Jukeboxparables

WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 14 – A roll of the dice on the last day…

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 24, 2010

WT2010 – JAPAN
Day 14 – A roll of the dice on the last day…
[On the iPOD] The Smiths

I considered trekking way outside of Tokyo for my final day in Japan, the next day to be written off by getting to the airport and a flight to Los Angeles. I decided to simply roll the dice assigning random station names on the JR line to the numbers on my 6 sided cube of fate.

First roll landed on Harajuku, where i’d already been but thought what the heck I’ll go again and maybe actually get some shots of the cosplay-zoku. Of course it was a nonevent until I spotted a small crowd near the bridge there. It was a girl selling home-made jewellery, next to her she had a motorbike packed and stacked with everything you’d need to live on the road. Under the bike was a map of Japan with a good 30 destinations circled and finally some photo albums of her travels. She’d been traveling around japan and living off this motorbike and from the sales of the home-made jewellery.

I flicked through her photo albums there were some really cool photos, a real experience. Sometimes you don’t need to go overseas for great adventures. Theres always some in your own backyard and what better way to do it than on a motorbike!

Next roll of the dice led me to Ikebukuro, I hadn’t been North of Shinjuku on the Yamanote line yet so I thought what the heck. The suburb is fairly dull with not much going on, but it did take me awhile to get out of the subway, it liberally runs under half the length of the town with shops either side and a major shopping outlet directly above. So I actually went back to the subway to get some amazing dessert and was blown away by a 2 layer pancake with cream in the middle swimming in custard and ice cream on top. Nom nom nom.

Ikebukuro would be the place to go if it was freezing + snowing outside and you needed to do some shopping, since all the stores you need are in the underground subway.

I headed back to my hotel and then decided to walk over to Shimokitazawa for dinner for one last time. It being a public holiday (and a monday) most of the shops were closed, minus the restaurants which were still in full swing.

My actual last day involved getting to the airport for a flight. My last good meal enjoyed with the company of a medium sized bottle of yebisu. Rad. It’s been a blur hopefully I’ll get some sleep on the plane.

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WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 13 – Shimokitazawa & an All-nighter in Shibuya

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 22, 2010

WT2010 – JAPAN
Day 13 – Shimokitazawa & an All-nighter in Shibuya
[On the iPOD] The Cribs / Iggy Pop

Struggle street. I was flipping through a guide-book pondering the museums and points of interest. They involved train trips and transfers and effort, something I’d exceeded in past days but was baulking at after two late nights getting intimate with alcohol and the the near-sight of a Tokyo sunrise approaching the horizon.

Then almost flippantly a place called Shimokitazawa is mentioned, it has no dedicated section because its outer-Tokyo but then again so is my hotel in Sangenjaya (by outer I mean an outer-line a mere two stops from Shibuya) I google the area an realize it’s actually 2km in a straight line north of my hotels road. It would probably be quicker to walk than catch a train in and hop on a transfer back out. I decide it’s a plan; walking has become my default form of exploration.

I’ve forgotten to mention this; People love bikes here (bicycles as well as motorbikes) Tokyo seems dedicated to the bike rider, perhaps it’s not as dedicated as some stand out places but every footpath you find bike lines (they share them with pedestrians and are usually wide or have a line down the centre saying bikes on one side) Besides that locals have an uncanny ability to dodge anything and everything. My first night here I watched a women with shopping on hee handle-bars holding an umbrella swaying vigorously in the wind whilst it SNOWED she pedalled on. People cycling one hand whilst the other is holding a cigarette or whilst talking on a mobile phone they dodge cars and weave around and through tight passages without stopping. Some how I’m yet to witness a stack.

Walking to Shimokitazawa I came across a park that completely split one part of town from the other (like a road you could say) but not a road, it was a park with a dedicated cycle path. It must have been converted from an actual road, I can’t forsee a park originally being that long. A great idea of urban planning. People of all ages use bikes and the men-women ratio is near 50/50 Id say. It’s great to see.

A mere 2km wander from Sangenjaya is Shimokitazawa; I’m promised some good shops; but the entire town is essentially a shop as far as I can tell. One minute I’m walking passed peoples homes and the next minute its a restaurant, a bargain basement, a vintage clothing store, an upmarket clothing store, a music store, an antique store, an electronics store. But mostly clothes and food.

On I walk to find a bridge leading under a train line, turns out the town is split North/South by this bridge (or so it seemed so far) I then explored that side of the tracks only to another train line and it’s a pedestrian/car crossing right in the centre of town. It turns out it’s also split East/West by a second train line. So Shimokitazawa is essentially four quadrants of awesomeness. The shops just don’t end, they’re all of interest and I literally walked around for 2hours just trying to figure out what I wanted to buy, whatever it was you could find it there. Remember we’re not talking big shopping centres but a local community who have built a town of shops to cater for all.

A stop and stare at the price of a brand new LCD screen and an American fellow bumps into me introducing himself as someone who served on duty from the states but has since settled down with a Japanese wife and is living outside of Tokyo he’s been here for awhile. I express admiration for the town we’re in and he replies with “Shimokitazawa is the bomb” too true. It was refreshing to come across a down to earth, chilled out cool American without an air of superiority.

I stumble through a record store and many a clothing store. Some are more commercial than others and if your looking for something slightly Indie and Alternative just keep walking you’ll find it somewhere. Don’t ask me where because you DO get lost in this place. Which is half the fun. I had the camera out wholey awares that I wasn’t going to take photos of shop-fronts because I would have too many damn photos to sort so I restrained myself diligently. I did however take a photo of a crepe place. Their crepe menu was in small crepe size boxes on the wall; faux designed plastic examples of what you could order. It looked amazing. I would walk a thousand miles and I would walk a thousand more just to…(ok I’ll stop) just to find that crepe store later on when I felt desert was on the cards. I couldn’t however, so I settled for a cake/coffee ‘deli’ which served amazing cakes such as “Caramel / Banana” etc.

You’ll also find a few restaurants that are hosting live-bands (at lunch time) and they’ll serve you a drink or food with your ticket. Theres many places like this in Shimokitazawa, you’ll find kids walking around with guitars constantly. The prices are pretty hefty though (compared to back-home) Bands (even small ones) seem to get paid well here (tickets to one place were 2500yen including a drink) that’s about $28 I wanted to checkout some local acts but If I bought the ticket I’d have to forgo paying for dinner later on (with no citibank in town) So instead I checked out one or two local buskers. Pretty talented.

Just like that the day was winding down, you can spend a good half-day wandering this little suburb of shops aimlessly. Sadly though it’s apparently all going to come to an end I’ve heard. The powers that be are building an extension of a subway line directly under it (I think) and the small cultural vibe and community style shops are set to make way for the real urban sprawl of Tokyo (think sky scrapers) The locals are fighting back to keep Shimokitazawa the way it is. I’m definitely on their side. Inner city Tokyo is great with it’s Neon shops but this place (the buildings stand no more than 2 stories tall) have that community vibe that developers always don’t care for. It happens all over the world it seems (I draw parallels to venues and pubs giving way in Sydney) It seems you can’t stop progress no matter the cultural cost, if culture even has a value to big wigs.

I’d put my DSLR camera away so many times this day; Instead I opted for the LOMO film camera (so not many shots until theyre developed) but I was on my way back when I noticed a cat sleeping on mans lap… the photos speak for themselves really.

I strolled back to my hotel and that night (it being a Sunday night the night before a holiday on monday) Long weekend essentially. I was aiming for a club in Shibuya I got there way too early (11pm) so I decided that I’d have a wander around somewhere else first. I had no idea what I was going to find, if anything hell I had trouble finding the place I was going to and I knew where I was going.

No more than a few metres up this quiet backstreet road I observed some Musos coming out of a bar (carrying equipment etc) So I decided to scope this place out. It was called “Derori” I walked in to find an avant-garde oldschool rock vibe venue. It had drums/guitar/bass/pa setup on the floor and a DJ decks behind it. A bunch of people were at the bar so I decided to take a seat with a drink.

Within minutes a guy from behind the bar came over to greet me and ask where I was from and How i’d found the place. I told him all about my travels and after a few words a nice lady came over to talk to me who as it turns out owned the bar. Eventually more and more people came in and I got to talking to a few locals who have traveled. The music was classic rock but as far as I could tell there was no one DJ behind the decks, it was more random people getting up to mix.

Eventually a guy hopped on drums and another on bass and another on guitar, I downed a few drinks and listed to them Jam along to what the DJ was spinning; mostly the likes of Iggy Pop, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, The Ramones and so on. Classic music along that vibe. Next thing I knew the guitarist is asking me If I play guitar, I reply yes. He hands me his Telecaster (plugged into a Vox amp which is cranking) As much as I love the aforementioned music I don’t play too well in that style but I obliged. Doing my best 12-bar-blues rock solo thing pretty poorly, but I tried to mix it up a bit.

I turn around to find a filling dance-floor and I start bumping into people; Iggy Pops “I Wanna Be Your Dog” comes on and I’ve got the song down in about 20sec (as I said I don’t play in that style at all) The PA is fighting against the sound coming from this 3-piece band that Im jamming in. Struggling to hear the song it’s probably sounding like complete ass but I don’t care and kick on for a good 30minutes to various tunes. Eventually we put the gear down and people start coming up to me at the bar. An Australian from Canberra even, I talk about travel plans and a few people reply; Is the band touring overseas too? How long have you guys been together? (They must have walked in late)

The bar was kicking, I enquired about the song selection and asked why different people were getting on stage. One girl said it was ‘A party’ I asked what the occasion was and got “No reason” as an answer. It’s a good an answer as any. Apparently the DJ decks were free reign, people had brought their own vinyl and cd’s and you could mix them up live. Naturally I pulled out my Iphone and played a track.

The vibe of Derori is one of people with a seasoned knowledge and love of the avante-garde and some classic rock and punk tunes. I could imagine Iggy himself rocking out here. I looked at the time and it was close to 2am, damnit I was supposed to meet someone at that place down the road. I didn’t want to leave all these cool people but I decided I’d come back later on. The bartenders and DJ’s and co were all occupied so I slipped out quietly.

A venue called Seco was the destination for a night called British Pavilion. It was a bigger venue with multiple DJ booths and a younger crowd of the Indie variety. It’s funny how I’ve traveled halfway around the world for the sounds of familiarity, but theres just nothing better to dance to. The door charge was kind of steep but included a free drink ticket so what the heck.

A short summary without going into details I met a bunch of awesome people one of which was one of the DJ’s dressed in an awesome avante-garde-steam-punk getup. He gave me like 4 free drink tickets for some reason over the night So I virtually didn’t pay for anything that night. One thing perplexes me about Japan, back home you have ‘promo girls’ right who are usually dressed in a companies gear and go around giving free samplers of said companies brews or sometimes not. This club featured 2 girls dressed as nurses and another as a playboy bunny all of which were serving shots for FREE, for apparently no other reason than to keep punters happy.

And boy was I happy. Damn damn damn the language barrier, that’s all I’ve got to say! It was like 6am and the venue had run its course, a bunch of cool indie songs, a bunch of cool people from all over town (and out of town) Everyone is really welcoming, I was probably the only gaijin in there but I felt at home.

Ok time to head home! Hold on what’s that I hear? Music coming from Derori, I head down to find it as I left it only the people are a little drunker. A different set of people jamming, Im sitting next to a rad looking spiked hair old rocker. A girl leans in and asks me If I know who I’m sitting next, I reply no. She says he’s a famous bass player from a big band in Japan. I’d guessed a much from the two girls either side of him. Derori has the feeling of that bar I’d talked about earlier called MOTHER, it has that sense of a bunch of friends running a bar and treating every night as a party to meet and make new friends and have a good time with them. You can’t buy that by throwing money at a venue. Why don’t they have places like this in Sydney?

I say bye to some friendly faces, It’s 7am Maccas breakfast time. Sitting there, face blankly staring at the wall. I could live somewhere between Sangenjaya and Shimokitazawa, a cool community a stones throw from the epic radness that is Shibuya. Hmmm.

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WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 12 – Sangenjaya & Asakusa

Posted in Uncategorized by jukeboxparables on March 21, 2010

WT2010 – JAPAN
Day 12 – Sangenjaya & Asakusa
[On the iPOD] Gang Of Four / The Ramones

It’s a real fight to wakeup and greet the day, eventually managed to around 12noon. I was considering checking out Asakusa, because with only 4days left I still want to be going places I havent been yet. After lunch in Sanganjaya and some quick photo ops of the big highway that runs through it (Theres a big elevated freeway that runs right through the suburb but somehow the areas and shops underneath are still cool to hang near)

I decided to try something new and hop on the Ginza line which takes you to the complete opposite end of Tokyo, Asakusa is the last stop and it takes about 30minutes. I actually fell asleep on the train, that’s the downside of trying to combine big nights with site-seeing you have to make up the time somewhere. Still though I push on.

Asakusa (pronounced A-SAK-SA) is essentially full of tourists. The main attraction is the Temple area a few minutes walk from the station. It’s more like a temple district actually. Market stalls are setup selling all different types of food to the hungry tourists. I actually caved at an odd looking desert; A banana dipped in ice-topping topped with sprinkles and served on a stick. Radness.

The Temple area (at least according to lonely planet) is both Shinto and Buddhist and is a coming together of the two “non-religions”. The place was packed and I wandered on through the market stalls to the backstreet markets which were selling kitch-tourist-esque items. When your surrounded by tourists you feel even more like a tourist and I’m not aiming for that.

I decided to try KFC for a quick snack, just for comparisons sake. The serving portions are so small here. I guess its like the jump from Australia to America. Large chips here are literally a small size (or maybe even less) than you’d find in Australia, I can’t imagine an Americans reaction to this. I find Japan does their own thing much better (like MOS Burger) rather than the chains that try and deliver westernized food.

Asakusa has a strange vibe. Theres the Temple area, the kitch tourist vibe, older houses and dingy small lane markets mixed with modern main strips with big restaurants with big queues. The bridge across the river breaks it all up and leads to some small river-side modern parked area but that’s about it really.

A cool site is the Asahi building (a beer company in Japan) the building is literally built to look like a beer, it has a conventional design but is ‘gold’ like a glass of biru and has a ‘frothy’ jagged shape window design right up top, don’t ask me what on earth the odd peanut shaped thing next to the building is though.

I didn’t have time nor energy to visit any other points of Interest in the town, though I did stay to get some night snaps of the temple area and try some delicious Soba noodles for the first time! I was pretty tired so decided to head back to my hotel.

Somehow after a coffee and a shower I realised there was a local Indie club within walking distance, I mustered the energy and headed out. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; DJ’s here are just plain weird. Most of the music I’ve come across has been always Interesting; Mostly odd mixes of electro with odd post-punk and garage music. Normally this would sound like a good thing; but when you see a club advertised as a certain thing, your expecting it I suppose. Though DJ’s here do mix live with vinyl, so; much respect there. I was at a place called “Web” whose Indie night “Big Love” attracted a mixed crowd, cheap entry with a free drink. But again odd shoe-gaze-spaced out electro played way too loud didn’t seem to get the people in there too enthused about the dance-floor.

I suppose I should be embracing how they do things here, but the locals didn’t seem too interested either. I’ve now been to four indie clubs none of which has played as advertised. Funny, but it’s a different experience!

It’s the long-weekend here with a holiday on Monday so Sunday night means another big night. My head is going to hurt come leaving Japan, but heck the way I look at it I can sleep on the plane.

Some photos;

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WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 11 – Nozawa & Sangenjaya + Shinjuku/Shibuya Friday Night

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 20, 2010

WT2010 – JAPAN
Day 11 – Nozawa & Sangenjaya
[On the iPOD] American Football & Franz Ferdinand

So leaving Nozawa on the local small bus and then connecting with a train and then the Shinkansen (bullet train) is an apt analogy for my thoughts on the matter. It’s a gradient back to modernity and to the lights and sounds and the shiny hotel rooms of the big city. The weather was actually much clearer (it was foggy on the way in) So for the first time I got to see the mountain ranges I’d just come from in clear blue sky. Green fields with patchy snow farmland leading to amazing snow capped mountains in the distance. I’ve never actually seen landscape like that in person and to think that’s where I’d just been snowboarding.

I got off the local train and was off to connect with the Shinkansen upon where (walking off the platform) a guard immediately approached me and asked ‘Shinkansen connect?’ I replied yes and he said “follow me” So I thought okays. He lead me to the bottom of the stairs (no lifts) I’m carrying a 10kg backpack and a 20kg+ suitcase. This guy proceeds to say it is up here, follow me and lifts my suitcase and proceeds to carry it up 50 flights of stairs we get to the top and he shows me the JR Ticket booth. I reply with my best bow and Domo Arigatoh Gozaimasu!!! Had I just stepped into the hilton hotel? No this is apparently a train station.

I had a nice nap on the bullet train and within an hour and a half I’d left Nagano and was in Tokyo. Thinking about the helpful Shinkansen attendant I was thinking it could not be topped right? That’s when things just blew me away. I had to travel to my next point of stay Sangenjaya which I was pretty sure from memory you had to get to Shibuya first because the line ran from there. So I walked up to a map to make sure and before I could even begin to study it a fellow in his early 40’s came up to me and asked where I’d like to go.

I told him I think Shibuya because I’m after the Tokyu den-en Toshi line and I think it runs through there from memory. He asks where I’m headed and I say Sangenjaya and he then proceeds to tell me to follow him because it’s on the way he’s going. My plan at most stations so far was rather than get a JR local pass I’ve just kept buying individual tickets. I was thinking I’d just get out of Tokyo station and buy a single to my destination. He proceeds to say ‘no don’t worry I’ll talk to the guards at Shibuya for you’ I was a bit weary but he looked genuinely enthused, so I thought what the heck!

On the train he told me his name and that he works for an Insurance company and that he loves Australia and has visited many places including many parts of Queensland. He seemed like a well-traveled guy with good knowledge of places. He also mentioned he used to Ski and loves Airplanes and would love to come to Sydney one day to climb the Harbour Bridge. Eventually we get to Shibuya and he gets off (even though it wasn’t his stop) He lived in Yokohama (30minutes further on) talks to the guard so I just could pay the fee there rather than having to buy a ticket.

He then shows me the way to the gates of the line I needed to go to in person (this involved him paying to exit shibuya) It was like a 5minute walk up and down stairs (Train stations in Tokyo aren’t like Australia, rather than having a station with 8 tracks they might have up to 8 different lines (different names) that run in different areas and then they’ll have 2 tracks each and these tracks will be spread out of pretty big walking distance and it’s all considered the same station) At least the big ones.

So I was utterly blown away, I told him he should visit Australia again for sure. What more could I say? I couldn’t say Domo Arigatoh Gozaimasu well enough. I was blown away. It’ll stand out in my mind as a highlight of courtesy on this trip. You’ve heard me rant about how helpful Japanese people are and how nice they are. This speaks for itself doesn’t it? I need not say anymore. Nihongo Ga Suki Desu!

I suggest on the mere basis of this story if you ever see a Japanese person lost in your home town; help them out like-wise. Pass it on. I will be.

I took a few more photos of Nozawa in the morning as well as some snaps from the bus and train(s) of the gorgeous country side.

Sangenjaya is a pretty cool place. On the map when I was booking my hotel I was a bit worried because It looked “a bit out of town” but in reality its two stops to Shibuya which take like just over 5 minutes, It’s actually closer to Shibuya than Shinjuku. I went out at night to take a few snaps of the streets and once again came across some ace motorbikes and some cool looking fixies (those shots are for you myers!) I had emergency dinner (I hadn’t eaten since breakfast it was approaching 7pm) which consisted of two sets of Gyoza and a big bowl of rice. A simple little restaurant with good service.

I was also expecting the pace of Sangenjaya to be a little slower since its a few kms from the bigger Areas but it’s just as interesting; A few long main strips of shops all connected with little dingy looking alleys selling foods as well as little boutique stores. I’m starting to get the vibe of what greater Tokyo really is. All it’s “suburbs” are little cities unto themselves.

I was late to meet a friend of a friend in Shinjuku so I hopped a train and then was walking through the friday night traffic jam of people as quickly as possible (Picture leaving a big concert or sporting event, you can’t really move any quicker than the people in front of you. This is Shinjuku and Shibuya at night) I was headed to the Kabukicho area; which is allegedly “the most dangerous place in Tokyo” it’s home to a lot of bars and clubs that will get you anything you want. The streets have ‘gangster’ looking people in groups at every corner and you can’t really walk too far without being approached by someone pimping something. The best and safest bet is to keep walking. Funnily enough an African American guy walked straight up to me asking me “WHATSUP” I’m not sure what the deal is here it’s happened to me twice in dodgy areas but you always just give it the “in a rush mate sorry” Only to have them continue asking questions as you walk away. I later learned certain groups of gaijin have been recruited by local gangs or started them themselves; pimping, robbery etc and scams like inviting you to a cool bar and it just being an empty room and your given the option to leave if you “pay a fee” It’s anyone and everyone in this part of town though.

I eventually (somehow) found the restaurant I was meeting a group of people. Aussies and a New Zealander who have been here for ages and know the in’s and outs. They’re insight into the Yakuza was pretty Interesting. I’d known they pretty much run a lot of Japan but hearing how they do it was an eye-opener. One example which we speculated on; Every restaurant you go to in Japan you get a steamed towel beforehand (it’s a business the towels are collected, cleaned, re-steamed, repackaged) It’s not really necessary theres napkins a plenty. Let’s just say all restaurants must pay for this service, no guesses for who owns the company that runs it. It’s not very sinister is it? It’s legitimate but unnecessary and enforced through questionable means, though this was all conjecture of course but you do start to notice odd things like this. Services and things that aren’t really needed but somehow exist. It leaves you guessing.

The beer was cheap as chips at the place we were at but everyone decided to head to a cool little bar and I was happy to tag along for the ride. We didn’t have to walk too far before walking into a doorway that lead down some stairs; you’d totally miss this place in the neon signs that are near-bye. I then experienced the best fricken bar I’ve probably ever been to.

It’s called MOTHER, it consists of a room 3metres wide by about 6metres long; a 3metre long bar with 6 stools and some cramped seating right behind them and a dingy dingy little toilet that looks like a closet. So why was it so cool? 1 bartender a cool Japanese chick would serve you drinks behind the bar but above those drinks was an entire WALL filled with CD’s. You then get handed a menu with the names of bands they have music of.

Your handed little mini-pen flashlights (because the place is dark and red-lit) and you summon the bartender and point to what music you want to hear; she immediately shuffles over to the spot where that band is pigeon holed and comes back and hands you their entire back-catalogue of albums. It’s then up to you; you choose what gets played.

THE SOUND is amazing. Most people don’t experience a great audio system. If your a muso and you’ve sat in a studio listening to a playback on the best speakers and equipment money can be you’ll know what I mean. That’s what the audio is like in this place; its FUCKING loud. Like a concert, you find yourself choosing songs you’ve heard 1000’s of times and sit there in a line at this bar with like 5 people with beers in front of you just enjoying the music. Theres no pretentious bullshit, no DJ bullshit, no paying for it. Your just a bunch of mates having a listening party.

Between the 5 of us gaijins and two Japanese guys in there (you could call that packed) we sat and listened and drank to the likes of (as chosen by us) The Misfits, The Ramones, At The Drive In, The Cramps, Weezer, Joy Division, The Cure. If you know me you’d think that’s me hogging the selection but it wasn’t, everyone in there had a seasoned understanding of good music (that was in a row and selected by different people). After a few drinks it also turns into Karaoke to some extent. It’s interesting actually just sitting in a room and listening to what your new found friends and strangers are really into music wise.

I chose The Smiths – I Know It’s Over. I thought it was going to be a bit of a downer but to my suprise everyone in there knew the words, hearing it on that stereo system and that loud was an experience I won’t forget anytime soon. It was also a catalyst for more The Smiths selections to follow.

I went to use the bathroom which is the size of a closet as mentioned. You can’t see a spare bit of wall. Pictures of bands duct-taped dingily to the wall. It brings a smile to your face really. This place is put together by music fans and held together by duct-tape; and the lovers of music who go there for a rad night out.

We then headed over to Shibuya after probably some significant ear damage. Another cool little bar/club which a little more straight forward but still had a cool vibe. The smallest bars are the best bars I think. Ended up getting home at like 3am, pretty amazing night.

Some photos from earlier:

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WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 9/10 – Nozawa Onsen

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 19, 2010

WT2010 – JAPAN
Day 9/10 – Nozawa Onsen
[On the iPOD] Arctic Monkeys / M83

Waking up sore and tired is never a good sign before a big day of snow boarding. The word around the lodge was it was snowing up top and it was sunny, an awesome combo. I kitted up and set out early to find rock hard ice on the first slope without warming up I went straight up the cross lift to get to the centre mountain gondola only to find yet more Ice.

I’m still only a beginner/Intermediate and Ice seriously psyches me out, especially when you have to go down a 4m wide pass with a sheer drop off with no barrier. I had a few stacks and got in a grumpy mood from the on-set. Perhaps it was because I’d skipped breakky but I headed to the top only to find a nice small covering of snow covering a frozen solid ice underneath. Crappy crappy conditions. I struggled around for a bit but it was just no fun on this hired board, which is a little short hence not wide enough for my boots which causes your boots to catch the snow if u try and get a sharp edge for grip on ice.

I went for a long lunch and rest and was cheered up by one of the chefs at the station at mid-mountain Japanese courtesy and service wins again. After chilling out for a bit with some beer and ice cream. I lulled myself into confidence again and went for a few more runs down the right side of the mountain. It was a little lighter here and things started to pickup. I didn’t have much energy though perhaps due to getting up 5am the day before and traveling + boarding and getting to bed at 1230am.

I decided to stop on a nice bend in the middle of nowhere and build myself a little “kicker” jump into some soft powder off the track. It took me a good 15minutes of effort and I was buggered afterwards but It worked pretty well. I’d built it off a slight drop so I could practice landing off some good air. I did this about 4times and had enough, legs were giving out and it was near the end of the day.

So I decided to head back with one goal; walk as little as possible to my lodge. There was a pass I’d traveled the day before but I took a wrong turn near the end and had to walk a little. I was certain if I carried enough speed I could reach the lodge (there were a lot of flattening out areas where you’d stop if you weren’t going fast enough leading up to them)

So I went down the rest of the home run and made it to within 30metres of the lift to centre-right mountain. Technically you can get to here from the top of the mountain. It’s about a 3km run. I got off at the lift and gunned it, down and across and then across a the downhill centre slope at top speed aiming for a gap in the trees to a connecting path. The track connected to another and another and then finally the final turn which looked like it was out of bounds or something. I didn’t know I couldn’t read the sign. I didn’t care and gunned it and the track wound steep and narrow through some trees (tight s bends) and then opened up towards a carpark.

I skipped off to the left and continued to the home straight with enough speed. Making the final turn I was headed down a ‘driveway’ towards the road where cars fly past and pulled up right on the edge of the snow, sitting down, my board hitting the tarmac. Unbound and walked 100m to my lodge. Utterly amazing really. Technically you can ride the length of the mountain down the opposite side of the lodge and catch ONE lift and get to your door. A good 6km+ of winding awesomeness!

I decided to stop playing hermit at the lodge and the Australians who run it had it smelling like home in no time; a BBQ out front with Japanese beer, cool. I got to know a lot of cool people with some eye-opening stories. Everything from traveling around the world on a surf adventure in the 1970’s! to working 4months a year on a farm and then spending it all on holidaying around the world snowboarding the rest of the year. These people have their priorities in order!

After dinner we all headed to the main foreigner bar in town; next door and downstairs is a little bar called ‘STAY’ the vibe of this place is everything I dream about what a local pub should be. It’s about 10metres long by about 5metres wide, has a drum kit and guitar/bass/amps/pa in the corner, a bar and two tables and is covered wall to roof in a variety of local and international music regalia. We don’t a few local beers and then headed to karaoke joint up the hill. Some old locals were already in there but the 6 of us or so ordered yet more drinks and destroyed some classic songs. A bunch of 80’s tragics mostly but the Karaoke system was two touch screen wireless pads with a huge selection of modern songs across all categories, this is Japan after all.

Headed back to the lodge nice and early; walking through the pin-drop quiet winter cold town; the only sound was of running water; the village has a big system of under-road covered gutters which let the melting ice flow through it. I got in just before 2am. Had to be up early to hit the slopes and was hoping for a better day.

Up nice and early but intent on not rushing things on the Thursday morning incase conditions were like yesterday; a nice big breakfast this time which sent me jogging and skipping towards the first lift. I decided to do a warm up run on the first lift slope rather than take the cross mountain lift. It was mildly soft and was utterly brilliant down low. I did one run and then decided I’d do another upon which I decided I’d do a few more runs practicing riding goofy.

Up and down, rinse and repeat until i felt an entire level more confident riding that way, the odd stack had me looking sideways down the run. I somehow had completely missed a seperate track built that morning down the side of the mountain; it was a bunch of mini slopes leading into a set of kickers down 3/4 of the slope! So I decided to practice some jumps. Starting slowly and landing only one and aborting the last two “big” ones.

By the end of the day I was utterly buggered and had landed 7 consecutive airs including the last one; which has a lot of dug out snow after the kick; you probably get a good 2metres off the lip of the jump. Later; lodge-mate Arwin said one of the guys he runs with lands back-flips with a twist off it! I wasn’t going to try that just yet.

Somehow I was having way too much fun just trying to get better on this simple course on the first slope of the mountain and just like that it was all over, approaching 5pm.

But before I left there was one thing to try for the first time; A local Onsen (that’s a natural hot-spring public bath for those unawares) I’m all for public nudity, just as long as it doesn’t involve me. At least that was my view before I went in. It was full of locales and dads bathing with their sons. Once you get your kit off it just kinda feels right, you get the vibe of it and relax. When in Rome!

Funnily enough though a few minutes later one of the other lodgers turned up; also an Onsen virgin like myself. I think the locales where either totally amused or bemused at our faces when we got into the boiling water. Unknown to me was I got in the hot-end of the spring where there was only one older dood and most of the people were in the other end. They either thought I was crazy getting in that end or thought I was a wimp making ‘ouch’ faces as the water burns every part of you.

Theres a strict method to entering and a system you have to go through before you get in; first you take off your shoes to get onto the wooden slatted area with ‘lockers’ and take your clothes off, put them in the lockers. Take a small wash towel and bucket and soap over to the wash area. You have to sit cause splashing people is rude. You soap up and wash down making sure you have no soap on you at all before getting into the water.

I eventually caught on and moved over to the cool end where it was bearable, I was convinced my knees had sustained 3rd degree burns… but if the old guy could take it I thought whack the heck. Whilst ‘chilling out’ in the ‘cool’ (which was still burning me) I got splashed on purpose by a little 5 yr old kid, I thought it was pretty funny actually but the kids dad promptly hit him on the head with a bucket and told him how rude it was. Respect is primary here; even to silly foreigners like myself. I’ll definitely be doing it any chance I get now. In a town with natural hot-spring water, why waste energy heating water (taking a shower) when you can get it for free? It’s a way of life.

I was already thinking about boarding the next morning after checking out of the lodge! But it wasn’t to be out of cash for a lift pass which means I’m headed back to Tokyo as I write this on a Friday morning.

I’m actually really peeved about leaving here; the lodgers are all great and some have been here for months or are here on second and third visits; so they know all the jaunts in town and all the local characters. Even more worried about leaving the snow and all the cool people, in the back of my mind is leaving Japan in four days. I’m starting to regret I haven’t stayed longer.

I’m thinking this won’t be the last I’ll see of Nozawa Onsen. Farewell!

*Unfortunately no more photos the last two days, I have a lot taken from the LOMO which is Film, so no uploading them. Conditions were just too harsh to use the DSLR (Snowing both nights and freezing!) I will try and get out this morning to take some final shots of the town in full light. Don’t think I can get up the mountain without a pass though! 😦

Stay tuned for an update of photos perhaps.

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WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 7/8 – Shibuya & Nozawa Onsen

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 18, 2010

WT2010 – JAPAN
Day 7/8 – Shibuya & Togari-NozawaOnsen
[On the iPOD] Johnny Cash / The Jam

Unfortunately I was checking out of my hotel on Tuesday. So it couldn’t be avoided the inevitable had finally arrived and there was no way around it; a day running laundry. It’s funny how you can never escape the menial tasks no matter where you are. I also then had to send a package of a whole bunch of crap I’ve bought in only six days. It weighed 10kg! I did actually get into Shibuya to do some last minute shopping before leaving for the snow the next day.

Shibuya just never sleeps, picture thursday night shopping in Australia; that’s what its like every night in Shibuya people everywhere and shops open. Discunion is one such store. A music store with heaps of different actual shop fronts which cater to different styles except one in Shibuya has 4 stories and each level separates the styles and upon entering a level you’ll find catagorisation that could only have been done by an uber music nerd. In other words, my kind of music store.

I bought yet more vinyl as well as got some tips for new music listening to Japanese electro shoe-gaze bands whilst digging through boxes of vinyl. Heres a point of Interest; I didnt have to rush home from Monday night shopping, why? because The main post office is open 24HOURS!!! I love this country. I also stumbled into Tokyu Hands an uber department store with like 7 levels and a/b sub-levels. Shopping sorted.

Hows this for punctuality; even though I got to bed 1am after uploading photos and packing. I was up at 5:32am to checkout and cab to the station, train to tokyo station, hookup with Shinkansen (bullet train) which I got with 3minutes to spare! (90min trip) and then a transfer to a local line and train (a two carriage local) which took another hour, not even. And then finally a short bus trip and the snow awaits.

I took a bunch of photos on the trains; It’s Interesting to see The Urban sprawl of Tokyo for dissipate into a concrete-esque suburbia and then eventually intermittent cottage-esque properties on farm land, although still with modern surroundings, traffic lights and main strip in the city. This fades off even more as you start climbing the hills. Eventually theres river torrents and patches of snow on large blocks of farm land.

When I was two stops from my station I began to worry; Snow was pretty old and thin. Would there be anything to ride on? The Bus trip featured random commentary in Japanese. I ran into a cool Japanese dood who studied in Sydney and turns out him and his friends were staying just up the road form my lodge. Funny.

Togari-Nozawa Onsen Villiage is a small town of around 4000 people. Theres a great vibe up here. It has the kind of serenity people pay millions for and yet theres an A-Class mountain to be had that isn’t corrupted and PACKED with tourists. It’s utterly amazing actually. Theres a fair number of Australian’s up here however.

They run a few lodges (like the one I’m at) I was kind of worried I’d be shielded from what this place has to offer. But the people who run it seem to be totally in-tune with it rather than wanting to impose some sort of kitch-tourist resort. The Villiage has many natural Onsen (hot spring baths) and a brilliant self contained recycling system. Theres like 7 different bins at my lodge, it runs like clockwork. I didn’t try the Onsen today but will report back tomorrow (yes it involves getting neked)

So tell us about the snow already! Well I started off with a 100m walk after kitting up in my lodge right onto the first ski lift which took me to the top of a beginner run. Even though It was dead bottom of the mountain and slowly starting to get sloshy (hadn’t snowed in 2days) it was still soft and a dream to stack on (though I didn’t) I guess I’m not an expert on conditions though; I only have Perisher for comparisons sake, as soon as it stops snowing down-low there you get rock-hard ICE and falling is like hitting concrete. None of that here.

After warming up I took a connecting lift to the central gondola; 10minutes later and I was close to the summit. I got out and it was a total white out. Not in a bad way; no wind and no rain, just fog. Nice and warm too. So the goggles came off and I tried to get to a lift directly across to take me up the last stretch to the top. Visibility was LESS than 10metres; I’ve never experienced this before its quite eerie. You have to virtually LISTEN for a signal of where you want to go. I tried to find that lift but didn’t and instead ended up under a different set of lifts so I decided the safest bet was to use them as a marker and follow them down.

Eventually bumped into some other boarders who seemed to know the mountain; next thing I knew I was on the ‘home run’ on the map; a winding beginners run down the right side of the mountain. You’d probably consider it almost Intermediate back home; A break in my concentration and I noticed the STRAIGHT drop off a 5metre wide winding track; A good sheer 15metres. Not to matter; I was having too much fun. The track was basically like a winding mountain road like you’d find in a WRC track complete with an area with 4 consecutive 180degree steep hairpins which you could cut a little to grab some air.

On and on it went until eventually there was an area with a treeline on oneside and literally an almost half-pipe like slope you could ride like 5metres up on the other side; and it wound left and right. And this was the beginner run! Awesome. The flat spots on the bottom aren’t really significant. You don’t need a huge amount of speed to get you 80% to the next life and if u crank it you can get there. Not much time spent in flat spots on my first day. Which is pretty good since I’m still getting my bearings on the mountain.

I had a good 5hours+ out there today. The fog was the only downside. I’m still waiting to experience ‘true powder’ that I’ll hopefully find at the top tomorrow (its snowing as I type this) After boarding I went out with the camera before I started to lose all light. The villiage is quiet yet has a heap of bars and restaurants of all types. I had some Katsu Don for dinner (fried egg on a cut pork schnitzel served on rice; amazing) and was caught hearing in on a table of 50 somethings (Australian’s) conversation. They noticed my trying to stop myself from laughing (they’d been out for drinks before dinner and were entertaining talking about karaoke / sharing ‘share onsens as a group’ and seemed like they were having a great time.

The town is apparently a lot busier during peak season; I guess Im here near the end of it so that’s why it has this innocent feel to it. I’m guessing it does draw a lot of people by the cool shops on the main strip in town; they sell all types of souvenirs and trinkets but of a really high quality and not in any way kitch. I was thinking shopping spree again but I’ve imposed myself a no more spending limit in Japan. Oh wells.

No photos from up the mountain just yet, a bit weary about the DSLR in snow; but I did take the LOMO so I’ll post those oneday; or maybe I’ll take the DSLR up on the last day. The views up there are mind blowing; until then ya’ll have to deal with the views from the bottom!

More on Days 2+3 later.

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WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 5/6 – Harajuku & Roppongi

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 15, 2010

WT2010 – JAPAN
Day 5/6 – Harajuku & Roppongi
[On the iPOD] Initial D 4th Stage / Animal Collective

Well I really had to dig deep to go out Saturday night, after spending allday inside being sick and JUST managing to keep food down at 10pm I headed to Shibuya to a tiny rock club called Rock No Cocoro. I think it was ‘birthday night’ or something. Sitting there listening to Japanese people sing happy birthday in english was funny. The bar started to get a bit packed and by about 1am and once again, kids moshing without shirts to punk songs and Japanese rock.

Odd music selection. Greenday followed by Ricky Martin for example. Whack. (Yes I just said whack) But there were some good tunes in there too. The club is across the road from a band rehearsal studio, it’s a pretty rad area. Everything is so accessible here. I can’t think of one rehearsal space in Sydney remotely anywhere near anything let alone dead centre of the city surrounded by rad bars.

I then decided to somehow circa 1am muster the energy to go looking for two other clubs I knew of. One had closed permanently by the looks of it. Whilst the other looked like it was converted to a restaurant bar, at least as far as I could tell. So I decided to have an early one, home by 2am.

I felt the need to makeup for saturday so I was aiming for Harajuku in the morning. I got there about 10am, the bridge linking meiji-jingu (a huge shrine park area dedicated to Emperor Meiji) and the other side of the train station known as Harajuku is known for the cosplay scene kids showing up on weekends for photo ops. Cosplay is great though i’d never do it, the dedication these kids have to manga and anime characters is great I think. I don’t know if it was the fact the shrine area is a large tourist attraction or if the area has been bastardized by westerners purely thanks to a certain ex No Doubt singer talking about Harajuku girls has ‘hers’ thus thrusting cosplay into the mainstream but I felt very ‘Tourist’ when standing on that bridge.

It’s something I’m trying to stay away from on this trip, I cringe even having a camera around my neck because it instantly puts that label on me, but I need to document all this and lets face it. I guess I was playing tourist today. With no cosplay kids around as yet (10am) I decided to head to the shrine Meiji-jingu. It’s like 70 acres of park built by volunteers with trees donated by people all over Japan all in reverence of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. It’s quite an amazing feet. I got to the main shrine building and there happened to be a few weddings taking place. This was a huge tourist draw card. I’ve never actually witnessed a Japanese ceremony or at least the lead up to one. Quite enthralling.

I then checked out the treasure museum which holds collections of past emperors, no photos allowed though but the main building literally had paintings of every emperor side by side since 700ad to present day. It was odd staring at 1300 years of family line in the face, also interesting to note the style of the emperors was completely unaffected by foreign influence until the mid 1900’s.

Walking back I headed to the gyoen (lower park area) to hear some bands busking. Entire bands play, drum kits and powered amps and all. One group had drums/guitar/bass coming through one P.A and somehow it sounded ok. There were other musos setting up most interesting of note an older bunch of rockabilly or classic 50’s styled rock guys (think leather jackets with studs and elvis/james dean hair cuts) By this time it was like close to 1pm and I’d decided to aim for Mori Art Centre in Roppongi hills (about a 2.5km walk) followed by Suntory Museum of Art. Walking along the way via backstreets I stumble on some mind blowing stores. I’d reken girls who have never been here would absolutely lose the plot shopping in Harajuku.

I’d promised I would only spend $70 a day in Japan sticking to some form of a budget. This has gone out the window of course but more so when I saw the worlds most amazing jacket for like 14800yen ($180) after speaking to the guy and me explaining I was Australian he offered it to me for 9800 ($115) I replied KYU SEN?? 9000yen ($100) and he looked at his store attendants and said fine. How can you not buy stuff in such a place anyway.

Walking on through Omote-Sando There appeared to be some Irish-Japanese solidarity parade featuring bagpipes and large hounds dressed in clothes. The street was closed off and a huge crowds. I wasn’t sure why this was going on until I checked online, oh thats right. St Patrick’s day, apparently it started here in 1992 for the purpose of Introducing Ireland to the Japanese people.

Somehow it was like 3pm and I STILL hand’t eaten. I was looking for a sushi place, something which you’d think would be analogous to hitting water after falling out of a boat but I couldn’t for the life of me find one. I’d even skipped breakfast for it. Eventually had to google it and running through backstreets towards the closest place on the way to the Mori Art Museum I got there to find it closed! I settled for ramen and gyoza and the next available place. Still haven’t had sushi in Japan, hmm.

Mori Art Museum is in the Roppongi Hills complex in a large tower which is also an observatory. You can buy a ticket that gives you access to both. I took some photos high above the Tokyo skyline, you can pretty much see everything obviously. Odaiba bay is pretty big even from afar.

I’ve never laughed out loud or stood so long at certain pieces anywhere as I did at this Mori Art exhibition. It was modern art and design, something which I normally stray from. No photos allowed unfortunately but I’ll do my best. Upon entry theres Instructions on the wall features Nintendo DS’. Yup thats right, rather than having long-winded captions under art works which limit artists to a word limit this exhibition simply had the Artist and piece name and a Nintendo DS outline with a number. You bring along your DS and type in the number and connect to the remote system and select a piece number and you get all the info as well as Artist info. Great idea.

There was a 3metre wide white canvass which was painted with black ink, a scribbly mind-explosion style with uber high detail spanning from left to right and then I noticed something. The Artist, barefoot was on the right hand side, ink felt and ink bottle in hand. Drawing it LIVE! I’d hazzard a guess It started as a blank canvass on day one of the exhibition and he’d come in from opening to closing drawing his work from scratch with all to view. He was on the far right of the work when I was viewing it but it was utterly inspiring, there were still a few blank spots open. Who knows when he will consider the work done.

Further on to a design section. Hows this for an idea; A Jacket that turns into a tent. Yes a camping tent, it was so utterly out of nowhere I laughed when I saw the design sketches, as did others. It was layed out pegged up on faux grass and was totally functional as both a one person tent which folds and zips up to a regular looking jacket, amazing.

Other works were a seemingly inconspicuous draw that folds out a 2metre long table in mini-sections. The craftwork that went into this was mind boggling. It was like origami from wood.

Kids toy lines, animations and yet more art. It was all kind of refreshing, but just like that it was over. And it was 5:15. So much for the Suntory Art Museum. Checked out a small park right near the building and then wandered on to get invited into a small gallery featuring works by disabled artists. Usually painting with brushes in their mouths, or sometimes feet. All I can say is wow, I couldn’t paint half as well if tried using a steady hand let alone a paintbrush in my mouth. It’s amazing how much determination some people have.

Roppongi is the upmarket part of town. I’d discerned this from seeing no less than six, yes six Ferraris fly by me in an array of colours, then a Corvette Z06 and a race-spec 911 GT2 and finally an R35 GTR. Whats more the streets had gone from standard uber clean Japan to eat off the floor / inside of your house clean. Apparently its also home of the red-light district in another part and home of many a Yakuza member.

I caught a train back to Harajuku to check out what it was like on a Sunday night. No major cosplay gatherings unfortunately but most of the shops were still open at 9pm. Does this city ever sleep? Lured by the distant and faint sounds of a nasel-whaling Johnny Rotten I wandered into a (literally) underground Punk & Goth clothing store and was met with ‘no photos’ before I even got down the stairs. Weary of people ripping off their designs was this shop owner. I was just browsing having already spent too much that day but they did have some gear I’d never seen anywhere. Maybe you’d have found them in Mclaren and Westwood’s stores in the UK in the 70s, or at least I was getting that vibe. The store owner explained she’d been open for 28years and a lot of Aussies go there. Wow, didn’t I feel like a tourist.

I saw a girl carrying a bag she’d bought and I tried to ask where she’d gotten it (I’ve been looking for something similar as a gift) only to find that she spoke absolutely no english and my Japanese wasn’t working and then her boyfriend turned up and it got seriously awkward. Time to head home I think.

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WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 4 – Akihabara (Electric Town) + Shibuya at night

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 14, 2010

WT2010 – JAPAN
Day 4 – Akihabara (Electric Town) + Shibuya at night.
[On the iPOD] The Rakes / Beck

Things are starting to blur. I’m writing these blogs right when I get home at night after a long day and usually don’t upload them till morning. I had to sit here for 2minutes because I had a mental blank what I got for breakfast. That’s right I walked into a busy as place for food where I was squeezed inbetween 2 Japanese business men and then sat there kind of amused. A “lost in translation” moment. I realised the room was full of buisnessmen in their 50’s in suits slurping food.

Today I went to Akihabara known as Electric Town. I got off the train and walked to the main strip and couldnt even take out the camera, I just stood there for 5minutes in awe.

The main strip is multi-storey shop after shop of everything to do with electronics. From the component stores that supply the parts (like a jaycar) right up to mega stores with a level for cameras a level for computers a level for software a level for home-theatre and it doesnt stop, you’ll find them one next to the other. Breaking all this up is anime toy stores and then gaming stores (consoles new and classic) and all this continues for like 5 city blocks. Theres people selling their stores wares on the streets and girls dressed up in anime outfits to try and hang you pamphlets or something.

I eventually found a new CF card for my camera. 8GB Sandisk Extreme IV. The prices were pretty much around what you’d pay online anyway. No bargains really. I had ‘second’ lunch at a MOS burger. I plan to try their entire menu. I later went into a toy store and picked up a Rei figurine from Neon Genesis (I know, I know but I’ve never owned one) Then found a bunch of oldschool Drift Tengoku DVD’s for like $6 a piece, so I got three (you pay like $28 for them in Australia)

Then I set sail and by that I mean walk walk walk to my only real goal that day thusfar which was the Museum of Criminology (or at least according to lonelyplanet) I was ALREADY tired from shopping madness. So I decided not to stop until the museum, that plan went astray in about half a kilometer as I came across a ‘Confucious / Shinto’ shrine completely unexpectedly (It was a park on the map I had which I was planning to cut through) After wandering it it became apparent there was an Art (Sculpture) exhibition on inside, So I happily to some photos, detoured yet again.

So then walking to the Museum I came across guitar and music shop after guitar and music shop to the point of ridiculousness There were like 8, Japanese built guitars are slightly cheaper than back home, one store even offered complete custom builds from scratch radness!

The Museum was a bit of a let down, not in itself but in what lonely planet had said of it. It was merely a Universities small token Museum with an Interesting collection of historic criminal items (diaries?) I couldn’t tell there was no english captions to the pieces.

So from here I decided to head to the closes point of Interest which was the National Museum of Modern Art a good 2km away. On the way about halfway I went into a 5 storey manga / magazine store, the amount of stuff in there never gets old. Then walked past another and another. This part of Akihabara should be called book town! That if I still was in Akihabara that is. The lure of the older and yet dustier historic book stores led me further and further down the road without looking at the time. Luckily the Museum closes at 8pm on a friday.

One store also sold old maps and prints. Originals. I’m talking old cartography, I so wanted to buy one or one of the prints but they were rather fragile and started at pretty hefty prices for the cool looking ones. I then found the best photography book store I’ve ever been in, some of the stuff in there was amazing. I then bumped into another dedicated magazine store. So afer yet more detour shopping I was finally on my way, now suffering from RSI from carrying a lot of crap!

The National Museum of Modern Art had it’s standard modern japanese collection and a feature collection on Ono Chikkyo. He started off as a celebrated classically Japanese artist and then travelled abroad to Europe. The thing I love about these types of exhibitions is you basically see in front of you the growth of an Artist. You can see key areas where influence starts to creep in and then an almost inevitable turn to simplicity and minimalism to the last days of his life.

The other exhibition was of even more interest to a foreigner like myself. I came across some paintings I’d never seen before and was utterly blown away by. One of which was Maiko in Landscape by Bakusen Tsuchida. Not knowing much about Art, I’m convinced it’s influenced by the Mona Lisa. The woman’s expression totally draws you in (in a slightly different way to my comparison) but it’s just as alluring, a different style of course but I think the artists idea was along the same lines.

No photography was allowed at the Chikkyo exhibition so I assumed it was the same for the Modern art exhibition. Upon walking around for a bit with my camera by my side an attendant walked up to me and pointed to my camera; I said no, no photos (lens cap is on) and he said wait here. So I did and he came back with a ‘camera sticker’ and stuck it on my shoulder and gave me a piece of paper with rules. No long exposures, no close ups and no flash amongst others. Awesome! I’m finding it time and time again, people here really find pride in helping people out.

Look at the time! I rushed back to Shinjuku to shower and change to go out clubbing for the first time in Tokyo. Aiming for an Indie club in Shibuya, I wandered around lost for a bit but eventually found it in a backstreet off a backstreet. I was greeted by two surely looking british lads on their way out saying it was rather dead at this hour. Clubs in Tokyo open at 11:30pm! and it was close to 12! Most people seem to be working up until 12 anyway It’s nuts. But after a chat and a storey of them getting mugged in Roppongi we decided there was nowhere else to go in this outer-party of Shibuya we were in. Okay so it was only like 1km from the station but thats considered outer to my weary legs after like 8hours of walking.

Japanese clubs are Interesting I was at a place called HOME, the etiquette is everyone seems to face the dj almost in a line-dance fashion to dance. I was talking to the two brit lads somewhere and found out they were die-hard Cribs fans, one chap had a big tattoo of Ryan Jarman on his arm. After sharing some stories of playing in bands and local scenes the club actually started to pickup. Or maybe we were getting more lose. If you didn’t already know it Japanese people are crazy. Guys were up front singing along to songs, shirts off and moshing, us gaijin’s joined in of course we know how to do that too there’s no getting lost in translation when it comes to having a good time, I kept my shirt on for the record.

From what I could gather it was 3am. Unlike every club back in Sydney I hadn’t looked at the time once so I’m just guessing. The music was interesting; not exactly Indie for an Indie club; The odd Cure song but everything else was distinctly electro and Japanese. By about 6am I’d ceased to care but I’d also ceased to stand properly. I’d lost a few hours by this point throwing up, which seemed normal at the time.

I got home in a cab, me trying to explain to the cabby to pullover for a spew would have been completely amusing were it not for its utter urgency. I then don’t remember much until waking up around 12 with the worst hangover ever. My clothes in the hotel hallway and my phone in the bath. This all seemed rather normal but then nursing the worst hangover I’ve ever had I started to wonder what the hell happened last night. I’ve never lost a few hours before.

Not a big drinker but it normally takes 10 + a shot or 4 to put me down like that I’d had like 4 drinks and 2 shots. I was then brutally sick all day. I started to wonder if It could’ve been food poisoning on-top of the drinks. Because it hit me so quickly after everything was going fine. I’d ate right before I left at a questionable small place that was fairly empty but the only thing open. It kinda made sense. It hit like 4-5hours later and since I’d had a few drinks and was tipsy It was like a K.O

So all of Saturday was wasted indoors. I couldn’t keep food down until 10pm that night (had to be food poisoning right?) So no Saturday adventures to talk of, but It’s early Sunday morning and I’m planning big today to make up for it! Though I will kick off the next blog starting Saturday night.

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WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 3 – Odaiba & Shibuya

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 12, 2010

WT2010 – JAPAN
Day 3 – Odaiba & Shibuya
[On the iPOD] Be Your Own Pet

SLEEEEEEEEEEEEEP IN. No, get up! What to do today! It was time to venture out of Shinjuku, my newly found comfort zone. I decided to jump straight in the deep end, try and make my way to Odaiba which is the bay area of Tokyo about 25min train ride south of Shinjuku, but not without a transfer or something. A friend said you need to catch the monorail. What monorail!? Well with a useless map and no real idea I decided to leg it. Thankfully a JR info attendant spoke broken english, said I needed to go to Osaki and use a machine outside to get my ticket.

Stared blankly at said machine for 2minutes pondering how I would translate it, oh wait the other one over there has an ENGLISH button. WIN! JR Ticket select. What are all these numbers? I stared blankly and then looked around, a sign had corresponding numbers on a map of the railway layout. I figured the they were fares linking to the stations but the stations weren’t in english. A women noticed me staring bemused so she asked in broken english ‘Where would you like to go?’ I said Osaki, she looked it up and bam I had a ticket.

My main goal in Odaiba was Toyota MEGA WEB. From what I knew; a display centre with cool car related stuff. I get off in Osaki, my map is again useless and doesnt even list the bay area as existing. The trip from Shinjuku to Tokyo Teleport Station in Odaiba is supposed to take 25minutes. Osaki was only 10minutes. I was guessing transfer time and I was right, back up to buy another ticket to extend the fair. This time I showed that ticket machine whose boss and was off to the platform in no time. 15minutes later and Im where I need to be.

I knew two things about Odaiba; They used to host a D1 (Local Drift Competition) in the carpark here and it’s home to this Toyota thing. Upon getting off the train theres a huge sign listing all these places to visit and their distance. A museum or two, A shopping centre called “palette town” and a whole lot more. The toyota showroom and design centre was ok. The highlight was you could book this ‘eco ride’ they have a track that runs directly through the building and swerves and goes up a storey or two and then outside and it’s totally automated, you don’t drive the car drives! Apparently this technology and display has been around for years… as I would later find out first hand later on.

I then made my way to the last part of the Toyota MEGA WEB the ‘history garage’. If you like Toyotas or oldschool cars or cars in general bring a change of undies. What would you do if you had 50million dollars? buy a bunch of cool cars? Yeah great. How about build your own ‘town’ (inside?) with decore matching the cars you place inside. A ferrari 256 GTS? Place it in little Italy ofcourse surrounded by roman pillars and streetcarts filled with fresh produce. Into Mustangs and Cadilacs? place them in a western 50’s American bar / mockup petrol station of course!

Like AE86’s? Place them outside Takumi’s Tofu shop! All 4 of them! Including an ex D1 drift coup. The cars sitting around? A Nissan 240z, the original batmobile, Toyota 2000gt, deloreon, porches, blah blah blah on the list goes. I walked further on to find the back section was a store filled floor to roof with service manuals and diecast models of the highest quality of all types of cars. 1000’s of them. Old school memorabilia like tin-pressed car illustraions to used numberplates from the past. This was all utterly mind blowing. It was like being 10yrs old and dreaming up a garage and being in it.

And then I walked downstairs! More diecast toys as well as; Toyota’s actual F1 car, A GT500 car, A LE MANS racer. The Celica GT4 that won the WRC a heap of times. Some of these cars were parked inside the cafe whilst the others were parked outside which I then noticed was themed like an Italian villa in Sicily. It was an outdoor courtyard with a huge fountain in the middle and a driveway that looped it. Brilliant! It’s as if some exec at Toyota decided to build his boyhood dream garage.

I’ve forgotten to mention the rest of Palette town, it continues the ‘villa’ theme indoors (with fake blue sky and all) It was kind of like the DFO in Sydney except 1000x classier and with better stores and about twice as big at least. Fountains inside etc. Some of the stores were generic but others blew my mind!

Theres a huge ferris wheel right there outside the complex also. Walking to the bay-side I noticed the Sceince Museum was a bit of a hike. I noticed what appeared to be a monorail on the map so I walked to find it. Got tickets and got on to find NO DRIVER. Standing at the front of this thing was rather discerning. It runs automatically (just like the cars in the Toyota facility) It’s interesting to note that the station has glass barriers and sliding doors on the actual platform yet the train stops dead perfect (so its doors lineup with the platform doors) every single time.

The Emerging Science building was okay, It has a cool thing on robotics and some hands on life-science stuff it was interactive with displays and speakers (only good for Japanese speakers to listen to though) The simple and nerdy highlight for me was a little simple experiment setup on display. It was apparently alcohol vapour setup on a clear tub somehow. It’s purpose was to highlight radiation. People, especially new age hippies talk about radiation like it was invented by mad scientists; especially when talking microwaved food. The reality is we’re surrounded by radiation every day, we even emit it ourselves. So this display actually CAUGHT the alpha, beta and gamma radiation and made it visible in an eerie smokey way, simple yet cool.

Was getting to 4pm now So I decided to head back with a stop at Shibuya. Theres a statue in the square of the famous station square called Hachiko sqaure. It’s also where that ‘famous’ Intersection is in Shibuya when the lights go green you get a huge displacement of people in all directions. The Hachiko statue is a dog. The story goes; In the 1920’s a professor who taught at Tokyo University kept a small Akita dog called Hachiko, the dog followed his master to the station every morning whilst he went to work. Hachiko would actually return in the afternoon to wait for the professor to come home every day without fail. In 1925 the professor died of a stroke yet little Hachiko would return to the meeting spot every afternoon for 10years until it’s own death. The story touched the locals who built the statue in the little dogs honour. It’s now a popular meeting spot in Shibuya!

I wandered around a bit with the aim of finding a record store called disc union. I instead found one called recofan which I’ve heard is amazing. On the elevator everyone got out on a floor that looked like a book store so I got out too, it was manga/anime/toy haven of course. Robot toys galore! I ALMOST went a little crazy buying some buy refrained and headed to the music store. I was in there for 2hours! They had a used Beatles vinyl section and vinyl in general was a bargain. At record fares in Australia if your after ‘rare’ Japanese pressings of The Beatles LP’s (with Apple label stickers) your looking at like $50 an LP. Here was a wall in front of me, starting from $10 a pop! Oh noes!

9800yen later and I walked out pretty happy. All japanese pressings of everything from The Beatles, The Damned, Gang of Four, Blondie, The Cure and and and and A MINT Japanese pressing of The Smiths strangeways album with stickers for fricken $14! Wow. That’d be like $70 back home I’m going to go broke in this town. They also give you brand new plastic sleeves for free! Got some Ramen on the way home and took some more snaps of the Shibuya Intersection at night. Dead tired!

Note to self; 80shots left on my 4GB photocard! (shooting in L format) geees time to buy another.

MORE PHOTOS OVER AT FLICKR

MORE PHOTOS OVER AT FLICKR

WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 2 – Shinjuku

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 11, 2010

WT2010 – DAY 2
Shinjuku, JAPAN
[On the iPOD] Shugo Tokumaru

I didn’t sleep aswell as I’d liked, was hell tired but the it’ll take awhile for me to get used to this pillow. I’m normally picky about a pillows hardness rating, but in this case it’s full of beads! Interesting. I made a bad choice for breakky going to a local westerner themed place, but no matter. On the way down I was on my floor lobby and there was a bit of a crowd, eventually one fellow picked up the phone and spoke to reception. I caught on fairly quick, the lifts were out. (Im more than 9floors up)

No one wanted to seem to do anything so i lead the way to the exit signs with a bunch of people in tow, they lead into the service area where I walked in to the amusement of 6or7 older maids who somehow knew I needed the lift. It was taking ages so I took the stairs.

After breakky I went outside with no real plan but to take a few photos locally. I got 100m up the road and realised I’d taken the batteries out, damnit! I wasn’t looking forward to walking up all those stairs but when I got back the lifts were working again. That’s Japanese service for you!

Started shooting a few buildings, it was heaps overcast in the morning but at least it wasn’t raining/snowing. Eventually found a park close by, some interesting sculptures as well as my first sad interaction with the homeless. Homeless people in Japan dress like out of work business men (most are) and are usually found with suitcases and little tarp houses with their only belongings.

In America in the 40’s men who found themselves too proud to admit to their family they’ve lost their job still dressed up as per normal, suits and all and pretended to go to work. It’s kind of the same deal here. Filled with pride, these men refuse to burden their families with their jobless presence.

I then headed east towards the major/busy sector of Shinjuku. As it turns out I forgot to pack ONLY two things for this trip. 1; FILM for my 2nd camera (LOMO) and 2; A long CAT5 LAN cable so I could use my laptop in bed. I wandered in a deparment store that was something like 10 stories and found WAYYY too much choice to decide what brand I wanted. For FILM buffs in Australia you can pay upto $28aud for a single roll of Fujichrome Velvia 100F. I scored a pack of 5 for 4500yen ($50aud) win!

I then started wandering randomly and every time I’d decide to put my camera away and focus on perhaps getting some lunch I’d find myself taking it out within 1minute cause I’d come across something interesting. I eventually ended up down some back alley and FINALLY saw a place with what I know as Tokyo Ramen on the picture/lunch menu. An older couple worked there and I totally slammed down the Ramen and topped it off with Sapporo. I was again met with smiles/bows and amusement when I tried my best at being respectful in poor Japanese. 2 days in and I’m totally convinced you can survive forever on like 5 words…

I then set a goal for Shinjuku-gyoen A huge park south-east of Shinjuku station, it has a shrine and such. So off I went, 1km, 2km. Hold on, it’s not this far on the map. Using a lonleyplanet map, it literally only has main roads and some arent even named (I need a better map, I never get lost!) It then occured to me that I was in the red-light district. Well… atleast I know where that is! I then heard some familiar music. Super Eurobeat! It was coming out of a gaming palour, if I needed any reminder IM IN JAPAN! I suddenly got the urge to be driving my old AE86.

Eventually the backstreets got smaller and smaller and I started to wander down mini lanes with peoples houses. It’s not everday you see a vending machine in the front yard of someones apartment, another home was converted to a cool clothing store. It then hit me why Japan really is like no where else on Earth. In western countries we have bullshit gentrification, Go to one city visit a westfields, go to another? go to a westfields and find exactly the same stores selling exactly the same clothes. Boring.

In Japan the huge chains of department stores are centered around major ‘buildings’ and the companies that own them have their own unique take on what the shopping experience should be. Break this down further and you get people converting their homes into fashion labels. Like the one I’d just come across. It breeds originality and it’s why Japan is king in shopping and fashion, amongst other things.

I eventually hit Meiji-dori and could’nt understand why there was no damn park, the map wasn’t helping at this point so doing the classic ‘Im lost dancemovement’ (walking one direction, then stopping and looking the other way) An older man approached me in broken english asking where I wanted to go. I showed him the map and he pointed in the direction I was going but said it was 3km! In my quest to walk South-East, I’d walked North-East! Like 2km+! Distracted much!

Eventually hit the park. It was stunning. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but I took a lot of cherry-blossom photos because It’s a big deal in Japan. The first blossoms of the year attract huge crowds. I think theres even a festival for it. They’re not in full-bloom yet. It was only a handfull of trees which are purposely early blooming I think. They totally light up the park on a cold-drab day. But the weather was great today, blue skies and crisp clean air. Like Melbourne without the rain.

Pretty much lapped the park, then walked back to my hotel. Walked all day from 11am to 6pm! A well earned rest+shower. I then setoff to find dinner. MOS Burger! It seemed simple enough on the lonelyplanet map, but ofcourse; LOST AGAIN! I’m not using it anymore. I walked about 2km I’d say. At least I got some good night photos and I also worked up the apetite for these awesome little burgers. They’re like specialty cooked, you have to wait like 5-10minutes and theyre amazing!

Enough ranting, to the photos: MORE OVER AT FLICKR
But heres a sampler:

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WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 1 – Shinjuku

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 10, 2010

WT2010 – DAY 1
Shinjuku, JAPAN
[On the iPOD] Initial D – Non-Stop Megamix

A rather quick flight last night. 9hrs 30min from Sydney to Tokyo. On the plane I sat next to a guy who lives near Fuji, he was surfing in Australia after visiting a friend for the first time, between broken english and Japanese we had brief conversation about things.

The forecast for Tokyo was 10degrees celsius so I dressed ‘kind of’ warm. Quarantine > Bags > Customs > Currency Exchange and picking up my JR East pass went smoothly as can be. I got randomly stopped by Police for passport inspection, the guy was genuinely happy to try out his english on me and we got through it with a lot of smiling and bowing and he looked surprised at my gallant attempts at Japanese.

I’d called ahead to my Hotel to make sure checking in late would be ok, only got a recorded message in Japanese, so I got worried and the rush to get there was on! On the Narita Express from the airport you have to store your luggage in an area at the back, right away I had to leave my Westerner worry about stuff getting stolen behind.

All was fine, It was raining and dark so I have no photos of the country-side but I was in a rush to get to my hotel anyway. A cute girl comes around on the trains to sell food on a cart, just like the Police officer back at the Airport I noticed right away by the local mannerisms. People here seem to take a lot of pride in their work. It’s totally refreshing, a stark contrast to the tired/annoyed/stressed/cbf ways back home.

Shinjuku station! ITS SNOWING. I go through the luggage for another jacket and walk out the exit to my hotel. Im covered in snow and the road is soaked in sludgy snow/water which is starting to freeze and I’m dusting off my limited snowboarding skills by sliding around with 30kg luggage in my chuck allstars. Ok so walking the short distance to my hotel is probably not a good idea. My shoes arent exactly waterproof and the snow is picking up. I flag a cab and Im there in a few minutes.

Quick shower and time for dinner. Due to the mini snow-storm I decide hotel restaurants are the best bet, most are closed at this hour though so I choose a little Italian themed place that looks interesting. I’m not a food critic but when it comes to Penne arabiata I’m kind of scathing. I was totally blown away. The best I’ve had ANYWHERE including ‘proper’ Italian restaurants back home. While eating I began to wonder if one of the Iron Chef’s was working in the kitchen. LULz

By the time I’d finished dinner the snow had stopped, so now amazing photos unfortunately! 😦 but I did have a bit of a late-night wander. Better pics coming I promise!

Enough ranting!

More over at my flickr

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Review: Shugo Tokumaru – Exit

Posted in Music, Review by jukeboxparables on March 11, 2009

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So I was tallying up a score for this album and thought to myself, Oh my is it really that good? So I went back and tried to fault it, again and again but failed. The goal of most album reviews is to dissect an album and strenuously try to put how great (or bad) it is into words that convey the actual output of the sound qualitatively.

Fifteen seconds of the first track and you will know exactly what this album is about. It’s zany, in your face, bizarre circus-style Japanese Folk music and I love every second of it. No over the top in-depth stern talking to required on my part.

Shugo Tokumaru is definitely not a house-hold name to most. Though the young Japanese artist has been releasing music since 2004. This, his latest offering was released in Japan back in 2007 but us gaijins didn’t get it until September 2008.

Exit is a lesson in Indie-Pop-Folk. It’s sung entirely in Japanese, normally foreign albums tend to be grating and quickly lose their novelty but that’s not the case here; I’d happily place Exit amongst my best albums of 2008. The opening track “Parachute” sets you off down an Anime inspired skip and hop through the backstreets of Tokyo whilst warm dazzling lights eventually knock you over and then your falling; out of a plane; towards the city; you spot a circus tent and it breaks your fall. You’ve hit your head and you shake it off and try and come to your senses but track2 “Green Rain” grabs you and shakes you back to your odd dazzling adventure.

The actual music is by no means standardized, the chord progressions of various layered instruments such as: piano, acoustic guitar, drums, synths, flutes and any number of other devices create a brilliant texture of borderline horror-movie insanity but instead of making you feel ostracized as if on a certain illicit substance plagued by paranoia you feel a certain warmth. It’s infectious and catchy yet complex but subtle.

Shugo apparently bases his songs off a dream journal. This explains a lot. After subsequent listens of Exit you feel distinctly that if that vivid colourful dream you had last night had audio; this would be it’s soundtrack.

This album is east meets west in a way also. Traditional Japanese movements are mixed with Indie-pop rhythms. It’s a bit of everything without leaning too much in one direction to be easily pigeon holed. Comparisons could be made with fellow Japanese artist Cornelius, at least when tracks swing over to the electronic side of things more-so than usual. Shugo himself however claims influence on this album came from Japanese Pop and a pile of old Beatles cassettes. No doubt that analog sound of those cassettes transfused themselves onto Exit.

I’ve already mentioned that this is sung entirely in Japanese, no track better illustrates how much the language barrier is broken by this album than the sing-along “Button” You’ll be singing “Hey yay yay” in no time, even though I’m almost certain that is not what is being said. It somehow doesn’t matter though. This album let’s you go with the flow.

Things get minimalist on “La La Radio” and you get the feeling Sigur Ros is being channeled. A banjo with a traditional Japanese instrument and xylophone? Perfection! Up to 50 different instruments were used on this album along with household items such as cutlery, an ashtray, a doorbell and wind-up toys.

I wish I had a list of translated lyrics so I could comment on lyrical prose but It just doesn’t even matter. To say that it breaks those barriers is an understatement. If there’s a bad point to this album besides it possibly being Schizophrenia inducing (You lose contact with reality, forget your name and perhaps even forget where you are) Is that it’s so solid it’s hard to go back and pick a stand-out track and say I want to put that on repeat. It’s 4stars across the board, all tracks have that special something.

Subsequently, this all adds up to an album with that special something. It’s even more special when you come to realise Shugo produced the album himself on his own laptop.

Rating: 8.3/10

Tracklist:

1. “Parachute” – 3:04
2. “Green Rain” – 4:53
3. “Clocca” – 3:27
4. “Future Umbrella” – 2:04
5. “Button” – 4:02
6. “Sanganichi” – 2:37
7. “D.P.O” – 1:51
8. “Hidamari” – 4:37
9. “La La Radio” – 5:28
10. “Wedding” – 3:16

Shugo Tokumaru
Exit
Released: 2008
Label: Almost Gold Records