Words:Keizo Shimizu   Edit:Daisuke Inoue
Known as “the epicenter of youth subculture” since the 1960s, Shinjuku has been inspiring various types of artists with the distinct vibe. And it is no exception for Keizo Shimizu, the CEO of NEPENTHES. The town is etched in his childhood memory of Tokyo and, later cultivated his sensitivity as a fashion designer during his youth.
  • Boy Meets Fashion in Shinjuku

  • Boy Meets Fashion in Shinjuku
  • Even as a very small kid, I always looked forward to visiting Shinjuku with my family to get new clothes. We traveled there twice a year, spring and fall. My mother, three-years-older brother and I used to take a 7AM train on the Chuo Line from Kofu station to get to Shinjuku around 10AM. Isetan was always our first destination. After my brother became a teenager, we went to a store called Mitsumine, too. It was located in the same area as Isetan, Shinjuku – sanchome.
  • Boy Meets Fashion in Shinjuku
  • Both of my parents loved Isetan, but especially my father. He was the owner of a movie theater and visited the department store whenever he traveled to Tokyo to purchase movies. I remember he got himself a tailormade jacket and pants, as well as Burberry’s Balmacaan coat there. Because I was raised by such parents, fashion naturally attracted my interest.
  • Besides shopping, I can vividly recall when my mother brought me Shinjuku New ACB, a live music venue in Kabukicho. She went there to see her favorite rock bands such as the Tigers, the Spiders and the Tempters. I think we saw the Jaguars, too.
  • During my high school years, I started to devote myself deep into 1950s and American Casual styles instead of Ivy League looks I used to love. The American Graffiti movie and Made in U.S.A. Catalog have certainly affected my taste in fashion then. So, to get vintage, US-made clothes, I went to Harajuku and Shibuya more often than Shinjuku where shops mainly carried traditional garments. But Isetan offered clothes from American Casual brands, including 501 jeans from LEVI’S, WOODS and PIONEER, from the very beginning of the trend, and some nearby stores, like Iseya and Yukiya, handled imported goods that I couldn’t find at other places. That’s why I never stopped visiting Shinjuku, even though the number of shops I went was very limited.
  • Yakiton Restaurants and Tsubaki House

  • After graduating high school, I enrolled in a fashion college, Men’s Fashion Semmongakko, in Yoyogi. The place I rented a room was Daitabashi, so it was very easy to go to Shinjuku. The town was the center of my life. Just three months after I went one step toward my goal, getting a fashion-related job, however, the school expelled me for being late for an exam (laughs). I then wondered what to do next and a college in Shinjuku called Bunka Fashion College came into my mind. My college seniors used to encourage me to go there if my passion for fashion was real. But I didn’t want my parents to pay the tuition fee again, I decided to do a part-time job first to save money for the admission and tuition fees.
  • I got a job at a fashion brand, VAN. The shop was actually located on the basement floor of Isetan’s Men’s annex. As a sales person of the shop, I worked from 10AM to 7PM, six days a week, for about half a year. So, I had some favorite restaurants I frequented at the time. For example, Tonkatsu Oroji and a curry house named Gandhi located next to Isetan. There was also a diner called Acacia that was known for its delicious rolled cabbage dish. And my favorite café was Coffee Kizoku Edinburgh. Oh and I also went to Shinjuku Batting Center in Kabukicho quite often after work.
  • In the following year, I eventually entered Bunka Fashion College and my student life began again in Shinjuku. Each class had about 50 students at the college then and only 5 out of them were male. Moreover, many of the male students were just crazy about posh designers’ brands. That is why it took me some time to get use to my new environment, but things were getting better after I met some like-minded friends. We hit the Shinjuku streets together at night after Friday classes.
  • Along with some izakaya bars that were popular among Bunka Fashion College students, we often went to Yakiton restaurants. Kushigen in Shinjuku – sanchome, Bamban, Kamiya and Mantaro in Kabukicho, and our favorites at the Omoide Yokocho were unagi skewer’s Kabuto and Chinese restaurant Gifuya. After some drinks, we always headed to Tsubaki House, a disco on the 5th floor of Shinjuku Teatoru Building. It was the most lavish place in Tokyo at that time. I saw people like Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake quite a few times. Parties held there on Friday nights were called Kintsuba and real blasts. People danced like crazy when they played Earth, Wind & Fire’s Fantasy.
新宿駅東口交差点1980年代 Tokyo Time Slip 1984⇔2021(Kawade Shobo Shinsha)

Photo:Kiichiro Yoshimoto
“Tokyo Time Slip 1984 ⇔ 2021” (Kawade Shobo Shinsha)
新宿歌舞伎町=1980年代 Tokyo Time Slip 1984⇔2021(Kawade Shobo Shinsha)

Photo:Kiichiro Yoshimoto
“Tokyo Time Slip 1984 ⇔ 2021” (Kawade Shobo Shinsha)
新宿駅東南口御大典広場=1980年代 Tokyo Time Slip 1984⇔2021(Kawade Shobo Shinsha)

Photo:Kiichiro Yoshimoto
“Tokyo Time Slip 1984 ⇔ 2021” (Kawade Shobo Shinsha)
  • A Place to be My True Self”
  • A Place to be My True Self

  • In 1980, I started to work for Union Square, a concept shop located on the Fire Dori Street in Shibuya after graduating Bunka Fashion College. The shop was re-launched two years later as REDWOOD, and I was asked to operate it as a manager. Because I moved to a town on the Tokyu Denen Toshi Line at almost the same time, I came to visit Shinjuku less often. For about 20 years, I seldom went there after establishing NEPENTHES in 1988.
  • A Place to be My True Self”
  • Shinjuku became familiar for me again in around 2005. Tokuro (Aoyagi, the director of NEPENTHES) came back to Tokyo from our New York office then, and we began to revisit bars in Shinjuku together. I felt nostalgic when visiting bars I used to go during my youth. It was so nice to see them doing their business just like they did in the past. The number has been decreasing year by year, though. Around the same time, I started to go to Kinokuniya Bookstore often. I just saw around the store from the basement floor to the top floor, without having any particular books in mind, and completed my tour by having runny curry at Mon Snack on the basement floor. That was what I looked forward to on my day off.
  • I think, after all, I like Shinjuku because it feels local for me. It is the place I had spent most of my time in Tokyo from my childhood to my mid 20s. Unlike Shibuya and Harajuku, I rarely bump into acquaintances in Shinjuku even after joining in the fashion industry. So, I can unplug whenever visiting the town, being my natural self. Shinjuku makes me feel as comfortable and relaxing as my hometown.
KEIZO SHIMIZU : Born in 1958 in Yamanashi Prefecture. NEPENTHES CEO/NEEDLES designer. In May of 2023 he launched HANA, TAIYO, AME, a new project based in Biei, Hokkaido.