Renovated buildings, attracting attention in Japan
Reborn “Retroft Chitose”: a renovated building in Kagoshima City
Corridor of books “Secondhand Book Store Liset”
“KISSACO Mitsuta” popular for open-fire roasted・hand dripped coffee
“Hananoki Farmlab” serving homemade sausage hot dogs
“Kabeleft”, a gallery like a hideaway
“Nouen Restaurant Mori no Kazoku” (Farm Restaurant Forest Family) operated by an organic vegetable farm
Why was Retroft Chitose reborn? What are the owners’ thoughts?

In Meizan-cho, close to Kagoshima city hall, there is an area still strongly retaining its Showa era townscape, where a certain multi-use building stands. The building’s name is “Retroft Chitose”. At a glance you would think it is just an old building, but once you enter you will notice that it is a unique, quirky space filled with many old books and art.
This time, I will report about the renovated building “Retroft Chitose”, which is also gathering attention from overseas visitors. I will introduce the history of its origins, features of the tenant shops, and the husband-wife owners/managers of the building, and their thoughts.

Renovated buildings, attracting attention in Japan

Overseas, European townscapes in particular are said to have many antique buildings. While the center of Tokyo is almost filled with relatively new buildings, I have heard that cities like Paris or London still have many buildings more than 100 years old that are used regularly even today. This gap results from a difference of perceptions about buildings. Of course their methods of construction are different, but more importantly, it is standard to create houses and structures meant to last several generations.

European townscape

Overseas townscapes make good use of old buildings

Of course, to keep using old buildings it is essential to conduct regular maintenance and renovate as needed. In Europe, old buildings that have survived until today have been renovated periodically according to the demands of the era and desires of the inhabitants.

In Japan as well, there are frequent attempts to preserve historic houses or old buildings by breathing new value into them by renovating them. Sometimes the local governments are the ones leading this renovation trend, especially in the countryside where the population is decreasing.
Here, I will introduce “Retroft Chitose” in Kagoshima city, an example of this trend of creating new tourism resources by preserving the external building appearance but completely renovating the inside.

Reborn “Retroft Chitose”: a renovated building in Kagoshima City

 Retroft Chitose entrance

Retroft Chitose entrance

This time I will introduce Retroft Chitose, located along the main street near Kagoshima city hall. It is about a 2 minute walk from the streetcar stop “Asahi doori dentei”. The access is very good with even an airport shuttle stop on the opposite side of the street, connecting the city center to the airport.
After being built in 1966, for several decades the five-story reinforced building was used for storage and shops on the first and second floors, and apartments on the third to fifth floors. The building took on its current appearance after its renovations in 2012.

At first glance, Retroft Chitose’s exterior looks like a typical old building. However, inside it is a unique space that begins with the “corridor of books” of a secondhand bookstore and continues into a hot-dog stand, photo gallery, design office, and cafe using in-house roasted coffee beans.
The renovated first floor has become a hotspot of these unique, unusual stores. Let’s take a look inside.

Corridor of books “Secondhand Book Store Liset”

Secondhand book store Liset

Books fill a wall of “Secondhand book store Liset”
The concept of Retroft Chitose is the “book passage”.
Exactly as the concept implies, the entire floor looks like a tunnel or corridor surrounded by books. It is like a narrow aisle where one person must pass another by squeezing by, filled with books up to the ceiling. 

Corridor of Secondhand book store Liset

Various genre of books
Secondhand book store Liset has two corridors, each about ten meters long, with books covering everywhere on the right and left.

The corridor connecting the two aisles also has displays of picture and western books. There are a wide variety from children's books, academic books, Kagoshima local history, and more. The large western books are rarely found in standard bookstores. It is fun to flip through the books as you browse. 
The store inside packed with books

You might find obscure items like rare picture or western books

When you find a book you like, check the pencil-written price tag and take it to the counter. One of the great things about a secondhand bookstore is that you might be able to discover some great bargains!

“KISSACO Mitsuta” popular for open-fire roasted・hand dripped coffee

“KISSACO Mitsuta”

“KISSACO Mitsuta” entrance

In between the bookshelves there is a sudden open entrance. If you go through the entrance, you will see the cafe “KISSACO Mitsuta” which boasts open-fire roasted and hand-dripped coffee. Even though it is a coffee speciality shop, curry selections like Indian curry are also popular. It is also acceptable to bring books from the "book passage" into the coffee shop. 

“Hananoki Farmlab” serving homemade sausage hot dogs

Hananoki Farmlab

“Hananoki Farmlab” counter

At the end of the book passage is “Hananoki Farmlab”, a hot dog stand that features homemade sausage hot dogs.
The sausages, as well as the bread and even the ketchup are hand made on the Oosumi Peninsula at the social farm “Hananoki Farm”. The sausages are huge and it feels like you are eating a real chunk of meat.  It is a great place for meat lovers.

“Kabeleft”, a gallery like a hideaway


“Kabeleft” uses the whole wall

“Kabeleft” is a mini gallery located at the end of the book passage.
Pictures taken by Andy Ando, a cameraman living in Kagoshima, are displayed on a bright white wall. (the pictures are mainly portraits.) The cameraman himself is typically not there, but his contact is there for people who want to get in touch with him.

"Nouen Restaurant Mori no Kazoku” (Farm Restaurant Forest Family) operated by an organic vegetable farm

Mori no Kazoku (Forest Family)

Mori no Kazoku (Forest Family) entrance
This is a casual restaurant directly managed by the Sonoyama Farm, organically farming since 1978. The restaurant serves a lunch menu including healthy large vegetable plates or Bibimbap, and sells a limited number of lunch boxes. The entrance is separate from that of the book shop, so instead you will enter from the outside. I could get a glimpse of the restaurant’s kitchen atmosphere from the book passage. 

Mori no Kazoku (Forest Family) kitchen atmosphere glimpsed from the book passage

You can see the kitchen from the the corner of the book passage

There are many more interesting places

Retroft Chitose basement area

Basement event space “Open Space Liset”

All of the tenants I introduced are located on the first floor of Retroft Chitose.
In addition to them, there is a rental gallery “Retroft Museo” on the second floor, a designer’s office and an event space “Open space Liset” and the vegetable and lunch box shop “Morikazo Store” on the underground floor, and many more interesting shops! The event schedule is posted on Facebook. Please check before you visit!.

【Retroft Chitose information】
Address:Retroft Chitose Building  2-1 Meizan-cho Kagoshima city 
Open:11:00〜18:00 *Sunday close at 16:00 
Holiday:Monday, second and fourth Sunday *may vary depending on stores

Why was Retroft Chitose reborn? What are the owners’ thoughts? 

Retroft Chitose’s special characteristics are the individual shops and tenants. However, I heard that there were various conflicts and it took some trial-and-error to achieve the current format. I asked the owners Akihiro and Yumie Nagai about the background of Retroft Chitose’s rebirth, and how they are thinking about the future.

The owners of Retroft Chitose

Owners husband and wife Mr. and Mrs. Nagai

ーーOriginally, what kind of facility was the Retroft Chitose building?

Akihiro:My father owned the shoe wholeseller “Chitose Shouten” and built this building in 1966 as his own store as well as for a warehouse and apartment. I heard he rented out the first and second floors later, but when I inherited the building from him only one camera shop was a tenant of the first floor and the second floor was untouched.

ーーDid you have the idea to renovate the building like this from the beginning?

At the beginning, I did not have any thoughts about renovating. To be honest, I was at a loss about what I should do about this building. At any rate, to somehow take care of the almost-empty apartments and second floor store spaces, in 2005 I renovated them into living quarters for young artists and made the gallery “Retroft Museo” on the in 2009. 

Retroft Museo

Second floor gallery “Retroft Museo”

ーーWhy did you make a gallery?

One of the reasons was that I wanted to make an exhibition space for young artists who rented our apartments. Also, I had the desire to invite artists from outside Kagoshima and from overseas. To help achieve that goal, in the back of Retroft Museo I made a simple accommodation area with a bed, mini kitchen, and shower. 

ーーI would like to ask you about the first floor book passage.  What particular concept did you have for making it?

After all tenants departed from the first floor in 2011, we started the renovations. The book passage concept came from a book café in Paris. We loved the book café’s pictures that a friend provided to us and consulted an architect to expand upon the concept and decided the details.  For example, the book shelves are made from several sizes of boxes. That way they can accommodate different sizes of books, and also vary the appearance. In the front we intentionally put the boxes unevenly to to give our interior some three-dimensionality.

Depth variation of the book shelves

Bookshelf sizes and depth varies

Yumie:We were very particular about the color. Actually, the bookshelves’s blue color is derived from the wrapping paper of the stationary shop in Rome’s Piazza Navona. Of course there are no color samples in the catalogues so I asked the painter to mix the color several times.

Also particular about the wall color

Very particular about the wall color

ーーWhat is your criteria to choose your tenants?

Akihiro:The standard is whether or not the tenant is suitable with the bookstore. For that reason, we do not accept everyone and we do not push to accept someone just to fill the space. On the contrary, if the shop is suitable for the concept of Retroft Chitose, then sometimes we accept the tenant even if we must discount the rent for three years to accommodate for their financial state.

Retroft Chitose tenants

The standard to decide the tenants is if they are suitable or not with the secondhand bookstore

ーーIs there a desirable tenant for the future?
I would love to have a flower shop. Since we also have a great coffee shop, a bakery to go with it would be nice too. In addition, we are planning to make a permanent coop-type store in the near future.

ーーIs there anything else you are aiming for in Retroft Chitose’s future?

Yumie:We would like to be “a center for culture transmission”.  For example, having events at Retroft Museo on the second floor or at the “Open space Liset” on the first floor, or providing space for artists who want to have a solo exhibition, and more. There are few galleries in Kagoshima, so we especially want to provide a chance for young people to see and share their art.

Akihiro:We hope for you to think that this is not only a store but that this is a place with something special every time you come. 

Wander into the fancy and unique Retroft Chitose! 

“Retroft Chitose” is a type of renovated building, rare both nationally and in Kagoshima.
I heard that there are frequent repeat visitors, not only from Kagoshima but also from outside the prefecture, who enjoy the unique concept or and shops centered around the secondhand books.
If anything that you read interested you, be sure to pay them a visit!