Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2014

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TiltShift Generator for iPhone

TiltShift Generator for iPhone

The TiltShift Generator iPhone app by Takayuki Fukatsu is part of his popular Toy Camera series. Since moving to my new neighbourhood, I haven’t posted a picture of it as I usually do – so here is the view from my balcony (above) given the TiltShift treatment. Those not familiar with tilt-shift photography can get a definition from Wikipedia here, but the technique produces a picture that simulates a scene in miniature. For those interested in taking tilt-shift pictures themselves there’s the app mentioned in this post as well as another app by Michael Krause simply called TiltShift. The Michael Krause version arguably has more features, but I prefer the Takayuki Fukatsu one which also happens to have a better icon (very important!).

 

Wakadaisho Vintage Skate Shop

Wakadaisho Vintage Skate Shop

In Shimoktazawa (where else?) you can find a store called Wakadaisho, stocking retro skate clothing and accessories. They even have late 1980′s Vision Street Wear sneakers and Santa Cruz screaming hand T-shirts. Powell Perelta’s great logo T’s are also on offer, so for me, this is a must visit on my next trip to Shimokitazawa.

Via CNNGo.

 

Warehouse Game Centre

Warehouse Game Centre

Moving out to my new neighbourhood means I’m just a little bit further from popular west-side areas like Shibuya and Naka-Meguro, but even in anonymous areas like Nishi-Kasai you can still uncover some interesting places. Take for example my local video game arcade which appears to be a huge rusting armour-clad fortress. The cliche is completed using the font that Hollywood murdered: Bank Gothic. Regardless, this is a BIG video arcade!

You just don’t get the planning permission to build stuff like this in other cities. It reminds me of what one travel writer said about Tokyo. They said “Tokyo is a city devoid of beauty”. They were exaggerating of course, but in the classic sense it’s true to some extent. You can visit any city in the world and see far more historic buildings and monuments, and you certainly wouldn’t see anything as outlandish as this. But, for some people this surreal image of the future in a city akin to a giant, sprawling theme park is far more appealing. I got more satisfaction from visiting Nakagin Capsule Tower than I did visiting any temple or shrine in the city. For me the real cultural landmarks are ones such as these. Giant robot statues, opulent shopping centres, and bright neon hoardings.

 

Happy New Year 2010!

Tokyo from Mori Tower

It’s the end of a decade and as you can probably tell, I’m in Tokyo. I saw in the new year on the top floor of the Mori building in Tokyo, at a party that featured DJs from United Future Organization and Kyoto Jazz Massive but I couldn’t tell you for sure if I caught the performances of either one. It was mayhem and the place was absolutely huge. You couldn’t miss however, the stunning panoramic views of the city and the famous Tokyo Tower. The night was not so cold and crystal clear and it was a good chance to remind myself just how massive Tokyo actually is. In this new year I’m going to try to see much more of it, projects allowing. At the turn of midnight, Tokyo tower lit up in white displaying ‘2010’.

Tokyo Tower 2010

Having cleared my head after the actual event, it was then time to participate in the traditional practice of ‘Hatsumode’, where people visit shrines and temples to pray for good fortune and purchase religious trinkets and lucky charms. I got myself an all-purpose talisman and threw some coins in offering and of course prayed in front of the shrine. In order to do this I had to wait for 2 hours, but I was able to watch a documentary about the shrine (Meiji Jingu near Harajuku) on a huge TV screen to kill the time as we all shuffled slowly up the approach.

Meiji Jingu Hatsumode

And then all that was left to do was to file back out and get back on the train, but not before sampling some of the festival fare on offer at the many traditional food stands lining the route. I ate buttered potato to try to warm up enough to make it as far as Yoyogi station. I feel very positive about this year – it was definitely a good thing to be here in Japan for the transition as I plan to be here for the foreseeable future, but I’ve got a lot of work to do this year if I want to achieve my goals. What they are exactly are only known to me and the Deities at Meiji Jingu.

Leaving Meiji Jingu

Happy New Year, and good luck in 2010.

 

Tokyobike

Tokyobike

The people of good taste at Tokyobike sell simple, well designed and well made bikes via their website tokyobike.com. These bikes are somewhere between the fixed gear bikes that have such a strong ridership in Tokyo right now, and the kind of practical urban cycles that Muji used to stock in it’s Yurakucho store before the range changed to the meagre offering of mamacharis that it is now. Needless to say, it’s been added to my wants list.

 

Yamanote Train Driver

Ever wondered what it’s like to drive a Tokyo JR train? Actually, I hadn’t until I got a rare chance to see the driver doing his thing. Usually the glass is smoked or there’s a screen obstructing your view, and I’ve never seen this again since. Check out the illegible display on his computer screen!

 

Tokyo Metro Manner Posters

Tokyo Metro Posters

In accordance with building a more harmonious and civilized society for everyone to enjoy, Tokyo Metro (the local government controlled subway train service provider) has been campaigning via this series of brilliantly illustrated posters. They are looking to reduce incidences of inebriated salarymen sprawling themselves across carriage seats, and the evil of talking on mobile phones, whilst spreading awareness of the dangers of running to make the train as the doors are about to close. That’s hardly important to me; I’m already pretty compliant with the rules of Japanese train ettiquette. Mostly I like the style of these posters and some of them are quite funny.

 

Porter Bags

Porter Bags

Porter is a brand of luggage, bags, wallets and accessories from Yoshida Co. in Tokyo. People familiar with them will know that they are renowned for their high quality and high price, but in this introduction to the brand, I need to stress just how incredibly high the quality of these bags actually is. Recently, with no intention of actually buying one, I’ve been stopping to admire them at every opportunity. I found a huge range at Tokyu Hands in Ikebukuro (Sunshine City), and a small traditional bag shop in Ameyayoko-cho packed full of Porter goodness, and every time I see them I go and check them out. The problem is, with such a huge variety and at such a high price, it’s difficult to choose a particular bag. Do you get a Boston bag, which looks amazing, but you couldn’t fit your 15-inch laptop in, or do you get the messenger, which is extremely practical but also extremely boring, or do you go for a rucksack, which is fit for almost any use but seems to lack the brand’s trademark sophistication? This is the main factor behind my inability to buy one. However, I actually found a new line of Porter bags in Ikebukuro’s Parco with anodised blue zips against their trademark graphite which just might have narrowed it down for me. If you want a decent-sized item from the range get at least ¥20,000 at the ready (£127, $210), and put aside at least three hours for the selection process – this brand is prolific.

Yoshida Co. are also the company behind Luggage Label, a similar kind of brand with different motifs and a more military feel. Porter has a flagship store in Harajuku, behind Murasaki Sports, opposite the mouth of Takeshita Dori, called Head Porter. You’ll find the cheapest ones at Tokyu Hands Ikebukuro, and potential buyers should skip the Ameyoko store as everything is overpriced, the display is cluttered and the service is icey cold.

The bag in the pic at the top of this post is an Original Fake x Porter Boston bag (drool).

 

Don’t Smoke in a Crowd. Coats are Expensive.

Smoking Manners

Witness the pure genius which is the Japanese Smoking Manners sign campaign. Littering with cigarette butts is a real no-no here, and so it should be. Smoking whilst walking down the street is prohibited in Japan, as you will see from the gallery, courtesy of combinibento. What a find. Thanks to Mike. The picture above is a super rare one, taken at Marines Stadium, home of Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team.

 

Guerilla Art: The Mystery of ‘BNE’

BNE

I’ve seen these all over Tokyo. Shibuya, Akihabara, Harajuku, Naka-Meguro and now this one, in a grungy underpass in the heart of Shinjuku. I’d heard about the mystery of BNE, but had never bothered to look into it properly, so I did a little research. It seems that the phenomenon is indeed worldwide, and the artist, whoever he/she maybe has great taste in cities. So far these stickers, and other BNE works, have been spotted in Hong Kong, San Fransisco, New York, Kuala-Lumpur and of course Tokyo and more besides (including London, no doubt – in fact I think I saw some on my last visit home on New Year’s). Authorities are furious, but mostly everyone else is plain curious: who is the mystery bomber? A news article from ABC investigates.

A printing company somewhere on the planet, responsible for running these off, must know the answer? Leave your own insights in the thread.

 

Tokyo People Volume 3: Takuhatsu Begging Monk

Takuhatsu Begging Monk

These monks walk very slowly, exercising, or showcasing, their mastery of the zen principle of self control. Every next step is preceded by a quiet sounding of the small bell they carry in their right hand, the bowl in which they collect contributions gripped in their left. I’ve never seen anyone actually give a contribution to these buddhist monks. When I saw this one, I wanted to give him some money, but as so often in Tokyo, I found myself worrying about misunderstanding something and causing offense (how much do you give a takahatsu begging monk anyway?).

Intelligence: 8
Stamina: 7
Speed: 1
Resistance to Alcohol: 1
Sleeping Ability: 6
Combat Skill: 1
Voice Volume: 1
Magic Points: 9
Gold: 2

 

Baseball Game

Baseball Game

As part of my continued effort to involve myself in as much of Japanese culture as possible (both traditional and contemporary), I went to my first baseball game last week! I went to a stadium near omotesando in the heart of Tokyo called Jingu Kyuu-Jou, home of the Yakult Swallows, where they took on the Chunichi Dragons from Nagoya – and lost. Still had a good time though. Between bouts of shouting and singing, I found time to snap a few photees, gobble a bowlful of steaming Udon, and knock back 4 draught beers. Especially for the occasion, I was sporting a Yakult Swallows jersey bearing the legendary Aoki’s name across the back – thanks Erica!

 

Spring is in the Air

Spring is in the Air

It’s that time again, when the inhabitants of Tokyo gather in their millions underneath the cherry blossom (sakura 桜) trees to celebrate the arrival of spring and the departure of winter. The tradition, known as Hanami (flower viewing) has been practiced for many centuries, and has evolved into the festival event it is now, with street performers, food stands and rawkus behaviour. Employees of individual companies, groups of friends, or family members will get together at this time of year to eat and drink outside in the ubiquitous parks and gardens of Tokyo. I was in Ueno park yesterday for a bit, to experience the madness, but now is only the beginning of Hanami, so I’m sure there will be a few more stories to follow over the next fortnight.

 

Lunch on the Balcony

Lunch on the Balcony

So this is how the balcony’s looking on an early spring day. I’m sitting down, looking out over the buildings, and eating Nattou-Maki (納豆巻き) and a salad. Too much fatty pork and beer has been impacting my health recently, so I’m in ‘get fit for summer’ mode. I took a run up the banks of the Sumida river about an hour after I took this photo, so it’s serious.

 

Tokyo People Volume 1: Shop Shouters

This is the first in a series of ‘programmes’ on Tokyo Story that will feature at irregular intervals from now on. The series will explore the many different types of people who live in the city. This, in addition to the series also recently started on Japanese Beer!

Tokyo People Volume 1: Shop Shouters

So, the first character I’ll introduce is a guy (or girl) who advertises their shop by standing outside and shouting about it. I’ve decided to call this person a Shop Shouter. Their shifts can last a long time, but they continue to yell at the passing public in the hope of drawing attention to a special offer, or campaign as the Japanese call it – or just to the shop in general, and it works. After checking out this guy, I clocked a pair of newly released Nike Terminator hi-tops and had to take a closer inspection! I’ve seen Shop Shouters in almost every major shopping district in Tokyo. The shouters of Harajuku are particularly noteworthy as they tend to wear traditional Japanese Happi (I guess you’d call it a smock, or like a loose jacket of thin material) with vibrant designs. These guys are professionals. Sometimes they have megaphones, sometimes not, but they compete to outdo each other, welcoming customers before they’ve even entered the shop with drawn-out screams of irasshaimase (welcome). Sometimes, if it’s late in the day, their voices are completely worn out and it’s painful to hear them trying to continue on shouting. If you look, the guys in this picture are balancing on stepladders with impressive stability.

Intelligence: 4
Stamina: 7
Speed: 5
Resistance to Alcohol: 4
Sleeping Ability: 4
Combat Skill: 3
Voice Volume: 8
Magic Points: 2
Gold: 2