One of the nerdliest things one can do in Japan after walking down the main drag of Akihabara, gaping at the tacky flashiness of it, is to get on the Chuo Line to Nakano. Right outside the North Entrance is a well-used looking shopping arcade, the Nakano Sun Mall. When you enter the arcade, it looks utterly normal with discount health and beauty goods and discount sock and shoe stores, interspersed by small fast food places, cafes and other places to rest one’s weary feet and get unhealthy food. Just like any mall anywhere.
But if you keep walking towards the back, then go up to the top floor and work your way down, you’ll discover the most amazingly rag-tag collection of stores that want to sell you old crap at fairly steep prices. ^_^ This is the home of the Nakano Mandarake, which is spread out in pieces among many other stores filled with fan favorites of days gone by, weird crap you think is weird, old toys, posters, albums, and other things that are not your obsession, but holy crap, are they selling that old Suica card for more than $500? (Yes, they were.)
There are a lot of collectibles stores. We tend to throw money at the Robot, Robot on the top floor for gashapon figurines that we want to pay a premium for, so we get the one we want and in the Mandarake book store for older printed material that we’ve never seen elsewhere. But if you’re into collectible cards, anime cels, train cards, trains, coins, cel phone customization, and of course, discount socks, Nakano Sun Mall is a great way to blow an afternoon and a lot of money. Pro tip for American shoppers: Don’t buy figurines here. Or indeed anywhere in Japan anymore. You can get them cheaper off Amazon and save yourself from carrying them home. In fact, don’t buy anything current or popular in Nakano. You will pay too much. Nakano Mandarake is best for the old, the obscure, the WTF and the OMG. This time I found both a WTF and an OMG. ^_^
The OMG was 2006 artbook called Akogare – Takahashi Makoto Art Collection, (あこがれ―高橋真琴画集) by Takahashi Makoto, who you may remember as the creator of proto-Yuri manga Sakura Namiki. Takahashi-sensei’s style is incredibly distinctive, his girls are exceedingly stylish, whether they are western fairy tale princesses, or formally dressed Japanese girls. Their faces are round and healthy and pink cheeked, their eyes sparkle with joy. Even when they face hardship, as they do in the retellings of well-known fairy tales, a slightly doll-like smile curves up their lips. These are girls who faces will never see wrinkles nor become careworn. Their beauty is eternal and unreal.
The collection is called Akogare, but I’m not sure if we, the reader, are meant to admire the beautiful china doll faces we’re seeing and the fairy tale princesses or we are being admired by the faces who smile at us from the page with fixed emotion. Girls are shown mostly in single portrait, staring directly at us, with the occasional fairytale, doll-faced prince as company.
The collection appears to span 1960 or so through 1990. From the mid-60s on, anyone would recognize the O-hime-sama look of the characters. And toward the mid-70s, his work developed a very baroque sensibility that was popular right into the 1990s.
Some of his best work, from the mid-20th century girl’s magazine Monthly Shoujo Friend is included. These pictures have faces that would play well even now in girls magazines. There are a very few pieces from his work, Tokyo-Paris. Nothing, however from Sakura Namiki.
My favorite picture, in fact is the one on the back cover that shows two women walking through a garden, one turned to look at the other.
Overall – 8
For more information about Takahashi Makoto-sensei, current exhibits, etc., visit his Official Site. He’s still around, you can see him in some of the photos of the his exhibit last spring, カワイイの原点・高橋真琴展「ROOTS OF JAPANESE KAWAII」.
Above all, I’m delighted to have discovered this treasure. I’m fairly certain I would not have had the opportunity to see this collection without the acid trip down memory lane that is Mandarake. ^_^
So, what was the WTF? Wait, wait, we’ll get there….