Tokyo’s Creative Corner

Tokyo’s Creative Corner


Anjin at Daikanyama T-Site bookstore.

Photo by Marie Takahashi

NAME: Kashiwa Sato
AGE: 47
OCCUPATION: Founder of Samurai Design Studio and creative director for Uniqlo
NEIGHBORHOOD: Higashi, Tokyo

I’ve traveled to New York, Paris, London, Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and I love all those places. But Tokyo has an unrivaled sense of speed that I find exhilarating. We also have the best of everything in the world here, from design to fashion to food. There’s an incredible amount of information in this city, and the way it exists together in a jumbled, unorganized state is stimulating and inspiring. As a native, I’m plugged into multiple networks, so I know a lot of places to explore.

Higashi, where I live and work, isn’t that famous compared with its trendy neighbors Hiroo, Nishi-Azabu, and Daikanyama, and it hasn’t gentrified much yet. It’s really an up-and-coming creative neighborhood. Tucked behind ordinary homes are the offices of famous fashion stylists, such as Sonia Park, and studios like E, Draft, and Kigi, which are run by well-known art directors.


Montbell, a shop specializing in Japanese outdoor gear, and 21_21 Design Sight, an experimental design museum.

Photos by Marie Takahashi

I’ve been running my own design studio, Samurai, since 2000. Many of my clients are Japanese companies that want to go global. A large part of my job is finding ways to answer the question, How do you express contemporary, cool Japan in a fun and universal way?

One of my most popular clients is the clothing chain Uniqlo. My first global gig was designing the Uniqlo store in Soho back in 2006. The CEO called me and said, “I want to bring this brand to the world, starting with a flagship store in Manhattan.” We wanted to give Gap, H&M, and Zara a run for their money in the global casual apparel scene.

I invented a font that represents the brand. Uniqlo is a very basic brand—practical, organized, colorful—so the font is also practical and organized. Because it’s a Japanese company, I used white and red with some black outlines, kind of like the Japanese flag. It’s a powerful graphic design system that creates uniformity for the brand.


Nezu Museum, built to house the private collection of a railroad company mogul; Helmsdale, a scotch and whiskey bar.

Photos by Marie Takahashi

Creativity comes both from my time at home and from my travels. I live above my studio, and this neighborhood is perfect for me—it’s not too loud for living and not too quiet for working. I’m just not the rowdy type. I like peaceful, intimate spaces. Nearby, Nishi-Azabu, to the east, is high end and vibrant. Roppongi and Hiroo, just a quick cab ride from here, are full of office buildings, nightclubs, and restaurants.

Higashi is kind of like a hybrid of all three of those neighborhoods. For example, just 100 meters from my house is Meiji Dori, a major boulevard lined with ramen shops, bookstores, and cafés. But once you’re in the immediate vicinity of my home, you’ve got schools, universities, and residences. Higashi is right at the intersection of business and education, and I think that intersection is spawning a new flavor of design.

Photo by Marie Takahashi. This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue.

I write articles about culture, technology, and human rights for Wired, Popular Science, Fast Company, and the New York Times Magazine. My latest project is an episodic documentary film called We Are All Radioactive. I am also the founder of The Tofu Project, a boutique program that helps Japanese entrepreneurs and creators think deeper, tell better stories, and go out into the world in a much bigger way. We work with companies like Digital Garage, Japan Airlines, and
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