November 30, 2008


The next stop round on the Yamanote Line from Takadanobaba is Mejiro, a relatively quite stop on the line, and one of only two stops on the line that doesn't connect with any other railway or subway line.
Mejiro Dori is the main thoroughfare that runs in front of the station.
If you go to the right side, you hit the leafy avenue with the Gakushuin University main campus, as well as some other schools or colleges.

Heading back towards the station and continuing long Mejiro Dori, you come to an area with some shops, cafes and restaurants. A short walk north off the main street through a quiet residential area brings you to Mejiro Garden, a traditional Japanese garden that is free to enter.
It's a perfect spot to relax in silence for a while, just taking in the view, which at this time of year is very colourful.

Enjoying the view.

Back on Mejiro Dori I had a look at some of the shops, including Mono-Sick-Studio, better then stereo sick, I guess.
Painting on a utilities service box.
Popular looking Italian restaurant ...
... and just upstairs is a reggae and darts bar, going by the name of Denver. Not sure what the connection is, but maybe it's an OK place to go.
Quaint no parking sign.
Artificial flower display outside a 100 yen shop.
Mejiro Dori also boasts its own Japanese sword and armour shop ~ not something you see on every high street.
Walking south from Mejiro Dori past some expensive-looking housing, you eventually come to Otomeyama Park, a fairly wild, but peaceful park with plenty of trees and greenery that is pretty much left to nature. It's probably not what you could call a beautiful park, but it is almost like an oasis of untamed green in a big city.
On the whole Mejiro was pleasant to wander around, and is probably a nice place to live, though there isn't much to encourage the casual visitor to make many return visits. More of a residential area than a lively hub of activity.

November 25, 2008

Swing Soul Sessions in Iidabashi

I came across this four-piece outfit playing a kind of jazz-funk muzak on the way home today while walking through the shopping complex next to Iidabashi Station. I stood and watched for a couple of minutes, and to be honest they were competent and not bad as such, but not particularly memorable. Much more entertaining was the drunk salary man (not bad going considering it was only about 6pm) dancing and smiling to himself slightly to the right of the stage area.

November 24, 2008


Having started this project at Shin-Okubo, on Sunday I went to the next stop, Takadanobaba, high up in Shinjku ward, or simply Baba as it's commonly referred to as. Due to its location, it has a high student population, and as a result a lot of cheap izakaya and a wide selection of international restaurants to cater to that clientele.
Immediately next to the station is Big Box, a building housing some shops, a karaoke box, a gym and a bowling alley. Despite its rather plain appearance, it has actually been refurbished fairly recently.
The square in front of it is often used as a meeting point for students in the evening and you can often see large groups of young people in various stages of inebriation there as the evening wears on.
Under the railway bridge, there are two murals dedicated to animator Osamu Tezuka, who was the creator of the world-famous Astro Boy.

The small river that runs just behind Waseda Dori.
Most of the shops, restaurants and bars of interest are on or near Waseda Dori, including The Blue Parrot, one of the best-known secondhand English bookshops in Tokyo.
A good place for a drink or a bite to eat is Cafe Cotton Club, which also features live jazz in the evenings.

For my Sunday lunch I opted for a curry at a place called Malabar, which was OK but nothing special.

After lunch, I wandered past Babakuchi and into Waseda past this replica gun shop and on as far as Ana-Hachiman shrine.

I turned off Waseda Dori and doubled back towards the sprawling Toyama Park which is split between two locations.

Dance practice in the park.
Graffiti in Toyama Park.

Baba is a fairly laid back place that is worth visiting from time to time to pick up some books and also to eat out.

November 23, 2008

Books: Tokyo Underworld by Robert Whiting

Tokyo Underworld tells the true story of Nick Zapetti, an American ex-pat in Tokyo and his colourful and turbulent life in Japan. Initially stationed in Japan for the Occupation period after World War II, Zapetti stayed on after his tour of duty and set up trying to make as much money as he could. Initially involved in the black market and illegal banking, Zapetti eventually went into the restaurant business, opening up the legendary Nicola's in Roppongi, and whilst this was a legitimate business, he was forever involved with organised crime.

Whiting's book is meticulously researched, and Zapetti's story is told in tandem with a social history of the Tokyo that he was involved with. From the post-war black market (in operation just three days after the Japanese surrender in a city lying in ruins), through the pro-wrestling boom of the fifties and the rise of the yakuza in the sixties, Whiting shows us the development of modern Japan. As is probably typical in any post-conflict area, politics, industry and organised crime were very closely linked in the rebuilding of Japan, but what is particularly interesting about Japan is that those close ties persisted through Japan's rebirth and through to the end of the century, and there is no reason to believe that anything has changed in the last decade.

A truly compelling book, Tokyo Underworld has to be one of the best books written about Japan in recent years. I've also noticed that Warner Brothers have bought the film rights to the book, so it'll be interesting to see how this is portrayed on the big screen if it goes into production.

November 19, 2008

Earth Dancer

Time Has Come - Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro
Strut - John Wright
Earth Dancer - Max Grunhard Quintet
Carbonara - Yasumasa Kumagai
Hanikami - Nation of Multiverse
Crisis - Bottom Rhythm Jam
Time For Change - Speedometer
Si, Se Puede - Antibalas
Del Fuego - Fat Freddys Drop
Ruler Of My Heart - Irma Thomas

November 18, 2008

"I'm Gonna Take Your Face Off"

Not sure if I want any of that paper.

Hakone in the Autumn - Part 2

After a good night's sleep I was up for an early dip in the bath before heading for a nice Japanese breakfast that set me up for the morning.

Check out time was at ten, seeing that it was a beautiful day I decided to head off on one of the walking routes around the Hakone Yumoto area. The first stop was the small but unspectacular Kumano Shrine, which is said to be situated on the site where hot spring waters were first drawn (if I understood it correctly) and the shrine is there to ensure that the waters don't stop.
From there it was a ten minute or so walk to the Tamadare waterfall, with a crystal clear pond full of koi carp beneath it. Nearby on the hillside was a pagoda, though the serenity of the scene is disrupted right now by a building site just metres away where a new hotel is being built on the river banks.

Right next to the waterfall, there are a series of steps leading up to a tiny shrine bearing the same name, which probably used to give you a view over the river.

Further up the valley I passed the Hakone Kannon temple and climbed up the steps to join the old Edo-period road that led back towards the town.
The next part of the route was fairly unspectacular, but I was amazed at just how many ryokans and hotels there are in Hakone Yumoto, as I had previously stayed in different parts of the Hakone area. Eventually I reached Soun-ji, a temple with grounds covered in moss in a peaceful area of town.
The Romance Car in the station with autumn trees in the background.

I had some soba noodles for lunch and after a final walk around the area in front of the station, I got on the Romance Car back to Tokyo, feeling refreshed and ready for the week ahead.