April 23, 2009

What's Wrong With Being Naked?

The news story of the day in Japan is the arrest of SMAP member Tsuyoshi Kusanagi for public indecency. He was apparently reported to the police at around three in the morning and was found drunk and naked in a park shouting at the top of his voice. With SMAP being a squeaky clean boy band who have been famous for close to twenty years and who have their own weekly TV show, this is a scandal that has made big headlines and there's speculation as to whether his career has been irrevocably damaged.

Curious though that this was big news within hours of his arrest, yet the former finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa appearing at a G7 press conference three sheets to the wind only made waves in Japan after it had been reported in the European media.

April 22, 2009


The name Akihabara translates as 'field of autumn leaves', but there are few trees in sight in this busy neighbourhood just a short ride north of Tokyo Station. Akihabara (or Akiba for short) is famous around the world as Electric Town ~ the place to go in Tokyo for electrical goods.
Many of the big name stores such as Yodabashi Camera, Sofmap and LAOX are here as well as a host of smaller independent stores.

The area is also famous as a haven for otaku (geeks) into games, anime and cosplay, with plenty of shops catering to those customers.
Since it's featured in almost all of the guide books to Japan, it's also one of the areas in Tokyo that has one of the highest concentration of foreign tourists all on the hunt for bargains, though with the exchange rate as it is at the moment, I suspect that they are hard to come by at the moment.
Near the station there is a maze of smaller retailers dealing in all kinds of goods ranging from cheap memory sticks and mobile phone parts to metres and metres of cable and spy cameras. Literally something for everyone when it comes to electrical goods.
The otaku culture has seen the rise of the maid cafe and with Akihabara being the birth place of these establishments, it's only natural that the area should cash in by producing maid omiyage (souvenirs) such as cookies and chocolates.
Some guy eyeing up a maid costume in a shop window.
Prime Minister Taro Aso is a self-confessed manga freak and so he is feted in the area as a 'cool old dude' with his cartoon likeness visible in several places.
The maid culture goes beyond the simple cafe. Here we have a 'maid opticians', presumably where the staff all wear maid costumes, but unfortunately it was shut on the day I was there so I can't say for sure.
Lots of shops sell cute but somewhat near the mark figurines for collectors, a snip at just 500 yen.
This building is a 'live house' for performance by plastic sounding girl groups who are unknown beyond the otaku world. The singers perform saccharine sweet pop-dance songs over tinny backing tapes and the fans go wild with their own unique dance routines. It's quite unlike anything you can see anywhere else.
A maid touting for customers.

Even the Prime Minister comes in for the omiyage treatment.
Pink-clad maids on the street.
The Kanda river as seen from close to the station.

April 20, 2009

Patch It Up

With All My Love - Jabberloop
Sketch 2009 Version - Re-Trick
Latona - The Fascinations
Bossa Blue Port - Birds of Paradise
Chitterlings Con Carne - Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers
Clear As Water - Una Mas Trio
Patch It Up - Roy Lee Johnson
Hide Out - The Hideaways
Deeper Waters (Eva Be's Secret Love Remix) - Recloose
Morning Brings The Light - Grand Union

April 09, 2009

Cherry Blossoms in Nakano Last Sunday

Last weekend was probably the peak time for cherry blossom viewing around Tokyo with many areas having trees in full bloom. Nakano was no exception, and I decided to take a ride on my bike to have a look. In retrospect, however, it was a mistake as there were so many people wandering around in varying states of inebriation that progress by bicycle was no faster than it would have been on foot.
The lower part of Tetsugakudo (Philosopher's Park) is a popualr place for hanami parties and ther were hundreds of people having picnics under the trees there.
Riding or driving along Nakano Dori at this time of year is like going through a light pink tunnel. The traffic moves at a much slower pace during these few weeks as drivers slow down to take in the view.
The Nakano Sakura Matsuri was taking place in Arai Yakushi park and even more people were out picnicking here with live performances from enka singers and hula dancers. If you're thinking of going next year, be warned that you need to stake out a picnic spot very early.

Books: Dancing In The Streets ~ A History of Collective Joy - Barbara Ehrenreich

When you hear a certain type of music, you may find it difficult to resist the urge to tap you foot, nod along in time to the beat or generally move your body in some way. Reviewers often resort to using adjectives such as 'catchy', 'infectious', 'insistent' and 'unrelenting' to describe beats, tunes or music in general, again suggesting some inner urge to react in some way. Of course in the majority of situations where we can hear music these days it is inappropriate to give in to the urge to dance, no matter how strong that desire may be. You might be really into the sounds coming from your iPod, but breaking into dance on the commuter train is (at best) simply likely to draw stares from bewildered onlookers.
This is one of the points that Barbara Ehrenreich alludes to in her hugely enjoyable book Dancing In The Streets. The basic premise of her book is that human beings have some inner urge to get together and dance, creating some kind of collective feeling of euphoria or ecstasy, but that over time people have been doing so less and less. She looks at different points of human history to illustrate her ideas starting in ancient times with the worship of Dionysus going up to modern day rock concerts and crowds in sports stadiums. Throughout the book we are offered examples of the conflict between people's desire to celebrate collectively and society's desire to impose order on its citizens, with the latter more often than not winning in some way or another.

So why don't we dance as much as we used to? Well, Ehrenreich puts forwards a number of ideas such as the restrictions of Protestantism, the age of the gun and the emergence of capitalism as contributing to the move away from dance over the centuries. She also suggests that despite all of this, the inner urge still exists, hence the rock revolution of the sixties.

The book as a whole tackles a huge subject and the author chooses to select examples that back up her central ideas quite nicely, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable to read. As Ehrenreich herself acknowledges, most of the examples used are from Western history, yet I think it would be interesting as an aside to discuss with the author what she makes of similar traditions in Asia. Japan, for example, is often cited as an example of a very ordered society, yet at the same time it has a long history of collective celebration in its many festivals many of which are still celebrated today.

A wonderful book that makes you feel good and dares you to dance a bit more.

April 07, 2009

Cherry Blossoms at Higashi Nakano

Near Higashi Nakano station, the area near the Kanda-gawa is a great spot to view cherry blossoms and last weekend it was packed with people having hanami parties.

April 04, 2009

Coffee L'Ambre

Coffee L'Ambre is a short walk from the east exit of Shinjuku station on a street that runs just behind Shinjuku Dori. From the street it looks fairly small, with thirty or so seats in a typical old smoky cafe, but the real treat lies in the basement floor, a vast area that seats around two hundred people and is a no smoking area to boot, which is fairly unusual in privately run coffee shops.
The seats are comfortable and the place is large enough for you to easily spend an hour or two chatting with friends or simply relaxing and reading.
As you relax with your coffee you can enjoy the gentle sounds of the piped classical music or simply take in the view, which is reminiscent of years gone by.
As with many coffee shops, there is a reasonable selection of food including savoury treats such as pizza toast and the like, or a selection cakes.

The large chain coffee shops may be better positioned and advertised, but this is a place where you will rarely have to wait for a seat and where you can enjoy your coffee at leisure. Recommended.

Just Another Monkey Rating: ˜˜˜˜˜

April 01, 2009


Okachimachi is a very short hop from Ueno and the station itself is situated in the heart of the downtown shopping district with Ameyoko running parallel to the tracks between the two station of one side of the tracks and Ekimae Dori running on the other side.
On leaving the station I walked west for a few blocks, passing a variety of different shops including this place offering a great combination for the middle of the day.

After walking for about ten minutes or so I reached the steps leading up to the impressive Yushima Shrine, with it extensive grounds that make for a pleasant stroll.

There were a lot of ema (little wooden plaques on which people write their wishes to the gods) hanging up at various points around the shrine, suggesting that it gets a lot of visitors.

The side streets either side of the main road heading back to the station were lined with lots of different late night establishments, including this bar.
Back on Ameyoko-cho, the shoppers at the various stalls were out in force.

Cheeky sign posted outside a bar called Yariki on Ekimae Dori.

Faded sign representing an establishment that no longer appears to be in business.

An almost Village Vanguard-style zakka shop.
The ideal place to get tattooed and dismembered in one go.

This novelty shop had a variety of masks on sale from TV personalities to politicians and scientists of the past.
South of the station there are several blocks taken up by shops that specialise in jewelery and accessories for both retail and wholesale.

All in all Okachimachi is a fun place to wander around and could easily be taken in on a visit to Ueno, since the two stations are so close together.