Artists turned bar owners Kanomata and Saito on Shimokitazawa as a life transition
This piece is the eighth installment in our ‘Love letter to Shimokitazawa’ series. This project aims to uncover the voices within our local community, helping us better understand what and who made Shimokitazawa the place it is today.
This time we visited Del Heil - a quaint little Shimokitazawa bar just off the main shopping street area. The owners, Kanomata (to the left in the picture above) and Saito (right) first met in Shimokitaza as artists, and are 30 years apart. We believe Del Heil faithfully represents the diversity and fluidity of Shimokitazawa’s community and culture.
Tell us about yourself and your relationship to Shimokitazawa
I was brought up in Utsunomiya city (The capital of Tochigi prefecture) up until high school, and afterwards decided to move to Tokyo and enroll at a theatre school in Shibuya. This is why I chose Shimokita as my home. I stayed here ever since.
Along with theatre, I’ve always loved oil paintings and my passion for art drove me to get more involved in Shimokitazawa’s art scene. Today, I am a part of this family of artists, and once in a while we open a collective gallery with up to 50 presenters. Since I was a high school student I had a dream of building a gallery-shop where I could display my artwork, but as I got to know more people around here I’ve changed my mind. Instead, I came up with a new idea of creating a place where we could all just casually gather, and that's when I thought, “why not open a bar?” My friend, Saito-san, who owned a Yakitori restaurant along side his work as an artist, agreed to give up his place and go on this new venture with me.
Tell us a bit about your bar
(Kanomata & Saito)
We named our place Del Heil (deru hairu), which is a playful letter selection for “Come and Go” in Japanese. From a couple who met here and got married, to an old frequent customer who passed away, we’ve seen many customers come and go in the past 6 years. We wanted this place to become a place of passage both physically - where customer’s can casually stop by for a drink on the way home – and figuratively – a place of transition in their lives.
For some customers, this place is like an outlet, where they guiltlessly vent their frustration after a bad day. For elderlies, it’s place to reminisce about old memories, and for others it may be a space to reflect about past romantic relationships. Whatever it is, our true job is not just serving alcohol but to listen and allow our customers to talk and unwind. No matter what they tell us, everything that happens here, stays here, because at the end of the day we are, fortunately, only strangers.
What sort of changes have you seen in the past years?
Seeing my customers, I feel young people these days are unusually mature. It may be the influence of being born in an era of economic recession, but they have become so responsible, serious and polite. They are good listeners and yet speak out less of their opinions, compared to the older generation like us (Saito) who grew up in the period of the student movement. They should actively and freely speak up more, instead of withdrawing into their shell. Then again, maybe it's a good sign that Japan has become a wealthy country with first world problems.
How would you describe Shimokitazawa?
(Kanomata & Saito)
Shimokitazawa is a closely knitted community made up of people who share and inspire each other with their talent, regardless of age or gender. People who live here know who they truly are, understand what they really love, and do not hesitate to express that to others. This community has become a family to me, people constantly showing care for each other. I would call Shimokitazawa a “united warm village”.
- Article by Eriko Kaneko