{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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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*

Captain Kangaroo

The place is dark. Really dark.

Painted black walls festooned with photographs of past festivities enjoyed by patrons compete with US beer & alcohol memorabilia (Miller, Coors, Jack Daniels, Budweiser) and movie posters (Pulp Fiction) and more US memorabilia (Goodyear, Route 66, Chevrolet).

Phew! A kangaroo “NEXT 14km” sign behind the bar reminds me that it’s still an Aussie billabong (watering hole).

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Located in the heart of Kitashinchi, this is a pub that deserves close scrutiny.

Happy hour is from 6pm – 8pm with beers a little cheaper than normal and a beer + food combo costing just ¥1000.

For me, I like the smell of the nachos another group orders.

There are 50 beers to choose from although nothing classy like Little Creatures or James Squire. Shame.

In the end I settle for a Bass Pale Ale.

But there’s also Japanese shochu, Chilean red, Mexican tequila and German Jägermeister on offer. Quite an international flavour indeed.

Not surprising, the atmosphere is thick with cigarette and cigar smoke.

A game of sakkā (soccer) is being televised on the terebi (television) screens. Japan (日本) are playing Latvia (ラトビア) at home. No score yet so plenty of tension.

It took me a minute to decipher the katakana but I got there in the end. It’s not easy when Japanese substitute R’s for L’s and B’s for V’s. It’s a similar difficulty when trying to read “vanilla” (バニラー).

It’s a venue that clearly likes to celebrate. A Halloween poster (albeit from last year) encourages costumes and a party attitude.

There are a few scattered gaijin (外人: foreigners) but it’s predominantly locals. Although I’m sure it’s a popular haunt for ex-pats.

Finally a goal. And the crowd cheers!

Unlike many pubs back home there are no poker machines. No pool tables. No space.

Yet the place has loads of character, no doubt about it.

The nachos are good if not great. Mind you it’s pub fare so I’m not complaining. And the serving is more than adequate for my avaricious appetite.

Towards the end of the night I strike up a conversation with a German who’s been living in Ōsaka for almost 30 years.

Now retired but eager to keep himself busy he’s starting up a German Sausage House. If nothing else it’s original. As far as I know there’s certainly nothing like it Ōsaka.

It’s interesting to hear his ideas and dreams. To be carried along by his optimistic enthusiasm.

I’ve always said that the best experiences are those shared with others or that simply involve meeting people.

Kim*

The Tipplers Arms

A small pub in Azabu-jūban specialising in UK ales (eg Guinness, Bishops Finger, Fuller’s) and similar foreign bīru (beer) and wain (wine).

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For entertainment tonight they had the MotoGP screening on one TV whilst a World Cup qualifier between Japan & Oman was being televised to a small yet passionate crowd of Japanese and foreign fans alike on the big screen.

15/20 food (taste) : their stew is amazing – it’s enough to make me a regular

10/20 food (selection) : not sure of the options but I did see someone eating nachos

14/20 staff : not surprisingly they speak excellent English and know how to look after their patrons

15/20 atmosphere : excellent

13/20 price : ¥1000 or more isn’t cheap for a beer but admittedly it is imported and tastes great

67/100 : I expect I’ll be back many times

Catering to the ex-pat community in nearby Roppongi, this place is a real gem.

Kim*