Tokyo secrets

27 05 2017

I recently stumbled on to a list of Tokyo attractions which included some surprising, and hitherto-unknown, sightseeing options, such as:

House of the Insect Poet (10 minute walk from Sendago subway station in Bunkyo Ward) is an insect museum inspired by a Japanese translation of famous poem about insects by the French poet Jean-Henri Fabre. Opened in 2006 in a building designed to resemble a cocoon, it houses specimens of insects and butterflies from around the world. Most of the specimens belong to a scholar of French literature who began collecting insects in the fourth grade and has since collected 100,000 specimens.

And who knew there was an ancient Egyptian museum in Shibuya?

Another surprise was the discovery of this very instagram-chic guide to the outer suburb of Fussa, by a very visual-savvy Hong Kong-based food stylist and “social media content provider.” My memories of Fussa are of a down-at-heel, but interesting, dormitory suburb on the Western fringes of Tokyo. I used to pass through every morning on my way to work at a small and shabby “English school” in Ozaku, almost the last gasp of metropolitan Tokyo before suburban sprawl hits the beautiful hills, cedar forests and lakes of the Oku-tama ranges. Fussa stood out for its vast US military base and the streets immmediately surrounding it, which featured Filipino and Thai bars (and bargirls) and family-run Latino restaurants (I was once called a gringo at the local station).  With its white and (more often) brown and black faces, American fast food and slightly raffish, red light air, it actually does provide quite a unique, and interesting, perspective on the metropolis – but not one I would have expected to see style-blogged. Until, that is, I realised that it was a paid promotion for a campaign to highlight more “regional” parts of Tokyo prefecture. Still, certainly worth a look.


6 07 2016


Images from Kazuyoshi Usui’s Showa 88 and Showa 92 series, imagining a world in which the Showa era never ended, and the colourful seamy side of the Japanese bubble still exists  dreamily in a colourful haze.




Tokyo calling

4 07 2016

Gucci continues its recent fun flirtation ( or rather, full-on affair) with the Seventies, this time in Tokyo.

Insect Buddha, disco minotaur and Kardashian

21 03 2016


Gaycation: Japan

1 03 2016

Well this is an interesting beast: a hipsterish, yet very North-American-earnest, look at gay life in Tokyo. Its the first in a new series by Vice on gay life around the world hosted by Hollywood lesbian starlet Ellen Page and her gay BFF – with future episodes promised for Jamaica and Brazil. Keep an eye out!

Showa: almost a century of weird

25 01 2016
I have just finished reading Shigeru Mizuki’s three-part manga epic “Showa,” a history of Japan from the 1920s through to to the death of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously re-named “Showa,” in 1989. What struck me on reading the volumes was how Japan’s progress in our lifetime, which I had assumed to be a stable and placid accumulation of wealth from the end of the war until the burst of the bubble was actually much more dramatic; there were Communist plots, recessions, terrorist outbreaks and assassinations. But also covered in the book are a selection of some of the bizarre fads and shocking crimes which captured the public imagination, and various strange figures who surfed the Showa zeitigeist.
For example in  1977 craze for marine dinosaurs swept the nation after a Japanese trawler discovered a supposed plesiosaur off New Zealand in 1977, known as the Zuiyo-maru corpse.
Elsewhere there is the strange story of the “Fiend with Twenty Faces” extortionist who poisoned candies on shop shelves around Japan and tried to blackmail their manufacturers for millions, all the while leaving taunting cryptic messages with the press, and the emergence of the hedonistic “Sun-zoku” 1950s youth tribe who dressed in bright-coloured prints and aspired to be bourgeois playboys, inspired by a racy novel by later-Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara. A decade and a half later the “futen-zoku”, Japanese hippies, set up camp in Shinjuku where they apparently slept in bushes outside Shinjuku station and transformed parts of the district into their own Haight-Ashbury.
Three Japanese soldiers emerged from the jungles of the South Pacific in the 1970s, where they had been living since World War Two, either unwilling to believe that the war was over or simply at a loss as to what to do next. One soldier, on return to Japan, found himself disoriented and disappointed by the direction in which Japanese society had moved, and promptly moved to Brazil. Another, an indigenous Taiwanese villager who had been recruited when that island was a Japanese colony, could speak neither Japanese nor Chinese and died in Taiwan just a few years later of lung cancer.
In the 1980s Issei Sagawa became an unlikely (and unsavoury) celebrity after killing, cooking and eating a Dutch girl and evading the justice system, spending only eight months in an institution before he was released to do the morning talk show circuit, promoting his new cookbook and writing restaurant reviews(!) along the way. He lives freely in Tokyo to this day.
There are plenty of strange occurrences in the Showa era that aren’t captured in the book too: a 1984 frilled neck lizard “boom” after the Australian creature was featured in a Mitsubishi television commercial, seismic appetites for tirimasu and red wine which erupted and then evaporated shortly after and the later 2008 banana diet which swept the country.

16 01 2016