Between his snakeskin-print shirt, skinny black jeans and rock star perm, Hirose Goh seems like he should be holding a guitar as opposed to a grip of Masonic rings. But his wardrobe hasn't stopped him from becoming Grand Poobah of his own secret society on Tokyo Bay.
Goh is the curator of Strange Love, the largest curio shop in Japan and your one stop source for cryptotaxidermy, occult candelabras and demonic bas-relief. Stranger than it's stock is the location--Venus Fort, a monolithic mall disguised as a high-concept shopping playground by its vaulted ceilings, Italian pillars and indoor fountains. Goh has connections with the property's developers, Mori Building--the owners of Roppongi Hills, the upscale nightlife district that foreign bankers and domestic blue blood call home--who approached him 11 years ago to produce a one-of-a-kind pop-up shop.
The investors perhaps got more than they bargained for. Strange Love stood out from the run-of-the-mill factory outlets that line Venus Fort to become a regular fixture--not bad for being tucked away in a cul-de-sac. But Goh wouldn't have it any other way. He can't have Joe Public pawing at his Ku Klux Klan knives, Nazi memorabilia or Freemason rings, now can he? Not only does he purposely stay off the beaten path, he hides all the good stuff in the back. According to Goh there's three types of customers: The normals, who are content with more pedestrian items; the phonies, who are either dressed cheap or looking for a cheap thrill; and the cultured, who come with the right mix of curiosity and respect. He saves the top-shelf items for this distinguished third group.
It would be easy to write off Goh's enterprise as simply bad taste if not for the reverence he holds for the objects. He's attracted by their history, craft, and mystique, making Strange Love a museum where the exhibits are part of the gift shop. “I don't agree with Naziism but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate German workmanship,” he notes, arms crossed with ring finger cupping his goatee. As an outsider looking in, each new acquisition is a puzzle waiting to be unlocked.
The Western world holds far greater mysteries than his homeland--and that’s not just the Occidentalism talking. The secret societies of Japan tend to be short-lived and self-destructive, hardly the mystical sects that control the world from behind the curtain in Dan Brown thrillers and YouTube exposés. There's the Black Dragon Society, a league of spies that worked to destabilize Asia and promote Japan's imperial expansionism until they were crushed under the boot heel of the GHQ. Or the League of Blood, an ultra-nationalist group working under a Buddhist priest who began and ended with a pair of political assassinations in 1932. Even Aum Shinrikyo, the religious extremists who executed the 1995 terrorist attack on Tokyo's subways, were basically yoga gone bad. Goh draws a line in the bloody sand secret societies and fanaticism. “To me, the difference comes down to rules and rituals. Yakuza and right-wingers don't count--all rules, no rituals.”
If you believe the urban legends, the Freemasons had their square and compasses trained on Japan since before the Meiji Restoration. In 1895 revolutionary Sakamoto Ryoma founded a trading company in Nagasaki City as a front to smuggle in rifles to arm disenfranchised samurai and overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate. His supplier was Thomas Glover, a Scottish merchant with supposed links to the Masonic order. Sadly Sakamoto was assassinated before he could see his plot bear fruit and the Western influence he resisted has since wormed itself into the heart of the nation. Each post-WWII prime minister has been a Mason, which puts Japan in the hands of the Rockefellers--again, assuming that the Internet is to be trusted. The exact details are up to debate, unlike in America, where everyone knows that the Founding Fathers swore allegiance to the Masonic order.
This oil painting of George Washington in his Mason's apron comes from the Olympic Boulevard lounge in Los Angeles. It's part of his private collection, the roped-off annex marked by a single initial: M. Does the letter stand for mystery, murder or Masonic? Let your imagination puzzle it out.
Asking to go behind the rope is the first step towards joining Goh's secret society. Assuming you pass his character check, he'll guide you to the inner sanctum--for a 1080 yen donation. But the cost goes towards your purchase. Consider it a down payment for a pair of Eye of Providence earrings or that Swastika-embossed cane you've always wanted.
You may join the club once you prove your loyalty. Spend 30,000 yen and receive a bronze member's card that acts as an all-access pass. There's already over 320 initiates with more joining by the day. On a busy weekend up to 30 people pack into the shop's alley-narrow aisles at once so the members-only system also serves as crowd control. Goh doesn't care that it forces him further into a niche. It's rather comfortable there.
When prodded, Goh is more proud of the way objects are presented than any single item. Artifacts are organized by their taxonomy like insects under glass. The demons dance together as if everyday were Walpurgis night. A solitary rosary, unremarkable by itself, is displayed with 50 others to form a link in impervious Catholic chainmail. Some people curate their tastes with Tumblr. Goh curates his with Strange Love.
In that sense Strange Love may be the most reblogged collection of its kind. You can't visit a vintage clothing store in Tokyo these days without bumping into lizards in formaldehyde, stuffed howler monkeys or crusty crucifixes. This influence trickles down from fashion into the underground idol scene, the last hipster holdout where producers are beginning to dress their girls like the little sisters of Aleister Crowley. The unit JyuJyu (literally “Curses”) wears gothic dresses and prints the Seal of Solomon on its merch. More obvious is the recent music video from Tokyo Girl’s Style, “Crucifix,” which might as well have been furnished by Goh himself. Coincidence, or conspiracy?
The occult connection traces back to Goh. He began importing used clothing from the States over 25 years ago only to focus exclusively to curios when the market got “too mainstream and too boring.” Now these contacts keep his coffers filled with the best contraband that money can find. How does he dig this stuff up, much less slip it into the country? Goh answered by uncomfortably shifting his weight and quickly changing the subject, a knowing smirk tugging the corner of his mouth. His secret is out. But Goh makes sure to maintain the mystery.
Official Website: http://strangelove.co.jp/
Written by Dave Kracker
Photos by Dan Szpara