Monday, September 10, 2007

Ochanomizu, Tokyo Dome, and Shinjuku yet again

Since I got here, I've been looking for a good guitar shop. Not that I need another guitar, but I was just curious to look, as I very much enjoy window shopping. After reading on the internet that Ochanomizu was THE place to go for musical instruments, I wanted to check it out. After some convincing, a friend came with me, and we headed towards the unknown.

First off, in order to get to Ochanomizu, I had to hop on a train, switch lines, and switch lines again. This wasn't abnormal at all, but upon the last switch, I realized that I was not in the nicest neighborhood in Tokyo. It was far from a bad neighborhood, but the train station was dirty and grimy and the train, unlike most of the trains I've seen, was very loud and old. When it turned a corner, it let off this godawful squeak sound that reminded me of the Green Line in Boston around the Chinatown stop. For those of you who haven't been to Boston, it sounded like if you took fingernails on chalkboard and pitch shifted it up.

When we got off the train, there were a few things I noticed. First was, holy hell, there are a LOT of guitar shops. Second of all, there were a LOT of bakeries. Finally, there were relatively few foreigners, and the ones that were there were on a mission, much like myself.

Before we went to look at guitar stores, my friend spotted this:

I know it's just a restaurant, but look at that stained glass. Has it always been a restaurant?

Right next door was this amazing bakery. In fact, it was one of about 15 bakeries we saw in this neighborhood. They all looked amazing, and I'm sure if I lived in this area, I'd get so fat off of delicious baked goods.

Anyways, the guitar stores... There were so many that were packed so tight with guitars that you could barely move.

I mean, that's a lot of guitars. If I saw ONE store like this, I would be impressed, but I saw several. There was one that had a wall of guitars OUTSIDE the store. My picture of that didn't come out right, but if you want to see it, just walk around Ochanomizu. It's not hard to find.

As far as prices went, not surprisingly, Japanese guitars were a healthy bit cheaper here than in America. Likewise, American guitars were a lot more expensive here than in the US. Chinese, Korean, and other guitars were about the same as the US, maybe a tad cheaper. I didn't really notice.

But, most of them were the same, except I think the best one was this one:

This store was packed to the gills with oddities. In fact, even before you enter the store, you can see a proudly displayed Left Handed Jazzmaster:

If I had a ton of money, I would have bought that on the spot. As I'm not super rich, I just kind of drooled.

But, this store had things I've only seen on the internet. For example, here's the 10 stringed "Stick".

It's a bit overpriced, but I believe it's an American guitar anyways.

Another site I saw was this bass in the center:

Holy crap! Is that a rare 60's Ampeg bass I see? Back when I worked at a hospital answering phones, I had way too much time on my hands and I read all about this bass, but I've never seen one before. If you want to read about it, go here:

I believe the tag says 189,000 yen, which while it sounds expensive, less than $2000 is quite a steal for such a rare instrument. Again, I don't have that much money to spend on a rare collector's piece, and it's right hand anyway, so I just enjoyed looking. They also had a left-handed 5 string bass and a left-handed fretless bass, which I've never seen either just hanging out at a store. It wa pretty amazing.

I read on the internet that there was an amazing guitar store a little bit away from the main road, so I tried to find it. I failed miserably, however I found something else instead.

What is that? An amusement park? Since we had no real plans, I thought it was worth checking out.

This caught my eye as well:

Hanshin Tigers? In Tokyo? Nah, it can't be. (Hanshin Tigers is the Osaka baseball team)

On the way I saw this:

No real point to post that, but I just thought it was an interesting building. I don't know what it was.

So, we kept walking down the hill and we took a left. This caused us to stumble across this really interesting neighborhood. There were tons of used book stores but besides that, it looked like a regular, normal neighborhood. It wasn't fancy, it wasn't run down, it wasn't crowded with tourists, it was just normal. I was actually quite pleased to see such a normal place. Of course, I'm not quite sure what 'normal' is in Tokyo, but it seemed pretty average to me, and I mean that in a good way.

We had some dinner and instead of going left like we first did, we went right. Unlike the normal, average neighborhood, as soon as I crossed under the train tracks, it became quite apparent that it was not the same type of place. There were a lot of people, a few street vendors, quite a few fancy cars, and a buzz of excitement in the air. Where the hell was I?

Ooooh!!! We just randomly found the Tokyo Dome! I guess that explains everything. I still don't know why there's an amusement park next to the Tokyo Dome, but whatever. It looked nice.

In fact, the whole area around the Tokyo Dome was really nice. It looked like a pretty exciting place.

Some day, I'm going to come back here and actually partake in the festivities, but as I was in an exploring mood, and not an amusement park mood, I didn't want to stop for too long.

However, I did see something worth noting:

Those are pizza cones. That's right, pizza cones. The smell coming out of the building was that of mediocre pizza, but they looked absolutely revolting. I was both curious and quite frightened. When my friend pointed out that the picture with the two girls looking at the pizza cone was obviously a stock photo with a pizza cone photoshopped in, and how the pizza cone shop was completely empty, I decided being frightened was the appropriate response.

I just liked this picture and wanted to share it:

My friend and I ate some pastries from a quite filthy little cart. It seemed like this man set up his cart in front of the train station some 40 years ago, and has been serving little tasty treats out of it ever since. It also seemed like the cart was last cleaned 40 years ago. Those were some good cakes.

So, my friend has never been to Shinjuku, and since I have been there a few times now and the night was young, I decided to show off the little I know.
First, we went off to the Tokyo Metropolitan building. On the way, we saw this skyscraper in the appropriately named 'Skyscraper District'.

Sure, I'm just showing off my picture, but the cool thing was in front of this tower were some people practicing breakdancing. It was really fun to watch.

Anyways, off to the nice view.

There's a better picture. I could have cropped the guy taking the picture out, but I thought it was funnier and more interesting that way.

So, we went up, looked around, went down. It was again quite dramatic to view the city from above. I didn't take any pictures because I knew what the result would be. Also, I just wanted to soak the whole scene in.

I'd like to reiterate how impressed I am that going up to the observation deck is free. Not only is it free, but it's an amazing view. Sure, there's an overpriced restaurant that looks out a part of the building that you can't see otherwise. Sure, there's a large, overpriced gift shop and 800 yen cappuccino, but you don't HAVE to eat at the restaurant, you don't HAVE to buy a tacky trinket, and you don't HAVE to drink an overpriced version of an already overpriced coffee.

I really want to go back during the day, I would also like to look out the other tower. There were signs for both, but this tower had the obviously bigger sign and that's where my friends took me.

Well, back to Shinjuku. I've showed off pictures of there before, and I didn't bother to take too many, but I never noticed this gold-topped building before:

I thought I knew of an interesting part of Shinjuku to grab a snack in a not-exactly-spotless place.

On to where I was thinking of, I saw this guy who was drumming on the street. He was really into it, and it was a lot of fun to watch. He also seemed to be having a good time and didn't seem to care if anyone was watching or not.

After a while, he was getting hassled by 'the man'.

While I was really enjoying watching this guy, I understand the police officers point of view. He was quite loud. But, again, we were in Shinjuku at night. If someone wanted peace and quiet, they were in the completely wrong place.

I have found that some of the best food I have ever eaten has come from tiny, dingy places by people who have been doing one thing for many, many years. While there's something to be said about a nice restaurant when you're on a date or celebrating something or just wanting to feel classy, there is something amazing about someone who's making cheap food for the masses and has been for quite some time.

Based on that thought, I lead the way to an area I passed by before but didn't stop at.

This street was amazing!!

I could lie and say "Oh yeah, I knew all about this. It's no big deal.", but the truth is, the place I was thinking about was all these shops that were closed. I just happened to look to the left and found this crowded, noisy, cramped, narrow street filled with the sounds of drunken businessmen laughing and the sizzling of meat and veggies on a grill. There were plenty of shops, and we found one that we could physically fit into, and sat down for a snack.

For those who can't read the lantern, it says "Yakitori", which is essentially grilled skewers of whatever you've got. This place was classic.
The building looked like it was several hundred years old. The grill was dirty, the tables and chairs were worn, and the paper signs were faded and dusty looking. I understand that space in Tokyo is tight, but the size of this place was ridiculously tiny and it was probably the place on this alley with the most room.
There was an old man with curly hair in charge of grilling the meat. I got the impression that he has been doing this for decades. Next to him was a woman handling the orders, who spoke enough English to assist in selling me food and drinks. When you ordered ビール(biru), they gave you one large bottle of Sapporo, which I assume they chose because it was the cheapest they could get. The ceiling air conditioner looked like it was shooting out steam, as there was so much humidity in the air, the instant it got cold, you could see it. Besides this dramatic addition to the already interesting and complex ambiance, it seemed to only cool of the woman behind the counter, as I felt no difference from it.

And then dinner came.

The food was amazing. Everything was cooked to perfection. I watched as the grill master dipped meatballs, chicken, and beef into this vat of sauce that I assume was made by hand and spent hours sitting out in the hot summer air. I very much enjoyed this place.

I know I've already said this about quite a few places in Tokyo, but I mean it when I say that I WILL be back to this street.

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