Friday, 18 November 2011

Nat's Top 10 Japanese Observations

1.Cute sprogs, and they LOVE popping them out. Sprogs galore.

2. Crumbles - They will fall asleep anywhere. Actually saw a guy asleep with his head against the opening train door.

3. Slimy Murky food/Miscellaneous Meat. Didn't know every type of food could be made slimy. This includes baked goods and salads. Not sure meat meat from all categories should be grey in colour.

4. Green Tea EVERYTHING. Honestly, everything. My favourites were Frappe, Cake and Green Tea Kit Kat.

5. Politeness/Cleanliness. Bum cleaning toilets and face masks to avoid pollution and germs. Not a big fan of Lowell's coughing and sneezing on trains or in confined spaces really.

6. High Fives & Peace Signs. They are mad for them both.

7. Snazzy Bikes all over the shop and no-one robs them even though they only lock the wheels, which wouldn't stop someone carrying them away.

8. DERICUSE - And many other misspelt signs like it. This one was my favourite though.

9. Crossed arms like in X Factor to say things have run out, are full or not possible.

10. Whatever age you think someone from Japan is, times that by 10 and you may be close. The girl in the photo from our kareoke night (see below) with me and a couple of men is 38. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT EY?

Tokyo 2

After an overnight stay in Osaka we arrived back in Tokyo on the Thursday with a few days to kill before our late night flight on the Sunday. We were determined not to be defeated by the sprawling metropolis at the second time of asking, so after dropping our bags at the hostel we had booked just out of the centre of town we headed out into it. What you read below is a basic overview of the following 4 days.

Thursday - If you have been keeping an eye on the blog you may already know that we headed out to the World Trade Centre in Hamamatsucho to get our eyes around the amazing panoramic views available from the 40th floor. At risk of repeating myself i'll leave that tale there and instead regale you with stories from the remainder of the evening.

After getting back to ground level we stumbled across a promotional live performance/signing by an upcoming J Pop star which was an experience we weren't expecting. The only thing of note here was that the ENTIRE crowd listening to this plastic girly pop music were middle aged men. Questionable in the extreme, or maybe not, the jury is still out.

With no major plans and a lot of ground covered in the earlier parts of the day we decided to check out our new neighbourhood of Asakasubashi. Now mine and Nat's approach to travel is less religiously refer to a Lonely Planet guide and follow each recommendation to the letter and more get a cheap bottle of wine from the offy and doss around the back alleys looking for something entertaining. Never were we more vindicated in this approach than Thursday night, when after plodding endlessly about Ghost Town and on the brink of giving up and going home we heard a raucous noise emerging from a little doorway. It was difficult to see what was going on inside through the window as it was largely covered but the people inside must have seen our inquisitive stares from the other side and soon dragged us through the aforementioned doorway. What we were greeted with inside was a tiny Kareoke bar with a couple of tables full of rowdy Japanese people ready to welcome us with discount beer because I was "cool, and she is pretty". The "Tory" beers came out and it wasn't long before we were being cajoled into trying our hand at the Kareoke.

I suggested I sing "Sweet Love" by Anita Baker and Nat offered to get up for one of Fleetwood Mac's greatest hits but they just weren't having it. Apart from one lone voice that wanted "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper everyone else insisted that as I was from Manchester I HAD to sing Oasis, or O-ash-eeees as they pronounced it. Now I have never been a fan of Oasis but it even surprised me how quick I was up and swaggering my way through "Don't Look Back In Anger". It must have been a decent rendition too as in addition to all the high fives I doled out I got a kiss from one of the locals, which thankfully for me was caught on camera by one of our new mates.

A few more beers and a few more songs and it was time for us to attempt to get home, which we finally did with the assistance of the other revellers, pictured here.

Friday - Was spent sleeping off the worst of the previous nights excesses and feeling smug whilst being told by one of our dorm mates that he had been at a fish market at 5.30am after reading in his Lonely Planet that it was one of the Top 5 things to do in Tokyo. Despite the fact that in his words "It was just a bloody fish market" his major grievance was that he got kicked out as non-traders weren't allowed until 9am anyway.

Once we had finally roused ourselves, we got the train out to Shibuya where I took a tour of the local record shops and Nat got some food in a lovely little cafe called Art & People. The interior was really nice and cosy, which I haven't really captured in the image below.

Saturday - One complaint that Nat had with our stay in Tokyo was that it was in some ways indecipherable from other large cities. She wanted to see the future, the technology that Japan was famed for. In short she wanted to see the Robots and so we travelled to the International Robot Convention for the day with our new mate from the hostel Tom, a 22 year old metal head from Stoke who had just arrived from New York. As well as the robots we walked back over "The Bridge Of Dreams" which didn't really live up to expectations. If your going to give yourself such a billing you have to, in my opinion break the boundaries of bridge making, which they just didn't do.

We left the convention a little upset after the most impressive machine, a cybernetic robot called Mim was kept screwed in and not allowed to do her thing.

As night drew in we went to meet Nat's friend Michaela who is in Tokyo teaching English. Thanks to her local knowledge we ended up in a 4 storey bar where we had the cheapest and best food/beer of our stay.

Sunday - We had been told to go to Harajuku on Sunday day as it is where youths go to show off the latest trends and costumes. We got off the tram and were welcomed instantly by this character.

At this point we thought we were in luck and would now be inundated with the weird and the wonderful but it turned out we had arrived too late to see everyone in their pomp. We walked down Takeshita St (haha) and over to the park to see what else we could see.

We didn't see exactly what we had been promised but if skateboarding dogs, pissed up faux Romany Gypsies dancing and 50s Rock and Rollers jiving away are your thing, then this is the place to be. The best/most perturbing thing we saw was on our way back to the train station where we caught this woman doing what we will call Interpretive Dance to be kind to her.

And that, bar food and airport talk is our time in Japan wrapped up. I have been trying to coax Nat into getting involved in what was supposedly our shared blog to no avail. However, after concerted pressure she has buckled and agreed to give her Top 10 observations from our time out East.

Monday, 14 November 2011

For The Record

A big feature of this leg of our trip has been my visits to some of the finest record shops Japan has to offer. Now for some of you what follows will be about as interesting as watching paint dry but for my fellow geeks and afficianados here is a summary of my digging exploits.

In Kyoto, I started off at Japonica and Jet Set, which whilst impressive were a bit pricey and not necessarily the kind of 2nd hand fare I was after. I had originally said I was staying well clear of records on this trip but was implored to check out some of the shops over here, with the promise of amazing finds. My remit was to only purchase records which I couldn't get at home and some Japanese Manga soundtracks were on the shopping list after a chat with a good friend from The Natural Curriculum.

On my last day in Kyoto I went to Bootsy's, which was well more what I was after. Row upon row of second hand vinyl waiting to be scowered.

I feel I was pretty restrained here and only indulged in a Japanese copy of a 10" by the Chosen Gospel Singers and a 7" by Laura Lee entitled "If You Can Beat Me Rockin, You Can Have My Chair" (whose B side is equally if not more impressive). I couldn't find a song on YouTube from the Chosen Gospel Singers record but here is a great one from a little later on, which features Lou Rawls on vocals.

Now I know some of you will say that I could clearly be buying Soul 7"s at home and you would be completely correct with that statement, however in my defence, a lot of shops I have been to have had a great selection of Soul 45s at pretty cheap prices which brings me conveniently on to my next stop which was back in Tokyo. To be precise it was the Shinjuku branch of a big chain called Disk Union.

This branch specialised in Soul and Funk so again I headed straight for the 45s and had a good rifle through. And once again I found a couple of top 45s for a fiver a pop which can't be argued with. One was "We're Gonna run Out Of Time" by Hersey Taylor and the other was "Why Don't You Call On Me" by Jackie Moore which I can't find audio samples of on this here internet machine.

The Shibuya branch of Disk Union was the one I had been told about and the one I was most looking forward to but on my way there I stumbled accross 3 other shops where I didn't buy anything apart from a cheap CD of rare Reggae compiled by the shops owner Double-H.

Jammers Reggae Record Shop
Face Records
Oldies But Goodies

When I finally got to Disk Union Shibuya it was fair to say I was like the Pig in the proverbial Muck in amongst all the rare and immaculately kept records. The challenge now was to not get too giddy and blow my travel funds so badly I would be catching the next flight home. In some ways I was lucky and my decision was made for me, as it seemed the previously untouched resource of old Japanese soundtracks and Manga Vinyls I had been promised had been mined quite heavily by previous shoppers. This is not to say that I didn't find some gems, the majority of which you can see below.

Now I am in Malaysia, the records are in the post home and my fingers will remain dustless until I hit Bombay next year for the raw Bollywood records. Til next time, ta ta.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The View From This Tower

On returning to Tokyo we went to the top of the World Trade Centre to get a sunset view of the city. After being totally overfaced the first time around it was good to feel like the king of the castle for a fleeting moment.

Hiroshima & Miyajima

After failing to get to our hostel in time and then getting kicked out of an internet cafe for trying to kip on their couches, we resorted to sleeping rough for the night in Hiroshima. It could be argued that this wasn't the best preparation for a day in which we tried to fit two trips, but there was no other option as our rail pass was running out and we needed to get back to Tokyo.

We started the day by heading to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial to see the site where the first ever Atomic bomb hit. It was a sobering experience but it was hard to feel an appropriate depth of emotion when we were dead on our feet and being bombarded with seemingly innocuous information. As with the Kyoto Museum my issue was that they tend to over emphasise random statistical information, so instead of telling me about Kyoto's long and varied history they spent ages talking about how to glaze stone and how hot the furnace has to be. Likewise here, where we were told a great deal about what height the bomb was dropped from etc and given less first hand accounts from survivors and other artefacts that could have given the true sense of human suffering involved. That said it was better than Kyoto and bits of the Memorial Park was quite interesting, especially the remains of what is now called the A Bomb Dome (the maintained remains of a building at the epicentre of the blast)

Next stop was Miyajima to see the Itsukushima Shrine's Torii Gate. Miyajima is a small island just off Hiroshima accessed by ferry. I just read that sentence back and it feels like all the love is slipping out of my writing. It is dull and factual now, much like the audio commentary on our boat which, instead of telling us why and when the Shrine was built decided to tell us the dimensions of the pillars at great length. It turned out that seeing the island overrun my tame deer was as much of a spectacle as the shrine.

The last photo here is one of my personal favourites, depicting Natalie on the run from an aggy deer who bit and started to chase her after she got a bit too friendly.

Nat's Scrapbook

Whilst I have been failing to disconnect from the modern world by updating this blog on a far too regular basis, Nat has been busy in the background attempting to be an enigma and starting off her travel scrapbook, which you can see below. To check her work, follow the link HERE.

Kyoto 3

* Disclaimer - This post is temple and shrine heavy so move on if this may lead to a nervous disposition.

After our day of hungover relaxing we decided to get up at the crack of dawn and head out of the city limits on bikes to cram in some temple related culture. It turns out we didn't really need to set alarms as the Buddhist (who I have now decided may follow Shintoism) snores like an absolute beast and kept us up most of the 5 hours we tried to sleep in. Honestly though his snores felt like the earthquake we forgot to tell you we felt on our first night in Tokyo.

So after a spot of brekkie we hopped on our bikes and headed out to Arashiyama to see the Golden Pavillion Temple (seen above), Bamboo groves and generally a whole host of back alleys in between. What you see below are the photographic highlights of the day, including our first certifiable Tourist Photo.

We also saw some down right bizarre stuff which was just as good and much needed light relief after suffering from a condition commonly called Temple Overload.

Our last day in Kyoto was spent in record shops and a reasonably underwhelming National Museum which I don't really feel like acknowledging with a full write up right now. Sooooooooo lets move on.