A non-descriptive corner in Tokyo, two gaijins (haoles, or foreigners) walking down a uradori (backstreet) with cameras…

When we were small kids, if there was a foreigner on the street, we would point our fingers and shout “Waaaa, gaijin daaaa, okkaneee!” meaning “My god, there’s a gaijin, that’s scary!” We hardly saw white people in small streets back in the ’70s.

Since the beginning of early ’90s, I started to see tourists from Europe in the small streets of Tokyo, away from any touristic spots or areas to enjoy shopping. They were just wandering around with cameras, looking at tiny houses on the sides of the narrow streets.

Nobi told me that the pioneer of the ‘urban-alley-roaming gaijin’ in Japan was the person who asked Rem Koolhaas to build a house near Paris. And the house, Villa dall’Ava, became Koolhaas’s career breakthrough.

The owner of Villa dall’Ava, who was the editor of a French architecture magazine, visited Japan in the ’80s to find an architect to design his home. He actually rented a bicycle since his stay in Japan was short.

I believe this pioneer of alley-roaming gaijin was looking for a Japanese architect originally. Instead, he discovered a housing complex designed by a relatively unknown Dutch architect, and was convinced that this was the architect for his house.

As many people know, Japan is a Disneyland of experimental architectures, and I just cannot understand why a country so uptight about many matters in life can be so open to new architecture designs.

I was born and bread in Japan, know the technical side of architecture, but still cannot figure out this mystery.

Image top: Bruno Bellec
Image bottom: Ernest Delaville