The people of Tokyo make this metropolis pulsate with energy. TW checks in with four of the many Tokyo voices that make the cacophony a symphony.

voice of tokyo jordan smith

Jordan A.Y. Smith, Poet, Professor, Translator

Jordan A. Y. Smith wears a bunch of random hats and wears them well. He teaches at several universities in Tokyo, writes and translates poetry and prose, curates art, performs at spoken word events and is generally a creative force. He is the editor for Tokyo Poetry Journal, co-organizer of Kotoba, the national poetry slam of Japan and co-founder of the COEM collective, among many other things.

1. What’s your newest obsession?

Always dedicated to fun, love, friendship, global family, words, beauty – just in new forms. Currently, those obsessions have taken the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of retro video games, a poetry and architecture anthology, a collection of works showcasing Arabic-Japanese literary connections and 3D renders of collector cars.

2. COEM is an intersection of poetry and tech. What happens in these collaborations between coders and poets?

GeoPossessions happens! It’s our first project, coming out in January 2022. GeoPossessions consists of audio holograms positioned around Tokyo via the Kalkul Aura app featuring readings of 15 amazing authors. It’s the first of many projects to come.

3. What’s the most beautiful Japanese word to you?

It’s a tie between a lot of “ii” adjectives. Uruwashii. Iyarashii. Subarashii. I like dragging out that last sound while twisting my face into an expression of amazed disbelief.

4. What’s going to happen in Tokyo in 2050?

2049 will precede it for sure. And with a bit of hope thrown into the prediction: Love rules, just with better robots and more obvious aliens.

voice of tokyo maya hatch

Maya Hatch, Artist, Activist, Singer-Songwriter

A singer-songwriter from Seattle, currently based in Tokyo, Maya Hatch performs both under her name and as a member of the UnMe duo. Recently she collaborated with the hit-making legend Babyface on her newly released single “Fly Away.” She’s also a member of Japan For Black Lives.

1. What’s your newest obsession?

Organizing and tidying up has always been my never-ending hobby. I’m also into plants, growing my own vegetables and cooking. My husband and I are currently taking an online permaculture course so we can one day have our own food forest, a café and a community center we hope to eventually open.

2. If you could perform anywhere in Tokyo, what would be your ideal venue?

Technically, I’ve already performed there but one day I hope to headline my own show at Blue Note Tokyo. All my favorite artists from around the world have performed there. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been flooded with goosebumps during shows in Blue Note.

3. What’s your favorite Tokyo spot for hanging out?

I can’t choose one so here are three. Rinshi No Mori Park in Meguro where my grandfather used to take me as a child to feed the pigeons. Not technically Tokyo, but nearby, my favorite beach is Isshiki Kaigan in Kanagawa. And the last spot is Enoshima Shrine on Enoshima Island.

4. If you had to use only one sound to represent Tokyo, what would it be?

The subway jingles.

voice of tokyo johny reed

Jonathan Reed, Coffee Consultant & Entrepreneur

A barista crafting perfect flat whites, you’ll find Jonathan Reed in his Kinetica coffee shop in Ogikubo. The Australian also runs an online baby and kids clothes store called Jacaranda.

1. What’s your newest obsession?

I just wrapped up my cycling challenge, which was a bit of an obsession over the last couple of months. Trying to raise awareness and money for mental health for TELL Japan, I embarked on a seven-day adventure, cycling through 14 prefectures, from Gunma to Nagasaki.

2. You like to energize people with espresso shots as well as physical activity. Tell us about Kinetica Athletica?

Kinetica Athletica is me starting a little community of people who want to get together, do some physical activity like kickboxing or cycling and afterward have a laugh and a chat over coffee. The sense of community is quite strong in cafés in Australia and I’m trying to recreate that in Tokyo.

3. In pre-coffee Japan, a few hundreds of years ago, what would have been your drink of choice?

I guess I would’ve gotten into the tea scene. I also imagine I would have partaken in some sake or shochu.

4. When not in Ogikubo, which area of Tokyo do you go to for a great cup of coffee? ​

I go to Incredible Coffee in Koenji and Silo Coffee in Nakano. Sometimes I go to another Australian-inspired coffee stand called Northcote Coffee Shop in Minami-Azabu, run by a good friend of mine.

voice of tokyo luis mendo

Photo by Alex Abian

Luis Mendo, Illustrator

Once a seasoned creative director, Mendo moved to Japan where he changed his career to illustration. With his wife Yuka, he co-founded the creative residence and gallery Almost Perfect. His illustrations can be found everywhere from magazines to t-shirts. Some of his clients include The New York Times, Forbes, The Washington Post, Wired, Apple and Uniqlo.

1. What’s your newest obsession?

While being very busy with commissions, I’m slowly working on my first long graphic novel telling everyday stories of Tokyo. It will be published by Spain’s biggest comic publisher. I am currently trying to carve out more time for personal passion projects like that.

2. The Almost Perfect Residence & Gallery is located in Taito-ku, an area also known for traditional artisans. Which Japanese craft inspires you the most?

Of course it’s woodblock printing and paper making for me. But I find all artisans interesting. In a world where most of us sit in front of a computer to work, what artisans do with their hands and a few tools is always where the real magic happens.

3. Having a job that allows you to live anywhere, why do you choose to live in Tokyo?

Despite everything that could be improved (gender equality, animosity against foreigners, general mental health), I still think this is by far the best city in the world and I will gladly debate with anyone who disagrees.

Illustration by Luis Mendo

This article was published in Tokyo Weekender’s Nov-Dec 2021 magazine. Flip through the issue by clicking on the image below. 

Read the previous installment of TW’s Voice of Tokyo:

Voice of Tokyo #1