Spontaneous and interactive changing events, unique vacant public space, welcoming and inclusive atmosphere
7-17-6 Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0001
Closest stations: Nippori, Sendagi
Open during events (publicised via social media)
ONDI (full name Kasu Harappa ONDI) is a unique place in Tokyo’s urban landscape. This unregulated and outdoor space is a small piece of “vacant” land that looks like a plot waiting for a new home. Neighbouring residential homes and old businesses add to this feeling in this quiet but atmospheric street of Yanaka, close to the cemetery and Nippori Station.
However, the “vacant” land is, in fact, a constantly changing base for all types of public activities including markets, performance, exhibitions, storytelling, building, crafts, photography, dance, music, food, cinema…and any other use that a person or group can think of and present themselves.
The owner, Makizumi-san, bought the land 12 years ago but did not have the money to build a home. Having lived in Yanaka for many years already and being a fan of the neighbourhood’s atmosphere he decided instead to keep the land vacant but offer the land for creative activities. In this way he could give back to the neighborhood that he loved. The space is available to rent to anybody and rent for a day, or more, is extremely cheap. Importantly, Makizumi-san is open to mostly any use of the land. Being private land this means people can do many interesting things they would usually be stopped from doing on the street by the police.
ONDI has been active now for 10 years and in that time has presented a history of all kinds of events. To ask Makizumi-san about past events may take him an hour to tell you the highlights. By the start of October 2016 forty eight events had already taken place there that year alone. The top two recurring events that year included a traditional storytelling event presented by one man and his unusual hand-drawn picture show and a women’s creative co-op market.
Many people happen to pass ONDI on a walk through the back streets of Yanaka, especially during the busy weekends, and spontaneously find an event there. Or they hear about an event through word-of-mouth. In this way, the public find something unexpected in their daily life. This is similar to Hello Garden in Nishi-Chiba (another similarity being exposure to the elements) but the difference is people are often taking an exploratory walk in Yanaka, and so are more inclined to stop out of curiosity.
ONDI’s experimental nature is displayed through some highlights of previous events. From one time happenings to 2-3 week long exhibitions, or recurring events. Including:
- an authentic yurt construction led by a Japanese former tour guide of Mongolia (regular passersby stopped to take part in the construction) which was then offered as a free overnight yurt stay for passing tourists, with a shared Mongolian dinner prepared on site
- a collective photography market, this was organised by a man who had been ordered by the police to stop selling his photos on the street (one participant sold pictures of his wife, who was in attendance with him and was also a small plastic dress-up doll – he is currently collecting items 1/10th of regular size to furnish his wife’s life)
- a local artist’s sculpture exhibition at ONDI functioned as an introduction to the rest of his exhibition at an old pottery store just moments along the same road
- another artist who dislikes formal galleries used the space to create a huge fabric artwork over the ground which passersby could watch him creating, and a third artist used the space to spend the night inside a DIY cardboard box construction
The art events in particular often use or are interrupted by the weather and the land. Such as in;
- a local student’s “Dress Yanaka” project involved him making small earthen tunnels which a person can then crawl into and be partially covered by, as they face the sky on their back – wearing a dress made from the soil of Yanaka itself
- a photography exhibition laid flat across the earth instead of upon temporary walls resulted in one photo of a street puddle having real puddles form during rain showers
- a Butoh event inside a set made by the performers used the soil of the space itself during the performance
- in one unique music performance by three women (who had been stopped by police from playing on the street without permission) listeners held up a blue tarp over the performers so they could play despite the heavy rain
Another result of experimentation at ONDI is its success as an incubator for new local businesses;
- the now popular local bakery Mojo began selling products from the back of an old car parked in ONDI, they now have two stores in Yanaka at Nezu and Sendagi
- a bag maker who sold her items on the streets of Yanaka from her customised bicycle (allowing her to change location) was told by police she could no longer do that, so she decided to sell her products hanging from her bike at ONDI instead, she now has a permanent store too in Yanaka at Sendagi
- Tokyo Street Garden is a very popular plant designer who first began selling his unusual plants in at ONDI, this was after the police told him he had to stop selling his plants on the streets
Tokyo, in my opinion, is very lacking in this kind of changing and unregulated space. Both Makizumi-san and I cannot think of another space like this. These places help to keep the creative and nurturing energies of the city alive. ONDI’s cheap rent and easy access without restriction means beginners in all fields can use the space to experiment freely. This is unusual for a city with such high rents and land prices. Many students from the nearby universities can benefit from presenting work here.
ONDI is open to anybody for rent and Makizumi-san is happily looking forward to the first rental by a foreign resident or artist. So if you have an idea and want to use the space to perform, exhibit, hold a discussion or create something (or anything else you can think of) this could be the perfect opportunity to do that. The price for a day rental of the land is ￥2000. You can also rent the space for multiple days, after 3 days the space becomes just ￥300 per day. These prices are very low compared to the usual price for spaces in the city. Of course, being an open space the seasons dictate how many events take place. There are fewer events in winter but the space is still available then.
ONDI’s events are publicised via social media, usually in Japanese. You could try an automatic translation if you can’t understand, or you can instead send a quick message or leave a post to ask about upcoming events and Makizumi-san can happily reply to you in English.
If you’d like to use the space, or have questions, please send Makizumi-san a message online or email to: email@example.com
The history of the land home to ONDI can be gleaned from the sight of the old store next door, which now homes a painting teacher who gives lessons and holds occasional exhibitions inside. A similar building at the ONDI site was home to an electronics store until it was razed and left vacant. Makizumi-san was actually sent a detailed plan from a parking space management company after he bought the land laying out its potential as a parking lot; ￥40,000 p/m income. But he didn’t like the idea.
The ‘Harappa’ in Kasu Harappa ONDI can be translated as ‘an open plain with little grass shoots growing’, referencing the small-scale but energetic activities which take place at the site. However, the real little grass shoots which spring up at the site are enthusiastically being taken up by a neighbour with a zest for neatness, Makizumi-san is still yet to spot the gardener in action. Part of Makizumi-san’s job is keeping open communication with the neighbours around the space, to maintain a good relationship with them. So thanks to Makizumi-san’s friendly and generous spirit Kasu Harappa ONDI continues.