March 29, 2009

Inside Story

The Alchemist Manifesto - Ocote Soul Sounds & Adrian Quesada
Old Age (Youngblood) - Madlib

Who Is This America Dem Speak Of Today? - Antibalas
BMW - Chicago Afrobeat Project

F*ck Off And Leave Me Alone - The Magnificent Freedom
Inside Story - Prince Lasha
Inez - Dave Grusin

To Iskol'Hof - Bent Axen
Get Into Trouble - What's Up?
Shake It - The Five Corners Quintet

Cafe De Souvenir Nakano

You can find Cafe de Souvenir tucked away on the second floor of a building situated on one the narrow walkways that run between Nakano Dori and the Sunmall shopping arcade. The dimly lit narrow coffee shop is fairly comfortable and has a decent enough menu.

There are two types of 'blend' on offer, espresso and other coffee drinks as well as other soft drinks. If you're having an afternoon break then you can also treat yourself to one of the many cakes they have on offer, though be warned that as delicious as they are, they are also pretty filling.

A great place for a quiet coffee in Nakano, especially since many of the chain coffee shops are packed at weekends.

Just Another Monkey Rating: ˜˜˜˜˜

Early Evening Sky In Nakano

March 27, 2009

Soviet Film Posters In The Silent Era @ The National Film Center

The other day I popped along to the National Film Center in Kyobashi, which is just a short walk from Tokyo Station. The centre has cinema screens, a library and, on the seventh floor, an exhibition hall. It costs just 200 yen to go to see the exhibition and the first half is a permanent collection of memorabilia from Japanese cinema history dating, including camera equipment, posters, short film clips and animation plates.

The second half of the exhibition space is given over to the temporary exhibition, a collection of more than 140 Soviet film posters from the silent era, and so also from the early days of the revolution.
The graphic art of the early Soviet period is very distinctive with its blocks of colours, stark angles and heroic poses, with many of the posters also featuring machinery or agricultural equipment as the films obviously reflected the political mood of the times.
Many of the posters featured in the exhibition were designed by the Stenberg brothers, who started out as architects in the Constructivist movement, but gained greater renown through their graphic works.

The exhibition runs until March 29th.

March 26, 2009

What The Devil's Inside?

Decorated shutter in Nakano.

Extreme Shepherding

Obviously some people have far too much time on their hands. Clever stuff if it's 100% authentic.

March 24, 2009

R Koenji

A little south of Koenji station off the PAL shopping arcade is the Chosenji Temple, and on the street leading to the temple tucked away on the second floor is a coffee shop called R. It's not the kind of place you're likely to stumble across by accident, because its presence is announced only by the narrow sign above and a staircase. Climb the stairs and you reach a large green door with a small peephole so you can look inside and a sign reminding customers that it's a place to come for peace and quiet, or rather coffee, books and peace and quiet.
The interior is decorated in a stylish way with an interesting mix of tables and chairs, with none repeated, so that you can, in theory, enjoy a different experience each time you visit.
I managed to find a nice comfy chair with a grandstand view of an aquarium, one of two or three dotted around the shop.
There is an extensive stock of books for customers to peruse if you haven't brought your own with you, with titles to satisfy a variety of ages and interests.
And what of the coffee? Well there are several blends on the menu and I opted for the Kilimanjaro, which was had a nice smooth yet rich flavour. For 680 yen you get a pot from which you can fill your cup three times, making it good value for money.

A great place to spend an hour or two with a good book.

Just Another Monkey Rating: ˜˜˜˜˜

March 23, 2009

Bebop Escalator

Stumbled across this while browsing YouTube for something completely different. Not much to it, but simply the title 'Bebop Escalator' with the various squeaks and noises sounding slightly like a jazz improv session makes it quite amusing.

Tokyo Marathon 2009

Yesterday was the Tokyo Marathon, an event which saw some 35,000 runners beating the tarmac around the capital. The conditions weren't exactly ideal as it was a blustery and cloudy day, but luckily the rain held off for the duration of the race. Of course I wasn't one of the participants in the race myself ~ I watched some of the TV coverage from the comfort of my flat ~ but the event did hold an interest for me this year as a friend from work took part. It was his first marathon and he completed the race in a very impressive 3 hours 31 minutes. Nice one mate!

Will this inspire me to train for next year's race?

I doubt it somehow. I'm happy enough with my 40 minute jogs a couple of times a week and don't really relish the pain barrier that marathons no doubt hold.

March 22, 2009

A New Japanese Icon?

I saw this sticker in Koenji the other day, with Prime Minister Aso depicted in the style of the famous Obama image from last year, with the word 'Hope' replaced by 'Gone', though someone obviously objected to this and sprayed over it. However, with approval ratings reportedly running at less than ten per cent, it must only be a matter of time until that prediction comes true.

March 20, 2009

Real And Unreal Spaces

Decadence - Re-Trick
Junior's Idea - Franco Tonani
Baon Que Bash - P.E. Hewitt Jazz Ensemble
Real And Unreal Spaces - Nation of Multiverse
African Village - quasimode
Operacion Sitio - Pedro Luis Ferrer
Let Me Do My Thing - Los Dinamicos Exciters
Mahlalela - Letta Mbulu
Heavy On Me - Boozoo Bajou
Where Would You Be - Yaw

Times Shinjuku

The Times coffee shop is just a short walk from the East exit of Shinjuku station. This is another coffee shop that seems to have a long history with dark brown worn tables and red upholstered chairs. It also has 'coffee' written in kanji rather than in the more normal katakana, suggesting a more traditional approach.
It's a fairly spacious place and you can relax and pick up one of the many newspapers on offer near the entrance. In fact, a lot of the customers appeared to be poring studiously over the racing form guides on the sports pages and making notes on scraps of paper.
The coffee itself tasted very good but was a little on the tepid side by the time it reached my table. In addition, none of the staff seem to believe in offering service with a smile, or maybe it was just a bad day.

Good coffee and a nice enough place to relax and read for a bit, but the tepid drink, and not so friendly service loses this place one star on my rating.

Just Another Monkey Rating: ˜˜˜˜˜

March 17, 2009

Books: Cuba - A New History by Richard Gott

Cuba is a country that has long held a fascination for me for a number of reasons. There is the idyllic Caribbean location, the wonderful music, famous around the world, the romance of Hemingway, the revolution and, above all, the notion of a country that has stood tall and remained defiantly independent in the face of serious threats from larger and stronger powers.

Since Cuba is a country that polarises opinion in other parts of the world, there are all manner of books that are either strongly in favour or violently against the revolution, but Cuba ~ A New History takes a refreshingly objective view of this small Caribbean island nation. The author, Richard Gott, has visited the island many times and made a career as a journalist on Latin American affairs. Indeed, he was one of the few people on the scene in the Bolivian jungle able to give a positive identification on the body of Che Guevara after the revolutionary had been shot.

Gott's book looks at the history of Cuba over the 500 years or so since the Spaniards first reached its shores. The first half of the book gives us an overview of the island under Spanish rule and the various slave rebellions that took place periodically. Due to the paucity of documentation on the early periods, many of the incidents are explained fairly briefly.

Things become more interesting as the book tackles the battle for independence from Spain and the subsequent American rule of the early twentieth century. It really hits top gear however when dealing with Castro's revolution and the history of the country since then, an era that the author has firsthand experience of. Gott offers a refreshingly objective view of the revolution, in turns praising its victories and criticising its shortcomings, but all the while trying to retain an overall balance.

The book is highly recommended for anyone wanting to understand how Cuba has developed in the way it has and why Castro's government didn't fall when other communist regimes crumbled twenty years ago.

I haven't been to Cuba yet, but finding out more about the place makes me want to go more than ever.

March 10, 2009

Nakano has it maid

With Nakano being home to otaku-heaven Broadway, the shopping centre that is chock full of shops selling manga, figures and costumes, it should come as little surprise that there are also some maid cafes in the area. The two signs below caught my eye because of the punnery. I've translated the names below each picture.

"Home Maid"

" Maid in Nakano"
If, like me, you have never been inside a maid cafe and are curious as to what may go on inside, then check out this English-language video clip from NHK.

March 09, 2009


Ueno is one of the larger stations on the Yamanote Line, with shinkansen lines passing through as well as Tokyo commuter lines. Consequently there are several exits from the station, and for my visit to the area, I decided to take the Park Exit.
As the name suggests, the Park Exit takes you into Ueno Park, a large municipal park which is home to several museums and Ueno Zoo. However, if you wish to enjoy the cultural attractions, then you shouldn't go on a Monday as I did, since Monday is the day when museums are closed. Sadly, it's also my day off, so I miss out on some cultural aspects of Tokyo life as a result.
Poster in the park for an exhibit at the International Library of Children's Literature.
A large statue of a whale outside the National Science Museum.

Ryo-Daishi is a temple in the park grounds that is open on Mondays, so I could look around. It's a fairly impressive temple with some nice gardens, though it was deserted late on a Monday morning.

The main fountain in the park on the main path that takes you to all the museums. Stand too close and you'll get a shower.
The museums may have been closed but there was a Chinese circus act performing near the fountain. This performer most definitely had rubber limbs and undoubtedly spent her childhood doing hours of training.
The entrance to the zoo, with barely a soul in sight on a Monday.
Near the zoo, you can see the five-storey pagoda.
Next to the pagoda is Toshogu Shrine, which was packed with visitors when I visited last year.
A totem pole showing the way to the zoo, sponsored by the ubiquitous Lions Club.

Gojo Tenjinsha Shrine
Hanazono Inari Shrine
At the bottom end of the pond you can see the huge Shinobazu Pond, which has lots of reeds and wild birds as well as a boating pond.
Feeding the birds

Local council workers clear the weeds to maintain an area around the edge of the pond where the ducks, coots and other birds can swim.
Just south of Shinobazu Pond is Nakamachi Dori, lined with izakayas, dodgy bars and an entertainment district.
There's something for all tastes there. The English 'Undies Club' doesn't quite sound as exotic as the 'lingerie club' written in katakana however.
Nakamachi Dori leads on to the busy Chuo Dori, and beyond that there are several shopping streets, including the famous Ameya Yokocho, a market street which was a famous black market area after the war, and it's retained its shitamachi (downtown) feel ever since.

I only ventured halfway down these streets, because the next stop on the line is very close, and I wanted to make sure there was something left to see at Okachimachi.
So I did an about-turn and headed back towards the station, and walked over Asakusa side.

Showa Dori runs parallel to the station and is also known as Bike Town due to the huge number of bike showrooms and repair shops that line either side of the street.

First Rule of Flight Club: Politely inform your customers when the bar is closed.
Second Rule of Flight Club: Confuse any potential customers with your name and sign, when what in fact you do is sell bikes and run a bar on the floor above.
Unfortunately I had already stopped for lunch and a drink elsewhere, otherwise this interestingly named cafe could have been a contender for the 'coffee filter' section.
A shrine on Asakusa Dori

As the afternoon wore on the wind was getting increasingly strong and chilly, so I headed back towards the station, with the prospect of more fun wondering through the downtown area of Okachimachi for the next stop.