The first time I stumbled upon The Ghetto it was actually not in its physical environment of Shin-Okubo – but in a vivid Flickr group. The thing is, you encounter Love Hotels, Asian restaurants and loads of shops selling star stickers of Korean singers in this diverse neighbourhood. But you wouldn’t fanthom finding a former Love Hotel turned into a graffiti space with several skater shops and a bar – and a skate ramp in the lobby. After a renovation with lots of care for every detail, the space opened finally more than a year ago. Lovely! PingMag had a chat with skater Akihiko “AKO” Ohashi who runs it now since his grandmother handed over the reigns.
Written by Verena
Translated by Kevin Mcgue
First, please, tell us a bit about yourself!
When I was 16, I was SK8ing with a lot with friends and around that time I started playing in bands as well. Back then, I was playing hard rock/heavy metal, but now I am playing guitar with the Texas and Chainsaw. I met people from all different backgrounds at The Ghetto, which has really broadened my perspective.
And how did The Ghetto itself get started?
My parents manage a company that runs hotels. So, one day I heard that they were going to close one in Shin-Okubo. I had been thinking about the idea that eventually became The Ghetto for a while and decided that the time had come to do it – and so I signed the lease. Meaning I am renting it now from the company managed by my parents.
A fence can be an ideal spray canvas as well… The Ghetto’s backyard as done by QP.
Next to the lobby: skateboards lined up for the ramp on a busy Saturday night.
What is its very special concept?
I wanted to make the kind of place that has wild parties like I have seen in old movies, with roots in graffiti, skating, and hip hop/rock culture…
… which is now an art space for graffiti writers, includes a ramp, and features shops in a West Coast vibe…
The backbone of The Ghetto really consists of a lot of artists with various cultural influences. Some may be influenced by West Coast culture, but there is also a strong feeling of Made in Tokyo, Tokyo is best in there. But more than being influenced by something from the past, I think we are creating a message for the future.
Watching the folks on the ramp, inside the lobby.
Action! Courtesy of AKO.
Where does the name, The Ghetto, come from?
My friend Motoyan came up with it. He is the leader of the hard core bike team No Future Krew. As he sees it, this backstreet area of Shinjuku is full of hundreds of small Korean restaurants, and in the middle of it all we have our isolated little underground place. So ghetto was really the perfect way to describe it, and then the name took on special meaning. Later on, I had the chance to meet some some of the members of the Rolling Stones when they were touring in Japan, and we got Keith Richards to design our logo. [See it on Ping Flickr.]
Keith Richards, really? This sharply drawn logo is all over the place! And who helped to renovate the house?
My family and friends, and also people from the shops that eventually moved in. We also got support from graffiti artists and people I know who are craftsmen and carpenters.
So, you and your friends have your own shops now in here…
It started with friends, and those friends spread the word. I also put an announcement on mixi. And when we opened, I didn’t know about 80 percent of the people that joined.
Look, an old sticker vending machine!
What was important for you with this project?
Once I start a project, I really want to continue with it and put my heart into it. Rather than copying someone else, I wanted to express something based on my own experience. If you lean too far into something, or if you thoughts are not clear, then you naturally get separated from the things you are really interested in.
And which street artists did you ask to paint the walls of the building?
…until AKO and his friends got their mittens on it… Courtesy of AKO.
…and started building the wooden ramp in the lobby. Courtesy of AKO.
Do the neighbours like The Ghetto?
They look at it with mixed feelings. I think some of them are a bit put out because they want to live in a quiet hood and now there are a lot of kids coming to visit us.
Who designed the interior with the skate ramp?
I know a carpenter who used to be a professional skater and left everything up to him.
He runs it: Akihiko “AKO” Ohashi. His “uncloak” shop is on the second floor.
He has the nice “Scatter Brain” skate shop, complete with an altar: Shinsuke Goto.
He has the little 100gallery: SIG (right) with his friend.
Do you skate there too?
Yes, sometimes I practice in the mornings.
How is the Tokyo graffiti scene doing these days?
I really couldn’t say. Graffiti is like a tattoo the city gives itself. It is up to the city to decide what direction it will take…
Any recent changes or new styles you have seen?
I am not sure if it is a new style or not, but QP’s stuff always has fresh ideas. [More from QP here.]
So is this a legal space for street art?
Yes. When street artists want to do something big that would overlap earlier works, they have to get my permission. That is only fair. Also, this is not a space for practising, the quality of the work is very high.
More intriguing art in the doorway: The upper half is done by Eshimasa, the lower part goes to Tomokuni…
…and another delicious one from USUGROW, again in the ramp.
By the way, does your grandmother like the new building?
If she saw it, I think she would be left speechless.
I bet! Thank you, AKO!