Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2017

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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.

 

Washed Out and Toro y Moi

There’s a few new low-fi synth-pop acts based in America’s South East, specifically the states of South Carolina and Georgia. It seems as though the region is set to spawn a new sub-genre and the main two pioneers of the sound are doing the rounds on YouTube. I can’t remember how I found it, but they’re going to form a double bill of sorts for this musical interlude.

(Toro y Moi – Talamak, Washed Out – Feel it All Around)

As a random tie-in to this musical interlude special, here’s Toro y Moi secretly playing a cameo in Uniqlo’s UT promotion this year:

Toro y Moi for UT

 

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.

 

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.

 

+J and Uniqlo Tunes

+J and Uniqlo Tunes

Some Uniqlo news now. I was in the newly expanded Ginza branch yesterday and had the good fortune to see the new +J line of clothing at the back of the new mens’ section. I tried on some of the outerwear, and I liked it very much. Although I didn’t buy anything (yet), I was taken by the fine tailoring and the details. This lead me inevitably back to the Japanese Uniqlo website where I saw the new Flash toy launched this Autumn – Uniqlo Tunes. It plays video in time with MP3’s, and you can even upload your own. As usual you have the option of integrating it into your blog. This new music toy joins a small collection of other Uniqlo Flash virals and microsites.

 

Uniqlo Calendar

Uniqlo Calendar

Uniqlo’s continuing viral campaign perpetrated through lots of great Flash mini-sites never ceases to be awesome. The latest one to launch, called Uniqlo Calendar, features time-lapse photography of various locations in Japan given the tilt-shift photography treatment also known as miniature-faking, where a very shallow depth of field often found in macro photography is simulated thus giving pictures of life-size subject matter the appearance of a tiny model. Flawlessly executed as usual with characteristically quirky and hip background music, I’m left eagerly anticipating the screensaver (the link on the site says ‘coming soon’, unfortunately).

This newest viral joins a raft of others: Uniqlock, Uniqlo Paper, Uniqlo Grid, Uniqlo Mixplay and Uniqlo Try. I may have missed some, there’s that many.

 

Uniqlo Retro Game T-Shirts – Final Collection

Uniqlo Retro Game T-Shirts

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.

 

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.

 

Uniqlo Are At It Again

Uniqlo Try

There’s yet another Flash microsite for Uniqlo up on the .com site (where I believe all the Japanese content has now moved following their global expansion), and it’s amazing as always (from a production point-of-view). It’s called ‘Uniqlo Try’ and deals with their line of bra tops! I’m not entirely sure if I’m exploiting all of the sites features at the moment, as I just navigate through the different women trying to find any that are remotely attractive. They’re talking about how they feel about bra tops, how often they would wear one, etc. Interesting.

 

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.

 

Yugo Nakamura: Grandmaster Flash

Yugo Nakamura

If you like interactive stuff, especially stuff that looks amazing, you can check out any of the Flash work by Yugo Nakamura. My favourite is his stuff for Uniqlo. Namely Uniqlock, Uniqlo Paper and Uniqlo Grid (he also did their other websites for UK, Japan and the US – I think). There are various other interactive ‘pieces’ on his website – a la John Maeda, but before this he also created the jaw dropping ECOTONOHA. There are other people in Japan creating amazing Flash content too; look at Desio, a site for the Japanese 3 storey house brand Sekisuiheim. The production team behind this one is very mysterious. It was won by Mitsue, but I think they outsourced it. You have to try and tolerate the music on that last one. It’s like you just walked into a Japanese branch of Muji or something.