Discover the Japanese capital of hidden independent boutiques

Tucked away in dilapidated buildings and under elevated subway tracks, are tiny, experimental shops that emphasize creative merchandising rather than commerce. They’re wrapped in pink satin or use hanging tree branches as clothes racks and sell a haphazard mix of vintage, new, and refitted second-hand items, turning humble leftovers into aesthetic trade cabinets.

Osaka’s fashion scene is often overshadowed by Tokyo. The capital, however, is no longer the fancy destination it once was – as trendy neighborhoods see rising rents, more stores are being pushed into suburban neighborhoods.

Rents in major shopping districts in Tokyo rose 25% in 2016, according to data pooled by Cushman & Wakefield. The company estimates that rents in prime areas of Tokyo are 60% higher than those in prime areas of Osaka.

The ceiling of the Kakavaka store, located on the third floor of a refurbished Shinsaibashi building.

(Misty White Sidell / WWD)

Tourism in this city is paltry compared to the crowds in Tokyo, so the Japanese government has placed less emphasis on reviving infrastructure here. That left much of Osaka chock full of dilapidated, almost scabbed buildings with cheap rents – hidden store havens with quirky locals. The aim of these shops is not to create an experience and arouse an emotion, but rather to create a kind of clubhouse where friends can spend money or take a walk.

For Osaka-based creators, a round-trip train to Tokyo – around $ 300 – is prohibitively expensive, making the city’s artistic community relatively independent and deeply collaborative. Osaka-jin, as the townspeople are called, has a reputation for being brash, loud and more free in expression. Tokyoites often stereotype the Osaka-jin style as loaded with leopard prints and glitter.

The experimental stores visited by WWD are located near city centers, mainly in the more dilapidated areas of Shinsaibashi and in a developing area called Nakazakicho, just north of Umeda.

In Shinsaibashi, concept shops are tucked away on the upper floors of old elevator-less buildings with yellowed Formica hallways and flickering fluorescent lights.

The facade of the new and vintage Yamastore store.

(Misty White Sidell / WWD)

One such store, called the Psychic Shop, is the extracurricular hobby of a collective of teenage art students.

The store – located in a dilapidated building filled with miniature themed bars (one called Bipartisan) – is a two story experience in visual presentation and display. Her vintage clothing treats play a secondary role in the overall feel of the store.

Each of its two levels is the size of a walk-in closet. The boutique’s first floor is a cutesy acid trip, with pink neon lighting illuminating a bleached gravel floor. Dangling animated plush toys, string lights, and vintage flip phones line the ceiling. The top floor of the boutique, accessible by a rickety metal staircase, is covered in soft pink satin. A static TV sits in the center, with Hello Kitty statuettes and Fiji water bottles generously scattered around the clothing for a contemporary contrast.

The entrance to Psychic Shop in Shinsaibashi.

(Misty White Sidell / WWD)

In Nakazakicho, some vintage shops and stores have found their way into the spaces under the Tokaido Main Line railroad tracks – their overhead lights rattling every few minutes as subway cars roar above their heads. This is the case with Elulu by JAM, a new frilly retail concept for women from the vintage Kansai region chain JAM Trading Co., which has four branches in Osaka and Kyoto.

Just north of the railroad tracks is the Sakura Building, an abandoned office building that has been turned into a hub for vintage stores – with each of its shops the size of a small classroom. One of these units, Ghebellina, is headed by fashion school teacher Kyoka Tatsumi and his wife Harumi Tatsumi, a stylist. Another, Key, sells vintage concert t-shirts and American denim brands such as Lee and Levi’s, with tree branches and chain ropes decorating its ceiling.

Elulu by JAM is located under the main railway from Tokaido to Nakazakicho.

(Misty White Sidell / WWD)

Nearby, shops like the Yamastore are scattered among the traditional Japanese houses, some dating from before the war. Yamastore’s facade has its name spelled out in plush letters. The boutique sells private label as well as vintage pins and denim – sometimes displayed in retro commercial refrigerators.

These ideas should not be replicated en masse with branded extensions and sister stores. For them, being a niche is enough.

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