Wind chime peddler sees changes for the worse in Tokyo over 35 years

June 28, 2013

By SEI IWANAMI/ Staff Writer

As many drunkards stagger along a street in the bustling Roppongi district in Tokyo's Minato Ward, the soothing sounds of 120 "furin" wind chimes can be heard in the night breeze.

"Summer has come," a favorite customer tells wind chime peddler Akira Nakayama.

Nakayama carries a rack of wind chimes on a pole to sell the colorful decorations on the street.

The 68-year-old Nakayama has been in business for 36 years. In his working garb, he is decked out in a "happi" coat, embroidered with kanji characters of furin, and wearing "setta" leather-soled sandals. There are 30 locations in Roppongi’s small, narrow streets where he passes through each night.

“I can never read the flow of people even while waiting, so I am walking in search of customers,” he says. His six employees sell wind chimes in Tokyo’s Ginza and Shinjuku districts as well.

The wind chimes are hung on a wood-frame rack called a "sanzun." The wooden rack, which is hanging from an oak-made pole, weighs 60 kilograms and is carried on his right shoulder. Once, he could walk quietly while carrying it. Now, he notices it making noises.

“It (the rack) senses even the slightest movement," he says. "It means I’m getting old.”

His product range includes various styles including glass-made Edo (old Tokyo) furin products, as well as furin made of nambu ironware from Iwate Prefecture and chinaware. There's even a furin with a Western-style pattern with a row of dolphins. The furin are priced between 1,200 yen-12,000 yen ($12-$122). The most expensive item is a handcrafted chime resembling "fujidana," which are frames for wisteria flowers. However, this is the last piece as there is no remaining craftworker who can make it.

Nakayama still operates under one simple rule: Wind chimes do not sell when the temperature is 17 degrees or lower, and also in the summer heat. This year, he started selling them in May and will continue on in Tokyo until the temperature is too hot. In July, he will travel north to the cooler Tohoku region and Hokkaido and transport his wind chimes by car where he will sell them there.

Nakayama, who was born in Nagano Prefecture, came to Tokyo at the age of 19. He joined a cosmetics company, but he quit his job as he could not stand repeating the same daily sales activity routine.

Although he has been peddling his wind chimes in Roppongi for about the past six years, he sold for much longer in other parts of Tokyo, where he has seen many changes over the years. This year, sales are going well in Shinjuku, with an increasing number of new customers, thanks to the recent linkup of the Tokyu Toyoko Line and the Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin (subway) Line.

Still, during the bubble economy (Japan’s asset-inflated period of economic growth from the late 1980s to the early 1990s), some customers would sometimes buy all of the wind chimes hanging on his rack. Today, he no longer sees such crowds of eager customers coming around.

With regard to the economic policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, known as "Abenomics," Nakayama scoffs.

“Abenomics? It will be a long wait for us on the street to benefit from it.”

At 2 a.m., it's time to close up shop, as there are only a few people around. As Nakayama removed the wind chimes from his rack, he laments, “There used to be more people before, even after the last train left.”

By SEI IWANAMI/ Staff Writer
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The sounds of "furin" glass wind chimes hang in the air along a busy street in Tokyo. Wind chime peddler Akira Nakayama has been selling wind chimes in Tokyo’s Roppongi district for about six years. (Sei Iwanami)

The sounds of "furin" glass wind chimes hang in the air along a busy street in Tokyo. Wind chime peddler Akira Nakayama has been selling wind chimes in Tokyo’s Roppongi district for about six years. (Sei Iwanami)

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  • The sounds of "furin" glass wind chimes hang in the air along a busy street in Tokyo. Wind chime peddler Akira Nakayama has been selling wind chimes in Tokyo’s Roppongi district for about six years. (Sei Iwanami)

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