{BUZ} : Lightyears ahead in retrospect

{BUZ} is not your typical furniture store. In fact, it’s really 3-in-1: vintage retailer, daytime café, and nighttime ba (バー : bar).

{BUZ} : hip, cool, now; generating interest and excitement.”

The name {BUZ} is actually a contraction of the slang term ‘buzz’: all that’s hip, cool, now; the latest ‘word on the street’ generating interest and excitement. And that’s exactly what it is and does.

Located a very short walk from Sakuragawa Station in Ōsaka (2-7-1 Saiwaicho, Naniwa-ku) the quaint little shopfront belies the depth of its interior, both in volume of space and in what’s on offer.

Jonathan E. Akers, co-owner and co-founder of the shop – a collaborative venture alongside his talented wife – is not new to the world of business. He already owns another vintage furniture shop in Awaza, Ōsaka, namely ‘Cat Bird Seat‘, from where he runs his architectural & interior design studio.

He’s clearly a busy guy, swapping a variety of hats many times in a day: dreamy creative, social networker, interpretative consultant, resolute businessman, intrepid entrepreneur, and jack-of-all-trades labourer. It’s not unlike his early work experience of juggling two or three jobs at once.

Sourcing furniture primarily from the United States, Jonathan travels back-and-forth several times a year to meet the demand of his predominantly Japanese clientele. Sometimes his trips incorporate a self-guided tour of the local flea markets for these clients. ‘Americana’ is very popular in Japan evidenced by the fashionable area in Ōsaka known as America-mura (アメリカ村 : lit. American district).

20140721-174431-63871180.jpg

Not surprisingly, Jonathan has the background and the experience to pull it off. Although born in the US of A, he has lived here in Japan for almost 25 years married to his Japanese wife, Yoshi, who together have raised their two (now grown-up) children.

Growing up himself on an equestrian farm in upstate New York as part of a large family, Jonathan adamantly preferred motor bikes to horses. However, nurtured by the great outdoors, he developed a keen appreciation for an honest day’s work. And though he attended a Catholic boys military school his beliefs over the years have evolved into something more ‘self aware’ with distinct Buddhist leanings. On saying this, his philosophy is pretty straightforward:

“We’re all connected, we’re all in this together.”

Mind you it has been a process of development since, as a young man fresh out of high school, the big city lights of New York City (NYC) cast their spell. Like a moth drawn to a flame he was unable to resist the pull. The experience proved invaluable, helping to shape and mould him in ways the countryside never could. It was, after all, there in NYC that Jonathan met his wife-to-be.

It’s interesting that their long-term partnership is as much a business venture built upon their mutual design skills as it is a family endeavour encompassing a deep love for one another.

It’s a team effort, seamlessly operating like a well-oiled machine.

I see this in the way they run the store: it’s a team effort, seamlessly operating like a well-oiled machine. And I have the good fortune to be invited to a sōmen (素麺 : noodle) night at {BUZ}, or more specifically, nagashi sōmen (流し素麺 : flowing noodles) that promises to be interesting.

The noodles are a cross between udon (饂飩 : うどん) and soba (蕎麦 : そば), made from wheat flour like the former but narrower like the latter; similar to those used in a bowl of ramen (ラーメン).

Jonathan – ever the handyman – has cleverly constructed a series of bamboo chutes ingeniously engineered to facilitate a steady stream of water from the mezzanine section down to ground level. It requires a Goldilocks-scenario with a ‘not too fast, not too slow’ approach for optimal effect.

The plan is to release the sōmen at the top from whence they cascade their way through the network of open pipes. To liken it to the game of Mouse Trap unnecessarily complicates the procedure yet the principal of enjoyment is essentially the same. The ultimate aim for diners is to use their chopsticks to pluck the sōmen from the ‘river’ and eat their fill.

20140721-174318-63798663.jpg

The party’s about to commence yet I see Jonathan, tape measure clipped to his belt, is still making last-minute ‘tweaks’ to his apparatus like a scientist conducting an intricate experiment: adjusting the water flow; timing how long it takes for the bin at the end of the chute to fill-up. Making it all happen appears to be a never-ending job.

And Jonathan is quick to agree that like the bamboo chute this shop, which seems to undergo rearrangement ever time I drop-in, is a work-in-progress. As items of furniture are sold, new ones purchased, and events take place, the need to reorder the objets d’art, large and small alike, within the available space is as much a necessity as it is an aesthetic.

As the crowd builds and the ravenous participants wield their hashi (箸 : chopsticks), the festivities begin: deftly capturing noodles like wriggling worms, patrons then dip them in a plastic cup half-filled with dashi (出汁 : a type of clear broth or cooking stock), grated ginger, and shallots. The combination of flavours tastes terrific and it’s a lot of fun.

The beauty of this activity is its ability to bring people together. It’s a community event where folk of all ages participate. One couple look to be in their 60s whereas another have a toddler-in-tow. A 20-something boy and girl compete for strands alongside adults twice their age. Yet it’s not really a competition; more a pastime liberated from the confinement of strict rules.

There’s plenty of cheering and clapping, shouts of encouragement and squeals of laughter, not to mention smiles all-round. A few participants appear to be as lubricated by the liberally supplied drinks as the water transporting the sōmen.

Water … acts as the primordial force uniting friends and family.

Water – long a symbol of life as it both sustains us and mimics the blood coursing through our veins – acts as the primordial force uniting friends and family. Yet perhaps, more simply, it’s just a novel and enjoyable way to have a meal and unwind at the end of a busy week. As the ‘up-tempo’ music playing in the background builds I find myself almost wanting to dance – almost.

When I next visit the store I’m able to explore and admire the vintage furniture and accoutrements more closely: Mason Jars and Fishs Eddy mugs, battered leather chairs and plump canvas cushions, risqué picture postcards and esoteric key rings, brushed-steel lamp stands and funky old calendars. An eclectic range of items that evoke nostalgia, drawing from an era long before mobile phones, the Internet, and selfies.

20140721-174614-63974558.jpg

20140721-174754-64074478.jpg

Jonathan’s keen eye for detail is what led him down the artistic design path. He readily perceives that information needs to be visually accessible and appealing thereby permitting the quick association of fascinating products with otherwise mundane descriptions. Hence the database and in-house app he created for his business cleverly incorporates an image of each item on its price tag providing a user-friendly experience for both customers and staff alike.

20140721-174928-64168812.jpg

In much the same way the combination of comfortable sofas, a cool atmosphere, and a cultivated environment creates a great place to relax; to chill-out. An old jazz LP plays wistfully in the background, in keeping with the retro-American theme.

An oasis in the hustle & bustle of otherwise hectic lives.

I wonder if Jonathan’s underlying carefree, easy-going, social nature – his penchant for meeting people and making connections, discussing concepts and sharing anecdotes – is the driving force behind the establishment of a place such as {BUZ}? A place where one can easily drop-in to have a chat, shoot-the-breeze, and compare notes. An oasis in the hustle & bustle of otherwise hectic lives.

Yet Jonathan is more than just a thinking man; his lithe physique and muscular arms speak volumes about his preference for manual labour. He enjoys making stuff – being practical – something he attributes to his family heritage: his father was a plumber and he has a brother in construction. It calls to mind some of his early childhood memories: building things, fixing tractors, and bailing hay on the family farm.

Upstairs he shows me around the next stage of the building’s development: an open area that it is being remodelled into a space-for-hire targetted at events such as exhibitions and parties.

Of course, he’s doing much of the demolition and renovation work himself. Transforming it with an artistic flair and creative genius. His hands-on approach allows him to better translate what’s in his mind into the real, concrete world. For an inquisitive thinker fluent in both English and Japanese, finding the right words can nevertheless be elusive. My conversations with him remind me of a teacher and pupil or a parent and child: imparting knowledge and wisdom is an imperfect process.

“We could go down that rabbit hole.”

Intuition & information duel, mythologies & mysteries compete, and ideas & ideologies battle as truths swirl around the vortex of his mind. It’s not unusual for Jonathan to veer off on a tangent and “down another rabbit hole”; as much intrigued by the complexities of the world we live in as by the forces that shape and manipulate it.

Yet, like the new glass installation downstairs, Jonathan is all too aware that shifting one’s position can easily change one’s perception. What is abundantly clear at first can suddenly become opaque. Perhaps we see only what we’re taught to see?

As a young boy he would tinker with computers – pulling apart keyboards and reconstructing component parts – eager to recreate and recompose the old into the new. Always questioning and constantly searching, he’s excited about what lays ahead: with regards to his family as well as the business. But it’s one step at a time as he works on seeing this project through to completion.

Whilst Jonathan considers himself lucky he doesn’t take for granted what he’s achieved.

“Ultimately, relationships are far more important to me than success.”

He reassures me that it’s all about finding balance. Yet ultimately, relationships are far more important to him than success. They’re wise words: very palatable and easy to digest. And so I find myself nodding in agreement as I order another beer and share in one of life’s simple pleasures: friendship.

Kim*

Kyōto | Arashiyama

This time about a year ago I arrived in Arashiyama (嵐山) to be greeted by a gentle snow fall. In some ways it was romantic yet in others it was very annoying because I hadn’t dressed warmly enough.

Still, I was not going to let it deter me from the adventure.

A heavy mist engulfed the surrounding mountains.

The streets were very quiet and the houses pleasantly quaint.

It was still a month to go before spring and several weeks before the onslaught of the crowds that descend upon this area as the sakura (桜: cherry blossoms) reveal their glorious beauty.

I distinctly remember the trickle of water through the open stormwater drains was very soothing.

As I found myself lost in another world; in another time.

Aaaah. The serenity of it all!

I look forward to my return to Japan, and especially Kyōto, in one week from today.

Kim*

Brooklyn Roasting Company Ōsaka

Conveniently located in Kitahama (北浜) is another great kissaten (喫茶店 : coffee shop) that I had the good fortune to stumble upon the other day.

The interior is stripped back. Cement walls, floor & ceiling give it a raw and exposed air of hip confidence.

The music is a little funky and obscure yet as inviting as the comfortable chairs and leather sofas that other patrons are reclining in as they read, write, meet and relax.

Bar stools are scattered around modern timber tables, one with a few stylish plants adorning it, probably courtesy of the adjoining florist: bois de gui (lit. mistletoe wood).

20130911-182619.jpg

There’s seating for over 30 although the entire space (inside and out) could probably host a small cocktail party of 60+.

Along the walls are shelves and boxes containing zasshi (雑誌: magazines), a small coffee machine, a skateboard, and an espresso tamper. There are also products for sale including books, t-shirts, coffee beans (コーヒー豆) and similar related items.

20130911-182555.jpg

20130911-182610.jpg

Wi-fi is advertised on a small card attached to one wall but I’m unable to login.

Outside is a large 3m x 10m area with seating for about 20 people. It overlooks the canal called the Tosabori-gawa (土佐堀川) towards the Museum of Oriental Ceramics on the opposite shore.

20130911-182637.jpg

20130911-182656.jpg

The ivy clad walls are unassuming and rustic, softening the harshness of the grey, cement walls. The verdant green of the new shoots adds a gentle touch of friendliness.

20130913-163243.jpg

I order a cappuccino, similar to an Australian flat-white when made by a coffee shop like this in Japan. Needless to say it’s excellent. I can easily compare it to the quality of Bar ISTA, another favourite in Ōsaka, sans the kawaii (かわいい : cute) latte art.

My late afternoon arrival sees a few customers drinking beer (ビール), specifically an Irish pale ale (my preferred style of beer) called McSorley’s

An interesting aside is that one of the baristas is from Senegal of all places: a tiny West African republic that was once colonised by the French.

The heat of the day is starting to dissipate and a light breeze is blowing. The balcony’s northerly aspect means it doesn’t cop the brunt of the afternoon sun which is a bonus.

As I extend my stay to include one of the aforementioned cold beverages I notice too they sell assorted pastries and Mast Brothers Chocolate. Mmmmm!

This place definitely deserves future visits.

www.brooklynroasting.com

Mon to Fri: 8am8pm
Sat, Sun & holidays: 10am7pm

Kim*