Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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Flowers Outside The Ginza Apple Store

Flowers Outside The Ginza Apple Store

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 The Glitter

This is the movie I made to celebrate the millions of neon lights in Tokyo. In Tokyo you can’t see the stars at night due to light pollution, but that’s OK, the Japanese made their own constellations. Next time you’re in Tokyo at night, remember to look up!


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.


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.


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


Uniqlo x Domino Records T-Shirts: Four Tet

Uniqlo Four Tet T-Shirt

I was in the Ginza Uniqlo store, recently expanded with a dedicated building for men, this is now one of the best Uniqlo stores in the city (the others being Shinjuku, and the newly opened Shibuya Dougenzaka store). Whilst browsing I saw the new Uniqlo x Domino Records collab featuring T-shirts of The Kills and Four Tet. I love Uniqlo and I love Four Tet, so this is a win-win situation for me this spring. Plus, they only cost ¥1500 (£11 / $16)! Perfect wear for Hanami season. Visit the Domino Records website.

UPDATE: If you head to the Ginza store and are wondering where the +J range has got to, you can find it on the 5th floor of the women’s building next door.


Monocle x Beams

Monocle x Beams

I love Monocle. So I was interested when I saw this Monocle x Beams collaboration watch while on a shopping spree in Tokyo’s Ginza district on Saturday. I didn’t buy one, but it should be noted that Ginza Beams does a good line in skinny fit jeans.

UPDATE: The pic on the left was shot at the store using my mobile phone.


Sennen Soba

Sennen Soba

If you don’t want to die from ramen abuse, I suggest switching to soba. This place in Ginza is one of my regular haunts. It’s cheap, fast and actually tastes pretty good. The buckwheat noodles are served in a soy-based soup with spring onions and Japanese pickles. In winter the soup is hot, and I add lots tougarashi shichimi (7 flavour chilli seasoning), eat the noodles then drink the soup. Now that the weather has become hot and humid, I usually get them cold, with less soup, and add lots of wasabi. It’s a healthy lunch, and you can get a dinner set for around ¥500.


Suehirocho Mural

Suehirocho Mural

Looking from the window of the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line subway train on my daily commute to work I noticed this gloriously dated mural in Suehirochou station (which will spit you out in Akihabara, electric town should you take the main exit onto the street). I had to step off the train and get a picture of this retro masterpiece (above).


Groovisions do the Tokyo Marathon

Groovisions do the Tokyo Marathon

So, the Tokyo Marathon was yesterday. I cheered the runners as they passed through Ginza, and I also snapped this poster with the camera on my DSi which is instantly identifiable as the work of Groovisions. Now I’m looking at their poster it’s obvious that their style suits this event perfectly. Anyone familiar with their previous work in music videos and their infographics for MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Farming) in Japan, will know their clean isometric vectors and statistical-representation-esque visual style. I like it.

So here’s the video they did for MAFF whist on the subject:


Brrr, this isn’t good.

Brr, this isn't good.

This is what it looks like as you exit Inaricho Sta. at around 5.30am after staying up all night in Shibuya. I’d forgotten I’d taken this picture. I just found it in my camera. The wind is pretty strong in Tokyo at the moment, and it blows into the entrances and exits of the metro stations. As your walking out feeling delicate after not sleeping, or having just woken up after half-an-hour’s sleep on the train, it chills you to the bone. I’ve done a lot of not-sleeping recently, and I’ve also got into the habit of sleeping on trains in the early hours of the morning and riding past my station, out into the suburbs and beyond.


H&M Report

H&M Report

I finally managed to get inside the new H&M store in Tokyo’s famous, upmarket shopping district of Ginza. It was a weekday evening, so I was confident I would be able to get in. However, come on a Saturday and you will still queue 150 metres down the street. No exaggeration.

Despite the fact that there was no queue, the shop was packed. The first thing to strike me was the floor plan near the elevator. Three floors of women’s clothes, with only the basement dedicated to men. I was on the ground floor (which is known as the 1st floor in Japan), and had already seen the women’s clothes on display when I came in, and I was already thinking that it was, as I feared, going to be very different from H&M in the UK. I already expected this to be the case based on my shopping experiences in H&M stores in Barcelona and Lille, both of which were quite different from each other. I went down to the basement level and looked through the racks for a bit, but nothing really jumped out at me. H&M in the UK is definitely more adventurous than it’s Japanese counterpart. In Japan, H&M is more like Gap. No bright colours, no design prints, and a muted palette. Most of the stuff is either black or grey, and verges on smart-casual. Last time I was in the UK H&M stores, it was more like a cyberpunk 80’s revival. The two couldn’t have been more different. Zannen.


H&M in Ginza

H&M in Ginza

I know H&M have been in Tokyo for over a week now, but I didn’t bother to post about it before, because I hadn’t been there to get any pics at that time. However, I was in Ginza on Saturday, and got a shot of the frontage. The crazy thing is, they’re still queuing up the street to get in. Police and security are controlling the crowds. Maybe the Rei Kawakubo gear dropped already?


Tokyo Art Directors Club Exhibition 2008

Tokyo Art Directors Club Exhibition 2008

After welching on the ‘World in Miniature’ exhibition and regretting it, I don’t want to miss the 2008 ADC Exhibition. Looks like it will be a good way to get a broad overview of the last 12 months in Japan’s world of visual communication, and there’s bound to be some inspiring graphics to oogle. Catch it at Ginza Graphic Gallery until the end of the month. Via TAB


Uniqlo & Muji: Better in the UK?

Uniqlo & Muji

Before I came to Tokyo in mid January this year, I just happened to be in London for the grand opening of the new UK flagship Uniqlo on Oxford Street. Uniqlo had already branched out into the UK a few years before, but despite flash interiors, was met with mixed feelings from British shoppers, due to the fact that they insisted only on selling fleeces and simple trousers of various colours. A specific line of products had not been created to target the British market. That was the case, until they re-launched in London.

When I went in there, on the second day of the launch, the stuff on the racks was a mix of graphic design T-shirts (the famous UT range), brightly coloured ultra modern stuff, and classic fashion (suit jackets, scarves and neckties). I personally loved it. The shop was huge, and the upper floor had a winter range in consisting mainly of the Japan-imported fashion for shiny puffy coats (the ones containing down). I could have bought a lot of stuff and was happy because I presumed this was the ‘genuine article’ lifted straight from the Tokyo stores. Knowing that I would be living in Tokyo shortly, I was pretty happy that I was going to have somewhere to shop for clothes that I knew I liked, plus I always liked the brand ever since Kashiwa Sato took control of it during Uniqlo’s resurgence.

I was also an avid shopper at Muji. I was always in the store in Birmingham when I visited the city, normally buying clothes (until last years summer and autumn seasons came along, which were a little bit weird). You could get good stuff from there which wasn’t expensive, and although it was fairly simple, it was good for work.

How shocked I was then, when I visited both the flagship Yurakucho Muji Store and the (presumably) flagship Uniqlo store on Ginza’s main strip. Uniqlo was the most disappointing. Probably because it had the most to measure up to. The equivalent UT project T-shirts I saw there weren’t great, and there was a section which was unfamiliar to me, that sold American College apparel and slacks (most of which was very kitch) a la mid-90’s Gap! Gone was the quality outerwear I had set my heart on upon seeing it in the UK, and this had been replaced by a much smaller, and much less appealing range of coats and jackets.

Muji wasn’t so bad. The stationery was still there and, in addition, you can get Muji food, Muji kitchen appliances, and loads of other Japan exclusives, not to mention the Muji bike. However, I’m talking about the fashion, and that wasn’t as good I didn’t think. There were suit jackets and long sleeved tops, but they looked cheaply manufactured in comparison to the UK range, and they have to lose the French folk music (it sounds more like fairground music). Most notably absent were my two favourite products of theirs: The two tone watches (the white one rules; it has a perforated strap. I have one, but it’s on it’s way out), and the Muji flip-flops. They have flip-flops at the Muji in Japan, but they are no way near as cool. The one’s in the UK have a transparent ‘thong’ and come in more colours and prints. The ones I just bought in Japan ready for summer, I don’t like so much.

Does this mean that Muji and Uniqlo are actually better in the UK? Maybe it’s just because my tastes are different. I tried to be subjective and judge it properly, but that’s definitely what I think. If I come back to the UK at christmas, I’ll go shopping there before I come back to Japan, get one of those sweet coats.