Just missed it

14 01 2016

We missed this “only in Tokyo” house-music-and-tuna-beheading-dance/sushi-party  while we were up in the mountains. An article about it is below:

Whether it’s a doner kebab in Berlin, chicken-and-chips in South London, or pizza in Brooklyn, the post-club snack is an essential ritual. But what if you could get your sustenance right there on the dancefloor?

Not content with having the most Michelin stars of any city across the world, Tokyo is now bringing restaurant-quality fare to its nightclubs, with the food itself as the headline booking.

Tokyo’s gastronomic clubbing craze kicked off in 2012 with Techno Udon, which today brings in over a thousand punters a time, each stepping barefoot on noodles to the steady march of a four-four beat. The event was conceived as a clever response to Japan’s infamous fueiho laws, which restrict dancing in clubs and bars. “If police come to crack down on us for dancing, we can say, ‘We’re just making udon!'” Shinri Tezuka, the event’s main organizer, told the Wall Street Journal in 2014.

The idea has since spread to Macho Mochi Night, upcoming in January, where people will celebrate the New Year with a most traditional combination of rice cakes, bodybuilders and EDM…

Rest of the article here.

After dark

12 01 2016



One of my ideas for this trip was to check into an old-fashioned love hotel, the kind with an extravagant interior, sadly going out of fashion in the current economic climate. In the end we didn’t have time to do it, but little did I know about Geihinkan, or I could have squeezed it in (so to speak…)

Geihinkan (named after the official guesthouse at the Akasaka Palace) is supposedly one of the last great 1960s love hotels, with a faded and slightly tatty fantasy interior: there is the Chinese room (below) as well as Roman and Medieval rooms. The hotel is located just a few blocks from Kawasaki’s Walled City which the boyfriend and I went to visit just before sprinting back to catch the last train of the evening. If only we had known, we could have taken our time…


Concrete jungle

6 01 2016


Above, the Setagaya convenience store King Kong, and below, a lone lion by the Tamagawa and a bear selling energy drinks.

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TKYO monsters: strange beasts and where to find them

6 01 2016


Just before my trip to Japan, master manga artist Shigeru Mizuki passed away. Mizuki had been well-known for his lifelong love of “yokai,” the incredibly strange creatures of Japanese folklore, and perhaps because of this influence, I had decided that I wanted to find some monsters in Tokyo.

I asked around. Apparently an obscure Shinjuku ward museum in Yotsuya had a specimen of a “mermaid.” I had seen one of these before, specimens once widely shown around Japan in travelling freakshows. My friend who had seen it thought it might be a monkey sewn onto a fish. But sadly, when I researched more, I found the museum closed for renovations. Definitely one for when I get back.

I heard there was a yokai museum at the DECKS mall in Odaiba, but I never made it out there.


Look closely

But nonetheless there were other strange beasts around town. A gigantic new Godzilla burst out of a hotel in Kabukicho – I saw its head unexpectedly peering through Shinjuku skyscrapers while walking home one day.


I also found this in Tokyo Cultuart, the funky UFO and paranormal-centric Tokyo giftstore in the Harajuku branch of BEAMS clothing boutique. It is a phone card (retro!) bearing the image of the briefly-famous “human faced fish.” This creature ,which lives (lived?) in a pond in Shizuoka,  rose to fame with its own snack foods and Sega video-game, part of a long tradition of “human faced animals” in Japanese urban legend.


On the other side of Harajuku, the Dragon Museum is still there, in a backroom of a rockabilly fashion store on Cat Street.

And I had already been to the kappa shrine.


I also found this bar on the outskirts of Shinjuku Nichome, named after the baku, an elephant-like beast said to eat bad dreams. It is often carved under temple eaves and is said to have been inspired by the Malaysian tapir, now also called “baku” in Japanese.

But perhaps the best bet was on the night of New Year’s Eve, when according to legend, foxes from all over Japan gathered under a large tree in the Oji neighbourhood to transform temporarily into humans and join in the New year festivities. The fox was considered a mystical and shadowy creature by the Japanese and the Oji-jinja had been built to placate them, although it was “fake” in the sense that no real god sat on the altar – it was purely to keep the foxes happy. Today, the shrine marks this history with a midnight “fox parade” of revellers in masks and painted-on whiskers. Sadly, due to a google translate mishap, we arrived at the temple far too early, before the festivities had really begun, although we still glimpsed white fox masks on the back of heads around the district and fox lanterns being strung up on the streets. A tantalising near miss.

In the end though, I just had to be content my “little monster” – the cat – at home in Shin-Okubo.


5 01 2016


When I lived in Tokyo I (very) rarely ventured to Ginza. Ginza was for men in suits and perfumed hair tonic and matronly ladies in expensive kimonos and furs, who shopped at Mitsukoshi and dined in heart-stoppingly expensive sushi restaurants. I was in my twenties, young and carefree. What was there for me there?

Upon my return though I was told that there had been a Ginza “renaissance.” New urban shopping malls had opened, one after the other. Foreign tourists were flooding in.  And I myself was older and (perhaps) more sophisticated.


Ginza Itchome was now home to a gleaming parade of top-end brands in showcase stores. Interestingly these had spontaneously adopted the same aesthetic: each was a gleaming, sleek cube but with some kind of patterned facade: LV had cut-out bubbles, Hermes was made out of glass cubes. The “Dear Ginza” building was patterned with asymmetrical geometrical shapes and Cartier with fanciful white swirls.


But on my two visits there (it was the location of the office for my wifi provider) I found my earlier assessment to have been pretty much spot on. There is not a lot there – by Tokyo standards  – to hold my interest. The main streets are busy with tourists , yelling in English and Mandarin, trundling with their wheelie-suitcases from blinging store to blinging store. Just as many were carrying bags from Zara or H &M as Mikimoto Pearls. It felt to me like Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong.


But that is not to say the area is without its charms. There was this charming statue of a rogue Cupid, ready to pounce on unsuspecting shoppers, which stopped me in my tracks and made me smile. The Kabuki-za, of course. And then there is the Morioka Shoten bookstore, “a single room with a single book”, which stocks its entire store with a lone title, an only-in-Tokyo concept if ever there was one. The book on sale is changed weekly – on Mondays, as I discovered when I tried to visit.



And at Ginza’s very Southern edge lies one of Tokyo’s great landmarks: the dystopian vision of the Nakagin Tower, the most famous “metabolist” building in the world, an early capsule hotel and once considered a blueprint for future urban living, abandoned for twenty years and the subject of constant rumours of its impending demolition.

Nishi-shinjuku surprise

4 01 2016


While walking around through the towers and suited crowds of Nishi-Shinjuku looking for the Ginza Renoir (not quite where I remembered it) I ran into some surprises: a gaudy Chinese temple in an Okubo backstreet first, and then a view of the new Kabukicho Godzilla appearing over the traintracks. I scurried past the unnerving Eye of Sauron, watching maliciously over streams of office workers marching in formation from the subterranean West Exit of Shinjuku station,  and was shocked to find a man masturbating on the street above outside Yodabashi camera.


I then passed a basement Haitian restaurant (Haitian food in Tokyo!) and was so excited that I emailed a picture to a Haitian friend in Montreal (expecting him to be dumbfounded) only to receive the reply, “Oh, I’ve eaten there. It’s not good.”


And finally: this building, the Rurikoin Byakurengedo,  a space-aged concrete lotus looming up on a “stem” and then blossoming into a concrete flower. It is home to a Buddhist sect and highrise cemetery, just around the corner from the “Shinjuku Space Hall”, whose function I never ascertained.



The Subconscious

4 01 2016



The Golden Gai is a tangle of streets between the Hanazono-jinja shrine, the blinking lights of Yasukuni-dori and a bamboo-lined path leading into the heart of Kabukicho. By day, the district slumbers in broad daylight and at night, it creaks to life, its alleys filled with tiny, closet-sized bars with bizarre names like “Slow hand” or “Kangaroo Court Decision”.


Of these, the most intriguing to me was a Matthew Barney-inspired art bar named after his surreal opus, the Cremaster Cycle: the Cremaster Experimental Psychoanalytic bar.


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