Release Date: Mar 4, 2016
Vaughan interviews the man behind new VACANT BAR, the coffee shop inside the Vacant, one of Tokyo’s central cultural hubs.
Vaughan: Kiyoshi-san, welcome to Ki. One of my favourites… Is it your first time here?
Kurotaki Kiyoshi: Yes, it is – and it is so cute! And it’s also the first time I’ve had to take to take off my shoes to enter a coffee shop. It’s kinda like having coffee at my own house, but my house doesn’t really look like this.
V: Yeah, my house is a little different too.. So, Where do you like to go for coffee in your free time?
K: I like having coffee at Shima in Yoyogi Hachiman. I read art books there – old and new. It’s not really my free time though – it’s just what I do. Things just seem to go well with me there.
V: I like how at home you can feel away from home.
K: Yeah, exactly.
V: Kiyoshi-san, I’ve known you since you were working for Transit General Office, managing Theatre Table in the exciting Hikarie Department Store. What were you doing before that?
K: After graduating, I was helping a friend at his shop called Nuage Gift Shop. He was a jewellery designer and I was in charge doing room fragrance there.
V: What type of smells?
K: Japanese coal, incense, type of vibe…
V: Wow, nice! What did you major in?
K: I studied Psychology at Rissho University, but I’ve always had an interest in Art Psychology; mainly the gap between artists who can express themselves and artists who can’t. I wrote my graduate thesis on the five senses (gokan) and how it ties in with fashion designers, photographers and painters.
V: And after graduating you went straight into Transit?
K: Yes, but not not before being hospitalised for four months.
V: What happened?
K: I was walking in Edogawa at night and a taxi hit me. It was dark, it probably wasn’t anyone’s fault. So, yeah, I was admitted into hospital for 4 months. And soon after I was discharged, the 3/11 earthquake hit Tokyo. I still couldn’t move so well. And all I could see in Tokyo was a city of people who seemed not to be able to move so well either… Life was frustratingly negative for me then.
V: I remember 3/11 like it was yesterday… But it’s good that you look energized now.
K: My body is still not 100% but my mind is where it’s always wanted to be.
V: When did you start working at Transit?
K: About a month after the earthquake, I landed the job there and spent about 2 and a half years working at Theatre Table as restaurant manager, and then a stint at The Works in Nakameguro as space manager. I pretty much used all the money I made to support artists; I really loved buying their work, and working with them on projects on the side. At The Works, I was looking after events such as fashion events and exhibitions. And while working in that capacity, I soon realized that I had an urge to connect with artists and customers more. Even though it was a great experience, it was time to move on.
V: Where to from there?
K: With the money I had saved up, I met with various artists and got involved in various projects. I also started contacting various galleries to book exhibitions, mainly painters.
V: And now you’re at Vacant Bar in Harajuku! One of the trendiest hubs in town!
K: Yes, I was asked to run the coffee shop and I am also working with a contemporary musician and illustrator to hold events there.
V: For our readers who don’t know Vacant, how would you describe it?
K: Vacant is in Harajuku – there’s a lot of creative people, there’s a lot of foreigners, there’s a lot of youth there – yeah, it’s a HUB. The owner and I are very much on the same page about it becoming a place where events are held which connect people, and moreover continue to build a relationship with people beyond any single event.
V: I’ve been to a few cool events there. Let’s talk about VACANT BAR – you’re using Little Nap beans at the moment?
K: Well, we’re in the pre-open stages at the moment, aiming to officially open in April. I’m serving Japanese tea and drip coffee using Little Nap Coffee beans, and I hope to add a variety of coffee beans down the track. We’ll have some seating outside from April – but for the time being you’re able to browse the books on display on the first floor or take your coffee to the second floor when events are held.
V: What’s the vision?
K: We’d love to host more events with foreign artists – so if anyone wants to work with us, come and speak with us. We want to find a way to support various artists.
V: And finally, what’s this I hear about a new bar in Golden Gai? This sounds exciting!
K: I’m helping open a bar in Golden Gai called The Open Book. The owner’s name is Kai – which means “to open”, and his grandfather was an author – so that’s why we’re calling it The Open Book. There are also many books on display, which you’ll be able to borrow too. We open on March 14. There are 3 floors. The first floor is a bar, and the third floor there is a special Japanese tatami area.
V: Any coffee at The Open Book?
K: There well might be!