Thursday, September 27, 2007

Last weekend

Last weekend was a complete blast. I had fun pretty much nonstop from Friday night until Monday night, as it was a holiday.

On Friday night, I met up with my friend's sister. She doesn't speak English well and my Japanese skill is low, so it was a bit challenging to talk to her, but it was a lot of fun! I truly had a great time with her, and I hope to see her soon.

We both met up with a friend of a friend of mine. He is someone who I've never met, but I've talked to a lot. He used to go to school in my hometown and became good friends with a friend of mine, and he's a super cool person. He also had 2 friends with him, so the 5 of us were having a great time all night.

Saturday was the Polysics show and I already wrote about that. The video I shot didn't seem to get used on the website, which is probably a good thing.

On Sunday my good friend from Osaka came into town. That's when the real exploration began. I showed my friend my dorm room and then we went off to Harajuku because there was somewhere she wanted to go, so off we went.

After exploring the main drag and seeing the interesting people, we decided to stop off for a crepe. There are a ton of crepe shops in Harajuku. They just love them here. And they are so good too.
The crepes we got were served to us by the happiest employees I've ever seen.

This picture doesn't show it well, but they were all smiles. They were laughing with eachother and the customers, making jokes, and it seemed they were genuinely enjoying themselves.

After we ate our delicious crepes, we kept walking and on the main street, we saw another random festival.

It seems like there are a lot of these here. Maybe it's just my imagination. Anyways, that's not what we came here to see.

We walked down this street and saw some really interesting stuff, but then we got to this one main street called Omotosando Street that went from bizarre to ritzy really fast. After walking up this hill, we saw this mall called, appropriately enough, Omotosando Hills. It was quite fancy.

There was this giant rotating speaker that made bird chirping and water running sounds, so at any point, if you closed your eyes you'd think you were outdoors. Also, it had no real floors, and just casually sloped down around the mall. It was apparently designed by some famous architect. It was really quite classy.

Near the exit, I saw a girl doing a photo shoot in front of a car.

You can't really see it in the picture, but there's a guy with a professional camera and a girl with a giant silver thing to reflect light. There was also a guy with a video camera and what looked like a security guy. It was pretty random.

So, after we were done, we saw the crazy dressed Harajuku people and went to Shibuya. Shibuya and Harajuku are about a 10 minute walk from eachother. I pretty much new the way, but I decided to take a different route. I'm glad I did.

I had heard about these Japanese rockers who dressed all 50's like and just kind of danced in a park, and now I found them.

About a 2 minute walk from the Harajuku people, they were just hanging out strutting their stuff. This one guy had the highest hair I'd ever seen.

But, he was talking to some people and wasn't anxious to turn around, and since I have better things to do than wait for a guy with crazy hair to turn around, we walked over a pedestrian bridge and were greeted with...

A Laos festival? That's kind of random. There were also a bunch of high school aged girls selling clothes and accessories. It was quite strange.

So, after acquiring some Laos food, I heard this sound come from a nearby stage.

Huh? Power rangers? Well, that's odd. Wait... No... THAT is odd:

Well, it was just some live action thing for the kiddies I assume. I didn't stick around to watch it, but the evil witch was hot.

I don't know what any of this had to do with Laos, but whatever.

So, we kept walking to Shinjuku. The architecture is great around there.

Once we got to Shinjuku, I saw yet another random festival. This time it was just setting up right in front of the Louis Vuitton store.

We went and had a good time in Shibuya. Afterwards we went to Shinjuku and had some fun walking and talking. It was quite a lovely day.

After a nice night of resting, it was back to exploration on Monday. The first place we went was Asakusa.

Asakusa is most noted for a giant shrine with these giant red lanterns. There were like 3 or 4 of them, one of which was under repair. Asakusa is also a very historic district of Tokyo. It was nice to see the history, as most of Tokyo is quite modern.
There was this one major shopping street that dates back to, I don't know, but it's not new by any measure.

It was mostly souvenir shops, but there was some regular stuff too. If you wanted a samurai sword or a lantern cell phone charm, this is where you could get it. There were also all sorts of different traditional snacks and sweets.

At the end of the street, you could see the temple proper.

That smoke is incense, and apparently if you waft it around yourself, it's supposed to make you clever. It's quite popular with the school children.

The sheer size of this temple was really impressive. It was just amazing to see.

The gates with the lanterns were guarded by these people:

Asakusa also had the largest slipper I had ever seen.

It was quite an amazing place.

So, we wandered around away from the main street. It was quite crowded, and it seems that it's usually this crowded on the weekends.
But what's that in the distance?

A little tiny amusement park? That's odd.

But, that's the case. It was this tiny, old amusement park. I think it dates back to shortly after World War II.

There was also the second largest Pagoda in Japan.

The largest was in Kyoto and I saw that earlier, so I was a tad underwhelmed, but it was still really nice.

The side streets were filled with old shops and were targeted towards the older audiences. Kind of the anti-Harajuku. There was this one antique shop selling a full WWII uniform. That made me a little uncomfortable.

We went back to the main gate for a few more pictures. It sure is the popular place to take pictures.

And I saw this guy there too. He was just a tourist like everyone else, I think.

After some historic fun, we hopped a train to Ginza. I also made some phone calls and some of my friends met me there. Ginza is the super super super ritzy area in Tokyo. It was quite amazing to see.

It's the little things that make Ginza different. Like all over Tokyo you have "Doutor coffee", but in Ginza, you have "Le Cafe Doutor", because regular Doutor isn't classy enough.

Of course in Ginza you also have Louis Vuitton, Coach, Burberry, Rolex, and so many other fancy brand name shops. I'm not rich enough to shop in Ginza, but it sure was nice to visit.

We went to the Sony building, which it seems, is their world headquarters store. They had a lot of products that weren't available yet, and other Sony products that aren't normally sold in stores.

Upon walking in, they asked us to film a little cheer for the Japan National Soccer team.

It was quite fun and unexpected. Then, which was even less expected, they had a mini soccer game where we had to kick the ball into 3 goals. The first 2 were easy, but the third, you had to pop it up into the goal.

I have to give props to my Osaka friend for trying this with high heels on. I actually did worse than she did. Oops.

Anyways, we left Ginza, to go to Shinjuku where we had dinner and my Osaka friend caught a bus. It was sad to see her go, but I was quite happy that she came to visit.

It was quite a tiring weekend, but quite rewarding too. I saw lots of great things and had a great time.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


(sorry guys. No pictures. They were pretty strict about the no picture rule, it seems)

I have some stuff to say about yesterday (in fact quite a bit), but I didn't take many pictures today and I just got back from a show, so I'm going to hit up all of my places I post things with this one.

So, tonight was my first show in Japan, and it was the Polysics, and man, what a great show. First off, it was 'free' and paid for by Myspace.

When I say "free" I mean, it was free, but there was a 500 yen charge, which included a free drink. So, essentially, you can either say it was 500 yen to get in plus a free drink, or you can say that was the most expensive 8 ounces of Mountain Dew I've ever bought. Either way, it was a bargain for a Polysics show.

I ended up with an extra ticket (nobody who wanted to go stayed in town), so I invited someone I didn't really know very well. She was nice and all, but word to the wise, a concert in Japan is not the best place to get to know someone. In fact, it's probably the worst.

First off, there was a DJ then a band and then a DJ and then the main band, which if you listened to everything, there was about 5 seconds of silence. And during these 5 seconds, along with any time tuning instruments or anything besides playing and waiting to applaud, the audience was dead silent. On a train filled with people, the silence is odd, but when you're in a concert hall listening to a loud band, when they take a minute to tune and NOBODY says anything, it's just weird.

When you walked into the club, if you looked straight, you would see a DJ stand with maybe 3 feet of room and a wall that went up a foot or so above waist level then there was obviously a shelf for equipment behind that wall, but you can't see it. To the right was the real stage. It was a full stage and had plenty of room to play, but when I walked in, there were curtains covering it, so I didn't notice it. So, first there was a DJ. He was playing some good music, but nothing really to write about. Then the first band went on.

The first band's name is something that I'm not sure of, but they were pretty good. I think they're called "Ogre You Asshole", because that's who is listed on the flier that doesn't say "DJ" in front of it. If so, it's a really odd name for a band that sounded like that. They should be called "Mildly original but quite good Indie band".

After the first band, another DJ played. His style of music was "old skool Japanese pop/rock" which is something that I couldn't relate to at all, so I left the room and went to the smoking lounge (which, to my shock, wasn't THAT smoky) and hung out.

I sadly missed the start of the concert, but what followed was a non-stop thrill ride of electronic rock. I've told some people before how great they were in San Francisco, but they were even more amazing here. The crowd was great and we were all squished up together and nobody seemed to mind. Well, some people did, and they went closer to the back, but it was a really good vibe in there. It smelled really bad, but it was a really great feeling.

Something to note is everyone was supposed to wear a blue shirt to the show, and damned near everyone did. Even the band was wearing blue jumpsuits instead of their normal red ones. I think it was a myspace thing, but it wasn't hard to fulfill. When I went to go pick up the free ticket, I was wearing my blue Poly-Sics (in a Pepsi logo shape) shirt to pick up tickets, and I was the only one with a band shirt. I always think it's in bad fashion sense to wear the shirt of the band that you're going to see, but I guess the rules are different here. I saw about 10 people wearing the same shirt I have and a ton wearing Polysics shirts. In fact, the majority were wearing Polysics + Myspace shirt. They were only sold at this show and I almost bought one after the show but they didn't have any big ones. Well, the design was kind of ugly anyways, so it's not so bad. Also, I spent too much money on other merch.

So, after the Polysics played, there was this guy who was either a DJ or a laptop musician (someone who makes electronic music not using anything but a laptop and maybe a keyboard). He wasn't that interesting, so I just chilled outside in the lounge some more. At this point my friend left. I was waiting for the Polysics to play a second set, because it doesn't make sense for the headliner to play in the middle of the show.

After the boring but calming techno set, this other guy came on. To call him a "DJ" would be missing the point. This guy was a true entertainer. Sure, he was playing songs that everyone knew and sang along with, but his opening number kind of went like this...

The guy started the song, and he got up on the ledge that I mentioned before, and he started jumping around and clapping and getting the whole audience to wave their arms in the air in the shape of an X. It was a metal song I didn't recognize, maybe X Japan? I don't know. Anyways, after a while of getting everyone excited about it, he started to AIR GUITAR! And this wasn't like an impromptu air guitar thing. It was planned out. This guy knew the song really well. But, he really got into it, and the crowd ate it up.

The thing that I thought was odd is after this first song, he did it AGAIN! The SAME SONG!! And the crowd loved it even more!

This guy kept 'preforming' along with all these songs. Some times he would air guitar/keyboard/drum, sometimes he would sing along, sometimes he would just awkwardly dance and clap. He seemed to be really good at keeping the audience entertained. I must say that personally I was quite confused and I only knew one song, which was the last song he did, and was a Japanese song. But, everyone besides me seemed to know every song. It made me realize how odd it was to be in a room full of people that have a different musical heritage than I do. I can now relate to my Japanese friends who didn't know Americans songs from the 70's or 80's.

So, when this guy finished, the Polysics were going to play again, right? I mean, it makes no sense for the headliner to play in the middle of the show. That would be like having an ice cream sundae but the cherry and whipped cream were between two scoops, not on top. So, now it was the Polysics time to shine again. Right? Right?

Wrong. That was it. The show was over.

I was by no means disappointed. The Polysics put on an amazing show. There was no encore, but it's my understanding that they don't really do encores for every show in Japan like they do in America. Also, the show was free, or 500 yen, depending on how you look at it. Either way, it was well worth it, and it was a fantastic time. I was just really surprised at the way it ended. I had a good time.

On my way out, this guy with a camera interviewed me about Myspace. In all honesty, I didn't really want to be interviewed, but this cute girl who was just an audience member was doing some translating for me, so I did it. I might have made my opinions about Myspace heard before (as in I'm not a huge fan), but as it is a tool that I use almost daily to keep in touch with friends across the world and as the ads for Japan are WAY less annoying than the American ads, I didn't mind saying a few nice things about a company that paid for me to see the Polysics. I did kind of want to mention that Rupert Murdoch owns Myspace, but nah, I'll let them have their fun.

I wasn't sure where to look though. Was I supposed to look at the camera, the guy asking the questions or the cute girl who did the translating? Well, hopefully they won't be able to use the material anyways.

So, that was the show. If you get a chance to see the Polysics (they're doing a US tour real soon) do yourself a favor and go. I severely doubt you'll regret it.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Sunday was a big day for me. I got to see all sorts of new things and explore. It was also a really frustrating day, as I will explain.

First off, to get the bad points out of the way, I hate group trips. It's not the planners or the guides fault that group trips suck. It's not even necessarily the group I went with (although they did suck for the most part), it was the fact that getting 20 people to do anything at the same time requires patience and lots of waiting.

Besides the amount of time I spent hanging out doing nothing and the amount of stuff I missed because of that, I really enjoyed myself.

So, the group left at 9:30, and if you're keeping track, this was after 2 nights in Shibuya, so I wasn't about to wake up at 9:30, so I went out to Kamakura on my own around noon.

Kamakura is a beach town known for all the traditional temples and shrines and such not too far away from Tokyo. It took me about 80 minutes to get there from my house. Admittedly, my house is in the southeast part of Tokyo, and so is Kamakura, but still, for the dramatic difference in scenery, it was a bit amazing.

I really didn't know where Kamakura was when I left. I just followed the instructions on my phone. It was pretty out there. By that, I mean it was out there pretty far, but I also mean there was some pretty scenery out where I went.

It was easy to see that this wasn't Tokyo anymore.

The houses were a lot more traditional, there were blue skies, nothing higher over two stories, and big green mountains.

I knew nothing about Kamakura except that there was a big festival. I called my friend once I got off of the train and she said "turn right on the main road. You'll see lions and stuff". Lions? What's she talking about?

Oh look. Lions. I get it now.

So, there was this big festival going on, and there were people on horses shooting arrows, and it was really crowded.

Since I had more than one person tell me that it was impossible to actually get up to the gates due to the crowd, and I just got off of a train from Tokyo, so I didn't feel like pushing and shoving my way to see things. Besides, that's not really what I came to see.

So, we met up with everyone in the group and went onwards. We got on a bus and rode down a long windy road that was filled with old buildings on each side.

When we got off the bus, we headed towards the temple of the great Buddha. Before we could go, we had to pass his guards.

Angled shots make it creepier, don't they?

So, we got in the area and fought the crowds again. It wasn't that crowded, though. So where was this great Buddha I'd heard so much about?

Holy crap! There it is!

This guy was not tiny! According to the little fact sheet they handed out upon arrival (that was also the ticket), this guy was built in 1252. That's old. I mean, just pause and think about that for a second... 1252.

He used to be indoors until 1495 when a tidal wave came and ruined the building around him, but he was okay. So, he's been sitting outside since 3 years after Columbus discovered America and realized that there were people here.

The whole place was fantastic to see.

I went inside. It cost me a whopping 20 yen (like 20 cents) to go there. The inside was pretty ugly, unless you like looking at old, patched up metal. Then in that case, you'd love it.

Yeah, this guy is big. And heavy too.
His slippers were quite large as well.

It's interesting that the smoking section is right in front of those slippers.

That was something I glad I saw. I don't think I'll go out of my way to see him again, but if I have someone visiting for a week or two, I'd happily go back.

So, from there, we walked maybe 5 minutes to this other temple. This place was much larger, much emptier, and the grounds were significantly better groomed.

Which is fair. Let's face it, I went to the big Buddha to see the big Buddha, not the grounds around it. This place was an amazing, unexpected surprise.

It was on top of this hill that overlooked the beach. I can clearly see why they built this here.

This was not Tokyo.

Inside this building was an absolutely amazing and huge golden Buddha. It was one of the most fantastic sights I've seen in my life. They were picky about taking pictures, but I can show you the building.

that's some nice architecture.

I really wanted to share what the golden Buddha looked like, but it was made abundantly clear that they didn't want me to take pictures, and I don't want to be the tourist jerk, so I didn't.

Big temples and shrines like this are quite interesting and odd to me. There's usually one major focus and then several smaller areas of interest. In this case, besides the giant golden Buddha, there were some smaller golden Buddhas (which they also didn't want pictures taken of) and this small building with a tiny wooden Buddha.

They didn't seem to care about pictures of this. I didn't quite understand what it was, though. I think it was dedicated towards children because there was this little table inside with children's toys and there was a bottle of tea that was still cold sitting there. I didn't understand it, but it felt strange to see.

Then there were all these tiny little statues.

There were a lot of them.

Some of them were clean, some were dirty. Some looked worn, some looked brand new. I didn't get it either, but I'm fine with that.

It was a beautiful place.

Apparently, there was a cave that I didn't get a chance to go into because we spent too much time looking at other things and I didn't realize the cave closed before everything else. Unlike the giant Buddha, this I would see again just to see, and I might.

This was an old shack right outside of the temple.

So, me and my friend said farewell to the rest of the group and headed over to the beach to meet another friend. He ditched the group because he already saw the big Buddha and didn't care to see it again.

We missed sunset by the time we got there, and all the pictures I took weren't worth looking at, but I'll tell you, it was great. First off, once you're near the beach, it could be mistaken for any beach in the world. There are restaurants overlooking it, a gas station on the corner, a road around it, dunes, crappy bathrooms, everything. Once you're on the beach, it was kind of a different story.
I think they tell it better than I could.

How right you are, Mr. Sign. How right you are.

This didn't matter anyways. It was a pretty surreal experience to be standing on the beach looking at the Pacific ocean from the other direction. Just the thought was mind boggling.

The rest of the evening I enjoyed my the company of my friends immensely. We shared a bottle of wine and had some amazing sushi.

In general, Kamakura was a quite pleasant experience and it felt strangely good to get out of Tokyo for a while. Don't get me wrong, I am by no means getting sick of Tokyo, but to smell the salt air, to look at those amazing temples and see the trees, to soak in the feeling of a town that wasn't a giant, giant, megacity, that felt nice.