Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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niko and…

This brand might not be so new to those living in Tokyo, but recently niko and… is starting to come into its own as it finds its identity and finds a market for itself. Like so many other Japanese fashion and lifestyle companies such as BEAMS and MUJI, it combines lifestyle concept with fashion style in an attempt to create a complete lifestyle philosophy around which to build its range of products. Now, with more new stores, a series of TV adverts and an online shop, they’re set to become the next big thing. It’s more expensive than some comparable stores, but not overly so, and offers some great stuff in this year’s Autumn/Winter range, recently picked up by and featured in Monocle Magazine. Temperatures are dropping here in Tokyo and I’m thinking of moving house soon, so I can see me buying quite a lot of stuff from the Niko and… online shop in the coming weeks and months. If you’re able to do so, take a look in one of their stores in either Ikebukuro’s Parco, Ebisu, or Kita-senju’s Marui.


25th Tokyo International Film Festival

This year’s Tokyo Film Festival kicked-off the Saturday just gone and so with the first weekend over I’ve decided to post about some of the things I’m liking about the eight day event centred around Roppongi Hills. First off, it’s good that the Tokyo film festival goes some way to differentiate itself from the other famous film festivals – Cannes, Venice and Berlin – by adopting a theme of ‘ecology’. The red carpet at the event is therefore a green carpet, made from recycled PET bottles and that already puts it at arms length from the vulgar excesses of the likes of Cannes in particular. The film offering this year includes a few movies that have caught my eye, the first one being The Black Square, directed by Hiroshi Okuhara but shot completely in Chinese and on location in Beijing.

The ominous shape mentioned in the title is actually a rectangle, and reminds me a lot of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even the one from the Carlos Casteneda book The Journey to Ixtlan where a giant black rectangle appears spontaneously in several locations in the Sonoran Desert. The thing which most compels me to watch this movie is its mystique as there is no synopsis of what it’s really about other than that it’s a romance with sci-fi fantasy overtones. I’ll be catching it on the 24th (Wed) with any luck.

The other movie that I really liked the look of was Yellow by American director Nick Cassavetes. This surreal movie features some great acting by the lead actress and also includes an appearance by Ray Liotta. The synopsis describes it as “A drama about a drug-dependent substitute teacher who takes control of her life by confronting her estranged family”.

Beyond this, I can’t see me having time to enjoy any other movies or events unfortunately, however, a few other honourable mentions must go to: Japan In a Day which includes footage of real Japanese people reeling from the events of last year’s earthquake and tsunami, and I don’t see why it would be a crime to check out the new 007 Skyfall for some pure cinematic entertainment. One to avoid: The Woman In Black with Daniel Radcliffe in his first lead role since Harry Potter. I saw it on the plane on one of my recent trips home to the UK and it has mediocre plot and mediocre acting, so I don’t recommend it.


Radio Tokyo Vol. 5 – Brooklands

After a longish break from making mixes, Radio Tokyo is back with this latest offering which is a montage of bleak and haunting musical soundscapes from the electronic music scenes of UK, Germany, and US. Moody enough for you? Here’s the playlist:

  1. I Made a Tree on the Wold – Telefon Tel Aviv
  2. Error 404 – Apparat
  3. You Are Here (Four Tet Remix) – Nathan Fake
  4. Harrowdown Hill – Thom Yorke
  5. No Release – Lindstrøm
  6. Lump – James Holden
  7. Rusty Nails – Moderat
  8. Mobula – Fairmont
  9. Cerulean – Simian Mobile Disco
  10. Street Halo – Burial
  11. Crackle Blues (Burial Remix) – Blackdown
  12. No Special Bed – Prefuse 73
  13. Arcadia – Apparat
  14. Mdrmx – Brothomstates
  15. Gold – Darkstar
  16. Ode to Bear – Mount Kimbie
  17. Wilhelms Scream – James Blake
  18. Missing – The XX
  19. Oaklands – Chris Clark
  20. Soft Trees Break The Fall – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

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


Tokyo Station Newly Restored and Open

Tokyo Station’s long restoration is now finally over and the new frontage was unveiled in a big projection mapped light show just last week. It was officially open as of 1st October and is said to include new retail spaces, restaurants and cafes, ‘entertainment’ (but I’m not yet sure what that refers to) and of course, the luxurious Tokyo Station Hotel. If I wasn’t so busy I’d go down there and check it out first hand but it’s just not possible at the moment with all the work I’ve got on, and it’s probably best to wait for the crowds to die down anyway.

If you don’t know about Tokyo Station, it’s a train station in central Tokyo not far from the imperial palace that connects Shinkansen (Bullet Train), JR (Japan Rail) and Metro lines and serves as Tokyo’s main station. It’s not the biggest however, as Shinjuku station beats it in terms of size and sheer volume of passengers, but it’s the biggest in terms of the number of lines and services that converge here. The red brick side of the station has been around since 1914, and that’s the side which has received the renovation treatment. It was damaged by bombing in World War II and has been added to and expanded since then with the Yaesu side being added and modernised around the early 1950’s.

It’s interesting for me to see it finished now, as it’s the first time I’ve done so. Ever since I came to Tokyo in 2008 it’s been undergoing renovation and has been covered with scaffolding and sheeting.


Tokyo Metro Book Share

If you go to Nezu station on the Chiyoda subway line of the Tokyo Metro you will find these unusual bookcases in the shape of metro trains. The books on the shelves can be read whilst sitting in the driver’s compartment of the fist carriage, or you take them with you to read on an actual subway train. It’s things like this that I like most about this city, and that’s the communal nature of the way things work here and how everyone looks out for one another and they aren’t always trying to get one over on someone else, etc. People in Tokyo also don’t feel so desperate that it’s necessary to steal books, and have a great enough sense of civic duty to make sure they return any book they borrow after they’ve finished with it. That’s also why there is no litter on the streets here, I suppose.


St. Mary’s Cathedral Tokyo

Ever since I went to Metabolism – The City of the Future architecture exhibition at Mori Art Museum I’ve become more and more interested in the golden era of avant-garde Japanese architecture that started around the middle of the last century through to the late 70’s. My love for Nakagin Capsule Tower is already on record, as is that of Kyoto International Conference Center, the latter of which was designed by a member of the Kenzo Tange school of architects. I knew he had also designed buildings in Tokyo, and I knew he was responsible for St. Mary’s Cathedral (東京カテドラル聖マリア大聖堂 Tōkyō Katedoraru Sei Maria Daiseidō) located in Bunkyo-ku in the center of the city. Well this week I managed to find time to go over and take a look. Not knowing what to expect, I took my camera along anyway and made my way by Tokyo Metro to Waseda station as it’s easier for me than Edogawabashi station (although if you’re planning to go, both will do you fine). After about a 15 minute walk through pretty residential streets I saw the bell tower which is basically an obelisk-like stone structure which stands separate from the main building. Once I reached the site I was initially surprised by how modern it looked. It was built in 1964, so this puts it slightly before Kyoto Int. Conference Center, but to some extent it appears to be in better condition. As you walk around the building (and it is possible to view it from all angles if you walk through the car parks) you get an idea of its size, which is impressive, and the reflections on the steel-clad exterior change depending on what angle you view it from. The best was yet to come though, as the interior for me was even better.

In keeping with the architect’s other work, the interior is both brutal and other-wordly with its steep concrete walls which rise up to meet in the center, and the central shaft of light which bisects the vault of the ceiling. Straightaway I was reminded of the final scene of Star Wars IV: a new hope where Luke, Han Solo and Chewbacca receive their awards for defeating the empire. This reminded me of when I visited Kyoto Int. Conference Center because I remember being reminded of The Empire Strikes Back when I saw that building – more than just a coincidence? I’m no architecture expert, and I’m not going to repeat what you can already read on the Wikipedia entry for this building, but on a pop-cultural reference tip: it also reminded me of the kind of architecture you see in the Vampire Hunter D movies, especially Bloodlust, where you’re not sure if what you’re seeing is a church or a spacecraft, where gothic meets the space-age.

I made sure I had a good look around before I left. Really, I was looking for the crypt. I knew that almost all Roman Catholic cathedrals have one where they interre the remains of key members of the church. After almost giving up I found a door at the back of the confessional booths (yes, finding those was also cool in itself) that lead on to a corridor. There was absolutely nobody there and it was totally silent. The corridor was made of the same stone as the rest of the interior – it felt really oppressive. It was quite a labyrinth and there were a lot of twists and turns which I couldn’t reconcile with the line of the exterior at all. Finally I went down more steps and I was in the first chamber. There were 3 tombs like pyramids of marble with flat tops on my left which were made up of what could be described as blocks, each one studded on 4 corners with dome-headed steel rivets. There are more of these throughout the crypt, which was extensive, but surely the strangest tombs I’ve ever seen. There’s a funeral chapel which also has a secret room with a one-way mirror window. The crypt was pretty heavy so I made my way back up through the corridors to the main part of the Cathedral and I did think at one point how Tadao Ando must have been influenced by the work of Kenzo Tange as his corridors at 21_21 Design Sight are very similar. After one last look down the center of the cathedral and up at the enormous organ on the mezzanine I went back outside to face the hot, humid Tokyo summer once again.

After visiting this building I’m interested to see more of his work, and I’ve since been looking for what other buildings he has designed. It turns out that Tange was responsible for most of the iconic buildings in Tokyo. For example, he also designed Yoyogi National Gymnasium (for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics), Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (the building with the twin towers), Shinjuku Park Tower (which houses the Park Hyatt Hotel of Lost In Translation fame) and the very recent cocoon-like structure of Mode Gakuen Tower, also in Shinjuku. All of these more well-known structures I’m not particularly enamored with, although the olympic stadium is incredible, it’s his lesser-known, and certainly less-visited cathedral which stands out for me as his masterpiece.


Arakawa Yuen

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.


Deep Topography

In a connected chain of events which began with me spending time in London last week, coming back to Tokyo and watching a documentary on the England’s capital city called The London Perambulator I discovered Deep Topography, also known as Psychogeography or Cryptoforestry. The documentary follows an eccentric English writer and researcher called Nick Papadimitriou as he goes on a series of what he refers to as his ‘Long Walks’. These can last anywhere between one hour and a full day, and often take place in one of Nick’s preferred locales, almost always on the suburbs, fringes and hinterlands of London. The preoccupation of deep topography is not with finding conventional beauty in and around our built environments but with deriving stimulation from appreciating the overlooked and anonymous corners of our cities and examining the functional areas where mankind, nature, and necessity overlap.

It was through this documentary that I came to understand why I find Tokyo to be so stimulating and rewarding as a place to live and explore. For those who have become deluded with the beaten track of the world’s maintream heritage sites and historical architecture, Tokyo provides a veritable goldmine of deep topographical rapture, providing you are prepared to get lost in its streets.

If you have the opportunity, I seriously recommend seeing the documentary as it also features Will Self and Iain Sinclair. Next time you’re out with your camera taking pictures of bleak industrial landscapes, water treatment works or unremarkable suburban vistas you might feel vindicated.


Cesare vs. Disorder & Onirik – Il Viaggio

A Brazilian visual artist based in Berlin called Fernanda contacted me by email the other day and pointed to her recent project for an independent record label. What you see above is a music video she made for an upcoming release on Serialism Records featuring a montage of video shot in Tokyo in January this year. I really liked it and wanted to share it with you. Thanks to Fernanda Mattos for the info.


Mobile Phone Signal Coming to Tokyo Metro

Like most underground railway systems in the world, on the Tokyo Metro you can often use your phone at the stations along the way, but you can’t use them in the tunnels in between stations. Well all this is slowly set to change by the looks of things as the 3 main mobile phone providers, Docomo, KDDI and SoftBank have announced they are going to gradually introduce service to the tunnels. It’s still a no-no to talk on the phone while on the train but it’s going to make it a lot nicer for browsing the web and using apps that require connection to the internet. It’s certainly good news to me.


Tokyo Sky Tree Construction Completed

Construction of Tokyo’s new tower, Tokyo Sky Tree, has officially been completed as of February 29th according to the company in charge of the project Obayashi Corp. It has now been handed over to TOBU Tower Sky Tree Co. who will finish fitting out the interior in time for its opening on 22nd May 2012. You can already pre-order tickets, and when I say can I mean it’s theoretically possible, but I wish anybody luck getting their hands on them as demand is predicted to be very high.

Completion of the tower puts it as the tallest tower in the world, topping the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China. Construction was delayed slightly by the earthquake and events that followed last March. Amazing to think that there were workmen in cranes and on platforms working when the earthquake struck. I was terrified being on terra-firma, let alone being on top of a partially constructed tower.


SonarSound Tokyo 2012’s Superb Lineup

This year’s SonarSound Tokyo 2012 sports the most unmissable lineup ever: Squarepusher, Clark, Global Communication, The Cinematic Orchestra, Vincent Gallo, Mount Kimbie, Rustie, Hudson Mohawke and way more(!). It takes place on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd of April and a one day ticket will set you back ¥7,750 in advance and ¥8,500 on the day and the two day ticket costs ¥14,500. Regardless of cost, this is surely a must-go-to event for any electronic music fan. I’ll certainly be there as it’s my birthday on the 24th! I’ll be here both days, and then off to relax in the hot springs of Izu the following day! It’s going to be a great weekend – let me know if you’re going.


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.


Beat Takeshi Kitano, Gosse de Peintre

Well this is like a dream come true – never thought I’d get to see the legendary paintings that featured in Takeshi Kitano’s movie masterpiece Hanabi (Fireworks), but now it looks like it’s actually going to happen. With news of his exhibition in Tokyo opening 11th March being broadcast on TV and advertised on posters on the metro, this will be a fairly high profile showcase of his paintings at Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, Shinjuku.

It’s going to feature paintings such as this:

I don’t know if his painting entitled ‘Jisatsu’ (Suicide) will be on show, which is unfortunate as it’s one of my favourites, but this one, also from the movie Hanabi, will be:

Anyway, it all equates to a must-see, don’t-miss exhibition which runs until 2nd September.


Sanpo Social Photowalks

There’s a new social networking site for sharing your photowalks called SANPO built by one man in Tokyo, Gueorgui Tcherednitchenko. Although I haven’t signed up myself yet, I’m planning to, and I’m very supportive of anyone trying to launch a web app off their own bat. I also think this site would be genuinely useful for me as a new way to share the photos I take and plot them geographically. I’ve totally abandoned flickr these days it seems, and I really don’t feel like uploading them to facebook, so I’d all but given up on sharing my photos, and this had caused me to stop taking my camera out as much as I used to. Sites like this give you an audience and that tends to give you impetus to upload. Take this site for example. I wouldn’t have visited half the places I have in Tokyo and I wouldn’t know half as much about it if I didn’t have this blog to encourage me to do so. The service is still evolving, but why not signup and upload some pictures? It’s not just limited to Tokyo!