Jukeboxparables

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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