Sensing that Tokyo diners were bored with industrial chic and food that looked better than it tasted, Shinichiro Ogata opened a restaurant that went back to basics. Higashi-Yama, opened six years ago in Nakameguro, then a quiet Tokyo neighbourhood. It served traditional Japanese food with a modern spin and an interior to match. Higashi-Yama is thriving, Nakameguro is now filled with new boutiques and cafés, and New Japanese cooking is all the rage.
Ogata heads up his own small design company, Simplicity, and the restaurant serves as its headquarters. Simplicity reworks traditional Japanese crafts for modern times. Last year he opened Higashiya, a traditional wagashiya (sweet shop), in an old house on Tokyo’s Meguro River. Upstairs is Sabo, a tearoom by day and bar by night. It has been meticulously designed, all perfectly in tune with the designer’s contemporary Japanese aesthetic. The exterior is an unusual hybrid for Tokyo – part minimalist modern, part ivy-clad dilapidation.
Ogata is both a restaurateur and a designer. ‘The design company and the restaurant co-exist,’ he says. ‘I run Higashi-Yama as if I’m inviting guests to my house, and the restaurant functions as a showroom for Simplicity as well.’
No detail escapes Ogata’s eye. Lunches in Sabo are served bento-style in delicate lacquer boxes; downstairs, confectionary purchases are wrapped in wafer-thin wood and artfully scrunched paper bags.
Ogata’s reputation has now spread beyond Tokyo. He recently completed a new wing for Murata, a luxury Japanese inn on the island of Kyushu.
He has also moved into product design and sells a small selection of hand-made pieces under the Simplicity Super Studio label. ‘Firstly, I find materials and techniques that I’m interested in,’ he says, ‘then I meet craftsmen to discuss my ideas and start making trial products.’ The result is a characteristic Ogata fusion: everyday tea bowls, dishes and pots redesigned and made up in specialist workshops using traditional materials. White porcelain teapots are produced in Arita, lacquer bowls in Fukui and iron tea kettles in Morioka.
Now there’s talk of textiles, more furniture and a Japanese-style hotel of Ogata’s own. ‘I started Simplicity to create a new type of modern Japanese culture,’ he says. Looks like he's succeeded.
[info=INFORMATION:]Simplicity, 1-21-25 Higashiyama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo,
tel: 81.3 5720 1310, fax: 81.3 5720 1320, [url=http://www.simplicity.co.jp]www.simplicity.co.jp[/url]
Higashi-Yama, same address as Simplicity, tel: 81.3 5720 1300. Higashiya and Sabo, 1-13-12 Aobadai, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, tel: 81.3 5428 1717, fax: 81.3 5428 1708 Ogata's iron tea kettles Sabo: tearoom by day and bar by night