GREATEST / Haruka Hirata

The Big Love Records co-founder talks Instagram, her influences and her favorite "selfish" ritual.

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Don’t DM Haruka Hirata, don’t invite her to your band’s show, and if you happen to be in a car with her, don’t play any music at all. Despite being a co-founder of Tokyo’s underground music destination Big Love Records, Hirata values silence as the connecting operator between herself and her thoughts. But in today’s hyper-connected, noise-up world, how does this modern renaissance woman retreat to a place that is quietly expressive while also being purposefully experimental? With ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Here’s why Hirata loves the sound of cutting branches, the most significant question her mother ever asked her and what she learned in the years she spent living among Greek ruins. 

Let’s start with your relationship to Instagram. Is it a necessary marketing tactic, a performance venue or a stress inducer? 

To me, my personal Instagram is my résumé. A few years back, I posted constantly about my daily life. The main idea of Instagram is showing off. I think people forget that social media is one sided—even if you interact with people, it’s not real. Who knows who’s being honest? You can’t tell anything except for communicating in real life. These days, I post new releases, my ikebana works, sometimes my dog, me wearing my friends’ clothes and my favorite people. Strangers can’t comment on my posts because they only write [to ask] if they can get the Big Love merch online. My Big Love account is to introduce our latest wall, new merch, events and guests. I also have my dog Alex’s account. That one is definitely a stress inducer. My GR8 account is the medium where you can read about the new collection. It makes me sad to see people only posting their cats, boring trips or pretending you’re being loved by someone. It just represents how unsatisfying your life is. 

The Big Love Instagram bio reads ‘DON’T TAG SHIRTS’ and ‘DON’T DM’ in all caps. It’s somewhat ironic to use a social platform to spread awareness and yet simultaneously reject engagement. 

If you’re a true fan of our store, you should tag records, not the shirts. I’ve been saying loudly that merch is a tool to keep a record store alive. If you’re our loyal customer, you should visit the store and talk directly to us. DMs are too easy. Lazy. I hate people skipping the process of the physical transportation. You can always explain to me via e-mail why you can’t actually come and visit, but no one ever did. 

The sound of cutting the flowers and branches. It’s so cruel and such a selfish ritual. 

HARUKA HIRATA

Can you talk about your experience growing up? 

I was born in Tokyo, then moved to Thessaloniki, Greece, for my dad’s job, with my parents, older brother and older sister. I spent four years there, but it should be easy to imagine the impact of moving to an ancient European city. What made me confused was that I went to an American school—living in Europe, with American education, with an Asian family. Once I got back to Tokyo, my brain was trying to figure out what was going on. Everything was so different. I didn’t know how to sit properly during PE, how to talk nicely to classmates. Luckily, reading was my favorite escapism, so I had enough knowledge of Japanese, especially kanji, but I didn’t know how to write it. I tried to adjust, but Japan had no room for me. I had to find a shelter, and that was music, fashion and books. 

Who or what exposed you to music, fashion and art? 

My older brother and sister educated me—especially my older brother. He started showing me David Lynch, [Charlie] Chaplin, [Alfred] Hitchcock when I was around 10. That definitely dragged me to darker senses. My music influence also came from him—he was a record collector. Art-wise, my parents took me to every museum wherever we visited. We traveled a lot. But living in Thessaloniki, there were ruins everywhere and studying Greek mythology was mandatory, so those Greek references are my art influence. I don’t remember how I got into fashion— maybe TLC? Another significant influence was my mom’s words: ‘Why are you trying to be the same person as others?’ 

Talk about the genesis of Big Love Records. 

Naka, the co-founder of Big Love, started Escalator Records in the 90s. He opened a store in the same location as we are in now, under that name. Naka and I got married in 2008—now happily separated—and changed the name to Big Love, focusing more on international bands. Since our store is in Japan, not so many people understand English, and we wanted to have a symbolic and easy name that’s universal. 

What drew you to the underground music scene? 

I wasn’t really aware of the underground scene until I started working at Escalator Records during my university days. Naka’s selection completely changed my music taste. Also, the energy that the underground bands embrace fits me so well. Being underground is to have a conversation with your inner self, facing loneliness. 

When you’re traveling, do you listen to local radio stations or hook up your own music? 

I don’t like listening to music. I’m having it enough at my store. It’s super interrupting—you can’t talk to your brain. Traveling is a good opportunity to confront yourself. 

What’s the best concert you’ve seen? 

I don’t really like going to concerts. Feist once played in Tokyo. It was not a very big crowd, so I could feel her energy very closely, like a wave. It was really touching. 

How do you discover new music? 

My music mentors are Naka and Maru, a Big Love buyer. I take a look at the wall and read their captions. Also, through conversation with friends. Other than that, I listen to my friends’ playlists on NTS or Spotify. 

What are the pros and cons of running an analog business in a digital world? 

I’ve never thought about that. Just going with the flow. 

How did you meet Cali Thornhill Dewitt, the artist who designed the Big Love merch? 

He’s been running a record label called Teenage Teardrops and I contacted him that we wanted to stock some [records] for Big Love. It was 2009. Who can tell the gender from a foreign name? And I also didn’t have Instagram, so he thought I was a boy until our mutual friend visited him in L.A in 2011. 

Had Cali already designed the Old English font? 

It was already Cali’s signature. We just loved that font and thought it would be a great fit to our identity. 

I love the entire process. Starting from greeting the teachers and classmates, setting up the table, choosing the flowers, picking the vase, then doing the ikebana, cleaning up the table and finishing with greeting the teachers and classmates again.

HARUKA HIRATA

After you used it, the Old English font was appropriated for the Life of Pablo album art and merch, which means a ton of bootleg merch is also adorned with Cali’s font. What was it like seeing a design that was initially quite personal blow up to become so mainstream? 

Very funny. I believe around that time was the start when streetwear and art started fusing—and now the line is so blurry. They’re both infringing each other. Well, Cali’s wish about our logo is to become the next ‘CBGB,’ a timeless classic. So why not be copied? A logo should speak to the mainstream—once we release it, it’s released to the world. 

You do PR and international communications for a Harajuku streetwear haven called GR8. With a lot of streetwear brands having drops outside of the typical fashion seasonal calendar, what impact does that have on your role with the store? 

We have new stuff at the store every single day. I write descriptions of the new drops, but it’s getting harder to track what’s coming tomorrow because it’s so random. Also, I find a lot of brands starting to launch their new collections without titles or themes, so you really need to go through their Instagram and find the inspiration source of the new collection. I appreciate the narratives behind the clothes, so I hope the brands describe more about their creation with words—but even the kids don’t care about it anymore. 

Who or what influences your personal fashion choices? 

My influence on fashion is music, it’s my inspiration. Although if I can, I want to wear cosplay every day. I do have a theme every day—yesterday was an American teenager, the other day was an unsuccessful painter. But I’m not a good dresser because I’m not trying to express myself through clothes. 

What are your favorite sneakers you own? 

Difficult question! I’m not a sneaker person. I used to wear Phoebe Philo’s Céline sneakers a lot. My favorite at the moment is P.A.M. x Converse

How did you get interested in ikebana

Hiroshi Teshigahara, who was the second Iemoto (master of school), was an avant-garde movie director. I think movie lovers would know Woman in the Dunes or The Face of Another. I was into those—the aesthetics, the darkness, the delicate and sensitive expression. My mom is a flower lover, and she always told me the names of flowers. Our house even has a white birch and a camellia in our tiny garden. Living with nature, having four seasons, being close to the trees, plants and flowers are embedded in our culture. I used to express myself through poetry and zines, but I had been looking for a medium I could really throw myself into. Then, I was looking at Teshigahara’s Wikipedia and found out about his other face, and started working on ikebana

What about the practice do you love? 

The sound of cutting the flowers and branches. It’s so cruel and such a selfish ritual. 

What is your process like? From where do you source materials? 

I love the entire process. Starting from greeting the teachers and classmates, setting up the table, choosing the flowers, picking the vase, then doing the ikebana, cleaning up the table and finishing with greeting the teachers and classmates again. 

There are flowers and vases at the classroom, but when I do it myself I have several favorite flower shops. I buy vases from my school, or I find from random thrift shops. When I do the ikebana, sometimes flowers come first, or vice versa. 

INTERVIEW: ELIZA GOLD
PHOTOGRAPHY: SILAS LEE

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