July 31, 2008

Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop

Insect (couldn't tell you what type) gorging itself on pollen for lunch.

No Littering Dumbo!

Small, discreet yet cute (did I really just say that?) anti-littering sticker near Kagurazaka.

Live Music at Lunchtime

I was on the way back to the office after lunch yesterday when I came across this band playing near Iidabashi Station. They go by the name of Cine Romantista and they play what their sign calls 'flamenco fusion', which was very pleasant on the ear, and I decided to linger around in the sunshine for ten or fifteen minutes to listen.

July 28, 2008

Colourful Sunset

"Hmm, ... not much to graze on here."

Opposite the huge Isetan department store in Shinjuku, there is a major building project going on that won't be finished for at least another year or so, and so to beautify the view, there is the Shinjku Art Gallery, where young local artists have reproductions of theor work on show to the passersby. This was one of the works on display, but sadly my knowledge of kanji is not up to the task of me being able to tell you the title of the work or who produced it.

Good Karma

On the street running parallel to the tracks on the north side of Nakano station is this little place called Karma. The interior is a jumble of squashed up mismatching tables, though it probably only seats about eight people in total, and there are various works of art on display among the clutter. It's cosy and laid-back (it might take about ten minutes for the one member of staff to react to you having walked in), but it's not a bad place to go for lunch or afternoon tea and cake.

July 27, 2008

Kahei in Numabukuro

Tucked away on a little side street just off the shoutengai, Kahei is a stylish and friendly little izakaya, with a nice selection of food and drink at fairly reasonable prices. Tonight I had a bit of sashimi, some kuro buta kakuni (simmered pork),parmesan risotto and salad, which all went down rather well. I really should come here a bit more often.

Hyakannon Kentoue

This relatively quiet festival takes place on the last Sunday in July each year and it is the only time of year you can walk around the garden of deities in front of this temple in Nakano-ku. I enjoyed last year's event and so decided to come again this year. Plus, having bought a new camera since the last event, I was hoping to get some better shots of the statues. Sadly, the light wasn't particularly great as there were some very dark clouds looming and thunder in the distance, so the results weren't as good as I was hoping for.

As in previous years, there was a Indonesian-style gamelan performance, with both music and dance. Apparently the group have been performing at this event for over twenty years. Part way through their first set, it started to rain a bit, though it wasn't heavy enough to ruin the event.

Crash Cafe Jelly Cream In!

New drink/dessert product on sale at a local convenience store.

July 22, 2008

Books: The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

The story goes that academic and editor Michael Cox spent about thirty years writing this book, taking deep inspiration from the nineteenth century authors such as Charles Dickens and William Wilkie Collins. The Meaning of Night starts with real drama and from the start we follow the story of Edward Glyver and his search for revenge on his long-standing adversary, the wonderfully named Phoebus Daunt.

Cox does well in recreating mid-nineteenth century London with sketches of all different levels of society, from sprawling country estates to dingy opium dens in the capital. In true nineteenth century mystery style, the drama unfolds one episode at a time and the tension gradually builds as the story progresses. Having said that, however, I found that as the story progressed I was able to successfully anticipate the next turn the story would take, and I felt that the 'big twist' was no great surprise. Nevertheless on the whole, I have to say that I enjoyed the book and it is a creditable first novel.

July 21, 2008

Bill Sticker in Koenji

Not sure if this was advertising a band or not, but this sticker posted on a wall in Koenji caught my eye.

July 20, 2008

Nakano Chample Festa

Every year in mid-late July there is the Nakano Chample Festa, a festival that has been taking place for 30 or 40 years. Goya chample is an Okinawan dish and eisa is an Okinawan dance, and it seems that some Tokyo residents originally from Okinawa decided to maintain some Okinawan traditions in the capital. So a bit like the Notting Hill Carnival, though the distances from the original culture to the festival location aren't so great and the scale is somewhat smaller.

Usually there is a stage in front of the huge SunPlaza building where the eisa groups perform and there are several stalls in the vicinity selling goya chample, beef skewers, fried noodles, juice and beer as well as festival T-shirts and so on.

As well as performing on the main stage, each eisa group takes part in a procession, dancing up and down the pedestrianised streets that run north of Nakano Station, and there are judging stations and at the end of the festival the grand prix is awarded to the best group.

Street performers in Shinjuku

Saturday night near Shinjuku station in front of the Alta Building saw this bunch playing live. Everything had been carefully thought through it seems. The band, Jack Rose, named after Di Caprio's character in Titanic was going to appeal to the female population (note the entire front row is female), and the half glam rock half cosplay image would appeal to others. Surely they had a recipe for success? Well, it seems that they forget to think about one important thing ~ the actual music. It's difficult to put into words, but it was almost glam rock meets Japanese para-para with a pub singer. Quite possibly the worst band I've ever seen.

Peculiar Times

His Nibs - Neil Cowley Trio
Peculiar Times - Shawn Lee
Witness - The New Mastersounds
Invisible - Baby Charles
1958 - Skalpel
Monkey Mush Down - Naruyoshi Kikuchi Dub Sextet
Amalgam - Fascinated Session
The Panther - Dexter Gordon
Snafu - Yusef Lateef
Just For A Day (Sunday) - TM Juke

July 15, 2008

Malaysia: July 9th/10th - Kuala Lumpur graffiti

Some stencil pieces

Malaysia: July 9th/10th - Kuala Lumpur ~ various shots

Compacted KL skyline in reflection

Not far from the expensive malls on Bukit Bintang is this building, which, as far as I understand used to be the main KL prison before the city expanded. It's now used by the police.
Very clear message on Malaysia's policy towards traffickers.
Coffee shop in Chinatown
Colourful shophouses

July 14, 2008

Malaysia: July 9th - Kuala Lumpur

Given that there was no breakfast included at the hotel, I opted for a Cornish pastie at one of the open air cafes along Bukit Bintang and took some time to catch up with my diary and do some people watching, which always fun in a busy city.

At around midday, I took a combination of the monorail and LRT as far as Masjid Jamek, where there is a very impressive looking mosque, which was apparently designed by a British architect some one hundred years ago.

From there it is a short walk to reach what is referred to as Chinatown, where some of the old shophouses and colonial-era buildings are still standing despite the relentless pace of development in KL.

Of course, I ended up popping into Central Market, which like Covent Garden, was formerly a produce market that now mainly caters for tourists. It contains dozens of shops selling different trinkets, souvenirs and antiques, with the prices and quality of goods varying enormously. There were shops selling exactly the same 'ethnic' knick-knacks you find in Thailand and Vietnam, whereas others offered nice batik prints or wood carvings at much higher prices. It was fun to spend a little time wandering around, and there was also the added benefit of a cheap food court, where I had some black pepper chicken claypot for lunch.

Upon leaving Central Market, I continued down the road a bit and found a superb shop called Peter Hoe Evolution, which had lots of original stylish batik sarongs, shirts, table linen and so on, as well as other bits and bobs. It was nice to be able to wander around without the pressure to purchase.

Just around the corner, there was a second larger store called Peter Hoe Evolution + Beyond, which also sold furniture and soft furnishings and had its own cafe.

Opposite this store is the Guandi Temple and a little further down the street there is the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, with its huge ornate entrance.

It was starting to rain at this point so I decided to head back the way I had come, stopping off in Central Market on the way for a 30-minute foot massage, which was welcome after all the walking I'd been doing on the trip.

Seeing that this was the last night of the trip, I decided to do things in style a bit in the evening, and, after returning to the hotel to shower, freshen up and change, I headed towards the swanky Starhill Gallery mall. This is a beautifully laid out mall with about five floors of luxury shops that I would never dream of entering, let alone buying anything. However, on the lower ground floor, there is also a wide selection of places to eat. Following recommendations in the Lonely Planet, I opted for a stylish Indian restaurant called Vansh, which, although a little pricier than other places I'd dined at, was not too expensive given the quality of the food and surroundings. The waiting staff were something else. They have all obviously been trained in trying to sell as many dishes as possible ("Just a wafer thin mint, monsieur?" comes to mind), and if I had accepted all of the suggestions, I don't think I would have been able to stand at the end of the meal. Very good food nevertheless.

To round the night off, I had a drink in the swish outdoor cafe/bar Lecka Lecka, though passed on the option of a hookah (shisha).