Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Here’s the music video for a new Japanese artist I recently discovered. Someone recommended this one to me and after checking it out on YouTube I noticed that it seemed to have gone viral with a lot of people in the west sharing it because of it’s crazy visuals and its Harajuku Kawaisa / Decora elements. The song is produced by Yasutaka Nakata who also does Perfume’s stuff.


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.


Happy New Year 2010!

Tokyo from Mori Tower

It’s the end of a decade and as you can probably tell, I’m in Tokyo. I saw in the new year on the top floor of the Mori building in Tokyo, at a party that featured DJs from United Future Organization and Kyoto Jazz Massive but I couldn’t tell you for sure if I caught the performances of either one. It was mayhem and the place was absolutely huge. You couldn’t miss however, the stunning panoramic views of the city and the famous Tokyo Tower. The night was not so cold and crystal clear and it was a good chance to remind myself just how massive Tokyo actually is. In this new year I’m going to try to see much more of it, projects allowing. At the turn of midnight, Tokyo tower lit up in white displaying ‘2010’.

Tokyo Tower 2010

Having cleared my head after the actual event, it was then time to participate in the traditional practice of ‘Hatsumode’, where people visit shrines and temples to pray for good fortune and purchase religious trinkets and lucky charms. I got myself an all-purpose talisman and threw some coins in offering and of course prayed in front of the shrine. In order to do this I had to wait for 2 hours, but I was able to watch a documentary about the shrine (Meiji Jingu near Harajuku) on a huge TV screen to kill the time as we all shuffled slowly up the approach.

Meiji Jingu Hatsumode

And then all that was left to do was to file back out and get back on the train, but not before sampling some of the festival fare on offer at the many traditional food stands lining the route. I ate buttered potato to try to warm up enough to make it as far as Yoyogi station. I feel very positive about this year – it was definitely a good thing to be here in Japan for the transition as I plan to be here for the foreseeable future, but I’ve got a lot of work to do this year if I want to achieve my goals. What they are exactly are only known to me and the Deities at Meiji Jingu.

Leaving Meiji Jingu

Happy New Year, and good luck in 2010.


Porter Bags

Porter Bags

Porter is a brand of luggage, bags, wallets and accessories from Yoshida Co. in Tokyo. People familiar with them will know that they are renowned for their high quality and high price, but in this introduction to the brand, I need to stress just how incredibly high the quality of these bags actually is. Recently, with no intention of actually buying one, I’ve been stopping to admire them at every opportunity. I found a huge range at Tokyu Hands in Ikebukuro (Sunshine City), and a small traditional bag shop in Ameyayoko-cho packed full of Porter goodness, and every time I see them I go and check them out. The problem is, with such a huge variety and at such a high price, it’s difficult to choose a particular bag. Do you get a Boston bag, which looks amazing, but you couldn’t fit your 15-inch laptop in, or do you get the messenger, which is extremely practical but also extremely boring, or do you go for a rucksack, which is fit for almost any use but seems to lack the brand’s trademark sophistication? This is the main factor behind my inability to buy one. However, I actually found a new line of Porter bags in Ikebukuro’s Parco with anodised blue zips against their trademark graphite which just might have narrowed it down for me. If you want a decent-sized item from the range get at least ¥20,000 at the ready (£127, $210), and put aside at least three hours for the selection process – this brand is prolific.

Yoshida Co. are also the company behind Luggage Label, a similar kind of brand with different motifs and a more military feel. Porter has a flagship store in Harajuku, behind Murasaki Sports, opposite the mouth of Takeshita Dori, called Head Porter. You’ll find the cheapest ones at Tokyu Hands Ikebukuro, and potential buyers should skip the Ameyoko store as everything is overpriced, the display is cluttered and the service is icey cold.

The bag in the pic at the top of this post is an Original Fake x Porter Boston bag (drool).


Metropolis Calendar 2009

Metropolis Calendar 2009

I just want to mention the Metropolis Calendar 2009. For those of you in Tokyo, you can get yours now, if you haven’t already. I got mine in January from the tourist information stand in Keisei Ueno Station (the line that you take to get to Narita Airport). The pic that you see above appears on the September spread of the calendar, and was taken by my good friend Trent McBride. Congratulations Trent!


UT Harajuku

UT Harajuku

Uniqlo’s ever popular T-shirt project UT has been going for a while now, but as a recent addition to their plethora of usual outlets, they’ve added this dedicated UT store in Harajuku. It was opened last April, but this is the first time I’ve been there. With temperatures the way they are at the moment I wasn’t planning on buying any T-shirts, I just wanted to check out the store itself. The shop consists of a few racks of T’s and other items, surrounded by a wall of vending machines, above which you have the ticker-tape displays with lines of text making laps of the room as you shop. The vending machines contain the bulk of the T-shirt stock. You choose the one you want, and then out pops the T in the trademark tube-like plastic packaging. I get the feeling they will need an iron once you get the back to your house though. Generally I like the store, so I’ll be back in the spring to pick up some from the manga series.


Jungle in the Park

Jungle in the Park

Last Sunday, and the Sunday before that, I went to Yoyogi Park with a couple of friends. We were going to come from Harajuku and check out the Harajuku girls, the Gothic Lolitas, the Punks, the Rockabillys, and other sights at the entrance to the park. After that we skirted the park in the direction of Shibuya, staying on the pavement that circumnavigates the boundry. Along the way we were checking out J-Pop bands, solo singers and street sellers who gather there every week.

It wasn’t until further on that we started to hear loud bass lines from up ahead. We carried on a bit further, rounded a corner, and then came to a wide area on the pavement where there was an entrance leading into the park. In the entrance there was literally, a wall of sound. Cabinet speakers piled up into a stack. The turntables were facing this about 10 metres away. This, apparently, was the free outdoor party at Yoyogi put on by the DJ’s from Champion Bass.

They were playing all English music, from London and Bristol’s dub and reggae influenced Jungle music scene of the mid 90’s. On rotation was Congo Natty recordings from the Rebel MC, and many classic older pieces featuring vocals and samples from Jamaican music, with stuff from Top Cat, Tenor Fly, Barrington Levy and Supercat (all London based with Jamaican heritage).

There were people there who, you could tell, this kind of music wasn’t usually their thing, but the atmosphere was so good, the weather was so nice, and the music was so infectious that everone got into it. We quickly shot over to Shibuya to the Family Mart, picked up some Yebisu and some Asahi and went back to join in, and danced until they turned off the PA.


Another Foray into Laforet, and then Art


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.


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.