To think of Harajuku is to think of fashion—it thrives here, living and dying in an ocean of trends that flow by the style of their fans and the whims of their fashion leaders. The neighborhood is a blend of standalone boutiques and popular brands, nestled in among pancake houses and cafes. It’s a place that encourages expression through clothing, make-up, and style. It’s a place for originality.
But no more than a few minutes from Harajuku Station lies the quiet of Meiji-Jingu—a ying to the yang of the bustling fashion capital, and a quiet, spacious park filled with lush greenery, gravel paths and the Meiji Shrine.
It was here I met with Saki.
Saki liked the fashion culture of Harajuku. She liked the inspiration, and she liked the contrast between it and Meiji-Jingu. She liked that such different places could exist side by side. We walked the gravel paths, and listened to the wind through the leaves, and she said, “I think Meiji-Jingu is a place that lets me calm down.”
“And what about Tokyo?” I asked. “What do you like about the city?”
“I think [Tokyo] is a way to discover new things, and new knowledge,” she said. “People are important, and the place they live is important too.”
Saki said her illustrative style lies in her characters. Each has a personality, and each contains a small part of herself. I thought of the pictures of hers I’d seen—of characters existing in worlds that outsized them, and sparkling ideas lost in concrete jungles—and I wondered which parts of her story they told.
There was an element of light and dark to Meiji and Harajuku—a carefully balanced, harmonious kind of contrast. Saki said that in her work, too, she sees little universes of paradoxical existence.
I began to wonder if Harajuku and Meiji-Jingu were like a reflection of the style that defined her work.
“I think people have a little cosmos inside [of them],” she said. “It’s just like [an] inner world. I think that when I create a character, it’s just like creating a little cosmos or universe, you know?”
We walked toward Harajuku, and she continued. “Every person and every creature in the world has a light side and a dark side, and it’s not right or wrong. But I think the characters I draw all have two faces, or more faces. It’s a paradox. A paradox has two feelings: the new and the old. I think this part is very interesting. All things have it.”
Saki’s Meiji-Jingu sketch was like a peek into this idea—an illustration in which the trees of the forest appeared as an ocean of swirling leaves, all of them floating up from barrels of rice wine.
Saki took me to a wall in the Urahara area, upon which was painted a message in bold print: Now is Forever. We watched people taking photos—young girls in matching outfits, models with camera crews, and fashion bloggers—and Saki sketched randomly.
I asked her about the people that gather here, and about the people who celebrate fashion and the way it expresses who they are. She said this was where it started.
“I think [this] is another face of Harajuku,” she said. “Harajuku fashion is based from Urahara; it became the leader of Japanese fashion because of Urahara.”
We wandered the streets and soaked it in. I wondered how she might capture this place in a single character—the quirky fashion culture, the unique style of it’s inhabitants, the energy and color, and somewhere behind it all, a place of green and tranquility.