Kaleidoscope Mukashi-kan


Miti Araki, Kaleidoscope Mukashi-kan, Shopkeeper

The literal translation of the Japanese word ‘mangekyou, ’10,000 blossom mirror’ is such a perfect description of kaleidoscopes that, according to the owner of Japan’s first specialty shop selling them, “Japanese people commonly believe they invented them.” Indeed, if the country feels like a natural home for mementos like these then, rich with nostalgia, refinement and quiet romance, Miti Araki’s store suggests it is so. Located in Azabu-Juban, a village-like corner of central Tokyo, Kaleidoscope Musashikan has been in business for more than two decades. Back when she opened it, Araki was a recently divorced mother taking care of her daughter, Kiki. “I started to see the world through my little girl’s eyes,” Araki says, recalling moments they spent looking through a magnifying glass or playing with a mirror. “That act of becoming absorbed in something was vital. I had no idea how or what, but I knew I wanted to open a shop based on looking at things.” Kaleidoscopes were actually invented in the early 1800s by Scottish scholar Sir David Brewster, and soon enchanted the European upper classes. But before Araki opened her shop, all that was available in Japan were cardboard tubes of coloured plastic beads found at souvenir stands. She asked a friend in New York to visit a kaleidoscope specialist retailer there and send as many of them back to Japan as her savings would allow. Before long she had refashioned the café where she worked to become Kaleidoscope Mukashi-kan. The made up word mukashi-kan means ‘hall of the past’, and Araki’s shop feels like it could be the setting for a children’s fantasy, with storybook furnishings, a wall painted like the sky, and a shop assistant wearing a natty pink jacket. A sculpture outside shows the legs of a man appearing to fall into the unknown, and inside, every shelf and table is crowded with kaleidoscopes. The simplest model is the open-ended teleidoscope that multiplies whatever it’s pointed at, while others create infinite patterns using spinning wheels, sliding vials of liquid and glitter, or myriad tiny objects, such as microscopic seashells. Those with sleek brushed stainless steel exteriors are made in Japan; the detail of what is in the eye of the beholder is dazzling, thanks to viewing chambers filled with abstract flakes of exposed colour film. Araki won’t make recommendations, saying choosing one is intensely personal. “It depends as much on what’s inside the person holding the kaleidoscope as what’s inside the instrument,” she says. Indeed her own experience of kaleidoscopes has changed. Where once they stimulated her, in the worrying days after the 2011 earthquake, they became cathartic. “I believe every time you peer into a kaleidoscope, you see something different,” she says. “But then, shouldn’t that be true of almost everything in life?”



Kumu, Serene and minimal, this small gallery shop showcases works by dozens of Japanese creatives.

“Connecting people,” says Noriko Konuma, smiling as she sips tea from a white porcelain cup at a naturally-hewn wooden table inside Kumu Tokyo, the intimate design gallery and shop she curates. “It’s all about bringing people together and creating special moments in their daily lives.” In the years since Konuma opened her gallery on a quiet lane in the eastern Bakurocho district in 2015, Kumu (“to connect” in Japanese) has showcased the works of dozens of Japanese creatives, from paper artists and contemporary incense makers to potters and floral designers. She calls them “family”, which makes Kumu their collective home. The small, two-storey structure, renovated by Atelier Etsuko Architects, has a minimal industrial feel, with swathes of original concrete, high ceilings, a warehouse-like window façade and green plants. For Konuma, it’s a very personal space: her family’s businesses previously occupied the building, and she grew up across the street in the same house where her father was born. “The Bakurocho neighbourhood feels different from the rest of Tokyo,” she explains. “There are few big businesses, it’s still very local, and people form friendships naturally.” That openness is attracting a burgeoning creative community, including art galleries and garment makers, ceramics stores and independent cafés. Kumu’s ground floor is home to a shop with a permanent collection of design products – mostly contemporary takes on traditional craftsmanship – and a gallery space hosting up to 15 exhibitions a year. A clean, white upper floor and plant-populated roof terrace host workshops and events. Centre stage in the shop are works by designer Masanori Oji (who also created Kumu’s circular, interwoven logo), from the angular warmth of his metal household fixtures to the clean petal-like lines of his white ceramics. Thick canvas bags by Kurashiki Hanpu and incense handcrafted by Chikako Perez of Tokyo Kodo come encased in ‘washi’ paper by Chiaki Morita – one of several collaborations made possible through Kumu. “It’s not so important that we sell things,” says Konuma, warm, softly spoken and ever-elegant in minimal monochromes. “Of course, sales keep creative techniques alive. But the essential thing is creating new connections, because together these people form the DNA of a Japanese spirit that links the traditional with the future.”