August 31, 2009


After having been distinctly underwhelmed by Shinagawa, I decided to take a look around Osaki, the next stop, on the same day. My Tokyo road atlas suggested that there wasn't going to be a lot to see, so I guessed that visiting a second stop on the same day wasn't going to take up too much time.
One one side of the station there is an area given over to offices and hotels and an extensive residential area. One of the office complexes is called Art Village Osaki, in front of which you can see this gnome with a huge hat titled 'Growing Farmer'.

Immediately behind this is the Megurogawa flanked by offices and apartment blocks, but it makes for a nice peaceful walk after the busy main road in front of the station.
The other side of the station has the Think Park business complex next to which even more construction is taking place, and beyond that there seemed little of interest to tempt me on what was a stiflingly hot day.
Looking at the remaining stops on the line, I just know that it's going to get more interesting from here on.

August 27, 2009


Shinagawa Station is a major hub on the Yamanote Line, being served by the shinkansen as well as several Tokyo local lines, and the area has a distinct feeling of modernity about it with most of the surrounding buildings, particularly on the Konan side having been constructed in the last two decades.

Shinagawa Intercity is an ultra-modern office complex that dominates the skyline next to the station, with it distinctive glass and steel tower.

A small area of one or two blocks near the station contains the type of eateries and bars typically found near stations, though this area is quite small compared to other neighbourhoods.
One thing in Shinagawa that doesn't figure in every locality is the meat wholesalers' market, occupying a large area near Shinagawa Intercity, complete with the Meat Information Hall, presumably for everything you ever wanted to know about flesh consumption.

Generally speaking, however, the area is pretty devoid of character, with lots of large offices for major companies, and some high end serviced apartments, but little else for the casual visitor.

One reason why most foreign residents in Tokyo will be familiar with the area is that the immigration office is nearby and a visit is required periodically to renew your visa. And to be honest, I can't really see myself having to come back here again until the next visa renewal date comes round.

August 20, 2009

Beautiful Sadness

Four In One - Hara Dairiki Trio clip
Sea Shanty - Max Grunhard Quintet clip
Tunji - John Coltrane clip
The Windmills of Your Mind - The Oscar Peterson Trio clip
Nao vou chorar - Os Diagonais clip
Vampires - Ocote Soul Sounds & Adrian Quesada clip
Double Bind - Mouse On The Keys clip
Cheeba - The Lyman Woodard Organization clip
Beautiful Sadness - Shuya Okino clip
I Only Want You - laidbook feat Think Twice, Schubert & Manchilde clip

August 18, 2009

Books: Havana Nocturne by T.J. English

With this year marking the fiftieth anniversary of the revolution, interest in all things Cuban has increased, whether it be CD compilations of Cuban music, a variety of different books about the country before and after the events of 1959, or even President Obama suggesting a slightly less hard line approach to US relations with the Caribbean island.

During the 1950s Cuba was headline news for a number of reasons. It was a tropical playground for the rich, offering a heady cocktail of casinos, mambo and sex. Yet, at the same time, it was also a hotbed of revolutionary activity, with groups of rebels holed up in the mountains led by the charismatic Fidel Castro together with his brother Raul and Che Guevara.

In Havana Nocturne, T.J. Smith weaves both stories together, depicting the emergence of Cuba as the place to go for rich and famous (thanks to the complicity between the island's dictator Fulgencio Batista and the mobsters who set up and ran the casinos); and also the growth of the revolutionary movement, despite some disastrous hiccups along the way ,that ultimately led to victory for Castro at the beginning of 1959.

The narrative starts in the late 1940s, with mobster Lucky Luciano arriving in Cuba from exile in Sicily to meet up with Mayer Lansky to discuss Lansky's vision of turning the Caribbean into a huge gambling playground for the rich and reckless with Havana as the hub, the idea being that smaller, less powerful governments wouldn't be pursuing the gangsters as vigorously and would most likely be open to bribery.

We also follow the transition of Fidel Castro from hell-raising law student to committed revolutionary and his early failed attempted uprising imprisonment, pardon and the subsequent rebirth of his revolutionary movement.

English has obviously researched his topic well, drawing on a variety of sources, and he brings everything together to tell a gripping story. He recreates the atmosphere of a hedonistic world of sleaze and reckless abandon that must have been a huge attraction for many foreign (for that read mainly American) visitors to Cuba in the fifties. He dresses it up enough to excite the reader's curiosity, but also makes it clear that many on the island, all was not well and that many were fed up of the corrupt regime and were desperate for change. Of the revolutionaries, you get the idea that they were a committed but at time hapless bunch who rode the wave of fortune and ultimately succeeded because enough people wanted them to.

Batista is portrayed as a power-hungry, money-grabbing despot, whilst Lanksy is shown more as a man with a plan, and you almost feel as though the author sympathises with his plight as the story unfolds.

A brilliant depiction of an era full of upheaval and doubt, Havana Nocturne makes you wish you could step into a time machine just for a moment to be able to witness events firsthand. Highly recommended.

August 12, 2009

Camino A La Modernidad ~ Modern Mexican Masterpieces at Setagaya Art Museum

For most people if you say Mexican Art, they will think of Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera, or perhaps the Muralist movement of the post-revolution years carrying strong political and social messages. The Modern Mexican Masterpieces exhibition currently showing at the Setagaya Art Museum show features a little Kahlo, and also works from the Muralist "Big Three", namely Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, as well as a whole host of other artists depicting different aspects of life in Mexico. In all, there are over 70 works on display in what is said to be one of the biggest exhibitions of modern Mexican painting ever held in Japan.

The first work you see as you walk into the exhibition in a room reserved for this painting alone is the only work by Frida Kahlo here, Autorretrato con medallon, being shown in Japan for the first time. As with many of her self-portraits it is a depiction of pain and sorrow, all the more striking for its solitary display.

The rest of the exhibition is divided into three themed rooms, La Civilidad, Cultura and El Progreso, with some paintings depicting aspects of daily life and social progress in Mexico in the first half of the twentieth century and others having allegorical or overtly political messages. I was particularly struck by Rivera's Paisaje Nocturno and the Soviet propaganda style imagery of Siqueiros' Alegoria del progreso, though there is much to be impressed with in this collection of paintings from a group of artists who worked hard to carve out a clear cultural identity for a nation going through its growing pains after a particularly violent revolution. Well worth seeing.

August 02, 2009

Trad Jazz at Nakano Station


Just a cursory glance at my city atlas before setting out was a hint that there was perhaps not a great deal to see in the Tamachi area, though I always try to approach each stop with an open mind in the hope that I will stumble across something that will spark my curiosity. Perhaps it was the overpowering summer heat, or perhaps I was not in a particularly inspired mood that day, but I truly struggled to find points of interest here.
As with Hamamatsucho, Tamachi station is fairly close to the sea and as you head east out of the station you head towards Shibaura an area of canals, reclaimed land with wharves facing out to Tokyo Bay. There are few signs of port activity here, however, and rather like the Docklands development in London, this part of Minato-ku seems to be given over to expensive looking apartment blocks and other high rise buildings.

You get the impression that the flats in this area are probably fairly spacious by Tokyo standards and on the higher floors you can either enjoy a view of the bay to the east, mount Fuji to the west or a cityscape to the north. Despite this, however, it's not really an area I would feel tempted to live in because, as with many more recently developed residential areas, it seems to lack character and atmosphere.

The landscape also features the monorail which heads out towards Haneda airport adding to the ultra-urban feel to the area.

Here Rainbow Bridge can be seen in the distance, but it was too hot and humid and the area not interesting enough for me to be bothered to get a closer shot.

I then headed back towards the modern station building and went to see what was on the other side of the tracks.

From what I could see it was largely an area filled with offices with apartment blocks dominating the areas a little further afield, as well being an area housing several embassies.

The nearby Sakurada Dori is home to the prestigious Keio University and from there it is a fairly short walk to Tokyo Tower.
It's not all sterile and characterless office buildings here though, as there is an ageing entertainment district in the streets off Sakurada Dori, with lots of tiny little alleys housing grotty looking old coffee shops, izakayas, bars, pachinko parlours and other less salubrious establishments.
Among the many establishments in the area is this motsu restaurant. Motsu is the Japanese word for the guts of an animal, and whilst 'Bowels' might be a fairly accurate translation of what you can actually eat here, if I were to open such a restaurant, it wouldn't be my first choice when it came to naming the place.
The verdict? Even making a concession for the fact that it was unpleasantly hot and sticky on this day, I don't think this is a part of Tokyo I'd choose to visit again unless I had a specific appointment in the area.