Just over a decade ago, Andrew Curry experienced siphon coffee in a Kyoto cafe — a memorable encounter that planted the seed for his career in coffee. He went on to join Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco, before moving to Tokyo in late 2014 to work on the launch of the company’s first cafes in Japan.
From San Francisco to Seattle and now Tokyo, Andrew’s time spent on both sides of the Pacific has led to an essentials-only approach to city living. He welcomed me into his compact Yoyogi-Uehara apartment on a warm October morning, where we discussed living simple and exploring the city after dark.
⎯ It feels like a different world up here on the fifth floor. What were your first impressions of this apartment?
The first time I came here was at around 10 or 11 in the morning. It was winter, and light was streaming in through the windows. I had been living in an old Japanese house with sukima (gaps) around every door and window, so it felt good to be enveloped in warmth and light.
⎯ What are the realities of living in such a small space?
It’s tiny, but it’s fine for me because I don’t like collecting things. I’ve moved around a lot and having a lot of stuff encumbers you. Even today when I was tidying up, I thought to myself: I have to throw some things away. When I do buy something, it’s usually something I really like and will cherish — like a camera. A camera isn’t really a necessity, but for me, it feels like one.
⎯ It’s an everyday essential.
Exactly. I always have my camera with me and often walk through the back streets without any knowledge of where I’m going. This has allowed me to capture so many photographs because I engage with the city at a slower pace. Walking opens up the city, and photography allows me to connect with it.
Tokyo is so vast and has so many little pockets. I love how people have elaborate displays of plants in front of their houses and so I often stop to photograph them. People wonder what I’m doing, but it’s just my way of connecting with the environment. Things that go unnoticed every day bring life to a city. Many people just forget about them.
⎯ I’ve noticed that you often shoot after dark, when everyone has left to go home.
I enjoy the juxtaposition. Tokyo is an extremely large and busy city, but within that flow there are also many solitary moments that I like to seek out and capture. We deal with so many people every day, and so capturing those quieter moments can feel like meditation — a way to breathe.
⎯ Does the same apply to living up here, away from everything happening at street level?
Definitely. Part of my job involves working in our busy cafes and at the end of the day that can be very tiring. I’m more of an introverted person and so at the end of a long day I need my own "me" time to recharge and energise. To be able to come home and have those external stimuli muted has a restorative effect.
⎯ Small spaces can indeed be comfortable.
I wish I had more space, but you learn to adapt and make do. I like doing yoga in the morning and so I just roll the mat out next to my bed — it fits perfectly. I’d like to have a more comfortable sitting situation, maybe even a couch, but that’s impossible here. I’m not planning to be in a small place forever and so eventually I’ll get a bigger place and fill it with more stuff.
Keys to the City #02
New store opening specialist/photographer, Blue Bottle Coffee
Lives in Yoyogi-Uehara. Works in Nakameguro. Plays in Nakameguro.
“Yoyogi-Uehara has good proximity to a lot of the places I either go to work or hang out with friends. I can walk to Shibuya, Daikanyama and Ebisu, and there are good places nearby like Katane Bakery and Paddlers Coffee.”
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Photo & Article: Ben Davis
Editor and consultant based in Tokyo since 2010. Currently works across a range of editorial, research and publishing projects.