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Tokyo's SuperDeluxe

You might not guess that SuperDeluxe, a discreet basement just around the corner from Tokyo's new Mori Art Museum, is owned by two of the city's most celebrated young architects. The late-arriving crowd seems about right—narrow hips, vintage jeans, messy hair, fashionable specs, accents from all over. But the space, gutted and painted and not much more, hardly looks like something an architect would tolerate. It is utterly undesigned—and that, architect Mark Dytham says, is precisely the point. "There are beautiful interiors all over Tokyo," he says, "but things tend to go off after a while. We're trying to take the emphasis away from people coming here to experience the interior. We want them to come to experience the content."

Tonight, it's music, a pair of DJ's spinning un- derground hip-hop. Stage lights make the walls blush a deep red. Tea-lit tables hide behind gauzy curtains, near a motorcycle parked on a low stage. Nothing is nailed down—even the bar is on wheels. Twenty- and thirtysomethings mingle in small circles, talking in Japanese and English and drinking the house brew, Tokyo Ale, from plastic cups.

SuperDeluxe began as a kind of office party. Dytham and his partner Astrid Klein, keen on finding a space in central Tokyo for their architecture firm, settled on a vacant taxi garage they named Deluxe. Together with the design duo

Namaiki, a composer, and a computer graphics contractor, they spent $10,000 on renovations, crammed their firms into a tiny row of cubicles, and turned the rest of the place into an art gallery, a music venue, and a performance-art hall. They even started brewing beer. Over time, though, De- luxe began to feel cramped, so the group dreamed up SuperDeluxe, a new space that would be a permanent home for Deluxe's diversions.

Today, in the center of the buzzing Roppongi quarter, SuperDeluxe hosts up to 25 events a month—exhibits, lectures, live music (everything from classical to electronica to afrobeat), sake tastings, and more-experimental fare. A few weeks ago, SuperDeluxe hosted a party and "instant exhibit" with the culture magazine Hot Rod. "Bring a graphic-art piece and pin it up on the wall," they ordered. "This will be your contribution to 'Japan in a Box,' an art project that will tour Norway."

One of the most popular events, the monthly Pecha Kucha Night, is a visual arts version of a poetry slam. Anyone who shows up gets to present 20 images for 20 seconds each—the slides keep changing, which makes the show-and-tell breezy.Unknown painters and design students end up sharing the stage with stars like architect Toyo Ito. One evening, Dytham met Star Trek: Enterprise actor Dominic Keating at a party and brought him along; Dytham downloaded 20 Star Trek stills, and Keating spoke about interior design in space.

Someone unacquainted with Japan might not find any of this particularly Japanese, but that's a mistake no SuperDeluxe regular would make. An eclectic, creative subculture is a fundamental part of Tokyo's vitality. And in a city that can sometimes hold visitors at a polite distance, a place to participate in culture that's living, not simply put on display, is rare, and enlightening. "So many people come over to Japan and study archery or whatever, because they think it is Japanese," Dytham says. "We're here because we love Tokyo."

SUPERDELUXE, B1F 3-1-25 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 81-3/5412-0515; www.super-deluxe.com.

DOUGLAS MCGRAY writes for the Atlantic Monthly and Wired, among other publications.

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