Gumi-chan is a little girl who lives in the small Japanese town of Kusunoki with her mother and father, her brothers Toshio and Makoto, and her dog Ossan. It’s always 1961 in Kusunoki, a time when Japan was filled with optimism as the economy surged but the old communal ways still remained. A little utopia, in fact. Now you can savour its perfect miniature world at Paul Smith in Albemarle St.
Gumi-chan is the creation of doll-maker Kazumi Akao, who came up with the characters, and her collaborator, designer Nobuhiko Yoshimitsu, who contributes the production, character design, scene building and georama.
Akao was born in Obama in Fukui in 1961 and uses her own happy childhood as inspiration for the scenes in Gumi-chan. She shows us a vanished world where everyone is smiling, neighbours help each other out and everyone thinks the future is bright. Its row of little shops is incredibly detailed, right down to the vegetables on sale in the grocer’s.
This is Gumi-chan with her dog Ossan.
Gumi-chan’s father runs a bike shop. Here he is with a distinguished customer Paul Smith himself, looking suitably young given it’s still 1961, standing outside Paul Smith’s own shop.
The lady who’s amazing the crowds by lifting up a lorry is Gumi-chan’s mother, and the baby on her back is little brother Makoto.
In the background is the local cinema, showing Sakamori-kun Banzai! which promises plenty of singing and dancing and World War III which claims that ‘real war came to an end in the twentieth century. In the twenty first century we’ll make war with toys.’
Here’s Gumi-chan’s grandparents. Her grandfather has gone over to a western-style suit and homberg hat but her grandmother still wears a kimono.
The little street food stall outside the butcher’s sells tonkatsu (pork coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried) koroke (croquette potatoes) and menchi katsu which is a sort of fried meat cake. it looks very tasty, as the satisfied customer attests.
At the eatery you can get all your favourite lunches – ten-don which is rice with tempura on top, my favourite oyako-don, which is chicken and omelette on rice (oyako rather cruelly means parent and child) curry-rice, fried soba, ramen and more. There’s a poster advertising the Kusunoki autumn festival on the wall.
This is the eatery’s okami-san, standing outside her shop with her traditional broom.
The only person in the town who doesn’t seem to be happy is the grocer.
Surprising, given the number of customers he’s got.
Although they advertise cigarettes at Kadoya, they seem to be selling mainly stuff for kids.
There are lovely little details everywhere you look – like this tabby cat that’s fallen asleep on someone’s shoe.
These close-up pictures give you a false idea of the size of the models – they really are very tiny and the whole street of shops takes up only a few yards in the Paul Smith shop.
Gumi-chan is on display until 27th February. The Paul Smith shop is at 9 Albemarle St and is open 10 am to 6 pm Sunday to Wednesday, 10 am to 7 pm Thursday to Saturday.