Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2014

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Brrr, this isn’t good.

Brr, this isn't good.

This is what it looks like as you exit Inaricho Sta. at around 5.30am after staying up all night in Shibuya. I’d forgotten I’d taken this picture. I just found it in my camera. The wind is pretty strong in Tokyo at the moment, and it blows into the entrances and exits of the metro stations. As your walking out feeling delicate after not sleeping, or having just woken up after half-an-hour’s sleep on the train, it chills you to the bone. I’ve done a lot of not-sleeping recently, and I’ve also got into the habit of sleeping on trains in the early hours of the morning and riding past my station, out into the suburbs and beyond.

 

Van Man’s Song


Van Man’s Song from Stephen Smith on Vimeo.

This is a recording of the song the driver of this small van sings as he slowly crawls around my neighbourhood. I think he’s selling hot Japanese potatoes, but I’m not sure. I can’t understand the lyrics.

 

The 5 O’clock Chimes of Kotobuki


5 O’clock Chimes of Kotobuki from Stephen Smith on Vimeo.

Since I previously showed you the 5 o’clock chimes of Takanawa in all their ambient glory, I thought I’d show you the more oriental, and slightly spiritual sounds of the 5 o’clock chimes of Kotobuki, my new area in Tokyo. I think this will be a recurring feature: whenever I move to a new neighbourhood, I’ll upload a recording of the 5 o’clock chimes every time. Tokyo is pretty musical like that. Did you know that the JR line stations in Tokyo each have their own distinctive jingle to subliminally inform their passengers when it’s time to wake up / get off?

 

View From the Balcony: Kotobuki, Kuramae

Kotobuki, Kuramae

Here’s how it looks when I stand on my balcony (at night), in my new neighbourhood of Kotobuki. I’ve only had chance to have a short look around, but already I can tell this area is going to be so much better than Shinagawa (which I can’t recommend at all; too boring and no atmosphere). Already I’ve found an old paper merchant, a german beer bar, a small shrine nestled between old buildings, and a retro camera shop, and that’s just on my street! A little farther afield, and you’ve got a traditional Japanese toy shop, an incredibly old-looking bookstore, and lots of shops specialising in the model robot kits you can get over here. There are several toy companies on my street, and you can see the Bandai headquarters from my balcony, so it would seem, unbeknown to me, that I’ve moved into the area of Tokyo specialising in toys. Christmas shopping is going to be much easier, but I’ll have to take less clothes with me when I return to the UK for the holidays. I fly back to Japan on New Year’s Day. I thought it would be a nice idea to be sipping champagne at 30,000ft on a Virgin Atlantic flight to Tokyo on the first day of 2009. Time will tell if I’m right or not, got to watch I don’t get into too much of a mess welcoming in the new year.

 

The 5 O’clock Chimes of Takanawa


The 5 O’clock Chimes of Takanawa from Stephen Smith on Vimeo.

I shot this footage from the balcony of my apartment so I could capture the strange music I’ve been hearing every evening at 5 o’clock. When I’ve been walking in my neighbourhood, I’ve been looking up under the eaves of public buildings and at the pylons and powerlines, trying to work out where it comes from, but I can’t find the source. So everyday at the same time, you get this haunting melody drifting through the cold night air. Today it chimes out my last evening in the neighbourhood of Takanawa, Shinagawa before I move on to Kuramae near Asakusa tomorrow.

 

Salaryman Busts Loose


Japanese Salaryman – Virtuoso Performance in the Key of Awesome from Stephen Smith on Vimeo.

A Japanese Salaryman, wound up and overworked, unleashes a fireball of musical self-expression on a Friday night in Tokyo. I came to the conclusion that he is by far the coolest salaryman I’ve ever seen: he fell asleep on his keyboard during the interlude.

 

Toyota Super Deluxe Crown Classic

Toyota Super Deluxe Crown Classic

There’s nothing cooler than speeding through a neon-dripped Tokyo night in one of these taxis, now a metropolitan icon in its own right. The immaculately clean interior and exterior and driver-operated automatic doors enhance what is already a very Japanese experience. Doilies on the seats and the driver’s white gloves betray the Japanese obsession with hygiene.

If you’re wondering where you’ve seen one before, Bob Harris has a similar neon retinal burnout experience in the opening scene of Lost In Translation whilst riding/sleeping in the back of one of these vehicles, before swinging into the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku. Riding in a Crown Classic is one of those cultural experiences that lies outside the gamut of usual Tokyo sightseeing, and should be on the to-do list of anyone planning to visit.

BTW: I ate at the restaurant and drank at the bar in the Park Hyatt Tokyo, featured in Lost In Translation, and the views at night from the floor-to-ceiling windows are amazing. I don’t know why I didn’t blog it then, it was a pretty long time ago now.

 

Wired Cafe Shibuya

Wired Cafe Shibuya

I dropped into Wired Cafe on the 6th Floor of Q-FRONT Shibuya today to take advantage of their free wi-fi connection. I’m currently re-working an ongoing Flash project which I expect to be able to unveil soon, schedule allowing.

The cafe is pretty unremarkable. I personally prefer the Shinagawa Wired Cafe just down the road from my apartment, but it served it’s purpose. I also discovered it’s a great place to pick up information on forthcoming music events in Tokyo. I even picked up a nicely illustrated book on surfing in and around the Tokyo area. That’s going to come in very handy when a day off finally comes round and I can finally get in the water again.

The food was average. I chose the French onion soup, an asparagus and mozzarella wrap and a cup of coffee, but it wasn’t worth the ¥1400 price tag. My MacBook Pro battery being what it is, I didn’t really take full advantage of the free wi-fi either, but I got a chunk of work done, then took off back into Shibuya.

 

Shinagawa on flickr

Shinagawa on flickr

They’re not particularly exciting, but I took some pictures the other day when I was out and about in Shinagawa. I took a trip to the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, that just so happens to be in Shinagawa, inquiring about how to start a company in Tokyo. It turns out that people with working holiday visas have a hard time changing their visa status at all, but some Japanese companies hold enough sway over the authorities to make it happen for you. The other interesting point, is that you can’t join a company like this, or even change your visa status at all, after you have less than 4 months left on your working holiday. It just so happens I have 5 months and 5 days left on mine as of writing this post, and I sign a contract of employment on Friday! Phew. Extended play.

 

My Asakusa Hanabi Matsuri Videos

Finally, I’ve uploaded the videos of the Asakusa Hanabi Matsuri (Fireworks Festival). I had forgotten about them and left them languishing in iPhoto. These should give folks a good idea of what it’s like at the Summer festivals in Tokyo. Really enjoyable. You can still check out the photoset at flickr too, if you haven’t already.

I’ll embed the vids here too, so it’s easier for everyone.


Asakusa Hanabi Matsuri from Stephen Smith on Vimeo.


Asakusa Hanabi Matsuri from Stephen Smith on Vimeo.

 

Now Broadcasting from Shinagawa

Now Broadcasting from Shinagawa

I’ve moved again, this time to Shinagawa. What you see above is the view from my balcony. Could you believe I’m on the ground floor? The reason it feels elevated from this persective, is because my apartment block is situated on top of a hill, and the ground drops way steeply at the back of the apartment, where the balcony is. The neighbourhood always seemed like a business district to me, but with expensive restaurants and shops to cater for those clocking out. It wasn’t a place I ever came to often. I only came here once before to see Kage Hinata ni Saku at the Prince Cinema. I’ve had a good look around now, but have found only skyscrapers and hotels, the odd expensive restaurant, and high class shopping arcades. Where’s the sushi? Where are the izakayas? It’s a fashionable district for sure, and I’m glad to be exploring a different are of Tokyo, but there will always be a place in my heart for Taito-ku, and the areas of Ueno, Okachimachi, Asakusa, Minowa, Iriya, Yanaka and Nezu. By far the most atmospheric towns in Tokyo.

It’s not a big deal though. Meguro, Gotanda and Ebisu are still only a stone’s throw away.

 

Tour de Tokyo

I’m not a keen cyclist, but sometimes you’ve just got to get your bike from point A to point B. The problem was, point A was really, really far from point B. My journey took me past famous spots like Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya (I crossed the main crossing in front of Shibuya 109 on my mamachari!), and Meguro. Nice ride!

 

Hanabi in Asakusa at flickr

Hanabi in Asakusa at flickr

Finally they’re up. Head over to my flickr for a look at what the annual Hanabi in Asakusa was like this year. High points for me were the beautiful Kimonos and cool traditional outfits being sported by the locals, the choatic atmosphere, and the hugely spectacular hour-and-a-half long firework display.

 

Hot in the City

I don’t want to destroy the planet, but I can’t cope without air-conditioning any longer. I woke up really early today, because it was so hot in my apartment. The weather widget on my computer says it’s hovering around the 30° C mark, but it feels way hotter because of the humidity (it climbed as high as 93% recently).

I heard stories about the Tokyo summers so I tried to prepare myself for the worst, but it’s still so hard to get a days work done. I asked my friend the other day if it was particularly bad at the moment due to the fact that it is the rainy season, but they told me, in fact, it would get much, much worse!

 

The Last Train from Shinjuku

The Last Train from Shinjuku

This shot was taken as we pulled out of Shinjuku station at 12.39 on Saturday night. As you can see, it’s sea of suits, and as the train lurches they slosh up against the sides of the train and you get caught in the current. Suprisingly, it’s not annoying at all. It’s pretty hilarious, actually. The train is so ridiculously full that you can’t help but laugh (and take pictures).