Food & Drink

Imagination Pika Space: Building a new world of art, music and soul food

by Matt Kaufman

Contributing Writer

Haruki Kumagai, 38, did not set out to start a yearly festival, or open a bar and performance space in Osaka.

Eight years ago he was working as a potter in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and was preparing to move to Osaka when large parts of his hometown, Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, were destroyed by the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Kumagai put his plans on hold and raced back home, where he volunteered with bayside patrols, food distribution, removing rubble and reconstructing a local kindergarten.

A year later, Kumagai finally made it to Osaka where and he and a painter friend, who goes by the moniker Kotakeman, cooked up the idea for a two-day “21st-century strange festival” of artists, craftsmen and performers, which they decided to call “Self-Matsuri.” The goal was to foster individual expression, and anyone could participate. The pair decided to hold the first Self-Matsuri inside the Shinsekai Market, a 100-year-old shopping arcade located less than a minute from the Tsutenkaku Tower, an iconic symbol of Osaka.

An intimate affair: Saxophonist Masaharu Showji and butoh dancer Fujinoya Mai perform at Inspiration Pika Space. | TSUYOSHI TAGAWA
An intimate affair: Saxophonist Masaharu Showji and butoh dancer Fujinoya Mai perform at Inspiration Pika Space. | TSUYOSHI TAGAWA

Unlike the rest of the Shinsekai (“new world”) district, which draws large crowds of tourists who come to try local delights such as kushikatsu skewers and fugu, the market had seen better days. Many of the stores were shuttered and fewer than a dozen mom and pop stores remained —the arcade resembled a ghost town at night. The Self-Matsuri, now in its eighth year, has helped bring a new crowd of people to the old shopping arcade.

“People who are motivated by this spirit come here from all over Japan,” Kumagai explains. “This has motivated the older shop owners to try new things, such as holding a weekly flea market on Sundays.”

While Kumagai was planning the first Self-Matsuri, he moved into an empty clothing store inside the shopping arcade, and used it as a base of operations.

In 2013, he decided to remodel the store into a bar and performance venue he dubbed Imagination Pika Space so that people could continue their creative endeavors year-round. Now, an impressive collection of curios, household items and junk — including a disco ball, tools, dolls, videocassettes, masks and trophies — delicately hang from the ceiling, which makes Imagination Pika Space an art installation in and of itself.

Making art out of the ordinary: Imagination Pika Space's ceiling is hung with a collection of curios, household items and junk. | ROSS RANDLES
Making art out of the ordinary: Imagination Pika Space’s ceiling is hung with a collection of curios, household items and junk. | ROSS RANDLES

In addition to film and art events, the small venue also hosts a monthly concert series called “Night of 1,000 Eyes” that features an eclectic lineup of underground and experimental musicians from Japan and around the world. The intimate setting makes it a great place to see new music while grabbing dinner.

Imagination Pika Space’s menu has close to three-dozen dishes, many invented and prepared by Kumagai’s partner, Mayuko Goto, 32. One of the shop’s specialties is the Lampre Horumon Burger (¥500), which is made with horumonyaki (offal) and flavored with capers and anchovies. It was inspired by the lampredotto, a classic Florentine sandwich made from the fourth stomach of a cow.

“Since Shinsekai and Nishinari are a mecca for horumonyaki, Haruki had wanted to make something with horumon for a long time,” says Goto. “In 2017, we went to Italy together, and I brought him to a lampredotto stand in Florence. Lampredotto is soul food, and similar to (Osaka’s) ‘horumon culture.’ We changed the recipe a little for Japanese (customers), but the taste always reminds me of Florence.”

Another popular menu item is “self-takoyaki (octopus fritters),” which customers can prepare themselves. “Takoyaki is Osakan culture,” Goto explains. “But there were no ‘self-takoyaki’ shops in Shinsekai and in Nishinari when we started. Making takoyaki is a good communication tool, and we think trying new culture is a good experience.”

Ebisuhigashi 1-20-10, Naniwa-ku, Osaka 556-0002; 070-5507-7430; pikaspace.tumblr.com; opening times vary; drinks from ¥400; food approx. ¥1,000/person; nearest station Ebisucho; smoking; cash only; English menu; English and Italian spoken. The next “Night of 1,000 Eyes” is on May 25, 7 p.m., ¥1,000.