Life In Tokyo

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

Sushi Arcade Games, Pretty Flowers, and Zima

Over the years I read a lot about “strange” Japanese arcade games. There was the one where you poke people in the butt, that’s a classic. And of course there was the table flipping one that I think a lot of people know about. But I’ve never been lucky enough to find either of them in the wild since I moved to Tokyo three years ago. I think the weirdest arcade game I had ever come across was a Typing Of The Dead style game starring Lupin The 3rd, which to be honest, was pretty damn weird now that I think about it.

But it’s not as weird as this! Continue reading

I Went To A Game Music DJ Show

West of Tokyo, about 10 minutes away from Shinjuku via the Chuo Line, is Koenji, a neighborhood called the coolest in Tokyo by many a magazine both foreign and domestic. This is thanks largely to the hood’s amazing bar and club scene. Take a stroll down any of Koenji’s dozens of sketchy-looking, but entirely safe, sidestreets and you’ll come upon any number of hip clubs and pubs, each with their own unique flavor and style. Want to eat hot dogs and down American IPAs? Koenji has bar for that. Want to watch YouTube videos of 80s hip-hop and play darts? Koenji’s got you covered. Want to dance the night away with otaku while rocking out to killer game music jams from the 80s to today? Apparently Koenji’s the place the for that now too. Continue reading

The Glory of Hard-Off

I’ll get the obvious joke out of the way now.

In Japan, software is just called “soft” and hardware” is just called “hard.” The suffix “off” is often used to signify sales. There’s an entire chain of stores that make use of that grammatical choice. They have bookstores called “Book Off” that are quite common in and around Tokyo. Their stores that sell figures and models is called “Hobby Off.” They even have a used housewares store that is named “Off House,” I’m not sure for the reasoning behind the flipped words there.

But yes, they do have a hardware store, and it is called “Hard Off.” I understand that’s funny and I will not besmirch you for laughing. Shit, I’ve lived here three and a half years and I still giggle sometimes when I say to myself, “wow, that Hard-Off is huge.”

By the way, they have a liquor outlet store called “Liquor Off” and I think that shit is even funnier, but I digress. Continue reading

Logic Exhibition – Vintage Synths Galore

Hideki Matsutake isn’t a household name in Japan, let alone the United States, but his influence on electronic music on both sides of the Pacific cannot be understated. He worked as the sequencer programmer on the first two Yellow Magic Orchestra albums, as well as many of the solo albums by Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto. His skill with the notoriously difficult early synthesizers and sequencers of the 1970s no doubt helped YMO craft their sound. In turn, YMO served as a major influence to artists not just in Japan, but the world over. It’s hard to imagine a world with Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby” without Yellow Magic Orchestra’s 1978 debut album to help lead the way.

In addition to his work with YMO, Matsutake is an accomplished solo performer under the name Logic System, and has also worked alongside countless musicians in Japan from the 1970s to present day. In celebration of his decades of accomplishment, he recently released the five disc retrospective Logic Chronicle, which demonstrates his amazing versatility across genres and sub-genres of electronic and rock music, from synthpop and dance music to avant-garde and prog. It’s an incredible collection and I highly recommend it.

To help promote its release, Matsutake held a major exhibition over the weekend, which included interviews and a concert performance. Sadly, I couldn’t make it to either of those, but I was able to swing by the pop-up store for it. I came there hoping to snag some obscure Japanese electronic music. I didn’t expect to see the actual instruments used to help invent synthpop. Continue reading

David Bowie Is Rare Vinyl

 

David Bowie Is was originally an exhibition at the V&A in England. It was massively successful, and since then it has gone on the road around the world. Now, it has made its way to Tokyo. I went there just the other day. It was amazing, breathtaking and at times nearly reduced me to tears. It’s the end all be all experience for any David Bowie fan, an audio/visual smorgasbord of memorabilia, rare video, behind-the-scenes footage and various Bowie ephemera from his birth to now.

You should go. That’s all I really have to say about that. Besides, photos weren’t allowed inside so writing anymore about it would be rather pointless. So instead, let’s talk about the records you can buy there, because vinyl. Continue reading

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