Yama Store in Nakazakicho, Osaka is A Work of Art

Visiting the store

They say “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” If that’s the case, then Osaka’s Yama Store is a “trash heap.” (Or shall I say “treasure trove?”) Owners Tatsuya Kawada and Junichi Daikichi collects the “junk” we Americans have stupidly disposed of and thru alchemy turn it into beautiful found object art (and more!)

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Owner Tatsuya Kawada

The wild adventure to America to find these strange objects reminds me of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. They gallivant around California and Nevada in a giant bus searching for the next great thing. They visit places such as Fresno, Sacramento, and Reno going off hot tips from their American friends. There are wonderful things to be found in flea markets, estate sales, and antique shops in backwater towns all across America. It’s a wild life. They’ve been doing it since 2012 when they opened Yama Store in the artsy Nakazakicho neighborhood of Osaka.

By the end of the trip the 14-seater bus is stuffed to the brim with antiques and then comes the hard part: packing. The carefully wrapped items are loaded onto a plane and sent back to Osaka. But the process doesn’t end there. Some items have to be restored and others are in such bad condition they must be completely re-purposed!

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How do you pick?

I asked the owner how he chooses what he buys: “I just pick what strikes me.” While this explanation doesn’t explain much, judging by the store interior one can’t help but appreciate his great taste. “The thrift shops don’t have good stuff anymore,” he explained, “people got wise to it so now I go to warehouses where they sell it before its checked. It’s bought by weight. You can find nice stuff there for cheap and then get a higher price in Japan.”

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My image of Japanese people commuting to serious “salary man” jobs on sardine-packed trains has been flipped. Turning this level of wackiness into a career is mind-boggling even for me -and I’m an artist blogger! But owner Kawada-san seems so in his element in the Yama Store space, he views it as his “room.” That being the case, he likes to decorate it with his favorite things.


Remix and Remake

Like for example the french fry statue (below), which was originally found in horrendous condition. It was repainted, attached to odds and ends and repurposed into a work of modern art by artist Magma who lives in Tokyo (who has many pieces in the store.) The process of supplying found objects and collaborating to create something new is fascinating -and is beyond the realm of what you’d expect in a vintage shop.

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Most recycle stores have your standard bugs bunny cups, A&W bear character items, Bob’s Big Boy, Mr. Peanut, etc. They’re just catering to expectations. They could take a lesson or two from Yama Store. How about creating original pins with caricatures of the owners? ↓

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Most antique stores in Japan don’t have Saturday Night Live trash cans. (And what’s with plastic the Chanel boot? And the flower coming out of a baby butt?) ↓

Trying to define it

What kind of a store is it? Collectible market? Art gallery? A used clothing store? It’s all of these and none of these. But there’s no explanation or guide when you walk in.

One thing that nearly escaped my attention was this bucket hat with the pill bottles sewn in the top ↑ . (“Aphrodisiac” and “wrinkle cream,” to be exact.) It was hiding underneath the clothing racks. It’s another handmade piece and wearing it must be a kind of performance art. Had I not bent down looking for a photo angle I would have never seen it!

How about this wood phone? ↑ It’s a surrealist assemblage ala Salvador Dali. (right) i’m not sure if it actually works, but knowing the owners, I’m sure it does! (It’s probably set to quick-dial a petrified forest!)

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The medium is the message

The whole shop itself may be an art work. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, above your head are strange demented faces peering down: Grimace and a warped Statue of Liberty head on a massive chain. This is the stuff of dreams (nightmares?) Which brings me back to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This is Americana on acid. (I just noticed that screaming Hulk in the background and a tiny fist coming out of the wall.) Very surreal indeed!

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Sometimes when you walk around a big city like Osaka you get “sensory overload.” Places like Namba where giant puffer fish jump out at you, neon crabs, restaurant staff barking at you to come inside, tourists with roller cases stuffed with Kit-kats…

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That sensibility carries over into Yama Store. Like Hunter S. Thompson, you go into an altered state and and take a trip into psychedelic American pop. This is better than Universal Studios!

But not to get too lost in the clouds.. even the sink is a work of art! Check out the corn cob and hamburger soap dispensers -and the little red drain top!

The Outsider’s Perspective

It’s striking that Japanese people can find value in what we Americans take for granted: our old toys, Happy Meal sets, and discarded magazines. Like Warhol, our pop culture becomes the stuff of fine art, but it’s surprising to find it in a small store on a nondescript corner in Nakazakicho.

A used clothing shop in the Tengonakazakidori Shotengai across the street from Yama Store

There’s some other great vintage shops and funky places nearby as well! I’ll touch on some other unique spots in the area later on!

Back to Yama Store: Zines…T-shirts… they got it all, with an emphasis on collaborations with local artists and craftsman! When I asked who makes the YAMA shirt (above) the owner explained “oh that’s by this old dude in the neighborhood who embroiders clothing. He makes great stuff.” That’s so much more exciting than having it mass produced in China. Next time I’ll have to find the old geezer and see his workshop!

Speaking of hand-made clothing, here is another oddity: a deformed “secret agent” Elvis Weber State University sweatshirt.


This is a paper mache piece by artist Atelier Kohno. The owner explained in Japanese this type of craft is called “hariko.” It took a few moments before I realized “oh, that’s paper mache!” I had always associated it with art projects from Elementary school but here in Japan it has a long history and more gravitas.

That being said, Atelier Kohno’s pieces are taking an old process and using it in a new way: to create objects from an “imaginary store in my mind” as he states on his instagram page.

Here are some “psi men” and a sponge head. ↑

Here is a very detailed picture. I’ll tell you what I see: a Twizzler guy, a banana, hand keychain, Homer, Tasmanian Devil, pizza, rock hand chair, massive key, Coca cola container, bunny in a hat and suit, little Santa hat, a little cat, marbled gloves hanging from a ladder, pretzel, hotdog, air pump, and a pink seahorse.

What do you see?

Tengonakazakidori Shotengai

As I left the store feeling exhausted I realized it was time to get dinner. Nearby was the the Tengonakazakidori Shotengai across the street from Yama Store. Perhaps there would be a place to grab a bite!

The shopping arcade is a blast from the past, you feel like you’ve entered a time-warp. With more and more of these shotengais slowly disappearing it’s imperative to come see it while you can!

Some of these old storefronts look like a movie set for a period piece. I love these old light fixtures as well ↓

Many old shopping arcades fall into disuse but there are many thriving businesses along the avenue. I walked though looking for a nice restaurant.

But the eatery I was seeking was right at the entrance, it was a pasta specialty store.

Spagetti Senmonten Kusottare

And when they say spaghetti store they mean it: they sell ONLY pasta! There’s no salad, no bread, JUST noodles!

They have a funny name, too! “Kusottare” which means “bastard.” It’s spelled using “ateji” which uses the sound of an unrelated kanjis to spell a new word. (Ex: 倶楽部 = “KU-RA-BU” meaning “club.”) This must be that famous Osaka humor I’ve heard so much about.

When I arrived I was instantly struck by the retro interior but was still hesitant to go inside. But when two patrons left the store saying “meccha umai!” (so delicious!) I decided I better check it out!

My favorite part about this restaurant -even before eating- was they give you a bib!

They have a menu broken down into categories: cream sauce style, Japanese style soy sauce flavor, seafood, and specialty of the house. And within the different genres there are many types you can choose from. My companion and I ordered two types: tomato/cheese/mushroom pasta and clam peperoncino.

You’re also given the option for add-ons (for 100 yen) including: bacon, shrimp, tuna, mushroom and to make it large size. With everything on the menu being under 1000 yen it was at a reasonable cost. But as a sign of the times, a sign on the wall said starting in March they were raising the price.

Here’s a close-up of my tomato, cheese, and mushroom pasta. It’s worth mentioning that the shop uses a very light flavored sauce that, according to their sign, is “drinkable.” Instead of mixing the pasta they lay the ingredients on top like this and you can do with it as you like! My fondest memory of this dish was the melted cheese! So much better than dry parmesan powder! My only regret is I didn’t add shrimp.

Next is my compatriot’s dish, the clam pasta peperoncino. In addition to clam there were pieces of squid inside as well. In contrast to my tomato base her flavor were heavy garlic with oil and salt. The food was much too good. We had to order another dish from a different category.

This time we did a shrimp pasta with cream sauce -extra large size with added mushroom for 200 yen. Like the other pastas it comes unmixed -with a little slab of butter! You can impale that with a fork and swirl it around the pasta and grease it up as you salivate. As I slurped the white sauce I realized that “Kusottare” was telling the truth: it was REALLY “drinkable!” I didn’t leave one drop!

As I left the restaurant and started to walk down the arcade I realized I had eaten too much. We were going to have to take a stroll to work this off. A great thing about this shotengai is it leads right to Tenshimbashisuji Shotengai which starts from the Tenma area and stretches for 2.6km, it’s said to be the longest shopping arcade in Japan!

Before leaving Nakazakicho to check out the other areas be sure to check out some of Osaka.com favorites such as Hughes Pizza and Essential Store. Hughes Pizza is run by a fella who came here from the UK and you can read more about him in this Osaka.com article. Essential Store is a wild and wacky store ala Yama Store which includes an art gallery as well! It’s a decidedly different vibe than YAMA so we will talk about them more in a future piece.

Thanks for tagging along on this trip and the next time you see me I’ll be wearing a pill bottle hat!

An Addendum

There were so many artists introduced that i wanted to give a little spot at the end to show a bit more of their work. Let’s start with Magma.

Courtesy of Magma’s Instagram

Artist Unit Magma is composed of Jun Sugiyama and Kenichi Miyazawa.You can see more of these assemblages on their Instagram page. The two have over 17.5 thousand followers which is a testament to their talent. I love how they used a Cup of Noodles ramen cup as the base for this lamp. You can see how their aesthetic inspired the guys at Yama Store!

Their irreverent constructions are delightful. The pizza lampshade sitting atop an ice cream cone…

…and this Garfield-looking cat. I have no words! Next let’s check out Atelier Kohno a bit more.

Courtesy of Atelier Kohno Instagram

Purposely choosing mundane everyday objects and turning them into humorous not-quite-realistic renditions with funny text is part of the charm! “Paper pizza” for a paper mache pizza is as funny as a single panel comic! The godfather of Conceptual art, Marcel Duchamp, signed a urinal -it was very tongue in cheek! Art doesn’t have to be serious! 

Courtesy of Atelier Kohno Instagram

Chinese food box, Donettes, and ham. These little strings indicate these must be Christmas ornaments! It reminds me of folk artists who always make practical objects that can be used day to day like vases and carpets, etc. It’s very blue collar and not hoity-toity! Now let’s talk about an traditional art gallery in Osaka.

For a great local gallery in Suminoe Ward, Osaka be sure to check out Opal Times. It’s right in the middle of a residential street so it’s totally hidden! They show fantastic artists there including many local Osaka creators! I would like to do a feature on them sometime soon! This is just a little taste. Their instagram and website list their upcoming events so don’t miss out!

Thanks again for checking out the addendum!



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