PARK Harajuku exists as a unique centerpiece in the Urahara district of Harajuku. It’s a space where one can find the artwork and creativity from a variety of styles and influences all nestled under one roof. Fashion brands and otaku culture merge together in a way that is uncommon even in Japan, where both play an incredibly prominent role in popular culture. We sat down with Junichi Hidaka & Kazuki Kanayama of PARK to discuss their background, inspirations, motivations as well as their impression of the iconic Harajuku district. A place that PARK has called home for many years across multiple locations, and a place where cultural shifts have been happening for decades.
OTAQUEST: Under what circumstances was Park founded?
Junichi Hidaka: I originally worked at a record shop in Tokyo. I eventually moved forward and decided to open a Fairy-based shop that sold knick knacks in Nagoya. While I was doing that, I had the idea to make a creator-centric store. So I saved up some money and started from an internet community. That’s what Park was originally like. I make progress and worked on Park with creators that I had met through Comiket, and in 2014 I opened my first store.
OTAQUEST: Did you always have the theme of “FASHIONxOTAKUxCREATION”?
Junichi Hidaka: I am an otaku through and through. Back in the day, my goal was to be a manga artist, and I’ve been going to Comiket since it was held in the Harumi area in the 80s. At the time (in 1989) there was the case of Miyazaki Tsutomu (Editor’s Note: The Tokyo and Saitama consecutive child abduction and murder cases. During the investigation, a large number of weird and sexual manga and video were found in the culprit’s house.) and as a result, the world looked harshly at otaku. I was even told to “give the manga a break” by my parents. Having gone through that, not denying others and not being denied is a core principle of Park. No matter what anyone says to me, I won’t stop being an otaku. I will continue to do what I want. I won’t abide by trends. I’ll put things I want to sell in the store, not just things that will sell.
OTAQUEST: At the time Otaku were considered the epitome of lameness and were treated as the opposite of fashion and being fashionable, were they not?
Junichi Hidaka: I think that was the case in the ’80s and ’90s, unfortunately. However, there were some manga & anime, like Evangelion and AKIRA, that had an influence on fashion. Starting in the 2000s, the public perception of Otaku changed quite a bit and we were seen under a better light. Nowadays The top models featured in fashion magazines can say things like they like manga and it’s so normal. As someone that’s part of the world of fashion, I’d always thought that it’d be better if there was more manga and anime integration into fashion. But I believe that from the 2010’s the barrier between fashion and otaku culture has been broken down and we’ve entered into a new era.
OTAQUEST: Do you think that Otaku are maybe accepted as something that is cool?
Junichi Hidaka: When I originally made Park, daily-life in Akihabara-style anime was in full swing in otaku culture. As a big fan of the daily-life style, I created Sudo Rito, Shirako Mari, and Watatsumugi Kotoko as characters that would work at Park. Through doing that I made the store themed around daily-life in Harajuku. Not even 3 months after opening, Crunchyroll happened to find me, and with them we made the spin-off anime URAHARA. Currently, we are working on a project where the four girls used as the main image for this article, Karin, May, Cacao, and Haruko, are working at Harajuku Park set 100 years in the future. Originally starting as a manga, Tokyo Gambo has just gone into production for an anime release. I’m incredibly grateful.
Kazuki Kanayama: Park’s main concept is a store where creators can gather. Using this as a place where creators can collaborate and trade ideas, and through that exchange create something new, has been our goal. We’d like to experience that firsthand. Creating an ecosystem where we can give back to the creators is one of our goals. Of course, there are profits to be gained from anime and from fashion, but more than that, treating creators well and supporting them is the most correct thing to do. We don’t just slap a popular character onto a shirt and call it a day, we look at how to develop that character further and connect it to more content in the future. Being able to do that as a store is what brings us joy.
OTAQUEST: What was it that motivated you to work at Park?
Kazuki Kaneyama: Right now I work on web design and the other technical aspects of Park. I come from the countryside, and at the time I felt there wasn’t anything new I could have fun doing. During my college days I was a shut-in, always on the internet. It was right around the time YouTube was beginning to get popular, around the time Nico Nico Douga was having its beta. It was right around the early days for social media, but even then I felt the huge potential in its ability to connect people. Around the same time, cultures that weren’t connected before starting connecting through the internet. For example, the connections between anime songs and club culture, between clothing and cosplayers had an enormous impact on DENPA!!, a pioneer in anime song-oriented club events. And through events like that I made friends who I was able to start an internet music label with.
OTAQUEST: You’re right, there was a period of great change regarding internet communication around 2009.
Kazuki Kanayama: Yeah, right around the time Pixiv came to be. The one I was most into was Tumblr. It was so new, seeing something that was so playful and yet so fashionable. When I got out of college I worked as a web designer for an apparel company. While working there I utilized the benefits of the internet. Being able to do things like start my own private brand with a foreign friend I met online, or holding events in Harajuku with other creators I’d met online.
OTAQUEST: So why did you go to Park?
Kazuki Kanayama: I met Hidaka in 2013, and was a part of the vision and thought process behind Park from the beginning. I felt it was my job to contribute with my knowledge of otaku culture post-internet, something he was too early for. The reason we chose Harajuku as the place to base Park in wasn’t just because we had a background ibn fashion culture. It also had to do with feeling the potential behind the strength of the name. We’ve had a connection with foreign creators like OMOCAT before establishing Park, and seen the impact of the name “Harajuku” overseas. On the other hand, around 2010 there was something called Neo Cos that attempted to link fashion with otaku culture (and specifically cosplay culture). Creators from all around the world set their sights on Harajuku and began enjoying the new creativity created by blending fashion and otaku culture. Park fit in perfectly into this new creative space.
Junichi Hidaka: Culture is something that can develop only in a time of peace. We live in a world with both people who never leave their house and those who have too much. But because of that, we have the social capacity to have niches and subcultures. With how far-reaching the internet is, foreign people, like OMOCAT, are able to take things in, deconstruct them, and create something anew. Park takes pleasure in this kind of creativity.
OTAQUEST: How do you feel about Harajuku as it is presently in 2020?
Junichi Hidaka: Harajuku is constantly collapsing and then rebuilding itself. When something ends, something new begins. A big reason for that is rent. Due to the impact of the Olympics, the real estate in Tokyo has gone up dramatically. When that happens, interesting stores disappear. The places that can survive are places that deal with expensive goods and can afford the high rent, or chain stores, and the diversity lessens. When that happens, it becomes harder for culture to flourish. Inevitably the city becomes uniform, and people lose interest and leave. More and more stores close. So rent gets cheaper. Then more interesting people come back because they can afford it And the cycle continues.
OTAQUEST: Is Harajuku currently in the process of collapsing? Or in the process of rebuilding?
Junichi Hidaka: I think it’s right on the brink of collapsing again. We operate outside of trends, so we aren’t nearly as affected by this cycle as others might be. As it is now, we’re able to get by, but the difficult parts have remained the same. However, the act of closing up shop isn’t in and of itself a bad thing. Through the cycle of collapse and regrowth, culture is allowed to progress.
Kazuki Kanayama: I think the same thing is happening online as well. Until a few years ago, the only people who had any interest in new things like Twitter were people with niche interests. That is to say, the only people online were otaku. However, if you look at it now it’s become commonplace for anyone to use it, from adults to kids. It’s a little sad looking back on it that way, but in contrast, it’s also quite an interesting phenomenon.
OTAQUEST: Would you mind expanding on that?
Kazuki Kanayama: There’s now traction behind this “Younger Generation’s Total Nerd Culture” that Hidaka mentioned earlier. How people talk online and the general look of things online were originally created by otaku. Those same things are now being used by everyone without much of a second thought. The mindset that otaku created is now being widely accepted by most people without them even realizing it. There isn’t this negative stigma associated with otaku culture like there was in the ’80s and ’90s. Because things are more oriented towards accepting diversity, even defining an otaku has become a difficult thing to do.
OTAQUEST: Has there been a loss of individually in both Harajuku and online?
Junichi Hidaka: I feel like Harajuku has lost some of its flavor, and it’s become more of a symbol of what it represented. When I was still in Nagoya I had opened up a “Harajuku-style” shop and placed things that I felt were Harajuku-ish. When I did that, I got a surprising amount of traffic from both local and foreign customers. I definitely think there’s a big difference between the real culture in Harajuku and the one that is assigned to it from the outside.
Kazuki Kanayama: And looking even further out, with the advent of 5G speeds and the proliferation of AR, I think there could be a virtual copy of Harajuku.
Junichi Hidaka: Like I was saying earlier, the setting of Tokyo Ganbo is Park 100 years from now. Which means it would be set in Harajuku 100 years from now. However, we aren’t writing it as a dystopia, but rather a utopia. But I really don’t know what kind of people will actually exist in that world.
OTAQUEST: Even so, there are many foreigners who come to Harajuku with the hope and expectation it being this fashion mecca.
Junichi Hidaka: I can’t say if that’s a good or bad thing, but one thing is for certain: Harajuku continues to change. I hope it disappoints everyone’s expectations in a good way.
Kazuki Kanayama: I want everyone to find something real in Harajuku. I want them to go home feeling some sort of originality.
OTAQUEST: If that’s the case, where in Japan do you think the capital of creativity is?
Kazuki Kanayama: It might be online. If avatars become commonplace, then the necessity for fashion to happen in real life ceases to exist. A place that was made to mimic reality instead of becoming a fashion capital in its own right. Otaku of every generation always seeks out the alternative, a different path. Park refuses to be strung along by current trends, but it also seeks to continue to grow and evolve with the times.