The art of Gengoroh Tagame

18 06 2017


Above, new Tagame-inspired swimwear from hipster manga company Massive and below, the infamous bath at Ueno’s 24 Kaikan.

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.

Flowers in New York and Tokyo

21 05 2017


Above, a rogue florist is turning public rubbish bins into floral art installations in New York. Below, a pop-up womens’ bathhouse designed by photographer Mika Ninagawa to promote Tsubaki (camellia) brand shampoo – open in Tokyo’s Ariake district for the next few months only.

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Tokyo 70s 80s

2 05 2017


Listening to records with friends over the weekend, the subject of Kenji Sawada came up. The fresh-faced and well-scrubbed teen idol morphed in the mid–70s into something much more transgressive, a louche Roxy Music-esque man-vamp in the mould of David Bowie, becoming an enduring Japanese music and fashion icon.

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He also starred in two notable movies, the Man Who Stole the Sun, a psychedelic romp about a rogue chemistry teacher who builds his own atomic bomb, and an iconic turn in the sumptuous Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.

Sawada also appeared in the advertising campaign for PARCO department store, often paired with J-supermodel of the moment and fellow face of the early eighties, Sayoko Yamiguchi. What a time!

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Yamiguchi also flirted with Western rockers like Steely Dan – on the cover of one of their albums, above – and the rolling Stones.


Tokyo mixtape

11 04 2017

Tokyo boys by Ryan Chan

18 02 2017

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New Tokyo landmark

25 09 2016


The new “Ginza Place” building, which opened in Tokyo this week, housing the new product showrooms for Sony and Nissan. It is by the same architects, Klein Dytham, who did the Tsutaya T-Site Building in Daikanyama that I enjoyed so much on my Tokyo trip earlier this year, when I also explored the “new Ginza.”

New era

20 08 2016


News filtered through this week that the seventy-something Japanese emperor has been dropping hints of his impending abdication. It would mean the end of the Akihito era ( Imperial stints are renamed posthumously in Japan, so the official title wouldn’t emerge until either his death or effective abdication, I’m not sure which, and the Japanese calendar would again return to Year 1).

But there were other, perhaps even more meaningful signs of change afoot in the Eastern capital. Mega-boyband SMAP confirmed they would disband, a decision which to me seems startlingly overdue (the members are all squarely middle-aged) and will do little to dent their media ubiquity anyway. I had forgotten they actually released records in the avalanche of advertising campaigns, well-reported feuds and nervous breakdowns, films, detective dramas and Korean co-productions the SMAP “boys” have embarked on.

But much sadder was the closure of PARCO department store in Shibuya, a truly iconic Tokyo landmark, which once set the tone for Shibuya’s glistening youth fashion culture, complete with Eiko Ishioka-designed advertisements. The Logos bookstore in the basement was always on my personal “must do” list whenever I was visiting the city, or every Saturday morning, when I lived there. It was also where I saw the “Tokyo death banana!” and got hit on by a Japanese guy who had seen me at the Peel, a gay bar in Melbourne, the year before.

The PARCO chain lives on, but with its heart – for now – missing. It will reopen again in three years time, but will it still be the same ?

Dan the barbarian

4 08 2016

“Dan the Barbarian”, a manga series about culture clash between a sexy caveman and time-travelling current-day Tokyoites, was a conspicuous flop for illustrator Santa Inoue. His previous series “Tokyo Tribe” had spawned a cult status, millions of manga sold, a live action “hip hop opera” film adaptation and a popular fashion line with its own Harajuku headquarters. “Dan…” by comparison was so low-key that when I tried to find a copy, they weren’t even stocking it in the “Tokyo Tribe” store. It has now been released on kindle however on Japanese Amazon, together with a “Tokyo Tribe spinoff called “Tokyo Burger”.


6 07 2016


Tokyo calling

4 07 2016

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

Summer fun

9 06 2016


As Summer spreads around the Northern Hemisphere, New York house club Body & Soul touched down in Hong Kong (pathetically, I didn’t go), Taiwan is hosting a gay beach party in the first week of July and Tokyo is gearing up for its “Bear Week”at the same time with a bonus visit from Francois Sagat to the FancyHim party on June 25th.

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Down under meanwhile, the Vivid Festival has been lighting up Sydney with its now trademark projections onto the Opera House, plus a storming DJ set from Bjork and an equally storming actual storm, which saw monster waves sweep over multi-million dollar harbourside mansions. One woman’s marble swimming pool was washed out to sea. An acerbic Facebook friend of mine remarked, “Where will she keep her diamonds cool in the summertime now?”

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All around the world

12 05 2016


Above, poster for WordUp bar in Tokyo. Below, Adria A in Brazil.

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Okunte Kinte in Uganda.

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And Eko Nugroho in Indonesia.

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In Japan

9 04 2016

The gentle world – Makoto Shinkai

22 03 2016

I have only recently discovered the gentle world of Makoto Shinkai. His sweet, rather girly animated movies, are possessed of  a very Japanese charm. Much of this comes from their attention to the details of ordinary life, and particularly ordinary life in Tokyo, rendered in loving, hyper-realistic detail. Anyone who has ever walked through Shinjuku Gyoen for example, will feel pangs of natsukashhhiiii from “Garden of Words”.

Tokyo Drifter

7 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!

Flashing lights and laser ghosts: the future is now

27 02 2016


Display of wildlife at the new 599 museum at Tokyo’s Mount Takao and a holographic protest in Seoul.


Tokyo in colour

13 02 2016


New work from Daido Moriyama. After nearly a lifetime spent capturing Tokyo in grainy black and white, the Japanese photographer has intriguingly burst into colour in his seventies.

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.

Tokyo nights

25 01 2016


By Masashi Wakui.