When I was a student at Okubo Elementary School. I've loved dogs since I was a child. (Photo courtesy of Yohji Yamamoto)

Movies, sewing, and painting - things that colored my childhood: Yohji Yamamoto (4)

Transfer to prestige private school taking aunt's advice


After the war, the Kanto Ozu-Gumi and its leader, Kinosuke Ozu, known as the "last of the chivalrous", controlled the dark world of Kabukicho. His eldest daughter, Toyoko, was around the same age as me. She appeared as a child actress in several movies.

Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita, "Twenty-Four Eyes" is a timeless masterpiece set at a branch school on the Seto Inland Sea. It depicts the interactions between a teacher and her students and the tragedy of being at the mercy of war. The teacher, the protagonist of the film, was played by an actress Hideko Takamine, and Toyoko played the role of a young lady from a well-established family.

Growing up in Kabukicho and its many theaters, it was only natural that I would grow to become a movie buff. On top of that, one of the frequent customers at my mother's shop worked at the ticket stand in a movie theater, so I often got to get in and see the most popular new releases for free.

I was fascinated by American westerns like "Stagecoach", "Rio Grande", "High Noon", and "Shane". I was drawn in by the brilliant gunplay and cigarette-smoking, masculine performances of actors like John Wayne and Gary Cooper.

I also admired James Dean, the star of "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without a Cause". He was handsome, but there was something dark and lonely about him, which I thought was cool. I was greatly shocked by his sudden death in a car accident just six months after his debut in a leading role.

Televisions were not yet widespread at that time. Movies were an indispensable form of entertainment for both adults and children.

Every day I spent my time fighting, but my grades at Okubo Elementary School were not bad. I was also fairly athletic, so I gradually became aware that I was somewhat more dexterous and better at dealing with things than the other students.

During my school days, there were two things for which my mother gave me praise.

One was a pair of cotton briefs that I sewed up in home economics class. It took me about two hours, but it was so good I won the gold prize at an exhibition. I had watched my mother work in her dressmaking shop, so I guess I had a natural knack for cutting and sewing.

The other thing was painting. My mother was very surprised by my watercolor painting of a cherry blossom tree that I made in arts and crafts class. My picture was chosen to represent our class and was hung on the wall.

"Wow, you can paint that well."

She seemed a bit proud since parents were observing the class that day.

My mother once took me to see a Christian Dior fashion show in Tokyo. It was November 1953, when I was in the fourth grade. It was a commemorative event where Bunka Fashion College celebrated its 30th anniversary by inviting exclusive models all the way from Paris. I think it was held in the college's auditorium.

Dior was a top Parisian fashion designer who captured the world's attention in the postwar era with his "New Look", which emphasized the bust and hips by narrowing the waist. My mother was obviously very interested. I, on the other hand, had no idea what the fashion show was about. I just watched the beautiful models walking on the stage with a curious feeling in my heart.

"How about taking the transfer exam for Gyosei, the prestigious private school?"

One day when I was in the fifth grade, my mother's sister, who lived in the city of Mito, recommended this to me. It turns out that she was secretly worried about the bad public morals in Kabukicho.

My aunt and her husband were not blessed with children, and they had looked after me with kindness from the time I was sent to Oarai. She was very passionate about education, sending me to cram schools and private tutors during summer vacation.

Encouraged by my aunt's kindness, I decided to take Gyosei's transfer exam in the sixth grade.

Back to blog