Saturday, January 25, 2003

Omotesando Avenue

Since I've been in Tokyo, I've been trying to find the Bathing Ape shop in Harajuku. A Bathing Ape (or Bape) is a Japanese fashion label which makes hip hop-inspired clothing with pictures of apes on. It's painfully trendy, partly because the shop is so ridiculously difficult to find. This is fashion elitism taken to its extreme: there's no danger of any clueless, unfashionable plebs wandering in off the street. Until today...

This was my third attempt to find it. I knew from talking to students that it was somewhere in the backstreets of Harajuku, so one day last year Butter and I set out to find it, when we were looking for a Christmas present for yours truly. After combing the streets for about two hours, we gave up. Then someone told me that it's in a basement - with no sign and nothing to alert you to the fact that the shop exists. "It's just around the corner from Gap - turn left by Wendy Burger and it's right there." So we tried again. And failed again. Bape's slogan is 'Ape Shall Never Kill Ape.' More like 'Ape Shall Never Find Ape'.

I admitted my pathetic failure in locating this fashion mecca to my student, and this time he drew me a detailed map. Determined not to be beaten, I set out again. And forgot to take the map. Still, I remembered that it was just up the road from Wendy Burger and was convinced I would be able to find it. Apparently, a couple of years ago, when the shop was at its peak of popularity, it was easier to find because of the queues of fashion victims outside. There were no signs of anyone queueing today, which might be why I walked straight past, round the block and back to Wendy Burger. Then I had a brainwave: I'd watch the coolest-looking young Japanese guys and girls - and, finally, they led me straight to it. Down a set of nondescript steps, and there it was - a discreet sign that said 'A Busy Workshop', the name of Bape's shop. Resisting the urge to punch the air with jubilation I went inside.

Of course, it was an anti-climax, though it's certainly a lot cooler than Topman. The latest, limited edition T-shirts are kept in perspex frames. They had a grand total of six T-shirts, half of them extra small. The only ones in my size were pretty dull: plain white with the words 'Thug Mentality' across the chest. Not worth the 5800 yen price tag (£30). There were various jackets and sweatshirts too, and some nice sweaters which cost about 20,000 yen (£100). In a glass cabinet that lined one wall were some bottles of scent in ape-shaped bottles and a watch that cost 480,000 yen, which is more than I earn in two months. I wandered around a couple of times then left, satisfied that I'd finally found it, but disappointed that there were no must-buys.

Across the street, in another well-hidden basement shop, you can buy mint condition, second-hand Bape T-shirts for about 10,000 yen (£50). I resisted. In fact, I already have a Bape T-shirt, which I bought in the brilliantly-named Takeshite street for 5,000 yen. I'm half-convinced it's a knock-off, but no-one will ever know. Anyway, I have ambiguous feelings about Bape. On the one hand, it appeals to my sad need to buy cool things that are difficult to find, like limited edition Gloomy Bears with bloody claws, but on the other hand I think it's crazy and snobbish. The guy who runs Bape, Nigo, says his ambition is to open a hotel. I can see it now: a hotel that no-one can find, guests wandering in a daze with their suitcases in tow, and, inside, lots of beautiful, expensive, empty rooms.

Deceptively quiet from the outside

After failing to find anything to sate my consumerist desires in A Bathing Ape, I crossed the road to Kiddyland. This was not because I wanted to buy toys for myself but because I needed to buy a present for my 3-year-old nephew. Here's some advice: don't go to Kiddlyland on a Saturday. Why? It's full of kids. I bought him a Geomag (warning, their site has loud music) starter kit. Geomag is a bit like Lego, but with magnetic sticks. On the way out, I couldn't resist buying some Gloomy Bear postcards and a notepad. Now I'm exhausted.