Let's call it the original "big in Japan" export: Godzilla, the city-crushing amphibious dino-monster, returns to theatres later this week. Japan has long unleashed its unique cultural phenomena – from Victorian-dressed Lolita girls to its wide-eyed anime characters – on the world.
Toy designer and photographer Koji Harmon grew up in L.A. on a diet of such Japanese playthings as Microman and Kamen Rider. He's now based in Tokyo creating and selling soft vinyl collectible figures through Comet Debris (cometdebris.com).
"The new movie may definitely inspire me and other makers to do some Godzilla or kaiju-style characters," says Harmon, who shares his favourite places to play in Tokyo with Karan Smith.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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“This is an area of western Tokyo which includes Inokashira Park, shops, cafés, restaurants and department stores. The Ghibli Museum [showcasing the animation of Studio Ghibli] is here as well. The park is pretty big, with a large pond where you can rent canoes or swan pedal boats. It’s surrounded by trees and is beautiful in all seasons. It feels like you’re not in Tokyo. It’s less crowded than some of the other shopping areas.” Kichijoji Station on the Inokashira Line
2. Nakano Broadway
“This is a shopping mall, which includes tons of manga, character and vintage toy shops. Mandarake has several stores in the mall, and they’re known for buying comics, videos, books, toys, character goods from collectors and reselling them in their specialty shops. So their stock always changes. This is the go-to place for Japanese otaku [or seriously obsessed collectors]. For food, Nakano Broadway has several tiny restaurants, and the streets surrounding it are lined with many bars and restaurants.” North of Nakano Station on the Chuo Line at the end of Sun Mall
“This Tokyo neighbourhood is similar to a college town with lots of small shops, record stores, used clothes, collectibles, cafés, bars and restaurants. There are also many live houses or tiny music venues that are usually in basements where indie and punk bands play. A lot of foreign touring indie and punk bands usually make Shimokitazawa a stop.” Shimokitazawa Station on the Odakyu and Inokashira Lines
“I’d describe it the same way as Shimokitazawa, but with fewer tiny streets, more tattoo shops and fewer live houses. It’s popular with a younger crowd. There are lots of small shops, used clothing stores and record stores. It’s a great place to take a stroll and do some window shopping. The restaurants along some of the side streets have a very unique vibe.” Koenji Station on the Chuo Line, a stop from Nakano Station
5. Let yourself get lost
“The best part about Tokyo is there’s always something new to find. Just pick a station or neighbourhood and walk. You’ll be sure to find something new and interesting, such as hidden temples or shrines, small shops, cafés and parks. Public transportation is everywhere so even if you get lost, you’re certain to find a way to get where you need to go. So go out and explore.”
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