I don’t know a great deal about architecture but I know what I like, and I’ve expressed love for the Nakagin Capsule Tower on more than one occasion on this very blog, so I couldn’t believe my luck when I heard about the METABOLISM – The City Of The Future exhibition at Mori Art Museum in Roppongi, featuring my favourite building. Not only could you see design drawings and advertisements for the Capsule Tower from the 70’s, but there was also a short film detailing the design and construction of the building and featuring interviews with a dapper, younger-day Kisho Kurokawa, the man behind the building. Moreover, there were buildings, designs on cities, marine cities and enormously ambitious living configurations (most of which have never been constructed) by a group of Kisho Kurokawa’s contemporaries of the Metabolism movement I’d never heard of. The exhibition also put on display the original architectural models, now practically antiques. The exhibition is as much about post-war to present-day graphic design as it is about architecture, so I was drooling over a wall filled with the participating countries’ pamphlets for the 1970 World Expo in Osaka. As well as being beside myself with joy at seeing the making of Nakagin Capsule Tower on the big screen, I was also made aware of buildings in Japan designed in a similar vein that I had never seen before, a couple of which are located in Kyoto. So, I’ve decided to take a trip to Kyoto as soon as I can. No need to rush, but do go and see this exhibition which is open until 15th Jan 2012.
It’s more than a week since Steve Jobs sadly passed away, and outside the Apple Store in Tokyo’s most famous shopping district of Ginza, tributes continue to pile-up in the form of flowers, cards, post-it notes and even half-eaten apples. I’m sure it’s the same outside Apple Stores all over the world – I just thought I’d post this to show that Japan is no exception. Devices here have been hugely popular, although a little bit slow to get started, and up until now, only available on one carrier, Softbank. All this is set to change with the release of the iPhone 4S (the iPhone 4Steve) as it will be available soon also on AU, a really popular carrier with a good brand image. This may be why pre-orders and early adoptions of the 4S in Japan have smashed the previous record set by the iPhone 4. It might also be attributed to the death of Steve Jobs pushing this release to the fore. And of this I think Steve Jobs would be very happy; even in death he was launching and promoting the Apple products he loved so much.
In a similar vein to the previous post, I thought I’d post another character which I kind of like and it can currently be seen everywhere, from trains to Izakaya to TV as a result of the Japanese Highball boom. Highball is simply whisky and soda in a tall glass with ice and maybe a slice of lemon. Regardless, Suntory has made it one of the most popular drinks in Japan through an aggressive advertising campaign featuring Uncle Tory. He’s the old guy you see in the picture above. Here’s another pic of him enjoying some Suntory time.
There’s a pretty interesting story behind this guy because he was actually originally designed back in 1958 by then Suntory employee Ryohei Yanagihara. Tory has since been popping up in Suntory advertising campaigns ever since and again he’s back this year and is one of the real advertising icons of 2011. The style is all retro European animation meets Saul Bass which is win-win as far as I’m concerned!
Looking through a collection of recent photos, I realised I had quite a few pictures I’d taken of signs and logos where I really liked the illustration they used. That lead me to realise that this is a major reason why I choose to live in Tokyo. The visual language of the Japanese would be considered so esoteric by people back in the UK. For me, it’s enigmatic and familiar at the same time, often incorporating European and American iconography that is then twisted or exaggerated or even overlayed with oriental elements to align with the tastes of the Japanese. The above rabbit motif for example I saw on the sign above a cleaners, and the below image is stuck to the door of my elevator in my apartment building.
It’s basically warning you to avoid getting your hand trapped in the elevator door. This overlaps somewhat with another area of visual communication loved by the Japanese: diagrams and infographics. These can be found everywhere, from leaflets to toilets, even on restaurant menus. Here’s a typical example:
Although the above diagram looks pretty hard to fathom, there are much worse to be found, especially in pamphlets and promotional material from banks and mobile phone companies. I don’t think anyone understands them, they just look reassuringly informative. The next one I took outside a restaurant in Kayabacho. It’s obviously a Sumo wrestler, so often associated with food, but I just liked the style of the way it was drawn. If you were so inclined, you could easily create a flickr set full of interesting restaurant signs from Tokyo. Sometimes you even get robotic crabs or mechanized moving chopsticks lifting noodles out of a ramen bowl. White, back-lit boxes like this one are very common though.
One place you might not expect to find good illustration is on a carton of milk, but in Japan it even finds its way onto those. Like in the following example which is a mark for the Japanese milk industry. It’s similar to the rabbit at the top of this post in the sense that it’s got all the hallmarks of vector-based illustration software written all over it (literally). Even so, it’s well executed and I liked it when I noticed it on the side of my carton of milk I bought from the supermarket. I think it was Meiji brand.
One final one I wanted to post is one I’ve been seeing everyday on the train since Suntory started this new campaign to promote its black oolong tea as a health product. According to the scary looking guy in the next picture you can reduce the amount of fat your body gains when eating fatty foods by drinking it. Love this character. He’s obviously from an old animation show but I don’t know which one. Please let me know if you know who this guy is:
UPDATE: I’ve been told that this guy is actually a slightly modified version of Boris Badenov from 60’s animation Boris and Natasha. He may also have appeared in Rocky & Bullwinkle? Thanks to Melissa Pouridas for the info.
UPDATE 2: Another reader (check the comments thread) has told me that this character is from a manga and anime and his name is The Laughing Salesman or Warau Serusuman (笑うセールスマン). I watched a couple of episodes and this guy is seriously disturbing. Whether or not the character was inspired by Boris Badenov is open to debate. Warau Serusuman first appeared in the manga BIG COMIC in 1968 as Black Salesman and Boris Badenov first appeared in Rocky and Bullwinkle in 1959. Boris’ hat and trenchcoat is very generic so it could be argued that the link is tenuous at best. Thanks to British artist Wil Overton for the info this time.
UPDATE 3: On the salesman’s business card, his name reads Moguro Fukuzou – a very strange name in Japanese, but his real name all the same, and his occupation reads Kokoro no Sukima (ココロのスキマ) which I think means cleansing of the heart. So, he’s a quasi-supernatural character who spiritually purifies base and vulgar salarymen!
As part of their Metro Smile initiative, Tokyo Metro are introducing iPads for station staff to use in order to help people navigate the complicated subway system. They can plan routes, zoom and pan an interactive network map, and also access station plans that show the exits and platforms, etc. I think this is aimed at people from out of town, tourists and the elderly. I could never see myself ever needing to use this service. If you’ve got an iPhone, this service is completely redundant, and even if you haven’t, I would say the map above the ticket machine is enough for people who’ve been living in Tokyo for any period of time. The fact that they are using iPads though, shows how the Japanese have really embraced Apple products, since the iPhone and iPad came out especially. In that sense, I’m all for it – regardless of how useless it is to me.
Summer is still very much with us here in Tokyo – it’s still hot and humid and free time is usually spent sitting in the park listening to music. You can however feel that Autumn might be on its way, so here is a new episode of Radio Tokyo to suit. I don’t really prefer any particular genre when it comes to music, but a phenomenon that pretty much sums up my summer of 2011 is the continued rise of throwback sub genres of U.S. indie synthpop, namely Glo-Fi and Chill Wave, Dream Pop amongst others. It seems like the rehash of the 80’s sound is set to continue and a few proponents of this mainly American sound seem to be channeling The Beach Boys (in a good way). This ties in pretty well with my summer because I’ve been getting more nostalgic in my hobbies and the way I dress and we’ve been playing a lot of old school video games in this ¥50 arcade in Shibuya. So without any further ado, click to listen below and check the playlist:
Despicable Dogs – Small Black
Slow Peels – Com Truise
Kim & Jessie – M83
Collapsing At Your Doorstep – Air France
Stay Close – Delorean
Burn Bridges – Dom
Please Stay – Summer Heart
Swimming Field – Memory Tapes
You – Gold Panda
David – The Radio Dept.
Midnight City – M83
View all podcasts in the Radio Tokyo series and download this episode here.
As has become customary for us, we attended the Sumida Fireworks Festival this year for the 4th time I think, since I came to Japan. It was spectacular as usual and crowded as usual also. Thanks to the British and Irish pub, The Warrior Celt, in Ueno we had one of the best spots. Actually, some trees did kind of get in the way but the fact is we had an enormous private space, whereas most other people were standing room only, squashed into the public areas often with nowhere to sit or with completely obscured views of the fireworks. In that sense we were really lucky, so thanks to the organisers Andy and Miwa for securing the spot.
I also took my new Canon EOS Kiss X4, also known as the 550D/Rebel T2i. It was the first time for me to shoot fireworks so it took me a while to set it up to get some OK pictures. Also, the wind was blowing straight towards us so the smoke was drifting and obscuring the fireworks and this was much more noticeable in the camera which was using a slow shutter speed and a tripod. Still, I was pretty pleased with the results as a ‘first attempt’ and it was good learning experience. Also, I have to say thanks to Yasuo-San who was on-hand to give me tips and advice on how to best set up the camera for fireworks.
This year, 50% of fireworks displays in the greater Tokyo area were cancelled in respect to those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region. There was also a set of loud ‘bangers’ kind of like a military salute halfway through the display. Tokyo is virtually back to normal, but people haven’t forgotten about those who died or those without homes in the north of Japan.
As of tomorrow, Loft will be opening their doors to customers in their giant new store right next to MUJI in Yurakucho, central Tokyo. If you’re not familiar with Loft, let me direct you to their website – but if you can’t be bothered to click, they’re basically a designer homewares and stationery store. I usually go there to get my diaries and planners that I usually end up not using. I’m going to try to pick up one of the new Harris TweedHobonichi Techo if I can beat the crowds.
Two MUJI posts in a row? Bear with me, this is important. Well, the interior is not completely new but it’s a major refurbishment with a lot of new sections/features. As well as the entrance area on the first floor being completely changed, and the layout altered, there’s also a new MUJI Megane (glasses/spectacles) department, Atelier MUJI has been updated, MUJI house has been completely changed plus loads of other cosmetic changes. All this via MUJI’s Facebook page. I’ll be there tomorrow to take a look and to see the new Loft store in the same building. That opens tomorrow (1st September).
When I have time there’s nothing I like more than strolling over to Muji Yurakucho (the Tokyo flagship store) and going into Meal MUJI and grabbing some lunch. The lunchtime and dinnertime offerings mainly consist of a 3 or 4 option deli plate. You can get a combination of hot and cold dishes cooked on the premises. In fact, you can see the chefs at work in the kitchen through large glass windows. They also bake bread and cakes which are sold in the bakery area, which I also highly recommend over any of the Japanese supermarket offerings or the overpriced department store boutique bakery products.
The food is pretty simple and perhaps portion size is a little small, however everything tastes good and is really nutritious and healthy made with organic produce and quality ingredients. I usually get the 4 option plate with the homemade miso soup which you can see above and that comes to ¥1080, which is reasonable. The plate above consists of tandoori chicken, green pesto ratatouille, pumpkin mash and vegetable curry; rice and miso soup.
For the second in the Radio Tokyo series, we will be exploring soundscapes befitting the metropolis. Post-dubstep IDM with plenty of dark undertones and melancholic aural atmospheres in this decidedly city-centric episode ode to vacant plots, government housing projects and urban decay. Showcasing in Volume 2 will be mostly artists from Warp and Hyperdub imprints. Here’s the playlist:
Forgive – Burial
Digital Fauna – Zomby
Out In The Streets – Africa Hitech
Foil – Autechre
Flat Of The Blade – Massive Attack
Klavierwerke – James Blake
124 – Photek
Midnight Request Line – Skream
Spicy Sammich – Flying Lotus
Gangslap – Africa Hitech
View all podcasts in the Radio Tokyo series and download this episode here.
When I first came to Tokyo I was planning to do this. It was on my list of things to do, along with; ride the Shinkansen, read Japanese manga, etc. However, I’ve only just got round to doing it now, after being here for over 3 years.
People have suggested exporting the concept of the Japanese capsule hotel to other parts of the world, but I can’t see it being popular in places like US and Europe. For me it remains something which can only exist in Japan. I personally think it’s a shame as I very much enjoyed my stay at one in Shibuya, central Tokyo on Monday night, but for precisely that reason – it’s unlike any other accommodation I’ve stayed in before. It’s bizarre for me but at the same time exhilarating. Not having a clue what to do, puzzling over truly baffling flow charts and diagrams in the lobby and in the elevator, not knowing what the elevator door was going to reveal when they slid open on curiously labelled floors. It turns out the Rest Room was not in fact a toilet but was filled with massage chairs and snoring salarymen with the shopping channel playing on a huge flatscreen TV. It was then I had my first massage chair experience.
After you get your ticket to stay the night from the vending machine in the lobby, you receive your first key. This key opens a small locker in a carpeted area off the lobby in which you must remove your shoes (as is usual in any home or place of lodgings in Japan), and place them in the locker. You then trade this key for another, larger key which opens another locker on the second floor, accessible by the nearby elevator. The larger locker upstairs contains your relax wear. Kind of short pyjamas with a distinctly Japanese feel as the two large sides of the loose jacket cross each other and tie off to the side, the sleeves are short but gape open around the wrists like a yukata. You also get a small and a large towel for bathing. This is where I would be heading next I had decided as I was feeling pretty terrible having been out all day in the Tokyo summer heat and pollution. The bathroom is a typical Japanese sento style affair with two large public baths, one hot, one cold. You shower first on a stool then cover yourself as best you can with your smaller towel and slip into one of the main baths. I didn’t stay long as I was curious about my capsule on the 7th floor.
It was as expected: a capsule. I was chuckling to myself at the incredulity of it, and also at the guy beneath me who was snoring loudly with one foot sticking out of his pod. I guessed there was more than a few drunk guys who had to be at work the following day. I used a small ladder to climb into the capsule, which was suprisingly comfortable to lie in, just not built for doing anything else.
I turned on the TV and watched that for a while. There was an adult channel which I heard was rumoured to exist in each capsule hotel, and that proved to be accurate. I can’t imagine how anyone can watch it however, surrounded by strangers. The thought crossed my mind of previous guests that had stayed in pod 712 and that made it all the more difficult to sleep.
I awoke early and the view from my floor allowed me to get a decent shot of people walking to work. There was a Matsuya restaurant across the street so I had breakfast there. Sausage, egg, salad, miso soup, nattou, dried seaweed and pickles. Another must-do crossed off my list, I thought.
I’m now the proud owner of the Tokyobike I’ve been planning to buy from pretty much as soon as they were introduced. I decided on the SS model. Not only are they my initials, but also it’s cheaper and lighter than the Sport 9S. It doesn’t have gears which makes it a little tough up hill, but the way I look at it is, it’s better exercise. Currently going everywhere on it, and loving the fact that you see stuff that you wouldn’t otherwise see riding the metro. You don’t have to squeeze onto packed trains, you save money on tickets and you’re free to return home whenever you like. I definitely should’ve done this before!
A little foray into the art of Podcasting here. The first in a series of radio broadcasts / mixes. This first one is something of an experiment. Haven’t gotten used to the software yet, so not as well made as I’d like, but still; this first episode takes an aeronautical theme, inspired by the airliners that pass over my house on their way to the newly opened international runway at Tokyo Haneda Airport.
Blue Calx – Aphex Twin
Wing Body Wing – Four Tet
Amo Bishop Roden – Boards of Canada
Hilarious Movie of the 90’s – Four Tet
Genshi – Susumu Yokota
Circling – Four Tet
Cocoon – Bjork
Goodbye – Kevin Shields
There is a Number of Small Things – Mum
Pink Stones – Memory Tapes
Z Twig – Aphex Twin
Auto Pilot – Lusine icl
View all podcasts in the Radio Tokyo series and download this episode here.