Life In Tokyo

Sniff This: Tokyo’s Smell Exhbition

You live in Japan long enough and the whole idea of “weird Japan” kind of goes away. What was once “weird” just becomes life. Oh, there’s a giant mascot shaped like an onigiri standing outside the station? Must be Tuesday.

But then your boyfriend says “I want to go to the smell museum,” and the weirdness jumps right back in your face. Continue reading

A Guide To Buying City Pop In Tokyo

A while ago I wrote a comprehensive guide to record stores in the greater Tokyo area. Ever since then, I’ll occasionally get an email from someone about to visit Tokyo, and they want to know the best stores to find their targeted genres. 

These emails used to be comprised of people asking about soundtracks or heavy metal. Now they’re almost entirely from people asking about city pop. I was right, this is becoming a thing.

So I thought I would save everyone the trouble and just detail here the best stores in Tokyo to find city pop.  Continue reading

Blown Opportunities and Taking Stands

I was in a record store in Shibuya today (as am I most days) and there was a television crew there interviewing some white dude. I couldn’t hear everything they said, but I could tell they were asking him about why he came to Japan and about record stores in the area.

I was really hopping to get my chance on camera too. So after they finished up his interview, I casually sauntered over to them, hoping they would ask me too.

It turns out they were really mostly interested in tourists, but when I showed them my blog and my massive guide to record stores in Tokyo, they really wanted to talk to me. Before committing, I wanted to know more about what show/network the show would be on. 

They told me TV Asahi, so I let out a heavy, depressed sigh and told them I couldn’t do it.

TV Asashi is the home of London Hearts

And fuck London Hearts. Continue reading

City Pop: Big In Japan?

One of my favorite releases from last year was Tokyo Nights, a compilation featuring Japanese disco and pop from the 80s. I love it because it’s just so upbeat and fun. The tunes just bounce in a way that I don’t hear that often. The best tracks on the CD remind me of early Madonna or Sheena Easton – unabashedly positive pop music made 100% for dancing.

I adore this record, and wanted to hear more from the artists on it, so I went down to Mecano, a record store located in Nakano. Mecano specializes in 80s music, so I figured that it would be the place to go to get my 80s J-pop disco fix. I talked to the owner, reading off some of the names I was looking for, like Hitomi Tohyama and Junko Ohyashi. 

He laughed.

He laughed a lot. Continue reading

Nothing’s Easy When You’re Big in Japan

One time a student told me that he saw me walking around Shibuya. I asked why he didn’t come up to say hi and he said that he couldn’t because I was about two blocks away.

What I’m saying is, that as a nearly 2 meter (six-and-a-half foot tall) white dude living in Japan, I kind of stand out. Continue reading

A Collection of Strange Japanese Band Names

I go to Tower Records almost every week. I never know what I’ll find there, whether it be a deluxe edition of a classic album, a Japanese edition of a new release that includes exclusive bonus tracks, or an amazing album by a Japanese artist I had never heard of. It’s a smorgasbord of audio delights that keep my ears happy and my wallet empty.

An auxiliary reason for my frequent travels to the store is to check out the latest in the never-ending army of wacky Japanese band names. You’d think after four years that this shit would get old, but it doesn’t.

Here are some of the odder ones I’ve seen in my time here. All photos were taken from displays at either the Shibuya or Shinjuku Tower Records. Continue reading

Happiness Is a Warm Arcade

Japan is still well known for its video game and arcade culture, but neither are really what they used to be. I think its public knowledge that Japan’s importance in console gaming has long since diminished. Sure, its made a bit of a comeback as of late, but the majority of the classic Japanese game developers, Capcom, Konami, Sega, and so on, are all just fractions of what they used to be. And they’re the lucky ones, a hell of a lot more are defunct completely, or exist only as a holding house to license out old IP.

Sadly, arcade culture in Japan has diminished recently as well. It feels that not a year goes by where you hear of some classic or legendary game center in the greater Tokyo area shutting down. And the ones that remain have been forced to shift their focus away from classic arcade style games and more to redemption machines (crane games) or insanely complex rhythm games. And while I find both to be fun in their own ways, they’re very much not for everyone.

Sure, Akihabara has lots of arcade still, with some great ones that even focus on retro machines. And that’s awesome. If you’re a tourist then I totally recommend you check them out. But, the longer one spends in Akihabara, the sadder it feels. The pervy underbelly becomes more apparent. You start to notice the games less, and the disgusting old men lusting after women in schoolgirls more. Not to mention storefront after storefront catering to the most base-level otaku with anime porn featuring obviously underage girls. It’s an icky place.

Seeking an alternative to the perv-domain of Akiba, the boyfriend and I headed out to Odaiba last week, in search of a different variety of massive arcade. We escaped lustful sadness of Akihabara’s otaku culture and had some fun along the way, but also found ourselves face-to-face with a sadness of another kind. Continue reading

Sick in Tokyo Redux – A Story about Poop

I don’t write about “life in Tokyo” very much because, well, it’s just “life” for me now. Maybe I should’ve written more about it when I first moved here, but now the strange has become commonplace, the unique has transformed into the banal. Ask away about what I find weird or different in Tokyo now and I’ll be hard-pressed to come up with an answer.

That is, except when it comes to getting sick or needing medical attention. These are experiences that I find wholly different than getting sick in the states, and ones that I’m far too familiar with. Continue reading

Are Tapes Really “Big In Japan”?

Yesterday I was in one of my favorite record shops here in Japan, a wonderful little store in Nakano called Shop Mecano. It’s a store dedicated to new wave, synthpop and electronic music – all things that are right up my ally. His stock is pretty evenly split between CDs and LPs, although I suspect that the majority of his business is CD sales, as that inventory seems to cycle a hell of a lot more frequently than his LP supply.

One thing I never saw in his store was cassette tapes, that was, until yesterday, when I saw a sole copy of Kraftwerk’s The Mix up against the wall, ready to go to someone’s home for the low price of 2,000 yen (about $20). I told the owner that he should mark this up, as cassette tapes are big in Japan now – riding a huge comeback at the moment. With a look that I can only describe as “incredulous incredulousness” he scoffed at that suggestion outright, saying, almost with disdain that the cassette tape revival is “fake.”

I asked if he meant “fad.” But now, he was insistent on his usage of “fake.”

“No one is buying those,” he said with assurance. Continue reading

Tokyo Travelogue – Tokyo Art City by Naked

Tokyo is never lacking when it comes to impressive art exhibitions at museums, galleries, or even shopping malls, but whenever the design firm Naked comes out with another light-themed artistic display, it’s usually something special. Their latest feat, dedicated to Tokyo itself, is no exception. Tokyo Art City by Naked is an amazing amalgamation of light, art, and music that creates a one-of-a-kind experience that showcases everything wonderful and amazing about the city it’s based on.

It’s also hella trippy. Continue reading

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