In the spring of 2020, I created a sound installation called Passage Tells: Ameyoko at the standing bar Uokusa in Ueno Ameyoko high street and exhibited in 2 months, but the shop was closed due to the spread of Covid-19, and the exhibition was cancelled two weeks before its end. Although the emergency declaration was relieved after several months and the shop started to operate, the owner, who felt the significant role of creating a place where people could gather and drink, could not see the point of continuing the store in a situation where meeting and talking with people itself carries the risk of infection. I encouraged him that the shop is open-air which means less risky than drinking indoors and nowhere can be opened if your shop cannot do your business.
One day, when I visited the bar, he was considering selling a small bottle of Japanese sake for takeaway. The number of seats at the bar has been reduced due to Covid-19 measures, but if the customers drink it in the park or on the street, they should be able to maintain better social distance. He thought it is hard to take sashimi rare fish for takeaway. After our discussion, we came up with the idea that since Uokusa is a standing bar on a street, it would be good to spread the culture of drinking with a gentle manner on the street or in the park instead of indoors in this current situation, and the idea was born of a tour where you start from the shop, organise a tour around Ameyoko and drink on the street or in the park with great view of the cityscape.
First, as a tool for drinking on the street, we asked our mutual friend and a product designer Aogu Onuki to design a loading cartfor drinking on the street. At the bottom, there are wheels that are easy to handle and a cold box that can store sashimi rare fishes, a cupboard on the middle, and the upper part becomes a table while it’s opened. Since Aogu lives in Germany, I searched for a company in Tokyo who would build up the cart based on his blueprints. I also took part of designing a tour that includes route, stops and script for the guide. Since the shop always requires a business license to operate within parks and on the street, it operates as the customer takes out sake and foods at the shop, borrow a cart to go out and come back my themselves. This series of activities was named Michikusa that means hang around and relates to his shop’s name Uokusa, and an experiment of street standing drinking tours began.
When you stop for a while in parks, underpasses, sidewalks, shopping streets, and various other open spaces to start drinking, you see the scenery of the city and the people passing by more vivid than usual. Enjoy sake with the cityscape as a tapas and feel the fresh city breeze. It reminded me of food stalls that used to be popular but were almost disappeared now in Japan. I see the most Asian cities still have bustling street food stalls that are popular with locals as well as tourists but there are almost no food stalls left in Tokyo, but Ueno Ameyoko has become a popular tourist spot and is still effectively allowed to operate partially on the streets, so to speak, the last paradise.
What happens when we gather in public spaces and start drinking standing up? Some people spoke to us ‘what are you up to?’ or ‘Can I join?’ It was frequently happened Ueno Park, however on the sidewalk along the main street where we are very visible people continued to be ignored as if no one is there, and the underpass of the station where security guards always came after 5 minutes. In the shopping district, there were also complaints from restaurants. However, as this cart means just hanging out , you can move quickly if you are likely to disturb someone, and if you drink while standing it is easy to recognise your drunkenness, so it is unlikely to drink too much.
Even in shopping districts that are struggling to do business during the Covid-19 disaster, other experiments have begun to put tables on the streets and hold events and food and beverage business to see if they can make new attempts to utilise the streets, and we were also invited to the events. In terms of creating a lively city, the effective use of the streets has begun to be on the agenda. please speak to us if you would like to use ‘Michikusa’ cart or organise a street drinking tour.