Jukeboxparables

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

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 24, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 12 – Sangenjaya & Asakusa

Posted in Uncategorized by jukeboxparables on March 21, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some photos;

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

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on March 20, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some photos from earlier:

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WT2010 – JAPAN – Day 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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