The day I met Hamahouse in Asakusa, the place was swarming with people. It was the third weekend of May, which meant the Sanja Matsuri: a festival held in honor of the three men who established and founded Senso-ji, the iconic temple at the end of the Nakamise-dori shopping street.
Hamahouse had arrived earlier. He was on the second floor of the Asakusa Tourist Center when I found him, sketching Kaminarimon, and hiding from the sun.
We made our way downstairs, and slowly moved through the crowds. Groups in happi coats hefted mikoshi shrines on their shoulders, trudging down the streets to a soundtrack of chanting and chatter. We walked past food stalls selling Japanese favorites, and occasionally stopped to observe or sketch.
“Do you find Tokyo interesting?” I asked.
Hamahouse thought for a moment.
“I think what’s most interesting about the place is that everything is so mixed that it stops being about what’s right or what’s wrong.”
It was a riff on an idea I’d heard from others, too—that Tokyo was a blend of too many ideas and cultures and people to be any one thing. Right and wrong seemed like malleable concepts here—things that morphed depending on where you were.
Hamahouse said Asakusa was interesting because he didn’t visit very often. The architecture and the fashion throughout the festival was new and refreshing. But he wasn’t so interested in planning an illustration, or focusing on a single place—it was more about soaking in the details, observing, and wandering.
“I’m not one to think too deeply when I [go out to] draw,” he said. “I just look at what seems interesting, and I draw it. That’s it, really.”
When I commented on the detail in his sketches, Hamahouse told me his aim was versatility—a collection of styles to match a multitude of ideas and expressions.
“My style is… I think my style is not having a style,” he said. “It’s important to have a variety of ways to best express what I find interesting.”
We stopped to watch a small group of children carrying a miniature mikoshi. As their figures and voices faded into the crowds ahead, Hamahouse continued.
“I like thinking up ideas. And for each idea, there’s a way to express that idea. So I can’t point to anything as ‘my style.’ I just want a variety of ways to express ideas.”
We talked about his favorite spot in Tokyo: Sekaido in Shinjuku. Hamahouse said it was maybe the largest supplier of stationery in the world; that he could spend hours there at a time.
I was struck by the difference in the two places—Shinjuku a concrete jungle of concrete and asphalt, and Asakusa a field of traditional buildings and classic streets. I wondered about about the right and wrong in those places, and if the rules were different here in Asakusa.
We stopped by an okonomiyaki restaurant, and sat to eat. We clinked beer glasses, and talked about learning languages. Hamahouse had questions about English phrases and what they meant. Where they came from. How they compared to similar phrases.
I didn’t have any good answers. He laughed.
“I enjoy learning languages,” he said, “but you know, the good thing about pictures is that they surpass words. That’s the best thing about them.”
It was a good point.
The problem was, I couldn’t draw pictures, either.