Friday, 31 December 2010

Expectation Leads To Disappointment

Well here I am. This is the last post for 2010.

For the first time since I have been in Japan, I'm staying here instead of going back to Australia for Christmas and New Year's. Just for that reason it feels incredibly strange, even a non-event.

Outside at the moment it's 6 degrees outside. I find it strange that fireworks are not a part of the New Year's celebration, nor is "Auld Lang Syne" which although you hear it everyday as the shops close, it means nothing to Japanese as a NYE song.
What they do here is go to a shrine, pray and ring a bell, maybe watch a sunrise. Fireworks I hear, are probable at Tokyo Disneyland.

At least it's warm in the apartment. I hope to catch a live stream of the fireworks from home, drink a chu-hi, eat a rice cake, and maybe blow my fake iPhone paper whistle.

Usually I try to reflect on the past year and make my resolution for the following year so here goes..

I thought that coming to Japan was necessary for me to change things that maybe I'd done wrong, in a sense starting over again. I think that life is quite cyclical, and this year (in fact every year since the first) has had it's share of deja vu's.

In short, I don't think that I've changed that much at all, and the a*holes will always be around! One of my biggest changes is that recently I've slowly backed away from Facebook. I was reluctant to become a part of it. For a while it was great. I got in contact with a lot of people from school, some people around here, and my buddies in Italy.

But then I noticed the lurkers, the requests from people I didn't know back in the day, generally the ones that I have no interest in keeping in contact with. I could say something about the lack of privacy, but then why have a blog, right? Same thing with email. I miss the lost art of the written letter.

Anyway, my friends know who they are, and I hope the ones that aren't, know that too. A big thanks to them for making me what I am, both good and bad. Oh, and a big shout out to the people that stop by here and say "Hi". Lurking around a blog is a bit creepy. I think on the interwebs it's easy to forget there's a person behind the words.

I'm not making any big predictions for this coming year. Maybe learn that guitar a little bit better, but plans? No, I have no plan. What happens happens. Expectation leads to disappointment.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

KitKat Guitars

Wow. Slept in till 2:30pm. Nice.

I usually put it off until the very last minute, but I decided to pay my extortion money NHI today. At the combini I also bought this Nestle mug pack. It was only 250 yen! I thought it was some kind of end-of-year gift thing, but it looks like it's an encouragement promotion for students about to do their entrance exams early next year. Anyway, can't argue with getting an (almost free) mug and coffee with a kit-kat.

After a very quick stint in Shinjuku, we went to Ochanomizu. Yes, guitar heaven so to speak.

I saw this clear plexiglass Les Paul copy and really wanted it. Why? The whole guitar is plexiglass, including the neck and headstock! Unfortunately, they said it was already sold, so boo hoo to me. Apparently it's a no name guitar, but for the 60,000 yen they wanted I think I would've bought it.

Later on in the day I saw the Ibanez Jem20th for 398,000 yen. No, they wouldn't let me play it. No sale to you buddy!

I tried out this Fender Splattercaster today. They want 54,800 yen for it. This is like the blue one I saw last year in Ikebukuro. Like that one, this one sounded nice too. I haven't decided whether it's ugly or beautiful. But do I need it?

I have so many now, you'd think I bought them as investments. WAY back in 1994, while we were trying to make it big *cough* in Sydney, I saw a Fender Custom Shop Playboy Stratocaster. T'was quite a shock when I saw one here. Shame they're asking 1,280,000 yen for it! Told my mamma I'm going to buy it, for a joke. She didn't get it. Anyways..

Before we left I bidded 21,000 yen on an desktop Evolver synth. I got outbid. There was one in the store so I tried it out. The unit doesn't have a headphone out so I was listening to it through only one of the speaker outs. I didn't get a good listen, but it sounded like the demos I've heard on Youtube.

Also there was a Korg MS2000. It has a lot of useable sounds here too. I didn't buy them. It's nice to be able to try these things out. I did notice a Roland Juno 106 synth. One thing I LOVE about Japan is all that yesterday gear stuff isn't that hard to come across, and all those sweet, sweet guitars are here too. Why would I want to leave?

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Mickey is De Gas

We bought discount tickets to see the Degas exhibition at the Yokohama Museum of Art yesterday.

Although I got up about 10.30, it wasn't until about 2pm that we finally got there. It's the last days of the exhibit so the line was long, and inside was almost uncomfortably crowded.

Most of the art were portraits of old people, ballet dancers, and a few tasteful nude paintings. While Degas was for sure very talented, this just reconfirmed my feelings that I prefer modern art and styles.

Once we left the final room, my eyes were drawn to the Surrealism section. If I have a favourite, Dali is it. It's like a warped dream. I could look at these paintings and art all day.

For some reason I like taking pictures of reflections. I took this picture of us in an inverted Q sculpture. Looks cool. Very surrealistic, no?

We spent a short time at Minato Mirai before making our way back towards Yokohama station. I had a sickly strawberry cream filled chocolate from Pocket Mart before we caught our train onwards to go to Kawasaki.

Before I came to Japan I only thought of Yokohama as a tyre company and Kawasaki for motorcycles. Funny.

The reason I wanted to come here was to check out the local Hard Off store. As soon as we got to Kawasaki, we started on the 30 minute trek to get there.

It's still my favourite. As usual there were a few things I was itching to get. I walked out only with a Buzz Lightyear. Don't look at me like that. It was only 300 yen! Did I mention it has a "big one" rocket with it?

While she looked around Lazona, there were a few shops I wanted to check out.

Not that I needed it, I picked up a Mickey Watch. I'm a sucker for old school Mickey. I like the subtle cues. It was a 5% off day and I had an additional 50 yen off, so I saved some small Crunky money change. Only 2,325 yen :D

Before heading back, we went to the Sanwa supermarket in the Lazona basement. We had some limited edition Walnut and Maple Haagan Daaz. It gets Jimmy's tick of approval. Get!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Avenue Q Ginza

It seems to be an unwritten rule that if I leave my camera at home, photo opportunities will be more prevalent.

And so it was today when we got to use the Christmas present I gave, that I was REALLY wishing I had brought it along. As I mentioned last post, said present was a ticket to see Avenue Q at Tokyo International Forum in Ginza.

The first I heard about this show was while listening to InterFM on my way to work last week. They played one of the songs, and from what they said it seemed like an adult version of Sesame Street. I thought that I'd like it, but I have to say it was a fantastic stage production. Although a totally different concept, I liked it even better than "Chicago".

The parallels with Sesame Street are hard to miss. If you always thought Bert and Ernie were gay, and the Cookie Monster surfed places NSFW on the internet, then I think you'd like it too. The icing on the cake is a "cameo" with Gary Coleman. Yes, that one. And in this case he is played by a woman.

The sets, puppets, story and singing were practically faultless. The puppet actors are visible but not really acknowledged as part of the show. At first this was strange, but you soon accept it. We were on the second floor, at a little bit of a distance from the stage, so if anything I'd have liked to have been closer.

I laughed a lot, got a little misty eyed, and really loved this show. Unfortunately today is last day so I'm afraid it's too late if you're in Tokyo. If you get the chance to see it, I HIGHLY recommend you go. Just do it.

When it was finished we decided to walk around the forum complex. Also on today was the Hot Toys 2010 figurine exhibition in the main building. It was free so we thought we'd take a look.

We were led down narrow corridors by cute girls dressed in white. Made it look like something really special. When we got to the main room, we were presented with a whole lot of glass-cased figurines with extremely high price tags, and bass heavy "doof doof" dance music pulsating through the room.

We almost accidentally bought this one by going to the store area checkouts. "Only" 18,000 yen, yikes! I was thinking this would be the perfect place for guys that have absolutely no interest in women.

This is one of those situations I wish I'd brought my real camera. You can see the flash reflecting off the glass, and the exposure being too dark. The figures outside the glass came out a little better.

How about a Tokyo Tower-sized "Godzilla" Rocky Balboa?

I liked this Aliens recreation..

..but while a lot of the figures looked cool and all, I prefered the girls in white. Damn you, blurry iPhone camera! :(

Right next door to the Hot Toys exhibition there was a Omani Cultural Days exhibition. Quite interesting. It got me thinking that this part of the world would be interesting for a holiday.

The last two times I was in Ginza I missed out on anpan from Kimuraya, so this time we wasted no more time, and got there to a plentiful supply of anpan goodness. There were a few bread samples to abate Sampleman™ 's hunger too.

Yamano music is right next door, so I took the opportunity to check out the small selection of sweet guitars. Often on the ground floor they play jazz outside the main entrance which sounds really cool. Today's selection was the "Sonny Criss - This is Criss" album. In my old age, I'm developing a mature admiration of jazz and classical. Uh oh.

Next stop.. Sony Building!

At the moment they are showing (off) their 3D film of Hokkaido's Asahiyama Zoo.
Of course I made sure to have the way cooler, kids polar bear 3D specs. Hot, huh?

It's always fun to check out the cool gear in the Sony building.

Sony's mp3 players aren't as easily intuitive as iPods, but I liked the sound quality helped along by their groovy MDR-XB500 cans.

The bass was nice, and the rest of the sound was very clear. There was a little bit of leakage, but maybe not too much to be a problem on the trains. The price is quite reasonable too. If I didn't have the ones I have these would be a strong contender for my next pair. I was listening to Miliyah Kato's "Rose". I'm not really into J-pop stars doing American R'n'b, but there are some really, nice tunes on this CD!

There was some snow put outside the Sony Building to promote the 3D show. "Please Don't Throw The Snow Balls" is like asking for it, right?

After the disappointment of the temporary Kiddyland in Omotosando, I remembered there's a four storey toy store called Hakuhinkan Toy Park here in Ginza.

Coming here made me happy. Lots of cute and fun toys to bring out my kid ego. I wanted to take this cat home. It says "Meow" in Japanese ("Nya!"), but in English, "I wuv you!". かわいい!

Just before coming home we went to the Chinese gyoza restaurant in Yurakucho. I've mentioned it many times before, so look it up if you're in this area. Many delicious food.

Wow. Long post, long day. A good start to my New Year's break! Phew.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Christmas 2010

I'm glad that the Christmas craft lessons have come and gone.

My favourite activity though was making the Christmas stockings. The needles were impossible to thread, but when they were finished they actually looked pretty good!

Unfortunately even though we had the Emperor's birthday holiday off, the powers that be made us work an extra day before Christmas. Luckily no kids, but it meant a fully booked seven lesson day. Thankfully it went relatively quickly and seeing that it started a whole three hours earlier it gave a bit more time to start to enjoy the Christmas holidays.

I thought to catch happy hour in the local pub only to find the place practically empty. They had the great idea to put me away in a corner away from other people. Great. May as well do this at home!

Anyway I made a very quick change of plan. Without buying any drinks, I caught the subway to Shinjuku to look at the Christmas lights around Takashimaya Square.

There were lots of people despite a windy five degree chill. As usual the penguins were out on show.

Here's a video time lapse I did on my iPhone. Brrr..

Before heading home we had some okonomiyaki here again.

It starts like this..

and ends up like this :D

Christmas day was fairly quiet, and sleepy. I gave her the Avenue Q theatre ticket, and I got two graniph t-shirts, this Animal Matrix, and this Control Bear one. cute huh?

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Tartan Days

I have to say I really love the EMS service. The first box posted on Thursday was already delivered by Monday!

The second box posted on Friday would've arrived on the same day if the Aussie Post didn't fluff the delivery address. Instead it, and the third box arrived today. Still, considering it travelled over the weekend, I think that is super fast. They mentioned that one of the boxes had been damaged, but I heard that all was received in good order.

I was in Shinjuku on Monday, so after work I picked up tickets to a theatre show I decided would make a good Christmas present.

There are many Christmas sales so we looked around and I saw some tartan pants in Taka-Q, next to ABC Mart.

I dismissed this shop in the past because it seemed like a very um, "metrosexual" kind of fashion. Quite appropriate when you look at the J-boys around here.

You're probably thinking "tartan?". Well, these are a bit more "punk rocker" than "avid golfer". I used to wear a pair back in the old gigging days playing in a band. I tried on a black and white pair, and a more reddish one. They actually looked pretty good.

I didn't have enough to buy them right then.I'd spent most of the money I had on me on the tickets, so I got them to hold them and I went back again today.

While I was there I went to the guitar store to try a Jackson PC-1. I tried it out a long time ago when it was something like 350,000 yen. At the moment it's 198,000 yen , and calling me. The gold hardware has a little bit of tarnish, but the transparent finish looks incredible, like 3D. I like Jackson guitars, but I've gone off pointy headstocks. This one has a Fender shaped one which appeals to me more too.

A Fender Triple Tele and maybe another Jem is also whispering sweet nothings in my ear. After the headache with that drum kit, you'd think I'd learnt my lesson.

Doesn't seem like it.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Choco Ring

If you're in Shinjuku, go to the Marui, next to Bic Camera and Kinokuniya. There is a temporary Heart Bread Antique shop stall just outside selling Angel Choco Rings for 500 yen.

Basically they are bread pastry in a donut shape with lashings of chocolate and walnuts. To me they have a taste similar to Panettone, but more crispy than soft.

There is a playful website where you can control the rolls here, but it's much more satisfying eating them, and getting fatter.

I'm currently on my third one. You know you want it.


Sunday, 19 December 2010

Omotosando Illuminations

I've managed to survive three Christmas parties. (Yokohama's last week was a REAL struggle getting home I can tell you). Number three, although an almost total sausage fest, was entertaining enough for me to stay and get drunk.

At all three, I participated in the "secret santa" gift exchanges. Two out of three were bath products. This "Otome No Nayami" one was by far the scariest. Eww..It's going to take a while to get that visual out of my mind.

Anyway, let's just say I wasn't as hungover as I normally am, so it was that we decided to go to see the "unmissable" Omotosando Illuminations.

In my mind Omotosando is like a lesser Ginza. It has quite a few classy and pricey boutiques like Ginza, but nicely bypasses the snobbery. It's a stones throw too from both the more youthful Harajuku and Shibuya.

Apparently from 2009 someone decided after eleven years to put up a whole lot of Christmas lights on the avenue of trees lining Omotosando once again. There were lots of people taking photos.The authorities inconveniently blocked off the overpasses, likely to prevent the shutterbugs from clogging them up taking photos from above.

I'm sure it's a real PITA to put the lights up, but it'd definitely have looked a lot more impressive with a bit more colour.

Off the main thoroughfare there are a whole of small clothing shops. As we made our through the back streets I walked into "Sevens", a 700 yen clothing store.

I saw this Batman shirt on a mannequin. I thought it looked pretty cool, so I tried it on. For the loose change, I thought it wasn't a big expense so I got it. At the counter I quickly learned, just like the 100 yen shops that aren't, these guys conveniently left out the extra 5% tax you have to pay. 735 yen though, I can live with that. Just keep it honest, right?

One store i really like here is the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) store, in the Gyre building. They have a lot of cool stuff that would make great presents. It was here that I first saw my Issey Miyake watch.

Right next door there is an "Eye of Gyre" art space where they often show a free exhibition. On this occasion we saw the photographic work of Mika Ninagawa.

Most of the photos had a lot of saturated colours which really made the images pop. If you're in the area this is definitely worth checking out.

In the basement of Gyre there was a small food shop that gave out coffee and food tastings. Sampleman™ definitely got his fill.

Just before we were about to leave, I wanted to see the temporary Kiddyland store. They are doing a major renovation, so they have relocated to smaller premises for the time being.

Sadly, it doesn't have the "magic" that the old store had. This abridged version kept me wanting more. It feels like how "Blister" in Shibuya shrunk down and relocated in Harajuku, them too losing what made them great in the first place.

+1 to the lightsaber chopsticks and Heely's roller sneakers they had, but a big boo hiss to leaving out the Domo-kun toys.

What's up with that?

By this time we were both really hungry. At the moment Macca's are doing 200 yen Big Macs, so we had that before being on our merry way back home.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Drums Say Bye Bye

I don't know what it was, but definitely the freaks were out in force on another leisurely Wednesday night station beers.

I was first accosted by what was probably the most busted sumo girl in Japan.

I thought she wanted to ask directions or something. She asked, "What is your country?" The first thing that popped into my head was "America". They all think we're American, so I thought nothing to perpetuate the stereotype. In hindsight I should've said, "Japan". Now THAT would have done her head in!

While I was sipping down a pretty bad, kiwifruit chu-hi (hey, it was on sale), there were a few other near miss Japanese "objects" coming our way.

As one woman approached, the other guys moved to the side leaving their bags unattended. She went right up to their stuff. I thought she was going to do a runner. I had my mouth safely buried in an anpan.

All i can say is it must have been a full moon.

The good thing about Wednesdays is I pretty much drunkenly fall asleep straight away. The not-so-good thing is that my day is at least half over before I wake up.

Last Thursday I attempted to post the electric drum kit back to Australia. I can't set the whole kit up, and it's taking a lot of space up in the apartment.

This time I was going to do it via International Parcel Post (or "by ship" as you might say). The general idea was that I didn't really need it in a hurry back home and it's a whole lot cheaper than EMS (Express Mail Service).

The English Japan Post pages are reasonably easy to understand, but you have to look around pretty hard to get the details you have to understand, like size and weight limits as it pertains to your country.

For the International parcel post I looked here.

The picture shows the "formula" for size. According to this (Japanese only), Australia is B. That means maximum length is 1.05m, and the length PLUS the CIRCUMFERENCE must not be more than 2m. Furthermore, for Australia the maximum weight allowed in is 20kg.

Still with me?

With EMS the sizes are a whole lot more flexible. According to this on another far away page you can send a 1.5m long package, with a combined length and circumference up to 3m! Still only 20kg though.

Anyways, the two boxes I had neatly packed were both too heavy, and too big for Surface Mail. It was a pain getting the boxes to the post office, and I just didn't have time to unpack and repack. By this time my morale was pretty low too.

It was going to have to be another day.

So, fast forward one week, and I tried it all again. The problem was the drum rack. The poles were quite long, and the only way I could do this was to make a custom box out of the plentiful cardboard I have in the room. Wonderful!

Even with the best I tried, I STILL couldn't make it fit the restrictive dimensions. I gave up and sent it EMS. The other two boxes I decided to do the same. I even threw in the Tickle Me Elmo as I don't use it anywhere near as much either.

It cost a LOT to send three boxes of almost 20kg each. The last was 150g over, so I had to remove one item from the lesser box to let me send them. Although I'm a little sad to see it go (for now), it's a relief I finally got it able to be sent.

What this has taught me is not to buy any more drums, or other big and heavy stuff. More guitars? Hmm.. I got to send two more of those back home sometime.. :'(

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Jingu Gaien Leaves

The Autumn leaves are still in full swing, so we went down to Jingu gaien to look at the avenue of yellow-leaved trees. Lots of people thought the same thing.

We walked close by through Aoyama as well. We went to Cafe Madu to have a matcha latte. The last time we did this was in October 2007! It's good having a blog to remember these things.

Walking back we were hungry so we stepped into Pizza Salvatore for some pizzas.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

DS-1 Distortion Mouse

This was a NICE present. Quite totally unexpected too.

It looks like your average Boss DS-1 Distortion guitar pedal, right? It's actually a computer mouse! I first saw one at Rock Inn in Shinjuku, although it wasn't for sale.

I looked it up online to learn that it was a limited edition item only available on the UK site. Understandably, it sold out in no time. So, the only way to get it is mostly third parties like eBay, or online somehow.

The tone and distortion "knobs" are left and right click, and you can see the scroll wheel on the side there. Very cool indeed. It definitely made my day.


Sunday, 21 November 2010

Mt Mitake in Autumn

I've mentioned Mt Takao quite a few times, and the last time we went to Oku-Tama. Today we went to Mt Mitake.

It's on the same Chuo, Ome lines as Oku-Tama, and takes almost as long to get there so we had to get up fairly early. For a Sunday this is always a struggle for me. But, before 10am we finally got to the station.

There is a bus to the cable car, but we opted to walk which didn't take that long and allowed us to take in some nice scenery. By the time we got there one of the buses just unloaded a full crowd so the line for the cable car was about an hour long, so we decided to walk up taking about the same time anyway.

I think Autumn really is the best time to go hiking in Japan. Lots of colourful leaves.

The highlights were the Nanayonotaki waterfall, the big Tenguiwa rock and Musashimitake Shrine. The view up top is quite nice too. On the way down we caught the cable car.

For me Mt Takao is still my favourite place to go hiking, but I really enjoyed coming here. It's definitely better than Oku-Tama was, a bit more interesting scenery, and things to see.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Essential Japanese iPhone Apps

I must be bored or something.

I decided to make this video of the apps that get me half coherent, and living relatively comfortable in Japan.

First on the video is Human Japanese. It's one of the few teaching aids that keeps me interested with my ever-shortening attention span.

Japan Transit is the only English language train planner that I could find as an iPhone app.

It's a little bit limited that it only shows the next and last trains, but it gives good results, and considering it's the only one of its kind I'm happy to have it. There is a better Yahoo!路線情報, but it's Japanese only.

iKana was one of the first Japanese learning aides I used. It has a simple layout, and gives a painless way to practise learning, and memorizing the hiragana and katakana.

Kotoba! is definitely the MOST essential app I'm probably most thankful for. Many a time I have been totally misunderstood, I could get myself out of trouble by using this free one.

I've mentioned this one before. Radirou is great for listening to Japanese radio stations on the go. Unfortunately Japan only to you outsiders. I have the radio on my Nano, so I'm not using this one so much since I got that.

Fruit Ninja is the least essential of this bunch. It has taken its cues from a mini game of Rhythm Tengoku (nee "Rhythm Heaven" everywhere else.) It's a fun little time killer, and it kind of keeps to the Japanese theme of my post.

Make Out With Japanese reminds me of the "Make Out In Japanese" phrasebook that I had. Dang, I lost it around here someplace. This's a kind of Japanese girl dating sim.

Kind of fun. Ja ne!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Cheese Is Awesome

On the way home from Cheese Festa 2010, I was thinking what would make a good header for this post.

I REALLY miss eating cheese.

Living here in Japan the variety is sadly lacking to what's available back home. You can get it in specialty International food stores, but you usually pay a premium for the privilege.

I'm always surprised, nay shocked, that virtually everyone there was Japanese. Japanese aren't too well known for their taste in cheese. There weren't too many foreigners around.

Just like last year, we got 4 sample tickets, A-D, that gives you a cheese sample from one of the four tables.

Again the assumed politeness of Japanese people went out the window. I likened them to animals, pushy and uncaring of others around them to get that morsel of cheese on a toothpick.

As it reached the last hour, it was peak hour from people finishing work, although the room was constantly full from the time I arrived.

We got some extra samples from the demonstration area. I didn't understand a word, but I was all too happy when I got some food. All this cheese was making me real hungry!

These Eru cheese samples from Holland were really delicious. There's a blue cheese one that tasted real good, and I'm not usually a fan of that kind of cheese.

The Parmalat Mascarpone was first served on a spoon and just tasted like whipped cream to me. The second serving was on a pancake with syrup, and made a good combination. Like I said I was hungry. I was very thankful.

It's hard to take these guys talking about USA cheese seriously with their cheese hats and ties. Still, I'd love to wear that long tie for my English classes. Laughter and frivolity would no doubt ensue.

Don't eat the green cheese! Well, I didn't. Not that I didn't want to, I just didn't want to use up one of those sample tickets.

While I really like the smoked cheeses, the easy winner of today's cheese tasting was far and away the Tete De Moine Swiss cheese. It WAS like there was a party in my mouth and everyone was invited.

They also gave an interesting alphorn demo. Now, I just got to find a place where I can buy some of this awesome cheese.

I'm actually posting this in real-time, rather than my usual backdating posts to give anyone that reads my blog every day (ha, I crack myself up), a chance to go. Even though it is Cheese DAY, it is held over two days, so there is still a chance to check this out tomorrow.

It's at the Belle Salle building in Harajuku. Put this address : 東京都渋谷区神宮前2-34-17 into Google Maps and you're golden.

What're you waiting for? Do you REALLY want to wait another year for this cheese-tasting goodness?

Thursday, 4 November 2010

When The Morning Comes, I Won't Be Around

Back in the 80's I used to watch "Countdown", seeing bands that inspired me to pick up the guitar, and perform.

One of those bands was called "The Models". In Australia, this group was easily as popular as INXS. One of the lead frontmen was James Freud.

Today I heard he took his own life. It's always sad when one of your heroes lets you down. It feels very similar to when Michael Hutchence did the same thing in 1997. A little bit empty.

I'm glad that I had the chance to be a part of the great 80's Oz rock pub band days. Sadly nowadays people don't care about the scene anymore, so bands like these may never happen again.

Thanks for the great songs and inspiration. RIP James Freud :(

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Circumnavigating the Yamanote Line

Today is the Culture Day national holiday.

If I realised in advance that I'd have two days off in a row, I'd have planned something really special to do. Anyway, we'd thought to make the complete circle of the Yamanote line.

To those that don't know, the Yamanote line is the main train line, that does a complete 35km circle around Central Tokyo. It takes about 1 hour on the full loop. Instead of doing it like normal people, actually CATCHING the train, we did it the more DIY way, and took over 9 hours!

At 2.24pm we said goodbye to Nikon, the camera cat, sleeping blissfully unaware of our adventure, in her box bed under our apartment.

We thought it'd be best to start in Shinjuku and head south.

First stop on the line is Yoyogi at 2.50pm. Not much to see here. Probably most known for the Empire State doCoMo building, and also a common place to change trains to other lines .

At 3.05pm we reach Harajuku, a really popular youth district of Tokyo.

LOTS of people around today. I stop to take a picture at Takeshita street.

By 3:20pm we were in Shibuya. Here is one place that I think it's safe to say the most popular youth area. If you're in Tokyo, it's well worth a visit. At the front of the station there was some kind of political spokesperson blaring loudly atop a van, and people were as usual taking photos around the Hachiko dog statue.

We got to Ebisu at 3.40pm. Most noticeable around here is the Hinomaru driving school building which looks like someone lobbed a huge red ball into the building. Quite unmissable from the train line.

By 4pm we were in Meguro. Like Ebisu, this area looks very clean, and it looks like quite an upmarket exclusive place to live in. When I took a photo of the Meguro station sign a woman thought I was taking a picture of her feeding some pigeons. As if!

Gotanda(4:05pm), isn't very far away from Meguro, but there is a definite contrast of surroundings. There are many more office buildings, and in my opinion this area's kind of boring.

Just before we arrived at Osaki Station (4:20pm), I couldn't resist hamming it up with photos of the cool Art Village gnome.

You can't tell from this picture, but his hat rises up high into the sky. You can see this quite easily from the train too. Not a whole lot to see in this area. Just a lot of business parks otherwise.

Getting to Shinagawa station (4:40pm) felt like the longest gap between stations. Here is a big station which serves as another hub where many train lines come together.

By this time it was starting to get quite dark, and markedly cooler.

Before arriving at Tamachi (5:05pm) station, we made our way over a big street overpass where you can easily see Tokyo Tower peeking between the buildings.

You might remember from my other posts, Tamachi is a good place to get off to walk along the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba.

Also, if you happened to be at this station it's possible to walk to Maruichi Bagel in Shirokane-takanawa a few blocks away for a good bagel fix.

We pass Hamamatsuchō at 5:30pm and Shinbashi at 5:43pm.

We got to Yurakuchō at 5:53pm. If you're on this line , here is an easy stop to make the short walk to the expensive Ginza area.

While we were here we first went to Kimuraya to hopefully get some anpan. We JUST missed out. Instead we went to the Chinese Tiger gyoza restaurant and had a spicy sesame mince noodles, fried rice and dumplings. Delish!

After eating we finally get to Tokyo station at 7:15pm. For a place that IS called Tokyo, this area seems really devoid of life. Just another area full of tall office buildings. As a policeman might say, "Move along, nothing to see here".

We pass Kanda at 7:26pm and Akihabara at 7:35pm. It must be the first time that I didn't notice any maids around! We had to take a short break because someone had to buy some stuff from Uniqlo!

Between Okachimachi (8:05pm) and Ueno (8:20pm) is Ameyoko, a great little market. I'd never been here before. Lots of shoes, and clothes, and other stuff.

I saw some "Basic Creative Reasonable" shoes that were a VERY close copy to another brand for only about 6,000 yen. I'll have to get a pair or two next time I'm here. Also worth checking out Ueno Zoo here too.

In Uguisudani (8:33pm) you can't help but notice a LOT of love hotels in this place.

The neon signs have enticing names like "Hotel Charme".

Rest or stay?

Passed Nippori (8:47pm), Nishi-Nippori (8:52pm), Tabata (9:02pm), Komagome (9:12pm), Sugamo (9:23pm), and Otsuka (9:31pm). These places are just about entirely residential. From the train these places look quite uninteresting. From the outside they don't look as bad. Only come here if you live here or visiting someone from here. There was a busker girl singing sweetly in Otsuka. She might still be there if you go ;)

Things start to get more interesting once we got to Ikebukuro (9:50pm).

I used to not like this place, calling it "Ikky", but it has definitely grown on me, particularly the higashi (east) side of the station.

Someone once told me it's like a little Shinjuku, and that's pretty close to the mark.

We got a bit disorientated getting to Mejiro (8:06pm). Didn't see anything of note here.

Next stop was Takadanobaba (10:20pm). Most notable as the "birthplace" of Astro Boy. The JR line departure song is very recognisable. There were quite a few drunk university students around here tonight.

I'm quite familiar with Shin-Ōkubo (10:30pm). I come here (too?) often to check out the wares in the "TC Gakki" music store.

Finally we get back to Shinjuku at 10:40pm.

Was it worthwhile doing this?

It's one thing to catch a train and watch the world go by, but to actually walk around and see what's around gives you better bearings, and a sense of place, and knowing where things are.


next time I'm catching the train!