To describe what Kunichi Nomura does and how he operates may be too complicated to articulate. One could describe him as a multi-hyphenate that encompasses the roles of DJ-actor-screenwriter-radio personality-designer-tastemaker-supporter of youth culture-traveler. Nomura prefers to call himself an editor. His actions and assembling of culture, words, people, and situations go far and wide for those that pay attention.
An avid international traveler, one can occasionally see Nomura’s journey via his Instagram hashtag #travelingwithoutmoving. This mantra, in a way, is a philosophical state of mind and a way of living, which has stood by him since his youth, stemming through his early adult years traveling abroad to a formerly run beach bar-publication called Sputnik that operated on the west coast of Tsujido, Kanagawa in Japan since 1999. Today, “Traveling Without Moving” is fittingly Nomura’s J-Wave radio show that broadcasts on Sunday nights from Tokyo. From around the world, meandering stories of personal journeys are shared by guests, accompanied by music inspired by these trips and full of memories.
Fraser Cooke, a British-Tokyoite DJ and legacy Nike connector of influential collaborations, is a close friend of Nomura. Over the last decade, the two have been affiliated through music, co-organizing a sound system DJ crew called Mild Bunch. Mild Bunch is known for memorable DJ nights programming on-going collaborations with legendary international artists, brands, close friends, and young emerging talent.
Respectively, the two globetrotters love music, meeting up with a myriad of friends and collaborators at various cultural events, art shows, fashion week exhibitions worldwide. As Nomura begins lighting up cigarettes, Cooke casually starts the conversation by connecting on points of upbringing, style, DJ culture, and ways of living. As an homage to Americana, Nomura mentions the creation of the Breakfast Club business, a communal restaurant diner he co-owns with chef Mama Luli that supports those who care for good cheer, food, and encouraging intersections of legacy, youth, and international culture. Read on for highlights from their chat.
Fraser Cooke: I think a lot of people don't know what you do. They probably have heard your name, and they know that you're probably affiliated with a few different things, but you don't have one particular thing that you do.
Kunichi Nomura: I do many things, but I don’t talk about what I’ve done. Among the locals, it’s kind of a common thing when you work in media, fashion, and those industries. We don’t bullshit. I’ve always just said I’m a writer, editor, and I do interior design.
Cooke: Especially with social media, I think a lot of people are stretching the limits of what they’ve done. Or they’ll do one or two things and talk about it for 10 years. But you’ve become an expert without really thinking about it by staying true to your interests.
Nomura: I never change, and I always say the same thing. And that creates trust when I write about something and say, “This is really cool.”
Cooke: Growing up in Tokyo, what did you see around you that kind of made you go in a direction that's not the norm for a majority of people?
Nomura: I had a friend whose family was wealthy. We’d always spend summer in the countryside. It was the 80s, and he would visit LA and Hawaii a lot. One dollar was about 240 yen, so going to the states was expensive. Once he brought back a BMX bicycle, one of the best ones. And he bunny-hopped over me. It was full chrome, like the ones I have.
Cooke: I was gonna say, is that why you got these here?
Nomura: Yeah. [Laughs] There was only one store in Tokyo that specialized in BMX. They sold BMX magazines and Thrasher magazine. We couldn't read English, but it was the time when Powell Peralta’s Bones Brigade became popular.
Cooke: Vintage was very big here, wasn't it?
Nomura: Yeah. I think Japanese were exposed to American culture after the war. So they really idolized the style. But since it's so far and so expensive, we became obsessed with it. We wanted to have the same exact things. James Dean was one of the first triggers for many Japanese vintage people about Levi’s 501s, and those people not only wanted to wear Levi’s, they wanted to know which year the model he wore came out.
Americans don’t care about the difference between a pair from 1955 or 1956, because they’re so accessible. For the Japanese it's important, because when you buy something in the states and bring it back to Japan, you can sell it for more. You can say because it’s a pair from the 1950s, it’s made from real indigo, and the arcuates are different.
Cooke: So, are you into all that stuff?
Nomura: Yeah, I had Levi’s second model 501s with the Double X. When you got those things, you thought you were cool. Then you’d go to a store and meet older guys who’d say, “Haha, that’s not the right pair.” Everything had to be period correct back then, so you had to learn so much.
On the other hand in the modern era, like now, it's more about styling. You don’t have to be as specific. If you’re looking for a MA-1 jacket, you can buy that everywhere. People care more about hats or shoes.
Cooke: It’s more about the silhouette and look.
Nomura: So, like, if you get into Supreme — and if some Supreme skater wears a Supreme hat or Nike sneaker — [the customer] only wants to buy a real Supreme hat and a Nike sneaker. But an MA-1? They can find that anywhere for cheap, and it still looks okay.
Cooke: I think that is a big difference, 'cause even when I was a kid, I had a shitty MA-1, and eventually I got the Alpha one. It was a huge jump. I couldn't really relax until I got the proper one. I felt a bit corny, you know what I mean?
Nomura: Until you got the “right” one, right? But also there was a big difference with a “real” one and a “fake” one. On the other hand, now if you go to Uniqlo, their raw denim is not bad. I can't even tell from looking, is it A.P.C. or Uniqlo? But back then, if you liked Levi’s, you couldn’t find something with a similar fade.
Cooke: Yeah. [Laughs] It's true. You talked about Thrasher magazine. I remember that's the first time I saw Stüssy ads. They were in Thrasher. It looked quite interesting because nobody had really put together hip-hop, surf, skate, and graffiti writing. It was like somebody suddenly made something for a generation of people that had been mixing those things.
Nomura: We were too young. We didn't know. We found Stüssy in Thrasher, not through the ads, but because Mike Vallely was wearing it. My friend bought me my first Stüssy piece when I was in middle school, maybe around ‘87 or ‘88. But we didn’t know how to read it, so we used to call it “Stassy.”
Cooke: A lot of people in England did as well.
Nomura: In the early ’90s, anything American made, or skate, or vintage was cool. If you bought Japanese stuff, it was a symbol of what was completely uncool. So when I saw all of this Japanese streetwear copying what we saw in the late ‘80s, like from the Zephyr era, and kids were lining up, I couldn’t believe it.
Cooke: Getting back to style, what's your general feeling about that these days?
Nomura: As I grow up, I have a certain style that I like. I don't want to be 40 years old and always trying to be too cool or trying to get something limited. Now I don’t have to prove myself.
Cooke: I mean, the limited thing is fun, and we've all done it. I certainly deal with it quite a lot. But at the end of the day, it is just a validation for people's self-worth and ego, in a way. It's a way to be like: “Look, I'm part of this.” Let’s face it, it's driven by insecurity a little bit. When you're very confident and you've got really good style, you put things together. You can wear regular white Converses, you don’t need to own the one-out-of-500 pair.
Nomura: It's kind of cooler that way. For me, fashion started with copying somebody you admire. I did it. I'm sure you did it, too.
Nomura: If you liked Kurt Cobain in high school, you wanted to wear a flannel shirt, Levi’s, and Converse. And it’s fun to wear the same things, to show your friends where you belong, and what kind of music you like. If you wore a Daniel Johnston T-shirt beneath the flannel, it was also, like, “You’re not just a regular fan. You’re a deep fan.” But you have to realize that wearing the same thing as a Kurt Cobain doesn't make you a better musician.
Cooke: No. You ain't Kurt Cobain.