Today’s installment of My Asia comes from Ros Lee of Polkaros, a Tokyo-based lifestyle brand.
Ros is a is Singapore-born designer that has been living and working in Japan since 2005. After graduating from Temasek Polytechnic School of Design, she was selected from a group of promising young artists and awarded a scholarship by Singapore’s National Art Council to study language and design in Japan.
After an intensive course in Japanese, Ros entered Joshibi Universitiy of Art and Design where she majored in textile design. Over the course of her studies she participated in gallery showings in Tokyo and upon completion of her degree she was offered a position as a product designer at a Tokyo-based interior goods and lifestyle product company.
After several years of working as an in-house designer, Ros decided to strike out on her own. In 2011 she began working as a design consultant and officially launched the Polkaros brand.
“I still find myself intrigued by my daily discoveries in this city,” she says. “I guess you can never finish exploring Tokyo as it’s ever-changing!”
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If you really want to enjoy some great food swing by Kagurazaka, a charming neighborhood packed with small cafes and restaurants. It’s particularly interesting because of its traditional Japanese atmosphere sprinkled with a dash of European culture. Many French expatriats live nearby; there are a ton of French eateries in the area. Additionally, you’ll also find several excellent tapas bars serving up authentic Spanish dishes. Many of the dining establishments here are top-notch and can be a bit pricy. But budget travelers need not fret. There are plenty of great lunch specials that will allow you to tantalize your palate without breaking the bank. I simply love wandering around the back streets and discovering new shops and watering holes. You should stop by Canal Cafe, Saryo Cafe, El Pulpo, Brassarie Saint Martin.
I love shopping for vintage clothings in Tokyo and I am always inspired by the delightful fabric patterns and colors. Some of my favorite vintage shops are located in Koenji, Kichijoji, and Shimokitazawa. There are so many lovely shops to discover; all you have to do is start walking! My favorite shops are Vivid (Koenji), Garnish (Kichijoji), Big Time (Shimokitazawa), and New York Joe Exchange (Shimokitazawa).
While working as a lifestyle goods designer, I had to do market research to spot trends. That was great because wandering around home interior shops is one of my favorite pastimes! My favorite lifestyle stores are Bazar-et-Garde-Manger, Cibone, Doux Dimanche, Doinel, and Malto.
Visit the Inokashira Park Zoo if you like animals. Have a carefully concocted cocktail in one of the bars on Golden Street. Visit Yoyogi Koen on Sundays. There is usually flea market in the park on Sundays.
Design Festa is an art event, held twice a year, where artists and crafters from all over Japan and around world participate and showcase their works. I participated in my first Design Festa eleven years ago and that was what inspired me to move to Japan. You will find some very creative and well-crafted handmade works at reasonable prices. Design Festa also has two galleries in Harajuku with rental spaces that are open to anyone who wants to showcase their art.
The Okuno Building is not a gallery, but an old apartment building occupied by many small art galleries and event spaces. It was built in the 1930s, during the Early Showa Era and is one of the oldest buildings in Ginza. Many of the galleries have irregular schedules and there is always something to see in this charismatic building.
The Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, the MOT Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, and Watari-um are also worth a look and host great exhibitions.
I like walking and cycling around Tokyo. But taking the train is be the best way to get around if you are visiting. It can be a little overwhelming at first as the train lines are complex and run by different companies. Often station names are written only in Japanese so I highly recommend downloading an app like train.jp where you can find your route simply by entering your location and destination.
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And so, My Asia draws to a close. Do check out the entire 2012 series: My Asia: My Bangkok with Kat Jones, My Asia: My Beijing with Qi Zhai of the Qrious life, My Asia: My Ho Chi Minh City with Sandrine Llouquet, My Asia: My Hong Kong with Wee Ling of chopchopcurrypok, and My Asia: My Manila with Deepa of Currystrumpet.
(Additional credits: Photographs by Ros Lee; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)