Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2017

Another Foray into Laforet, and then Art

Laforet

I came to Laforet once before and the place was filled with teenagers rifling through the racks of clothes and the place was in a frenzy. Shop employees were stood outside their respective stores on soapboxes shouting through megaphones or rolled up magazines “Irashiaimaseeeee!”, which means ‘welcome’, roughly. They wore baggy smocks over their ordinary clothes, sporting Japanese prints and emblems, kanji and patterns. The place was mostly school girls, actually, dressed in the classic sailor school uniform and doing the most damage at the tables of clothing in the womens clothes shops.

I didn’t have my camera with me last time, so I came again hoping to shoot some video of a typical afternoon at Laforet, but it was totally different this time. No shouting, no chaos, and not many shoppers, even. But I came across these paintings in the ground floor lobby (referred to as the 1st floor in Japan), by an artist called Dominique Dubien. They mostly consisted of small paintings on canvas of dogs, faces, small characters with iconography of hearts, planets and the like, all rendered in vivid colours. So, it’s sounding pretty ‘pop’ from the outset. I took some photos, one of which you can see in this post. I looked on Dominique Dubien’s website, and most of his work is pretty good, I liked the paintings.

dominique-dubien.jpg

I can’t say that I’m that keen on this series, or this piece of work (if it is supposed to stand as one piece of work in it’s own right, I couldn’t read the Japanese on the plaque next to the exhibit). Not because it’s not enjoyable to look at, it is pretty cool, but it reminds of how much bullshit creative work there is in Tokyo. Some rave about it in blogs or in articles on the city. I cannot stand the conceited behaviour of the artists or their plaudits. There’s definitely a self-satisfied cross section of the Tokyo hipster fraternity who hang out at certain spots in town, and visit all the galleries (of which there are many in Tokyo). Some of the work is good, some falls into the category of self-promotion, or a fake kind of artwork, about which everyone feels obliged to make absurd allusions about the intentions of the artist. It’s the same in countries all over the world, but right now I’m in Tokyo, so that’s all I can really report on right now, first hand.

I intend to go to galleries (especially the graphic design ones), and I expect to have to pass through many an event space or screening room in order to complete my tour, but I will always be honest about my feelings on the work there, if I happen to write them on the pages of this website.

 

Kelly’s Crystal Shop

Kelly’s Crystal Shop

This is an e-commerce site I starting building freelance about a year ago, but it was put on hold for a time. It’s now up and running, so if you want, go and have a look at Kelly’s Crystal Shop. I thought I’d put a link on here because it saves me having to submit it to all the search engines (the spiders will find the site from the link on this page). It sells incense, oils, crystals, fossils and many different types of gifts. Perhaps if this is your thing, you could buy something from the shop? You can pay using PayPal or major credit cards.

 

Popping Out For Supplies

Japan has some funny names for confectionery and soft drinks. I’m sure for people who have been over here for any amount of time, the novelty has worn off. Not for me.

A: I’m shooting down the combini, want anything getting?
B: Yeh, actually. Get me some ‘Country Ma’am’, ‘Crunky Pop Joy’, and a bottle of ‘Calpis’.
A: They don’t have ‘Calpis’ at this one.
B: Dammit. OK, get me a bottle of ‘Sweat’.

 

Super Potato Retro Video Arcade Chaos

Action Alley

Doosh! Found Super Potato as planned. It’s amazing, but if you want to pick up some archaic silicon, you’d better be packing a full wallet (Japan, being a cash culture, is a place where shops don’t often accept credit cards). That said, you can just as easily treat it like a museum. They have every console I can remember with a seemingly hand-picked selection of all the best and rarest games for them. They also stock a massive range of game soundtracks, including 8-bit, that they play in the shop, and broadcast outside the shop to guide you in. My new favourite hangout though is up on the top floor. A smokey room full of arcade machines, cocktail tables, a life-sized model of Snake from Metal Gear Solid, and some one-armed bandits. The machines are by Tecmo, and alow you to select any game from the extensive library stored within. A bit like MAME, I guess. Thinking about it, they probably are using MAME; I can’t see how else those machines could work. It was also funny how the natives watched my screen out of the corners of their eyes as I started to play X-Men vs Street Fighter, and were shocked when I started stringing combos up. Didn’t they know we imported this stuff into England since the 70’s? As I remember it, Cornwall was where I played the most arcade machines. Back then I didn’t realise that all the good stuff came from Japan.

 

New Bike

My New Bike

In my first post I was on about getting a bike from Muji. Then I realised how much money I’d already spent, so I went to Takeya and picked up a granny bike instead. It was only ¥9000, which is very good considering it has an integrated lock, a dynamo light which you can engage/disengage. It’s pretty clever all the stuff that comes with it. As you can see, it has a basket on the front which perhaps doesn’t look great, but actually it’s come in useful for sticking bags in on the way back from the supermarket. I think I overloaded it last time and almost buckled the wheel going up and down kerbs. The shop I got it from, Takeya-San in Okachimachi (my neighbourhood), consists of more than one building, spread across a few blocks, with the DIY and bike building detached somewhat from the others. The buildings are all tiled purple on the outside and sell everything related to homewares and furniture, as well as cheap supermarket produce, and even fashion, watches and mobile phones. A very useful thing to have on your doorstep. A bike is pretty much essential in Tokyo if you don’t drive, and it’s a good laugh weaving through the pedestrians and other cyclists (cyclists normally ride on the pavement in Tokyo).

 

In Search of the Illusive Super Potato

Super Potato

I live near Akihabara, I have a bike, I have the internet and all the geographical data that comes with it, but I still can’t find Super Potato! If you don’t know what it is: it’s the promised land for nostalgic children of the 80’s and video game freaks. 50,000 old titles for games consoles spanning 20 years. NEO-GEO, SEGA, Nintendo, etc. etc. Take a walk up to the top floor and I hear it has a video arcade full of all the most classic beat ’em ups and other craziness. Looks like I’d better don my Fatal Fury Special and Street Fighter 2 cap! I won’t speak too much else about it, other than to say that I’m going to find it tomorrow or die trying.

UPDATE: I checked the maps again, and it’s a bit embarrassing because it’s so easy to find. I can see where I went wrong though; When I left the house without a print out but extremely confident in my ability to remember the location. Tomorrow – I’m there. Google also told me that Super Potato is a big interior design company based in Tokyo. They recently worked on the design of Caretta Shiodome entertainment complex, which also houses an advertising museum. So I added it to my list.

 

Apartment 201 on flickr

Apartment 201 on flickr

Some photos of my new place are up on flickr, sorry there’s not many of them – I don’t have that many rooms! I’ve only been here a little over a month, and have only been in this place a couple of weeks tops, so still getting settled in. This is my first real experience of Tokyo city life, and it’s great! There’s a panel on the wall where you can arrange for a bath to be run. Automatically! You can also set the temperature, accurate to 1 degree C! Cooking appliances are somewhat compact, but functional. Heaters are standard issue aircon units: bad for keeping you warm in winter, no good for keeping you cool in summer, and great for creating mounds of lint and making you ill. That’s not a gripe though – it’s an observation! It’s a great place, and my ends is a great place to live. Lots of cheap shops and cheap restaurants, and a short walk to electric town, Akihabara.

 

Cheap Cinema Day

Still exploring what’s coming up in terms of Tokyo cinema in the near future, I discovered that 1st March is ‘almost half price cinema day’! The usual ¥1800 entry fee comes down to ¥1000 only (about 5 quid), for a short time (maybe that day only), so I’m hitting Yurakucho to see a movie or two. The problem still remains that the movie will be in Japanese and will have no English subs, unlike the blockbusters shown at Roppongi Hills. I was there the other day for American Gangster. I really wanted to see Sweeney Todd, but majority rules. I’m definately going back to Roppongi Hills in the near future. I also need to tell you about the automated car-parking facilities there, but I still haven’t figured out how they do it yet. Plus I took no pictures last time. I’ve learned my lesson though; I always carry my camera with me from now on. Roll on March 1st!

 

Now Showing at Cinema Artone

Now Showing at Cinema Artone

I love Japanese films, so I was having a look at what was on at the numerous art house cinemas around Tokyo. One I found that looked good was Cinema Artone (which used to be called Cinema Kitazawa, after its location). So I was perusing the listings waiting for something to jump out at me – and everything did! Have a look at a selection of stills from the movies currently on show there (above)!

 

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Laputa: Castle in the SkyAs soon as my projects are out of the way, I’m off to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. So, before I get there I’m watching all my old favourites from the Ghibli collection (I’ve got 13 of their films on an external HD I bought from home, along with the rest of my DVD collection). I bought a cool bed from Takeya for my apartment which you can incline – perfect for watching movies late night – and so I watched Laputa: Castle in the Sky again. I had forgotten just how good this film is, so I’m posting about it here so that anyone who’s into their Anime who hasn’t checked it out can get my recommendation. It’s now my favourite Miyazaki film of all time.

 

Splashdown

Splashdown

So it seemed to me I had landed in a sea of people when the Narita Express left me in Ikebukuro station. I was headed for Kimi Ryokan for my first 4 nights stay, but I’d overlooked the fact that it was going to be rush hour, and I was dragging all my worldly possessions behind me. It was hard work getting synchronised with the flow of traffic. You really knew when you weren’t in it, because moving became almost impossible; everyone was in a hurry.

 

Drifting into Tokyo, ANA Flight 201

Drifting into Tokyo, ANA Flight 201

The flight was great. Complementary Asahi beer and Suntory whisky, the Asahi beer coming in a can that was totally different from the ones you get in the UK. They sort of have ridges around the top of the can, and the aluminium they’re made of is so strong you’d struggle to crush it in your hand. To compliment the booze, there were bags of snacks handed out containing wasabi peas, peanuts, rice crackers, fish crackers(?) etc. I wasn’t that taken by the film choices (I gave up on Rush Hour 4 during the first few minutes, when Chris Tucker was doing Michael Jackson dance moves whilst directing traffic), so I put on the headphones and switched to the music channels. I found something to complete the picture. With Asahi beer, Japanese snacks, and the fried chicken and rice on it’s way, I was able to drift into Tokyo to the sounds of Enka music; a female Japanese singer in this case, which instantly reminded me of a song on the soundtrack to Kill Bill: Vol.1, The Flower of Carnage by Meiko Kaji. At this point I was starting to get excited.

UPDATE: Actually, I did watch a film. It was good too. It was called “The Invitation from Cinema Orion”, a Japanese film with English subs. It’s based on the short story from the best-selling collection “Poppoya” by Jiro Asada. It’s worth a look, in fact they showed it at last year’s Tokyo Film Festival.

 

Tokyo Story Hajime!

It’s finally done. My website about me in Tokyo is complete – and this is the very first post! I had to get it churned out quickly though. I’ve been in Tokyo for 4 weeks, and I’ve got so much stuff to put up, so expect some retrospective postings over the next few days. In a way that’s a good way to work it right now, because I’m not getting to enjoy Tokyo much at the moment. I’m working from morning until night to clear the boards. Things should be back to normal by early March, when I’ll be back out there… Something to invest in at that time: a MUJI bike from the Yurakucho store!