Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

Draft Beer on ANA Flights

Draft Beer on ANA Flights

The Japanese love affair with beer is evident again in this latest move by Japanese airline ANA to install draft beer dispensers in the galleys of their domestic flights. They’ve wisely decided not to offer the service on their international routes, and have also wisely decided to limit the number of glasses available to 20 (40 on one of the Okinawa routes that uses a larger jet), to stop things really getting out of control. Instead, you can enjoy a cold draft beer responsibly at the outrageous cost of ¥1000 (£7, $11, €9) per glass. Initial reports actually show that the drinking vessels will be made of plastic, another good safety move. The big question right now is, which beer company has the contract? There doesn’t seem to be any information anywhere on this, but my money is on Asahi Super Dry. They’re always up for breaking new ground. After all, this is the first time draft beer has been served from a keg on a plane due to the high pressures involved and it has taken a combined effort from ANA, electronics company Hoshizaki Denki, and said unnamed drinks company to make it possible. Anyone who has taken one of the flights and tried it for themselves, please let us know what brand they’re serving in the comments thread.


Hanabi, Summer 2010


It’s the height of summer in Tokyo and all over the city firework displays are being held, as is the tradition all over Japan at this time of year. The Japanese word for fireworks is hanabi 花火, literally: ‘fire flowers’, and this theme influences the way they are designed and appreciated in Japan.

For example, this year, I went to Koto-ku firework display where a commentator introduces each section of the one-and-a-half hour display, explaining which flower the fireworks are supposed to resemble (Japan’s national flower, the chrysanthemum, is pretty common), and sometimes which animal or symbol. I even heard there is a Doraemon head firework at some festivals. As usual, Japan outdoes every other country I know of in these events with huge displays using domestically produced fireworks. Also, there isn’t just one display in Tokyo, but over twenty each attracting thousands of people. As well as Koto-ku, I also made it to a prime spot for downtown Asakusa’s display held on the banks of the Sumida river.

Film fans will recognise the picture that introduces this post as Takeshi Kitano’s painting which was featured in his movie of the same name, Hanabi. If you’re in Tokyo right now, I seriously recommend catching the big one at Tokyo Bay (Aug 14th) and the one in my own neck of the woods, Edogawa-ku (Aug 7th).

UPDATE: Taken with my iPhone, so a bit blurry, but it gives you an idea of size:

Hanabi Firework


9h Capsule Hotel Kyoto

9h Capsule Hotel Kyoto

The capsule hotel concept has been familiar to the Japanese for several decades, but still hasn’t taken off in the west. This may have been because of the often tacky and unrefined nature of the capsule hotels themselves, or an inbuilt response to unfamiliar concepts such as these as being weird and uninviting. Japan has never had any such problem embracing novel or strange solutions to everyday life, but when I was living in the UK, I certainly couldn’t have imagined them taking off. Even so, they would make great alternatives to expensive inner city hotels, could prove extremely useful in airports (as we saw during the recent disruption caused by the Icelandic volcanic eruption), and could even provide shelter for late night revelers in urban areas, maybe even reducing drink driving.

If it ever were to cross the continents and make it to the west, let’s hope it arrives in the form of Kyoto’s new 9h Capsule Hotel designed by Fumie Shibata of Design Studio S. The name 9h comes from the concept of having 1 hour to shower, 7 hours to sleep, and 1 hour to rest (a total of 9 hours), although you can actually stay anything up to 17 hours in one day. The thing that really sets this capsule hotel apart from all the others that have gone before are the futuristic minimalist interiors, excellent facilities and the technologically advanced features, such as the biorhythm-aware Panasonic pod management systems that wake guests individually with simulated dawns of controlled lighting instead of noisy alarm clocks. Really though, it’s the industrial design that I love about this project. It is perfectly aligned with the discerning tastes famous in Kyoto with sleek black, dark wood and brilliant white being found throughout. The design of the electronic elements, the shapes of the capsule windows and the tasteful graphic design further reinforce the Japanese feel and serves to firmly set this apart from the awful Yotel at London Heathrow and makes the Nite Nite hotels look distinctly average.

I’m thinking of taking a trip to Kyoto soon, so I’ll make sure I spend one night here. I’ve never been so excited about the idea of sleeping in any other type of accommodation. That means something, surely.


Asahi Bar Ginza

Asahi Bar Ginza

On Chuo Dori, a.k.a. ‘Ginza Street’ (in Ginza, Tokyo) there’s a new bar open ready for the summer. It’s operated by Asahi, one of Japan’s biggest beverage companies, and sells only their mainstay, flagship brew, Asahi Super Dry. What’s unique is that the beer is freezing cold, as is the interior temperature of the bar – perfect for escaping the balmy Japanese summer.

Asahi Bar Ginza

Each glass costs ¥550, is served at a strict temperature of between 0°c and -2°c, and you can even pour the beer yourself from the bar taps! The temperature of the interior is shown on the outside of the bar and you can just see it in the picture I took at the top of this post. The Asahi Super Dry Extra Cold Bar in Ginza is open now until the end of August 2010.


TiltShift Generator for iPhone

TiltShift Generator for iPhone

The TiltShift Generator iPhone app by Takayuki Fukatsu is part of his popular Toy Camera series. Since moving to my new neighbourhood, I haven’t posted a picture of it as I usually do – so here is the view from my balcony (above) given the TiltShift treatment. Those not familiar with tilt-shift photography can get a definition from Wikipedia here, but the technique produces a picture that simulates a scene in miniature. For those interested in taking tilt-shift pictures themselves there’s the app mentioned in this post as well as another app by Michael Krause simply called TiltShift. The Michael Krause version arguably has more features, but I prefer the Takayuki Fukatsu one which also happens to have a better icon (very important!).


Metro Posters ‘Do it Again’

Metro Posters 'Do it Again'

Bunpei Yorifuji has illustrated a follow up series to the Tokyo Metro ‘manner’ posters that told passengers to ‘do it at home’, ‘at the beach’, ‘on the mountain’ and so on. This new series sends a different message of ‘do it again’, and depicts situations where passengers were considerate to others. I guess there were no more ideas for the original series as they seemed to have covered everything.


Docomo – Who is my Boss?

Docomo - Who is my Boss?

UPDATE: Insiders at NTT Communications (in the same groupd of companies as Docomo) tell me the viral could be a build-up to Docomo’s launch of Micro SIMs sold without handsets, or even the release of its first unlocked handset (legislation in Japan has ruled that carriers must now sell phones unlocked so the customer can switch carrier and keep their existing handset).

There’s a new campaign taking place right now for Japanese mobile phone carrier Docomo, and it has a really crappy URL: However, despite Docomo’s inability to choose a good web address for their viral, they have certainly poured a lot of money into this campaign, with posters literally all over the city and even taking over the huge screens at Shibuya crossing. If you check the website, you’ll see that it’s counting down to something which is going to happen on the 11th May 2010. What could it be? And why is Darth Vader involved? And why is it called ‘Who is my Boss’? Tune in for an update on the 11th (Tuesday).


The Rebuilding of Ginza’s Kabuki-za


I was going to mention this before it actually happened, but I didn’t get around to it: Ginza’s Kabuki-za is now closed, the final farewell performances having been played out and the doors closed to the public for the last time. Now begins the huge task of preparing the building for demolition, which primarily involves emptying it of all the furniture, equipment, Kabuki accoutrements and priceless objects. In the above picture you can see how it looks now, and at the end of this post how it’s going to look when the new building is finished.

For those who are unaware, Kabuki is a highly stylized form of Japanese drama often involving music and dancing. Costumes and makeup tend to be extravagant and the dialogue, an illegible form of archaic Japanese. The practitioners are usually part of a dynasty of such performers and highly revered. Take for example actors such as Nakamura Shikan VII, Sakata Tōjūrō IV, Nakamura Tomijūrō V, Onoe Kikugorō VII, and Ichikawa Danjūrō XII. The latter of which is possibly the most famous.

The company that owns the building, Shochiku Corp., claims the rebuild is due to concerns over whether the building could withstand a major earthquake, but I suspect there are other motives. Land in Ginza is the most expensive anywhere in the world, and the current low-rise Kabuki-za sprawls over a large area. It’s obvious that the land could be better exploited, and as you walk around the back of the Kanuki-za it actually looks a bit tatty in places. Personally, I like it. It reminds me of the bathhouse from the famous Studio Ghibli anime Sen to Chihiro no Kami-kakushi (Spirited Away). The project is expected to be finished in 2013.

New Kabuki-za


Washed Out and Toro y Moi

There’s a few new low-fi synth-pop acts based in America’s South East, specifically the states of South Carolina and Georgia. It seems as though the region is set to spawn a new sub-genre and the main two pioneers of the sound are doing the rounds on YouTube. I can’t remember how I found it, but they’re going to form a double bill of sorts for this musical interlude.

(Toro y Moi – Talamak, Washed Out – Feel it All Around)

As a random tie-in to this musical interlude special, here’s Toro y Moi secretly playing a cameo in Uniqlo’s UT promotion this year:

Toro y Moi for UT


Noh at Meiji-jingu

Noh at Meiji-jingu

This past Monday saw a performance of Japan’s ancient musical drama, Noh at Meiji-jingu in Yoyogi park. I got there with a friend at around 11.45 ready for the start at noon. At the beginning the stage was covered in white cloth, which men in Japanese traditional dress removed about 5 minutes before to reveal a beautifully polished stage. The setting was perfect, with a wedding procession passing through the inner courtyard of the shrine shortly after we arrived, and then, with just 60 seconds to go before the start, a booming Taiko drum heralded the arrival of the performers and for the duration it was completely silent. The man you see in the picture above is playing the part of a Samurai telling of how he lost in battle. There’s no hope of understanding the dialogue however, as it’s spoken in an archaic form of Japanese with peculiar enunciation. Still, I would definitely recommend seeing it if you have a chance, it completely blew me away.


Nissan Land Glider – The Zen of Electric Cars

Nissan Land Glider

Now showing in the Nissan Gallery Ginza is Nissan’s new concept car, and I got this snap of it (above). It seats just one person, is zero-emission and has a steering wheel like a yoke from an aeroplane cockpit which, as you turn it, causes the car to lean into corners. The vehicle is practically silent and looks graceful in this YouTube video:


Wakadaisho Vintage Skate Shop

Wakadaisho Vintage Skate Shop

In Shimoktazawa (where else?) you can find a store called Wakadaisho, stocking retro skate clothing and accessories. They even have late 1980’s Vision Street Wear sneakers and Santa Cruz screaming hand T-shirts. Powell Perelta’s great logo T’s are also on offer, so for me, this is a must visit on my next trip to Shimokitazawa.

Via CNNGo.


Warehouse Game Centre

Warehouse Game Centre

Moving out to my new neighbourhood means I’m just a little bit further from popular west-side areas like Shibuya and Naka-Meguro, but even in anonymous areas like Nishi-Kasai you can still uncover some interesting places. Take for example my local video game arcade which appears to be a huge rusting armour-clad fortress. The cliche is completed using the font that Hollywood murdered: Bank Gothic. Regardless, this is a BIG video arcade!

You just don’t get the planning permission to build stuff like this in other cities. It reminds me of what one travel writer said about Tokyo. They said “Tokyo is a city devoid of beauty”. They were exaggerating of course, but in the classic sense it’s true to some extent. You can visit any city in the world and see far more historic buildings and monuments, and you certainly wouldn’t see anything as outlandish as this. But, for some people this surreal image of the future in a city akin to a giant, sprawling theme park is far more appealing. I got more satisfaction from visiting Nakagin Capsule Tower than I did visiting any temple or shrine in the city. For me the real cultural landmarks are ones such as these. Giant robot statues, opulent shopping centres, and bright neon hoardings.


New Uniqlo Shibuya Dougenzaka

Uniqlo Shibuya Dougenzaka

When I bought my UT Four Tet T-shirt the other week, the bag was advertising a new Dougenzaka branch. A little research on the internet confirmed this. There’s now a big Uniqlo on the Dougenzaka thoroughfare of Shibuya. With all the Uniqlo stores dotted around Tokyo, you’d think this was of very little importance unless you live near in or around Shibuya, but I’ve noticed that the big stores do tend to cater for their respective neighbourhoods. It’s the same with other ‘fast fashion’ brands like H&M – Harajuku is stocked differently to Ginza. Also, in the smaller stores, popular items sell out fast, whereas you have more chance of finding the best of the new season at the really big stores in Shinjuku, Ginza, Shibuya and the speciality UT (Uniqlo T-Shirts) store in Harajuku.

This new store opened just this month, on the 5th of March and is being referred to as the new Uniqlo flagship store. It’s attached to Shibuya Station apparently although I’m not sure yet as I haven’t checked this out for myself. It’s also rumoured to be stocking items only usually sold in the London stores (although I think this may have been a limited offer and may already be over). On top of this, it’s supposed to also specialise in the sale of Uniqlo’s range of jeans, UJ.


Boards of Canada – Sixtyniner

Musical interlude from BOC. The idea is with these posts is that you just click play and you have something to listen to while you read.