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 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 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 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.

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