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Arguably one of the most influential characters in the whole global streetwear phenomenon, the so-called “Godfather of Harajuku” Hiroshi Fujiwara is the subject of an Interview Magazine. The interview conducted by another notable individual in Nike’s Fraser Cooke delves extensively into HF’s little known past which includes his time traveling, his inclusion in the International Stüssy Tribe and the start of his first label, Goodenough in 1989. Part of the interview can be found below.
Let’s begin by going back to the past for a minute to get some historical context. Many people might call you the Godfather of Harajuku—the guy who helped popularize hip-hop and DJ culture here in Japan back in the day.
When I was 18 years old, I came to Tokyo from my hometown, Ise, in the countryside. I’d always been really inspired by fashion and music, especially when punk came out in ’76 or ’77. So I guess I arrived in Tokyo in around ’81. Around that time, I visited London for about two months—it was the period just before Malcolm McLaren released his solo album Duck Rock . I’d met him when he came to Japan, so I visited him in London and spent one evening with him and his girlfriend over at his house. He told me, “London is boring right now. You should go to New York.” So he called a friend in New York, who I think was an old assistant or someone who helped him record early hip-hop stuff over there. I said okay and flew to New York. Once I got there, I saw those hip-hop things going on. The Roxy was really happening—Afrika Islam, Kool Lady Blue, that whole scene. I really got interested in the DJ side. I mean, I guess I was some kind of DJ in Japan already, but the hip-hop scene was naturally happening, and I picked up on that style, then brought back the information on records and technique to Tokyo.
Malcolm McLaren told you that London was boring. But, as someone coming from Japan, did you actually think that London was boring?
No. It was really interesting, but it was very slow. Everything closed on Saturday and Sunday. The stores closed at 6 p.m., and if you missed, even by a few minutes, they wouldn’t let you in. Even if you knew exactly what you wanted, they’d say, “No, no, come back tomorrow.”
You stayed with some pretty interesting people in London.
Yes. I was 18 years old, first time in -London, and I was introduced by a friend from Japan called Hitomi [Okawa], who is behind the label Milk, to a group of people that included [director] John Maybury, Stephen Jones, [designer] David Holah, and Boy George. They were all pretty young. Culture Club was just beginning. Marilyn [the New Romantic pop singer] and Jeremy Healy from the band Haysi Fantayzee were there. Many people were sharing one apartment with many rooms. So I was in that community.
I guess it’s fair to say that before Stüssy, streetwear was more about mixing and matching. It was about self-styling. But Stüssy managed to pull a lot of elements together and mix them up with fashion, art, and music references, etc. It was the first time that it was all presented as a package. You went on to do something similar yourself in Japan with -Goodenough.
Goodenough was definitely inspired by Stüssy, as well as the label Anarchic Adjustment from England. Shawn came from surf culture, and Nick [Philip], who founded Anarchic Adjustment, I think came from a BMX background. But I actually came from the fashion side, so maybe I knew more about fashion—and music like hip-hop because I was a DJ—so it was really successful when we mixed it all up together.
The success of Goodenough began to raise your profile in Japanese magazines. How did that happen?
In those days, people were really hungry for information—and, somehow, I had pretty good access because I had friends in London, New York, Los Angeles, everywhere. I’d been visiting many places and talking with people, so I had a constant flow of new info. I sometimes did articles for magazines and things, and people started to say, “If you want to know what’s going on, ask Hiroshi.” So that was the beginning with Goodenough. During that time, Nigo was kind of my assistant for both deejaying and styling because he has a good sense with clothing. Also around me were Jonio [Jun Takahashi], who was starting Undercover, and Shinsuke Takizawa of Neighborhood, who was a student. I put Shinsuke to work with File Records, which handled the Major Force label, since they needed staff to work and to create merchandise. So we began to connect a few things.
How do you feel about the success and rise in influence of some of your other friends and colleagues—Jun and Nigo, for example—who have achieved a certain level of recognition outside of Japan?
I think it’s amazing. I don’t feel like that kind of thing would ever happen to me, as I’m not like those kinds of designers—I don’t want to express myself in such a categorized way. I kind of want to be in the middle of the majority and the minority. I don’t really want people to know what I am.
What’s the state of the Harajuku scene right now? Do you think the people and brands we’ve been talking about are the end product of the cycle that produced them, but the scene itself is kind of over?
It’s not really finished. It just became too big—you can’t really say those are small, independent companies anymore. There should be something smaller happening, although I can’t really say I’ve found it, which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. If there’s a really good thing going on now and I don’t know about it, I think that’s kind of right. If I know what’s going on, then it’s not truly new, if you know what I mean. When we started Nowhere, maybe the fashion industry recognized something was happening, but they just thought, Oh, those kids . . . whatever. They didn’t know what was actually going on with us. Now we are those people in a sense—the current establishment. So I hope there’s something happening that is new and independent that we know nothing about. Maybe it’s even being done by people who see our generation as an enemy. That can create energy as well.
New York, London, and Tokyo have provided you with inspiration for the past 20 or 30 years. But how do you feel now about the energy of those cities? How do you feel about the scene?
It has become really boring. I mean, 30 years ago, London was really happening—there was swinging London and then punk. It was really different from other cities, and so I’d always wanted to go there and see what was actually going on. After that, hip-hop was the next thing happening, so to get the records or the proper clothing, you really had to actually go to New York. But now you don’t really need to go. For example, if I see a nice photography book in New York, and I don’t want to have to carry that back to Japan with me, I just order it from Amazon when I come home. There’s no treasure-hunting anymore. It used to be like a hunt to find Air Jordans, Max 95s, and carrying them back.
At the end of last year you did this book, Personal Effects, which is a selection of 100 diverse personal items that you feel are interesting. I actually helped clean up the English on it. But how did that happen?
A few magazine publishers were interested in me doing a book, but one in particular called Magazine House, who do Brutus and Popeye [Japanese magazines]—you know those Japanese fashion-book specialists—asked me to do a version of a book that already exists, which was originally done by a stylist called Sonya Park. She has a book where she selected 101 items, which is really beautiful, and they wanted me to do something similar. I really liked her book, which was all stuff you can buy, like a catalog or shopping-manual kind of thing. But mine’s more about things that are hard to find—or alternatively, easy to get. It’s just things that belong to me or that I’m interested in. I’m also planning to do a new concept book for sneakers, which will be kind of like an encyclopedia or a sneaker history. It’ll be like those kids’ books that show a picture or a drawing of an insect or a dinosaur with an explanation next to it.
You’ve also got Honeyee.com, which you started in 2005 and which has since spawned a number of sort of copycat sites. How did that come about?
Well, we weren’t the first to do the website type of thing, but I guess we were waiting for the right timing. Me and Hirofumi from SOPH. and Hiroki from Visvim were meeting every month and kept saying maybe it’s time to do a website. There were some other fashion sites in Japan that were selling stuff, but we didn’t really get involved with them. It’s not that I didn’t like the other sites, but we felt that perhaps those shopping websites might kill the local stores. So we decided to do our thing. I guess I came up with the name. All of our initials begin with H—Hiroki, Hirofumi, and Hiroshi—and Honeyee.com sounds like “honeycomb” with many sections. It also sounds like the Japanese word that means “to hesitate,” so there were many meanings. And the “.com” at the end can sound like come, like, “Honey, come. Come to honey…”
What’s next for Hiroshi, then?
There are a few projects I’ve been working on but can’t really tell you what they are. I still feel like I’m really into fashion. I even think sneakers are a fashion item as well. I’m still into sneakers and clothes. Even though I don’t wear or buy those things, I find that I’m still like looking for them—like newer things like Cassette Playa [Carri Munden’s British streetwear label] or those kinds of things. I can’t wear it, but I still think it’s interesting when I see it.
The interview in its entirety can be read here.