff and regular customers call you Oyakata, which is like “master,” or “stablemaster” in sumo. Are you a sumo fan? I enjoy all sports: baseball, soccer, basketball, pro-wrestling and yes, sumo, too. (I’m currently rooting for Kisenosato and Takayasu.) But Oyakata is actually my pen name. My name is Chikayoshi (written 親美), my brother is Chikanori, my father Chikayuki and my grandfather Chikahiro — all with the kanji 親 in our names. My name was taken from my grandfather’s pen name. He was an art teacher. I wanted a pen name too and I thought, why not 親方? That reads as “oyakata,” not “chikakata,” but it’s in keeping with the same kanji.

6. You like to pick odd names for your brands; for example, you’ve called a kids’ wear collection Ojisun (ojisan), meaning middle-aged man, or uncle. Why? I wanted a name that would easily stick and was at odds with the products.

7. What about your Tokyo shop Takanotsume, which means red chili peppers? That’s because a lot of our designs have a bit of spice to them.

8. Your designs are characteristically playful. Is work play for you? I don’t draw a clear line between work and play. My current work is pretty much an extension of what I’ve always enjoyed doing, like making toys. Shopping for clothes was also a hobby of mine and I started designing my own when I couldn’t find what I wanted at shops.

9. What song best fits your work ethic? “Burusu wo Ketobase” (Kick Away the Blues) by The Blue Hearts. The lyrics say, “I’m not gonna f——n’ waste my time doing things I don’t want to do.”

10. What’s the biggest mess-up you’ve had at work? I once created a winter catalog with a summer theme and didn’t realize the mistake until past the first deadline. We managed to fix everything on time, but it can sometimes be confusing because we always have to work collections six months in advance.

11. If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be? I’d go for curry (my favorite food) with Prince Shotoku (574-622), the famous statesman of the Asuka Period (552-645). According to legend, he could listen to 10 people speaking simultaneously and understand what each was saying. That’s pretty amazing.

12. What’s your favorite phrase in Japanese?Keizoku wa chikaranari” (“Persistence pays off”). An opportunity will always come around if you continue what you’re doing.

13. What do you like about living in Japan? So many people are kind and compassionate.

14. Who in Japan do you have great respect for? My father. For having brought up this baka (idiot) son.

15. Why idiot? My father stood by me while I went through quite a few career changes. I took an extra year to get into junior college, after which I entered a vocational school to become a dental prosthetist. I passed the state exam and became one, only to quit after a year and a half and start handcrafting jewelry. This was before Punk Drunkers.

16. What new projects are in the pipeline? I want to create visual artwork using one of our main T-shirt design characters — “aitsu” (“him” or “that guy”). I’m also planning to put out a book chronicling the brand’s 20 years.

17. Is there one principle you adhere to? Treat everyone equally without being arrogant. I can’t stand people who throw their weight around.

18. Who in your eyes has style? Those who aren’t bound by rules.

19. What does this world need right now? Peace. Fun things happen only when there’s peace.

20. Any advice for the younger generation? Things can get tough at times but keep at it and don’t give up.