The King of Harajuku

January 30, 2013

Meet Yusuke Nakagawa, one of the creators of modern Harajuku culture.

Head honcho at Asobi System, the agency behind Kyary Pamyu Pamyu as well as a young but impressive pool of talent, Nakagawa has raised and nurtured his brain-child over the last five years, creating an ever-expanding empire of kawaii around him. To mark a milestone half-decade in the business, we decided to ask the boss what his secret to success is, the power of Harajuku culture and ASOBI’s fated meeting with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

The word asobi in Japanese translates to “having fun” – after a visit to the office, which is of course in the  heart of Harajuku, we can’t think of a better name for the home of these fun-loving cultural leaders.

First of all, congratulations on your 5th anniversary! When was it exactly?

We actually passed the actual date, but we decided to make this year our official 5th anniversary as a company.

In English we say “New Year’s resolutions,” in Japanese they’re called “Shinen no Hofu”… Would you share with us Asobi System’s New Year’s resolutions for 2013?

Last year went very rapidly for us. To tell you the truth there were some areas which were done on the go and we let things flow in the momentum, so this year we want to work steadily and expand on what we’re doing now.

I see. Do you have any personal New Year’s resolutions that you’d like to share with us?

Well, as I mentioned just now, as last year, we did things on the go , this year I’d personally like to work on building tight relationships with many people. In terms of work and our company, until now I really let things happen on the go and didn’t stop to think, so this year I want to grow so I can manage them all properly. Really, last year I really let things happen on the whim. This year’s about putting our feet on the ground and becoming more solid company.

My impression is that you created a pretty strong foundation in 2012, but you want to build an even stronger one in 2013??

Yes, we want our roots to go deep!

During the past 5 years, what was the biggest change, or progress, for ASOBI SYSTEM?

Well, I believe it has to be Kyary’s debut and her activities. Our high employee motivation, great teamwork and fun atmosphere hasn’t changed, but our collaborations (with other companies and artists) have become more solid, so I think this is all linked to our future.

I noticed, from your site, that ASOBI is hiring! What sort of questions do you ask at interviews?

You know, I’ve never really done interviews… (Gestures to an ASOBI SYSTEM staff member) Take her for example. She said that she was going to quit her previous company so I asked whether she wanted to come over and work for us. It’s that simple. It’s like that with everyone here. I just see whether the experience at our company is something that they need at that moment, or not, and if I think so, I make offers. And those people who actually do come for interviews share the same sense. How can I say this… If we make rules, they become rules. That’s why instead of making rules, we do things according to time and circumstance. Time and circumstance may mean something that we may need or something we want to do, and so we look for people in that way. Big companies have a somewhat fixed budget and headcount. We’re not like that. The people we want are people we need at that time. What I need are people who are honest and can work hard rather people who have shiny resumes. That’s what we need in our company right now.

ASOBI SYSTEM has a clear focus on Harajuku culture. What’s so unique about Harajuku culture?

The Harajuku youth have their own unique ways. I can say the same thing about our own models and artists but everyone is different. For example, in terms of the fashion they like. What they like are different but they can be put under the same “Harajuku” umbrella. If you ask them what the trends are these days, they’ll all probably say something different. One will say for instance, knitted hats, and another may say tights and stockings with prints on them. If you look at them individually they’re all different, but if you look at it overall, and group them togetherunder the term “Harajuku,” it’s easily understood and communicated – everyone is different but there is a part where they all resonate.

Totally. Then what is it about them that allow them to be categorized into one bunch?

It all comes down to Harajuku culture. Although we say culture, it’s really only a feeling among the youth that live and breathe in Harajuku. I think every youth has that feeling, somewhere. But when they’re seen by grown-ups or people from outside of the Harajuku scene, there’s a solidarity as well a similarities between the people. That’s the really interesting thing about “Ura-Harajuku” culture. The grandmas and grandpas out their probably see the same type of young person regardless of whether they have red or blond hair. “Gals” also look the same, right? It’s the same thing. The youth who loves Harajuku and its culture somehow can be grouped together. This feeling of “somehow being grouped together” is also kind of what’s great about it.

The “Harajuku Kawaii!!” fest in Hiroshima was held the other month, and you’ll be holding more fashion-related events in future. There are other fashion shows and events around such as “Tokyo Collection” and “Kobe Collection.” How is “Harajuku Kawaii!!” different from these shows?

We think of “Harajuku Kawaii!!” as a culture event rather than a fashion event, where fashion and culture are mixed together and become one culture. That’s what Harajuku is about. Putting it simply we’re not doing a live in the middle of a fashion show, nor are we doing a fashion show using the live performance. The most important is having our guests enjoy themselves right? It’s important for the guests to take in both the fashion and the music. In that sense, I think Kyary is perfect. Everyone says she’s a fashion icon, but it’s important that we can enjoy both her fashion and her music.

Apart from the event, you also have “Harajuku Kawaii!! TV.” What was the inspiration for this Net-based platform?

I think the biggest reason we were inspired to create that was to allow us to freely upload things at any time. If there’s something hot at that moment, it’s important that we’re able to communicate it realtime, right? We’re able to upload everything within the week, rather than broadcasting them a month later – that’s what’s great about it!

Right. Buzz, right?

Right. In addition we’re able to explore and pursue the personal side of the models. That’s why we want to make it an environment where the models don’t have to act. We don’t need a script – most TV programs have scripts ? “laugh here, or say this comment here,” and what not. That’s not what we want. If a girl tastes something and if they think it’s great we want them to react that it’s tasty; if something is fun we want them to laugh, if they think its boring we don’t need them to laugh. We want them to just be themselves.