The greatest realization you will ever have in Tokyo, is that there will always be more to see.  Just when you think you have got a handle on the trends of the moment, the movements of the past and the shape of what is imminent, you be walking down a road you have been a hundred times before when you spot a cafe in a basement or an isolated boutique perched in a tent on the roof (I speak from personal experience).  The reason being that these kind of places are entirely self-contained, and have no real need to promote themselves beyond the devoted clientele that the vast, saturated population of Tokyo always seems to provide.  It is these pockets of culture that exist well out of the mainstream (or sub-culture for that matter) that truly make you appreciate Japan, and the fact that these kind of places can still exist in Tokyo while the rest of the world seems to be heading for a identikit high-street/mall experience or else a cold online shop, is a pleasure we should never take for granted.

I think that the reason that these small boutiques continue to survive, is that they are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the fast-fashion empires and polished department stores.  This allows them to co-exist simply because they are not competing with each other on any level, hence the customer can have both and keep the people who actually create culture in business.

Today’s shop is a prime example of what the small boutique can offer that no-one else cannot – a cohesive vision of a shop, where the shop itself is as important as what is sold.  In the same way as a catwalk show should demonstrate the ideal of a given collection, so too should a shop also reflect an ideal through what is sold.  In this way it is not a matter of consumption and worrying about price point and value, but the values that are leading you to buy into it in the first place that become paramount.

Ionio and Etna is an airy space tucked away in a back-street of Koenji, the floor and most of the fittings are handmade by the owner himself, as are the majority of the wares.  The vintage in untouched force comes from all of the world, and on any given day you can see objects and fabrics from disperate origins gathered together under a common palette and texture which makes every little thing feel part of the identity of the shop.  But the true face of Ionio and Etna is in the re-worked vintage that the owner/designer/artist Kano Takero specializes in.

As we were looking around, he was busying himself with making a wooden frame for a triangular mirror.  Apparently the wood had come from a friend’s house that was being re-modeled, and the mirror itself he had isolated as a flawless segment from an old discolored mirror.  Likewise, the majority of the wood he uses in his work is reclaimed, as is the heavily waxed paper that he uses to make bags and wallets.

Kano Takero explained that he particularly likes to reuse materials that have a connection to him, like the wood that came from a friend, or else recycling the fabric of a wall scroll that he has long admired.  It is these connections that he likes to preserve and also create work that will help others form their own connections.  To this end his wallets and bags will gain a character of their own in use and he even makes lamps that are designed to force people closer to each other.  It should also be noted that all the treatments and work is done in house by the one person, even going so far as to make his own tools for his waxing process.

The designer hard at work in his workshop inside the shop.

A mixture of buttons, jewelry and vintage threads.

The items sometimes feel more like part of the shop than for sale.

The KuraYami Lamps which were originally made to be an aid to meditation for the individual – by turning out all other lights and only lighting a space with a tiny lamp like this, the designer thought that it would make the individual contemplative and free from the distractions that ones own room always presents.

Ironically, a friend of the designer who runs the cafe beneath the shop put on a night in the cafe where the only light would be from one of these lamps on each tabel and thanks to this he said that it actually brought people closer together as they huddled in the tiny lights and lowered their voices in the subdued atmosphere.

They really do have an atmosphere all their own and like everything in the shop are pretty accesible price wise (I couldn’t avoid some mention of price – sorry!).

The waxed paper bags are another great feature of the shop, and thanks to both the thickness of and fibres inside the paper, are very sturdy indeed.

And finally some shots to give you an idea of the feel of the place:

This may not be place to everyones tastes, but I know that this is going to be heaven for some of you.  On the other-hand I challenge anyone to not be taken by the atmosphere of the place.  Trust me, for the calming experience alone it is worth a visit and if you are after directions then you will need to click here.

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