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Me, around the time I moved to Tokyo
Kenzo Takada

Kenzo Takada (6) Off to Tokyo as one of the first male fashion design students

At 18, I showed a determination to follow my dreams that surprised even me

| Japan

At Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, I opted to take night classes so that I could work during the day. I was impatient to become a full-fledged adult and wear tailored suits, in part because I yearned to be like my older brothers.

Thanks to an introduction from my brother-in-law, I got a job at a trading company in Kobe where I helped export toys. Everyday, I would arise at 6 a.m., take the train from Himeji to Kobe, work until 5 p.m., then go to classes at the university. I would not get home until after 10 at night.

This was taxing physically. Not only that, my job was dreadfully dull, consisting of nothing more than packing toys and handling the phone. I didn't feel even a hint of the glamorous foreign lifestyle I had been expecting. How long could I endure this situation? To be honest, I wasn't confident I could last.

I was 18 ... and was setting off on my youthful journey with a mixture of hope and anxiety

It was then that my life took a major turn.

Toward the end of April, my first month at university, I noticed an intriguing advertisement in the train I took to school. Bunka Fashion College, it said, was accepting male students for the first time ever.

For an instant I doubted my eyes. "Can this be?" I asked myself. "I thought fashion schools didn't accept men ... " I felt like I had been bewitched.

Prior to taking my college entrance exams, I had inquired about the possibility of enrolling at fashion schools in western Japan, but I had carelessly not asked about Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo. And it turns out I could have enrolled there!

Once I realized that, I was unable to contain myself. I decided to drop out of the university in Kobe and enroll at Bunka Fashion College.

Having discovered what I really wanted to do, I displayed such an enormous ability to take action that I surprised even myself. I promptly stopped going to classes and took a part-time job at a tofu shop near my home as a delivery boy to save up money to move to Tokyo.

My family did not welcome my decision. My bedridden father in particular was vehemently opposed. There were many sick people in the family, and our household finances were already stretched thin because his business was on the brink of collapse. There was no way I could rely on my family for money.

I worked for two months that summer and somehow managed to earn enough for traveling expenses plus a meager amount to live on.

I clearly remember the scene on the day I headed for Tokyo. My family came to Himeji Station to see me off.

"Kenzo, let us know as soon as you figure out where you're staying," my mother called to me, looking as if she would burst into tears at any moment.

I made an effort to respond cheerfully. "I will! Don't worry about me. I'm going to be just fine in Tokyo." 

Finally, the local train bound for Tokyo began to pull away from the platform. I was 18 that autumn and was setting off on my youthful journey with a mixture of hope and anxiety.

Getting by on my own 

In Tokyo, I first found lodging in Wakamatsu-cho, Shinjuku, staying with a close friend from high school who was attending a preparatory school in hopes of getting into the prestigious Waseda University. After a while, I decided to take up residence at a paint shop where I could work to cover my room and board. I figured a job even slightly related to drawing would be good.

The Mishima Sign Shop was located right next to the Wakamatsu-cho station on the Tokyo Metropolitan tram line. Upon entering the shop, there were sitting quarters and a work room. I lived at the front in a tiny area partitioned off by a curtain.

I was assigned to do the first coat of paint. I took a brush in one hand and a ladder in the other and tried to learn by imitating the boss. I had trouble getting the hang of it. My hands would end up covered in paint, and it wasn't easy getting it out from under my nails. The cold wind would penetrate me to the core.

My monthly salary was 3,000 yen. Having gone to Tokyo over strenuous opposition, I never had to ask for a single yen from my family.

Kenzo Takada is a fashion designer known for his eponymous label Kenzo, which he left in 1999.

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