Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2014

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Kanda Matsuri & Naka Meguro at flickr

Kanda Matsuri

I’ve just put some more photos up on flickr, this time of the recent festival that took place in the streets in and around Taito ward (where my neighbourhood is), Tokyo. There are also a few of Naka Meguro from when I visited a week or so ago. Naka Meguro is famous for being a trendy neighbourhood, but I didn’t find much during my visit. It struck me as being a little bit difficult to penetrate, and probably the cool places are hard to find, so I’ll head back there at some point with a bit more info.


Karaoke at Big Echo

Karaoke at Big Echo

Karaoke is better than I expected having done it twice now. Both times were after a night out and lasted until daybreak. You drink beer and sing a few songs with your friends. I did ‘I Want to be Adored’ by the Stone Roses, ‘The Way You Make me Feel’ by Michael Jackson (very difficult and a bad idea), ‘It’s so Easy’ by Guns n’ Roses, ‘Burning Down the House’ by Talking Heads, and ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ by the Clash amongst others. So you take one hangover and add stressed vocal cords into the mix for good measure.


Japanese Food at the Izakaya


Izakaya are a highlight of living in Japan. We went to one the other day and the food was nice, and not really that expensive. We had a boat-load of Sashimi to start with and beers, followed by Tempura. Then a woman came into the private room you get for your group, and showed us the freshest fish they had in stock. They were laid out on a tray made from woven straw and each fish had a small wooden sign with the name written on it. We couldn’t read the names so we just chose a good looking one and asked to have it poached in some sort of soup. You can ask to have it prepared in a few ways, like stir-fry or grilled. When it came it was the nicest fish I’d ever had but wasn’t big enough for everyone to share really. In Japan it’s customary to eat the soft part of the fish’s eye (avoiding eating the eyeball), so I did and it was horrible, but it’s supposed to be good for the brain so I washed it down with beer. We chased this with posh Sake which you drink from a glass placed in a small open top box (like a square cup), and the Sake is made to overflow the glass and run into the cup around it. This means that when you start to drink you have to leave the glass on the table and drink the first bit out from there. Then, after, you use the contents of the square box to top the glass up.

We also ordered Udon and squid ink risotto and maybe something else, I can’t remember. Came to about £70 for three people.



It’s 1.59am over here by my computer’s clock in Tokyo and we just had a pretty big earthquake. Well, it was big by my standards. I’ve felt one at least once a week, but only very slight tremors. Before I noticed the earth moving you could hear rattling coming from the overhead electric cables that festoon the streets. Soon after that you could feel the slow back-and-forth movement. Pretty scary considering the big one may be on it’s way. I waited a bit to see if it was followed by another (a sign of a larger earthquake on it’s way), but it never came, so I’m going to bed.

UPDATE: Here’s the official line on the quake from CNN. Incredible, because it was 6.8 on the scale! I guess I shouldn’t have been so blazé about it after all.


The Warrior Celt

The Warrior Celt

I thought I’d post some info on this place, as a recommendation to those in Tokyo, and as a point of interest to others. It’s in my neighbourhood of Okachimachi, but it’s more towards the Ueno end, but still an easy walk, and an even easier bike ride. Problem is, once you’ve spent the night at The Warrior Celt your ride home is always one filled with risk taking and overconfidence. They serve English beer, as well as Japanese and some European beers. The people that work there are really nice and so are the regulars. It’s way too convenient for me actually, and I probably go there in the evenings more than I should. After all, the beer in Tokyo is expensive: ¥1000 a beer, which is around £5! Having said that, it’s nice to have a local to drink at. I feel more welcome at this pub than I ever have been made to feel at any English pub I can think of, so now I’m like my Grandad always was, work through the day then up the pub for a few pints of a nighttime, and in Tokyo no less.


Operation Gomi

There was a party at the apartment not so long ago. Mostly Japanese and Korean guys came, and in typical fashion bought a huge amount with them. We had already bought beer for everyone and made a giant cocktail (Vodka, Gin and fruit juices), but everyone who came bought more alcohol; more than they could even consume themselves to add to the stockpile. It wasn’t just alcohol they bought either: inside the numerous combini bags there were rice crackers, manju sweets, wasabi snacks, peanuts, pizza (uncooked), noodles, cup noodles, fish sausages (nasty), sour worms, fish crackers, frankfurters, dried fish, dried squid, crisps and loads of other stuff besides.

So when the party is underway and the the 3LDK is maxed out, the group of girls in attendance start cooking in the kitchen area. Like, 5 pizzas, plates of german sausages, large plates of noodles etc., and start handing them out to the party crew. It was like a wife-off. Who, out of the girls, can prove themselves to be the best, domestically? It was pretty interesting for me from a cultural point of view. I’m always comparing Japan to the UK. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but it’s really the only yardstick I have by which to measure.

So that happened, and then the next day I tentatively slide open the door to the living area from my bedroom. The place was annihilated. There was a mass of beer cans, food plates and packaging. The quantity of beer cans was astounding. I’ve had parties before back home, but this was something new. I knew straight away that this was going to present a problem for us.

In Japan, or at least in Taito-ku in Tokyo, you have a refuse collection system in place that segregates waste into 3 categories: burnable (paper, food waste, cardboard etc.), recyclable (glass, plastic, pet bottles, polystyrene trays etc.), and non-burnable (pretty much everything else that falls outside these categories). The problem is, recycling is compulsory. If you put out a bag of rubbish on burnable day, it will be checked, and if there is a glass bottle or a plastic bottle, or whatever, it won’t be taken. Same goes for the other days too; you have to put the appropriate gomi out. On recycle day you have a few different crates with the type of rubbish meant for it scrawled in magic-marker on the side (in Japanese of course – an opportunity to practice those reading skills). The problem is, these crates are so small. You could fit maybe 20 crushed beer cans in one, but we had like 150. Three full rubbish bags of them.

In the past, we had managed to put out a huge bag of recyclables on recycling day, and the guys just took it. I thought maybe we could do the same this time, so I lined up all 6 bags (the cans and the other packaging, plus the ordinary household stuff we had accumulated), and went to bed. Next morning (late-ish), I looked over the balcony down onto the street, and the bags were gone. I was pretty relieved. I went into the kitchen to make some English tea and we’d ran out of milk, so I was going to pop out to the combini, but I couldn’t get out of the front door. I pushed pretty hard to get out, and outside the door was all of the rubbish, piled up with more reading practice taped to the top.

So now, we need to find a way to dispense the waste in some other way. Doing it in dribs and drabs over time using the collection service could take years. Instead, I’ve been trying to devise a strategy to loose the waste somehow. More cultural info for you here now: In Tokyo, outside the numerous combinis (convenience stores), there are bottle, can and paper bins for you to put stuff in. They also have these next to drinks vending machines in the city. I’m thinking that there must be enough of these in my area to fit all of the party waste in. It will mean splitting the large bags up into smaller batches and putting them in the front basket of my bike, ready for the first sortie of Operation Gomi.


Hanami and Other Photos of Japan

Ueno Lanterns

At last, I’ve managed to get the last 3 weeks’ photos uploaded to flickr. The pictures I just put up are of Kasai Rinkai Park, Odaiba, and Hanami in Ueno Park and Sumida Park.


In My Beautiful Neighbourhood

In My Beautiful Neighbourhood

This is just around the corner from me, and I’m always up here lately. Here it is, well lit up at night, Ueno near Okachimachi.


Hanami Party Crashing

Jun gets wild

I’ve found another pastime I prefer to ‘looking at the leftover Hanami casualties at 2 o’clock in the morning in Ueno Park’. This is a slight variation; ‘Hanami party crashing’. Actually, we were just walking in Ueno park on Friday night, and I had paused to scoop up a mouthful of Takoyaki (octopus balls), when some guys started shouting at us from one of the allotted party areas, underneath the cherry blossom trees. I was about to get defensive, having been more accustomed to the English way of life on a Friday night; you get shouted at, it’s probably abuse, so it’s time to get shirty! As it was, the guys were beckoning us across to come join their Hanami party, which we did. We were pretty pleased to have found this group of people to hang around and drink with. I was supposed to be going to a Hanami party on Sunday afternoon, but it looks like I’ve had one party already, and when we parted we were talking about arranging another drinking party for after the weekend, so that makes three!

It was a really good night, and it made me aware of how friendly the Japanese people are, and how enjoyable their festivals are. They shared their beer and sake with us, and my housemate even got interviewed on Japanese Television! Oh, and we shouted at some police officers.


Tokyo Night Driving

Tokyo Night Driving

I only ever thought I would travel through Tokyo on the subway, rarely by Taxi as it’s too expensive. I would never buy a car to use in Tokyo, because there’s no point for me. Now, having travelled out of, and back into, and through Tokyo in a car, I think it’s the best way to travel through the city in terms of getting a grip on the geography, and seeing some cool urban landscapes. It was a beautiful spring evening the other day, and then at sunset we were just coming back into Central Tokyo and ended up speeding through the streets as the lights were starting to come on, and the neon started to appear.


First Blossoms of Spring

Ume Blossoms

For Tokyo, I think these are the first. I came across an Ume-Matsuri the other day in Hongo. Ume is Japanese Plum, so these are the blossoms of the Japanese Plum tree. The Matsuri was taking place in Yushima Tenmangu Shrine, and as I walked past Shinto priests were getting out of a new-style VW Beetle. I walked up and took some pictures of the blossoms and played around with the settings on my camera, to ill effect. There’s not really enough to make it worth uploading them to flickr, but they might appear in a future photoset.


T-Shirt Weather

T-shirt Weather

Today got up to 18 deg C! I went running again, through the streets towards Hongo this time, and biked to the local supermarket, Hanamasa, to get some supplies. This shift towards t-shirt weather is a great thing, because now I can grab some T’s from Design T-shirts Store Graniph. There’s some great designs in there, and it just so happens there’s one up the road in Ueno. I feel the cold, so I’ve been waiting for an improvement in the weather, I just didn’t expect it to come so soon!


Yet Another Line on Tokyo Metro

The Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line

The Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line is due to start June 14 this year, and the advertising campaign to alert underground passengers in Tokyo has started. The posters I’ve seen so far have been pretty minimal, and inspiration definitely seems to have come from the London Underground identity. More info on the line here. Is it just me though, or is there something rude looking about the combination of iconography, typography and colour in the top left corner of the above poster?


Keisatsu Run-ins

Keisatsu Run-ins

I’ve probably only ridden my bike about a dozen times, but I’ve been stopped by the police twice already in the space of about 2 weeks! They pull you over and talk politely before radioing in your bicycle’s registration number (most bikes have registration marks over here, just like cars do). Both times I was stopped by a policeman on foot, they carry their radio equipment around their necks. To begin with I thought this was due to a prejudice towards foreigners, stemming from an alledged culture of belief in Japan that they are responsible for much of the crime in the country, but having thought about it, the first time I was stopped I don’t think the policeman had had a very good look at me, because he addressed me very much like a native with a torrent of polite but colloquial Japanese. I suppose with my dark hair which has grown pretty long now, I can kind of blend in. From a distance. At night. If I’m kneeling down.


Billy Barew’s Beer Bar, Ebisu

If you want to drink any beer you can think of, watch English Premiership Football, and spend all your yen, get down to the world’s most stocked, and most expensive beer bar. It’s in Ebisu, opposite the Yoshinoya outside the metro station in the direction of Daikanyama. I had a great laugh with a Japanese couple in there, and met some guy from Bristol, with whom I went down the road to Unit, to catch N-dub and High Contrast live sets at Drum n’ Bass Dubstep Wars. This is a new series of music events I think, with more to come from DJ Die and some other dubstep selector next month. Won’t be going to that one though, I’m all spent out for this months r’n'r budget.