Posts Tagged ‘Shinjuku’
Category Entertainment, Only in Japan, Tokyo, Travel
Western television reports about Tokyo tend to focus on the ultra-modern. There will, almost without exception, be shots of Shibuya’s Hachiko crossing (above), kids dressed in epileptic-fit inducing outfits and random commuter trains zipping past a neon background. A few finishing touches are applied (the occasional fancy edit and pumping electronic backing track – preferably by Orbital) and Bob’s your uncle, Toe-key-oh!
Of course, there’s more to Tokyo than techno-wallabies, Akihabara uber-nerds, passive-aggressive identikit salarymen and whale-smoking, dolphin-slapping karaoke hostess bars. Before the Americans bombed the living daylights out of it Tokyo was an intriguing mix of ramshackle streets and wooden buildings; buildings that even then struggled to hold out against the changes that modernisation brought to the country. After the war, a few Soweto-like areas that weren’t burned to cinders became hotspots for black market trading and lady-related sauciness. Shinjuku’s ‘Golden Gai’ was one of them.
Despite the whippet-like pace of change in other entertainment districts the Golden Gai has managed to retain a sense of its old-world charm. The area is home to some 150 bars stacked on and around each other in higgledy-piggledy fashion, linked together by a grid of tiny footpaths and claustrophobic alleyways. In the 1970s it became a popular hangout for artists, writers, musicians and let’s-have-a-revolution-oh-feck-it-I’ll-kill-myself intellectual Yukio Mishima. These days you’ll find it populated by an eclectic mix of old regulars, twenty- and thirty-something white-collar workers and random tourists who read about it in a Lonely Planet travel guide.
Finding a decent bar in the Golden Gai is like a game of Russian roulette, only without the spattering of brains on the wall (Tip: do it on the beach and let the crabs clean up). A lot of places are filled with regulars who like to keep things… well…regular. For this reason you’ll find that most bars charge a fee – typically around JPY1000 – just for the exalted privilege of entering. It’s the kind of twattish bag-of-wank practice that makes bar-hopping a bit of a non-starter, but if you’re feeling flush and fancy something different then forget about the price and get stuck in. After all, you only live once… apart from my mate Cecil: he’s on his fourth life. The government know about it, but it’s all kept very hush-hush.
If you really do need to reign in the expenses then it’s Imperative (yep, with a capital “I”) that you apply the Golden Gai Coefficient:
- Stick your head through a promising-looking door.
- Ask the barman/barmaid how much it’ll cost you to drink there.
- Scan the bar and weigh up the clientele. Do they look like the kind of people you want to drink with? (Remember: these bars are the size of a garden shed, and conversation is INEVITABLE.) Is there the possibility of something interesting happening? Kabuki theatre performed by a cete of impeccably-groomed badgers, for example?
- Apply the Golden Gai Coefficient:
Cost ≤ Entertainment Value = Enter the bar (c≤ev=e)
Cost > Entertainment Value = Leg it (c>ev=l)
- If you’re with your mates you’ll have to pool your calculations and put it to a vote. (Adopt first-past-the-post voting methods: don’t try to seek consensus on the issue, otherwise you’ll end up walking around for hours on end.)
Finding the Golden Gai is as easy as slipping on a wet bathroom floor and smashing your head open. Come out of Shinjuku station’s Kabukicho Exit and walk straight down (and I mean down as in the street that slopes slightly downwards) until you get to Yasukuni Dori. You’ll know you’re on Yasukuni Dori when you see this:
View Untitled in a larger map
Head up Yasukuni Dori for about five minutes. Both sides of the street are packed with shops and restaurants. After a few minutes you’ll spot a Mr Donuts (a cafe, not an actual man that looks like a doughnut) on the left-hand side. To the right of Mr Donuts is a small footpath shrouded by trees and the homeless. This, laydees and gentlemice, is the gateway to the Golden Gai. Only the penitent man will pass, so don’t forget to kneel when you hear the buzzing of circular saws coming out of the walls. Here it is on a map:
View Golden Gai, Shinjuku in a larger map
The best time to visit the Golden Gai is Friday or Saturday nights, preferably after 10pm, and after you’ve already had a few drinkypoos. If you’re thinking about getting a late-night train back to your home/hotel, forget it: accept the fact that you’ll be out until 5am (when the first trains start running) or paying for a taxi and you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more.
Category Events, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo, Weather
This coming Sunday is shunbun no hi, or Vernal Equinox Day. Traditionally, on this day Japanese people would visit their ancestral graves and hold family reunions. These days, however, they are more likely to visit Starbucks and hold rat-like Chihuahuas.
Shunbun no hi also marks the beginning of spring. It won’t be long before coats are consigned to the wardrobe and t-shirts once again become acceptable outdoor attire. Fantastic.
For all you avid cherry-blossom watchers out there, sakura trees in Tokyo are expected to flower from the 24th March, and should be in full bloom on around the 1st April. Probably the best place for hanami (lit. “flower watching”) in Tokyo is Shinjuku Gyoen, which is pictured above in its late summer guise. It’s a tranquil green oasis in an otherwise concrete-filled desert. Yoyogi and Ueno parks are also good bets, but whatever you do, don’t bother with Inokashira Park in Kichijoji – it’s absolutely rubbish, you’d hate it.
Category Entertainment, Only in Japan, Technology, Tokyo, Video
Want to see what’s going on in Tokyo right this very minute? Here’s a selection of some of the best live webcams. All of the cameras are running in real time (none of that “updates every ten seconds” nonsense), and you can control them yourself. Just click on the images below and away you go.
Category Entertainment, Only in Japan, Tokyo, Weather
Now, you may think that people only use umbrellas when it’s raining. You would be wrong. In Tokyo it is now perfectly acceptable to use them at the merest whiff of the wet stuff. This has lead to the phenomenon of Mass Umbrellaism, where large groups of people open umbrellas before exiting train stations, supermarkets and shopping centres.
Scientists believe that many Tokyoites – sucked in to the alternate realities that mobile phones and Nintendo DSs provide – are so distrustful of their real-life surroundings that they cannot rely on their own senses: they may be drier than a Martini in the Gobi desert but if the weather forecast says it’s raining, then it must be raining.
Tokyo’s top three Mass Umbrella hotspots:
1. Shinjuku Station’s South Exit
2. Ichigaya Station, Chiyoda
3. Hankyu/Seibu department stores, Ginza
It’s been a couple of years since my last Tokyo rush-hour post, but something happened recently that I have to moan about:
I was on a fairly busy train to work yesterday morning. As usual the seats were all taken so I stood towards the middle of the carriage. At one stop a woman boarded the train and stood next to me. Despite the fact that she was obviously heavily pregnant not a single person offered to give up their seat for her. It was only when a few people got off the train at Shinjuku that I was able to offer her the now-vacated seat in front of me, which she gladly accepted.
This kind of behaviour absolutely infuriates me. Surely any physically fit adult with a smidgeon of human decency would give up their seat for a pregnant woman?
Category Is Japan Expensive?, Only in Japan, Osaka, Tokyo, Travel, UK
Is the UK more expensive than Japan these days? Over the next few posts I’ll be exploring just how much things cost in both countries. Let’s start with travel:
Travel by car:
First off, we’ll need to buy a car to get around in. I’ve chosen two examples here: the VW Golf R32, which is a beast of a machine; and a Honda Civic, which is your general pootling-about vehicle.
Japanese road tax varies from ¥10-50,000 (approx. £50-250) depending on engine size; in the UK road tax can be anything from £35 to £400. Our sample cars would probably fall into the higher and medium-range tax brackets, respectively:
Golf R32 (Same model in both countries – 3-door MT)
- UK price: £24,950
- JP price: £19,610 (¥4,114,286)
Honda Civic (Japan – 1.8G, 5-door MT; UK – Civic 1.4S, 3-door MT. Both were the cheapest possible models I could find)
- JP price: £9,231 (¥1,937,250)
- UK price: £13,410
So for a simple purchase, Japan wins on both counts. Of course, Japan’s motorways are tolled, whereas the UK is – with one or two exceptions – free, which is something to take into account when thinking about travelling long distances. And there’s the added cost of a parking space, which would probably cost somewhere in the region of ¥30,000 (approx. £150) per month around west Tokyo.
Fuel prices are easy to compare. I’ve chosen a representative suburb of London and Tokyo from which to work on: Southgate in North London and Kichijoji in west Tokyo. Both are around the same distance from the political and financial centres of their respective cities:
Petrol (regular unleaded, per litre):
- UK price: £1.13
- JP price: £0.83 (¥164)
Blimey, that’s quite a huge difference!
First off, I should point out that most (95%+) Japanese companies pay for the cost of their employees’ commute to work, which is usually by train. This may happen with some companies in the UK, but is far less common.
For our sample journey, I’m again going to use Southgate (London) and Kichijoji (Tokyo) as our representative suburbs. I’ve picked Southgate to Westminster and Kichijoji to Ichigaya as our routes. Both take approximately the same length of time and cover the same distance, travelling from the outer suburbs to the centre of their respective cities. Let’s start with a monthly rail pass:
- UK price: £132.90 – Southgate to Westminster, Zones 1-4
- JP price £42.01 (¥8,890) – Kichijoji to Ichigaya
The big difference with both of these passes, apart from the huge gulf in price, is that with a pass in London you would be able to travel anywhere within Zones 1-4. With the Tokyo pass you would be able to travel anywhere between Kichijoji and Ichigaya for free, provided you use the same train line (in this case the JR Chuo-Sobu line). That’s good if you want to travel to, say, Shinjuku, but for the other “centres” of Tokyo you’d have to pay a little bit extra each time.
To make it a bit fairer, let’s compare the price of a one-way journey along the same routes:
- UK price: £2.50 – Southgate to Westminster
- JP price: £1.38 (¥290) – Kichijoji to Ichigaya
Tokyo still comes out on top, but the price difference isn’t quite as enormous.
Long-distance rail travel:
Japan is famous for their shinkansen (bullet trains), so I couldn’t write a post about travel without mentioning them at some point, could I? I’ve personally never had that much trouble with high-speed trains in the UK, but I’m sure there are millions who have, and who would be more than happy to recount their horror stories.
For high-speed trains, I’ve chosen London-Newcastle (270 miles) for the UK, and Tokyo-Osaka (343 miles) for Japan. Despite the extra 130 miles covered by our Japanese train it still manages to reach its destination more than 20 minutes ahead of its British counterpart (2hrs 36mins for Tokyo-Osaka and 2hrs 59mins for London-Newcastle).
Pricing is a bit different for both countries. In the UK it’s possible to get hugely discounted high-speed train tickets provided you book well in advance; in Japan shinkansen tickets are – in general – the same no matter how far in advance you book. To make it fair, I’ve compared the price for an open-single ticket for both (travel at any time of the day, on any train):
- UK price: £124.50 – London King’s Cross to Newcastle, standard open single ticket
- JP price: £66.07 (¥13,850) – Tokyo to Shin Osaka, reserved seat
The shinkansen looks much cheaper here, but bearing in mind the booking-in-advance rule in the UK, it really isn’t: I could get a return ticket from London to Newcastle for £66 provided I sorted it out a week or two in advance.
That’s all for this post. Look out for “Part 2: Household Goods”, where I’ll be comparing the price of TVs, sofas and other assorted gubbins!
(Prices based on 11th June 2008 exchange rates: 1GBP = 209.55JPY)
…is quite impressive, especially on a clear, sunny day. The Mori Art Museum, located on the fiftysomething floor of the Mori Tower, is currently staging an exhibition called “Art is for the Spirit“, with works from the likes of Damien Hirst, Andreas Gorsky and Julian Opie on display (and is, I might add, well worth a visit). While I couldn’t get any shots of the exhibition itself thanks to the extreme number of security staff dotted around, I did manage to take quite a few of the Tokyo skyline for your general perusal:
Category Events, Food, Japanese Language, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo, Video, Weather
At around 3am this morning I witnessed the biggest thunderstorm I have ever seen in my life. Without any warning whatsoever the heavens opened, lightning struck surrounding buildings disturbingly frequently, and the thunder was loud enough to violently shake the windows.
And I didn’t get any of this on camera. Bugger.
Kichijoji Matsuri was held this weekend, meaning lots of people walking around in blue pyjamas getting drunk, carrying mikoshi around the local area (portable shrines used to carry gods. God taxis – cool!). Apparently the gods quite enjoy being shaken around a bit to wake them from their slumber, although I’m not sure if anyone has ever actually asked the gods for their opinion on this matter.
There were many different mikoshi, carried by different teams. Some of the more active (i.e. one sake too many) groups can get pretty vocal, like this set of individuals here:
There’s also loads of food stalls to have a wander around (and yes, the ubiqitous kebab trucks are here as well. There’s just no escaping them). I’m especially fond of the fried baby crabs. They’re soft enough to be eaten whole, legs and all, and they’re fantastic. I’m quite aware they look like something out of The Thing, but really, they’re great!
In other news, we attended a residents group meeting for our apartment, which was about as interesting as it sounds. Most of the people living in our place are retired so we were the youngest people there by a good thirty years. Luckily they’re all really nice, and had some particulary amusing ideas on what should be done in case of The Big Earthquake (ten years overdue, apparently). Nakada-san – the group leader and ex-university professor – suggested climbing the stairs to the roof and waiting for a fire service helicopter to pick them up. His wife kindly pointed out that the fire service might have a few more important matters to attend to in a city of 30 million people.
One exeptionally good point to come out of the meeting was that we were given the key to the rooftop. Apparently we should have been given it when we moved in last year but Nakada-san forgot. The views from the rooftop are supoib, you can see Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, even Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Tower (yes, I know you can’t see very much in the photo, but trust me, you can see it). We’re also allowed to have parties and stuff up there any time we like which is great during summer. Apparently the old folks are having a full moon party next month, which I absolutely must attend at all costs.
I’ve foolisly decided to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in December, although recently I’ve put in absolutely no effort in when it comes to studying. Methinks I should stop writing this and get some revision done!