I spotted this piece of street art by French artist Invader whilst I was out for a walk down Cat Street in Omotesando (if you’ve never been down there before it’s well worth a look with its custom made bicycle shop and good non-luxury brand fashion stores). Invader basically puts up these mosaics featuring retro video game sprites, particularly those from space shooters but he’s also done Pac-Man ghosts. I like his stuff and it’s not particularly common to see it so I thought I’d post this up for us all to enjoy, although nothing beats the real thing when you come across one or happen to notice it. That’s the great thing about good street art in my opinion: you never know when you’re going to come across one and when you do half of the satisfaction comes from finding it and half from knowing its origin. Invader has stuff in cities all over the world including Paris, London, L.A. and probably many others and you can see him at work in Banksy’s mockumentary Exit Through The Gift Shop.
If you take the old Toden Arakawa street car line somewhere along the route you will come to the station Arakawa Yuenchi Mae which is, as the name suggests, is the stop for Arakawa Yuen, possibly Tokyo’s worst theme park. There’s a small ferris wheel, a tame rollercoaster, various other tedious attractions and a ‘zoo’, although that’s stretching the term just a bit. I didn’t bother riding anything, the ticket was only ¥400 anyway. All the staff were elderly, no doubt retired people working voluntarily. There were almost no visitors.
The reason for visiting this place isn’t for the rides or the excitement, it’s just a really oddball little place. I discovered it once when I was cycling, just stumbling upon it accidentally. I remember at the time I thought it was closed down, abandoned, but apparently not, though it might as well be. Even on a weekend it’s a haunting place, and the ride there on the Arakawa tram is a quaint and quirky side of northern shitamachi Tokyo that visitors rarely see. Definitely an unconventional spot to visit in Tokyo with a great atmosphere.
Mitsukoshi 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, 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.
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, 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, 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.
Whilst walking home the other night, I spotted this original piece of ‘bombing’. Someone had used marker pen to customize a small bear toy and left it on top of a crossing junction box. Underneath that was their tag, I’m guessing. I was lucky to notice it, I usually wouldn’t after working all day.
NOTE: The poor quality is due to the mobile phone camera I used to take the shot.
Yes, Uniqlo’s retro game T-shirts have been out for a while but the preliminary selection didn’t contain anything I really wanted to buy. When I heard they were coming out, I decided I might get the Galaxian one, but the design wasn’t so great I thought. Nostalgic T-shirt lovers now have a load more to choose from though, in the form of Uniqlo’s second wave of game tees. If I could just direct your attention to the Hadouken long sleeve, and, see that Metallica inspired number? Ghosts and Goblins! (The print says ‘Makaimura’, which means demon world village as the Japanese title for the game.) Thank you Uniqlo, and thank you Japan! If you want one of these, let me know in the comments thread. I just might run a few on eBay for those not lucky enough to get to a Japanese Uniqlo store anytime soon.
When I came to Tokyo I was most impressed by the Apple Store in Ginza, but, come to think of it, I’d never been to an apple store in the UK, other than the distinctly unimpressive one in Birmingham’s bullring. So, I was impressed when I saw a pic of the Regent Street store in London. The NY store still tops it, but I thought I should be less Tokyo-centric for a brief moment and share the pic.
I’ve been waiting to see one of these for a while: an advertising truck. Its purpose is to drive around a designated route in Tokyo so the consumerist masses of the metropolis can see it – as well as hear it. It plays a happy jingle as it drives and a female announcer talks up the service / product / event in the cutesy voice that anyone living in Tokyo will have become accustomed to hearing. This one was a real beauty – I spotted it driving up Omotesando, probably towards Shibuya.
As promised, I hit the streets of Tokyo to find a video arcade that had the new Street Fighter 4. The obvious choice of starting place was Akihabara, or Electric Town as it is also known, a mecca of otaku culture bristling with pachinko parlours (パチンコ店 / パチンコ屋) and video arcades (ゲームセンター) as well as, of course, the myriad consumer electronics stores.
I first arrived at Taito Station, the most likely place to find the newly released machines.
This place has 6 floors of gaming with a different type of machine on each. On the ground floor (known as the 1st floor in Japan) they had the UFO catchers, and on the floor above they had the photo sticker machines (プリクラ / プリント倶楽部), and above that the dance and music games, and so on.
On the ground floor though, they also had a floor guide at the foot of the escalator.
So it wasn’t difficult to find (thankfully I knew the location of this flagship game centre because I had been here before). I made my way through the building via two escalators and an elevator from the 3rd floor to reach the 5th, which is easily my favourite floor because it has all the beat-em-ups.
So here they were. A bank of 8 newly released SFIV cabinets.
It wasn’t busy because it was in business hours, but there were a few guys in suits on the far side and a couple of guys on my side. The Japanese cabinets only accommodate 1 player per machine, but if a player starts a game on the machine opposite yours, you have to fight against each other in 2 player versus mode! This is a great idea as you can have way more 2 player battles, and against complete strangers. I gave someone the Ken treatment and I could see him out of the corner of my eye afterwards, peering around the machines to get a look at who beat him. This adds a new kind of dynamic to the whole idea of arcade games, and I like it! 2 player bouts are always more enjoyable than fighting the CPU.
The characters were cleared easily, but the end of game boss, Seth, ate a couple of credits. I gave up after that and went home. I wasn’t about to waste any more money, so I made my way back downstairs to the front of the arcade.
Outside, I found this interesting machine facing out onto the street.
This is Taito’s Space Invaders 30th anniversary novelty called ‘The Happy Button’. The idea comes from the playing style adopted by most players of space invaders, one of the few games to feature backing music consisting of only 3 notes, which is to pound the fire button constantly in the hope of hitting an invader. All you have to do is press start and you get the countdown 3,2,1 before you have 10 seconds to hit the button as often as possible. I gave it my best Track n’ Field vibro-arm and got a pretty poor 81 presses. Such a simple idea, but it’s hearing the legendary missile sound FX again that makes it all worth while. After two worse attempts, I cycled home.
In other game news, the release date for the XBox 360, PS3 and PC version of the newest installment of Capcom’s Street Fighter franchise looms very close indeed. If you want to get a copy in the US and the UK, you should visit your local retailer on the 17th February – just over 1 month away!
As for the arcade release, this definitely won’t happen in the US, and I don’t think it will happen in the UK. By my calculations, it should be out in Japanese game arcades already, but only just. Don’t worry, I’m off to Akihabara as soon as I finish my work for the day – I’ll let you know what it’s like (Akihabara is a short bike ride from my apartment in Taito).
Recently I’ve been noticing a few different ways in which the internet has been important. Last week, I went to Tachikawa in the Western suburbs of Tokyo. In order to find my way from the station to where I was going, I checked the place out beforehand on Google Maps. Furthermore, I opened Street View and ‘walked’ from the station and around the surrounding streets to get a feel for what the area looked like and any landmarks. When I stepped out of the station a few days later it was weird, because I recognised the location. Which makes perfect sense, because I already spent some time exploring a virtual version, albeit paused at last winter.
If your localisation of Google hasn’t got Street View yet, I’m sure it’s coming. Tokyo was one of the first to get it, and the amount of data that is required must be enormous. It’s really useful for navigating.
The other thing I noticed in a recent news story was the prevalence of the internet in a shocking child murder case in the UK. The case of Baby P involved the baby’s mother, his step father and a lodger. The three of whom have been repremanded over their likely involvement in the boy’s death. What happened though, is that underground news sites and unofficial sources leaked the names and addresses of the three on the internet, which eventually found their way onto popular social networking site facebook. An angry mob soon assembled in cyberspace ready to lynch the individuals responsible for the child’s death (which was horrific). The saddest thing for me is that the child’s death could have been prevented if it wasn’t for the negligence of the UK authorities.
The internet played a big part in exposing the identities and, as it so often does, put the power (of knowledge) back in the hands of the people – good or bad.