Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

Now Viewing: All Posts for tag "Japanese"

Japanese Illustrators for Monocle

Reading Monocle, I always wondered who did the illustrations in most of the issues. There are guest illustrators from time to time, and one of them is a Japanese guy called Akira Sorimachi. His work reminds me a little bit of the guy that did Uncle Tory for Suntory Whisky, Ryohei Yanagihara in that it has the same retro feel. Recently Sorimachi has created a poster for Monocle (part of which can be seen above), and also a range of cards. Monocle’s illustrations are superb, and most of them are done by Japanese illustrators. Other artists who have created illustration work for Monocle Magazine include Satoshi Hashimoto and Gaku Nakagawa. Check out their work below.


Radio Tokyo Volume 4 – Commercial Breaks

This episode of Radio Tokyo showcases some of the more leftfield Japanese artists past and present that I had in my collection. As ever, I don't present or narrate, but at the same time it's not just a straightforward mix. There's a real variety of genres, styles and BPM here, so I wove them together with some samples taken from retro Japanese TV commercials, and that's where the name and the theme of this episode comes from. Here's the playlist, enjoy:


  1. I, Me, My, Mine - Polysics
  2. A11 A10ne - Buffalo Daughter
  3. LSD - Trippple Nippples
  4. Rocket - Polysics
  5. 4 Little Joeys Remix - Kiiiiii!
  6. I Wanna Be Sedated - Shonen Knife
  7. Twiggy Twiggy - Pizzicato Five
  8. Mogu Mogu - Chinza Dopeness
  9. Spam Keikoku - Shonen Knife
  10. Pajama Party Pop - Lullatone
  11. Sugar Water - Cibo Matto
  12. The Audrey Hepburn Complex (Billy Wilder Mix) - Pizzicato Five

View all podcasts in the Radio Tokyo series and download this episode here.


Alsok TV Advert

Just a quick Japanese television commercial post as I’ve been loving this one just recently. Done in the style of a retro action TV series opening montage, it features Japanese women’s wrestling star Saori Yoshida as all 3 members of the Alsok Security Squadron! It may seem trivial to most, but this is one of the reasons I live in Japan. This style of advertising for a mainstream service like home security blows my mind!


Japanese Kanji for 2011

At the end of each year the Japanese public chooses a kanji that best sums up the year as a whole. The kanji for 2011 has been chosen as kizuna meaning bond or connection between people. The kanji is then ceremoniously calligraphed onto a large white canvas at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. I was there in December so I was aware it was going to happen but I had forgotten to post about it until now.

The reason for the choice has been put down to the strengthening of bonds between the Japanese as a nation and between Japan and the rest of the world as a result of the earthquake and tsunami and the aftermath of which dominated 2011. I’m definitely glad it was a positive one in the end. It would have been so easy to have selected something negative after what happened last year.


Western Movie Stars in Japanese TV Ads

A couple of TV advertisements have been showing in Japan just recently featuring some major stars from the west. First up, we’ve got an incredible spot featuring non other than Jean Reno as Doraemon! This one’s for Toyota I think.

To follow that, we’ve got Bruce Willis promoting the Daihatsu Mira e:s, which we are led to believe is a car. How the stars actually entice you to buy one of their cars isn’t clear to me, but they get people talking, and they end up going slightly viral, or ending up on blogs like this one.


Illustration in Japan

Japanese Illustration

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.

Japanese Illustration

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:

Japanese Illustration

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.

Japanese Illustration

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.

Japanese Illustration

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:

Japanese Illustration

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.

Here is an episode for you:

TV アニメ「笑ゥせぇるすまん」 第1話 「たのもし… 投稿者 spyagent0011

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!



Hello. Got some Polysics for you today. Enjoy.


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


Karigurashi no Arrietty

Karigurashi no Arrietty

There’s a new Studio Ghibli movie coming out and it looks to be loosely based on the classic, British children’s book The Borrowers. This isn’t the first time a Ghibli movie has been based on children’s books written in the UK either; Howl’s Moving Castle was based on a book written by Diana Wynne Jones.

The title of the movie is going to be 借りぐらしのアリエッティ (Karigurashi no Arrietty) which translates as Arrietty the Borrower – the official website is here, for what it’s worth. It will be directed by Hiroaki Yonebayashi, and not by the great Hayao Miyazaki, although Miyazaki will be responsible for writing the script. Apparently, the idea for the movie has been discussed before a long time ago by Miyazaki and his team, but only now is it being put into production. Miyazaki stepping back from the directing duties is interesting, as he has already retired once before and looked to be trying to appoint individuals capable of carrying his legacy forward, most famous of which being his son, Goro Miyazaki who took directorial duties on the movie Gedo Senki – Tales from Earthsea (which was also loosely based on a series of books by American author, Ursula K. Le Guin). As he relinquishes control on Karigurashi no Arietty it will be interesting to see if he will be able to keep his hands off the drawings and animation all the way through production, without seizing control of at least one of these aspects as he has been alledged to have done on past features (where he was supposedly not going to be involved in either).

Finally, the story (in a nutshell) is going to be about a boy living in a house in Koganei, Tokyo (the real-life location of Studio Ghibli) who has a tiny girl called Arrietty living under the floorboards of his house, and presumably she ‘borrows’ stuff.


The Japanese ATM

Japanese ATM

Often it’s the mundane, easily taken for granted things I find in Japan that fascinate me most. Sometimes it’s the small differences but, in the case of the Japanese ATM, it’s a world apart from the UK equivalent I’m used to. You can probably tell by looking at it that it’s pretty unique in the world of ATM’s, but this is the ATM at the bank I bank with, and I’ve got some interesting facts about it.

The first thing you’ll notice is the screen. There’s an animated male and female teller that welcome you to the machine with a bow and a robotic ‘irasshaimase’ (‘welcome!’ – lit. ‘come in’). Then, you’ll get a bow every time a request is received or when you finally end your ATM session. Finishing said session can take time depending on your Japanese reading skill and general ability to decipher unfamiliar screens filled with flashing messages, numeric matrices and any number of other offers for services and information superfluous to your requirements.

Having navigated the touch screen successfully, you might then have to get comfortable with the other hatches, slots and gadgets outside your current schema. The interface to the right of the screen (near to which is a complimentary calculator – not chained to the counter) looks like a smaller secondary keypad or possibly cup holder but is, in fact, a biometric scanner for your palm. In a super-security-conscious modern day Japan, a 4 digit ID number is too risky for some people. If this is the case, they can go into a branch during business hours and get their palm scanned in order to make use of this secure, labour-saving feature (it might be preferable for visually impaired customers too).

Moving in an anti-clockwise direction around the machine, directly above the palm scanner is the bill hatch. This is the hatch that not only dispenses, but also accepts deposits of Japanese bank notes. Of course, it’s capable of counting banknotes and verifying their authenticity, and even unfolding, uncreasing and flattening them out if need be, but what I find most useful about this hatch is that it’s almost impossible to leave the money behind. It makes a pretty loud noise when opening to dispense notes, but also continues to do so until it finally closes automatically and returns the money to the customer’s account, in the event of the notes not being taken. It made a novel change from the usual slot from which notes, in a variety of ages and conditions, are ejected from in the UK or Europe. Suffice it to say, the notes that come out of a Japanese ATM always look like they’ve been freshly minted. Any other condition would simply be unacceptable here.

So onto the card slot, which is unremarkable – but then you have its wider counterpart on the left labeled ‘passbook’. This slot does indeed accept a passbook, or bankbook. You insert this in order to get your statement recorded. Transactions in and out, charges, transfers and so on. First, you find the correct page to insert it on. It doesn’t matter if the previous printout of your statement finishes halfway down the page, the machine will detect the point to continue printing from and will even turn the page in order to continue printing records that span pages. Upon running out of pages, you will be prompted to order a new passbook through the ATM touchscreen, or you will just be given the book back once printing is completed, whichever comes first.

Beneath the passbook slot is the coin hatch. As you may have guessed, this dispenses coins and accepts the deposit of coins too. It’s pretty unusual to draw coins from an ATM, but it’s even more suprising to find you can pay them into your bank. However, don’t go pouring thousands of ¥1 and ¥5 coins into the hatch as they won’t be accepted. However, if you do test this rule and your coin hatch ends up spasmodically chewing on 6 months worth of shrapnel, you can use the handy telephone embedded directly in the bottom-left of the ATM to place a maintenance request, but make sure you leave before they get there.


Japanese Toilets

Japanese Toilets

A long time ago toilets in Japan were very different to how they are today. I went into Lawsons convenience store in Yokohama once, and used one of the traditional style toilets, now something of a rarity. It was as if someone had embedded a urinal in the floor instead of mounting it on the wall. This is probably not as bad as it sounds if you’re wearing a yukata, but if you’re wearing trousers, it’s just not a good system. Before you know it your keys and mobile phone are out of your pocket and on the floor (if you’re lucky). I struggled through OK by hanging onto the pipe in front of me. Things have since improved though. Driven by the Japanese love for labour-saving devices and technological mod-cons, and possibly an obsession with hygiene, toilets made a quantum leap to what they commonly are today. Now, urinals know when they’re in use, and flush themselves after you’ve finished. Toilet seats are heated, and there are lots of additional features. Sometimes, the toilet will have a small extractor fan somewhere under the seat, and you can make use of a wash feature followed by a dry feature, with a second wash option especially designed for women called bidet. All that remains to do now is to pluck up the courage to actually use these additional features.


Don’t Smoke in a Crowd. Coats are Expensive.

Smoking Manners

Witness the pure genius which is the Japanese Smoking Manners sign campaign. Littering with cigarette butts is a real no-no here, and so it should be. Smoking whilst walking down the street is prohibited in Japan, as you will see from the gallery, courtesy of combinibento. What a find. Thanks to Mike. The picture above is a super rare one, taken at Marines Stadium, home of Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team.


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.


How to get ready for work in just 5 minutes

With the grueling Japanese working day being what it is, every second of sleep counts. Here’s how to extend your rest period at the expense of having only 5 minutes in which to change out of your pyjamas, cook and eat breakfast, don your business apparel and get out the door, shoes on feet and briefcase in hand. This is from a recent Japanese TV show – enjoy the special techniques employed by the pros. Kakkoii!




I watched Okuribito last night. I don’t know why I hadn’t watched it before really considering all the hype – and I love Japanese cinema. It’s actually a hugely satisfying movie with a score by Joe Hisaishi, for which he delivers his masterpiece. I’m not going to go on at length about the poetic, philosophical and uniquely Japanese qualities of the movie, but just recommend it to everyone as a film you have got to see (before you die).