Tag Archives: Eric Nakamura

Giant Robot Biennale 4 at Japanese American National Museum

December 12, 2015

Sawtelle Japantown’s Giant Robot has a temporary satellite location in Downtown Los Angeles by way of an exhibition called Giant Robot Biennale 4 at the Japanese American National Museum.  Giant Robot store and GR2 Gallery owner Eric Nakamura is the curator and has hand picked artists for the exhibition .  Many of the artists are regulars who exhibit at Eric’s GR2 gallery.

I attended the opening party in October and was impressed by the collection of works. The exhibit has a cool effortless vibe. There is even a replica Giant Robot store which showcases past and present merchandise sold at the Giant Robot store.   This exhibit which is housed on 2 floors goes on through January 24, 2016 and is a must see!

A few of my favorites are below.

The entrance to the first floor exhibit has a dreamy and calming floor and ceiling giant mural piece by Kozydan (The entrance to the first floor exhibit has a dreamy and calming floor and ceiling mural (photo by SawtelleJapantown.com).

The entrance to the first floor exhibit has a dreamy and calming floor and ceiling  mural piece by Kozyndan (photo by SawtelleJapantown.com).

Giant Robot Replica Store

Giant Robot Replica Store (photo by SawtelleJapantown.com)

Spotted Sawtelle Japantown hats

Spotted Sawtelle Japantown hats (photo by SawtelleJapantown.com)

Yoskay Yamamoto

Yoskay Yamamoto (photo by SawtelleJapantown.com)

Welcome Home by Esao Andrews

Welcome Home by Esao Andrews (photo by SawtelleJapantown.com)

Rob Sato

Big Son by Rob Sato (photo by SawtelleJapantown.com)

Bowl Cut by Luke Chueh (photo by SawtelleJapantown.com)

Bowl Cut by Luke Chueh (photo by SawtelleJapantown.com)

Curator Eric Nakamura

Curator Eric Nakamura (photo by SawtelleJapantown.com)

The Japanese American National Museum is located at:

100 North Central Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90012

 

Giant Robot Biennale 4 Exhibit at Japanese American National Museum

October 5, 2015

JANM-GRB4-OpeningParty-invite-FINAL (1)

Sawtelle Japantown’s Giant Robot and GR2 owner Eric Nakamura curates the Biennale 4 Exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum.  The exhibit runs from October 11, 2015 to January 24, 2016 with a kick off party this Saturday, October 10, 2015 from 7pm to 10pm.

For more information on Eric and GR2, check out our prior post here.

The Japanese American National Museum is located at 100 North Central Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Giant Robot 2 GR 2 / ジャイアントロボット 2 GR2

June 7, 2015

Eric Nakamura

Eric Nakamura

By Malcolm Johnson*

One of the things that makes successful ventures successful is the usually the singular vision of one person.  Y’see, the trick is to make something, very narrowly, very specifically you, and then hope others will see the uniqueness of what you’ve done, and hop on board.

Giant Robot owner, Eric Nakamura likes…well, Giant Robots.  He has ever since he was a kid.  He’s also a Sawtelle Japantown guy, having grown up in the area back before it was known as Little Osaka (read Eric’s post on his thoughts to the changes occurring in Sawtelle Japantown).

So what do you do if you if you’re from Sawtelle Japantown and have a hankering for the good stuff in Japanese Pop Culture?  Well, most people would open a Comic Book store and be done with it.  But calling the Giant Robot Store a “comic book store” is seeing things through too narrow a lens.  Sure, Giant Robot is a temple of Japanese Pop Culture and Japanese-American tributes to said Japanese Pop Culture, but it’s more than that.

Sure you can get your books, posters, and T-Shirts over at Giant Robot, but the store has also served as a valuable launching platform for new and emerging brands, like the Ugly Doll. That helped launch UglyCon.  The Giant Robot Store also helped launch the Giant Robot Magazine.

Giant Robot Exterior

Giant Robot Exterior

IMG_7402-Edit (640x427)

All this from the mind of one, open-minded, welcoming and in-the-know entrepreneur.

So what do you do now?

Well, maybe you open a Gallery Space down the block, featuring a rotating Gallery collections of up and coming, cutting edge artists.

That’s what Eric Nakamura did, and he called it GR2.

Again, like Giant Robot the original, GR2 is much more than just a temple of Japanese Pop Culture, it’s an Art Gallery, featuring up and coming artists on a regular basis.  Every once in a while, you may find some known Artists (like DC Comic’s Jim Lee) coming through for a signing or a talk, but Eric has devoted his time and energy to also launching brands through the Giant Robot Stores.  Things like the Ugly Doll, which found their start in the original Giant Robot Store, and have grown to having their own Conventions.

The Artists you may not have heard of, but they’re always worth a look.  Beside, you’ll be able to say you saw ‘em back in the day, before the got big.

GR2 has poetry readings, and most recently an Experimental Game Demonstration featuring the students at USC (University of Southern California).

GR2 set up a bunch of stations just outside the store, most featuring TVs where the Student Programmers could demonstrate their wares.  And it wasn’t just Video Games, there were a few Board or non-electronic games at work also.  Students would man a station for forty minutes, then rotate to a new location to keep things fresh.

They even projected some games on the side of the store, which was also a lot of fun, and brought a great energy to the affair.

There will be more evenings like this.  They are events that Eric is quite proud of, and an idea that Giant Robot wants to build upon.  Events like these help build the community, and that’s nothing but a good thing.  Sawtelle Japantown is an old community.  Maybe one that most locals don’t know about, but it’s been around since the 1920s. It’s got a long history and a proud one.  Still, the official name of the area (as of publication) is only a few months old, and the community is as a whole is starting to see influx of Hipsters.

Nothing wrong with Hipsters, and if they’re here to help keep what Sawtelle Japantown is and has always been, great.  But that’s not been the history of communities like this.  Even Little Tokyo, is finding itself more and more gentrified as time goes on, as more and more of the residents move on to places like Torrance.  Soon, we could find the unique little nugget that is Sawtelle Japantown in the same condition.

But not if the residents have anything to say about it.  Not if people like Eric Nakamura and the Giant Robot stores have anything do with it.   This is an old and proud community.  Long may she reign.

GR2 is as much a labor of love for Eric Nakamura as much as anything else.  He’s totally cool with people just dropping by to see what’s on display, and there’s no pressure to buy anything at the store (even though there are prints available that are ridiculously cheap all things considered.)

If you want to take Photographs of what you see, that’s mostly cool also, but I’d check in with the GR2 Staff to make sure it’s okay.  I can see these varying from artist to artist.

* Contributing writer Malcolm Johnson is the publisher of the food blog Is It Any Good

ジャイアントロボット2

成功しているビジネスは一人のビジョンから成り立っている事が 多い。その秘密は自分らしさを徹底追求してる事で他の人々がそれに気が付いて 共感することだ。

ジャイアントロボット2 のオーナーは 子供のころからジャイアントロボッㇳが 大好きだった。彼はソーテルジャパンタウンがリトル大阪と言われる前から 住民だった。日本のポップカルチャーが好きな場合大抵ならコミックストアーを作るだけだがそれは視野が狭すぎる。ジャイアントロボッㇳは日本のポップカルチャーの殿堂であり日系人のそれに対するㇳリビューㇳ以上のものがある。本、ポスター、T-シャツを売るが新ブランドアグリードールやアグリーコム誕生のきっかけを作った、ジャイアントロボッㇳマガジンも作った。これら全ては心広く全てを歓迎する企業家が築いた。その後は近くに新人向けギャラリー設立 ジャイアントロボッㇳ2と命名。ここはポップカルチャーの殿堂を超え新人アーテストを毎月展示するギャラリーだ。

たまに有名なアーテストDCコミックのJim Lee 等がきてサイン会をしたりレクチャーしたりするがエリックは店中にブランドを作ることにも力をいれている。アグリードールなどは愛好者の話題にもなっている。無名のアーテストでものちに有名に成る可能性がある。ジャイアントロボッㇳ2では詩の朗読会やUSCの学生をフィーチャーした実験ゲームを行った。外に沢山のステーションを作り学生のプログラマーがーデモを行った。

他にもエレクトリックでないゲームも有り一人当たり40分で場所替えをしながら楽しんだ。店内にもゲームを置きエネルギー一杯のイベントとなった。これからもこのようなイベントを続ける。エリックはこれがコミニュテイを作っていくと考えている。当地は古くからあった誇りを持ったコミュニテイで歴史もある。しかし正式名称ソーテルジャパンタウンは数日目だがすでに多くのヒップな人達が集まりはじまっている。ヒップな人達が悪いわけではない。

コミュニティの良いところがつずくと良いのだがエリックはそうでないケースが多いと言う。リトル東京も変わってきている。

住民はㇳーランスの様な所に移住しているのでいずれはこの小さな金塊ソーテルジャパンタウンも同じような運命かも知れない。でもエリックなかむらの様な人やジャイアントロボッㇳがある限りこの古く誇り深い町は存在する。ソーテルジャパンよ永遠に!

Hours:

Monday-Tuesday: Closed

Wednesday-Thursday: 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Friday-Saturday: 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Sunday: 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm

GR2 is located at:

2062 Sawtelle Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025

 

Little Osaka Ousted, In Its Place: Sawtelle Japantown / リトル大阪の名前はソーテルジャパンタウンに追い出された

April 16, 2015

Publisher’s Note: This post written by Giant Robot and GR2 owner Eric Nakamura was first published in You Offend Me You Offend My Family (YOMYOMF) here.  Eric and YOMYOMF graciously allowed SawtelleJapantown.com to reprint the post for our readers.

sawetelle1

By Eric Nakamura

The perimeter of blocks surrounding the West Los Angeles area featuring the busy “Sawtelle,” “Sawtelle Corridor,” or “Little Osaka,” is no longer named any of these, it’s now Sawtelle Japantown. On Sunday, March 29th, Sawtelle and Olympic Blvds became the site host for the unveiling of the Sawtelle Japantown designation. From that corner up to Santa Monica Blvd, where a second sign will guide southbound drivers, the confusion of neighborhood names will no longer exist.

Growing up in the area, the name was always “Sawtelle.” It would be used like: “Let’s go eat on Sawtelle.” Where in LA do you live? Depending on whom you’re speaking with (a Japanese American), your answer could be: “Sawtelle.” They’d know what that is. If not, the other answer was, “West LA,” although West LA is a much wider area, as much as Sawtelle is a much longer street. Yet, as a youth, “West LA” was “Sawtelle,” and “Sawtelle” was the neighborhood surrounding the Japanese / Japanese American area just north of Olympic Blvd.

sawtelle2My History on Sawtelle

Sawtelle was where I attended Japanese School, Buddhist Temple, YMCA, and day care. In the area was my grandparents’ house, my parents’ past home, where my father worked (at T and T Service Station) — and it’s the area where my parents met. The story goes something like this: my mother and her sister’s car broke down about a ten minute walk away. My father went to help and that’s where they met. I believe he told them that their car was a p.o.s.

I’ve lived just blocks from Sawtelle Blvd for 14 years and that’s where Giant Robot magazine was made —Sawtelle Blvd was where I opened Giant Robot Store in 2001 and GR2 Gallery in 2003. I’ve had gr/eats restaurant for seven years and even kept an office on the block for a few years. At one time, I had four leases on the block, and a home nearby. I still work out of the “home office,” and I’m on Sawtelle five days a week. It’s my life right now.

sawtelle3

The Changes

Many remark that I’ve seen the changes, and it’s true that I’ve seen the changes in the last three years, but I’ve also seen changes in the last 14 which that most don’t recognize. Imagine the block when Giant Robot moved in. What was there? You’d have an entirely different picture and perspective of the area. It would be completely unrecognizable. Knowing the area, it would be somewhat easy to say that the change from 1981 to 2001 would amount to a tiny change in comparison from 2001 on, and perhaps 2012 to now is even faster. The word change for the purposes of my experiences are always about the street of Sawtelle, not the surrounding area or “community.”

Yet one thing that hasn’t changed as much, except for the clientele, is the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle, which hosts Japanese School, Judo, Kendo, and plenty of after school programs for kids — and the religious facilities in the area, notably the Buddhist Temple, whichhosts The Obon, and the Methodist Church, who hosts events that are not frequented by typical Sawtelle visitors, but by the remaining Japanese American “community.” I once thought their participation on the street of Sawtelle was extremely lacking but behind the scenes there’s still something strong that has an incredibly dubious future once the “elders” no longer participate. It can slow down dramatically.

Another question I get is about my opinion about the change. I’m aware that Giant Robot went from being the newest business, bringing plenty of press and energy into the area, to now being a business that’s been here so long that people have little knowledge of our history. It’s about fighting for parking and getting a bowl of ramen. It’s become a youthful food area, filled with tasty and savory meals — that will kill you. The entrepreneurs who moved in just a few years ago brought on an onslaught of change. The area went from being neighborly to being strangers. The “community” is now a battle for the dollar. As I now describe the street, it’s “every person for themselves.” Gone are the days when we’d care even just a little about our fellow competitor’s health — now we don’t even know who they are.

Then, to the chagrin of the upstart entrepreneurs, came the latest new business, Lemonade. The “corporate brand” moves in and the neighborhood immediately turns to yet a newer direction. The food revisionist businesses are now threatened just a bit, and the change appears to be exponential. There’s no stopping it. In a few years, we’ll see more corporate entities. Perhaps that’s why the “tribal elders” decided it was time to get a designation. In a short span, the street went from being Japanese or Japanese American owned to an area where “we” are a minority. In fact, I’m willing to guess that there are fewer Japanese American owned businesses on Sawtelle than Japanese owned, who are already outnumbered by everyone else. On top of that, how many businesses are owned by corporations whose officers are not from the area at all? The street isn’t owned by the neighbors, it’s owned by the dollar.

Ayako Masada, Jack Fujimoto, Randy Sakamoto, Hank Iwamoto, Marlene Sakamoto, Randall Fujimoto, Councilmember Mike Bonin

Ayako Masada, Jack Fujimoto, Randy Sakamoto, Hank Iwamoto, Marlene Sakamoto, Randall Fujimoto, Councilmember Mike Bonin

What’s in a Name?

I’ve been asked about my feelings about the name “Sawtelle Japantown.” After a lifetime of knowing it as another name, and then hearing later iterations, it’s a welcome change. I’ve been asked about Little Osaka numerous times and, although I’d hate to take credit for it, I said it about 12 or so years ago on a whim in an LA Weekly article. If I’m responsible for that name, I apologize. I’m not necessarily a fan of Osaka — I prefer Tokyo, and it’s something that shouldn’t have stuck.

Yet the big question is what’s in a name? What does this mean for the future? Will there be a quota of Japanese themed or owned businesses? It’s been said that it’s up to the landlords, many of who actually care, but ultimately will be governed by economics. Can anyone control to whom they give leases or to whom they can sell their property? These are the questions going forward. Now that a name is essentially branding the area, the next phase is to live up to it. Can “we?”

sawtelle5

This past Sunday at noon, a decent sized group gathered at the corner of Sawtelle and Olympic. LA Councilman Mike Bonin, Consul General ofJapan Harry H. Horinouchi, and a group of locals (I’m continuing by joke referring to them as “tribal elders”), who worked hard to get the name designation got together and presented the new sign. It was warm and people’s spirits were exceptionally high. There was as many smiles, clapping, and cheering as I’ve ever seen on the street. It was a great day for the locals, many who’ve been here for their entire lives. I actually believe that their gift to the area is this sign and designation. It’s huge. It’ll outlive us all and in a way, preserves a legacy for future generations to figure out. 

Although it didn’t ruin the joyfulness of that moment, I couldn’t help but notice an employee from Lemonade shamelessly step up in front of everyone, media, cameras, and the Sawtelle Japantown sign to hand a branded cold drink to Consul General Horinouchi to hold during the photo op. Even a pristine and historical designation event got branded by the largest new business — one that’s completely not Japanese or Asian at all. It was a tactless yet “business-wise” move and shows clearly where the street is at.

Later in the afternoon, in front of GR2, I helped save two baby birds with some help. After seeing one get hit by a car and miraculously survive, we scooped them into a cardboard box with signs saying to leave them alone. Hundreds walked by and did the opposite. Some even questioned why they were in a box rather than, I suppose, being left alone to be further run over by cars. The street isn’t about helping, taking action, and being neighborly like the neighborhood it once was — it’s respectfully and perhaps rightfully about business, and that’s the biggest change of all. I’m up for this too, but I just need to stop caring too much.

Ironically, it took a person from Venice, Laura Lee to answer the call to take care of the bird. Today, it’s thriving.

Ironically, it took a person from Venice, Laura Lee to answer the call to take care of the bird. Today, it’s thriving.

リトル大阪の名前はソーテルジャパンタウンに追い出された

ソーテル、ソーテル地帯、又はリトル大阪と呼ばれたこの周りの地域は新しくソーテルジャパンタウンと命名された。3月29日ソーテルとオリンピック道りの角、南端はサンタモニカの角にソーテルジャパンタウン(Sawtelle Japantown) という標識がかかげられこの周辺の呼び名がソーテルジャパンタウンと確定し名前の混乱は無くなった。命名式はソーテルとオリンピック道り角で行われた。

この街で育った者にとって名前はいつもソーテルだった。”ソーテルに食べに行こう”とか”どこに住んでいるのでいるの”とか 聞かれた時日系人に対してはソーテルと答え他の人々にはウエストLAと答えた。しかし若いころの自分にとってのウエストLAは常に日本人や日系人に囲まれたオリンピック道りの北側ソーテルの事だった。

ソーテル自分史

ソーテルは私が日本語学校、仏教会、YMCA、保育園に通った場所であり 祖父母、両親の家や仕事場(T and T Service Station)又両親が出会った場所でもあった。その経緯は母と妹の車が壊れた時父が助けに行きオンボロ車だと言った場所でもある。

ソーテルに私は14年間住みジャイアントロボットマガジンを創り、2001年にジャイアントロボットストア、2003年にGR2ギャラリーを開業した。GR/EATSレストランを7年間経営し事務所も近くにあった。一時期この通りに4軒仮店舗し自宅も近くにあった。今はホームオフィスから仕事をし週5日ソーテルで過ごしこの地は私の人生となっている。

変遷

人々は私がこの街の変遷を知っていると言う。確かにこの3年の変化には目を見張るものがある。しかし皆は気ずいていないがこの14年間の変化も私は見ている。ジャイアントロボットが出店した頃のこの周辺は 今からは想像するのも難しい。1981年から2001年の周辺の変化は2001年以降のものとは見るに値しない位でまた2012年以後は目を見張るものがある。私の使う変化という言葉はソーテル道りだけのもので周りのコミニュテイの事ではない。

未だ変わらないのは 日本語学校、柔道、剣道、子供用放課後プログラムを持つJapanese Institute of Sawtelle(ソーテル日本協会)と 地域のお盆を主催する仏教寺院やソーテル道りの客は来ないが日系人が参加するメソジスト教会があり頑張って活動しているが現役が参加しなくなった時には失速しかねない。

よく聞かれる質問は変化についてどう思うかというものだ。ジャイアントロボットは新しいビジネスとしてプレスやエネルギーを地域に持たらしたが長年の時とともに歴史は薄れつつある。最近はパーキング探しに苦労し ラーメンを食べる場所として知られる。若者向け美味しい物を食べる評判の良い場所となった。数年前にやってきた起業家達が猛烈な変化を持たらした。近辺が隣人に親切な町から知らない人の町となった。コミュニティーは今やお金の戦の場となっている。今やこの通りは自分自身しかない。相手の事を思いやった日々は過去となり相手が誰かも判らなくなっている。

初期の起業家にとって残念な事に新ビジネスレモネードが参入してきた。企業ブランドが参入することにより近隣は又もや新しい方向に向かいだした。その変化は説明がつくものだ。数年のうちにはもっと企業が入り込む事は止められない。そんなわけで先輩方が命名を決める事にしたのかも知ない。短い間にソーテル通りは日本人又は日系人ビジネスオーナーが少数になるというはめになった。現実に日系人オーナーは日本人オーナーより少なくまた日本人オーナーも他人種より少なくなっていると言っても過言ではないと私には思われる。その上この地域からではない企業によるビジネスがある。最早道りは近隣の人々ものではなくなりお金に支配されている。

ソーテルジャパンタウンという名前の感想を聞かれるがこの呼び名は歓迎です。リトル大阪については私が付けたのでよく質問されます。12年ほど前LA WEEKLYの記事では私はもしリトル大阪という名が私の責任なら大阪より東京が好きなので無くなっても構いませんと答えた。

しかし大きな問題はこの名の意味することは何かそして将来どうなるのか?や日本がテーマの店や日本人オーナーの店に枠が与えられるのか?等だ。それは家主により最終的には経済によって決められる。誰が不動産を貸したり売ったりすると時コントロールできるか?もこれからの問題となる。ブランドとしての名前が付いた今次はその名に恥じない行動がとれるか?が課題だ。

先週の土曜日ソーテルとオリンピックの角で集会があり標識命名に貢献したBONIN市議(LA)、堀内日本国総領事、地元住民が参加して新しい標識がかかげられた。拍手や笑顔のある地元でわあまり見たことのない和やかな光景だった。地元民にとって素晴らしい日でその多くは一生を当地で過ごした方々だ。この標識はこの方々からの地元に贈られた大きな未来への遺産として伝承されていくギフトのように思われる。

集会場ではレモネードの店員が恥もなくメディア、カメラ、ソーテルジャパンタウン標識の前に出て堀内総領事が写真撮影する時に自社ブランド入り飲み物を持たせ事は目に余り関心出来なかった。真新しい標識命名式でさえ日本にもアジアにも関係のない大企業によりブランド付けされた。それは利口な商売であって現在のこの通りの状況を表していると言える。

その日の午後GR2の店の前で2羽の小鳥を人手を借り助けた。Ⅰ羽が車にひかれたが助かったのを見て箱に入れそっとしておくように表示したにもかかわらず人々は反対の行動をした。箱に入れているのは車にはねられないためだという事も分からないようだ。この通りはもはや昔のように近隣の人の為に行動したり助けたりする通りでわなく立派な正しいビジネス通りとなった事が一大変化だ。私はこの変化にも応じられるがそれには人の為を思いすぎるのを自粛する必要が有る。