commune de ATTA. The owner, Ryo Kuroda chose an ambiguous name for his own shop. An old house that you can’t see inside easily, with just a sign saying that name, it might be hard to guess that this is a hair salon. Well, it’s true that the term, “hair salon” isn’t enough to describe his shop. It’s different from other general salons in Japan which are normally glass-fronted, bright and orderly.
Having gained over 11 years experience as a hair stylist and also a manager of another hair salon in Kyoto, he finally started commune de ATTA last year. That news, which I heard from my friend, excited me and I made an appointment for a haircut. The studio is on the second floor and the ground floor is used as a gallery for young artists, pop-up Store and so on. Just the way I imagined, the space had been created lovingly; the vintage interior design was very original with a sense of fun, the furniture and utensils were selected with special attention to detail. Needless to say, his hair cutting method was as conscientious as his space. It’s comfortable; like being welcomed into his house. After some chattings during my haircut, I asked him for an interview for this site to get some tips for seasoned travelers. He accepted kindly and suggested an excursion to Mt.Kurama.
Mt.Kurama is located in the north of Kyoto city about 30 minutes by train from Demachiyanagi station. It’s a mountain with a very long history, said to have been a sacred place since ancient times. In Japan, nature worship has been fostered for a long time and has been changed into diverse forms of religion with the influences of Shintoism and Buddhism. Many people have trained in deep mountains, and Mt.Kurama has also been visited by holy priests, pligrims and warriors. Even though times change, this is the same sacred place, but now you can get there easily and visit Kurama Temple (called Kurama-dera in Japanese) and Yuki Shrine (Yuki-jinja) . In addition, you can walk on the sacred mountain through the approach to the main shrine and hall. The object of worship has also changed as time goes by. In recent years it’s the universe; even though three Buddas are enshrined there, it’s said that they are metaphors of the moon (love), the sun (light) and the earth (power) , which means that you can feel piety all the time, not only when you meet the Buddas.
On a cold morning, we met with Kuro-chan (Ryo Kuroda’s nickname) and his girlfriend Yuna at Demachiyanagi Station which connects to the Keihan and Eizan lines. Eizan Electric Railway, called “Eiden” extends to the northern part of Kyoto city that is known as the area filled with nature, and has a different atmosphere from the center of the city. A popular route takes about 2 hours on foot from Kurama Station to Kibune Station around the mountain, visiting temples and shrines along the way. There are two hot springs (called Onsen in Japanese) at each end of the route, Kurama and Kibune. On that day we started from the Kibune side in order to visit Kurama Onsen after our walk.
We started the interview over lunch after walking the route and soaking in Kurama Onsen.
Kuro-chan, do you often go to the mountains?
Yes, I like to spend time outside, recently I’ve just started mountain biking on a mountain near here. Kyoto is a city surrounded by mountains, it doesn’t take much time to get there. I also like riding a local train lines such as the Eiden which takes you to the suburbs. Mt.Hiei is also worth visiting by Eiden as there is a great temple, Enryaku-ji. Even if you don’t have so much time, you should visit temples and shrines that are a bit away from the downtown to avoid the crowds. I like also the atmosphere of the Teranouchi and Nishijin districts, in the northwest part of the downtown. Many traditional crafts and culture have grown here, such as silk fabrics in the Nishijin district and Tea ceremony in the Teranouchi district. The city is proceeding with a historic preservation project there but it isn’t such a touristy area yet, so you could enjoy exploring by bike while feeling a real sense of the history.
Do you know other places full of nature around Kyoto?
I recommend the Japanese tea growing refions surrounded by rolling hills: the southern part of Kyoto prefecture and the northern part of Nara city. I’m interested in the Tsukigase area in Nara city now, because I got to know a shop there called Tatsumi Tea House. It was my customer that told me about it and I bought tea from their online shop. A few days later the manager came my shop to give me a lecture about the proper way of serving tea. It was interesting.
Note: Recently, there are many young farmers in Japan who are trying to present the traditions in new ways. Unfortunately it might be difficult to visit the Tsukigase area without a car, but Uji-city is easily accessible and is one of the most famous places for Japanese tea. Also it might be a good idea to check out the markets held in Kyoto sometimes, for example the Kyoto Antique & Vintage Market where some small shops or farmers (including Tatsumi Tea House) get together, if it is happening during your stay.
We moved to commune de ATTA to continue our interview. He carefully made us coffee as he does for his customers and put on music, ’70s Japanese rock band Sugar babe.
Tell me something about commune de ATTA. We feel like this is your room, what is your concept?
Many customers say so and I’m glad to hear that. The concept, at the beginning, is a salon where people come together. This is a hair salon, and also a gallery, or moreover just a space where people gather to chat; I don’t want to limit its function. What I want to do with my work, it isn’t only to offer cool hairstyles but to solve the problems of hair that each customer has in daily life. I communicate with customers who have different kinds of hair, in addition to habits and lifestyle. That is to say, I focus on helping them to enrich their life by not only having their hair cut but also getting inspiration here.
What about the interior design? It’s you who arranged it?
It’s me who collected the furnitures at garage sales, but it’s the carpenter who built it up actually. He is my old friend, I gave him free reign to work on the interior finishing just after telling him my concept and giving him a simple perspective drawing to him. I have a certain taste for vintage style, in my fashion as well. I like ’40s-’50s militarly goods that are rare, functional and interesting to know the form changing with the times. I don’t like consume the new products one after another like the fast fashion movement.
So you’re trying to select the things carefully.
I often choose the products that my friends make. There are many creative people around me, for example in here, candle artist Rinn to Hitsuji, planting artist Re:planter, botanical planner jujumaru, leather craftsman I.S.D.A and coffee roaster Oeuf Coffee. Check their site out, and you can drink oeuf coffee at the following cafes: THE GREEN, etw, and Ruins. Kyoto is small but deep due to people who have a strong personality. Actually I’ve been living here for 14 years, but the longer I live here, the more I’m interested in it. It’s easy to get to know the people thanks to the small community.
Could you tell us your favorite restaurant and bar?
Well, in the same way that I choose things, I often go to my friend’s restaurants and bars. For tourists, I recommend Ichie as a Japanese restaurant which is not so expensive, you can choose a course from￥5,000 or a la carte dishes. For bar, Mayday is one of my favorites. The owner, Satoshi is also my old friend. It’s a bar where Japanese locals, foreign residents and tourists gather for the excellent selection of Scotch, good music and good vibes.
At the end of the day, we went for a drink at Mayday.
We would recommend this itinerary to tourists who love nature and history. It might be a very good idea to get your hair cut on your trip!
Kuro-chan, thanks for your precious time and the inspirations from you and your talented friends.
Photo: Hanako Kimura
Text: Takami Miyamoto