WT2010 – USA – Day 37/38/40 – Midtown Manhattan and Beyond

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on April 23, 2010

WT2010 – USA
Day 37/38/40 – Midtown Manhattan and Beyond
[On the iPOD] The Stone Roses / The Buzzcocks / Faker / The Cure / The Wombats / Bertie Blackman / Red Riders / Cut Off Your Hands

Thursday rolls around; In anticipation of big night I thought I’d take it easy during the day. First up was some house-keeping in which my case was actually getting Internet access somehow and organising things amidst plates of salad and servings Sencha tea. I found a restaurant that was happy to oblige for a good 2-3hours. Next I thought I’d get in some quick mid-day shopping (Thankfully I now own Iggy Pop’s – Raw Power on vinyl) Upon wandering back I came across Washing Park, a small park in Greenwich Village. It’s a big hangout for students and people were lazing around on the grass to the point of saturation. I got a beverage and decided to do the same for a while. A few random buskers including a guy in a gorilla mask give the park a nice background-sound tamborine-vibe. I kinda lost track of time just lazing about and people-watching in the park. It’s probably the first time I’ve just chilled out with no goal for the day in over a month.

I went to checkout a few bars in the night-time with the target being a pub/club in the Lower East. It was surprisingly quiet, the music was spot on but it was basically just a small pub and it had that relaxed vibe to it. I’d hazard a guess people were at a few sold-out venues watching bands that night? Who knows but I decided I’d throw in the towel and make up for it with an all-nighter on friday (hopefully)

Friday in New York! I made plans to continue the Seinfeld-themed spot visits from the random black and white cookie incident two days before. The ‘Soup Nazi’s” original kitchen has closed and he has since started a franchise called “The Original Soup Man” with a few locations in New York and elsewhere. I went out of my way to visit two such locations only to find that they’d closed down as well? This was all too much walking and train hopping for soup so I headed somewhere that I knew was open. ‘Tom’s Restaurant’ is the diner used for the ‘outer-shot-view’ of the diner that the cast would gather in daily in the show. The interior is obviously different though but the cafe/restaurant does tip its hat to the show and has some memorabilia inside. It’s an average day-to-day burger/style cafe restaurant. Nothing grand (and no I didn’t order the big salad)

On the way to Tom’s I did however manage to stop in the New York public library. Which just happened to currently be surrounded by scaffolding for cleaning/renovation? So much for that. I did go inside though (Free high-speed WIFI) which I thought I’d use to organise where I’d be going at night. The library basically looks like a museum inside and has endless halls and reading rooms full of art and the like. You could probably spend half a day looking at the art about. I decided I was all ‘museumed’ out and just bunkered up in one of the many grand reading rooms using the time to upload a backlog of photos. Upon random roaming around I also stumbled on an outdoor ice-rink, rad.

Dinner and a club/venue called Webster Hall in Lower-Manhattan. Just like back-home the place doesn’t really pickup till after 12am. The music was questionable for an “Indie night” with lots of 80’s mainstream hits being played I was having flashbacks at being at dodgy ‘retro’ hotels back home but thankfully there were a few different DJ’s and eventually they played as advertised. I’d ceased to care though because as it turns out it was a ‘birthday bash’ for a whole group of people that night and before I knew it I was being offered shots and drinks left right and centre. An utterly memorable night, I basically got no sleep at all, even after leaving circa 3am.

Saturday was spent nursing a sore head and swimming in a sea of blankets amongst other things.

On Sunday I was switching to a hostel because it’s cheaper and you always meet some cool people. Oh and I had to do laundry, ugh laundry day. After the menial tasks of life, I decided that since I was now in a new part of New York to go for a bit of a wander. Madison Square Garden, tourists, busy shops and people handing out flyers. I ducked for cover into a Macy’s because the name is an Icon for American shopping. It’s apparently the biggest store in America? 8 stories and two city blocks! I was just taking in the scope of the store rather than looking to buy anything, not that I’d spend $500 on a jacket anyway.

The weather was getting rather cold though, what better excuse to duck into a one of the many specialty stores peppered along 8th Ave for a browse? I wanted to leave buying a coat for the UK (since I’ll be facing winter back home in Australia) but found a really helpful attendant and the store had a huge range of rad (though pricey coats and jackets) I found one I loved and bargained it down 10% so hence had to buy it. Besides you have to spend on something whilst in NYC, my crowded suitcase is not going to like this one bit though.

Sunday night was amazing times with an amazing person. Sushi at a Japanese restaurant in the Art Gallery District, a spot of bowling, drinks and hanging out in time square only to witness an on-the-spot wedding proposal amid a cheering crowd. New York what am I going to do with you?




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.



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.