Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

Arakawa Yuen

If you take the old Toden Arakawa street car line somewhere along the route you will come to the station Arakawa Yuenchi Mae which is, as the name suggests, is the stop for Arakawa Yuen, possibly Tokyo’s worst theme park. There’s a small ferris wheel, a tame rollercoaster, various other tedious attractions and a ‘zoo’, although that’s stretching the term just a bit. I didn’t bother riding anything, the ticket was only ¥400 anyway. All the staff were elderly, no doubt retired people working voluntarily. There were almost no visitors.

The reason for visiting this place isn’t for the rides or the excitement, it’s just a really oddball little place. I discovered it once when I was cycling, just stumbling upon it accidentally. I remember at the time I thought it was closed down, abandoned, but apparently not, though it might as well be. Even on a weekend it’s a haunting place, and the ride there on the Arakawa tram is a quaint and quirky side of northern shitamachi Tokyo that visitors rarely see. Definitely an unconventional spot to visit in Tokyo with a great atmosphere.


Deep Topography

In a connected chain of events which began with me spending time in London last week, coming back to Tokyo and watching a documentary on the England’s capital city called The London Perambulator I discovered Deep Topography, also known as Psychogeography or Cryptoforestry. The documentary follows an eccentric English writer and researcher called Nick Papadimitriou as he goes on a series of what he refers to as his ‘Long Walks’. These can last anywhere between one hour and a full day, and often take place in one of Nick’s preferred locales, almost always on the suburbs, fringes and hinterlands of London. The preoccupation of deep topography is not with finding conventional beauty in and around our built environments but with deriving stimulation from appreciating the overlooked and anonymous corners of our cities and examining the functional areas where mankind, nature, and necessity overlap.

It was through this documentary that I came to understand why I find Tokyo to be so stimulating and rewarding as a place to live and explore. For those who have become deluded with the beaten track of the world’s maintream heritage sites and historical architecture, Tokyo provides a veritable goldmine of deep topographical rapture, providing you are prepared to get lost in its streets.

If you have the opportunity, I seriously recommend seeing the documentary as it also features Will Self and Iain Sinclair. Next time you’re out with your camera taking pictures of bleak industrial landscapes, water treatment works or unremarkable suburban vistas you might feel vindicated.


Cesare vs. Disorder & Onirik – Il Viaggio

A Brazilian visual artist based in Berlin called Fernanda contacted me by email the other day and pointed to her recent project for an independent record label. What you see above is a music video she made for an upcoming release on Serialism Records featuring a montage of video shot in Tokyo in January this year. I really liked it and wanted to share it with you. Thanks to Fernanda Mattos for the info.


View From Asakusa Culture & Tourism Center

It was not so long ago I posted about the construction of a new building in old Tokyo called the Asakusa Culture & Tourism Center. Well now it’s finished and I’ve been over to take a look. I was extremely rushed as it was closing in 10 minutes upon arrival, so I just rode the elevator up to the eighth floor (the top tier) and was greeted with the sight you see above. There were two open terraces, a small lounge and a small bar on that floor, and making my way down I saw some of the installations and displays as well as the cinema floor. All in all, it’s a great building, although I was not so sure about the quality of the finish of the exterior. What is great though is the view from the top terraces. As you can see it was a full moon when I went, and in the foreground you can see the buildings around Asakusa metro station, behind those the Sumida River complete with blue lanterns floating on it for the Tokyo Hotaru (firefly) Festival, and on the far bank the Asahi building with the equally iconic and controversial sculpture on the roof designed by architect Philippe Starck and towering over everything is the new Tokyo Skytree Tower.

Asakusa Tourism & Culture Center closes at 8pm, so make sure you go just before then to catch this night view. Also look north for equally amazing views of Nakamise Dori and Sensoji.


Tintin x Nanoblock

I was in Yurakucho’s new Loft store the other day and I saw these great new Nanoblock sets featuring objects and craft from the Tintin comics. Nanoblock was actually born in America, but has seen some popularity in Japan and they’ve even got special Japanese sets featuring Japanese landmarks such as Tokyo Tower and I think I even saw a Sky Tree. The great thing about these are you can actually build your own miniature versions of whatever you like, so you could for example put together your own Kyoto Kokusai Kaikan. In the Tintin series there are four sets:

The Rocket:

The Shark Sub:

The Unicorn:

Moulinsart Castle:

They were probably released as a result of the recent Tintin movie. I’m liking the rocket, and I think it’d make a good Tokyo Tower if you got bored of it. I was always a big Lego fan growing up, so I might have to pick one of these sets up.


Mobile Phone Signal Coming to Tokyo Metro

Like most underground railway systems in the world, on the Tokyo Metro you can often use your phone at the stations along the way, but you can’t use them in the tunnels in between stations. Well all this is slowly set to change by the looks of things as the 3 main mobile phone providers, Docomo, KDDI and SoftBank have announced they are going to gradually introduce service to the tunnels. It’s still a no-no to talk on the phone while on the train but it’s going to make it a lot nicer for browsing the web and using apps that require connection to the internet. It’s certainly good news to me.


Katsuhiro Otomo / AKIRA Exhibition – Gengaten

For me this must be the exhibition of the century: a 3,000 piece gallery display of the work of Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the legendary AKIRA manga and, of course, animated adaptation. Also on display will be Kaneda’s famous red bike, and I’ve heard they even let you sit on it! The red jacket is also available, and you can wear it too apparently. Included in the exhibition are ALL of the original pages and drawings that were used to create the whole manga series of books, some 2,300 of them. The exhibition is being held at 3331 Arts Chiyoda which is a gallery converted from a high school located not too far from Akihabara, north of Suehirocho metro station on the Ginza line. It runs until the end of May, so surely this one is not to be missed. It’s probably worth coming from overseas especially to just see this exhibition! All proceeds will go to charities supporting victims of the Tohoku disaster.


Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Here’s the music video for a new Japanese artist I recently discovered. Someone recommended this one to me and after checking it out on YouTube I noticed that it seemed to have gone viral with a lot of people in the west sharing it because of it’s crazy visuals and its Harajuku Kawaisa / Decora elements. The song is produced by Yasutaka Nakata who also does Perfume’s stuff.


Tokyo Sky Tree Construction Completed

Construction of Tokyo’s new tower, Tokyo Sky Tree, has officially been completed as of February 29th according to the company in charge of the project Obayashi Corp. It has now been handed over to TOBU Tower Sky Tree Co. who will finish fitting out the interior in time for its opening on 22nd May 2012. You can already pre-order tickets, and when I say can I mean it’s theoretically possible, but I wish anybody luck getting their hands on them as demand is predicted to be very high.

Completion of the tower puts it as the tallest tower in the world, topping the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China. Construction was delayed slightly by the earthquake and events that followed last March. Amazing to think that there were workmen in cranes and on platforms working when the earthquake struck. I was terrified being on terra-firma, let alone being on top of a partially constructed tower.


SonarSound Tokyo 2012’s Superb Lineup

This year’s SonarSound Tokyo 2012 sports the most unmissable lineup ever: Squarepusher, Clark, Global Communication, The Cinematic Orchestra, Vincent Gallo, Mount Kimbie, Rustie, Hudson Mohawke and way more(!). It takes place on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd of April and a one day ticket will set you back ¥7,750 in advance and ¥8,500 on the day and the two day ticket costs ¥14,500. Regardless of cost, this is surely a must-go-to event for any electronic music fan. I’ll certainly be there as it’s my birthday on the 24th! I’ll be here both days, and then off to relax in the hot springs of Izu the following day! It’s going to be a great weekend – let me know if you’re going.


Radio Tokyo Volume 4 – Commercial Breaks

This episode of Radio Tokyo showcases some of the more leftfield Japanese artists past and present that I had in my collection. As ever, I don't present or narrate, but at the same time it's not just a straightforward mix. There's a real variety of genres, styles and BPM here, so I wove them together with some samples taken from retro Japanese TV commercials, and that's where the name and the theme of this episode comes from. Here's the playlist, enjoy:


  1. I, Me, My, Mine - Polysics
  2. A11 A10ne - Buffalo Daughter
  3. LSD - Trippple Nippples
  4. Rocket - Polysics
  5. 4 Little Joeys Remix - Kiiiiii!
  6. I Wanna Be Sedated - Shonen Knife
  7. Twiggy Twiggy - Pizzicato Five
  8. Mogu Mogu - Chinza Dopeness
  9. Spam Keikoku - Shonen Knife
  10. Pajama Party Pop - Lullatone
  11. Sugar Water - Cibo Matto
  12. The Audrey Hepburn Complex (Billy Wilder Mix) - Pizzicato Five

View all podcasts in the Radio Tokyo series and download this episode here.


Beat Takeshi Kitano, Gosse de Peintre

Well this is like a dream come true – never thought I’d get to see the legendary paintings that featured in Takeshi Kitano’s movie masterpiece Hanabi (Fireworks), but now it looks like it’s actually going to happen. With news of his exhibition in Tokyo opening 11th March being broadcast on TV and advertised on posters on the metro, this will be a fairly high profile showcase of his paintings at Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, Shinjuku.

It’s going to feature paintings such as this:

I don’t know if his painting entitled ‘Jisatsu’ (Suicide) will be on show, which is unfortunate as it’s one of my favourites, but this one, also from the movie Hanabi, will be:

Anyway, it all equates to a must-see, don’t-miss exhibition which runs until 2nd September.


Alsok TV Advert

Just a quick Japanese television commercial post as I’ve been loving this one just recently. Done in the style of a retro action TV series opening montage, it features Japanese women’s wrestling star Saori Yoshida as all 3 members of the Alsok Security Squadron! It may seem trivial to most, but this is one of the reasons I live in Japan. This style of advertising for a mainstream service like home security blows my mind!


Sanpo Social Photowalks

There’s a new social networking site for sharing your photowalks called SANPO built by one man in Tokyo, Gueorgui Tcherednitchenko. Although I haven’t signed up myself yet, I’m planning to, and I’m very supportive of anyone trying to launch a web app off their own bat. I also think this site would be genuinely useful for me as a new way to share the photos I take and plot them geographically. I’ve totally abandoned flickr these days it seems, and I really don’t feel like uploading them to facebook, so I’d all but given up on sharing my photos, and this had caused me to stop taking my camera out as much as I used to. Sites like this give you an audience and that tends to give you impetus to upload. Take this site for example. I wouldn’t have visited half the places I have in Tokyo and I wouldn’t know half as much about it if I didn’t have this blog to encourage me to do so. The service is still evolving, but why not signup and upload some pictures? It’s not just limited to Tokyo!


Snowboarding Trip to Jouetsu, Niigata

To be honest it was about three weeks ago now, but I really wanted to mention it here because it was a really good trip: Snowboarding at Kandatsu resort in Joetsu, Niigata. Not only was it my first time snowboarding, but also it was my first time to visit any snowy mountainous area. It was pretty unbelievable coming out of the 15km tunnel that has been cut through an entire mountain. As you leave the mouth of the tunnel you basically enter a canyon of compact snow as high as the coach windows. There was 5 metres of the stuff the day we arrived. It had snowed heavily before and had stopped around dawn to leave clear sunny skies and no wind.

The two things that struck me most were how difficult snowboarding is and how beautiful the mountains in Japan are in Winter. These areas are inundated with snow and the communities there have adapted to deal with it. All the roads have walls of snow on either side and buildings strain under the weight of enormous mounds of it that form into rounded mushroom-tops. Huge icicles hang from the eaves of the traditional houses that are dotted around. There is also no shortage of ski resorts, they seemed to be everywhere. I can’t comment on the quality of the one I went to as I was a first-timer, but it seemed to have everything you’d want from a ski resort, and it was packed. There were a lot of good skiers and snowboarders out too.

One of the highlights for me was enjoying the view of the mountains from the ski-lift riding up and down. There’s a piste map below. I stuck strictly to the beginner slopes. Definitely not much transferable skill from skating or surfing unfortunately, but great exercise and a really good place for a trip. I’ll definitely do it again as you need more than one occasion to master the basics and I’ve been told that it’s more enjoyable once you can control the board.