It’s easy to get a sense of how Ebony Bizys fell in love with this hidden-away pocket of Tokyo. Wandering the maze of tiny streets that trace a web through the relative quiet of Shimokitazawa – a few stops southwest of Shibuya on a rickety private line – the neighbourhood’s petit cafes, family-run businesses and ramshackle walkways seem a world away from the bustling streets and towering neon that most associate with the vast Japanese capital.
“Even after a year and a half living here, I might just be walking to the supermarket or something and I’ll just start smiling,” says Bizys, who shares a small apartment above a soba noodle shop with her partner Yasu. “It just hasn’t worn off and I can’t imagine it happening in a while.”
Bizys is known to most as the intrepid designer, craft-maker and artist behind cultishly followed, Japanese-themed blog and micro zine publishing house Hello Sandwich. Something of a DIY internet success story, Bizys’ blog – which traces her personal experience of Japanese design, interiors, architecture and culture more widely – and self-publishing efforts (including her sell-out Hello Sandwich Tokyo Guide and Hello Sandwich Gift Wrapping zines) have not only become prized possessions for those wanting a curated, design-centric Japanese experience, but helped facilitated her permanent relocation to Tokyo in June 2010.
A graduate of the University of New South Wales’ prestigious College of Fine Art, Bizys left her “dream job” as senior designer of Vogue Living – having worked her way up through the company over 11 years after originally working on reception at Vogue Australia while still at university – to make the move. “Before I moved here I came here nine times, so it was just getting a bit ridiculous,” she laughs, as make our way up to a light-filled, second-storey coffee shop, Bizys exchanging familiar greetings with the young owners in Japanese.
“Each time I came to Japan, I was just amazed by the design and care put into everything,” she says. “The design was beautiful, the packaging was beautiful, the attention to detail was incredible – twisting the little handles on the bags, even in a convenience store, before they give it to you – and just the craft shops were amazing.”
Such is Hello Sandwich’s following both in and outside Japan that since relocating, Bizys’ blog has morphed from a hobby into a platform for a swathe of art and design projects. She now runs regular craft and hands-on design workshops and events at the spectacular Kazuyo Sejima (SANAA)-designed Shibaura House in Tokyo’s Minato ward, and is working on various book projects with world-renowned Japanese art and design publisher BNN, the latest of which was just released to the Japanese market.
It’s more of a surprise to Bizys than anyone. “Things just pop up and if you were to think about what was going to happen in six months time, you would never guess what you would actually be doing,” she smiles. “It’s not like I’ve emailed all the companies and said ‘I want to come and meet you and work for you’. They’ve just got in touch with me and most of that is via the blog.”
Propped up above a Shimokitazawa street bathed in early winter sun, it’s hard to imagine her leaving any time soon. “Around the same time as the earthquake and the radiation scares, my art director at Vogue Living had a baby and my old boss called me offered me the art director’s position.”
“But I decided not to take it,” she pauses with smile and resolute nod of the head. “Even with the radiation, even with the earthquakes, it’s just so inspiring here and there’s something about it that just makes you feel happy and alive.“