Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

JAL Retro Logo Reversion

JAL Crane Logo

In a similar move to the stricken Swiss national carrier back in 2001/2002, when they appointed media maverick Tyler Brûlé and his company Winkreative to reposition the brand, the similarly stricken JAL has also sought to bring back the glory days by reintroducing their original logo; the red crane on white. The crane is a symbol of Japan, and in the logo is found melded into the red-circle-rising-sun of the national flag. As well as inspiring national pride it also has the retro appeal that worked for Swiss. I’m all for it personally and can’t wait to see the first repainted 767’s on the tarmac in Narita airport appearing through April. I’m on my way back to the UK around that time with any luck so I’ll be passing through the airport then and will try to get some pictures.


The Way I Work

The Way I Work

I don’t usually put techie stuff on here, but I wanted to talk about what, in my view, is the best web development environment you can have for a freelancer or a small team, especially if you’re pushed for space and have a restrictive budget. Now I don’t care what other people think but I believe that if you’re involved in designing interfaces and user experiences, and especially if you’re in any way involved in typography, you should be on a Mac. I live in Tokyo, so space is at a premium, therefore I use a MacBook Pro to save space and also to give myself the option of working in a cafe or while traveling. After all, with the right amount of RAM the MBP is as powerful as a desktop, give or take. Having said that, for design work the screen on the laptop is probably not sufficient, so I also have an Apple Widescreen Cinema Display. I usually run the MacBook Pro in clamshell mode when it’s connected to the Cinema Display, although it is of course possible to use the laptop screen as a second monitor. I have a wired network at home because speeds are reliable that way, and I don’t want to be bathed in constant radiation living in such a small apartment. At the center of this is the network hub which is in turn connected to the broadband router. The network hub allows me to easily add other machines to the network should I be working with someone else on a project and also connects to the server which is a Mac Mini. The Mac Mini is perfect as a server as it is small, silent and energy efficient. The great thing about Mac OS X is that I can schedule it to shutdown and startup at any given time. Right now it automatically shuts down at midnight (I seldom work past that time nowadays) and then restarts at 8.00am. This saves power and is therefore better for the environment. When the server starts up, Apache and MySQL start up automatically too and I don’t have to do anything. The server sits on a bookshelf and has no keyboard or mouse connected to it. If I need to administer the server, I just open up Mac OS X’s screen sharing feature and do everything through there. Backups are made through Mac OS X’s Time Machine to an external HD, so client’s work and all other data on both the workstation and the server is safe should anything happen. Couple this with SVN version control for scripts and it’s all I will ever need for my home development environment. It’s not even that expensive!


Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship Yamato

If you hurry to the cinema in Tokyo now, you can still catch the live action version of the original animation series Space Battleship Yamato. It was released in cinemas around December 1st but will continue throughout January. I’d actually meant to post something about it before Christmas, but forgot, what with the mayhem of celebrations. Not that it’s a big deal though, as I’ve heard negative reviews and, looking at the trailer, it seems like it’s going to be one hell of a cheesy movie! On the other hand though, the design of the Yamato stays roughly the same, adhering the uniquely Japanese tendency in sci-fi to give existing or traditional technology futuristic capabilities. On the bridge of the Yamato is the captain compete with naval uniform and hat, after all, the Yamato was based on the real World War II battleship of the same name. And if you take a look at Galaxy Express 999, you can see an intergalactic steam train. You can also see blimps and propeller planes from a parallel universe in some of the works of Studio Ghibli. This is something I really like about Japanese anime and sci-fi, although I probably won’t be going to see this live action version of Space Battleship Yamato. Steven Tyler has done the soundtrack and it’s full of cheesy rock ballads, which is an immediate fail. Here’s the trailer:


Enter The Void – Opening Credits

Although the actual film itself is horribly acted, farcical and depicts Tokyo in such a way as to miss the point entirely, the opening credits of Gaspar Noe’s new movie Enter The Void are worth the price of entry by themselves.


Ganbare Untenshi!!

Ganbare Untenshi

This game is genius if not a little old, and at the detriment of the rest of the modern world, is only available here in Japan. If you can’t tell from the picture above (taken at one of my my local video arcades), this is a game in which you assume the role of a Japanese train driver on the Enoden Line and several other tourist lines located along the Enoshima beach area near Kamakura (outside Tokyo to the South West). These lines are famous for having old-style engines and carriages and tend to travel along the coast or through densely built-up areas of traditional Japanese housing, as well as stopping at some of the famous sightseeing spots in the area.

Your mission is to uphold the perfectionist ethos of the entire Japanese train network in general by driving the train observing signals and speed regulations and of course arriving at the stations at the exact designated times, plus/minus 4 or 5 seconds to avoid picking up penalties and thus maximizing your score. Penalties are also incurred for braking too sharply (causing the passengers annoyance) or for forgetting to trigger the announcements, and so on. You also have to open the doors having perfectly lined them up with the markers on the platform. Again, inaccuracy will get you in trouble and cost you points (possibly even resulting in a Game Over if you really mess up). The controls are supposed to closely mimic those of the actual trains in real life, so if the driver were to have a heart attack on the Enoden line, rather than hurtling through stations and ending up in a high speed collision, you could probably find a train geek somewhere on board capable of rescuing everyone in a smooth, controlled and orderly manner; as this is only one of a whole series of games totalling almost 30 different versions found in arcades, on Windows PC and on PS2, and is extremely popular here in Japan.

As a special bonus, here is a YouTube video of the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) version:


Mutekiya Ramen Shop, Ikebukuro

Mutekiya Ramen

It’s about time we had another food post. Frankly any post would be welcome around here as I haven’t been posting much recently, I know. I haven’t been resting on my laurels though, I’ve got plenty of freelance work occupying most of my time not to mention the redesign of my personal site as well as a redesign for this blog which are both well underway. Whilst we’re waiting for those to launch, why not head over to one of the best Tonkotsu Ramen restaurants in Tokyo? Mutekiya in Ikebukuro isn’t very big so you can expect a wait of up to 45 minutes but, once you’ve eaten there once, you’d gladly wait double that in order to gain the privilege of eating what is one of the most well-balanced Tonkotsu Ramen dishes you’ve ever tasted. It’s not much more expensive than average, but all of the ingredients seem to have been poured over by the 3 chefs who run this place. The menma (fermented bamboo shoots) are the best I’ve tasted and the soft-boiled egg is always cooked to perfection (as you can see in the picture above). And then there’s the chashu (roast fatty pork) which is also incredible. People say though, that the most important element of a bowl of Ramen is the soup. Well, this is tonkotsu (pork bone broth) and I honestly think it’s one of the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s not too oily and not too salty so it doesn’t get sickly by the end of the meal. If you do need to cleanse your palette because of pork overload, you can do so with the free jasmine tea they offer on the counter. In that sense, it’s quite a refined Ramen experience and one that I thoroughly recommend to anyone living in, or thinking of going to, Tokyo.

1-17-1 Minami Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
Google Map


Canon EOS Kiss X4

Canon EOS Kiss X4

As an early Christmas present my folks got me a new camera as I seem to be doing more and more with photographs and video these days. It’s only an entry-level DSLR, but it’s the Canon EOS Kiss X4, the brand new offering from Canon and the image quality, the controls, the hi-def video and the body design are all impressive. I couldn’t decide whether to buy a Nikon D90 or even Nikon’s cheapest DSLR, the 3100, but after I tried them in Bic Camera I went with the Canon.

I still don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to professional photography but I’ve used it a lot since I bought it and I’ve exhausted the preset modes and the ‘creative’ setting which allows you some control over exposure and depth of field etc. so I think I’m ready to start digging around in the full manual settings. The pictures you see below in the post about the changes on Ginza Street in the last year were all taken with this camera but I still have some way to go until I’m getting the exact results I’m after.


Four Tet – Japan Tour 2010

Four Tet - Japan Tour 2010

This is a late notification that Four Tet will be playing at Club Eleven in Tokyo this Friday 3rd Dec. This is a big deal in itself because Four Tet is one of my favourite artists, but on top of that, Club Eleven is the newly reopened, legendary Club Yellow. Club Yellow closed down a while back but has recently reopened with some nice new touches inside. I’ve never been there but everyone I speak to says it was their favourite club in Tokyo. Surely this is a must-go-to event? Unfortunately for me, I have to get up early Saturday morning and I have the JLPT N3 language test on Sunday, so it’s actually a no-go, but please get yourself there if you’re in town. Failing that, get hold of the new album, There’s Love in You.


A Lot Can Happen in a Year in Tokyo

Ginza MitsukoshiMitsukoshi Department Store, Ginza

In addition to the multitudes of building projects taking place in Tokyo right now, not to mention the rebuilding of the Kabuki-Za and the construction of the New Tokyo Tower, there are areas that see concentrated redevelopment, one of which is Ginza’s Chuo Dori, a.k.a. Ginza Street.

In just one year lots of new buildings have shot up along this famous shopping thoroughfare. Most of the new development has come at the Shinbashi end of the street where the fast fashion and middle level brands have asserted their presence. This seems to be in line with the current decline of the luxury brands in favour of cheaper alternatives that has followed in the wake of the economic crisis.

Still, the rate of change has been staggering. The first major project you see as you walk from the Kyobashi end towards Shinbashi is the Mitsukoshi department store renovation with its new building at the rear. The new building is even larger than its predecessor which has had a facelift and the interior completely replaced.

Mitsukoshi Department Store Annex, GinzaMitsukoshi Department Store Annex, Ginza

Then, if you walk fifty yards further on, you come to Uniqlo which has expanded this year to occupy two buildings instead of just the previous one which is next door. This means menswear gets its own building now, also featuring the +J range.

Uniqlo GinzaUniqlo, Ginza

Down from Uniqlo is a controversial new store, Abercrombie & Fitch. They caused complaint after their store opened this year due to the loud music and the overpowering odour of Abercrombie & Fitch aftershave that wafted from the entrance. Walls, floors, racks and displays are all sprayed at regular intervals and rumour has it that it is also expelled from vents and air conditioners. In the warmer months the guys on the door (there are always two guys standing at the entrance) are bare-chested and look uncomfortable as they try to jig along to the awful dance music blaring inside (staff’s orders). Apparently you can find the same inside but I’ve never been able to bring myself to enter. Still, the building is impressive enough and the brand seems to have survived its first year to the chagrin of many fashion and marketing aficionados.

Abercrombie & Fitch, GinzaAbercrombie & Fitch, Ginza

The final major new building is a little further down the street next to Zara and H&M. Yamaha has built a huge store there with instrument showrooms on several floors and a 333 seat concert hall. My favourite section has to be the electronic instruments and accessories, but all musicians should visit here for range of products often not available outside of Japan and the interior is as impressive as the exterior.

Yamaha Store, GinzaYamaha Store, Ginza

So, all-in-all it’s been a busy year on Ginza Street with lots of changes and interesting new shops that have reinforced its reputation of being one of the most upscale, upmarket and vibrant shopping districts in the world. The scale of construction in this area alone has been massive but there are yet other pop-up shops and smaller construction projects I haven’t mentioned such as the Asahi Extra Cold Bar that was around temporarily during the summer and the construction work still going on in secret behind screen walls and advertising hoardings probably due to be unveiled in the new year, so the pace of progress shows no sign of easing.


One of my photographs gets printed on the back cover of the 2011 Hobonichi Brochure!

Hobonichi Brochure

I’m certainly not a professional photographer, so I’m particularly pleased to have one of my photographs printed on the back cover of the new 2011 Hobonichi Techou Brochure! I mentioned the Hobonichi Techo line of personal organisers in a previous post because they’re actually really well designed. It looks like next years collection is going to feature a collaboration with non other than Yoshida & Co.’s Porter bag label. Thanks go to Erica for sending it in – it’s the one on the right with the rainbow in the picture above. Taken back when I used to live in the projects!


At Hong Kong Airport

Hong Kong Airport

Just checking in from Hong Kong Airport, where it’s clouded over with wind and rain. It was a bumpy landing, and I’m only here for another hour or so before I head to London. The city looks great from the window of this observation deck despite the miserable weather. So far, the customer service has been miserable too. Is that because I’m used to Japan? No, actually, the last woman I asked for information was totally out of order. This wi-fi is terrible too, but at least it’s free. I’m not staying anyway.


Ghibli Game, Ni No Kuni

Ghibli Game, Ni no Kuni

Ghibli are working on a video game. I still don’t own a Wii or a PS3, but then something always comes along that tempts me to buy one, like this game for instance, Ni no Kuni (Second Land). It appears to be an RPG in which Studio Ghibli (responsible for the animated movies Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away) are in charge of the character, world design, background artwork and storyline, and possibly even the gameplay too. If you thought that was a good idea, you’ve also got the legendary Joe Hisaishi composing the musical score. Game development is by Level 5 and it will be available in 2011 on both the Nintendo DS and the Playstation 3. See the trailers for more details, you really have to see it.


Visit to Muji Village

Muji Village Gallery

This has actually been on the back burner since early Spring this year, and it’s only now that I came across the great brochure pictured at the bottom of this post while rummaging through my bookcase which finally reminded that I should post this information as a continuation of my previous post on Muji Village from last year.

Well, by now, some of the new tenants should be settled into their new Muji apartments on the east side of the city. The apartments went on the market at about the same time as I visited the show homes based off-site in the gallery building you can see at the top of this post, which would have been around late February this year.

I was shown around the show home by a guy from the real estate firm collaborating with Muji on this project, Mitsubishi Jisho, and he didn’t fit the role at all. Sporting a dark blue, double-breasted suit jacket with large gold buttons, he jarred with the Muji brand image and was the picture of the slimy salesman. I wonder if he had realised that I wasn’t really planning to buy an apartment and was only there as a sort of architecture tourist?

Muji Village Model
A model showing the layout of the common space

The show home was impressive though, but the Muji aesthetic seemed to have been watered down by Mitsubishi contributing to the interiors and the furniture. This said, I still would’ve taken one in an instant should I have been in the market for a new apartment – the kitchen by itself was enough to sell me.

After the gallery visit I declined the salesman’s offer of accompanying me to the actual site and took a walk there myself to see the exterior. What I saw was nothing different to any other new apartment building in Tokyo, except it had been left plain white with patches of grey (no doubt at Muji’s request). The complex was still deserted at this time but the building work was finished inside and out. Muji Village banners were draped on the fences surrounding the grounds.

Muji Village
The fairly dull facade to the complex

Muji Village Banner
A banner on the perimeter fence

As I left the Muji Village Gallery I was given a buyers’ pack containing various goodies in a typical Muji mini tote bag – the kind of canvas ones you get in their stores. Inside was my free bottle of chilled green tea, various small pamphlets, salesman Tony’s eyesore of a business card and this great brochure (pictured below). It seems like they spared no expense printing this hard-bound, thick-spined, full-colour photo book:

Muji Village Book
Muji Village Brochure

All in all, not a bad day out.


Climbing Fuji

Mount Fuji

On the 29th of August 2010 we started climbing Mt. Fuji, and on the morning of the 30th of August this is what greeted us as we arrived at the summit. It was without doubt one of the most physically challenging things I’ve done and the altitude sickness was a big problem for me, but this view made it worthwhile. I definitely won’t be doing it again in future though.


iPhone Castlevania Encore of the Night

iPhone Castlevania Encore of the Night

If you’ve played the original PS1 version of this game, you have to get this iPhone version! It’s based on the cult Konami classic Castlevania – Symphony of the Night, famous for its musical score (hence the title). This new iPhone version is actually a puzzle-based RPG, unlike the original which was an action RPG platform game, but it still retains the original music! I was going to play this game whilst travelling on the Tokyo Metro, but I ended up playing it at every opportunity, as should you.
Download Castlevania Encore of the Night from the App Store