May 29, 2007

indigo jam unit @ duo

Four months on from the previous Tokyo appearance last night saw another 'indigo jam room' event at Duo Music Exchange in Shibuya.
Again Takeshi Yoshimura was the warm-up DJ, and after the venue slowly filled up, it was time for the opening act, Native (bottom picture), to take the stage. They played a solid 45-minute set with songs from both new and old. The band play good cafe-style jazz and are a very tight live unit. This was the third time I've seen them and probably the best of the three in my opinion. 'Drum'n GO GO', 'Step it' and the set closer 'Diva' seemed to go down particularly well.

No sooner had they played their last note than the incredible percussionist Tsuji Kosuke started drumming up a storm at the back of the auditorium on bongos and djembes. For this event there was purely percussion rather than violin/effects accompaniment in January. Personally, I found that this set was much better, and the fact that he was playing down with the audience rather than up on stage made the atmosphere really electric. For the latter part of his set he was accompanied by Shimi of indigo jam unit on drums, and they worked the crowd into a frenzy.

Finally it was time for indigo jam unit. They opened with the superb 'Sakura' and kept the pace going, with a one of my favourites 'Scene-Cartaincall' coming a couple of tracks later. They performed a couple of new songs, and delivered strong performances of 'Giant Swing' and '7th Feeling' mid-set. Bassist 'BJ' was on form with his witty patter between songs and the climax of the set came with a three track segment comprising of 'Spiral Waltz', 'Alert' and '2x2'. After a short break they were back for an encore of 'Ka I Ka' and 'Palette'.

On the whole I enjoyed last night's event even more than the January one and will certainly be looking forward to them returning in September.

May 28, 2007

Just how badly do you need that doughnut?

It would appear that there is something of a dougnut war going on in Tokyo these days with different shops vying for first place. At the moment there appears to be a clear leader in the field, with Krispy Kreme being the doughnut of choice. You can see people wandering around Shinjuku with their de rigueur Krispy Kreme bags filled with dozen boxes of doughnuts. Though you have to be prepared to sacrifice part of your day to get your fix.

This was the queue directly in front of Krispy Kreme the other week, and there was a sign saying that it was an hour and a half from the end of that queue to getting served.
To get to the queue in front of the shop, however, you had to join the long queue trailing back over the bridge to Shinjuku station, as seen here.

Of course, the queue at another shop might be a matter of minutes, but that won't do, because it's not Krispy Kreme.

Now if only I could hit upon a sure-fire winner for the next food/fashion/gadget fad ...

May 18, 2007

Road map

Ordinary Joe - Terry Callier
Closer - DJ Day & Aloe Blacc
Shuffering and shmiling - Fela Kuti

Anytime, anywhere - Jimi Tenor & Kabu Kabu
Forty days - Sound Directions
The Grifter - Fast 3
Pluto - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions
Matsuri - Jaz'presso
Road map - Damon Aaron
Ridin on down - Big Bill Broonzy

May 06, 2007

Soil & "Pimp" Sessions at the Hibiya Park Open Air Arena

Just got back from Hibiya Park where I saw Soil & "Pimp" Sessions in the rain. This is the largest venue I've seen them at so far, and despite booking tickets online the day they went on general sale, I was quite near the back on the 3000-capacity arena.

Even though it was windy and pouring with rain at the start of the gig, and the stage crew had their work cut trying keep the plastic sheeting in place, the band gave a performance as lively as ever to an enthusiastic crowd almost all clad in plastic raincoats. There was a very strict no camera policy, with any transgressors quickly being stopped, so unfortunately I don't have any shots to share.

The two-hour set was a mix of older well-established songs such as "Suffocation", "Summer Goddess" and "Sahara" and a large part of the new album Pimpoint, with "We Want More!!!!" and "The Party" going down really well. As ever Shacho was on form with his chat between songs and the chemistry between the musicians electric. If you haven't seen them already, I strongly recommend them.

After they complete their Japan tour, they're off to Europe in June and will be playing at Glastonbury and also the Jazz Cafe in London.

Some pictures are available on the band's website a the following link:

A wander around Daikanyama

With the fantastic weather continuing on Friday, I decided to go and look around the Daikanyama area of Shibuya-ku. Starting from Shibuya station, I stopped on the way at the Marble Cafe for some lunch. I opted for some spaghetti genovese style, but made with shiso (perilla) rather than basil which was pretty tasty. The cafe itself is a typical fashionable hang out with nice decor and murals on the walls (part of which can be seen below).

Outside the cafe next to the menus in the window is the following sign, which was without a doubt written with the (misguided) assistance of translation software.

After lunch I spent a couple of enjoyable hours looking around the various vintage clothing and interior goods shops dotted around Daikanyama. In the streets away from the main road it's difficult to imagine that you're in one of the world's most populous cities, as it's really quiet.

Street art in Daikanyama.

May 05, 2007

Is That Enough?

Is that enough? - Marvin Gaye
Feelin' good - Nina Simone
Barabajagal - Donovan
Lucien - DJ Day
Dancing girl - Terry Callier
Road map - Damon Aaron
Stoned Part 1 (session version) - Lewis Taylor
Accordion - Madvillain
Uprising - Antibalas
Vera Cruz - Jaz'presso

Shop in Koenji (downstairs from Ugly)

Is this a clothes shop or a butcher? Or both perhaps?

Shop in Koenji

You mean me? Ouch! That cuts deep.


The English football season is drawing to a close, or, for some teams it's already over. After a season of ups and downs ~ where sometimes they played flowing attacking football, and sometimes they simply ran about on the pitch without any creative flair ~ things finally came to an end on Tuesday with a 2-0 defeat to Hastings United in the Ryman Divison One South play-off semi-final. It was a disappointing blow after a fanastic run in over the last few games that saw them score 14 goals in the last three league matches alone. However, it was the clueless wonders who turned up on Tuesday night and they didn't seem to have any creative strategy to deal with a solid Hastings team. So, another seasoon in Ryman One South beckons, with what may be a fairly new-look Dover team, as they are currently advertising for a new manager, so no doubt the playing staff will change a bit too.
Here's looking forward to August.
(Oh, and for anyone interested, you can follow the drama of Dover Athletic at

May 01, 2007

Hakone - Day 2 - Lake Ashi

The last leg of the weekend trip was a sightseeing boat trip across Lake Ashi. And what better way to cross the lake than by pirate ship? With the clear skies, there was a great view of the surrounding mountains, and, as the boat neared the destination port of Moto Hakone, Mount Fuji came into view behind us in the distance.

Hakone - Day 2 - The Museum of Saint Exupéry and The Little Prince

I mentioned in earlier post that every thought has gone in to how provide as much entertainment or things to do other than the hot springs or hiking in the Hakone area. Probably one of the more unusual examples of this is the Museum of Saint Exupéry and The Little Prince. The reason I say it's unusual is that I can think of no special reason why there should be a museum for his work in Japan, let alone in the mountains in hot spring country. Can you imagine a museum for, say, Natsume Soseki in the Lake District?

As with British pubs, and country-themed amusement parks elsewhere in the country (Huis Ten Bosch, New Zealand Village, etc), a lot of effort has gone into creating a mock authentic look ~ in this case 1930s France. The grounds of the museum lead you on a pleasant walk among imitation shop fronts with signs in French and street names such as Rue De Géographie, and later you see models of the characters from Saint Exupéry's best known book.

The you step inside to see some exhibits that tell the life story of the aviator/pioneer/writer, and then later the characters of the Little Prince. Near the end of the tour you reach a staircase to go back downstairs, the lights dim, and stirring string music starts as you read about his ill-fated last flight from which he never returned. The ceiling above the staircase shows his plane, the lighting changes and it disappears, to be replaced by some stars. You can't get more sentimental than that.

Just before you leave you can visit the souvenir shop which offers a myriad of different goods licensed by the writer's estate. I wonder what the great man would have made of that.

Hakone - Day 2 - Hakone Museum of Photography

After a huge breakfast at the pension it was time to check out and explore more sights. First stop was the rather grandly named Hakone Museum of Photography, which in fact turned out to be an annexe of a private house featuring pictures by one photographer ~ the house owner, I guess. You pay your 400 yen on entry and the woman working at the ticket office/souvenir shop/café rang a bell and a little old man appeared. He the showed us around the first floor of the little annexe which featured large prints of pictures taken by his son proudly explaining each shot ("This is Mount Fuji in winter at sunrise," "This is Mount Fuji in the summer on a hazy day," etc...). Thankfully, the second floor had pictures of other sights in the Hakone area, some of which I hadn't heard about, but was intersted in seeing. If I take another trip down this way, I'll make a point of going to see them.

Despite having a big name to live up to, this tiny museum was actually fun to visit ~ the pictures were good, the house is nicely designed, complete with a tiny garden cafe, and whilst not really essential to understanding the pictures, the guided commentary from the photographer's father was nice mainly because he was obviously so proud of the whole set up.

Hakone - Day 1 - Time for a bath

Of course, the biggest attraction of coming to Hakone is to experience the hot springs, and to refresh yourself after the daily grind of city life. There are lots of ryokans (Japanese inns) with baths in the area, ranging from fairly pricey to downright exorbitant, but this time I stayed at a small pension hidden away up in the mountains. There are only about half a dozen basic rooms there, and unlike the ryokans, there aren't large baths open to all, but rather two small rotenburo (open air baths) that you get to use privately at an allotted time ~ one before dinner and one after dinner).

One of the open-air baths gives you one of the best views I've ever seen from a hot spring, and you feel as if you're surrounded by vast open space. I could have stayed there all afternoon.

As with any place you stay that has a hot spring, the evening meal is a real feast, with one person's food being enough to feed a familay of four, or at least I felt as if I'd eaten enough for four after the meal. After a short time relaxing in front the stove, it was time to take the second bath, this time in the more intimate settings of a small Japanese garden.

Hakone - Day 1 - Open Air Museum

The cable car usually descends towards Lake Ashi from Owakudani, but that leg of the journey is being renewed at the moment, so it was either a long wait for the shuttle bus or opting to go back the way I came and take in some other sights. Given that the pension I was staying in was off the funicular railway, the latter option seemed much better.

Being Japan, every thought has gone in to how to maximise the entertainment value of any short trip ~ or from a more cynical view point, how to maximise the opportunities to get people to part with their cash. Just below the start of the funicular railway is the Hakone Open Air Museum, and this represents one of the better value entertainment options on offer in the Hakone area.

The museum is in a huge park area, surrounded by forested mountains, and it is home to dozens of impressive sculptures, some by the likes of Henry Moore, Rodin and Miro.There is also the Picasso pavilion, which houses some of his paintings and a fairly extensive collection of some of the ceramics he did in the latter part of his career.

The museum realises that families will be among the potential visitors, and so there is are some play areas for the kids, which is good, but why did they have to put them so damn close to the sculptures? There is no way of taking in the Miro sculpture pictured below without seeing the monstrous plastic climbing frame behind it and the dozens of pre-schoolers running around. Surely not the way art is supposed to be admired.

'Balzac' by Auguste Rodin

'Personnage' by Joan Miro. Unfortunately situated right in front of a horrible plastic labyrinth of a climbing frame for kids.

'Hand of God' by Carl Milles
'Miss Black Power' by Niki de Saint Phalle
The biggest work on display. You can't get an impression of the scale from this photo, but if I were stadning next to this sculpture, I'd probably only come up to the knee.

Smart tea

Is this of its own accord, or does it require coercion?

Hakone - Day 1 - Owakudani

After getting to the top of the funicular railway (about 750m above sea level), I hopped on to the cable car (called a 'ropeway' in Japanese) up to the highest point, called Owakudani (1050m), which is famous for the sulphurous gases and steam jets coming from the ground, so-called 'black eggs' that have been boiled in the hot pools, as well as the spectacular view you get of Mount Fuji.

The cabins hold about sixteen people and near me there was a toddler with her mum, excitedly looking out at the sights. At one point the child said "Look Mum, there's our shadow, pointing at the trees below." Mum mentioned that it was a long way down and that it would really hurt if she fell, and after that the poor child spent the rest of the ascent whimpering that she was scared and wanted to get off. She may well grow up with a fear of heights after that utterance from her mother. I couldn't believe my ears.

Boiling hot water bubbling up from the ground. In the hour or so I was at Owakudani, I saw the water level in this pool rise by several inches. Incidentally, I have no idea if I stayed there 'long', because the warning sign doesn't give an indication of how long you should or shouldn't hang around.
One of the staff putting the next batch of eggs in to boil, with Mount Fuji visible in the background.
A 'black egg', boiled and ready to eat. If you believe the signs posted around the place, eating one of these will add seven years to your life. Seeing as they're only sold by the half dozen, it might explain why the Japanese have a high average life expectancy! Quite remarkable for something that tastes exactly the same as a normal boiled egg.
I was lucky with the weather and this meant that there was a clear view of Mount Fuji. The previous time I had been to Hakone, the weather was awful, and the hills were shrouded in clouds and thick fog making any mountain tops invisible, so it was nice to actually see this time what I missed out on previously.

Hakone - Day 1

The end of April and the beginning of May in Japan is known as Golden Week, since four ntional Holidays fall in the space of one week. This year that means a three-day weekend closely followed by a four-day weekend ~ or, for the lucky ones like me, nine days off!

No matter where you decide to head in Golden Week, it's likely to be crowded, so you either have to accept that and join the masses, or spend a quieter time at home. I decided to head to Hakone, in Kanagawa prefecture, which is famous for its hot springs and views of Mount Fuji. Of course, thousands of others had the same idea.

Once you arrive in Hakone itself, there is the choice of staying down in the town itself, or taking the mountain train and/or the funicular railway to various different points up in the mountains. The top picture shows part of the queue for the funicular railway (confusingly called a 'cable car' in Japanese) at the lower station on Sunday morning, and the second picture show the train coming into the station.