June 21, 2009

Books: Tokyo Station by Martin Cruz Smith

Martin Cruz Smith established his name with the Arkady Renko novels, the best-selling Gorky Park in particular. While many of his other books have been detective novels, this is more of a period adventure. The main character is Harry Niles, an American growing up in Japan in the early decades of the century. Largely ignored by his missionary parents, Niles carves out his own identity running with his Japanese school friends and developing a fascination for the nightlife of Asakusa.

The novel looks at three different stages of his life, his early years in 1922, his time in China, and in particular Nanking in 1937 and back in Tokyo in 1941 in the final days leading up to the Pearl Harbour attack. Niles' character is part Rick Blaine and part Saint Jack, with self-interest and a quick buck seemingly uppermost in every decision he makes. The Casablanca comparison goes further with Niles trying to secure the paperwork that will give him safe passage to Hong Kong on one of the last flights out of Tokyo. As you read, you are never quite sure where Harry's real loyalty lies, which makes the ending all the more satisfactory.

As well as crafting an enjoyable novel, Smith has done a fantastic job of evoking the atmosphere of pre-war Tokyo which must have been the product of a great deal of research. Worth reading.


Things have been a quite on this blog over the past few weeks as work and other commitments have got in the way a bit, and I have a backlog of postings to do, starting with this Yamanote Line posting about Yurakucho. The pictures were taken about a month ago and it wasn't quite so overcast and wet at that time.

Close to Tokyo Station and Ginza, Yurakucho gives easy access to lots of izakaya and old world eating and drinking dens, but it also offers one of the classiest shopping experiences in Tokyo.

Lottery ticket promotion in front of the station.

The huge Marui store in front of the station is one of the recent additions to the area, as everything gradually gets modernised.
Sign on the second floor of a building near the station ~ not sure what kind of business it is.
It's a short walk to Ginza, one of the world's top shopping districts packed with flashy buildings housing exclusive boutiques, with most of the world's top brand names present. While shopping at top end shops doesn't really appeal to me, the architecture is nonetheless impressive.

This building, which houses the Wako department store is one of the few in the area that survived the war, and it can be seen in a number of pictures from the occupation period in the late forties/early fifties.

Fire hydrant with a character reference.

The Kabuki-za theatre is one of Tokyo's landmarks, and it stages plays for locals and tourists alike. The building is scheduled for demolition in less than a year's time, however, with the theatre moving to a new home, so if you're visiting Tokyo soon, it may well be the last chance to see the theatre in its current form.

The number of days left before the theatre closes its doors.

My kind of place, though I didn't go in this time, having got my caffeine fix elsewhere just a little earlier in the day. Will have to keep it in mind for the next time I'm around.

It was the 'jazz lounge' part of this sign that initially caught my eye, though it soon became clear from the smaller sign on the door that Badd Girls (sic) is written in bolder letters for a reason. Entry for women is free, men have to pay an arm, a leg and the shirt off their backs just to get in, with no real explanation of what that money pays for. More sleaze pit than jazz lounge I suspect.
Moving to the other side of the station to Hibiya Park I found that despite it being late May, there was the Hibiya Oktoberfest (go figure), organised by the same committee that do the Yokohama one in the autumn.

Mid-afternoon was a little quiet, but it seemed rude not to have a quick beer in the sunshine. No doubt it filled up after 6pm.

Underneath the arches of the Yamanote Line is always a good place to look for food stalls and bars that go back a few years.
This particular establishment had loads of vintage film posters plastered on the walls, and they looked dog-eared enough to be originals.

Yurakucho offers a fascinating blend of uptown and downtown as well as old and new and it's worth spending a little time wandering around.

June 07, 2009

Tokyo Dangerous

Johnny Got A Boom Boom - Imelda May
Tokyo Dangerous - Shima & Shikou Duo
Afrodisia - quasimode
Afro Groove - Adamu Okosun & The Warri Six
Effi - Max Roach
No Marks, No Body, Not Guilty - Contemporary Noise Sextet
Goodbye at 12:00 am - Manami Morita
Wives And Lovers - Roy Haynes
Soul Pop - Mauri Bailey
I Might Do Something Wrong - Tortured Soul

June 05, 2009

Coffee Tea Jazz

Coffee Tea Jazz (I've made the assumption that this is the name of the cafe, since there was no other sign on display) is tucked away on a narrow shoutengai (shopping street) in Koenji Minami. Bright and welcoming from the outside with its white wooden terrace doors, the interior has a couple of tables and a short counter, making it a comfortable, airy, but intimate spot to enjoy a cup of your favourite brew.
Behind the counter there is a very extensive collection of jazz albums dating back to the fifties and sixties, with many album sleeves also forming part of the decor around the cafe. The owner is friendly yet unobtrusive and while not making the drinks, he sits quietly behind the counter enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. There is a bilingual menu, and an extensive choice of coffee blends and explanations of the different aspects of the flavour of each type and the prices are reasonable for this type of place. I opted for Brazilian coffee which was simply delicious. Whilst the menu doesn't feature any food, customers are welcome to bring along there own snacks to eat with there beverages.
A little out of the way for many perhaps, but if it's a nice place to read and relax that you're after, then this cafe is just the right spot.

Just Another Monkey Rating: ˜˜˜˜˜

June 02, 2009

Where All The Dawgs Hang Out

Sign for a bar on Ome Kaido between Nakano and Koenji.