Nishiogikubo is a quiet neighborhood where narrow streets connect residential housing to modest shopping arcades and local restaurants. Here, the metropolis is a distant memory; a place far-off and disconnected. And that’s the point: Nishiogikubo’s character lies in the warmth of the community, where the small shops and apartments snuggle together like families sharing the same bed.
Nishiogikubo isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Tokyo. But when I met Chi Yun Yeh, who goes by the name Yo, she said that’s just another reason to like it.
“I spent four years in Nishiogikubo,” she said, “so for me it’s another hometown, in Japan. I like Tokyo, but I like the quiet places of Tokyo, not Shibuya or Harajuku. And Nishiogikubo feels like a shitamachi, but it’s different to the shitamachi around Asakusa or Ueno. It’s different. It’s more like a family place, and it’s quiet and you feel relaxed.”
There was charm in the quiet streets of Nishiogikubo. Houses were so close together I imagined neighbors passing things between windows. Shops felt like an extension of the neighborhood, and Yo felt warmth in this everyday life.
She told me Tokyo was a place of inspiration. It let her meet people she never would have met in her hometown of Taiwan. But more importantly, it was a window to new ways of thinking, and as a result, new paths to growth.
“Tokyo helped me to have another way of thinking. And a lot of things I think are… in Japanese it’s atarimae (writer’s note: this means obvious), [but in Tokyo] a lot of atarimae things become not so atarimae. And so every time when I saw something, I use a lot of different angles just to think about those things. It’s helped me to grow.”
Yo’s style of illustration is distinct for its exclusive use of two colors: red and blue. As we sipped at tea at a small teishoku restaurant, she told me it started because she simply liked the colors. Over time, however, she realized that not only did this make the pictures more memorable, but it also freed her from the problem of what tools to use.
“Sometimes we spend too much time thinking about the material and what color we should use, and of course I still have this kind of problem every day. But when I pick up a ballpoint pen and I only use two colors, I can focus more on the things I want to draw, and the story behind the drawing.”
Yo said linking the world of reality to the world of imagination was a theme in her work. She said doing so gave the work personality and originality.
“Why do you like to do that?” I asked. “Why do you like the surreal and imaginative?”
“[It’s] because a part of me, I don’t really like to only draw pictures,” she said. “Because if you draw a picture, anyone can draw. But if you mix some imagining things or things that don’t exist you can make more… it’s like you create a new world, and people will see your new world, and maybe you can inspire people to have their own world. But if you only draw the picture, okay, it’s beautiful, but it’s just the picture.”
As we walked back towards the station, Yo told me she wanted to draw the small streets and the izakaya restaurants, and show how interesting and fun Nishiogikubo is beneath the surface.
“If I can draw the pictures and show people this place is really fun, maybe they will have interest to come,” she said. “And then maybe they can share the same thoughts with me.”
I liked that. It sounded nice.