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Herb Sundays 76: Haruka Hirata (Big Love Records)
The Tokyo-based Big Love Records co-founder follows her heart "just to uplift, impress and inspire myself."
“Here is my Sunao Mix.
There is no exact English word that translates this Japanese word “Sunao” -but it means honest, direct, innocent, and obedient.
So this mix is very sunao, following my heart, that I would play on Sundays just to uplift, impress and inspire myself. No one else. The order is sunao too; you can see my strange tendencies going back and forth between the major and weird. My dog hates experimental/noise, and I’m not a big fan of headphones, so I try not to listen to them at home. But with this mix, I only cared about myself. Haruka’s classics. Haruka’s essentials. No recent releases!” - Haruka Hirata
Haruka Hirata is the co-founder and creative director of the Tokyo independent record shop Big Love Records. She is also an ikebana (traditional Japanese flower arranging) artist with a degree from the Sogetsu School and is now studying art and design at Kuwasawa Design School. Born in Tokyo, and spending her childhood in Greece, she aims to connect diverse communities seeking unknown new experiences. Her creation expands from sculpting, translation, DJ, and exhibition curation to zines, also works as a coordinator of the concept shop GR8.
Nestled upstairs on a quiet street in Harajuku, Big Love Records has become a staple of the world’s tastemaker record shop scene. Started by Hirata’s ex-husband Naka and then restarted as Big Love along with her in 2008, the shop carries a selection of darker, and more powerful sounds from around the globe. Housing vinyl, tapes, and an intimate bar, Big Love has also become popular for merch adorned by their Cali Thornhill DeWitt-designed logo.
In her SSENCE profile, she explains:
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.
If there’s a lesson in this Herb, it’s that sometimes a re-branding is a great move. The store is now under renovation and will re-open soon.
Like my friend’s clothing shop, Eric Hardin’s Today Clothing shop in Ann Arbor, or Meridian in Hudson NY, the new wave of merchants will probably sell more and communicate more vastly online but it’s only in the physical manifestation of their shops that they truly comes alive. These stores talk to customers, welcome brands/labels to visit, and see what someone who’s not initiated with the wares responds to.
I got to visit Big Love in 2019, traveling with my friend Colin (who co-runs the ace Why Is This Interesting Substack) and our dear friend and Ghostly’s Japanese distributor Oshi took me out to a few shops including cassette shop Waltz and Big Love. On the same trip, I hit the traveling musician’s staple bar, Beatcafe and said hi to the beloved Katoman who contributed Herb 21 last year. We also met up with writer W. David Marx (Herb 53), and I had a beer with Toby Feltwell (Herb 20) of The Trilogy Tapes at Big Love.
Similar to the weekly videos Hardwax posts each week, Naruto and Naka often post videos from the shop sharing the new releases. I don't speak Japanese, but just seeing what they are excited about, often labels I know personally, gives me a thrill. It reminds me that we're all trying to find a discovery that will alter our chemistry.
From the field.
For Those getting Dilla-pilled by the new documentary ( I haven’t seen yet), Dan Charnas (Herb 56), author of Dilla Time, which just entered its paperback era, has shared a plethora of Dilla-themed playlists on Spotify (and a copy of one of them exists by someone on Apple).
“And because what is a Substack if not a place to shill (and debase yourself, tied together really) I’m here letting you know that I decided I’m going to do this for a while, on and off, time permitting. For 50 American dollars (I had to raise the price after the first batch because I grossly underestimated how long it takes to make one of these, this is ART bitch) I will make you a custom playlist for yourself, a lover, a friend, a person you hate, the mailman for Christmas, whatever. I just put up 10 more if this interests you. It’s like my version of doing Cameos but less humiliating (arguably).”
Bonus nugs from Haruka (these are greyed out in Spotify US but here are some vids:
This one is by the elusive Momoe Yamaguchi, who retired at age 21, and is now a cult legend.
And this one sent me on a deep dive: Miki Nakatani on a Sakamoto-penned blisser (search for the record on streamers for a 1997 remix package with DJ Krush and Andrea Parker!):
Herb Sundays: Saturday Night Liver than Joe Piscopo