Nacasa & Partners

Column > Column Vol.01

Takeshi Nakasa with leading figures
Guest: Takeshi Nakajima
Representative Director of Kiwa Corporation
Takeshi Nakasa
Representative Director of Nacása & Partners

Interior design and artistic presentation are vital in the restaurant business. Successful businessman Takeshi Nakajima who ensures that his restaurants are always vibrant with life met with leading photographer Takeshi Nakasa who has been creating a photographic record of the evolution of the restaurants. These two key men chatted leisurely about their opinions and their intentions. (June, 2005)

Mr. Nakasa, take some photos. Ok?
Concepts and culture
Greatness and changes

Nakajima and Nakasa met in a lounge of a Chinese restaurant located in the basement of an apartment block. The atmosphere of the restaurant is charming, yet dignified. The two bosses sat on an antique sofa and began to chat lightheartedly. Nakajima, celebrating the opening of the website of Nacasa & Partners, said in a teasing sort of way, “You are too busy looking after others. You must look after yourself. Remember the old saying that the tailor’s wife is the worst clad,” and laughed. Nakasa seemed a little abashed and laughed. They started talking in a relaxing way as they always do. I asked them to briefly explain about their relationship first.

Nakajima: I started my business in Fussa, setting up shops and restaurants. Because we removed partition walls and did all the painting ourselves, we gave these places a kind of hand-made atmosphere. I opened my first restaurant in the center of Tokyo more than ten years ago, and then more restaurants one after another. During that time I got to know about a magazine called “Shoten Kenchiku” with information of lots of stylish restaurants. At first I thought that such smartly designed restaurants like those in the magazine were nothing to do with me, but after a while I started wanting to be in the magazine, even just once.  Then it came to my attention that Mr. Nakasa is a photographer who takes pictures for the magazine and so I wanted to see him. While I was wondering how to ask Mr. Nakasa to take photos for me, I was told that Mr. Nakasa takes photos only of nice restaurants. This was a knockout.  Some years later, I opened a restaurant called Fu Tong Mandarin in Marunouchi with a lovely interior that I could be proud of, so I asked Mr. Nakasa to take photos of this restaurant. That was the beginning of our relationship.

Nakasa: Mr. Sumita, who was the editor of Shoten Kenchiku at that time (currently the editor of a magazine called “I’m home”), told me that I would have to meet Mr. Nakajima just one time to become addicted to him.  I saw Mr. Nakajima once on TV on a program showing Mr. Nakajima knocking down partitions by himself as if he were shooting a machinegun, and I thought that I would not get on well with him. However, surprisingly, within only a couple of hours of meeting him, I began to have the feeling that I wanted to do something for him. In other words, I was addicted to him.

Nakajima: People may get the impression that I am a vulgar middle aged man who constructs restaurants by coarsely destroying partitions, but actually I am a well-brought-up and shy person. Since I was very young, I have always pursued splendor and beauty. When I grew up, I visited many countries all over the world, and it was then that I realized that beauty exists in places where people live: places where I could feel human life, places like alleys and towns with street girls. This awareness got into me and created my self-assertive character that affects my sense of values. My self-confidence always affects the restaurants I set up. Since first meeting Mr. Nakasa, who started taking photos for me, I have changed so much. I have a feeling that I am going to change a lot from now on.

A great change is happening to Takeshi Nakajima! The things that Nakajima spoke about stir our curiosity. After introducing Chinese food culture and raising the popularity of Chinese dishes with a striking taste throughout Japan, Nakajima started to open elegant Japanese restaurants with women managers dressed in kimono a few year ago. What is he aiming at, what are his plans now? We can’t keep our eyes off him. Nakasa became addicted to him because of his amazing potential.

Takeshi Nakajima

Takeshi Nakajima is the representative director of Kiwa Corporation. Nakajima is a great leader in the world of restaurants. He was the man behind the spread of striking Chinese dishes all over Japan, which he achieved by focusing on Pekinese dishes through the operations of restaurants such as Benitora Gyozabo and Hu Tong Si He Fang. His company now operates about 250 restaurants.

Mr. Nakasa, take some photos. Ok?
Yasumichi Morita, Ichiro Sato, Yukio Hashimoto, Ryu Kosaka and other leading Japanese interior designers call out “Mr. Nakasa, take some photos. Ok? when they design interiors for restaurants. Photographers from Nacasa & Partners led by Takeshi Nakasa are the first to take photos of the interiors just completed by these designers: interiors of restaurants that will cause a sensation later on. They take photos of such interiors a couple of months before showing off the restaurants to the media. The word of designers is that Mr. Nakasa has an unerring eye, piercing and harsh. Restauranteurs and designers regard the fact that Nakasa takes photos of their restaurants or their work itself as some sort of commendation, so they hope that some day they will be so successful that they will be able to ask Nakasa to come and take photos, as Nakajima said above. When I see Nakasa talking with designers with a big smile on his face at reception parties for the opening of restaurants, he looks just like a warmhearted father.

Nakajima: I cannot ask Mr. Nakasa to take photos of my restaurants unless I have confidence in them. If I don’t have confidence in a new restaurant, I open it secretly without telling Mr. Nakasa.  Because I am a businessman I cannot operate only restaurants with distinctive designs.  But, Mr. Nakasa, will you take photos of my restaurant that I am going to open in Shimbashi. It is not sophisticated, but it is an interesting restaurant with the theme of art (Hu Tong Mandarin, Chinois Hall).

Nakasa: I have been taking photos of the interiors of restaurants and bars for about ten years now. I have been witness to changes in the business world of designs and designers. When I feel as though I am up against a wall ? even if it isn’t a high wall ? or when I am having a little difficulty in making judgments about the interior designs of restaurants and bars, struggling for the way forward, and start feeling stressed, off I go to see Mr. Nakajima. Rather than talking about designs, Mr. Nakajima always tells me of what he is interested in at that time and gives me his views on the matter. For instance, he once told me about pottery such as Imari, Kokutani and Richo. Every time when I hear what he says, I feel I have to study more. But a couple of years ago, he started talking about poodles ? oh, that really got me lost.

Concepts and culture
Nakajima: From a long time ago, restaurants conveyed different cultures. For instance, restaurants introduced Italian food culture and Chinese food culture. But nowadays food materials and cooked meals are just treated as commodities to sell. The key point of the Japanese restaurants I am operating now is to restore true Japanese food culture, moving on from the time of showy gourmet.

Nakasa: Restaurants with intellect, aren't they?

Nakajima: I would like to serve Japanese-style Chinese dishes rather than newly created meals named with "cuisine" stuck on the end. I am trying to merge Chinese dishes with Japanese culture, and create dishes with the help of Chinese dishes and introduce Japanese-style Chinese dishes to the world as part of Japanese culture. Japanese dishes have power because they are truly tasty. If you look at Italian dishes and French dishes, which have reached a more mature stage than Chinese dishes in Japan, first of all those dishes were introduced into Japan with the original taste and in the original style. Then they evolved and were graded up in Japan to become Japanese-style Italian and Japanese-style French dishes.

Nakasa: The taste of dishes served at Benitora Gyozabo retain their original taste. I think that now mabotofu should have blackish color. This is a typical example of fixed impressions.

Nakajima: When I started Benitora, Japanese in the restaurant trade made critical  comments, such as: the dishes served at Benitora taste strange or that the dishes are not real Chinese. Now those people serve mabotofu, tantanmen and long dumplings just like those served at Benitora at their own restaurants. Many Japanese will visit Beijing to see the Olympic games soon. After eating food in China, Japanese people will suddenly realize that the dishes served at Benitora have the same taste as the meals they ate in China.  But now I am going to challenge myself to create Chinese dishes for Japanese. Time flies so quickly. I am changing and Chinese dishes in Japan are also changing.

Nakasa: What are these Chinese dishes for Japanese like?

Nakajima: In the season when fresh bamboo shoots are available, I want to use them. I want to offer Chinese dishes that use freshly harvested bamboo shoots with distinctive flavor and taste rather than always using boiled bamboo shoots from out of a can. I am going to use vegetables and fish which are in season. There are many dishes in China that have as their ingredients food that is in season, but these dishes are not known in Japan. To taste such fantastic food, we do not require adventurous interiors which astonish customers. I may say "I'm sorry Mr. Nakasa, but I have decided to open rather plain restaurants." I think Chinese restaurants do not require any particular style as long as people can gather together, have fun and enjoy tasty meals. Just by changing signs, people may believe these restaurants are Japanese restaurants. That will be very interesting.

Greatness and changes
Nakasa: Mr. Nakajima is a businessman, so we do not focus on the subject of design when we talk. I am very impressed by the fact that Mr. Nakajima has an interest and knowledge in so many different fields such as Chinese food, Japanese food, Rosanjin, Richo and modern art. Mr. Nakajima understands the base of culture, he gushes with enthusiasm and acts radically.

Nakajima: I have my own concept which is that design is beauty but beauty is not the only factor required for design. I am aiming to give form to culture and concepts, which is different from design that is influenced by shape. I decided to create such a world ever so quickly. I started opening Japanese restaurants instead of Chinese restaurants from a couple of years ago. There are many great women who succeed in Japanese culture all around me. In fact, all of the women who I respect and am fond of wear kimono in their daily life. As soon as I became aware of this, I quickly decided to enter the world of kimono.

Nakasa: Mr. Nakajima, who was setting up Chinese restaurants with distinctive features, suddenly told me that he tried out a different type of restaurant and showed me a Japanese restaurant like a teahouse in Kyoto. What surprised me was that I could not feel any atmosphere of imitation. I could not figure out the base of the reality in there and that was the main reason I became addicted to Mr. Nakajima. I wonder if designers in Japan have the same capacity as Mr. Nakajima?

Nakajima: Designers create beautiful designs. They cannot change their own course of designing so easily. This is simply because the environment in which they themselves live in as people does not change. Le Corbusier formerly used only direct lines in his designs, but later on he started using curved lines. Do you know why? The answer is a woman ? his last girlfriend was rather fat. This is merely an example but I wonder whether Japanese designers are in an environment which changes. I do not meet unpredictable designers any more, they all live undisturbed. If a designer has a beautiful Indian girlfriend, I am sure that the restaurants he designs will have Indian style!

Nakasa: As said earlier, changes and greatness indicate capacity of flexibility and boldness.

Nakajima: All sorts of designs for restaurants have been already tried. There will not be any change unless completely new designs appear. Maybe Mr. Nakasa ponders the same thing while he takes photos of the designs. I think designers will change soon. The first to change could be Mr. Morita (a designer, Yasumichi Morita) or Mr. Kosaka (a designer, Ryu Kosaka).

Nakasa: Suikyo-tei, designed by Mr. Hashimoto (a designer, Yukio Hashimoto), in Ginza is a fresh change. I thought I had come across a promising new designer, then I realized it was Mr. Hashimoto!

Nakajima: The thing that I most strongly desire in leading Japanese designers is boldness. By that, I mean boldness in the designers themselves, rather than boldness in their designs. Boldness to clearly focus on one point.

Nakasa: Searching for minimalism.

Nakajima: Yes. Problems cannot be solved by pursuing decorative design, because decorative design is not fundamental interior design. Boldness is needed to pare the excess in decorative design. I want somebody to do this. I am a businessman, so it is difficult for me to challenge the field.

Nakasa: I am sure that designers will start to change soon because imitation is no longer permissible, as people have already checked out all sorts of restaurants in the world and designs have been shuffled in every way possible. Designers will not be able to design Japanese interiors just by briefly studying Kyoto and the tea ceremony. I would like to see designs based on self-assertiveness rooted in the personalities of the designers, as is the case with Mr. Nakajima. Luxury hotels with foreign capital such as Conrad Tokyo, Ritz-Carlton and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel will be constructed one after the other in Tokyo. I am sure these hotels will use Japanese designers together with overseas designers. What I am looking forward to most right now is which of the designers who are active here in Japan will be selected.

Composition and text: Eiko Yamagishi (freelance editor)