Where`s your origin and what was it like?
I`m from Tama, a suburb of Tokyo. I grew up in a very peaceful area. It was also the area which was staged in the animations of Hayao Miyazaki`s Studio Ghibli a few times. Also on my way to school there was an office of Nippon Animation, where Miyazaki used to work at. Back then, the landscapes there were so rural you wouldn`t believe it is part of Tokyo. My father chose to live in such a suburb area since he was a city boy growing up in Shinjyuku. So in my case, as a result of growing up in the suburb, I now live in Shibuya which is the very center of Tokyo.
What influenced you and directed you to reach the middle of Tokyo`s culture scene?
In the 90s, typography and graphic design were pretty influential. In my high school / university period, someone like Hideki Inaba and The Designers Republic were stars. I didn`t go to art university, but I was already making graphic related magazine with my first Mac, and went to a publisher to persuade him into the magazine I made, called SIM. It was around the year 2000. The title SIM was taken from the word `Simulation,` but this simulation had ended after 3 issues. I started finding no meaning in archiving graphics on paper as the effect of google image search was growing rapidly. Nowadays there`s Tumblr when it comes to archiving visual references.
What`s `culture` for you? What do you like about it the most?
Well right now it`s internet. My current treasure is visual data saved in my hard drive. I`m collecting graphics, photography, every sorts of visual data from SNS like Tumblr, or a cool visual archive site like http://haw-lin.com . I`m also downloading quite a bit of visuals from FvF. I`m watching those saved visuals while I`m transporting or so. Those visuals stimulate my imagination and inspiration, as each of them has culture condensed in one image. The visual references that are appearing in the timeline of tumblr are mostly nonverbal so it`s powerful enough without any word. I like them because they`re telling a various culture scene from all over the world by just being visuals, without having any language barrier.
Regardless of a sales status, is there anything you`d like to try once as an editor?
A stylish, experimental magazine for kids. Something that stimulates their brain to boost their imagination, with the elements of puzzle and / or handicraft. Ideally with no language. Anybody interested in joining me for this project, globally?
So how many books have you been involved with so far? What`s the most interesting one for you, out of what you`ve edited?
I`ve never counted properly but probably around 50 books. If I include magazines and catalogues then the total could be almost 100. The latest work is always supposed to be the best one according to my ideal. My very latest title is called `Designing Tumblr` – it`s about Tumblr being reviewed from two perspectives : its culture and programming aspect. I think it`s an interesting book. Another recent book which I was able to fully push my hobby-like interests is a guide book `City Book of Berlin.`
You`ve launched a global guide book series under the name WAND – what was the experience like of making a guide book? Also, why did you pick up Berlin and what other cities are in your pipeline?
I always wanted to do guide book, but I was aware that I need a certain level of concept to make the paper based publication, especially because our situations are generally dominated by the internet. If I bring and use my iPhone abroad, I have to pay 40 euros a day to a provider in Japan, then there should definitely be some kind of value in bringing paper media when you go abroad. Also, I always felt guide books usually seem so far from our reality – either too typical and mainstream or too posh which is targeted just for yuppies. I wanted to make something for our generation in the level of our class.
The reason I picked up Berlin is simply because I like Berlin. Even some of the established guide books in Japan, usually spared only 10 pages for Berlin section, the amount of information about the city was always treated quite small. Also I`ve been connected to Akiko from Lodown Magazine who is based in Berlin, I thought I should materialize my idea. In the future, I`d like to pick up Bangkok. When it comes to guide books about Bangkok, they are are always featuring the typical places like temples and historic sites but none mention the cultural scene that has been rapidly developing lately. I feel it`s worth compiling it in a book.
How do you see your country today from a cultural perspective?
These days a lot of younger generations consume news, magazines, manga, and all sorts of media contents from their smart phones as Japan has such a fast internet connection. They don`t seem to have much desire to read books. On the March 11th, 2011, a huge earthquake hit the north east Japan and the following Fukushima disaster – after this event so many people have parted their collections of books and magazines they had, that some of the second hand bookstores even had to stop accepting as it was getting way too much.
I personally had a plan to buy a house one day but after this, the plan has disappeared. I`ve also stopped collecting things. I now see a better value in light weight material for interior goods, computer, clothing, or bags… from a positive perspective, I feel that I`m released from the materialism. It might be a temporary feeling, but I see that everybody is now trying to cherish more of their experiences, such as going out for camping, open-air festivals or traveling, rather than owning materials. So when it comes to this, internet culture is non-substance and it can be a spiritual experience at the same time. I think internet goes well with the people`s mentality in Japan after 11.03.
In Japan there is a video site like Youtube, called Nico Nico Video, which is almost functioning for many people as TV. It costs 5 euros to become a member, and the number of the members are 1.5 million, which is huge. I think such non-substance culture will be growing bigger and bigger in Japan.
Tell us about your favorite place in Tokyo.
Well in reality I like going to `Super Sento` – it`s a big facility where you find spa, sauna, restaurant, massage, cafe… all condensed in one building usually. They are mostly located in the suburbs. Sometimes there`re some variations you can choose for sauna or water type for bathing. It`s like an amusement center and very Japanese. Somehow, people have the tendency to talk about their dream and future while bathing. I like to think about the lives of others while bathing and listening to them.
How did you find your current apartment?
Through the internet. This big window and the Japanese garden were the decision points. I had never seen before the combination of concrete architecture with gravel and a pine tree.
How do you spend your time at home? I heard you are a night owl.
I go to my office around the midday, and come home with the last train usually. I watch one film a day – everyday. During the rest, I`m on the internet. Then the sun rises and that`s the sign of going to bed.
If you were to live somewhere not Tokyo, where would that be?
Without any meaning of insincere compliment, it`s Berlin! And Bangkok. Berlin has this huge space, well regulated city planning, freedom, interesting museums and art scene… there might be a lot of discontented factors in the German politics which is hard to know for the foreigners like myself, but I see the matured generousness of the country by witnessing a huge anti-nuclear demo in such an early stage. As well as the fact that the mayor of Berlin is gay – Japan will need so many more years to be able to accept such mentality. Also I envy the geographical situation there, you can easily travel to other countries in Europe. Japan is an island country, so traveling abroad feels like a big deal sometimes.
Bangkok is completely opposite from Berlin. The city planning is so about and always being delayed, food you find on the streets are full of MSG, but I`m attracted to the curiosity and vitality of the people and the low living cost. You see so many people surrounding some no name street musicians on the street. It`s good to be curious, such mentality leads to the development of the country, I think. It`s simply more fun to be curious.
What`s the future plan for you then?
To make rather non-verbal contents, to take a role to introduce the contents from Japan to abroad. I`m actually organizing a design week at Little Tokyo in Los Angeles next fall. Also I`d like to be released even more from the materialistic goods… I know you came to photograph my house today (which is a big material) but I`m talking something totally opposite here!
Thank you Furuya for inviting us to your home and spending a great day together. Find out more about Furuya and his work on his homepage and his tumblr.
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online who presents a special curation of our pictures on their site. To visit the special picture selection, go here.
Text and Interview: Akiko Watanabe
Photography: Kazue Kawase