September 29, 2008

Kagurazaka on Sunday Afternoon

Kagurazaka is a lively neighbourhood near Iidabashi Station that is sometimes referred to as "little Kyoto". Whilst that description may not be totally accurate in my opinion, its is a nice little area with plenty of great little places to eat and drink. On Sundays it is closed to traffic, so you can enjoy a quiet stroll up the tree-lined slope.
At the top of the slope is the imposing Akagi Shrine, which is the focus of several festivals throughout the year.

September 26, 2008

Tokyo Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

This 50-floor glass and steel structure is the latest addition to the Shinjuku skyscraper district and will house a fashion and design college as well as other shops and offices from what I can understand. Some three years in the making, this distinctive building will be officially opened in the next couple of months.

Umai! (Tasty!)

Sign outside a yakitori restaurant in Shinjuku. If it's recommended by a Blues Brothers lookalike , it's got to be worth a visit!

September 21, 2008

Books: Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace

British writer David Peace has achieved recognition and acclaim with his previous novels, which include the Red Riding Quartet and The Damned United, but this is his first novel set in the Japanese capital where he has lived since 1994.

The story opens of the eve of the Japanese surrender in 1945, with the main protagonist, Detective Minami and some colleagues looking into the discovery of a female corpse in the Shinagawa area. The military police soon find a scapegoat and the case is closed.

Fast forward to a year later, and Minami and his team are called to open a murder hunt after two naked female corpses are discovered in a park having been raped and brutally murdered. As the investigation proceeds, it turns out that there are more than two victims and that some of the killings occurred outside Tokyo.

Whilst the murder investigation is compelling, the real appeal of the book is the way that Peace has evoked the whole atmosphere of darkness, depression and despair that must have existed in the period that immediately followed the war. The picture he paints is of a city full of people on the brink of starvation, with people in official positions desperately trying to reinvent their past in order to avoid the clampdowns and purges, a city with a thriving black market, pan pan girls and occupation forces.

Minami himself is a flawed hero, and during his investigations he struggles with his own demons, that continuously haunt him. He ponders on his own (possibly criminal) involvement in the war in China, his failing to his wife and children, his obsession with his mistress, his obligations to a gang leader who keeps him supplied with sedatives, as well as his concerns over which of his colleagues are working against him.

Some may find the staccato sentences and use of Japanese onomatopoeia ("Gari gari. I itch, I scratch") a bit irritating, but over time it helps the narrative falls into a kind of rhythm and it also contributes to the reader's increasing awareness of just how unstable Minami's psyche has become.

The actual murders are based on a real life serial killer, and the author uses this story very well to open a window on to a society trying to pick itself up after a very damaging defeat. It's made me want to look into this period further and I'm also looking forward to the next installment from Peace in what has been billed as a trilogy.

September 10, 2008

Visions of Violet

Odyssey Revised - The Fabulous Three
Spin It Jig - Smokey Brooks
Song For Ray - Bronx River Parkway
That Gut Feeling - TM Juke & The Jack Baker Trio feat. Andreya Triana
Extension - Re-Trick
Visions of Violet - Jose James feat Flying Lotus
Wake Up - Yasumasa Kumagai
Better Git In Your Soul - Charles Mingus
Deep Eight - Johnny Griffin
Tsui So - indigo jam unit

September 08, 2008

Porky Little Devil

Graffiti art at the entrance to Miyashita Koen in Shibuya.

Down and Out in Shibuya

The homeless in Japan will often assemble bits of scrap material and the ubiquitous blue plastic sheeting to make their own shacks on public land, with some even running cables from public sources to power televisions or other gadgets. These hovels are in Miyashita Koen in Shibuya next to the Yamanote line tracks.

Storm Clouds in Ginza

Ginza on Sunday afternoon, just before the rain started.

Jimmy Onishi Exhibition in Ginza

Jimmy Onishi is a Japanese comedian turned painter, though he concentrates his efforts mainly on his art these days. He is known internationally for the 'ten ten ten' clip on YouTube (click here to view) that was an excerpt from a TV comedy special. As a painter, he is famous for his very colourful dreamlike images that have both admirers and detractors. There is little doubt, though, that he has been very successful with his artwork, which includes both acrylics and oil paintings as well as some sculpture work.

This month he has a short exhibition of his work from the last ten or so years at the Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza and I popped along to have a look on Sunday. As with any exhibition of a well-known artist in Japan, it was a popular draw and there was a 50-minute wait just to buy tickets. After that it was a slow shuffle in single file through the gallery to look at the many works on display.

All of the works were very colourful, and you can see a clear progression in both style and technique as time passes. Personally, I felt that some pieces worked very well, while others were overly busy with detail.

After viewing the exhibition, there was the chance to buy the merchandise (obligatory with any exhibition anywhere these days) from the 'Jimmy Collection'. My money stayed in my pocket, however.

A fun exhibition on the whole.

September 05, 2008

The Rebirth of ... Dense(?)

"Dense Through Being Cool"
Sticker spotted in Shibuya.

September 02, 2008


Footprints - Miles Davis
Vortex - Max Grunhard Quintet
Desert Fairy Princess - Adele Sebastien
Crisis - Bottom Rhythm Jam
Boom Clicky Boom Klack - Sonar Kollektiv Orchester

Children's Song - The Third Eye
Baby I Love You - The Kadri Six feat Lamia
War - Carla Whitney
All We Need Is Another Chance - The Escorts
Where Would You Be - Yaw