Just north of Shibuya lies Harajuku, which is one of the centres of youth fashion in Tokyo.
Opposite the station is the Takeshita-dori, a four hundred metre long road that is crammed full of shops and boutiques. At weekends it's nearly impossible to move through here because it's packed with so many people. It's along Takeshita-dori that the Japanese youth come to buy their fashion, be it hip-hop, punk, goth, western or Hello Kitty cute.
Turning right at the bottom of Takeshita-dori and then walking to the crossroads you come to Omotesando-dori which leads to the Meiji Jingu Shrine. The Omotesando-dori is known as Japan's Champs-Elysee and it's along this elm lined street and the nearby district of Aoyama that you'll find restaurants and trendy designer boutiques like Chanel, Dior and Vuitton.
South of Harajuku Station, on the bridge which leads to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, is where a lot of Japan's alternative youth culture likes to hang out at weekends. Here there are teenagers in all manner of strange clothes, each weirder than the next and it really is a curious sight. Some are dressed as goths, some have their faces painted white like china dolls and some have bandages with fake blood pouring from them. They really don't mind having their photo taken, in fact they quite enjoy the attention.
Next to the Meiji Jingu Shrine is Yoyogi Park, which is a great place to go spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. There are lots of people performing here and there's something here for everyone, ranging from juggling, rock bands and dance music to people drumming, bmx-ing, skating and painting. It's a lovely place to go and relax and there's a really nice chilled out atmosphere. Most interesting of all are the rockerbillies with their huge quiffs, dancing (although not quite in time to the music) at the entrance to the park.
You can see all the photos here.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Posted by steve at 6:40 am
Monday, July 28, 2008
Posted by steve at 9:23 am
Saturday, July 26, 2008
As you can probably guess from the picture, Saturday night was very interesting. It began at around eight o'clock when I went out for a meal with my friends Kiyoko and Sachie. The meal was delicious and afterwards they suggested that we go to see a show at a club called Samurai.
When I arrived at the club I was a little surprised to say the least as all the dancer's in the club were transvestites. And what a great surprise it was. I had an absolutely amazing night. The show was spectacular and was one of the most gloriously camp things I've ever seen. In fact I haven't had so much fun in ages, although I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that they wouldn't let me try on any of their dresses.
I also made lots of new friends and I think I was quite a hit with the ladies/men. Some of them even gave me their cards(I've never felt so popular), although I don't think I'll be calling any of them soon (I'm probably not their type).
A brilliant night and my time in Japan just keeps on getting more and more surreal.
You can see all the photos here.
The official site for Samurai is here.
Posted by steve at 6:39 am
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Baseball is the most popular sport in Japan and on Sunday I went with my friends Mami, Eri and Keiko, to Suidobashi to see the Yomiuri Giants play the Yakult Swallows, at the Tokyo Dome.
The Yomiuri Giants are the biggest and most popular team in Japan. They've been going since the league was formed in 1936 and are the oldest professional team in Japan. The Giants have also won more pennants and Japan Series titles than any other team.
The Professional Baseball League in Japan is called 'Puro Yakyu' and consists of two leagues, which are the Central League and the Pacific League.
The teams in the Central League are the Yomiuri Giants, the Chunichi Dragons, the Yakult Swallows, the Hiroshima Carp, the Hanshin Tigers and the Yokohama BayStars. The teams in the Pacific League are the Kintetsu Buffaloes, the Seibu Lions, the Nihonhamu Fighters, the Chiba Lotte Marines, the Orix Blue Wave and the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks.
The atmosphere was amazing and although I'm not really a big fan of baseball, I did have a great day out (although this might have had something to do with the vast quantities of alcohol I consumed whilst watching the game).
The official site for the Giants is here.
The official site for the Tokyo dome is here.
Posted by steve at 7:21 am
Monday, July 21, 2008
Last Saturday, I went to the Ninja Restaurant(all the staff are dressed as ninjas - it's great!) in Akasaka with my friend Mami.
The front of the restaurant isn't like a normal restaurant, there is just a door
in a black wall and if you were to walk past it, you probably wouldn't even realise that it was there. When you go in you are led by a person dressed as a ninja through a number of dark passages, until you come to a river. Then the ninja shouts the secret codeword(originally enough the word is 'ninja') and a drawbridge is lowered. You then make your way into the main dining area, which has a very traditional Japanese look and is also very dark, which adds brilliantly to the atmosphere.
The food was delicious and there was also lots of entertainment in the form of ninja magicians, who come up to your table and perform tricks. I had a great time and I'll definitely be going back.
You can see the official site for the restaurant here.
Posted by steve at 7:17 am
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
On Monday, I went to Disneyland with my friend Rie and her sister. Tokyo Disneyland first opened in 1983 and is one of the world's most popular tourist attractions with over 16 million visitors a year. It's always extremely busy and on Japan's recent national holiday called Golden Week, people apparently queued for four hours to see some of the attractions. To cater for the Japanese desire for all things Disney, another theme park with a maritime flavour called Disneysea, was opened last year(although not as big as Disneyland you are allowed to drink beer here!).
I arrived at Tokyo Disneyland at nine o'clock and I got an all day pass. I also got a sticker which said it was my birthday(even though it's not until next month) as all Disney employees have to say happy birthday to everybody who is wearing one. In total twenty eight Disney employees wished me a happy birthday(Japanese people are so polite and welcoming!) and some even burst into song and got other visitors to join in. Most hilarious of all when I went on the Star Wars simulator, the Disney employee managed to get around fifty other people on the ride clapping and wishing me a happy birthday.
Disneyland is divided into seven different zones which are Critter Country, Westernland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, the World Bazaar, Toontown and Tomorrowland. I managed to visit all of these areas and my favourite rides were Splash Mountain(I got absolutely drenched!), Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. I also managed to rediscover my childhood on the merry-go-round and the flying Dumbo ride, which were great fun.
In total I spent thirteen hours there. I also got to see two parades of all the characters, some shows and at the end of the day there was a spectacular firework display. This isn't the first time that I've been to a Disney theme park. I originally went to Disneyworld in Florida twenty four years ago when I was a mere child of eight. You can see the pictures of me when I first went to Disneyworld here.
You can see all the pictures of my great day out here.
The official site for Tokyo Disneyland is here.
Posted by steve at 10:15 am
Monday, July 14, 2008
On Sunday, I went to see Japanese punk-pop trio Shonen Knife, at Club Quattro in Shibuya. The band were originally formed in Osaka in December 1981 and have released a total of sixteen albums. Their musical style is often compared to being like a cross between The Ramones and The Beatles, but there is a lot more to them than this.
Surprisingly they've experienced greater popularity outside of Japan and have played many gigs in the United States and Britain, having even toured with Nirvana. In fact Kurt Cobain cited them as being one of his favourite bands. Other famous bands who are fans include Sonic Youth and Redd Kross among others.
Shonen Knife were supported by Eugene Kelly, a singer formerly of The Vaselines and Captain America. He's a singer who's been around a while and the cynicism and apathy he obviously feels about life comes across in his songs. He's downbeat and so are they. However the audience had come to see the loud raucous punk-pop of Shonen Knife and although a talented musician with well crafted songs, he didn't really strike much of a chord with them.
Then Shonen Knife came on. Walking on in their sparkling tops they let rip with their guitars and the audience were fired up for what was to come. They played a set that lasted an hour and a half and the audience absolutely loved it and for the whole of this time, I was in the mosh pit, loving it with them.
I've never ventured into the mosh pit at a gig before and I have to admit it was certainly an interesting experience, especially with all the young and crazy Japanese fans. I spent the whole time jumping around, shoving people, being shoved by people and generally freaking out with the rest of the audience. The Japanese fans really know how to let themselves go and have a great time. By the end I was completely exhausted and I'm thinking I'm going to be feeling it in my legs for weeks to come.
I loved the gig and Shonen Knife are a definite must see if you ever have the chance. Their brand of cutesy Japanese pop-punk is quite unlike anything I've heard before. It was impossible not to get taken away with the music and the love that all the fans have for their three sparkly heroines. Every song they played was great, every tune they had was catchy, everybody had a wonderful time and everybody left happy.
Click here for the official Shonen Knife website.
Posted by steve at 3:46 am
Monday, July 07, 2008
Every year on July 7th, the Tanabata Festival(Star Festival) is celebrated in Japan. The festival celebrates an old Chinese legend about two stars called Vega and Altair, which are separated by the Milky Way.
The god of the sky Ten-kou had a daughter called Orihime(Vega) who wove clothes for the Gods on a tanahata(it is believed the name of this festival comes from this machine). Worried about his daughter working so hard, he introduced her to a shepherd called Kengyu(Altair) and they fell madly in love with each other.
Because their love was so great, they both neglected their duties, which angered Ten-kou. As a result he decided they must be separated and stopped Orihime from meeting Kengyu anymore, by taking her to the other side of the Amanogawa River(the Milky Way), allowing them to just see each other once a year on July 7th.
So last Monday I went to Hiratsuka, which is about an hour outside of Tokyo, to one of the biggest Tanabata festivals in the region. Lining the streets of Hiratsuka were hundreds of beautiful decorations, put up by all the various shops in the area, each one trying to out do the other. There was also a large procession with traditional Japanese dancing. Very nice as I'm sure you'll agree.
Children and adults also write wishes on brightly coloured pieces of paper(tanzaku) and attach them to bamboo branches. On the seventh day of the seventh month, they then make their wish and hope it comes true.
The official website for Hiratsuka is here.
You can see all the photos here.
Posted by steve at 9:46 am
Sunday, July 06, 2008
At the weekend, I managed to catch up with my friends Yuki and Mami in Shinagawa, who I met whilst teaching in England. I had a great day out and it was very interesting to catch up on all the gossip and what a lot of my ex-students are up to now.
So basically the day involved lots of afternoon drinking, which turned into lots of evening drinking and was rounded off with lots of late night drinking and a game of electronic darts in my local bar(The Avion), which I somehow won. When finishing I was even greeted with cries of 'sugoi'(excellent) and I was bought drinks in honour of my achievement.
For some strange reason after abusing my body with alcohol for an extended period of time, I obviously become completely incoherent, yet somehow my dart playing skills improve dramatically.
Posted by steve at 7:34 am
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
The meaning of the word 'cute' in Japanese is 'kawaii' and on Sunday I went to what can only be described as the Mecca of 'kawaii' in Japan, which is Sanrio Puroland.
Sanrio Puroland is a theme park situated just outside of Tokyo that is devoted to all the Sanrio characters, the most famous being of course Hello Kitty. Everywhere you go in Japan you see Hello Kitty. She's on everything. In fact she's thirty years old this year and with her current popularity I expect she'll be around for many more to come.
I do have to admit though one of the most curious things I have noticed about Kitty, is that she hasn't got a mouth. Apparently, one reason I've heard for this is that it allows you to project however you're feeling onto her. If you're feeling happy, she's happy. If you're feeling a little bit down, she's a little bit down. If you're manically depressed because your wife has run off with the milkman, taken all your money and your dog has died, she feels.....
The outside of Sanrio Puroland looks like a huge pink castle, which I can't help thinking looks a little bit like a love hotel.
Walking in the first thing you come across is the Wisdom Tree, a huge construction sprawling out from the middle of the park. At the top of the Wisdom Tree is something not disimilar from a shrine, where you can ring the Happiness Bell for good luck and general all round happiness.
One of the major highlights of my day was going into Kitty's house. If you're the first person in the queue you even get to ring the door bell. Unfortunately I was second, although this didn't stop me all the same. Going into the house you get to see her kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom and you can also play on her piano. After you've walked through you can even have your photo taken with her.
The Fantastic Puro Adventure boat ride encircles the whole park. You get to see motorized versions of all the different characters in the places they live and even witness Kitty getting married. The music that accompanies the boat ride is probably the cutesiest I've ever heard as well and it'll be stuck in your brain for days afterwards. Really surreal.
There are also lots of shows throughout the day, the biggest being held around the Wisdom Tree. In this one all of the characters are introduced and there is lots of singing and dancing. Kitty then makes a spectacular entrance by being lowered from up above on a unicorn.
The whole experience was extremely sugary and sweet. In fact it was probably a little too sugary and sweet. I can only compare it to being strapped into a chair(similar to the one used in A Clockwork Orange) and being force fed candy floss, whilst having liquid sugar injected into your eyeballs.
I shouldn't really be complaining though, seeing that the theme park is aimed at your average five year old girl and not a thirty one year old man such as myself.
You can see all the photos here.
The official site for Sanrio Puroland is here.
The official site for Sanrio and everything Kitty is here.
Posted by steve at 8:09 am