gung-ho godzilla groupie 

Star spotting

I'd submit this to Gawker, but I don't think their catchment area extends as far as Minami Aoyama. Anyway, spotted Ken Hirai at Las Chicas yesterday afternoon. He and his female companion arrived in a taxi (which then presumably had to reverse all the way back to Aoyama-dori, given how narrow that alley is); he wore sunglasses and a surgical mask, which did nothing at all to disguise his identity, given his height and distinctive (i.e. funny-shaped) head; she ate but he just had a coffee, as far as I could see. A few of the Japanese diners appeared to notice who he was, but all but one (who appeared to be industry anyway) remained too cool to approach him. I think you actually lose seating privileges or something if you do anything to break the studied air of nonchalance.

Posted by chris at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Bar review: Office, Gaienmae

On the evening of Friday September 30th, a little over two weeks ago, I was in a bit of a pinch. I had put up my bold October 1st relaunch announcement a week earlier, but still had a number of things to do before the site was ready to go live the next day. I needed somewhere I could break out the laptop, grab some food, maybe with a drink or two to unwind, and thrash out the final few posts. Oh, and free WiFi, a nice view and some cool background tunes wouldn't hurt, either. So as soon as I left work, I knew exactly where to go: Office.

For those that have never been, Office is a trendy little bar in Gaienmae. It occupies the fifth floor of the building right above Gaienmae station, with a commanding view that stretches all the way down Aoyama-dori towards Shibuya in the distance. There's no cover charge, it's rarely so crowded you can't get a seat, and it has to be one of my favourite places for a good-old-fashioned, drink-in-hand, watching-the-traffic-go-by chillout.

It was originally conceived as a bar where creative types could meet and socialise - but also get work done. The main table resembles a great big green-topped draughtsman's desk, with anglepoise lamps rising out of recessed cubby holes. Desk drawers contain pens and A4 legal pads for those impromptu doodle sessions. Chairs are styled as filing cabinets, recessed into the wall when not in use. And yes, there's even a photocopier next to the DJ booth, and a phone/fax recessed into the end of the large table.

The bookshelves are worth a couple of hours of anyone's time, too, with volumes ranging from 1930s Superman compendiums to Lego annuals to classic airline design coffee-table albums.

The food is good, the drinks are great, the staff are friendly, the vibe is relaxed, the tunes are laid back, and yes, there's free wireless and no shortage of places to plug your PowerBook into the mains, should you really need to, but mainly... it's the view. On paper, there's not much to it: there's a road (Aoyama-dori) leading off into the distance; cars drive up and down it; ocasionally they stop to let other cars cross; neon signs illuminate various buildings.

But there's something about the way it all flows; traffic lights phase on and off every couple of hundred metres, checking and releasing the taxis (for they are nearly all taxis, once you get past about midnight) in rythmical waves of headlights and taillights. It's just beautiful.

So, Office. My favourite bar. It's a bit out of the way, but nothing that a ten minute taxi ride from Shibuya can't fix. I urge you to check it out. Take exit 3 from Gaienmae station on the Ginza line. The entrance is round to the left of the Sign cafe (operated by the same company) on the ground floor. In the meantime, here's a Japan Times interview with Office owner Sadahiro Nakamura, and a more recent interview with the designer responsible for Office's minimal aesthetic, Myeong-Hee Lee.

Office (Gaienmae)
Yamazaki Bldg. 5F
Kita Aoyama 2-7-18
Tel: 03-5786-1052
Fax: 03-5786-1053

Posted by chris at 01:09 AM | Permalink

Xbox 360 Lounge in Aoyama: shiny, white

We walked past this a couple of nights ago, on our way from Las Chicas up to Office in Gaienmae: the Xbox 360 Lounge in Aoyama. It's on the west side of Aoyama-dori, right where the Kinokuniya supermarket used to be, I think - just opposite the Max Mara building and Kotto-dori.

It's all wrapped in white, with conspicuous Xbox logos and according to the press release will open at the beginning of November, featuring "Touch and Try" Xbox stations - though it doesn't say how many - and a 70-seat cafe.

As Kotaku notes, it is in a "fashionable neighbourhood", but at the same time, it's a little out of the way... certainly when compared with Apple's Ginza and Shibuya stores, for example. Also worth noting is that the site has played host to a succession of temporary structures over the last couple of years, and this one is perhaps no different - destined to be torn down a month or so after launch.

So it's not some permanent sales location in the heart of, say, Shibuya or Akihabara. But still, this is obviously a sign of a strong marketing offensive from Microsoft, who are clearly determined that the second Xbox won't tank in Japan like the first one did. By targeting the kind of people who are likely to be strolling along Aoyama-dori, they're presumably hoping to push the "digital entertainment hub" message to non-gamers. (The press release specifically mentions that there will be a) gaming stations, yes, but also b) a "digital lifestyle lounge".)

However, I can't help but think that more and better games would be a far tastier selling point than a War of the Worlds DVD tie-up (which is what they're actually pushing). In Japan, after all, surely gamers outnumber people looking for a DVD-and-hard-drive-based home entertainment center that isn't made by Sony, Panasonic, NEC or a host of other Japanese home electronics firms whose products they already know and trust? Don't you think?

[link via Kotaku]

Posted by chris at 04:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Bar George, by George

Spotted this sign outside a bar while wandering the streets last night. Hard to tell if that's the name of the band, or whether the bar's owner was amazed - or, indeed, distraught - at having finally found someone willing to play live in his establishment.

But anyway. This was on the way back from Soma, which is on the edge of that hilly area just west of the Yamanote Line tracks between Shibuya and Daikanyama. Lots of nice little bars and cafes around there, and the novelty of having hills to navigate (Tokyo is otherwise largely flat) makes it a fun place to explore.

Don't let the Soma website fool you, by the way; they portray themselves as a massage studio which just happens to have a cafe / bar downstairs, but in actual fact they are more a cafe / bar which just happens to have a massage studio upstairs. Well, that's where my priorities lie, anyway.

Further reading: Metropolis review of Soma

Posted by chris at 08:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Things I Have Been Doing Since We Last Met #1 - DJing

The last two days have seen a slight slacking off in the otherwise frantic pace of development here at Tokyo Tales; yesterday was spent fine-tuning (i.e. obsessing over) the tracklisting for this coming Friday's extravaganza - yours truly trying his hand at DJing. No, don't laugh. Ok, well, maybe just a little guffaw.

A friend of a friend runs a night every month or so at a small club in Shibuya. The club is called, appropriately enough given my lack of skills behind the decks, NoStyle, and is nestled in the hilly backstreets behind the Mark City complex. The organiser is quite happy to let even first-timer muppets like myself loose in the DJ booth, hence my involvement.

This week will be my third go, and I think I'm slowly getting the hang of it. The first time I did it was a few months ago, in May, so I'm still quite a novice. They're only short sets, 30 minutes, and I'm doing the whole thing from CD, so I'm well aware that it won't count as "real" DJing to any vinyl purists out there, and I'm sure I sucked more ass than a donkey-licking convention in Tijuana, but the first one in particular was great fun nonetheless. And seeing as I have approximately 300 CDs and exactly 0 LPs with me here in Japan, digital was really my only option - short of going on a sudden spending spree through the aisles of Disc Union, of course.

Anyway, stay tuned for future announcements. Playlist for May's debut is over the fold, if you're interested (and get yourself a copy of that Love Will Freak Us by Dsico, which is clearly the best mash-up in the world ever, while you're at it).

アセカカ☆ナイト(Asekaka Star Night) @ Club NoStyle, May 4th 2005:

  • The Avengers theme - John Barry
  • Wonderful Night - FatBoy Slim
  • Mass Destruction - Faithless
  • Ninja Tune - Hexstatic
  • Mirror in the Bathroom / Square Off - The Beat / Mask (Now, Listen! Ninja Tune)
  • A Number of Microphones - Propellerheads
  • Eple - Royksopp
  • The Beat Goes On - Talvin Singh
  • Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes
  • Fogma - Groove Armada
  • The Big Jump - Chemical Brothers
  • Normal (Helston Flora Remix) - Baby Ford (26 Mixes For Cash, Aphex Twin)
  • Love Will Freak Us - Dsico

Posted by chris at 06:48 PM | Permalink

Oot and aboot

Tuesday was the opening night of an exhibition of works by Nicole Collins at the Canadian Embassy in Akasaka. The opening hours are rather restrictive (don't plan to go after work or at the weekend, for starters) but it's worth the journey if you can make it; a really nice collection of abstract paintings awaits you, done in the main with various paint/wax mixtures - highly recommended.

I was invited along a while ago but it was Tuesday afternoon before I got around to checking what time it started: 6pm, sadly, or 45 minutes before I could possibly hope to get there. I asked the embassy staffer on the other end of the line if we'd miss out on anything especially important... "Well..." he said, pausing to give it serious consideration, "you'll probably miss ze best cheese."

His concerns were well founded - Rich, Minako and I arrived to find a number of dozen people milling around drinking wine and admiring the artwork but also, sure enough, a hard core of serious-faced, slightly shabby middle-aged gentlemen clustered around the buffet tables, hungrily scoffing all the soft cheese they could pile onto their teensy baguette slices. You get a better class of homeless in the embassy district, clearly.

Nicole has, incidentally, the honour of being in the first ever mirror project photo - back in the day when it was still called jezebel's mirror. I'd just like to state, for the record, that I have NOTHING AGAINST T'PAU. That is all. No reason. :)

So it was great to meet Nicole, the exhibition was very cool, the Canadian embassy was extremely impressive (any building where you have to go up to the fourth floor just to get in the front door is okay by me), my wine glass just seemed to keep refilling itself somehow and there was even some agreeably powerful cheese left over. Bonus.

The three of us strolled back through Aoyama Cemetary towards Gaienmae. The cemetary is another one of those strange little distortions in Tokyo's time-space continuum; acres and acres of tightly-packed shrines, neatly ordered in rows with a precision that Tokyo's urban planners can surely only marvel at. Trees line the alleys, roots flexing open the road surface and giving the place an atmosphere that's more leafy Home Counties village than teeming uber-urban metropolis of 27 million. Then turn a corner and *pop* - you're on Killer-dori, perfectly positioned among the chic boutiques for for dinner at Hong Hu Asian followed by drinks at GetsuBetsu, both of which are useful additions to my mental map of the area - Hong Hu is open till 3am and GetsuBetsu has superb wax-encrusted candelabras and comfy eclectic furniture.

I feel I have to make the most of these spring nights before the humidity kicks in - which means walking home where feasible. There was no convenient train route home anyway, so I cut cross-country and made for Yoyogi, catching the Chuo-Sobu line the rest of the way - another great Tokyo evening. I could get used to this... though I think, perhaps, the longer it stays fresh and interesting, the better.

(sample, Nicole Collins, The Canadian Embassy, Akasaka, (03) 5412-6200, April 17 to June 14, closed weekends and May 3 & 6)

Posted by chris at 11:50 PM | Permalink

Miscellaneous weekendage

Yawn - a fairly blog-free weekend draws to an end. Things happened, for sure, but I neglected to tell you about them. You're probably over it already, though, yes? Thought so.

A quick summary would probably have to include a newly-hunted-down bar, a quick lesson in how not to play blackjack for money, an intensive media-binge to catch up with the rest of the world, cellphone e-mail tennis with Wednesday Addams whilst cycling the streets of Shinjuku, the first Kanji SITE update in something like seven months, a Japanese lesson where I discovered that maybe I do speak the language a little better than I thought, and a rather bad movie. All good stuff.

Apart from the movie. How was your weekend?

Posted by chris at 01:19 AM | Permalink

It's all happening at the zoo

Looking forward to this weekend... the weather's been great for the last week or so; warm sunny days, cloudless blue skies, and none of the humidity of the past few months. Just beautiful. At least, I assume it's beautiful - I'm stuck in a freaking windowless cell all day at work, so I really can't tell. At least I can flee outside to the fire escape quite easily... maybe I should have requested a laptop after all...

If the weather's anything like last weekend, I'm doing exactly what I did last Sunday: cycle to Yoyogi Park, pick up a subway sandwich along the way, and loaf around reading the papers in the sun. I bought a new mountain bike a couple of weeks ago, and I'm pretty seriously in love with it already. The park's only about 20 minutes away now - and it's 20 *fun* minutes. Last weekend there was so much going on: a juggling convention (a hundred or so people throwing balls, clubs, hoops), some guys doing capoeira by the pond, barbeque parties, tuneless trombone practice, skateboarders, social studies students mapping out pentagrams on the grass - it's all happening at the zoo. The park, I mean the park. Then again, given the proximity of Freak Bridge, maybe that was more accurate after all...

Posted by chris at 06:17 PM | Permalink

Ifs, but no buts

So, yes, Friday. The evening was a perfect example of serendipity, beginning as it did with a coincidence so massive that it felt as if Tokyo was playing an impossible card trick on me.

The chain of coincidences runs something like this: if my PC hadn't died on Friday morning (massive and seemingly irrecoverable hard drive failure), and if I hadn't volunteered to take the drive back to the shop myself on the way home from work, and if I hadn't stopped off at an electronics store to play Gran Turismo 3 on one of their demo PlayStation2s (which they set up in the street with chairs and the new force-feedback steering wheel), and if I hadn't stayed for a second race, then I wouldn't have been sitting there when Nick Rosser, a friend from university whom I'd only seen once in the last three-and-a-half years, walked past.

Nick was in Tokyo for a geography conference and was spending his last night cruising for gadgets in Akihabara, along with two friends, Vicky and (another) Nick. I'm the only person he knows in Tokyo (even though he hadn't actually realised I was still living out here), so the chances of bumping into each other in the street were, I think you'll agree, "fairly slim". I'm still in shock, to be honest.

It turned out that they were keen to go for a drink in Shinjuku (another cause for bewonderment, seeing as that's where I live), so we headed off across town and I gave them a quick mini-tour of the sights. We had a couple of beers in The Old Blind Cat and En Bar, two tiny drinking establishments nestled side-by-side a couple of storeys underground, only reachable via a narrow and steeply descending staircase, before walking across to the west side of Shinjuku and going up the Sumitomo building.

The inside of the Sumitomo Building is hollow. No, I mean, of course it's hollow, yes, otherwise you'd have great difficulty getting anyone inside it, but what I'm getting at is that the central core of the building is open to the sky. If you stand on the top floor, press your face up against the inner window and look down the inside, you can see all the way to the glass roof of the lobby, 52 stories below. It's awesome and, being triangular in cross-section, it rather resembles a vertical version of the launch tunnel from Battlestar Galactica, all shiny metal and dull yellow lighting. No Cyclons, though, sadly.

The observatory on the 51st floor was open, so we got a good view of the western expanses of Tokyo and then headed back to Kabukicho on the east side, detouring briefly to take in the NS building and its Star Wars-esque skybridge - the perfect setting for a quick lightsabre fight, if you're into that kind of thing. Ahem.

We made straight for Rock Bar Mother, a great little place that I've been meaning to mention here for a while. It's high on my list of places to show visitors, and hopefully you'll find out why for yourself some time, but suffice to say that it's a marvellously quirky little bar with a rather innovative jukebox policy, decorated with a Mexican day-of-the-dead theme and slides of someone's cat-scan, and so dark that it's impossible even to read the menu. Thoughtfully, you're presented with a pen-sized flashlight as you enter. Yeah - you'd love it.

The first three pages of the menu are the drinks, and the remaining ten or so pages are a list of bands. Flick through, find a group you want to hear and convey this to the bartender ("za sumizu, onegaishimasu!") - though sign language normally works better than yelling. Then you're given a bunch of CDs from the racks which, you suddenly notice, cover most of the back wall of the bar, to pore over and pick tracks from. You tell the barguy/gal what you want to hear, they queue it up, and then a few minutes later it gets played at ablsolutely full volume, no matter what it is. The main diet seems to be American rock and metal but they also have, rather incongruously, everything from Adam and the Ants to Belinda Carlisle to Shampoo to the Wonderstuff - god only knows how they actually choose what to buy in each month. The first time I went there, Cath chose Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush. I will never forget the look on the faces of the three solitary Japanese grungers at one end of the bar, who only minutes earlier had been happily sulking along to the likes of Korn and Limp Bizkit, as Chris, Cath and Tami all sang along at the top of their lungs, wailing heartily and swaying from side to side - absolutely priceless.

We left Mother and got sidetracked on the way to the station by Nagurereya, the ex-pro-boxer who spars with people in the street for 1000 yen a time, trying literally to fight his way out of debt - but that's a story for another night.

And so the night ended, leaving me with a huge grin on my face, marvelling at Tokyo's sleight of hand - conjuring up out of thin air an excellent evening's revells with someone who really ought to have been six-and-a-half thousand miles away.

And then the next night, we beat Germany 5-1 - this has to be the most unreal weekend ever. My colleagues tomorrow could all be wearing giant animatronic lion heads and I swear I wouldn't bat an eyelid. I'd better not wear my gazelle-scent aftershave, though - just in case.

Posted by chris at 01:39 AM | Permalink


5am, just back from Footnik in Takadanobaba (no, I didn't make it up, it's a real place), having watched England thrash Germany 5-1. I'm knackered, dehydrated, drenched in sweat (mine) and Guiness (other people's), and very very content. I'm dimly aware that this was a very important win, and a historic one, but right now I think I just need to sleep. G'nite.

Posted by chris at 05:16 AM | Permalink

Serving suggestion for a Saturday night

Serving suggestion for Saturday night: have dinner with friends you haven't seen for a while, dash downtown to a favourite bar that turns out to be having a ram-packed street party, get roped in to a "smash the watermelon with a bloody big stick while blindfolded" game, win said watermelon, break it apart and eat it with your bare hands, sharing as you go, get the juice absolutely *everywhere*, watch the police arrive and confiscate the stick, hop in a taxi to the club, bop away to some groovy house beats, emerge blinking into the mercifully overcast morning and be safe in bed by six. Serves as many friends as you can muster.

Posted by chris at 01:24 AM | Permalink

Shinjuku strolling

Well, it *was* a dull day... until a random phone call pulled me down to Minami Aoyama and initiated an evening of long island iced teas and smooth beats (as in good music, rather than well polished hazing rituals) at Las Chicas. Well I never.

I couldn't be bothered with a taxi; it was still pretty warm outside and not too humid - perfect for 3am - so I strolled home instead. It only took about an hour, and as I approached Yoyogi I realised how low the cloudcover was; the light grey sky (does that part of Tokyo have white, not sodium-orange, streetlights? I can't remember noticing before) was smothering the top half of the NTT tower, with the illuminated DoCoMo logo blurred but visible through the fog.

Ditto the skyscrapers on the west side of Shinjuku station; dark monoliths, corroded to half-height by the fog. Through the dull mist, with no sign of life or light inside, they appeared more massive than usual, any sense of perspective or range obscured by the fog. Then again, it could just have been the booze, as they looked pretty normal again this morning. Whatever.

Posted by chris at 04:49 PM | Permalink

FRF t-shirt serendipity

I decided to go out for dinner tonight and, showoff that I am, also decided to wear my new Fuji Rock Festival t-shirt. I know it's only been 14 hours since I left, but hey - a smart katakana t-shirt is a smart katakana t-shirt.

And I'm glad I did, because the waitress in Pizza Express noticed it, and it turned out that she had been there as well - what a coincidence. We had a good chat, and I have been promised free drinks next time I eat there - hurrah. Proof that t-shirts can make the world a better place.

Posted by chris at 11:02 PM | Permalink

Goodbye Kitty

Phew. Problem appears solved. Ran the emergency disk, whacked the infected files ("Booyakka! How d'you like me *now*!"), updated the registry. Backed the entirety of the kanjisite (all 96 megs of it) onto cd-rw. Finally breathed out. Went to the pub.

Well, I say "pub"; actually I took Chris(2) and Chris(3), freshly returned from their macrocyclical chemistry conference in Fukuoka, to Dogberry and the Hello Kitty bar. What is it about Koenji and bars named after household pets?

Then we buzzed home in a taxi - hilarious technology-revolts-against-its-human-masters moment as Christian tried closing the taxi door behind him as he got in, only to nearly get eaten by the damned thing. Munch! If you don't know what I'm talking about, then I won't tell you; I don't want to spoil the surprise when you come visit.

Posted by chris at 11:28 AM | Permalink

Brotherfest 2001 update

The brotherfest continues. Lemme see...

Tuesday was souvenir shopping in Harajuku, followed by a trip to Odaiba. Odaiba is an artificial island, built entirely on reclaimed land; rubbish and sand piled into Tokyo Bay until you can walk around on it. It's either a wonder of modern engineering or a rather unsettling reminder of Tokyo's somewhat dubious methods of waste-disposal.

The shuttle to the island runs from Shimbashi, which is one huge construction site. I was expecting Andrew to want to take a few photos of the skyline as we approached the Rainbow Bridge, maybe the bridge itself, Tokyo Bay, the Fuji TV Building - instead, the first half-completed building the train passes, he's like "Oooh! Girders!" and snapping away for all he's worth. Bless.

There's not much to do in Odaiba except shop, go to the cinema, admire the shiny architecture and worry about just how solid all that trash you're standing on actually is, so we didn't stay long.

Back to the mainland for drinks at Dogberry, a really nice bar in Koenji. A few friends of friends also dropped in, and we ended up moving on to another bar with them. Dogberry is full of character without being too eccentric - alien trees, soft lighting, quirky furniture, cheap drinks and excellent music. By contrast, The Hello Kitty Bar, as it's been dubbed, is just plain darned weird. Hello Kitty, Miffy and Winnie the Pooh memorabilia adorn the walls, there are a couple of giant teddy bears lounging around, and the owner sleeps behind the bar. Not in an asleep-on-the-job kind of way: his bedroom / kitchen is actually the space behind the bar at one end of the room. And that's even before we mention the large glossy photos of the owner in his underpants, given pride of place on one of the walls. Or the CD of mewed Christmas carols. Or the drum kit. A deeply personal bar, in short, run by a deeply disturbed individual. Beats Irish theme pubs any day of the week, if you ask me.

Posted by chris at 05:23 PM | Permalink

Longitudinal I-beam decking

The brother has landed... hence the radio silence for the last few days. I've been busy introducing him to marvels such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and Tokyo International Forum (see the photo gallery). Managed to walk all the way from Tokyo station to the International Forum underground, arriving in the basement of the main hall - your eyes just get drawn along the curves of the rising walkways as the hall reveals itself to you, leading up to the ship's hull roof: one hell of an entrance.

As expected, his reaction was something along the lines of "bloody hell... bloody hell... f*ck..." - but then, he is a (not-so-) civil engineer. He once spent an entire journey up the M1 explaining to me how the army classify bridges into seven types - the more efficiently to blow them up. "That's a simply supported.... there's a pre-stressed... and that one's an overbridge with longitudinal I-beam decking". Royal Engineers: cold ruthless killers or bridge anoraks? You be the judge.

Saturday was arrival and ensconsement in front of the PS2 and not much else; Sunday was Meiji-Jingu Shrine, Freak Bridge, Omotesando, KiddyLand, sunset and cocktails on the 39th floor of the Prince Shinagawa Hotel, fish and chips in a mockthentic British pub and, finally, a couple of hours of pool in the heart of Kabukicho. Monday was the TMG Building, Tourist Information Centre and International Forum, the Sony Building in Ginza and electronics shopping in Akihabara. Yep - I'm tired just reading the itinerary.

The only disappointment so far has been finding out that the Mt. Fuji climbing season doesn't start until July 1st, so that's a no-no. We'll have to make do with looking at it - if the smog lifts, that is. The atmosphere and visibility reminds me of a line from The Limey. Luis Guzman and Terence Stamp get out of a car high on a hillside in LA, and Luiz points out to the west: "You could see the sea from here... if you could see it."

Posted by chris at 11:28 AM | Permalink

Most people will not notice the clothes you wear unless they are very dirty

Wow - that was really good. Design Festa was better than I expected; lots of interesting little booths full of random postcards and nick-nacks, lots of good t-shirts and a light sprinkling of oddball performance artists. I got a little carried away on the t-shirt front, but thankfully ran out of money after a couple of hours, so the damage was limited.

Some of the highlights of the day were:

  • t-shirts bearing the motto: "Most people will not notice the clothes you wear unless they are very dirty."
  • 2 feet tall posable monster warrior robots made out of twisted, welded metal - the cheapest ones we saw were a cool ¥80,000 (£500)
  • postcards in the style of a breakfast cereal box: "It's delicious! Special Breakfast (The cat likes corn flakes, milk and the mouse!!)" along with a picture of a cartoon cat tucking into a bowl of cornflakes - with a mouse in it. I'll scan one and put it up, if I remember.
  • Minx and their extremely enthusiastic moshers, who managed to synchronize their dancing styles with fearsome accuracy
  • t-shirts depicting Ninja self-purification rites, to be carried out before undertaking important missions
  • a girl sitting about four meters off the ground on a sort of lifeguard chair, watching the people passing below through binoculars. There was a megaphone on the table at the base of the chair, so you could shout up to her. No-one did, though.
  • t-shirts bearing the Apple logo, but with "Macintosh" replaced by "Fucintosh"
  • 3D CGI postcards of futuristic spacecraft, i-Mac-using robots and artist's impressions of next century's Apple Macs
  • birthday and other greetings cards in the style of 70's boarding passes and flight tickets - not for sale, unfortunately
  • postcards in the style of airline safety cards, showing the correct procedure for concealing ninjas in the overhead lockers

  • The weather was nice, we played frisbee next to a queue of what must have been a thousand young women waiting to get Tokio's autographs, and then went for dinner in Shinjuku. All in all, a great day - and I suddenly realised that this is my first proper Saturday / Sunday weekend in something like three and a half years.

    I could definitely get used to this.

    Posted by chris at 01:09 AM | Permalink

    Design Festa

    Time to flee the flat; the weather is gorgeous and I'm off to Odaiba to visit Design Festa. It's an exhibition of artists, designers and photgraphers. If I'm lucky there may be some web-design stuff as well - fingers vaguely crossed.

    I think I'll take a few photos of the area, too; Odaiba is part of Tokyo that has been built entirely on reclaimed land, ie rubbish dumped into Tokyo Bay until there's enough to walk around on without getting wet. It's therefore quite new and shiny, and one of the few places in this city where you're reminded that Tokyo is actually on the coast. Don't expect me to go anywhere near VenusFort, though.

    Rumour has it that in a major earthquake, the synthetic ground will simply liquify and the entire area will do a passable impression of Atlantis' final moments. I guess then it would be re-reclaimed land - better take my inflatable armbands and rubber ducky.

    Posted by chris at 12:05 PM | Permalink

    Matsuri - Japan in the Park

    Damn. It's times like this I wish I lived in London. If you're free this weekend, then you should consider getting down to Hyde Park for Matsuri - Japan in the Park, part of the Japan 2001 festibition.

    It's a celebration of Japanese tradition, dance, food, martial arts and crafts [tangent: not a typo; there are actually strict grading systems, if not actual colored belts, for ikebana (flower arranging), shodo (calligraphy) and origami (er, origami), among others] and fashion and, from the website at least, it looks ace.

    Of course I'm closer to the real thing, but you never get the whole lot in one package; it's diluted by the minutiae of daily life: trains full of slumped snoozing salarymen, humming vending machines on every street corner and tottering orange yamamba on skyscraper platform sandals chattering shrillingly into their miniature keitai.

    Which is, again, ace.

    Posted by chris at 12:02 PM | Permalink

    Stop and smell the planks

    Okay - just back from seeing Minx play in Ebisu, and... no cockroaches. Yet. Phew. I'm still expecting to see one scuttle out from under the sofa at any moment.

    Solution: don't look at the sofa.

    Leaving the venue in Ebisu, having totally missed the last train, I decided to start walking back north to Shinjuku. It was about 1:30am, it wasn't too cold, I was pleasantly drunk, I'd just learnt the Italian for "He has a chip on his shoulder" - it could have been a lot worse.

    So I walked. It's often said that Tokyo is a series of small towns strung around the Yamanote Line; we go to Shinjuku, to Harajuku, to Shibuya, to Ebisu - always by train. When was the last time you walked somewhere instead of driving / training / taxiing? I always like knowing where I am, how to get from A to Z - how places tesselate with each other.

    Wherever I am - London, Tokyo, <shudder>Watford</shudder> - I find the easiest way to do that is by walking, linking places together myself, on foot - sometimes trying to fit my memory of the journey to a map afterwards. Trains and tubes are great for popping you up right next to your destination, of course - but where's the fun in that?

    So, tonight's journey took me all the way from Ebisu to Shibuya Tower Records before I got bored and caught a cab the rest of way. I found a couple of cool-looking places that I didn't know existed before, and I also found a new route to one of my favourite bars in Shibuya. The name of this place is a closely guarded secret - catch me in a good mood and I might share it with you.

    The walk also took me past a lumber yard - right next to the Yamanote Line tracks, in downtown Tokyo. I stopped briefly to savour the smell of the freshly-cut pine - and it didn't seem like a strange thing to be doing at all.

    Posted by chris at 04:24 AM | Permalink

    Drink all you can? Or drink all you want?

    Forget the textbooks; the most useful Japanese word anyone can learn is nomihodai, lit: "all you can drink". Pop quiz: would you pay just less than ten pounds for three hours' unchecked boozing? Of course. Next question please.

    What a great day. A top-whack all-you-can-eat buffet lunch, beers next to the pond in Hibiya Park, followed by nomihodai cocktails on the 39th floor of the Shinagawa Prince Hotel. It doesn't get much better than this. And no teachin' tomorrow. It gets better and better.

    Posted by chris at 02:10 AM | Permalink

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